And no one has a halfway decent reason why.
What role does sports serve in our post 9/11 society? Ten years ago, after the attacks that shook our country, this was an important question. Are these games merely a pointless diversion from our harsh reality or an important part of our healing process? When New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza hit a mammoth go-ahead home run to put the shattered city ahead of their rival Atlanta Braves that question was answered. The moment mattered, the game mattered, and not simply in terms of winning a pennant race.
The Mets vs. Braves game on September 21, 2001 was the first major sporting event played in New York after the tragic events. This past week multiple sports writers have taken a swing at tackling the meaning of that game. Most said it served as an example of the power of sports, some say it was simply a nice moment for the broken city and others say it was nothing more than a baseball game. As a diehard Mets fan I tend to think it was something more.
I was proud of that Mets team, who at the time were on a torrid pace having won 10 of their last 11 games and climbing their way out of a 13.5 game hole they faced at the beginning of August. They got within as close as three games of the division-leading Braves, but it wasn’t to be. While the Yankees went on the lose the World Series that year, it was the Mets who captured the pulse of the city on their sleeves. For the remainder of the 2001 season the Mets ditched their traditional fitted hats in favor of hats of the first responders. It was a moving tribute as players wore the NYPD, FDNY and PANY shields on their heads. The players never wanted to take them off.
Last night, the 2011 Mets squad, who have a remarkably similar record as the 2001 team, were planning on doing the same tribute. They wore the hats during batting practice and before the start of the game, until Major League Baseball wouldn’t let them. The Mets were ready to wear them anyway, even after the league’s threat to levy significant fines. That is, until MLB baseball physically confiscated the hats from the Mets dugout.
The league’s vice president of operations, ex-Yankee coach Joe Torre, ruled against the hats because it would break the uniformity of the league’s simple American flag tribute on every team’s hat. It just so happens those hats are being sold for $37 at your nearest officially licensed MLB memorabilia provider.
In other words, they were more concerned with using the Mets as a marketing platform rather than letting the New York ballclub pay their respects. It’s an absolutely horrid public relations snafu and a spit in the face to the men and women who lost their lives 10 years ago. The hats weren’t a political statement. They would not have hurt anyone, expect maybe some executive’s checking account.