In this week’s New York Magazine, there’s an unpleasant but actually quite decent article about the current situation of the New York Mets. It’s by Will Leitch and it is entitled “The Hurt That Hasn’t Healed.” In it, Leitch takes note of the dull boredom of this particular Mets spring (I’m with him there) and he suggests that there really “ought to be a greater sense of urgency surrounding the team. It’s a critical year for the Amazin’s.” Leitch goes on to cite Greg Prince’s theory of “The Legacy of Yadier Molina,” the idea that Molina’s devastating home run in the ninth inning of the 7th game of the 2006 NLCS was particularly crushing because the 2006 Mets team was such a wonderfully quintessential Mets team: “young, fun, energetic, loopy, and most of all, ‘scrappy,’” the opposite of the “plodding … monolith” the Yankees had become. That team was wonderful and it was supposed to bring us something like what we had in 1969 and 1986. But the Molina home run, and its echoes in the unfathomable collapse of 2007 and the final falter of 2008, have now created an unpleasant situation. It’s not so much that the Mets are in danger of losing again. The problem is that losing again will expose the “team’s essential fallacy.” We have an essential fallacy? Uh-huh. It is that we love to think of ourselves as underdogs when we are actually a rich team with the second highest payroll in baseball. Our sense of ourselves as underdogs doesn’t make sense. But we are attached to it. Our embrace of our “status as the Other team in New York … salves (our) wounds with meaning: Watching the Mets continuously fail to push the rock up the hill gives cheering for the franchise gravitas and depth, as opposed to the arrogance (we) perceive in (our) Yankee fan counterparts.” Yet it is a “fallacy,” and Leitch wonders “with a shiny new ballpark, how long they’ll be able to keep up the illusion.” Shea’s decrepitude made it easier for us to pretend that we were rooting for “scrappy overachievers,” but Citi Field is expensive and has gourmet food. What if we can no longer hide from the fact that the Mets aren’t “cursed underdogs” so much as “disappointing millionaires?” “What if the warm fuzzies fade? What if enough is enough? … Can the Mets, as a franchise, possibly survive another collapse, or even a frustrating, listless season?” These are fair questions. And they lead Leitch to the fair observation that this season is more vital to the Mets than to the Yankees, and it is more vital to this year’s team than to “any other Mets team in recent memory.”
Now I’ve looked hard at this argument in a desperate attempt to say it’s wrong. But it’s not wrong. It’s right, I guess. But it describes what the situation might look like to others. It does not describe what is inside the head of a Mets fan.
What I mean by this is that what we believe does not deserve to be called a fallacy. It is more like a fiction. It may not be true, but it is worthy of some respect. It hasn’t been true for decades that the Mets are scrappy working-class underdogs fighting their way to improbable triumph. They are more like the neurotic younger brother in a rich family, whose older brother gets more attention and parental love. The younger brother makes bad decisions, he screws up a lot, he has talent, but nothing comes together for him. This guy isn’t as worthy of admiration as a genuine underdog, but there is still a kind of nobility in rooting for him. The Mets shouldn’t be underdogs. But they don’t win, and terrible things happen to them. We root for them anyway. There is something beautiful about this, something defiant and gloriously irrational. We like being this way. And we already know all the reasons why the Mets may not be worthy of the love and loyalty we are so proud to give them.
This year it would be great if Mets fans got something wonderful. But they may not get anything. And if the season is not a success, people who are not Mets fans will have every reason to think, once again, that Mets fans are misguided, pitiful, masochistic, and insane. Let them think that. Let them also wonder at the fact that we will be prepared to do it again. We will find the rock again and we will try to push it up the hill. This is what we do. This is who we are. We are happy to do this. We are proud to do this. And we don’t care if it doesn’t make any sense. It made no sense that the Mets lost the 2006 NLCS. And if that hurt is ever healed, it will have to be healed by something that does not make sense.