Good baseball teams in a slump have hope. If a team has talented players there is every reason to be optimistic. It’s a 162-game season and, rest assure, tomorrow could be the day things turn around and a good team gets hot. Pitchers start pitching. Hitters start hitting. Closers close. The club wins six, seven, eight in a row, 15 of their next 20 games. Confidence is restored. See St. Louis Cardinals.
Bad teams, like the New York Mets, aren’t capable of being hopeful. When things go south, players and coaches start point fingers. Passing blame is more convenient than being honest. If Mets manager Terry Collins were honest he’d come right out and state the facts: the Mets are short on talent. It’s David Wright, Matt Harvey and …? Ike Davis is an enigma. The outfield looks like Las Vegas. The starting rotation (sans Harvey) has been a disappointment and, as a result, has overtaxed a patchwork bullpen (LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, Scott Rice).
Then there’s Jordany Valdespin, the 25-year old part-time infielder-outfielder who has been at the center of the Mets recent spiral. During a season of many more lows than highs, one of the few Mets creating highlights — Valdespin — is perceived as a problem child (an issue that was reportedly corrected, or not). On Friday he launched a meaningless home run into the upper deck at Citi Field and proceeded to admire his power. His behavior is intolerable and, in a pinch-hitting appearance Saturday, Valdespin paid the price getting hit with a 94-mile per hour fastball on the arm. No one blinked – not the Pirates, nor the Mets. Despite his talent and his exiciting late-inning theatrics, Valdespin rubs almost everyone the wrong way. Opponents don’t like him. The media suggests his own teammates have disdain for Valdespin too.
“He knows we support him,” Mets captain David Wright told the media after Saturday’s 11-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When Valdespin was hit the Mets stood by and watched. Collins never moved an inch, neither did his players (Valdespin’s teammates). After the half inning, Pirates reliever Bryan Morris was celebrated with high-fives and fist bumps. Meanwhile, across the diamond, Valdespin stomped into the Mets dugout, spiked his helmet and was generally ignored. Robert Carson pitched to nine batters in the final two innings and never threw a single pitch within two feet of Pirates hitters. Sorry, David, if this is your definition of team “support,” it’s baffling — and comical.
Being disliked isn’t all bad, in fact, it can play to a team’s advantage. The 1986 Mets wore their attitude like a badge of honor. “What do we care,” Wally Backman told the media. “A lot of it is just jealousy and envy. The bottom line is that we want to win, and if people don’t like you for winning, we can live with that because winning is our goal.”
In an article August 1986 article titled “Hailed and Hated,” Los Angeles Times Ross Newhan wrote:
The perception of the Mets, however, is that they rub it in, that they flaunt their success. The curtain calls for Shea Stadium homers, even the most meaningless, are part of it. Said a writer who covers the club regularly: ‘The Mets lead the league in self-congratulations and a lot of it is bush.’ There are high fives, low fives and the pumping fist of [Gary] Carter, who establishes much of the tone … [Davey] Johnson added, ‘There are some players who generate both like and dislike,’ the manager said.
Sound like someone in this script? The entire 1986 Mets roster is a latter-day description of Jordany Valdespin, minus the talent and the wins.
Stop pointing the finger at Valdespin. Distraction? Yes. Problem? No. He’s only started one game in May, recorded 12 at-bats in eight games during the month. This is the same guy who lifted the Mets to a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting 10th inning walk-off grand slam home run. The following week Valdespin hit a three-run home run against the Marlins to help the Mets beat the Marlins. The next night he walked starting a 10th inning rally to beat the Braves on the road. For all the related controversy Valdespin creates he has also been an asset to the Mets on the field.
The Mets could use a whole lot more of that.