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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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So Many Sideshows

Some things that don’t matter:

* Ike Davis vs. Lucas Duda. 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 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 was pitching with a gigantic fork in his back — he got Farnsworth’d after undoing deGrom’s first career win. Valverde will be replaced by Vic Black, 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 you’re a civilian and he could give a shit what you’re doing up there in the Promenade.

* Dave Hudgens vs. Keith Hernandez. I love Keith, 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 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 recovers from Tommy John 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. 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.

27 comments to So Many Sideshows

  • Blackhawks? Clippers? No unwatchable local basketball team that teaches the same lesson?

  • Lou from Georgia

    DeGrom is a keeper. If he keeps it up, and Harvey returns at even 75% of what he showed last year, 2015 will be exciting. But enough with being positive…

    I wonder about the concept of this Moneyball Mets ‘offense’ anyway. The Mets are following rather than leading, and worse they announce their strategy to the world! Pitchers can’t throw one hitters every time out. Was that really the plan for 2014? And forget the money constraints for a second- are there enough good free agents available this offseason to plug all these holes, or will the rug be pulled out from under the GM when he reaches for the credit card again? The answers are no and definitely. Jed Lowrie and some other retread outfielder are not making this team a juggernaut.

  • Life Long Fan

    The Wilpons are poison… Nothing will truly change until they sell the team. After firing the hitting coach, what’s next? Sue the bat companies? Say the ball is dead? They should cut Chris Young loose, but that won’t happen.

    I love Hernandez but his analysis is starting to rely on clichés and shtick as the Mets become more unwatchable… Every time he mentions Hamptons traffic he gets one step closer to becoming our “Scooter.”

  • Ken K. in NJ

    …This is a guy who earned respect sitting in on academics’ Civil War seminars

    And advanced Veterinary Seminars too. My sister is a veterinarian, and about 15 years ago she was in a 3 day seminar called (roughly) The History of Dog Diseases in 19th Century America. Twenty people, one of whom was Keith Hernandez.

    To give you an idea of the participants, my sister was one of only a few who even recognized the name Keith Hernandez. Bottom line, he was the only non-animalcare professional in the class (apparently he was raising dogs at the time), was very unassuming, diligently did all the required work, got along well with his classmates, and successfully completed the seminar.

    And I agree, his old-schooledness when discussing hitting, pitch counts, and blocking the plate is getting tiresome.

  • Dave

    They say go with the hot hand, right? If a guy is hitting, find a place in the lineup for him. Seems obvious to me then…when deGrom isn’t pitching, he should be playing shortstop. Maybe leading off too.

  • open the gates

    I used to have a book by Keith Hernandez – I think it was called Total Baseball, or something like that. He sits through two baseball games and dissects them to the nth degree. To this day, one of the most intelligent baseball books I’ve ever read.

    Maybe Keith’s real place should’ve been the job recently vacated by Dave Hudgens. The Mets could use some old-school hitting advice. Sandy and his “methods” are obviously not working. And aside from everything else, Keith surely knew how to hit the baseball.

    • Great hitters have a mixed reputation at best as hitting coaches — I recall Scott Hatteberg (I think it was him) saying that Jim Rice was pretty much useless because he didn’t understand why everybody couldn’t do what he did. I think Keith would be awful at it — he’s not a patient man with anybody, and I can’t see him working day-in and day-out with kids.

      As for the methods, they seem to work well enough for the A’s, and the Mets’ lower-minors squads are hitting pretty well. And despite Keith’s moaning and groaning, it’s not like the philosophy of hunting strikes is new — Ted Williams said the best hitting advice he ever got was “wait to get a good pitch to hit,” and the guy who told him that was Rogers Hornsby.

      I hope Johnson can impart something Hudgens missed, but I suspect the problem is that nobody looks like a good teacher when the class is made up of crappy students.

  • APV

    In total agreement with you here. Funny, Newsday’s lead sentence in its sidebar story about Ike matched a comment I made after the Sanchez HR in the 8th inning: The best thing Ike did yesterday was being pinch hit for. I know, it’s been two months since that pinch hit grand slam beat the Reds.

    Oh and Syndergaard’s on the DL. I tell you, the baseball Gods hate us and will continue to until the Wilpons sell. Could somebody please record Jeff Wilpon saying something racist or offensive?

  • Lenny65

    If they keep playing like this TC will be run out of town by July. Not that it’ll help, as no manager is winning anything with that lineup. The whole idea that Mets fans need to be patient while waiting for the damned Wilpons to straighten out their finances is insane and extremely tiresome. I’ve lived through enough “just wait til next season!” bullcrap to know it never pans out, until the Mets somehow add a few big league bats the futility will continue. And right now I really don’t feel like waiting around to see what kind of second-rate talent they pick up on the cheap in December or whatever.

  • K. Lastima

    My hope is that Selig told his friend Fred something to the effect that he can and will protect Fred through the end of Selig’s tenure to give him and his idiot son time to get their financial house in order, but if not straightened out by the time Selig leaves office, then all bets are off, and the new commish will be empowered to take such action as necessary to protect the NYC-NL franchise from being further run into the ground to the detriment of all of the other owners, as was done with the Frank McCourt and the L.A. Dodgers

  • Fl Met Fan Rich

    When does football start?

    I can’t believe that people willingly go to the ball park to watch this team. This is a disgrace to basball to call the Mets a professional team.

    It’s times like these that I am happy that I live in Florida and don’t have to watch that garbage every night!

  • Will in Central NJ

    I originally thought that Terry Collins was the right man to manage this team when hired back in winter 2010-11. He seemed a suitable caretaker for what we all hoped would be an incubating contender. Over the last month, I’ve felt the creeping suspicion that Collins’ time is nearing its end. The malaise and lack of production is endemic, and the fan fury stretches like vines slowly overgrowing a once-shiny car in the weeds.

    A transient coach like Dave Hudgens thinks we are booing Granderson only. It should be evident that we fans are voicing displeasure with what seems like a never-ending continuum of losing and wandering in the desert. Sometimes there isn’t any evidence of improvement or the prospect of such. Some of us have been fans since the 1970s, and to watch the continuing losing is, well, just torture. A Manuel, a Hawkins, a Farnsworth, a Hudgens moves on; we are still stuck in this commitment to orange and blue drudgery. Ugh.

    • Lenny65

      No Mets fans WANT to boo Granderson or anyone else, they very much want to embrace the guy…and they will IF he starts helping them win games. I don’t care about how hard he works or how “professional” his approach to his job is, it’s all wins and losses. Watching this bunch struggling to hang up two runs a game is beyond frustrating as is the constant refrain about how the Wilpons have to count every penny thanks to their bad investments.

  • metsfanKeith

    Jason Fry wrote ” 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 you’re a civilian and he could give a shit what you’re doing up there in the Promenade.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I just got done listening to Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts miday show on WFAN. The callers to the show were predictable and yes as you mentioned this is what “drives ratings”.
    Wfan shows like “Joe and Evan”, avoid the real issue of ownership causing the Mets woes because they are afraid of offending the status quo.Their both on their “celebrity talk show host” perch as opposed to being in the trenches with the average grass roots Mets fan. That is why I am sick and tired of stations like WFAN. These talk show hosts know nothing about the real story behind the Mets and cow to the Mets corporation. This is why Blogs on the internet such as this are more genuine than the mainstream media such as radio and mainstream newspapers. I plan on getting my news regarding the hapless NY mets online because it stinks to have the mainstream media completely cow tow to this organization.

  • Barry in Jersey

    Agree, Will. Every day it looks more and more like 1978-79. The problem is that the chances of a sale coming are slim. This raises the question of whether this team deserves my devotion the rest of my life. Getting harder and harder to sell it to my kids because they associate the Mets with anger.
    When is the next Faith and Fear book coming out? I need an escape.

    • Lenny65

      And the real shame of it is that this current squad has assembled what could be a terrific pitching staff and it’s all going to waste because management did nothing to fill the huge, glaring and obvious holes this off-season.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Even with the truth of all you’ve said, the team could probably have 4 or 5 more wins if not for Collins’ mismanagement of bullpen and lineups. Before yesterday, Chris Young was still batting 5th. They may have promised him playing time, but it doesn’t mean they owe him endless opportunities to kill rallies. In the first game on Saturday they could have scored twice on sac flies. Regardless of whether Arroyo is a ground ball pitcher I’d still rather have seen Flores or Campbell get those at ABs. When you have no margin for error due to talent and/or payroll limitations it becomes even more crucial to get everything you can out of the players you DO have, and I don’t think Collins is able to do that.

  • sturock

    Agreed. Terry is now managing like he’s fighting to save his job. Why else sit Lagares last week? Why ever play Abreu? Why dilly around with Tejada vs. Flores? Why run the same relief pitchers out night after night? When does Carlos Torres’s arm fall off?

    And, reacting to an earlier comment: I think Keith is right and it’s Dave Hudgens who may be out of touch when he calls the guys in the booth “old school.” The offense is too passive and maybe they are working the counts too much. (And this from Keith, who artfully worked counts his entire career.) Opposing pitchers know they can sneak strikes by Met hitters early in the count. Duda especially should be jumping on good pitches to hit. But so should Granderson and Young, who appear to perpetually bat with two strikes.

    Of course, “OBP is life,” as sabermetrician Joe Sheehan puts it. And of course, the Mets suck at OBP because too few players, you know, get OB. But is any club more abysmal at hitting with runners in scoring position and at making pitchers pay for mistakes?

  • SL

    You had me with free floating anger, but really lost me, and it, with your misunderstanding of the difference between Keith and Hudgens.
    Listening to Hudgens, it’s clear he is simply emblematic of everything that is wrong with the “moneyball” technique (which, btw is bs since even the economic theory, of undervalued assets, is now different as ‘stats’ guys dominate).
    Hudgens can site chapter and verse about what happens AFTER you do something, i.e. if you hit this pitch, that HAPPENED.

    Keith can look at a swing and tell you what’s wrong.

    And that is now what is missing too often in baseball.

    I’ll give you a personal example.

    I was a scout for 15 years, and I stink at looking at pitching, but I had a friend who asked me about Strasburg when he first came up.

    I said, great, electric talent, but he will blow out his elbow within a year b/c he’s a “short armer”.

    When it happened, my buddy called me and asked me how I knew, and I explained what that meant with regard to the elbow forces.

    And btw, he asked me the same thing about Harvey, and my response was the same.

    Listening to Hudgens, he has given no indication that he can identify problems in a player’s swing.

    And that is borne out by the disaster that was the Ike Davis situation.

    • Who says it’s one or the other? Any modern organization has people who can assess swings and people who can use stats to think about ideal approaches, and increasingly people who can do both. “Eyes” and “numbers” aren’t in opposition, and haven’t been seen that way within baseball front offices for a decade or so.

  • 9th string

    Coaching smoaching – can we stop seeing Sandy as an answer? He can’t develop players, he can’t select free agents and can’t build a coaching staff. I’m tired of hearing he has no money to work with – he gave 7 mil to young but couldn’t afford latroy Hawkins? Matsuzaja was a worse option than bartolo colon? Lucas Duda is your answer at 1b? How much for a broken down granderson?

    All that money for a 3b who hits singles doubles and fly outs, not even an offer for a SS tailor made for citi field.