In case you don’t realize just how bad the Mets are right now: As of last Sunday and the conclusion of this year’s one-sided hostilities with the Yankees, the cellar-dwelling Mets’ record stood (“kneeled” is more like it) at 34-46, placing the Flushing Fumblers a mere 17 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East. Moreover, with the book closing on the first half of the season, the only teams in the entire league with worse records than the Mets were the Brewers and the Padres, whose combined payrolls aren’t much more than half of Fred Wilpon‘s $120 million “investment.” Under the circumstances, we have what we feel is a good “baseball reason” suggestion for ever market-conscious Freddy as to how to get the most of out his current Nightmare on Roosevelt Avenue: DARE TO BE AWFUL!

History notes that in their infancy in the early ’60s, the Mets became New York’s darlings simply by being the anti-Yankees: While Mantle, Maris, Ford, et al. were winning pennants and going to the World Series every year (sound familiar?), the Amazin’s countered with an endlessly entertaining combo of over-the-hill stars (Richie Ashburn, Duke Snider, Frank Thomas) and inexperienced kids (Ed Kranepool, Ron Hunt, Larry Bearnarth) who couldn’t win games no matter how hard they tried. (Sound familiar?) So, yes, by all means, dump Roberto Alomar, Armando Benítez, and anyone else who plays like he doesn’t care—and then go out there and lose with all your heart! Make errors at the least likely and most damaging times, José Reyes! Throw gopher balls like they were going out of style, Al Leiter! And we guarantee that fans will groan and grow with a proud new generation of lousy Mets. As rookie Jason Phillips aptly put it last weekend when the umps let every ball-strike call go in the direction of the Bronx: “Rightfully so. They’re the Yankees and we’re a bunch of nobodies.” You go, four-eyed homeboy. —Billy Altman


Sheryl Swoopes, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Ruthie Bolton—likely winners in the WNBA All-Star ballot? Could be. They’re also among the growing number of players who have torn an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a stretchy cord that runs through the knee and attaches the shinbone to the thighbone. One more player joined the ranks on Friday. Seconds after coming in off the bench during New York’s loss against Detroit (75-69), the Liberty’s leading scorer, Becky Hammon, snatched a rebound, broke down the court, pitched a pass to Vickie Johnson, and collapsed. You didn’t have to be an orthopedistor to have seen Rebecca Lobo go down on the same court four years earlier—to know what it meant. “I was just praying it wasn’t an ACL,” Johnson said after the game, when asked what her first thought was as she saw her team’s energy spark fizzle to the floor. Hammon will be out the rest of the season.

Though the WNBA doesn’t keep count of players who have suffered the excruciating injury, the NCAA reports that female hoopsters are at least four times more likely than male players to experience the tear. Theories abound: Women’s wider pelvises and smaller ligaments create an anatomical predisposition; women’s hamstrings don’t absorb shock as well; women spend more practice hours drilling than doing strength training. Some inconclusive studies have even looked into whether the cause is hormonal, noting that many tear their ACLs just before, during, or after their periods. (As if there’s much other time left in the calendar.)

Meanwhile, other Liberty stalwarts have been badly banged up lately. The team that everyone was calling too old might soon be seeing three rookies in the starting lineup. NYC: Meet Erin Thorn. —Alisa Solomon


Eric Booker, one of New York City’s hungriest athletes, stops gnawing on a chicken wing long enough to explain how he supplements his training regimen. “I’ve been studying tapes, like a prizefighter,” the 6-foot-5, 406-pound Booker tells us. “I’ve been searching the Internet. I bought programs to translate from Japanese websites. I’ve been cannibalizing everything, trying to learn as much as I can.”

Good choice of words by the top-ranked competitive eater in the United States.

If an athlete can be judged by stats, then Booker, a conductor on the 7 train for the past 13 years, has the chops. His records include 49 glazed cake doughnuts in eight minutes, 38 hard-boiled eggs in eight minutes, 28 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, and 21 baseball-sized matzo balls in five minutes and 25 seconds. “But none of it means a thing,” he says, “unless I can beat Kobayashi.” He’s referring to Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi, the 113-pound Japanese guy who, last Fourth of July, at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, stunned the world by sucking down 50 1/2 hot dogs and buns to take the coveted Mustard Yellow International Belt back to Japan for the second straight year.

In preparation for this year’s Fourth of July showdown, Booker, a first-degree brown belt in judo, has taught himself to meditate and has enlisted his 10-year-old son to videotape him at training sessions. Cabbage, which is low-cal, is usually a big part of that work, but Booker has already stopped eating it. “You don’t want to be bloated at the competition,” he says, “because you’ll hit the wall quicker. I’ll avoid carbonated drinks, because of the gas. I’ll avoid fast food. Oh, and I’ll avoid sexual activities. I need my stamina, you know?” —Ryan Nerz

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