Keidel: Joe Torre, MLB Commits Crucial Error On Pete Alonso, Mets 9/11 Tribute

Jason Keidel
September 17, 2019 - 1:31 pm
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Pete Alonso has gotten it since he got here. 

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Beyond the booming homers, the slapstick, shirtless goofball, aptly nicknamed the “Polar Bear”, has infused fun and hustle into a team and town that has been waiting for the next great homegrown Met.   

Despite being born and raised in Florida, he's fit so snugly into the Mets, and somehow knows our native instincts and impulses, his finger firmly on the pulse of the New Yorker. 

While fans love his 3-wood homers, and his bare-chest celebrations, it is Alonso's innate sense of our history that makes him so special.  As if we didn't love him enough, he also tapped into our abject sadness every 9/11 by crafting custom cleats for the Mets to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. 

How does a Floridian, who was in first grade on that day, have such a firm grip on our feelings?  If we didn't adore him before, then his gesture and his awareness that there is more to life than baseball and the 7 Line, made him part of our family. While most kids get lost in the montage of skyscrapers, Alonso only cares about the two missing from the skyline. 

All of which makes it doubly troubling to see who opposed Alonso's custom cleats. 

Joe Torre, born and bred in the five boroughs, who so loved the underdog he eschewed the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers and cheered for the forlorn Giants, the forgotten brother in the Big Apple's royal baseball family. It was Torre who objected to Alonso's shoes. It was Torre, who returned to his native NYC and forged a dynasty in the Bronx, who kicked Alonso's cleats to the curb, refusing to give MLB's blessing for the most thoughtful and selfless gestures we've seen from a big-time athlete. 

It was Torre who broke our hearts. In an inexplicable moment of insensitivity, Torre, MLB's top cop, told us that the Mets were welcome to wear custom hats and shirts during pregame warm-ups or batting practice. But once the game starts, toss those talismans into the recycle bin. 

As if Torre weren't enough of a New Yorker, he was also managing our nation's most celebrated team during our nation's most horrific day. Torre saw the destruction. Torre smelled the smoke. Torre heard the collective cry from all the victims and widows and fatherless and motherless children turned into orphans by two planes that crashed into the Twin Towers. Other than someone who died that day or had a family member die that day, no one was more tuned into 9/11 than Joe Torre. 

So why is Joe Torre so tone deaf today? Does he really think that if he gave Alonso his blessing that a single player, manager, or owner would have whispered any resistance? Does he have that little faith in our collective grief over 9/11? For a man so PR-perfect, his ham-handed reasons for keeping the cleats in the locker room were maddening.

"We're pretty stingy when it comes to allowing one team to do it, because it's only fair to the other 29," Torre said on Sunday at Citi Field before the Mets played the Dodgers. "Anything that we allow, because unfortunately every day there's something personal in every part of the country. We certainly are sensitive to it and we've allowed a lot of recognition of stuff that people have had to deal with."

I'm pretty sure, Mr. Torre, no other part of the American map has had to deal with mass murder on a biblical scale the way Manhattan did that day. It's hard to recall another state where terrorized men and women were leaping to their deaths from the 85th floor rather than burn alive in their office. 

If Torre is worried about establishing a dangerous precedent, let's keep that in mind the next time our shores are attacked and thousands of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, wives and husbands, from every color of the American rainbow, were vaporized. 

And if precedent is really a concern - which is still laughable - then we wonder why the Houston Astros were allowed to wear gamely caps honoring the astronauts who landed on the moon 50 years ago. When asked why that was allowed, Torre said he didn't realize they actually wore it during the game. 

Torre is a good man. He's not just a baseball lifer but also a Big Apple emblem, our adopted uncle who had a surreal sense of what his players needed, and what we needed. It was so comforting to see Torre sitting in that Bronx dugout, brooding under the bill of his cap, his fists plunged into his pockets, as if he knew how the Yankees would win before anyone else did. He knew how to handle the low-key stars like Bernie Williams, matinee idols like Derek Jeter, and stone-fisted titans like George Steinbrenner. 

Over a decade ago, I interviewed Torre for a local paper, AmNew York. He was managing the Dodgers in a pennant race, his time infinitely more valuable than mine. Yet he took my call and took the time to answer every silly question I asked. He treaded a no-name blowhard from Columbus Avenue with the respect afforded a Nobel Laureate. So it's just so incongruous to see him fumble his way through a simple gesture of kindness. 

In the end, neither Alonso nor the Mets were fined for the simple sacrilege of thinking outside baseball's calcified box. And somewhere in Joe Torre's heart, he knows he committed a crucial error far from the diamond. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel