There may not be another team in professional sports that knows how to make headlines like the New York Mets. Even when the team is irrelevant in the standings, it somehow finds a way to dominate news cycles.
The myriad off-field issues and disastrous on-field performances were supposed to be a thing of the past now that the Wilpon family no longer owns the team. The first year of the Steve Cohen era was supposed to be a success. The team and its fans had World Series aspirations.
Instead, with just a little over a month left to play in the season, the Mets are 5.5 games back in the NL wild-card race and feuding with their own fans.
Less than 24 hours after some of the most high-profile and highest-paid members of the team attempted to smooth things over for their thumbs-down controversy, acting general manager Zack Scott was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated. The New York Post reported that Scott was found sleeping in his car in White Plains, New York, at 4:17 a.m. Earlier in the night he had been at a team function at Cohen's house, but according to Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News, Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson were "blindsided" by the news.
Alderson has a particular phrase he has long liked to use: bad optics.
This whole season has been nothing but bad optics. Before the season started, the club had to fire its new general manager, Jared Porter, after he admitted to sexually harassing a female reporter while a member of the Chicago Cubs front office.
Then came the sexual harassment allegations toward former manager Mickey Callaway. According to The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang, Callaway sent inappropriate photographs and unsolicited messages to "at least five women who work in sports media" over a five-year span. The entire front office was subjected to a culture review by a Cohen-chosen firm.
The product on the field delighted fans for much of the first half, but when they fell out of first place around the trade deadline, few were shocked. The Mets, having fired hitting coach Chili Davis early in the season, have been one of the worst offensive teams in baseball all season.
Anytime anyone has tried to point out the deficiencies on the field, the players have gone on the defensive insisting that they are owed nothing but positivity. Marcus Stroman went after two beat reporters for framing the Mets in what he considered to be a negative light. Star first baseman Pete Alonso told fans to "just smile." Manager Luis Rojas has seemed all too eager to placate his team with more of the excessive positivity each time they lose a game.
Where is this attitude coming from? Who are the Mets to demand this kind of adulation?
And why is it that the Mets seem to find controversy and blow it up in ways that no other team can? For years, the Wilpons wanted to wrest the New York City spotlight away from the New York Yankees. Cohen wanted to be the East Coast Dodgers.
This isn't how you do it.
This is a result of what happens at the top. Sure, this might have started with the Wilpons and the culture that they let fester underneath them with their ham-handed management and their "little brother" syndrome, but it's becoming necessary to question the culture under Cohen.
Rarely does ownership like to be questioned. Wealthy businessmen tend to be wealthy because of success. They're good at real estate or finance and, oftentimes, they're self-made. So when one of their larger business acquisitions doesn't perform well—like a baseball team—they don't like their failures questioned.
But much like financiers, fans want to know what they're investing in when it comes to their sports teams. They make decisions on season tickets, merchandise and possibly even charitable donations based on the relative successes of the team and the belief that the team will find success in the near future.
Cohen has proved to be exceptionally sensitive to criticism during his tenure as the owner of his childhood team. He's not used to reporters being outside of his Connecticut or New York City offices questioning the deals he made throughout the day. Sure, he might have to deal with financial reporters, but it's a much different scale than sports media.
Remember the GameStop debacle? It's hard to keep up with all of the controversies from this calendar year alone, but that was an early one and probably an early indicator that Cohen is a bit touchy.
So if Cohen is, then it's only natural the players might be too. And under Alderson's management this has not been an uncommon occurrence. The star players—pitchers especially—have always been coddled. In 2017, Noah Syndergaard needed an MRI for a shoulder and he flat-out refused it. Alderson told reporters at the time that he couldn't "strap him down and throw him in the tube." Syndergaard exited his next start in the first inning with a torn lat and was out for much of the season.
This came at the cost of the role players the Mets struggled to develop. Former Mets players will regale you with tales of Alderson calling them by the wrong names and being forced to pitch with dead arms. They called up players too quickly and stunted their development, but never gave them the tools to get better.
The Mets' tendency to hang on to their prospects for too long isn't unique; the team fears they will reach their full potential with other organizations. But if so many of them are able to figure it out away from Flushing, then maybe it's time for the Mets to reexamine their own processes and personnel.
There needs to be a remodeling in Queens. And it starts with Cohen, who has to understand that not everyone is going to love his baseball team the way he does.
Keeping Alderson, Scott and even some members of the front office leftover from the previous regime is ill-advised. I and many others have written about how detrimental it can be to continue hiring from the same boys' club pool of candidates. There are more diverse pipelines to explore in order to find baseball operations candidates.
Take a chance and hire outside of the box. Hire someone like Yankees' minor league hitting coach Rachel Balkovec in some capacity. Hire longtime former MLB executive Sylvia Lind. Find personnel who won't need to clean up messes because they will prevent things from getting messy in the first place. Diversity of personnel breeds diversity of thought, and the Mets could use some fresh perspectives.
It's not like Scott has shown to have tremendous GM chops. He did little at the trade deadline to fortify the roster and instead banked on the bats getting better and Jacob deGrom making a return. None of that happened.
He was so focused on the team chemistry that he neglected to find any leaders. You can bet the thumbs down never would have happened if David Wright was still around.
So, now it's on Cohen to be the leader. It takes time to truly change a culture, but it also takes commitment. He can lead by hiring a leader and stepping out of the way, or he can lead by example. But he can't let things continue down this exasperating and embarrassing path.