The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Once the ‘one blameless figure in Flushing,’ fingers now point at Mr. Met

Oh Mr. Met, what have you done? (Gregory Bull/Associated Press, File)

The New York Mets were in a bad spot earlier this century, the latest nadir in an existence mostly full of them. There were six straight losing seasons at one point, and sordid allegations that majority owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz were willing accomplices in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Revenue was down. Even the new Citi Field, opened in 2009 to replace the decaying Shea Stadium, failed to spur much excitement.

But amid all that sadness, a round, white beacon of hope remained: Mr. Met was everywhere, on “SportsCenter” commercials and T-shirts and “Conan” and at kids’ birthday parties. He was “the one blameless figure in Flushing,” Richard Sandomir of the New York Times wrote in 2012.

Fast-forward five years, and the Mets are again nose-diving thanks to locker room sex toys and perhaps-preventable injuries and a nightclubbing star pitcher. Only now, instead of cheering up fans who probably need it, Mr. Met is giving them the finger.

Naturally, this is not the type of goofball capering the team officials had in mind when they trotted Mr. Met out there, and the team announced Wednesday night that whoever was wearing the costume would be banned from wearing it ever again, for good reason.

“Let’s face it: When you’re talking about a mascot for a professional sports team, your mascot is the most visible PR tool available to you,” said AJ Mass, who donned the Mr. Met costume from 1994 to 1997, in a telephone interview Thursday. “Literally, it’s a costume designed to draw attention, interacting with kids. It’s important that the person be a professional. This was clearly an unprofessional act.”

Mass now writes about fantasy sports for ESPN.com and penned a book about the mascot life titled “Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots.” He said this never would have happened had the Mets hired a professional to do the job (asked for clarity on how one gets the Mr. Met job, multiple team officials either declined to comment or pointed to their statements from Wednesday night).

“If you want someone to portray the character … it should be one person,” Mass said. “There’s a reason the Phillie Phanatic is so successful: Two people since the ’70s. There’s consistency there, and with you get consistency you get experience and trust.”

Indeed, only David Raymond and Tom Burgoyne have portrayed the Phanatic since its 1978 inception, and while there have been missteps — the Phanatic and the Philadelphia Phillies have both faced lawsuits over alleged in-costume misdeeds, with one settled and another won by the team — they can’t be chalked up to irritability, like what happened Wednesday night.

“Truly, it all boils down to some common sense,” Raymond told The Post in 2016. “You have to have your common-sense radar on full-protector mode. If you do that, you’ll eliminate most of the problems.”

Mass agrees, calling Wednesday night’s middle finger a head-scratching lapse of judgment and a reflection of how the character of Mr. Met has devolved over the years.

“You have to be on the ball with this, especially in the age of social media. Instantly it gets around,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that someone who valued their job would do that in that situation. It didn’t seem like there was anything at stake.

“I decided that Mr. Met was going to be a real kindhearted character, he’s just going to be an innocent kidlike person,” Mass continued. “As such, I think my performance kind of came off that way. It wouldn’t ever have occurred to me to flip someone off. Now … I see Mr. Met for all of three seconds during the game, he runs onto the field for three seconds to do the T-shirt cannon. The character has changed over the year to where I don’t recognize the character.”

Mr. Met was back Thursday afternoon when the Mets hosted the Brewers, though reports from the ballpark suggest he was keeping a low profile, at least until it was time to break out the T-shirt gun.

It’s probably for the best: Once something (someone?) for Mets fans to celebrate when there was little reason otherwise, Mr. Met has taken a strange, moody turn.

“It’s not part of the team, and the team doesn’t consider it part of the team, but the fans consider it a part of the team,” Mass said of the character he once portrayed. “They’ll have to have a very strong person in there tonight.”

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