The Mighty Mets have been slogging through spring training with a collective zest and energy level that is low, even by the community standards of this state famed as the nation’s capital of senior citizenship.
In the new-mown spring grass of their beautiful stadium, the Amazing Mets have become the a-grazing Mets. Manager Davey Johnson has noticed, and the New York tabloids have noticed Johnson noticing.
Headline: “Irate Davey: Enough Already.”
Story: “Tired of watching his team skate through spring training, Davey Johnson ripped the Mets. . . . ‘My patience is getting a little thin.’ ”
New York Post columnist Lyle Spencer diagnoses the Mets, saying they resemble a tavern softball team with a nasty hangover. “But it’s not alcohol they need to purge from their system,” Spencer pens, “it’s the emotional clutter they’ve been carrying around for five months.”
That clutter accumulated when the Amazing Mets lost to Destiny’s Dodgers in the National League playoffs. The Mets’ pride took a shellacking; a pine-tarring.
The only life the Mets have shown this spring was on photo day, when Darryl Strawberry took a wild swing at Keith Hernandez after Hernandez told Darryl to stop acting like a baby.
Emotional hangover, angry manager, dissension, random violence. . . .
This looks like a team in need of a psychiatrist. Fortunately for the Mets, there is a doctor in the clubhouse.
When Strawberry lunged at Hernandez, the third man in the ring was Dr. Allan Lans, the Mets’ team psychiatrist.
“Let’s go,” Lans said to Hernandez and Strawberry, right there on the field of strife. “We gotta talk.”
They retreated to the clubhouse and talked, and now Darryl and Keith are dearest friends. OK, that’s an exaggeration. They get along. No punches have been thrown, no taunts hurled, in weeks.
“It was a very nice opportunity,” Lans says of the altercation and subsequent clearing of the air under his guidance.
You know you’re dealing with a positive guy when he refers to a snarling, physical, public confrontation between two of your team’s two biggest stars as “a nice opportunity.” And if Lans didn’t prevent the Strawberry incident or shake the team out of its torpor, imagine what kind of fix the Mets would be in if they didn’t have an in-house shrink.
“Nobody keeps track of incidents averted,” Lans points out.
Lans has no office here, no couch. His job is to hang out with the team, to be available. He’ll ride an exercise bike in the training room, wander around the clubhouse, chat it up with players, provide a friendly presence.
You don’t need an appointment, you simply nod and say, “Hey Doc, got a minute?”
“It’s an unusual kind of psychiatric practice,” Lans says. “In traditional analytical psychiatry, the psychiatrist sits in a gloomy, musty room, barely seen. It’s hardly accepted in the annals of psychiatry to take a shower with your patient, but around here, that happens.”
Lans took a nontraditional route to his nontraditional job. For 20 years, he was a practitioner of osteopathic medicine.
He decided he wanted to be a shrink, so he became licensed in family practice, substance abuse and psychiatry.
Not only is he the only team psychiatrist in baseball, if you don’t count George Steinbrenner, Lans is one of the few people licensed to work on bruised muscles and bruised egos. With the Mets, though, he leaves the medical stuff to the team’s trainers and doctors.
Lans came to the Mets five years ago when Peter Ueberroth urged the clubs to retain substance-abuse experts. His role gradually evolved, and now he is the organization’s roving psychiatrist. He also works with minor leaguers and with non-playing personnel.
During the season he’ll hang around the clubhouse at Shea Stadium a lot, and make an occasional road trip.
Lans is also director of in-patient psychiatric services at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. He likes the Mets job because it’s a change from his hospital work. And he’s a baseball fan, so this is a nice opportunity.
“I have to make it up as I go along,” says Lans, a balding, 60ish fellow with a friendly, non-Freudian look. “I like that. It feels creative and inventive.”
Besides, there’s no shortage of raw psychiatric material on the Mets. You’ve got everything from David Cone’s writer’s block to Darryl Strawberry’s Dodger envy to Davey Johnson’s simmering discontent as his amazingly talented Mets yawn and tread water.
Lans takes a low-profile approach to the job. In fact, he says he’s not even planning to put his Mets experiences into a book. This in a city where the team laundryman could get a hefty advance for his insider memoirs.
“If I do my job right, nothing happens,” Lans says. “Nobody should be aware you’re doing your work. It’s nothing heroic. It’s not like hitting a home run or anything like that.”
Sounds like a serious inferiority complex, Doc, but we’ll deal with that next session.