As Monday’s game and possibly the season it is a part of were getting definitively away from the Mets , I found myself particularly irked not so much by their comprehensive, soup-to-nuts on-field shoddiness but the deficiencies in their off-field communications. It’s bad enough they don’t play a good game, they’re also not up to the task of talking one.
Mind you, if you win, you can fill in the script later. And if the 2019 Mets start winning, keep winning and win all there is to win or at least a great deal of it, we can point with pride to the January day the general manager issued a gutsy challenge to the rest of the National League East or even that time in June when the manager delineated a significant milestone for his charges. While I wouldn’t rule out the Mets getting to winning as if it’s something they are designed to do, I have less faith that a tangible connection waits to be made from their prospective victories to whatever crossed the lips of Brodie Van Wagenen or Mickey Callaway.
Van Wagenen’s offseason pronouncement is the more infamous one. It seems destined to go down as this decade’s version of Fred Wilpon’s testimony that Art Howe lit up the room or Bobby Bonilla swearing the smile won’t be knocked off his face. You know it by heart already, for it is a classic:
“Come get us .”
Reads brutally in the wake of the team way ahead of them thrashing them, doesn’t it? “Come get us” has grown into an easy punchline every time the Mets have strung together losses, but it resonated all the worse Monday when the Mets were facing one of the teams that was supposed to come get them, as if the Mets were everybody else’s aspirationally high bar. The Mets’ opponent, on the road, was the Atlanta Braves, not just as hot a team as baseball features of late, but the defending NL East champions.
Were the Braves of Acuña and Albies and Freeman and the rest really supposed to be intimidated by Brodie Van Wagenen’s Mets? Atlanta hadn’t gone away in the offseason. They made a few enhancements to a 90-win team, including bringing in Josh Donaldson and bringing back Brian McCann. It might not have made them prohibitive favorites to repeat, but they didn’t get worse just because the Mets were working on getting better.
The Mets certainly worked on it. On the day Van Wagenen issued the quote that remains tattooed to his forehead, the club was introducing Jed Lowrie to the media. The rest of us look forward to meeting him real soon. Jed theoretically joined previous bold-type Van Wagcquisitions Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Wilson Ramos to create a sense of all-around improvement. Hands were definitely not sat on in Flushing. Combine these names with the starting pitching we’d long depended on for good news; the progress we could legitimately anticipate from the likes of Conforto, Nimmo, Rosario and maybe McNeil; and the encouraging September that erased some of the bad taste that otherwise spoiled 2018, and, sure, the new GM had every reason to be upbeat. Mind you, this was before we had a clue what Pete Alonso was going to be or even where he was going to start the year.
Here’s how Brodie fully articulated his thoughts:
• “I look forward to showing people that we’re a team to be reckoned with,” Van Wagenen said on January 16. Fair statement.
• “Let’s not be shy on wanting to the be the best and I fully expect us to be competitive, to be a winning team.” There was nothing controversial or at odds with reality within these sentiments.
• “Our goal is to win a championship and it starts with the division.” Admirable ambition and sensible step.
• “So come get us.”
Follow up those first three sentences with “let’s go get ’em” or “we’re gonna keep building” or “with a little luck, we think we can make some strides” or “we’ll play hard and look for every edge” or, my favorite hypothetical, “enough talk, see you in St. Lucie in a few weeks.”
But no. “Come get us.” I don’t know if front offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington reverberated with giggles or were too busy preparing their own rosters to notice the Brodie bluster, but if you’ll excuse a fan for thinking like a fan, somehow I’ll bet the Baseball Gods heard. You know their Karma Council took note. They’re worse than Joe Torre when it comes to handing out fines.
Brodie, my man. We embrace confidence in winter. We appreciate positivity when it’s merited — and you were making moves that we could process as positive. But we didn’t need to be overly impressed when simply impressed would do, and we absolutely shudder at the thought of karma being disturbed. Think of it as the oral equivalent of Jacob Rhame throwing high and tight at Rhys Hoskins. Do it once, swell. Do it twice, you’re asking for a 900-foot home run in retaliation.
Karma’s not known as a sweetheart.
Agents, of which you were apparently a good one, need to hype their product with a straight face. General managers, on the other hand, need to put their head down and get more relief pitching. Somebody should have told you that in advance. I apologize that I haven’t gotten around to mentioning it until after your team fell eight-and-a-half games behind the first-place team that just beat you by nine runs. My bad.
As for Callaway, talking out loud to people who can hear what he says hasn’t really been his strong suit since he became manager, thus expectations are always low. Still, he managed to not exceed them last week when he was asked about his club’s inability to scale .500. I thought this was a softball. For more than a month, the Mets have alternated stumbling and straightening out in the shadow of the break-even point. Statcast metrics indicate the inconsistency has teased us to within an inch of our sanity. Those of us who commit microscopic attention to the fluctuations of our team’s daily record bristle with frustration.
You know who shouldn’t admit to paying attention to it that much beyond the last game played having been either “a great win” or “a tough loss”? Their manager. Leave the details of winning percentages to those of us who obsess over such minutiae . When asked about your team not being able to win as many as it loses, your answer should be something along the lines of, “We can only worry about our next game. We take care of that one, then we can worry about the one after that.”
Clichéd? Perhaps. Unhelpful in answering the actual question with any degree of depth? Without a doubt. But the reporter’s agenda doesn’t have to be your agenda. You have enough on your plate, Skip. Instead of brushing off the inquiry cordially, you bit :
“I’ve been with a few teams, whether it is the .500 mark or getting above four games above .500. There are always these marks that seem to be difficult for teams and then once you finally eclipse them, you can finally take off. […] It’s like that mark, you get up to it and you get knocked back down. But we are not going to give up. We are going to get to .500 and we are going to have to take off at some point, we are just going to keep grinding away.”
Too. Much. Information. Let me condense from that response all that you needed to say to be both polite to the reporter and protective of your position:
“We are just going to keep grinding away.”
There. That was it. Add in some variation of taking them one game at time and you were good to go. Instead, you magnified the idea that the Mets are that team that can’t get to .500 — and that team that dared other teams to come get them.
Again, if Zack Wheeler was better, the defense tighter, the hitting timelier and the bullpen a source for anything but sadness, we wouldn’t be left to ponder the meaning of what were probably intended as no more than offhand musings or clumsily constructed declarations of optimism. But nothing the Mets said with their arms, gloves or bats made them look good in Atlanta or the standings.