Which Side Are You On, Mr. Met?
In the ongoing labor dispute between Major League Baseball's players and owners, one voice is notably absent.
The state of baseball is in peril. Players are currently under an owner-imposed lockout that could delay spring training, which could abbreviate the upcoming season. The source of the tumult is an ongoing fight between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the union that represents the players. The two camps failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement upon expiration of their old one in December and have been at a standstill since. If they can’t reach a consensus by early March, the season will almost certainly be delayed.
Please keep reading — I’m almost to the part about Mr. Met.
The owners and players disagree on myriad things that have to do with specific aspects of the game that frankly I’m not the one to explain to you (players would like to end the practice of owners tanking games on purpose to get a future top draft pick, for example, as well as the practice of keeping players in the minor leagues for undue amounts of time to maximize how long they’re under a particular major league club’s control; if you want to learn more maybe you can read this or this). The major focus of the contention seems to be financial. While both the owners and the players likely hold more wealth than either you or I do, the struggle is one to which anyone who has experienced collective bargaining can relate: the owners want to get richer, and the players would like to be treated and compensated fairly if the owners are going to get richer off of the things they are doing. It is clear where the two sides stand.
Less clear is where the face of baseball stands.
Mr. Met is a humanoid being who wears a baseball uniform and has a large baseball for a head; he is the most baseball mascot in baseball, and the best. Mr. Met’s cartoon image debuted in 1963, and he took on the role of Major League Baseball's first modern live-action mascot in 1964. He was abandoned by the team in the ‘70s, at one point replaced with a live mule, and reinstated in 1994. It is unclear what Mr. Met did to support himself in the interim. According to “The Story of Mr. Met,” an explanatory page on Mr. Met on the Mets website, Mr. Met lost his voice “root, root, rooting for the home team” early in his career; he is now silent, and was once punished for giving the middle finger to a fan who said something derogatory about his mother.
It is unclear whether this root, root, rooting-based silence is why Mr. Met has not weighed in on the current struggle within Major League Baseball. One is left to reason for themselves where his allegiances lie. Mr. Met has known unfair treatment on behalf of the owners, having been fired and replaced with what was almost certainly an act of animal cruelty. But it is possible he feels he’s paid his dues without complaint, and resents the players for holding up the season while fighting for better treatment than he experienced.
Because I could not talk to Mr. Met (he lost his voice root, root, rooting for the home team), I sought out those who might understand his current mental state. First up was Dave Raymond, a legend in the field of character brands; former inhabitor of the Phillie Phanatic and creator of over 130 characters across major and minor league sports franchises, including the Philadelphia Flyers’ beloved Gritty.
“The overall focus for a character brand — we like to use that term instead of mascot — is that they are supposed to connect emotionally to all the constituents,” Raymond said. That means the fans, the community, the team, the employers, the employees. “It’s supposed to be a unifier and not connected to wins or losses; it’s supposed to be another outreach that’s positive and very powerful in distracting people with joy and fun.” Hmm. From this description Mr. Met could either be a union rep or a member of a union-busting consulting firm.
It’s notable that the character brands themselves are not unionized. But Raymond told me there is a fairly new dues-based organization called the National Mascot Association, which at least wants to bring those who inhabit the characters together for the purpose of safety and professional guidance. “We help create the standards by which all mascot performers will conduct and protect themselves,” the NMA website says. “Our focus is making sure that all mascots are built safely, securely, and with the ultimate in flexibility and movement!” While more a collective than a union, it seems to be a step towards one. “It’s not as robust as our industry hopes it will be,” Raymond said. “But I think it’s on its way to being so.”
That still leaves us without a sense of how Mr. Met and other mascots might feel about the collective bargaining agreement dispute going on today. Raymond thinks the Phanatic and Gritty, the mascots he knows best, would not at this time be on the side of either the owners or the players, but on the side of the fans. “The fans are their main audience; that’s who they serve,” he said. “And whether it’s social media or any type of video or messaging, the mascots would be telling the fans, ‘Hang in there. I know you’ve gone through this before, don’t worry. The game that you love will be back.’ So that’s who they’d be serving.”
While a beautiful sentiment, that sounds a bit like the Phanatic and Gritty are trying to politic their way out of giving me a straight answer, which is suspicious behavior, if you ask me. With hope that Mr. Met himself might be more forthcoming, I reached out to Matt Golden, who inhabited his body from 1999 to 2011. He describes Mr. Met as positive, but not unrealistic. “He knows what it means to be a Mets fan,” Golden said. “So despite the smile that’s on his face, he rides the rollercoaster of the 162 games. He’s euphoric when they win, and unconsolable when they don’t.” And when they’re sitting opposite their bosses at the bargaining table?
“Because I believe he’s the embodiment of the fan, fans might have a difficult time watching millionaires negotiating with billionaires,” Golden said. “I imagine Mr. Met would be reluctant to take either side.” Uh-huh. “He just wants to see baseball being played when baseball is supposed to be played.” Uh-huh.
“He hasn’t said anything directly to me about this,” Golden said, “but we haven’t hung out in a while, so I’m not sure.” He added that he just assumes Mr. Met would take on the emotion of the fans who feel alienated by the astronomical dollar amounts being thrown around by the owners and the players; fans who just want to watch baseball. “I understand unions and protecting the workers, but I think Mr. Met and other baseball fans just want to see baseball being played.”
When considering my angry Mets fan neighbor who will not stop talking to me about how he thinks the players are a bunch of rich crybabies, I can see the reasoning. I doubt most fans care about whether the players get the salary floor they’re asking for, when what they primarily want is to hop on a crowded subway train and watch their team lose at Citi Field. Still, I’m going to have to insist on a real answer. Which side is Mr. Met on?
To get into the mind of the fans Matt Golden spoke of, I reached out to the most prominent Mets fan I know personally: a guy named Philip Bump. He works at the Washington Post, and you may have even seen him talking about the news on television. What does he think, is Mr. Met on the side of labor or management? “Mr. Met is neither,” Bump said. “He is the physical embodiment of the brand, the Mets taken living form. Is the bald eagle American labor or American management? Is a dream?”
Okay maybe another journalist might have an answer for me, a sports journalist. Better yet, how about a Mets-in-particular sports journalist. I asked the all-knowing Michael Baron, a Mets fan who has covered the team for SNY, MLB.com, and his Mets substack.
“First off, he has a full uniform, so he unquestionably connects with the players,” Baron said. A great point. “Second, he is always on the field and in the stands, whereas the owners are always in their boxes with A-listers.” Absolutely, eat the rich. “Mr. Met is a man of the people, and would therefore want a bigger piece of the pie, as is the case with the players in this current (non) negotiation.” Perfect!
That solves it. I’m convinced. Mr. Met is on the side of: