Mailbag: Plenty of fondness for '08

Mailbag: Plenty of fondness for '08

Erase the memories of 2008? Why would I want to do that? I have some particularly good ones.

The ending to the Mets' season was not even remotely similar to last year's, other than the club fighting until the last day. This team played most of the year with one legit outfielder, most of the season without a second baseman, with a short rotation and without a closer for the last month-plus. The Mets showed heart and dignity and continued to prove to me, the fan, why I'm proud to say I am a Mets fan.

I know that there were things I certainly will not forget from 2008 -- and don't wish to, either -- just as I was reminded of good and bad when all the legends of Shea Stadium came out to pay tribute to the ballpark. We both know that of those 45 years, many were forgettable, but yet, in part it is what makes it great, too.
-- Kay E., no address provided

Great letter. Your mention of "Erase the memories of 2008" probably is in response to something I wrote immediately after the season when I had to talk scores of e-mailers off the ledge. The vast majority of the e-mails I received then and since are nasty and full of anger, disappointment, blame and suggestions -- most of them based in fantasy -- on how to fix the Mets. Yours may be one of a dozen to express appreciation for what they did accomplish.

I have written and said the Mets underachieved under Willie Randolph and overachieved under Jerry Manuel. That they survived until the final days with that dysfunctional bullpen was a miracle. But I think most of their public recognized little of that. That is the only conclusion I can draw from the letters I've received.

Somewhere along the line, too many baseball fans have assumed a talk-radio mentality -- nothing short of ultimate success is acceptable anymore. It has affected all of us -- players, management and the media that covers team on a daily basis. Perhaps the Rays' run will have a positive effect in that regard. Theirs was a season of remarkable accomplishment that fell short. They went considerably further than the Mets, so it's understandable that their fan base isn't nearly so angry as the Mets' about what wasn't accomplished.

But a lesson lies in their reaction: appreciate what is achieved. The Mets of 1973, '85, '87, '88, '98, '99 and 2000 also fell short and weren't forever condemned. But the shortfalls of the past three seasons haven't met with nearly as much understanding. In much the same way that Carlos Beltran's last-out strikeout was overanalyzed and condemned in 2006, e-mail writers have blasted David Wright for one ill-conceived swing in September. He drove in 124 runs and scored 115, for goodness sake. One swing shouldn't define his '08 season. But the e-mails about him and the team are routinely negative. Some are vicious.

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Disappointment has its place. But the 4-2 loss on the final day shouldn't obscure Johan Santana's three-hitter the previous day. I appreciate your e-mail. Enjoy your 2009.

I read with some interest recent comments attributed to former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick in which he suggested Philadelphia had benefited from other teams' hatred of the Mets and that teams often were angered by the Mets celebrating in the dugout before a game was complete.

Is this really the case? I don't get to see many games, but when I do, everyone seems professional. Sure, Jose Reyes is animated constantly, but that is his way. And is it different from the constant fist pumping and berserk yells from Brad Lidge and Brett Myers of the Phillies and Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels? Do the A's hate the Angels for the same reason? I enjoy your mailbag very much (even all the way over here in England). Thanks.
-- Delzeil C., London, England

I can't speak to the A's reactions to the Angels, but I know many players are offended by what the Mets do. Their response may be manufactured -- motivation is where you find it -- but there are some players who genuinely are insulted by what the Mets and players from other teams do.

Your e-mail arrived shortly I spoke with Damion Easley, a Met for two seasons, about that topic. His take was this: "When you're the better team and you celebrate every little hit and home run, other teams don't like that." And he acknowledged that "I probably saw some more intensity" from Mets opponents who had been offended by the celebrating. He also said "Jose has to be himself. If that's what he needs to do to get more out of himself, then he should do it. But there's backlash to that. He has to understand there's a consequence to it."

A cause-and-effect relationship existed in the final weekend of the 2007 season. The Marlins were quite offended by the Mets' on-field dancing in a lopsided game on the next to the last day of the season. They thought the behavior of the Mets suggested they were presuming they'd won the division even though another victory was necessary.

The antics of Lastings Milledge were particularly offensive to the Marlins. At one point in the Saturday game, Milledge and a teammate were celebrating within 15 feet of the plate. The Mets players later addressed that with Milledge, and Randolph was uncomfortable with his behavior. The Marlins were far more motivated the following day than any last-place team should be in Game 162.

Though the Mets players dismissed any cause-and-effect connection between the dancing and the Marlins' inspired play in the Sunday game, Reyes came to Spring Training intent on being more reserved. The Mets seemingly learned from that experience. Reyes was less animated early on the 2008 season. Then Beltran and Carlos Delgado urged him to "be himself." The Mets danced -- probably not much more than most teams -- and opponents took offense.

As Easley said, consequences exist. The Mets didn't learn from the final weekend of 2007. The Marlins were chirping in mid-September of '08, saying how they intended to knock the Mets out of it again in the final series. Some of that had to do with Mike Pelfrey having hit Cody Ross with a pitch in August. Clearly, the Marlins harbor a dislike greater for the Mets than most teams have for most opponents.

The Mets can say the Marlins or other teams are too sensitive or that they are not the only team that celebrates or that Reyes must be himself. But it does seem they are fueling the fire. They have missed the postseason by one and two games the past two seasons. Opponents' animosity toward them might have been a motivating factor in one or two games -- or many more, as Gillick suggested.

I'm not quite sure what the benefit of in-game, on-the-field celebrating is. No team likes having its nose rubbed in it. Ron Darling always made a point of saying how he appreciated Dale Murphy rounding the bases with his head down on a home run trot. I never saw Mickey Mantle do anything except run -- or limp -- when he hit one. But the Terrell Owens' effect is throughout the game now.

Perhaps the Mets would have more to celebrate after 162 games if they were more Murphy and less Owens during those games.

With inconsistent run production, a riddled bullpen and a hole or two in their rotation, do the Mets have a realistic chance of improving in all these areas and competing in the National League East in 2009?
-- Richard Z., Albany, N.Y.

The greatest need is pitching -- starters and relievers. The Mets' sights appear set on Brian Fuentes to be the successor to Billy Wagner. And if Oliver Perez signs elsewhere, they will have to import two starters. Those additions are essential, and the cost of doing business in those areas might make the addition of a second baseman -- read Orlando Hudson -- more of an issue. Trading Luis Castillo seemingly would facilitate the Mets' pursuit of Hudson, but chances are they would have to assume some responsibility for Castillo's contract if a taker were found.

I sense the club believes its offensive shortfall can be addressed with the addition of Hudson as the lone roster revision. The Mets can assume Ryan Church will have a full season. And their re-signing Fernando Tatis and exercising their option of Delgado's contract suggest they expect offensive contributions from each player. Then, "normal" production by Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Brian Schneider and additions to the bench would suffice.

Addressing the offense fits in one paragraph, but adding starters with seven-inning resumes and assembling a bullpen that requires fewer changes of pitcher will have greater impact.

I just read that Daniel Murphy is playing second base primarily in the Arizona Fall League, apparently to learn the position. I also just read that the Mets plan to have him platoon in left with Tatis. Why then is he not playing the outfield to learn more about that position?
-- Stephanie H., Powhatan, Va.

When the club made arrangements for Murphy to play with the Peoria Sagouros in July, it was as a second baseman. He hasn't played much of any position lately because of a hand injury. But the plan is for him to share left field with Tatis next season.

A friend and I came up with an idea of bringing Pedro Martinez back as closer, similar to what the Braves have done with John Smoltz a couple of times. Our question was picked up by Metsblog, and the responses suggested not many people think it's a good idea. What's your take?
-- Jacobo C., Mexico City

Even if Martinez still had velocity and strikeout stuff, his inability to warm up quickly would make him a poor fit for closer. His problems in the first inning serve as a red flag for any such notion.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.