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The Misery of the Mets

Matt Harvey is suspended and seemingly everyone else is hurt. The team isn’t technically out of the race yet, but it’s getting harder and harder for fans to keep believing.

(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)

As my goggle-clad toddler splashed around in his Baby Bears swim class at our local rec center on Sunday morning, I sat poolside and Googled matt harvey dildo on my phone. This semi-distracted query was neither an autocorrect error nor a clandestine hunt for niche online fanfic about doomed, broody MLB pitchers. It was a genuinely earnest attempt to figure out what the heck was the latest in New York Mets news.

I hadn’t been online much in the past day. My son spent most of Saturday teething and shrieking, the little nubs in his mouth making him look like Gollum. That morning a speeding car somewhere in the neighborhood had swerved off the road, taken out a utility pole, and knocked out our power for a while. I was reduced to idling in my own car in the driveway, the only place to charge a phone, streaming a constantly buffering radio feed of the New York Rangers blowing a(nother) playoff game. Keeping up with a Mets-Marlins series between two sub-.500 teams wasn’t high on my priority list.

Living on the West Coast, I’m used to the daily morning routine of waking up and trying to reverse-engineer the day’s top stories through the study of a dissembled assortment of topical, cryptic tweets. The Pacific time zone has a way of turning a person into a human version of that “now to take a big sip of coffee and check Twitter …” joke. I can sense that the royal family has gone and done something, I might think to myself on a typical morning as I make the rounds on social media, and this sudden uptick in subtweets about Elon Musk requires my further review. And as I took sips of my snack-bar coffee and checked Twitter from the pool deck on Sunday morning, it slowly began to dawn on me, final scene of The Usual Suspects style, exactly how much I had missed:

  • Yet another Met (Asdrúbal Cabrera, again) was felled by injury (not his “damn hamstring” this time, but his thumb);
  • The man who was once the Mets’ ace pitcher and perceived only hope, Matt Harvey, was mysteriously sanctioned by the team, receiving a three-day-sans-pay suspension on Sunday morning when he arrived at Citi Field on his scheduled day to pitch.

That’s in chronological order. That all went down in a span of roughly 36 hours. That’s so Mets, as they say.

When the news about Harvey’s suspension was first announced hours before Sunday’s Mets-Marlins game, it was in signature Mets style: ominously and with scant detail. With the team refusing to elaborate on much of anything, it was left mostly to fans to figure things out, a space that launched a thousand quips.

Many fans connected the dots and determined, with varying degrees of seriousness, that Harvey’s punishment must relate to the rogue clubhouse wang. (I was admittedly disappointed, when I Googled, to find that the dildo tweets weren’t referring to, like, some Dark Knight–branded sex toy being hocked by an enterprising vendor outside Citi Field.) It didn’t take long before more information emerged via shadowy leaks to the media that absolved and implicated Harvey all at once. “I went to J school so I could tweet this,” wrote Newsday’s Marc Carig. “I’m told Matt Harvey’s suspension is not related to the sex toy fiasco from the other day.” Ken Rosenthal later reported that a migraine and a miscommunication had led to Harvey essentially ghosting on his team and failing to show up for Saturday’s game. Jon Heyman added that the day’s events also involved a round of golf.

There are plenty of other franchises in sports that operate with all the clownish pomp of a circus, but the Mets can reliably be counted upon to have the most freakish, and frequent, sideshows. Team ownership was involved with Bernie Madoff. Somewhere an old crone continues her successful assault on a Mets pitching staff voodoo doll. Even during the recent best of times, there has always been something ridiculous going on, whether it be Wilmer Flores’s beautiful tears or Chase Utley’s ugly slide or Bartolo Colón existing or any number of ongoing situations involving Harvey. (His innings limits, his traffic woes, his self-destructive insistence on “holding it” — take your pick!)

Mets fans, by necessity, have built up a pretty healthy and self-deprecating sense of humor about their weird-ass team over the years. (The Yankees and Mets are like two archetypical brothers living under one Big Apple roof: One got all the success, so the other developed all the personality.) But this year the material is growing darker, the jokes getting grimmer, less situational comedy than gallows humor, more Brechtian despair than Borscht Belt yuks.

Where there was once a deep well of pitching talent, from Harvey and Syndergaard to Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz, there is now pretty much just Jacob deGrom and a bullpen staffed by the team of lawyers currently overseeing Harvey’s grievance against the organization. Yoenis Céspedes is injured, and so is Lucas Duda, and the team’s constant bungling of injury management has made matters only more widespread, and worse. When the Mets’ Twitter account isn’t busy delivering quivering phalli directly to your feed, it is sliding into DMs with yo momma jokes. Colón is now an Atlanta Brave. Tim Tebow is annoyingly ripping dingers for the Mets’ Single-A affiliate. Flores narrowly avoided surgery when a scary knee infection spread up and down his leg. Over in the Bronx, the damn Yankees are the toast of the town and the glorious future of baseball. And looming over all of this are the domestic violence charges that were levied against two Mets: José Reyes in October 2015 when he was with the Colorado Rockies, and Jeurys Familia a year later. Both players served MLB suspensions, and both charges were ultimately dropped, but their presence remains a constant, ugly reminder of the general moral dilemma of blind devotion to athletes and sports.

It’s only May, but the season feels like it has already lasted a lifetime. It’s only May, but the season feels like it might already be done.

The season is not done, of course; despite one setback after another, the Mets are hanging in there at 14–16, good for second place in a weak NL East (albeit already 6.5 games behind the division-leading Nationals). Back in 2015, they played near-.500 baseball pretty much all the way through July before surging to first place with a strong second half and making it all the way to the World Series.

But that feels different, and long ago. The Mets went into that season mostly looking to ease back to some sort of normalcy following Harvey’s return from a 2014 season lost to Tommy John surgery, and to finally check out the potential of their young, exciting starting rotation; the rest turned out to be gravy. Even after the young hotshot Zack Wheeler’s long-awaited return was nixed, deGrom was there to ascend suddenly to All-Star status. Getting Céspedes at the trade deadline was a pleasant surprise. If the high-rolling Mets were playing with house money that season, this year’s team is in line for the 4 a.m. drunk bus from Atlantic City back to New York, broke and broken, hollering to anyone who will listen about how he coulda been somebody, how he almost made it big.

The Mets were supposed to be somebody this season, too. Just a little more than a month ago, Harvey was once again returning to the lineup, this time after having a rib removed last season during surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. (I would truly love to meet the woman whom God created from that, uh, bone.) There was no way Jay Bruce’s slump from last year could continue. Wheeler was finally coming back, for realsies this time. Céspedes was re-signed. I so looked forward to lots of GaryKeithRon on my TV over the next few months, merrily calling Thor fastballs and short-lived David Wright comebacks and unexpected Travis d’Arnaud home runs.

Instead, the team’s glorious future seemingly has been torn up in front of our eyes, while the organization’s relationship with one of its finest talents resembles a spec script for a future season of Feud. Harvey is far from blameless here, to be clear; throughout his short-long (shlong?!) career in New York, he has butted heads with the team and the town enough times that perhaps he may want to look inward. But that doesn’t excuse the Mets’ public pettiness, or the self-sabotage the organization routinely chooses to commit rather than acting with an ounce of discretion.

I’ve gone through a lot with the New York Metropolitans over the years, but the “ignoring your child’s early aquatic development while Googling to find out what may have gone down with your star pitcher and a dildo” stage of the season really snuck up on me quick. What was supposed to be a long, delightful baseball season has turned into an endless bummer instead.