- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -


Years ago I was in Los Angeles for work, and because of some cellphone-related mishap wound up using my room's phone for a long-distance call. For this, I was presented with a shockingly large bill upon checkout. When I expressed my surprise and indignation, the scruffy front-desk clerk smiled broadly and said, “Yeah, they get you every time, don't they?” To which I responded, now more indignant, “Who, exactly, are they? And how are you not them?”
Which brings me to John Harper's rather curious column [1] in yesterday's Daily News. For the most part, it's a straightforward account of why Willie opted to see what Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith had in the eighth, rather than following the expected script and summoning Aaron Heilman. Harper then talks about the Mets' swagger and asks if the '07 team will erase the Cardinals with the same indignation the '86 team did after being edged out by St. Louis in '85. A fair question, and a historically minded one to boot. I liked all that just fine. I like Harper just fine — he co-wrote the marvelous The Worst Team Money Could Buy, and I'm always happy to see his byline. But I'm baffled by the weird subjunctive woven through this column.
Like this bit, for example:
[H]ere's the difference between how the manager thinks, as compared to fans and sportswriters:
We look at the season opener, particularly this one against a Cardinals team that denied the Mets a berth in the World Series, as a tone-setter. As such, we wonder why Randolph would take such a chance on an untested reliever with a 5-1 lead and risk a meltdown that could have set the ugliest tone imaginable for 2007.
Randolph laughs at that mind-set, insists there is nothing sacred about a season opener, even in this setting, and says he has to manage with a bigger picture in mind.
Something sound strange there? How about here:
The score of this 6-1 victory won't tell just how close this opener came to turning into a referendum on Randolph's managing acumen and wiping out an otherwise sparkling effort on the part of his ballclub.
Or here:
You can argue Randolph's big-picture explanation either way, but had the Mets lost it would have been drowned out by all the screaming from fans and sportswriters.
I know exactly the kind of idiot fans Harper means — they're the ones who would have been howling on the FAN that Game 2 is the time to see what Joe Smith's made of, but not Game 1, because a veteran, battle-tested team that loses Game 1 in the late innings will be so depressed by a bad tone having been set and momentum being lost that that team will glumly shuffle into third place behind the Phillies and Braves. Or some such barber-shop bullshit. Bad move by the Mets there, Mike and/or the Mad Dog would have tut-tutted, before talking about what Joe Torre would have done.
Yes, I'm familiar with this idiocy. And had it happened that way, I'm sure I would have read words to that effect by a couple of writers who convinced me they were idiots a long time ago. But would I have read that from Harper? He clearly establishes that he can see the bigger picture — he explains it just fine several places in the column — before turning around and suggesting it would have been his unhappy duty to blind himself to that bigger picture had the Mets coughed up the lead.
Really? If the Mets had lost, would Harper have written a column he seems to understand would have been myopic? Does Harper believe — as “fans and sportswriters” supposedly do, that Game 1s are tone-setters? Would he have turned his day-after column into a referendum on managing acumen? Would he have been one of the voices screaming? If you're smart enough to know all that's silly, would you jump on the Stupid Column/Dimwit Call to the FAN Bandwagon with the slack-jawed yokels and the braying mooks anyway?
And that's what's got me confused. If the Mets had lost, what force would have prevented Harper from writing a column that started something like this:
If you're a Met fans still moaning about the bad tone set by last night's bullpen debacle, come in off the ledge. An opening-night loss hurts. A 7-6 opening-night loss to the Cardinals hurts worse. But it doesn't count any more in the standings than a loss in Game 2 or in Game 83 or in any of the 60-odd other games the Mets are guaranteed to lose even if 2007 returns them to the playoffs.
Willie Randolph understands this. While unhappy about Joe Smith's less-than-stellar debut, the Mets manager scoffed at the sky-is-falling mind-set in St. Louis last night, insisting there is nothing sacred about a season opener, even in this setting, and reminding us that he has to manage with a bigger picture in mind.
And he's right.
Was that so hard? Would someone have forced Harper to tear up that column and write something without the reason and the logic?
That hotel clerk all those years ago was an idiot, but I wasn't entirely fair to him: I doubt he had the authority to strike that obscenely expensive phone call from my bill. But I presume John Harper gets to write the column he thinks he should write. I know the kind of fans and sportswriters he lampoons, and I'm confident he's a lot smarter than they are. But that only makes me more baffled by the suggestion he'd move in lockstep with them. So how about it, John? We're going to be together for a long season — show us how you are not them.