What needs to change in the second half?
We do. No, kids, I don’t mean the Mets. I mean the fans.
Why should we change? Will that help the Mets do better? Maybe. And maybe not.
Why do we need to change? Because we’re not having enough fun.
But that’s the Mets’ fault, you say. They have to do better.
Yes and no. The Mets have played pretty well this season. At the All-Star break, they had won 48 and lost 39. Last year, at this time, the Mets were 51 and 36. What can account for the 3-game difference? Pedro. He’s enough to account for the whole difference. He had a great first half of last year and he hasn’t played at all this year yet. That means that if you take Pedro Martinez out of the equation, this year’s team is playing JUST AS WELL as last year’s team.
Why doesn’t it seem that way? Well, one reason is that last year we played practically the whole season without there being another team in the division over .500. This year our rivals are not quite that bad. So we’re just a couple of games ahead of Atlanta.. Last year we were something like 12 games in front at the All-Star break. That affects our perception of how well we’re doing.
Another reason is that last season the Mets won 97 games, tied for the most in baseball. We think of the Mets as a terrific team again, the way they were in 1986 or 1999. So their current level of play is disappointing. Last year, if we thought about “last season,” we remembered our September 2005 collapse and our 83 victories. We had fresh memories of the year before that, when we won 71 games. We had memories of the year before that, when we won 66 games. We had memories of the year before that, when we won 75 games. So our recent success has also affected our perception of how well we’re doing. This isn’t a breakout year. And it has the potential to be a breakdown year.
One way to think about this phenomenon is to compare 1984 with 1987. In 1984, the Mets won 90 games. In 1987, the Mets won 92. In both seasons, they were in a tight pennant race and fell behind in just the last week. But 1984 was heaven because it came after 1977-83. But 1987 was disappointing, all the way through, because it came right after 1985 and 1986. The teams were equal but the spirit (and our perceptions) of the teams were different. In terms of team and fan mood, context and recent history is everything. This is a major reason why we’re bugged this year. It may be why the Mets are bugged. Last year, everybody was happy.
Our batting average is higher than last year’s. Our power numbers are down but power numbers are down in the whole league by about 12%. If you make that 12% adjustment, they’re pretty close to even. Our E.R.A. is actually better this year than last. Our starting pitching has definitely been better. Our relief pitching has been worse, but it hasn’t been bad and it looks as if it may be getting better. This is a fine team we’re following. And as players come back from injuries, there are reasons to believe that they will do better in the second half than they did in the first.
But you say that they seem listless, that they lack spirit, drive, and verve. I know what you’re saying. I see this too. But I suggest to you that our altered perceptions, our optical illusions, are combining with those of the media, and yes, those of the Mets to produce an “atmosphere” that feels sour, damp, and unhappy. We are affecting them, the press is affecting them, they are not sufficiently believing in themselves. And yet they are still playing better than we are giving them credit for.
Yet they still have some kind of tic. They are not hitting enough with runners in scoring position. Nobody can explain this. But even if it is psychological, do you think it will actually will help to boo Carlos Delgado when he flies out weakly after having hit two previous balls in a game that almost went over the wall. Does the record of Carlos Beltran suggest that booing him will bring him out of a slump and not contradict our appreciation for his 16 home runs and 55 rbis? I am not telling you people who like to think of yourselves as demanding fans with high standards that players who are not driving in the runs you expect don’t deserve to be booed. I don’t think they deserve it but I’m not telling you that you don’t have the right to judge it as you see fit. What I’m telling you is that your booing will do no good. It has never done any good. So why do it, even if you have a right to? You have a right to gamble away all your money in a casino, if you feel like it.
We have to enjoy them more. That might help them play better. That’s the best hope, in fact, for making them play better, because I certainly don’t like the sound of any rumored trades. Do you?
Here’s hoping that things change in the second half. It shouldn’t be hard for this to happen. A great second half for Delgado, a successful return of Pedro, Lastings Milledge playing with the exuberance and spark he’s played with for the past few games, health and consistency for and from all of our starters, any of these things could produce a chain reaction of confidence. We could start to relax. The press could stop acting like vultures. The Mets could win.
It could happen. The odds are actually good. Please let’s have some fun again.