By Mike Steffanos
As a general rule, I've enjoyed Jon Heyman's MLB columns on SI.com. They're entertaining and are a good way to keep up to date on what's happening around baseball. I have a somewhat different view on many of the issues than Heyman, but I can say the same thing about most baseball writers.
When I read his Monday column I was more amused than annoyed by his fawning endorsement of all things Jimmy Rollins. Using the exact same convoluted logic that WFAN's Chris Russo makes his own bizarre arguments with, Heyman "proves" only his bizarre ongoing man-crush on Rollins and willingness to pander to the anti-New York bias of his national audience.
My first impulse was to ignore this, which I have done for two days. But what the heck, it's a slow week for things to write about. (Who cares if college kids bunted on Wagner? He should have done what Nolan Ryan would have done and drilled the next kid who came to bat.)
If you heard the sound clip when Beltran made his statement this spring, the writers all laughed. Other than Troglodytes like Brett Meyers, the truth is that most of the players get along fairly well. It's the fans who really dislike each other. Rollins seemed amused by the statement and his answer back was funny.
For some reason though, Heyman feels the need to opine that the Mets were "afraid" to answer Rollins last year, and that fear and the weight of Jimmy's words somehow built up over the season as the Mets played "scared". Does Heyman really believe that grown men who are professional baseball players are that affected by words? I hope not.
Of the many things I wanted to do but could never find the time for this winter, I started a series on what went wrong for the Mets and never had the time to finish it. I was extremely disappointed by the 2007 Mets, and rank them as by far the most disappointing Mets team I have rooted for in just under four decades of being a fan. I certainly don't defend what happened to them last season, but I am dumbfounded by the simplistic narrative that has become accepted as "fact" by so many in the media.
The sad, simple truth was the Mets sleepwalked through most of the months of June, July and August. We all expected to see a sense of purpose and urgency from a team that had a very disappointing end to 2006, but what we saw was a club that thought they could coast through the regular season and pick it up in the playoffs. The Phillies and Braves were enduring their own struggles, and the Mets seemed content to hold the division lead by default rather than merit. If I have one picture that replays in my mind and bothers me the most from last year it was how many games the Mets offense underperformed against mediocre and even bad pitching -- showing no discipline at the plate and little repentance after the game. I've previously made the point here, so I won't beat it to death. We were all frustrated by the lack of the work ethic we saw in 2006.
I wish they were actually playing scared those months, because it would have motivated them to stop screwing around. Instead, they let the Phillies hang around, and then buried by a freight train of momentum that went against them.
I'll agree with Heyman in that the Phillies did indeed beat the Mets convincingly in winning the last 7 games played between them. The Mets pitching seemed tired, Wagner got hurt and was ineffective, and the hitters displayed the same maddening lack of plate discipline -- particularly against the Phillies bullpen. Funny, but when you allow bad habits to become ingrained they can wind up costing you.
I'll give Rollins credit for being a team leader all year and for playing great in big moments. It's delusional and utterly simplistic to think that Rollins' words had anything to do with what happened to the Mets, and I'm tired of reading silly stuff like that. In the end, the failure to take the season seriously enough undermined the Mets, and that to me is enough of an indictment against the 2007 Mets than this silly fairy tale. Their punishment for their sins will be to have to answer questions about last year every time they go into a losing streak.
As for Heyman's arguments for Rollins vs. Wright for MVP, I could frankly care less. To me the MVP is a strange, flawed award in that people have wildly divergent opinions on what makes a player most valuable. Is it for the guy who's the best player, or the one who helped his team win more, or whatever other interpretations in between? The answer seems to change from year to year.
I have no problem with Rollins winning. He had a great year, he was his team's leader, and took pressure off his teammates by putting it on himself. If Beltran is trying to do a little of that himself I welcome it, even if Heyman isn't impressed. As for the other stuff, it may sound colorful and make a good story, but it doesn't ring true. And by the way, Heyman's assumption that Wright's MVP case is damaged by the Mets collapse fails to take into account how well Wright played while the ship was sinking. Below are a comparison of Rollins and Wright's numbers in September when everything was playing out:
Despite being a 24-year-old with only 3 years experience, Wright assumed the role of team leader and answered question after dreary question about the Mets' collapse while putting up fabulous numbers. If you want to give Rollins the MVP, I have no problem with that. But Heyman's grudging admission that the collapse was "no fault of Wright's" doesn't really tell the story, does it? I'll never forget how hard David fought to turn things around down the stretch when it would have been human nature to crumble.
I've made the comparison earlier to Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. Heyman follows the playbook here of presenting only the facts that are favorable to his theory, and then declaring his view the winner in Russo's emphatic case-closed manner. I hope Jon and Jimmy Rollins are very happy together going forward, but Heyman isn't right simply because he assures us that he is.