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NEW YORK — The New York Mets on Thursday unveiled their long-overdue tribute to Tom Seaver, the player who only changed the course of their team history.
The thoroughfare formerly known as 126th St. will henceforth be known as Tom Seaver Way, and the official address of Citi Field, where of course Seaver never pitched, will from now on be number 41. At some point, there will be a statue of Seaver unveiled outside the ballpark.
It was a rather festive occasion with remarks delivered by a Queens city councilman, the Archbishop of New York, Mets CEO Jeff Wilpon and, most movingly, Seaver’s eldest daughter Sarah.
But of course, the Mets being the Mets, the occasion came 12 hours after yet another act of defiance and disrespect by Jason Vargas, for whom it can be safely assumed no streets in this town will ever be named.
And so, as the Mets were trying to commemorate the legacy of an all-time great, they were forced once again to answer questions about the obstinance of a mediocrity.
“We’re all angry with him,’’ a Mets official said Thursday, who requested anonymity. “Think he’ll be here next year?’’
The man went on to say Vargas, who at the moment is the Mets most reliable starter, might not even be a Met come Aug. 1. ‘’This did not help him,’’ he said.
The juxtaposition of the two pitchers, their relative abilities and the different ways in which they handled crises with the media could hardly have been more striking.
Forty-two years ago this month, Seaver became embroiled in a public spat with Dick Young of the New York Daily News, at the time the most powerful columnist in the city.
For whatever reason, Young took the side of Mets management in a salary dispute between the Mets and Seaver. He wrote columns calling Seaver “greedy’’ and “selfish’’ and “disloyal,’’ which was kind of rich considering no time afterward, Young would run out on the News for the greener paychecks of the New York Post.
Then, he brought Seaver’s wife into it, implying that the real cause of the dispute was some sort of jealousy between Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan, spouse of Nolan, who had been traded away to the California Angels.
It was an ugly dispute, but according to contemporary newspaper accounts as well as conversations with reporters who were there, at no time did Seaver confront Young in the clubhouse, curse him or threaten to “knock you the f--- out,’’ as Vargas did to Newsday’s Tim Healey on Sunday, basically because he didn’t like the look on his face.
All he did was march into the office of M. Donald Grant, the Mets chairman of the board, and demand a trade. Grant obliged, and that day -- June 15, 1977 -- remains one of the darkest days in Mets history.
Contrast that with what Vargas has pulled over the past five days. Given a second chance to clean up the mess he created on Monday when he refused to apologize for, even acknowledge responsibility of, the ugly clubhouse that followed the Mets loss to the Cubs, Vargas doubled down on his arrogance and lack of accountability.
“I don’t think all the information is really out there,’’ Vargas said. “I don't think this is the time to get into that. But I think that anybody that knows me or played with me through the duration of my career, there's never been a situation like that. So to think that it just happened out of the blue would be foolish. The organization put out a statement. For that information to be out there like that, for only one side to be told, that’s just not it.’’
Whether it’s the general breakdown of civility in our society over the past 50 years, or simply the misbehavior of one bad apple, you could hardly find two more different individuals than Seaver and Vargas.
In essence, Vargas was flipping the bird at Wilpon and Brodie Van Wagenen, his two bosses, who, he implied, were keeping him from telling his side of the story.
That got me to asking some questions of some highly-placed people in the Mets organization, all of whom spoke off the record in exchange for speaking candidly about a player with whom many have grown exasperated.
According to sources in the Mets front office, both Wilpon and Van Wagenen are angry with Vargas, and to a lesser extent, Mickey Callaway. The owner and GM are peeved that the manager had to be marched out for second news conference on Monday to publicly apologize to Healey, and only after publicist Harold Kaufman insisted that he do so.
And they are incensed that Vargas, who was paid $8 million last year for a 7-9 record and 5.77 ERA and will be paid the same this year for, so far, three wins and a 3.66 ERA, has rejected their advice to apologize for threatening Healey, take responsibility for his actions, and put the situation to rest once and for all.
Instead, Vargas’ pettiness cast a shadow over the Seaver ceremony on Thursday and threatens to linger when the Mets return home this weekend for what was planned as a gala celebration of the team Seaver led to the 1969 World Championship on Saturday.
The Vargas situation is especially vexing to the Mets because aside from fining him $10,000, the maximum allowable amount that cannot be grieved by the Players Association, they are powerless to do anything else.
“I knew the right thing to do,’’ Wilpon told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “I apologized, It’s a workplace and everyone had the right to be safe. Tim’s a nice man doing his job. We should respect him and he should respect the players and that’s it.’’
Asked if, in the course of his own investigation of the incident, he had found any evidence that Healey might have been at fault, or exacerbated the situation, Wilpon said, “No, no. Absolutely not.’’
Another person in the Mets organization surmised that Healey’s remark to the manager -- “See you tomorrow, Mickey’’ -- was an example of bad judgment; the moments following a tough loss might not be the best time to make small talk.
But the person was at a loss to explain Vargas’ hostility to the reporter: “Maybe there’s some lingering resentment over something that was written earlier in the year [when Vargas was struggling], or maybe he’s afraid he’ll look weak in front of his teammates if he apologizes.’’
In any event, it’s safe to assume the Mets will not be picking up Vargas’ $8 million option for 2020, although they will still owe him a $2 million buyout.
Contrast that with Seaver, who never made $2 million in any of his 20 big-league seasons and was paid $40,000 in 1969, when he won 25 games and the NL Cy Young Award.
“A player like Tom Seaver comes along once in a lifetime,’’ Wilpon said during his prepared remarks during the ceremony.
“He not only changed the history of this franchise but the history of sports in this city,’’ said Howie Rose, the emcee.
Fifty years from now, Tom Seaver will still be remembered around here.
But Jason Vargas can’t be forgotten quickly enough.
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