Underwater in Flushing

Jose Reyes escapes from New York; New York can't escape itself.
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The Los Angeles Dodgers got a transplanted east coast hustler defined by roaring avarice, ravenous narcissism and queasily absent morals, all wrapped in a notably suspect shade of orange. The Phoenix Suns have an alternately clueless and ruthless child of America's cruelest and most profoundly remote gated communities, a chuckleheaded vanity case who brayed about designer handbags during the middle of a metaphorical hostage situation and non-metaphorical economic crisis. The Carolina Panthers got a self-made New South money-ulcer, a former professional athlete who made a billion dollars selling shitty food from underlit, alarmingly sticky roadside outposts, and who has somehow never forgiven the world for it.

Blame the simple ineluctabilities of the market or blame the universe, but sports teams—and thus sports fans—get the owners they get, and those owners generally make a certain sort of sense. The New York Mets, as of the first Monday of baseball's annual Winter Meetings, no longer have Jose Reyes, the joyous and proud dynamo of a shortstop who was the best single reason to watch the team for most of his nine years there. They still have the dishearteningly appropriate, quite possibly bankrupt ownership team headed by Fred Wilpon. Losing the first and keeping the second is not a choice any fan would make, but of course we don't get to choose this sort of thing.

If we can stipulate that Mets fans are a somewhat softer-hearted lot than Yankees fans—this is natural selection: those to whom success and its attendant loud nimbus of borrowed "class" matters most can always catch a train uptown—then we should probably also entertain the possibility that Mets fans would actually rather their team be owned by Wilpon et al than, say, the Steinbrenner family. This is a lousy choice, again. Wilpon doesn't seem like a bad guy, but he's a hapless and self-sentimentalizing Long Island swell; when he famously popped off about the awfulness of his team to the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin—those couple hundred words that came to define a mostly sympathetic, extremely New Yorker-ish 10,000-word Profile of a Rich Person—his baseball observations were every bit as nuanced and well-expressed as those of a talk-radio caller who needs repeated reminders to turn down his radio. The rest of the piece presented him as the sort of rich guy who is easy to find in New York—much of this city's upper crust is comprised of real estate types who will talk passionately about how many siblings they shared a bedroom with, back in the vanished humblitude of their Brooklyn-bound youths. Again, not the best, but at least not a Steinbrenner—loutish permanent arrivistes, forever Making A Scene At The Steakhouse and growling idiocies about creeping socialism through a mouthful of rare meat. That's New York, too. But it's also everywhere else.

There is an impulse among Mets fans to believe that our experiences are unique or different—our sufferings vaster or more literary or somehow more complex than those of the people who willingly entrust their fan-fates to their own local billionaires and so put themselves at the mercy of such pillars of the community as Tom Hicks or Donald Sterling or Daniel Snyder. Those sufferings are not more vast or more literary for happening in New York, of course, and the impulse to believe they are only makes Mets fans even more like everyone else who bothers to care, neither wisely nor too well but too much, about a given team. Everyone, even Yankees fans, has seen beloved stars leave in free agency or get traded as part of some insulting-seeming, totally logical salary-dump gambit. The Miami Marlins, rebranded and subsidy-fattened and suddenly spendthrift, offered Reyes more money over a longer period of time than the Mets would, or could. That's the story of every free agent signing, more or less. The particular emotional aspects of this particular free agent's departure that give it depth for Mets fans and the silly-solemn tabloid dudgeon bellowing in the wake are unique to this free agent and this instance. But this type or depth of feeling is not unique to New York, or unique at all.

But there is a crushing aspect to this latest disappointment that does seem unique to the Mets, and it begins in the owners' box. During the long twilight of the Wilpon years, the Mets' drift into inertia tracked disconcertingly well with a broader national drift. In Queens, as elsewhere, an overmatched chief executive failed, expensively and repeatedly, which failures the executive justified through babbling, brash, syntactically unpredictable cockiness. An untouchable inner circle of paranoiac incompetents confined itself increasingly to an air-conditioned skybox, where they babbled self-justifying nonsense at each other as everything slid and slid down below. Money was thrown haphazardly at problems, and the problems grew. Shabbiness and rot bled through the thin coat of super-premium grandiosity that was applied to everything. Helpless loss followed helpless loss. Alex Cora was paid millions of dollars. It fucking sucked.

It's unfair to both former Mets GM Omar Minaya and George W. Bush to make this particular comparison, of course—the Jason Bay contract is not exactly the war in Iraq, creepo Mets PR guy David Howard is not David Addington. And there's a great difference between a baseball team furiously pretending not to be on fire and an economy being handled in the same way—it's easier to turn off a team trying to bunt its way back into a late-August game against the Astros than it is to turn off a system-wide failure in the free market. But there was something painful, all the same, in seeing the team that represented an ostensible escape from the larger world limping through a stirrup-socked, losing-two-of-three-to-the-Nationals-at-home baseball parody of that larger world's decline. When it came to light that the Wilpons had invested heavily with Bernie Madoff, though, the parallel went perpendicular, and the metaphorical relationship between an ill-run nation ruining itself in the pursuit of a toxic status quo and its baseball analogue collapsed uncomfortably into non-metaphor.

At the press conference announcing that the Mets would not retain Reyes, Mets GM Sandy Alderson addressed and dismissed the role of Madoff in the team's current financial plight. "I don't really think Madoff has that much to do with it," Alderson said. "But when a team loses $70 million, irrespective of Bernie Madoff or anyone else, that's probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else." He's probably right—Madoff left the Wilpons with some 500 million fewer dollars than they expected to have, but the team's short-term shortfall probably had more to do with the unwillingness or inability to resign Reyes.

Without the comfort of metaphor, though, that doesn't matter much—the Reyes thing feels bigger than it is not just because Mets fans loved the eminently lovable Reyes, but because the maddening, helpless inevitability of his loss now feels so inextricably bound up in other maddening and inevitable helplessnesses. All sports plutocrats, to a certain extent, wind up writing something of themselves onto their teams; the lockouts in the NBA and NFL reflect just how mad this vanity can get. But the Wilpon family's singular achievement and signal failure with the Mets is something bigger than that. Their particular brand of grandiose mediocrity is a constant and painful reminder of the slack, stupid incapacity of our moneyed elite, and their thwarted, hobbling team is a taunting reminder of vaster failures. The echoes they invite to the ballpark are deafening.


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As met fans, it is good for us to remember that the problems currently facing our team are neither special nor unique. This essay goes a long way towards that point.

However, there can be no doubt that the Mets in their current form are poised to break new ground in ineptitude, and I refuse to support their quest for failure. To that end, I've decided to shut my wallet and not pay to attend any Met games in 2012, even though I've attended 10-15 games a year (times two seats) for practically my entire life.

This decision isn't about me having enough of a snake-bit team. If that were the case, I would have left in 2007, when I was at Shea to witness Tom Glavine euthanize our playoff berth in the first inning of the last game of the season. Or maybe back in 1998, when Kenny Rogers walked the Braves into the playoffs. Perhaps if I knew what I was getting myself into, I would have abandoned the Mets at the age of eight when they traded Lenny Dykstra. The tears I cried over this trade in the back of my first grade classroom should have been the first and last time the Mets made me miserable, but I remained a fan. In fact, none of the little traumas the Mets dealt me over the years were enough to keep me away.

Until now. This Jose Reyes situation is the last straw.

Its now clear that the current ownership of this team does not care about winning, and I'm tired of handing them money and watching them run the team I love into the ground.

Anyone with half a brain can see that the Met front office is not even remotely concerned with putting a premium product on the field to match their premium ticket prices. This has been the case since the team left Shea, and I'm convinced it will continue to be this way for many years to come.

A team that actually cared about winning would have never allowed Ollie Perez to languish on the Major League roster and shit the bed every fifth game for TWO YEARS. Every time Perez took the mound over this time period, it was a slap in the face to the paying Met fan... as well as confirmation that the owners did not give a shit about the product on the field.

Reyes should have either been extended in the 2010 offseason, or traded by the 2011 deadline. Instead, the Mets gambled he'd take a hometown discount, and then allowed him to walk... without even submitting a formal offer!

Here's the situation we're left with. Without Reyes, the Mets are a team that has:

- no shortstop AND no leadoff hitter
- a fragile, young 1b
- a butcher at 2B
- a 3B who is a great player, but can only really thrive with help
- no C
- a Bench Player in CF, a Bench Player in RF, and Jason "White Bonilla" Bay
- a shaky-at-best top three starters
- no back end of the rotation
- and no closer.

Is it any surprise that Reyes and his agent are now stating that no concrete offer was ever made by the Met front office? These guys would rather not make an offer at all than risk being made to look cheap by a team with an inferior market and fanbase. That is some truly shameful shit.

The bottom line is this: Jose Reyes was the singular reason to go see the mets for the past three years, and our front office didn't even try to keep him. As a result, fans are staring down the barrel of some of the worst met seasons ever. Disgraceful.

The Mets should be a flagship franchise for MLB. Instead, they are a laughing stock. I'll probably keep up with them on TV and the radio, and I'll go to a free game if it comes my way, but I refuse to support this team with my dollars any longer. When the front office decides to put a major league team back on the field, I will re-open my wallet.

Sincerely,

An exasperated and heartbroken met fan.

The portrait Toobin and others have painted of the Wilpons consists of the notion that these were basically decent mediocrities who failed up in such a spectacular fashion that, inevitably, they'd forgotten about their basic mediocrity. I'm tempted to agree with this save for the sort of mendacity that's necessary to succeed in New York real estate. These were rapacious mediocrities, in over their head but too sure of their own ability to pile money to know better. You hit this spot on, David.

BTW, Dave Howard is the Executive VP of Business Operations for the Mets...did you mean Jay Horowitz, or does this title imply that Howard is a mere PR flunkie?

Given the number of occasions VP Howard has been called upon to act as the Wilpon's bulldog/escort, the author is hardly incorrect in amending the job description to public relations. Though "public alienation" would work, too.

I meant to look up Howard's actual title, and didn't. So this was a sort of automatic-writing slip-up, although as GC points out it's not exactly wrong insofar as the Wilpons regularly trot Howard out to give reassuring business-guy explanations for various debacles. Then they trot someone else out a couple days later to apologize for how terrible those explanations were. Horwitz I always sensed was mostly tasked with keeping Mr. Met out of Page Six.

Sorry to see him go. I tend to forget about the Marlins, which I suppose they're trying to change.