By Mike Steffanos
Only the most optimistic of Mets fans are beyond any concern over Carlos Delgado based on one day of mashing like it was 1999. Still, it was awfully nice to see Carlos looking something like a $16 million slugger, even if only for a day.
Of course, in Mets Land circa 2008, there is no such thing as unequivocally happy news. Delgado's one-day resurgence brought with it a new controversy. The slugging first baseman, who has been the target of the relentless boo-birds who have threatened to take over Shea stadium, seemingly refused to let bygones be bygones when fans cheered for a curtain call after his second home run.
I was kind of surprised to read how many local columnists wrote something in support of Delgado today. I thought that Joel Sherman, who I often find myself in disagreement with, had a pretty good take on it in a blog post:
Good for Carlos Delgado. Take the ballplayer out of this. Imagine being roundly criticized over and over again in the most public forum for poor work results. Then imagine having a particularly good day of work. Would you then publicly acknowledge in gratitude the same people who had been razzing you who were now -- momentarily and almost certainly temporarily -- cheering you? Not a chance. So why are we holding Delgado to a higher standard just because he is an athlete. The mere announcement of Delgado's name with the lineups has been bringing boos at home. He was booed walking to the plate Sunday before his first homer.
I think there is a pathology now in place at Shea where large swaths of the crowd are so miserable that it irrationally takes the smallest incident -- a 2-0 count on the first hitter of the game -- to trigger verbal disenchantment. I understand from talking to Met fans that -- as a group -- there is a lot of frustration. The other team in town has won a lot more. The way last season ended is not easily shook. But it seems a strange sensation to me that hard-working folks would want to spend money and all the effort now involved to go to a game, and allow themselves to become so quickly miserable. ... I cannot understand what kind of person would work themselves up so quickly and furiously to hate what they so badly want to love. What is building at Shea is the anti-home field advantage. I think booing at Shea is now too often viewed among the fans as the hip thing. It all feels so self-defeating. And the proof is the Delgado incident. Here you have a player who does not want to acknowledge cheers because -- rightfully -- he feels them so hollow. ... If I were a Met fan I would be invested in wanting to create an atmosphere to help my home team thrive. Do fans have the right to boo? Sure. It is a way to show displeasure. But at Shea the frequency and redundancy of the booing has made the booing lose its meaning. We can no longer separate legitimate outrage over a player performing with indifference with, say, a player we know truly cares such as John Maine falling behind 2-0 to that first batter. All that is left from the booing is a hovering cloud of negativity hovering over every Met game. It seems strange to me for the people who are creating this negativity to expect the most frequent target of the animus to appreciate what he can only anticipate is the most temporary of cease fires.
I agree with almost everything in the above quote, which is almost guaranteed to earn me some nasty e-mails like the ones I received after criticizing the booing I witnessed during Santana's first start. I don't care. Shea Stadium has turned into such a pit of negativity it makes me sick. As Sherman says, "the frequency and redundancy of the booing has made the booing lose its meaning." I agree. I get the same feeling from the endless, illogical booing that I get when forced to watch a badly behaved child throw a tantrum in public.
I don't question any fan's "right" to boo. I question the illogic of what has become booing for its own sake. This has created a weird gulf between the team and its own fans -- an "us against them" feeling when the idea of cheering on a team is that we're all in it together.
A couple of pinheads who wrote me last time felt it was not only their right to boo, but their "duty". In the logic of their over-inflated egos, they felt their booing would force the players to play well. One mental giant called me a brown noser, and insinuated that by defending the players I was actually encouraging them not to play well. I guess that is "logic" to someone whose ego allows them to believe that the players require their booing to play hard.
I get tired sometimes with all of the false machismo of this being a tough town that gets the most out of ballplayers. It's funny, but with the exception of Northeastern cities, most fans do very little booing for performance alone, yet these "provincial" locales seem to produce more than their share of winning teams. Players there seem to find motivation without being booed relentlessly. I wonder how?
On Mets.com, Marty Noble had another good take on this issue in this week's Mailbag column:
Booing at Shea Stadium has become endemic and borderline shameful. Most folks who never have played the game at any level higher than Babe Ruth -- and I certainly am one of them -- have little sense of how difficult the game is to play. They appreciate success and demand it at all times. It's as if they believe a 25-0 season or .480 batting average would happen if the players put more effort into their performances.
Because fans have the right to boo, they seemingly think it is their responsibility to boo, and they boo because they can. My sense of it is that a couple of thousand malcontents, still bruised by the events of last September, express themselves at nearly every opportunity -- even a leadoff groundout to short in the first inning. Then the followers follow as if booing is contagious.
I suspect most of the boo birds would kill for an autograph and gush if they were to meet the same player they booed an hour earlier. The increased dissatisfaction among fans, I think, is prompted to some degree by the millions players earn and the intolerance for anything but success expressed by sports talk radio.
Those shows harp on one or two isolated plays. One topic -- one misplay -- will be reviewed for 30 minutes. Even the hosts repeat themselves. If newspaper or Web sites were to react in the same way, you would read the same three paragraphs 20 times.
The concentrated criticism and ridicule creates a distorted view of a play or the player(s) involved, and that misperception carries over to the people who attend games. More than ever, fans want to be part of the game, part of the in-stadium experience. I don't understand. When I was a kid, I went to the ballpark to watch. I cheered the good plays and recognized the bad. I'm sure I booed a call I didn't like. I'm sure my father or uncle didn't allow me to boo anything else.
New York likes to think of itself as a tough town. And I believe every high-profile, new player is tested by the fans; witness the boos for Johan Santana. Kevin McReynolds, a fine player, was booed far more often than he deserved. After he left the Mets, he said New York fans want a player to succeed, but if success doesn't happen, the fans' second preference is for abject failure.
I don't think he was off the mark in that assessment.
I'm sure those of you that believe in the booing feel that those of us who feel this negativity has become ridiculous are somehow out of touch. Or maybe you're just mad because you don't think anyone else has a right to tell you what to do.
The problem here is that your choices subject the rest of us to something that is infringing on our wishes just to go and enjoy a game. We can't un-boo. The poisonous atmosphere you're creating is something that imposes itself on all. On top of all of that, you're making the rest of us look silly by association.
Back to Delgado. Look, I agree with those who say that Delgado should have just come out for a perfunctory hand wave to the crowd, no matter what he felt inside. By not doing so he's ensured that continued struggles will be booed even more lustily. But then again, when you're already a target, maybe that doesn't matter.
What amuses me somewhat is the fact that those who seem to take the most offense with Delgado are the ones who booed most lustily. Hey, it's a tough town, right? Toughen up a little, and get over yourself.
Slightly changing the subject, I thought Matt Cerrone had a good piece on MetsBlog earlier today:
...i fear that the Mets did what was necessary to make themselves competitive quickly, to gain respect in the game, and move fast from last place to first place in two year's time, but that the cost for this burst may now be a disorganized team at a crossroads...
...think back, it seems that most champions in baseball do so in phases...it never happens on a smooth, straight-up rocket ride to a ring...instead, there is usually a rebuilding phase, followed by mild success, lots of hype, then some disappointment, a slight reshuffling and then true, ultimate-success is achieved...
...i fear the Mets are in that disappointment-reshuffling stage - moving sideways, not forward - but they just don't know it yet...
I agree completely. The Mets were an awful team when Minaya was hired. They were coming off a September free-fall that led to a 71-91 record and a fourth place finish. Art Howe was out, as was Jim Duquette. After committing the year before to rebuilding with young talent, they traded away Scott Kazmir at the deadline to the bewilderment of just about everyone. The fans were in an uproar.
The smart baseball move would have been to go back to the rebuilding idea, but the need to win back the fan base and the town led to a club that was very much dependent on older players. This led to a feeling that they were a "win-now" bunch and more decisions based on short-term rather than long-term prosperity.
Whether this team manages to win something this year or continues to flounder around .500, it's time to change the thought processes here. Alou has yet to play, and might not be back for a while, if at all. Pedro couldn't last past 3 innings into the season. Part of the negativity surrounding this team involves this seemingly endless loop of older stopgap players going down to yet another injury. Some of the discontent with Delgado comes from being forced to endure a highly-paid player's decline without having previously enjoyed him in his prime years.
It's just time to put aside the urge to place another short-term Band-Aid on this team and do what has to be done to make it a success -- younger and more athletic. The Mets crashed following the 2000 World Series because Steve Phillips became addicted to the Band-Aid approach. I'd rather see them take a small step back to regroup than have to witness yet another huge crash because they didn't.