Remember mediocrity is not a mortal sin.
—Frank Loesser, “Brotherhood of Man,” How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Nobody's been fired, but an entire team was recently spotted quitting.
The New York Mets have tendered their resignation from the competitive rigors of the baseball season. They gave their notice in Atlanta last week. I accepted it last night.
They've agreed to stay on indefinitely in a caretaker role.
When a less vested Keith Hernandez (then of MSG, then not so solidly re-established as icon-in-residence) wrote of the Mets in 2002 that they had quit, he was forced to issue an immediate mea culpa and pretend they hadn't. Mike Piazza uncharacteristically arched his back and hissed that an ex-player just shouldn't use the q-word and Keith, cornered, caved (ironically quitting on his own honest assessment). The 2002 Mets had indeed acquitted themselves like quitters for 5-1/2 months to that point. The ensuing legend-on-legend kerfuffle was but one more disturbing sideshow in a circus of seasonlong embarrassment for one of the worst teams money ever bought.
The 2002 Mets of the misguided arrivals of Alomar and Vaughn and the ill-advised second comings of Cedeño and Burnitz and the 12-game losing streak and the winless home August and Bobby V demonstrating for the assembled multitudes of the press why toking would cut down on your bat speed…the 2002 Mets were all grit and all heart compared to these 2008 Mets.
Thus, I accept their resignation. In fact, I applaud them for getting the paperwork filed so early, thereby giving us ample time to conduct a thorough search for candidates who can more ably fill their positions.
Funny thing is I don't hate these Mets, not like I did the 2002 version or some other aggravating aggregations of players whose presence in the uniforms I hold dear discomfited me. There isn't a single 2008 Met who truly gets under my skin, whom I secretly or vocally wish to fail just once more in the clutch so management will see he's a fraud and he'll be shown the door. They're likable enough as people from what I can tell. None of them, no matter their continuing ineptitude, is hateable. I don't by any means care for their performance as individuals or as a unit, but I don't have it in personally for even one in 25 of them.
Besides, what are the odds anybody here is ever going to be shown a door?
Willie Randolph has made a strong statistical case to move into the slot of erstwhile manager of the New York Mets. As of this morning, he has not been offered the spot. His musing out loud as to why he's not universally embraced gets him called in for a talk. His team sucking out loud doesn't seem to nudge the powers that be toward any kind of action.
There was nothing new at Shea last night in terms of peerless leadership or inspired play — Let's Win None For Willie! — but the landscape was noticeably altered beyond the left field fence. The Keyspan sign is no more, as Keyspan is no more. It's been replaced by a sign advertising its successor utility, National Grid. NG's slogan, visible on the Picnic Area light tower, is “The Power Of Action”.
Such an empty consultant-driven tagline conveys absolutely nothing to the consumer (if the gas company doesn't advertise its name enough, will people make their own gas at home?) just as the 2008 Mets appear destined to do almost as little for their patrons. They have done next to nothing since this season began. If they can maintain their present pace, I suspect they will have lived up to their potential.
They're really ungood. This is not an illusion, this is not a rough patch, this is not one of those potholes a team has to steer around in the course of the schedule. This is an abyss and the Mets are not equipped to rise above it.
They're not. So why bother kidding myself that they are?
As of Monday, as of the traditional Memorial Night singleheader, I've changed my approach to viewing the 2008 Mets. I no longer expect them to turn it around. I no longer wait on that hot streak that will lift their record and their fortunes. I no longer feel let down by their stubborn inertia. I no longer, I think, anger at the prospect of a losing season.
Somewhere in the course of last evening, a soft spring night in Loge alongside my friend and host Gene (the razor-sharp and terribly gracious fellow you'll recognize as albertsonmets), I could hear myself quitting on the idea that my team is any good. It wasn't Reyes' reincarnation as Frank Taveras; it wasn't Pelfrey's living tribute to Rick Ownbey; it wasn't that the 2-hitter singled, the 3-hitter singled, the cleanup hitter bunt-singled, the 5-hitter sac-flied, the 6-hitter grounded to first and the 7-hitter flied out and from a bases-loaded/none-out situation following a leadoff homer exactly one run was scored; it wasn't necessarily that the average Met batter from the fifth through the ninth spent less time working the Marlin pitcher than security spent looking through my bag.
It wasn't any of that specifically yet it was all of that together. It was this season up to last night, how in their wins they're wan, how in their losses they're lame. It was last September and last summer. It was whoever up top who decided, yet again, that it's better to keep up appearances and maintain a veneer of stability by retaining a progressively less successful manager than it is to act and grab a season that's not one-third done by the throat and to try to make something of it before it's too late, before it gets even later than it already is. I really wasn't rooting for Willie Randolph to be fired but I realized, after he wasn't, how badly I was rooting for something to happen.
Nothing happened. Nothing ever does. Not on the field, certainly. Not behind the scenes, apparently. Omar and Willie give a press conference in which they act as if 2006 will be right back after this call to the bullpen. The break's been underway for a calendar year. We haven't come back from it.
The silliest sentiment uttered by Minaya was in response to the umpteenth question about why this team has been so bad. Hey, Omar said in so many words, you guys — the media — picked us to win. Oddly enough, the Mets made some noise on their own that they might do that, but we should have realized it was just inaccurate reporting. We shouldn't have bought the hype that the Mets might do something. Nothing is what they do.
They remain ungood. Their players are continually revealed as ungood. Well-compensated, but mostly not worth it. No point in equating payroll to potential any longer. No point in syncing past performance to immediate expectations. There are players here who earned starry reputations in other cities in other seasons. They're not translating. The 2008 Mets who have been successful Mets in the past, even the recent past, shouldn't be held to those perceived standards, apparently. One or two of 'em might put up some impressive numbers along the way, but they're not that good, no matter how much I imagine they are really trying. The best you can say for any of 'em is that occasionally they're not prohibitively ungood.
Yet I sat there last night in good company in good weather having a good time. I keep coming back to how much I enjoy these nights and days at Shea Stadium, no matter what unfortunate results I am compelled to Log. Last night's lifeless loss came with only the smallest side order of angst. The Mets were typically ungood. I was surprisingly not overwhelmingly unhappy.
To clarify, I wasn't happy; I was just not unhappy. The Mets have dipped below what we'll call the Mientkiewicz Line, the barrier that separates a team from being no worse than passably decent. For three-plus years, since we've been doing Faith and Fear, the Mets have mostly been better than that. When they threatened to seep through the floor, it was distressing. Now that they have, it's not — no overly familiar reference intended — devastating. If they're not gonna be good, if the best they can manage is ungood, then that's what they are.
I'll take it because it's all they're giving me. If I understand that or at least process it that way, then I won't be unhappy. I'll look at my team (and it's way too late to extricate myself from them) and accept that they're only capable of so much. I will do what I did in flashes last night in Loge. I will look out at the players in Mets uniforms and consider them the underdogs, the overmatched, the outmanned more nights than not. I didn't think we'd be back here so soon after 2005, 2006 and even 2007, but that's where I judge us to be. It may as well have been any night in most any year in Shea's distant past last night, not including one of the really great years. This year has nothing to do with being really great anymore.
My hope, then, is this team can somehow ease its southward drift from the Mientkiewicz Line and begin to ascend again. It may not happen right away; if it could, I wouldn't be improvising this rationalization. But if the Mets can do what I always wished they could do when they were definitively acknowledged as not good, what they once in a while did when they were unburdened by expectation, it would make Shea's farewell a lot fonder than it's shaping up to be.
Give me Nick Evans. Give me more Nick Evanses. I don't have to have the Nick Evans of our collective dreams, just a sprinkling of young players to give me some hope that 2009 will be better than 2008. That's how I got by in the lousy years of yore. Let me see Ty Wigginton as in 2002 and Jason Phillips as in 2003 and Jeromy Burnitz as in 1993 and Butch Huskey as in 1995. Give me a taste of some kid who wants to play, some kid who I want to watch. One of them may be David Wright circa 2004 or Mookie Wilson circa 1980. A bunch of them may not. I have no illusions that we have a stocked farm system and that immediate answers lie in the weeds of New Orleans, Binghamton and St. Lucie. But so what at this point. Give me a reason to look forward to next year, not another excuse to dredge up last year.
That's what I used to see at Mets games when I didn't see a team that was competing to win right now. It's great to be at Shea when it's 1986 or 1999 or 2006. When it's not a year like that — and it sure as hell isn't now — it's all right to be at Shea when at least somebody is making you believe that there will someday again be a 1986 or a 1999 or a 2006, even if you only believe it for a few innings on any given night, even if you can't prove it yet, even if hindsight will betray your optimism as folly.
I'm already certain this team as presently constituted is as dead as it can possibly be. I'm willing to take a chance on being fooled that a revised edition might stop seeming, if not being, so incredibly ungood.