(Mets COO Jeff Wilpon modeling one of those character-building windbreakers David Howard endorsed on the radio Monday)
(Note: hugely long, hugely Mets-y and me-involved. I don’t even know if this caveat is required at this point, but there you go)
I’m only now listening to the Mets’ weird roundtable grilling from Mike Francesa that GC mentioned on Monday. I didn’t really want to hear it, and I’m allergic to Francesa’s voice — my medical staff is working on finding out why, but apparently Francesa allergy is medically similar to gluten intolerance — so I’ll probably stop soon. But as I was watching the Twins/Tigers play-in game today my mind kept being drawn back to the Mets. After all, the Twins are built kind of like the Mets — two transcendent stars, two or three competent supporting guys and a bunch of humpy role players — but are out there gutting out one of the most awesome victories I’ve ever watched, while the Mets spent the last two-plus months forgetting how many outs there were. How, I was wondering, did this happen. And now, in my headphones, I’m being reminded of how, and why.
I’m working a not-very-exciting office gig now, and spent a lot of my afternoon reading different mournful/pissed-off essays on different Mets blogs about how unsatisfying this particular audio spectacle was. Dana Brand is sad about the chilly, over-branded corporate vibe at CitiField, and how oblivious these dudes seem to it. Caryn “Metsgrrl” Rose is hacked off by the broader, howling out-of-touchness demonstrated by the three power dudes in front of the mics. And Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing came closest to getting at what I’ve felt since maybe May — this sense that these guys just kind of don’t know what they’re talking about, and thus that the hapless Wilpon or more-hapless, more-aggro Minaya hurt the team’s cause every time they open their mouths.
And you know what? Sure, points taken. Dana Brand wants to sit down and chop it up with Dave Howard, get listened to, be heard, add a fan section (everyday heroes!) to the team’s proposed Hall of Fame — and man, go get it if that’s what you want. Caryn Rose thinks Howard should go to hell, and while that might be a bit much, I also honestly would rather he go somewhere else, and if hell is indeed in a borough other than Queens, sure. But at some point the whole thing just goes foggy for me, and for the first time in a long time I can’t care. It just makes me sad, and not in the way that I’m sad when my team loses, but sad in the way I was during the early months of 2008.
Stage IV Bush Admin, this was: tons of things were going wrong in the country and it was obvious that no one was really going to do anything to fix any of it because it either wasn’t their lookout (and anyway, they got into governing because they hated government, so how could they help?), or they didn’t know how, or they had to be at a prayer breakfast and didn’t have time. That sick sense of drift, of drift towards chaos under the drowsy eyes of people who didn’t care enough and wouldn’t know how to fix things anyway — that shit is wrenching, and pretty much the opposite of the cheap thrills I seek in sports. At least with the New Jersey Nets, I have a narrative I can use to explain the nausea they make me feel — the franchise is being looted by half-retarded brand managers without regard for the fans who (ostensibly) pay the bills. With the Mets, there’s not even that — the owners’ financial situation is so opaque (and its behavior so obtuse) that it begs the wildest speculation (everyone’s broke!); the entire program has suddenly been revealed as so breathtakingly bankrupt (Buffalo, Binghamton, the incompetent millionaire support staff) that the mind reels. There isn’t an explanation that could possibly enfold all of this simultaneous collapsing; failure this suspiciously complete is where Truthers come from.
And as was the case in the last days of the last administration, too, nothing was done — no one held accountable, no real change affected — once it became clear how fucked it all was. The roster with which the Mets enter the offseason is as talent-deficient as any in the Majors — seriously, I’ll argue this — and yet the GM is coming back because he’s The Guy We Trust To Put It Back Together. The team played abject, gobsmacked, hopeless and defeated baseball — and made innumerable fundamental mistakes in the process — for most of the season, but the manager (who wouldn’t even play the few young players he has down the bleak stretch) is coming back because It Wasn’t His Fault. A few base coaches are shuffled, a few small promotions are made further down the food chain, and while I never relish people losing their jobs (usually), I felt kind of insulted by all this. All the message discipline on display in the interview was admirable, but there was no sense that those answering the questions felt 1) that things had collapsed or 2) that they would collapse again if rebuilt the same way. And… okay, new paragraph.
Honestly, I can cheer for a losing team. There’s even a part of me that likes it, so ingrained is the habit for me after a couple decades with the Nets and Mets. And the Mets have run some fairly endearing crap teams out there — the false hope of Victor Diaz or Danny Garcia was at least better than whatever else was on TV that Tuesday back in 2005. But this team, this year… maybe it’s just me reading too much into (and writing too much about) something that happens every year somewhere, but — to me, this team, this year was worse. This Mets team, and the early prospects for next year’s, looks a lot like an existential bummer, more than a baseball one — a reminder of the fan’s inevitably minor lot, an unpleasant leisure-team reminder of how many of the macro-scale decisions in our lives are made by clownish, vain incompetents miles above where we sit, people whose ideologies don’t extend much beyond their own puffed-up biases.
At the risk of further belaboring a well-labored point, I don’t need to go to SNY for that; it’s on CNN and Fox, and I don’t even watch those anymore. I could never have imagined, as a kid, how delicate a balance it is to climb out of bed to go do something stupid all day so that I’ll have money to do a cheap version of what actually matters to me. But it is a tricky thing, at least for me, and it requires anodynes that function properly — not that necessarily provide joy, but which at least don’t invoke all these chilling, ugly broader certainties. The Mets are supposed to be something fun, something trivial to care about until 10:15 or so on summer nights, at which point I move the fuck on. And yet by the end of the season, their every defeated defeat reminded me more and more of, like, the Bush State Department; every mealy-mouthed management justification that has come after reminds me more and more of… I was going to type something about the cynicism of the health care debate, or some corporate-funded think tank shill begging “more study” on climate change or whatever. But I’m going to not finish that sentence. That is my reductio ad Hitlerum, and I think we can all do without that.
And yet, emotionally, that’s where I am after all this. That’s where I am after the interviews, the insulting small shuffles of the coaching staff (hold your head, Luis Alicea), the news that (expensive, charmless, resolutely replacement-level) Alex Cora will return as the utility infielder, that we’ll get another few months of Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel before they’re desultorily sacked (failing some stuff I don’t foresee) sometime next year when the Mets once again play roughly the way they did this season. Joe Posnanski, in one of those unquotably dense and specific blog posts he does — it’s about the Royals adding Yuniesky Betancourt, and it’s here — dropped one very pithy, very telling sentence that has been circling my brain over the last couple of days. “One of the more frustrating things about being a fan,” he wrote, “is when you root for a team that so clearly has a different philosophy about sports than you have about sports.” And that’s microcosmic, in a lot of ways — it’s also what’s frustrating about, say, thinking you know how your government should do this or that and then watching it do something else. Or — and here’s where it gets really microcosmic, really frustrating — watching it just do nothing at all.
I have a vague and probably wrong idea of how the Mets should go about being the Mets; I have other things going on and don’t really totally understand a lot of what I see at FanGraphs and also haven’t played competitive baseball since I was 16 and if you add that up I frankly am probably not right about much of what I think. But it’s something. And I don’t have, after the Mets’ early-week PR blitz, a sense that there’s even a philosophy at work on that team that I can agree or disagree with. It’s one thing to root for a bad baseball team; it’s another thing entirely to root for an abyss, and one that stares its torpid emptiness back into you when you’re just trying to procrastinate at work about a feasible mid-rotation free-agent starter. Considering all that, there’s something kind of touching to me about Dana Brand wanting to get behind the dugout during BP and talk to Dave Howard or whatever. I just want to go to bed. Until March, when I’ll probably forget all this and get back to doing as I’ve always done.