This Joke of an Organization Isn’t Funny Anymore

beltran2.jpgOn Tuesday, most of the Mets visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center (why wounded vets would want to see any Mets, when they’ve already suffered so much, is beyond me). Four Mets were absent. Dillon Gee, making his first major league start that evening, was not expected to show. The other three were expected, however, though the visit was not mandatory. (Apparently it was “not mandatory” the way that NFL spring workouts are “not mandatory”.)

One of the missing was Oliver Perez, thief impersonating a major league pitcher, who declined to explain why he didn’t show. Another was Luis Castillo, who said he’d be “too traumatized” by the sight of wounded soldiers. (It’s no picnic for the soldiers either, Louie.)

The third was Carlos Beltran. He didn’t go because he had a meeting with his own charitable foundation which, among other endeavors, is currently building a school in his native Puerto Rico. He also told reporters that he’d visited VA hospitals in the off-season. He expressed some regret about not being able to go to Walter Reed. So clearly he was not anywhere near as huge a jerk as his two teammates, right?

Not so, according to the Mets. Initial reports said the front office was “very, very angry” with the three of them, making no distinction between Castillo, Perez, and Beltran. The three no-shows were lumped together, as if to say they each had the same level of callousness. And in nearly all news stories/blog posts about the incident, it was Beltran’s name who led the pack.

This means one of two things: Either the Mets were too stupid to check with Beltran and ask why he was absent (entirely possible), or they didn’t care and decided to hang him out to dry with the press. Much like they did this past winter, when Beltran underwent knee surgery thinking he had the team’s permission, only to have assistant GM John Ricco accuse him of going behind their back.

Regardless of the Mets’ boundless ability to do something accidentally stupid, I have to think this was calculated dumbassery. Because as evidenced by the Knee Surgery Kerfuffle, the front office clearly has it out for the man. God only knows why.

It makes no more sense than a sizable portion of the team’s fanbase despising him. I believe this is a minority, but it is a loud minority, the kind who will wait on hold for hours to tell Mike Francesa just how much they hate Carlos Beltran. Despite being (up until the last injury-plagued season or so) the best center fielder in baseball (name me someone else and I will laugh), there are many Mets fans who’d just as soon see him dead and buried.

Why? Some have never forgiven him for a lackluster 2005, his first year in New York. Some have never forgiven him for taking a called third strike from Adam Wainwright to end the 2006 NLCS.

But there is no one thing with Beltran for some people. There’s simply a perception that he  doesn’t care, that he’s a malingerer (a bit like how Jose Reyes has been tarred with the same label). When he makes strangely precise pronouncements on his health–e.g., “I’m at 75% right now”–it’s seen as a weakness rather than a sign of honesty.

Always this refrain: He should try harder. He should look like he takes it personally, as if appearing to feel a certain way could will success. As if every bad player was a stoic, and every good one a whiny, petulant Paul O’Neill type who cried about every called strike and smashed Gatorade coolers because he cares too much.

When Beltran returned to the lineup after the All Star Break, it coincided with a team-wide slump and a hideous road trip. Obviously his mere presence in the clubhouse was to blame, these fans assumed–ignoring the presence of black holes like Henry Blanco and Jeff Francoeur and streaky rookies like Ike Davis in the everyday lineup.

Never mind that he came back to the field last September, in the textbook definition of a lost season, playing for nothing at all but pride on a knee that would eventually need surgery. Never mind that he did the same thing in 2005, after after his horrific head-on collision with Mike Cameron, when he had every right to sit out the rest of the season.

Never mind he put up big numbers at the end of 2007 and 2008 in a vain attempt to stave off The Collapses (OPS in September/October of 2008: 1.086). Never mind that he hit a two-run homer in the last game ever played at Shea to give the crowd hope that maybe, just maybe the unthinkable would not happen.

Never mind all the charity work the man does, in both New York and Puerto Rico, much of it unpublicized. Never mind that despite the idiotic hatred slung at him from the Joe Benignos of the world, he’s always conducted himself with class and dignity.

He doesn’t deserve a fraction of this abuse, and he certainly doesn’t deserve to have his own team lump him into the same category as the reprehensible Oliver Perez and the squeamish Luis Castillo. He doesn’t deserve to have the Mets publicly defame him for no good reason, just because they want to get rid of his suddenly expensive contract. (In which case, why are they making public statements that will only lower his value? Just more Mets idiocy.)

He also doesn’t deserve to have the Mets’ beat writers unblinkingly report this “story” exactly as the team told it, without asking the front office why they didn’t know (or didn’t mention) Beltran’s prior commitment. The team may have Machiavellian motives, but they need help from the press to truly enact them. Abetting character assassination: not your finest moment, fellas.

If the Mets’ finances are as bad as the whispers indicate, there’s no way the team could sign another center fielder who’s worth a damn. So I know exactly what’s going to happen: The Mets will unload Beltran for pennies on the dollar, paying much of his salary to get at some piddling prospect. Then they’ll overpay for some aging “slugger” who’ll hit .220 with 12 homers and have the range of a Zamboni.

beltrancatch.jpgAnd then both fans and writers will scream about the hideous on-field product and call for whoever’s head is on the chopping block at the time. Completely forgetting that we once had the greatest center fielder to play in New York since Willie, Mickey, and The Duke. Find me another center fielder who can hit like him and make catches like this one. Or this one. Or even this one, done while wearing a knee brace. You go ahead and find me a player like that. I’ll wait here.

It was ironic that when Beltran signed in 2005, he pronounced himself proud to be part of “the new Mets”. Because five years later, this team feels like it’s reentering the clueless, fumbling Art Howe Years that preceded him. When Bobby Valentine was kicked to the curb, robbing the team of its sharpest baseball mind and its identity, giving way to grossly overpriced and (even worse) boring teams full of useless vets like Mo Vaughn and Jeromy Burnitz and one dead-end quadruple-A player after another. Teams that hadn’t the slightest glimmer of an iota of a fraction of an idea of how to construct a roster, and with no hope on the horizon.

This organization is once again a joke. And not a funny one, either. More like a tasteless, racist joke told in the waning hours of a party by some belligerent drunk, who messes up the punchline and starts over three or four times, as you avoid eye contact as much as possible and stare at your watch and wonder, When did this party stop being fun?