I’m going to ramble, spitball, and generalize.  Bad ways to start a post-2009 entry.  But I have very general, very nebulous things on the mind.

If you’re desperate for the punch line, scroll down until you see, in bold, “This brings us back to the banana peel.”  But I’m no short-order cook, and this is a long boil, so read it all for full flavor.

I’m hungry.

As is often the case, I’ll start with the Times, which I keep swearing I’ll stop reading for baseball purposes, but can’t seem to get away:

“Back to the 2009 Yankees: they are quite likable as a group. The
players are, anyway. Their owners and top management are all too often
defined by haughtiness, greed and entitlement. In that sense, the
Yankees embody New York, where hauteur, avarice and entitlement are
hardly unknown. The Mets are almost polar opposites. Their fans know in
their bones that even when things seem to be going well, someone is sure to throw a banana peel in their path
.”

Emphasis mine; find the piece here, written by Clyde Haberman.

I don’t want to be that kind of fan, though I know sometimes I can be.  I know plenty of Mets fans who are, and they range from the remarkably astute and articulate to the “could you perhaps try breathing with your nose and NOT your mouth?”

But perhaps more importantly, I would like to no longer be perceived as that kind of fan.  I’ve written on a few occasions (do your own search on “fandom;” too lazy this morning to dig for links, and you might enjoy sifting) about the schism between Mets and Yankees fans, the level of entitlement, of perceived entitlement, and how I conduct my business as one who enjoys baseball.

I don’t grant the premise that to be a Mets fan means to be long-suffering, though many have suffered greatly.  I don’t recall on any occasion, after scanning my ticket for entry, being handed a promotional cross to bear, sponsored by Church’s Chicken.

Yes, there’s a Church’s Chicken franchise in New York City.  It’s on the corner of 44th and Eighth.

I thought, and to an extent still do think, that right thought will lead to right action, which will lead to right perception.  And while I batter the Buddha to my own baseball aims, I see that I’m going to have remarkable trouble making baseball friends this way, or managing not to sound like a know-it-all, or a smarmy sort of patzer, peddling his nonsense to people who are genuinely distressed, getting them to think positively until something bigger bursts their bubble.  Misery and company, you see. 

And someone with such a profound dislike of Sean Green and a fear that he may, somehow, return, should not be butchering Eastern religion so that he may get everyone off the page of “Woe is me,” or “This bites,” and onto the page of “We forgive you, Mets organization, but we have a list of grievances we’d like to file, in a collectively calm and reasoned manner.”

Lots of talk yesterday from Mets leaders reviewed by Mets bloggers, which, unless Will Leitch has scooped my idea to use Metsblog as a resource once more, you can find:

–here (Jerry Manuel at Citi Field; Michael Baron, why the long face? Who hurt you?);

–here (Omar Minaya and Jeff Wilpon from Citi Field);

–here (Messrs. Minaya and Wilpon on WFAN; read this while watching Monday Night Football. Green Bay, you embarrassed yourselves);

–here (germane to recent one-sided conversations I’ve had);

–and here.

There is little to find remarkably newsworthy in the conferences and interviews held.  Note that I did not state there was remarkably little to find newsworthy.  A subtle yet important difference.

Luis Alicea, first base coach, is out.  Sandy Alomar, bench coach, shifts about if he wants, or else splits.  Razor Shines, third base coach, stays pending re-assignment.  Dan Warthen stays.  Howard Johnson stays.  Jerry Manuel stays.  Omar Minaya stays. 

Payroll unaffected by Bernie Madoff’s criminality, but maybe Mr. Minaya will find some cost savings.  There will be more Mets imagery in the ball park next year.  There will be a prominent Mets museum (I’m now nearly convinced this will be over by that massively empty space behind center; just give me my museum as video academy and I’ll ride into the sunset).

Daniel Murphy will get better.  Oliver Perez (Fauxhawk) will have a good year again.  Injuries plagued the team.  Johan’s feeling great.

That’s the gist.

It is news that they came out and said these things.  But none of these things rise to the level of bombshell, and the presentation–I have to point out Caryn Rose’s excoriation, posted on her blog, as a prime example of “Yoikes”–left a bit to be desired.

I’m not trying to pull punches here.  I don’t feel as angry about this as others do because my expectations of upper management are different.  To an extent, my expectations are lower, but that’s mainly with with regard to their notes regarding the product on the field. 

And no, I can’t believe I wrote that either, but my observation in 2009 revealed to me baseball players who are fundamentally unsound and prone to injury.  Those grievances I take to the manager and the trainers.  I don’t expect Messrs. Minaya or Wilpon to break the matter down for me like I’m watching MLB Roundtripper or Baseball Tonight or SNY’s SportsNite. 

Instead, I expect them to have some idea of what they’re doing when they retain Jerry Manuel, who is responsible for the product on the field, as presented to him by the general manager.  Here we have the first of what will be many points in this off-season where I stop to suggest a question I believe should be asked.  (That was almost a sentence.  As I said: rambling.)

If the reason given to keep Jerry Manuel on was because his performance this year could not be adequately judged, and 2010 will provide the opportunity for a more balanced assessment:

  • was it argued–when discussing his larger body of work–that the product on the field this year could have avoided some of the errors in performance that sometimes led directly to losses, and if so, what was the outcome of that line of discussion? and,

  • is there a plan in place to re-evaluate matters if the 2010 Mets experience the same level of physical breakdown?

There’s more news in the answer of those questions than in simply saying he’ll be back because 2009 was atrocious and as such not appropriate for evaluation. 

It’s also easy to perceive a contradiction in describing the year as “unacceptable.” By not defining a root cause beyond injury yet retaining the training staff, you’ve either ignored or eliminated injury as a cause.  No one hears about reviewing training protocols or warm-ups or weight training.  They hear “unacceptable” and they want something equally stark done about it right just now. 

My concern is that no one in the Mets organization’s said Word One about what happens if these players, or other players, break down again, even with revised protocols and regimens.

On the whole, the conferences themselves seemed a way of quelling debate among fans and the media that was sure to grow coarser if silence followed Sunday.  Where senior management failed was in properly framing the debate prior to heading out there. 

Now, much like with the communication of injuries over the course of the season, I could ask whether failing to frame the debate was intentional or accidental; whether the goal was always to get the media and the blogosphere–don’t know why I separate them, but there you go–spinning its wheels while working privately to fix matters, or whether the fall-out from the conferences and the interview was unexpected.  At this point, the evidence
indicates the latter.

However, it could also be that the thought of the aftermath never occurs, or seems secondary to the work that needs to be done to pull together a champion organization.  The thought on the latter here would be that if the team were winning and winning convincingly, there’d be little to grouse about: “Yes, Mets fans, we hear you.  But if we kept worrying about trying to get to the end of this hamster wheel you call frank and honest discourse about this team we own, we wouldn’t be focused on getting you a team that could make the postseason and win on a regular basis, thus slowing down said hamster wheel.”

This brings us back to the banana peel.

The 2009 season was a fine illustration of just how many ways that banana peel can come at the Mets fan, and if you grab the average one at a party and ask them just what they think about Tony Bernazard, or the terrible onslaught of injuries, or a bases-loaded walk issued to a rival with their own boorish, loudmouthed fans, that Mets fan is going to feel just awful.

If nothing else sticks from this post; if nothing else has an impact that can make it to someone who can make a difference about it, let it be this: the 2009 season, with all of its horror and histrionics, has made a good number of fans embarrassed to be fans.

That word “embarrassed” is overused, too, but consider what it means: people have invested time and money in an entertainment product, and now they are open to abuse about that product.  These are not people who work for the Mets.  These are not shareholders.  All they did was hook onto a team.  And right now they feel like garbage.

For whatever reason they might feel like garbage, that they feel so is a tremendous problem–one that not a #2 pitcher, a left fielder, a catcher, or any back-up shortstop will fix. 

Winning might soothe it, until the next time the GM makes headlines by calling out a local reporter, or a manager makes comments about a guy’s twin concussions, or an executive vice president of business operations tries to parse the definition of “obstructed,” and makes a hash of it.  Then that fan is back to defending his team at the bar or at work or at the gym.

Lord, I cannot stress how important it is to grasp this concept.  Crawl into it, sleep in it, walk around with it for a couple of days: people spent lots of money to have fun, and instead they’re working to avoid feeling AWFUL.

Who the hell wants to do that?  Who wants to do MORE work? They’re not paid in tickets; the free hot dog came and went, and only with purchase to the game.  It’s horrible

I’ve advocated taking a break from the Mets when taking a break from them is warranted.  There are many other fantastic things with which to occupy your time.  I feel bad in that my entertainment is gone for six months, and the future does not look promising for extending next year beyond the obligatory.  But the angry people matter, too.  The ones anticipating the banana peels matter a great deal, and there is certainly no hope for them beyond praying for a good team.

The cheapest, easiest, most responsible thing that can be done to make the life of the average Mets fan a little easier is to get hard and expansive control of the message.  Take the discipline of the Bush Administration and coat liberally with the grassroots embrace of technology and expansiveness of applicable detail of the Obama Administration, and come out with a communications arm that’s capable of taking some of the heat off the fans that act as the team’s ambassadors.

I’ll say again: of the things on the 2010 To-Do List, it’s gotta be the cheapest, easiest, most responsible thing.  Don’t need an open door policy; don’t need to give away the Colonel’s secret recipe (I obviously could stand for some fried chicken).

But what must be done is put in place a structure by which the daily slings and arrows can be taken gracefully, and fans’ opinions considered and given voice, so that when seasons like 2009 happen again–and let’s hope baseball and the Mets last long enough so that we can see what it’s like to have a successful dynasty followed by the inevitable lean years–the team is prepared.

Be prepared.  Don’t bundle and announce and assert and bungle, like yesterday.  Finding an effective press secretary isn’t like trying to find a power bat for first.  The market is over-saturated.  Grab someone good and experienced and unemployed, and get cracking.

The alternative is seeing the fan base slip as one generation passes into the other, and that’d spell disaster in the long term.  Plan for decades; reap the rewards now.

That’s it; that’s all I’ve got on that.

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