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Full circle under Alderson, or: It’ll always come down to the Wilpons

“What’s the point of calling shots? This cue ain’t straight in line. Cue ball’s made of Styrofoam and no one’s got the time.”

MLB: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I never thought I’d pine for the days when Omar Minaya was general manager of the New York Mets, but so it goes with ironic reversals and the folly of absolute conviction. Lest we forget, the first few years of Minaya’s tenure were a lot of fun, though there’s a lot about the latter years that no one misses: bad contracts, willy-nilly roster management, the general atmosphere of a circus sideshow driven forth by ridiculous, unthinking behavior.

Thus, when the Sterling crew installed Sandy Alderson as Minaya’s replacement, it felt like a restoration of sanity. I remember reading articles with the phrase, “the adults are finally in charge,” and hearing and speaking versions of the same from and with other Mets fans. Even your favorite Mets site got into the fun with a gloriously Paintz’d alt-logo that read “Alderson Avenue.”

The idea was that Sandy Alderson—former marine, graduate of Dartmouth (undergrad) and Harvard (law school), baseball outsider who had steered the Oakland A’s to glory and revolutionized the sport through a pioneering embrace of sabermetrics—had the discipline, intellect, and vision to give Mets fans what they had always longed for and only glimpsed once before, in the mid-to-late 80s: a perennial playoff contender.

The early returns of Alderson’s tenure supported the hypothesis, even after the curtain lifted to reveal the ugly catastrophe of the Wilpons’ financial situation. Above all, Sandy Alderson seemed to understand reality—the Mets were in a thoroughly bad state as a baseball operation, an entertainment outfit, and a public-relations enterprise—and to operate like someone who had the skills and fortitude to make it better.

Indeed, Alderson moved quickly to install front-office lieutenants and field staff with the intention of implementing a cohesive, system-wide approach to baseball operations and player development. Soon thereafter, Alderson released player-pariahs Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, both of whom symbolized the organization’s recent failures and, more specifically, were targets for fans’ red-hot vitriol.

To supportive outsiders, the throughput of these actions was that Sandy seemed to “get it.” Perhaps best of all, he seemed to embrace the principle that sustained success would require more than a series of one-off PR moves, important though they were; it would require commitment to a long-term strategy. It was the antithesis of the rudderless baseball operation of Omar Minaya, and it was a breath of fresh air.

Seasons passed, and while the major league team continued its mediocre ways, the Alderson hypothesis held, because it was clear that it was all leading somewhere. Everything finally clicked after the 2015 trade deadline, and the Mets ran all the way to the World Series.

Sadly, that was the pinnacle. The first step down from the heady heights came that offseason, and though it was temporary, it was a portent of things to come: the signing of Alejandro De Aza. Though it wasn’t spun by the team as such, it was understood that De Aza was essentially the Mets’ answer to Yoenis Cespedes’ free agency. With all due respect to De Aza, it just wouldn’t do.

The sad realities and limitations of the Fred Wilpon-led ownership group came crashing back in and threatened to negate the afterglow of the World Series—an impressive case study in fomenting ill will among a customer base, even accounting for Mets fans’ propensity for catastrophic thinking. I shared in the outrage and rattled off a withering hot take of an article for this site with the working title, “With the signing of Alejandro De Aza, the Wilpons’ awful legacy is complete.” (A much-edited version of the piece, with a different title, was published sometime later.)

The rough was made plain, of course, when Cespedes signed a deal to come back in 2016; and when the team snagged a wild card that year despite a rash of injuries to key players, it seemed an indication, perhaps, that the team was built to withstand some hardship, and that with a little better injury luck and a few tweaks here and there, the good times would continue to roll.

No one knew yet that the Mets’ 2017 season would reveal itself to be the three-way love child of Murphy’s Law, bad management, and the Hold My Beer meme, but the writing was on the wall in the offseason that preceded it—an offseason that was basically a carbon copy of the one before it: an unlikely-but-happy reunion with Yoenis Cespedes and not much else.

The abominable season season got underway and quickly slid off the rails amidst a flurry of questionable front-office and on-field decisions and non-decisions. When Amazin’ Avenue’s now-Editor-in-Chief Chris McShane, the most even-keeled and loathe-to-jump-to-hasty-conclusions Mets fan I know of, published an article titled, “What are the Mets doing?” we all should have known where this was headed.

Indeed, the Mets organization seems to have come full-circle under Sandy Alderson’s watch, and it no longer feels tenable to rush to his defense; the plan has crested and waned, and what is left is like anti-matter to any semblance of baseball fun: a front office with neither the financial resources nor the imagination to do much of anything but hold the line—a sketchy line, at that. The consensus view of the Mets’ farm system is that it is woefully thin, especially at the upper levels. The payroll is going to shrink. The major league roster is full of players who are coming off serious, even career-jeopardizing, injuries in 2017.

So now Mets fans are left in an uncomfortable and familiar head space—that is, without much to hold onto by way of hope for a brighter future. Of course we know that baseball is a fickle, unpredictable sport, and that success can and does blossom unexpectedly. We know that the Mets’ roster, injury-plagued though it’s been over the past couple years, is impressively talented.

But when you take those elements and hold them up against the bigger picture, you see the one eternal bummer that, without fail, kills the hope that springs eternal for Mets fans: the Wilpons.

I seem to remember reading a few articles some years ago that painted a picture of Fred Wilpon as a really pleasant and generous guy. I don’t necessarily disbelieve that portrayal of his disposition, and his track record of generosity as a philanthropist speaks for itself.

Of course, Fred Wilpon is also a terrible owner. It has been obviously, laughably, painfully clear for many years now that Wilpon leads an ownership group that utterly lacks the wherewithal to maintain a successful baseball/entertainment/public-relations organization—you know, a Major League Baseball team.

Most readers are probably familiar with Marc Carig’s recent article in which he calls on them to break their years-long silence and level with fans. It’s a cathartic read because it speaks to the unvarnished truth, crummy as it is. As long as the Wilpons own the New York Mets, it doesn’t matter who sits in that GM chair—it doesn’t matter who holds any gig in the organization, actually; it will be the same old story of varying degrees of dysfunction punctuated by occasional and temporary bursts of success.

It should be fun to be a baseball fan. It’s an exercise in sheer lizard-brain silliness, from the arbitrary tribal affinity bonds we form among ourselves to the money we spend on tickets and merchandise and TV subscriptions to the countless hours we spend concerning ourselves with a child’s game of throwing, catching, and hitting a ball. It gets to be a lot of fun when, like in the early days of Omar Minaya, you feel like there’s someone at the helm who understands these silly and powerful bonds you’ve built and does everything in their power to put a team together that not only reflects the spirit and tradition of what you and your ilk are about, but that is designed to give you something new to cheer for: to win.

When Madoff money was good and home-town Omar Minaya was in charge, it felt like the Mets were on their way to something new and unstoppable. For the all-too-familiar brief moment, they were. Of course, Minaya, it turned out, couldn’t maintain his end of the illusion of success.

All these years later, with the eminently competent Sandy Alderson at the helm, and a maddening sort of inertia installed as the new organizational norm in the wake of a still-recent World Series appearance, you realize that no amount of competence, prudence, or strategy could ever overcome the insidious inadequacy of the Wilpon-led ownership group.