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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The R.A. Dickey Holiday Blues

I know what happens
I read the book
I believe I just got the goodbye look
—Donald Fagen

If R.A. Dickey were a garden-variety drama queen, I might have written off his use of phrases like “disappointment”; “impatience,” “emotional scope”; “we’re asking for less than what’s fair”; “you already think you’re extending the olive branch”; and “I don’t want to be taken advantage of” as typical Dickey, always with the drama. But watching R.A. as I listened to him at the Mets’ holiday party Tuesday morning, I didn’t sense there was anything typical about the way he was answering questions about his ongoing contract negotiations. R.A., who’s always been about passion over drama, was more downcast than the occasion was festive.

And besides, since when is R.A. Dickey a garden-variety anything?

Dickey’s demeanor was a touch surreal, given that when you get a baseball player to stand in front of a baseball team’s wall of dancing logos at an event as nominally upbeat as a party whose purpose is to present children with gifts, the talk is inevitably of the happy variety. At the very least, you’d count on innocuous. But you’d count wrong here, for this was the aberration. This was the home team baseball star for whom you wouldn’t have guessed that over the last several months it’s been a wonderful life.

Happy holidays?

Is there someone to blame between the player who just got done being certified the best pitcher in the league and the team that has hesitated in committing to his satisfaction? We love Dickey, and our default switch is set to the assumption the Mets are probably doing something wrong if they’re doing anything at all, yet I’m not sure there’s blame to be assigned in any of this. Here are the basics of this negotiation as I understand them:

• Dickey’s due a sizable amount of money in 2013.

• Dickey wants a more sizable amount of money for 2014 and 2015.

• The Mets are offering a more sizable amount of money for 2014 and 2015.

• The amount of money the Mets are offering isn’t really in line with the market value of the best pitcher in the league, so although it’s sizable, it’s not that sizable in context.

Thus, the Metropolitan Standoff. One is tempted to say it’s about money, but that would be the garden-variety answer. This is R.A. Dickey. He’s blossomed in a garden of his own tending, where feelings grow as tall as any stack of guaranteed dollars. “When people say, ‘It’s business, it’s not personal,’” he said to a small mob of media, “well, that just means it’s not personal for them.’” To the Mets — or any baseball team/business — R.A. Dickey’s contract is a figure on a ledger. To R.A. Dickey, maybe more so than any ballplayer we’ve ever encountered, you get the very strong impression that everything is personal.

That’s what makes him R.A. Dickey, for better or…actually, there’s almost never been a speck of “worse” where R.A. Dickey’s been concerned these three years we’ve known him. So as much as one wants to avoid hitting the default switch and blaming the Mets for doing what teams do and taking into account all factors that would go into extending Dickey’s contract to something closer to his satisfaction than theirs, boy is it difficult to not think that if R.A.’s feeling a bit bruised from this process, then something must be awry with the process.

R.A. was at Citi Field to play an elf, which is easy to forget when you’re not one of the hundred or so kids from Far Rockaway who the Mets invited for lunch and toys and a little Santa Claus action. John Franco was going to be along later to reprise his old-time role, so in the early going Tuesday, R.A. and Ike Davis donned blue Mets jerseys and greeted the children. A big “YAY!” went up when they appeared. R.A. the elf spread the good cheer as he’s been spreading it to us since 2010. Then the elf left the Acela Club dining area, making way for the Cy Young winner to stand in front of the dancing-logos wall behind the curtain where the media was waiting. Per usual, he seemed intent on answering all questions honestly.

And honestly, he didn’t seem too thrilled as he answered.

There he was, in Mets blue, against a wall of Mets blue, being kinda blue. There was a multitude of cameras and microphones and notebooks, every one of them wielded by someone asking about the progress of those negotiations. R.A. didn’t put a happy face on it. He said only good about being a Met and didn’t say anything bad about the people on the other side of the negotiating table (if there were true rancor, someone else likely would’ve played Ike’s elfin partner). They’re the people he’s still employed by, the people who are as likely as not to trade him if they can’t extend him soon. If he gets to Opening Day without a new contract, he’s as good as gone. If he’s not his current employers’ kind of investment at the price he desires, then it’s not unreasonable for them to gauge what he’s worth in a trade, considering how much his current team needs in order to compete. He’s been dangled plenty for weeks. He’ll be dangled some more unless he’s signed.

I don’t see him signing. I might have before the holiday party, but this was not the countenance of a man on the verge of professional satisfaction. This was not a man stoked by the spirit of the season. Even a question about the kids in the dining room, chosen to attend because they went to schools that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, didn’t seem to take R.A. out of the moment. He acknowledged that he “can’t fathom what they’re having to go through,” but the Dickey who would’ve found exactly the right words to show he probably fathomed it better than most wasn’t fully present at Citi Field. Some days even the best pitcher in the league doesn’t quite have his knuckleball.

Dickey was on a tight schedule Tuesday, having committed to a promotional appearance in the city. There was one big media scrum for his attention, which wound down with a backbeat of Jay Horwitz warning R.A.’s most persistent inquisitors, “He’s gotta go, he’s gotta go.” Sure enough, R.A. was going. He removed the new blue DICKEY 43 Mets jersey — a model he’s never pitched in — and put on his coat, grabbed his bag and left through the Acela Club’s back exit.

I had only my fan instinct for guidance, the one that told me Ray Knight, Darryl Strawberry, Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Reyes couldn’t possibly not return when their status was in limbo, so don’t consider my hunches a leading indicator of anything. But honestly, once that uniform shirt came off, I couldn’t help but think I had just seen R.A. Dickey’s last appearance as a New York Met.

22 comments to The R.A. Dickey Holiday Blues

  • I wish Daniel Murphy or David Wright or anybody else had played the elf. I saw something before this appearance that said if R.A. was playing an elf, it was a good sign for negotiations. This is not good. Worse is that I have no confidence that the front office could trade the reigning Cy Young winner and get a dud in return; or if the new guy actually has skills and isn’t perpetually hurt, he won’t be half the person R.A. is. And when your team never wins, the quality of the people matters a little more.

  • Jon

    Who’d have guessed that this event could turn into such a clusterfukk? Certainly not the Mets who no doubt decided to invite Dickey chiefly because they feared they’d get bad press had he *not* been there. I’m certain various unnamed “Mets people” are slamming him as we speak so when they do pull off a trade they can say they did it because he’s an ingrate who had it coming.

    For the record, if Dickey can bring back an outfielder who can hit and catch I’m in favor of trading him !

  • Dave

    Oh mother of God, they’re going to screw this all up, aren’t they? Like Jon, part of me says that if they can bring back real talent in areas where it’s needed, my head can see the wisdom in it. Like many other Mets fans, my heart says this is the coolest guy in the world, let alone the coolest guy on the team, and being a Mets fan is just more fun with him. But here’s what I fear. To skimp and save, the Wilpons will string him along under his current contract, then in July while we’re on our way to another sub-.500 season, after other potential trade partners have had success with Plan B because they got tired of the Mets doing nothing, after they have waited us out, some team will be willing to give the Mets an outfielder…someone who has all the potential to be the next Jeff Francoeur…or a catcher who will once and for all make us forget Brian Schneider. Whoever they get will be non-tendered next winter. Meanwhile, I don’t know who Mike Olt is, but as a Texas Ranger, he’ll be the MVP of the 2015 All-Star Game.

    A 20-game winner who took the Cy Young in a landslide, and he wants to stay so badly that he’s willing to take a hometown discount. Doesn’t sound like rocket science, yet somehow it is.

  • Lenny65

    As Mets fans, I think it’s safe to say we all know there are two ways this could turn out.

    1. The Mets sign R.A. In early May, he is struck in the big toe by a wicked line drive that caroms off David Wright’s skull (and eventually strikes a young girl in the stands who then renounces the Mets and dons a Yankees cap on the back page of the NY Post). He never regains his form after seven stints on the DL. He retires and becomes a best-selling self-help author. The Mets somehow manage to offend him and he never sets foot in Citi Field again, not even when they tear it down and build Second Citi Field in its place.

    2. The Mets trade R.A. for Johnny Nobody, Earl McNeverwas and some relief pitcher that’s never heard from again. R.A. goes on to dazzle the AL and is eventually traded at the deadline to the Yankees, where he leads them to another title. He becomes known as “The Ambassador Of Baseball”, charming fans and non-fans alike with his brilliant and unique personality. After five Cy Young awards, eight 20 win seasons and six no-hitters, Dickey returns to the Mets at age 52 as part of the Shawon Dunston III (SD3) deal. In his second start he stumbles on a poorly-tended section of the Citi Field turf and dislodges a toenail. He immediately retires. The Mets somehow manage to offend him and he never appears at Citi Field again, not even for Old Timer’s Day.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Greg, you are great at expressing Mets fan’s feelings.(at least when I agree with them.) it just seems like we had a great story and in typical Stem fashion they are ruining it. The man was ridiculously underpaid for his performance this year, they sold tickets based on his starts, he’s a great guy. Just sign him. Even if he is a fluke and has a bad 4 months, some desperate team would take him in a 7/31 trade if need be. Too bad he doesn’t have same agent as John Franco, Todd Zeile G. Moto (no name spell check) or Fernando Tatis. Hope to meet you Saturday but if not good luck!

  • nestornajwa

    Bummer. But very cool and courageous for him to show up. Knowing Dickey (which, of course, I don’t, but it sure feels like I do) this was a final wave and curtain call to us. Say all you want about Jose, but I don’t see him showing up for this between the Short Godbye and signing with the Flounder.

  • Ljcmets

    I realize that there is tremendous competition for this title (cough….Steinbrenner….cough) but the Mets just may have the worst employee relations in major league baseball, if not all of professional sports. How this situation was allowed to deteriorate is beyond me, but once again, they have used innuendo, selectively leaked information to the press, and general cluelessness to establish a negotiating position that is unreasonable, not commensurate with market value, and degrading to their negotiating partner.

    It doesn’t seem to matter who runs the team – we’ve now seen this behavior from three sets of owners and countless general managers. We all know the lineup – Jones, Seaver, Knight, Gooden, Alfonzo, etc., etc., ad nauseum (literally I’m sick to my stomach about this latest nonsense).

    Say what you will about Minaya, and there’s plenty to say, but he managed to usher Mike Piazza off the Shea stage without inflaming either the player or the public. I know the general perception is that Minaya was clueless in business affairs, but there’s something to be said for decent negotiations and humane treatment of one’s employees.

    Just this year alone, they have used the press to smear Ike Davis and now, in perhaps the most egregious incident since the Trade, they have botched that rarest of all things…a feel-good story both on and off the field that has happened to the most deserving of players, and maybe the least deserving of employers. The Mets might think they have the negotiating advantage, but if they run R.A. out of town, trade him for peanuts, or allow him to dangle for an entire season, they will feel pain from the fans, the media, and the team itself that they obviously think they can overcome. Smugly, they believe that they hold the edge in public relations, and they are going to be stunned, once again, when they learn how this will boomerang on them.

  • I love and admire Dickey, but he really shouldn’t be taking this so personally. He has to realize that Sandy’s job is to put the best team he can concoct on the field, and that RA’s value is the highest it will ever be right now. Greinke just signed the other day, there’s 2 months of offseason left to trade him or extend. Other teams aren’t offering a boatload for him, so the Mets are doing the right thing by waiting out the clock and seeing which team will flinch. I’m afraid RA is painting himself into a corner with threats of leaving and his constant references to “being taken advantage of “. In reality, the Mets don’t owe him anything but this year’s $5M salary. Fans may not like it, but this is the business side of baseball and the Mets have all the leverage right now.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    That interview with Kevin Burkhardt was too hard to watch. R.A. himself looked close to tears at the thought of this being his last appearance in a Met uniform.

    He wants to stay. He is not holding a gun to Sandy’s head and has instead offered that olive branch requesting much less than what other’s are getting. He just won the Cy Young award. If Sandy says his plan is for the Mets to return to being competitive in 2014, why would R.A. not play a vital role in that? Even with the good young arms in the rotation, does not a team need a veteran ace they can rely upon for those crucial games? There is no other pitcher the Mets have who can even come close to rising up to that occassion.

    What the hell more does one so loyal and greatful to be a Met have to do?

    This is not about the team as it never was with Reyes, Beltran and KRod – it is about not wanting to spend money to keep the Wilpons as owners. Rebuilding was just the hype spun to deceive the public. Many of us saw that the first days when Sandy started acquiring those “inexpensive” players he said could only produce fifty percent. Forget about what happened during 2011 – in 2012 we went from buyers to sellers in a matter of weeks with nothing done to fill the glaring holes we had in the outfield and bullpen up to that point. Sandy then said to expect major changes in the roster in 2013. Now, he says the 2013 squad will basically be that of the end of the 2012 season.

    And of course, only one team signed less draft selections than we did last season – including not even trying to negotiate an approximate $40,000 difference with our number two pick (75th in the nation) who wanted simply to get slot money.

    This is not a vision and more I know who were sold on that back in 2010 are now jumping off the bandwagon. If Sandy had a vision, he would try to have taken the route that Kansas City has followed. The Royals also has a very young club that has been losing way longer than the Mets yet they went ahead and traded their top prospect plus other hopefuls for a pitching ace (whom could walk in two years) and closer, hoping that could change their reversal of fortune.

    They did this despite having the fourth lowest payroll in the majors, less sources of revenue than that of the Mets and David Glass being a poor man’s imitation of Fred Wilpon.

    http://www.kansascity.com/2012/12/06/3951887/royals-payroll-pinch-is-tighter.html

    And as we can see from that attached article, KC fans are voicing opinions that sound a lot like they were from New York.

    I want RA to stay a Met forever but I also wonder how much this treatment by the front office will take some of the heart out of him. And as much as I want R.A. to stay for my own personal, selfish reasons, I think it would be best for him to be with an organization that appreciates him instead of treating him like a piece of meet. R.A. certainly comes from a better breed than this ownership and front office.

  • Dean Chance

    Hi, R.A. Remember me? Take the $$$, kid…most of us working bastards earn chump change until we die, yo.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Very disappointed on this saga. Totally appreciate the Mets have to look at finance & value but I don’t think they understand how RA is viewed by the fans. I actually think RA WILL pitch for us next yr, have a good season and leave as a free agent(and be a huge success) I agree ŵith Joe D’s comments and hope that this sorry scenario can be sorted out for the good of the Mets AND RA

  • Andre

    I bought my ticket to Opening Day on Monday. I bought it to see RA pitch. I am heartbroken at the realization of what might happen afterreading this article. God I want a drink now.

  • Ed W

    After reading Dickey’s book, it seems like he spent his whole life looking for a home and looking for love in the Majors. Now he has found both, and the income he has made in the past year seems like at least five times what he had made in baseball in his entire life up to that point. If I understand correctly, he got $10 million over two years and has been offered an extension of $20 million by the Mets for another two years after that.

    After years of struggling, Dickey finally has adoring fans. Maybe he should go back and read his own book to gain some perspective. Can he not make it on $5 million in 2013 and $10 million a year for the two years beyond that? Did he forget where he came from and what his dreams were? Does money – and we are talking big money – corrupt one’s dreams that quickly? Does ego and bragging rights get in the way that easily? I don’t know Dickey and I don’t mean to judge him, but I just don’t get it. Somebody please explain this to me, a relatively recent fan. Don’t worry about making a fool of me on the website if I’ve got it all wrong.

    • IB

      I had the same misgivings. This was a Xmas party for kids whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy.
      Some, with their families probably left homeless. This was not the time or place for airing grievances or concerns over $25 million contracts.

      The press should not have been asking in this venue and he should not have answered.

      Very troubling to me, this lack of perspective, as you put it. Dickey
      has been one of my all time favorite Mets. I wish he stayed home.

      The spin will turn the Wilpons into the villians on this, like everything else, but I don’t buy it this time.

  • Patrick O'Hern

    Have you ever opened a blog entry preaching “please read this” ?.Guessing not . Thanks again for this great entertaining blog!

  • Andee

    Here’s the thing, though. In a way, this is what we wanted. We wanted the team to quit saddling itself with ridiculous one-sided albatross contracts and to play hardball during negotiations to get more team-friendly deals.

    Unfortunately for Dickey, he’s about three years too late for the Mets gravy train. These are just negotiations. I know it’s hard for him not to take it personally, but he really shouldn’t. He has an agent for a reason; let the agent do his job, and deflect any questions about negotiations to him.

    And if the agent is doing his job, he’ll tell Dickey that the most likely reason for the holdup is that Sandy wants to see if the Rangers or the Blue Jays will blink and offer one of their stud prospects for him, and that he is asking for something very few pitchers his age have ever gotten, so it’s going to take a little longer than if he were 28 instead of 38. Yeah, it’s too bad for him that this is not a mega-rich team like the Dodgers who will give out nine-figure deals to anyone who can breathe, but this is the line most teams have to walk nowadays.

    And all you have to do is read other teams’ fan blogs to know that they will scream bloody murder if their team trades anything of substance for Dickey. They’ll take him for a bag of factory-damaged rubber duckies, but their stud prospects, as far as they are concerned, should be held out for “real” (i.e young) aces. So unless Sandy is given marching orders to get rid of him for whoever he can get a la Seaver — and I can’t believe even Jeff is that freaking dumb — I don’t think he’s going anywhere, and he’ll forget all about this as soon as the ink is dry. (Or as Jay Leno once put it, “Listen, I’ll hand you my paycheck and call you a moron and you see if you can handle it, okay?”)

  • Ljcmets

    Andee,
    This makes so much sense…so much business sense and common sense…I WANT to believe it. But what has me scratching my head are the ridiculous leaks being floated about Dickey’s “celebrity” and the team’s concerns about his being a “distraction” to his teammates.

    i know the Post sensationalizes, but someone connected with the Mets said something to someone about this and I seriously doubt it was just in passing. It was designed to send a message to Dickey: “We’ve got all the power here.” Ironically, as I argued above, I think management badly miscalculated on that point.

    This is what reminds me, and many others, of the Seaver situation, a la the infamous leak to Dick Young regarding Nancy Seaver being jealous of Ruth Ryan. That smear was calculated in just the same way as this…to let Seaver know he wasn’t in control, and it backfired on the Mets in a huge and damaging way as we all know.

    Unfortunately, I fear that Dickey got the message loud and clear. My own theory is that he was called in earlier Tuesday morning (or was informed through his agent) that Fred was unhappy about his failure to appear at whatever event Fred wanted him to appear at, and then was almost immediately thrown to the press mob by the team. That’s why, as Joe D said above, he appeared stunned or as if he was blinking back tears. ( It also explains why R.A., who is usually so gracious, stumbled ever so slightly by calling out the team – ever so mildly- at the holiday party. If I’m correct, he didn’t have the time to process what he had just heard.). I don’t think even R.A., as savvy as he is, expected the next leak to the press about his “off-field activities.”

    It seems to me that the Mets deliberately hit R.A. In a place they knew was tender for him, implying that he is a less than ideal teammate, and not a ” team player.” I’m afraid this may have passed the point of business negotiations, and that the Mets may just be ” that dunb” to let him go for next to nothing. Once one side starts publicly or, even worse, privately demeaning the other ( so that the target is prevented from responding effectively), there’s nowhere else to go. Clearly Fred’s ego has been bruised, and he will have his revenge, even if it means burning down the ship to save it.

    I’d love to read your thoughts on this…..

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