And here we are at last. The Ninth Circle of Met Hell.
In the Inferno, the Ninth Circle is a frozen lake, at whose center Dante and Virgil find Satan, trapped in the ice and chewing on Brutus, Cassius and the head of Judas Iscariot. The deepest part of Met Hell, however, does not look like the cover of a heavy-metal album. All you’ll find here is a small, dimly lit room. It is empty except for a tarp cylinder. There’s a man trapped under the tarp cylinder. He’s been down here for some time.
Why? Let’s go back and find out.
It’s July 24, 1993. We’re in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. Meet Vincent Maurice Coleman, a 31-year-old professional baseball player. He’s in his third year with the New York Mets, and it’s not going well. Once a Cardinals speedster, he arrived in New York before the 1991 season, signing a four-year, $12 million deal as the key man in the team’s post-Darryl makeover. But various injuries — usually to his hamstrings — have prevented him from ever putting together a decent season as a Met, and he’s done himself zero favors with his off-field behavior. There have been, well, incidents. Like the time he cursed out coach Mike Cubbage during batting practice and refused to apologize. Like the ugly confrontation with Jeff Torborg in the Atlanta clubhouse that ended with a two-game suspension. Like the time he hit Dwight Gooden in the shoulder swinging a golf club, costing Doc a start. Like the ridicule he brought on himself by saying that Shea’s sandy infield was keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.
No, life as a Met has not gone well for Vince Coleman, who has just finished going 1-for-5 in a 5-4 extra-inning loss to the Dodgers. Now, at about 4:10 in the afternoon, he’s riding with Bobby Bonilla (figures he’d be involved somehow, doesn’t it?) in a Jeep Cherokee being driven by the Dodgers’ Eric Davis. Life isn’t great for Vince Coleman, but it’s about to get worse. He’s about to earn a date with Met Hell’s hungriest, heaviest tarp cylinder.
The Dodger Stadium parking lot is bordered by a chain-link fence, and on the other side of that fence are some 200 to 300 fans. Coleman steps out of the Jeep and lights a small green explosive. It explodes at a distance from the fans that Los Angeles fire officials will later estimate at 27 feet. Arson investigators will determine the explosive was similar to an M-100. This has been called a firecracker or cherry bomb, but those are rather innocent-sounding terms for this particular explosive: It’s about three inches long, about seven-eighths of an inch in diameter, and packs the explosive power of more than a quarter of a stick of dynamite.
The explosion leaves Cindy Mayhew, 33, with inner-ear damage. Marshall Savoy, 11, winds up with a cut shin. And a two-year-old girl, Amanda Santos, suffers a finger injury, second-degree burns under her right eye and lacerations of her cornea. Coleman gets back in the Jeep and Davis drives off. Coleman will play three more games for the Mets, going a robust 1-for-7, before the team puts him on “adminstrative leave” and vows he’ll never play for them again. (He doesn’t — he’s sent to Kansas City in the offseason for Kevin McReynolds.) In the real world, Coleman gets a one-year suspended sentence, three years’ probation, a $1,000 fine and 200 hours of community service. His lawyer says he’ll start serving his community service by helping with the cleanup from the Malibu fires, noting that “the jeans and shovel are in the car.” Coleman is then seen barbequeing chicken for firemen. A civil suit is later settled; details unknown. At least we’ll always have Vince’s public apology, in which he vomits forth some of the most scrofulous scripted regret in the sorry history of grudging athlete apologies, reading that “Amanda stood out near a gate to catch a glimpse of a ballplayer. But today, I want her to catch a glimpse of a loving father and a helpful friend.”
Baseball players’ contracts contain a lot of things they’re not allowed to do — typical banned activities include surfing and motocross, though a Met fan might want to add to the list puttering around with garden shears and pitching for the Dominican Republic in March with a bum toe. As far as I know, baseball contracts don’t bother to forbid things that should be perfectly obvious to anyone sentient. For instance, there’s presumably no line like this:
43(a). Player shall refrain from discharging quarter-sticks of dynamite in a fashion that deliberately or through absurdly stupid negligence causes eye injuries in children attending a baseball game.
Truth be told, I don’t loathe Vince Coleman quite as thoroughly as I do Roberto Alomar or Bobby Bonilla. But no matter what our psychic ulcers, we have to have some perspective, and some standards. And that calls on us to confront the undeniable. Let’s recall who populates the ranks of the Met Damned, and compare their crimes.
The First Circle of Met Hell is wandered by creeps we couldn’t truly embrace. But Rey Ordonez, Rickey Henderson, Kevin McReynolds and Darryl Strawberry never injured a child with an explosive.
The Second Circle of Met Hell is reserved for those tarred by image problems, but who escape further sanction because most of their bad behavior happened elsewhere. But Carl Everett, Eddie Murray, Julio Machado, Juan Samuel and Jeff Kent never injured a child with an explosive. Well, OK, Julio Machado did kill somebody. But it was in South America, and he was a Brewer, and…um, we’ve got to move on. Nothing to see here.
The Second Second Circle of Met Hell is a prison for those who tarnished their tenure with bad exits. But George Foster and Mike Hampton never injured a child with an explosive.
The Fourth Circle of Met Hell is the eternal home for minor Mets who commited major sins. But Mickey Lolich, Tony Tarasco, Jim Leyritz, Jose Offerman, Rey Sanchez, Karim Garcia, Mike DeJean and Don Zimmer never injured a child with an explosive.
The Fifth Circle of Met Hell is the unhappy kingdom of Mets we may not have hated, but we sure disliked. But Dave Kingman, Gregg Jefferies and Armando Benitez never injured a child with an explosive.
Following the Fifth Circle, Greg rounded up some other Mets deserving of infernal internment. But Brett Butler, Pete Harnisch, Doug Sisk, Rich Rodriguez and Mike Bacsik never injured a child with an explosive.
The Sixth Circle of Met Hell is the dreary hotel domain of unmotivated third baseman and one-time gravedigger Richie Hebner. But while Hebner dug his own grave, he never injured a child with an explosive.
The Seventh Circle of Met Hell is a brimstone-fueled flight with the two Bobby Bonillas. But while at least one of them was an eyewitness to such an act, neither Bobby Bonilla ever injured a child with an explosive.
The Eighth Circle of Hell is marked by a plaque for disgraceful quitter Roberto Alomar. But Alomar never injured a child with an explosive.
Vince Coleman did. And therefore, here he is under that rather heavy-looking tarp cylinder. And here he will stay, forever. I’m turning out the lights now, and shutting the door. Rest in peace, Vince.
And now our hellish tour is done. Ignore the screams of the condemned and come along with me, away from this place. Because it’s 2006. And you know what? February’s not so far away.