Mets fans, Victor Frankl and existential analysis

Some fans equate rooting for the Mets with suffering. While not one of those people, I still don’t like to miss a chance for an article idea. So, let’s start with a quote from someone who truly suffered, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who also was a neurologist and psychiatrist who aligned with existential analysis. He said:

” Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So, as a Mets fan, how do you deal with that space? Right now the stimulus is a team that was expected to win 90-plus games that ended up losing 92, instead. So, what’s a proper response that would allow us growth and freedom?

The easiest answer is that the response should be not to invest so much time caring about a professional sports team. If we were to choose this path, we would have the freedom to pursue other, more noble activities, which would certainly lead us to growth. Yet somehow I doubt that many of us will choose that particular option. After all, we’re still invested in sports as an escape from other adult activities. And it’s my firm belief that escape is both worthwhile and necessary.

It may not be the exact opposite approach but my belief is the next easiest answer is just to complain. And it’s important to note that not all complaints are equal and not all complaints are unjustified. The point here is to identify the act of complaining when it’s nothing but a knee-jerk reaction to everything that ever comes up. The manager’s a jerk, the GM’s lazy, the owners are cheap, the players aren’t good enough, the training staff’s a joke. And so on. There may be some truth in every one of those statements. But when all you ever think about and say are those things – how do you live with yourself and the constant negativity?

Maybe it goes back to escape. Maybe it’s better to be relentlessly negative about your favorite sports team than it is about your adult relationships. After all, you can’t just go on and on and on about how horrible your boss is or how awful your spouse is and what rejects your relatives are who watch a particular cable news network.

If so — if that’s what works for you to eliminate a potential real-life meltdown in your personal life — then I get it. In return, my hope is that you understand that when a person turns to sports as an escape from real-world problems and all that he/she is met with on a daily basis is never-ending complaints without any counter-balance positive opinion, man it’s crushing.

Look at it this way – the Mets went 67-92 and it was a bad year. If a season with a .432 winning percentage is bad, what’s it like to others when your positive expressed thought percentage is less than .100? Do you think it’s in the realm of possibility to get that positive expressed thought percentage (at the very freaking least) in the .200s? Surely that would be enough to still allow people to complain about things that should be complained about and still have something left over for complaining for the sake of complaining, right?

Would you describe a person with an 80:20 ratio of negative comments to positive ones as hopelessly naïve? It wouldn’t seem to be the description of someone afflicted with the Pollyanna Principle. This particular complaint ratio should certainly allow you to keep your street cred, right?

So, let’s get back to Frankl and stimulus-space-response.

It’s fair to say that we are confronted with a very negative stimulus. Now, what should our response be that doesn’t ignore reality yet still allows the chance for growth and freedom? How shall we best use the space?

Perhaps it’s important to review what we know, beyond the very negative stimulus that confronts us. First, it seems like we should acknowledge that at best we have imperfect information. It may appear Sandy Alderson is lazy but perhaps he and his team are contacting every agent and GM out there, trying to move heaven and earth to improve the team. Quit laughing – not one of us knows for sure.

Second, it seems like we should realize that individuals at this level generally aren’t idiots. Instead, they act in what they perceive as their own best interests, which we hope aligns with the best interest of the team. Terry Collins looked to World Series winner Jim Leyland for advice on how to run his team and followed that advice. That doesn’t make him an idiot

Finally, we should differentiate between one-time mistakes and repeated foolish behavior. You have to try new things to improve and not everything you try is going to work. When Noah Syndergaard went out last year on a crazy fitness regimen, he did it in the belief that it would help him to be a better pitcher. He deserves criticism for a decision that looked bad at first glance and was proven bad by the results. But he doesn’t deserve to be crucified because he’s gone out and completely revamped his training methods. He’s not repeating his mistake.

So, let’s look at the Mets’ response to the negative stimulus of the 2017 season.

1. They removed a manager who apparently wasn’t on board with the front office and replaced him with a guy who’s had great success managing pitchers, allegedly the strength of the team.
2. They put in a long-range plan for their top farm system club, eventually bringing it closer to home and in what should be a more natural baseball environment.
3. They removed their head athletic trainer, after overhauling how they handle/report injuries internally during the year.
4. They’ve moved to solidify the bullpen, signing a guy who was great last year to a two-year deal. He doesn’t have an extensive track record of success but there are reasons to believe last season wasn’t a fluke.
5. The GM listened to the advice of his new manager and pitching coach and stopped shopping one of his pitchers looking to rebound from injury.

That seems like a pretty good start. Hopefully they add an equal number of positive things to the ledger before the 2018 season starts in earnest.

Is it all positive? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. But before establishing your response, use the space to look for growth and try to go beyond the knee-jerk reaction of mere complaining. Especially since it’s still two months before the start of Spring Training.

Yes, payroll should be higher and count this as a complaint. Someone, I believe JP, asked why Alderson was willing to lobby for more funds for last year’s payroll but seemingly hasn’t done that this year. That’s a great question for someone who actually has access to ask Alderson questions.

But until the point that someone asks and we get clarification, let’s assume that he did and got shot down or he hasn’t because he knows that the owners aren’t going to give him that hall pass after it failed when they did it for 2017.

So, for our purpose of striving for growth and freedom, instead of complaining about the payroll and going no further, our mindset should be – What can we do with the payroll that is available? Is the answer to be like a teenager in a strip club for the first time who spends all of his money on the first girl he sees?

That’s an answer and it’s among the possibilities that it’s the right one. There’s an argument to be made that this team needs an ace and instead of trying to solve four problems with four mediocre answers that they should go all-in on one great answer.

To me, it’s always been both more interesting and more rewarding to ask what we can do given our options than to just throw your hands up in despair and point out that the options are too limited because the owners are too cheap.

So, what can you do to get your positive expressed thought percentage here, as Keith would say, off the Interstate?

28 comments for “Mets fans, Victor Frankl and existential analysis

  1. Jim OMalley
    December 20, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    In my opinion, its pretty clear that the owners have not set their sights on winning a championship. They are concerned with placating fans and selling just enough tickets/merchandise/advertising/concessions, etc so as to not lose money.

    Thats the sum-total of the strategy. That is it; nothing else.

    • Name
      December 21, 2017 at 12:16 am

      Do you people realize what you’re saying?

      “We want an owner who wants to treat the Mets as a charity case” Wait… even charities have balanced budgets. “We want an owner to treat the Mets as a failing business”

      It’s a business, the goal is to turn a profit. No one is up in arms because your local pizzeria is turning a profit, why is it so hard to comprehend for a sports team?
      Yes, there’s a public service aspect that the owner is responsible for – it wouldn’t be fair if the owner is making hundreds of millions if the on-field performance is bad, but that’s not the case with the Mets.

      I keep hearing that the Mets are in a “big market”. I don’t see that as true. I would define the team’s “market” as the number of base diehard fans and in that regard i don’t see them on high on that list.

      First, they share the city with the Yankees, who have been here longer and more established.
      Second, their reach is quite limited to the tri-state area. Teams like the Rockies or Braves have no nearby teams and can literally claim fans from up to 5-6 surrounding states.
      Third, the NY area has a lot of other pro sports team which will limit the number of baseball fans and those who go/pay attention to games – 2 football teams, 3 hockey teams, 2 basketball teams, and an annual tennis tournament
      Finally, the NY area also has a lot of people who don’t give a flying hoot about baseball (or even sports) at all. NYC is home to a ton of immigrants, and considering that baseball is “America’s pastime”, it’s less likely for foreigners to be interested.

      If you take all those factors into consideration, i honestly think that the number of base diehard fans for the Mets is probably on par with a team like the Twins or Atlanta

      • December 21, 2017 at 12:43 am

        That’s not fair Name. You’re talking about today? What about when this team drew 4 million fans at Shea Stadium? Market to me is based on location and what a team can and should earn in revenue (advertising etc..) i don’t think the Twins get 25 million a year for the naming of their stadium.

        • Name
          December 21, 2017 at 9:57 am

          The 4m fans was boosted because it was the last year at Shea.

          Yes, the Mets got higher naming rights for their stadium, but that extra revenue is offset by higher rent, higher real estate taxes, higher construction costs, higher food cost, higher non-player payroll cost, etc…

          Really, if you take the NY market, cut out the immigrants/people who don’t care about sports, cut out the market share loyal to the Yankees, cut out the fans who care more about other sports, your fanbase is probably less than St. Louis – a city of only 300,000. Market size is not all about location.

          • December 21, 2017 at 10:29 am

            Higher food costs? How much is a beer in Citifield? Higher rent? Doesn’t ownership charge for renting out space? Parking? What about advertising? How much is a seat at Citifield? If you put a competitive product out year in and year out fans will come. St. Louis is a tough comparison since they draw fans from hundreds of miles outside city limits and have little competition near their home base. Also the Yankees draw fans from as far away as Connecticut and upstate New York.

            • Name
              December 21, 2017 at 9:06 pm

              “St. Louis is a tough comparison since they draw fans from hundreds of miles outside city limits and have little competition near their home base.”

              That’s exactly my point…

              The Mets may play in the biggest city, but their fanbase isn’t that big and i think people overestimate their maximum potential fanbase. They are not a big market team in my eyes, and neither is a team like the White Sox either. I don’t know why people have this delusion like they are rooting for one.

      • IDRAFT
        December 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

        I’ve been to Atlanta (Not Minny yet) and the relative ticket prices do not support your view of the market. You are forgetting that revenue is based on two factors, volume and rate.

        Expenses, yes, are whatever you can pull off. But this pizza place you mention, is it the only one licensed to operate in a huge metropolitan area? If so the analogy fits, and also, could you tell me where it is?

        I would very much like to purchase it.

        • Name
          December 21, 2017 at 9:23 pm

          “But this pizza place you mention, is it the only one licensed to operate in a huge metropolitan area?”

          The definition of franchising…
          Dominoes, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns. Any other chain you can think of.

  2. Mike Walczak
    December 20, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Wow, what a deep post.

    The Nats picked up Matt Adams. The Giants acquired Evan Longoria. Every day we see moves by teams to improve themselves. So far, what is the strategy for 2018? They added Anthony Swarzak and hope that everyone remains healthy.

    That still does not address 2B, 3B or a true leadoff hitter.

    Sorry, but I don’t see the desire and drive from the owners to win. Say what you want, but every year, the Yankees are in it to win it.

    And Alderson just got his contract extended today.

    In 84 the Mets went out and added Keith Hernandez. In 85 they added Gary Carter. Over the years they added Carlos Delgado and Mike Piazza.

    What is Alderson doing now to build the team ? Not much. Shopping at a flea market for bargain bin buys.

  3. December 20, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Everything we say and do revolves around the Wilpons inability to govern this franchise according to the number one market in the USA. Given the restraints of a limited budget and accepting that fact the Mets would then need to trade certain assets to try to achieve a more consistent offense and defense. If Cain is your target for CF then Lagares has to go. He would be a luxury the team cannot afford. Therefore Cain and his 20 million is more efficiently applied to the payroll. Back loading his deal would also benefit the team. So there are ways that can help. I’m just not sure if Alderson has the resources to do so.

  4. Eraff
    December 20, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    I believe the General direction is gonna be filling the Positional Squad around a Pitching Staff that is highly questionable….with a Huge Upside! I would not Squander $$$, Prospects or Useful Players until I see health and performance from my SP’s.

    I’m becoming more interested in Cain…he’s a good long term fit…otherwise, they need to be at the Opportunity End of the Talent Pool…it could break late.

    50…80 games in…you determine whether you are selling or buying into the pennant race.

    Beyond that good direction, I do not trust the The Met Baseball Brains… with influence heading out of the dougout—Even on Game Days— I don’t believe these guys can compete on the basis of Baseball Brain Power.

  5. Eraff
    December 20, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Ok…how about Wilmer for Starlin Castro?

    • December 20, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      I’d rather try for Cain. Met baseball brains is a contradiction

  6. TJ
    December 20, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Very heady indeed. Thank you for the cerebral stimulation. I actually think the escape and entertainment that blogs like yours offer far exceeds the escape and entertainment of the Mets themselves and their games. Price-wise it is clearly the better value.

    Personally, I try as best as I can to find the positives. However, my posts this year have been exceedingly negative, and this is primarily due to the huge gap between what ownership/management says and what it does. Frankly, it isn’t so much “losing”, we Met fans have endured much of that; it is the lack of direction and commitment to a winning strategy and plan, which is the case regardless of the funds.

    Given the fiscal limitations, whatever they are, I would elect to prioritize pitching/defense. Bruce doesn’t fit beyond Conforto’s recovery time, so he’s out. I’m ok with Lagares/Nimmo in CF, TDA/Plawecki at C. If Cleveland has interest in Ramos I’d sign Reed and deal Ramos plus (not sure what it takes) for Kipnis. If not, I’d aim for Walker, who provides the best blend of offense, defense, and leadership. Find a decent OF to provide Conforto insurance, and go with Smith at 1B with Wilmer backing up all IF but SS. Play Rosario at SS every inning of every game and tell him if he shows improvement in plate discipline and BB rate he can find his way to the top of the order.

    • December 21, 2017 at 8:11 am

      Thanks TJ

      Personally, I don’t see the huge gap between what management says it’s going to do versus what it does. They told us they weren’t going to shop in the inferno end of the reliever market and they didn’t. Said they were going to get a reliever and they did. Said they’d like to get a guy capable of playing both OF and 1B and there are a few of those on the market still. Said they were interested in a 2B and they delivered the preferred trade package for Ian Kinsler, only to have the player reject a trade. Said they weren’t going to trade Harvey after Callaway/Eiland told them not to and they haven’t.

      • TJ
        December 21, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        When I say there is a huge gap between what management says and what it does, I am not referring to the itemized list that you provided. You list is fair, and accurate, and clearly the management has done some positives this offseason. Additionally, the offseason is far from over, so our “angst” and voiced/typed displeasure is somewhat premature given that this is a work in progress.

        But, here is where this ownership is very disingenuous, bordering on arrogance towards its customers. Alderson, as the front man and mouthpiece for the Wilpons (who have gone into hiding), stated shortly after his employment began that the team needed to be built for sustainable winning, and that the payroll would reflect the cycle of building a sustainable winner. He actually went as far as to suggest that when the fans spent more in terms of tickets, TV ratings, etc., the payroll would increase. Now, I don’t have quotes, and he is quite coy and chooses his words like a politician, but clearly any of us paying attention got the deal. So, as they geared up to 2015, the payroll increased from dreadful levels. Then, we were told in 2016, that Alderson got them to “exceed the budget”, which was basically due to Cespedes’ market collapsing. So, they resigned him (mind you, the driving offensive force to a World Series appearance). Well, how mightly charitable of them to drive their big market opening day payroll to 14th in the big leagues.

        So, here we are in this offseason, where the assistant GM touted that the Mets would be players in the free agent market, and that they were expecting to win in 2018. Of course, I’m sure, 2018 ticket sales had no factor in those statements. So, here we are now, with Joel Sherman reporting what the fans expected, a slashed payroll, down $20 million, from a big market team 2 years removed from the World Series, still with control over its homegrown players. So, the Wilpons are waffling, yet telling the fans they are planning to win in 2018. This, my friend, is straight up lying.

        At this point, I might prefer a Marlins-type tear down. Frankly, it would be more interesting for me to follow blue chip prospects losing that an understaffed team pretending to try to win.

  7. MattyMets
    December 21, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Brian, I enjoyed reading this. Really interesting perspective. Mets fans are not alone in our suffering. There’s solidarity with the fans of many other professional franchises. Some people are born fans of the Yankees, Lakers and Patriots, growing comfortable with near annual playoff appearances and all sorts of parades. Others are born into suffering through bad seasons and crushing disappointment. But when we finally do win that one time, the champagne will taste so much better.

    Honestly, I do appreciate a lot of the behind-the-scenes moves the Mets have made this off-season. And I understand that once we fell way out of contention last year it made sense to unload some payroll with mid-late season trades. Thinking positively, maybe Alderson does have a plan to wait out the market and will surprise us with trades and signings that just haven’t materialized yet. We could reserve judgment until the off-season has concluded, but then there’s no chance to complain bitterly and isn’t that what the cold winter months are for?

    • December 21, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Thanks Matty

      The Mets were in the World Series two years ago. It’s just hard for me to reconcile that fact with the term suffering. If you want to talk about suffering talk about the Mariners who haven’t even made the playoffs in 16 years and have never been to the World Series in their 41-year history.

      Can we wait five years since our last WS appearance before we talk about suffering?

      • Chris F
        December 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

        The Mets lucked into the WS 2 years ago. That much is plain to see. Alderson did not build a juggernaut like Cubs, Astros, or even Royals. The stars circled, as they need to, but lets not pretend the WS was more than an aberration. In recent years, the only season the Nats didnt win the East was when they had a manager failing epically and a major personnel issue that led to rot in the clubhouse (for those that dont believe in X factor things, the 2015 Nats should be enough evidence alone).

        Anyway, Alderson *always* sets expectations for off season moves with the bar on the ground so that any activity at all looks like he has exceeded plans. Woohoo. He fully knew that Kinsler had the Mets on a no-trade. Interesting you would go after a guy he knew was never coming…was that a genuine deal or more along the lines of — see I “try” to do things but its the players fault it didnt get done.

        The twitter rant by Steve Phillips yesterday about how much the Wilpons want to win and play to a no profit budget was a complete joke. He lived off the Madoff theft and now has the nerve to say something that at face value is complete crap. The number one mission of ownership and the FO is not to win a WS, but to place themselves in a budgetarily passable position to luck into the post season. Its a miserable plan, executed by a miserable GM, being directed by miserable ownership.

        🙂 <– my effort to find happiness in this mess

        • Chris F
          December 21, 2017 at 11:13 am

          additional thought: dont forget the Wilpons built a stadium to honor a team with rooted but superficial connections to the Mets, a team that still exists. When it came time build a stadium, the 40 year history of the team was erased, as if the Mets didnt exist. It wasnt until an aggravated outpouring of rants by fans and media that *something* Metsian made it into the park. So its hard to be overwhelmed with what ownership says is a love for the team.

        • December 21, 2017 at 11:44 am

          I disagree that they lucked into the World Series. I’m not sure such a thing is even possible.

          • Chris F
            December 21, 2017 at 6:42 pm

            We watched different seasons then. The main reason the Mets made it is because the Nats melted. Without that, I dont believe that was a team bound for the WS.

    December 21, 2017 at 10:24 am

    I think how existential you are as a fan is what drives your interest in the enterprise. If what a person enjoys is trying to figure out a puzzle, and comparing their puzzle solving skills to others (including the professionals) then the payroll, etc. doesn’t matter at all. The entertainment for that person is being the smartest, it is not even driven by the success or failure of a team. For that person, sure, mind games are fine as the entire thing is a mind game.

    If what interests you is the entertainment of the games then you are going to care about the quality of the players. I find it a lot more entertaining to watch Jay Bruce hit than Norichiki Aoki. If I pay for Bruce and the business baits an switches me with Aoki I don’t consider it whining to complain about that. Or to be wary about giving them any more of my money.

    I do agree with you Brian, strongly, that no Mets fan should consider themselves suffering. I’ve never understood fans who pity themselves. Go, don’t go, watch on TV, don’t watch on TV, we all have total control. Major League Baseball is no different than a concert, a Broadway show, or any other live event. We can chose to watch or choose not to watch.

    • December 21, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      I don’t believe the two ideas you discuss in your first two paragraphs are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, it’s not accurate to say that the payroll doesn’t matter. It’s just that once it’s established – what can be done at that level? You know, besides whining? Also, speaking strictly for myself, the success or failure of the team is paramount. I’m not particularly fond of Jerry Blevins or Asdrubal Cabrera but if they play key roles in the Mets winning the World Series, I would find that to be great.

      And yes, of course, it’s an entertainment product. And just like you can be entertained by fiction or non-fiction or comedy or drama or camp or high art — you can be entertained by a variety of different teams. Aoki and Bruce have different skill sets and while I prefer to see power, I also enjoy guys who get on base and score runs. I’m sensitive to the bait and switch that happens to season ticket holders. But I think that’s part of the bargain when you purchase those. I guess I differentiate between a marketing campaign around a guy who then is dealt in April as opposed to if that guy is traded in August when things have completely fallen apart.

      And I think complaining about the Jay Bruce trade (and others) is completely reasonable, as long as the complaint is about what they received in return, rather than the fact that they traded him and didn’t immediately replace him with a suitable/identical talent. If the Mets received, say, the Indians 8th-best prospect (whoever that may be) rather than whatever flotsam they received in that deal, then I don’t think complaining would be justified. Even for season ticket holders.

      Finally, not giving ownership that you find reprehensible any of your money is the best course of action.

      • Jimmy P
        December 21, 2017 at 12:59 pm

        You don’t like Jerry Blevins? All he’s done is pitch great, has a terrific sense of humor, competes hard every time out, seems beloved by his teammates . . .

        Oh, wait.

        It’s the Matt den Dekker thing, isn’t it?

        • December 21, 2017 at 1:08 pm

          It’s paying that much money for a guy to throw 40-something innings. I don’t think that’s the ideal way to build your club.

  9. Pete In Iowa
    December 21, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    I truly appreciate your rather “heady” piece Brian. But I think you are too quick to dismiss the most important aspect of “fanhood.” Allow me to explain.
    Your comparison of being a fan to entertainment is far off base. There is no way the true fan (remember, short for “fanatic”) looks upon buying a ticket to a game, watching on TV, reading a paper or blog, or listening on the radio in the same manner as he does when purchasing a ticket to a movie or concert. There really is no comparison between these things.
    A true fan is emotionally involved in every undertaking their team makes. Quite simply, this is exactly what makes them a “fanatic!” It’s why we know who played SS in 1969 or LF in 1980, how we acquired them, what they did that year and how they fit into the intricate fabric of the history of the team.
    I’ve been a Met fan as long as I have any memory of baseball — all the way back to 1966. It is the longest relationship I have had (aside from my siblings) in my life. That just can’t be compared to buying a ticket to a movie!
    One final point. Sure, we went to the World Series in 2015. But we blew it!! We had it in our grasp and blew it. That hurts. Getting there was one thing, but losing it was quite another. I am most definitely “suffering.” Have been since 1986….. And I ain’t getting any younger!!

  10. Eraff
    December 21, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I don’t stand at the cashiers bitching about Macy’s while buying products…… because Macy’s Sucks!!!!!—–I no longer go there!!!!! The Fan-Team relationship is very different from the relationship I have with another “Business”….. if you’re really a Fan, you don’t just get up and go when you don’t like the product. This is a culturally engrained thing…… and I don’t need to have a “Positive Attitude”. That’s Bullshit!

    Here…I’m booing at The Owners…. Booooooooooooooo!

    Honest Question, Though….Rich folks owning these teams…has the business become Not Fun??? We don’t see much of the Wilpons…when we do, it seems to be always Dour. And when they’re not seen….it’s always a negative Whisper, or a boot in the ass out the door for a player or personnel.

    so…what’s to like? Not much!!! boo

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