Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

There are two things I want to address in this post.

The first is the behavior of New York Mets fans. When I heard that they booed Carlos Delgado the other night, I was aghast. Now, Mets fans in New York have been doing this for years, and I just can’t believe it does any good for the player who is being booed, the rest of the team, or the other fans at Shea Stadium who are actually there to support the club rather than to razz it.

I guess I can understand fans’ frustrations—it does seem that over the years, a lot of good or great players have come to the Mets and then seen their playing abilities desert them. How many times have these same fans heard in the preseason that the team was built to compete before watching it implode in the spring and be out of the running for a playoff spot by midsummer?

Nevertheless, there is no other stadium at which the home team feels like it is on the road as often as at Shea. Some players who have aroused the ire of the boo-birds at Shea have loved playing on the road—the only place where fans might actually cheer them. Since coming to the Mets three years ago, Carlos Beltran has experienced at least one bad batting slump where he yearned to play on the road to escape the boos. Even Mike Piazza, who will most likely go into the Hall of Fame as only the second player wearing a Mets cap (besides the great Tom Seaver) was booed when he first came to the Mets and had a slow start. Those boos were soon silenced as Piazza went on to have a stellar career with New York.

But not everyone has the iron discipline at the plate or the ability to tune out the fans that Piazza has. Several players with the Mets could be said to have been booed out of town—heckled so mercilessly every time they came to bat that even the smallest mistakes were magnified. Some of these guys never had a chance to even begin to feel confident about themselves when they succeeded, so the failures got worse and worse until they could not be overcome anymore. Bobby Bonilla, Roger Cedeño, Kaz Matsui—names that will live in Mets infamy forever.

Okay, I will easily admit that Bonilla was the jerk of jerks, and maybe he deserved to be booed. (I believe he is still collecting paychecks from the Mets, even though he hasn’t worn their uniform since his disastrous attempted comeback to the team in 1999, when he batted .160 in 60 games.) Bonilla’s first two years with the Mets were very subpar, although he batted .290 in 1994 and .325 in 1996. If memory serves me, it wasn’t until 1999 that he was universally reviled at Shea and basically driven away from the team by the fans.

Cedeño had a terrific first season with New York in 1999 when he batted .313 and stole 66 bases. He had decent stats in Houston the following year, though he only played 74 games, and in 2001, he played a full season for Detroit and stole 55 bases, with a .293 average. His next two seasons, he was back with the Mets, but he couldn’t seem to get it going, batting .260 and .267 respectively. The second season was worse—by that time, fans had decided there was no way that Cedeño could ever regain his old form, and he was booed at every turn. Somewhat of a fragile personality, Cedeño took the boos very much to heart, and his career was never the same, even after he left the Mets for St. Louis in 2004, and his last year in the majors, 2005 with the Cardinals, he batted just .158

Kaz Matsui is a great example of what a player might achieve outside of the New York pressure cooker. Matsui came to the Mets from Japan and was touted as the greatest shortstop in the Japanese Leagues. Expectations for him were so high that Jose Reyes, now the Mets shortstop for many years to come, was actually asked to play second base so Matsui could play short. What a laugh. Matsui’s first year was fair—he batted .272—but the next year, he sunk to .255. The fans, restless after four years of bad baseball and empty promises by management, began to take it out on Kaz. The booing took its toll, and Matsui’s stats sunk lower and lower. Battling injuries in 2006, Matsui batted .200 in just 38 games before finally being traded to Colorado. There, in 32 games, he hit .345, and this year, he has a nice .288 average in 81 games.

I mean, don’t Mets fans get it?

Maybe some of the players who get booed would do better if they felt like they had the fans’ support. Guys like Cedeño and Matsui showed that they couldn’t take the New York pressure, but is it possible that each would have done better if they were just given more of a chance? What about the bona fide superstars like Piazza, Beltran, and Delgado? Is it possible that their slumps would be shorter if the fans just cheered for them at home, even when the going was a little rough? When I heard that Delgado was being booed, even after all his years of being a proven hitter and helping the Mets to the NLCS last year, I was appalled. How about showing your team some love, Mets fans? Otherwise, why would anyone want to come play for you?

The other issue I’d like to address today has to do with a big, brazen, and sometimes bullheaded defensive end that still hasn’t joined the New York Giants, even though training camp is over. Just for the record—I like Michael Strahan…as a football player. He’s done so many good things on the field, sometimes it’s hard to remember that he can be a real jackass off it.

Don’t get me wrong—Strahan’s no T.O. True, his ego sometimes clashes with team objectives, and his messy public divorce made him look like a chump, but overall, the guy has definitely done more good than harm to his team, and he’s exciting to watch, as long as he’s healthy.

So what’s with the holdout? Even though I like Mike, I think what he’s done has been disruptive and distracting. If he were seriously considering retirement, he should have let the team know sooner so he wouldn’t miss all of training camp. But now all signs point to Strahan returning to the team as early as this week, making it all look like just another ploy to get more money by scaring the team into thinking he wasn’t coming back.

If Strahan can come back and be a team leader like we all know he is capable of doing, then good for him for stepping up like he should have all along. But I can see things unfolding another way. Having missed all of camp, and not having had any true “football contact” yet this year (though he is working out with a personal trainer as I write this), I would not be surprised if Strahan dives right in to playing exhibition football and is hurt by Week 7. I’ve seen it happen before. The guys who miss camp get hurt. So Strahan will end his third year out of four on injured reserve, and who will that benefit the most? No one who cares about the Giants, that’s for sure.

SEASONINGS: I want to thank everyone who saw fit to make a comment on my last post. Comments are the only way I know anyone is paying attention! Please feel free to keep them coming!


Scott Shifrel said...

Oh, Ed, Ed, Ed...You should well know that Mets fans have no monopoly on booing. Have you been at Yankee Stadium recently when Proctor was pitching? Were you in Phili last year when Abrau came to bat? I'm guessing it also happens in KC, but I've found that big-city baseball fans especially get into every aspect of the game and, yes, can be tough on their team. Of course it's especially tough in NY with four daily papers (3 tabs), two sports talk radio stations and a zillion local TV outlets. Not a fun place to have a pro-longed slump (Delgado at the time was 0-for-the-homestand). But the reverse is true as well. Have you been to the Bronx or Flushing during a come-from-behind win - nothing like it.

Meathead said...

Thanks for the feedback, Scott--actually, this post was written by Meat, not Ed. I grew up in the New York area and lived there for 30 years, so I know what the cauldron is like there. And I know some people can't handle New York. But I think a little more patience is warranted in many situations. And I know there's nothing like winning in New York--it's bedlam after a big win!

Ed Attanasio, Freelance Writer, Journalist, Baseball Historian, Comedian and Ad Copywriter said...

Hey Meat. Scott Shifrel is a friend of mine from my journalism school days at San Jose State. He is a writer for the New York Post, I believe. Your postings are attracting some top people, my friend. Google Scott's name and you'll see what I mean.

Meathead said...

Well, then I am doubly honored to know that someone who writes for the Daily News is reading my column--those guys in New York know a heck of a lot about sports! Thanks again, Scott! Just to clarify even further, I am not saying that all booing is uncalled for. I just think that some players deserve more forbearance from the fans before they get offered up as a sacrifice, even in New York.