Quick story: I returned home to Long Island after graduating college. It was not where I wanted to be, but I was broke. My plan was to work, save, and get out of there (which I eventually did). So I landed a landscaping job with an Irishman who lived in Bellmore, named Johnny Croake. Foulest mouth I ever heard, but never in anger. The way a contortionist uses his body, that’s how Johnny exercised the F-bomb. Noun, verb, adjective, gerund, interjection, adverb. He was a master. For example, I remember Johnny saying this to me as the truck bounced along to the next job:
“Where’s me f’ing cup? Oh, f**k. I must have f**ked it out the window!”
As an English major, I was impressed. In three staccato sentences, spoken with an Irish lilt, Johnny employed the word as an adjective, interjection, and verb.
And it was not even nine o’clock. He was just getting started.
So, anyway. I’m getting up before the birds and heading over to Bellmore, the next town over, each morning. Most days I see my father, an early riser, and grunt a greeting. I work this job for a while. June, July, August, September. Stashing away money, plotting my escape, doing the job. Cutting lawns, mostly. Twenty a day. But the work was outdoors, and physical, and I enjoyed the brainlessness of it all. The crew, the cursing, the pace, the great deli sandwiches. Besides, Johnny was hysterical.
At one point my father said to me, “I’ve been watching you get up every morning, getting yourself off to work each day. And I just want to say,” he paused, “good job.”
I was floored.
Here I was, a college graduate, doing the dumbest job on the planet, and my father was pleased with me because I showed the ability to set an alarm and go to work.
I realized, then, that the bar was set very low.
He was a father of seven children, and he’d seen a lot of variables come down the pike. By the time I arrived, the seventh and last child, his hopes and expectations had been throttled back. Waaaaay back. He hoped his children would go to work and keep jobs. You know, pay the bills, buy food. Survive.
I was a success!
I remembered that conversation from 30 years ago on Thursday night, when I read Sandy Alderson’s message to Mets season ticket holders.
The fifth paragraph concluded in a troubling manner:
“This off-season, we will explore every possible way of improving our club. Trades and free agent signings always seem to get the most attention, but helping our current players also will be a key to improving in 2014 and beyond.”
Helping our current players? What the hell? How about getting players who help us?
But it was the top sentence in the final paragraph that reminded me of Dad.
“Our goal has been, and will continue to be, to build a contending team of which you can be proud.”
A contending team? That’s the goal?! A team we can be proud of, like we’re mothers sweltering in the stands on graduation day, clapping while Sonny Boy gets handed his diploma? He graduated high school. The kid made it, along with 800 other geeks, freaks, brainiacs and future criminals. Great job!
What’s Garrison Keillor’s line about Lake Wobegone? “Where every child is above average.” Trophies for everybody. Isn’t that the world today?
What about, you know, grabbing the old brass ring?
Taking the bull by the horns?
What about . . . excellence?
What about . . . championships? The World Series? The arrogance and the daring and the determination it takes to aspire to be the best. Where is that?
The bar for the New York Mets is set very low indeed. And if the current club jumps as high as it can, whoops, we still can’t get there. Not even close. We’re back with the Astros and Cubs. Our dreams are modest.
That’s always been my biggest problem with the Wilpons. It’s never been about excellence. It’s never been about being the absolute best. And there were times, seasons when with a move or two, they really could have put every contending team in the rear-view mirror. But there’s always been this sense that it would be, I don’t know, unsporting. Uncollegiate. Or maybe just expensive. This ownership group never aspires to lead the pack. There’s no Alpha dog in the bunch. Like Sandy said. The goal has been, and will continue to be, the same as it ever was.
It’s that Talking Heads song, David Byrne droning away: “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was . . .”
Letting the days go by.
They dream of running with the pack.
And maybe, after the kill, there will be some meat left over for the rest of us.
Because we’re starving for a team to be proud of. We’re hungry for a championship.
I wish management felt the same way.