By Jason Keidel
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Playing 14 innings in their final game of the year, leave it to the Mets to reward your suffering by giving you more of it.
Before a freckling of shivering fans, the New York Mets reminded us that while they play in a new building they still have the same tenants. It is 2010, but Citi Field looked much like Shea Stadium circa 1980. The defining difference is that you now pay a lot more to see it.
Putting an October 4 post mortem on the Mets has become as natural as the candlelit pumpkins glowing from your neighbor’s window. Halloween is a night the Mets always have off.
Fittingly, the season ended with Oliver Perez on the mound, who pitched as though he just guzzled a bottle of bourbon, to the sardonic chant of “MVP!” from the fans whenever he threw a strike.
A somber Jerry Manuel spoke to the press after the game, awkwardly switching from “we” to “they” while answering questions about the team’s future, knowing that he ducked into the dugout for the final time as the Mets’ manager.
You would be inhuman if you didn’t feel for the man, who approached his job with grace, humor, and candor. He led a team that plays in an eternally torturous vacuum and got lost like all the rest.
The Wilpons built a ballpark for the Mets and dedicated it to the Brooklyn Dodgers. They had no problem with Perez skipping a trip to Walter Reed to salute our wounded soldiers, yet they pledge to take some Pledge to a wall that Doc Gooden graced with his signature. Francisco Rodriguez stomped a family member in the family room, spent a night in jail because of it, and was allowed to pitch as soon as the cuffs came off.
If mediocrity is acceptable then greatness is not accessible. There’s never any urgency to the Mets, no rabid sense that the team will evaporate if they don’t elevate. All things are addressed in the corporate monotone of an accounting firm. We don’t condone violence, but it might be refreshing to see a tantrum from ownership, to see Jeff Wilpon take a symbolic bat to the water cooler.
Like their basketball brethren across the river (also attired in orange and blue) the Mets begin each season with promise and end with broken promises. “Wait until next year” is the yearly mantra for a club with two titles since Woodstock.
Keith Hernandez, who (in my opinion) is the best baseball commentator in America, stuttered around the solution to the Mets’ problems. He spoke in platitudes about leadership and the need to acquire it quickly. Maybe Mex, in deference to his employer, went against his nature and played the shill for an inning.
Maybe he meant that the Mets need someone like Buck Showalter, who is the first manager in history to take over a team in August and win more games in two months than the team won in the previous four months. Getting it done with the same players, it seems Buck imbued the Orioles with pride. Winning was spawned by nuance, things like putting your bat in the right rack and proper uniform presentation.
Too many Mets play with an alarming aloofness, symbolized by gifted young men like Jose Reyes, who grin and engage in rehearsed home run handshakes when the team is down ten runs.
People far more qualified than I am can make the suitable personnel moves, but it doesn’t take Tony Robbins to know that the Mets are indifferent, a work ethic that would get the rest of us fired from our jobs.
Beyond the need to jettison Perez and other players with more baggage than Newark Airport, the Mets need a new attitude – or just an attitude, a swagger that defined them for most of the 1980s.
The Mets play with no pride. They begin their familiar hibernation in bitter contrast to another set of pinstripes. You can hail or hate Yankee Pride but it means playing in long sleeves under brown leaves for 15 of the last 16 years. It takes more than a bottomless bankroll; it takes an owner who wants to win as much as you do. George Steinbrenner died, but his offspring carry the ancestral mandate the as though he never left.
The Mets have an altogether different heritage, but they can start a new family. They can start with Wally Backman, a guy with grit who gets it, one of the few who can show the Mets that they can win a World Series ring because he’s one of the few Mets with one. Or get someone like him. You don’t care how they do it as long as it gets done. If only the owner understood.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com