Admit it – when the Mets were 10 games over .500, your pockets bulged with house money. In truth, you knew the New York Metropolitans were a mediocre club and, courtesy of a hideous (2-9) road trip, they have eased back into familiar ground. As always, they tweak the inner masochist in their fans, who seem to have signed a pact of eternal ignominy.
Darryl Strawberry recently riffed with Kevin Kiernan from the New York Post, saying the Mets played with little of the grit that symbolized the teams he played on during the 1980s.
“I see them going through the motions,” Strawberry said. “I think that is what they are really missing, the attitude, the swagger about being in New York and representing New York. Other teams don’t fear them.”
The Mets entered the season with a starting staff of Johan Santana and four variables. Mike Pelfrey got hot, and now he’s frozen. R.A. Dickey is, well, R.A. Dickey: a 35-year-old pitcher with no history of success. John Maine was supposed to be a solid starter. (How’s that working out?) Oliver Perez morphed into a punch line, demoted to the bullpen, the emblem of complacency, bathing in the cash of a guaranteed contract. The smoke, mirrors, and mirages that thrust the Mets into contention are the very things that plucked them from it.
The Mets have no mojo, and more than the players are responsible. Mojo is not defined by numbers, but rather by demeanor. You’re more inclined to blame Omar Minaya than Jerry Manuel for the failure. But, in fact, they are cells of the same disease.
Minaya had the Mets one inning from the World Series in 2006. Since then, the Mets have gagged two seemingly safe division leads in September, and have become progressively worse despite having essentially the same chore players.
It is not so much about what the manager and general manager do anymore as much as what they represent – losing. They do it often and approach it with the same, bungling refrain each time. Being Belichick is fine when you win. Public indifference is galling when you lose, and it’s the lack of heart and identity that irked Strawberry.
Manuel seems like a swell guy, someone with whom you’d like to watch your favorite team, not the guy you want running it. Minaya seems much the same. But in the frigid calculus of pro sports, you are defined by results.
The Wilpons need to toss both men from the train before it crashes, swallowing pride and their contracts. It won’t change the fate of the franchise this season, but it has symbolic value, a way to knock that useless grin from Jose Reyes’s face and mute the music from those silly dugout dances they concoct after every home run.
The Mets have become the baseball version of the Knicks, wearing the same colors while winning one championship over the last four decades. The Knicks, however, are not competing for New York coin with another contender. They look across one river and see the Nets flounder while the Mets look across another and see the pinstriped juggernaut inhale wins, championships, hearts, ratings, and dollars.
After the Mets took two of three from the Yankees in May, I wrote that the Subway Series win would do nothing to alter the arcs of the clubs. The Yankees have gone 36-17 since; the Mets have gone a typically pedestrian 28-26. The Yankees have the best record in baseball while Mets watch the Braves moonwalk to the division title.
Perception isn’t everything, but it’s something. The Mets are in freefall, finding trapdoors with trapdoors, as team brass grows ample rust. Omar Minaya needs to yank a large hare out of his hat before the trade deadline, though he is too often the tortoise in the pennant race.
Jerry Manuel said after yesterday’s loss to the Dodgers that he might give his team the day off on Monday. Give them the year off, Jerry. It won’t matter.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com