Fraternization makes Mets' Randolph hostile
This week's visit to Shea by the Nationals, a team managed by former Mets coach Manny Acta, again featured the kind of affection usually reserved for family reunions. Hugs, handshakes, plenty of laughs.
Acta is a great guy, and still well liked in Mets circles. But it's a little strange after the events of last September to see the teams maintain the same close contact on Shea's front lawn. It didn't sit well with everyone.
Manager Willie Randolph, an old-school veteran of the gang warfare between the Yankees and Red Sox, was not among the intermingling groups of front-office members and players. Not this week, and rarely.
To see one of his former lieutenants fawned over by members of the Mets organization probably makes every game against Washington an annoyance for Randolph. But that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon, and neither does the inexplicable chumminess between some Mets and the team that humiliated them only seven months ago.
"How does that happen? How does that become normal?" Randolph said. "I don't know. It's just foreign to me, that's all. I'm fine with, 'Hey, how you doing?' That stuff. I wish that we could enforce it more, really. They talk about it, but I don't really see anyone policing it. You can't force people not to talk to someone."
This is not merely Randolph trying to talk tough. Major League Baseball prohibits fraternization. Rule 3.09 states, in part, "Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform."
Few seem to know of the rule, much less care. And as Randolph said, what could be done to enforce it, other than teammates policing each other? The league did send out a memorandum last season, dated March 29, as a reminder of the rule, which was highlighted in bold letters.
Such memos are supposed to be displayed in the clubhouse, under the assumption that everyone can see them. More often, however, they are largely ignored, unless it pertains to uniform specifications, the use of cell phones or which official sponsor's sports drink is allowed on the bench.
This fraternization memo remains posted in the Mets clubhouse, but it was part of a thick cluster attached to a clipboard hanging on the wall. It also was 20 pages deep, buried beneath memos for bat labels, charging the mound and throwing at hitters.
There are players, however, that don't need a refresher course in keeping the competitive integrity of the game. Not surprisingly, one of them is David Wright, who, like his manager, refrains from the coffee klatches that pop up around the batting cage with opposing players.
"In my eyes, that's something I'm very aware of," Wright said. "I'll keep it down to a quick hello and that's it. I'll be the first one to be friendly with other players before we come to the park or after leaving the park. But as far as that time when I have my uniform on and they have their uniform on, I want to go out there and kick their butt.
"I think it's important that they know that I'm serious about winning and I expect the same from them. That's not saying anything about the guys that do it - I'm just not into it. I want to go out there to win, and if that means taking out a shortstop or running over a catcher, then I'm going to do it."
Wright, at 25, at least understands why that attitude remains important. Sure, Wright was not even born during the time of those blood feuds that molded Randolph in the mid- and late '70s. And he was only starting elementary school when the Mets threw as many punches as pitches during their championship run in 1986.
But as close as he is with the Nats' Ryan Zimmerman, a fellow Virginian, Wright kept his distance before this week's games. Former teammate Paul Lo Duca got a hug, but after that, Wright only waved from the other side of the batting cage.
"I don't want to be a guy's best friend before the game," Wright said. "It's important to me these guys realize - for the five or six hours we're here - that they're the enemy. We're going to go out there and do whatever we can to beat them."