Saturday, October 9, 2010

Winning Back the Hearts of Mets Fans

(This was originally posted at Mack's Mets. I made a few tweaks for my own blog.)

By one measure, the 2010 baseball season ended for me on August 18. That date stands out because it was the last time I updated my blog. But my interest in the Mets really began dwindling at the beginning of June, once the World Cup in South Africa began.

I am a baseball fan first and foremost, but every four years my love and appreciation for soccer increases in conjunction with arrival of the World Cup. The U.S. national team specialized in doling out nervous breakdowns to their supporters this summer, but a moment as special as this made it all worth it.

The reality is that the 2010 season ended much sooner than hoped - for both the Mets and for a lot of their fans. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but any Met fan who was paying attention should have known from the start that this team was ill-equipped to overtake Philadelphia or Atlanta in the National League East. The pitching was shaky, the lineup was top-heavy and the bench was horrible. It seemed like the only three people who had no idea what was going to happen were Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel.

I take no great pride in having predicted that the Mets would finish no better than 78-84 back on April 5, but I did so all the same. The sad truth is that the Mets finished only outplayed this prediction is because throughout the season the front office rectified a lot of the mistakes it made with the 25-man roster that broke camp in April.

Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalonotto and Gary Matthews were cut. Jenrry Mejia was mercifully allowed to ditch the relief pitcher experiment and continue the process of transforming into a #1 starter. Oliver Perez was banished to baseball Siberia and John Maine was pulled five pitches into the final start of his season.

But by the time all that had happened, it was already too late. Something happened to Mets fans this summer - a lot of us just stopped caring.

Maybe you fell in love with soccer too. Maybe you rediscovered some other joy in your life that had been neglected during the summer months. Maybe you just decided that you weren't going to spend what little money you still had in your pocket at the end of the week on a team that treated its payroll much the way that The Joker treated the money he took from Gotham City's more unsavory elements.

(By the way, I've been dying to share this thought - how great would it be if a New York-based soccer club took the name "Gotham City SC?" Forget about the return of the New York Cosmos - supporting the Dark Knights would be so much cooler.)

People stopped going to Mets games so often. They stopped updating their fan blogs. They stopped putting their heart and soul into the Mets - and found that a life with their favorite baseball team somewhere in the background wasn't so bad after all.

The front office has to do more than just hire a manager and a general manager this off-season. They have to find a way to make the Mets relevant again.

That doesn't necessarily mean lavishing millions of dollars on the latest hot free agent, because that strategy has failed time and time again. The Mets always go out and get one big free agent - is this team any better off because of the contracts handed to Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Perez over the last three years?

No, free agency is not the way. Free agency is a last resort. The signing of free agents is the act of paying players for what they did in the past, with no reasonable guarantee that they will do so in the future. A team that is one or two players away can take a risk on a free agent - the Mets have many more holes to fill.

The process of making the Mets relevant again is a lot more complicated than that - and it doesn't have a lot to do with the team's performance on the field. The Mets aren't going to win in 2011, either. Johan Santana will miss a large portion of the season and may never be the same after shoulder surgery. Perez and Luis Castillo are still eating up nearly $20 million worth of payroll. Closers are obscene luxuries on 80-win teams, especially when they make $11.5 million a year.

The next general manager needs to have a three-year plan to success, and the first year needs to be dedicated to patiently waiting out Minaya's bad contracts. The next manager needs to have a better tactical grasp of the game and a willingness to blow up conventional notions about strategy and player use.

It would also be nice if the new manager instilled a sense of toughness and accountability in this team. The real problem on this club is a lack of elite talent and I'm not much for intangibles, but the Mets need more guys with attitudes like Chris Carter - guys who genuinely seem to care if they win or lose.

Until all that begins to take shape, the Mets will remain the bad joke they've become yet again. As for me, I'm going out to Harrison to watch the Red Bulls take on Salt Lake today. I'm going to boo Thierry Henry for robbing the Irish and cheer for fellow St. John's graduate Chris Wingert.

Yes, I'm the guy that the Mets have to win back.

1 comment:

TW said...

Start a soccer blog, maybe you can write a piece every three months there too.

You might not believe in intangibles, but it is exactly what is missing from this team. All respect to Carter's attitude, he couldn't hit a cut off man if the cut off man hit him, that is what intangibles are about, making the right play because you know how to make the right play. Talent is great, knowing how to play the game is better. Out of the names that are floating around as far as GM possibilities, I think I prefer Sandy Alderson because at least that hiring would have the appearance that the Wilpons would be hands off and allow Alderson to do his job, of which he is capable.