Op-ed | Mets thumbs-down-gate blown out of proportion, no party in the right

Francisco Lindor Javier Baez Mets
Aug 29, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and second baseman Javier Baez (23) celebrate after defeating the Washington Nationals 9-4 at Citi Field.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the age of baseball sensationalism. It’s sort of like modern-day society in which everyone is going to find something to be upset about, but in this instance, it’s about something that’s trivial.

Even more so, it’s about a thumbs-down gesture. Not even something risqué like a middle finger or an old Italian chin flick. At least everyone involved is overreacting and there isn’t one party that is 100% in the right. Not even close.

During Sunday’s 9-4 victory over the Washington Nationals, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, and Kevin Pillar were among Mets players who — after reaching base — turned their thumbs down to their bench, and the fans.

“We’re not machines,” Baez said after the game. “We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. It just feels bad when… I strike out and get booed. It doesn’t really get to me but I want to let [the fans] know that when we’re successful, we’re going to do the same thing to let them know how it feels.”

If you’re into the whole concept of booing your favorite team and players, Mets fans have certainly had plenty of reasons to do so, even if the entire premise of grown adults jeering at other adults representing their favorite team is asinine.

The Mets are 7-20 in the month of August, including a miserable 2-11 stretch against the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers — arguably two of the best teams in the majors. Their offense is one of the worst in baseball and the ever-lasting positivity that has come from the players and coaches has grated the nerves of fans and even reporters. 

All the while, the Amazin’s dropped like a lead balloon from first place in the NL East to third while they’re now 7.5 games back. 

An obvious reason for aggravation from a loyal fan base that has continuously been put through the wringer over a majority of the team’s existence, whether that’s through empty promises, mythic-like hexes, and inept management. Especially when they were all promised that things would be different in 2021.

The changing persona

Regardless, the fan base’s ire falls upon the shoulders of athletes who are indeed human beings after all. Even the most consummate professionals’ frustration during an epic slump is exacerbated by the constant heckling of fans that are supposed to be supporting them. 

Does Baez fit that bill of consummate professionalism? That’s not something for this writer to decide, but his decision to explain what that thumbs-down gesture means is a mystifying one — especially from a star that has played just 17 games with the organization.

Imagine if he spent 30 years living and dying with the team.

But, again, Baez is human; and seeing the steady onslaught of hostility from the home crowd will understandably create some apprehension toward them regardless of how many games he’s spent in blue and orange. He also represents a new generation of baseball players that most of us want to see, which creates quite an interesting wrinkle in this unnecessary saga. 

Major League Baseball has lagged so far behind the NBA and NFL because their players have been suppressed to perform as stone-faced robots who are told to “act like they’ve been there before” or “show some class” or “put your head down and play.”

Over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to embrace players’ personalities in order to add some panache, flip the bat, pound your chest, pump your fist, hell, even embrace the heel card if you have to. Sports are entertainment after all, and eccentrics pay. 

So, under that thought process, the fallout from Baez’s comments is somewhat peculiar. 

Mets team president Sandy Alderson swiftly provided a stern statement condemning Baez, which had been going on since earlier this month.

“These comments, and any gestures by him or other players with a similar intent, are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Alderson wrote. “Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance. The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.”

“The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans,” he continued. “I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly. Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable, and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.”

Hating on the Mets

Meanwhile, national reporters like ESPN’s Buster Olney and Jeff Passan took the opportunity to take aim at the Mets further — the former stating that “it’s impossible to think of another prospective free agent making a bigger public relations mistake Baez,” adding that he “burned one bridge, and likely severely damaged his chances with other teams.”

Quite an indictment from such a well-respected reporter that has remained relatively quiet on the Los Angeles Dodgers throwing the bag at Trevor Bauer despite a series of red flags that landed him in court and currently has him on administrative leave. But calling out the Dodgers doesn’t nearly provide Olney the same kind of social media reaction that calling out the Mets does.

Passan simply wrote: “I’m not sure why, but I can’t stop laughing at the last paragraph of Sandy Alderson’s statement: ‘Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.’ It’s amazing in so many different ways.”

A rather cryptic tweet from such an excellent baseball journalist. Either he’s laughing that Alderson called Mets fans “loyal, passional, and knowledgeable” or he’s laughing at the team president’s “the customer is always right” approach by saying that “we love them for every one of these qualities.”

Mets for clicks, right?

Their own worst enemy

But it’s understandable why they — along with plenty others — get on the Mets-bashing bandwagon. Just look at the last three years under two different ownership regimes. 

They hire an agent as the general manager in Brodie Van Wagenen and he proceeds to gut the farm system and make the now-famous Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano trade for Jarred Kelenic. 

They hire Carlos Beltran as manager and are forced to fire him roughly a month later after his name is included in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. 

They hire Jared Porter as general manager after dismissing Van Wagenen and he is removed from the role after it was discovered he sent explicit and lewd texts to a reporter while he worked with the Chicago Cubs.

After firing manager Mickey Callaway, it was discovered that he acted inappropriately toward female reporters while he was a pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians and while managing the Mets.

It’s understandable why the Mets have been dragged through the mud all this time — but for a thumbs-down gesture to be put on that same sort of dubious pedestal? That seems a bit extreme because everyone shares some blame in this.

Fans heckling the home team doesn’t help.

The players calling out the fans that help pay their salaries doesn’t help.

The media overreacting to make this seem like a scandal of epic proportions doesn’t help.

And the 2021 Mets’ overwhelming underachievement doesn’t help.

It’s a perfect storm that too often seems to come raining down upon the Mets — turning dreams of titles into nightmares riddled with self-destruction and frustration.

One must hope Mets owner Steve Cohen is just as tired of the self-destruction and frustration as the rest of us.