By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Sure, it’s a shame we are down to this, to where we have to become de facto accountants for a Major League Baseball team — in New York City, no less.
And yes, it’s silly that we’re talking about Ben Zobrist like he’s Willie Mays, as if signing him will somehow thrust the Mets into the World Series.
And it’s both sad and shameful to see a fan create a website with the sole purpose of taking donations to fund the Mets with a robust bat. At this point, his $3 million fundraiser is at $750.
We don’t know the Mets’ situation because they won’t tell us. We don’t know if they were grazed or gutted by Madoff. We don’t know if they’re sellers or spenders just days before the deadline.
And that’s always been the principal problem with the Mets under the Wilpon regime. They keep their fans, the media and the masses at arm’s length. You can’t ever feel like family because they don’t want it that way. They speak in the proper corporate clichés, but when it’s time to come correct, they leave you wanting.
This is the ownership that built a gorgeous new ballpark for the Mets and dedicated it to the Dodgers. The greatest pitcher from their greatest team, Doc Gooden, signed his name on some wall, and the team vowed to erase it, until it was shamed into framing it. This is a team tormented — dizzy from its endless, conflicting impulses — always on the edge of implosion. It just doesn’t know how to do the right thing.
You’re not asking for the world, or even the World Series. You know the team is a year or so away from serious contention. You’re not asking them to detonate their young and absurdly gifted pitching staff just for an ephemeral jolt at cleanup.
But they have to do something. And if they’re truly gun-shy because they don’t want to spend an extra million or two for some fortification, then that’s truly grotesque. You can’t ask your fans for patience, and then when it’s time to reward the patience, jam your wallet back into your back pocket.
The Mets fan has been hearing the “wait until next year” mantra for so long that he has abandoned hope. On flawless summer nights you see swaths of empty seats in an otherwise flawless park. Even Yankees fans, like yours truly, concede that Citi Field is endlessly more comfortable and beautiful than the new Yankee Stadium, which feels more like a bank than a ballpark.
The Mets are so close to relevance, yet you never get the sense that they have any sense. Has a team three games out of first ever felt so far from first? That’s not because of personnel, but because of management.
If the Mets get Zobrist — who is rather cheap by modern metrics — and perhaps one more bat, then you can at least say they tried; feel some comfort, some provincial pride in knowing they took a modest shot.
There’s no shame in losing to Clayton Kershaw. Everyone does. But there’s much shame in making every other pitcher look like Kershaw. Thank God Zack Grienke had to flee for the birth of his first baby, or else he was about to vaporize the Mets. The hottest pitcher in the sport, who hasn’t given up a run since the Civil War, was the last person the anemic Mets lineup needed to see. Even if they had Zobrist.
Yes, I foolishly predicted the Mets would leapfrog the Yanks as Gotham’s best team. It doesn’t hurt that the Yankees play in the most wretched division in MLB. But that’s not what this is about.
No matter your baseball allegiance, the Mets fan deserves better. Sandy Alderson has had a conflicted tenure as GM. He cleaned up the mess, made some clever trades and made the Mets younger, cheaper and largely better. They entered the 2015 season with a paltry payroll of $100 million, according to USA Today. Out of 30 MLB teams, 20 spent more money than the Mets, which means they can afford to buy a bat, even (God forbid!) overpay for one.
The Mets have more good, young pitching than any team in the sport, which is the hardest part in building any baseball club. The easy part should be finding a few bats to swing their way to the playoffs. Bartolo Colon was wonderful on Thursday night, surrendering one run over eight innings. Yet he was never close to winning. The Mets got their first hit in the seventh inning.
You know the narrative. They trot out some young stud every night, who tosses six or seven sublime innings, and leaves without a lead. This has to wear on them, on even the most naive young mind and divine young arm. And we know what it does to the fan base.
If the Mets don’t make a move it’s tantamount to tanking, which is unacceptable. You can’t sell NYC on potential, on the future, forever. That’s been the Knicks’ business model for 15 years, and we see how that’s going. The Mets’ brass feels like it’s living in a catch-22. They can’t win until they fill the park, but they can’t fill the park until they win.
Nonsense. Ask WFAN hosts Joe & Evan about loyalty. On Friday morning Evan Roberts said he’d spend his vacation in Baltimore, a city that literally burned to the ground, to see the Mets play. So the idea that the fans aren’t patient, passionate or loyal is ludicrous. Indeed, you can argue that the Mets fan is exponentially more devoted and authentic than the Yankees fan. Half the souls in Yankee Stadium can’t name two players prior to 1995, other than the icons buried in Monument Park.
No, this is less about patience than production. If the Mets lose two more 2-1 games, they could lose their fans forever. And they’d have no one to blame but themselves. If Zobrist is too much to ask, then don’t ask the fans to follow you anymore.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.