Monday, March 7, 2011

Mets Face Fire Sale, Artest vs. Texter

Check this video out. Imagine, Ron Artest goes into the stands, "hits" a fan, and comes out looking better than the guy he hit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Smtlnfyx2g

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Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote a column suggesting that, because Mets owner Fred Wilpon lost so much money in the Bernie Madoff swindle, he might have to hold a "fire sale," selling off the Mets' big stars, thinking that, even in a bad year, the Mets would still draw well.

I did the math: The Yankees and Mets, combined, brought in 6,325,545 fans in 2010, a bad year for the U.S. economy, and with high ticket prices. The Yanks had 3,765,807; the Mets, 2,559,738 -- a 60/40 split in favor of the Yankees. I suspect that this is the highest it's ever been in favor of the Yankees.

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I can think of a few reasons for this, but it doesn't help that the generation that became Met fans because they were New York Giant and Brooklyn Dodger fans is aging. Many have died, many are old and ill, many -- as my Dodger/Met fan Grandma decided for the last few years of her life -- are far out in the Jersey, Long Island or Connecticut suburbs and don't feel like schlepping out to Flushing Meadow at their age, and certainly (especially if they were old enough to remember the Depression) not at these prices -- not just tickets, but Turnpike/Parkway/tunnel/bridge tolls and parking fees if you drive, bus/train/subway fares if you don't.

So they stay Met fans, but just watch on TV -- what are derisively called "armchairs" in English soccer, although at their age they deserve to not have their true loyalty questioned. That's probably the main reason why the attendance figures no longer reflect what is probably closer to a 55/45 advantage for the Yankees; certainly, it's not the nearly even split that it looked like in October 2000, during the only real "Subway Series" of the last 55 years.

It also doesn't help that the Yankees are in town, and have kept winning. I've checked the attendances of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and, in spite of the Sox finally winning a Pennant and a World Series in 2005, the Cubs still outdraw them nearly every season, but it's not by much, and the sizes of the ballparks don't really factor in (the AL park can outseat the NL park 44K-40K in Chicago, as opposed to 50K-41K in New York). When both teams, as in Chicago, are perpetual "losers," it's no big deal; but when one team is seen as a winner and the other as a loser, it's long-term bad news.

Checking the attendance figures of the other 2 metro areas with 2 teams doesn't help: The San Francisco Giants have a great new ballpark and are the defending World Champions, while the Oakland Athletics play in a terrible, inadequate football stadium and aren't very good at the moment. The Giants averaged 37,499 last season, the A's 17,511, less than half. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the, ahem, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were both good teams last season, and play in old ballparks that have been made to feel new (the Dodgers through renovations, the Angels through getting rid of the football bleachers and giving Anaheim/Edison/Angel Stadium a baseball feel again). The Dodgers averaged 43,979 fans last season, which would be roughly Anaheim's capacity; the Angels averaged 40,134. So the analogy with the Yanks and Mets, or with the Cubs and White Sox, doesn't fit here.

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But it's not just that the Yankees have won and the Mets have lost, but it's, when the Mets have won, HOW they've won:

* They won the World Series in 1969, but it got called a "Miracle," as if it shouldn't have happened. Remember the movie Pulp Fiction? Hitmen Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) get shot at by a guy win a gun that Jules said was bigger than the guy holding it, who fired the full six shots at close range, and missed both men with every shot. (They then killed him rather easily.) This makes Jules start to think about the big picture:

Jules: Man, I just been sitting here thinking.
Vincent: About what?
Jules: About the miracle we just witnessed.
Vincent: The miracle YOU witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.
Jules: What is a "miracle," Vincent?
Vincent: (thinks for a moment) An act of God.
Jules: And what's "an act of God"?
Vincent: When, um... God makes the impossible possible.

And then, of course, there's the 1977 movie Oh, God! where God is played by George Burns, and He says, "The last miracle I did was the 1969 Mets."

So the Mets winning the 1969 World Series was "impossible"? I don't think so. I've analyzed this here before, and I'm come to the conclusion that the reason they got in position to win that Series was because they were smartly building up their scouting and farm systems, focusing on pitching, defense and speed -- essentially, what the St. Louis Cardinals had been doing since the 1920s, and it usually worked for them.

The Mets also had that chance because of the opposition: While the Cardinals themselves, winners of the 2 previous NL Pennants, had fallen apart due to dissension, the Cubs were a player or two short of a title, and the teams that would dominate the NL in the 1970s -- the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles edition of the Dodgers, were still in transition and weren't ready to take over yet.

The reason the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves for the Pennant was that the NL West was relatively weak at the time. And the reason the Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series is that Gil Hodges outmanaged Earl Weaver, who never got the O's to take the Mets seriously. Were the '69 Mets lucky? Of course: Every team that wins the World Series, even the Yankees, does so with some luck. Was it a miracle? No. Unlikely, yes; a miracle, no.

* In 1986, the Mets winning the World Series was "inevitable," pretty much from the end of the 1985 season onward, and this bunch of party boys (much worse than was known at the time) was rammed down our throats by the media (sickening people with taste like yours truly), and they STILL nearly blew it -- against both the Houston Astros in the NLCS and the Red Sox in the World Series. And they never won another Pennant, blowing the NLCS to the Dodgers in 1988, finishing 2nd in every other season from 1984 to 1990, and falling apart in 1991, not to contend again for 7 years while the Yankees built a new dynasty.

* In 2000, it was an exciting team, but their baserunning and bullpen practically handed the Series to, of all teams, the Yankees. The Mets had blown the Wild Card by losing the last 5 games of 1998, they fought hard but ultimately lost the 1999 NLCS to the Braves, won the 2000 Pennant but lost the Series as stated, and then it fell apart again.

* And they didn't follow up 2006, either. Do I really need to rehash that still-recent development? No, because, at the moment, I don't really need a laugh. Besides, it's not really all that funny. What happened in 2007, and then in 2008, was the opposite of what Karl Marx suggested: History repeated itself, but in this case, the first time was as farce, the second time was as tragedy.

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The Mets won the '86 Series by beating the Astros and Red Sox. They blew the '98 Wild Card to the Cubs. They lost the '99 Pennant to the Braves. They lost the '07 and '08 Division Titles to the Philadelphia Phillies, and blew the '08 Wild Card to the Milwaukee Brewers. All teams which, not that long ago (in the cases of the Astros and Cubs, still are), were considered burdened by failure.

And that's what the Mets are now: Burdened with failure. The failure to keep their 1969-73 team together, leading to the years when Shea Stadium was "Grant's Tomb" while Yankee Stadium became a house of champions again. The failure of the 1980s Mets to win more than 1 Pennant -- and it's now been 25 years. The failure of the turn-of-the-21st-Century Mets to build on what they did achieve (2 NLCS berths, 1 Pennant) and their failure against the Yankees in the 2000 World Series. And, most recently, the failure of the Mets to win the 2006 Pennant, when the Series was probably theirs for the taking, and following that up with 2 inexcusable September collapses and the disintegration of Omar Minaya's "Los Mets" dream.

Has it really been all that long since the Mets were associated with glory? Even with competence? They are now Cubs East: Lovable losers. And this Madoff situation appears to be insuring that the 2011 season will begin with a cloud over the team, suggesting that there's no light at the end of the tunnel -- unless it's an oncoming train.

There is a way out of it, and it appears the Mets' brass is already taking it: Rebuilding, with attention to development at all levels. It worked under Hodges and Johnny Murphy in the late Sixties. It worked under Frank Cashen in the early Eighties. It worked again (to an extent) under Steve Phillips in the late Nineties. It could work again... but it may take a few years. Fred and Jeff Wilpon fired Jerry Manuel as manager and Minaya as general manager, and hired Sandy Alderson as GM, who hired J.P. Ricciardi as his "special assistant," both of which appear to be good hires. Whether Terry Collins, Alderson's choice as manager, is a good choice remains to be seen.

Still, if I told you that your favorite sports team, assuming it was not now a serious postseason contender, was going to start over, and the next 2 seasons would essesntially be lost, but the 3rd season would see them seriously contend, and that the next 7 to 10 seasons would see them remain in contention -- with no guarantee that any titles, trophies or cups were coming -- would you take it? Would YOU sacrifice 2 or 3 years so that the next 7 to 10 years would be good? I would.

The Wilpons will make back the Madoff money through their various revenue streams. They don't need a fire sale, they need rebuilding, which is no shame. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is not only a shame, it's "the classic definition of insanity."

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