Your intrepid columnist is reading a wildly entertaining book at the moment, with the unlikely title So Many Ways to Lose. It’s a perverse history of the New York Mets, as told by a diehard fan, Devin Gordon, a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Mr. Gordon was a wide-eyed ten-year-old when a stray ground ball rolled between Bill Buckner’s beleaguered ankles late on a chilly October night in 1986, and his love for the same team we love comes through loud and clear. But as you might tell by the title, this is no fanboy exercise. The book sheds new light on the image of Gil Hodges, the repeated embarrassments foisted on Cleon Jones, and the too-late redemption of Mackey Sasser –that’s all I’ve gotten to so far. I can’t wait to see how he skewers the 2007-2008 seasons, the Mickey Callaway era or the Pizza Rat/Opossum incident. But I digress.
In the book, he describes four distinct “Ice Ages” in the franchise’s history. The first, most obvious one – “the fun one,” he calls it — is the Marvelous Marv/Polo Grounds period. The next, also self-evident was the one following the Midnight Massacre, when Tom Seaver was taken away, only thawed out with the arrival of Davey Johnson, Dwight Gooden and the rest of the rollicking roisterers that shaped the Golden Age. The third was in the aftermath of the fall of that loud and proud bunch, the epoch of “The Worst Team Money Can Buy.” There was a fourth, after the Subway Series of 2000 a fifth after the late-Aughts choke jobs and a sixth, after the 2015 World Series. From 2019 through 2022 — 2020 doesn’t count: 60 games proves nothing — it appeared that some early-stage climate change was taking place. The emergence of Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, coupled with some splashy acquisitions seemed to herald a new era of good feelings. Heck, 101 wins in 2022? They can do that again, easy…
As we all know, that’s not how it turned out in ’23. The splashy acquisitions turned out to just be all wet. The team never clicked and I use the term “team” ironically: this wasn’t a team so much as a collection of talent. History tells us that those type of squads rarely win anything. To his credit, owner Steve Cohen saw the writing on the wall at the trading deadline and pivoted quickly to a reload. It’s near impossible to build a farm system on the fly, but Cohen and now-departed GM Billy Eppler gave it a really good shot, nudging the Mets’ organization from near the bottom, to about the middle-of-the-pack in a couple of fell swoops. Unfortunately, the remaining major league product has suffered for it. The trades of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander basically gutted the pitching staff, Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana notwithstanding. It’s now to the point where the news of David Peterson’s hip surgery – effectively putting him on the shelf until next July — causes distress within a fan base that wanted to ride Peterson out of town on a rail during the summer. That’s one ice pellet.
Everybody knows new President of Baseball Operations David Stearns faces an uphill battle to keep this team viable and relevant in 2024 and nobody is really sure if he’s gotten off on the right foot. His first move, even before his official intro, was to remove Buck Showalter as manager, despite that 101-win campaign of 2022. While the universal consensus was that Craig Counsell had the job all but locked up, he instead finds himself manager of the Chicago Cubs. In another swift pivot, Stearns immediately hired the bench coach of the New York Yankees, Carlos Mendoza. While those around baseball – especially in the Bronx – rave about how great a hire this was, those of us out of that loop are scratching their heads. Considering that Mendoza was the chief advisor to a manager who is almost universally reviled among Yankee fans, the poster boy for the Manager-As-GMs-puppet model in modern baseball and that the Mets don’t have the best track record when hiring untried managers, we fans are less than sanguine about how this is going to pan out. By my count, the Mets have hired 11 managers with zero big-league experience; only Johnson and Willie Randolph guided the Mets into contention in their first years. So will Mendoza be the next Davey? Or the next Wes Westrum? That’s two frozen rivers.
And then, there’s the Alonso question. Our popular Polar Bear is entering his final arbitration season, which means that that barring any sort of contract extension or new deal, he will be a free agent at the end of 2024. His recent retention of the services of one Scott Boras, the superagent who specializes in such matters, all but seals that fate. Does that mean Alonso is a definite goner after this year? No, of course not, but it’s the rare Boras client who re-ups with his current team, rather than test the free agency waters. Be prepared for the daily Pete Watch: will he sign? Will he be traded? Would he actually accept a Qualifying Offer at the end of the year and if not, where will he sign? It’s a shame that the most dynamic offensive player since David Wright will have his season overshadowed by his contract status while the backroom drama more than likely plays out in the press. And that’s three imminent glaciers.
As is the Mets’ way, each one will probably reveal itself to be the worst case scenario.
And in that, they will find yet another way to lose.