2002-07-06 / Sports

Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Sequel?

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

The New York Mets came into the season with soaring expectations and a bloated payroll, stemming from a wild spree in which they filled the roster with big-name players who boasted any number of All-Star credentials to their resume.

Somewhere along the line, things went terribly wrong. The players failed to produce to the quality of their career track records, the team floundered in the National League East and the Mets’ time on the back (and sometimes front) page of the newspapers was purely for the wrong reasons.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the "Worst Team Money Could Buy", that rag-tag bunch of millionaires whose 1992 and 1993 seasons was highlighted by Bobby Bonilla wearing ear-plugs, Vince Coleman tossing firecrackers, Bret Saberhagen spraying reporters with bleach and losing – lots of losing.

Beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper teamed to author a successful 281-page book after the 1993 season, detailing the exploits of that wildly disappointing club, and any reporter issued a season credential to cover the Mets this year would be well-served to begin taking in-depth notes, quickly.

The Mets are now past the halfway mark in the season, having completed game No. 81 in lackluster fashion with a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday evening to drop the club a game below .500 at 40-41.

Looking over his $102 million payroll and its mediocre results, Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon must be tearing his hair out – that is, if he’s not distracted by fellow co-owner Nelson Doubleday’s vows to take him to court over the pending sale of the club.

That’s just one of the scandals that has popped up over the last ten days or so surrounding the Mets, surely a sign of a franchise headed nowhere in particular this summer.

"This year, there’s definitely been a lot of ‘left field’ stuff unrelated to baseball," manager Bobby Valentine agreed, later going on to say that the players had brought "some of it" upon themselves.

Last week, rookie relief pitcher Mark Corey collapsed and had a seizure in front of his Queens hotel after lighting up some marijuana with outfielder Tony Tarasco after a loss to the Atlanta Braves, an event the New York Post saw fit to splash on their front page with the blaring headline "Gone To Pot".

That teamed up nicely with an attributed quote in the New York Times, who reported that infielder Roberto Alomar had told friends on another team that he was looking forward to his next assignment after the Mets. Other media reports had Alomar whining about the length of the grass at Shea Stadium, saying that it negatively impacted his ability to bunt for base hits. Here’s a tip, Robbie. Swing the bat.

Alomar has been pretty good about not showing any emotion in clubhouse interviews or in his appearance as he battles a hitting slump that sees him hovering roughly 40 points below his career average.

Despite that, his unhappiness in New York might have shone through last week, when he engaged in a heated shouting match during pre-game ceremonies with outfielder Roger Cedeno. The pair probably would have come to blows in the Mets’ dugout if not for the mediating presence of hulking Mo Vaughn.

The spark for the dispute? Depending on which dugout source you believe, it was either about the photograph on Alomar’s 1988 Donruss rookie card or a game of dominoes played in the Mets clubhouse. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Toss into the equation that closer Armando Benitez reportedly threw a temper tantrum in the Mets’ clubhouse last Thursday when he learned that rookie call-up Jamie Cerda – summoned from Norfolk to take Corey’s roster spot after the pot-smoking incident – would be issued an adjacent locker.

Several of the Mets’ star players – Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, Alomar – are issued double lockers for overflow of their personal items and fan mail, and Benitez saw it as a sign of disrespect that the Mets would have the audacity to house a freshman hurler in his storage space. According to sources, he chewed out a clubhouse boy and even threatened not to pitch that night if called upon, a scenario that was rendered meaningless by the fact that the game was called after three innings due to rain.

Yes, the New York Metropolitans have officially become a circus, which in itself is not a bad thing. The Yankees of the late 1970’s were a wild bunch of hard-drinking, bar-fighting animals – heck, pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson even saw fit to swap wives, families and dogs in the middle of one season.

The difference is, of course, that the Yankees were winning in those disco years (much as they are now) and the Mets are not. When you’re tearing up the division, you can do whatever you please and be considered colorful for it.

"Over the last few years, off-field issues have seemed to motivate us at times," general manager Steve Phillips pointed out, later admitting that he was "just trying to put out the fire dú jour" hours before Jeff D’Amico and the Mets stepped up as the sacrificial lambs dú jour at Yankee Stadium.

Yes, off-field issues can serve their purpose in motivating a ballclub. But until it translates into victories and a climb up the NL East flagpole, the Mets will continue to be considered the losers in New York.

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