A week and a half ago, I asked for a few days to decide what I wanted to say about the 2009 New York Mets. I’m sorry, it’s taken me longer than that. Blame the Mets. Although I have been very busy with some other things, the Mets are mainly to blame for the fact that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say about them. I was writing a blog piece just before I turned on the TV to watch the Omar Minaya news conference that was supposed to be about firing Tony Bernazard. But that news conference invalidated a few of the things I was saying. So I had to see how the Rubin storm played out in order to make my revisions and then in the meantime the Mets won five games in a row, which invalidated some other things I was planning to say.
In order to write about the Mets, you just have to jump into the river. The river is capable of changing its flow and its general character every single day. What you feel changes just as frequently. You see it flowing and you know that there are all kinds of invisible currents going in different directions under the surface. Plus there’s all this junk at the bottom creating whirlpools and obstacles and snags. Plus it’s really cold. So here I am jumping in. I don’t honestly have even a guess about what will happen to the Mets this year. I don’t know what is happening now or what has happened in the past few months. I don’t know what I think or feel. But I’m jumping in the river. Maybe if I write, something will get clearer.
Well, one thing that has happened in the past week and a half is that my view of Omar Minaya has changed dramatically. I’ve always had a high opinion of him. I don’t know if I can regain that. What he did in the news conference was unforgiveably stupid. Smart and effective people can sometimes do stupid things when they get upset. But they rarely do anything this stupid. And if Omar Minaya was so upset over having to fire Tony Bernazard that he couldn’t help but say something dumb, then that’s even worse. After what Omar found in his own investigation of Bernazard, this news conference should have been an unemotional announcement of the obvious and necessary. It was an easy task. But somehow, as the official who is supposed to be the brains, the leader, and the spokesman of the New York Mets, Omar Minaya made three spectacular errors on a single routine play. Given my formerly high opinion of Omar, I’ve been struggling a lot with my new feelings about him (I’ve never scuffled with something intangible). Let’s just say that he’s got a long way to go before I can have as much faith in him as I had before.
Many Mets fans are angry at team ownership because they believe that the weak showing of the Mets this year is due to their cheapness and possibly to the fact that they’ve lost almost a billion dollars to Bernie Madoff’s swindle. If only, some fans have argued, the Wilpons had given the go-ahead for a pursuit of Ibanez or Hudson or Lowe, we wouldn’t be in this shape. If only the Mets had more depth and a minor league system capable of filling in for our injured players, we wouldn’t be in this shape.
I don’t agree with these criticisms, even though a lot of people I respect make them. I don’t think the Wilpons are cheap. We have the second highest payroll in baseball and I don’t want it to get any higher. It’s possible that they’re broke because of Madoff (in which case they should admit it and sell the team) but I doubt that they are. The Wilpons probably have a lot of money left and the Mets are perfectly capable of paying for themselves. Until I know of solid proof that there are financial difficulties that will affect the Mets, I am not going to believe what is at this point only speculation. I agree that it would be great to have Ibanez or Hudson or Lowe, given what they’re doing this season, but it would be hypocritical of me to criticize the Mets for not getting them, because before the season started I was really excited to see what Daniel Murphy could do and I was loyal to Ollie Perez, whom I’ve always really liked. This may be dumb of me, but it is part of the configuration of my fandom. I’m one of the fools who would hope and nod with excitement when Bob Murphy used to say that there was a feeling on the team that this could very well be the Year of the Hammer.
As for not enough depth, what are we talking about? To me, the saving graces of this season have been the way in which Sheffield, Pagan, Santos, Cora, Hernandez, Nieve, and Stokes have played. Do other teams have more depth than this, pluckable out if thin air or pullable up from the minors? From what I’ve been reading, the Mets farm system is hardly decimated. The best players are just not near ready. That’s okay. I mean, give them a break. If someone had told me that the Mets were going to lose Beltran, Delgado, Reyes, Putz, and Maine for most of the season, I would not have guessed that the team would have a record as good as 50-55 by this point. I don’t believe that any team in the majors could suffer a hit of this magnitude, in terms of injuries, and play anywhere near their expected level. As for whether or not there was medical mismanagement: I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.
What I will criticize about management is that they don’t take sufficiently seriously their obligation to serve as the custodians of the Mets’ identity and heritage. It is shameful for an executive of a team to dismiss the idea of an “Old-Timers’ Day” game because it is not sufficiently profitable. We all know that baseball is a business, but management has to know that fans don’t love baseball because it’s a business. We don’t give a flying f— how much money the owners make. The owners have been entrusted with our faith, our personal identities, and our family histories. This game is about our souls and our community, not their bucks. Owning a baseball team is a privilege, a public trust. So if your fans want an “Old Timers’ Day” game or a “Banner Day,” a Mets museum, a visible Mets Hall of Fame, Mets banners, Mets logos, Mets colors, in a stadium that feels like the home of the Mets, if your fans want to stand behind the dugouts and see the players up close in batting practice two hours before the game the way they used to in their old stadium, you give it to them! Do you hear me?! It DOESN’T MATTER whether or not any of these things increase profitability (they do in the long run, but American business doesn’t usually take the long run into account). None of this would cost you more than a backup shortstop. To make Citi Field a true home for the Mets fan is your moral responsibility. You owe us this. And we would appreciate enormously having some sign from you that you understand this obligation.
The Mets played a good game last night. They fell behind 6-0 and I felt so bad for Nelson Figueroa, a fine man who was watching his life pass before his eyes. But then the Mets struggled to come back. They scored 5 runs, and the relievers gave up nothing. They didn’t win. But they played. I hate doing this kind of thing, but this game may have been a metaphor for our season. Here were good players who cared, doing their best to come from behind. They didn’t make it all the way, but still … They probably won’t make up the space between them and a playoff berth. But they’ll play. And there will be a grand slam here and there. And we’ll believe something at least. If the Mets could do 40-17, not at all likely but not impossible, they will have won 90 games. That might be good enough for something. It would have been the last two years.
Look, maybe everything’s rotten to the core in ways we don’t know about. Maybe it would be the smartest thing to hate the Mets and their management and their organization and all of it. Maybe it would be best to forget about them and wait until next year. But they’re only 5 games under .500. And guys are coming back. And I need them. You do too. Baseball may be an ugly thing behind the scenes. But it is beautiful out here out front, where we are, listening to Gary, Keith, and Ron, or Howie and Wayne, or screaming ourselves hoarse in the Promenade or on the Pepsi Porch. This game is not about all the bullshit. It is about us and how we can dupe ourselves into hoping.