What Now?

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The Mets are 52-60.  To win 90 games, which is what a team would probably need to win the Wild Card, they must win 38 and lose 12 of their remaining 50 games.  The 1969 Mets, in their spectacular final 49 games of the season, were 38-11.  We’d have to see something like that again.  Who would do it for us?  We don’t have Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, Ryan, Cardwell, McGraw, and Taylor.  We have a player hitting as well as Cleon Jones did that year.  But we don’t have an Agee, Clendenon, or Shamsky.  We don’t have spectacular defense up the middle.  We don’t have the Northern Lights or the dimensional rupture or the visitation of divine Grace or whatever the hell happened that summer that human beings landed on the moon.  The Phillies are unlikely to crumble like the Cubs did.  It isn’t happening.  To win 38 of 50 is just barely within the realm of baseball possibility.  But you know and I know that it is not possible with the team we have on the field right now.

There was some hope eleven games ago, when the Mets were 49-52 and needed to win 41 and lose 20 to make it to 90.  But it would be hard even for the most extreme optimist (and I am pretty extreme) to have hope at this point.  For all intents and purposes, I surrender my hopes for this season.  I am very sad to do this. 

What do we do now?  Well, we don’t root for the Yankees, that much is certain.  And now that the Red Sox have lost their tragic grandeur and have merely become the best organization in baseball, I don’t feel like rooting for them.  I am resentful enough of the Dodgers for being all over my team’s new stadium that I cannot wish them well.  Oh, I don’t care who makes it to the playoffs or who wins it.

I care about my Mets.  My sorry shambles of the Mets.  I know all the stuff that people are saying about bad talent decisions and an indifference to baseball fundamentals.  Maybe.  Maybe.  But I’m still skeptical.  As I see it, if the Mets hadn’t lost Reyes, Delgado, Beltran, Maine, and Putz, they’d have ten more games in the win column (is it unreasonable to see two games turned around for each one of these players?).  If the Mets were 62-49, you wouldn’t hear so much about how badly the organization is run.  They’d be in the thick of everything and we would all be happy people.

But now, of course, we’re not happy people.  And many of us are bitter, and resentful.  After two seasons that just ended the way they did, and after the opening of an attractive new stadium that takes too much of our money for the best seats, and pays too little attention to who we are and what we’ve been through, there’s a lot of bile in our system.  We deserved better.  We deserved more.  We aren’t going to get it this year.  Whose fault is that?

As I’ve said before, I will criticize what I feel I can criticize.  But I honestly do not blame the Mets for the disappointments of this season.  Our season has not come.  I don’t know when it is coming. 

And I’m not interested in blaming anybody.  Blame them for what?  For not signing Raul Ibanez, for not signing Derek Lowe?  They lost last year because of a bad bullpen.  Everything else was pretty good.  There was plenty of offense and a lot of good starting pitching.  So they addressed the biggest weakness and signed Frankie Rodriguez and J.J Putz.  Where was the dumbness in that?  What do we expect of the people who run the team?  Where is the evidence that they don’t care enough about winning?  Who cares enough about winning?  The Steinbrenners? 

Baseball is a game.  It is maddeningly unpredictable.  Chance plays an enormous role.  It’s not like chess.  The smarter player doesn’t always win.  It’s hard to tell good moves from bad ones in any objective sense.  Fans are good at criticizing results that don’t conform to their expectations.  But sometimes the most reasonable response to a bad result is not criticism but lamentation.

I am lamenting.  I wish this hadn’t happened.  But it happened.  And I will follow the rest of the season as closely as I followed the first two-thirds.  Following the Mets is an epic journey.  You have to be there for all of it or else you are missing some really important stuff.  It is not enough to just show up for the good times.  It is not enough to just have the obvious fun of victory.

There is also the fun of still being around when the rest of the world is ignoring them, the fun of watching to see if players like Pelfrey and Perez find the stability to become the superstars you still think they have the potential to be, the fun of finding out if there really is anything to Daniel Murphy, the fun of wondering how the presence of a personality like Jeff Francoeur is going to affect the team.  There is the wonder of watching David Wright, the greatest hitter ever to come out of the Mets organization, as he battles for a batting crown and the team’s dignity alone and unprotected in the lineup.  There is the pure intellectual pleasure of listening to Gary Cohen and Ron Darling talk to each other about baseball after midnight when the Mets are in the West and the rest of the house is quiet.  There is something interesting, at least, about rooting for a team that isn’t in it, that will have to struggle to clear .500.

There has to be fun like this in baseball.  It is wrong to think you deserve to be in contention just because you have the second highest payroll in baseball.  The average team is a .500 team.  The average franchise spends half its life below that mark.  When I hear all the anger of Mets fans now, I can’t help but wonder.  Given the current economics of baseball, are there any circumstances now in which Mets fans would be willing to accept a mediocre or a below .500 season?  Are there any circumstances in which Mets fans would be willing to accept not being in contention?  Is a shrug still possible, or a bittersweet smile?   Or can we only be below .500 for reasons that are simply not acceptable in this town!  

I don’t want to appear to be tolerant of bad management or corporate complacency.  There are ways in which I am bitter about all the loyalty I gave to the horrific management of the Mets in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  I don’t want to go there again.  But I want to find a way of being able to resent bad management without feeling that merely being below .500 is proof of bad management.

This is all part of the story.  And the definition of a bad story is that it gives you what you were expecting exactly when you were expecting it.  Good stories involve hope and surprise, neither of which are meaningful without the possibility of failure.  I’m sorry, guys.  I don’t like failure any more than you do.  But it is part of the texture of reality and baseball, and if it isn’t then there’s something wrong.  This was not our year.  But it’s still happening.  They’re still playing.  There’s still this year and there’s still next year.  And there was last year and the year before.


My new book, The Last Days of Shea:  Delight and Despair in the Life of a Mets Fan can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $11.53.  You will have it in your hands before the end of August.  In the meantime, you can read samples and blurbs here.


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