The worst hot-mic protest idea ever

I remember the first time I understood just how clueless the people in power were. I was in high school, and for one reason or another, dozens of my classmates had plans to attend a protest. My high school was big on protests.

A few days before the protest, the school sent out an email. It was basically a tip sheet: how to stay safe while protesting. But what really stuck out to me was the last line. It went something like this.

“Don’t forget to bring a sweater or sweatshirt,” it said. “Protests can get chilly!”

Here is a protest, the ultimate expression of rebellion and independence, and the school was inserting itself like a toddler’s mother? It was so out of touch, so wrong for the moment, so…misplaced.

Honestly, at my school, that kind of thing happened all the time. Senior year, my class spent months brainstorming a senior prank. We came up with something incredible: each member of our class would switch places for a day with a student at another nearby high school. We would simply create some chaos, and see what happened.

Somehow, though, some classmates of mine got the bright idea to take our prank to the administration for approval. Of course, the administration said no. “Let’s just do it anyway,” I said. I was pretty sure, after all, that that was the whole point of a senior prank. But the rest of the grade shot me down. We ended up forming an administration-mandated “senior prank committee” that included, if I remember correctly, both the dean and the principal.

The message, basically, was simple: sure you can pull a prank! Sure you can have fun! Just make sure that whatever you do, it makes the school principal feel comfortable.

Which brings me to today, and the latest hot-mic scandal to sweep the country. In a video first tweeted by @NickCocco18, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen speaks in a dark, nearly empty press room. As he sits, the Mets are in turmoil: they’re still trying to decide whether or not they’ll play later that night. Given the multiple postponements already, and especially after Dominic Smith’s powerful, tear-filled postgame press conference the day before, it might make sense not to play.

“Three of us,” he says. “Can’t leave this room.” Then he launches into the substance of his point, describing the plan MLB has proposed as an alternative to postponement.

“’You know, it would be great if you just had them all take the field, then they leave the field, and then they come back and play at 8:10,’” Van Wagenen describes Rob Manfred saying. “And I was like, ‘what?’”

There’s one twist: a few hours later, Van Wagenen released a statement. It wasn’t Manfred’s idea, Van Wagenen said: it actually came from Jeff Wilpon. Regardless of who it came from, though, it was a bad idea.

It was beyond misplaced. It was completely ludicrous, almost to the point of parody. There couldn’t possibly be an emptier gesture: a casual fan who turned on the game at 8:30 might not even notice that anything had changed. Basically, Jeff Wilpon’s plan to protest social injustice was pretending that just before first pitch, there was a short flurry of rain.

Caveat: it might well be that the plan was Manfred’s after all, and that the various figures involved are casting the blame on Jeff Wilpon for some nefarious reason or another. If it was Manfred’s, it certainly casts doubt on the statement he gave in June, when he said that “we want to utilize the platform afforded by our game to be not only allies, but active participants in social change.”

But Van Wagenen has said that the plan was Wilpon’s idea, and Manfred has released a statement vigorously denying his involvement; for now, I’ll assume the plan was Wilpon’s. Van Wagenen’s statement casting the blame on Wilpon is actually hilarious. “I felt the suggestion was not helpful,” Van Wagenen says. He’s not wrong.


Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis leave the field after a 42-second moment of silence before the Mets’ August 27th game against the Marlins. The game was postponed. 

The Mets and Marlins ended up taking the field at 7:10, then holding a 42-second moment of silence. Then they left the field, leaving only a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt on home plate. They didn’t come back an hour later; the game was postponed. Thank goodness they had more nerve than my high school class.

The key takeaway, though, is just how bad Jeff Wilpon’s plan was. When the Mets wanted to do something real, he proposed the emptiest of gestures, a short delay that meant almost nothing. At that moment, the Mets were the fiercely independent, unconstrained youth, standing up and making a point that couldn’t be ignored. And Jeff Wilpon was the high school principal, admonishing his charges that they should definitely speak out and protest, but only in ways that made the people in power feel comfortable.


If Dominic Smith kneels, the Mets must kneel with him

It’s one of the most well-known scenes in baseball history. It was May 13th, 1947, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Reds in Cincinnati. As the Dodgers took the field in the bottom of the first, Crosley Field fans screamed with malice. Their target was Brooklyn’s first baseman, Jackie Robinson.

Brooklyn’s shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, was from Kentucky, just across the Ohio River: for him, this was basically a hometown crowd. But standing at short, Reese didn’t like what he was hearing.

As the crowd continued its verbal assault on Robinson, Reese crossed the diamond. He put his arm around Robinson, and stood with him at first base. The crowd was stunned.

Unfortunately, the story may be apocryphal. But whether or not it happened, there’s a reason it lives on in baseball’s memory. It’s the ultimate moment of selflessness, of putting the team before the individual. Pee Wee Reese had a teammate who needed support. The 27,000 fans who berated Reese didn’t matter, nor did millions more across the country. Openly, defiantly, and proudly, Reese stood with his teammate for the world to see.

I thought of that day in 1947 as the Mets took the field to play the Marlins. After police shot Jacob Blake, a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and a white supremacist murdered two protesters, several teams in multiple leagues had announced that they would strike in protest. The Mets and Marlins were playing, but the game seemed almost secondary.

The teams took the field, and the National Anthem played. Dominic Smith took a knee. And not one of his teammates joined him.


It is not easy to be Dominic Smith — a young black man — in America today. Take it from Smith himself. “For this to continually happen, it just shows the hate in people’s heart,” he said through tears after the game. “That just sucks. Being a Black man in America is not easy.” And on the day Smith took a knee — inevitably subjecting himself to torrents of abuse from fans who don’t know better, or don’t care — not one of his teammates joined him.

There’s no excuse. None. This goes far beyond political belief. Regardless of what any Met thinks about the police, you have your teammates’ back. That’s the first rule of team loyalty, from Reese and Robinson to Spartacus. Support your teammates. No ifs, ands, or buts.

It could have been that Smith’s choice took the Mets by surprise, and they didn’t have time to kneel together. Michael Conforto said as much after the game. “Conforto wishes he had been by Smith during the National Anthem today to support him outwardly, but Smith’s decision to kneel was made privately, at the last minute,” reported Anthony DiComo of But then Conforto ruined whatever goodwill he had built up.

He probably would not kneel with Smith even on another day, he said. And why not? “It’s what I’ve always done. I think it’s as simple as that.”

“It’s what I’ve always done.” That’s barely a reason to drink Pepsi. It’s definitely not a reason to refuse to support a teammate. It’s what you’ve always done? Respectfully, do something else.

Conforto, Tim Britton reports, says that while he won’t take a knee, “I will be there with him, and he knows that I support him.” But that’s not nearly enough. Proud, public support is what matters. Move the story of Reese and Robinson from the field to the clubhouse, and Reese’s gesture becomes a lot less meaningful.

Manager Luis Rojas said that the Mets “support every personal choice.” But Rojas said he wouldn’t kneel, because “that’s not my personal choice.”

That’s nonsense, and completely selfish. This isn’t a time for personal choice. Rojas is basically saying “I won’t support Smith, because I don’t want to.” Kneeling might make you uncomfortable. You might not want to do it. Do it anyway. Be a leader. Support your team.

Supporting Smith from the comfort of your own head is relatively easy. Taking a knee with him is a lot harder, especially if a player has friends or family who will be offended. Hell, maybe kneeling offends the player himself.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is supporting your teammates. And the only way to really support Smith right now is to kneel with him, so the whole world knows that the Mets have his back.

There’s one important caveat: Smith may not want his teammates to join him. If he asks them not to kneel, for whatever reason, they should do as he asks.

But if that doesn’t happen, then there’s no excuse. Personal opinions, family reservations, lingering uncertainties — all that be damned. Support your teammates. No matter what. If Smith decides to take a knee tomorrow, or ever again, the Mets need to kneel with him.


Hope Springs Occasionally

In its own way, the 2020 season is obviously too short, and seems just as long as ever.

On the one hand, the season is going far too quickly. The Mets have played 26 games, and have 34 left; 43% of the season has already happened. The season just started. What are we doing in the middle?

On the other hand, though, the Mets, in their special way, are managing to pack a full season’s worth of emotions into this abbreviated excuse. For one, of course, each game is a see-saw in a tornado. A four-out Edwin Díaz appearance these days goes up and down more than a Victorian novel.

The Mets are 12-14, which would be disappointing except for where we were three days ago. Back then, we were 9-14, couldn’t find a starting pitcher worth a damn, couldn’t score against the Phillies…couldn’t even do things that everyone can do, like put down tags or go from first to third on a double.

Remember how down and out we felt after getting swept by the Phillies? I do.

As I dragged myself through writing a column, I let my pessimism out.

“The standings matter less than the fact that the Mets can’t seem to stop failing,” I wrote. “Mets games are nothing more than episodes of ‘Wipeout,’ and Mets fans are the contestants, unable to enjoy themselves because they know the next obstacle will knock them off their feet any minute.”

I sat on the couch stewing in disappointment, an episode of The King of Queens that I’d already seen playing in the background. But then, for no reason besides maybe Jerry Stiller’s on-screen antics, something replaced the frustration.


These Mets give us hope every day, whether they mean to or not, whether it’s logical or deluded. The greatest quality of the 2019-2020 Mets — and there are many — is that every player is another point of hope, a reason to believe that if today goes bad, tomorrow might be better.

In practical terms, what that means is that there’s not one player on the Mets’ roster — and I challenge you to prove me wrong — who’s not worth getting excited about. Some Mets, like Dellin Betances, inspire hope because of the heights they’ve attained in past seasons; some, like Andres Gimenez, inspire hope because of what they might do five or ten years in the future. And many Mets — deGrom, Nimmo, Conforto, Guillorme, Smith, Shreve — inspire hope not because of the past or the future, but through the things they do on the diamond every day.

Maybe all ballclubs are like this, or maybe they’re not; I wouldn’t know. But what’s undeniable is that hope and the Mets go together like Edwin Díaz and heart medication. They have since July 9th, 1973, when Tug McGraw, in the midst of an M. Donald Grant speech to the clubhouse, began shouting: “Ya Gotta Believe! Ya Gotta Believe!”

Ya gotta have hope. So I did.

“Maybe Robert Gsellman finds his form in Miami tomorrow night, puts together a solid start, and carries the Mets to a win,” I wrote. “Maybe David Peterson continues his strong rookie showing Tuesday with another win, giving (knock on wood) deGrom the ball Wednesday with a chance to win a third straight game and pull the Mets back into the playoff hunt. In a 60 game season that’s already 23 games old, a three game winning streak can work wonders.”

We now move ahead three days, and guess what? Technicalities aside, that’s exactly what happened. The Mets are 12-14 and go for the four-game sweep of the Marlins tomorrow. Seth Lugo will start. There’s a reason to believe already.

Me — without hope, I’d be sunk. Tomorrow, as Lugo pitches to whichever pestilential Marlin is leading off, I’ll be somewhere in the air above the upper Midwest, descending towards Detroit. I’ll be decamping for the Wolverine state for the next long while, following a woman I love more than anything in the world. That includes watching Brandon Nimmo take a close pitch for a ball, so you know I’m serious.

Ya gotta believe — if I didn’t, I’d never have made it this far. College, grad school, summer jobs, real jobs, days or weeks together followed by months apart…like a Jeurys Familia outing in a close game, it wasn’t easy for a second. And now begins a new part in a new state, which won’t be easy either.

But ya gotta believe. Things will work out. I’ll land in Detroit, and I’ll probably have missed a few Seth Lugo innings and a Brandon Nimmo walk. Thank goodness I’m a Mets fan. They mess with us, this ridiculous team of ours, but they also give us reason to hope. Tomorrow I start a new phase in life. It’ll go much better when we also start by sweeping the Marlins.



The Elephant Race

NEW YORK — In the top of the fourth inning of the Mets’ Sunday afternoon 6-2 loss to the Phillies — not to be confused with their Saturday 6-2 loss to the Phillies, or their Friday 6-5 loss to the Phillies — Luis Guillorme slashed a Zack Wheeler fastball the other way with the bases loaded. J.D. Davis scored. Robinson Cano scored. Wilson Ramos took off, in a manner of speaking, for third.

Guillorme’s hit ricocheted off the left field stands to Jay Bruce. Bruce threw to third. Ramos was out by more than a Roman Quinn. He tried to slide, but ended up doing something that looked more like a flailing sideways tumble. He was out anyway.

I remember reading, a few years ago, about how bad a baserunner David Ortiz was. Ortiz, I read, scored from second on a single only once out of 40 opportunities, or some obscene number like that. Ortiz couldn’t run to save his life. Watching him tag from third and try to score on a fly ball to the warning track felt like watching an elephant race a Maserati.

Now Wilson Ramos is making Mets fans long for David Ortiz on the basepaths, which might be the most impressive thing Ramos has done as a Met. For all Ortiz’s slowness of foot, he would have struggled to do what Ramos did today.

Ramos, in case it’s unclear, stood on first. The bases were loaded with two outs, so Ramos probably could have taken a 20-foot lead if he’d wanted to. He could have taken a nice, luxurious secondary, and he certainly should have been running on contact.  And then Guillorme drove a ball down the left field line — and Ramos was out at third by 10 feet, an elephant beaten by a Maserati.

Not scoring from second on a single is one thing. Imagine not going first to third — on a ball that should be a double.

The rest of the Mets’ roster isn’t as slow as Ramos — no one really is, potentially including Newman from Seinfeld — but they’re hardly faring better. With the loss, the Mets are 9-14. But the standings matter less than the fact that the Mets can’t seem to stop failing. Mets games are nothing more than episodes of “Wipeout,” and Mets fans are the contestants, unable to enjoy themselves because they know the next obstacle will knock them off their feet any minute. Take the lead in the sixth inning? Rick Porcello can’t get away with this for much longer — be ready! Runner just took an extra base? Look out — he’s going to try to take another, and he’s not going to make it!

This will continue tomorrow, when the Mets play the Marlins in Miami. With Robert Gsellman on the mound, Wilson Ramos behind the plate, Robinson Cano in the lineup or (worse yet) the field, the entire trusty Mets’ bullpen available in relief…there are a million ways to blow a game, and the Mets have shown that they know how to find them.

On the other hand, baseball is a funny game, and the opposite is always a possibility. The Mets will hit a hot streak eventually, and there’s no reason the Miami Marlins can’t be the catalyst. Maybe it will take a Luis Rojas speech, or Brodie Van Wagenen throwing another chair. A few wins in Miami, and the sweep in Philadelphia will be a faint memory. “Remember that time Ramos got thrown out at third on a double?” someone will ask, and I’ll respond “not really…but it sounds like the kind of thing he’d do.”

Maybe Robert Gsellman finds his form in Miami tomorrow night, puts together a solid start, and carries the Mets to a win. Maybe David Peterson continues his strong rookie showing Tuesday with another win, giving (knock on wood) deGrom the ball Wednesday with a chance to win a third straight game and pull the Mets back into the playoff hunt. In a 60 game season that’s already 23 games old, a three game winning streak can work wonders.

After being swept by the Phillies, the Mets don’t have much. We have no starting pitching to speak of, a bullpen that can’t hold itself together, and defense that can’t seem to make the plays it needs to. We’ve got one catcher who can barely move and another one who’s never hit before, a first baseman who can’t find his power, a left fielder with a bruised knee, and a third baseman without a real position. With the loss, we’re last in the N.L. East, an elephant in a division of Maserati’s.

What we have, though, and what we will always have unless we give it away, is hope. Ya gotta believe. When an elephant races a Maserati, that’s pretty much all you can do.


The Tough Chapters

NEW YORK — These days, people are always complaining that baseball isn’t exciting. It’s usually nonsense, of course, sort of like saying that The Catcher in the Rye doesn’t have enough car chases. But as Steven Matz crumpled against the Phillies and the Mets’ offense knelt in submission one inning after another, I almost agreed.

This happened today — the Mets played the Phillies, Steven Matz pitched, and the game ended in a 6-2 loss. But is any of it real? Could a professional baseball game possibly be so nondescript? Eight Mets reached base…besides Dominic Smith’s too-late ninth inning home run, who are the other seven? Was this all a dream?

A baseball game is a complex thing, an incomprehensible pattern of threads, all connected, some resolving themselves, some immediately forgotten. But sometimes — like when Steven Matz pitches and falls apart, and the game devolves into a long, nondescript snore — the threads cease to matter, and the game loses its meaning. Sometimes, The Catcher in the Rye needs a car chase.

If you’ve come looking for takeaways from the game, allow me to recommend psychotherapy. But in the meantime, a small sampling:

  • Steven Matz needs a haircut. Matz’s hair has gotten long, and he hasn’t shaved in a while. He looks far more than a few years removed from the rookie who made the electrifying debut in 2015, and it’s translating into fastballs left belt high to dangerous hitters.
  • The irregulars, as I’ve heard they’re called, continue to mash. While Jeff McNeil rests his knee and Pete Alonso searches for his power, the Mets find their offense in strange places. Dom Smith is batting .300, has homered in four straight games, and has a 1.163 OPS. Tomas Nido is batting .350; his OPS is 1.109. Luis Guillorme, after another hit, is batting .455.
  • A few minutes too late to make a difference, the Mets got 3.2 scoreless innings from their bullpen. Jeurys Familia, then Brad Brach, then the mercurial Dellin Betances…besides two bad pitches from Steven Matz, the Mets played a hell of a game.

The sad truth, unfortunately, is that those two misplaced Matz pitches were the difference between a close game and a laugher. In the fifth, after the Phillies loaded the bases with one out, Andrew McCutchen worked a full count. A strike could have sat McCutchen down, and gotten Matz most of the way through the jam he was facing. Instead, Matz threw a 3-2 fastball that missed the zone. Having walked in a run, Matz set out to get ahead of Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ next hitter, well-known for being patient at the plate. But Hoskins took a swing at Matz’s first pitch and drove it to the right-center field gap, clearing the bases and giving the Phillies a 5-0 lead.

If McCutchen strikes out, does Matz worry less about throwing his first pitch to Hoskins for a strike? Fueled by pitching his way through 2/3 of a jam, does he ride the momentum to the third out of the inning? The answers are (1) probably, and (2) it’s possible. But instead, one bad pitch leads to another, and by the time the smoke clears the Phillies are leading 6-0, and suddenly the most interesting part of the game is the bite on Brad Brach’s slider.

Unfortunately — and I hate how much I’m using that word, but it seems appropriate — that’s the kind of thing that happens when your rotation looks like the Mets’ does right now. Three of the Mets’ current five starters are plan B’s. More accurately, David Peterson, Walker Lockett, and Robert Gsellman are the Mets’ plans B, C, and D. They’re not far from an F.

Whether the Mets can turn things around and reverse their 9-13 record is a question only the team can answer. It’s also a question that shouldn’t need to be asked. Zack Wheeler will start for the Phillies tomorrow. His 2.89 E.R.A. is at least two and a half runs lower than the E.R.A’s of four of the Mets’ five starters. Wheeler is a Phillie because the Mets didn’t want to pay for him, because, so they said, the rotation was good enough already. There were options available. Options like Rick Porcello (5.68 E.R.A.) and Michael Wacha (6.43 E.R.A., currently on the injured list).

The simple truth is that the Mets’ rotation needs to pitch better, and soon. If the Mets want to have any fans left, they can’t keep putting on games like this one. Sure, the offense was bad too — but games need to be more than counting down to the starting pitcher’s inevitable implosion.

I’ll never tire of it, of course. It’s just another thread to follow in the long, complex story of a baseball season. After all, The Catcher in the Rye is my favorite book.


Faster than the Speed of Ramos

NEW YORK — Sometimes, there’s no mystery about how a day is going to go. You walk a six-mile round trip and realize around mile two that you haven’t eaten or drank all day, and the sun beats down on you until you’re sweating through your mask, and you finally get home and collapse just in time to hear that Jacob deGrom has been scratched from his start and Walker Lockett will start in his place. If that’s the start of your day, don’t buy a lottery ticket until tomorrow.

It was supposed to be a perfect evening of baseball, my grand welcome back to watching the Mets in New York. I’d gotten home from a summer job in Maine the night before, deGrom was on the mound, and I’d acquired several pounds of Shake Shack to celebrate the occasion. deGrom being scratched, of course, ruined the night before it began, but I convinced myself that it didn’t. “deGrom isn’t pitching, but besides that, everything is fine.” Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Sure enough, the first two Phillies reached base against Walker Lockett, and visions of a 14-1 blowout loss danced in my head. Walker Lockett — the latest spare part in Brodie Van Wagenen’s best rotation in baseball™ — entered the 2020 season having pitched 37.2 career big-league innings, and allowed 37 earned runs. That’s an 8.84 E.R.A., for those of you keeping score at home. Lockett came to the Mets, along with Sam Haggerty, in a January 2019 trade with the Indians. Kevin Plawecki went to Cleveland. Plawecki, who appears on the mound occasionally, has a 6.35 career E.R.A., which means that Lockett, the only pitcher in the trade that brought him to New York, might still not have been the best pitcher involved.

But is Lockett such a strange sight these days? Rick Porcello has a 5.68 E.R.A. Michael Wacha’s is 6.43. Steven Matz is at 8.20, and Robert Gsellman has an even 9.00. After allowing five runs in six innings, Lockett’s E.R.A. stands at 7.50, which means he ranks third among the Mets’ current healthy starters.

For at least a moment, though, it seemed that the Mets would keep pace. They hit the ball hard in the first, although bad luck and good fielding limited them to a single run, and Luis Guillorme hit an RBI single in the second that landed between bewildered Phillies outfielders. The Phillies tied the game in the bottom of the second, then Dominic Smith homered again, his fifth of the season to lead the Mets…up next, Robinson Cano homered too.

That 4-2 lead held up until the fifth, when Lockett, facing the Phillies batting order for the third time, threw a 91-mile-per-hour changeup right around J.T. Realmuto’s belt level. Realmuto, who right now is about as hot as Christie Brinkley on asphalt in July, mashed the ball into the left-field stands. On replay, there was some violence, some anger, evident in his swing. “You want me to face Walker Lockett? Again?” he was asking. “Okay…see how you like it.” Realmuto is batting .288/.351/.750, for an OPS of 1.101. He’s also a free agent after the season, which means that starting in 2021, he’s a great candidate to come to the Mets and bat .237/.289/.363 with seventeen home runs over the first three years of a five-year contract, then retire after suffering chronic damage from a rare tropical disease.

The Phillies led 5-4 after Realmuto’s home run. Guillorme had two more hits: he was three for three with a walk, and was the Mets’ lone bright spot in the game. Guillorme is batting .474, and this isn’t to say “I told you so,” but I definitely told you so. Finally, the ninth came, and with it some energy. Brandon Nimmo singled leading off, raising his OBP to .444. Michael Conforto, up next, walked. Pete Alonso and Dom Smith struck out, but Cano, finally, didn’t disappoint: he drove a single to right, and Nimmo scored the tying run. Then Wilson Ramos grounded into a force out to end the inning. Ramos also grounded into one of his patented ten-minute double plays to end the Mets’ seventh-inning threat. He’s batting .197.

Ramos could have come out for defense in the bottom of the ninth — Tomas Nido is vastly better in almost every way — but he stayed in, because why not? Seth Lugo allowed two hits in a row, then struck out Rhys Hoskins. Then Bryce Harper singled to right. Conforto’s throw home was perfect. Roman Quinn was out by 15 feet. Except Ramos held his tag a foot off the ground, as if ushering Quinn in for an undisturbed landing. Ramos missed the tag, Quinn slid in safely, and the Phillies won. That’s just the kind of day it was.