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The Pelf Thing

I can see why it’s a big deal that Mike Pelfrey spoke his mind. It reveals that he has one. Watching him on the mound for six seasons, particularly when things begin to go a little haywire, I wouldn’t have sworn under oath that he had a noodle to use.

Other than that, I don’t quite get why what Big Pelf said to the always reliable New York Post passed for inflammatory. Perhaps it’s a sign of the age we live in that stone-cold conformity is so valued that if anyone gets the slightest bit out of line, it’s “heavens to Betsy!” time. Or conversely — and more encouraging from our own parochial standpoint — perhaps the Mets have been such gung-ho adherents of Terry Collins’s Norman Vincent Peale [1]-esque positive thinking that even mild apostasy sticks out like a, well, Big Pelf.

What’d he say, again? This, per Mike Puma [2]:

“It’s unrealistic for anybody at the end of last year to come in and say, ‘The Mets, this is a one-year thing, next year we’re going to win it all.’ It’s unrealistic.”

That’s controversial? That violates the tenets of jockspeak? That inspired every reporter’s favorite source, “One Met,” to respond (anonymously) like this?

“He’s cutting his own throat. What’s his record, six and nine? He’s supposed to be the ace of the [bleeping] staff. Why don’t you go and win 12 or 13 games?”

The Mets were a sub-.500 club in 2010 that entered 2011 with no substantial improvements to its roster, save for the addition by subtraction of a few bad, overpaid actors. They stumbled to a miserable start, straightened out, believed in themselves, pushed the proverbial boulder uphill, overcame injury after injury, won more often than they lost for three months — occasionally in exhilarating fashion…and never came close to legitimately contending before the boulder began coming after them (which, sadly, it continued to do Saturday night in Phoenix [3]). So I’d say Pelf’s supposedly damning quote was on the money, pretty tame and probably traveled from his brain to his mouth as a fairly benign thought-segment, particularly in the context (a word athletes only use when asked to explain [4] something they are said to have said) of the rest of the article.

If he said something like “it was always going to be tough for us this year” or “you have to have patience in this game” it would have been taken as somewhere between benign and sage, and nobody but Mike Puma diehards and relatives would have noticed.

As for the idea that a 6-9 pitcher should offer fewer opinions than a 12-4 pitcher, that would be the politic tack to take, given the parameters of the industry in which Pelf makes his very good living. But it’s a free country. If R.A. Dickey can Tweet to his heart’s content [5], then Pelfrey can occasionally summon his mind and speak it. And he has. It’s worth noting Mike was the only Met to publicly take umbrage [6] with the idea that the club was about to trade its lineup’s most consistently dangerous weapon just before Carlos Beltran was dispatched to San Francisco:

“I understand that if you want to get something back for him, you have to trade him. But in the same sense I would think if we ended up getting rid of him, the front office’s view is that we don’t have a chance, because he gives us our best chance to win. If he’s not here, then they felt we can’t rebound from where we’re at.”

Forgive Pelf if he wasn’t particularly interested in where Zack Wheeler fits into the big Met picture come 2013. Mike Pelfrey doesn’t know if he’ll fit into the big Met picture come 2013 — or 2012, for that matter. Pelf’s suddenly the third-longest tenured Met, behind Reyes and Wright. His inadvertent role on this team in 2011 is something akin to that of Bobby Jones in the late ’90s or Steve Trachsel in the middle ’00s, the senior starting pitcher who has slogged through hundreds of innings, had his moments (if not nearly enough of them) and has to wonder as often as not where’s the [bleeping] pot of gold at the end of this blue and orange rainbow? Hence, I can’t blame him if a little of his discontent seeps out [7] now and then, no matter that it’s not properly aligned with the company-approved program.

If this is what takes to be considered a malcontent, then we’re all a little too thin-skinned.

Though on the flip side, if Pelf is considered a malcontent, then the Mets should look to trade him at once, because after six seasons of his slogging through hundreds of innings, I’ve seen enough and would welcome whatever half-baked alibi they need to get rid of him. I’ve never been a large Big Pelf believer, and his occasional bouts of success have failed to convince me he was ever on the verge of becoming the real thing. Yet because he was a No. 1 draft choice and because he was thought of as having great stuff and because on paper he’s physically imposing — and because his won-lost record has occasionally been speakworthy — the Mets have counted on him more heavily than they would a slightly shorter guy with slightly lesser stuff who was drafted slightly later.

That “One Met” who fumed that Pelf’s supposed to be the “ace” of the staff is as bewildered as I’ve been that he was ever considered on that level (though given that only one starter can start one game at a time, I find “ace” one of the more overblown concepts of baseball, along with won-lost records and speaking while saying nothing). Pelfrey was a top pitcher for maybe five months of his first five years as a Met. Tabbing him the Opening Night starter shouldn’t have been laced with so many implications or expectations. I have an unprovable hunch that had the assignment been handed to Niese or Dickey, it would have been viewed as mostly another turn in the rotation. Because it was Pelfrey, it became a thing, and the last thing Big Pelf needs is another thing.

Which I guess his “unrealistic” comment became, just as that knot that developed on his right elbow after being whacked with an exit-inducing line drive from Gerardo Parra became yet another thing, hopefully not a painful or debilitating thing. I wish the Big Pelf no ill. He’s that Met I like in spite of not being able to stand — or can’t stand no matter how much I like him. It’s nothing personal, or even theoretically personal, considering I’m a fan and it’s silly to think I know Mike Pelfrey as a person rather than as a jumble of quotes and impressions. Whatever — I’m just not that enthusiastic about him pitching for my team. Let him live and be well and enjoy a Phil Humber mini-renaissance [8] in the other league when this year is over.

In the meantime, let him say what he wants.