It’s an exciting time in and around MLB these days. The postseason tournament has begun and had that wonderful playoff combination you get when you have slightly less than half the League’s teams qualifying: some games taught and intense, some laughably one-sided. The first playoff round was the latter, with each of the four series nothing more than a late two-game losing streak for the vanquished. I’m sure fans of the Blue Jays, Marlins, Rays and Brewers can take some solace in the fact that they got there in the first place. We Mets fans cannot.
The Mets were supposed to be among the twelve in the tourney, perhaps even with a shot at a bye into the second round – or League Division Series as the suits on Park Avenue insist on calling it. It was with a loud and famous thud that this team crashed to the Earth in June and were effectively done by the fourth of July. Management sized up the situation correctly and scuttled the good ship 2023, hopefully without doing the same for her 2024 sister. Rather than slinking away in quiet ignominy, however, the Mets have seemed to keep their name in the forefront of the game’s consciousness. And not always in a good way.
It started even before the season was finished, with the unceremonious dumping of manager Buck Showalter. The was the first move of the man of the hour, the new President of Baseball Operations David Stearns, who wouldn’t be introduced as such until the next day. Showalter said all the right things, but at times, his emotions got the better of him during his “resignation” announcement, letting us all in on the fact that it wasn’t exactly his decision. Then, as stated above, Stearns’s ascension was made official the next afternoon, the off day before the first…err…Wild Card, I mean, round of the playoffs began. As the week went on, as the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Twins and Rangers completed their respective sweeps, GM Billy Eppler also resigned, in order to “give David a clean slate,” as he took over the operation of the ballclub. It seemed like mere moments later that word came down that Eppler had actually resigned in the face of an MLB investigation into possible manipulation of the Injury List – a practice employed by most, if not all teams. We will all recall how the Yankees of the mid-‘90s managed to keep Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez under wraps until juuuuuuuust before playoff time. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink joke was that he was rehabbing his “injured” ankle by running on the beach in Tampa all through June and July. This happened a couple of years, uh, running.
The League has insisted that this is in no way a salvo against owner Steve Cohen. No, no… of course not. Steve Cohen is not beloved among his fellow owners. He is the richest owner in all US sports and isn’t shy about it. This rankles his MLB frat brothers – especially the smaller market teams – to the point that they unilaterally imposed another tier of luxury tax that bears his name. Maybe it’s the slight touch of conspiracy theorist in me that leads me to think the Mets are being made an example of at the start of a League-wide crackdown on IL manipulation. To my mind, MLB has bigger fish to fry than who is and who is not injured enough to make the list, but hey, if this is where they want to go to battle, be my guest.
In any case, the Mets seem to be on everybody’s mind, including the playoff winners. After the Philadelphia Phillies dispatched the Atlanta Braves – a note on them in a minute — in five games, there was an obscenity-laden chant in the champagne clubhouse about what the Braves and the Mets can do with themselves. Nice to know that the Mets have rent-free space in the Phillies’ heads, even in the glow of victory. Seems like some petty stuff from NYC’s little brother, but that is the nature of things, I suppose. And about those Braves, they had a huge problem with Pete Alonso yelling “Throw it again!” at Bryce Elder after a homer, but no concern at all about Orlando Arcia’s “Attaboy, Harper!” taunt after Bryce Harper’s baserunning blunder ended game 2 in their favor — until, of course, the next day when Harper blasted two home runs in a 10-2 Phillies victory. Then it was an issue… Sometimes, the bald hypocrisy of people in the spotlight is astounding.
Now, we wait two weeks for the Manager/GM search to be in full swing and the Mets will be in the news, yet again.