The Mets are on a 2-1 tear. Cancel the deathwatch. Schedule the parade.
Well, maybe not yet on either count, though a win in Atlanta following a rain-shortened split in Philadelphia beats losing three of four to the Marlins and Nationals…and seven of ten overall…and being 9-12 when they went to Citizens Bank…and 16-22 from September 13 through April 29, even with a long winter's nap that you would have thought sufficient to refresh them included in that span.
It's hard to shake the sense that this giant has been sleeping for too long, or that the giant isn't all that imposing, that he may be, if not a pigmy, then just another bloke on the block, just another team that may or may not be good enough to win enough games to make its season a few weeks longer and make its acolytes a whole lot happier. So often I wish the Mets would wake the bleep up already.
Sometimes I take it upon myself to rouse them from their stupor as much as one can without actual access to their alarm clocks. That's what I tried to do in my way last week. The reaction interested me, to say the least.
If you've been reading here for a while, you know me as a reasonably articulate and thoughtful Mets blogger, Mets author and Mets fan. If you just discovered this space within the last five or so days, however, I'm the fellow who advocated trading the Mets' three best position players, which made me an “idiot” on “opium” who offered an idea “in poor taste” and a plan that “blows,” writing “one of the worst blog posts I've ever read,” thus turning this site into something out of “Mike Francesa,” riddling the atmosphere with “poison” and representing a plunge “into Metsblog idiocy” bereft of “logic and intelligence”.
Pleased to meet you, even if I'm not usually that guy.
At the risk of a meta-posting, I'd like to revisit the piece I wrote last Thursday, Remaking the Mets Right Now, because it elicited what I would say was the single most aberrant set of reactions we've received in now five seasons of blogging. And that's OK, because it may have been the most aberrant piece I've ever written here. Not that I was really going for blog history.
One question came up time and again both in the comments section here and on one blog in particular that linked to it and discussed it a bit, (a blog I happen to enjoy on the days it doesn't assert I've “jumped the shark“): Was this for real? Was somebody really suggesting the Mets trade their best position players — their core, to use the fashionable word — for reasons having almost solely to do with stated reasons of “heart,” “guts,” and other non-statistical intangibles?
I'll get to my answer eventually, but I'd like to spend a few bytes on how I got to Thursday April 30, by retracing my steps all the way back to Wednesday April 29. That was the crappy game straight out of the early and late 2008 playbook, one the Mets led on strong pitching by their strongest pitcher only to let it get away on a little shoddy relief and absolutely no clutch hitting. The 4/29/09 game was a whole lot like a game on 5/15/08, a one-run loss that wasted fabulous pitching and was illustrative of what had been a seasonlong post-collapse malaise. History, I felt last Wednesday, was repeating itself again and again and again. I wasn't the only one who felt that way, judging by the reader comments to the April 29 post. This one in particular pulled at my Metstrings:
This is a heartless, gutless and ultimately a spineless team. They've changed managers; still they play listless baseball. They've changed closers; still they play lethargic, apathetic baseball. What is it going to take for these guys to win? What is it going to take for them to start playing like they actually want to win? How many times must we fans be subjected to the same embarrassing and futile effort? I don't want to hate my Mets. I really don't.
Yes, I thought, I'm feeling you. We're all feeling each other. We were like this last year. We were like this the year before. We were like this a week earlier during and after the St. Louis series. On such occasions, given the practice I've had at it, I'm usually good for what Jason elegantly refers to as a cri de coeur, a cry from the heart. I've written several, always sincerely, always passionately, always to generally wide approval. It's part of my gift, apparently, for saying what Mets Fans Who Like to Think are thinking.
I could've done that last week. Like our commenter above, I saw a team playing listless baseball; lethargic, apathetic baseball. I found myself not wanting to hate my Mets — I really didn't. Yet at this admittedly tender stage of 2009, I felt I was going down that road of reluctance again. I had to fight the impulse to hate my Mets for two, three months of 2008. I had to remind myself I love the Mets on the final weekend of 2008. That in itself felt like a replay of the stretch dive of 2007. I love the Mets because I love the Mets, but here I was, 21 games into a new season, and I was at that unfortunate crossroads where I was loving the Mets even though there was almost nothing about them that I could stand.
I couldn't stand saying that again. I couldn't stand running into roadblocks as I tried to work my way out of that maze. I couldn't stand that every time I allowed myself to wonder how we might take this team that came up not just short in 2007 and 2008 but historically and embarrassingly short — a team shortening its chances in 2009 as well — I couldn't conjure an obvious fix. I couldn't stand that as I went through the possibilities, I always came up against the same dead ends.
Look, you're not going to trade Wright, nor should you. Look what he's accomplished in 4½ seasons. Best player the Mets ever developed. And you're not going to trade Reyes, nor should you. Nobody can change a game with his feet the way he can. When he's on, he's unstoppable. And Beltran? Not only can't you trade him because of his contract, but why would you? Guy's so talented, so capable and so professional — and he's produced plenty.
Wow, I thought, we must be pretty great, because we have three absolute untouchables in the lineup every day. And that made me feel good…until the team would start playing the way it would play and I'd come back around to trying to figure out what to do. How, I asked myself, can you fix a team that seems so able and accomplished yet keeps presenting itself, on the field, as unfixable?
It finally dawned on me that there was a possibility I hadn't explored.
The longtime reader knows I carry an inextinguishable torch for the New York Baseball Giants. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been a loyal Giants rooter in 1948 when our worst enemy, Leo Durocher, was hired away from Brooklyn and became our manager. I can only guess how long in those days of relative constancy it would have taken me to accept the enemy as my own, particularly as a Giants fan. The Giants were tradition. The Giants were practically family. John McGraw took over as manager in 1902. He was succeeded by Bill Terry in 1932. Terry gave way to Mel Ott in 1942. Three managers headed the family across 46 seasons: one was practically the inventor of 20th century baseball and two were Hall of Fame players.
But in came Durocher, and Durocher was not going to be bound by tradition or familial surroundings. “Back up a truck,” Leo told owner Horace Stoneham. The manager wasn't impressed by the slugging reputations of Stoneham's “Window Breakers” as they were known. They hit 221 home runs in 1947, most ever launched by one team in a 154-game season. Yet they finished a distant fourth in an eight-team league. When Durocher came on for Ott in '48, they were en route to leading the N.L. in homers once more but were absent from the race. As Noel Hynd recounts in The Giants of the Polo Grounds, Stoneham asked Leo, wasn't that kind of power — Johnny Mize, Sid Gordon, Willard Marshall in particular — worth something? No, he said, it wasn't.
“You need a whole new team, Horace.”
It would take serious recrafting and rebuilding, but Leo Durocher got his kind of team, one that was scrappy, feisty and terribly unGiantlike, at least since John McGraw departed the scene. Shortstop Alvin Dark and second baseman Eddie Stanky, in particular, came to embody the spirit of the new Giants. “We had two guys who could do things with the bat, could run the bases and who came to kill you,” is how Durocher would later put it. The team Leo remade, with not inconsiderable help from a kid outfielder named Willie Mays, would grow into a bona fide contender in 1950, a legendary pennant winner in 1951 and World Champion in 1954.
Granted we're talking sixty years ago and a ton of mythology. But there are examples throughout baseball history of teams that had good players, popular players, who were capable of putting on a pretty good show but proved incapable of executing a grand finale. The Red Sox trading Nomar Garciaparra in a four-way deal that netted them merely Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera in 2004 is a more recent example that is often cited of letting go of established talent for guys who fill niches on your club more effectively. Trading a signature player is no guarantee of ultimate victory, of course, but deciding something isn't working can sometimes be the first step in making it far more functional.
That's what I decided last Thursday. I decided the Mets as we know them aren't working. I decided instead of continually running into those roadblocks — Wright, Reyes, Beltran, the trio too good to trade — that I would simply remove the roadblocks. I would trade them.
How many times have you said to yourself as the Mets left a dozen or more runners on base or didn't hit a slew of cutoff men, “Trade 'em all!” It's certainly crossed my mind. Except I decided to get specific. I decided to trade roughly a third of 'em.
I can't do that for real, by the way. I don't work for the New York Mets in any capacity, let alone as general manager. And as far as being a latter-day Dick Young chasing Tom Seaver out of town, no, I don't have that kind of juice either. At most, the voice of this blog might have gotten us better pretzels than we used to have, but I'm guessing we probably would have gotten those anyway.
But I can imagine, just like any fan can. I can imagine my team might be different and better from what I've experienced. I can imagine not having to fight the impulse to hate my team. I can imagine that instead of beseeching the baseball gods to impart intangibles onto the players we have, that they could instead install new players who already come equipped with those intangibles. I can imagine that the paperwork wouldn't be overly cumbersome and that the balance between the metrics you can measure and the qualities you can sense would all just kind of come out in the wash. I can imagine that swapping out a few points of OPS here and a year or two of potential there would be worth it if it got me a team I wouldn't dream of hating…if it got me a team I could love day in and day out.
I can imagine. And when I imagine, I blog. And when I blog, as one of my fellow bloggers recently noted, I sometimes resort to “unusual techniques and genres to present the experience of the Mets: lists, dialogues, fantasies, glossaries, etc.” Add one more to the etc. files: uncommon directness, allowing desire to be expressed without the exasperating filter of “yeah but” rationalizations.
Yeah but you couldn't do that. Yeah but you couldn't trade your best players. Yeah but you couldn't give up that much talent at once to a division rival. Yeah but Beltran has a no-trade clause. Yeah but Wright and Reyes are only 26. Yeah but Wright and Beltran are good for more than a hundred RBI every year. Yeah but Wright is the face of the franchise. Yeah but the problem isn't Wright or Reyes or Beltran. Yeah but you wouldn't be getting fair value. Yeah but…
Screw “yeah but,” I thought. Or didn't think. I didn't want to think last Thursday. Or I didn't want to think about why I couldn't have a Mets team that did all the things the current Mets team doesn't do for me. I did think how it would be theoretically possible to have a different team, that scrappy, feisty team Durocher wanted, that the Red Sox got. I wanted to figure out how to construct that team on the fly without worrying over all the “yeah buts” one would run into if one were actually charged with doing this.
So I did it. And I presented it in fairly stark terms, as if that's the sort of thing I do every day, as if it wasn't an unusual technique or genre to which I was resorting. I decided to let my inner fan run rampant on our blog. It wasn't the start of a full-throated campaign to rid Metsdom of its core players. It wasn't a permanent format switch from the Blog for Mets Fans Who Like to Read to Let's Spit Out the First Thing that Occurs to Us. It was a way to go beyond a simple cri de coeur and to explore a “what if?” without a “yeah but”.
Thus, to answer the question from a while back, was I serious? No, I wasn't. And yes, I was. No, I wasn't serious in that I had zero expectation that anybody is going to make those trades. No, I wasn't serious in that I hadn't done more than the most cursory research into whether those trades would have more than a fleeting or surface impact. No, I wasn't serious in that I would want to see most of the players I mentioned just go away. (I own four different t-shirts with REYES 7 on the back — think I wanna deplete my wardrobe that drastically?)
But yes, I was serious in that if I could snap my fingers and do anything then maybe — maybe — I would trade a bunch of guys who, as a unit, seem incapable of playing hard, fighting to the last out and winning the games that absolutely need to be won. It was the would-be GM equivalent of drunk dialing. It may have been the 2009 one-man answer to the alleged 1950 trade agreed to between Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees co-owner Dan Topping: Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio. It was a done deal, until they sobered up the next morning.
I was completely serious and I was completely unserious. It was a thought that would never become reality and it was a reality that I thought might be nice. I have to confess that for a few hours last Thursday, I enjoyed breaking up the Mets. I enjoyed not having to make alibis for my Mets, that I no longer had to reason just you wait and this one will be ready to be the clubhouse leader and that one simply doesn't like to talk and the other one is maturing, you just don't realize it. I enjoyed having a different Mets team. Not that I've ever lusted after the players I proposed acquiring, but I imagined my hypothetical lineup and rotation and I was pretty excited. I didn't mind having Ryan Howard take aim at the Pepsi Porch 81 times a year. I liked Jimmy Rollins backing up his talk at short in a Mets uniform. As much as I detest Shane Victorino, I could like a guy who comes to kill somebody else. And Roy Halladay, the footnote to my blockbuster extravaganza…not a bad No. 2 guy.
I also kind of enjoyed not having David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and the rest. I enjoyed the trial separation. I enjoyed that the guys who didn't win it in 2007 and 2008 wouldn't be around to remind me of their collective shortcomings in 2009. I enjoyed a team for which the general manager didn't feel compelled to offer up asinine assessments regarding edge. Of course, as the hours went by, I remembered they were also responsible for getting us close enough for heartbreak in '07 and '08, and that, yes, in typical ex-Met fashion, I'd be cringing at every revenge swing each of them took against us in Hypothetical Citi Field for years to come. Like Yawkey and Topping, I sobered up.
You know those letterman-style jackets you often see at games in April and September, the ones with the 1969 and 1986 logos? I remember noticing them in 2006 and both admiring and dismissing them. Sharp jackets, to be sure, but just as sure to be out of date soon enough. Maybe I'd splurge on one when it had three championships marked on it, which was obviously going to happen in October 2006.
I see those jackets now and they sadden me. Not that they don't remain sharp, not that 1969 and 1986 aren't worth displaying and revering, but geez, I think, is that it? Is that all we're ever going to have to put on a Mets' world championships jacket? Are the Mets ever going to win another World Series in my lifetime? Perhaps that's the ultimate panic question, but I'm coming to have my doubts. It's been 23 years. Mets fans under the age of 30 have no first-hand experience with the phrase World Champion New York Mets. I've suddenly spent half my lifetime waiting for another. Every season, somebody else gets in on the act. We're not in Cubs, Indians or Giants territory, but once you're approaching a quarter-century, does it really matter whether it's 1908 or 1948 or 1954 or 1986?
Somebody commenting on last Thursday's post said he'd be happy to live a lifetime of reasonably competitive 89-73 seasons, particularly after bearing the scars of the years just before 2005. He said he had no memory of what we call the glory years, 1984-1990, which some argue was a period of disappointment as it encompassed only one championship.
I understand the instinct to just be thankful for what you got. These days have indeed been better than '02 to '04, just as they are better than '91-'96 and '77-'83. I can appreciate a winning record over a losing record having lived through all of the above and having forgotten, I assure you, none of the bleakness.
But, no, I don't want to make my ceiling 90 wins with an 80% chance of torpidity. I don't want to pretend this is a great club just biding its time for its spectacular breakout streak that's always a day away. I don't want to go on forever with a team that is incapable not from a lack of talent but from a paucity of desire to play like it cares whether it's going to be the team that breaks what is now a substantial World Series drought. It's twenty-three years since the Mets won it all. It's nine years since the Mets simply got there. It's been back-to-back years of excruciating near-misses, having missed in April and May and June and July and August as much as they have missed in September. It was April last week. We lost more than we won and looked damn inert in the process.
My dream team of last Thursday — would it win? Would Howard hit that dramatic dinger off Papelbon in October? Would Halladay shut down Jason Bay? Would Fernando Martinez in left and Daniel Murphy at third blossom under the tutelage of Rollins and Kevin Millar?
How the hell would I know? It was hypothetical. It doesn't have an answer. But I imagined it would because I imagine a world in which those beautiful blue letterman jackets have three logos. I imagine immediate dividends and a championship and a parade that would sate me for quite a long time. It's only recently that the enormity of having waited more than two decades has hit me. During Sunday's rainout, I practically waterboarded myself and watched MLB Network's airing of the 2000 World Series film. It was fun to be a part of the Fall Classic, I thought while it was it was going on. My 2000 self rued losing like crazy, but somehow it was cool that we were a finalist. Watching it in 2009 just angered and saddened me, less for what went wrong in 2000 (run!) and more for that it didn't end the dry spell at fourteen years.
Would my undoable trades bite us later even if they paid off now? Would we suffer at the hands of our traded Mets while our acquirees went downhill in 2010? Quite possibly. But I don't think I'd care all that much if I could have that trophy and that jacket and that parade. I've never been about the rings, baby, but I'm getting to a point where I'm dismayed at the realization that there's no particular reason to expect I'll ever see the Mets attain a third, that I'll be living off memories of 1969 and 1986 until I'm no longer available to root. That's horribly pessimistic and fatalistic, but where is anything resembling evidence that this might not be the case in the foreseeable future?
This is where I grow moody and I want to trade everybody. I wouldn't call it Faustian, but Victorinoesque is bad enough. Still, when I watch these Mets, these Mets who went down in Game Seven in '06 and haven't ever really recovered, I don't know what I'm watching. I could be watching a champion that's a move or two away. Or I could be watching a cruel tease that's going to disintegrate anyway, so why not beat it to the punch and pull it apart right now? I honestly don't know.
There's a lot I don't know, but there are a few things this episode has helped me learn.
• I learned that the subject of team-altering trades is forever touchy. I should have known that. When I was 13, in the summer of '76, the Post suggested trading Tom Seaver, since the Mets were going nowhere with him. I nearly fainted. Blasphemy! Within a year, it was a done deal. In the offseason following 2003, the Daily News made a pitch to dump Mike Piazza. They offered all kinds of sound reasons to do it. I nodded and I cringed. The Mets without Mike Piazza? NEVER! Never came eventually. Most of the comments didn't really hew to the sentimental, but still, the core is the core for a reason. As long as your core isn't Ty Wigginton and Tony Tarasco, it's hard to imagine being who you are without who you are. You don't want the Post telling you your franchise player should go. You don't want the News telling you your franchise player should go. And, I guess, you don't want some blogger telling you, even in a fit of frustration-driven dark fantasy, that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn't what's surrounding our core — that maybe the problem is our core.
• I learned one of my foundation statements from my book is eternal: Mets fans do take everything personally. Usually this blog doesn't receive as many as 50 comments for any single post unless a manager has been fired, playoff games have been played/choked away or Keith Hernandez opts to wear red. But when you tell Mets fans that, oh, by the way, I'd like to trade most of our regulars, a couple of pitchers and some prospects, they do take it personally. Except for those who automatically use name-calling as a substitute for discussion, I was mighty impressed with the depth of the responses to my piece, even though almost all of them disagreed with the proposal. You are people who care deeply about what this team does. You transcend fandom without venturing into a state of danger to society. Some of you had solutions. Some of you had optimism. All of you had concern (in a few cases for my mental well-being). The passion of this fan base is no trifling dot on a graph. Those who take it lightly do so at their own peril. Except for those of you who register just to tell us you plan not to read here anymore, I'm glad to be among you.
• I learned that civility sometimes takes a holiday just because someone presents a view that doesn't mesh with yours. I learned that across 2008 as I consumed political blogs, but that's politics, which shouldn't be confused with baseball. This is the Mets. We're all Mets fans. It's downright sad, no matter how insane you might find an idea of mine or anybody's, that you are compelled to respond to it in an insulting manner. You don't like it, explain why without hurling epithets. Or just roll your eyes and move on to some place you like better. That goes for any forum you find yourself in, not just Faith and Fear, not just blogs, not just online. You're not doing yourself any favors, not as Mets fans or human beings, by thinking a basic civilized demeanor is optional. You can be packing the tightest, most statistically verifiable arguments and few are going to want to listen to you if you can't present them with a modicum of politeness.
• I learned that I'm responsible for every word I write, nuance or no nuance, shades of gray or black and white. Sometimes a long track record of blogging about everything Mets-related except hypothetical trades doesn't count when you decide one time to do hypothetical trades. Then you're suddenly the idiot who did an outlandish hypothetical trade post. You write your words, you take your chances. (And better, I suppose, to be derided now and then than be totally ignored.)
• I learned that it's unclear how one can best go about placing a value on an individual ballplayer's skills. I've read Moneyball. I read Tim Marchman. I get the whole bit about how “heart” and “guts” and “grit” can be overblown in the wrong hands and next thing you know, you've got a team of good faces that can't take a pitch to save their lives. I also see where season after season of pleasant statistics don't necessarily add up to a rewarding bottom line. I wouldn't dismiss the stats but neither would I write off those silly qualities that make up a “winning ballplayer”. I'm a fan. All I have to do is have opinions. My best wishes are extended to those responsible for making the actual decisions that create a ballclub and hopefully that elusive characteristic some call chemistry. I don't think it's nearly as easy to craft as some of us would like to believe.
• I learned I'm not as attached to my favorite Mets as I would have thought. Though I love, all things being equal, the idea of great Mets remaining Mets and nothing but Mets, this little exercise may have helped prepare me for the day down the road when somebody considered an inextricable part of the core is wrenched away. I had a tough bastard professor of microeconomics in college who told us the first day of class, “Look to your left and look to your right — one of you isn't going to be here by the end of the term.” Sooner or later, as unlikely as it seems now, David Wright or Jose Reyes or both might very well be ex-Mets. When that day comes, you can count on me to write a paean to their Mets greatness, how this is wrong, how the integrity of everything we stand for has been slapped in the face…and I will mean every word of it. At the same time, I will look at who's replacing them and, if they are a better alternative, I'll welcome them with at least one arm open. I've learned I'm more of a Mets fan than a fan of any individual Met these days.
• I learned once more the validity of something Jason said many years ago upon realizing his prediction of Met doom was wildly inaccurate: in baseball, you can be wrong and happy. The Mets, the team I love and the team I can't stand, are playing .667 ball since Thursday. Small sample size or not, two out of three is two reasons to feel good about feeling a little stupid. Should the opportunity come along some crisp autumn afternoon for me to be standing on Lower Broadway, I'll be the one holding up the sign that reads “I WAS WRONG ON APRIL 30, 2009 AND I'M ELATED!” or words to that effect. Stop by and say hello. I'll be the idiot with the biggest smile in New York.
Only slightly longer than the above post but definitely more fun: Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook. And check out Jason's and my quite civil half-hour with the Seven Train to Shea.