We were sitting on the bench at an indoor basketball court, resting between games of 1 on 1. Under the far basket, a small child was bouncing a basketball with his mother. He was probably not much older than five, and the basketball was wider than he was. We watched as he dribbled the ball with both hands, chased it down, and then heaved it as high as he could towards the basket, which was usually about five feet short of the hoop. His mother stood over him and made sure the ball wouldn’t clunk him on the head at any point.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s not that great. You really can’t do all that much by yourself.”
We were joking, of course. I’ve spent a decent amount of time around elementary school children, and, like most people, was once a child myself. So I can assure you that being a kid is great. There are no real responsibilities, you get summers off, and you can wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas without being made to feel weird about it. You can jump from objects 150% of your height and land without injuring yourself. You can say offensive things and people will laugh it off because you’re cute. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Excluding basketball abilities, being a kid is great in nearly every conceivable way.
Perhaps best thing about being a kid was the wonderful feeling of security that comes from having an adult look after you. Parents, teachers, grandparents, whoever, when they were looking out for you, everything was all right. When you’re little, there exist people older, wiser, bigger, stronger, and more capable than you in every single way. If they said I was safe, I felt it — this is an awesome feeling.
That security slowly disappears with age, as it becomes more and more apparent that parents, teachers, aunts, uncles — we’re all just flawed people. Nobody is ever as omniscient or omnipotent as parents seem when you’re five, and no one is ever in complete control. (Not even The Clash.) But it’s still nice to think that some people know what they’re doing. I find it comforting to believe that the president is better at making decisions than I might be. Or that the government, the police, the armed forces, in general, know what they’re doing. I want to believe that the people in charge are in charge for a reason, that they have a plan, and that the plan makes sense. I think this is a pretty common desire. Part of the allure of conspiracy theories — e.g., the moon landings as a massive government conspiracy, 9/11 as an inside job, the NBA — is that in a way it’s comforting to imagine that some human group is capable of flawlessly orchestrating anything on that large a scale. Believing that someone is taking care of it all, or at the very least that there’s some sort of plan being implemented, is a nice feeling.
And this, as always, brings me to the Mets.
The most alarming part about owner-person Fred Wilpon’s comments about David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, as reported by the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, is not what was said nor even who said it. What Wilpon said was for the most part true. And George Steinbrenner has said much, much worse. What was alarming was that the comments about the players appeared to serve no purpose. They didn’t appear to be motivational tools — and I can’t imagine any reasonable person actually believes Reyes, Beltran, or Wright ever dog it — and they didn’t appear to be negotiating tactics with regards to Reyes’ and Beltran’s expiring contracts — letting the other 29 teams in on your plans is generally not a productive negotiating tactic. Perhaps they were poorly thought out motivation or negotiating tactics, but it didn’t really seem like that either. The comments mostly seemed like off-the-cuff remarks, and not part of any larger plan — and that was alarming. When George Steinbrenner called one of his players a “fat toad,” it at least felt as if he said it for a reason. He may have been a jerk, but he always had a point. Saying that Carlos Beltran was 65 to 70 percent of the player he used to be — that didn’t appear to serve any greater purpose.
This is alarming because, as a Mets fan, I’d like to believe that my favorite team is being run in a coherent manner. I’d like to think the people in charge have some sort of plan, that they know more about baseball than I do, and that they’re going to pull themselves out of the mess they’re in right now. I want the authority figures to act like authority figures (which is why Sandy Alderson is such a comforting thought.) Mostly, I want to feel like grownups are in charge.
But that was not the image presented to Mets fans this week. Instead, the team’s owner came across as very, very human. In a way, this was nice — you know that he cares and is not, say, just swimming in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck. But it did feel like we got to look behind the curtain, and instead of finding a great wizard of Oz, all we saw was a bumbling man with some thoughtless things to say about his Emerald City employees. It didn’t engender much confidence in the future of this baseball team. And that, more than anything that was actually said, was the most alarming part about all that happened. It would be nice to feel that the Mets have some sort of greater plan for pulling themselves out of the gutter, and that everything they do is part of that greater plan. But people are people, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.
(This is the part where I mention, for the sake of transparency, that this blog is on the SNY.tv blog network, and SNY is mostly owned by Sterling, or the Mets, or whatever it is. I suppose there could be a conflict of interests and all that . . . oh gosh, maybe I should go back and change all the “Wilpons” to “Mr. Wilpons.” And put on a tie. Mr. Wilpon, if you read this, I’m writing this in a tie.)
Ultimately, of course, this isn’t that big of a deal. There’s no big Mets conspiracy to be had. This isn’t some attempt to drive Jose Reyes’ asking price down, or an attempt to get David Wright to play better. There’s no ulterior motive. Someone said some things to a reporter he probably shouldn’t have said, he apologized to the offended parties, and that’s that. Everyone moves on. Mets fans saw the owner of their team as the human being he is, and while alarming, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Parents, presidents, the government, and baseball owners — they’re all flawed people and not nearly as powerful as they seem. We all find out sometime. Being a kid isn’t all that great, anyway.