By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Even those of us who love sports understand that they can be a wretched thing. Although we choose sports as escapism, the stark truth is we can’t run too far away from the real world, even within the scope of athletics. Sports can break your heart just as much as anything else in your life.
R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young award Wednesday, yet it’s becoming increasingly possible that the Mets will soon trade him. Having an award ceremony be a player’s final act seems awfully cruel. I’ve never rooted for or against the Mets, but I find the way this is likely to end unfortunate.
Are the Mets better off if they trade their best pitcher and one of their most popular players? Well, not better in the short term, although what they could receive in a trade may help turn the team into a contender in the future. Is Dickey better off playing for someone else? Well, he’s better of if another team wants to pay him more, although all the attention he received while playing in New York could not have happened elsewhere.
It’s a crummy thing about sports that the most logical moves are the ones that can hurt the most. The rebuilding Mets probably don’t need a 38-year-old ace as much as they need prospects, and Dickey might be happier playing for a contender.
Yet that doesn’t make it any more appetizing. Good players are supposed to stay with their teams. And while certain fans outside of New York may not feel much sympathy about the Mets becoming essentially a small market team, they can certainly understand how painful it is to lose a beloved player. We can all laugh at the Mets for maintaining their reputation as a national punch line -- but we can also appreciate that certain players should be untouchable.
When fans take to someone like Dickey, who has such a fascinating backstory, the sports world becomes a better place, a world where one can believe in the improbable, like the story of a much traveled knuckleballer who becomes one of the best pitchers in the game. When players like Dickey are discarded, sports become the exact thing we had hoped to avoid in the first place.
Certainly there is a possibility that Dickey isn’t nearly as sincere as he seems, that his public persona is an act, simply a play for a bigger contract, whether with the Mets or with someone else. But if we’re looking for our athletes to be completely genuine then we should probably avoid sports all together. If we can’t believe in the myths of sports then we’ve gone about this the wrong way.
The fact is, the Mets are much more fun when Dickey is around, and Dickey is much more fun as a Met. Dickey made the Mets watchable every fifth day, and without the absolute desperation of the broke Mets, perhaps Dickey would never have gotten the opportunity to reclaim his career. We often take for granted the perfect series of events that often need to take place for players to emerge.
The Mets believe Dickey is angling the market to see what he can get from other teams, which is the most logical course for a 38-year-old who likely is negotiating the last major contract of his career. Dickey has said that he’d prefer to stay in New York, and there’s no real reason to doubt him.
Here’s hoping the Mets somehow find a way to make this marriage work, although the odds of it happening are becoming less kind.
In general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets have the perfect hatchet man. Alderson, a former marine, is a stone cold anti-sentimentalist. He’s an almost robotic figure whose recent run of one-liners came off more as if someone had infiltrated his hard drive and reprogrammed him rather than as a sincere attempt to be liked. Last year, Alderson famously joked that perhaps he should have sent Jose Reyes a box of chocolates after the former Mets shortstop said he was hurt that the team never made a strong offer to retain him. It was a harsh line, but Alderson hardly cared that he was portrayed as insensitive. He was brought in to make the tough decisions, and if he turns out to be the public bad guy, then so be it.
What gives Alderson such a strong position is that he was backed from the beginning by commissioner Bud Selig, who if you believe the reports, asked his friend as a favor to clean up the Mets’ mess in the wake of the Bernie Madoff debacle. I’d say having Selig in your corner gives you considerable job security; Alderson is about as bulletproof as you can get in the game.
Let’s not forget also that when Selig needed to have someone strong-arm impoverished Dominican Republic teenage players into following the amateur signing rules, he sent in the former Marine. Alderson, after being named MLB’s conduit in the Dominican, was so cold and calculated -- some described it as imperialistic -- in his welcome speech in Santo Domingo that thousands protested outside of his hotel afterward. How did Alderson react after that protest? By being even more demanding.
So if you’re hoping that Alderson will make an emotional plea to keep Dickey, you’re probably better off wishing for Democrats and Republicans to start working together better in Congress.
It’s illogical to think that Dickey will be a Met next season. Sure it could happen, but you shouldn’t count on it. And when inevitably a trade happens, we’ll all be worse off as sports fans. Because we’ll all have to start dealing with the real world.
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.