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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 Value of Saying Little

Carlos Beltran shouldn’t feel so bad about Mets ownership’s attitude toward him a few years ago as he counts his Yankee dollars in the present. The unfortunate Trailways Toss of his reputation — a.k.a. throwing Beltran under the bus over knees not healed and hospitals not visited — seems to have hastened a change in organizational philosophy where he used to get paid.

Instead of badmouthing their players while still under contract, the Mets now tend to wait until they’re securely out the door.

Progress!

Perhaps amid the yawning winter chasms between games and signings you’ve picked up on the tendency of “Mets people,” as they’re usually identified anonymously, to whisper sour nothings about the not-so-dearly departed to reporters and columnists. Marlon Byrd was safely ensconced in Philadelphia by the time Andy Martino of the Daily News revealed the organization’s opinion that one of their two best hitters of 2013 meddled too much in his teammates’ approach to swinging and taking. Shortly after Justin Turner was not tendered a 2014 contract, someone from within the Mets let it be know to ESPN’s Adam Rubin that the quintessential role player did not, in fact, run hard enough to maintain his spot as a modern-day Hot Rod Kanehl/Super Joe McEwing.

Should have Byrd kept his beak out of the Mets’ ongoing hitting philosophy implementation? Should have Turner hustled to first as fast as he hoofed it to the fridge in order to deliver a whipped cream pie on camera? Maybe and sure. But should have “Mets people” just kept these jabs to themselves? Why ding Byrd’s or Turner’s reputation? Just as pertinently, why become the club known for taking post-employment swipes at former associates? (Related: why weren’t the players given a chance to answer these assessments or decline comment to the respective writers?)

Since this has been bugging me a little as a fan and since I was on the same patch of Acela Club carpet the other day as Sandy Alderson, I figured I’d ask the GM if these backhanded waves goodbye to ex-Mets serve any kind of positive purpose. I don’t see how they would, but nobody this week claimed I was the best general manager in major league baseball, so maybe somebody who was indeed rated as exactly that would have more insight.

No, Alderson told me and the bloggers who joined me at the Mets holiday party on Tuesday, there’s no purpose to that sort of thing. And he indicated he’s not too happy that that sort of thing transpires. From “time to time” he expresses his disapproval internally, but as was the case nine months ago when I asked him about the impact continual leaks might have on getting things done (like trying to sign Michael Bourn, for example), he more or less said it comes with the territory. It’s New York; there’s a bounty of media. It’s hard for what amounts to office gossip to not find its way into circulation, sanctioned or otherwise.

The look on his face told me he’s definitely not in favor of it, though.

As long as I was there, I followed up with what difference it might make to a player like Ike Davis if Ike knows he’s being shopped around yet winds up still a Met in the middle of February. You’d figure that in an industry where the average annual player salary rose this year to $3.39 million, money would salve feelings just fine. But people are people…even Mets people.

According to Alderson, “healthy competition” will ensue if some player who’s been vigorously talked up as trade bait instead remains a Met when Spring Training rolls around. Still, I imagine knowing your employer is actively looking to ditch you is at the very least awkward and maybe worse for the fellow at the heart of the chatter. But I also imagine in the high-stakes world of major league baseball, it’s something these guys deal with.

“Positive resolution” would be the best possible outcome, said the GM who uses very classy phrases, not simply resolution by way of release or whatever. Besides, with the whirl of transactions and an unsuspected onslaught of injuries (because that never befalls the Mets), you never know who will be playing what for you. If Ike Davis lands at Tradition Field — if it’s still called that — instead of another camp, I hope someone will fill him in on the tale of Ray Knight, the Met the Mets tried desperately to, shall we say, positively resolve in the spring of 1986 following a dreadful 1985 but couldn’t.

Six-plus months later, Knight was accepting the World Series MVP trophy at Shea Stadium for the home team.

This season starts March 31, so any and all comings and goings are up for grabs until then when it comes to shaping an Opening Day roster. Still, with nerves wracking every minute the Mets can’t present us with a finished product, I asked Alderson if there’s kind of an internal alarm clock for someone in his position. When do you kind of, sort of need to know you’ve got the bulk of your team in order?

The general manager compared the process to the difference between a first-time marathon runner “who wants to quit after five miles” and someone who understands what it takes to persevere at the “21-, 22-mile mark”. When you’ve put together more than a few teams, he explained, you “know how to traverse late December and January.” True, the “anxiety level” ratchets up along the way, but experience helps inform the “ebbs and flows”.

So yes, Alderson is attentive to everything going on out there and continually reassesses what it means to the Mets — particularly when a division rival makes a move.

An aside that probably means next to nothing in the standings: I don’t know if Alderson is truly “the best GM in baseball,” as noted Cardinal enthusiast Will Leitch just framed him for New York magazine, but the guy certainly comes off as a mensch when you talk to him. He may not tell you what you want to hear or offer up a full pail of information brimming with signatures attached to contracts, but he always answers your question thoughtfully and respectfully. I’ve asked him probably a dozen since he came to Flushing and listened to dozens of my blolleagues come at him from multiple angles on conference calls and events like Tuesday’s, and though we’re not BBWAA members, he never scoffs or haughtily dismisses.

If Sandy Alderson’s Met tenure ends with no definitive improvement in the National League East, then that amounts to no more than a well-meaning footnote. For now, though, while he and his group are still building what we hope is a long-term winner, it’s not bad.

Only tangentially baseball-related, but you might enjoy it anyway: an article I wrote about how we never fully lose the places that are important to us even if they are no longer physically where we left them.

17 comments to The Value of Saying Little

  • Dave

    While I think a guy who just signed a 3 year contract for lots and lots of money at the age of 36 shouldn’t spend much time thinking about petty stuff, I wish the unnamed sources on the Metropolitan payroll would refrain from such pettiness. Now I never noticed Turner dogging it and never heard GKR calling him out for it (and they would), but OK, let’s say he did. He wasn’t in your plans, why not let him leave quietly? Instead they have to Dickey him while he’s trying to find a job. Of course, my prediction is that he signs with the Braves, hits about .460 as a pinch hitter and beats the Mets with an extra inning hit at least twice in 2014, but that’s besides the point.

    Just part ways quietly and respectfully, otherwise you look like a jerk.

    • Ideally, Beltran might have stuck with “I appreciate the good times there and now I look forward to…” or something like that. But he was asked, he was on the record and he’s been hauling it around for three-plus years.

      “Dickey him” — nice double-entendR.A.

  • richie

    This kind of thing always burns me up! In my opinion, “unnamed sources” have become a copout for some sports journalists. Why not have the cajones to force someone to put a name behind a negative quote? Otherwise don’t bother using it in a story. Save your source for something important and newsworthy, not fodder for the National Enquirer.

  • 5w30

    It’s well known that Andy Martino’s source is Fredo himself. Lowers my already lower-than-a-snake opinion of both.

    • open the gates

      Ah, so they’re taking a page out of the ol’ Dick Young/M. Donald Grant playbook. Because it worked so well the first time.

  • Ed Rising

    I love these ‘all about me’ press conferences. Why Beltran needed to play negative politics with the Mets as he signed a Yankee contract beats me. He is sensitive because the Mets were unhappy that he missed some community service and more likely going against the Mets regarding rehabbing and surgery on his poor knees. The man is argurably the best CF Mets ever had but he hardly lived up to his contract getting hurt way too often in the prime years of his career. If he is sensitive to these “Mets people’ comments then he surely wouldn’t have been able to handle being one of Steinbrenner’s Yankees in the good ole days. These guys are paid a lot of money they ought to man up. I never knew there was any Mets detractors towards Dickey, Turner or Byrd. They all seem like decent men who have contributed well to the Mets organization. This holiday season lets hope the Wilpons will be drinking the “positive resolution’ solution. Cheers!

  • Ed Rising

    Beltran gave us an incredible 2006 season but he was underwhelming in 2005, 2009 and 2010 granted he had injuries in the latter seasons. Even in 2008 his HR totals dropped dramatically. Given we had ‘collapsed in ’07 and ’08, he really wasn’t the ‘gamer’ we needed. The Wilpons point of paying him based in his 2004 Astros playoff performance was stupid on their part because no body is ever as valuable on the long haul. It’s funny he seems more valuable to teams now as a veteran and we can be surprised by his durability.

    • ’05: Absolutely underwhelming. The bat was sawdust in his hands.

      ’09 & ’10: Injured but pretty darn outstanding when healthy. He made the All-Star team on merit (as opposed to reputation) before his knees gave out in ’09. When he came back in ’10, he was the one who did the hard sliding vs Chase Utley. (Anecdotal, but inspiring).

      Slow start in ’08 but a very strong finisher. Ditto for ’07. He wasn’t the Collapser.

      The ’04 Astro Postseason Beltran existed for two weeks and had the best timing in the history of free agency. I went back and read what I wrote (pre-blog) in January ’05 and it reminded me just what an incredibly hot commodity he was. Yeah, not the greatest investment per pound a team could’ve made, but the right guy at the right time. I don’t think F. Wilpon was the “schmuck” he made himself out to be six years later. It probably says more about the vagaries of the marketplace than any owner’s decision.

      If I may take a stroll on shakier conceptual ground, though he is (as you said and I concur) the best CF the Mets ever had, he’ll never quite, at least for those who’ve been following this franchise a very long time, go down as a quintessential Met the way his predecessors as “best CF” candiates were. Agee, Mazz, Mookie, Dykstra were stone Mets, the way his contemporaries Reyes and Wright were and are, I believe (thus making the distinction something more than generational). Beltran differed. He was a player who played very well as a Met.

      That’s not to cast Carlos out into something less than “true Metdom,” it’s just a sense of who he was to us. And deep down, I think some of us, no matter how we admired and respected him, could never totally wrap our arms around him the way we might have someone who felt Met all over.

      Perhaps it says more about what being a Met means after 52 years that we’d look at an outstanding player that way…as if we couldn’t quite believe he ever decided to come here in the first place.

  • Rob

    I’m going to second Ed’s sentiments here. We got four years (three full seasons and two half-seasons) where he was not only the best CF we ever had, but one of the best players period. But we paid him for seven – at an elite salary. 4 out of 7 is not really the return anyone expects when you sign a 28-year-old star with no previous injury history to a contract like that. You can’t blame Beltran for the Mets not surrounding him with deeper talent when he was here. However, Beltran never seemed to embrace the team or endear himself to its fan base, either. In the end we got four years of workman-like excellence for $119 million. Honestly, I expected a little bit more. Especially for a team that desperately needed an identity, leadership, and some heart & soul. I’ll stop short of blaming Beltran as that wouldn’t be fair, but history will certainly show that this wasn’t the best marriage of team and player.

    • Somewhere back in time (here) I expressed the same nagging sense, which I guess I just reiterated directly above. If there’s a lesson – one that’s probably not being learned yet in baseball, judging by what Texas is paying Choo — is these sorts of contracts are best given out sparingly. And even then, maybe not at all.

      Albert Pujols may not be the rule, but he sure isn’t the exception. And even with his slight decline his final year in St. Louis (when he hit three home runs in one WS game anyway), who would have thought within two years he’d be ordinary? And if you can’t count on a long-term investment in Albert Pujols, how can you trust anybody who’s out there as a free agent looking for top dollar?

  • Penacious H

    Agreed with all above; in addition, though, his OPS for his Mets years was .889, I believe it was posted on this site (though maybe not). Star crossed/injury-interrupted careers seem commonplace for the Mets, sadly…Cliff/Carlos Delgado/Beltran even Wright and I guess Davis, included. I enjoyed watching Beltran play and would have welcomed him back but as our new CF/LF the Grandyman says, balancing out Beltran’s screed, true New Yorkers are Mets fans…hmmm.

  • sturock

    The bottom line is the Mets didn’t win while he was here. No one would remember Called Strike Three if the Mets had gone all the way– or even made the playoffs– in any of the subsequent years he played for us. He’s Patrick Ewing, he’s Don Mattingly.

    He’s arguably the best player the Mets have ever had but Beltran is measured by results, not the thrilling way the ball jumped off his bat or his blinding speed from first to third. (He was really one of the most exciting Mets to see play live at the ballpark.)

    All the bad-mouthing is, to me, the product of a Mets-baiting tabloid press that never misses a chance to rag on the organization.

  • open the gates

    The problem with bad-mouthing ex-Mets is that someday the Mets might want these guys back again. I remember about a month ago there was some flirtation with the idea of the Mets re-signing Beltran. “Fat chance”, I thought. Not just because of the dollars and cents, but why would Carlos even think of going back to an organization that kept bad-mouthing him when he was there, let alone after he left?

    The Metropolitan crack PR team strikes again. Strikes out, that is.