Worse than an upset, angry, or depressed sports fan is an apathetic sports fan. If a team angers its fanbase, well, at least the fans are feeling something. A buzz surrounding a team — even if it’s mostly negative — is still a buzz, and players, coaches, and especially owners will take that over an apathetic fanbase any day.
The New York Mets fans, I fear, are becoming apathetic. I would know; I’m one of them.
There’s no sense in rehashing the past few seasons in too much detail. The 2006 team was the most talented Mets squad in decades and reached the National League Championship Series. The 2007 and 2008 teams, however, became infamous for their poor play in September, blowing leads in both the divisional standings and in late-inning situations. Words like “collapse,” “chokers,” and arguably the worst of all, “laughingstock,” were used to describe the franchise.
Last season was the worst the team had performed, as far as won-loss record, since 2003, finishing 23 games behind the Phillies. But that was 22 games more than they had trailed at the end of the previous two seasons, so it didn’t sting nearly as much. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Johan Santana all landed on the disabled list, some for very long stretches, so hope was lost by the All Star Break.
By my barometer, the excitement level entering this season was relatively low. Even after a six-month offseason, Mets fans were exhausted. The team’s play had taken a toll on us and it didn’t help that, despite the Mets not even participating, we were tormented during the playoffs, too: The hated Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and returned last season, only to lose to the damn Yankees.
No, life as a Mets fan couldn’t get much worse. Even if you wanted to play the old “everyone’s in first place on Opening Day” card, you had to know the Mets wouldn’t be there for long, not with Reyes and Beltran starting the season on the DL and a starting rotation with one exclamation point but four question marks.
The lack of talent extends beyond the playing field, though. Ask people in the know which team has the worst front office and I’d be shocked if a large percentage didn’t name the Mets, or least put them in their worst three. I’m afraid that Omar Minaya, the general manager who fumbled the firing of a manger in ’08 and embarrassed the organization at a press conference last season, is better suited as a talent scout or at the very most a GM for a small-market team.
Minaya has — or at least had — a knack for uncovering some diamonds in the rough. And while it’s hard to say that signing superstars like Santana, Beltran, and Francisco Rodriguez, even at huge costs, were bad ideas, as far as payrolls go, no team has done less with more than the Mets.
This begs the question: Were the Mets easier to root for when they had a smaller payroll? In 1995 the Mets had the fifth lowest payroll in baseball, according to the USA Today Salary Database. They began a steady climb from there, moving near the middle of the pack in ’97 and into the top 10 in ’98. The 2002 season was the last time the Mets were outside the top five as far as payroll.
When money is spent unwisely — as it was in the early part of the 2000’s — it’s frustrating. Players like Robbie Alomar and Mo Vaughn proved to be horrible additions. While the Mets current crop of highly-paid paid players have provided far more bang for their buck, the fact remains that since going to the World Series in 2000, the Mets have only reached the postseason once.
Having a losing team when you don’t have the big stars — as was the case in the ’90’s — is one thing, but with the way the Mets have spent the last few years, losing is far more painful. I’m not suggesting that the Mets sit on their money. But the big spending raised expectations, and since the Mets have not won, the disappointment level has been extremely high.
Citi Field, in its inaugural season, was a nice attraction for Mets fans last year, despite the dismal product on the field. But the shine of the new stadium has likely already worn off. No big name signings are going to rejuvenate this fanbase, a la the Pedro Martinez signing after the 2004 season. The same can be said for bringing in a well-known manager. Mets fans don’t want to hear any promises from the owners or any more corny slogans from the marketing department either.
We want the one thing every fanbase wants, and it’s something this current roster may not be capable of doing consistently: winning.