According to multiple sources, on Friday night Howard Johnson ripped into several players before the game for their increasing pre-game card-playing, which clearly occurs during the time when one would perhaps have the temerity to consider that they might be studying the pitcher they will soon face and working on their collectively abysmal hitting.
Jose Reyes recently admitted that he simply cannot pay close attention to every pitch, and this is just the way he has played the game since he was a kid.
Earlier this year, Alex Cora, whose intangibles have always clearly outweighed his tangibles, shouted at Mike Pelfrey and members of the media who were laughing it up after yet another loss.
Darryl Strawberry was made to feel unwelcome when he criticized the attitude and desire of this group of Mets, and Keith Hernandez and Bobby Ojeda have made very similar remarks.
How many days did it take “great clubhouse guy” Francoeur to decide he’d rather be elsewhere after his horrid hitting was thought to be headed for a platoon with a hopeful future star? And of course this resulted in his being right back as a starter—a classic case of the inmates running the asylum.
Oliver Perez is making 12 million this year and refuses to accept a minor league assignment to try to regain his ability to pitch at the MLB level. This follows his failure to report to camp in shape in 2009 after signing a 36-million-dollar deal.
How many games have we watched the team string together some hits and a run or two in the first couple of innings and then sleepwalk through the next 5 or 6? How many late, close games have we watched batters come to the plate and aggressively swing at the first pitch against decidedly mediocre pitchers? During how many postgames has ring-wearer Ojeda mentioned this?
The time has come to face the fact that this is not a gritty, gutty bunch, filled with heart and cojones and the desire to win, who leave it all on the field.
Cliches? Yes, to be sure. But how many instances of this attitude—surrounded by nothing short of horrifyingly middling, mediocre play from virtually all quarters for two years now—do we have to see before we contemplate the obvious truth?
The 2006 Mets had a supporting cast which was not only far superior to 2007-2010’s on the field, but quite obviously off the field as well. There can be little doubt that LoDuca, Valentin, Chavez, and Floyd put performance and winning first. This clearly rubbed off on the team’s more high-profile players.
This is not to say that Wright, Bay, Reyes, Beltran, and many others are not talented players and good human beings.
But they simply are not players cast in the mold of LoDuca or Floyd or any of the aforementioned 1986 Mets. And they likely never will be.
Some will scoff at this, but there has to be a reason for the chokes in 2007 and 2008 and then the following two seasons of dreadful mediocrity, and four years of this cannot be blamed, respectively, on the starters, the bullpen, the injuries, and the manager. What will 2011’s excuse be? The team came alive in late May and June, and appeared to be capable of playing quite well. But they absolutely collapsed in early July and have yet to recover, and this cannot be blamed on injuries as 2009 conveniently could be.
What gets this team fired up? KRod’s girlfriend’s Dad’s loud mouth. People suggesting that Reyes should be totally ready every play. Rare Mets who wear World Series rings questioning the desire and heart of this contented, comfortable bunch. And HoJo asking why the hell they are playing cards instead of preparing.
It says here that it is time to face the glaringly obvious fact that this group of players is flawed in character and probably will never win without a taskmaster manager and a sterling cast of supporting gamers as the team had in 2006.
This writer criticizes the Yankees and does feel that their spending skews the entire game. But a look back at perhaps the signature game of 2009 between the Yanks and Mets showed so very much that is different between the teams. When Castillo (who has been out of shape for a good chunk of his Met career) could not bother to use two hands and dropped a popup, Mark Teixeira, for all of his millions, was running as hard as he could and made it all the way around to score. While watching that play, all this writer could think was that no Met would have been running as hard as Tex on that play.
This team, as John Dean once famously said about the Nixon Presidency, has a cancer growing on it. The cancer has been metastasizing and now has basically infected nearly the entire team. Sure, there are games and instances when it is in remission, but this is really the only explanation for what we have seen for years now. Whether it is Glavine’s letting us know how little missing the playoffs meant to him at the Met stage of his career, to Beltran’s refusing to slide last year and meekly being tagged out at home, to Reyes’ defiantly defending his Randy Moss-like inability/refusal to be 100% every play, to Strawberry’s critique right through HoJo’s frustration with the lackadaisical pre-game card playing, it is time to accept that this is not a winning group.
We will never pass the Phillies with this type of attitude, and let us hope that Backman or Teufel or some new, young, tough manager is brought in to try to instill some focus and toughness into this group. Maybe similar things can be suggested about other teams, but, with the possible exception of the Cubs, it is hard to point to another team with our payroll and talent with weaker results.
Some will surely trot out the old chestnuts about how “every team” has times like this and “no one runs out ground balls” and “no one uses two hands” but it is time to face the facts after watching what we have for two years now, following the endings in 2007 and 2008. This is not a group that has what it takes to overcome adversity and win, as they have clearly shown for four years in a row. After the historic collapse in 2007, many folks—this writer most definitely among them–said that this group “deserved another chance”—well, we added Johan Santana and the group has had three more chances. Yes, every team has players who don’t hustle, and the pro athlete at this level in 2010 is indeed often a soft, wealthy, unaccountable creature. But not every team is like this, and payroll does not always equate contention and a winning record, as a look over the last five years at Tampa Bay, Minnesota, San Diego, and even Florida clearly shows. The Mets have just inadvertently put together a rare collection of players who largely lack the desire to be their best at all times and at all costs.
Others have also pointed out that the Twins lost Johan and keep winning. The Rangers lost Tex and are better. The Padres lost Peavy and improved. Florida consistently loses players and remains as good or better than the Mets. Maybe it is indeed time to consider trading one of our core players for a package of prospects. Something has to significantly change about the culture of this team, which seems to think it is infinitely better and more accomplished than it is, and which consistently recoils at any suggestion that it try harder, hustle more, or change its ways.
Mediocrity has become more than accepted—it is an intractable, ossified part of Met life.
Here’s hoping that this offseason sees dramatic change, from the manager’s office to the roster, as it is only a matter of time before Ike, Niese, Thole, and the rest of the kids become infected with the disease of satisfied mediocrity which clearly afflicts these Mets, as it has basically since the end of the 2007 season.