Monday, September 20, 2004

Games 140 through 150 - Mets
You Can Go Home Again (Though You'd Never Know It from Mets Baserunners)

Phillies 9, Mets 5
Phillies 11, Mets 9
Phillies 4, Mets 2
Mets 9, Braves 7
Braves 7, Mets 1
Mets 7, Braves 0
Braves 2, Mets 0
Mets 9, Braves 4
Mets 8, Pirates 7
Pirates 1, Mets 0
Pirates 6, Mets 1
Record: 65-85

Wow, that's quite a stack of un-recapped games there. What can we take from that? Well, for one, it's time for my fall regional trips again -- the series of jaunts that took me to Boston and New York on successive nights during the first two games of the Sox-Yanks playoffs last year. Would it be too much to ask that I might get to be in New York for the first game of a Mets postseason series some year? And with similar visits to offices in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia around the same time, I might even catch the Mets in an away series as well. And maybe . . . what am I doing?? I bore witness to this hurricane-style wreckage of a season (although, let's face it, with these Mets it was more of a trashed trailer in Islamorada than a mansion coming down in Naples) and I'm talking about playoffs? Playoffs. Playoffs?! Sorry, I'm mixing my sports again.

Speaking of which, I need to acknowledge a pair of contradictory posts from Rob. (10-day lay-offs require a lot of backtracking.) He both proclaimed his relative disinterest in the newly christened football season and bemoaned yesterday's scalping of our beloved Redskins. My only thought here is that Beantown can still remain fully in Sox Mode despite the 18-win game for the Pats, while for some time now Metville has been Jetville or whoever else in or out of the Tri-State area floats your NFL boat. The dawn of a new season of any sport sprouts hope, even if it's tempered hope, while the last gasps of a losing season are sheer agony. Like a black sheep great-uncle on life support who won't kick the bucket and end his lousy legacy, this season can't die quickly enough. Despite not-even-that-vehement arguments to the contrary, the team has been mailing it in -- e-mailing it in, requiring even less effort -- for a while now, and clearly so have I. They're supposed to be the professionals, and they get paid millions, and blah blah blah, but my indifferent approach to this effort over the last month and subsequent passing the buck on to the New York Mets reeks of a hypocrisy generally seen in MLB's front office, not MLC's. I can only tip my bent-up, kicked-around, slammed-to-the-ground Mets cap in the direction of my cohort here and thank him for keeping the ship sailing in the meantime. Of course, his ballclub has provided him with more than enough incentive to blog it out, but kudos to him nevertheless.

That said, it's probably not healthy to dredge up the nitty-gritty of these last ten games, except in highlighted jabs to the face:

1. Another sweep given up to the Phillies. The Phils' Hindenburg-esque season (by the way, did anyone else hear Joe "Norman Einstein" Theismann call it the "Lindenburg" last night?) comes despite the best efforts of the Mets, who've handed over more W's than Presidential propaganda peddlers. You can see why "Dead Manager Walking" Larry Bowa is mentioned as a potential candidate for the Mets' helm in '05.

2. Taking 3 of 5 against the Braves. Sure, beating Atlanta is an inherently good thing. In this time of the season, of course, no good things happen without a negative rejoinder. In this case it's that the Braves simply don't care because they're on their way to winning yet another division title, amazingly (Phillies specialist Nick Luketic begrudgingly endorsed Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone for the Hall, and I must concur), and also because it derails my prediction for a noteworthy losing streak to finish the season for the Mets. Excavating a whit of interest in this last month of '04 is like spinning intrigue out of watching grass grow, and I figured that a back-page-grabbing losing streak might be the only reason to scan the box scores daily. They were still headed for a reasonable re-enactment of the 4-32 O's debacle until the Braves series. Now what am I supposed to hope for?

3. Another doubleheader sweep. After not being swept in a double-dipper against Atlanta for the second time in as many two-fers, the Mets gave the nostalgic among us one for old times' sake, one of those days with 18 innings and nary a good thing to report. They crapped out against the Bucs like they did so many times in double-ups over the past two years. It really took me back, and gave me that familiar warm wave of being home again that I get right before I throw up. On a related note, under Things I Learned This Season I can put that on those nights that the Mets are getting stomped by the 7th inning stretch (kind of like saying on those nights the sun actually sets, or on those nights Boston players do something really dorky or effeminate and yet it's still embraced by Red Sox Nation), I can load up on the Jamo's on the rocks, black the whole game out, and enjoy a pleasant good morning from wake-up until Sports Section perusal. Makes starting out the day significantly nicer, even with the headache, rot-gut, and tattered personal relationships.

So as you can see, we don't need to delve any further into the recent past, especially when the future is now an entirely new shade of midnight black these days. Firing Art Howe is just the latest in a long line of Mets' management removals of my favorite targets this year (see Weathers, Wheeler, etc.), but something I take positively; for one thing, they're listening to me, which everyone naturally should, and secondly, they seem to want the onus of failure directed only upon themselves, which is where it's probably better directed. More and more of Mets Township is taking aim at Team Wilpon, Jim Duquette (to a lesser extent), and even at the clubhouse veterans who've bent the previously mentioned folks' ear with personal gripes in wisdom's clothing. When things go bad -- and my oh my, they're bad now -- everyone's going to be a target. And it's a shame.

When the Mets' vets are getting pummeled for their inflated influence on team decisions, it's too bad, since these are the guys we should be most heralding, and it's a bit misdirected, since you can really only blame upper management for actually listening to them, right? Hey, if anyone's going to listen to me about any subject, I'll keep blathering on -- and while most people in my audience will just blankly nod, "Oh, I agree" while slugging their beer and staring over my shoulder at the hot chick bent over the jukebox, those who take my endless opinions and actually do something with that information do so at their own risk. So, too, do baseball franchise execs who give credence to the opinions of people whose jobs and reputations are not on the line. It's always hard to tell what's going on behind closed doors, and usually when a massive movement against someone/something is afoot, I tend, perversely, to sway to the opposition for some perspective, but in this case I tend to trust my blogging brethren and lay the blame with everyone involved. If Alois Leiter and his fellow senior citizens of Shea want to offer up some field-worthy thoughts based on their years of playing the game, such thoughts can be taken under consideration -- along with a mound from the Morton girl. And if you happen to go along with their advice, for Pete Falcone's sake, don't let any of it leak to talk radio. It seems like most actions these days are announced with a memo to the New York press and a subsequent "by the way" to the players and coaches involved. Why we need to know every detail, much less before they do, is a mystery that keeps me awake at . . . work.

So, with Gramps Howe putting the "lame" in lame duck these days, it's a chance to seriously think about the future even before Game 162 gets inked into the annals. The quest for the new skipper has too many ifs for overanalysis right now, though WFAN would eschew such a notion. The team itself is in need of some revamping, which I'm not sure at all why I bothered to type. The veterans I spoke of were critical to the early-season team "success," if you can call losing every other game success, but they have faltered just as some of the more keenly sophisticated bloggers had predicted (scroll down for a poor man's prophecy). And while other clubs would take consecutive seasons with a win total of sixtysomething (not to be confused with the new baby boomer TV drama in development) as the rock bottom at which point the term "rebuilding" becomes the mandatory catch-phrase, that's just not the case in Flushing. First of all, no New York City team has ever really had a rebuilding season, officially, thanks to the economics in place, and second, in a nod to Crash Davis, there's not enough fear and too much ignorance surrounding this team to do so. Pride's a dangerous thing; the first step to recovery is admitting you suck, so do it and let's get back to basics.

This can't be an original concept at this point, but it has occurred to me that the 2004 Mets executive management is all too similar to George Steinbrenner's regime in the eighties. Big Stein had the drive to win, without question, and he's always had the means, but his impatience and his ill-informed decisions converged in chaos, culminating somewhere around the Buhner for Phelps deal and ensuring all that money would be misspent. While George alienated the venerable, the Wilpons seem to suck up to them, but I'm afraid the result is the same. To be sure, the happy medium can be a fine line, one that Steinbrenner never toed but instead heaped a billion dollars into the mix to work around. From Charlie Comiskey to Peter Angelos, there are more historical instances of piss-poor management in baseball than shining examples of how to do it right, so finding a blueprint might be difficult. Instead, view it like any well-run business; hire good people and let them do their job. Don't micromanage, be true to your word, and keep an eye on the stockholder (ticket-buyer) at all times.

But let's face it, the ownership infrastructure isn't going anywhere. In the meantime, the team is malleable. We need to assess our assets quickly, which, thankfully (be honest, your eyes have glazed over at this point, right?), Mike at ECA is doing on a day-by-day basis. We can cry about deals gone bad (Victor "Waive the Physical" Zambrano, is your elbow ringing?), prospects that have disappointed (Jose "Oh, I thought the scouting report said agile!" Reyes), and signings that haven't panned out as expected (Kaz "IF starts with I, and So Does My Wish List" Matsui). But it's far more rewarding to scour the scrap heap, ignore the fact that injuries often recur, and look toward 2005 sans the dread any sort of sensibility would include.

Let's start in the now. Right now we're on the verge of two series that's the key to the season, at least for me. The Mets begin a three-game series at Montreal (who, oh my dear lord are only two games behind the Mets), while the Red Sox tackle the house of cards known as the Baltimore Orioles. If the Mets can pile it on the Expos and the Sox continue the pants-wetting they initiated this weekend in the Bronx, there's a fighting shot the Mets can finish within the 22-game bubble AND the Orioles can win 75 games. Translation: Whitney wins two cases of beer and there is a blogging carnival thereafter. Trust me, people, you want this, and by "you" I mean me.

Okay, pretty rusty from my non-blog slog. I just need a few AB's to get back into a groove here. Stay tuned.

No comments: