The Mets Are Still The Mets. The Mets Are Not The Mets.

There are still a great many things wrong with the New York Mets. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Mets magical last few months was making that all go away.
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On September 21, the New York Mets got a much needed 4-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Heading into that game, the Mets had lost four of five, including an 11-2 drubbing the night before at the hands of the Yankees. It became a to-do when Matt Harvey left that game after five scoreless innings and—more germane to the big-ulnar-collateral-ligment-picture—just 77 pitches. In the middle of the Monday night broadcast, as Jon Niese was cruising to a low-intensity win, the Mets reliable play-by-play guy Gary Cohen found time to get worked up about Harvey’s outing. The usually affable Cohen was incensed, declaring that Harvey’s agent—whom he rather petulantly refused to identify as Scott Boras—is “putting out junk science, and Matt is buying it.”

The basest Oxford definition of “junk science:” Tested or unproven theories presented as scientific fact (especially in a court of law.) It’s a catch-all term, mostly, because one man’s junk science trash is another man’s junk science treasure, be they climate-change-deniers, anti-vaxxers, or vape-‘em-if-you-got-‘em-ers. Idiots, that is. Humans is another word for it.

Gary Cohen is not an idiot, but he is a human; unless he plays his Alex Jones scorecard tight to the vest, he isn’t a conspiratorial loon either. But over the last weeks of the Mets season, only the Washington Nationals were beaten into the ground and left for dead with greater ferocity than the state of Harvey’s recovery. So much so that even Cohen, a freethinker who is nonetheless on the home team’s payroll, was throwing out the “junk science” stuff during a Jon Niese outing.

Personally, I’ll always err on the side of the player, if only because the other side remains management. Conversely,Cohen—who isn’t known for humping his bosses water—felt Harvey and Boras were playing some sort of Tommy Longcon. Of course he’s entitled to his opinion, but he isn’t entitled to is call the (admittedly murky) innings-limit debate “junk science.” He knows damn well there isn’t any consensus on what to do with pitchers recovering from TJ surgery, which means any approach is feasible, or not. Inconclusive evidence is just that. “Nobody knows anything” is nowhere near the same thing as “some asshole TV doctor has a miracle coffee bean snake-oil weight loss remedy, which is way awesomer for you than a breast cancer-causing phone.”

The whole sour thing was completely unfair to Harvey for three reasons. It assumes he, a grown man with a thunderbolt arm, isn’t possessed of his own agency. Further, it ignores the fact that he’s only making $614,000 in 2015 and has yet to sign a big-dollar long-term contract, and thus that it makes sense to try to maintain that valuable arm until it might actually become hugely valuable. But worst of all, it belittles the basic human right to be really fucking afraid of having a serious injury.

There is no consensus on the proper protocol after a pitcher returns, but in 2014, more than a third of UCL-related procedures were for repeat TJ patients. Harvey has every right to be scared, because another surgery could derail his burgeoning career, permanently. The Mets’ co-ace could be a Clayton Kershaw-style superstar, but he’d be stupid and irresponsible if he didn’t consider the possibility that his career could look more like Josh Johnson’s. Or Stephen Strasburg’s, whose post-surgery work-reduction plan seems to have gotten him back to where he wants to be.

Harvey got hung out to dry in an ugly back-and-forth with the team that should, and quite easily could, have been avoided altogether. A concerted, consistent voice on an innings limit would have framed Harvey’s complicated end of the season in a way that would have been clear, if probably still not uncontroversial. Instead, a young man with an enormous amount at stake was left stranded on an island, drowning in a sea of Mouthbreathers from Massapequa screaming about “junk science, like what Gare said.”

The owners, naturally, said nothing.

A quick refresher course: The Mets are owned and operated by “the Wilpons,” father Fred, brother-in-law Saul Katz, and son, Jeff. The family made their money in real estate development through Sterling Equities, then lost it—pretty much all of it—through a long and loving relationship with Bernie Madoff. The family was heavily invested with the infamous Ponzi-schemer, benefiting from his bogus double-digit returns, and lost some $500-million or more when Madoff was busted. (It’s also been argued that overall they actually made money, so who the hell knows?)

The Wilpons refinanced a ton of that debt against the Mets and their TV network SNY, and did not have the capital to pick up the slack that created. Ultimately, what this meant for the Mets and their followers was reduced payrolls and an unwillingness to sign pricier free agents; the latest Forbes value for the team is $1.35 billion, but the team is squarely in the middle of MLB payrolls, and there is reason to doubt the owners can afford even that. To put it another way, the fans subsidized the Wilsons risk to the tune of six straight losing seasons prior to 2015. Ignore the old sports cliche that winning cures all, don’t credit the Wilpons for the Mets robust health. The past isn’t that long ago, and in many ways it isn’t even past.

Still, for fans, all that matters is the playoffs. It’s fantastic to have the Mets in the postseason. And with an incredibly likable team no less! Ever since Yoenis Cespedes joined the team on July 31 and started doing his Gran Bebe impression, this season has been crazily fun. I went to Citi Field twice in September and surprises of surprises, the seats…had people in them…cheering, too…even though they lost both games! (Before you call jinx, I was 4-0 up to that point.)

Obviously, the owners will benefit handsomely from the postseason—the longer the better—which is great, because the Mets will still be playing. Just don’t believe anything you may hear in relation to the Wilpons about “vindication,” “long awaited,” or (gasping but I hear Joe Buck’s voice already) “good guys in baseball.” The Wilpons give a shit about their fans and players only in relation to the return on their investment—the very investments they made with a grifter who delivered magical-yet-strangely-unheard-of returns, the same investments that turned out to be criminal. This made them party to a crime that cost them rich guy couch cushion change in the end. The Wilpons are sentimental about the Mets, and want them to win, on their terms. Plenty of other people who are not capable of owning a professional baseball team just want them to win.

A cynic might be inclined to point out that, as incredible and enjoyable as Cespedes has been, thanks to steroids and David Wright’s spinal stenosis insurance payout, he didn’t cost the Wilpons anything, which makes this business as usual. (This is to say nothing of the $150-million Cespedes free agency offseason sweepstakes, which the Mets are not quite favorites to win.) The money and debt issues are easy to ignore or sweep aside because postseason baseball is way cooler than pecuniary eyewash. It does not change anything that might potentially help the Mets change for the better down the road.

On July 29, the New York Mets were 52-49, a scuffling team with great young pitching and one of the ugliest offenses in memory. That night, the team reportedly traded infielder Wilmer Flores to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of a deal for Milwaukee centerfielder and former Mets farmhand Carlos Gomez. Respected beat writer Joel Sherman announced the deal on Twitter, news of which was picked up by the fans, who gave Flores a huge ovation. Flores, who has been with the club since he was signed as a 16-year out of Venezuela, caught on and had the most human of reactions while still playing the field. He began to cry. Not a well-up, either. A solid cry.

Oddly, nobody from upper management thought to say maybe he should be pulled to process his complex barely-out-of-adolescence emotions in private. The team left him in there, despondent, for several innings in an in an inert loss. Everyone involved with deciding the young man’s fate screwed up, from the leaker to the manager that didn’t pull the sobbing infielder to the owners that didn’t put their foot down where it might have helped, for once. Nothing worked. The buck didn’t stop anywhere.

And then two nights later, Flores hit a huge walk-off home run in extra innings, proudly tugging his jersey as he crossed the plate and teammates mobbed him. The Mets won ten of their next twelve games and never looked back. Flores’s tears became a literal rallying cry, a salty Mets totem. It’s already been forgotten and forgiven that a loyal company man was treated so coldly. Winning tends to do that...

The Mets cruised, clinching the NL East on September 26 with a 10-2 smackdown of the Reds. Harvey threw 97 pitches in the win, blowing past what he said was a doctor-prescribed innings limit for the season and enjoying what he called “the best day of my baseball career by far.” In the raucous postgame aftermath, Harvey got choked up talking about his long journey back after missing the entire 2014 season.

Harvey, it should be noted, ended the season 13-8, with a 2.71 ERA, and 188 strikeouts in 189.1 innings pitched; this is a fine season by anyone’s merits, but is an especially fraught one in this case. The 180-inning cap, whatever the questions around it, was strictly an attempt to protect the young fireballer’s arm and career.

All the Wilpons had to do was come out and unequivocally say that whatever Harvey wanted to do, they supported him. Or put out a statement backing off the “junk science” gambit. They could have faked it. They did not. They did what they always do. Both Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez claim that Jeff Wilpon urged them to play while injured, and in meaningless games to boot. The circumstances changed, but not much else did.

On paper, the Harvey and Flores situations don’t have a lot in common. One was a drawn-out public relations fiasco with serious medical underpinnings, the other was a spur-of-the-moment public relations fiasco that improbably became the home run of the year, well of the regular season anyway. What Harvey, Flores, and a huge chunk of the American workforce do share is bosses who only have their back when it’s to their benefit.

On Monday night, Citi Field was an absolute madhouse, but a joyous one. Guys weren’t even entering the men’s room through the exit doors, and brother let me tell you, those lines were long. Everyone was having too much fun to care, especially on the field. Before the game even started, Flores nearly came to tears again and the team got a special treat as “Mets owner Fred Wilpon made a rare appearance during batting practice.”

The biggest game ever played in Citi Field was a full team victory. The starting pitcher and shortstop had their moments, but Harvey and Flores have already given more of themselves than these owners deserve. The Mets lost on Tuesday and will be fighting for their postseason lives in Los Angeles on Thursday, against arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

They could win, or they could lose. But the bigger victory—one that Harvey and Tejada and the rest have already won—is how they have helped everyone that cares about the team forget about the people in charge for a while. For these last few months, the Mets have just been a baseball team, and a good one. However this season ends up, it was a great escape.


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