Nomar Garciaparra was Mr Red Sock before a post-All-Star trade to the Cubs in 2004, the season that the Beantowners finally won, but without him
The all-star break is here, which is more than halfway through the baseball season in terms of games played, but spiritually marks the end of the first half of the season, since there will be a lot of intensity packed in for teams that are in contention. The next month will basically decide who will have a chance to win it all, and who will be an also-ran. Trades will come fast and furious as teams try to get that last piece of the puzzle.
If your team really sucks, they are already out of the game. There's a reason that "June" and "swoon" are paired together so often by baseball reporters. That month typically weeds out the crappy teams that might have had a lucky start, something I feared would happen to my Mets. While they scored runs about as effectively as Comcast takes customer service calls that month, they managed to go into the all-star break on a four-game winning streak of inspired baseball. I heard the last game over the radio as I was driving into New Jersey at the end of our two-week road trip, and cursed the Mets for making me care. When your team stinks, it's easier sometimes just to write them off at this point, in order to avoid the inevitably bigger disappointments lurking in the future.
That's the way it's been for my White Sox this season, whose recent winning ways can't change my mind about their crappy performance this year. I still remember the point in mid-June where I realized that their "slow start" had gone on so long that it was now actually a "bad season." This despite the addition of several high-powered players in the off-season. It goes to show that the games have to be decided on the field. Take the Mets, for instance. Their lineup and bullpen have been so injury-prone that at times the team on the field was more fitting for the Pacific Coast rather than the National League. Team captain and public face David Wright has not played for months now. By some kind of miracle fans have practically forgotten about him and their spotty lineup in the avalanche of amazing young pitching that the Mets have put on display this year.
This now puts the Mets in a conundrum during the trade deadline that they haven't faced in years: whether to take a risk to get a needed component via trade, or to stand pat and hope things work themselves out. This is usually an agonizing thing for a hardcore fan to contemplate, something I know full well as White Sox fan. For several years before their 2005 title, they would have okay teams who played in a weak division, tempting ownership to make a move to get them over the top. Often they would make a move, and then the team would just get bad. From 2001 through 2004, the Sox had records of .500 or above, and finished in second place three times and third place once. Rooting for a team that's good enough to contend but not good enough to win is a nerve-wracking experience, especially when it happens four years in a row. It's especially bad if a team trades good players for others who fail to realize their promise. Last season the Oakland As, a team that usually stuck to its moneyball formula, decided to finally go for broke and ended up falling apart about as fast as a Gary Busey reality show. I remember back in 2001 when the Cubs picked up Fred McGriff down the stretch, and long-suffering fans rejoiced as if the solution to their woes had been found. They ended up in third place after a losing record in the second half of the season.
The Mets, also carrying forward a tradition of mediocrity, haven't had a winning season since the Bush administration. They are owned by the Wilpons, who despite having a team in the nation's biggest media market, throw around nickels like they're manhole covers. Much of this has to do with them taking a bath on the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. (They made money, but had to give over $162 million in the settlement.) As you would imagine, people who invest millions and millions of dollars in Ponzi schemes might not be the most astute and financially capable people in the world. The Mets have finally started spending money on free agents, but on over the hill, overpriced players like Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson. (Would have loved to have had them in 2009!) Originally I wanted the Mets to make a big move and even to trade one of their array of young arms to get a big bat in the lineup. Then I remembered that would probably add yet another aging slugger who was a whole lot better five years ago. Such are the anxieties when you root for a solid but not great team with a history of losing.
Of course, what if your team really and truly is completely out of it? What do you do then? What I've done is to stop following my team, and to start following baseball as a whole. I pore over the stats a few times a week, listen to more baseball podcasts, watch random games on mlb.com, and generally immerse myself in the drama of the pennant races. It's a lot more enjoyable than watching a bad team I love get crushed on a daily basis. This year I won't have that privilege, and will likely be spending the next two and a half months steeling myself for the inevitable Mets collapse. Why do I do this to myself again?