David Wright is sounding like a desperate man these days. He’s seeing his power numbers evaporate and he’s had to bear another year entrenched in a mediocre lineup on a mediocre team.
He’s got everything a man could wish for. A great apartment, buckets of money, a gorgeous wife and a great job … but his dream of a world series eludes him. David is a good guy, by all accounts he’s liked and respected by just about everyone. He signs autographs, visits children in hospitals, and does his best to put a happy face on a beleaguered franchise.
I’d wager that if David got a visit from “Mr. Applegate” (A.K.A. the Devil) offering to return him to his former slugging form he’d be mightily tempted. The reference is of course to the musical Damn Yankees, where a poor long suffering fan of the Washington Senators is lured into offering up his soul to secure that slugger his team desperately needs. Mr. Applegate turns poor Joe Boyd into Joe Hardy, the power hitter the team requires. David Wright would probably have to leave his wife, sharpen his spikes and charge the mound now and then … I doubt he could continue to be Mr. nice-guy … not with his soul in hock.
I could see the plot of Damn Yankees played out in our own backyard. A young ambitious Fred Wilpon approached by Mr. Applegate (as Bernie Madoff) in the lead up to 1986, promising him untold riches, a World Series and sole ownership of the Mets … for a price of course. After a dark and tense negotiation and a brief moment when it’s almost called off (after Wilpon tries to throw in his first born) it’s done.
Of course things didn’t turn out the way Wilpon wanted … that’s usually how these Faustian things go. In the play, Mr. Applegate was defeated by Joe Boyd’s true love for his wife Meg, but in real life Fred WIlpon’s only true love (the Dodgers) could never love him back, and so he is hung out to dry, bamboozled, hoodwinked … and as soon as the ink dries on the contract the ball gets through Buckner and his fate is sealed.
It’s a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for, don’t sell out, never give up on your convictions or your integrity for the sake of worldly success … but those words begin to ring hollow when you’re mired in a historic stretch of offensive futility.
The Mets win when they’re mean, when they’re a nasty dirty bunch of brawlers, when they routinely knock you down and punch you in the face if you make a run at them anywhere near the third base line. The Mets have sold out their roots and heritage by promising to be good. In the immortal words of Patches O’Houlihan, sometimes “You have to get angry, you have to be MEAN!”
But it’s not easy to be mean when you are constantly taking the high road and your captain reminds people of Spongebob’s kinder gentler nephew. You might get into heaven, but you probably won’t win a pennant.
Tom Seaver on many occasions reminisced about his days as a young ballplayer in California and often pointed to his time in the Marine Corps as a turning point. While many athletes in his position would have hesitated to devote that much time from their budding careers to the military, Tom Terrific attributed much of his toughness and strength to his service time, training with an organization designed to destroy and annihilate … an organization designed primarily for killing and maiming.
The venerable Gil Hodges shared this background with Seaver and between the two of them you had a couple of tough S.O.B’s anchoring that 1969 championship team … Then, again in 1986 you had perhaps one of the most sordid and undesirable (albeit talented) collection of deviants you could put into a single uniform take the field in Flushing, and they too proceeded to handily stomp nicer teams across the league.
It’s a cruel irony that in the years since (the Wilpon years), the team has become as straight laced and goody-two-shoes as the Waldo rich kid character in The little Rascals … I remember Darla pining “Oh Waldo!” But Waldo always lost in the end, beaten by low down dirty tricks and sneaky contraptions … a fire engine with a spring loaded boxing mitt or a speed boat with ducks harnessed to a wagon wheel as an engine. The little rascals didn’t fight fair, and they always ended up getting the girl in the end.
These 2014 Mets are nothing like Spanky and Alfalfa and Buckwheat, but they are a lot like other Mets teams of the past 20 years. They play fair, they don’t retaliate, they offer friendly smiles to the other team and routinely exchange pleasantries with opposing first basemen. Prior to Sandy Alderson and the rule changes, they adhered to slot recommendations religiously in the draft, draining their farm of talent at a time when every other big market team was stocking up. You have to go back to Ty Wiggington if you wonder when the last time a Met bowled over a catcher was. It makes one question why this Met organization is so inclined to the high road, the gentler more polite road, the losing road.
I’ll tell you why, it is Fred Wilpon’s penance on this great green earth that he be foiled by the very principles that were routinely urinated on by the 86 squad … Wilpon sold out to a criminal mastermind who orchestrated the financial backing necessary for him to secure ownership, and as punishment the Mets are now doomed, cursed … too nice to win, too gentlemanly to retaliate, too kind to knock a batter down — even when their own nicest of fellows is plunked perilously close to his noggin by a lowly Cubs team with nothing to play for. It’s like the plot of Damned Yankees without the happy ending.
Now I’m not saying Terry Collins should seek out the Devil and make a deal, these things have a way of backfiring, and besides, finding old scratch might not be easy in light of Bud Selig’s imminent retirement … but this too kind to let the other team lose gentleman’s game has no place in Queens. This is New York for crying out loud. Maybe this nauseating institutionalized tenet towards niceness was implemented in response to the ruinous amoral disintegration of their would-be dynasty, but surely, 28 failed seasons later the Wilpons must realize that good guys finish last, right? They must on some level understand that the bad guys won the last time their organization took it all?
Matt Harvey gave us a little taste last year of what it’s like to pour gasoline over a duct-taped opponent and threaten them with a Zippo lighter, while Zack Wheeler is showing signs of breaking this benevolent buffoonery with his fondness for kneecaps … but around the diamond we continue to be hamstrung by a sad and lugubrious shortness of crazy. You gotta have heart as the song goes, you have to have the courage to occasionally go off the high road and do something really really stupid.
Like John Blutarski famously said, “What the f#@& happened to the (Mets) I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my @$ from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Harper, he’s a dead man! Freddie Freeman, dead! Strasburg … “