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Just Deserts

The latest installment of New York magazine's Workplace Confidential series aired the grievances of an unnamed Mets employee. The piece was not nearly as juicy as that description implies, as it contained nothing much in the way of insider info. It had plenty of complaints, but most of those concerned the sorry state of the team and can be heard on WFAN during any given drive-time.

However, one paragraph stuck out to me:

You know what I think when I read about the Mets nowadays? We’ve become the Oakland A’s. We’re the Pittsburgh Pirates. Our fans deserve better than that. You can’t possibly build a dynasty when you’re cutting costs left and right. The only way to turn it around is to sell the team.

As I said, this article is indistinguishable from something you'd hear of Mike'd Up, and the attitude expressed here is one expressed by many fans. However, it's a viewpoint I can't support.

To be sure, I'm fully in favor of the Wilpons selling the team; the sooner, the better, though I have no real hope for sooner as long as their BFF Bud Selig runs MLB. I do think that the team has become something of a laughingstock, even if the Nelson Muntz act the sports media pulls whenever the Mets are mentioned is a bit hyperbolic. And it is a true shame the Mets could not hang on to Jose Reyes , for a multitude of reasons (even if I also think the contract he received from the Marlins is kind of nuts, at least years-wise).

What I object to here is the use of the word deserve. It implies that Mets fans deserve lavish spending and success, and fans of the Pirates, A's, and other smaller market teams do not.

If you're a Mets fan, you believe your fandom marks you as a truly discerning individual, a step above the kind found in other benighted fanbases. Your choice of favorite team is not the result of family influence or geography, but the sign of an evolutionary step up. Therefore, your team merits The Finest Things In Life.

This attitude is not unique to Mets partisans. Every sports fan feels this way to varying degrees of seriousness, no matter who they root for. It is the last bastion of acceptable chauvinism.

It's okay to feel this way, so long as you acknowledge that it's a ridiculous attitude you should not indulge or let affect your outlook on life. Unfortunately, it does affect your outlook if you honestly feel that you, as a Mets fan, deserve a competitive team more so than, say, a Royals fan does. I'm not sure how many fans truly, deeply believe this, but it is a definite undercurrent in our attitudes toward the rest of baseball.

The impulse to think this is, in part, an outgrowth of a feeling of New York Exceptionalism, the idea that this city is TOO BIG to accept things done on a small scale, no matter the endeavor, and that whatever is done here is inherently better than anything done elsewhere. I've often explained this to transplants from elsewhere: when you grow up in or even near New York City, you simply do not hear about anywhere else. The world is supposed to come to you.

When it comes to baseball, it has long been said that New Yorkers "expect a winner," even if who they expect to win has changed over the years. In the late 1970s, we expected the Bronx Zoo Yankees to win. In the 1980s, the Mets took up that mantle. Bob Murphy can even be heard saying words this affect during some of the mid-80s Mets Yearbooks now aired on SNY.

When the Yankees rose again in the 1990s, they readopted this Veruca Salt-ian mantra: I WANT EVERYTHING AND I WANT IT NOW! Several championships were not enough. They needed a Dynasty because that is what New York "demanded." Through osmosis and the Wilpons' striving, the Mets caught this bug, which led to the checkbook method of roster building that defined the team from 1998 until, well, now. It's hard to say whether the Wilpons fostered this feeling among fans or if they just reflected what fans felt, but in either case, the feeling is now deeply entrenched.

Expecting something and deserving it are two very different things, though. What exactly qualifies a Mets fan as more deserving of a well-funded, star-studded team than any other fan? Because we live in or near a huge city? Because it costs way too much to live here? Because we really, really want to have one?

In the sense that the Mets have revenue streams many teams can only dream of, yes, a Mets fan should expect a certain level of spending on personnel, both on the field and in the front office. (Pre-Alderson, the thing that drove me nuts about the Mets was, for all the cash they spent to woo free agents, they showed little interest in attracting top-flight executive talent.) Considering how much money it costs to go to CitiField, I don't think it's chauvinistic or unreasonable to want to see that value reflected in the on-field product.

But when I hear the word "deserve" tossed out there, I wonder how that must sound to an Indians fan, or a Mariners fan, or a Twins fan. Do they not deserve to be flush with cash and spending lavishly, too? Or are some fans more equal than others?

Not to wander too far off the tour, but we could make a list of people who truly deserve things in this world, and sports fans who want to see a title contender would be pretty far down the list.

The idea the Mets "deserve" a Big Name Team in perpetuity is a big reason why they find themselves in such a mess (with an assist from Bernie Madoff). It was an unsustainable way of team building that doomed the team to failure even before their financial situation completely cratered (see: 2009). To crawl back into contention, they now have to slowly build up their farm system under the most austere conditions.

That means any success the Mets enjoy in the next five years or so will not be bought, but earned. Or deserved, if you prefer.