When the Mets lose, we hunt for hides, for scapegoats, for an emblem of their impotence.
As the Mets have hovered around .500 this year, manager Mickey Callaway has been shoved through the car wash of criticism amid cries for him to be fired. There have been moments when the sophomore skipper has made some scalp-scratching moves. Last season, the Mets batted out of order in the first inning during a game in Cincinnati. On Tuesday night, he pulled Noah Syndergaard from a game when the pitcher clearly was in command, then watched the bullpen hemorrhage the lead, and the game.
But before we heave him from the ship, remember that Callaway can't make Robinson Cano 29 again. He can't make a sagging staff pitch to its potential. He can't remake one of the worst bullpens in baseball into one of the best. Callaway didn't make the trades that brought Cano (.238 batting average) and Edwin Diaz to town. Callaway didn't bring back Jeurys Familia, the former closer who's been abysmal with a 6.29 ERA.
He didn't trade for Keon Broxton, who was batting .143 before he was designated for assignment and then shipped to Baltimore. He didn't sign Justin Wilson (4.82 ERA). He didn't sign Wilson Ramos, who throws out runners at one of the worst rates in Major League Baseball. He didn’t commit $3.52 million to backup catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who was released after 23 at-bats and an .087 batting average. He didn't sign Jed Lowrie -- who hasn't played a game this season -- to a two-year, $20 million deal.
Despite their all-around solid, 7-3 win over the Giants on Thursday at Citi Field, the Mets are 30-32, good for third place in the division. The only reason the Mets haven't been buried in the bowels of the playoff chase is they don't play in the same division as the Dodgers, Twins or Astros. In fact, the NL East is one of only two divisions without a team at least 15 games over .500. Even worse, the Mets have to watch their crosstown tormentors, the Yankees, surge into first place with seemingly half their club toiling on the injured list.
A long line of former stars and current Hall of Famers tell us that the manager is more gelded than ever, that he not only answers to the GM but also can't even make his own lineup card, which is also fed to him from upstairs. If you heard Hall of Famer Frank Thomas this week on "Boomer and Gio," you know the manager has been stripped of at least half his power, his moves now massaged by algorithms.
For all his PR savvy, his cheer and high cheekbones, Van Wagenen has stepped in it. New York City, for all its new-world gadgets and imports, has an old sports soul. The Big Apple is perhaps the last big city that is still a baseball town. Even as the NFL conquers our country by a laughable margin, MLB is the sport of record here. So even a team as marginal as the Mets is still treated to the sound and fury of a large fan base and the hotbed of NYC media.
You can yell at the Wilpons, but it's unfair to place all the blame on Callaway when he serves at the leisure of a rookie GM whose bold mien was based on projection, not production. So if the Mets can Callaway, he will just be replaced by another minion who kneels at the altar of algorithms. The Mets haven't hired Joe Girardi, or anyone of his ilk, because the game has taken on a new look and language.
A shame the Mets look exactly the same.