An Optimistic Met Fan’s Diatribe On Civility

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I used to think there were two kinds of Mets fans in New York, the optimists and the pessimists. My theory was that whether or not you are an optimist or a pessimist depended on how you were raised. If your Dad for instance was an optimist, well then as a teenager during your formative years it stands to reason you’d probably rebel and assert your independence by taking a contrarian approach. My dad was a huge pessimist (which was not a difficult thing back in the 70’s) So naturally I was his foil, his countermeasure. I insisted on looking at the bright side. I’d painstakingly put lineups together in the weeks leading up to opening day, showing him how if things break right we just might win the World Series. I remember him shaking his head and raising his bushy eyebrows in wonder at my lofty expectations of players like Lenny Randle and Willie Montanez.

It was a different time. Back then you were much more likely to run into people who rooted for both the Yankees and the Mets. Somehow the Mets / Yankees divide was not as insurmountable as it is today. With the exception of the meaningless Mayor’s Trophy Game, they never played each other. I remember how great Thurman Munson was and how sad it was when he died. The Yankees and the Mets had their problems in the early to mid 70’s and I think it made rooting for both teams easier. Lots of people did it, even my Dad. He’d root for the Yankees if they were playing anyone except the Mets, made no bones about it. His rationale was, “why should I root for Baltimore? I’ve never even been to Baltimore!” Made sense.

Fans who allied themselves more with a single N.Y. team tended to be older and more hardened by the legendary battles waged between the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers. I knew several older fans in the neighborhood who refuse to this day to root for the Yankees because of all the bad blood. But for those fans who emigrated to the city in the years following the departure of those two national league icons, and for those growing up in their absence, there really wasn’t any reason to dislike the Yankees, even after the Mets were conceived. It was more common to run into people who simply considered themselves New York fans.

Things have changed since then. I think it began in the 80’s when the Mets took the town by storm and started winning profusely, culminating with the 1986 triumph that was one of the most dramatic in the history of the game. I suspect Yankee fans back then didn’t like the “in your face” attitude from both the team and its fans. There was a sense that the Mets were on the verge of a dynasty that would turn the NY baseball world upside down for good. It didn’t turn out that way.

The Yankees took the Met blueprint, rebuilt their farm, created their own “core” and improved Frank Cashen’s blueprint by specifically targeting ++ character guys. The Yankees were able to rebuild without compunction during George Steinbrenner’s suspension years (much like Alderson has been able to focus on the farm during a time when the Wilpons are hamstrung financially). The downfall of the Mets would be dynasty was their proclivity towards moral turpitude. They saw their fortunes turned sour in mounds of cocaine, their futures washed away in rivers of beer and tequila. It turns out New York can be a uniquely perilous place for young ballplayers gone wild, no matter how talented.

So the Yankees got the Dynasty Mets fans should have had, adding to the resentment. But it wasn’t just that. There’s clearly more to it. The advent of the internet, sports blogs, message boards, twitter, and any number of other social media have inflated rivalries and brought fans from all ends of the spectrum and all parts of the world together where they can mix it up in one big trash-talking conflagration, all from the safety and anonymity of one’s living room!

Over the past couple of decades Mets fans have had to endure a steady stream of comments from the American League side of town telling us in effect to root for the Yankees, asking us “why?” Why would any rational self-respecting baseball fan root for the Mets when they could root for the Yankees? The Yankees who are in contention every year.

I have a number of friends who are Yankee fans, good friends. Most of them are great fans, intelligent and understanding, but there are a few who will look at me wondering why I persist in supporting the Mets, Invariably I tell them the same thing. It’s not all about “winning,” it’s about loyalty, allegiance, tradition, stories, family even. You can’t buy that stuff with wins … but when I look I realize everything after the word “winning” was tuned out. You see, for some, winning is everything — it’s a reflection of who they are. It always reminds me of someone who would warn you against dating a nerd or sitting with the science geeks. Would you rather be like Jay Z, or Newman from Seinfeld? Of course not all Yankee fans are frontrunners, but there is certainly that element, and it’s that element that loves to pummel Met fans in cyberspace, subjecting them to verbal swirlies and pushing them into virtual lockers. I wonder if they will ever know just how sweet it is to win after years and years of losing? Sometimes I wonder that myself, but oddly enough, I believe many of these folks actually have affection for the Mets but are too self conscious be associated with them —  their secret frustrations with our team played out anonymously on message boards.

Some fans embrace the Yankee way because of the personal value they place on winning and success. I don’t begrudge them them that, it’s their preference really, this is the very reason why more fans would show up at the Citi Field if the Mets won more. I don’t even mind the 27 – 2 slams. What does bother me are individuals who find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would like the Mets.

Now, there are bad apples in any crowd, Mets fans included, but when you scour the message boards and blog after blog, tweet after tweet, message after message you run into the same Met fan on Met fan vitriol, it makes you wonder, how much is coming from real disgruntled Met fans (I’m sure quite a bit of it is), and how much is coming from other sources?

I noticed something on a prominent Yankee board the other day. It was a rant on the ridiculous nonsense that is sabermetrics, berating Sandy Alderson and his “numbers geeks,” demeaning advanced metrics as a nonsensical road to nowhere lead by people who never played and never could and don’t understand the game. The post was roundly supported, particularly as it was directed at a poster who had pointed out that the Mets and Yankees had similar records since about mid-season last year.

What puzzled me, however, was the eerie similarity between what I saw on the Yankee board and what we often see on Mets boards. I was also puzzled by the fact that the poster had no real understanding of what sabermetrics even was (he hadn’t the foggiest), or the fact that it’s used by every team in the league including the Yankees. He’d simply heard it associated with the Mets and so it became something to ridicule, something involving taking walks and fancy stats.

Now I’ve followed the national debate between traditionalists and the new age stat crowd — which is an interesting discourse when you consider how these stats may be changing the game — and nowhere has it become as nasty and demeaning as it has on N.Y. message boards. I’m not saying there aren’t informed Mets fans who don’t believe in advanced metrics, or Mets fans who don’t like Sandy Alderson, but its strange how such a considerable slice of Mets fans seem to become more irate and incensed during stretches where the team is doing well. Why deny even the most obvious of positive indicators? Why refuse to address a resurgent farm system, or clearly improved pitching? I don’t get it … is it because they don’t want to be fooled again? Because they’re just that tired of the the false ups and the devastating lows? Or is it because they are New Yorkers who lean more towards the Yankees and are confounded by this frustrating Mets organization that insists on not being like the Yankees? Hard to say, maybe it’s a little of both.

Maybe this goes back to my arguments with my dad which had more to do with my eternal optimism and how it all too often rubs those who are more pragmatic the wrong way. Maybe I’m a little too sensitive to the whole bullying issue. I don’t understand for instance why sportswriters have to compound the problem with headlines like “Lardball” and why they’ll ruthlessly attack players many of whom are actually just kids trying to make their way far from home in a very big world.

I’ve never believed in rubbing it in, kicking someone when they’re down, ridiculing for the sake of elevating your own position, making fun of a preference or difference, or belittling those who might be weaker. I think social media is perhaps a bit much for some because it brings out a nastiness you wouldn’t generally see in polite company. In real life I tend to call people who partake in this sort of thing out every time. I’m just fine rooting for my Mets, win or lose.

It’s only a game after all, a pastime, entertainment. What’s so hard about being civil? About respecting preferences and opinions? We show more about who we are and what we value by the way we treat those who are less fortunate than us …

In discussions with fans who remember the days when N.Y. was a 3 team town, I’ve been told that for all the grudges and heartbreak, the disagreements never got as nasty as what you see now-a-days on message boards. There was the understanding that it was (and still is), just a game. That in the end, its all good fun, and I’ve come to realize that even the arguments I had with my dad, that I miss so much now that he’s gone, were enjoyable in their own way because we respected each other, and also because if I ever called him a nit-wit or a fool I’d get the back of his hand quicker than you could say “gone-goodbye.”

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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: