When the Mets announced the hiring of “PR Whiz” Harold Kaufman, I recognized that it lent itself to a cynical reading. We all did. Because this is the Mets, and they’ve earned our distrust. We don’t believe anything they say anymore. This hiring smelled bad from the outset, even if it was completely innocent, or even astute and necessary. And let me be clear: It’s not the fans. This isn’t some fault in our stars. Don’t let anybody — not even Dave Hudgens, who went out the door looking like a jackass — try to pin this on the folks who love this team.
This is about ownership, and this is about Sandy Alderson, who still gets praised an awful lot for not spending money he doesn’t have. His big accomplishment: Fiscal responsibility. How hard is that, really? At least he’s not running up credit card debt. I guess there’s that. The goal now is to sell the lie. Actually, according to a Mets press release, Harold Kaufman’s job is fancier than that:
“[Kaufman is charged with] strategic development and implementation of publicity strategies and tactics to elevate the profile of the organization.”
Welcome, Harold. And good freakin’ luck. I sure hope you’ve got plenty of strategies and tactics. Let’s roll this back to Monday. I had an interesting day, baseball-wise. My 14-year-old played a game at Doubleday Field, about two blocks from the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Yes, that field, the veritable hallowed grounds. Here we go:
During the day, I checked in on the Mets: Winning, winning, still winning, tied, losing horribly, death and fire storms, sorrow, massacre, mutilation.
Oh well, just the Mets being Mets.
Jose Valverde cut, Dave Hudgens fired (and firing back), Noah Syndergaard injured, Vic Black flying around the globe, Terry Collins in a state of high anxiety, and on and on.
I began thinking about old Harold Kaufman’s long weekend. Maybe he had some family over for the holiday. Some kids running around with water guns, cousins, crazy uncles, a big cooler of cold ones. Maybe Harold was standing at the grill in one of those “Kiss the Cook!” aprons, flipping burgers, rolling the dogs.
And that’s when the phone started to ring . . .
Harold: What’s that? The Mets just released Jose Valverde?
Caller: Yeah, this looks bad, Harold. The Mets signed him on the cheap and kept him around long after everyone in baseball knew he was toast. The guy was terrible, like bad fish. To mosts fans, it looked like Alderson wasn’t even trying. Terry is trying to pawn him off as a prince among men, but, you know, he couldn’t get outs.
Harold: All right, hold on, let me think.
Caller: This is Farnsworth all over again.
Harold: That’s it! Shirley, write this down!
Shirley (a leggy secretary appears): Yes, boss.
Harold: All caps, Shirley. METS SET NEW RECORD. RELEASE TWO CLOSERS IN ONE SEASON! No, strike that. RELEASE TWO CLOSERS BEFORE JUNE 1st! I GUARAN-DAMN-TEE NO TEAM HAS EVERY DONE THAT BEFORE!
Shirley: Is that it?
Harold: You know, fill in with the usual tripe, blah, blah, blah. Most teams demote pitchers from the closer’s role, shift them to setup work or whatever, but not the Mets! Check that — not our Mets! If you fail as a closer for the Mets, we’ll cut off your genitalia and stuff it in your mouth!
Shirley (yawns, she’s used to this): Anything else?
Harold: No, that’s it . . .
Caller: The Mets fired hitting instructor, Dave Hudgens.
Harold: No problem. SANDY BRINGS DOWN THE HAMMER! A-CHANGE IS A-GONNA COME! HALLELUJAH and all that crap.
Caller: Yeah, well, Sandy said that nothing’s really going to change. The approach remains the same.
Caller: Then Hudgens made some pretty bad statements. He basically blamed the announcers and the fans for his own failure.
Harold: He did what???!!!
Called: Blamed the fans. They boo. Then the players try too hard. It’s not a relaxing work environment. Something like that.
Harold: Brilliant. Hudgens knows how to deflect. Get him on the phone, Shirley. Let’s hire his ass. I understand he needs a job anyway, heh-heh. We can always use men like that.
Caller: This next one’s real bad, boss.
Harold: There’s more? God, I love the Mets! Best job ever! Let me have it.
Caller: Looks like Syndergaard might be headed for Tommy John surgery.
Harold: Might be?
Caller: Well, all the early signs are there. We don’t know for sure. Right now the talk is about forearm tightness. Code words, basically.
Harold (snaps fingers): Type this up, Shirley! METS TAKE PROACTIVE APPROACH. TIRED OF WAITING AROUND FOR INJURIES TO HAPPEN! DECIDE TO GET SURGERY OUT OF THE WAY EARLY!
Caller: I don’t know, Harold.
Harold: Okay, two words: “Essentially fine.”
Caller: Nice, vague but reassuring, meaningless yet hopeful.
Shirley: Any other details, boss?
Harold: Yeah, yeah, let me see. Something about how Mets are at forefront of innovation . . . constantly exploring new techniques . . . blah blah blah . . . no stone unturned . . . just make sure the word “proactive” appears in every sentence.
Caller: Jeez, boss. Sorry to cut in. Looks like Vic Black just tweeted something about spending the last 24 hours in an airplane, pointlessly flying from Vegas to NY, back to Vegas, back to NY. Fans are saying that Sandy doesn’t have a plan. It’s all reactive. That it looks like desperation.
Harold: METS PILING UP FREQUENT FLYER MILES!
Caller: Terry Collins left Bobby Abreu on the field late in the game when the Mets were holding onto a lead. He might have fallen asleep in the dugout. Details are sketchy.
Harold: EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES! METS NOT AGEIST! Um, let me see. Collins is the oldest manager in baseball, right?
Caller: That’s true.
Harold: Okay, after you hire Hudgens, get him to write up a “Golden Girls” type thing. You know, some kind of bawdy comic piece about life in the clubhouse. Terry always forgetful, Bobby misplacing his walker. Human interest, in soft focus. God, I love this job!
Caller: Yeah, well, we haven’t talked about Matt Harvey yet . . .
Harold: He’s a tough nut, for sure. But I promised Fred Wilpon on the day he hired me. I’ll crack Harvey if it’s the last thing I do. After I’m done fixing his fresh mouth, the fans will be cheering when we drive him out of town. Or, as the case may be, across town.
Caller: One more problem, Harold. Sandy Alderson just said on the radio that the Mets won’t raise payroll in 2015 unless –
Harold: No problem. Shirley, pull all the old “fiscal responsibility” files. The sheep, I mean, the fans, love that stuff. Be sure to cross-reference it with “exploring internal options.”
Caller: Harold, you didn’t let me finish. He said the budget won’t go up unless attendance rises.
Caller: You still there?
Harold: What? Yeah, yeah, I’m here. Just . . . thinking. So let me see. It’s as if the Wilpons put out a candy bar in the market that no one wants to eat because it tastes bad and it’s really expensive. But unless more people start buying the bad candy, they refuse to improve the recipe?
Caller: I’d say that’s an accurate analogy.
Harold: Wow, that sure as hell isn’t going to fly. You stumped me. I got nothing, bupkis, zilch. There’s no way to spin this catastrophe. We’re screwed. Or I should say, you’re screwed.
CLICK. LINE GOES DEAD.
Caller: Harold? Harold??!! Are you still on the phone? HAROLD???!!!!