The owner calls out the players. The players call out the fans. The manager professes to know nothing about week-long antics in the dugout. The faces may have changed, but the new New York Mets sound a lot like the old New York Mets.
Of all the things to lament in a season that started with so much promise and now has New York’s playoff hopes circling the drain, the expected outrage from still-hopeful fans buying tickets, watching games and paying for overpriced beers and hot dogs is understandable. Javier Báez, who has played in all of 17 games as a New York Met, calling out paying customers is not.
“It feels bad when I strike out and I get booed,” Báez said Sunday, in explaining the thumbs-down signal he and several teammates have recently adopted after hits. “It doesn’t really get to me, but I want to let them know that when we’re successful, we’re going to do the same thing, to let them know how it feels. If we win together, then we gotta lose together.”
I know Baez just got here, but that is not how New York operates. New York is a different beast, and anyone in any major sport will let you know that.
Give the fans something to cheer about, and they’ll love you for life. If you suck, they’re going to let you know that too.
It is shocking that Baez, coming from a large city like Chicago, was so blindsided by this concept.
The thumbs-down signal aimed at fans may as well have been another, more pointed digit. It was an immature display for an organization that kept touting — under new owner Steve Cohen — the beginning of a new era, of cultural change and winning ways.
As of now, that new era is off to an identical to the past 60 years of the franchise existence.
Perhaps this is a lesson for Cohen — who two weeks ago called out the team’s “unproductive” hitters — and his club: real change isn’t easy and requires accountability.
New York has won four of its last 16 games and gone 16-27 in the second half to free-fall out of first place.
Baez is batting .210 with four homers and seven RBIs in 17 games since being acquired on July 30. He spent time on the injured list and missed 11 games with back spasms. Not living up to the hype of his midseason acquisition. And that in part is why he and his teammates are hearing the boo’s.
If the 2021 Mets don’t want to hear booing from their home fans, maybe they should give them something to cheer about.
Paying customers should have the freedom to express themselves within reason, an idea that Mets team president Sandy Alderson endorsed when he released a statement Sunday night, calling the gesture “totally unacceptable” and saying he would be meeting with the Mets players. Baseball fans, too, are best served when ballplayers express themselves honestly and openly.
Báez did have some good points in his press conference following the series finale 9-4 win over the Nationals. Players are not machines, and they’re often more bothered by cheers and booing than they let on, particularly in front of home fans. But this is New York, where a “Fire Rojas” chant broke out recently and, just a few weeks ago, Yankees GM Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone were on the hot seat.
But what Baez and the locker room needs to understand is the boos are not personal and never a lifetime sentence.
An example, Tino Martinez of the Yankees. When he was tasked to fill the shoes Don Mattingly left at first base for the Yankees in ’96, Martinez struggled immensely. He acknowledged the boo’s and agreed that the fans deserved to boo him. Fast forward 25 years and he is one of the most beloved Yankees from that era.
You can discuss whether it’s right to boo your own team all day. But the very definition of being a fan stems from the word “fanatical,” which means irrational, obsessive and, according to Merriam-Webster, “filled with excessive single-minded zeal.”
Whose fault is it this team is underperforming? Cohen’s? President Sandy Alderson? Rojas? The players? Everyone wants to point fingers somewhere else. And on Sunday, the team’s big trade deadline acquisition — aided and abetted by its biggest offseason signing in Lindor — spun around and pointed again.
“They’re putting more pressure on the team,” Báez told reporters on Sunday of the home-crowd boos.
Funny, no one complained about pressure all those weeks when the team was in first place.
Memo to Báez and the Mets: You need those fans, wild or not. Ambivalence doesn’t sell tickets and jerseys. Just like the constant finger-pointing doesn’t sell the narrative of a fixed franchise.
Baez’s comments were an unnecessary distraction on an abysmal month of Mets baseball. A pending free agent, Báez’s time in New York could be over very soon. But for Cohen, and whoever he keeps, the work in truly transforming these Mets is just beginning.
Transforming 60 years of an embedded culture of letting the inmates run the asylum won’t be easy. Shifting the mindset from free willing to conservative will be difficult. Finding ways to hold employees accountable is a must. These are all things that are a must if the Mets will ever outgrow their generational dysfunction. Even in 1986 when they won a World Series, the players where untamed and never disciplined. Crack and hoes ran through the blood of that team just as much as the talent did.
So is a culture transformation needed yes.
But I don’t have faith in said transformation. The Mets will always “Met.”