NEW YORK — During Sunday’s victory over the Washington Nationals, Javier Baez parked a baseball in the second deck at Citi Field, the type of mammoth blast the Mets expected to regularly occur when they acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline.
The crowd roared because, for the second straight day, the Mets’ offense showed signs of life during an otherwise miserable month.
A couple hours later, Baez seemingly called out some of the same fans who have tirelessly followed this franchise through all of its messes, mishaps and letdowns over the years.
Baez and a couple of his teammates, including Francisco Lindor, put their thumbs down after collecting hits in front of their home crowd Sunday at Citi Field. According to footage from SNY’s broadcasts, it appears this thumbs down gesture might have been going on as early as the team’s series in Philadelphia from Aug. 6-8.
When asked about the thumbs down celebration on Sunday, Baez was honest in describing how the gesture is almost a way of booing fans back.
“We’re not machines. We’re going to struggle,” Baez said. “We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. It just feels bad when I strike out and get booed. It doesn’t really get to me, but I want to let them know that when we have success, we’re going to do the same thing to let them know how it feels. Because if we win together, then we got to lose together. The fans are really a big part of it.
“In my case, they’ve got to be better,” he added. “I play for the fans. I love the fans. But if they’re going to do that, they just put more pressure on the team. That’s not what we want.”
To be clear: I’ve never understood booing your own team. I probably never will. Professional athletes are the best in the world at what they do and they work hard. (And let’s also make sure to note that not all Mets fans boo their team).
But the customer is always right and, as long as someone pays, they can theoretically say whatever they want, within reason. (Remember how manager Luis Rojas addressed the “Fire Rojas” chants last week? He said fans can say whatever). The sport survives and thrives because of fans, and disenfranchising them is never the correct move. How would that work out for a small-business owner?
Hours after Baez made those comments, Mets president Sandy Alderson played damage control with fans. He released a lengthy statement that, in part, began with: “These comments, and any gestures by him or other players with a similar intent, are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
“Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance,” Alderson said. “The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.
“The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.”
The biggest issue in all of this: The third-place Mets are near the bottom of the league in most important offensive categories. They sit 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves with 32 to play. They are fighting for their season. The fans should not be occupying enough of the players’ headspace for the players to even make this an issue.
It’s possible Baez simply chose his words poorly and made this seem like a bigger deal, but it didn’t sound great.
Fans pay hard-earned money to watch this team play. They shell out money for tickets, parking, food, merchandise and more. Is it productive to boo? Maybe not, but anger is always better than apathy. These fans care. They desperately want their team to reach the postseason.
“They have the right to react however they want,” Rojas said Sunday. “With Mets fans, New York fans, this market, this city knows baseball probably more than any other city. They have the right to act however they want. We have to understand where they’re coming from. Our job is to be ready every day to give them the best baseball.”
Added Alderson: “Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.”
Fans are frustrated because the team is spiraling in a year that began with so much promise. The Mets have won two World Series, but they’ve paid for those with years and years of heartache.
This season, Mets fans saw their team hold first place for almost three months before losing it in Philadelphia earlier this month. The Mets have continued to spiral since.
Along this season’s journey, fans have been told to “smile” and “believe in us” by Pete Alonso — and those comments were a microcosm of the positivity preached by Mets players this year. It seems some fans want accountability at this point, which is why a group of them viewed Baez’s comments in such a poor light.
Baez has been a Met for less than a month. He’s batting .210 with a .709 on-base plus slugging percentage since the Cubs traded him to Queens — though we should note he’s spent time on the injured list. He’s homered four times, and his power, wizardly slides, blazing speed and great defense have helped the Mets win multiple games in a tough month. Still, the team needs more from him if it hopes to reach the postseason.
While Baez could’ve handled all of this better, it’s no scandal. Fans want the players to perform well, while players want to be cheered. Both sides are in it together, which is why this story could soon blow over. It’s certainly not as serious as it’s being made out to be in some circles.
But the Mets are already struggling on the field and trying to find a way to escape their funk. They have enough to worry about regarding the teams on their schedule.
They didn’t need another distraction.
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