By Bob Gaydos
OK, I have avoided writing about this topic for years because I didn’t want to have to deal with the whining, delusional comments that pass for rational argument among Mets fans. But honestly, I don’t get it. I don’t get how anyone can be a Mets fan.
As far as I can tell, being a Mets fan these days consists of being willing to root for a boring team made up of mediocre major leaguers, rookies who never ripen, and established major league stars who are always hurt. But more than that, it’s fans caring about some of these mediocre players and talking about them as if they are ever going to be good major league players that baffles me. You know, like Joe Beningo and his kid sidekick, Evan, on WFAN or that noontime kid on ESPN Radio.
They go on and on about a team that has tanked at the end of the year for a decade, whose legitimate star pitcher may not pitch this year, whose star outfielder and shortstop have been hurt more than they’ve been healthy for two years and whose star third baseman, who literally broke his back playing for them, has spells where he literally couldn’t hit the ball if it was the size of a grapefruit.
All the rest is gruel. Plus, the owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and can’t spend money to get better players, so he’s going to have to trade his few blue chips for some young, potential stars. And we know how well that’s worked out recently. Wilpon has stayed quietly in the background most of the time, letting his general managers and managers talk about the team to the working press, which in the Mets’ case also contains a disproportionate quota of wanna-believers whose memories don’t go back past the 1990s.
But Wilpon sat down last month with a talented reporter from the New Yorker, a publication with no rooting interest save selling more magazines. The story that resulted told about Wilpon’s rags-to-riches story in real estate and his being snookered by Madoff. He and Madoff says that’s what happened; a trustee for other big losers say Wilpon knew what was going on. But that’s another story. Wilpon also made some comments in the New Yorker about his team and star players that has Mets nation in a tizzy. Here’s how it was reported in the Sporting News (also a non-rooting publication):
“The comments were made on April 20 while Wilpon watched a 4-3 loss to the Astros with the reporter, so don't blame him for coming across more as fan than executive. Jose Reyes, whose contract is up after the season, had led off with a single and stolen second when Wilpon told the New Yorker, ‘He's a racehorse. He thinks he's going to get Carl Crawford money (a seven-year $142 million contract). He won't get it.’
“When David Wright hit, Wilpon said: ‘A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.’
“About Carlos Beltran, given a seven-year, $119 million deal by the Mets, Wilpon took a shot at himself as well as his player: ‘We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one (2004 playoff) series. He's 65 to 70 per cent of what he was.’
“Finally, the magazine sums up what Wilpon thought about the Mets at the time when Ike Davis stepped in. ‘Good hitter,’ Wilpon said. ‘(Cruddy) team-good hitter.’ ”
Only he didn’t say cruddy.
Now, any Mets fan who can utter the words Armando Benitez with a proper sneer, knows that Wilpon’s assessments are right on. But the whining is that he didn’t have to say it publicly. Oh, please. He’s owned the team for 30 years. He remembers when they were a star-studded, scrappy bunch of all-stars, even if many of the fans don’t. He also knows he hasn’t delivered that kind of team nearly as often as he should have, what with playing in the biggest market in the country and making tons of money because of it.
Wilpon and his baseball staff have let Mets fans down year after year by failing to draft or trade for good, never mind star, players, by running a wreck of a medical staff that has seen star after star go down year after year, passing it off as being “snake-bitten,” and by being unbelievably inept in public relations. (They made manager Willie Randolph fly to the West Coast so they could fire him in the middle of the night.)
Mets fan know that they have to trade Beltran for some young player(s). Ditto Reyes. Wilpon is trying to sell a huge hunk of the team just to keep operating, for Pete’s sake. And he was absolutely right about Wright. Nice kid. Trouble throwing to first base. The thing is, Mets fans know all this and jabber about it on talk radio for hours (or at least when Joe and Evan are on), but for some reason the guy who pays the players’ salaries is not supposed to talk about it.
His saying it publicly doesn’t change anything. They will play for their next big contracts, wherever they may be and fans will talk about Ike Davis as if he’s the second coming of Keith Hernandez. Keith’s in the TV booth now with Ron Darling, who may still be better than anyone in the Mets’ starting five.
I have digressed all over the place because, as I said, I don’t get it. Yes, of course, I’m a Yankee fan, and have been for about 60 years. Mets fans, I am told, hate the Yankees and Yankee fans. Yankee fans don’t care. We have enough trouble wondering why Brett Gardner is still in the major leagues and when Derek Jeter (who was supposedly washed up two weeks go) will get his 3,000th hit.
Yankee fans are used to a team owner talking publicly about star players. No, it was not always useful, but George Steinbrenner also poured tens of millions of dollars back into his team every year to try to keep it a winner, or at the very least, fun to watch. Many Mets fans I know are still hung up on the Brooklyn Dodgers, who also lost to the Yankees a lot, but who at least were always fun to watch and had lots of star players. I think these older Mets fans think Yankee fans are condescending. I don’t think so. I think Yankee fans just really don’t care about the Mets because lately it’s the same old story -- they can’t seem to get out of their own way. (Personally, I loved the ‘69 World Series and bringing Willie Mays back for a curtain call. In the ‘86 World Series, I rooted for the Mets. Of course, they did beat the Boston Red Sox.)
I also think Mets fans think that the true test of a fan is whether he or she is willing to suffer stoically and endlessly through lean times with the team. Again, just listen to the radio shows. But the Yankees didn’t win much in the ‘60s or ‘80s. The thing is, they never stopped trying and they were hardly ever boring. They set the bar high and, yes, they paid well to reach it. They still do. That’s why Yankee fans get upset when the team doesn’t play up to expectations (like losing Friday to a Mets knuckleballer). It may be easier to be a Yankee fan than a Met fan, but it’s much harder to be a Yankee player than a Mets player. Because it’s what they’ve done, their fans expect the Yankees to win. Not always, but usually. There is nothing wrong with winning. It’s why they keep score.
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OK, Mets fans, you get your say in the comment box below, or e-mail me. Why do you do what you do? Of course, any Yankee fan who wants to chime in is welcome as well.