I’d be a lot more miffed about the National League’s umpteenth consecutive All-Star defeat if…
A) The Mets and hosting duties for a portion of the 2009 World Series weren’t looming so definitively as mutually exclusive propositions.
B) The lack of National League home field advantage was theoretically going to cost the Mets an extra game at Shea Stadium in the World Series; Citi Field, I believe, provides no field advantage to date.
C) I hadn’t dozed off at the moment of truth, with Ryan Howard up and two on in the bottom of the eighth. I was technically in mid-snooze, thus was awake just long enough for false hope to materialize before it drifted away with my consciousness.
D) I wasn’t completely comatose when Frankie Rodriguez, according to the boxscore, made incredibly short work (six pitches) of the American League in the ninth.
E) Rodriguez or Santana or somebody besides Heath Bell was charged with the loss.
I had no idea I maintained a substantial reservoir of animus for Heath Bell until given the opportunity to express an opinion to the TV screen.
When the American Leaguers were introduced before the game, I booed the usual suspects — Jeter, Rivera and their new moneyed buddy Teixeira. When the National Leaguers, ostensibly “my” guys, were introduced, I reflexively booed:
• every Phillie;
• both Marlins;
• Molina obviously;
• La Russa obviously;
• Ryan Franklin for associating with Molina and La Russa;
• Joe Torre for old times’ sake;
• the two Astros because I used to work for a company owned by the guy who owns the Astros and it did not end well;
• Trevor Hoffman for being so unclutch when it might have mattered to us in 2006 (and then being a bit of a snot about it);
• and, without advance planning because I had forgotten that he’d be there, Heath Bell.
Why boo Heath Bell, the only former New York Met on either roster (not counting American League starting leftfielder and RBI leader Jason Bay, whom the Mets swiftly expunged as a minor leaguer in exchange for the essential Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed in 2002 because, according to faultless talent guru Steve Phillips, he didn’t project as more than a fifth outfielder)? I didn’t boo Nolan Ryan the eight times he represented three other teams in All-Star Games. I didn’t boo Kevin Mitchell twice or Lenny Dykstra thrice or Randy Myers four times or Amos Otis five times after each became an All-Star in their respective post-Mets existences. (Total All-Star selections for Ryan, Mitchell, Dykstra, Myers and Otis as Mets: 0.) But Heath Bell, stepping up on that line and tipping that cap…I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t see Heath Bell going butterfly after his several stints as a wayward Met caterpillar and I didn’t see my reaction turning so viscerally virulent at the sight of him spreading his wings.
Let’s just say Heath Bell and I are just not a good mix. It’s strictly business, nothing personal. In the now 82 games I have rooted for Heath Bell’s team to win since 2004, updated to include the 2009 All-Star affair, Heath Bell’s team is 28-54. Incidentally, in the 10 games I have rooted for the teams of Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson to win, their combined record is 3-7…and holding. But never mind that. Never mind that Heath Bell received a change of scenery and eventually became an All-Star. Never mind that whatever scenery presently surrounds Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, the pair the Padres sent the Mets for Bell after 2006, it wasn’t remotely in evidence at Busch Stadium Tuesday night. Adkins is employed as a Lotte Giant in South Korea. Johnson may or may not be playing baseball professionally. The Mets released him last year and he is still listed somewhere as a free agent.
Heath Bell is an All-Star. An All-Star losing pitcher, but the first part decisively trumps the second part. Heath Bell left the Mets and became an All-Star. Heath Bell left the Mets, became an All-Star and the Mets, via the characteristically sharp eye of Omar Minaya, reaped 30 Ben Johnson plate appearances (5 hits, 2 walks, 1 run batted in) to go with one entire Jon Adkins inning pitched (scoreless, if that makes it any better). The Mets signed Heath Bell as an amateur in 1998, nurtured him in the minor leagues, brought him up in ’04 and do you know what they have to show for him?
As of Sunday afternoon, they had his uniform top.
No kidding, it was still lying around. I saw it before the game on the Amazin’ Memorabilia table on Field Level where they attempt to sell off whatever isn’t sitting in the MeiGray warehouse in Jersey. They were offering, among other pricey items, a bunch of the numbers peeled from the outfield wall during the Shea Goodbye countdown (the real one, not the good one) and an autographed No. 19 Heath Bell Mets jersey, last worn no more recently than three years ago.
I don’t know when Heath signed it. It could have been somewhere during his 2004-2006 Mets tenure on those occasions when he wasn’t visiting lovely Norfolk. It could have been as a favor to somebody who didn’t trade him away when he came back as a Padre setup man in 2007 or 2008. Or it could have been in the giddy atmosphere attendant to the birth of the new joint when Heath Bell, after salivating over possibly recording the first save in the ballpark that could have been his, twirled his figurative mustache in satisfaction at doing just that. He forever owns the first two saves in Citi Field history, actually.
To see Bell introduced as a National League All-Star, only a few players after Frankie Rodriguez, was to be reminded that Heath failed in multiple Met auditions…that he and Rick Peterson clashed fatally…that Willie Randolph could never garner any confidence in him, not even when stellar righties like Braden Looper to Mike DeJean to Danny Graves were the alternatives…that the Mets haven’t nurtured a homegrown closer since Randy Myers…that the most saves any homegrown Met has compiled as a Met since Randall K was traded for John Franco are 18, by Franco’s temporary injury replacement Anthony Young — five fewer than Bell has this season…that Frankie, as good as he’s been, is quite expensive at a time when too many WilponBucks that could be spent on other pressing needs have gone the way of Bernie Madoff.
I don’t root against individual Mets unless I divine there’s some greater good to be gained from hoping for their hastened demise (i.e. the front office might stop deluding itself that Robbie Alomar should spend one more second in a Met uniform in 2003), but there have been a handful I didn’t root particularly hard for. Heath Bell fell in that category. Others saw his stuff, mined his stats and predicted the success he now experiences. Bully for them. The guy whose efforts were often painted in heartwarming tones just left me cold, which probably left me incapable of forecasting his All-Star future (Tuesday was, they mentioned on Fox, his first All-Star appearance on any level, including scholastic). In the time Bell was a Met, I pulled for Victor Zambrano. I sincerely wished the best for Kaz Matsui. I squinted hard to detect the drop of gas I was certain was left in the tank of Jose Lima. Those were futile, unpopular causes, but they were Mets and they seemed fleetingly worth the trouble. Heath Bell…maybe it was the Mets’ 28-53 mark when he pitched in their uniform (team efforts or not, mopping up or not), but I couldn’t get excited about his prospects. If he worked out, fine. When he didn’t, oh well. I won’t pretend I was sorry to see him go or that I’m happy he’s doing far better for another team than he did for mine.
But even I would have held onto him long enough to make a better deal than Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson.
The first of three AMAZIN’ TUESDAYS is coming to Two Boots Tavern July 21. It will be a Mets night devoted to reading, rooting and Roger Cedeño. Get all the details here. And get your copy of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.
And for the love of Metstradamus‘ annual Hate List voting, head on over there and cast your historically accurate vote for either Richie Hebner or Pete Rose. Make Shane Victorino wait his turn. He’s won too much lately.