The New York Mets will spend the weekend celebrating the greatest moment in their history when they honor the 50th anniversary of their 1969 World Series championship.
It seems ironic they also will be reeling from one of the darkest weeks of their existence.
Let’s face it, the Mets have always been considered the court jester in the Yankees kingdom. Except for a few moments during occasional rough patches over the last 55 years, the Yankees have ruled the city, eclipsing the Mets in championships and legendary players.
Being a Mets fan means lowering your cap over your eyes in public to avoid embarrassment. The Yankees have Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The Mets have David Wright and John Franco. Any questions?
But over the last two days, the Mets have again become the laugh track of the Major Leagues, not because of their play – they are not the Baltimore Orioles or Kansas City Royals – but because of their organizational bumbling.
Let’s begin Sunday in Chicago. After the Mets lost a heartbreaker in the last of a four-game series with the Cubs, manager Mickey Callaway told a Mets media relations official to get a beat writer from Newsday out of his clubhouse, referring to the writer as a “m—–f—-r.”
That would have been bad enough had Mets pitcher Jason Vargas not also confronted the reporter saying he would “f—k him up.” Vargas had to be restrained by two teammates.
On Sunday night, Mets owner Jeff Wilpon reached out to the reporter and issued a statement apologizing for what happened, reiterating the Mets were committed to creating a peaceful work environment for both the team and media.
On Monday, before the Mets opened their four-game series in Philadelphia, Vargas, Callaway and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen addressed the media. And that’s when things got a lot weirder.
Here’s what Vargas said in a 20-second appearance: “I think everybody’s aware of the situation that happened [Sunday]. I think it’s unfortunate for all parties. An unfortunate distraction. But tonight, we got the Phillies to play. The team has addressed the situation, the organization has made a statement (fining both Vargas and Callaway $10,000) and that’s really all there is to it. So thanks for taking your time and we’ll see you guys after the game.” He did not take any questions.
During a 4 p.m. press conference, Callaway also refused to apologize. “I can control my reactions better, absolutely.” He basically said what happened was the result of his own competitive nature.
The comments of Vargas and Callaway did not sit well with the New York media, which accurately pointed out that neither Vargas or Callaway actually said they were sorry for what happened.
Two hours later, a hour before the first pitch of the game, after a stream of tweets and comments from radio talk show hosts, Callaway, obviously on orders from ownership and the front office, was trotted out and given another chance to better express contrition.
“I understand I got some feedback that — I wanted you guys to know that in my meeting with Tim, I apologized for my reaction,” Callaway said. “I regret it. I regret the distraction it’s caused to the team. It’s something we’ll learn from. It’s something I’m not proud of. I’m not proud of the distraction, I’m not proud of what I did to Tim. So for that, I’m definitely sorry.”
That would have been embarrassing enough had another story, about the way Van Wagenen interacts with Callaway, not been simultaneously fueling another flame.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Mets front office has been dictating some pitching moves this season. The New York Post was the first to report this, pointing to their June 1 game in Arizona when reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, dealing with a hip cramp, was taken out of the game.
Apparently, when Van Wagenen came aboard, he reserved the right to make decisions about how players would be utilized, with directions passed along to Callaway by clubhouse attendants. Reportedly, Callaway is OK with it – as if the embattled manager has any choice.
After the Mets lost 13-7 to the Phillies on Monday, Van Wagenen, a former player agent, denied he was injecting himself into in-game decision making.
“We’re evaluating the players’ health, we’re talking about X-rays, we’re talking about whether a player – as you all know – we try to get information to the press box as quickly as possible about the statuses. That is normal protocol for us,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that and make sure that if the training staff and the health of the player is such that the player can’t continue, then that communication happens between the training staff and the coaches.”
At the end of a tough 48 hours, Callaway basically shrugged his shoulders when asked about it.
“I think we’re always in communication,” Callaway said. “Especially when guys are injured, obviously I’ve been filled in on what you’re talking about. When a guy gets injured on the field or when a guy is actively injured or has something going on, you know everybody is in communication with the training staff to take care of the players the best we can.”
The Post said Van Wagenen was watching the June 1 game on TV and ordered the removal of deGrom in the seventh inning after two visits to the mound by Callaway and a team trainer.
“I think that we got information from all parties and we made the decision to take care of our ace pitcher that’s going to be here for a long time,” he said. “We all thought it was prudent at that point.”
Callaway then said he felt as if he had the leeway to manage his team the way he wants to.
Although they played in the 2015 World Series, recent editions of the Mets have been known more for the things they do wrong than anything they get right.
Swearing at and threatening a reporter one day, then answering questions about the independence of their manager on another, the Mets have proven again that no matter how hard they try they’ll never be the Yankees.