The New York Mets are the dumb rich kid in your math class who couldn’t figure out long division. They have almost every advantage the Yankees have, yet year after year they’re a let down. Sure, they have two World Series championships and four National League pennants, but it’s as if those things happened because of a natural turn of events and not necessarily because they worked harder than the other teams.
The Mets have the second highest payroll in the big leagues. They sign big name free agents almost as much as their cross-town rivals. The Mets also are filled with East coast drama and are written about to death. So why do I find myself rooting for the New York Mets? I should hate them like I do the Yankees and Red Sox, but there’s something loveable about them and not in the nauseating way people love the Cubs. The Mets aren’t cursed like the Cubs and Indians, but they have a great ability to break the hearts of their fans.
The 2010 Mets will be playing their second season in Citi Field. Unlike the MGM Grand … uh, I mean Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is built more around the game than the event. It was modeled after Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and features the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a fitting tribute to the Dodger great and a faded memory of a true New York City ballclub. Citi Field, like the Mets’ former home, Shea Stadium, is built for the pitcher. This is a great change of pace based on the majority of ballparks built in the last twenty years (see also Comerica Park, Petco Park and Safeco Field).
But what did the Mets do in the offseason to apparently complement their new pitchers’ park? They signed free agent slugger Jason Bay and didn’t think to help Johan Santana in the rotation with another ace. Yes, Bay will be a fine addition to a dangerous Mets lineup, but was it the best acquisition the team could have made? Time will tell, but I’m doubtful.
Unnecessary New York drama
During the postseason, Mets’ centerfielder Carlos Beltran had knee surgery. Allegedly, he didn’t have permission from the team to do so and the New York press ran with the story. More recently, the Mets have said there are problems with shortstop Jose Reyes’ thyroid, but the speedy leadoff man says that’s not the case. There seems to be a major communication issues in the Mets organization and to the casual fan who’s No. 1 team isn’t the Mets, it’s great forehead-slapping entertainment. The Mets franchise is like a junior high phy-ed class where the jocks are counting on the nerds to come through in the shuffleboard tournament – complete lack of communication followed by unnecessary drama. At least that’s what the New York media leads us to believe. For all the fans know, they could be the most normal team in the National League, unfortunately every whisper is written about as if it were a roar.
So why does this keep me entertained? I despise reality TV, but I find myself amused by an organization that seems as organized as the DVD section at Wal-Mart. I don’t even read the articles about the drama; I just check out the headline, scratch my head, smile and move on to real baseball news. The New York Mets are just the poorly educated, yet wealthy, drama queen of the big leagues. They just don’t know any better, so when they do succeed, I feel good about them.
In a recent column by Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski, Reyes was ranked as having three of the 11 most exciting seasons in the last 25 years. Posnanski had a formula based on “exciting” plays like the triple, batting average and “exciting” defensive plays. The man is exciting. If he can stay healthy*, Reyes could accumulate 20 triples in the spacious Citi Field. Although a bit cocky, he is a lightening bolt on the field. Taking a lead off first base, there’s probably more eyes on Reyes than the pitcher or batter. A line drive to an outfield gap adds to the excitement of the crowd as third base is a real possibility.
* While writing I checked the headlines to find this: “Reyes Prescribed to Rest Thyroid, Out 2-8 weeks.”
Arguably the greatest pitcher to ever wear a Twins uniform, I still have to root for Santana even after leaving Minnesota. I shouldn’t root for the lefty as he turned down a $80 million, four-year contract, opting to play for the big-market club. The Twins also didn’t get much in return from the trade, but that’s not Santana’s fault. But the memories with the Twins are too clear and, when healthy, he’s still as dominant as ever. What the two-time Cy Young winner did in the second half of the 2004 season is mind blowing: 13-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 104.1 IP, 129 SO. He was robbed of another Cy Young award in 2005 thanks to poor run support, which could also be argued for his 2008 season with the Mets: 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 234 IP. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and I’m looking forward to his battles with Roy Halliday of the Phillies this season.
They’re not the Yankees
Most Mets fans are not Yankees fans, therefore, if you’re rooting for the Mets, you’re rooting against the Yankees. Enough said.
It was, perhaps, the greatest World Series game outside of 1991. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was filled with drama – the good kind of drama. Game 6 was Exhibit 1 pointing towards the curse of the Bambino and the fact that the Mets were one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. The Red Sox are one out (one little out!) away from their first World Series championship since 1918. They had a two-run lead with no one on base and the Mets stormed back thanks to timely hitting and poor mistakes by the entire Boston team to win that game and the final game to take the trophy. The story of this team is perfectly encompassed in Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won!.
With a team of Daryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Roger McDowell, Rick Aguilera and manager Davey Johnson, it makes sense the ’86 Mets won 108 regular season games. What doesn’t make sense is that 1986 was their only World Series appearance. They lost the 1988 championship series and weren’t in the playoffs again until 1999 when an entirely new team took the field. How does this happen? The short answer is drugs, alcohol, poor trades and a possible lack of effort from stars like Strawberry.
But it’s not as if they played poorly. Over seven season from 1984 through 1990 the Mets won (are you ready for this?) 666 regular season games. That averages to 95 wins a season. They won their division twice and finished second every other. This is good baseball drama. As September rolls around and the fans’ attention turns to the standings with more concentration, the Mets tend to find themselves much like Apollo Creed in his rematch against Rocky Balboa: plenty of hype, but lost by a second in the 15th round.
There’s also the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. In 2006, the Mets lost the final game of the championship series to the underdog Cardinals. The next two seasons contained two September collapses to lose their grip on, what looked to be, a sure playoff spot.
As much more of a baseball fan than a science fan, I’d have to say the Mets’ 1969 World Series title is more of a miracle than Neil Armstrong walking on the moon that same summer. After finishing ninth in 1968, the Mets somehow turned things around and won 100 regular season games in 1969, defeated the Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series and then the highly favored Orioles (109 regular season wins) in the World Series. The best New York had done since it’s inception in 1962 was its 73 wins in 1968.
The 1969 Mets were the definition of underdog. After six-straight losing seasons – and not just slightly under .500 – the Mets came out of nowhere to win 100. The modern day equivalent might be the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays who enjoyed their first winning season since their inception in 1998, to win the AL pennant. There’s also the 2006 Tigers who won the AL pennant after 12 consecutive losing seasons. To put it in 2010 terms, imagine the Kansas City Royals winning 100 games and the World Series. How do you not root for that team?
The 1962 Mets were, quite possibly, the worst big league team in the history of the game. They finished the season 40-120. Their best pitcher, Roger Craig, won 10 games, but lost 24. They ranked first in the league with 210 errors. But the Mets of the sixties weren’t about wins (luckily), they were about baseball and the fun it can be when fans can feel a connection to their team. The Dodgers and Giants had hopped town following the 1957 season, leaving many New York baseball fans with an empty feeling that they refused to fill with the Yankees. When the Mets came around, it didn’t matter they weren’t as dominant as the Giants and Dodgers, but they were the fans’ team and it showed in the attendance figures. In 1962, despite their record, the Mets drew 922, 530 fans to the dilapidated Polo Grounds. As the team got slightly better in 1963 (51-111), attendance grew to 1,080,108. In 1964, New York’s first miracle happened. Not only did they draw 1,732,597 to the newly build Shea Stadium, but more fans saw the Mets than the pennant winning Yankees despite the Mets’ 53-109 record.
For the rest of the decade, despite winning less games (with exception to 1969), the Mets easily outdrew the Yankees in attendance every season. From 1962 through 1969 the Yankees won 681 games to the Mets’ 494. In that same time, 12,958,839 fans came out to see the Mets while 9,959,508 went to Yankee Stadium.
Those are real baseball fans.
I shouldn’t like the Mets. They’re a big-market team with a lot of overpaid players and a front office as competent as the Bush administration. Should the Mets start winning like the Yankees, my opinion might shift, but that doesn’t seem to be their style. My bloodline is also connected to New York.
My dad and his mom grew up Brooklyn Dodgers fans. When the team moved away, as the intelligent human beings that they are, they didn’t switch their allegiance to the Yankees. My dad followed the Los Angeles Dodgers for a time, and then later the New York Mets. From the stories I’ve heard, my grandmother was very excited in 1969.
My dad’s brother, my uncle, has been a Mets fan since ’62 and I’m pretty sure he’s rooting for the Twins as long as they’re not playing the Mets. It’s family: I have to return the favor.