During this week’s series against the Nationals — who are managed by former Mets third base coach Manny Acta — the teams exchanged typical displays of camaraderie at batting practice. Hugs, handshakes, plenty of laughs. You know, the things you’d expect from a group of players who once worked together. Willie Randolph, despite a winning smile and glowing compliments for his former colleague, was not among the intermingling groups of front-office members and players.
I have to ask: Why the hell not?
For starters, what is so wrong about the Mets — or any teams, for that matter — shooting the shinola by a batting cage? It’s not like they’re off having an early dinner at Scores — they’re just saying hello!
In the NBA, it is a regular occurrence to see players congregating at mid court during shoot around, and more often than not, they meet up again after the final horn to thank Jeebus for their Bentleys. Though it’s strange to see guys who throw elbows for 48 minutes suddenly change direction and mood, it’s also an important lesson to a lot of children:
It’s just a game.
Sure, I realize that the MLB handbook clearly specifies that hugs and handshakes are a no-no. Rule 3.09 states, “Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.” Ummm, isn’t this the same rulebook that also prohibits pitchers from rubbing the baseball on cold nights, covering gear in pine tar, or wearing loose and baggy uniforms? One look at Prince’s jersey or Manny’s funk-laden helmet will indicate just how well these rules are being enforced. And these are rules that actually affect the games.
Getting back to Willie — of all the things he brought across town from his years with the Yanks, a pole up his ass shouldn’t have been one of them. To most fans, one of the Mets’ most prevalent charms, is that they’re not the Yankees. Despite similar payrolls and free agent strategies, the personalities of the organizations couldn’t be further apart. Or at least, so I thought.
By purposely avoiding the batting cage camaraderie with Acta (a likable guy if there ever was one) and questioning the motives of his players who were there, Willie sounded eerily similar to his old employers. He claims that he was annoyed by the fact that Mets didn’t show more of a fighting spirit against a team that helped eliminate them last season.
“How does that happen? How does that become normal?” Randolph said. “I don’t know. It’s just foreign to me, that’s all. I’m fine with, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ That stuff. I wish that we could enforce it more, really. They talk about it, but I don’t really see anyone policing it. You can’t force people not to talk to someone.”
Yeah, Willie. You can. But the bigger question is whether or not you should. Guess what, chuckles? The Nationals gave less than a damn about the fate of the 2007 Mets. And the only team that helped eliminate the 2007 Mets, was the 2007 Mets. Trying to create animosity where there isn’t any doesn’t instill a fighting spirit — it just makes the 2008 Mets seem an awful lot like the 1980’s Yankees.
Now, at the beginning of this season, a lot of the players were adopting Randolph’s militant attitude, mostly to try and erase memories of last September. Jose Reyes stopped smiling and dancing, and proceeded to post benign numbers for the first three weeks of the season. Then, of all people, Carlos Beltran steps in and tells Reyes to be himself, and BOOM, the kid is a hitting machine again.
David Wright seemed to have tried the boring flavored Kool-Aid too.
“I don’t want to be a guy’s best friend before the game,” Wright said. “It’s important to me these guys realize - for the five or six hours we’re here - that they’re the enemy. We’re going to go out there and do whatever we can to beat them.”
Why not just have an organized stare-down before BP? I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wright, but I really don’t think he’s a prime candidate to lead the new Nasty Boys. All this talk of “enemies” sounds a lot more West Side Story than East L.A., homeslice. Be tough while you’re playing. Don’t ever act tough again.
Don’t get me wrong. I want the Mets to be serious. When a guy throws at your teammate, you throw back, and closer to his head. If a guy charges a mound, you get out there and kick his bony ass. More importantly, if you’re down by two in the ninth, you stay focused, stay tough, and rally to embarrass their closer. As a fan, I promise to do the same. But being focused doesn’t mean you should lose sight of the most important point of all — you’re grown men who get paid extremely well to play a game.
And Willie, this isn’t the Bronx. Loosen up, take down that stack of meaningless MLB mandates on the dugout wall, and maybe - just maybe - go say hi to someone by the batting cage. You’ll have plenty of time to be a hardass when the bullpen is struggling this summer.