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The Low Road Less Traveled

It often seems that when it comes to media coverage of the Mets, the desire to mock the team trumps the need to report facts, or at least a nuanced portrayal of whatever situation the team is facing at the time. For instance, it doesn't matter that we've all known about the deferred payments to Bobby Bonilla for years now, or that many teams have made similar deferred payment pacts with pricey players. (Hi, Manny Ramirez!) What does matter is that you can bang out a quick post on the Bobby Bo payments and get a lot of LOLMETS hits in the process.

Maybe I seem like a broken record on this subject, because I've written these words, or words just like them, several times this season. In all likelihood, I'll keep writing them, because the trend appears to be going nowhere. Over the summer, while the Mets flirted with contention and looked not horrible, such attitudes faded. But when the Mets go through a rough patch like the one they're in right now, this tendency only increases.

While the Mets were in Philadelphia, we saw it happen again, with Angel Pagan the collateral damage. I wouldn't even bother writing about this incident if it didn't (1) display gross disregard for a player's privacy and a total lack of human compassion, and (2) provide an egregious display of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

In case you missed it, the whole thing began during Monday night's game when Angel Pagan's turn at bat came up, but the center fielder was nowhere to be found. He was, as they say, answering nature's call. Terry Collins was nearly forced to send up a pinch hitter in his place. His prolonged absence from the on-deck circle, and the delay of game it caused, prompted boos from the Philadelphia crowd (which, granted, is not hard to do). Somehow, Pagan managed to emerge and come up to the plate as scheduled.

I was one of those fortunate people who didn't get to see the game as it aired, so I can't say how it was handled by the broadcast team. However, since the incident caused a noticeable delay in the game, I would expect it caused some on-air speculation. As such, I would also expect the reporters to ask about it afterwards; it'd be naive to think anyone could simply ignore it.

Of course, since these reporters are all adults with (presumably) a sense of dignity and shame, most of them didn't mention the incident or gave it only the most cursory attention. Anthony DiComo's story does not mention the Pagan incident at all. The Post, amazingly, also thought it unworthy of comment (though Mike Puma's opening line--"The joke store called, and they're running out of Mets."--is objectionable for other reasons of taste). The Times limited their reportage to one sentence in the "Inside Pitch" section at story's end.

Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger did lead with it, saying Pagan "heard his stomach burble," and uses it as a bit of a cheap lead-in for how bad the Mets are playing right now, but the teasing ends there.  Adam Rubin's lengthy postgame report at ESPNNY has a few paragraphs on it, but his account is in broad strokes, not in the least bit graphic, and tucked at the very end of a long article.

The Daily News is another story. Andy Martino's recap leads with the tale of Pagan's trip to the john. The story (as it appears online, anyway) is actually entitled "Angel Pagan delayed in bathroom while on deck, New York Mets lose 10-0 laugher to Phillies." Its description of Pagan's troubles is far more detailed and unnecessarily gross than any other. Not until 20 paragraphs are spent does the story move on to the piddling matter of the rest of the game. The tabloid thought this "news" was so important that they devoted their back page to it: ANGEL IN THE OUTHOUSE, the headline squealed, very impressed with its own cleverness. In case anyone missed the subtleties, the link to the article on the main Daily News sports page said, "Where's Angel? Phils flush Mets 10-0."

The story in the Daily News is the one that was most linked to the next day from sites like Deadspin, Gawker, and Hardball Talk, whose posts were essentially Google-compliant Nelson Muntz laughs at the expense of Pagan and the team he plays for. Naturally, it fit into the Hapless Mets meme that has reemerged in the past few weeks (with a healthy amount of help from the Mets themselves). The obvious metaphorical implications of a Met batter missing his turn at bat to go to the bathroom were too rich to turn down, not to mention the inner eight-year-old in some people that still loves to hear toilet humor.

Problem was, Pagan didn't just have a case of Montezuma's revenge. He suffers from colitis, an uncomfortable, chronic condition that is treatable but not curable. Pagan takes medication for it, and even went on the DL for just that reason while he played for the Cubs back in 2007. "It's no joke," Pagan told Rubin on Tuesday, in obvious response to those who found the whole thing hilarious. "It's something that's going to be with me for the rest of my life." Pagan spoke at length about what collitis did to him at its worse.

You lose your appetite. You lose everything. You lose your energy. You don't want to eat. You lose weight. You lack concentration. I was just trying to survive. I was getting dizzy in the games. I'm glad everything is in the past and everything is taken care of and I'm healthy.

ZOMGLOLFail! Boy, this sure seems like something we should all be laughing at, doesn't it?

It's true Pagan did not divulge his condition when immediately questioned after the game. But that's because his medical history is no one's business. At all. Every celebrity should expect to lose a certain amount of privacy, but unless you're an elected official whose health is a matter of public security, you should be allowed to keep things like this private. Guess that'll teach Pagan to think he's a fellow human being with rights and dignity.

Pagan was all but forced to reveal this about himself because everyone was laughing at him. That's like a junior high school level of humiliation. And it's highly doubtful he would have had to go through this if the Daily News hadn't turned his ordeal into a cheap hit-magnet and given fans heckle fodder for the rest of his career. They get a few more page views and links for a day, and Pagan has to lay his medical history on the table, even though far fewer people will remember he has a condition than will remember he had to leave the field to go to the bathroom.

Could the Daily News have known about Pagan's condition? No, but neither could any of its colleagues, and they all chose to exercise at least a little restraint on this topic. Again, even the Post did so; it says a lot when you go beyond what the Post deems printable. To me, that indicates the Daily News knew there was something shameful about writing about this at such length and with such a sophomoric bent, even before Pagan came forward with his side of the story. They did it anyway.

At the risk of sounding a bit conspiracy theory-ish, I suspect that the original article was rewritten/restructured for just this purpose. The fact that the article contains virtually no details about the game itself, and focuses almost exclusively on Pagan, is just plain weird. I suspect the Daily News saw an opportunity to get snickering links from the likes of Deadspin et al. and just went for it. This is, after all, the sports page whose online coverage is now roughly 65% WAG-focused.

I wouldn't even call this scraping the bottom of the barrel. It's more like scraping the tiny space between the bottom of the barrel and the earth below it.

The worst part is, who's going to stand up for Pagan? No one defends the honor of a punching bag, which is what the Mets are. They are considered a joke, so anything remotely negative that happens to them is just chuckle fodder. The Daily News doesn't seem all that remorseful about what they did, even in the wake of Pagan's revelation; this morning, their main Mets page still had their story on Monday night's game linked as "Phils flush Mets." They come across as jock bully who keeps dumping your books in the hallway, then gets all huffy about how you "can't take a joke" when you get mad about it.

If there's a bigger, unfunnier joke than what was done to Pagan, it's the newspaper that did it.