First of all, let's make something clear: Greg and I have never lobbied Omar Minaya, Jeff Wilpon or anybody else in the Mets organization for the job of bringing Mettle the Mule back to life as a clever, two-person costume. For Omar to insinuate otherwise in a press conference is despicable, and we're not sure how we'll be able to blog about the Mets given what's happened. Also, the new GM should listen to the doctors and figure out how to manage a roster. Thank you.
The annual summer trip to my folks' hilltop cottage in Maine is always a place to take stock of a couple of things: the march of technology and the state of the New York Mets.
Technologically, we've from dial-up Internet to cellphones that don't particularly work very well, from snowy rabbit-ears reception to post-digital-transition converter boxes. The rule for years has been that WFAN doesn't come in until after dark, so games get joined around the sixth inning. This isn't to mock the summer house for being backwards — rather, it's to note that here, technology assumes a back seat for a few days to reading books, picking blueberries and just sitting. Which, at least for a while each summer, is how it should be.
As for the Mets, well … Maine has rarely been kind to them. There have been dismemberments by unlikely Pittsburgh Pirates and other disasters I can't summon up for linkage because I'm on dial-up, but remember as a vague ache and bedrock sense of wariness.
This year, it seemed, things would be different. There's now a big AT&T cell tower on a neighboring hilltop (invisible, happily), so my cellphone reception is an order of magnitude better than it is in, say, Brooklyn. And with MLB At Bat, the sundown rule was repealed: WFAN was just one of 30 radio feeds I could listen to if I so desired, day or night. And the Mets? They'd acquitted themselves admirably down in Houston.
But something about the piney woods just spells embarrassment for my team, it seems.
I followed Tony Bernazard's long-awaited comeuppance via Twitter, with fellow faithful giving me the news 140 characters at a time. (This is me, by the way.) Press conference at 3:30 pm. Something big. Ah, Tony B. was out. Good. Now he'd have to abuse people who weren't college-aged prospects or below him in the office hierarchy — people who could fight back, and hopefully would. I hope Willie Randolph danced in a hallway and then tore his shirt off in celebration.
I tweeted that being a Mets fan had just become slightly less embarrassing, and headed out to do errands with my dad. On the way back, I pulled out my phone and punched up Twitter. What the hell? There was Steve, suggesting I reconsider the lack of embarrassment. There were Zoe and Caryn and Will and Vaccaro and Heyman and lots of other Mets- and sports-related folks. The iPhone was practically red-hot processing it all.
I pieced it together one bite-sized chunk of disbelief at a time. Yes, Bernazard was out. Omar had offered some nonsensical blather about the Mets' HR folks looking into the situation even before Adam Rubin's scathing stories in the Daily News; seeing how that was coming from the Mets' front office, I dismissed it as nonsense. But there was more. Much more. Omar had called out Rubin in the press conference, all but accusing him of having it in for Tony and lobbying the Mets for a job. Rubin, rightly indignant at being bullied from the pulpit, had sent both barrels back Omar's way. “Despicable,” he called the GM's behavior, and properly so.
My mouth was hanging open. Omar Minaya, who could at least be relied upon to shield his many failings with a veneer of plastic professionalism, had apparently lost his mind. The Mets had fired someone who richly deserved it, and even that had become an utter fucking farce. The Twitterers' heads were spinning. Over at Metsblog, you could tell Matt Cerrone was pinching himself between increasingly unlikely updates.
For a split-second I ached to be in New York, monitoring all this firsthand.
The last couple of seasons have shown us — in excruciating detail — that nothing said by any member of the Mets' baseball operations should be taken at face value. The team that takes the field each night is too often a shambles, with players who should be on the DL active but unavailable and the bench and/or pen painfully short. Obvious roster moves aren't made, aren't made in a responsibly timely fashion, or are leaked to the papers and then not made anyway. (Spare a moment of pity for poor Tim Redding.) Injuries are habitually misrepresented, leaving you to wonder if the team employs incompetent doctors or ignores the advice of competent ones. And, as we now know, the VP of player development bullied prospects, campaigned for the ouster of one manager while fraternizing with another, abused clubhouse guys doing their jobs, screamed obscenities at deputies in public and nearly came to blows with players on buses.
And an organization with this shoddy, sorry track record attacks Adam Rubin? It wasn't exactly hard picking whom to believe, and whom to side with. It is indeed despicable to attack someone for doing their job when the real issue is you not doing yours, and classless to try and use the trappings of your office to intensify the attack. I've never had reason to doubt Rubin's reporting; on the other hand, I've had reason to doubt Omar Minaya's competence — and now his truthfulness — night after night after night.
I've written before that the barrage of injuries to high-profile Mets would probably save Omar's job when he deserved firing for a lot of other sins. But yesterday changed that. If he lost his cool up there, that's a straw that ought to break the camel's back and result in his own firing in short order. If, on the other hand, he trained his guns on the Daily News on the orders of ownership, he ought to quit posthaste for the sake of his own honor. (Jeff Wilpon's presence as Omar kinda sorta apologized — and promptly got undermined by his boss — makes me as suspicious as it does Greg.) If that's what happened — and I really hope it isn't — the Wilpons need to think very seriously about what measure of blame they deserve for the dysfunctional disaster their team has become. Whatever the case, the very culture of this organization is fundamentally broken, and everybody that's part of it needs desperately to look in the mirror and ask hard questions about why and what needs to be done about it.
That was a lot of rage to boil down to 140 characters. So I fired off this Twitter update: “Does any #Mets fan believe anything Omar Minaya says? Fire him too, right now. What an absolute f—— disgrace this team is.” I offered much the same on Facebook. And then, looking out at the Maine woods, I realized I didn't want to be in New York. In fact, I was thoroughly and heartily glad that I wasn't. The turkeys were crossing the meadow again, and I wanted to see if I could get a short video of them. Perhaps the fawn and his mother would emerge from the woods once more. A front had rolled through, promising a beautiful sunset. Maybe there would be fireflies.
Ah, but there was a game to be played. And Cora's Irregulars had shown some admirable fight these last two days. Mets back at home, against the wild-card-leading Rockies. And, more basically, a summer night with baseball to be played. Time to fire up the iPhone and get Howie and Wayne on the line.
The game started. The Mets fell behind. I was still fuming. And then, little by little, the anger seeped away.
We had dinner. Joshua was put in the bath and put to bed. We washed up. Did the usual things of a vacation night, as the sun went down (beautiful as hoped for) and the night came up, the wood thrushes' calls giving way to the tap-tap of insects against the porch screen. And all the while, the game was unfolding a pitch at a time, obeying the usual rhythms of baseball on the radio at night, heard through the doorway and amid the scuffling of chairs and the clink of gathered silverware. Called strike threes. Pitchers looking in for signs. Long drives, but playable.
Hey, I thought, they're only two runs down. Let's go, boys! And then a short sharp rally to even things at three, and then another one to threaten the Rockies' pen and bring up the prospect of K-Rod coming in for the save. In the Maine night, my thoughts had turned from the mess of the afternoon to the age-old conundrum of whether Daniel Murphy should bunt the runners over or swing away. He bunted and Jeff Francoeur was walked and Cory Sullivan gave way to Fernando Tatis, last year's inspiring story turned this year's tale of frustration. Tatis fell behind 0-and-2, and the mind turned to Omir Santos and whether he could shake a little more magic out of his bat. Except then Tatis was swinging from his heels and the ball was flying and it was GONE and Fernando was floating around the bases, fist in the air, and the roar of the crowd was a joyous crackle fighting its way out of the iPhone's pinprick speakers, and I wasn't thinking about Omar Minaya or Tony Bernazard or Jeff Wilpon even the littlest bit.
The intrinsic beauty and joy of the game of baseball is asked to redeem a lot about the sorry and ugly business of baseball. Sometimes the asking seems like too much. But incredibly and improbably, baseball often manages to pull it off. Nothing about the Mets' team coming back to beat the Rockies makes the Mets' organization less of a mess. But for three hours, somehow, the Mets made me forget about the Mets. And for that I'm grateful.
Someone grabbed the last copy of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets? Rip off your shirt and challenge him to a fight, right now. Alternately, it's available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or another bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.