MMO Exclusive: The Mets And Their Difficult Relationship With The New York Press

jeff wilpon

To Jeff Wilpon The Mets Are Just A Laughing Matter…

That charming headline appeared in a May 29th Daily News article by the rabble-rousing Filip Bondy

You may remember that Jeff Wilpon showed up at Citi Field and made a rare public appearance during a pregame ceremony for Mariano Rivera, who threw out the first pitch, and eventually the last. That was the day that the Mets COO gave up on the season and let the future HOF closer know about it.

The title caught my eye like a mangled raccoon on Interstate 94, but as I wasn’t able to read it until days later. I tried to hold my preconceptions in check, but it looked like Jeff may have put his foot in his mouth again. Or maybe not… Here is what he actually said: “Wish we could see you in the World Series,” Wilpon told Rivera. “But I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

For Mr. Bondy, this is tantamount to throwing in the towel, giving up, abandoning hope and tucking tail, only one problem … that’s not really what the words say. “I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” doesn’t mean it won’t … or can’t, or even will not … Correct me but don’t those words mean that Jeff WIlpon isn’t certain the 2013 Mets will make it to the World Series?

On what planet is this a revelation? Is this not what any rational person might say under the circumstances? Am I actually coming to Jeff Wilpon’s defense? What kind of warped alternate reality have I just stepped into? Cue the Twilight Zone music.

For Mr. Bondy these comments were outrageous, an affront to his own lofty standards for spirited competition. He never even thought about giving up when he was on the chess team back at the University of Wisconsin (Badgers never surrender!), or maybe it brings back all those ugly memories in H.S. when the jocks would make Filip cry “uncle” between an atomic wedgie and a swirlie. You may recall, this is the same “Flip” Bondy who spent a year in 2004 with the “Bleacher Creatures” in Yankee Stadium and who wrote the following in 2010 as he was gearing up to cover the ALCS:

“Ryan’s no-hitters aside, this ALCS represents one of sports’ great historical mismatches, 40 pennants versus zero. The Yanks should win this series just by throwing their pinstriped uniforms onto the  field and reading from a few pages of The Baseball Encyclopedia. If only Bud Selig would agree to waive a few silly postseason rules, the Bombers might send their Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster to Arlington for the first couple of games, make this a fair fight.”

Of course the impossible to beat Yankees lost that series the same way they recently lost four games to the Mets, shocker.

Now lets pan back a little ways to 2008 and look at a different quote by a different NY Journalist.

“The Yankees are absolutely down two stars this season, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui. They still have enough big names and big contracts in their batting order and that is why it is almost bewildering that, at this point in the season, it is so difficult picking an offensive MVP for them. Right now the closest to that, the player doing the job you expect him to do, is the guy hitting between Jeter and A-Rod, Bobby Abreu.”

“But the biggest offensive disappointment in town, as much of an under-producer as any big name or big ticket or big player either New York team has, is Carlos Beltran.”

The above  was written by Mike Lupica in August of 2008. Lupica never seemed to appreciate Beltran and it is believed his attacks may have had at least something to do with Carlos’ brief media blackout after his difficult first year in NY. To read Lupica on Beltran you’d think the guy slept with his wife or stole his lunch money or failed to treat him with the customary reverence media royalty demand. I never quite understood the unceasing vitriol directed at a guy who by all accounts was a great player (the best center-fielder the Mets have ever had) and a decent human being.

Maybe Lupica was upset that Beltran didn’t end up in pinstripes? Who knows. Maybe Beltran brushed past Lupica in the clubhouse on his way to the restroom just as Mike was trying to ask a question? Hard to say, but, beyond the questionable beef stir-fry at the player’s buffet, what was clear was the one man campaign Lupica went on to try and destroy an athlete’s reputation. None of the accusations that Lupica leveled against Carlos were true, not the selfishness, or the lack of leadership, or the absence of passion, or the surly listlessness, in fact, to anyone who knew Beltran and had actually watched him play, they were categorically false.

Or how about Lupica lumping Beltran in with Castillo and Perez (two bonafide lumps) during the whole Walter Reed fiasco, even though Beltran had a more than legitimate reason than them not to attend? This didn’t prevent Lupica from throwing in a nasty little innuendo:

“All athletes worry about their next contracts when they get close to the end of their current ones. It is why Beltran wanted to get back on the field, even in his current diminished capacity, hoping he would look better than he has before his walk year, worried about what happens to him when he comes to the end of his $100 million contract a year from now.”

Lupica once called Beltran “as much of a free-agent disappointment as any big hire the Yankees or Mets have ever made.” Remember, this is a guy who had a 7.5 WAR in 2006 (only Pujols had a higher WAR a 5.1 WAR in 2007, and a 7.1 WAR in 2008 and who by almost any and all measures more than earned his salary over the course of his contract. Carlos remains one of the greatest players ever to put on a Mets uniform, and this is how he is treated? Unbelievable you say?

How about Murray Chass and Mike Piazza? One man’s tenacious obsession with another man’s back acne may very well have resulted in Piazza not entering the hall as a first ballot inductee. The personal and relentless focus on one of New York’s good guys was weird and creepy, and for what? In the end it seemed Murray’s one man witch hunt was more about Chass demonstrating the power of his pen and less about the ethics of PED use. Chass had this to say in a recent post on his blog following this last ill-fated HOF vote.

“When I worked for The New York Times, I tried more than once to write about Piazza and steroids, but the baseball editor said I couldn’t because his name hadn’t been linked to steroids. I can link his name to steroids, I countered, but I had to wait until I started this Web site to talk about Piazza’s acne-covered back, a generally accepted telltale sign of steroids use.”

Didn’t matter that the accusations were largely based on one observation of some acne which may very well have been caused by Mike’s chest protector straps. Didn’t matter that Piazza had an on and off again history of problems with acne since High School, nope, all that mattered was that Chass was certain that Piazza was a roider, judge jury and executioner.

seaver tradedLets go even further back in our little insidious chronology to February 1977 when Tom Seaver blasted M. Donald Grant for not doing more to improve the team. Later that summer, with a contract agreed upon in principle on the table, Seaver called Grant and demanded a trade after an article by Dick Young came out in which Young commented:

Nolan Ryan is getting more [salary] now than Seaver, and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.”

For Seaver the personal nature of the comment was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he would not tolerate his family being dragged into the fray. Young faced numerous conflict of interest allegations in the press and was vilified by the fans who were aware of his close ties to Grant and McDonald, and the fact that his son-in-law worked for the Met front office.

The day after the trade, in a rare direct assault on a fellow member of the press, Maury Allen of the New York Post responded, “It is Young who forced the deal, who urged Grant on, who participated strongly in the unmaking of Tom Seaver as a Met.”

The wolf spider is known for a particularly peculiar practice, they will very often devour their own young.

You can’t walk into the Met clubhouse without feeling it. The tension is thick and palpable. I couldn’t help notice on the occasions when I was present that there was visible consternation among many Mets players at having to negotiate the press gauntlet, starting most prominently with Terry Collins who seemed acutely agitated and perturbed — even after a win. It was painfully obvious that this team did not like or trust the press. Their words were measured, their inflection flat, their demeanor extremely guarded.

I’m not saying the N.Y. Press should act like a bunch of obsequious homers pandering to a less than informed home crowd as you might see in some other cities. I’m not saying they shouldn’t continue to hold athletes who play in N.Y. to a higher standard. N.Y. is a tough place and New York’s news-media establishment is the one of the most prestigious in the world. If you can make it in N.Y. right? But there’s a difference between holding players to a higher standard and petty character assassinations.

When you contemplate the ubiquitous nature of the N.Y. media, the brightness of the big city spotlight, and the intensity of the fan base, playing in N.Y. is hard enough, we don’t have to make it any harder by subjecting these kids to the megalomaniac rants of self-declared kingmakers holding who knows what grudges against an organization and it’s players. Bondy has openly admitted his dislike of the Mets dating back to 1969 when they dashed his Cubs’ hopes. Seriously? He’s upset because the Cubs lost? That’s like holding a grudge against a bear for pooping in the woods.

It’s hard enough to play in the Major Leagues and it’s hard enough to do so in New York, but when the press becomes it’s own story, adding to an increasingly difficult set of hurdles that young often foreign born players have to overcome, you almost get the sense they are spiting their own just for the hell of it, because they can, and because negativity sells. Circling like sharks at the slightest inkling of controversy ready to destroy lives and careers because they believe it to be within their purview and part of the dog-eat-dog terrain. Meanness for the sake of meanness. Whatever it takes to break a story or make a mark.

About Matt Balasis 151 Articles
A Met fan since August 1969 when the Red Cross placed my family on the 6th floor of a building in Willets Point because of a fire. I could see Shea from our balcony. I missed the fall of 86 because I was in Boot Camp and I've been serving penance ever since in Minnesota. I write about the Mets to share with a tradition that made much of my childhood worthwhile. Follow me on twitter: