I didn’t get in trouble much as a kid, but I remember what happened when I did. There were two main things.
First, I had a friend named Drew, and we used to fool around during gym class. When the gym teacher yelled at us to quiet down, that we were ruining the lesson, our retort was ready.
“We’re not ruining anything,” we’d say. “We’re just giving a demonstration of what not to do.”
The second would happen when a friend — Drew or anyone — convinced me to do something bad. I’d get caught by a teacher or a parent.
“He told me to do it!” I’d say.
“If he told you to jump off a bridge, would you?” they would respond.
I thought back to demonstrations of what not to do, and early disciplinary lessons about not always following friends, as I watched the Rays play the Dodgers in the World Series. Let me start by saying this: there’s a role in baseball for analytics. That much is obvious. Teams willing to embrace logic and statistics will always have an edge over those who don’t. In the long run, for all the complaints anyone can make, every team that adopts an analytical mindset will find it enormously beneficial. To not adopt analytics is, more or less, to intentionally make yourself less smart.
But analytics have limits. The Tampa Bay Rays just proved it. The consensus seems to be that the way the Rays play the game is “ruining baseball” — but far from that, their failure should improve the game going forward.
In case you’re living under a rock, the Rays, down three games to two in the World Series against the Dodgers, needed a win to stay alive. Blake Snell, their ace, was on the mound in game six, and he was shutting the Dodgers down. Snell had nine strikeouts in the sixth inning; he’d allowed two hits and no walks, and had only thrown 73 pitches. He was on track to go seven scoreless innings, easily. The Dodgers couldn’t touch him. It was obvious.
But Rays manager Kevin Cash, famous for his quick hook, took the analytics into overdrive. With Snell facing the Dodgers’ lineup for the third time, and having just allowed a hit, Cash left his dugout and removed his starter.
Nick Anderson, largely unsuccessful this postseason, came in. A few pitches later, two runs had scored, and the Rays, whose lead Snell had effortlessly maintained all night, were losing.
It was a glaringly obvious blunder. That’s not hindsight: it was clear as it happened. Someone watching next to me asked why the Rays were doing what they’re doing.
“They do this stuff because they’re smart,” I said. “But now they’re being too smart.”
But have the Rays ruined baseball? I think not. In fact, in failing, they’ve proven that as useful as analytics are, there’s room for the old ways.
When your ace is dominant, untouchable on the mound, you leave him alone. If you don’t, it’ll come back to get you. It’s game six of the World Series, and Blake Snell doesn’t have to pitch again until February. The Dodgers couldn’t touch him. Regardless of what the charts say, you leave him in.
I’m not one of those grouchy old legacy columnists grumbling about the old days: analytics are awesome. They’ve done all kinds of interesting things for the game. Repositioning fielders on defense based on statistics saves runs for teams that do it, even if it’s more noticeable and gives opponents of analytics an easy scapegoat when those same shifts fail. Pitch analytics resurrected Justin Verlander’s career, and seem to have turned Trevor Bauer into this season’s likely National League Cy Young Award winner.
But there’s a limit. Sometimes, regardless of what the numbers say, an ace will pitch like an ace, and an okay middle reliever won’t. Sometimes a pitcher just has it — and when someone like Blake Snell has it, all the analytics in the world won’t make an ounce of difference, or give his opponents a fighting chance.
Analytics have proven friendly to teams like the Rays. After all, they’re in the World Series with a payroll that’s a small fraction of their opponent’s. But sometimes friends give bad advice. You’ve got to have a mind of your own; you can’t just listen to everything a friend tells you to do.
If analytics told you to lift your dominant, untouchable ace in the sixth inning of a 1-0 World Series game, would you? Obviously not. By doing it and completely failing, the Rays just proved as much. They haven’t ruined baseball. They’ve just given it a demonstration of what not to do.
Understand this: I’m a bigger David Wright fan than anyone I know. Wright became my favorite player a few years into his career, and barring something unforeseen, he won’t relinquish the spot. Growing up, I played third base in little league, and wore number five whenever it was available. For my sixteenth birthday, my parents gifted me a beautiful David Wright game model A2K glove. In college, I had a giant cardboard cutout of Wright’s face on the wall of my dorm room. And every year on Opening Day, Wright’s blue #5 jersey is the one I wear.
So, bearing all that in mind, imagine what it must take for me to say this: David Wright’s new memoir is just okay. It’s certainly not great. It has its moments, but unfortunately, the book doesn’t measure up to the man whose career it chronicles.
If one were to construct a hierarchy of baseball books based on recognizable players, the Willie Mays of baseball books, the greatest of all time, might be “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn, or maybe one of Roger Angell’s collections. The David Wright of baseball books, one that’s really good but never quite reached completely legendary status, might be “Moneyball,” or “Ball Four,” or “The Glory of Their Times,” or any number of books that, while not absolutely perfect, are really really good.
But David Wright’s book? It’s the Ryan Church of baseball books. It’s acceptable, and will do if you’re shorthanded, but it’s not much better than replacement level.
“The Captain,” released October 13th from Penguin Publishing, is Wright’s memoir of his time as a Met, and takes readers from his childhood through the night in September 2018 when he played his last game in Queens. Co-written with Anthony DiComo, the Mets beat writer for MLB.com, the book is a compelling enough read, especially for Mets die-hards like myself. It’s hard to mess up a book about David Wright, after all. The book presents a few interesting anecdotes, gives some looks inside the Mets clubhouse, and reveals Wright’s thoughts during some of his most memorable moments as a player. At times, it’s funny, endearing, emotional, and profound.
But too often, it’s not. Too often, it slips into page upon page of exposition, reading less like a memoir and more like a summary of Wright’s Baseball Reference page. When the book is good — when Wright’s voice comes through, when readers learn things they didn’t already know, when Wright recounts scenes from his life beyond baseball — it’s really good. But that doesn’t happen enough.
In college, studying nonfiction writing, I took several classes with a jovial, red-haired professor who was hell-bent on turning his students into good writers. He had several principles that he drilled into us religiously.
First, for the sake of pacing, you need to break up information and explanation with scenes and dialogue.
Second, the specific is terrific.
Third, show, don’t tell.
Sure enough, when Wright’s book follows all three of my professor’s rules, it shines. The best, most compelling writing of the book comes when Wright narrates his many injuries. These injuries, and the resilience required to come back from them, are probably the defining feature of Wright’s career, so the book, at least, captures those important moments well.
Wright’s repeated injuries and comebacks are a large part of the reason he became my favorite player. In 2009, on a sleepaway camp trip to Bar Harbor in Maine, my group stayed up late one night, sitting around a campfire. I woke up the next morning in the hospital. Minutes after going to sleep, I’d suffered an epileptic seizure.
The doctors diagnosed me with pediatric epilepsy, thankfully nothing life-threatening. But my life did change. Now I had to take care to get enough sleep; no more staying out late. When high school came around, I would be medically forbidden from driving or partying. I started taking pills every night, a small dosage at first. But every summer I had a seizure, and every summer my dosage went up. By 2015, I was taking five pills at a time every night.
Meanwhile, also in 2009, just weeks after my diagnosis, Wright was hit in the head with a 94 mile-per-hour fastball from Matt Cain. He missed several weeks with a concussion, and when he came back, he wasn’t the same player. He says as much in the book. “Stepping back into the batter’s box, I couldn’t shake that Little League mentality of bailing out on inside pitches,” he writes. “Getting hit hurts.”
Wright and I recovered together, and as the setbacks continued for both of us, we kept at it. In 2011, I had another seizure, my third, and Wright, diving to tag Carlos Lee on a play at third base, suffered a stress fracture in his back. In 2013, I had a seizure on the last night of camp, and Wright landed on the DL after straining his hamstring. In 2015, I had another seizure after fireworks on July 4th. Meanwhile, Wright strained his hamstring again, and while he made his way back, learned that he had spinal stenosis, a chronic narrowing of the spinal cord. He missed months.
The 2015 injury, in particular, brings out some of the best writing of the book, instantly relatable to anyone who’s dealt with an injury or condition that just won’t seem to heal. “Each Monday, I met with Dr. Watkins in his Marina del Rey office, hoping he might clear me for more intensive activities,” Wright writes. “Each Monday, he said no.”
Look at the writing: it’s simple, specific, and to-the-point. He doesn’t explain himself to death; rather, through a simple scene, readers can instantly understand his emotional state. He doesn’t write “I was devastated” or “it frustrated me;” the scene he describes makes his frustration clear. Through two and a half simple, specific lines of text, he conjures a relatable, emotional scene. Especially for someone who went through something similar, this scene shines. Each visit to the neurologist, I wasn’t quite ready to get cleared. Each year, almost, my dosage went up. I kept going back, but wasn’t getting better. Wright, through this brief scene, perfectly communicates the same dynamic.
The Wright injury that really stands out to me, though, is what happened in 2013. I had my seizure on the last night of camp, meaning it would be at least another two years before I could drive, stay up late, start weaning off my pills, etc. Wright, meanwhile, was having his best season since 2008. On August third, Wright was two for five with a home run, his 16th; he was batting .309/.391/.512. In the tenth inning, Wright hit a slow ground ball, and his innate hustle kicked in; he knew that if he busted down the line, he could have an infield hit. Sure enough, Wright beat the throw — and strained his hamstring as he crossed first base.
Unfortunately, too often throughout the book, Wright does the opposite of what gives the book its best moments: he tells, instead of showing. “It was special,” he writes, or “I was elated,” or “it was a strange feeling.” Repeatedly, Wright slips into explaining how he feels, rather than demonstrating it. It’s easy, and doesn’t mean much, to write “I was happy.” It’s a lot more rewarding for a reader to read a scene and understand that the narrator is happy, without having to be told. It’s as if at the beginning of this review, instead of giving a series of illustrative, specific details and anecdotes about my connection to David Wright, I had just written “I like David Wright a lot.”
So that’s “show, don’t tell.” Wright and DiComo also violate my professor’s other two rules. At various points throughout the book, they write one page after another of game recaps, without providing anything that couldn’t be found on Baseball-Reference. Even when Wright does describe things from his point of view, too often, that point of view is only nominal. And multiple times, just when the book could benefit from scenes and dialogue from Wright’s point of view, the authors fall back into exposition. Remember: the specific is terrific.
For instance: most Mets fans will remember August 2015, when Wright finally returned after months on the DL, stepped up to the plate in Philadelphia, and hit the ball into the second deck. They’ll probably even remember the story of the night before, when Wright greeted the team at their Philadelphia hotel, dressed in full uniform, with Insomnia Cookies for everyone. But in this book, Wright finally has an opportunity to tell the full story of that night. How did the team really react? Did anything funny happen? What did people say? Which teammates were most excited to see him?
Here’s how Wright tells the story, on page 259 of the book:
“Random hotel guests shot me curious looks as I sat there waiting in the lobby, cookies in hand, before my teammates finally came crashing through the elevator doors. Their smiles and laughs proved well worth the effort. I think the only person who actually ate the cookies was long-time public relations director Jay Horwitz, who loves his desserts. It would up being a great icebreaker regardless, giving me a chance to talk to some of the new guys and feel a lot more comfortable going into a game the next day — especially knowing some of their playing time was going to suffer because of me.”
Reading this passage, we hardly learn anything new. Which teammates smiled and laughed? When Wright talked to the new guys, what did he say? What did they say that made him feel comfortable? Which new guys did he talk to? The specific is terrific.
This, really, illustrates the biggest problem with the book: too often, Wright tells his stories in the least interesting way possible, to the point that his memoir starts to read more like a history book. We don’t get enough of what makes memoirs great: personal stories, conversations, glimpses behind the scenes.
The same thing happens when Wright recounts the story of being named Mets captain, during Spring Training in 2013. The story starts on page 222 and ends on page 226, and there’s not a single line of dialogue. Wright describes dialogue, but as if he’s teasing us, he refuses to tell us what was actually said. He walks around the clubhouse talking to each player in turn, telling them that the front office wants to name him captain and urging them to say something if they have any objection. But he doesn’t reveal a single line of what anyone actually said. Later on, “the whole room broke into applause as (Terry Collins) announced that the Mets were going to name me Captain,” he writes. But “the whole room broke into applause” is the most generic description possible. Who was saying what? What was the funniest congratulations you got? Did anyone seem annoyed or put-off? Who was particularly excited? Did you celebrate that night? How? Where?
Wright doesn’t answer those questions in this scene, or in many others. Rather, again, he tells his stories in the least exciting way possible, with only barebones descriptions of what happened, unwilling or unable to fill in with color commentary. He often hints at fun, inside-the-clubhouse stories: for instance, he narrates how, as a rookie, veteran players made him stand at the front of the team bus and sing. But so many questions are left unanswered: whose idea was this? Where did it come from? How did the team react to his songs? What did the conversations sound like? Was anyone angry or annoyed?
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Wright’s description of the 2015 World Series. I watched game five, the final game of the series, with my computer sitting on my bed in my freshman dorm room. The one other Mets fan I’d met at school stood next to me, while about five of our other friends watched us from behind, unsure whether they should laugh at us or run for cover. Down three games to one, the Mets led 2-0 going to the ninth, but the Royals tied it with two outs on a memorable play: on a grounder to Wright at third, Eric Hosmer broke for the plate as Wright threw to first, and Lucas Duda’s throw home was wild.
“Everybody get the (expletive) out!” I shouted. Everyone but the other Mets fan left the room; he and I watched in silence, now almost certain that our season would end any minute now. Sure enough, the Royals won three innings later.
So how does Wright describe that fateful play? Believe it or not, he doesn’t. Here’s how he tells the story of innings nine through 12 of game five:
“The Royals managed to tie the game off Matt (Harvey) and Jeurys Familia. They won it in twelve innings, celebrating on our field as our fans went home unhappy.”
Really: that’s it. Nothing about throwing to first as Hosmer dashed for the plate; nothing about how the team felt in the dugout afterwards; nothing about what anyone said or did as the game continued. Not only is the most consequential Mets moment of the last decade reduced to two lines of text, but they’re lines that any fan who watched the game could have written.
The whole point of a memoir is that it can take us into situations we’ll never experience ourselves. Most of us will never be president, but we can read presidential memoirs and know a little bit of what it’s like to sit in the Oval Office. Likewise, most of us will never sit in a dugout on the verge of losing a World Series. Wright’s book could take us there, and let us know, at least a little bit, how it felt. But for the most part, it doesn’t.
The problems with the book are compounded by a predictable, vaguely annoying yet also endearing fact: it’s written exactly as you’d imagine David Wright would write a book.
Fairly early on in the book, Wright takes a firm stand against PEDs. “I will never, ever have sympathy for performance-enhancing drug users,” he writes. “I advise people of all ages to stay away from them. That’s not what sportsmanship is about, and it’s certainly not how I was raised.”
It’s firm, pointed, and direct — and the criticism is also notable, because it’s almost the only time Wright is willing to criticize anything.
Wright is so damn respectful, it becomes almost ridiculous. He has barely a bad word for anyone, even established Mets villains. Of the 2006 Cardinals, who sent the Mets home in the NLCS, Wright says, “I had tremendous respect for their entire operation.” Adam Wainwright’s stuff was “some of the best of his generation.” Tom Glavine, symbol of Mets failure, “took a lot of criticism, but he was a Hall of Famer and one of our leaders.” Growing up, Chipper Jones “was one of the third basemen I admired the most.” Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins bashing the Mets in 2007 and 2008 “did make for a good baseball rivalry.” Jimmy Rollins, in fact, “proved to be an excellent teammate throughout the World Baseball Classic,” and “I definitely was interested in building a relationship with him.”
The two most grating doses of respect, though, are reserved for two Mets nemeses: Chase Utley and Derek Jeter. Utley, of course, broke Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg with a flying tackle slide during the 2015 NLDS. Jeter is just generally smug and preachy and annoying. Here’s how Wright describes Utley:
“I had a lot of respect for Utley’s hard-nosed style, which I considered similar to mine. Like me, Utley was a loyal player who really cared about winning.” Later on, Wright says, when Utley apologized, “I could tell Utley was sincere, which took some of the edge off the whole situation for me.”
This pales, though, in comparison to Wright’s treatment of Jeter. “Jeter had done so much, accomplished so much, winning four World Series titles by the time he was twenty-six years old,” he writes. “I was just a dude who also happened to play in New York and hit .300 a few times.” Later, describing Jeter at the WBC: “I was transfixed. Each day, I followed him to the batting cage to try to figure out what made him so great. In the dugout during games, I joined him on the top step to hear everything he had to say. I tried to ask him as many questions as possible without seeming like a superfan.”
Still, he continues: “Derek was in constant pursuit of perfection.” Then, less than a page later: “I noticed that he wasn’t the loudest or most boisterous guy, but he didn’t have to be because his work ethic was off the charts.” Then, later on that same page: “Most days, I just tried to lead by example, as Derek did throughout his career.” Then, not even a page later: “This guy was on a completely different level, with the paparazzi snapping pictures as often as they could. But the cool part was that at the end of the day, he was still a baseball player just like us.”
The unbridled, overreaching respect is one thing. The other problem is that he’s David Wright, role model, boy scout, picture of morality and ethics. And this book doesn’t do a single thing to challenge that. In fact, at some points, it revels in just how bereft it is of anything shocking, scandalous, or revelatory.
“Despite New York’s temptations, I wasn’t much of a partier or a drinker,” Wright writes. “I didn’t spend my nights seeking out hot clubs or dates with celebrities or anything like that. I was never going to get caught doing something unsavory on TMZ or ‘Page Six’ in the New York Post. A lot of what some people enjoy about the city was lost on me.”
Going out for a burger or a steak late at night “was, essentially, my social life,” he continues. “My brother Steve liked to joke that I was twenty-three going on fifty.” After his MLB debut, Wright wanted to get to his hotel and get to sleep, but had to be dragged out to celebrate — with a bite to eat and a cigar — by Joe McEwing.
When the Mets won the NLDS in 2015, beating the Dodgers, Wright writes: “I intended to enjoy it for a night — really, really enjoy it — and start thinking about our next-round opponent, the Chicago Cubs, in the morning.” But then he skips completely over enjoying the night; the next paragraph begins with his thoughts on the Cubs.
Even in the minor leagues, Wright revels in how boring his life was. “Living on my own for the first time that summer (2001), I certainly could have found trouble if I wanted to,” he writes. “I never wanted to. I could have drunk away the nights, partied away the mornings. I never wanted to.” He continues in the next paragraph: “My life in Kingsport and up the minor league ladder was boring. I woke up. I went to the park early. I came home late. I went to sleep. I did it again.”
Frankly, I find this hard to believe. Maybe Wright didn’t go out drinking, but there’s just no way that his minor league baseball experience was this uneventful. I know because I asked. A few months ago, I wrote a story in Baseball Prospectus all about the Kingsport Mets. Wright talks about his host family, “an elderly couple named Peggy and Jim;” I’ve talked to Peggy, along with several other player hosts.
I’ve heard stories of players running through Peggy’s house naked; late-night visits from unwelcome female acquaintances; dirty laundry that sat fermenting in players’ cars from Spring Training through the end of the regular season; players sleeping pressed up against their doors to barricade out the unwelcome female visitors; players who lived with other host families simply coming by one day and moving in. To be clear, none of this was about David Wright; all Peggy told me about Wright, of course, was that he “was an extremely polite and wonderful young man.” But Minor League Baseball is its own wild world, and this kind of thing has to happen.
Even without generating scandal, Wright could offer so many more interesting details about life as a minor leaguer. Peggy, sources told me, regularly hosted southern potlucks; multiple people with knowledge of the situation said that her cooking was out of this world. Another host told me that Josh Thole used to call her “grandma,” and that she had to throw Daniel Murphy out of her house over a college football rivalry. There’s a lot that goes on in minor league baseball, but again, Wright tells the barest bones of the story, and leaves out the details that might make it his own.
In “I’m Keith Hernandez,” a memoir by — well, I suppose it’s obvious — the author tells a story from his time in the minor leagues. When Hernandez was a young minor leaguer with the Tulsa Oilers, one day a tornado bore down on Tulsa. Hernandez, scared that his apartment complex would get “sucked up like a hay bale with Dorothy and Toto,” ran outside in his bathing suit and threw himself into a ditch. The ditch started to fill with water, so he ran to a teammate’s apartment.
“I burst through the door and called for him, but got no response, so I went into his bedroom, and there he was, buns up, on top of this girl, and they were going at it,” Hernandez writes. So he went back to his apartment, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. “It was a recently divorced thirty-year-old woman every guy in the complex had been gunning for. She was scared, she said, and asked if she could come stay until the storm moved off. Obviously, my luck was changing. Being a gentleman, I said ‘sure,’ and we settled on the couch, and soon things went — well, let’s just say that survival mode kicks up the hormones a notch.”
Obviously, Wright isn’t Keith Hernandez — but he could say something. It’s not even the content itself that’s so impressive about Hernandez’s story; it’s the level of detail and specificity. Even for David Wright, life sometimes gets weird. But for one reason or another, Wright simply doesn’t include anything remotely scandalous or shocking, or all that specific. There’s even a chapter of the book called “adult stuff” — but it turns out, when you get to the end of the chapter, that the only “adult stuff” he’s talking about is leaving home and negotiating his first contract.
Despite my criticisms, the book turns really good when it addresses two areas. The first is the jokes and pranks he’s pulled: it turns out that when he wants to be, David Wright is really funny. The second is his wife.
These two subjects, for whatever reason, draw out Wright’s specificity; his individuality; his voice. For instance, he tells the story of being in Japan for a baseball tour after the 2006 season, and going out with Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, who plays the Costello to Wright’s Abbot in many of the book’s funniest moments. Several times, Wright writes, the two of them go out to a restaurant only to find that they don’t speak Japanese, the waiters don’t speak English, and the menus don’t have pictures.
“Our hotel buffet saved us that week, as did one glorious meal at the Hard Rock Café in Tokyo’s Roppongi district,” he writes. “Never in my life had I felt so worldly.”
Wright is similarly funny when describing pizza- and Oreo-eating contests between his brother and Racaniello, and when he describes his first date with his future wife in New York: “She didn’t even mind when I decided to wear a baggy, two-piece blue velour tracksuit around town, though she did tell me I looked like a Smurf (I did).” We also get several laugh-out-loud moments at Jacob deGrom’s expense, which I won’t spoil. At one point very early in the book, Wright mentions that his father would “ask simple questions about things like schoolwork, allowing us to bury ourselves with our answers.” It’s a line reminiscent of comedian John Mulaney. “My dad never hit us,” Mulaney noted in his 2018 special Kid Gorgeous at Radio City. “My dad is a lawyer and he was a debate team champion. So he would pick us apart psychologically.”
The book also shines when Wright talks about his relationship with his wife, and later on, his daughters. On one level, it’s easier to write well about your wife, since love is something with which most people can identify viscerally, but even so, Wright does it really well. He does make one strange choice: after first mentioning that he’d just met his wife, although he didn’t know it yet, on page 128, she doesn’t appear again for another 78 pages. But when she does, it’s among the strongest moments of the book. Wright’s stories about staying up late talking, walking around New York together as he recovers from injury, and, ultimately, his proposal, all help drag the book out of its game-recap funk. My professor would be thrilled. They’re full of scenes, specific details, and showing without telling.
In the same way, the book starts to shine in the last chapters, when Wright gets closer to returning to the field for a final time. It’s probably for similar reasons: like a wife, when an entire section of a book is based on memories of one game, it’s a lot easier to be specific. Wright’s voice starts to be sharper and clearer; he begins using words in surprising, refreshing ways, and reflecting on specific, detailed memories. Playing cards and ping pong in the clubhouse; playing against opponents like Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Zimmerman for the last time; even taking a few last batting practice swings. Wright describes emerging from the dugout to pinch-hit the night before his official last game to a “paralyzing ovation,” then returning to the dugout with a “sheepish look” on his face; the next day, taking the field for the last time, he gives third base a “respectful kick.” The refreshing, surprising adjectives give readers the sense that Wright is finally coming into his own.
The night before Wright’s final game, I took the train from Providence, where I was in my senior year of college, to New York. I had three tickets to the game, for me, my girlfriend, who was flying in from Michigan, and my brother. We set out early the next day, and got to Citi Field hours early.
As we walked around the field level, we saw a crowd on the first base side, pressing down towards the field. And then, like it was nothing, David Wright walked over and started signing autographs.
With Wright on the sideline that season, and about to play for the last time, I’d figured I would need a new favorite active Met, so I’d found one: Brandon Nimmo, a hustling, always-smiling outfielder who could also get on base like he was born to do it. But there was David Wright, my all-time favorite Met and personal hero, signing autographs. We pushed through the crowd. Wright was standing at the edge of a tunnel under the right-field stands and into the innards of the stadium; I leaned over as far as I could, holding the Mets Magazine I’d just bought. It wasn’t without risk for me. I’d just dislocated my shoulder in a softball game that summer.
Like it was nothing, like he wasn’t writing a major chapter in my life, Wright took the magazine and scrawled a signature vertically across a page. I reached down as far as I could and he handed it back to me, and then time unfroze and life went on, and I was holding a magazine autographed by David Wright.
We walked across the stadium, stood in line for burgers, got our food and kept walking around to our seats. I looked down at the first base side fifteen minutes later, and there was Wright, still signing.
The 2018 Mets were a pretty bad team. They certainly weren’t going to make the playoffs. The day was all about Wright. In the first inning, he walked, thereby assuring that, for the first time since 2016, he would at least have an On-Base Percentage. In the fourth, he fouled out along the first-base line; Peter O’Brien, the Marlins first baseman, could have let it drop, but opted not to. The plan had been for Wright to take two at-bats and then leave the game, so that, we assumed, was that.
Sure enough, in the fifth, after Wright took the field, Mets manager Mickey Callaway came out to pull him. As the entire stadium cried and the “Captain America” theme played, Wright waved to the crowd, hugged each of his teammates, waved some more, hugged his coaches, waved one last time…then walked down the dugout steps and up the tunnel to the clubhouse, leaving the field for the last time.
The game was sort of secondary after that, even though it turned into a nail biter. It stayed scoreless for far too long, when all the crowd wanted was for the game to end so Wright could come back out and speak. Career minor leaguer Jack Reinheimer briefly became a Mets hero, but that’s a story for another day. Finally, in the 12th, Austin Jackson won it for the Mets with a walk-off hit. The Mets celebrated on the field. Wright led the charge.
Then Wright spoke. He thanked the crowd again, thanked Mets fans everywhere for making him one of our own. Then we went home, and everything was the same, except that David Wright had left the field, and would never play again.
The play that really stands out to me about that game, though, came in the seventh inning. Long after David Wright, my favorite Met of all time, had left the game, my new favorite player, Brandon Nimmo, stepped up to the plate. His .404 OBP was the highest full-season mark a Met had posted since Wright’s .416 in 2007. Leading off the inning, Nimmo lined a single to right — and pulled his hamstring as he crossed first base.
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.
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 MLB.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NEW YORK — I was sitting against the wall in a booth at City Diner on 90th Street and Broadway. My friend Weinstein was sitting across from me. I was trying to convince him to come to a baseball trivia event that I’d just heard about, hosted by Ted Berg, the nation’s foremost expert. Weinstein, characteristically, was underselling himself.
“I suck at baseball trivia,” he said. “The only thing I know is that in 1897, the commissioner sent out a letter yelling at players for saying ‘go fuck yourself.'”
“What?” I said.
It was true. Weinstein pulled out his phone and googled it. Seconds later, he began a dramatic reading. And my life hasn’t been the same since.
I am passing the contents of this letter along, because I really do believe that they deserve to be known far and wide. Here is how the letter, which was really sent out by the commissioner of organized baseball in 1897, begins:
SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS:
In a contest between two leading clubs during the championship season of 1897, the stands being crowded with patrons of the game, a gentleman occupying a seat in the front row near the players’ bench, asked one of the visiting players who was going to pitch for them. The player made no reply. He then asked a second time. The gentleman, his wife who sat with him, and others of both sexes, within hearing distance, were outraged upon hearing the player reply in a loud, brutal tone, “Oh, go fuck yourself.”
On being remonstrated with by his fellow-players, who told him there were ladies present, he retorted he didn’t give a damn, that they had no business there anyhow.
This shocking indecency was brought to the attention of the League at the Philadelphia meeting in November, 1897, and a committee was appointed to report upon this baseball crime, define and suggest for it a remedy.
Weinstein was in the midst of a dramatic reading, but when he reached the line about a committee investigating the baseball crime, he broke character and burst out laughing. Then he pulled himself together and continued.
In response to nearly one hundred communications addressed to umpires, managers and club officials, soliciting definite, positive and personal knowledge of obscene and indecent language upon the ball field, the committee received a deluge of information that was so appalling as to be almost beyond belief, showing conclusively and beyond contradiction that there was urgent need for legislative action on the part of the League.
He took another pause to comport himself. Then he read the last paragraph.
That such brutal language as “You cock-sucking son of a bitch!” “You prick-eating bastard!” “You cunt-lapping dog!” “Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!” “A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!” “I fucked your mother, you sister, your wife!” “I’ll make you suck my ass!” “You cock-sucker!” and many other revolting terms are used by a limited number of players to intimidate umpires and opposing players, and are promiscuously used upon the ball field, is vouched for by the almost unanimous assertion of those invited to speak, and who are competent to speak from personal knowledge. Whether it be the language quoted above, or some other indecent and infamous invention of depravity, the League is pledged to remove it from the ball field, whether it necessitates the removal of the offender for a day or for all time. Any indecent or obscene word, sentence, or expression, unfit for print or the human ear, whether mentioned in these instructions or not, is contemplated under the law and within its intent and meaning, and will be dealt with without fear or favor when the fact is established by conclusive proof.
I don’t remember what I said when he finished reading, but the commissioner would have hated it. And then my mind drifted to Juan Soto, and I had a laugh thinking of how angry he would make an 1897 baseball commissioner, and how funny it would be to watch.
NEW YORK — The Mets have hired Carlos Beltrán as their manager, which seems to have aroused in Mets fans all sorts of pro and anti-Beltrán stances. We all remember Beltrán, and the moment that divides fans so strongly. It was an unhittable pitch. He had a great series. We didn’t have to wait until the ninth inning to put together a scoring opportunity. But the facts remain.
Personally, I’m a Beltrán fan. You don’t judge a career by an at-bat, and Beltrán, with his 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases as a switch hitter, had a helluva career. Now, he’s all the more likely to enter Cooperstown with a Mets cap on his head. But forget 2006 and his Mets career for a moment: judge Beltrán as a manager. He knows baseball and can handle New York, and as such, he will do just fine.
I’m not too concerned with who the manager is, if we’re honest. I could have learned to love Joe Girardi — although I don’t understand where Mets’ fans’ sudden fervent zeal (Zeile?) for him came from — just as I’m sure Beltrán will do the job admirably. I cared far more about last offseason’s GM search than this year’s parade of interviews, and since the Wilpons passed on Chaim Bloom and let him turn some other team into a powerhouse instead, Beltrán, or anyone else who got the job, was going to manage Brodie Van Wagenen’s team. Managers are temporary. Ripple effects of GM moves — Jarred Kelenic has left the building — can be forever.
In fact, Beltrán wasn’t the only Mets outfielder in the news. The Mets officially declined Juan Lagares’ $9.5 million option, making Lagares a free agent. Besides 2014 and other occasional flashes, Lagares never managed to turn himself into a complete hitter at the plate. The field, of course, was a different story. Lagares won a Gold Glove in 2014, and if he’d stayed healthy and hit well enough to play every day, surely would have won several more. His defense was so good that it earned him a $23 million contract extension in 2015.
The offense, just good enough (.281/.321/.382) to keep his glove on the field in 2014, faded. But Lagares’ glove was always there, lurking just out of sight. A line drive to deep center evoked familiar worry, but also excitement: what’s Juan going to do this time? He became an offensive liability, but never seemed disgruntled or angry. He worked quietly and hard, always hoping to return to where he’d once been, but never quite getting there.
Now, though, we have one of those good problems. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo each hold down outfield spots; Robinson Cano is anchored, all too literally, at second base, which means that if Beltrán wants both Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis and their formidable bats in the lineup every day, one will have to play left field while the other plays third base. Lagares, then, does not have a starting spot, and to Wilpon and company, a reserve outfielder is not worth $9.5 million.
I remember the last time I thought very specifically about Juan Lagares. It was August 4th. The Mets were below .500 but rising fast, beating up on the Pirates. I was in a boat whizzing around a lake in southern Maine, making sure campers didn’t moon houses as we passed, or whatever campers might find funny these days. I was also tracking the Mets game on my phone.
Top of the sixth. Lagares is taking his first at-bat of the game; he came in earlier to replace Michael Conforto in center. Conforto moved to right to replace Jeff McNeil. McNeil moved to second to replace Robinson Cano, because Cano came up limping as he tried for second on a line drive off the fence, because he is 36 and too fragile to dive or run fast.
So Lagares hits. He’s batting .186. But he gets a pitch down the heart of the plate, and he doesn’t miss it. A double down the left field line, a run coming home, Lagares trotting into second.
It was baseball justice. Vindication. A lollipop down the heart of the plate, and Lagares smacked it. Saw his pitch and hit it. It’s a lesson, indeed, that our new manager would do well to impart to his players, and also to fans who may dislike him: there is justice in baseball. No matter how many called third strikes you’ve taken, how many plays you haven’t made, how many hanging curves you’ve fouled off…eventually you’ll see a meatball and mash it for extra bases, and things will fall right back into place.
I don’t know where Juan Lagares will end up, or indeed, whether there’s a chance he stays in Queens. But I hope he comes back to Citi Field eventually. I’ll wear the snow-white LAGARES 12 jersey I bought in early 2014, and cheer on a kid who worked his heart out. Maybe he’ll smack another one of those doubles down the left field line, and I’ll think of August, when the sun was hot and the water was cool, when Juan Lagares was a hero and the playoffs were on the horizon and there was always another chance to make things happen, whether Carlos Beltrán struck out or not.