Friday, March 23, 2012

Mets Don't Need a Miracle: They Need Rebuilding

Thanks to Paul Sullivan of the blog Sully Baseball for inadvertently inspiring this post.

In 1978, after Graig Nettles caught a Carl Yastrzemski pop-up to win the Bucky Dent Game (or, as I prefer to call it, the Boston Tie Party) for the Yankees, the Red Sox slunk back into their dugout, and the looks on their faces said, "We can't beat these guys, we're never gonna beat these guys."

Well, in 1979, the Red Sox won 91 games, 2 more than the Yankees, who fell apart. They did finish ahead of those guys, although well behind the Orioles who ran away with the AL East. If those Sox had a better attitude, who knows?

Whereas in 2003, when Aaron Boone hit that Pennant-winning home run, Sox right fielder Trot Nixon walked back into the dugout and slapped the Gatorade cooler off the bench. Message: "This is unacceptable."

I only noticed it after the fact of 2004, when I engaged in that classic defeated fan's activity of playing back his team's last great highlight. But in hindsight it was important: The Sox decided to stop accepting defeat, especially to that team, and did something about it. Had they failed, it would still have been worth the effort -- but it succeeded.

As Yogi Berra might have said, if he'd thought of it before I did, "When you accept losing, you accept losing."


Someone on the Mets -- it could be David Wright, it could be Johan Santana, or it could be now-broadcaster Keith Hernandez coming in to give a pep talk -- needs to tell them, and by "them" I mean the Wilpons, "Losing is unacceptable." Rebuilding takes time, but it can be worth it.

It's not like cutting payroll to save money, knowing it will sabotage your team, thus "losing on purpose," which gets players banned from baseball for life but gets owners hailed by their fellow owners for "a sound business model."

Committing to a youth project, and only getting that big free agent when you've gotten to within 1 or 2 players of a Pennant, is an honorable thing. Sacrificing 2 or 3 bad years so that the next 5 to 10 will be good years is a good trade.

The Red Sox should do it, too, since the Yanks and Rays are likely to be the top 2 teams in the AL East for the next 3 years, at least until Jeter and Rivera are both retired and the Rays slash payroll again.

But the Sox have the advantage of a higher base from which to start than the Mets. They don't have nearly as far to go. Who knows, they might even get lucky and get back into it this year. Not that I want them to, but it could happen. Certainly, with all the bad luck they had in September of last year, they could use some good luck. (I know, it's the Red Sox: They and good luck are usually strangers.)

The Mets? Forget 1969: They need a real "miracle" to win this year. But if they do the right thing, for once, they can build a contending team for 2014 or '15.

There is precedent, right here in New York. And I won't have to go back as far to Ye Olden Days when there were 3 teams in the City:

* The Mets got off to an awful start in their history, but once the draft started in 1965, they were able to build their farm system to the point where they won the World Series in 1969.

* The Yankees did it from the time George Steinbrenner bought them in 1973, kept it going through the mid-1970s, and won the Pennant in 1976 and the World Series in 1977 and 1978.

* The Mets did it after Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday (whose example only grows in his absence) bought the team in 1980, and by 1984 they were contenders and, with the trade for Gary Carter added to that of Keith Hernandez and the promotion of fine young players from their farm system, were ready to go for the Pennant in 1985 and win the whole thing in 1986.

* The Yankees bottomed out in 1990, but Gene Michael rebuilt the team (with help from the absence of the suspended Steinbrenner), and the Yanks were contenders again by 1993 and World Champions again in 1996.

* The Mets hit a bottom of solid rock in 1993, but a rebuilding project was started. In 1995 they finished tied for 2nd. In 1997 they could see the Wild Card. In 1998 they came within 1 game of the Wild Card. In 1999 they got it and came within 2 games of the Pennant. In 2000 they won the Pennant.

* The Mets then declined, but after finishing last in 2002 started over, and were contenders by 2005 and within 1 lousy little stinking run of the Pennant in 2006. It turned out that Omar Minaya's "Los Mets" idea was a dumb idea, and that this was a false dawn -- but there's lessons in how, not just whether, to rebuild.

Rebuilding is hard. And it can feel very long. Especially in baseball, where there's a game nearly every day for 6 months and the seasons seem so much longer, and the results play out over that entire span, piece by piece. The legendary sports columnist Frank Deford once figured out why his hometown of Baltimore loved the Colts more than the Orioles: Because a Colts game was once a week, an event; while the Orioles were something you dealt with every day, like marriage or work.

Most people who read this blog are Yankee Fans. Well, if you're old enough to remember the last-place finish of 1990, and the accompanying Steinbrenner disgrace, try to remember what that felt like.

Now imagine that a DeLorean pulls up to you, and I step out, and tell you that I've come from the year 2012. And I tell you that 1991 and 1992 will be hard years, but in 1993, the Yankees will be contenders again. And that in 1996, we will win the World Series again. And that we will make the Playoffs every year but one from 1995 to at least 2011. And that this will include 7 Pennants.

Remembering who you were, and how you felt, at the time... would you have taken it?

If the situation were reversed, and it was you coming out of the time machine to tell it to me, you bet your Pinstriped ass I would have taken it!

Of course, I would have asked for proof. And handing me a DVD of the World Series highlight films from those years wouldn't have helped, since we didn't have DVD players in 1990.

But ask a Met fan from 1962 if he would have taken 1969 to '73. Ask one from 1980 if he would have taken 1984 to '90. Ask one from 1993 if he would have taken 1998 to 2001. And ask one from 2002 if he would have taken 2006. He'd probably say yes.

Can the Mets contend from 2014 to 2020? If you are a Met fan, would you accept 2 losing seasons to get those good 7? It's not like you'd be throwing '12 and '13 away; good work would be getting done.

Met fans have used the world "miracle" many times. Well, remember Pulp Fiction?

Jules: "What is a 'miracle,' Vincent?"
Vincent: "An act of God."
Jules: "And what is an 'act of God'?"
Vincent: "An 'act of God' is when God makes the impossible possible."

It's not impossible. But neither is it an act of God. It must be many actions of many men.

I know, I know: In another movie, Oh, God!, George Burns, playing said Divinity, said, "The last miracle I did was the 1969 Mets."

It's not a miracle. It's hard work. More importantly, it's smart work. If there's anything that the simultaneous examples, these last 20 years, of the Yankees and the Mets have proven, it's that it's not how much you spend, but how well.

Time for the Mets' brass to work smart. And the players they bring in, and the players they already have, to work hard and smart.

Yes, the club is going to be financially strapped for the near future.

But winning means increased income.

Do I want the Mets to win? No, I don't. I still hate the Mets.

But it is better for the New York Tri-State Area to have two good, entertaining baseball teams.

Act of God? The First Commandment of Team Sports is, "Thou shalt not allow thyselves to become boring." The Mets, as currently constituted, are weak, irrelevant, and boring.

Weak? Back to Pulp Fiction: The Mets are the weak, and Fred Wilpon is the tyranny of evil men.

While Sandy Alderson is trying, real hard, to be the shepherd.

Or, as Chuck Berry put it, "'C'est la vie,' said the old folks, which goes to show, you never can tell!"

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