If a restaurant you liked had gone downhill, you’d understand if it had changed hands and a sign appeared in its window that declared UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. And unless you were personally attached to the people who used to run the place, you’d approve of the change and look forward to an improvement. You’d certainly understand if they had to close down for a spell while they made everything palatable again.
You can conceivably do that with a restaurant. You can’t do that with a baseball team. Analogies from the rest of life often run into something unique about baseball, and what makes baseball different from much of the rest of life is it brings you, most seasons, 162 games that cannot be avoided. The bistro known as baseball is dependent on seasonal business. It must remain open from April to October (otherwise, why would they play through cold, fog and general meteorological discomfort?). Hence, all the operators of that restaurant you used to really like but had grown wary of patronizing can do in the interim is add on another sign:
OPEN DURING RENOVATIONS — PARDON OUR APPEARANCE
Or as Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies might have said to Terry Collins and the Mets on their way out of town with a four-game sweep  packed away in their luggage, eat our dust.
The Mets are an atrocious baseball team right now. There is no contractor who could fix that immediately, not even one who’s a wizard with numbers. They’re atrocious. My proof is they have played atrociously almost the entirety of this season. Granted, the entirety of this season to date is thirteen games. Beginning with the fourteenth game and extending through the one-hundred sixty-second, there is, technically, the chance that they will reinvent themselves as a spectacular baseball team.
But that’s not going to happen, at least not that soon and not that permanently. They’re atrocious. They’ve played atrociously. They are not equipped to be a whole lot more than atrocious at this juncture. “At this juncture” isn’t forever, however, and atrocious may very well not reflect their state when the season reaches a third, fourth or fifth month. The Mets no doubt will have made significant personnel changes by then. Rosters get shaken up even on good teams. The atrocious are rarely shy about trying to see what works.
Not much is working now…now. Now is also not forever, but now shows no particular inclination to depart the premises soon. So let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s not pat the Mets on the back for not losing games by more runs than they do. Let’s not congratulate them for maintaining leads for innings at a time. Let’s not take solace that but for a hit here or a pitch there, their record could very well be far better than their current 4 wins and 9 losses.
You know what a baseball team that has a chance to win a bunch of games that it doesn’t is? Atrocious. A team that gives up leads, a team that does not take advantage of opportunities, a team that inevitably finds a way to lose is atrocious. That can’t be emphasized enough as we attempt to comprehend what we have in our midst.
It’s all right. It happens. Teams lose nine of thirteen, five in a row, eight of their last nine. Teams don’t do that based on a few random bounces, though, not really. Teams have to be playing atrociously to do that, whether the scores that doom them are 11-0 or 6-5 or whatever. Furthermore, teams that are playing atrociously are generally atrocious while they’re doing it. Good teams have bad stretches, but there’s usually some evidence they’re good teams to begin with.
The New York Mets are not a good team. They have no starting pitcher — not even the one we really, really like — whose mere presence reassures you a losing streak is about to cease. They have no single everyday player — not even the one who is considered among the best in the league at his position — who fills you with the opposite of the dread you feel when you encounter a Tulowitzki on the other team. Among 25 Mets, we can detect a few flickers of hope, a few bits of individual progress, a handful of potential successes.
But they don’t have a good team. And as long as we understand that, we’ll deal with it. We should understand it. We had an atrocious team as 2010 ended, the establishment (its management, anyway) changed hands and…what? There was very little renovation that could take place that was obvious to the patrons. The menu looked suspiciously similar in terms of the appetizing factor. A few side dishes had been renamed, but the overall ambiance and quality was not noticeably upgraded.
Behind the scenes? You hear good things. Good reputations. They’re capable of fixing this place up…but it’s not a quick fix. It’s a long-term repair job. In an ideal situation, they’d close, they’d gut the premises, they’d redo everything from soup to nuts and they’d target maybe April 2012 to hang out yet another sign:
They can’t do that. They have to serve up what they have as best as they can in the short term and beg your patience for the long haul. You, if you choose, have to believe there will be a few more flickers of hope, a few more bits of individual progress, another handful of potential successes to get you through the undeniably atrocious segments of 2011.
That’s your choice. You don’t have to buy what they’re selling, you don’t have to swallow what they’re dishing out. You are certainly entitled to take a bite and call it what it is: underdone, overcooked, not very good. You have that right. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good patron, it doesn’t mean you’re not a discerning patron. If anything, you’re showing a little judgment.
The Mets are 4-9, with most of what they need to do to regularly win baseball games at this moment beyond their grasp. Disarray may be too strong a word, but it sure isn’t array. You can see that for yourself. As long as you keep that in mind, and trust that it has a chance to get better without getting too much worse first, you’ll be OK.
At some point, they will, too. And that, indeed, will be most grand.