Mets shoulda said 'hat chance!' to MLB

NEW YORK -- Josh Thole pointed to a television in the clubhouse late Sunday afternoon as a camera focused on New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

"Right there," said Thole, Mets catcher and player rep, motioning to the NYPD cap Coughlin was wearing on the sideline during Sunday's National League Football game against the Washington Redskins. "Coughlin is wearing one."

Ten years ago, Thole's predecessor as Mets player rep, Todd Zeile, thumbed his nose at an edict from Major League Baseball mandating the Mets wear authorized caps and not ones recognizing the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police and other first responders.

And MLB, for all its warnings, never did anything to penalize Zeile and his 2001 teammates.

This time, MLB sent down another edict. And the Mets complied, wearing authorized caps during the game. The Mets donned the first-responder caps in a pregame ceremony.

"I'm surprised they won't allow it today," Zeile said Sunday night, after participating in the pregame ceremony at Citi Field honoring first responders and remembering victims 10 years after the terrorist attacks. "Anyway, we were in Pittsburgh [when play resumed after 9/11]. Here on the big stage of New York maybe they're making a stand. In Pittsburgh, it didn't matter. We were like, 'We're taking the field. I doubt that we're going to get Bud [Selig] and some of the MLB staff running out on the field and yanking them off our heads.' So I figured we were OK."

Zeile added that he was gratified third baseman David Wright and some teammates wore first-responder hats in the dugout anyway Sunday, although not on the field, during the game.

As for Thole, he was in an unenviable position. He is only 24 years old and not really in a position to take a stand, particularly if the organization's higher-ups are instructing him otherwise. There was not uniformity among the players on what to do, either.

Thole himself did not know the history of Zeile and the 2001 Mets' actions until briefed during batting practice.

By right, the Mets hierarchy should have sent word down to go ahead and wear the hats, consequences be darned. But, then again, Mets brass has to maintain a cozy relationship with Major League Baseball given the team's precarious finances.

Finances, by the way, clearly had to be a major reason behind the MLB mandate. The hats the Mets did wear, standard looking except for an American flag patch on the left side, are being sold by MLB for $36.99. (Made in China, too, by the way.)

That the whole thing became an issue really is sad. MLB ought to have looked the other way. When it did not, the Mets ought to have told MLB what it could do with its edict. There are too many deeper things going on this 10th anniversary for this to be an issue.

"Look, it's significant now because it's a tribute," Zeile said about the first-responder hats. "It was certainly a lot more personal at the time. The hats that we had, they had real blood and sweat from the guys that were down there in the trenches. So it just felt like the right thing to do.

"And I think everybody you talk to will tell you the exact same thing: It was the right thing to do. We were going to do it. And there was no way we were going to be stopped."