Friday, March 04, 2005

The Metropolitan Museum vs. The National Gallery

As the off-season draws to a close in the coming weeks, it’s time to shake off the winter rust and start warming up. I was tempted to weigh in a couple of weeks ago with a pitchers & catchers witticism, and I think we’re all thankful that I refrained. Anyway, I guess I would have chimed in earlier if there were anything to discuss. Oh, wait. There is a pressing issue, I’ll go over in brief here. By in brief I mean in a long-winded, rambling, extremely verbose essay which can be summed up by a Steve Martin movie quote: “When you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea – have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!” All righty then. Enjoy!

Part of my recent absence can be attributed to the usual suspects – the slate of non-blogging matters in my day-to-day, general apathy, and the notion that Rob and I get the same off-season as the players we write about. Another element, however, has been gaining momentum and is the current leader of the Reasons Why This Blog Is Stale. In case you missed the blurb, there’s a new baseball team in Washington, DC. And its presence, more than any single event chronicled in the pages within Misery Loves Company (or whatever new moniker Rob has given this thing), has weakened my commitment to the Mets like never before.

To understand my deep internal struggle (You thought we couldn’t possibly muster overt melodrama in this embryonic a stage of the season? Ha!) of whether to exclusively root for the New York Mets or the Washington Nationals (hereafter referred to as Mets vs. Nats) requires a bit of background. If the decision seems a simple one to you, I can assure you it’s far from it. In addition to being one with blog-altering consequences – as well as one which potentially carries with it the snub of extended family and the disdain of purist friends and colleagues – it’s a battle whose victor will either make a hypocrite or turncoat out of me. But let’s face it . . . I’ve been called worse . . . today . . . by people I hardly know.

Whither the Nats? The most obvious factor in the Washington Nationals’ favor is the geography. It’s the convenience of my proximity to the club, but it’s even more the ability to root for “the hometown team.” This is a luxury not previously bestowed upon me on such a level; cheering on the AAA Tides in Norfolk or quietly rooting for the Red Sox (while more vocally lamenting the Mets) while summering on Cape Cod doesn’t really measure up to what I could enjoy in the District in 2005. I’ve waited all my life to either relocate to New York City or get a team in Washington. I can also be among the first denizens of DC to don the W-cap (and not have it mean anything Presidential) and pull my ever-enlarging weight.

Those of you who’ve actually muddled through the 513 previous posts here know how much I begged, pleaded, demanded, cursed, condescended, prayed, hoped, wished, shouted, believed, despaired, drank, insisted, argued, evinced, lied, aggrandized, overstated, satirized, mocked, derided, threatened, and blathered on incessantly about the necessity of the relocation of the Montreal Expos to the (this) nation’s capital. Well, it finally . . . finally happened. It’s what I asked for, it’s what I told Bud Selig fans like me would paid to see, and it’s everything that I wanted, except that the team is pretty putrid right now. Part of me deludes myself, feels partly responsible for their relocation here, and intends to support them just as I said we would. Another part of me wishes the delusional part of me would stop talking to strangers in mens’ rooms.

The question really isn’t whether I’ll support the Nationals; of course I will. The question is whether it will be in the subtle, general way that I’ve supported the Baltimore Orioles over the past decade or in a full-blown conversion way that ousts the Mets as my A-number-1 team. Do I dare dump the Mets after so long? And if I don’t clip them outright, how do I reconcile the fact that two of “my” teams are competing in the same division? Something has to give.

Dump the Mets? There are a number of reasons to give the Metropolitans their unconditional release. I wish there were some tangible evidence as to how frustrated I’ve become over the past few years with the Mets. [Oh, wait.] The Mets players, coaches, executives, and owners have displayed ineptitude galore, offset only a tad by tiny flashes of competence. From the overpaid, underachieving players to the overpaying, dunderheaded ownership tandem, it’s been a series of incidents to pull your hair out over, and my pate is begging for some relief. Though the Nat’ls are a lock to finish 15+ games south of the Mets this year, there’s simply nothing they can do that would madden me quite the way the jokers from Queens have.

The long-distance relationship the Mets and I have shared for years is taxing, too. I had been all revved up to fork over another couple hundred bucks for the baseball package to see an additional 80 or 90 Mets games this summer; then the Commish made it official, and though the TV deal isn’t yet inked (thank you very much, Peter Angelos, you limitless prick), I’m pretty sure there will be countless opportunities to catch free Nationals action on the tube. And as for going to games – one of the most enjoyable outings I know – the random game-a-season or less at Shea will be supplanted by regular trips to RFK. This newfound convenience is not, on its own, a reason to change horses, but as added bonuses go, it’s not a paltry one.

Another perk in ending my Met-induced madness would be getting to reduce my hypocrisy in the area of big-money-baseball-bashing. I’ve been firing bitter insults the Yankees’ way for their ludicrously engorged payroll for years (though I’m not the only one, even on this site); the plain fact is that my team has nearly as limitless a bankroll, but with far lesser results to show for it. This winter saw a closing of the gap between the New York franchises’ payrolls, even as the Yankees burst through previously mocked ceilings of check-writing and skewed playing fields. [There are even greater similarities between Rob’s Sox and the Yanks in this department, but that’s for his conscience to rationalize, not mine.]

So, between the high-rolling, low-appeal owners, the big-name bats and arms, and the common New York locale, the Mets are essentially Yankee wanna-bes, aren’t they? Well, in truth, their players – minus Pedro Martinez – are far more likeable. Around the horn alone you’ve got significantly more appeal (outside of the Bronx) on the Mets’ side, despite the omnipresence of those Yanks on your TV screen. It’s not a bad group of guys in Met-town, Pedro aside. And you can really get behind Willie Randolph – and Omar Minaya seems to have some inkling about what he’s doing, and Team Wilpon will never be the ugly pigdog that Big Stein is. Uh oh, I’m wavering already.

The single strongest reason not to shelve my Mets apparel (though abandoning the not-quite-Reese’s tandem of Dodger blue and Giant orange) is one of principle. I have always chastised bandwagoners, fair-weather fans, and arbitrary ship-jumpers, and this move could – somewhat, as I’ll contend – place me among the third entry among that treasure-trove trio of treason. I’ve seen people hop along from one club to the next as if favorite teams are akin to favorite songs, or even girlfriends, and so clearly they are not. As Rob mentioned, another blog has taken on the challenge of quantifying when and if it’s allowable to swap allegiances, but all along I’ve been something of a hard-line conservative on the matter. I’ve pulled for the Washington Redskins since before I can remember, through thick and a lot of thin. I had no significant hockey or college team of choice (excepting William & Mary, which is AAA-ball at best), so when I moved to DC, I threw halfhearted and moderate support behind the Caps and Terps, respectively. I was a Sixers fan growing up, but by the time I left college, the entire reason I was a fan (Erving comma Julius) had retired and my NBA interest had waned, so the underdog Bullets – they of the 22 wins and $11 tickets -- soon became my team. And then there’s baseball.

The Mets became my team at birth, as I was ordained a Mets fan by the maternal side of my family and dressed in (wool flannel) Mets uniforms (in the summertime) by my (nothing short of torturous) uncles in Tuxedo Park, NY. And here I stand in 2005 a hardened Mets fan. A life of Met fandom, right? Well . . . the era I casually omit on my baseball fan résumé, of course, is the period of 1977-1982, and it makes me cringe to type it, when I was a fan of the (ugh) New York Yankees.

There isn’t much to tell: I was six; the Yanks were great; the Mets were lousy; I jumped ship; my family ostracized me; my grandmother followed my lead just to protect me; Reggie Jackson was my favorite player; I got a Yankees uniform; I got all of the stars’ autographs when my grandmother stood on a dugout at spring training and groveled; I made myself sick on Reggie! bars; I went to a game at Yankee Stadium even after the tickets were picked from my grandfather’s pocket on the subway en route and scalped – the family later accused him of selling them or dropping them intentionally – but my grandmother (there’s a box seat reserved for this woman in heaven, I tell you) cried to the usher and knew our seat numbers and we got in; I had every Yankee baseball card in triplicate; my uncle made me cry when he told me he’d caught a Reggie home run at the Stadium and given the ball to some little kid; and the Yanks won two championships. Then . . . (deep breath) in what I’d once figured impossible, the Yankees didn’t make the postseason; then lost an ALCS to the Royals; then lost a World Series to the Dodgers; more significantly, I was 11 and old enough to know to loathe George Steinbrenner (I buried his autograph beneath Fred Stanley’s); Reggie Jackson became an Angel – and I felt relief instead of sadness; the team was infested with former enemies (Tommy John, John Mayberry, Butch Hobson, etc.); meanwhile, players I’d seen in Tidewater uniforms were now starring for the Mets; the Mets still sucked, but they were loveable while the Yankees were growing despicable; and somewhere along the way I saw the light. Okay, I guess there was a lot to tell.

What I learned in that formative stint was the enormous emotional difference between rooting for the underdog versus rooting for the big bully. Everyone expected the Yankees to win; when they did, it was pretty fun, but when they didn’t, it was constant bitterness. Meanwhile, across town, every one of the 65 wins per summer was met with a sliver of glee, for it never seemed likely. Sure, every October meant picking a new club like the Milwaukee Brewers to support on a temporary basis, but sad-sack status keeps the pressure low and the slapstick high. Then, when the club does turn it around, it’s that much more gratifying.

In hindsight, it was a fortuitous maneuver, as I only had to endure one more lousy Mets season under Bambi Bamberger. After that, Frank Cashen began making a series of moves that elevated his legacy to utter genius, Davey Johnson started his brilliant managerial run, and the good times started to roll. I took a ration of abuse from uncles and such for my hiatus from the Metwagon, but after a couple of years I’d regained my accepted status as Mets fan and swore allegiance to Mr. Met, Ralph Kiner, Mookie Wilson, Shea Stadium, and all things New York Mets. After the unthinkable 1986 –

Although, just to digress and drag this post out interminably, Peter Gammons was recently spotted on an ESPN ad promoting their Disney World weekend (see our bashing of such events a number of months back) telling Cinderella, “The ’86 Mets, now that was a Cinderella story,” but that’s not really true, now is it? The Mets won 90 games in 1984, 98 in 1985 (3rd best in MLB), and had pretty much the same team intact going into the ’86 season, minus Calvin Schiraldi and plus Bobby Ojeda. (See “Frank Cashen . . . genius.”) They were poised to win, and that they did for the entire season. Well, they did start out 2-3, and found themselves several games behind the defending NL champion Cardinals after St. Louis exited the gate 7-1, but the Cards then dropped nine of ten while the Mets revved it up. New York took over first place on April 23, led by 5 games a week later, and never looked back. When they won it all in October, that simply wasn’t a Cinderella story. The ’69 Amazin’ Mets, who made up 27 games in going from 9th to 1st in consecutive seasons, now there’s your Cinderella story. Pick it up, Peter – I don’t care if it was a script handed to you, you know better. Um . . . anyway . . .

. . . after the remarkable but not wholly unpredictable 1986, there were a few more years of exciting contention, and then a quick regression to the depths seen in the sixties and late seventies. Except it was different. Those weren’t the hapless but hilarious Casey’s Mets; they weren’t even the somewhat likeable Joe Torre’s Mets. They were Torborg’s terribles and Dallas’s delinquents, vastly underachieving squads compiled by the quickly forgotten Al Harazin and Joe McIlvaine. They were Vince “M-80” Coleman, post-payday Bobby Bo, still-surly Eddie Murray, Todd “At Juicy Juice our products are made from 100% juice” Hundley, and a laundry list of young busts. These teams set records, but not the ones you want: a record-setting $45 million payroll in 1992 (wow . . . 13 years later, the Yanks approach 6 times that) that led to 72 wins, and Anthony Young losing 27 games in a row, which still dumbfounds me as I type it. The Mets made it excruciating to root for them in earnest, but I didn’t turn my back on them. Not only did I watch, endure, and don the colors, I went so far as to replay the strike-shortened (kill it before it gets really bad) ’94 Mets season repeatedly on APBA computer baseball with my MLC cohort, grinding out losses while I skippered the squad. (Trust me, you can tinker with that lineup all you want, it’s a physical impossibility to top .500.) It was all demoralizing, but I never strayed. I went to Orioles games in the mid-90’s and saw what good teams with real character look like, but I’ve still never worn O-apparel. (For the record, Baltimore fans, the goofy old Oriole cap is way better than the classy, older/newer, science book model.) The bottom line was I stuck by my team because that’s what you do.

That paid off at the end of the decade, and although at this point the winning seasons of ’97-’00 seem just an infinitesimal blip on the radar, they were good years in Metville. That awesome infield, the 1-2 of Hampton/Leiter, Piazza in his prime, Benitez successfully staving off his on-the-mound demons, Rickey and Bobby Bo . . . oops, scratch that last part. Anyway, the reward was fleeting, and it was quickly back to dues-paying drudgery. Seems like a lot to demand of the fans, and that’s for a big-market team with a chance – what the Pirates and Tigers ask of their fans is almost completely unreasonable. The last two years offered me another chance to slip silently into the realm of non-Met-fandom, but rather than tune out, as it’d be easy to do from this (disad)vantage point in DC, I signed up for the figurative equivalent of punching myself in the eye on a daily basis, a.k.a. Misery Loves Company. Never considered the best decision-maker by others, at this point I even question myself.

After all of this history, and especially after rejuvenating my status via this blog for the last two years, it just seems like it would be very difficult to tender my resignation and move on, despite the obvious logic behind it. I was told by friends in a bar a week ago that making the leap into Nationals territory was perhaps acceptable, if I did indeed leave the Mets behind for good. And this is where I have trouble pulling the trigger. Turning my back on them cold turkey is nearly impossible. Deep down, I want to follow them as they try to contend for a title instead of pulling for the cellar-bound Nationals. Almost as appealing is the hotbed of sinister humor this big-budget blockbuster edition of the New York Mets could be if and when they falter; the bigger your payroll is, the harder you fall, journalistically speaking. This club is ripe for ripping after thrusting themselves back into the media spotlight, and that’s usually where I come in. Give all of that up?

At the same time, I do understand that the time is now or never for the switch. The purist in me says that leaving the contending Mets for the bottom-feeding N’s (still feeling my way around for a nickname that works) is a small show of integrity, illustrating that clearly it cannot be a bandwagoner’s cry of “So, who’s good this year?” I could get in with the Nationals on the ground floor and start paying my dues once again while checking out with my Mets while they’re potentially positioned for a postseason run. But . . . then again . . . aaaaaaaargh!!!

I’m at a crossroads, for sure, and I’ve taken advice from Rob, other Mets fans, and fellow members of the blog community. (Mike at East Coast Agony was especially instructive . . . and just because this is now approaching 3,000 words, another digression – the ECA guys called me out for be in absentia for “much of last season,” but there’s evidence here to the contrary – I was stalwart until September, dammit!) It’s still not clear which way I’m leaning, and after all of this pseudo-rational analysis, I’m pretty sure it’s going to come down to an instinctive reaction the first time I watch the Mets and Nationals square off. Yes, I know, they did exactly that two days ago, but I was unable to watch the game online or in a bar (damn this job). So the jury is still out.

I do know this: I probably can’t keep myself away from blogging ad nauseum about the roller-coaster ride that is the New York Mets. Strange things are afoot at Misery Loves Company, what with my no-longer-miserable comrade and my split interest, but it may be worth checking in once in a while to see how we’re coping. Or not.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

3,241 words. Wow.