What to make of the Mets?

The Boys of Flushing Bay put together an impressive run before the All-Star break and may somehow sneak into the playoffs or perform a pennant miracle, but the first half of the season was about as much fun as a trip to the podiatrist.

For a month, the Mets flirted with disaster, leaving bewildered fans to recall Casey Stengel’s famous 1962 plea, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

As manager, Stengel got his answer on nearly a daily basis — the Mets lost 120 games in their first expansion team season — and the great New York columnist Jimmy Breslin published a nice little book using Stengel’s quote as a title.

“So the Mets are a bad ball club,” Breslin wrote in typically blunt fashion. “All right, they’re the worst ball club you ever saw. So what?”

All these years later, the 2023 Mets often seem intent on adopting the haphazard style of their predecessors. In late June, for instance, they handed a game to the Phillies by allowing four runs on one hit — “yes, just one hit,” marveled Newsday sportswriter Tim Healey — while committing a bases-loaded error and installing a relief pitcher who plunked two opposing batters in a row.

“Incredible,” sighed my son, of Queens, close enough to Citi Field to hear the faithful weeping.

Making the Mets’ struggles especially remarkable is that billionaire owner Steve Cohen committed to the highest payroll in the major leagues — roughly $369 million, according to the Associated Press, not including the stiff “luxury tax” high rollers must pay for exceeding the league spending limit. At a press conference, Cohen said he, too, was baffled by the team’s production: “That’s not what I expected.”

To borrow from the Beatles, money can’t buy you love — or, more to the point, a championship.

Yes, there are sports franchises that excel with rosters of wildly compensated performers brought aboard because management wants to “win now.” Similarly, there are “naturals” in life who, without much apparent effort, succeed at whatever it is they do — the kid who barely studied in high school and now has a corner office on Wall Street or turns up as a movie director.

Doesn’t happen often — as I tell my grandchildren, just in case they are waiting for lightning to strike and an offer from JPMorgan Chase to appear like magic.

All this came to mind when I began reading a book called “Working,” by Robert Caro, the former Newsday reporter widely respected for his biography of master builder Robert Moses and four volumes devoted to Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th U.S. president.

Caro left newspapers because he needed time — always about to expire in the city room — to dig and dig and dig. Now he is bearing down on a fifth and final Johnson installment. Even at 87 and after more than 40 years on the Johnson story, Caro makes no apology for his unhurried pace — “not a trace of regret,” he says in “Working.”

The book, published in 2019, is a kick for me because, as a Newsday alum who arrived at the paper after Caro left, I know, or have heard of, the people who influenced him most. One renowned editor, Alan Hathway, told Caro to “turn every page” — that is, keep at it until deadline forbids. Hathway’s most famous injunction is one I repeated often when imparting eternal truths to journalism students for a few years at Stony Brook: “Never assume anything.”

Fellow says his name is John Smith, you ask, is that standard spelling or maybe Jon Smythe? Somebody else says she’s Barbara, you say, excuse me: with three “a’s” or only two as Streisand prefers it — Barbra? Politician claims he graduated from Harvard or was a big volleyball star, better check the university.

We were talking about the Mets and their shaky start but Caro ties in. “Win now” vs. “turn every page.” Great expectations vs. assume nothing. What matters is the work — patience and persistence. Same for baseball and most everything else. Keep slugging. Give it your best. At season’s end, no regrets.

Animal cruelty charge … MacArthur Airport dispute … Setting a holiday table  Credit: Newsday

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Animal cruelty charge … MacArthur Airport dispute … Setting a holiday table  Credit: Newsday

Heavy rain across Long Island ... Stealing $11,000 in cigarettes ... Trump won't testify ... Angel Baby

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