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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 Sorrow and the Pity

The Mets are bad and will continue to be bad for the rest of the season. That I’ve basically made my peace with.

They have the second-worst record in the National League. Since winning seven of their first eleven games, they’ve lost 17 of 24. Nobody’s scored fewer runs among N.L. teams dating back to the Sunday one month ago that the Mets were chased out of Minnesota by freezing rain, while only the Dodgers have allowed more runs. The Mets’ run differential of -43 over this period is the league’s worst. That indicates a team that doesn’t hit, doesn’t pitch and doesn’t field not doing all of it at once over a statistically significant span of the season.

On the season as a whole, the Mets are 6-2 when Matt Harvey starts, 8-19 when somebody else does, including 0-7 when Monday night’s starter, Jeremy Hefner, takes the mound. The last time the Mets began a season 14-21 was 2003, when they finished 66-95. The last time the Mets posted a worse mark through their first 35 games was 1993, when they commenced 12-23 and concluded 59-103.

Yet I watch these bad Mets. Their telecasts are entertaining because of their announcers. Their postgame shows are mesmerizing because of their excuses. Terry Collins can be counted on to mention how close the scores of these losses generally are, as if being “in it” is akin to winning. Hefner, whether he’s a genuinely emotional fellow or just has a vocal tic he can’t help, always speaks after he doesn’t win with a crack in his voice. When I first noticed how upset he sounded, I felt terrible that he takes the game so hard. Now I wonder if he’s Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriend in the Bette Midler episode, the one who, as Jerry put it, didn’t cry when her grandmother died, but a hot dog made her lose control.

The name of that episode is “The Understudy,” which was supposed to be Hefner’s role in 2013. He’s pitching every five days instead because the Mets have no depth behind their Midler, Harvey. Hefner sometimes pitches well enough to win, but he never does. The Mets are often close to winning, but rarely right there.

It’s not an excuse — that’s another one you’ll hear when you listen in on the sorrow and the pity emanating from the postgame clubhouse. Rick Ankiel, the latest utterly random face to come tumbling out of the pack of cards Sandy Alderson uses to create his 14-21 roster, showed up in St. Louis to give the Mets a proven glove in center field. Except Ankiel — who surely isn’t here to pad the team’s on-base percentage — didn’t think to stash a glove in his carry-on luggage. So the former lefty pitcher used a current lefty pitcher’s glove (Jon Niese’s) and it wasn’t quite the proper length to snare Ty Wigginton’s sinking liner that Ankiel was going to make a very good if not great catch on. It’s not an excuse, Ankiel said, but no, it wasn’t the proper glove.

That was in the seventh, after Hefner had done all he could (6 IP, 3 ER) and, presumably, had taken all he could take. Wiggy, a Met from the last season the Mets lost 21 of their first 35 games, just kept going, just as he has in the nine years since he stopped being a Met. Indefatigable Wigginton hustled into second after Niese’s glove betrayed Ankiel. Next up was Matt Adams, who shot a ball off Scott Rice’s foot that clanged into foul territory…the ball, that is, not the foot. While Rice trailed behind John Buck in pursuit of the ball, home plate went wholly unoccupied. Wigginton raced by David Wright at third (returning the favor from 2004, you might say) and occupied home plate before Rice could evacuate him. A longstanding 3-3 tie was broken in favor of the Cardinals on a trip around the bases reminiscent of 2005 at Shea, when Dae-Sung Koo improbably stroked a ball to center off Randy Johnson and more improbably scored from second on a bunt when Jorge Posada couldn’t get back to the plate to tag him. Except then it all worked out for the Mets.

Monday night, nothing worked out for the Mets. Scott Atchison came in after Scott Rice and allowed a two-out, two-run homer to Matt Holliday that sealed the Mets’ 6-3 fate. Atchison’s been pitching nearly every day and his fingers were numb and he’ll probably be on the DL soon but, the pitcher said manfully in the clubhouse, it’s not an excuse.

No excuses. No wins, but no excuses. Ankiel was an unequipped center fielder trying to make a very good catch…and the Mets lost. He’s supposed to share time with Juan Lagares, a much younger, much more promising center fielder who made a spectacular catch Sunday…and the Mets lost. Adams didn’t hit his ball very far, but it bounced off somebody’s limb…and the Mets lost. The day before, Lucas Duda hit a ball that took a stranger bounce, one off the first base bag so high into the air that there was no way it wouldn’t become a two-out RBI that would pull the Mets even with the Pirates. Except the ball bounced into a Pittsburgh glove and Duda was forced easily…and the Mets lost.

And the Mets lost. It’s a familiar refrain. They’re in close games Sunday and Monday. They’re blown out Friday and Saturday. The starters who aren’t Harvey are fixing arm angles and gaining velocity and if they haven’t kept games close, well, the coaches are sure they’ve picked up something in their respective bullpens that are going to turn them around. The hitters who don’t hit with men in scoring position or at all for innings at a time…it’s just a matter of approach and patience…or is it approach and aggressiveness? The players who act a little too happy because they personally achieved something? Well, let ’em get whacked on the arm by an opponent. That’ll teach ’em to enjoy themselves. Better yet, let ’em get used to being Mets. That’ll flush the joy out of their systems altogether.

I don’t just watch Mets games and postgame shows. I listen to their flagship station sometimes when I hear their general manager will be on to explain just why the Mets are 14-20 going on 14-21. The GM, Alderson, told Mike Francesa Monday that this wretched start bothers him, too, as if he’s a fan, as detached from the process of roster construction as any of us. He said something about Zack Wheeler not being here because he’s not ready (which may be true) not because it will affect his contractual status (which is truth-shading at its shadiest). He said in all practicality Shaun Marcum is still going through Spring Training, except he’s using major league games that count to get the hang of pitching again. Marcum’s understudy was first Hefner, then Aaron Laffey. Alderson is out of understudies. Excuses he can find.

I’ve maintained faith that patience has been the better part of valor since Alderson and his all-star advisory council took the post-Minaya reins. I couldn’t get intensely upset about 2011 because whaddaya want from the guy? That was the deal in 2012, too. It’s the deal in 2013. But the product which Alderson has crafted and Collins shepherds gets progressively worse, not better. I convinced myself to the best of my ability — and cynicism is a tough obstacle when you combine reaching 50 and being a Mets fan most of your sentient life — that the Mets were building a foundation upon which the crown jewels of the pitching staff would be placed carefully and then, with completive standing enhanced and financial wherewithal no longer an overriding issue, we’d be on the cusp of a golden age. Or at least a less tarnished age.

Even after spending eight delightful starts salivating at Harvey and being encouraged by the reports of Wheeler’s progress, I really don’t believe that anymore. I look around and wonder, to paraphrase the GM, “What foundation?” There is little splendid about these Mets individually. There is plenty that is ordinary at best. What always bothers me about puffing up the guys we see day after day is forgetting that other teams have shortstops and first basemen and lefthanded starters. They have prospects and crown jewels. We sucker ourselves into believing ours are the most sparkling, rarely pausing to consider that fans of those other teams probably believe something similar about their inventory, and we can’t all be absolutely correct in our assessments.

Maybe I’m not supposed to be unduly swayed by 35 games or 24 games or a four-game losing streak, but the sum total of consuming as much Mets as I do has left me about as dismayed as I’ve been since dismay became my reflexive reaction to everything I witness. I thought we were putting that era behind us. Either we’re in darkest-before-dawn territory or the era will just keep on extending.

Which brings me back to Alderson, who is a human being, not a caricature, but that may cut both ways. He may just not be succeeding at producing a decent Mets team in the interim and he may not succeed at producing an enduring Mets contender in the long term. It happens. We just spent a weekend with the Pirates, who continue to haul around their two-decade stone of shame until further notice. Maybe this is their year to post a winning record, make a run at the playoffs and validate the love and loyalty shown by Buc-loving people (though not, I hope, the Western Pennsylvanian who sat behind me on Sunday constantly imploring Andrew McCutcheon to “C’MON ’CUTCH!”). Maybe some year soon will be the year of the Indians and their acolytes who have had little to cheer in this century and nothing to celebrate of an ultimate nature since the first half of the last one.

I bring up Cleveland because Alderson’s tenure brought to mind something I read about Gabe Paul several years ago. In Roger Kahn’s October Men, a revisitation of the 1978 Yankees, he mentions Paul’s resignation from George Steinbrenner’s employ prior to that season and the job he accepted as president of the Indians. This was the Tribe as it was reaching the 30th anniversary of its last world championship. Why, Kahn had asked the about-to-turn 68-year-old executive, would he take on the challenge of reviving an eternally moribund franchise, especially after building the 1977 world champs as GM of the Yankees? “Cleveland used to be a great baseball town,” Paul told him, “and it will be again. Right now it’s a sleeping giant. I’m going to start making some good deals for Cleveland and build another winner.”

Kahn, writing some 25 years later: “He never did.”

It happens. Or it doesn’t happen. Or it takes forever. Who the hell knows? If you’re an organization that seems to know what it’s doing, you’re never down for long. You lose your immortal first baseman to free agency and your Hall of Fame-bound manager to retirement and, if you’re the Cardinals, you find your way back to within one game of the World Series anyway. You lose your closer for the year the next year, you just pluck someone else from the ranks and you don’t miss a beat. St. Louis won a World Series without Adam Wainwright. They’re in first place without Chris Carpenter and Jason Motte. It’s downright icky the way Keith Hernandez swoons over them, but his admiration is not misplaced.

The Mets are not an organization about to be accused of knowing what it’s doing. No visiting broadcasters are marveling over their excellence or even competence. They’ve been down far too long. Barring a 68-59 turnaround, the Mets will file their fifth consecutive losing record in 2013. Whatever little goodwill lingered from their last decent spurt has disappeared. It probably disappeared for you an eon ago, but I tend to cling to anything positive and try to make it last. The Mets who won more than they lost every year from 2005 through 2008 (one division title and one playoff series victory plus two historic September collapses, a.k.a. the good old days) at least made me think 2009 and 2010 were maybe aberrations. Jaunty, spunky play for extended intervals of 2011 and 2012 made me think they were renewing themselves for something better.

I’ve ceased shopping at that theoretical store because I simply can’t buy that stuff in 2013. I’ve seen too much bad, blah baseball. I’ve seen the Mets play worse in recent years but I’ve never seen them quite so bad and quite so blah at their essence, not since I was too young to be so cynical about them. The players I trusted to form a foundation strike me more as the players you cycle through to get to the players who will be around when winning replaces losing. If it ever does.

Sunday I saw jerseys in the stands and on the escalators and all around Citi Field that reminded me of who have come and gone in the relatively recent past: REYES 7; DELGADO 21; BELTRAN 15; MARTINEZ 45; DICKEY 43; SANTANA 57. I wasn’t necessarily missing any of those individuals of late — a couple of them are long retired already — but the onslaught of their names and numbers struck me as positively ghostly. Remember good players? Remember thinking the Mets were going to win? Remember being surprised when they lost?

I actually do. It was a while ago and a similar state is probably a while ahead.

As for the games that make one glad to be a Mets fan, there is The Happiest Recap, a subject I was happy to discuss in depth with premier blogger Alex Belth. Read our discussion of Mets wins that stand the test of time at Bronx Banter.

21 comments to The Sorrow and the Pity

  • Steve D

    1) If Hefner cries after a May loss in St. Louis, what would he do if he lost a big game?

    2) I play softball and my glove is one of my prized possesions,…it has its own bag and always has a plastic softball tied in it. Don’t understand how a ML player does not know to bring his glove…but a lot about Ankiel is a mystery. That ball hit him in the heel, which probably would have happened even with the right glove.

    4) If we are lucky, Ike will not drive in a run while he is being challenged by Collins to bat cleanup again and will be sent to Vegas, where he will develop a gambling problem and go to rehab the rest of the year.

    5) The Understudy is my favorite Seinfeld episode…always wonder how George being the loser he was, was able to hit a game winning HR.

  • open the gates

    A few thoughts:

    1) The acquisition of Ankiel makes things a little more interesting, if not necessarily better. I always found his rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story to be fascinating. OTOH, how cosmically perfect is it that, in his first AB as a New York Met, Ankiel walked? Full circle, man, full circle.

    2) Will Jeremy Hefner be around long enough to challenge Anthony Young?

    3) Maybe now Collins should consider keeping Lagares and Ankiel in the same outfield, hiding Duda’s glove at first base, and conceding that maybe Ike Davis belongs in Vegas, period. It may not win us many (or any) more ballgames, but at least we won’t leak as many runs on bad outfield play (Ankiel’s non-catch today notwithstanding).

    4) In the third year of Frank Cashen’s stewardship of the Mets (1982) the team lost over 90 games, George Foster was a major bust, and about the only piece from the eventual World Championship team in place was Mookie Wilson. So maybe Alderson just needs a little more time. OTOH, maybe Alderson is simply no Frank Cashen.

    5) “Next up was Matt Adams, who shot a ball off Scott Rice’s foot that clanged into foul territory…the ball, that is, not the foot.” And that’s why I keep reading you blog even when the team is brutal. Well played, sir. You, that is, not Scott Rice.

  • Joe Nunz

    I’llI have to read this post again to be sure, but I think our host is saying that $100 on over 76 wins was a bad investment. And I thought past results were no guarantee of future performance.

  • Had an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday re Ike. I think it’s time for him to go, as in “to another team” not “to Vegas.” Don’t think he’ll ever be more than a platoon bat, and that’s his ceiling.

    Move Duda to first. Valdy plays every day, angry veterans be damned. Baxter plays against righties. The rest, well, spaghetti against the wall. But YOUNG spaghetti, for Pete’s sake. Hope Den Dekker gets well, give Lagares a look, pray maybe Nieuwenhuis discovers a grasp of the strike zone in Vegas. (In other words, magically ceases to be Nieuwenhuis.)

    This was before the Mets inexplicably acquired Ankiel, ensuring they will waste even more OF ABs on someone who has no possible role in any future we want to witness.

    • Steve D

      Ike platoon? He’s hitting even worse against RHP last I checked. The time to trade Ike was last winter…you’d get nothing for him right now. I know you don’t want to blame the hitting coach, but the only hope with Ike now is send him to some coach to try to totally re-make his swing and harness his power, on the remote chance this is even possible.

    • Dave

      Inexplicable is right. Ankiel would make a nice acquisition for a team with a good lineup that needs a lefty bat off the bench/late inning OF defensive replacement…and it was about 2009. None of the above apply. I’m sure that in the I’m guessing about 6 weeks that he’ll be a Met before he’s DFA’d after hitting .167 he’ll make us all forget…uh…I don’t remember that guy’s name.

      As for Ike, summer in Vegas, winter as non-tendered. I don’t know that they have a solution to replace him (Wilmer Flores?), but he’s devolved to Dave Kingman with a decent glove.

      • azulnaranja

        Unfortunately, not even as good as Kingman, and I despised that guy.

        • open the gates

          Re Kong vs. Ike: Kong wins on the sheer awesomeness of his homers. No Met but Straw ever hit scarier home runs. And Ike wins on personality.

          Of course, Oscar the Grouch would have beaten Kong on personality. And building a winning team is not helped either by the mileage on individual home run balls or by how easy/hard it is to approach a player in the locker room. As was the case with with Kong, if we’re leaning on Ike Davis, then we’re not a real good team right now. To say the least.

          • Dave

            Yeah, my Davis-Kong comparison is limited to things like hitting results, skill sets, etc. The Dark Ages Mets didn’t lose games as a result of Kingman’s personality (and in fairness, he seems to have mellowed out by now, Last Day at Shea I barely recognized him with a huge smile on his face), they lost (in part) because he struck out about one out of every three times up and played 1B like Dick Stuart.

            Ike seems like a fine young man, and if/when he becomes an ex-Met my daughter will be upset because according to her, Ike, Murph and the Captain are the 3 cutest players on the team. I don’t recall many teenage girls with crushes on Kingman.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Sandy has acquired two very promising prospects and putting aside my questioning of the motives and wisdom of these decisions, let us give him credit for that. But what else has he done? Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud can’t do it all on their own.

    This is beginning his third season at the helm and all the players he has acquired – through signings or trades – have been pathetic. We know that. And one did not have to break the bank to get superstars – there were many dependable players available who signed with other teams for two or three years. If it’s because of the money, then there goes the argument about moves being based on baseball. The Mets opening day payroll was 14th in the league – right in the middle. They are no longer stuck with long term commitments and bloated salaries. In 2010, the payroll was close to $133 million. It is now more than $40 million lower. And all that has been done was to improve the Wilpon’s ability to hold onto the team at the cost of building any sort of competitive club.

    These are the long-term problems facing the club because nobody is addressing the issues pertaining to the team:

    SS – We can see that Tejada does not have the range at short or the speed to bat leadoff and that the organization admitted they don’t look at him as the shortstop of the future. And the same has to be said of Jefry Marte, the 22 year old whom we traded Cowgill for. So we had no real replacement for him other than a filler.

    OF – Two positions since we were all counting on Duda. If not ready for a few years, why not sign one or two of the many qualified outfielders acquired from other clubs which signed two or three year contracts that didn’t break the bank? If not this past winter, why not the winter before?

    SP – Questionable since we do have the arms in the minors, but why sign the likes of Marcum? Again, make an effort to at least try and have a competitive team by signing a healthy pitcher for two years guaranteed who put up similar performances like other clubs – not one who had a history of injury and had nothing left the last two months after returning from the DL last year with the Brewers.

    RP – Same as the starters – there were many reliable free agent relievers the past two seasons that signed two or three year contracts. Why not ink one or two of them while the other arms are being “weeded” out? Why the Atchisons, Laffeys, Burkes besides the only decent signing – that of Lyons (because he isn’t working out cannot be blamed on Sandy and his people for that did seem like a good move)?

    Though we are all rooting for Atchison to overcome his physical disabilities, it has been documented that the 37 year old has had a torn elbow ligament which has affected him with numbness in the past in which he did not opt for Tommy John surgery. This is just another indication of the front office looking for lightning in a bottle with another inexpensive reclamation project.

    As said, this is now Sandy’s third year at the helm. If the players he is counting on for the future have not yet arrived, how many more years does that add on for rebuilding? 2015, 2016? Will we still have Davis, Parnell and others at that time – don’t forget, that’s when they become eligible for final year arbitration and/or free agent.

    Could nothing else have been done in the five or six years required to virtually start over from scratch? Sandy had three options 1) building upon what he inherited from Omar or 2) dismantling it and starting from almost scratch. Sandy decided that rebuilding was his true goal. The third option was to do both. While he had enough good players after 2010 to build the team up for a few more years, it seems he didn’t have enough of those future building blocks to dismantle it and build over at the same time.

    Why not have chosen the latter unless it had nothing to do with the competitive structure of the team as it was the financial structure of the organization? That’s why many of us weren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt for a few years, to give him time to re-build for we saw that he wasn’t doing either – building up or rebuilding. He was trying to get the Wilpons out of facing bankruptcy and in that sense, the Mets became a welfare club with two loans, $37 million coming from the owners on personal pockets, and the selling of $220 million of minority shares – all that has been used up to pay off past debts.

    Ok, the Mets do not have the financial resources and the moves made had little to do with fielding a good club as they were just cost-cutting measures to enable them to survive operating like a small market team. That’s not anybody’s fault – but the problem with some is denying this is what was going on from the beginning and looking at Sandy as a baseball person (which he isn’t) and a corporate business person (which he is).

    Many also say the Mets don’t have a leader that could not only perhaps intercede in the Validspin situation but to instill confidence and a winning attitude in the young players. That is something quite crucial in the re-building process as well – the veteran leadership. They had a leader in Carlos Beltran. And Beltran had shown he had come back and the knee problems were behind him. And he expressed his desire to retire as a Met even privately with the general manager. Of course, 2011, 2012, 2013 and probably 2014 could have been much different with Beltran’s bat and leadership and that is even more beneficial than having a Zack Wheeler who pitches every fifth day since we don’t know how well – or long – his career in the majors will be.

    And last night we again heard Jeremy Hefner speak in terms of his own performance, only casually mentioning how it would have been better for the team to have won. The outing against Miami he was asked how it felt to lose a game like that in the ninth inning and his answer then was how pleased he was because he did his job of keeping his team in the game – only then as an afterthought mentioning it would have also been nice to win. Most guys give lip service if nothing more, but at least that lip service is that it doesn’t really matter what I did, the team lost and that’s what matters most. So give Hefner credit for being more blunt – I’m satisfied with how I performed more than I’m upset that the team lost. I did my job.

    But recognize that too is the result of the front office throwing the team under the bus the past two seasons and not backing up the players – nor making any serious efforts to improve the team. it becomes every man for himself. Seeing their peers playing just for themselves is not the impression one wants the youngsters to get – and, as said, we are seeing glimpses of that in Hefner and definitely that in Valdispin.

  • Tom

    I almost think blogs should do a boycott week and not write about the team for a few days. It’d show the owners if they’re not going to put the money into a team, the fans won’t waste their time on it either.

    Rick Ankiel? What the hell? Maybe they’re gonna patch up the bullpen with him as well?

    • open the gates

      Heck, I’d take Ankiel in the pen over some of the arsonists we’ve seen thus far. Maybe even as a starter.

      And to paraphrase Dick Smothers: No, Rick, that was not a compliment.

  • Marty

    Greg,

    Thank you …. a beautifully written piece that, I think for most Mets fans, probably perfectly captures the sheer frustration that surrounds being a supporter for this and seasons gone by.

    I am a relative newcomer to your blog, having frequented an alternative version elsewhere on the web …. the banality of the commentary, and comments along with the attitudes of fellow supporters had me searching for something different.

    I’m here now, and on the basis of the current thoughts and writings, I’ll continue to come back and interact with like minded individuals that want and need to vent, but do so with a little less vitriol!

  • BlackCountryMet

    At present, the Mets are KILLING me

  • Why do I find myself pining for 2004?

  • […] has left even the most loyal and upbeat Mets fans in a funk, and has even prompted some to ask for divine intervention. But it can’t be this bad all year, […]