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56° Good Afternoon

The Mets' cap flap

First, your updated playoff brackets:

AL: Yankees (1) vs. Texas (3), Detroit (2) vs. Boston (4).

NL: Philadelphia (1) vs. Milwaukee (3), Arizona (2) vs. Atlanta (4).

Thoughts: With the Brewers off yesterday, Arizona's victory over the Dodgers last night evened the Diamondbacks and Miwaukee with 86-62 records. Since Arizona won the season series, 4-3, it wins the tiebreaker if these two clubs finish with identical records.

OK, onto the matter at hand, and yeah, I took a day to check in on this one. I was tending to personal business Sunday night and not really up to speed yesterday morning, and I didn't want to fake an opinion on something this combustible.

We're now at this point: The Mets lost last night, their third straight defeat, and Terry Collins wondered afterward whether his club lacked focus because of all the questions about Sunday night's mess. 

And when I see that, I admit, as someone who considers himself ultra-sensitive to all 9/11 matters, it gets my blood boiling. I'm sure Collins didn't mean to minimize 9/11 in any way when he said, as Anthony Rieber wrote, " What was the attention on today? . . . We all want to know which kind of hat we're going to wear tonight." But that's what it feels like to me, as someone reading the quote. 

And that's one of the bigger points here: This issue stirs up so, so many emotions, it's hardly surprising that anything with a 9/11 context gets people fired up. Just as it did 10 years ago and almost certainly will do for as long as folks who were around that day are still around.

Which ties into the specifics of what happened Sunday night at Citi Field. Undoubtedly, finances played a significant role in Major League Baseball's imploring the Mets to forego their caps saluting the New York City firefighters, police offers and Port Authority workers, as Keith Olbermann, of all people, wrote here.

But there's another matter, one fueled by emotions, history and the basic human desire to not be embarrassed. As Joe Torre told MLB Network Radio, "It was more or less that even though the Mets are based in New York [and] so are the Yankees, I just felt that we should all do the same thing."

When Torre told the New York Times, "If the Mets wore them, people would say, ‘Why didn’t the Yankees wear them, too?’" he wasn't proposing some hypothetical. That's precisely what happened in 2001, in the days following the attacks.

It's largely forgotten now, because the Yankees proceeded to put together that phenomenal 2001 postseason run, but in those first few days and weeks after the attacks, the Mets were New York's front and center team. Bobby Valentine and his players worked at Shea Stadium, which became a staging area; they wore the caps; they donated one day of their salaries to the cause.

The Yankees wound up in this uncomfortable place of having to defend themselves. To explain why, by wearing their typical interlocking NY caps, they were representing New Yorkers in their own way. And to say that, in their opinions, it made more sense to not disclose the exact amount of their donations, which they announced only after the Mets came forward with their plan.

The great Mike Vaccaro - now of the New York Post, then of the Newark Star-Ledger - wrote a terrific column about this on Sept. 26, 2001, gently chiding the Yankees for not being more out front and center. The column includes a quote from Torre - then the Yankees' manager, of course - reading, ""My guys would just prefer to do things that don't draw attention to themselves. That's how they feel most comfortable. And that should be what's most important, that they do their part in a way that makes sense to them."

Here was Vaccaro's response:

The Yankees are more than a baseball team around here. They are identified as closely with New York as any building, any business. In the same way that the city needed to see its mayor out and about during its darkest hours, it needed to hear from its best-known, best-loved athletic role models. Most days, anonymous good deeds are the best kind. Just not now. Not for a team as revered as the Yankees.

I agreed with Vaccaro. Partly due to personality differences between the respective clubs' managers and players, and partly due to luck of the schedule - the Mets were the first team to play at home after the attacks - the Mets came off better in those early days. Which, again, was somewhat wiped out thanks to the Yankees' postseason.

Not entirely wiped out, however. In getting all 30 teams on the same page - and in streamlining these sort of "special cap" requests by clubs in general, as the Times story reports - baseball hopes to put out some of these fires before there's even a spark.

Do I wish the Mets players had gone ahead and worn the special caps? Sure. I'm pro-defiance. But as Valentine told the Times, things have changed. Baseball wasn't as organized on stuff like this back in '01.

But here's hoping that the powers that be learn just a little something from this. Hey, if teams can wear "throwback" uniforms all of the time - like, say, the Blue Jays or the Padres - then why can't the Mets wear their "throwback" caps from '01 on future anniversaries of the attacks? The Yankees can't get too upset; they were right, after all, that their interlocking NY holds its own unique power.

My hunch, though, is that we'll never get to a point where everything goes perfectly on an occasion like this. There are too many competing agendas, too many emotions. We're human.

Far better, in any case, that we argue about stuff like this than not care about it anymore.

--Have a great day.



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