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- Updated: March 20, 2011
Sitting in his living room watching the game he has loved since childhood, 51-year-old “T.C.” can’t help but laugh. A lifelong New Yorker and Mets fan, it has come to the point where disappointment is expected. Not only has the team missed the playoffs the last four seasons, but had an offseason from hell with the entire Wilpon-Madoff scandal.
It’s one thing when your team loses, but combine that with a shaky financial situation from ownership and that spells for a long summer in Flushing. “I’ve dealt with losing before, so that comes with the territory,” T.C. said, “but when there is absolutely no stability whatsoever from the guys at the top, then what does that say to us, the fans? But at least they’re starting to get rid of some of that dead wood on the roster.”
The conversation then began to change direction towards what has been a hot topic in the Gotham tabloids since Omar Minaya was hired as the Mets’ general manager following the 2004 season. “That’s when the team started to…how should I say it using a little political correctness? Take on a heavy Spanish flavor.”
Some folks may be offended by the mere mention of having too many of any type on a team, but let’s try to put any of those feelings aside for a moment. This has been an issue in sports for decades, even when you want to go back before integration at the pro level. So T.C. is far from the only person that has felt like this.
T.C. is white and says he has no problem with hispanic players. As a matter of fact, he cites Keith Hernandez as being one of his all-time favorites. “But they not only changed the roster when Omar was here, they also forced everything Spanish down our throats at Shea Satdium.”
When prodded, T.C. mentioned that the music played at the ballpark was “all salsa and I couldn’t understand a word in it.” He further mentioned that the team took to wearing different uniforms on occasions. “Los Mets? Are you kidding me? Throwback uniforms are one thing, but that was worse than the futuristic garb.”
The ‘Mercury Mets’ made one appearance during the 1999 campaign and they have donned the Spanish version unis occasionally as a home alternate for the past few years. The Mets also hold a number of Latino Fiesta nights at Citi Field where all the announcements are in Spanish. “I made the mistake of going to one of those games and I’ll never do it again,” T.C. added. “Why should I have no idea what is being said when I paid the same money for my ticket as someone who speaks Spanish? Call me a racist if you want, but I have no problem admitting that pisses me off.”
In fairness to T.C., he also said that any Heritage Nights have no place at a ballpark. Italian, Irish, German, etc. His attitude is that he doesn’t even enjoy it when the theme matches his background. “I’m there to watch a ballgame, not sing and dance between innings.”
Water cooler talk around the city did sometimes revolve around the amount of hispanic players on the Mets, and not only at T.C.’s place of employment. This has been an issue in the tabloids and on sports radio since the Minaya era began with the signing of Pedro Martinez that first winter. “No one that I know had any problem with that move,” said T.C. “Pedro was a great guy and brought some much-needed character to a dead franchise. Even though the injuries eventually caught up to him, he was an important piece in what became a winning ballclub.”
Minaya did put together a team that reached Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and many of those players were hispanic. “Sure, a lot of those guys Omar brought in were talented and helped the team get that far,” T.C. told us. “(Carlos) Delgado was the last true slugger the Mets have had, Duaner Sanchez was a good set-up man and Julio Franco was a good leader and bat off the bench.”
Conspicuously absent from that list was Carlos Beltran. “Never wanted him here in the first place,” T.C. said with a snarl. “The guy had one good playoff (with Houston) and then made money demands as if he were Willie Mays. Beltran tried to go to the Yankees, of all teams, the night before signing with the Mets.
“They had an efficient centerfielder in Mike Cameron and didn’t need Beltran,” he continued. “He looked at strike three in that last playoff game they were in and has been injured on and off ever since. Now he hurt his left knee while recovering from right knee surgery. Thank God he’s out of here after this season when his contract is up.”
Asked if he dislikes Beltran because he is hispanic, T.C. said firmly, “No, because he only came here for the money and hasn’t performed well enough to justify it. Do I think Omar went after him as hard as he did because he is Spanish? Yeah, I do.”
Minaya has gone on record saying that he feels more comfortable negotiating with Spanish players, so T.C.’s statement does have some validity to it. As a matter of fact, Minaya was wooing Delgado when he was a free agent using the Spanish angle and Delgado became frustrated by that. He signed with Florida but was eventually traded to New York.
Besides Beltran, there have been a few other Mets players that have been beacons for criticism and T.C. is far from the only one feeling that way. “Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez were given their contracts because they were Spanish,” he said. “An aging speedster who was losing his speed and a middle-of-the-rotation guy with a spotty track record. Anyone who knows anything about baseball saw this coming.”
What T.C. refers to is both players struggling after getting their respective present contracts, Castillo’s recent release and Perez’s likely departure after another ineffective spring. “The worst part was when Perez turned down Minaya’s first offer of $30 million over three years. No one else was banging down his door and Omar gives him $6 more. They could have signed Randy Wolf – a guy who always beat the Mets – to a much cheaper and shorter deal. But instead they give a guy with absolutely no consistency big money.”
The Mets have two other players that T.C. is frustrated with as a fan, and one just happens to be white. “David Wright and Jose Reyes have had plenty of chances to take the reins and be leaders on this team and both have either been unable or unwilling to do so. How many times has the batter before them walked and one of them swings at the first pitch, that just happens to be in the dirt? That’s just baseball ignorance and something even high school level ballplayers have more patience and sense to do.”
When it comes to Reyes, T.C. sees more problems than just being a free swinger. “Immaturity is his main trait. All of that dancin’ around and hip bumps…that’s just going to get the next batter drilled. Plus the time when he was screaming at (former manager Jerry) Manuel on the field during his first game after Willie Randolph was fired. And then the guy has the balls to not run hard on pop-ups and easy ground balls.
“Besides that, can he stay healthy for any extended period of time? You can’t keep saying that Reyes is one of your core guys you’re building around when he spends more time on the DL than on the field.”
Knowing that most people will feel anger when reading his words, T.C. is fine with that. “Listen, I’m not Osama bin Laden because I feel like this. It isn’t all Spanish players, trust me. I love (Johan) Santana and loved that move, but knew right away that (Jason) Bay was the wrong fit for this team and got way too much money.”
In T.C.’s perfect world, the Mets would have more guys like Santana and less like Bay. “The bottom line is winning and I’m not naive to that. But when a ton of money is thrown at guys who do not deserve it and they don’t perform, people such as myself will look at any other reason to boo them more and complain. I’m not the only one, believe me.”
We wanted to prove T.C.’s last challenge and had no problem finding others to back him up. A few local sports bars had more than one person see things in a similar fashion. There is definitely a sentiment from a contingent of Mets fans that feel some sort of relief that Minaya is gone and his replacement has started to get rid of the mistakes he made.
And a good portion of them pointed to the hispanic angle. These are not a bunch of teenagers we spoke to but rather grown men with families and good jobs and it sadly does not come as a total surprise with the environment we live in today. “Everyone has some hint of racism in them, even though they won’t admit it,” said T.C. “Some take it to the extreme, but most people just mutter stuff to themselves in the car or to their buddies. Omar was man enough to admit that he liked Spanish players more and I’m man enough to say that I have a problem with it. Let’s leave it at that.”
And we shall, T.C.
Photo by Bill Menzel