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The 2011 Mets: Nice Guys Finish Last

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The New York Mets have many problems. That's no secret, of course. Starting with the bungling, cash-strapped owners, to an unfathomable amount of injuries the team has gone through, to free-agent busts, to a lack of talent in the upper minor league level, to a lack of talent that presently resides on the major league roster -- negative issues surrounding the team make for a long list of complaints.

But one nagging characteristic of the Mets that has weaved in and out of our consciousness over the past few years rose to the surface yet again in Tuesday's loss to the Phillies: When Angel Pagan tiptoed his way to home plate in the first inning and practically surrendered French-style to Brian Schneider it just reminded us of all the milquetoasts that the Mets seem to acquire at a rapid pace. Pagan not only didn't knock over the catcher, he didn't even bother to slide. He may as well have baked a fresh batch of cookies for the Phillies while apologizing for having the nerve to try and score a run.

The key to winning baseball games is, of course, pitching, hitting and fielding competently and executing consistently, while concepts such as grit, toughness and chemistry are seen in some quarters as urban legends. But barreling over a catcher once in a while couldn't hurt, could it? When was the last time a Met did that? Was it Ty Wigginton back in 2003? Jeff Francoeur attempted it once but sort of missed the catcher, which sort of misses the point. And when was the last time the Mets were involved in a good old-fashioned baseball brawl? I don't remember either. Maybe it was the time Mike Piazza chased Guillermo Mota around a Florida spring-training field.

From Mike Pelfrey to Bobby Parnell to Pagan, the Mets have employed a group of aw-shucks, too-nice-for-their-own-good players who wilt under pressure and don't exert their presence on their opponent. They're pushovers, who don't fight back. They have pitchers who are afraid to throw inside (except for Dillon Gee, who leads the league in hitting batters), base runners who won't get dirty and batters who get easily intimidated. I'm all for having amiable, good-character guys, but once they step between the lines, that benign geniality needs to end.

Sandy Alderson's to-do list is as long as my daughter's annual Christmas list to Santa, but he needs to be on the lookout for a different, tougher brand of player. Talent trumps all, of course, but when the difference between winning and losing can be slight, the Mets need every advantage they can find. Obviously, Terry Collins' job of changing the culture of the team is certainly not done yet.

Nice guys don't always finish last, but when niceness becomes an epidemic and leads to a lack of competitiveness, last place is not far behind.