Sports

The Amazin’ Mess

The New York Mets are something worse than a laughingstock.

Lindor with his helmet off giving a thumbs-down with his right hand and frowning
Francisco Lindor shows Mets fans what he thinks of their booing after hitting a triple in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field in New York City on Aug. 27. Elsa/Getty Images

Aside from playing better baseball, there is nothing the New York Mets could have done recently to avoid the public crosshairs. They are a professional sports team, and they play in New York, and their playoff odds were north of 70 percent at the end of July. Then they went 9–19 in August, and now they’re almost all the way out of the pennant race. Baseball teams that do not play in New York have been raked over the tabloid coals for less than that.

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The baseball has been grim. The Mets have the best pitcher in the world, but he hasn’t pitched in almost two months, and it turns out the cupboard gets pretty bare once you get toward the bottom of the rotation. More pressingly, a bunch of the Mets’ most important hitters have been a lot worse than pretty much everyone possible. They’ve fallen well behind the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, who have their own problems and should not have pulled ahead so easily.

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Seemingly good teams fall apart down the stretch all the time. But what makes the Mets something more than a baseball disappointment is how effortlessly the whole organization has made its season a blend of mostly harmless farce and not-at-all harmless failures of workplace management and executive conduct. The Mets generate gawking laughter one moment and real outrage the next, in ways that are not worth comparing with each other but collectively render the team ridiculous to a point that defies description. You will at turns want to giggle at the Mets but then find them so repulsive that merely rubbernecking at their viral failures feels crass. You cannot put the Mets into a box, other than to say they are poorly run and generally sad. The most useful way to look at the franchise is not as a bad team, but as a dynamic spectacle—an ugly mess, the likes of which we do not see very often in professional sports.

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At the surface, the Mets have been lousy but kind of amusing—in the unique, Metsy way that’s practically synonymous with their identity. There’s been a series of public blunders and mini-embarrassments that aren’t big deals on their own, but eventually look like dysfunction.

First, in May, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil either got into some kind of an altercation in the dugout tunnel or found themselves mesmerized by a rodent running around the bowels of Citi Field. (They insist it was the latter; common sense suggests a 50-50 chance it was the former.) In July, they blew a six-run lead and lost to a Pittsburgh Pirates team that’s poised to lose 100 games. The next day, they committed one of the funniest teamwide fielding blunders in big league history before winning in a weird comeback of their own.

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Then, at the trade deadline, they got Javy Báez from the fire-selling Chicago Cubs. Báez has not done anything special, nor has he played that differently from his usual statistical self. He and his team have heard boos from the Flushing faithful, though, which prompted Báez, Lindor, and Kevin Pillar to make thumbs-down gestures at their own fans after getting hits last weekend. “When we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed, so they’re going to get booed when we have success,” Báez explained, making a fair enough point but probably not one in his own self-interest to say out loud. Following further boos in response, the Mets trotted out Lindor and Báez for a choreographed apology. There was happiness shortly thereafter, as Báez scored the winning run in the Mets’ next game and then lost an earring near home plate. That prompted a search that included the grounds crew and team president Sandy Alderson. The investigators haven’t found the earring, despite getting their analytics team involved in a hunt that now includes going through video.

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At the same time that the team was taking these public rakes to the face, though, it was enduring controversies that exposed an organization more toxic than it is bumbling.

Billionaire hedge fund guy Steve Cohen bought the Mets in the fall of 2020, and their season has come against a backdrop of Cohen being pathologically unable to stop posting on Twitter. It is sometimes charming in that Metsy way, as Cohen sounds not that different from some Long Island dad who just really wants the Mets to be good. Unfortunately, Cohen owns the team, which makes it something different when he puts his workers on blast in this fashion:

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Cohen sent that tweet on Aug. 18. Most likely because he is wildly rich and thinks that means he is very smart, he has not deleted it, and it remains available for viewing on the internet. The tweet is a useful frame for how the Mets’ inherent Metsiness is sometimes funny, sometimes (if not simultaneously) a real problem. It’s childish for a billionaire who owns a giant company to take public shots at his own labor, but it’s also poor management if he’d like those players to start hitting more home runs. Would you be jazzed to run through a wall for a boss like Cohen if you were a professional hitter going through a slump, and you knew you understood baseball better than your hedge fund guy owner? There cannot be a good definition of “toxic workplace” that doesn’t cover gratuitous public put-downs by an aloof boss.

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In player and public relations, the owner’s underlings seem to take cues from him. A week before Cohen’s tweet, general manager Zack Scott (who may not be the GM for much longer—more on that shortly) got in front of a microphone and blamed the Mets’ players for “compliance issues” that landed some of them on the injured list. The Mets have been among the majors’ least vaccinated teams, but in case you think Scott was making a good point about COVID safety, he was not. Instead, he was telling reporters that players weren’t hydrating themselves well enough. “At some point you gotta take that responsibility,” he said. “We’re not just going to stick a needle in someone to hydrate them because they’re not doing it themselves.”

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Perhaps Scott himself should’ve hydrated more on Monday night. Officers said he failed a field sobriety test after they found him asleep at the wheel of his car in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. That night, he’d been at a fundraiser at Cohen’s house. The Mets have placed Scott on administrative leave. He only became the Mets’ general manager in January after the team fired his predecessor, Jared Porter, because it came to light that Porter had repeatedly sent sexually explicit texts to an unconsenting female reporter in 2016. He was not with the Mets at the time, but the organization had other serious problems with how it treated women.

Cohen had hired Porter shortly after buying the team. In about one year of owning the Mets, the club owner has now removed two different GMs for either alleged or verified misconduct. Porter admitted sending the texts, while Scott has pleaded not guilty to a DWI charge. Cohen does not seem like someone who should be hiring executives to lead a large organization, or like much of a people manager in general. Yet he is rich, so here he is in charge of the Mets, despite not having the world’s greatest track record of legal compliance in his financial career.

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The Mets’ organizational dysfunction and executive arrogance didn’t injure ace Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, their other world-beating pitcher who isn’t currently pitching (and hasn’t since 2019). But other than that, it’s hard to definitively separate the Mets’ more farcical on-field issues and poor performances from the fact that they’re led by a coterie of alleged criminals with a taste for publicly telling their players how bad they are at their jobs and failing to live up to basic standards of conduct for people in their positions. The Mets’ players need to play better, but they’re also employees in an organization that doesn’t have itself together and doesn’t seem preoccupied with treating people well. At best, that doesn’t help a thing.

Some of the Mets’ problems seem inextricable from their existence as, well, the Mets. There will probably never be a Mets team that does not provide some degree of high school drama, much of which will be not that big a deal. But it’s equally clear that these Mets have actual, higher-stakes problems that they do not need to have. It’s on Cohen to fix those—but it would be understandable if he doesn’t think he’ll face any consequences if he doesn’t.

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