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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Let's Win Just to Piss Off George Vecsey

The Times’ baseball preview brought along a column by George Vecsey that couldn’t have been better calibrated to infuriate Mets fans.

Vecsey writes that we are conditioned to accept a magical season every generation or so, but know nothing of the sort is in the cards for 2011. “Absolutely not this year,” as he adds for emphasis.

He goes on to suggest as a positive that our team will continue to exist since there’s no relegation in the National League, though he imagines the possibilities of the Mets and Pirates fighting it out in September to avoid taking up residence in the International League.

After some blather about the Yankees, it’s back to us:

The Mets, who open Friday night in Florida, have truly hit the skids, as the owners seek a minority partner. They are saddled with the salaries of the departed Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez, and the injured and expensive Johan Santana, Frankie Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, and also have a long investment in Jose Reyes, who may never be more than occasionally exciting. Even with Ike Davis, David Wright, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan, the Mets could be a last-place team under Terry Collins, who sounds like a competent baseball lifer.

Then it’s on to a second mention of Bernie Madoff, annnnnd scene.

To the extent that columns are supposed to provoke a reaction, this one worked, because by the time I finished it my blood was pretty much at full boil. But there are columns that provoke with unwelcome truths, that work because they afflict the comfortable — and then there are columns that provoke because they’re clinically brain-dead, and you’re embarrassed to find them in the New York Times. (Insult to injury: This is the same George Vecsey who wrote the marvelous Joy in Mudville once upon a time, a book I read more times than I could count as a Mets-obsessed kid.)

Where to begin? The Mets do not have a long investment in Jose Reyes — that’s just flat-out wrong. Reyes is up at the end of the season, as is Carlos Beltran. (I’ll give Vecsey Santana, and he could have made more of Frankie Rodriguez’s nightmare option for 2012, AKA the Omar Special.) Yes, the Mets are saddled with money owed to Castillo and Perez — but unlike the last two seasons, they have accepted that those are sunk costs, and will at least derive some value out of formerly wasted roster spots. As for the team’s financial mess, I’ll choose to believe Sandy Alderson that the team can add payroll this summer if it needs to — though I doubt our new GM is privy to all that’s rotten in the House of Wilpon, I haven’t caught him lying to us yet. If anything, so far he seems to err on the side of truths another executive might varnish a bit more.

Moreover, Vecsey himself notes that last year he predicted fire-and-brimstone doom and the Mets won 79 games, which might have suggested a more rigorous testing of assumptions this time around. Judging by WAR, the Mets look to be a 79-to-85 win team. That’s not keep-October-free territory, but it’s not the stuff of relegation either. Could the 2011 Mets finish last? Sure. But if a few things break the Mets’ way and they make some smart moves, they could win 88 or 89 games, and then who knows?

It may be too much to ask George Vecsey to deal with WAR and other sabermetrics, but he ought to be capable of realizing that the Mets won 79 games last year despite starting the season with a horribly constructed roster that wasted playing time on the likes of Mike Jacobs, Alex Cora and Gary Matthews Jr., not to mention the black holes of Castillo and Perez on the roster. No, they don’t have Johan Santana for the first half of the year (and maybe more), but they have a full year of R.A. Dickey, two decent back-of-the-rotation bets in Chris Capuano and Chris Young, and reason for optimism with Jon Niese. It’s not crazy for them to expect a better year from Jason Bay, or to think Beltran may settle in as a right-fielder, or that Thole and Davis and Pagan will continue to perform well. Is it a lot to ask for all of those things to break right? Maybe — but it’s not impossible, or even that improbable. Moreover, as Vecsey himself notes, the Mets have a competent manager now, not to mention a front office that seems much more likely to make wise choices. Even without delving into advanced stats, all of that would suggest the Mets can expect to be about as good as they were last year, and might be better.

Ah, but what about Madoff? Well, what about him? Last time I checked he doesn’t play for the Mets. To suggest he nonetheless has some effect on the players — evoked poetically but not terribly convincingly as sulfurous fumes that still pollute the team — is to either warn that players’ paychecks will bounce, which would indeed probably have a deleterious effect on the on-field product, or to veer into psychobabble. Really, invoking the black cloud of Madoff is just the inverse of the Pollyanna column that rabbits on about leadership or intangibles or knowing how to win. (In other words, 90% of columns about Derek Jeter.) One may anger fans while the other puts a spring in their step, but they’re equally nonsensical.

Maybe I’ve gone Pollyanna myself, but I’m not that worried about my team. I’m really not. As Will Leitch wrote last week in New York, the Mets were going to be retrenching financially this year (and maybe next) anyway, even without Madoff and Picard and all the rest. The time they spend doing that — which, again, they were most likely going to do anyway — is time for the current legal mess to sort itself out. Which will happen, one way or the other. When it does, the Mets may or may not be controlled by new owners, but they’ll still be a club in the baseball and media capital of the world, with a new stadium and a regional cable network as money generators. They will be immensely valuable and well-positioned to spend. Except in the fever dreams of George Vecsey, they aren’t going to be the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And in the meantime? I think my team is being run wisely. That should help ensure they’re in the best possible position once the retrenching is over. And if things should break right, and they somehow head into September with a wild card within reach? Well, then I’d like to see how the current braintrust deals with a little good news.

27 comments to Let’s Win Just to Piss Off George Vecsey

  • Way to bring it, Jason!

  • kd bart

    As one who witness some truly talentless Met teams in the late 70 s and early 80s, this roster isn’t even close to that level of ineptness. With some breaks and smart play, this team is capable of winning somewhere in the high 80s in games. In turn, with injuries and other assorted bad breaks,it is capable of losing somewhere in the high 80s. I don’t expect the pitching to be as good as it was last season but I expect the offense to be much better. You couldn’t be worse than what the Mets were in July and August.

  • Andee

    On Amazin’ Avenue, someone produced a truly jawdropping list of the putrid slash stats of certain wastes of roster space in the second half of last year. To be blunt, an awful lot of at-bats were going to people who were hitting a buck and change (or even less) for long stretches, which explains why the run scoring often approached late-70s levels. Most of those people are gone now. That has to be a net plus. Could it be, starting the year with a lineup with no out machines in it? When was the last time that happened?

    And remember, last year we shut out the Phillies three straight games, and none of the pitchers involved was named Johan Santana. Two of them were named R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey, though. Pelf is the real wild card here; is he a real ace, like he seemed to be the first few months of last year, or is he Bobby Jones 2.0, a guy who was only great until the weather started heating up?

  • MHB

    It was the “relegation” comment that told me Vecsey was trolling. No, the Mets are not the best team in the majors, but they’re far from the worst. Pirates, Royals, Orioles, Nationals, Dbacks – all are in a lot worse shape, not just on the field, but in terms of “upside” as a franchise and as a business.

    This article was useful in one way, though: it showed me I won’t be missing anything now that the NYTimes is behind a paywall.

  • Andee

    (Incidentally, “Pollyanna” is spelled with 2 L’s.)

  • ninth string catcher

    Poison Peter should stick to basketball, where he’s usually correct. To lump the Mets in with those other teams is disingenuous – at least the Mets are trying to win. They are stuck with some bad contracts, but have changed their entire business philosophy, and are going to do more with less than they have in the past. They are focusing on pitching and defense, which suits the new ballpark, and are not going gaga over big names, instead trying to optimize what they have and leading the team from an organizational verteran who knows the roster inside and out. Note to Peter: that’s why you play the damn games.

  • sturock

    George Vecsey is a dunce and I wouldn’t take anything he writes very seriously. The Times has it in for the Mets and has for quite some time, dating back to the late ’90’s. (Dig up anything on the 2000 subway World Series to see some truly juvenile, incendiary Mets-baiting from the horrid likes of Robert Lipsyte and Jack Curry to see what I mean.) I noticed in yesterday’s baseball preview that they’re promising an article this week on something like “the Mets and Yankees have only an ‘NY’ in common” so one can only imagine the snippy– and rehashed– crap we’ll be rolling our eyes at. They love their Yankees and Red Sox over at the Old Gray Lady and they always will.

    And P.S., the Madoff affair and subsequent Forbes devaluation of the franchise’s worth is just the perfect storm for the Times, isn’t it? It’s a purely financial story that has nothing to do with what’s on the field, where they don’t have to get into any arcane stats or team-building strategies they don’t understand, and can and will ultimately be used to make the Yankees look good.

    • Joe D.

      I think Madoff hangs over the heads of the Mets performance on the field much more than thought of. Last season at the all-star break despite a slight slide, we were eight games over .500 and in second place, just four games out. The Mets were still in the hunt as late as August 3rd, only 6-1/2 games out.

      Yet there were no attempts to acquire mid-season help which propeled others into the post-season hunt. Not talking about expensive rentals like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt but rather outfielders Cody Ross, Jorge Canto (especially after Bay went down for the season), starter Ted Lilly or relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez (Cantu, Ramirez and Ross went all the way to the world series).

      We might still have still run out of gas but there was absolutely no attempt to refill the tank. Was the price of gas too much for the Wilpons?

    • It’s not just the Times, it’s pretty much all over, as I rail here:

  • boldib

    Good piece. Vescey is one of those byline sports writers I stopped reading long ago. It’s usually either thick treacle or moral thundering.

    Sunday’s Times also featured T. Kepner’s exceedlingly weak NL East Review focused almost entirely on a “what if” Florida Marlins scenario.

    He picks the Mets to finish last in the division. No explanation necessary from the brilliant journalist.

  • I thought the column was written by Wally Matthews… until the soccer, I’m sorry, football analogy was tossed in. That’s George Vecsey all right. The Times acts like we should be satisfied they are even mentioning the Mets.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    I was too young to know–is it really just who wins and who loses in re: media darlings of New York? Is it that simple? Did the NY Press shit all over the Yankees in the late 80s, or are they eternally untouchable? How did the papers handle the Cooter’s story (along with all the others) in 86, “bump in the road” or “this joke of a team needs new leadership”?

    This is why I stopped reading Mets stories in newspapers, I don’t need the stress. The Mets give me enough.

    • Success breeds praise. Before Steinbrenner was a St. Einbrenner, he was portrayed as a pox and a lox, especially when they weren’t winning.

      The Cooter’s story was reported pretty matter-of-factly, without scolding the first-place Mets. Kind of a “Mets will be Mets, drat those awful Houstonians” vibe. Besides, in the time it took to absorb Cooter’s, the Mets went to Cincinnati and played that 14-inning game with Ray Knight kicking Eric Davis’s ass, Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell playing the outfield, Gary Carter executing a double play as a third baseman and Howard Johnson socking the winning homer.

      While they were in progress, btw, those Mets weren’t viewed as marauding coke fiends. They fought on the field, and were disliked in other precincts, but they weren’t taken to task for anything. Little of what they’d be taken to task for in future footage-free, sensationalism-stoking documentaries was publicly known.

      • March'62

        Man, I miss those good times!

      • Andee

        Yeah, nobody mentioned the drug and alcohol shit until Gooden tested dirty, and even then, he was spoken of as an anomaly. The ONLY media person I ever remember bringing it up even obliquely was Art Rust Jr. (gads but I miss him) in a New York magazine article: “I know who the guys are on our teams who are snorting their heads off, but I wear worsted suits, not lawsuits. They (the users) don’t have to worry.”

        As for whether the Yankees got crapped all over by the media in the late 80s: No, they did not. When Steinbrenner said something douchey, which his contract obligated him to do at least once a week, he’d be aired out for it, but I don’t ever remember seeing any “the Yankees have nothing going for them” stories. And I looked.

        And those 1997 through 2000 Mets teams that were actually good? No respect. Not ever. Even most of the fans put them down constantly.

  • dak442

    The Times publishes the unhinged rantings of Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman. I think it’s pretty safe to say they aren’t too concerned about being embarrassed. That rag jumped the shark a long time ago.

    • met73

      I have found that there’s always someone who has to find a way of pushing their own ideology into a non-ideological discussion or forum. Thanks.

  • Wow. I love the NYT, and usually like George Vecsey, or at least don’t mind him.

    But OK, lotta hurt feelings here. Let it out, let it out….

  • March'62

    Actually I prefer the negative pre-season predictions instead of all of those world champion predictions ala Sports Illustrated 2007. Sneaking under the radar just makes winning all the sweeter.

  • Everybody’s trashing the Mets. That’s the current hype. And if the Mets win a World Championship this year, no one who is currently trashing them will be pissed off. They’ll be delighted. The new hype will be how the Mets have returned to their tradition of being lovable underdogs. Many of those now saying mean things about the Mets will shake their heads and smile and say that they were glad to have been proven wrong. If you want the satisfaction of pain from the Mets’ detractors in the press, you’re not going to get it. And who needs it? Their job is to go with the flow. Our job is to be more patient, hopeful, and constant.

  • Lenny65

    The writers and experts be damned. I’m liking what I’m seeing so far. Sure, the Mets probably aren’t going to win it all, they probably won’t make the playoffs, hell, they might not reach .500 for all I know. But go back one season and recall how the Mets broke camp with guys like Ollie, Maine, Mathews Jr., Jacobs and (God forgive me) Cattalano on the roster. Almost a 1/4 of the roster devoted to confirmed losers, busts, disappointments and never-weres. It was as if management slept through the entire spring. All that useless dead wood is gone now along with the old ideas and notions that got us into this hole in the first place. I welcome the change and think it bodes well for the future. At least someone’s paying attention this time around.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    We didn’t lose today because we got rained out! Drove to PSL to find that out!

    Was really shocked when METS offered a refund, via the “check is in the mail” method. Nobody gives back money!
    I hope yhat Picard guy does not
    confiscate my $24.00