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Frauds at Citi Drop Dead

On a night when the Daily News didn’t send a reporter to Citi Field [1] to cover the Mets, the Mets didn’t necessarily make news worth covering. That is if you subscribe to the theory that mundane “dog bites man” and “Mets bite in general” events don’t much amount to news.

You wouldn’t want to be the man who gets bitten by that dog, though, and right now you wouldn’t go out of your way to link your happiness to the fate of this baseball team unless the habit of tuning into them was hammered into you at an early age. Those of us who tuned in decades ago don’t know how to tune out. The best we could do on a deathly quiet night like Monday was watch from a distance with diminishing interest.

Which was more than any of the few reporters still associated with the News was directed to do.

Nevertheless, there’s always something to write about with this team, no matter how little of it is flattering. On those nights when the grind of constant losing got to him, Casey Stengel, the essence of good copy, didn’t hesitate to refer to the Mets he was guiding deeper into the basement as “a fraud [2]”. The description, within the context he offered it, still seems to fit. The Mets as currently constituted are indeed a fraud. Or would that be “frauds” plural? I’d ask a copy editor at the News to weigh in on proper usage, but thanks to cold corporate calculus, the desk is suddenly shorthanded.

The decidely non-fraudulent Jacob deGrom [3] pitched Monday night, which is usually cause for a heightened sense of engagement, even in the latter half of 2018 when we already know the story of the season as a whole and can pretty much guess the outcome of any given contest. DeGrom was very, very good. Unfortunately he dared to allow some Padres to hit the ball just enough for his defense to undermine him — as if his offense wasn’t handling that task with aplomb. Three runs were scored by San Diego in eight innings en route to their 3-2 victory over the best pitcher in professional baseball [4]. Two of them were earned. Only one of them wasn’t helped along by a Met miscue. The league-leading ERA that began the evening at 1.68 finished it at 1.71. So, yeah, Jake was slightly off his game.

There are other sets of numbers that shed light on the dichotomy between deGrom’s brilliance and the Mets’ dimness when the former hurls his heart out for the latter. I will conscientiously object to disseminating them here. It’s too depressing. As if watching the Mets play dead on a Monday night wasn’t already depressing. As if absorbing the fate [5] of the Daily News wasn’t already depressing. The Mets at least sometimes win one when not preoccupied by depressing defeats, unprecedented disabled list assignments [6] and tortured medical explanations [7]. The News has been cast by its ownership into apparent utter irrelevance. I say “apparent” because it’s not like I’m running out to buy a copy to confirm that it’s something not worth buying let alone reading.

True, I wasn’t running out to buy a copy in the days immediately preceding yesterday, before half of the editorial staff, including most of the sports department, was dismissed by an entity unimpressed by the concept of journalism. The News could have staffed last night’s game with the reincarnations of Jack Lang, Phil Pepe and a pre-embitterment Dick Young and I wasn’t dropping a buck-fifty at any newsstand for it. Same for the print editions of its rivals. I stopped buying the papers every day in 2007, which made me a late unadopter in the scheme of media consumption patterns. Before then, I was a loyal customer. A habitual customer, you could say. Like the Mets, the newspaper habit was hammered into me at an impressionable age. My dad bought the News mostly on Sundays, mostly for the comics. I adored the whole package and began seeking it out on weekdays. As Curtis Granderson might have posited, true New Yorkers read the News. Via my distribution of coins, I was determined to be one of them.

Most all of us hold dear some gauzy childhood memory of the connection between ourselves and a newspaper. That explains to a great extent how we became Mets fans who love to read. But it doesn’t say anything about continuing to buy newspapers. I stopped with the News and its peers because I realized I was getting what I needed via computer, whether it was posted by the newspapers themselves or by others conveniently aggregating on their behalf. Besides, I was paying for an Internet connection. I had only so many coins to distribute. Eventually I’d ante up for a digital Times subscription and, recently, for access to The Athletic, which has been a boon for sports coverage, national, regional and local. Sometimes I see tweets from sports fans aghast that they can’t read Ken Rosenthal’s freshest column for free. I guess they’re not old enough to remember the candy store owner who burned holes through you with his eyes to remind you he wasn’t running a library here.

Well into the 2010s, when Stephanie would go out for drug items and bagels on Sunday mornings, she’d bring me back the papers because we’d always bought the papers on Sunday. I never asked her not to continue purchasing them and I cherished the ritual of digging into her CVS bag and fishing them out. Around 2015, I told her don’t bother with the Times anymore, we’re already paying for it online; I read most of these stories three days ago. But she kept picking up Newsday and the News. They were less expensive than the TimesNewsday had enough local reporting to make having a copy seem worthwhile (even though our cable/Internet provider, which owns Newsday, magnanimously lowers the paper’s dot-com paywall as part of its Silver-level service); and the News…the News was what instinctively lit up Sunday mornings for me for as long as I could remember. I’d grab the comics as soon as my dad was done with them. I’d read every column inch in the sports section. I formed a portrait of what the city and its citizens were all about from that weekly foray into New York’s Picture Newspaper.

That was the Sunday News to me when I was a kid. As an adult nearly half-a-century later, it was a thin curio. I already knew the sports and I didn’t keep up with the comics. Everything else it printed I had gleaned the essence of elsewhere. One Sunday morning last summer, when we were out early, I made a point of picking up the News and Newsday because it felt wrong not to have them on hand. Seven days later, I told Stephanie not to bother with those papers anymore, either. I still reflexively look in the CVS bag for them, kind of missing them in ritual, not missing them at all in reality.

Despite no longer being their customer, I definitely miss the idea of the News covering everything the News has always covered, last night’s Mets game included. Sometimes I’d click on their game stories, features and columns and be enlightened. It was often compelling as content and it was surely comforting that it was there. At some point, however, seeking it out — never mind paying for it — stopped being habit for me. I’m surely not the only one who can say that.