After another humiliating loss to wrap up May dropped the scuffling New York Mets back to five games below .500, thoughts immediately turned to the club's notorious twin collapses of 2007 and again in 2008, which hastened the demise of a promising mid-aughts run. Over the ensuing decade, Mr. Met has grown more antiquated, an emblem of optimism incongruous with the team's foibles, which were typified by the sight of ace Jacob deGrom sulking off the mound after giving up seven runs to Milwaukee. As the crosstown rival Yankees ended a second consecutive month in first place, relishing in the fruits of home-grown talent like Aaron Judge, Mets fans recoiled at how precisely the double zero on their mascot’s jersey seemed to yet again sum up a franchise's status.
But last night, something, well, Amazin' happened. Despondent and perhaps dehydrated after summoning nine innings of enthusiasm in vain against Milwaukee, Mr. Met broke the fourth wall of team cheerleading etiquette and beat back hecklers with a plus-sized flip of his white-gloved middle finger. The gesture instantly went viral, and was still among top national trends on social media the morning after, even finding common ground with the week's most sensational political controversy. Further assuring infamy, the Mets issued an immediate apology and confirmation that the individual amping up the crowd that evening would no longer get the privilege of parading around Citi Field with an oversized baseball on their head.
As a Mets fan, I think I speak for generations of Flushing faithful, however, when I confess that I'd rarely felt more rewarded for my lifelong commitment to a constantly derided franchise (one which, I'll remind folks, can claim more World Series titles than the Astros, Mariners, Padres, Angels, Rockies, Rays, Nationals/Expos and Rangers). It was an utterly un-corporate and uncontrived expression of disappointment, more genuine than any helmet toss Bryce Harper could muster and the kind of thing that our adversaries across town would condemn as opposite the "Yankee way." And for Mets fans who've idly witnessed the organization sand off its rougher edges over the past 25 years, it was like permission granted to let our freak flags (in lieu of a relative dearth of overall pennants) fly again. This is a queasy observation in light of potential parallels to our authoritarian president and his ennobled base, but Mr. Met had suddenly transformed from antiquated merchandise shill into something of a dashing and defiant leader.
The major distinction is that sports should be considered an ideal safe space for that kind of thrill. It's a sanctioned oasis for the disaffected and entitled alike to feel either disproportionately superior or fueled by under-appreciation. Settling in for the start of a 162-game baseball season is, in its purest moments, like slapping on a virtual reality headset that lets us live through the ups and downs of remote players with alien talents and temperaments as a kind of group therapy. The analogy is apt, given longstanding riffs on Mets' fans torment, right up through this apparently snake-bitten season, one replete with all the crushing injuries and tabloid drama (see: Matt Harvey's misadventures out clubbing) that's been magnified time after time by New York media, antagonistic Yankees fans and self-flagellating Mets diehards.
This is the moment Mr. Met became president pic.twitter.com/oEZqjdsovc— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) June 1, 2017
If that's the case, then consider last night's Mr. Met – whomever, and wherever, that ex-employee, may be – less our enabling cult figurehead and more a grief shaman, letting us know it's OK to make the parking-lot asphalt that once sat beneath Shea Stadium irate again. And long after that costumed gentleman who lost his cool graced Citi Field's tunnels, let the image of his single-digit salute live indelibly on T-shirts and posters alongside those of Keith Hernandez inhaling a dugout cigarette and Mookie Wilson grinning as he clutches a life-sized bottle of champagne. Mr. Met's meme-worthy lapse may have confirmed others' hunches about this team's identity, but to fans of the game, and especially those who bleed orange and blue – and even wear it in an official capacity – that middle finger was affirmation of baseball at its most maddening and affecting best.