- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

So Many Sideshows

Some things that don’t matter:

* Ike Davis [1] vs. Lucas Duda [2]. Ike’s doing a lot better in Pittsburgh. That’s great. He was a mess in New York, capable of spending months looking unsure which end of the bat was up. Ike wasn’t going to get fixed here, so I wish him the best there. Duda came up as a scary-looking hitter who couldn’t play defense and now strikes us as an average defender who can’t hit. Can he get fixed here? My reaction is increasingly to sigh.

* Jacob deGrom [3] being snakebit. Josh Lewin said this on the air while I was sitting on a ferry with my own Joshua fuming about my shitty baseball team, and I shook my head. I like Lewin — he’s genuinely funny, obviously enjoys baseball and has coaxed Howie Rose into poking his head out of his Get Off My Lawn shell. But he was wrong about that one. Jacob deGrom’s problem isn’t that he’s snakebit, but that he has too many teammates who are bad at baseball. Slight progress was made in this regard, at least, as the Mets finally stopped pretending not to notice that Jose Valverde [4] was pitching with a gigantic fork in his back — he got Farnsworth’d after undoing deGrom’s first career win [5]. Valverde will be replaced by Vic Black [6], who at least has a possible future as an effective big-league reliever. Too bad reaching this obvious conclusion cost the Mets several games. Why was Valverde on the roster in the first place? We’ll get to that.

* Whether or not fans should boo. The sports-radio trolls will beat this one to death tomorrow, because people like fighting about it and so it will drive ratings. Whatever. It’s stupid. No, seriously: It’s stupid. I don’t care and neither should you. Most fan booing is free-floating anger looking for a target because team owners are smart enough not to appear in public, and so it lands on whomever’s doing badly at any given moment. Does it affect players? Until a stats-minded man or woman shows me a real effect, I’ll dismiss it as the Clap If You Believe in Fairies theory of baseball — Tinker Bell thanks you for your faith, but to Daniel Murphy [7] you’re a civilian and he could give a shit what you’re doing up there in the Promenade.

* Dave Hudgens vs. Keith Hernandez [8]. I love Keith [9], but the danger of playing the crazy-uncle role is the actor winds up trapped in the part. Over the last three decades I’ve read thousands and thousands of words about Keith Hernandez, more than enough to convince me that he was a brilliant student of hitting and a smart cookie away from the diamond too. This is a guy who earned respect sitting in on academics’ Civil War seminars, for Pete’s sake; he’s far too smart to play the Neanderthal role he’s fallen into when discussing hitting philosophies, defensive shifts and other studies of the game he once would have found illuminating. Keith has grown close-minded about the game he loves, and it’s a shame to see. In other words, I agree with the just-departed Dave Hudgens [10] on this one — the Mets’ hitting problems aren’t a reflection of a poor philosophy, but of lousy students. It will be interesting to see if Lamar Johnson can be a better teacher, and that might actually have a short-term impact on the Mets’ fortunes. But what Keith Hernandez thinks of it and what Dave Hudgens thinks of Keith Hernandez’s opinion is just more talk-radio bullshit.

* Those hats. Actually those hats were a fucking atrocity. But they don’t matter either.

Here’s the one thing that really does matter to the fortunes of the Mets: The front office never knows what its budget is, and so cannot plan.

Write that one down and stick it above your computer screen. Put it in your sig file. Turn it into an acronym. FONKWIBICAP. It’s even catchy.

Hudgens himself gave us a peek behind the curtain on his way out in chatting with the New York Post. First he conspicuously left “ownership” off his list of people who’d given him a fair shake. Then he said that “I have nothing but respect for Sandy and no doubt he will turn things around if he’s allowed to.”

If he’s allowed to. In other words, if Sandy Alderson is given an actual budget he can plan against instead of being misled by ownership and having in turn to mislead others.

Too bad that hasn’t happened since Sandy arrived.

This is the fundamental thing wrong with the Mets. All the rest of the stuff that drives us crazy is a sideshow, a symptom of the real problem. The Wilpons keep their finances secret, telling their employees to say things that contradict the things they were told to say earlier. As a result, the front office must play a difficult strategic game while ignoring ever-moving goalposts. Is it possible to win this way? Yes — perhaps Matt Harvey [11] recovers from Tommy John [12] surgery and the team’s surplus starting pitchers are traded for hitters and enough guys have good years and because of all that the Mets are contenders next year, or the year after that. But there’s no margin for error — everything has to break right. It probably won’t — not because the Mets are star-crossed or cursed, but because this stuff is hard and there are 29 other teams run by mostly smart people seeking the same goal, except those teams’ owners give their front offices a budget written in ink.

Or, put more simply, FONKWIBICAP.

Greg and I did a podcast last week and someone asked when this will change. I kind of laughed and asked how long the questioner expected Jeff Wilpon to live.

To be clear, I hope Jeff Wilpon lives a long time — I have nothing personally against him or his father. The point is there’s no obvious solution to the Mets’ fundamental problem. The singularly useless Bud Selig doesn’t care if the Mets are run like a third-rate orphanage. The next corporate fox picked to guard baseball’s henhouse won’t either. When will the Mets once again be run the way the National League’s New York franchise should be run? The answer has more to do with the real-estate business than it does with baseball. Maybe another real-estate bubble will save the Wilpons and revive the Mets. That would be nice. But maybe they’ll hang on, continuing to refinance loans and pushing both the day of reckoning and the Mets’ window of competitiveness into the future, as commissioners say they aren’t concerned and GMs give up or are sacrificed to sate the bloodlust of fans too dim to look behind the curtain.

The life of a dug-in owner is a lot longer than the career of a Jacob deGrom or even a Bobby Abreu [13]. Ask Blackhawks fans how long it took to stop being a pathetic joke. Ask Clippers fans how long their nightmare has lasted. Until something changes, expect a lot more losing, a lot more sideshows, and a lot more ignoring the only problem that matters.