Baseball, I would argue, passes judgement more than any other sport. It’s simple arithmetic, really. Even a great ballclub is going to lose around 60 or so games in a season. That’s 60 different opportunities to analyze, to figure out what went wrong, to figure out who screwed up. The NBA and NHL seasons, and drafts, are now in the rear-view mirror, and so we focus much of our summer on figuring out what our favorite MLB teams are doing wrong. It’s just the nature of the thing.
Right now, the New York Mets are deep in the thick of that process, thanks largely to the fact that their season began with hope, optimism, and a place atop the division for the first time in years. But they’ve now lost nine of their last thirteen games, scoring just 22 runs in that span. On the heels of back-to-back shutout losses to the Cubs, everybody’s looking for someone to hold accountable. And Lord knows there’s no shortage of candidates.
You can blame the hitters who haven’t hit (Michael Cuddyer, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares; you can take your pick). You can blame the manager, Terry Collins (and once again the sharks are circling, unsurprising given the prevailing narrative that 2015 was a “make or break” year for him). You can blame GM Sandy Alderson, who, most everyone agrees, sent this team into the season with a tissue-thin lineup, and hasn’t added any offensive help. (Last week, Alderson told reporters at Citi Field that thanks to a still developing trade market, “At least for the time being … we need to get the job done with what we have.”) You can also blame the baseball gods, because there’s little question that injuries to David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, and Daniel Murphy have been major blows to an already limited lineup.
So yes, there’s no shortage of targets, and none of it is entirely unfair. Everyone is well compensated, everyone understands the pressures, and everyone is accountable when things go sour. Well, almost everyone. Because as the negativity continues to build in Queens, it’s easy to lose sight of one important, fundamental fact. Right now, this is a baseball team in the biggest market in the majors, with a payroll befitting a small-market club.
According to Spotrac, the Mets have a payroll around $103 Million, ranking them 21st in Major League Baseball, between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves.
Debate has long raged about how much Wilpon knew, and how much he should have known, of Madoff’s misdealings. Such questions are obviously important, when it comes to legal culpability, settlements with trustees, etc. But in assigning guilt for the Mets’ payroll plight, they’re ultimately irrelevant. Whether Wilpon was a clueless sucker or a savvy shark, the result is the same. Thanks to his decisions as owner, the Mets have spent the last six years digging themselves out of a fiscal sinkhole, with few understanding how deep it truly goes.
And so, the story continues, same as it ever was, in our ownership economy. If the Mets continue to struggle, there will undoubtedly be consequences, eventually, for the players, for Collins, for Alderson. But, despite a series of massive mistakes that have fundamentally hurt the team’s competitiveness, there will likely be no consequences for Fred Wilpon. Is this fair? Of course not. But as we continue, inevitably, to dole out blame in the weeks and months ahead, it’s worth remembering that yes, there’s plenty of it to go around, but no, not everyone is forced to shoulder their fair share.