It Depends Who ‘U’ Are


If you haven’t heard about the latest saga in MetsLand, here’s a recap. Step One: Mets COO/chosen son Jeff Wilpon brings t-shirts inscribed with the “Underdog” ‘U’ logo to Spring Training to give the players. Step Two: Mets fans unleash deep-seated wrath on aforementioned obnoxious delusional gentleman.

It’s only February. I’m still reveling in the Giants’ Super Bowl win, riding the Linsanity train for however long it lasts, and enjoying the Rangers’ best season in years. I kind of wish Jeff could have waited a few more months to make my blood boil.

But instead of rambling on about how the Wilpons just don’t get it – we’ve got all season to do that – I’d rather examine the “underdog” tag from a few different, non-ownership Mets perspectives. The fact that Jeff Wilpon created the shirts is hypocritical – we all realize that. However, that doesn’t mean that the idea of the Mets as underdogs is inherently a bad one.

Here’s how a few Mets people likely feel about the ‘U’ word.

The fans: Calling these Mets underdogs — whether it’s Jeff or someone else doing it — seems a bit odd for fans. It’s one thing for the Pirates or Royals to call themselves underdogs, and it made perfect sense for the ’69 Mets. But for the 2012 Mets, a big-market team undergoing a 50-plus million dollar drop in payroll, it just doesn’t feel right. A part of me wishes the Mets would just accept they’re not that good and save themselves the embarrassment down the road. But that’s not what professional athletes do. And of course, if they shock the universe and win 90 games, I’ll support whatever works for them.

Terry Collins: I think TC could make good use of the underdog label. For his purposes, it really doesn’t matter that the team’s payroll plummeted; it’s about the players on his roster. The Mets are a squad full of young, unproven players, and it’s Terry’s job to get them to perform as well as they can. While it’s a nice thought for a team to be able to ignore outside perceptions, that’s pretty much impossible to do these days, especially when you’re a Met. (Terry himself even admitted he reads the papers.) The bottom line is that it’s the fans’ job to be critical and have “realistic” expectations. It’s the players’ job to try to win. Normally, a manager would want his players to ignore expectations. But with all the madness surrounding this team, Collins highlighting the fact that no one on the outside believes in them – and asking them to prove everyone wrong – could light a fire under the Mets, and maybe even have a positive impact on the field.

David Wright: Wright is a bit of a different story. He’s expressed his disapproval of the shirts, though he couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was he didn’t like. I’ll tell you why: He’s sick of being an underdog. He’s not giddy about playing another year in the prime ages of his career with a team full of average players. He doesn’t need a constant reminder that, on paper, the Mets are the worst team in the NL East. He wants to be a winner, not an underdog. Wright would never say these things because he’s a good leader. However, unless the Mets are still competitors at the All-Star Break, I don’t see David embracing the ‘U’ anytime soon.

Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, etc: The young guys have not yet reached the point Wright has. They are at the point in their respective careers when they can still benefit from viewing themselves as the underdog – the 1980 Olympic US hockey team trying to prove they can compete against the big boys, i.e. the Phillies and Braves. At the same time, they are trying to prove themselves as individuals. People wonder whether Ruben Tejada can succeed as a big league shortstop. They doubt Josh Thole can hold his own behind, and at, the plate. They don’t know if Lucas Duda is the real deal or if Ike Davis will ever become an All-Star. The 2012 season will be crucial to these youngsters’ careers. Acknowledging that they are underdogs — that some believe they don’t have what it takes — could help motivate them.

Ultimately, I don’t see the shirts sticking around, mainly because the man who created them is one of the big reasons why the Mets are underdogs in the first place. But who knows? It’s only February.