Idle Thoughts on a Boring Team
Watching the Mets-Yankees this weekend, my thoughts turned to Met fans and the nature of their team. Iâ€™ll admit, I was once a member of that beleaguered crew.
At the start, back in â€™62 when the Mets and I were both born, the new New Yorkers paired no-talent youngsters with past-their-prime oldsters, led by an addle-minded Shar Pei of a manager. But they were a hoot, fun to watch, easy to root for, something of a template for the Special Olympics. So when they won it all in 1969, there could be no greater feeling of joy, especially to a little boy first becoming aware of the game.
As they squandered opportunities over the next several years, often pre-season favorites due to the strength of their pitching staff, the Mets always frustratingly hovered around the .500 mark, the victim of weak hitting. Still, they had something going for them. That something may have been Tom Seaver, but that era of Millan, Jones, Koosman and Matlack, with the George Theodore and Teddy Marinez types thrown in for comic relief, did produce a pennant and much enthusiasm.
Iâ€™ll admit that I jumped from the team of my youth when they traded Tom Terrific. The 11 oâ€™clock news on that fateful June trading deadline day of 1977 broke my teenage heart and changed the way I viewed the game. Turns out I was more of a Seaver fan than a Met fan, and when he was unceremoniously dumped, I realized I loved the game more than the team, and that play belonged to the players. The owners may well control the uniforms and the ballparks and the business of baseball, but BASEBALL was, and is, all about the players. I began to appreciate what was happening on the field free from the bias of a rooting interest. It was an epiphany.
Still, I followed the hapless period of Mazzilli and Youngblood, and watched as free agency passed the Mets by. When the brass in Queens signed Tom Hausman the day before the Yankees inked Rich Gossage, you had to laugh. Nothing marked the different trajectories of the two Gotham teams than those two days in November 1977. And when the Mets did begin winning, building a titanic force on prized gets like Strawberry and Gooden, trades both brilliantly insightful (Darling and Fernandez) and risky (the drug tainted Hernandez), they were interesting to watch. Sure, they had a healthy dose of off-putting attitude, but they were incredibly good and compelling. Winning suited the team well, and the transformation from pathetic and lovable to efficient and powerful seemed to fit well into the franchiseâ€™s historic arc.
So what went wrong? Certainly the rapid demise of that 1980â€™s team, a lethal combination of drugs and old age, brought the Metsies into doldrums. Ultimately, 1999-2000 the lone exceptions, the core dilemma for a Mets fan is that the brass tended to make an infinite amount of awful decisions. They have, almost without exception, signed the highest profile, yet worst free agents, available â€“ Coleman, Bonilla, Vaughn, Alomar, Bay. Big names for big namesâ€™ sake. Not since the Yankees of Steve Kemp and Dave Collins has a team pursued the marquee players without a plan. And they never seem to learn. As an organization they have no identity. Thatâ€™s their biggest crime. Is there a truly memorable player in the last 20 years besides Mike Piazza? Who, Rico Brogna?
Tom Seaver once said that he never understood why the Mets tried to match the Yankees in the history game, when they had no prayer of coming out on top. Why, Seaver queried, didnâ€™t they embrace their own interesting past? True Metsâ€™ fans relish the days of Ed Kranepool and Craig Swan. Theyâ€™re not ashamed of it. They donâ€™t want a new ballpark that is more about the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson than the Mets.
Which leads me back to this weekend. Did it matter if the Mets beat the Yankees? Is it so devastating when they give up 8 runs in an inning? What is there to root for? Itâ€™s a â€œwho caresâ€ team in a â€œwho caresâ€ ballpark. Worse than that, the Mets are no fun, and havenâ€™t been for years. Thatâ€™s a shame, because thereâ€™s a hell of a lot of good baseball out there. Just ask Indiansâ€™ and Raysâ€™ fans.