Welcome to Met Hell, which you'll find owes a certain something to depictions of the real thing. Now, here's the good news: Compared to that real thing, the Hell that holds a lot more than baseball players, Met Hell isn't really that bad a place. Oh sure, as we descend you'll find some malcontents and miscreants, and there are some truly bad characters we'll encounter late in our tour. But not so many of them, thank goodness. Compared with some other clubs, we've gotten off pretty easy.
The first circle of Met Hell is Limbo. Dante defined it as the place for virtuous pagans and the unbaptized — they weren't really punished, but they didn't get to hobnob with God, either. So it is with Met Limbo — it's reserved for Mets we bear no particular grudge and may even have a certain fondness for, particularly since they were part of some very good campaigns. But there's a creepiness at the core of these guys that makes us reluctant to truly embrace them, whatever grand deeds they might have been a part of.
Rey Ordonez — OK, he redefined shortstop in our eyes, and his debut was incredible. We were both there, Opening Day in the rain, and the throw he made to nail Royce Clayton at the plate (I can hear Gary Cohen yelping “FROM HIS KNEES!” as I type) produced a sound I'd never heard in a stadium before: the sound of 18,000+ people turning to the 18,000+ next to them and murmuring, “Did he really just do that?” An amazed burble, stadium-sized. Ah, but that wasn't all of Rey. It became clear all too soon that the O Rey wore on the back of his shirt was for “obnoxious.” He sulked. He pouted. He pretended he couldn't speak English until the very end of his Met career, in which he used his sudden command of the language to seal his fate by announcing we were all stupid. (Um, no. Hypercritical, yes. Vindictive, sure. Bitter, absolutely. But not stupid.) He couldn't even remain interested in the entirety of his own highlight video — if the Mets didn't edit out the scene of a bored Rey-O starting to wander away from Cookie Rojas, just imagine what they left on the cutting-room floor. The Mets could never turn his escape from Cuba into a stirring tale because there was the small matter that he left a wife behind who hardly ever got discussed because Rey found himself a new wife with unseemly haste. And the hitting? Ugh. Rey Ordonez may have been the stupidest hitter who ever lived. He bunted at the wrong time. He had not even the vaguest command of the strike zone. His determination to hit home runs made him a black hole in the lineup for weeks at a time. He was utterly and completely uncoachable, utterly and completely self-centered, and thoroughly unlikeable. Oh, but that stadium-sized murmur….
Rickey Henderson — There's an asterisk on this one, because we knew perfectly well what we were getting. But we sure got it. Rickey's 1999 was fairly amazing — he hit .315 and stole 37 bases at the tender age of 40 and (even more amazingly) managed to make Roger Cedeno a productive baseball player. But it all turned sour in the playoffs, and you could pinpoint the moment: Game 4 of the Arizona series, when Bobby Valentine pulled him for defense. Rickey's replacement (Melvin Mora) immediately proved Bobby right by gunning down Jay Bell at home, but Rickey whined nonetheless. Then he played cards with Bobby Bonilla while the rest of the team was fighting to the death against the Braves. In spring training the next year he started bitching about a raise, complained about the trip to Japan, then dogged his way through the next five weeks. Finally, the end: He jogged to first on an apparent home run against the Marlins, wound up with a single when it didn't go out, was booed mercilessly and properly by the fans and criticized by Valentine. His response? He threatened a New York Post reporter and said he'd do the same thing next time. There was no next time. “After considering everything that happened last night and this morning, something had to be done,” said Steve Phillips, adding that “no matter how talent you have, if you continue to create problems and situations, you wear out your welcome. We got to the point where we had to compromise our ideals and what we expect from our players too often.” Just for making me agree with Steve Phillips, he's on the list.
Kevin McReynolds — An absolute killer of a season in 1988, when he and Darryl complemented each other so perfectly that they stole each other's MVP votes and delivered the prize to Kirk Fucking Gibson. Tremendous power, wily baserunner, terrific arm from the outfield. But he played baseball with the kind of passion normally shown by DMV clerks. His wife didn't help: Her infamous call to WFAN defending K-Mac's laser-quick departures from Shea because, as she explained, her man wanted to beat the traffic is probably in some manual for team wives on what not to do. Of course K-Mac didn't always wait for the end of the game — in late 1989 he and Darryl got caught in the Wrigley Field clubhouse changing into their street clothes, which would have been fine except the game wasn't over and they had to hustle back during a desperate ninth-inning rally. Kevin McReynolds never did anything truly wrong, and he didn't owe fans any more than what he gave them on the field, which for a while was beyond reproach. But he's living proof that for baseball to be any fun, those of us watching must at least be able to imagine that the guy down on the field doing things we could only dream of doing gives a shit that he's doing them.
Darryl Strawberry — What? Darryl? Our Ted Williams? The Straw That Stirs the Drink? Why is he on this list? C'mon Jace, he's not a bad guy, just a weak guy. A tragic figure. Well, OK, sure. But c'mon now. Didn't you get sick of Darryl Strawberry? Of his constant illnesses, including sick days that coincided with the recording of “Chocolate Strawberry,” possibly the worst hip-hop song in history? Of the domestic violence? Of the fight on team-photo day? (Though the resulting photo is a classic, with Darryl and Keith Hernandez in a fury and Davey Johnson looking like he's just aged about a decade.) Of his stint in Smithers, which just happened to be timed to delay more potential domestic-violence charges? Of his equally phony stint as a Jesus freak? Of the endless sulking and whining and talking shit? Of the ridiculous book he, um, wrote? Didn't you get sick of it all more times than you care to remember? In Game 7 of the '86 series, Darryl hit a home run in the 8th to make it 7-5 Mets, and afterwards you can see Ray Knight intercept him before the dugout, telling him something urgent. He's telling him to be a man and shake Davey Johnson's hand. Moments after helping secure the Mets' second World Series title, Darryl Strawberry needed to be told to be a man. OK, fine, I agree. Darryl isn't a bad guy. Hell, he's a tragic figure. Would you still think so if he'd hit 15 homers a year?
Next stop: The circle of Met Hell reserved for those of unseemly reputation, and a weighing of their sins or lack thereof while clad in blue and orange.