By now, we pretty much know what happened, short of being tableside at the club 1 Oak with Matt Harvey and his cronies on Friday night, May 5. The details have been played out across the entire media spectrum since mid-morning on Sunday and there’s really no need to rehash them here. The absolute bare facts: Harvey didn’t show for Saturday night’s game; Harvey was suspended without pay by the team for three days; on Day Three, Harvey returned to the clubhouse and apologized to the team, the coaching staff, the front office, the media and the fans. The incident is done. It’s all over and should be put to bed. But this is New York and in this town, nothing is ever quite that simple. It usually takes a little longer than normal for something like this to die down. Your intrepid columnist is loathe to stoke the fading embers of this story, other than to say that for Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz, the “inmates running the asylum” is a familiar story, almost a long and proud Mets tradition.
If you’re a somewhat older reader, you might recall the mid-‘90s and Bret Saberhagen spraying bleach at reporters and Vince Coleman tossing firecrackers at fans from a moving car. You might remember Coleman damaging Dwight Gooden’s shoulder with an errant clubhouse golf swing. These incidents saw little repercussion from upstairs. It was well-known at the time that ownership sought input from the players, fostering what Fred Wilpon liked to call a “collegial atmosphere,” where his players weren’t merely employees, but near-equals who could bypass traditional hierarchical channels – the normal chain of command: manager/GM/owner — and go straight to ownership with a suggestion or a complaint. They actually bragged about it in the papers. Look at how well it’s worked.
Think back about 15 years to around the turn of this century. It’s 2003 and the Mets are trying to sustain the aura of their surprise 2000 pennant and unsurprising loss to the Yankees in that year’s World Series. Three years down the road, they’ve not been nearly as successful. They’ve jettisoned their manager and loaded the team with aging, big name veterans. A year previously, GM Steve Phillips signed or traded for Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz and Shawn Estes. As one wag put it, “Phillips has assembled an All-Star team. Unfortunately, it’s the 1997 All-Star team.” These are the Mets of manager Art Howe, who “lit up the room” in his interview, according to Fred Wilpon. Little did we know it only took a 30-watt bulb to do that. Anyway, the leaders of the ’03 clubhouse were two pitchers, Al Leiter and John Franco. It was at their urging that these meandering Mets make a big splash and sign another pitcher, Tom Glavine, away from their chief tormentors, the Atlanta Braves. Everyone outside the organization scratched their heads. This was a team going nowhere fast – their record in ’02 had been a craven 75-86 – and Glavine wasn’t going to right the ship by himself. It was rumored that this was a political move: Glavine had been quite active in Players Union activities – as had Franco and Leiter – and working in New York would give him easier access to the MLPA offices. It may also have been why the Braves let him waltz away to a division rival with little fuss. Additionally, again at the urging of their veteran pitchers, 2003 saw the return to the Mets of David Cone. Cone, of course, was well past his prime, having basically retired after a sorry 2000 season as a Yankee – breaking the Mets’ hearts in the World Series, of course – and a desperate 2001 season as a Red Sox. He didn’t pitch at all in 2002, but when he dropped hints about making a comeback, Leiter, Franco and Glavine insisted he come to spring training. Also in camp that year was a raw rookie pitcher with a world of talent. Scott Kazmir had been drafted the previous year and shown so much promise – and the Mets being so desperate – he was invited to train with the big-leaguers that March. Unfortunately, his taste in music didn’t sit well with the leaders and when he had the temerity to play it louder than they liked, they gave him the business for it. His response wasn’t what they were used to, wasn’t a rookie “knowing his place” and they used their “collegial” channel upstairs to voice displeasure. From that point on, it seemed like Phillips and his successor Jim Duquette couldn’t wait to trade the kid. Halfway through the following year, Kazmir found himself and his wicked left arm winning games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Glavine had the worst year of his career to date, Leiter and Franco aged before our eyes and Cone pitched 18 innings over four starts and one relief outing before hanging them up for good. The Mets went 66-95.
When Omar Minaya was brought on to replace Duquette, that kind of talk died down a little, but it was the veterans on the team that set the attitude and bore the brunt of criticism for the collapses of 2007/2008. With the circus atmosphere surrounding the Harvey situation – and let’s not forget Noah Syndergaard’s refusal to get an MRI on his aching arm – it looks like the Wilpons have gone all collegial on us again.
Heaven help us.
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