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Let Go, Mets!

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This has been one of the bleakest winters ever for Met fans.  We lost Jose Reyes to free agency, a body blow though anyone could see it coming.  And our general manager acquired a few adequate relief pitchers while all our division rivals bulked up.  Meanwhile, the team continues to hang from a financial thread. But things are looking up: they recently signed Omar Quintanilla to a minor league contract.

Quintanilla is a baseball phenomenon. Thirty years old, and thus highly unlikely to improve, he managed just one hit in 22 at-bats last year for the Texas Rangers while striking out 9 times; and in 2,327 ccareer major league at bats, the equivalent of 4-5 full seasons, he compiled a  batting average of .213 with two homeruns and three stolen bases. It may be some sort of a record for non-achievement.

It’s not clear to me by what kind of alchemy the Mets will make gold from his dross. But then, I’m just a fan.

Meanwhile,  the owners have signed up another heavy hitter, CRG Partners, a financial advisory firm that specializes in bankruptcies among sports franchises. Like I said, skies are blue over Citi Field.

Met fans at this point have probably experienced more trauma over the past five seasons than any other fan base in the nation – maybe since Met fans of the early 1960s.  Don’t pass the pity, but I happen to belong to both classes.

It’s been downhill ever since The Pitch: that is, since the moment when Carlos Beltran, the Mets’ then-stellar centerfielder, took a called third strike on an unhittable curveball from Adam Wainwright to hand the St. Louis Cardinals the 2006 National League Pennant.

Shea Stadium was rocking that night – literally. I was sitting in the upper deck (I had an excellent long-distance view of Endy Chavez’s brilliant catch over the left field wall, robbing Scott Rolen of a homer) and several times during that crisp October evening I could actually feel the entire deck shaking. Not just vibrating or trembling; really shaking.  It was kind of scary.  It didn’t shake that way when Ron Swoboda made his diving catch in right field in ’69.  And then came that final pitch.

The shaking proved to be the onset of the earthquake that hit the team, bringing down the old ballpark and now threatening to take the franchise along with it.  It was brought on by incompetent front office leadership and (even more) by the owners’ affiliation with Bernard Madoff.  Money can cover up incompetence in the big leagues, but competence can’t cover up poverty.

Throughout the fall of 2010, the principal owner, Fred Wilpon, insisted the team was in good financial shape despite a spot of bother with Madoff. Meanwhile he had secretly borrowed millions of dollars from Major League Baseball.

 There seemed to be a single silver lining to this downward spiral when the team hired Sandy Alderson as their general manager. At least that was something to hang hope on; Alderson is considered among the better baseball minds.  But now comes Omar Quintanilla. Why do I feel like I’ve been vaulted back fifty years to 1962, when the rules governing the expansion draft guaranteed that the Mets would be awful?

 Now all we have left is the best broadcasting crew in baseball. That’s nice, but a good team would be even better. And there’s scant sign of that happening. Some talent is coming along, especially pitching talent; but this team is a long way from being competitive in its division because (just our luck) all the other teams are well-run and well-financed.

We Met fans may be professional sufferers (if it were just about winning we’d all simply root for the Yankees, Q.E.D.) but we aren’t stupid. We know that only one thing can save this franchise, the morally superior one in New York, and it isn’t a gaggle of $20 million vanity investors who might get to meet Mr. Met and throw out the occasional first pitch, but wouldn’t have any control over the team. (By the way, the luxury booth still costs extra.) The only thing that can save this team is its outright sale.

          If I were Bud Selig, Mario Cuomo, Michael R. Bloomberg, Sandy Koufax, or any of the other big shots with direct access to the Wilpons, I would insist on that outcome, and the sooner the better. There is no other way: it’s either sell to a deep-pocket investor  looking to turn something around – something big and troubled and unwieldy but with a big upside – or go the Quintanilla route, and Quintanilla (I’m speaking figuratively – it’s a minor league contract and one hopes that he doesn’t make the team) means continued huge losses (they lost $70 million last year, and owe some $440 million to banks and $25 million to MLB) in the nation’s biggest sports media market, and bankruptcy. It’s time for the Wilpons to face facts and get off the field.  Not share the field; not get farther off. All the way off.

Jeff Scheuer is a writer and critic based in New York. He is the author of two books about media and politics: The Big Picture: Why Democracies Need Journalistic Excellence (2007), and The Sound Bite Society: How Television Helps the Right and Hurts the Left (1999), named a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title.” Jeff is currently writing about critical thinking and the liberal arts.

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