The Mets looked closely at the flower lapel and it again squirted water. They wore the big floppy shoes and tripped over them. They stepped on the rake and whack.
This is who they are, certainly who they have been far too often for the past few decades. The wounds tend to be tied to comedy because they are so often either self-inflicted or self-perpetuated. No organization quite combines punch line and punching bag like the Mets.
On Thursday the comedy (tragedy? drama?) began with the team’s own in-house feed. Brodie Van Wagenen was caught on video and a hot mic lambasting the commissioner’s leadership. He later put out a statement saying essentially “my bad” that the idea I thought foolhardy — to have the players walk off the field at the scheduled game time and return an hour later — actually was not from Rob Manfred, but from Jeff Wilpon.
The Wilpons, Jeff and Fred, then both put out statements lauding Manfred and pummeling their own employee, Van Wagenen. Of course, both statements misspelled their general manager’s first name. The only surprise at that point was that Van Wagenen didn’t counter with another statement taking on Geoff and Fredd.
This all was poke-yourself-in-the-eye familiar right down to being tone deaf. While this executive-level “Saturday Night Live” skit was ongoing, the Mets and Marlins players were delivering a poignant protest, including taking the field and standing silent for 42 seconds (honoring Jackie Robinson’s number) before exiting and not playing. The Mets had the most meaningful moment in the 48 hours that shook baseball Wednesday and Thursday when through tears Domninic Smith brought passion, humanity and haunting words to the fight for social justice.
It moved an entire industry to more focused and determined action. It moved Smith’s own employers to stupid Met tricks. Honk the clown horn.
Yet, buried in the folly was some stuff with Van Wagenen that I believe is worth further examining:
1. I would like to believe that I am a diligent pursuer of news and the way that organizations have used the pandemic to limit information or mislead should disturb not just my business, but fans, since the concept of gathering that information is for the fans. Yet, I am uncomfortable with eavesdropping on what someone believes is a private conversation. Maybe I have to become comfortable with it in a world in which everyone carries a video camera and voice recorder in their pocket. But has everyone lost the right to privacy?
2. Does it matter at all that Van Wagenen was right? He had pledged his administration would be player first and he was looking out for the players — and the organization. The suggestion that the Mets should have left the field for an hour then returned to play — whoever’s idea that was — was terrible. Every non-doubleheader scheduled Thursday was postponed as players protested for social justice.
Can you imagine if the Mets had played? In a stadium that has the Jackie Robinson Rotunda? Twenty-four hours before Jackie Robinson Day? After their most prominent African-American player publicly became the tormented, crying face of this movement within baseball?
The idea that it would further mess up the schedule within a season in which all we have is a messed up schedule is to have no feel for priorities or the moment.
3. Van Wagenen’s biggest problem in Jeff Wilpon’s statement was not a word misspelled, but one he got correct: “inexcusable.” Wilpon’s statement read in part: “Brody’s (sic) misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable.”
Again, I would point out that Wilpon is saying that his private conversation with Manfred is sanctified, and one that Van Wagenen thought he was having with his lieutenants is not. Hello, hypocrisy. I would assume everyone in what they thought was a private moment has been critical of their boss and/or a decision. Only in the worst fiefdom would that be deemed “inexcusable,” which in case the dictionary is needed beyond spelling means never to be forgiven.
Perhaps this is all theater, the Wilpons bowing to the Commissioners Office because they are at the endgame of selling the team and need to be in the good graces of central baseball. But “inexcusable” is really quite a word considering that Van Wagenen’ entry point to the GM job was his strong personal relationship with Jeff.
Now what? The trade deadline is Monday and the Mets are hovering near a playoff position. Is a GM who cannot be pardoned — if we are to believe Jeff Wilpon’s word — empowered to act? The expectation was that with new ownership that Van Wagenen’s tenure was, at best, iffy. Now, whether his privacy was violated or not and whether he was right about how to handle Thursday’s game or not, Van Wagenen has angered his current boss and the long-term commissioner.
This time the floppy shoe routine looks as if it has impacted a person’s job expectancy.