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Endorsing Howard Megdal: Not So Crazy

Sure, I thought it was a little kooky, some fan/writer declaring his candidacy for an office to which he couldn’t be elected because it’s not an elective office. I like a good gag, but how far can you stretch one? Howard Megdal was practically Plastic Man in that regard. He was stretching the gag. He was stretching it like Rico Brogna to haul in a throw from a young Rey Ordoñez.

You don’t want to stretch anything too far. It can wear thin.

But y’know what? It’s not a gag what Howard Megdal is doing. Oh, it’s technically impossible. He can’t run for general manager of the New York Mets, and he knows it. Well, he can run, but it’s a non-binding election, a “beauty contest,” as we political junkies would call those primaries that yield no delegates. Howard can gather all the victories on all the blogs that, like this one, are hosting his referendum, but even a clean sweep won’t give him entrée to the front office at Citi Field.

Doesn’t matter, though. The journey is the destination in Howard’s case. The exercise alone is worthwhile (and not just because he plans to write a book about the experience [1]). Howard will not be the general manager of the Mets in this life.

But he oughta be.

I’ve enjoyed two long conversations with Howard since he brought his campaign to my attention and I’ve watched him electioneer our AMAZIN’ ALL-STAR MONDAY audience. It’s not crazy to want what he wants out of the Mets — not for him but for all of us. His shorthand is “Logic. Transparency. Passion.” [2] As triple plays go, it sure beats Bruntlett (unassisted).

Howard’s given the Mets as much thought as any of us has, which as you yourself know, is a ton. Anything that captures our imagination not just daily, but continually throughout the day, Howard reasons, is something that almost demands we have a say in it. “If it takes up that much of our time,” he figures, “it’s almost counterintuitive for us not to.”

See? This gag makes sense. Howard makes sense. Howard’s also not delusional. He understands he will not be Omar Minaya’s immediate replacement or eventual successor. “I don’t have an overwhelming desire to sit at a Marriott bar and make a deal for a reliever at 11 o’clock at night,” he admits. But he does like the idea of having an obligation to and taking the responsibility for making a better Mets: for him, for his wife, for his baby daughter [3], for Mets fans everywhere.

Ultimately, it’s about “ideas,” Howard says, not just having them but putting them forward. “If the Mets take on some of them,” he says, “then this has had an impact.”

What kind of ideas? Howard is calling for areas of “common sense improvement” in two broad categories: player personnel issues and “treatment of fans”.

Within the former, the Logic plank of the Megdal platform is clearly on display. It may not be the most original stuff from a Metsosphere standpoint — who among us hasn’t rued the re-signing of Perez, the indecisive handling of Mejia, the inconsistent reporting of injuries, the detour to Jacobs and Matthews and the general lack of a plan? — but that doesn’t make it wrong. It would be beautiful if somebody who had grouped those thoughts together in a cogent matter was in a position to mold them into reality.

As for the latter, the fan stuff, it’s not, by Howard’s reckoning, disconnected from building a better on-field team.

Among some great questions he asks and answers:

• Why not sell the unoccupied $460 seats behind home plate as discounted “student rush tickets,” and get something out of them on a given evening? In Howard’s estimation, you build a future customer base that way and, in the meantime, fill some seats with some enthusiastic people — and you get a little revenue besides.

• Why not revive what Dick Young referred to (in the script for the 1968 highlight film) as the “Mets’ soul” promotion, Banner Day? We invented it, after all, and, as Howard pretty astutely points out in response to the Met excuse that there are no longer doubleheaders to have Banner Day in the middle of, if you’re gonna have folks stick around for a Mr. Met dash after a game, why can’t you do it for the placard parade everybody loves and remembers? “It’s a way of saying, ‘You matter to us, express yourself.’ Not embracing a tradition started by the New York Mets is like the Yankees not embracing Babe Ruth. It’s a fundamental part of our history.”

• Why limit giveaways to 25,000 and disappoint the kid whose parents got stuck in traffic? The Phillies, for one, make sure everybody who shows up gets the premium, and they have roughly the same size ballpark we do.

• Why can other venues (baseball and otherwise) let you choose your specific seat location but mets.com can’t? This isn’t just a random gripe from Howard. His wife was pregnant in 2009, and sitting in the first couple of rows of Promenade was a must for them. Picking a seat by price range was of no use to them, yet unless they were going to buy on StubHub, the Megdals got no help from the Mets’ Web site [4], which was content to place an expectant mother in the twelfth row upstairs. “Nobody,” he wryly notes, “grows up saying, ‘I want to sit in the best available seat I can pay $64 for.’”

At the heart of the Megdal message is we should be “welcome, not just tolerated”. Do you think anybody connected to Met decision-making has ever looked at us that way?

Welcome and not just tolerated…that gave me chills, to tell you the truth. I’m tired of men in crimson golf shirts standing at various intervals of Citi Field emitting the vibe that I am to move along. I am tired of being implicitly treated like I’m up to no good. That’s how the Mets off-field personnel generally make me feel. I don’t put it on the ballpark. I felt that way at Shea, too. I’m certain it transcends general managers. Maybe Howard Megdal couldn’t overturn that attitude in a day or a season, but somebody who makes it his business to welcome fans instead of holding them suspect would be on his way to doing a great job in my book.

You can tell Howard isn’t really a politician because he wouldn’t necessarily pander to me on my every fan grievance. I brought up a few of my pet peeves when we last spoke, and while he was with me on being turned off by the canned noise level between innings and disappointed by the lack of any kind of New York Giants acknowledgement (even though he comes from a Brooklyn Dodgers family), he wouldn’t bite on my complaint that the alignment of ads surrounding the main scoreboard is aesthetically unsightly and unworthy of a big league franchise. Not a high priority for him, he says, and he’s not against the Mets widening their revenue streams wherever possible. More revenue equals the chance to sign better amateurs and fill holes as they happen with better major leaguers.

“Think about it,” he advises. “The difference between drawing 2 million fans and 3 million fans is [approximately] $30 million in revenue. If that’s coming in, it’s gonna help me as general manager do the things I want to do.”

It would also help, he says, to not throw money at the likes of Alex Cora.

Howard mentioned Monday at Two Boots that what he’s doing isn’t unprecedented in a sports context. Around the world, presidents of top soccer teams (Real Madrid, for example) are popularly elected. In Britain, “there’s a movement on for more fan ownership of teams. The connection between a team and its fans is so significant in terms of time and energy that a more direct say by the fans makes a lot of sense.” Besides, he adds, we live in a representative democracy. Why should Mets fan in America be limited to spouting off on blogs and WFAN?

For something as fanciful [5] as a campaign for a job to which you can’t be elected, Howard is conducting himself with notable grace. Given every opportunity to knock Omar Minaya, he won’t. It’s not about Omar or any individual, he says. It’s about the underpinnings of an organization that repeatedly gets itself into fixes and shows itself incapable or unwilling to fix them. He also understands that it’s an odd time to want to unseat somebody whose under-the-radar moves (like acquiring R.A. Dickey) have vaulted the Mets into somewhat surprising contention. But a 48-40 start isn’t the end of the story to Howard.

“This is not about results,” he says. “The results will come once the process is in place.” To Howard, the Mets have groped their way through recent seasons with no distinguishable process. Maybe process and planning would have won them a couple of extra games in 2007 and 2008. Maybe it would have prevented a total evaporation in 2009. And, beyond 2010, maybe it would mean a sturdier, steadier ship for the years ahead.

Howard’s written some of this stuff before [6], either on his campaign Web site or in columns for sny.tv or nybaseballdigest.com. Again, it’s stuff we’ve all written give or take a detail here or there. But as a self-appointed candidate, he’s truly articulated a vision. What he’s doing may seem like a goof, but talk to him, Mets fan to Mets fan, and it’s not goofy. It’s inspiring.

We’ve been conditioned to expect the Mets to, in dozens of ways large and small, let us down. Howard calmly and rationally paints a picture of an organization that’s equal to our ideal for them. It’s hard to resist such a vision, especially knowing it’s coming from a lifelong Mets fan.

Sure there’s self-promotion of Howard Megdal in all this, but I’m tempted to say what’s good for Howard Megdal is good for the USA…or the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town. He’s one of us. I trust us. I trust Howard. You should, too.

I heartily endorse a “Yes” vote for Howard Megdal [7]. It may not do anybody who loves the Mets any practical good, but it makes me feel better to think it just might.