There's been much made of the fact that as of late-afternoon on Black Friday, not one of the new alternate Mets home jerseys had been sold at the Mets Clubhouse Shop, according to this New York Times report. (The unfortunate reminder of this report is over on Mets.com right now, urging one and all to "Be the first to own THE NEWEST METS JERSEY!)
My colleague Ted Berg expressed worry that this would prompt the Mets to make an aggressive splash in the free agent market for the sake of doing so, a concern I share.
But I think the fact that the jersey didn't fly off the shelves has far less to do with any problems the Mets currently have and far more to do with why people buy or don't buy jerseys. In short: people buy jerseys to express individual preferences, whether about the past, the present or the future. This new jersey doesn't do any of the three.
I happen to like the jersey itself. But while it adds elements of jerseys of the past, it isn't, precisely, the 1962 jersey, or the 1969 jersey, or the 1986 jersey. In other words, it doesn't evoke a particular moment Mets fans wish to remember.
By contrast, the Keith Hernandez jersey I own is the 1986 Mets white with pinstripes. It's the jersey I remember, the jersey he wore in Game 6 and Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. I had the awkward conversation with my then-fiancée when she purchased a Hernandez jersey in gray. The memory was that specific -- I didn't want Hernandez on the road. She returned the jersey, and found the right one. I don't think she understood why at the time -- but many seasons later, she certainly would now.
Notice also the jersey I got has a particular player. Throwback with Ed Kranepool's No. 7, or Tug McGraw's No. 45, or even a certain No. 41 would provide very different visceral reactions to Mets fans than this jersey. In other words, fans eager to celebrate the past aren't likely to pick up this item, but it has nothing to do with not wanting to celebrate the past.
The jersey doesn't provide much enthusiasm about the present, either. This does speak more specifically to the team's current circumstances. Fans are justifiably skeptical about the 2010 team right now, but this doesn't mean they aren't excited about individual players. David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana are all players whom fans are eager to see perform next year -- even more so after seeing less of them than they wanted to in 2009.
But if Mets fans were compelled to buy jerseys for any of them, they'd have already bought them. And it is hard to know how much to celebrate 2010 in advance. After all, these are the same consumers who may have prematurely celebrated 2007 with an NL East Champions shirt, 2008 for the final year at Shea or 2009 for the debut of Citi Field. As much as each of the latter two will provide some positive memories, I can't imagine anyone wants to evoke either season when wearing a jersey to the ballpark. So to wait and see what 2010 will mean after the fact makes a lot of sense to me.
The first jersey I purchased on my own was a Mike Piazza black Mets jersey in the winter of 1998, after Piazza signed his long-term contract. I was certain that he'd be a cornerstone of Mets teams I rooted for in the coming years, and he was; I wore it again on the final day of the 2005 season, watching a video tribute to him on the Shea Stadium Diamond Vision. Again, notice it wasn't the color that led to the purchase, but the player.
And it is hard to see how the future holds much reason for Mets fans to purchase this new jersey, either -- at least immediately. The announcement made it clear that these jerseys would be the alternate home uniform in 2010. No promises were made beyond next season. The jersey could be hopelessly out of date by 2011. Think of the poor souls one still sees walking around Citi Field with an orange jersey on, the kind the Mets briefly wore in Spring Training 2003.
I remember purchasing a Jose Reyes jersey T-shirt in 2003 about a week after he debuted with the Mets. The future was exciting, and Reyes had the kind of tools that made you want to project ahead to 2009, 2012, 2015.
Mark my words: if Josh Thole is given the everyday spot at catcher and gets off to a roaring start, the Mets Clubhouse Shop will sell out of his jerseys quickly. Same thing applies if Jonathon Niese starts strong in the fifth spot of the rotation, or Ike Davis gets called up from Triple-A and hits several home runs in his first few weeks. Mets fans want to embrace the future.
Of course, if the Mets throw away good money after mediocre free agents, or trade top prospects for suspect veterans, it will be a throwback to another time -- the Steve Phillips/Jim Duquette era. At that point, the jersey I planned to wear following the Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade -- a custom-made Kazmir Mets jersey I'd wear until the team got serious about adding talent -- could become the most popular item they'd sell at the clubhouse shop.