Dysfunctional organisations are about as alien to baseball as a pack of cigarettes rolled into a T-shirt sleeve once was to a 1950s greaser. But then there are the New York Mess—er, Mets—whose 58-year history has had several administrations that could give lessons in chaos to any given White House.
On Sunday, the Mets’ game against the Atlanta Braves had just gotten underway, seemingly, when a statement from the Mets hit the ground running like the Flash: Yoenis Cespedes, who’d homered for their only run in an Opening Day win against the same Braves, was AWOL.
As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today. He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.
In due course Sunday it transpired that Cespedes opted out of the rest of 2020. For COVID-19 reasons? For dwindling plate appearance opportunities as the Mets’ number one designated hitter this year? For both? Inquiring minds wanted to know and, seemingly, almost didn’t want to know, at the same time.
The only thing everyone in Mets Land and elsewhere seemed to agree with for long enough on Sunday was that Cespedes’s absence scared the Mets and their observers alike.
“When Yoenis Cespedes didn’t show up today, the Mets sent security to his room,” tweeted ESPN writer Jeff Passan later Sunday afternoon. “They found it empty. He had taken his belongings, just up and left, and through his agent informed the team mid-game that he was opting out, according to Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen.”
“UPDATE: Yoenis Céspedes has decided not to play the remainder of the season for COVID-19 related reasons,” tweeted MLB.com writer Anthony DiComo around the same time as Passan’s tweet.
The Mets-inclined Twittersphere wavered between wondering whether Cespedes’s none-too-glittering stats since that opening day home run were one factor, whether Cespedes possibly losing interest was another factor, and whether the Mets not exactly burning up the league was a third. One or two even contemplated aloud whether the injuries that originally took Cespedes down and cost him all 2019 were legitimate after all.
Already rehabbing on his Florida ranch after surgery to remove calcification on both his heels, Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures last May when he hit a hole on his grounds—revealed in due course to have happened while tangling with a wild boar he tried releasing from a trap.
Sure it sounded absurd on the surface. Haven’t enough baseball players and other professional athletes gotten themselves injured in some of the craziest, most hare-brained ways? Yes, they have. They’re funny to everyone except the injured.
A Hall of Famer, George Brett, once suffered a toe fracture . . . because, on a day off, he was just that anxious to get back to the television set to watch his buddy Bill Buckner take a turn at bat and smashed the toe against a door jamb. Another Hall of Famer, Rickey (The Man of Steal) Henderson, fell asleep with an ice bag on his ankle and woke up with a nasty case of frostbite. In August.
Once upon a time, last year’s World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg might have had murder in his heart if you’d known he struggled through a rough outing after getting a little Icy Hot balm on his family jewels accidentally. His method of your execution would have depended on whether you serenaded him with a certain Jerry Lee Lewis oldie.
Cespedes fracturing both ankles in multiple places after a tangle with a wild boar is nothing in the absurdity department compared to those. And that’s without remembering that freshly-crowned Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg, of the 1967 “Cinderella Red Sox,” tore up the knee on his landing leg when he was or wasn’t chasing movie star Jill St. John down the ski slopes that winter.
Lonborg’s mishap compromised his pitching career; when he returned, he inadvertently altered his motion to go easy on the landing knee and caused himself shoulder issues for the rest of his pitching days. It also inspired adding the “Jim Lonborg Clause” to the universal players contract enabling teams to bar players from “dangerous” off-field activities.
Whether the Mets looked askance out of the public eye about Cespedes’ battle of the boar is anybody’s guess. But the New York Post‘s Mike Puma and Joel Sherman say that, twice during this truncated regular season’s first nine games, Cespedes complained that he may have been kept out of the lineup a few times the better to block him from reaching certain incentive bonuses.
One of those came Saturday, when Cespedes first talked to [manager] Luis Rojas and then [general manager] Brodie Van Wagenen about his playing status and bonuses. Then Cespedes knew before the buses left for Truist Park on Sunday he was not in the starting lineup and he never showed for the game against the Braves, triggering a bizarre day even for the Mets.
Cespedes might have been struggling since his Opening Day launch, but this wouldn’t exactly be the first time a team has tried playing cute with a player over performance bonuses. It probably won’t be the last, either. But it doesn’t often happen when the team’s general manager just so happens to be the player’s former agent, either.
That same Saturday just so happened to be the fifth anniversary of the day Cespedes first arrived in New York and flipped the switch all the way up on the Mets’ season turnaround, the turnaround that took them all the way to the World Series they lost—thanks mostly to the porous defense they finally couldn’t out-hit—to the Kansas City Royals.
Cespedes may be rolling glandular dice with his opt-out. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. It’s difficult if not impossible to fathom him getting even the kind of money he agreed to take for this year, after he and the Mets negotiated it from $20 million down to six. Even the Mets’ apparent dysfunction doesn’t leave him with a great look now.
“There is no way to defend Cespedes on this, at all, if we are to believe multiple sources,” writes another Post columnist, Mike Vaccaro, “and on two levels: Not just using the COVID opt-out as cover—think about that one for a minute—but also, given how much of a fiasco his four-year contract . . . has been, that he would make this kind of stand over money.”
Fair play: Cespedes’s mother is ill and at-risk. He does have legitimate health concerns. He also did say goodbye to several Mets teammates Saturday night, but he told his agency, Roc Nation, about his decision, and either Cespedes or the Roc Nation group didn’t tell the Mets’ brass right away. Is that so Mets, or what?
This coronavirus-truncated and mishap of a season has already been described by yet another writer as something straight out of a particularly literary Red Sox fan named Stephen King. I’m more convinced it’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents . . . The Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone. With the Mets’ latest mess (or is that the Mess’s latest mets?) as the episode called “I Stink the Body Electric.”