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Friday, 10 December 2021 17:03

What's Wrong With The New York Mets?

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I once wrote a paper in high school titled “What’s Wrong with the Mets?” My 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Baumann, was not happy about it, but she gave me a pass and permitted me to write about a subject that was apparently so important to me.

What I remember most about that project was reading everything I could get my hands on about the Mets. In those days, it was books and newspaper clippings. The books were great and I ended up with a nice little collection after it was all over. For the newspaper clippings, I had to have my mom drive me to the local daily newspaper – The News Tribune in Woodbridge, NJ – so that I could look at microfilm.

There was so much to look through and I was quickly scanning past most of the old papers, watching it fly past on the big screens in front of me. What I didn’t realize was that my mother also had her eyes fixated on the screens and, apparently, it got her dizzy because I suddenly heard a loud THUD from behind me. I turned to see two big guys tending to her, helping her to her feet.

I don’t why that story always makes me laugh. But what I learned over the years about my lovable Mets, was not really funny at all.

And if you are wondering what is actually WRONG with the New York Mets, you have to look a lot further than Michael Conforto having a horrible season, than Edwin Diaz not living up to expectations, than Jacob deGrom becoming a fragile commodity, and a rookie manager seemingly in way over his head. That is a reason for a bad season…a bad record. It is not even scratching the surface of what is so very wrong with this organization.

Fans love to scream about spending money and focus on that. Heck, it ain't about that. It is so much more. Because everything they do is just not normal.

I have been witnessing the Mets from their infancy, from my infancy. I was born in 1960, the Mets were born soon after. I was born a Mets fan…because my grandparents told me so. Die hard Brooklyn Dodgers fans, they became Mets season ticket holders from the very beginning. I went to games most Sundays with them.

I had a radio on my desk in my bedroom to listen to each and every game. I had a transistor radio that I kept stashed in my pocket, with an earpiece well-hidden in my right ear, thanks to my very long hair, while I sat in a classroom during weekday games. And I did the same under the covers for night games.

I studied the sports pages of every New York area newspaper and would examine and analyze the box scores.

My love for baseball…my love for the Mets…led to my desire for a career that somehow involved baseball. I became a member of the media at a very early age and was assigned to be the beat reporter for, of all teams, the New York Yankees during the annual spring trainings in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And I was lucky enough to be around when the club gained its reputation as The Bronx Zoo.

I got to see up close how the Yankees operated…how things were done.

Okay…there are a lot of nutty owners that have entered into the brethren of Major League Baseball owners.

Charles Comiskey, Bill Veeck, Charles Finley, George Steinbrenner, Marge Schott – all of them were a bit “off.” But we tend to look at the very wealthy…those who can actually own a baseball team…as “eclectic.” Comiskey was a conniving cheapskate who cheated his players out of monies he would promise them as incentives for doing his bidding. Veeck insisted his players wear uniforms that were embarrassing – v-neck jerseys with collars no less and…er…shorts. Shorts! Finley had implemented colorful uniforms…three different varieties…and paid his players to GROW facial hair to emulate the earlier days of baseball. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Steinbrenner banned facial and long hair, often getting into battles with players who dared to go beyond the upper lip or down past the neck. And Schott…well…she was just a racist pig.

The New York Metropolitans were conceived thanks to an avid New York Giants fan named Joan Whitney Payson. Although George Weiss, the former Yankees executive was hired to lead the Mets front office, the Mets never did have a great leadership plan, no chain of command that would allow for development of a strong baseball structure, instead, Payson entrusted her stockbroker, M. Donald Grant who had no baseball prowess and even less people prowess with all the power. He was nothing more than a curmudgeon…actually…that’s being kind. He was a miserable fuck. And he let everyone know it.

Grant preferred to operate the team like a tax shelter and, so long as the fans continued to come through the turnstiles at Shea, he didn’t care what anyone said. And any malcontents were sent packing.

Grant waged war with Tom Seaver, planting stories with the relentless Dick Young, the columnist for the New York Daily News. Grant misread the love the fan base had for Seaver. And after Grant sent Seaver out of town, the fans were ready to hang Grant in effigy.

Grant finally was forced to succumb to public pressure in 1978, and Payson’s family finally decided to put the team up for sale. A group led by Doubleday and Co. bought the club and, eventually, what emerged from that ownership change was a partnership of Nelson Doubleday, Jr. and Fred Wilpon.

Frank Cashen, the architect of the perennial power Baltimore Orioles of the 1970’s was brought in to be General Manager and build the club into a championship caliber organization. Cashen orchestrated some successful trades of popular veterans that brought back young players who would later play key roles with the team. His staff drafted well and that yielded more young players. And with the addition of some key veterans into the mix, the Mets would quickly win their second World Series title.

It wasn’t too long after that a feud developed between Doubleday and Wilpon on how to run the organization. Doubleday preferred to blend into the woodwork and that nobody recognize him, while Wilpon enjoyed the spotlight. And it always seemed like management was in a state of flux. After Cashen’s departure, there was an endless flow of general managers and, with it, a constant change of managers on the field. There was no stability and no real sense of direction.

Sure, money was spent. But while the Yankees were getting the likes of Hideki Matsui, the Mets were getting the likes of Kaz Matsui. It always seemed like while the Yankees were shopping at the Mercedes dealership, the Mets were at Rent-a-Wreck hoping for a bargain.

In what would be a one-time show of power, Doubleday was able to put his foot down and have his say when the Mets, after trading for Mike Piazza during the 1998 season, re-signed him to a huge contract to keep him in a Mets uniform for the next eight years enroute to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Other than that, Wilpon ran roughshod over Doubleday and, following the arrival of Fred’s son Jeff on the scene, Doubleday had enough. The public divorce was much like many of the celebrity divorces…it was ugly. And it left the Wilpon family in total control.

Then came the Madoff debacle. Whether you believe that Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz knew what Bernie Madoff was doing or not, it’s really not relevant. What IS relevant is that the matter interfered with the function of the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club. With the urging of Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, the Wilpons brought Sandy Alderson to stabilize the organization. And they were also given a loan to help right the ship.  Alderson cleaned house and worked hard to bring integrity to the organization.

Meanwhile, in the background, lawsuits were filed. Against Jeff Wilpon. Sexual harassment. Wrongful termination. So in addition to his constant meddling, Jeff Wilpon brought unnecessary legal entanglements upon the club at a time when it was most vulnerable.

Regardless that the Mets made it back to the World Series in 2015, that glory couldn’t disguise the utter dysfunction of the Wilpon-run organization. While Alderson was trying to run the team the way he successfully ran the low-budget Oakland A’s years earlier, wannabe GM and know-it-all Jeff Wilpon had to constantly muck it all up.

Alderson finally had enough and between fighting health issues and the interference of Jeff, he stepped aside. Public pressure, like many times before, began to percolate and it seemed like everyone was calling for, begging for, the Wilpons to sell.

And even when the family was finally ready to sell the team, the Wilpons had the absolute audacity to insist that, after the sale, good ole’ Jeff would get to stay in control for five years. If ever an “LOL” needed to be inserted…there you go. That’s like buying a home, and the previous owner says, “I am selling you the house but I get to sleep in the master bedroom for the next five years.” Who in their right mind would ever agree to something like that? But then, you have to figure, who is the one asking for that term in the agreement?

Steve Cohen, already a minority owner and familiar with the Wilpon nonsense, said “No.” In came A-Rod and J-Lo and another media frenzy with the two-headed, high-profile, power-hungry, publicity-craving dynamic duo. Well…so now they are not a duo? Can you imagine what that breakup would have caused in the world of the Mets?

After bowing out, Cohen was back in the picture, but with criticism. After the recent GameStop stock fiasco, suddenly, Cohen was again drawing attention to a fine his firm had to pay for insider trading, and his ability to be an owner was being called into question. Conveniently, people forgot about Steinbrenner’s convictions of crimes, fines he had to pay, suspensions he served for illegal and inappropriate behaviors?

Somehow Cohen was able to get past the pompous, arrogant, and snooty group of owners who reluctantly – mainly because they needed to rid themselves quickly of the albatross of MLB known as Fred and Jeff – finally approved of Cohen as the next Ringmaster of the New York Mets.

Although, for now, Cohen, himself, gets a pass, the fact is that the organization couldn’t be worse off if it were run by Ringling Bros. or Barnum & Bailey because, God knows, at least THEY know how actually to run a circus. And I can hear Kramer saying, “I know it all sounds glamorous, but it’s business as usual at Kramerica Industries.”

This organization just doesn’t do anything normal.

I am, again, a season ticket holder. And I am still a member of the media writing about…what else…the New York Mets. And, yet, I find myself wondering why? Why am I subjecting myself to this train wreck?

I am a season ticket holder. I can’t get in touch with anyone in that ticket office. I understand that Covid has altered the way business is conducted. But how can a Major League Baseball team from New York not have a person to answer a phone call? Or return a phone call?

I was finally able to speak to someone when THEY contacted ME to sell me additional tickets. When I was asked recently in an email – BY THEM - what I liked about being a season ticket holder, I wanted to plotz. Are you kidding me? You don’t answer ME. Yet you want to call me and ask me to spend MORE money? OK…gotcha.

I am a member of the media. I can’t get in touch with anyone in the media relations office. Again, I understand that Covid has altered the way business is conducted. But how can a Major League Baseball team from New York not have a person to answer a phone call? Or return a phone call?

I want to write a book about Ed Kranepool. I reached out to the media relations office for months. No response. While attending a game at Citifield, I was approached by a team employee walking around the stadium asking about “fan experiences.” When they questioned me, I told them about my frustrations with the lack of response from both the ticket office and the media relations office. The person took a report and, believe it or not, I got a phone call from some intern in that department.

The intern told me that I would have to go through Jay Horwitz who was now in charge of what is termed “Mets alumni” and gave me Jay’s number. I was unaware that that number was Jay’s personal cell number. And I called it. The man did answer the phone and was abrupt and curt when I tried to explain to him that I wanted to write the book. He asked me, “Did you already sell the idea to a large publishing company?” I said, “No, I have not shopped it because I would never do that until I have the subject of the book on board.” I told him that I wanted the opportunity to first speak to Ed to see if he were willing to submit to a project like that, because I realized that nothing had ever been written about him. Jay’s answer? “I’m sorry…he’s not interested. His wife is ill.” And he hung up on me.

I have had interactions with other organizations – New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners – and each and every time I have been provided with anything I have ever needed...whether it be access to players, game press passes, parking access, credentials of any kind. The Mets? NEVER have they ever given an affirmative answer to ANY request I have ever made over the years. NEVER.

Every other organization has been has been helpful, accommodating, and gracious whereas the Mets have been difficult and rude.

Now back to being a season ticket holder and going to the game. The Mets want to know my thoughts? OK…here you go. Like I said, I have been elsewhere to other parks. The Mets, for what they actually give you, are an expensive ticket. How families can afford to go to games, and eat, is a conundrum. I don’t get it. But the price of the ticket wouldn’t even bother me if there wasn’t such an utter shit show to witness.

Professionalism and decorum, or the lack there of, come through at all levels of an organization. Well sit down in your seat and you will “get it” pretty soon.

Why are people going to their seats while the game is being played? While it can seem a bit overreaching, if you are sitting in your seat trying to watch the action, and some big dufus is trudging slowly a row or two in front of you, blocking your view, it can be extremely frustrating. At other stadiums I have visited, that is something that usually doesn’t happen. At Yankee Stadium, for instance, the ushers are stationed at the top of every aisle and do not permit you to begin your walk down to the seating area until the action has stopped so as not to obstruct the view of the fans. At Citifield, any usher that happens to be there just stands there like a chooch looking at you as you pass.

The lack of oversight became apparent during a night game this past season as a group of fans in our section began, first, by smoking cigarettes and, then, exchanging beer for pot and, of course, smoking the pot. This was done with extremely young children surrounding them. Did those fans smoking it care? Nope. Security was alerted by the father of some of the young children. Security eventually came and questioned one person, and that one person was escorted away. The rest of the group remained sitting in those seats for another three innings exhibiting the same behaviors.

Most parents take their kids to baseball games to learn about the game, see the stars in person, get a hot dog, and maybe score a foul ball. At least that was always my understanding. I must have been under some rock or something, I didn’t realize when things changed and pot smoking became the thing to do at a ball game. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. The Mets have altered the meaning of a family outing.

First of all, maybe it’s me, but who goes to a baseball game with the intent to get high? I thought it was, correct me if I am wrong, to WATCH A BASEBALL GAME.

Again, this time I hear Jerry Seinfeld yelling, “WHAT’S GOING ON IN THIS COMMUNITY?”

Honestly, it’s an embarrassment the way the team has conducted itself on the field, but mostly the off the field buffoonery is what is so sickening.

The way they lost games at the beginning made it laughable…to such an extent that Jimmy Breslin penned a book called “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game.” It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Think Marvelous Marv Throneberry and his many gaffes…Jimmy Piersall doing a home run trot backwards…heck, the team got off to an eerie start by getting stuck in a hotel elevator on opening day. And the season ended by Richie Ashburn receiving a boat to honor him as the team’s MVP, only to have it sink as soon as he put it in the water. It’s all there…and it’s funny.

Casey Stengel was loved by the Mets faithful. But the words that came out of his mouth, while amusing, were really embarrassing. He was WAY past his prime and the only thing he was really capable of was keeping the media amused and taking the focus off how utterly bad the team was. Would love to see how that would have all played out in the times of social media.

The Mets hierarchy didn’t care. The turnstiles were turning and the fans didn’t seem to care either.

Then came the lucky break of a lottery, where the prize was Tom Seaver. Soon after would be the return of Gil Hodges to be the Mets manager. And, as everyone on Planet Earth knows, the Miracle of 1969. The carnival act was not so funny anymore.

But that didn’t stop the many awkward and embarrassing moments in Mets history. Here are some of the highlights or, rather, lowlights, in Mets history:

When Gil Hodges suddenly passed away, Mets management – specifically M. Donald Grant – didn’t even wait for the mourning to begin before quickly anointing Yogi Berra as Mets manager. No logic to the move but, more importantly, utter disrespect to Hodges, his family, his fans.

How about M. Donald Grant forcing Cleon Jones to apologize to the public, with his wife standing there, for an indiscretion during spring training? As if it weren’t embarrassing enough to get caught with his pants down, literally, Grant had to parade Jones in front of everyone to further humiliate him.

M. Donald Grant continued his role as obnoxious asshole by forcing Tom Seaver out of town with the help of sportswriter Dick Young. This would culminate in the infamous Midnight Massacre. But it would also be the undoing of Grant and Mets ownership. It would also make Dick Young one of the most hated men in New York sports history.

The Mets finally win another World Series title and another victory parade. But, wait, Doc Gooden is missing from the parade. Why? Because he was somewhere off getting stoned.

The two biggest home-grown players the Mets ever produced, the two most dynamic talents (although some would argue it would be David Wright and Jose Reyes)…Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry derail what should have been two Hall of Fame careers and waste their talents for the lure of drugs. They did that to themselves. But where were the Mets to help them? Instead, they both end up resurrecting their careers and winning championships with…get this…the Yankees!

How about taking a team that looks like it’s going to be a dynasty and throwing an unprepared, obnoxious and arrogant KID into a clubhouse with an even more obnoxious and arrogant group of now veterans who wanted no part of having their little party be disrupted by a little snot-nose? Well, that’s what happened with Gregg Jefferies and the plan blew up in management’s collective faces and the group ended up being disbanded, one player at a time because of it all. All parties have admitted that they were wrong at the time, but it all ruined a young player (Jefferies) and it demolished what really could have been even a mini dynasty.

That led to the next era of fixing the problem with stupid, stupid spending. Bring on stars from other teams like Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, and Bobby Bonilla. Coleman and Saberhagen were mere shells of themselves and never performed anywhere close to what they had done before they came to the Mets, yet made headlines that would make anyone cringe.

Saberhagen would throw firecrackers at one reporter and bleach at two others in two separate incidents. He would throw a tantrum and deny his role in both, and then finally relent and pay a fine and restitution for the attacks.

Coleman would also throw firecrackers in to the stands at Dodgers Stadium, injuring a number of people. He was fined and sentenced to over 200 hours of community service.

Bobby Bonilla being paid for eternity? Enough said.

The breakup between Nelson Doubleday and the Wilpon Family would end up being so ugly, dominating the back of the New York tabloids for many months. It got so bad that Doubleday, who hated the spotlight and wanted nothing more than to vanish into obscurity, would end up settling for pennies on the dollar.

The Mets had to hold a press conference so that Mike Piazza could confirm that he was not gay. Are you kidding me? I can’t even think about something so ridiculous.

Willie Randolph was professional, respectful, and cordial. Can’t find a bad word to say about him. OK…so maybe he wasn’t doing his job the way management preferred. So you put a guy on a plane, let him fly all the way to California, let him dangle, and then fire him at 3 a.m. and send out a press release to announce it? Who does this?

Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, punched out his father-in-law in the clubhouse for all to see. I don’t care what the issue was. How does that happen in a MLB clubhouse?

The Wilpons’ relationship with Bernie Madoff will always be questioned because. Regardless of what it actually was, it caused a massive ripple effect and MLB had to step in and save the organization. Somehow, it wasn’t enough to get rid of the Wilpons.

But then, neither were any allegations/complaints against Jeff Wilpon for sexual misconduct/harassment and hostile work environment. Players, managers, staff, etc., are all suspended and sent packing for such behaviors. Jeff Wilpon? For some inexplicable reason, he got a pass on everything he did.

How is it that not a single person has unearthed the fact that Jeff attended the University of Miami, was a member of the 1980 squad, but was unceremoniously booted off the team? With everything that can be pulled up off the internet, not a single mention – anywhere. But there he is, in the team picture, wearing No. 16. Why is that relevant? Because it was a prelude to what kind of a person he was, and is.

I engaged with him on a daily basis back then. He was a prick. A self-centered, self-entitled, holier than thou, asshole. He conducted himself that way THEN, and he conducted himself that way after Daddy gave him the keys to clubhouse.

And even after everything that they squandered, after everything Jeff did, the Wilpons demanded that Jeff be kept in charge for five years after the team was sold. I can only think of George Costanza because who else would have the chutzpah, the audacity, the balls, the warped mind to think they could get away with that?

No nonsense. Demand perfection. No learning on my dime. Steve Cohen takes over. Seems great…right? Wrong!

Continuing with the theme of inappropriate behavior, Mickey Callaway was fired for poor team performance before Cohen took over. But it is later revealed that he had been sexually harassing women around the game for many years even prior to joining the Mets. Jared Porter was hired as general manager and, very quickly, fired by the club after the revelation that he sent sexually explicit photos to a female member of the media years previously. Zack Scott was then named to replace Porter and he gets himself arrested for a DWI on his way home from a party given by, none other than, Steve Cohen himself. He was subsequently fired.

Sandy Alderson…the stern and upright Marine…was brought in to right the ship and bring integrity to the organization. Where was he in this obvious cluster fuck?

The Steve Cohen era is off to a booming start.

I am so sick of doing “crazy!”

It’s like being in an abusive relationship…you feel like shit, yet, you stay for some God forsaken reason that you can’t even explain in your wildest dreams.

It may seem a bit off topic…but why, in the world of NBA basketball, do Knicks fans remain Knicks fans? It has been such a long time since the Knicks won a NBA title - 1973. It has been a long time since the days of Coach Red Holzman and players like Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. The team has had some ups and downs but has never again reached that pinnacle. And fans have had to suffer with the likes of James Dolan…the most vilified owner in the history of New York sports.

Back to baseball and the point at hand…and that leads to the question – Why do Mets fans remain Mets fans? It has been a long time since the Mets last won a World Series title – 1986. It has been a long time since the days of manager Davey Johnson and players like Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry. It has been even longer since the days of manager Gil Hodges and players like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, and Jerry Grote. Like the Knicks, the team has had some ups and downs but has never again reached that pinnacle. And much like Knicks fans, Mets fans have had to suffer with the likes of the Payson ownership led by M. Donald Grant, and then the Wilpons with the dog and pony show of Fred and Jeff, the runners-up to James Dolan as the most vilified owners in the history of New York sports.

The answer to these questions is probably the same as the answer to the age-old question “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”

The world may never know.

But I will keep writing.

Read 1341 times Last modified on Thursday, 06 January 2022 18:38
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About New York Mets Mania

Alan Karmin is an award-winning journalist and author. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent most of his life growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. Alan's family were avid Brooklyn Dodgers fans and when the Dodgers moved west, the Mets became the team to root for. The Mets have always been a true focal point, Alan even wrote a term paper in high school to analyze what was wrong with the Mets. While at the University of Miami, Alan honed his craft covering the, gulp, Yankees during spring trainings in Fort Lauderdale for a local NBC affiliate, as well as the Associated Press and UPI. He broadcasted baseball games for the University of Miami, and spring training games for the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. New York Mets Mania is a forum for Alan to write about his favorite team and for baseball fans to chime in and provide their thoughts and ideas about New York's Amazin' Mets.