Yesterday’s press conference celebrating the 50th anniversary celebrations by the New York Mets seemed to produce two disparate reactions. On the one hand, Shannon Shark, who has been a forceful advocate for fan-friendly gestures like a return of Banner Day and eliminating black as a team color, wrote eloquently about what the day meant to him. On the other, Steve Popper wrote a detailed column speculating that such moves might not make up for the recent mistakes of the team in the eyes of the fan base at large, or ameliorate the decision to cut salary. And many on Twitter criticized both Popper’s column and the opening question of Richard Sandomir of The New York Times, who asked about how this initiative fit with the overall difficulties of the franchise.
From my perspective, yesterday was an example of the Mets getting something small right- honoring their history in a comprehensive way- that they have repeatedly gotten wrong in recent years. But the idea that Steve Popper shouldn’t have written what he wrote, or that Richard Sandomir shouldn’t have asked what he asked, strikes me as ridiculous.
Let’s be realistic: it is hard to imagine the Mets coming to this entirely sensible point in less dire financial circumstances. These are good ideas, born of desperation. And so discussing how those ideas ultimately affect the team’s bottom line is not just providing his readers with broader context, it is fundamentally the story for the primary actor here, the New York Mets. The team needs money, and discussing exactly how that move will play with the people who can provide them with that money- the fans- is a vital part of reporting. If Popper sounds skeptical that it will work, well, that seems perfectly reasonable to me.
As for Sandomir’s question: sorry, but when the team ducks any accountability with the media on the record for weeks, then finally makes Dave Howard available, he’s going to get questions about more than just the topic at hand. To pretend otherwise is no different than the old politician trick of avoiding questions about a scandal for weeks, showing up at a charitable event for children, and feigning shock or outrage that a reporter is ignoring the plight of the children by asking about the scandal. If the Mets had wanted the focus on just the celebration, they could have been more forthcoming about the current financial plight. Even in his response, Howard seemed unaware of the fact that whenever he claims that the team doesn’t have any problems, people tune out anything else he might say. When you stand in a rainstorm and refuse to acknowledge you are wet, no one believes you when you say it will be sunny tomorrow.
So by all means: report about the anniversary festivities. A press corps that didn’t report such things as the bobblehead to commemorate each decade (Tom Seaver is first, 1962-1972- my nominees for the remaining decades would be Dave Kingman, 1972-1982, Darryl Strawberry, 1982-1992, Mike Piazza, 1992-2002 and Jose Reyes, 2002-2012), the new uniforms, and the other fan-friendly moves wouldn’t be doing its job.
But the reporters did that. And failing to put the day in broader context, or ask important questions about that context, would mean reporters weren’t doing their jobs, either.