There are many species, genera, families, and phyla of sports fan. There are force-of-habit fans cheering because it has become second nature, kids cheering with the unblemished enthusiasm that only sports-crazed 11-year-olds, people on drugs, and Andrew W. K. can muster, and message-board barflies, and you can subcatergorize the latter by type of message board. You’ve got people looking for a mainstream-enough excuse to get supremely fucked up in the daytime; you've got the glowering dads in it for the bitter thrills of watching an old white coach scream with impunity at the younger, buffer, blacker men in his imperious employ; you've got lighter-hearted sorts who just want to borrow some transcendence from those players; you’ve got the weird kidults seething on hold at some Wattles and the Koosh sports talk-radio show. All of these people have at least one thing in common, which is their choice of escapism vehicle. But none of them can quite understand what it's like to be a fan of the New York Mets.
Every fan who’s spent time cheering for a losing team will say this about their experience, or something like it. Unhappy fan bases have convinced themselves they’re all different. Before it became the most successful sports town in the nation over the last decade, Boston spent generations—decades and decades of life—telling this story to itself and an increasingly exasperated nation. There are documentaries in which avuncular white men tell well-rehearsed stories about how sad they were when the Red Sox didn't win a World Series, and there are other white men who actually watch these documentaries. But Bostonians aren’t special sad snowflakes: Cleveland Browns fans, who have suffered relentlessly and without hope for generations, have turned their team's losing into a complex and miserable worldview, and Kansas City Royals fans have turned their team's failures into a pointed and pretty convincing critique of capitalist power dynamics. Everybody hurts. You get it.Mets fans are not notably smarter or dumber, more or less entitled, or even sadder than the fans of any other flailing team. There's a tendency among Mets fans to mythologize or otherwise inflate their experiences, and while that tendency is shared with fans of every other team, the New York mindset provides us with the certainty that our experiences are blazingly interesting and that others wish to hear about them. But the Mets, the institution to which they (we, if I'm being honest) have willingly yoked a portion of their emotional well-being and years of leisure hours, actually are unique.
The team itself is like many other middling-to-dicey teams—a few stars, some larger number of nonstars, a clubhouse haunted by paunchy free-agent mistakes playing out a platinum-plated string, and a future made less bleak by some promising prospects. There is both a cagey baseball man at the head of the organization and the requisite bright-young-thing moneyballers—in this case, people who actually appeared in the book Moneyball in brighter, younger days—assisting him. The strangeness emanates almost entirely from the Wilpon family, a flubby Long Island real estate dynasty in full Hapsburgian decline.There have been and are any number of awful owners in sports—the only qualification for the job is being either supremely wealthy or supremely shameless, and the two do tend to go together. But where most owners have recently distinguished themselves through their huffily John Galtian militancy and vicious avarice, the Wilpons are playing a different and goofier game, spinning cascading failure, proud delusion, and unrelenting and imperturbable clownishness into what's less a standard Shitty Owner Ruins Team story and more like a strange, sprawling satirical novel.There isn't an author who could write it, but you'd come closest if you asked Don DeLillo to write one of his recent Awful Rich Men Fail Greatly novels and then had Sam Lipsyte go back over it, rewriting all the characters so that they are callow, childish, and comically hapless. The Wilpons got caught up in Bernie Madoff’s labyrinthine Ponzi scheme—that’s the DeLillo part—and then proceeded to leverage and releverage the team in order to stay tenuously afloat, denying all the while that they were doing so, and making the situation catastrophically and hilariously worse in so doing; the Wilpons have an estimated $900 million of debt due in 2014–15, and are commonly understood to have virtually no money. That's the Lipsyte part. It's hard to know who would write the bit about the Mets putting a storefront/recruiting center for the disgraced pyramid-scheming corpo-cult Amway in their stadium. It is, honestly, a bit much. A good author would cut it, citing implausibility.Cheering for a shitty team is easy—anyone can do it, and it's one of the few tasks that becomes easier the drunker you get. Cheering for a team that ruthlessly and relentlessly satirizes itself in broad and livid strokes is somewhat more challenging. It's still preferable to the alternative, given that the alternative is cheering for the Yankees. But some kinds of uniqueness are more appealing than others, and satire gets progressively more difficult to laugh at the better it gets.@david_j_rothPreviously: Neon Waters Run Deep