The Toughness Factor: Why the Mets Need an Edge
Something struck me as odd earlier this spring as I watched SNY’s first broadcast of the season from Tradition Field. Our splendid announcers were interviewing Collin Cowgill and at one point I believe it was Ron Darling asked whether Collin was getting a lot of ribbing about something or other in his background (I think it was about an underperforming college team he was affiliated with – I can’t remember exactly).
The thing I found odd was the awkward pause after the question when Collin looked at the camera like Dirty Harry staring down some “punk,” as if to say “I’m not the sort of guy that gets teased a lot.” What he did say after finally breaking the tension with a smile was “um, no not really, but yeah they’re having an off-year.” Did anyone else catch that?
Then there’s Valdespin, whose had all sorts of fanciful terms describing him, from to “loose wire” to “screw loose” to “plays with a certain flair,” to “brash and inaudible.” After getting plunked in the privates Monday by a Justin Verlander fastball maybe we should call him “Lefty.”
The dude showed up to play second base for a Major League baseball club without a cup … now if that isn’t tough I don’t know what is. When Valdespin was asked where the pitch hit him, Valdespin replied, “in the d–k,” adding that everything is “fine” and he doesn’t expect to miss action
“Everything is good, working good, normally, everything is great,” Valdespin said. What’s really amazing is where he found the time between getting plunked, the visit to the clinic, and being interviewed by the Post, to come to the conclusion that everything is in fact “working fine.”
Now see, that’s the kind of crazy I want on my ball club. What is nevertheless obvious in all of this is the effect he has on opposing pitchers, he is exquisitely annoying with his mannerisms, and that’s not a bad thing if you ask me. Also, you get the sense that he’d be more than willing to scrap if you piss him off enough — unless of course Justin Verlander is on the mound and you’re gunning for a roster spot in spring training and you just got your eggs scrambled by a 94 mile an hour fastball — lets be reasonable — nobody wants to get Robin Ventura’d.
Now there’s this new barrel-chested shifty eyed kid named Travis D’Arnaud. He’s not particularly brash or cocky, but his reputation as a tough guy preceded him to such an extent that Collins felt he had to specifically warn him against outrageous notions such as blocking the plate. Also, you look at Travis, and he looks like a tough guy … didn’t really get that with Josh Thole, Josh talks to deaf puppies … I’d rather have a guy back there who looks like he eats puppies. People talk about how D’Arnaud’s stats are skewed because he played in a hitter’s league but you know what? You can tell a lot about a hitter from the way major league pitchers pitch to him, and all spring left-handers in particular seem to want to part of him.
Who is the toughest guy on the Mets? Well it isn’t David Wright, nothing against the Captain, but David’s just too damned nice. He’s the guy who you can always count on to do the right thing, the sensible thing (his dad was a cop for crying out loud) … David is more likely to try and break up a fight. It sure isn’t Duda, who I could imagine getting punched in the face and responding with “hey? What was that all about?” Now granted Duda is one guy you really wouldn’t want to get angry as he could probably hold his own in single combat against an enraged Yeti, but he also seems like just a really peaceful fellow. No, it’s Ike, and I’ll tell you why. After that high slide into Tejada by Chased Mutley a couple of years back, Ike took a really weird rout to the dugout and he was jawing at Utley the entire time, boy was he fuming. I didn’t know Ike had it in him. Up until then I thought he was just another nice kid.
So when all the crap about Ike keeping late hours came out I was pretty upset, not with the perception that Ike isn’t the goody two-shoes wholesome kid we all thought he was (he isn’t, that much is obvious), but with the realization that someone in ownership or management didn’t like it. But who? And more importantly, why?
I’ve gotten into more arguments with other Mets fans over this issue than any other I can think of. The curse of Mike Piazza, which actually started before Mike was even on the team. See, in 1986 the Mets accumulated a lot of negative Karma because of all the people they punched out. They also won the World Series so the “bad guy” Karma was not exacted through some fitting heartbreaking loss in game 6 of the World Series, nope, the bad guys got away with it. The 2000 World Series rolls around with all this negative Karma still looking for a chance to stab Met fans in the eyeball, and Mike Piazza, gets into this weird confrontation where Clemens throws the barrel of a bat in Mike’s direction.
That was Piazza’s chance to exorcise the bad juju by putting a bully in his place while vanquishing a great and bloated evil, but he didn’t. He should have at least started walking to the mound with the understanding that if no one stopped him he’d proceed to punch Clemens in the face. Nope, Mike more or less trots to first base with this “dude, what is wrong with you?” look on his face. That was the worst thing that could have happened at that moment in time. The best thing would have been if Mike had the presence to realize that getting tossed (even if it meant a one game suspension which I doubt would have happened) would be worth giving your team the galvanizing jolt of courage and resolve that that the moment demanded. I knew then that the Mets were going to lose the series.
So here we are in 2013, and I’m starting to see a bit of an edge on the peripheries of this roster again. Maybe a gag order has been placed on someone in ownership. Maybe the “bad guy” Karma was finally satiated in 2006 when the nice guys lost … but the curse of Mike Piazza won’t officially be put to rest without a least one bench clearing brawl. It says so in the Karma rule book (I looked it up). Even more imperative, however, is that upper management find the doofus wiener who made those comments about Ike and lock him in a basement somewhere under the bowels of City Field for the remainder of the season. Maybe give him use of a flat screen and provide him with lots of snacks and a direct line to the Shake Shack, but under no circumstances should he to be allowed to leave his room or to speak.
Ever since the late 80’s the Wilpons have vigorously implemented this “character” requirement to being a N.Y. Met. I think the reasoning was largely intended as a corrective measure after the late 80′s debacle. It was also grounded in the fact that over in the Bronx, by employing a blueprint similar to Cashen’s, the Yankees secured the dynasty we should have had because they insisted on “+ character “ players. So, Jeff … er, ownership goes above and beyond ownership’s purview, insisting on “character” guys (to a fault) at the expense of that “by any means” edge and grit that almost all successful teams have. Sure maybe I’m overstating toughness, after all this isn’t football and I’m not Howie Long. Maybe in the end it still comes down to talent on the field, but with the exception of some of the more recent Yankee teams, I can’t come up with too many world series winners who didn’t have that “edge.”
One thing that a lot of us might agree on when it comes to this Alderson fellow, is he’s not the nicest guy in the world when it comes to the manner in which he executes his duties … In fact he can be kind of a cold-hearted, wise cracking, box of chocolates sending, disappointed in Santana jerk, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If he’s remaking this team in his image my guess is there will be at least a few guys like Cowgill and D’Arnaud and Valdespin who look like they might just have enough crazy in them to stir things up. Guys who might give you that split second after they get dusted where you’re not quite sure what they’re going to do … Who will more or less guarantee some payback if you go into second spikes high. I sure hope so, because if we don’t incorporate that element we’re just going to keep getting run over by the Chase Utley’s of this world. It’s no coincidence that Utley did that to maybe the nicest kid on the team. Nice doesn’t win championships.
About the Author: Matthew Balasis
I’ve been a Met fan since August 1969 when a fire resulted in the Red Cross placing my family on the 6th floor of a building in Willets Point. I could see Shea from our balcony and I knew something big was going on. I followed them through the dark years and the resurgence of the 80’s only (sadly) to miss the fall of 86 because I was in Boot Camp. I've been serving penance ever since in Minnesota where I'm an SLP. I've written a lot about the Mets in an effort to share with my kids (and anyone else who might listen), a sporting tradition that made much of my childhood worthwhile. Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewBalasis
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