Opinion: Heart, Passion and Fire

In Newsday, David Lennon writes, “On the first day of May, there is a gaping hole where this team’s heart should be, and Jerry Manuel… cannot fill that void from the manager’s chair.”

According to Lennon, the Mets are 1–10 when trailing after six innings, and 0–11 when trailing after the seventh.

In other words, the Mets do not come back to win ballgames; something, by the way, the Phillies seem to do night after night.  What’s worse, the Mets have led in eight of their 12 losses.  So, do the math, and you get a frustrated group of players, fans, and lots of justified questions about heart, pride and passion.

The argument is about adjustments. Manuel once told reporters he believes the hitters and coaches are not making the necessary adjustments late in games, and so the team repeatedly strikes out, hits weak pops and ground balls. 

Fans, however, frame Lennon’s stats as the result of ‘quitting,’ ‘giving up,’ not having ‘heart,’ or ‘fire,’ or not ‘caring to win.’

Sadly, it’s probably some combination of both.

In a must-read column on SNY, Ted Berg writes:

“I’m confident that I know enough about baseball to analyze most of what the players do on the field.  I’m not confident that I know enough about people to analyze what happens in their heads… After all, if we accept that psychiatry is a form of medicine, why are we so eager to practice it ourselves?  I haven’t heard a single WFAN caller attempt to diagnose Carlos Delgado’s hip injury; why does every single one of them have so much insight into David Wright’s mental makeup and the Mets’ group dynamic?”

I discussed this with Berg while he was writing it, I told him I think it’s because we, as fans, project our own emotions about the team on to the team.  I know the anger I feel during a loss, or when the team is down, and I know how badly I want them to fight back and win.  And so when the player fails, it must be because he felt the emotional opposite from what I did, i.e., if I care and equate passion to winning, and the Mets lose, it means the Mets must not care enough to win, otherwise they would have won.  The thing is, this isn’t what is going on in reality.  They care.  They want to win.  They have passion for baseball.  They’re just not focused and executing.

This not to say there isn’t something to the ‘this team has no fire’ argument.  There is.  Every player has the passion to put on the uniform and play, he can’t sustain himself over seven or so months of the game if he didn’t.  So, when you ask a player about passion, as I have before, to a man they all say they have it.  The thing is, this is not what fans are talking about.

We are talking about ‘mid-game passion,’ energy to re-focus and fight when losing, which is different from the overall passion for the game as a job.  The latter is a character trait; a person either has it or they don’t.  And, I have talked with ex-players who, after lots of twisting and turning, will admit they have played with players who did quit, who would pack it in, ‘toss in the towel,’ and not really care to fight back – so long as that player got a hit or two, he was happy.  I do not believe this is indicative of every player, but it exists, and I would not be surprised to learn there are some players on the Mets who may fall in to this category.