Everything was supposed to be different for the New York Mets this season. A new billionaire owner had bought the team last September. The offseason was headlined by a trade for superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was promptly signed to a $341 million extension. The NL East was there for the taking, and the Mets had control of the division at the All-Star break. The team loaded up for the stretch run by trading for Javier Baez at the deadline from the Cubs.
Greater expectations have only made the Mets’ free fall back to reality even more painful. Injuries have piled up, including one to superstar pitcher Jacob deGrom that has sidelined him since July 7. Lindor and Baez have struggled to produce at the plate. The team lost 12 of 14 games during a stretch in mid-August to fall out of the postseason picture once again. Barring a miracle run in September, the Mets are going to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Boos have become a regular occurrence at Mets games over the last few weeks, and the players aren’t happy about it. As the Mets finally won consecutive games against a tanking Washington Nationals team over the weekend, the players started to let the fans know how they feel. Mets players, including Baez, Lindor and Kevin Pillar, started giving a ‘thumbs down’ sign during the games. According to Baez, the gesture signals what the players think of the fans.
Javy Baez on the thumbs down sign Mets players have been flashing to the crowd after their hits:— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 29, 2021
"When we don't get success, we're going to get booed. So they [the fans] are going to get booed when we get success." pic.twitter.com/n2jjMCIXIU
Baez expanded on his comments after the Mets beat the Nationals (via the New York Times):
“Just the boos that we get,” said Baez. “We’re not machines, we’re going to struggle. We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. It just feels bad when I strike out and I get booed — it doesn’t really get to me, but I want to let them know that when we’re a success, we’re going to do the same thing, to let them know how it feels.
“Because if we win together, then we’ve got to lose together and the fans are a really big part of it. In my case, they got to be better. I play for the fans and I love the fans, but if they’re going to do that, they’re just putting more pressure on the team and that’s not what we want.”
“Yeah, I mean, to let them know that when we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed, so they’re going to get booed when we’re a success.”
Baez is hitting .210 in his first 17 games at the plate with New York after becoming a beloved cult hero and a World Series champion with the Cubs. While fans might not want to hear highly paid players tell them not to boo a struggling team, Baez’s comments are also a vulnerable expression of a star athlete’s mental health struggles. Paying fans may have the right to boo, but the negative feedback can weigh on players.
The Mets have apparently been doing the ‘thumbs down’ sign for almost a month, but no one noticed until this weekend. Here’s a clip of Baez doing the sign on Aug. 6.
Javy Báez rips a leadoff single to start off the 2nd— SNY (@SNYtv) August 6, 2021
(it also appears there's a new dugout celebration, the ) pic.twitter.com/uycecfFHHr
Mets leadership wasn’t happy about this latest controversy. President Sandy Alderson issued a statement that called the ‘thumbs down’ sign “totally unacceptable.”
“Mets fans are understandably frustrated over the team’s recent performance.” Alderson said. “The players and the organization are equally frustrated, but fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment. Booing is every fan’s right.”
“The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.”
Owner Steve Cohen tweeted this:
I miss the days when the biggest controversy was the black jerseys— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 30, 2021
A few days earlier, Cohen had publicly called out the team’s performance at the plate:
It’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive.The best teams have a more disciplined approach.The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie.— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 18, 2021
“These are young guys and sometimes we forget they are on a public stage and can make mistakes,” Cohen told the New York Post on Monday. “They hit the third rail, though, by messing with fans. And it is unacceptable. Hopefully, this is a teaching moment and they will learn from this.”
We have Mets fans vs. Mets players vs. Mets leadership in a triple threat match of resentment. Meanwhile, you can find images of Mets players making the thumbs down sign all over the field in recent games.
At least one player decided to give the fans a thumbs up:
Francisco Lindor and Kevin Pillar joined in the ... whereas Jonathan Villar went for the pic.twitter.com/NDN8zEyjjX— Deesha (@DeeshaThosar) August 29, 2021
The ‘thumbs down’ sign is not an entirely new phenomenon in New York baseball. The Yankees were doing it a few years ago, but with a totally different meaning.
Mark this down as a new low in an already terrible season for the Mets. If the Mets really are going to be reborn under Cohen, it isn’t happening this year.