Monday night’s Mets game is going to be forgotten. It was a weatherless night in an empty park played by September callups between two teams out of the race and . . . well, I don’t really recall what else. I think the process has already begun. I remember that R.A. Dickey pitched well enough to win, but he didn’t. The Mets managed just two runs against a series of Nationals pitchers named Ross, Todd, Tyler and Drew — they all live together in an apartment in the late ’90s – and lost 3-2. No one hit a home run and no one made a fantastic defensive play, and no one said anything interesting before or after the game. There were no highlights.
This month, too, is going to disappear from memory and into a Baseball-Reference page. The whole 2011 season, really. As was intended — this was the demolition phase of reconstruction, starting with the spring training release of the flotsam and the midseason trade of the jetsam. “Please forgive our appearance during renovations,” scaffolds on the facade, that whole thing. Short three life-affirming months from Jose Reyes and a first-half Carlos Beltran farewell tour, no player had anything resembling a memorable season. All their good ones — and there weren’t that many — got hurt and couldn’t. This wasn’t a team intended to be remembered.
But sometimes opportunity finds those teams anyway.
These 2011 Mets had a chance to do something memorable Sunday night — not anything major, nor anything that could heal or ease any sort of pain. Sports can’t heal any more than watching Philadelphia can cure AIDS. But these Mets could have done something cool and a little rebellious and held to the franchise tradition. They could have honored the first responders on 9/11 by wearing their caps. It would have been a small gesture, but it would have been memorable and hopefully meant something to at least a handful of people that really deserve it.
It didn’t happen. I heard the explanations on Monday, from the team’s unofficial spokesmen Josh Thole, David Wright and R.A. Dickey, and I read the reports and . . . well, I have no idea what happened. There’s a Rashomon effect here: In some versions of the story, the players took it to a vote and decided that MLB was serious, that the fines would have been too much even for them. Some players pleaded ignorance, saying that they were not aware there was a cap controversy until after Sunday’s game. (It really did seem as though several players had no idea it was even a thing until Monday.) In some versions of the story, a Hamburgerler-like figure emerged from the shadows and snatched the FDNY hats away as the players came off the field; in others, an MLB official politely authenticates the caps with stickers after batting practice. It didn’t seem like any players were aware of what the 2001 Mets did in a similar situation; this is normal, as baseball players tend to live ahistorically.
I don’t know what happened. Probably a little bit of everything and then a whole lot of nothing. I don’t know how a decisions was reached by the team, or if a decision was even reached. It seems most likely that it just sort of happened.
And honestly – if the decision was made, or not made by inaction – I know that I probably would have done the same as these Mets. Because it’s the reasonable, adult decision. Respect the authority of major league baseball, do your job today and try to work something out for the future. That’s how grownups do it, because the whole world goes to hell if everyone does whatever they want all the time. The Mets are a team with . . . maybe six or seven players guaranteed jobs for next season. They’re not the type to be stirring any pots, nor should they be expected to be.
(Let’s not fail to identify MLB as issuing some sort of anti-hat edict, whatever the true wording might have been. As usual, they come off as a cold, Montgomery Burns figure in this whole thing. If anyone is the bad guy, it would seem to be them.)
But it was disappointing anyway. Because baseball is not the men of summer, but the boys of summer. And we want our boys to be boys, first and foremost, to be loud and rebellious and unrefined. We want them to be charge the mound, slide in the dirt, get grass stains all over their clothes and jaw at the umpire. Be irresponsible and rebellious. It’s a children’s game. They should act like boys; it’s almost encouraged that they do so. Baseball is an outlet for these silly things, so we can live vicariously through them for a few hours every night.
Boys would have worn the hats. It would have been cool and a little punk rock and admirable, if perhaps irresponsible. These 2011 Mets made the adult decision in a difficult situation, but we wanted them to make the boyish one. I don’t know if that’s fair to them, to expect them to do otherwise and then be disappointed when they don’t. But the 2001 Mets — who finished 82-80, were outscored by 70 runs, and would have otherwise been forgotten — embraced it and played one of the franchise’s most memorable games. As heard in ESPN’s oral history of 9/21/01 during the game, those Mets, Todd Zeile, Bobby V, Mike Piazza and John Franco, made the boyish decision, and we remember them for it.
These Mets didn’t. They had a shot at something a little more, and it got away from them for all sorts of reasons. It was a failure of imagination, if it was a failure at all, and I don’t think they should be blamed for it. Most teams and seasons and players slowly disappear into the books. But like Monday night’s game, Sunday night and this team aren’t going to be remembered. Maybe that’s too bad.