- Adam Rubin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three years ago, Tom Glavine and Paul Lo Duca distributed to their New York Mets teammates bright orange T-shirts bearing a picture of a clown and the slogan, "There Ain't A Big Top Big Enough For This Circus."
Both have since departed, with Glavine a recent inductee into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame.
For the Mets, though, the circus continues. And despite an organizational obsession with how the franchise is perceived by the media and public, the big top still ain't big enough.
Francisco Rodriguez's arrest nearly two weeks ago on third-degree assault and second-degree harassment charges for allegedly striking the grandfather of his children in the family room at Citi Field was bad enough. But it was followed by the revelation that he'd torn a ligament in his right thumb, which the Mets allege the closer suffered in the incident. That triggered contractual ramifications: The team placed him on the disqualified list without pay and is trying to remove the guaranteed portion of his deal.
And it's only the latest in a series of 2010 embarrassments for the Mets:
The team openly feuded with center fielder Carlos Beltran and agent Scott Boras over whether Beltran had the team's permission to undergo Jan. 13 arthroscopic knee surgery.
The FBI visited the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., during spring training to question shortstop Jose Reyes and Beltran about their visits to a Toronto doctor since charged with unlawfully distributing human growth hormone.
Principal owner Fred Wilpon, himself a victim in swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, had a civil suit filed against him by the widow of an employee of Wilpon-owned Sterling Equities. The suit, which seeks class-action status, alleges Wilpon is responsible for the 401(k) funds of employees that were invested through Madoff.
The week of K-Rod's arrest, left-hander Johan Santana had a civil suit filed against him by a woman claiming the married ace sexually assaulted her in October 2009 on a golf course near their homes in Fort Myers, Fla. Just weeks before the alleged incident, Santana had season-ending elbow surgery. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges related to the allegations, but the civil suit looks like it will proceed.
Dwight Gooden was charged during spring training with driving under the influence of drugs and leaving an accident scene. The organization proceeded with the summer induction of Gooden and fellow 1986 Mets hero Darryl Strawberry as well as manager Davey Johnson and GM Frank Cashen into the team's Hall of Fame.
Rodriguez also was involved in a verbal altercation with bullpen coach Randy Niemann during a May 23 game against the Yankees at Citi Field.
This list doesn't even include the Mets' months-long saga with Oliver Perez over whether the left-hander would accept an assignment to the minors. (He never did, although it was briefly circumvented when Perez landed on the disabled list and went to the minors for a rehab assignment.)
Or the moment when pitching coach Dan Warthen called right-hander John Maine a "habitual liar" with respect to the health of his right shoulder.
Or chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon's abrupt decision to join the team in Atlanta on May 17 and hold a closed-door meeting in the visiting manager's office at Turner Field with GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel, as Manuel's job status seemed far from secure and players observed in dismay.
"There's always something new," Beltran said with an uncomfortable laugh last week, after a series-opening win versus the Houston Astros. "Our job as a player is just to come to the ballpark and try to focus and regroup and go out and play the game. You don't want to go through distractions or anything like that, but that's going to happen."
Say this for the Mets: If something else goes wrong this season, it will be on their watch.
After the latest in the string of embarrassing occurrences, the Mets now have a visible presence on the road monitoring the activities of their players, including postgame alcohol consumption. Rob Kasdon, the organization's vice president of security and a retired 22-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service, who was assigned to President Ronald Reagan's protective detail during his two terms in office, is now a regular presence in the clubhouse before and after road games. Kasdon was on both legs of the Mets' road trip to Houston and Pittsburgh. The Mets are trying to ensure the players don't have any incidents at the hotel, either.
Meanwhile, on the field, the script has not unfolded as the organization had hoped. Despite a payroll in the $130 million range, the Mets are only in the division and wild-card races in a mathematical sense. Even after a 4-3 road trip, they trail the NL East-leading Braves by 11 games and the wild-card-leading Philadelphia Phillies by 8½ games with 38 games remaining on the Mets' schedule. The Mets are in fourth place in the division. Five other teams are between the Mets and the wild-card leaders.
The Mets' rallying cry? They note that in 2007, the Phillies overcame a seven-game deficit in the NL East with 17 to play.
Of course, it was the Mets who collapsed that year.
Nearly all of the question marks identified in spring training have been unfavorably resolved, despite the positive results from starting pitchers Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey and a breakout first half from outfielder Angel Pagan in Beltran's absence.
Even with a lineup containing David Wright, Jason Bay, Reyes and Beltran -- albeit with Beltran out for the first half while recovering from surgery on his arthritic right knee -- the Mets rank 13th in the league in runs scored and homers and 14th in batting average and on-base percentage.
After producing a major league low 95 homers as a team last season, the Mets signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract. Bay suffered a concussion at Dodger Stadium on July 23, experienced headaches on the cross-country flight to New York after the weekend series and has not reappeared in a game.
Even that created drama. Manuel candidly said before Friday's series opener in Pittsburgh that he did not believe Bay would return this season, since the left fielder cannot go 48 hours without still experiencing concussion-related symptoms four weeks after the incident. Under orders from above, he was compelled to half-heartedly recant after the game and leave open the possibility Bay could return.
"It appears that I was a little premature in saying Jason Bay wouldn't be back," Manuel said. "It appears he is recovering nicely and that there is a possibility he will be back to play."
Recovering nicely? Isn't Bay still getting headaches?
"Maybe they're on the other side -- kind of like my headaches are," Manuel joked. "That's the word I got."
Bay had only six homers at the time of his injury, a steep decline from last year's 36 with the Boston Red Sox. The Mets internally had projected 30 homers for Bay this season, accounting for the more spacious dimensions of Citi Field compared with Boston's Fenway Park. Bay did not figure to need an adjustment period to the intensity of New York, given he came from pressured-packed Boston. So perhaps a slow start, coupled with the ballpark's dimensions and the pressures of living up to his first hefty free-agent contract overwhelmed him before the brain injury.
Other major offensive issues:
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who is making $5 million this season, is hitting a career-low .231, with a .288 on-base percentage.
Beltran, wearing a cumbersome brace on his right knee, has been a shell of his former self as he tries to return from surgery. Beltran is batting only .217 since his return in San Francisco on July 15. Beltran may just be rusty after missing the season's first half. The Mets hope so, compared with the alternative: that at 33 years old and with an arthritic knee, Beltran's best days are behind him. Beltran is due to make $18.5 million in 2011, the final season of his original seven-year, $119 million deal.
Wright, despite his fifth straight All-Star selection, has been incredibly streaky. He is hitting .244 since the All-Star break and had one RBI through his first 17 games in August.
Meanwhile, Minaya made a major miscalculation with the rotation. The GM insisted last offseason that the Mets did not aggressively pursue free-agent starting pitchers because Perez and Maine, the incumbents, who had both won 15 games in 2007, were as accomplished as the on-the-market pitchers.
Maine never fully recovered from 2008 shoulder surgery, had a 6.13 ERA in nine starts with sagging velocity and ultimately underwent another operation. He is expected to be released by December because he is making $3.3 million this season and is arbitration-eligible.
Perez has fallen so far into disfavor, Manuel refuses to even use him in relief, in essence leaving the Mets with a 24-man roster. The southpaw is in the second season of a three-year, $36 million deal that the organization refuses to eat. He has appeared in only three games since being activated from the disabled list July 20. In two of those appearances, Manuel waited until the 12th inning to use Perez. Perez had refused to go to the minors. Ownership blames Minaya for failing to lean harder on the southpaw to accept a demotion.
When Perez did land on the disabled list at one point, it officially was for right knee tendinitis. The timing was suspicious enough -- with Perez refusing to go to the minors at the time, Major League Baseball requested documentation to support the injury. Perez made four minor league starts while officially acting as a rehabbing major leaguer. Still, he is back now. And Manuel has not inserted Perez in a game since Aug. 1.
In spite of Maine's and Perez's flopping, the Mets actually have received passable starting pitching, thanks to the knuckleballer Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi's providing a handful of serviceable starts.
The bullpen has been a far larger issue than the rotation. The Mets entered spring training predicting newcomers Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi would serve as the primary eighth-inning bridges to Rodriguez as closer.
Escobar, who had appeared in only one major league game since 2007 because of shoulder woes, perhaps predictably arrived with discomfort. He never threw a pitch for the Mets and is collecting his $1.25 million guaranteed deal anyway. Igarashi, who was lured from Japan with a two-year, $3 million deal, had a 7.65 ERA in 23 appearances. He only returned from a demotion to Triple-A Buffalo when Rodriguez was suspended.
"We've just been through a lot," Manuel said.
As for the incident that has been the season's lowest moment to date, Jose Reyes' wife Katherine and two of the shortstop's young daughters witnessed Rodriguez as he allegedly pummeled the 53-year-old father of the closer's girlfriend. Beltran's wife Jessica told her husband she was shaken by watching the event, too.
"I talked to my wife after the game and she sounded nervous," Beltran recalled. "I said, 'What happened?' She said, 'I'll talk to you later about what happened.' She told me about the incident and all that.
"It's disappointing, man. You don't want to see no one go through that. But it is what it is. Now he has to deal with that situation."
So do the Mets -- that one, and many others.
Tuesday: Can this team be fixed for 2011?
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