Listen

A Social Media Rumor That Nearly Broke Some Hearts

Jul 31, 2015

No need to be a baseball fan to get caught up in the drama that unfolded before our eyes during the television broadcast of the Mets-Padres game at Citi Field in New York on Wednesday evening.

It wasn't a baseball drama, but a life drama that puts all of us — and our reliance on, and misplaced confidence in, Twitter (and other new technologies of would-be connectedness) as a source of information — on the spot.

What happened was that rumors swirled on Twitter and in the blogosphere that the Mets had agreed to send Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler to Milwaukee in exchange for Brewers star center fielder, and former Met, Carlos Gomez. Wheeler was on the disabled list but Flores was on the field at second base Wednesday night.

Mets announcers Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen wondered aloud why Flores hadn't been pulled from the game already; it was their understanding that all that was holding up the trade were medical checks. Why were the Mets running risk of Wilmer getting hurt in that evening's play? The Internet had confirmed the deal: Gomez's Wikipedia page listed him as a New York Met and The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and ESPN noted the trade as a done deal. I know. I checked.

Eventually, word of the trade reached Flores on the field; he later explained that it was fans shouting from the stands who told him about the rumors. Terry Collins, Mets manager and the oldest manager in Major League Baseball — and maybe, it now seems, its least connected to new media — hadn't heard anything about a deal. Reportedly, all the other players had; David Wright is said to have come into the dugout from the clubhouse to let him know that it was "all over the Internet." This was a done deal.

Anyway, Flores learned about it in front of an audience of 30,000 and under the glare of broadcast television. Cameras zoomed in on him as he wept openly on the field. It was like the Truman Show, with tight shots of the sniffles and slow-motion replay of him wiping away his tears.

Flores is from Venezuela, originally. He'd been drafted by the Mets when he was 16. These Mets were his teammates. He'd known no other team. They were dumping him — getting rid of him for someone better. He was being sent away. They hadn't even told him to his face. There, in front of the whole world, he was crying.

It was very painful to watch, a new, ultra-brutal kind of reality TV. My son leaned into me on the sofa. Keith and Gary were outraged: I heard them speak of the ill-use of Flores on display; he was being put in an untenable situation. Why in the world was he playing?

I guess you do need to be a baseball fan, and a Mets fan at that, to appreciate the back story of all this.

The Mets of 2006 — young superstars David Wright and Jose Reyes, as well as Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, and others like Cliff Floyd — had been serious postseason contenders. It was a time of great promise and excitement for the team. The following year, however, after coming into the season's home stretch with a dominating seven-game lead over their division rivals, they lost 12 of their final 17 games and were eliminated from postseason play on the final day of the season.

The same thing happened all over again in 2008; I was one of the many fans who could only weep with disappointment when the Mets, on the very last day of the season — and against the same team that had eliminated them the year before, the Marlins — lost again.

For the Mets, it has been a long, slow rebuild. The details needn't concern us here, suffice it to say that it didn't help the Mets' reconstruction effort when it turned out that the team's ownership lost very heavily in the Madoff affair. It's been really hard to be a Mets fan.

Until now. The Mets have recently put together a stable of young pitchers that is the envy of Major League Baseball and, even though their offense has been historically ineffective, some key players are on the DL, the team remains in second place with a fighting chance at making the postseason.

This is the setting in which the news of the trade for Carlos Gomez was received — two days before the trade deadline. Flores, truth be known, has been widely criticized for his unsatisfactory play at shortstop, and Gomez is the big bat, the difference maker, that the Mets have needed.

So, even as Mets fans felt for Flores as he broke down on the field and even as the fans heaped scorn on the Mets management for doing this to him under those bright lights, it was a time of celebration and euphoria. The arrival of Gomez, together with other promotions and acquisitions, would put the Mets over the top and in serious contention for a pennant. And, in a way, the mistreatment of Flores seemed almost like a ritual act — with the final sacrifice of this young man, the bad years would be behind and we set forth on a new beginning.

Like I said, a whole new and very brutal kind of reality TV.
Fast forward. Immediately after the game, it was announced by Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson that there had been no deal. Flores wasn't going anywhere. Wheeler hadn't been traded. The Mets had not acquired Gomez.

Twitter had jumped the gun. The reporters who had posted on Twitter had jumped the gun. Keith and Gary had jumped the gun. The fans who told Wilmer he was shipping out were wrong.

What really happened? Hard to say. Reports have proved unreliable. Reporters have been tweeting that Alderson backed out of the deal when it became clear that Gomez actually had hip problems. His agent, Scott Boras, flat out denies that Gomez has any health problems full stop.

The trade, or failed trade, is not my story, however. The story here is how a heady mix of desire, rumor and fantasy, powered by instant media, looped its way down not only into the Mets broadcast book, but all the way to the Mets dugout itself — where a young and vulnerable Wilmer Flores was made to live out a social-media lie.

In the old days, you had the media reporting on events in one place and you had the public thinking and wondering about it in another. But, now, everything is all rolled into one. The public, via Twitter, have become the media, the players are media consumers like the rest of us.

There are a few people who really knew what was going on all along. Sandy Alderson, for example. He knew there had been a deal and he knew he was pulling the plug, as he claims at least, because of concerns over the health of Gomez. (Alderson's concerns didn't prevent the Astros from jumping in and snagging him the next day.)

But the hero of the story, in a way, is Terry Collins. He's not plugged in and, as a result, he's out of the loop. At first this made him look like a jerk putting the traded Flores into play. Then, it made him seem just plain out of it; how could he not be in the know about what was happening? But, in the end, we can see that he was above it all. Or, to shift the metaphor, beneath it all.

The announcers and the reporters and the fans and the tweeters can play their game up there in the cloud. The work of baseball happens on the field.


Alva Noë is a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, where he writes and teaches about perception, consciousness and art. You can keep up with more of what Alva is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.