Have you ever gone to a Broadway play? It requires some effort. In my case, living upstate, it’s not quite the invasion of Normandy, but there are a lot of details. If we bring the kids, that’s four tickets purchased well in advance. Maybe we get a hotel, make a day out of it. Then there’s food, they’ll want to eat. Souvenirs, the CD soundtrack, maybe a t-shirt.
You know how things add up.
And when the play is spectacular, I turn to my wife and say, “We have to do this more often. Why has it been two years since we’ve seen a play? Look at our children, this is what we want for them. Quick, let’s buy something!”
When the play disappoints?
“Oh, well. That was 400 balloons down the drain. Let’s go walk the High Line.”
And you don’t go back for another three years.
So that’s the big takeaway after the opening of the 2014 baseball season. For all my analytical interests, my love of the game itself, I am still a much happier fellow when my good old Mets win a game.
Quick story: I was in a bar on Friday night, April 4th, waiting for the mighty Figgs to take the stage. The Mets game was on, because it was that kind of place — rare, these days, operated by a hardcore Mets fan. And I’m watching as Papa Grande takes the mound in the 9th. The team is 0-3 and, my lord, it feels like this one might slip away too.
But: Strike three! Put it in the books!
I involuntarily pump my fist in that crowded, oblivious room, look over at my friend, smile. A win!
As a fan, I like wins. And I don’t care who we beat. If the Mets stomp on Our Little Sisters of the Poor, I’ll still rejoice. Even sweeping the lowly Diamondbacks was a sweet thing.
It made me happy.
Not grumpy, not depressed. I didn’t want to punch anything, put a bag over my head, or go bury my sad face in a pint of ice cream. I was floating on white, puffy clouds, breathing pure oxygen.
The next day I caught up with a calm, thoughtful, reasonable essay by Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog, titled, “The real ‘Plan’ for the Mets and why I’m patient.” And there was something in it that stuck with me. It’s been gnawing it me to the point where, well, here we are.
Let me be upfront by declaring my appreciation for Metsblog. I’ve read it nearly every day since its inception. While I don’t agree with every opinion that’s written there, I am appalled by the trolls who litter the comments section with mean-spirited criticisms. When it comes to that crap, I am solidly on Team Matt.
One other aside, full disclosure: When we started out, Matt linked to us a few times, sending readers our way. Matt, whom I’ve never met, didn’t need to do that. We’re certainly not delivering corporate-approved material. My sense is that Matt is authentically rooting for us to find a readership. It sets him apart from most of the other bloggers, and I’m grateful for that. It’s not like they knocked down the door with bundt cakes.
Anyway, sorry, I digress. Here are the first few opening paragraphs to Matt’s essay:
According to Sandy Alderson, he never predicted the team will win 90 games in 2014, he simply challenged his staff to find ways to build a team that can get to 90 wins… eventually. It was a goal, he said.
If that’s accurate, why is this a new goal? What have he and his staff been doing the last few years?
The answer, as I understand it, is simple: First and foremost, they’ve been setting up future payroll flexibility (by cutting payroll — see: Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, lack of new, expensive, long-term signings, etc.), while stockpiling young, controllable, power pitching. That’s it. The rest has been a means to an end, a way to assess in-house talent, bleed a little, minimally entertain fans, and get to a point (2014) when things can begin to turn a corner.
He achieved his first goal, which was to restructure payroll and rebuild a farm system. That cannot be questioned. It seems he’s challenging his staff with a new goal, and to create a follow-up plan, which is about winning 90 games.
I think we could, in fact, debate the quality of the farm system rebuild, but I’ll save that for another day.
Can you guess which phrase really stuck in my craw?
“Minimally entertain fans.”
It’s like Bush’s daft sign on May 1, 2003 on that boat in the Gulf: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”
It’s true, Mets fans have been minimally entertained.
And I think Matt’s dead wrong about that. Far, far too dismissive of results, wins and loses, the enjoyment factor on the field. Baseball is an entertainment business competing for our dollar. Our time.
Sandy chose not to crater when he took over. He kept Wright, kept Reyes. Because, I believe, he felt he was smart enough to field a pretty good team while he got the house in order. Pick up a Collin Cowgill here, an Aaron Laffey there. Sign a DJ Carrasco here, a Frank Francisco there. Trade for guys like Andres Torres and Kelly Shoppach. Search through the system, endlessly, for internal options to real problems. And so on. Maybe he misread the NY market in the process. This isn’t Oakland. It’s not San Diego.
It’s not, in other words, Off-Broadway.
Alderson’s primary task was letting time pass, letting contracts expire, trading a few veteran free agents the Mets couldn’t sign, and hopefully doing okay in the draft. He’s been on record stating that winning has not been a priority.
Not much of a mission, frankly, but: Accomplished!
In the meantime, the Mets organization has had to put on 81 shows a season, sell tickets, bring in fans, operate a television station . . . run a business.
And from what I can see, Alderson has contributed to running that business into the ground.
We’ve all seen the empty seats. Maybe all those fans come running back the first hot streak. Maybe some of them don’t. Maybe losing all that revenue and good faith will cost the club for years. Maybe the pain has been necessary. One parade in canyons would work wonders to help us forgive and forget.
You don’t try to win because it’s more fun than losing. You try to win because “fun” is everything. Entertainment comes before winning. It’s what we’re selling here. Good times. Enjoyment. Those fist pumps in the bar, those “happy recaps,” the games where we watch the highlights over and over again. Smiling.
Since Sandy took over the Mets, he is the only GM in Mets history to have a worse record at home than away. The numbers:
- 2011 Home: 34-47 Away: 43-38
- 2012 Home: 36-45 Away: 38-43
- 2013 Home: 33-48 Away: 41-40
- 2014 Home: 2-4 Away: 6-3
- Home: 105 wins, 144 loses
- Away: 128 wins, 124 loses
Brutal, brutal and unacceptable. Though, admittedly, it has been minimally entertaining.
Here’s a theory, Sandy. Instead of chasing home runs in that big park, you should be chasing speed and athleticism and defense.
Meanwhile, the loses mount.
All those people in the stands, the dwindling faithful, the diehards dying hard, shrugging after another loss, heading to the subway or their cars. “No, Timmy, we’re not stopping in the damn gift shop today. Drink your eight dollar soda and shut up. Daddy’s not made of money.”
Hopefully, as Matt says, 2014 will be that pivot year. A plus-.500 record would be a step in the right direction.
And by that I mean, more fun, more pleasurable, more entertaining. Those aren’t asides or fringe benefits. That’s the goal right there, and it’s achieved by putting a lively, compelling team on the field, game after game, year after year.
The team never had to bleed this bad. The franchise did not have to sink this low.