Just a few short seasons ago we seemed on the edge of something great. We were preparing ourselves for several years of NL dominance unprecedented in Mets history. We locked up young studs David Wright and Jose Reyes to long term contracts, added 5-tool superstar Carlos Beltran and mixed in veteran presences like Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado. However, after coming up one base hit short of a trip to the World Series, the Mets have accomplished nothing other than 2 historical collapses. Now we continue to crumble. Our Mets resemble a poorly written soap opera. What happened?
In the late 70s no team typified ‘soap opera’ more than the team in The Bronx. The Yankees created so much drama during those times they came to be known as ‘The Bronx Zoo.’ Reggie Jackson arrived in NY via Free Agency and with the first really huge contract in history claimed himself to be ‘The straw that stirs the drink.’ He was sarcastically given the nickname ‘Mr. October’ by catcher Thurman Munson. Munson and Jackson battled for control, for leadership, of the Yankees. Manager Billy Martin repeatedly chided Jackson, rode him without mercy. In 1977, Martin and Jackson nearly came to blows in the dugout at Fenway. The game was on national TV and Martin mocked Jackson for not chasing down a line drive. Although the Yankees skipper was nearly 20 years older and about 50 pounds lighter, he attempted to get to his star RFer. Martin had to be restrained by coaches Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. Jackson discounted Martin’s actions to the press by accusing the Yankee manager of ‘having his judgment impaired’ because of his alcoholism. Martin also frequently waged a war of words in the media against Jackson and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Martin once said, “They (Jackson and Steinbrenner) are made for each other. One’s a born liar, the other’s a convicted liar.” Steinbrenner was no angel either. He constantly tinkered with team chemistry, hiring, firing and re-hiring managers with reckless abandon. The Yankees had 8 managers in 6 years.
However, despite the melodrama that became ‘The Bronx Zoo,’ the Yankees managed to win. And win big. In a 6 year period from 1976-1981, the Yankees won 5 division crowns, 4 pennants and 2 World Series.
This brings me to ‘The Queens Zoo.’ What exactly happened? When did it happen? How did it happen? Our team, our organization seems to be in an uncontrollable nose dive. A dysfunctional mess. We have the drama. But we don’t have the pennants.
Losing the NLCS Game 7 on a HR by Yadier Molina was awful. Back to back September collapses tested our team loyalty. But now it seems like what happens off the field is more newsworthy then what happens on the field.
We never get straight answers on injuries. And even the players themselves don’t seem to either. Case in point: Carlos Beltran’s decision to see a specialist and get a second opinion. Our farm system has become decimated. None of us can point to the next Gooden or Strawberry or Seaver. In March, we heard rumors that Citi Field was going to be a hitters park. It’s anything but. And seems more cavernous then Shea. This was the same time that manager Jerry Manuel was in Florida considering moving one of the top leadoff hitters in the game, Jose Reyes, down to the #3 spot. The season began and Manuel was constantly on Ryan Church until finally Church was sent packing. Icon Doc Gooden was roundly criticized by Mets management earlier this season when he had the audacity to sign his name on a wall inside the Wilpon’s stadium. We have the highest payroll in the National League. Yet we are struggling to get to .500. The players who remain healthy seem to play ‘Hot Potato’ with the leadership role. Last year, Omar Minaya stooped to a new low in the classless and heartless way he fired Willie Randolph in the wee hours of the morning. Yesterday, Omar stooped even lower. He turned a routine press conference announcing the departure of Tony Bernazard into a backhanded attack on Daily News reporter Adam Rubin.
This backstabbing behind the scenes gossip is better suited to a high school locker room then a supposedly professional baseball club. Losing is hard enough. But this persistent blaming someone else is ludicrous: Blame Willie Randolph. Blame Manuel. Blame Omar. Blame the Wilpon’s. Blame Bernazard. Blame the team doctor. Blame Rick Peterson. Blame Howard Johnson. Blame the fans for booing. Blame the new stadium.
Remember when we all blamed Aaron Heilman for all our problems? The point is that none of us really care about the childish finger pointing. We all want one thing and that’s a winner. Or at least a team we can be proud of. We Mets fans don’t give a damn about what goes on behind-the-scenes. We care about what goes on in the batters box, not the press box.
I’ve been a Mets fan a long time. I’ve cheered for everyone from Jose and David to Keith and Gary to Cleon and Rusty. We’ve all bled blue and orange for years. The owners, the managers and the GM’s come and go. I’ve been wearing Mets hats long before Omar and Fred were around and will continue to long after they are gone. What the powers-that-be must realize is that this is not their team. It’s our team. This is not their stadium. It’s our stadium.
At one time or another, all of us lost our innocence and we were forced to admit the painful truth that Baseball is a business and not a game. However, in the deep recesses of our heart, we still like to think of it as a game. Regrettably, the actions of certain executives lately have shown otherwise. It’s apparently more important to C-Y-A then to provide a winner. Thanks to Omar and the Wilpon’s for returning us to reality and proving that Baseball is a business. Innocence has been lost again.