No, this isn't a freakout over Gaby Hernandez plus Somebody Else for Paul LoDuca — for equal servings of brains and brouhaha about that, check out the reader comments on the always-excellent MetsBlog and MetsGeek. (Better bring your oven mitts.) My 30-second take: We have to wait until March, since you gotta see the team that goes north before you can say the GM's gone south. Though the Gaby/LoDuca trade is an ideal sadistic social experiment designed to keep the Moneyball and Makeup gangs clawing at each other's jugulars. LoDuca's old, doesn't walk, doesn't hit for power and is overpaid — unless he's battle-tested, doesn't strike out, a high-average hitter and a clubhouse leader.
(And of course if he's a Diamondback by the end of the week, we won't give a fig about his qualities.)
Nope, that title up there refers not to whether or not our GM has lost his mind, but to the resumption of our trip through Met Hell. It's a tour that was put on hiatus because, honestly, what's the point of fuming about the sins of Rey Sanchez while Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner are at the podium? But now that they've been introduced, time to delve a little deeper. Welcome to the Fifth Circle of Met Hell, reserved for three men we may not actually hate, but sure did come to dislike. (If you want a refresher, Circles One, Two, Three and Four are still open for tours.)
Dave Kingman — As a teenager I lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., and in 1985 you couldn't go to a Mets (or Cardinals) game at Al Lang without eventually hearing about the home run Dave Kingman hit there as a new Met in 1975 — the older fans would point beyond the left-field wall to Bayshore Drive, noting that the ball landed right there and one hop took it into Tampa Bay. That would inevitably lead to a discussion of the enormous blast Kingman hit in Ft. Lauderdale off Catfish Hunter. So far so good. Except the conversation would soon run aground on the unhappy reality that Dave Kingman was a psychopath. What got into him? It can't have helped that the Giants tried their hardest to ruin him, shuffling him madly from first to left to right to third and, as if that weren't punishment enough, ordering him to the mound for mop-up work. The Mets were a fresh start and Kingman seemed pleasant enough at first, but the sheer oddity of the man became increasingly hard to hide: He grumbled about official scorers, threatened to do nothing but bunt when Yogi Berra sensibly tried platooning him, and seemed to glory in remaking himself into an utterly one-dimensional player, interested in nothing except hitting astonishing home runs and increasingly incapable of doing anything else. As for fan relations, read Jeff Pearlman's The Bad Guys Won, in which Sky King takes sadistic delight in ruining young Pearlman's prized baseball. In Chicago Kingman blew off his own T-shirt Day; in Oakland he pursued a crazy/scary jihad against Sacramento Bee sportswriter Sue Fornoff, haranguing her for daring to enter the locker room to do her job, refusing to discuss career milestones while she was present, and finally sending her a live rat in a gift box. That touching gift was delivered in June 1986, and 1986 would prove to be Kingman's last season. No team was interested in his services in 1987, despite the fact that he was just 38 and was coming off a 35-HR campaign. Was it the immense train of baggage that Kingman dragged along with him? Ask Sue Fornoff. Or Mets fans.
Gregg Jefferies — This one hurts, because Gregg Jefferies was my favorite player when I was 20. “You only like Jefferies because he's the Met most like you,” the Human Fight said that spring, and he was dead-on as usual. I liked the fact that Jefferies was prodigiously talented, prodigiously arrogant, awfully young, and the property of the New York Mets, because I liked to think that was also a pretty good description of me. (I can only pray I managed to track down and burn every copy of a fantastically horrid poem I wrote along those lines, a memory I had successfully repressed until a couple of minutes ago. God, I hate myself.) Anyway, Jefferies had lit up the TV down the stretch in 1988, playing his guts out (and, OK, somehow getting hit by a batted ball) against the Dodgers, and while that turned out wretchedly, it seemed certain that he and we were headed for great things in 1989. Except we weren't; in fact, by about the midpoint of 1990 we all knew Jefferies was socially maladroit to an avert-your-eyes degree. I remember reading the famous Sports Illustrated article about him with increasing horror, from his inability to stop shocking minor-league crowds with his incessant swearing to the portrait of him as one of these pitiable marionette children wrecked by a stage-managing parent. Yes, he was treated cruelly in the clubhouse, coddled by Davey Johnson and used poorly by Buddy Harrelson, but he also seemed to have a gift for saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing or just being the wrong thing. Then there was the infamous “open letter” on WFAN — I cringed the moment I heard “Jefferies” and “letter.” (And then cringed again when Ron Darling, who should have known better, compounded the idiocy with his own open letter.) The phenom was done before his 33rd birthday; he's 38 now, and for his sake I pray he's not in the swimming pool perfecting his swing with his crazy father.
Armando Benitez — Originally Armando had no place in Met Hell; according to the ground rules, he seemed safe. After all, it wasn't lack of trying that undid him in all those big games; if anything, it might have been trying too hard. God knows we've argued about this before — check out the run of comments appended to this post for a lively discussion. But on further review he's here, and not just because at least once every winter until I die I'll realize I've just spent the better part of an hour working myself into a fury thinking about how Armando walked Paul Fucking O'Neill. No, Armando makes the list because I think the final judgment on his failures and frustrations will be that too many of them had something to do with his utter inability to control his emotions, to focus, and to lead a life that wasn't a train wreck on the field and off of it. It wasn't bad luck that made Armando's mechanics fall apart time and time again when he'd come out of the bullpen and find his heart starting to race. It wasn't bad luck that made him abandon the splitter after a couple of tries and start trying to throw 200-MPH fastballs. And then there was the constant parade of stupidity surrounding his man-child act — the domestic violence, the freakouts at the press, the screaming that he needed an empty locker next to his. (And that's just the stuff we knew about — Bob Klapisch had a story in the spring about Armando coming to Shea the day of the Todd Pratt game and saying he wouldn't pitch because he was distraught over a fight with his girlfriend. God only knows how many other things like that happened.) With Armando it was always Some Damn Thing, which would be followed by some horrid meltdown, which would be followed by an orgy of coddling and madly supportive testimonials in the papers and desperate attaboying until Armando's rickety confidence was taped back together, at which point Some Other Damn Thing would happen. That's not to say every blown save began inside Armando's skull, but it's impossible to look at Ozzie Guillen and Craig Counsell and Brian Jordan and J.T. Snow and Jorge Posada and Pat Burrell and Paul Fucking O'Neill and every other cigarette burn to the ulcer that was Armando Benitez, Closer, and chalk them all up to bad luck. Armando wasn't a bad closer or a bad guy, but he's most definitely on the list.
Next stop: That's it for Mets Heck; from now on we're sizzling. The sixth through ninth circles of Met Hell are home to truly detestable occupants. Bring the hate. You're gonna need it.