Mets are a national punch line

Charlie Manuel likes to remind people to watch the game. He says you can learn a lot that way.

I was watching the Phils hammer the Astros when an out-of-town score popped up on the screen. The Mets were up big against the Marlins. Manuel was right about learning something. I learned that the Mets still play baseball. They have not disbanded. Wild.

In advance of their trip to Philly this week, Bob Brookover wrote a column for The Inquirer about how the rivalry between the two teams isn't really a rivalry at all since one of the clubs is good and the other club is the Mets. He was right about that. Even though the Mets crushed Cole Hamels - incidentally, was the booing such a big deal that we had to spend the entire next day addressing it? - they probably don't pose much of a threat to the Phils this season.

Thankfully, actual on-field competition - or, rather, the lack thereof - between the two teams has never hindered the fan base here from hating the Mets or their fans. That's always been the main draw when the (not-so) Amazin's play the Fightin's. The Mets don't have to be good or even mediocre for you to loathe them and delight in their misery. If anything, curb- stomping them while they're down is just as enjoyable - if not more so. And here's the best part: Philadelphians aren't the only ones doing it now. Taking shots at the Mets is fashionable just about everywhere these days - especially in New York.

And why not? The last year or so has been particularly ugly for the Mets. The team's owners were smacked with a lawsuit related to Ponzi scheme swindler Bernie Madoff. The franchise was so hard up for cash for a while that it had to borrow millions of dollars to keep the sinking operation from going completely under.

While all that was happening, the front office was searching for a new minority partner to join the organization and, more important, direct-deposit hefty sums of money into the Mets' emaciated piggy bank. Charlie Sheen was rumored to be a potential candidate, but that union never happened. I suspect Sheen didn't want to be part of such a messy and embarrassing public meltdown.

It probably shouldn't surprise anyone that the Mets are having financial problems. They've spent their money recklessly, like a drunken college kid who lifted daddy's credit card when he wasn't looking. ( summed up the Mets' misfortunes with a brilliant T-shirt: "M_TS. Can't buy a vowel.") Johan Santana and his shredded shoulder are owed more than $77 million between now and the 2014 season - not such a hot rate of return for the Mets since he just had surgery and no one knows when (or if) he'll return. Jason Bay is also convalescing - likely on a lopsided mattress stuffed with the $66 million the Mets promised to pay him over the life of his four-year deal. The injured outfielder played in just 95 games last year and is on the disabled list again this season.

Which brings us back to the principal point: The Mets have become a running joke in a never-ending communal comedy routine. Everyone wants in on the gag. It's almost easier now to identify the people who don't laugh at (not with) them. Jon Stewart regularly mocks the Mets on The Daily Show, and Chris Rock used a recent appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman to skewer the club.

"I'm a Met fan," Rock said. "My team's broke, Dave. Some teams don't have a cleanup hitter. Some teams don't have a closer or a good pitcher. My team has no money, Dave.

"They don't have tickets no more, Dave. No more tickets. Tickets cost money. They're on paper. They have no paper. You show up, and a dog licks your hand and you show the spit . . . This year, second base is a manhole cover - for the whole year. The Yankees got bat day. The Mets got bring a bat day: Here you go, Jose Reyes."

Even the Mets television partner has piled on. When the season opened in New York, someone working for SNY, the Mets network, played a clip from Family Guy. The bit showed Stewie the baby sitting at a Mets game. Then an announcer said "Opening day and here's the first pitch . . . and the season's over."

Viewers heard only the first part. The game sound returned shortly before the line about the season being over was delivered. But since Family Guy is a popular show, people got the gist. The prank became a story almost instantly, and SNY was forced to address it. A spokesman for the network told the New York Times that it was "a very poor decision by an individual employee and the matter is being dealt with internally."

The spokesman declined to identify the joker or disclose the potential discipline. That's fine. Sources familiar with how the Mets operate revealed the punishment to Page 2: Team owners will likely hold the employee upside down and shake him until loose change falls from his pockets.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or

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