MLB's hopes for again being the go-to sports healing for September 11th were boned the second they realized the anniversary fell on an NFL Sunday. But they would have been hard-pressed to screw it up more than they did. The Yankees were on the road, the Nationals had a short little ceremony, and the Mets? Well, thanks to the Mets, MLB is getting exactly the wrong kind of press over their 9/11 remembrance—literally grabbing first responder hats out of the dugout to prevent the Mets from wearing them.
And yes, before we go any further, the "official" American flag hats the Mets were forced to wear last night are available for $36.99 at the MLB.com store.
The Mets' pregame ceremony was incredibly moving, and showed football that you don't have to go cheesily jingoistic to make your point. But the Mets players had one more gesture they wanted to make: they wanted to wear the caps of the NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and other first responders who lost people on September 11. It would have been a callback to the first game of baseball's return in 2001, when the Mets pulled out an emotional victory, and did so while representing the heroes and the dead.
It was not to be, even with Mike Piazza and John Franco in the ballpark last night. Last week MLB made their preemptive strike, sending a memo to all teams telling them they could only wear official hats on the field. As late as yesterday's batting practice, the Mets were thinking mutiny.
"What are they going to do, fine us?" asked catcher Josh Thole, the team's union rep. As it turns out, yes.
"They contacted the club and said it's an absolute 'no chance' at all," Thole said. "I guess the fines would be (prohibitive). I spoke with some of the guys and with Terry (Collins) and he said the same thing. They came down on the club very hard and there's nothing we can do.
The memo came from Joe Torre, MLB's VP of baseball operations. No hats, so as "to be consistent around the league." The same Joe Torre, who proudly donned NYPD and PAPD hats 10 years ago.
He could have taken a lesson from his erstwhile crosstown counterpart Bobby Valentine, who last night shared the story of how MLB tried to stop the Mets from wearing first responder caps in 2001.
"That's what they told us, we couldn't wear the hats," Valentine said. "We were getting ready to wear them in Pittsburgh for our first game back, when (GM) Steve (Phillips) came in and said, 'You can't wear them.'
"I said, 'Oh, OK, and I called a meeting and said, 'Hey, guys, you can't wear the hats.' Then Steve went upstairs, and as the guys came down the runway to the dugout, I stood there, handing out the caps we weren't supposed to wear."
"It was Todd Zeile who said they would have had to tear them off of us," Valentine said. "That's just the way the guys felt. They were a great group of guys who wanted to do the right thing."
Today's Mets did too, but the threat of huge fines was too much. Some players donned the first responder caps in the dugout, but after TV cameras captured David Wright wearing one, MLB sent a representative down to collect and remove them all from the dugout.
We're not dumb enough to think that MLB's edict means the nation is going to heal any slower, or that it's un-American or disrespectful. But just letting them wear the damn caps wouldn't have hurt anyone, and by letting this blow up into a mini-scandal, baseball once again proves how tone-deaf it can be to public perception when their profit margins are at stake.