I thought it was passion, but it’s just drama.
—Nate Fisher, “Ecotone,” Six Feet Under
Is there a more exhausting baseball club to root for than the New York Mets? Has there ever been a more exhausting baseball club to root for than the New York Mets?
The Mets used to tire us out with manic playoff runs, with Octobers and Septembers and late Augusts we couldn’t turn off. That’s what we knew as the good tired. The Mets could put us through the ringer like nobody could, and we welcomed it. In the spirit of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man, we loved it.
The Mets don’t tire us out that way anymore. They are a high-maintenance obsession that offers us increasingly little return on our emotional investment: fictitious profits, mostly. We don’t get the championships. We don’t get the contention. We get no more than a nugget here or there to keep us going — an obscure achievement; a middling milestone; a face in the crowd that makes us smile for a night or two at most. What I’m coming to appreciate these days is when things are kind of boring because it means things aren’t blowing up on us.
Things are blowing up on us. Things are almost always blowing up on us. Lately they’re as continually explosive as Jason Bay’s bat is chronically dormant (Bay is what we know as the bad boring). The Mets have been the flashpoint lately for a disheartening Subways Series meltdown; for genuinely terrible news regarding one of their living legends; for a slew of disturbingly mysterious injuries; for scandal that continues to require sopping up from the mess a former high-ranking employee left behind; for the mind-boggling callousness the organization showed in enhancing/degrading their literal brand. Yet y’know what? All that stuff from the past couple of weeks — from the revelations contained in Paul Lukas’s backstory on how we wound up with black uniforms to the arrest of Charlie Samuels to the disabling of David Wright and Ike Davis after plays that appeared relatively benign on first glance to the tumors afflicting Gary Carter to Mike Pelfrey’s inability to escape the seventh inning in the Bronx — have all but disappeared from view since Sunday night.
The “great guy/poor judgment” Fred Wilpon PR offensive, consisting of articles in the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, has altered our agenda as Mets fans, at least until something else overwhelming and absurd comes along to replace it as the dominant force in our concerns. Now all we’re thinking about and talking about is the principal owner of our favorite baseball team: what he said; what he shouldn’t have said; what he shouldn’t have done; and, because we wouldn’t care what a great guy some real estate magnate we’d never heard of was if he didn’t own our favorite baseball team, when and under what circumstance he and his will be compelled to sell…and how much damage he and his will inflict upon our favorite baseball team in the interim.
After 36 or so hours immersed in dissecting quotes and reactions and implications (with breaks for sleep and scattered responsibilities), I tuned in Tuesday night’s game from Wrigley Field almost surprised there was a game. You mean they play baseball, too? I thought the Mets were simply a conversation piece.
They didn’t play baseball remotely well against the Cubs, giving all of us, including the principal owner, every opportunity to consider ourselves (yet again) schmucks for being charter passengers on this bizarro bandwagon. They instead capture our attention for a day-and-a-half because of colorful phrases like “schmuck” and “shitty team” and “not a superstar” and “bleeding cash” and “a dupe rather than a crook”. They get us worried over whether our shortstop (who on Tuesday quietly passed our idle and presumably insufficiently stellar third baseman for No. 3 on the franchise’s all-time hits list, with the No. 2 spot, held by Cleon Jones since 1976, just five hits away) will be our shortstop for more than another couple of months. They get us up in arms on behalf of our valiant right fielder and his 65/70/100% state of being. They make us wonder (yet again) if our flagship radio station should be WTF instead of WFAN.
They really are exhausting. They take it out of you with the no-win debates they can’t stop themselves from inspiring.
“He didn’t say anything any of us hasn’t said.” “Yes, but he’s the owner.”
“Well, he isn’t a superstar, not really.” “Look at his numbers, of course he’s a superstar.”
“I don’t want to see him go.” “I don’t think he’s worth that kind of money.”
“They’re going to have to slash payroll.” “They’ve had a big payroll and they haven’t won anything.”
We know, we know, we know. Fred Wilpon and his potentially hundreds of millions of problems aren’t exactly breaking news, but we’re sure incredibly conscious of them now. Carlos Beltran not endlessly repeating the seven games he filed against the Cardinals in October 2004 (while he’s endlessly reminded of one at-bat he had against the Cardinals in October 2006) isn’t a bulletin either. Jose Reyes is due to get paid? David Wright hasn’t busted down the far-away fences of Citi Field? There was too much devotion to the object of Fred’s childhood affection when our ballpark opened and next to none for ours? Bernie Madoff is a sociopath? Saul Katz could moonlight for Rawlings because he claims a big set of balls?
OK, that last one I didn’t know. And I didn’t know Fred Wilpon jetted around Europe in search of better weather on holiday because he could. I didn’t know of the existence of the Old Farts Club (and could have done without that tidbit). I didn’t know Fred got Jeff a gig catching BP through Joe Pignatano or that he hung around Shea in the late ’70s with Joe Torre, which I actually enjoyed learning because it gave me an inkling that Wilpon might have actually cared ever so slightly about the Mets before he owned a piece of them.
Besides having it drilled home that Fred’s a good guy undermined by poor judgment (so Picard, get your hand out of his pockets already yet), another theme the self-inflicted media onslaught emphasized was the owner of the Mets loves being owner of the Mets. Take it from perenially reliable source Steve Phillips: “I now how important the team is to the Wilpon family.” Yet, for what little it’s worth in the big picture, I don’t necessarily equate that with loving the Mets. I’ve never gotten the feeling Fred Wilpon does, not in the way those of us who don’t get to shove blueprints at an architect and tell him to shut up and just rebuild Ebbets Field do. I’m sure he loves the Mets as a property, and that there’s more to the Mets to him than there is to this or that building in Manhattan, but I also get the feeling his acumen was most acute in tending to inanimate objects.
Fred, as Tom Verducci noted in the SI piece, doesn’t keep an office in Citi Field. He wasn’t supposed to be the one out front at this juncture. The Mets were on track to becoming Jeff Wilpon’s show. Take that for what it’s worth. The Wilpon family was going to be one with the Mets forever. For better. For worse. Probably for what the last decade has been like since Wilpon bought out keen-insighted Nelson Doubleday and it’s been all Fred and Saul and Jeff.
They run a lot of Viagra ads on SNY, I’ve noticed, the ones that tell me I’ve reached the age of knowing how to get things done or something like that. After winking not very hard about those things (the kinds of things for which Saul Katz cops to being exceptionally well-equipped), the commercials urge the viewer to consult with a doctor to make sure one’s heart is healthy enough to engage in what Viagra is supposed to help you get done.
At the risk of TMI, I don’t need to see a doctor to ask about that. I need to see a doctor to find out if I can take being a Mets fan much longer. It’s exhausting. It really is.