Scapegoatism

An article by posted on May 18, 2011

The idea of a scapegoat is a loaded one, a deeply symbolic one with biblical meanings surrounding it.

In sports, it has its own special meaning.

I recently saw a movie called “Catching Hell,” which was a documentary surrounding Steve Bartman. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, he was a guy who was infamously singled-out by not only the Cubs fanbase but the Cubs players themselves in 2003, when he reached for a fly ball coming his way during the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. When the Cubs started to fall apart and was letting runs score left and right and backwards and forwards, the fans started to turn on Bartman, an unassuming quiet fellow who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and ultimately, he had to be escorted out of Wrigley Field. He has since retreated in anonymity, and declines to do interviews.

Perhaps the most poignant line in the film was “It’s not up to Chicago to forgive Steve Bartman, it’s up to Bartman to forgive Chicago.” The idea was multifaceted: the players singled him out and acted irrationally, the fans reacted to the players and the play, and singled out their scapegoat for the Cubs’ notorious bad luck in Octobers: the meek looking guy wearing the glasses (never mind Alex Gonzalez who booted a routine double-play ball…never mind the pitchers who couldn’t hold a lead…never mind a WHOLE OTHER GAME needed to be played).

It takes a rational person to take all that in and be able to see that not only was it not Bartman’s fault, but that it easily could have been any one of us in that position.

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The Mets have had their share of scapegoats over the years.

Namely, the most recent one is Carlos Beltran. I’ve had my own opinions about Beltran over the years.

In 2005, I thought he was an overhyped and overpaid star who was short of “super,” yet was being paid like one.

In 2006, I thought it was convenient that he had his buddy Carlos Delgado taking pressure off him in the lineup. What, all that money wasn’t enough of a motivation for you?

In 2007, I said some pretty nasty things about him, especially when he used that stupid 85% description when he wasn’t feeling, well, 100%.

But it was odd. There was nothing to suggest to me in 2008 that I’d feel any different. I even rolled my eyes when he claimed the “Mets were the team to beat” and telling the reporters to tell Jimmy Rollins about it. There was more. By the end of the season, I was Carlos Beltran Supporter #1, especially when I saw that for once, a Met was taking their late season faltering a bit personally.

I even predicted he’d be MVP in 2009. Of course, that was all washed aside when he got hurt. But he was on his way to having his best season ever.

And if someone had told me when he opted to get surgery a month prior to spring training that I wouldn’t have driven him out of town myself, I probably would have thought that person crazy. Because I used to be Carlos Beltran Enemy #1.

If you told me that I would be sad about Carlos Beltran’s time being up with the Mets seven years ago when he joined the team, I would have told you that you were crazy. And now, I will be sad to see him go. Whether he will be gone at the trading deadline or when his contract expires.

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The Mets also benefited from a scapegoat. Possibly the most famous that his body no longer hanging in effigy after 2004. And that’s Bill Buckner, the notorious first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in 1986.

Mets fans would enjoy the “Catching Hell” movie for a few reasons. One is, it’s about baseball for crying out loud. Another reason would be that the director really focused on the 1986 World Series. Of course, we were on the receiving more-joyous end of the scapegoating of Buckner. In case you haven’t followed not only one of the greatest games in Mets history but in baseball history, period, Buckner was responsible for making an error that cause Mookie Wilson to reach base and allow the winning run to score in Game Six of the World Series.

You say “Game Six” to any Mets fan, and they know exactly what you are referring to. As a fan said on the SNY documentary Simply Amazin’, “Game Six is like saying ‘Kleenex.’”

Never mind that the Red Sox had a two run lead going into the bottom of the 10th inning. Never mind that the Mets were down to their last out and even their last strike during SEVERAL at-bats. Never mind that the game was tied on a wild pitch by Bob Stanley, thus allowing Kevin Mitchell to score. And never mind, that even losing that game, the Red Sox still had one more game to play. See, history revisionists have made this a game about the Red Sox failures, and not about the Mets glorious come from behind win.

But Buckner got the brunt of the vitriol. Because his play was so visible. Because the error was directly related to the walk-off situation for the Mets. There were several Saturday Evening Quarterbacks about the situation, how Buckner shouldn’t have even been in the game, as John McNamara usually went to a defensive replacement in late innings. But the “nostalgia” part was to have Buckner on the field to celebrate. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. In any case, throughout the years, especially prior to the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007, Buckner was not held in high regard with Boston. And Buckner didn’t feel the same way.

The olive branch was extended to Buckner, and he accepted, throwing out the first pitch at a Fenway Park Opening Day 2008 after their World Series win in 2007.

In that case, it was up to Bill Buckner to forgive Boston.

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In 2006, the Mets were riding high. A few key acquisitions and maturing and development of internal superstars led to one of their best seasons ever, and allowing them to waltz into the playoffs.

Most Mets fans don’t remember how Paul LoDuca tagged out two runners at home in one play (or so it looked) in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most Mets fans won’t tell you how Tom Glavine came through in Game One, especially being down a starter. Most Mets fans barely talk about how Shawn Green muffed a fly ball out in right field, causing the dynamic to shift in Game Two at Shea. Most Mets fans won’t talk about Guillermo Mota and how he was just a waste in the bullpen that series.

Most Mets fans won’t remember that Carlos Beltran had a line of .296/.387/.667 with 3 home runs and 4 RBIs.

No, most fans don’t appreciate that. What EVERYONE remembers is that he struck out, looking, with men on base, to end the great 2006 postseason run, thus causing a domino effect of Mets string of bad luck in seasons after that.

No one will tell you how the Mets failed to score in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases loaded, after Endy Chavez’s amazing catch. No one will bring up that the Mets were in that position of a tie game because they failed to score on so many opportunities. No one will EVER talk about how Aaron Heilman gave up a 2-run home run to a barely .200 BA hitter in the top of the 9th inning. How about when the Mets were winning in Game Two, lost the lead and subsequently their momentum (I may not believe in clutch hits, but I do believe in momentum).

No, people will unfairly target Carlos Beltran for looking at strike three. Even when I didn’t particularly like him, I saw the whole game and watched the whole series. I knew it wasn’t his fault. He just happened to be the last out of a particularly heartbreaking series.

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According to the Bleacher Report article, when Carlos Beltran leaves the Mets, he will be ranked in the top 10 in several offensive categories in franchise history. I’ll remember him for his defense, especially when he made the running catch on Tal’s Hill in Houston’s Minute Maid Park. And for the record, I still love that Astros fans still boo the beejeezus out of him for walking about 2004, and I’d like to think for that phenomenal catch.

People chide him for being too “stoic” and not showing enough “emotion.” But I happened to attend a Mets event where all those assumptions were thrown out the window. Carlos Beltran wants to win, he IS competitive, and has passion. Does anyone honestly think that he PLANNED to get hurt? Does anyone think that he wanted the Mets to mishandle his knee injury? It’s evident that he took 2008 personally, and was one of the only players who didn’t owe Mets fans an apology after that season.

Sure, I know he made the last out of the NLCS, but I also know just how underrated he is, and that most of us will miss him when he’s gone.

Yes, even YOU. There is an old saying that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. And Carlos Beltran is one of those where we lose paradise and get a parking lot in whoever replaces him in the outfield.

Something my husband and I talked about the other day was whether (providing he is still on the team then) on the last home game of the season, will the Mets honor him with a video montage a la Mike Piazza in 2005. And I said, no, it wouldn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see it. But it’s not something that would suit Carlos Beltran, the quiet leader. I also wonder how many people wouldn’t cheer him. That would make me very sad if that were to happen.

And in the end, like Bartman with Chicago, Carlos Beltran will need to forgive New York for treating him shabbily and underappreciating him.

Carlos, it took me awhile, but I appreciate you, and I know several other fans who do. Don’t listen to the vocal minority. I’ll always wonder “What might have been” with you, but I’m very proud to have had you as a Met for these years.

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