Tuesday, February 20, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: Welcome to the Mets, Charlie Brown

Yours truly and son Matt at Citi Field. Photo by Joe Phalon, 8/2023.

The regular reader(s) of this space may already know I am a Mets fan. Not a baseball fan, a Mets fan.

My attention span with Major League Baseball each year ends when the Mets fall into the abyss, which sometimes is as early as January.

But each year I come back. Every spring I go through my Charlie Brown ritual. I’m Charlie Brown in this scenario. Lucy sets up the football for me to kick. Lucy is the Mets in this scenario. You are probably familiar with this storyline.

For years, Lucy would offer to hold a football for Charlie Brown to kick. Each time she promises she won’t pull it away. Charlie Brown doesn’t trust Lucy to keep her word. Nevertheless, each time tells himself that this time it’s going to be different. This time Lucy will let me kick it.

And against his better judgment he starts running toward the ball. Inevitably Lucy pulls the football away, and Charlie Brown cartwheels into the air shouting “AAUGH!” and landing on his back.

This is immediately followed by a sardonic, philosophical remark from Lucy usually something along the lines of “It was your fault for falling for it. Again.”

My own particular run toward Lucy and the football is drawn out much longer, beginning in early spring, with the football being pulled away by the end of April or sometimes as late as the very last game of the regular season.

In 2022, that run went the whole year with Lucy not pulling the ball away until the Mets fell out of first place in their final game of the season. Other years Mets fans were kicking the air by May.

This year is different. This year Lucy simply walked away from the ball, leaving it lying in the grass beneath the summer sun with Mets wondering what the hell happened.

Steve Cohen, who plays Lucy in our little drama, liberated the Mets from the much-maligned Wilpon Clan in 2020. The Wilpons had lost a lot of money in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, and armchair economists believed they were not willing or able to go for big-ticket players.

Then came Uncle Steve, as he’s come to be known. Steve Cohen is a billionaire many times over, making his fortune as a hedge fund manager. If you’re not sure what hedge fund managers do, they move money around. They pick it up one place, then they move it to another place, pocketing a commission on every move.

Cohen promised to move some of that money into the pockets of free agents. And he delivered.

Before the 2023 season he committed more than $800 million toward nine players, including pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (more on them in a moment).

That included $315 million to shortstop Carlos Correa, a deal scuttled after his pre-trade physical. We loved Uncle Steve! He was very attuned to what the fans wanted. He hung out with fans like a regular guy.

He was the opposite of late Yankee Owner George Steinbenner, who fans loved to hate. The Anti-George, if you will.

Then it all fell apart this year. Scherzer and Verlander were but a shadow of what they once were. Slugger Pete Alonso has more than 30 home runs this year but he has a batting average hovering near .200. And when it comes to losing, the Mets are innovators. Last week they invented the “walk-off balk.”

So why is this year any different from all the others, you might ask?

This year we believed. For real. And if it turned out the team just stunk, we could deal with that. It takes character to be a Mets fan.

What’s different this year is the surrender. Selling off Verlander and Scherzer, among others, with Scherzer saying on the way out that he was told the Mets are getting set up for the 2026 season. The 2023 season is over, and the next two might as well be minor league.

There won’t even be a football to kick for at least two years while the Mets “rebuild.” Uncle Steve’s honeymoon has been pretty short.

And all I can say is “AAUGH!”

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.