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Stay Classy, Mets

If there’s one thing Johan Santana does not strike me as, it’s insecure. He suffered the worst outing of his career [1] Tuesday night in Atlanta — same place his professional life had to be put on interminable hold in 2010 — yet judging by his calm demeanor and rational responding during a postgame media grilling that wasn’t nearly as scalding as the one the Braves gave him on the field, he knows he’s going to pitch another day and win another day…maybe even in five days.

We all should be as calm and rational as Johan Santana.

The management of the team that has made Johan financially secure is going through one of its rare calm and rational phases, which is as satisfying as it is reassuring. By no more than confirming that they will be doing the right thing twice in the upcoming weeks and months, the Mets have elicited from some quarters an overly touchy reaction born of what feels like innate and inappropriate insecurity.

They don’t deserve it. The Mets are being classy. It’s a pleasure to see.

Working back to front, the Mets have said, sure, we’ll acknowledge Chipper Jones [2] when he swings by for the final time in September. Heavens to Betsy! cries a segment of the fan base as if on cue, I do believe I have come down with the vapors! Larry Jones is an opponent, and as an opponent, he has meant to do harm to our honorable cause! Plus he’s Larry Jones, oh my!

Exactly because he is Larry “Chipper” Jones — or Chipper “Larry” Jones — is why a moment of Citi Field acknowledgement as this surefire Hall of Famer makes his way out the National League door is so appropriate. Who else among our modern-day rivals has embraced the role of Opponent as Jones has? What other “villain” has shown the self-awareness Jones has in publicly understanding that he is viewed as a Met Opponent and accepts the infamy that accompanies that identity? Who has grown from the sneering, snotty kid who uttered that infamous putdown [3] regarding choice of local licensed merchandise more than a dozen autumns ago into an elder statesman who has said in every way possible (except by failing at the plate, which is the way we’d prefer), “Sorry about that, y’all are OK”?

Plus the naming of his kid. For god’s sake, there’s a Shea Jones somewhere in Georgia. You don’t name your son after a ballpark where you’ve been Just Visiting merely because you compiled an OPS of .964 in 88 games there.

The Mets-Braves rivalry was a rivalry because we made it so. The Mets made it so by taking aim at them and getting heartbreakingly close to them. The Braves who refused to cede prominence for so long didn’t particularly require a rival and most of them carried on as if they didn’t have one. They were beating everybody in their most halcyon days. It was all business to them.

Chipper was deadly business to Mets pitching and thus deadly business to Mets fans. Yet there was a chemistry between us, informing our unconventional Special Relationship. It went deeper than merely resenting the unyielding success of the likes of Maddux, Gl@v!ne and Smoltz or being contemptuous of a hateful rube like Rocker. Brian Jordan, Rafael Furcal, Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones…who cared? They all grimly did their share of damage and they’re all bad memories, but they were in the background when the Mets and the Braves were the Mets and the Braves. Chipper was always front and center and didn’t mind it. He handled it. He stayed around long enough to see the beauty in it. When he goes, so goes the last strand of the era when the orange boxes denoting a Mets-Braves series throbbed on the pocket schedule (remember pocket schedules?).

That’s worth a sportsmanlike acknowledgement on September 9. That’s worth presenting Chipper with a JONES 10 uniform for his son and telling him Shea can go home and put on his Mets stuff. It would be classy to stand and applaud as he enters his last game in Flushing. And it would be wrong to not work a derisive “LAAAARRRREEEE!!!” into that ovation simultaneously.

That’s the tribute Chipper Jones deserves and will no doubt appreciate.

More imminently, the Mets have told inquiring minds that Jose Reyes’s nine years as a Met star will be the subject of a brief video tribute [4] when he returns as a Miami Marlin this Tuesday. This seems a pretty standard gesture of goodwill by precedent and sentiment [5], no matter where Jose has landed (on a disliked divisional rival), how Jose landed there (via free choice once the Mets did not or could not retain his services) or how Jose’s final moments in a Met uniform played out (ridiculously clumsily [6]).

Unless Jose holds a press conference between now and Tuesday in which he questions how anybody could stand to ride the 7 train because it’s like Beirut [7], et al, or says something similarly inflammatory, he’s smiled his $106 million smile and mouthed nothing but the most pleasant platitudes about his feelings toward Mets fans. He may have even meant them. He should. There was a chemistry there, too, something I don’t know I observed otherwise between a heretofore lifetime Met player and a Met crowd.

Plenty of Mets have been beloved from the time they came up to the time they went away. Few totally fired us up as Jose did, though, and fewer seemed to regularly process the affection as a renewable energy source in return. Dykstra for a while. Tug when he had it going on. Other long-term relationships — Seaver, Mookie, Fonzie — felt more warm and respectful. With Jose, it was hot and passionate. Like Darryl, but with a different kind of edge to it. Strawberry sulked more than anybody cares to remember a quarter-century later. We found disappointment when we looked too close at him. Our disappointment in Jose was not that we didn’t think he was giving us his all, it was that he couldn’t give us all when a hammy barked or an oblique strained or a thyroid, of all things, became an issue.

Other than that, it was primarily peaches and cream between us and him until the cream curdled just enough to leave a sour taste on September 28, 2011. Then he takes the money and runs — no need for a pinch-runner in December — to Miami. That, in the most sensitive of scoring decisions, makes him the enemy or a traitor or whatever epithet a Mets fan might spit upon learning Jose will get his two minutes on DiamondVision?

I would have bristled if the Mets had gone in the other direction and pretended some more [8] that their all-time runs, stolen bases and triples leader hadn’t existed as the pulse of their operation for the past nine seasons. I understand there’s an inherent awkwardness in a 50th anniversary season to hailing your best shortstop ever when your best shortstop ever just left (and you didn’t have the resources or perhaps the wherewithal to re-sign him). Their Izvestian revision of recent history — check the commemorative portion of the new yearbook — is unbecoming, though in the greater Metropolitan sky of 2012, it’s no more than a passing puffy, cumulus cloud over what should be a bright and sunny six months of celebration.

Thus, playing a quick clip scored to “Thank You For Being A Friend” (or whatever the hell Vito Vitiello chooses) and giving us the opportunity to say, hey, Jose, it was swell being in this with you for nine years, we sure had our fun together provides us the closure we didn’t quite get in September let alone December. Jose Reyes takes a bow, tips that unfortunate cap, steps into the batter’s box in the heretofore alien top of the first at Citi Field and…

…and then you can treat him like he’s Chipper Jones or something if you must.