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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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They Could Have Made a Statement

The New York Mets wish to thank New Era and Major League Baseball for setting aside standard uniform regulations so Mets players and coaches could honor the bravery and courage of New York’s first responders and service agencies in memory of the lives given so selflessly in the heinous attacks of September 11, 2001. The Mets’ wearing of caps bearing the insignias of those agencies is but a small way of continuing to remember the enormous contributions of the men and women who came to the aid of those in need at a most crucial hour in our city’s and our nation’s history.

Something like that. A couple of announcements, read at the ballpark and over the air…maybe with the most subtle of reminders that if you are interested, a Mets cap with an American flag patch sewn on the side is available, too, and a portion of its proceeds will go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Flight 93 Memorial and Pentagon Memorial (a hefty portion, in an ideal world). Take care of MLB’s licensed apparel partner and let the Mets play ball one night a year in the caps of the FDNY, the NYPD, the PAPD, the OEM, the EMS, the K-9 corps, the Court Officers and anybody else I may have failed to list.

Everybody nods, everybody applauds and life goes on as best it can.

Too bad nobody could come to this kind of solution, or a realization that this kind of solution — and it didn’t necessarily have to be this exact version — would have made everybody feel better and nobody look bad. Terry Collins, sick of the whole thing’s dissection by now, says, “It was not what we had on our heads. It was what was in our hearts.” True enough, and if you couldn’t see into the Mets’ hearts Sunday night, then you weren’t looking closely enough at the classy, heartfelt tribute that preceded their game with the Cubs.

But it is a little about what was on their heads. Or, more specifically, what wasn’t.

Blame the Mets for that, but only in the sense that you’re blaming them for having done the right thing ten years ago and continuing to do the right thing, capwise, for another six years thereafter. The Mets wearing the caps of the first responders to 9/11 — in some cases the actual caps worn by the actual responders, as Todd Zeile recalls — was as heartfelt a statement as a baseball team could make about being part of something bigger than they were. It’s one thing to wear an “N” and a “Y” and say you play for New York. It’s another thing to borrow, with blessings, the crests of those for whom you play and literally play for them.

That’s what the Mets did in 2001, with heads held high for 18 games. That’s what the Mets did again, in commemoration of the most chilling acts of heroism imaginable, every year thereafter from 2002 through 2007. In 2008, MLB stepped in and told teams to wear other caps, with jury-rigged red, white and blue team logos, and they kept that up through last year. The Mets dutifully complied.

They sought to do differently this year for the tenth anniversary. MLB had a problem with it. It is to their everlasting discredit that they did.

MLB was shortsighted, to put it extraordinarily kindly, in rejecting the Mets’ efforts, no matter how the decision was made, no matter who said what to who or who threatened who with what. The Mets wanted to wear the kinds of caps they wore in 2001 in 2011. They were told not to. We can implore the Mets to show more backbone or cojones or whatever phrase you choose to indicate a stronger stand of defiance, but it shouldn’t have come to that.

MLB should have recognized, as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested, that the Mets wearing the caps of first responders was not only the right thing to do, but a part of their heritage. It’s an established tradition, a serious one. MLB should have said, “Look, we want to sell caps with American flags. But what the Mets do to honor their community transcends merchandising opportunities by so much, that even we’re not so thick-skulled that we can’t recognize it. So let’s get them to make a few announcements plugging New Era and let them play ball. Tomorrow we’ll go back to business as usual.”

Monday night, by the way, was business as usual. The Mets wore regulation caps, didn’t hit and lost for the fifth time in six games. So there, Joe Torre, is your cherished “uniformity”.

Oh, and one more announcement that could still be made:

In 2012, Major League Baseball will inaugurate Community Service Recognition Day, when each of our 30 teams will promote the organizations in their communities who are dedicated to helping others by having its players and coaches wear the caps of those groups on the field for one game. Major League Baseball thanks the New York Mets for setting an example we can all follow.

Instead of worrying in corporate dunderheaded fashion (per Olney’s reporting) that, “heaven forbid, there might be another tragedy…and then what we would do about caps?” (as opposed to worrying about the consequences of the tragedy itself), MLB can embrace its unique role as unifier rather than marketer. Do they realize how many community-based agencies across America wear baseball caps despite not being baseball teams? Don’t they see what baseball means to people beyond licensed branding? There is an inherent connection still between this game and this nation. The cap is a statement unto itself, one that isn’t translated strictly in an accounting of receipts.

Why is there an FDNY cap anyway? Don’t firefighters have helmets? Don’t the police have hats of their own to match their uniforms? Yet there is an NYPD cap and an FDNY cap. Everybody, at some level, wants to wear a baseball cap of their own. Everybody wants to be part of the team. MLB, in turn, can be part of their teams — part of a lot of teams. This doesn’t have to be solely about New York and its first responders. There are agencies and organizations in other cities that do great things for those communities. Let the teams there follow the Mets’ path in that regard. Let the Nationals, as they wanted, honor the Navy SEALs. Let the Rockies honor those who make a difference in Denver. Let the Mariners do it in Seattle and the Dodgers do it in Los Angeles and so on.

For one day, MLB, use your heads. It doesn’t have to be on the emotionally loaded day of September 11, but that does seem ideal, given that it’s more and more being promoted as a day of service. It doesn’t have to be just one organization per team. Look what the Mets meant to so many in ’01 by wearing the caps of several different agencies.

Let it be a local decision, ballclub to ballclub. Give New Era (or whoever) their props as suggested above and let the teams say to their cities, you’re with us, so we’re with you. You and and our entire community mean so much to us that you are, literally, top of mind. Look at us — we honor you right from the very top of who we are.

Y’know what? It should be about what’s in the heart, but sometimes you can tell what that is much quicker by seeing what’s on the head.

Especially in baseball.

21 comments to They Could Have Made a Statement

  • Inside Pitcher

    Bravo Greg. Bravo.

  • CoreyNYC

    I continue to blame the Mets for this issue. They should have gone to MLB in advance & had New Era make Mets hats that had all the agencies/charities embroidered on it (I envision the left & right panels being filled with logos & initials).

    Everyone wins: MLB keeps the uniform…well, uniform. New Era looks good, the Mets get to honor all the people they wish to honor.

    The Yankees did the same thing after the Virginia Tech shootings. They played an exhibition game at Va Tech in which they wore (& New Era sold) special caps with the Va Tech logo on the side.

    No matter the circumstances of 9/11, I don’t fault MLB for wanting to maintain a sense of order & upholding their rules. You can’t fault a company for having the foresight to avoid bending the rules for certain cirumstances, it gets messy.

    But I truly believe this could have been avoided if the Mets were proactive.

  • Well said, partner.

    I thought I was doing OK at putting this aside until I read what team execs were telling Buster Olney in explaining why they agreed with MLB. Olney said one asked him, “What happens if there’s an earthquake, and many killed? And then a Katrina-like hurricane in an MLB city?”

    Wow, really? If an earthquake devastated San Francisco, the Giants wearing first-responder hats would be a lovely gesture. If a hurricane did substantial damage to Miami, the Marlins honoring their police officers and firefighters would be terrific. This stuff’s a no-brainer, but 180 degrees removed from what these guys are worrying about. In situations like that, you focus on what you can do for your community and how symbolism can reinforce that message. In other words, WEAR THE FUCKING CAPS.

    Remember, we’re talking about terrorist attacks, quakes and major hurricanes. They don’t happen that often, thank God — it’s not like we’re living in Pharaoh’s Egypt, with a new plague every day. Are baseball’s team executives really such marketing weasels that the idea of the cash registers falling silent for a week or two after a major disaster makes them run and hide behind Joe Torre’s skirts?

  • JoAnn

    I don’t blame the Mets players. I blame the typically ham-handed, limp noodle Wilpons. It’s really time to fire the owners.

  • Jon

    I’m with JoAnn. There is nothing this organization can’t screw up.

    • Yeah, this sucker’s getting worse. Unfortunately, MLB being thuggish and the Mets trying to blame someone else for their own weaselry are both eminently believable scenarios. And of course David Wright makes himself look worse with every question he dutifully answers.

      • Linda

        Totally agree with everything. David let us down by backing away. I am a huge fan but am getting tired of the corporate line. Grow some David. Where are the Francos and Piazzas today? Who on this team would buck the system?

  • The blame falls on MLB. Thanks, Greg, for another great column.

  • I can blame the Mets for short-sighted management and horrible managerial decisions, but I don’t blame the Mets for this one. I have to think that there’s no way they saw MLB making a stand about this. They had the hats in their possession, they were ready to wear them and MLB decides that this is the line in the sand they’re going to draw. It’s emblematic of an organization that while making an incredible amount of money continues to lose market share, prestige and footing against other sports. This is the type of leadership that will make baseball the fifth most popular sport in the US by 2018 (behind football, NASCAR, basketball and soccer).

  • Schneck

    Perhaps (ok, likely) its true that the Wilpons could have been more proactive in order to avoid this scenario, but they weren’t and that put the ball in MLB’s court and they screwed it up. MLB could have issued a statement that there is a clear protocol that should have been followed and Mets management failed to do so. They could have issued a nominal fine but allowed the players to wear the hats. They had this choice. They made the wrong one for all of the wrong reasons. People can (correctly) blame the Wilpons for continuing to be douchebags all they want but this issue was larger than their douchebaggery and MLB could have done the right thing.

  • That two parties ostensibly allied in the same business found a downside to something that was never anything but a positive speaks volumes for the ineptitude involved.

    No wonder Wilpon and Selig are said to be close.

  • Jay Kim

    Bravo Greg. We can assign blame as we all see fit, but the important thing here is that it was screwed up.

    Recognizing it is the first step.

  • Guy Kipp

    There’s no problem when they depart from the regular uniform to pander to an ethnic group for marketing purposes with their MLB-approved “Los Mets” jerseys, but they can’t honor true heroes in the city they represent.

  • srt

    Nothing I’ve read led me to believe MLB would have altered their decision on that even if they were asked back in the Spring. It wasn’t a problem with the timing The Mets wanted to honor first responders much in the same manner they did 10 years ago. I saw nothing wrong with that. Apparently, MLB did and does.

    Just shaking my head….

  • Joe D.

    It’s a matter of principle and human decency. There are just certain
    things that are right and certain things that are wrong. On the eve of the ceremonies, ownership was aware of how important it was to some players to wear the caps as a personal way of remembering and honoring those who lost their lives, the families and the first responders. Had the Wilpons felt this in their hearts as well, they would have allowed them to do so. Or at the least they would not have made someone make a call to the dugout to stop them in the middle innings.

    I agree it was stupidity on the part of MLB, however, in the case of the Wilpons it goes way beyond that. Taking into account all their past indifferences when it came to money, it doesn’t surprise me that it got to the point that in the middle of the game David gets a call in the dugout telling him to take his cap off. For something as solemn as the tenth anniversary of 9/11, all other concerns pale in comparison. Yet the Wilpons, not wanting to jeopardize their standing with MLB told Thole the fine would be extensive. The players then didn’t want to put ownership in a spot knowing their financial
    situation. Now there is question about whether that extensive fine was being held over their heads or they exploited the edict to stay in favor with Selig.

    Their motives were definately out of concern about a possible fall-out from MLB which
    could negatively affect their future dealings with that office (in the
    terms of loans, limited partnership approval, etc.) than an additional
    tribute to first responders. That type of instinctive behavior is repulsive and
    expected from hypocritices who claim to be so community conscious.

    So don’t blame the players.

  • Jay

    The only problem with the Mets here is not having the backbone to say “What are you going to do, force a forfeit?” it’s not like they’re in the playoffs anyway. The only “excuse” at this point is if New Era really does have that big of a lawsuit lined up if the Mets didn’t do it and would have sued the beliguered team further into financial trouble.

    MLB is going to have to live with this for YEARS, and they deserve it. I’m just happy my Mets hats are in good enough condition to last until New Era goes away (in what, 50 years?)

  • BlackCountryMet

    Perfect Greg, my sentiments and thoughts expressed precisely

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