BUFFALO — At last, common sense prevails. At last, common decency carries the day, the anniversary of the worst day in New York City’s history. At last major league baseball did what it should have done 18 years ago, 13 years ago, eight years ago, last year: at last, a New York baseball team was allowed to honor its most honored heroes. Let this serve as a fine valedictory for the Wilpon Family, who will be surrendering stewardship of this team soon but who clearly made this a last-stand priority. Let this serve as a reminder that athletes really can make a difference sometimes, for the last push in this triumph came from the imagination and the voice of Pete Alonso, who was seven years old the day the towers fell.
And let this be a template for how to make things happen. The Mets were finally granted permission to wear hats representing five New York City first-responder groups — the NYPD, FDNY, EMT, Port Authority and Sanitation Department — during Friday’s game with the Blue Jays. The notion that it took this long for baseball to allow it is absurd, of course, but the reality of it happening is an exact-opposite reaction: a triumph of will, spirit and devotion.
“It’s a day,” Alonso said before Friday’s Mets-Blue Jays game, wearing a Sanitation hat, “that we want to never forget.”
It was always hard to understand baseball’s reticence and its reluctance, a stubborn stand that reached disproportionate levels of illogic a year ago when Alonso — approaching the peak of his rookie-year fame — tried to use his enormous popularity to enact change, and when denied risked censure by the sport by buying for his teammates a set of custom-made cleats to commemorate the occasion.
Most disappointing in 2019 was this explanation from Joe Torre out of the commissioner’s office: “We try to keep the hats the way they are because every team could really have a legitimate reason to want to wear a different hat to honor something that happened in their particular area. And we just try to keep it consistent with the uniform.”
It was an incredibly tone-deaf thing for Torre to say, given the fact that he isn’t only a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, who played and managed for the Mets and also skippered the Yankees, but because it was his 2001 Yankees who helped shepherd New York through those dark, ominous days following Sept. 11, 2001. If anyone understands that 9/11 is its own special case, it ought to have been Torre.
And you know what? If the Braves want to wear designer caps every April 4 to commemorate the death of Martin Luther King, they should be allowed to do so. If the Phillies want to wear a special uniform with the Declaration of Independence on the back every July 4, they should be allowed to do so. If the Rockies want to wear special uniforms every April 20 to honor the memories of the victims of the Columbine High School shooting, they should be allowed to do so.
It never made a stitch of sense NOT to have it be this way.
So don’t go overboard praising MLB for doing what would have come naturally to most right-thinking people years ago simply for finally coming to its senses. Credit Alonso, who a year ago had no idea the ribbons of red tape he was fixing to get strangled in trying to guilt MLB into doing the right thing. Credit his teammates for eagerly signing on to wear the spikes last year, and to back his continues pleas this year.
And, yes: give credit where it’s due, to Jeff Wilpon, who Alonso said coaxed and cajoled commissioner Ron Manfred ever since last year at this time and who was finally able to get Manfred to understand how lunk-headed his refusal to move on this matter really was.
The Mets get a lot of things wrong, but from the moment the towers fell they have been 100 percent on point in how they’ve done their part to at first ease and then commemorate the tragedy. Shea Stadium, famously, became a staging area for relief efforts. Sports returned 10 days after, and that was an unforgettably emotional night even before Mike Piazza swung his bat. On and on, the last 19 years, the Mets have stepped up.
Friday, they were finally rewarded. Friday was a win for them, and for the city, long before anything was decided on the Sahlen Field scoreboard. Good for the Mets. Good for New York. Good for everyone who’s always known what the right thing to do was, and finally saw it happen.
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