By Guy F. White
Although I am a native and proud New Yorker (Great Neck South Class of ’81 GO REBELS!!!) I spent most of the last 30 years of my life in Indiana. What I learned during that time is that there is a HUGE difference between the two when it comes to baseball. Indiana is both Cubs and Reds territory and while there are definitely rabid fans of both teams, the baseball atmosphere in Reds Nation, or even Cubs Nation is worlds apart from New York. Just read “The Bad Guys Won”, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy”, “The Bronx Zoo”, or watch “61*” to see that New York is just a different animal.
But what does this atmospheric difference mean for the Mets? Clearly, it suggests that the Mets should get players who can adapt to playing in New York. I suspect it is very difficult to stay grounded in a City where you are deified or condemned so completely for every step you take. I remember in 1985 seeing a poster of Dwight Gooden in full wind up that spread the entire width of Penn Station. Gooden’s head was about the size of a VW Beetle and millions, MILLIONS, of adoring Mets fans passed under his striding legs every morning on their way to work. But Dwight Gooden is not a Strat-O-Matic card; he’s a human being who cannot help but be affected by his surroundings. How can anyone, let alone a 19 year old kid, not let that go to his head? It appears that it did.
How can any mere mortal be expected to produce in a city where if you feel like getting hammered at 3 am, there are thousands of bars open and waiting to serve you a cold one? For free? Carlos Baerga may know something about that. If you’re the toast of a City That Never Sleeps, how can you be expected to sleep? Ask Matt Harvey perhaps. When there are pretty women waiting to, er accommodate you between innings in the clubhouse, who cares what base you’re supposed to throw to when you’re in right field? If you want to use the clubhouse phone to question a scoring decision in St. Louis, who cares? In New York, the Daily News will eat you alive. Right, Mr. Bonilla? In fact, there are people who argue that one of the worst deals in Mets history was the one that sent Kevin Mitchell to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds – not because Mitchell was so great, or McReynolds so bad, but because Mitchell had the street smarts to keep Gooden and Strawberry out of trouble and away from those parasitic elements that ultimately brought them both down. I don’t know if I agree with that argument, but it’s noteworthy that it even exists.
The reverse is also true. If you stink the place up while playing in New York, there’s nowhere to hide. Since the dawning of free agency, Mets history is laden with players who were great somewhere else and found the lights too bright on Broadway. Jason Bay, Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Juan Samuel Brett Saberhagen, Vince Coleman, and my person favorite George Foster have all underperformed as Mets and have been mercilessly dogged by fans. The Yankees aren’t immune to sucky free agents either. Danny Tartabull, Jimmy Wynn, Don Gullett, and Dave Collins come to mind. They all played great for someone else, but when they came to New York – not so much.
Therefore, it seems to me that a key ingredient for the Mets to consider in their personnel decisions is whether they can play in New York. Tom Seaver and Keith Hernandez could. Nolan Ryan and Jim Fregosi couldn’t. Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle could. Mel Hall and Ed Whitson couldn’t. Can the young men that the Mets wish to bring to New York handle the fame and adoring masses that make you larger than life when you’re doing well? Can these talented superstars who are not familiar with failure in their lives brush it off when dozens of newspapers and media outlets and millions of fans tell you that you suck everyday when you’re doing poorly?
It’s one of the main reasons that I like the Robinson Cano deal. Not only do we get a really good closer, but Cano has proven that he can handle that which the Big Apple can throw at him. And just maybe, he can help his teammates do the same. If he can make it there, he’s gonna make it anywhere; it’s up to you New York, New York.