I expect the issue of the first responder caps will go away soon, if it hasn't already. I am totally okay with it going away, as I feel it detracts from the Mets' ceremonies on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which I found generally well done and at times moving. And yet, the whole thing remains so baffling. As Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus wrote, it's very difficult to make out what MLB's endgame was here. To allow the Mets to wear the caps would seemingly have had zero negative effects. To deny them, obviously, has had many.
The degree to which the Mets were "threatened" in this case is being furiously debated. Throughout Monday, vague reports from various unnamed MLB sources said the Mets were never threatened with fines if they wore the caps. Even if that's the case, the Mets players certainly seemed to believed they or the team would be on the hook if they defied the order. At best, there was some extremely poor communication at work here. Even if the Mets were determined to not defy the commissioner's office, the question remains as to why this seemingly simple request was denied.
Ironically, Major League Baseball's reasoning--such as it is--has an eerily Mets-ian ring to it. Time after time, we have seen the Mets turn seemingly innocent events into PR nightmares (see: Walter Reed). MLB managed to do the same thing, in the most Mets way possible. Kudos, Bud Selig!
In situations such as these, we often sense conspiracy. Or at least I do, anyway. But the more I think about Cap-Gate, the less I believe there were sinister forces at work here. Instead, it strikes me more as the product of a uniquely corporate brand of myopia, group-think, and good ol' fashioned idiocy.
The fact that MLB has a lucrative, exclusive contract with New Era has been brought up frequently, as has the fact that MLB is selling commemorative 9/11 caps at $37 a pop. The implication is that New Era put the screws on MLB and/or the Mets in order to get maximum return on their investment. While I'm certain that MLB wants to keep its corporate partners happy, I don't believe that this was truly motivated by filthy lucre alone. Or at the very least, I can't see evil New Era execs plotting in a smoke-filled room with evil MLB execs thinking of ways to hurt the Mets.
There is also the issue that the MLB exec supposedly responsible for the No Caps edict was Joe Torre, which led some to believe his Yankee-ness made him want to make the Mets look bad. While I'm not the biggest Torre fan in the world, I'm not inclined to believe this, either. To follow this line, you have to assume Torre made this decision in a vacuum and carried it out himself, which is hard to swallow. More likely, MLB--in full CYA mode--has pushed Torre forward as their spokesman to put a recognizable, well-liked face on an unpopular decision.
Of course, if you don't believe in a conspiracy, you are still left with the quandary of why MLB was so intransigent in their refusal to let the Mets wear the caps. Ultimately, I think MLB simply decided the Mets must toe some imaginary line that is extremely important within the walls of their offices but which looks tone deaf at best to the outside world. I came to believe this after I heard Joe Torre on Mike Francesa's WFAN program on Monday, attempting to defend "his" decision.
What I found the most telling was the fact that Torre's solitary defense was insisting all teams needed do the same thing for the 9/11 commemoration. He repeated the line "everything should be the same" several times, as if this uniformity was the most important thing on such an occasion. Torre insisted there was no "mandate" to not to wear the hats or threats of fines if they did; in so doing, he essentially called several Mets, and several reporters who cover the team, liars. Torre also said he had no issue with David Wright wearing an NYPD hat in the dugout. (Quite gracious of him.)
The interview was made all the more strange and frustrating by the man who conducted it. As you might expect, Francesa approached Torre with kid gloves; if his interview was any softer, it would've need a "do not remove under penalty of law" tag on it. Francesa seemed to have no clue that MLB had its own commemorative caps for the occasion; once informed of them by Torre, he felt no need to ask him if the New Era sponsorship had anything to do with MLB's decision (or, more likely, had no idea of this sponsorship). He did not ask if MLB had taken the first responder hats away from the Mets, nor did he ask if Torre was accusing the Mets of lying about the fines. Once the brief, uninformative interview was concluded, Francesa insisted that the Mets were not being "disrespectful" in not wearing the hats on Sunday night--as if that was the issue at hand. Another session of truly hard-hitting analysis from "New York's number 1."
Torre is thus far the only MLB official to speak officially on the matter. Showing his typical brand of leadership, Bud Selig has said nothing publicly, though there are reports that he is livid with the Mets over the bad PR resulting from this kerfuffle. (The fact that Bud Selig feels he's the wronged party in this situation tells you all you need to know about Bud Selig The Human Being.) However, Torre's odd obsession with "sameness" jives with an infuriating series of tweets from Buster Olney on Monday. First, this head-scratcher:
That was followed by this doozy:
Yes, because in such a situation, caps will be the first things on our minds.
Such a weirdly clinical, borderline autistic response to unnamed future tragedies has the fetid stink of Corporate Dictate all over it. It has the feeling of an edict from a Very Important Executive who issued a Very Important Memo on the subject of Uniform Sanctity. And since, as they say, poop runs downhill, everyone must treat the issue with the same amount of importance or incur the Very Important Executive's wrath.
Think about the jobs you've had in your life. No matter what line of work you're in, I imagine you've experienced the New Exec who comes in with Big Ideas. Suddenly, there is an emphasis on some aspect of the work that no one has thought about before. Sometimes, it is truly revolutionary thinking that changes your industry. More often, though, it's petty stuff like this. A memo goes out about wasting paper and suddenly there's a "monitor" looking over your shoulder every time you use the copy machine.
You can defy the orders and risk losing your job, or you can roll with the punches and treat this issue with the same amount of importance as your overlords. Most folks choose the latter, especially in this economy. Various MLB underlings chose to follow this directive. So did the Mets' front office, no doubt aware that they are treading on thin ice, and that their financial situation could cause them to be Frank McCourt-ed at any moment.
I imagine that someone high up in MLB has made uniform uniformity their #1 priority and will not brook any dissension. Witness the fact that the Mets' new blue "Los Mets" unis--which caught on immediately with a good chunk of the fanbase--can not be officially integrated into their uniform scheme (with or without "Los") until 2013 because the team missed an arbitrary cutoff date. If a team wants to make some slight alterations to their uniform, or even add a new jersey, what's the big deal?
To me and you, it's not a big deal. But to someone in the MLB offices (who in my head bears a vague resemblance to Bill Lumbergh), cracking down on wanton uniform alteration is their baby. Perhaps they were deeply offended by the wild days of the mid-to-late 90s, when it seemed teams came up with alternate jerseys and caps with reckless abandon, and has made it their life's mission to eradicate this evil.
To them, it doesn't matter that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 means something particularly poignant and painful in New York. This person might have never heard of the story of the Mets in those first games after the terrorist attacks, and about what wearing those hats meant to them and their fans. And even if they have, it wouldn't matter to them. In their myopic, corporate view, there is no room for deviation from their plan.
And so, this Unnamed Exec insisted the Mets had to fall in line with all the other teams, because to do otherwise would create a slippery slope situation that would not be tolerated. Because next time a city with an MLB team is attacked by terrorists or hit with a tsunami or overrun with zombies, then they'll want special hats, too! Chaos will ensue! Chaos, I tell you!
In his world (I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume this person is a dude), preventing such "chaos" is all that matters. Torre's comments are echoing a corporate line that makes no sense to you or me, but which is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT inside the walls of the MLB offices.
It stinks that MLB is run in such a way, but maybe we should just be grateful we don't have to work there.