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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Still With Us

Tom Seaver is 75 years old today. We join the multitudes of baseball fans in wishing him a happy birthday and a happy day every day. We miss him. He’s still with us in the most elemental sense, yet we wish he could assert his presence like he did not so long ago.

A ceremonial first pitch.

An inning of erudition in the booth.

A lordly wave of acknowledgement to the sun-soaked masses while taking his shaded seat on stage at Cooperstown.

A story shared about what it was like on the mound; in the clubhouse; in the manager’s office; out to dinner after the crowd went home from Cooperstown.

A quote here or there disapproving of contemporary pitch-counting or talking up the current grape crop in a favored columnist’s copy.

All of this was Tom in the mid-November of his public life, before we realized his immortal’s emeritus phase, which we just assumed would go on and on, was about to go dark. Tom is still with us, but he used to be with us a whole lot more.

As gratifying as it was for 2019 to be graced by a golden-anniversary celebration of the 1969 Mets, you couldn’t in your heart swear it was wholly satisfying. That’s not the fault of those who joined us to celebrate. You loved hearing from Shamsky, from Swoboda, from Gaspar (every right fielder released a book this year) and from everybody else. It was a team effort, both capturing the championship and commemorating it anew. Still, you missed 41. You missed others, too. You wished everybody could have been both alive and well. You yearned for Tom most of all. You couldn’t help it. He’s Tom Seaver. Not was. Is.

He always will be. He always will be 41. Always the Opening Day starter. Always the man whose spot doesn’t get skipped because of rain. Always on call when others are taking an All-Star break. Always the one who expects to be on the mound in the eighth and ninth and the tenth if necessary. Always the one to keep himself in the game because he can handle the bat and run the bases. Always shaking his catcher’s hand for a job well done. Always atop the pitching totals in the Sunday paper. Always the one we look for this time of year, right around his birthday as it happens, to show up in the Cy Young point totals, first or darn close to it. Always a world champion among World Champions.

The greatest of pitchers. The greatest of Mets. Always. Still.

Happy 75th, 41. We are with you.

Cy, Cy Again

Every time you turn around these days, some Met is winning some big award. These are good days.

Monday, it was Pete Alonso, National League Rookie of the Year (plus FAFIF’s MVM the next morning). Wednesday, it was Jacob deGrom, National League Cy Young. The latter was a case of Shéajà Vu all over again, of course, as Jacob is a repeat winner. Two years, two Cys.

These are good years, too.

Pete’s award was bestowed one nod shy of unanimous and it was a bit of an outrage. Jake’s second Cy came with exactly the same percent of assent — 29 first-place votes out of 30 —and it was fine. More than fine. Most of the season, the smart money was on Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers. But then the rest of the season got pitched, and down the stretch, nobody delivered like our Jacob. He was pretty good in the middle, too. Really, except for a short, baffling stretch earlier when batters briefly figured him out, Jake was generally great. Maybe not as great in 2019 as in superstupendous 2018, but greatness eventually reveals its truth.

Remember that game on September 9 when eternally lovable Wilmer Flores came back to town as a Diamondback, winked at deGrom from the batter’s box to start the fifth, and took his former teammate deep? That was adorable. That was also it as far as Jake giving up runs in 2019. Not just that night, but for the rest of the year. His final three starts were each composed of seven shutout innings. His final eight starts (and twelve of his last thirteen) were comprised of seven innings apiece — the contemporary conversion rate for nine. An ERA that brushed uncharacteristically close to 4.00 when May concluded settled in at a spiffy 2.43 when all was Cy’d and done.

The Mets have now collected seven plaques bearing the name of Mr. Young, or as many as any National League franchise since the advent of divisional play. Three went to Tom Seaver, albeit none of them in a row. Doc Gooden earned one in intensely memorable fashion, as did R.A. Dickey. Jacob deGrom has scooped up a pair and stands eligible to add on. Jacob deGrom is also signed long-term to stick around. We can’t say what his future holds, but we can depend on it being here, and we wouldn’t wager against it continuing to yield splendid results. Getting to watch this coolest of customers pitch every five days for the next five years (pending player and club options) should be its own award.

The best pitcher in the league one year. The best pitcher in the league the next year. The years have voted and the Jakes have it, two out of two. Unanimous enough.

Infinitely Polar Bear

This starts as a story of incrementalism in action, or the inaction of incrementalism, and how what had been the case practically forever was suddenly no longer the case at all. To appreciate how spectacular the eventual great leap forward in question was, we shall travel back, as we so often have in 2019, to 1969.

You shouldn’t mind. It was a very good year.

Of all the moments that live on in collective memory from the Mets’ magnificent 1969 season, the top of the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium on September 1 isn’t one of them. Little wonder, in that the game was pretty much a lost cause from the bottom of the first on. After being staked to a 2-0 lead, Jerry Koosman imploded, facing five batters whose efforts resulted in four earned runs. By the end of the first, the Dodgers led, 5-2. Come the seventh, L.A. was ahead, 9-4.

Yet what the second batter in the visitors’ half of the inning did put an end to an era that likely not even the most data-driven Mets fan of that pre-analytics period knew existed. Tommie Agee, up with one out, drove a pitch from Jim Bunning out of the ballpark for his 23rd home run of the season. Everybody who cared about the Mets cared only about making up ground on the Cubs, something the Mets didn’t do that Labor Day matinee. The eventual 10-6 defeat at the hands of the Dodgers cost the Mets a half-game in the standings, leaving them at 76-55, 4½ back of Chicago with 31 to play. It also lowered Koosman’s won-lost record to 12-9.

You know the Mets wound up winning 100 of 162 games in 1969, so a little math suggests this game was barely a speed bump on the road to ultimate glory. You also know after a half-century of paying attention that Koosman’s final mark fifty years ago was 17-9, thus we can ascertain Jerry’s case of the Mondays had no effect on his pennant-drive performance, except perhaps to motivate him to go 5-0 the rest of the way; each of those five was a complete game victory, three of them were shutouts, and the one on September 8 — in which Kooz brushed back Ron Santo — is a verified legend. Perhaps you know that Agee, who also stole two bases on September 1, hit 26 homers in all in 1969. With the fiftieth anniversary of that golden season in the books, you surely know it was Agee who was brushed back by Bill Hands on the Eighth of September, precipitating Koosman’s response at Santo’s expense.

But what do you know about Agee’s 23rd homer, other than what is mentioned above? Well, know this: When Tommie hit it, it narrowed the gap between the most prodigious home run-hitting seasons by a Met from 12 to 11. Until September 1, 1969, with Agee sitting on 22, Tommie trailed Frank Thomas’s team-record total of 34 by a dozen. Agee had hit No. 22 on August 21, at Shea, versus Ron Bryant of the Giants. He hit No. 21 on August 19 in the bottom of the fourteenth to beat Juan Marichal and San Francisco, 1-0. That one is a legend because it beat a future Hall of Famer, broke up an extraordinarily lengthy dual shutout and added to the mounting evidence that the 1969 Mets were a very serious enterprise.

No. 21 also had the distinction of adding up to the second-most prodigious home run-hitting season by a Met. Agee surpassed Charlie Smith’s total of 20 from 1964. Until August 19, 1969, Smith was the runner-up in the then-thin Met record books’ even thinner chapter on dingers. It went Thomas 34; Smith 20; and everybody else 19-or-under. The gap between largest and second-largest quantity had been 14 for five years. When Agee went deep to start September, the difference had dropped beneath 12. We’ve made that clear already.

But why are we dwelling on this? Because of the following:

• When Agee finished 1969 with 26 home runs, the gap between best and second-best single-season Met home run totals was reduced to eight: Thomas 34; Agee 26. That remained the order of things through 1974.

• When Dave Kingman set up shop at Shea in 1975 and popped 36 home runs to establish a new Mets single-season record, the order was overturned and the gap shrank: Kingman 36; Thomas 34.

• A year later, in 1976, Dave topped himself by one: Kingman 37, Kingman 36.

• Six years later, in 1982, Dave tied himself: Kingman 37; Kingman 37.

• After a half-decade pause, a new champ announced his presence with authority. Darryl Strawberry set the new Mets home run mark in 1987 by two: Strawberry 39; Kingman 37 (twice).

• Straw would match his best in 1988, leaving the top two Met home run-hitting seasons as Strawberry 39; Strawberry 39.

• Then, in 1996, emerged a man in full — a catcher named Todd Hundley — to upend the top of this chart: Hundley 41; Strawberry 39 (twice).

• Between 1996 and 1999, something that seemed incredibly unlikely happened. Hundley, the toast of Flushing, was replaced behind the plate by all-world All-Star Mike Piazza. Piazza couldn’t quite usurp Hundley’s most cherished record, but he did take the 2 spot in the single-season home run standings from Darryl, just as he had taken the 2 spot in the lineup card from Todd: Hundley 41; Piazza 40.

• Seven years later, however, it was Piazza who was nudged aside. Carlos Beltran equaled Todd Hundley’s Mets-best total in 2006: Hundley 41; Beltran 41.

For the longest time thereafter, nobody challenged Hundley’s 41 or, for that matter, Beltran’s 41. All that incrementalism that followed in the wake of Agee moving within 11 home runs of Thomas on September 1, 1969…

Thomas by 8 over Agee at the end of 1969;
Kingman by 2 over Thomas at the end of 1975;
Kingman by 1 over himself at the end of 1976;
Kingman tied with himself at the end of 1982;
Strawberry by 2 over Kingman at the end of 1987;
Strawberry tied with himself at the end of 1988;
Hundley by 2 over Strawberry at the end of 1996;
Hundley by 1 over Piazza at the end of 1999;
and Beltran tied with Hundley at the end of 2006

…added up to little in the way of fundamental change at the top of the Mets’ single-season home run leaderboard. The record that was 34 in 1962 inched up to 41 thirty-four seasons later and remained stagnant for twenty-two seasons beyond that. There was, for thirteen years, no daylight between the top two power campaigns in Mets history, and for almost exactly fifty years, the difference between the top and next-to-the-top had never measured a distance as vast as a dozen home runs.

Then along came Pete Alonso.

Pete came, Pete saw, Pete conquered.

Pete came and kept coming.

By the time Pete Alonso finished arriving, he grasped everything within his expansive reach. The last two items that were up grabs in 2019 have just now become Alonso’s as well.

First, as voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and revealed Monday night, Pete is the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year, winning the award almost unanimously over a strong freshman slate that, honestly, didn’t seem particularly imposing by comparison to the man known popularly as the Polar Bear. Twenty-nine voters out of thirty listed Alonso atop their ballots; a lone misguided soul strained for a reason to stand apart from his colleagues and placed Pete second (there’s one in every crowd). Lack of unanimity notwithstanding, Alonso is the sixth Met to win the BBWAA’s NL ROY, following in the hallowed footsteps of Tom Seaver in 1967, Jon Matlack in 1972, Darryl Strawberry in 1983, Dwight Gooden in 1984 and Jacob deGrom in 2014.

Second, though not least by our reckoning, Pete Alonso is Faith and Fear in Flushing’s choice for the Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met award. Pete is the second rookie in the fifteen-year history of the award to earn FAFIF’s official kudos, joining Jacob deGrom, who was so recognized by us five years ago. Pete also breaks deGrom’s recent stranglehold on the Ashburn, an honor the pitcher took home in 2017 and 2018. Alonso is our first position-player MVM since Asdrubal Cabrera in 2016 and the first full-time first baseman to receive the nod.

Pete Alonso, you might have heard, socked 53 home runs in 2019, the most of any major leaguer in the past season; the most of any rookie in any season; and 12 more than any Met before him. Outhomering the field was outstanding. Elbowing aside every erstwhile freshman was appreciated. But the complete renovation he undertook of the Mets annals was utterly astounding.

The Met rookie records are practically all Alonso’s: hits, extra-base hits (he has the overall franchise record there with 85), runs, runs batted in (120, tied for third-most among Mets in general), total bases (348, another team mark), at bats, plate appearances, games played, slugging percentage, on-base percentage…though he only tied Ike Davis and Lee Mazzilli for most first-year bases on balls with 72. The rookie home run record, of course, also belongs to Alonso. It used to be held by Strawberry, with 26. That seemed like a lot in ’83. It seemed like a lot until ’19. Pete surpassed Straw on June 23. Even allowing for Darryl not debuting until May 6 of his rookie year, that represented an awfully quick revision.

Ditto for the team record for home runs by rookies, veterans and everybody in between. Pete blasted his 42nd home run on August 27. That left him more than a month to run up the score on Hundley, Beltran and history. Pete proceeded to use September to generate a lifetime’s worth of dust in which to leave the old mark of 41.

The difference between Alonso’s Mets record of 53 home runs and the version that preceded his isn’t the sole reason he is our Ashburn of the moment, but it illustrates just what a difference maker he was. A difference of 12 home runs between the all-time team standard and the second-highest total, even in a vacuum, is enormous. Mets fans had devoted themselves for fifty-seven years to a cause whose power was more spiritual than actual. Power pitchers we had. Power hitters we graded on a curve. Through 2018, our single-season record was the second-most modest in all of baseball. That figured. We were gobsmacked when Kingman eclipsed Thomas when he got to 35. We were thrilled when Hundley reached and nosed past 40. The first climb took thirteen years, the second required another twenty-one, and nobody took a higher step for the next twenty-two. We resisted the temptation to hold our breath that anybody would ever top Todd. We were conditioned by experience to not peer particularly high.

Alonso changed all that. He gave us a telescope and taught us how to navigate the stars, Ursa Major (“the great bear”) the brightest among them.

What Pete did surely wasn’t accomplished in a vacuum. Inside a year’s time, with zero major league credentials established in advance of Opening Day, Pete asserted himself as the visage of the franchise before anybody had a chance to fret over service time concerns. As a rookie, he made himself the focal point of New York’s National League baseball franchise. He did it by force of a mighty swing and a mightier personality. He did it naturally. In a sport where youngsters are traditionally instructed to know your place, rook, Alonso saw his place as front and center on a team striving to rise above low expectations and shake free of stubborn mediocrity.

Pete staked out his place and pace early and often. Nine homers in April. Ten more in April. Twenty-eight before the Fourth of July. Almost every one of them stirred the skies. It’s hard to say what was more fun: counting them or watching them. Before the second half kicked in, we were assured we wouldn’t waste our summer prayin’ in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.

By midseason, there was no question the Polar Bear was The Man in Queens. He took his burgeoning reputation to Cleveland for the Home Run Derby in July and increased it exponentially. The 57 home runs he blasted out of Progressive Field may not have counted toward his 162-game total, but geez they made an impression. Winning the Derby in a Mets uniform presented us with a gratifying exhibition achievement. Immediately announcing he’d be donating a significant portion of his million-dollar winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation confirmed we had somebody special swinging for the fences.

Alonso was the head-to-toe package. Especially the toes, as we learned from the story of the special shoes he commissioned for he and his teammates to wear on September 11. It was a brilliantly conceived heartfelt tribute to the first responders who gave their lives eighteen years earlier, to their families who go on without them, “to all the ordinary people who felt a sense of urgency and an admirable call of duty. It’s for all the people that lost their lives and all the people that did so much to help.”

Pete was 24 when he expressed those sentiments after the game with the shoes, a game when MLB, in its infinite wisdom, forbade the Mets from wearing the first-responder caps they wore in observance of a terrible municipal loss from 2001 through 2007. Pete, a six-year-old on 9/11/01 but by no means born yesterday, knew how the Torreadors over on Park Avenue could be about enforcing pointless regulations, so he strategized a workaround, got every one of his teammates on board and paid for a roster’s worth of footwear.

And he’s still 24.

The 24-year-old says thoughtful things, introspective things, hilarious things and pithy things. The briefest of his remarks, articulated in July, as the Mets were finding their competitive footing, was simply “LFGM.” We all capeeshed. LFGM became a hashtag, a rallying cry and the backbeat to a playoff chase surge almost nobody anticipated. Nobody but Pete and his co-workers, perhaps. Directly preceding his four-letter declaration of contention, Pete spelled it out in a tweet:

“Our goal is to make history. We strive every day to be great and nothing less.”

The 2019 Mets flirted with something historic, at one point pulling down fifteen wins in sixteen games and fleetingly turning Citi Field into a summer festival. From wallowing eleven games under to reveling ten games over, they didn’t get quite where wanted them to be, but Pete and his pals took us a lot closer than we dared hope. Before the team got going, Alonso’s rendezvous with destiny had already come into focus. He kept it going and going.

50…51…52…all the way to 53.

Now, we are delighted to believe, all the way to next year.

A difference maker in so many ways. A freshmaker in a Mentos kind of way. As valuable as we could have imagined had our imaginations spanned as broad as a Polar Bear’s back, something we got a good look at thanks to those shirt-ripping walkoff celebrations he somehow thought to initiate when he wasn’t thinking up and doing everything else.

Our MVM. Our Em-Vee-Pete.

2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Yoenis Cespedes
2016: Asdrubal Cabrera
2017: Jacob deGrom
2018: Jacob deGrom

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2019.

The Circle is Unbroken

It’s early 2005 at something nobody’s ever heard of called Faith and Fear in Flushing. We’re blogging for the first time. We have Carlos Beltran coming to camp for the first time. We have the Washington Nationals coming to the National League East for the first time. Beltran was just an Astro. The Nationals were just the Expos. We were just e-mailing each other. Now we’re all starting new adventures.

Faith and Fear watches Carlos Beltran awkwardly approach a leadership role on his brand new team. He’s not an obvious fit as he gets himself acclimated to a new team, a new city, a new situation. The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, morph from their previous identity. They’re pretty good at first, then reverse course and descend into dreadful for several years that coincide with the establishment of a comfort zone for Beltran. He settles in. He hits. He hits with power. He runs. He fields. He throws. That’s the part we see with our own eyes. Whatever he does in the way of leading the team we can only imagine.

Carlos Beltran gets hurt and, as a result, the Mets aren’t very good. The Washington Nationals remain the one team in the NL East that’s worse, but things are about to change. They draft well. They cultivate talent. By the time Beltran heals and leaves, the Nats become good. Good enough to loathe. Not good enough to win it all, but certainly good enough to compete.

Beltran continues to excel as he ages. Wherever he goes, his team benefits. The Nationals stop and start. In 2015, it is the Mets who stop them. In 2016, it is a former Met teammate of Beltran’s, Daniel Murphy, who starts them up. We loathe them some more. Murph can’t lift the Nats all the way, though. Neither can Bryce Harper. Neither can Stephen Strasburg. Neither can anybody for what seems the longest time.

Carlos returns to Houston for one final go-round. He’s not an everyday superstar anymore, but he’s still got skills. He’s definitely a leader. Everybody’s sworn to it since he left the Mets. In 2017, on an Astros club said to be missing only a dash of veteran wisdom to complete its calculated journey from the bottom to the top, it is Beltran who everybody looks up to. With the twenty-year vet mostly sitting on the bench but definitely a factor in the clubhouse, the Houston Astros become world champions.

Two years later, the Astros are in the World Series again. Their opponent is the Washington Nationals. No more Murph. No more Bryce. But Strasburg’s around. And Ryan Zimmerman, who was a National in the first season there were Nationals, has never left. Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick, two wizened Nats, date their major league service to the previous decade. Scherzer pitched at Shea Stadium on June 11, 2008, in a game where Mike Pelfrey shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks into the ninth inning. The game got away when Willie Randolph took out Pelfrey in favor of Billy Wagner. In extras, the Mets won when Carlos Beltran homered. Five nights later, Pelfrey defeated the Angels in Anaheim. It was Randolph’s last game as Mets manager. His first was Beltran’s first. In the lineup on June 16, 2008, for the home team, batting seventh and playing second, was Kendrick.

It had been a while overall for Zimmerman; for Scherzer; for Kendrick; for Strasburg (he debuted in 2010 to a torrent of hype, yet was informed in 2013 he was not as good as Matt Harvey); for Davey Martinez, the Nationals manager. In his first year as a player, 1986, Martinez pinch-ran for the Cubs in the ninth inning on September 17 at Shea. A couple of outs later, the Mets clinched their most convincing division title. Fifteen years later, Martinez was a Brave, playing in what we’d remember as the second Brian Jordan Game, a game the Mets lost in horrifying fashion as they groped for an unlikely playoff berth. We’d remember it too much in 2019 when the Mets played another Brian Jordan Game in another futile grope. Jordan wasn’t involved this time. Martinez was. He was the Washington Nationals manager.

That was in early September. The 2019 Mets fell away from contention. The 2019 Nats pushed on. Into the Wild Card Game. Into the NLDS. Wondrously into the NLCS — wondrously because they’d never advanced beyond the NLDS as the Nationals. It had become an unwanted signature of their franchise, finally erased on their fifth try. Then they put the NLCS behind them with ease, and for the time, whether as Expos or Nats, they were in the World Series. The Astros had 107 regular-season wins, which earned them home field advantage, which earned them nothing. Six games were split, each in favor of the visitors. The seventh game was in Houston. The Nationals, behind Scherzer pitching five gutty innings after neck spasms shelved him three nights before, hung in against the Astros. They hung in until Zack Greinke, who the Mets and Murph had overcome in the 2015 NLDS to advance toward their own NLCS sweep, was removed in favor of Will Harris. Harris faced Kendrick with a runner on in the seventh. Kendrick made the last out for the Dodgers in 2015. In 2019, he hit a go-ahead home run for the Nats.

The Nationals padded their lead and won the seventh game of the World Series, 6-2. The road team prevailed over and over. The Nationals, comprised of old guys, potential free agents and an impossibly young, impossibly good Juan Soto, became the eleventh National League East representative to win a World Series, marking the end of the fifteenth season and postseason of baseball we’ve blogged at Faith and Fear in Flushing.

As we look ahead to 2020 and our sixteenth season of blogging, we learn that the manager of our New York Mets will be Carlos Beltran, long removed from his playing days as a Met, not so long removed from playing in general. He is universally admired within the game, yet taking on a wholly new role. So are the Washington Nationals. They will be first-time defending world champions, charging out of the visitors dugout at Citi Field on March 26, taking on Carlos Beltran’s Mets.

That’ll be Opening Day, when everything old and new traditionally merge into something else altogether.

What The Fonz?

While interviews continue to proceed to determine who will collaborate most collegially with non-uniformed front office personnel in the evolving so as to be unrecognizable to the ghost of John McGraw role of field manager, I have a question not for or about Carlos Beltran, Eduardo Perez, Joe Girardi, Tim Bogar or anybody else still considered a candidate to make us completely forget Mickey Callaway, but regarding another recently vacant skippering position:

Why was Edgardo Alfonzo dismissed as manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones?

Word seeped out last week that Fonzie would not be back in Coney Island to follow up on his New York-Penn League championship-guiding performance — and not because he was being groomed for bigger and better things up the Met chain. No official announcement was made, but the reported phrase of explanation, via Mike Puma of the Post, was Brodie Van Wagenen’s regime wanted to fill the role with one of “its own people”.

Fonzie is a Mets icon. He’s our own people. I’m surprised Brodie the GM of the same organization that has long been graced by the presence of Edgardo Alfonzo hasn’t crossed paths with the man.

My instinct is to be disgusted with the Mets the way I was disgusted with the Mets when they didn’t bother keeping Alfonzo a Met player in December of 2002, but I’ve also been straining to see this from the “its own people” angle. Was there some intangible element Fonzie didn’t bring to managing the Cyclones that the BVW crew values? We know he brought the leadership that resulted in a trophy. Was that just a coincidence? I ask that sincerely. Was Fonzie not developing players while he was winning with them? Is there a burgeoning “Met way” of doing things that Fonzie is somehow viewed as incapable of disseminating? I’m not asking that rhetorically. If Van Wagenen is overseeing a restructuring of the minor leagues and has a certain kind of manager in mind that Edgardo Alfonzo definitively isn’t, then maybe I can squint and see how a change was in order.

Shy of the traditional whisper campaign that usually denigrates whichever Met is suddenly an ex-Met, that’s the best answer I can come up with, and it’s not much. It seems ludicrous on the surface and several layers beneath it. Admittedly, I didn’t hang on every pitch of every Cyclones game in 2019, but I also didn’t pick up on any whispering that the Cyclones were winning in spite of Alfonzo, or that Alfonzo was managing virulently against the desired organizational tide. Did he roll his eyes one too many times during an analytical presentation? Did he toss a printout of projected prospect tendencies to the ground and do to it what Lou Brown did to Roger Dorn’s contract in Major League? Has Fonzie ever done anything to piss off anybody?

If another manager who finally brought an undisputed title to the crown jewel of the Met system had been told he wasn’t going to manage for any Met affiliate next season, I honestly might not have noticed. But this is Fonzie. We know Fonzie. We remember him as one of the most diligent players we ever had. He was fundamentals incarnate, a teammate beyond reproach, a quiet leader in a tumultuous, thrilling era of Mets baseball. It was sad when the business of free agency sent him elsewhere. It was heartwarming to have him back in a dugout under the Met umbrella. Then he adds a flourish to the ideal scenario by winning.

That’s not enough to be this organization’s own people?

Fonzie will stick around as a Mets Ambassador, which seems to involve making community-minded appearances; smiling in the vicinity of Mr. Met; and popping out of the shadows to present casino gift certificates to lucky fans who guess “Edgardo Alfonzo” as the answer to between-innings trivia quizzes. I’ll take Fonzie in that Met capacity over no Met capacity. I’d hate to think there’d be a rift that would keep our all-time second baseman (as named on the 40th and 50th Anniversary teams) away from Flushing. It’s always a downer when you see someone you loved as a player viewed as utterly disposable as an instructor. But it seems a waste of a splendid baseball mind to confine Alfonzo to only ceremonial duties. It’s baffling that a champion be told he’s somehow not the cut of an organization’s jib after just having brought that organization tangible splendor.

He’s Fonzie. C’mon. What gives?

Perennially Sweet Sheadenfreude

We don’t cheer the sun coming up. We don’t cheer the grass coming in green. Yet we always cheer the Yankees going away. It’s heartening to know we can still appreciate the given things.

What’s that you say? It wasn’t a given that New York’s junior circuit entry would go away for good in 2019, especially when on Saturday night the sixth game of the American League Championship Series got itself tied in the top of the ninth inning and Game Seven loomed as a genuine possibility? Perhaps. It is baseball, and we are fond of reminding one another that in baseball, especially in baseball’s postseason, anything can happen — especially in a Game Seven and pivotally in a Game Six. What happened in the top of the ninth of Game Six was DJ Lamahieu poking a two-run homer just over the right field fence at Minute Maid Park and knotting the Astros at four, briefly casting into doubt the outcome of who would represent the AL in the World Series and disturbing the ultimate autumnal tranquility we have known and cherished since the unrequested ruckus of November 2009.

But a World Series in the 2010s by definition is a set of baseball games that never includes the New York Yankees. Not in any year between 2010 and 2018 and, as we approached the bottom of the ninth in Houston, not 2019. Not yet, anyway.

Not yet at all. Aroldis Chapman, heretofore untouchable fireballing closer, recorded two quick outs to keep Game Six tied, 4-4. Then he walked George Springer, bringing up Jose Altuve. Jose Altuve is not who you want up if you’re rooting for Aroldis Chapman.

Which none of us was, I’m pretty sure. Thus, we were quite content to see the mightiest mite swing and connect with a Chapman pitch that was next seen banging off a wall well above the high yellow home run line in left-center field. All those pinstripe-inflected lists being hastily updated to add Lamahieu to the ranks of Chambliss, Dent and Boone were just as suddenly subject to a quick Ctrl+Z. Instead, you could ink into legend a game-winning, pennant-clinching, Yankee-vanquishing home run. Astros take Game Six, 6-4; the ALCS, 4-2; and our hearts, for sure.

You’d think after ten consecutive Elimination Days — seven of them in October, four on the doorstep of the Fall Classic — that we contemporary denizens of the 2010s would be used to the Yankees going away. Within the parameters of a decade that has contained ten postseasons, it literally happens every year. But that doesn’t make its annual occurrence any less sweet.

Once Springer crossed home plate on Altuve’s blessed blast, Greater New York’s big-time professional sports championship drought reached 2,812 days, dating back to February 5, 2012, when the Giants snatched Super Bowl XLVI from the Patriots (no offense, Cyclones, Ducks and latter-day Cosmos). Daniel Jones’s and Sam Darnold’s respective right arms represent the next conceivable chance for the New York area to break through on any side of the Hudson. By the time we know for sure they haven’t — though anything can happen in any sport — we’ll be up to eight years without a full-blown celebration going off anywhere around here. Time was the Yankees could be counted on to interrupt fallow periods with a gaudy parade. Some New Yorkers got a kick out of that sort of thing. Many didn’t. We’ll take going kickless.

The 2019 ALCS now belongs to history, having taken its place alongside standouts of the genre like the 1980, 2004, 2010, 2012 and 2017 editions. If you’re a Mets fan who remembers living through prior decades, you understand why this is sometimes how we get our kicks. If you’re a Mets fan who came of baseball age in 2010 or later, you’ve probably figured out through life experience why the rest of us particularly cherish these moments of Sheadenfreude, the very specific Teutonic phrase for Mets fans exulting in the misfortune of teams we detest, especially when they and the bulk of their followers are based uncomfortably nearby.

The World Series is best when part of it takes place in Queens (which it did in this decade once). The World Series is next-best when none of it takes place in the Bronx. This World Series, between the Astros and Nationals, will be just fine. They’ve all been no worse than just fine from 2010 forward. May the 2020s be at least that good.

Eastward Ho!

The best part about the Nationals sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS, aside from the Cardinals being swept, is it left us plenty of time to get around to extending congratulations to our division rival on advancing to its first World Series. Washington won its first National(s) League pennant on Tuesday night, a week ahead of their next game. It’s Friday afternoon. As self-appointed representative of senior circuit partisans who know first-hand what it means to have rooted our ballclubs clear into the final set of games of a given season, congratulations already yet!

I’m mostly sincere in expressing good tidings down toward the heretofore flag-deprived fans situated within the general environs of the Tidal Basin. Every National League team’s fans, whatever their typical level of engagement and sophistication, should experience being in a World Series once, provided we can’t be in it every year. Once is fine for the Nationals (since we can’t be in it this year). If they promise not to make a perennial habit out of this, we can continue to cobble together something approximating graciousness clear up to Game One of the upcoming Fall Classic. Because the ALCS is still in progress, we might actually need them to maintain their winning ways. May it not come to that.

As the 21st Century dips toward 80% on its remaining battery life, I suppose it’s gone out of fashion to figuratively tip caps and shake hands and all that when the hands belong to those you spend six months absolutely despising. Was it always like this? I don’t think so, at least not instinctively. There have been 21 National League champions to emerge from the National League East since the division was formed in 1969. Five of those champs have been us. It won’t surprise you to know I rooted for us in 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2015. The five easiest World Series decisions any of us ever made.

In the other sixteen — fifteen prior to 2019 — I can recall sometimes being very pro-NL East delegation, sometimes being virulently opposed. As with most things in life, it’s depended.


The 1971 Pirates. Roberto Clemente sparkling in twilight. Willie Stargell at the height of his powers. Steve Blass before Steve Blass became a synonym for suddenly losing the ability to find the strike zone. An extraordinarily appealing supporting cast fronted by Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver. Their charisma transcended any sense of rivalry. I was eight. It didn’t bother me that they finished way ahead of the Mets. The 1971 Mets had already been finished way ahead of by the time the 1971 World Series commenced. I wanted the Bucs to finish ahead of the Orioles, an entity I was still mad at from two years before. When they did, I was quite gratified as a baseball fan who keeps watching baseball despite the absence of his team oughta be.

The 1993 Phillies. This was a one-season infatuation, facilitated by the presence of Lenny Dykstra and the general Krukky demeanor of a team that won in a year when the Mets opted to not compete whatsoever in the National League East. Joe Carter’s home run that won it all for Toronto actually kind of broke my October heart. By 1994, I was over the Phillies and have stayed there ever since.

The 1995 Braves. It’s true. I used to really like the Braves. A couple of times. The early ’80s. The early ’90s. What did those eras have in common? At the time, it was the underdog element attached to an outfit that had been nowhere previously — and the fact that Atlanta’s startling 1982 and 1991 rises from ashes took place in the National League West. In 1995, the second year of three-division alignment (and the first with a postseason), I was still afflicted by residual goodwill for a perfectly amenable arrangement that had been only recently legislated out of existence. Finally, I thought when they beat the Tribe in six, the Braves got what they deserved. We certainly didn’t get what we deserved once it sunk in that they were in the NL East to stay.

The 1997 Marlins. God help me, I don’t know why I latched onto these store-bought Fish for their initial October run, but I did. They had the underdog/interloper aura, which I’m often prone to fall for, but the Marlins mostly purchased it at Neiman Marcus (or, given their South Florida locale, maybe Burdines). The owner, as all owners of the Marlins reliably are, was despicable. The fans materialized overnight. Their lineup featured Bobby Bonilla, for crissake. Yet I fell for them, or at least their quest. Expansion team simpatico. National League East solidarity. Jim Leyland getting to light up a victory cigarette. Who knows why one follows a postseason muse? When they took down the again unfortunate Indians in seven, I applauded. Perhaps the sound of my two hands clapping shook loose Al Leiter and Dennis Cook.

The 2003 Marlins. Different vibe six years later. The Marlins were a true out-of-nowhere team. Dontrelle Willis was a lovable kid. So was Miguel Cabrera. Juan Pierre was a frisky throwback. Josh Beckett had the liveliest of arms. Ivan Rodriguez was in the right place at last. Future 2007 Collapse participants Jeff Conine and Luis Castillo were solid contributors. They outwitted the Giants. They shocked the Cubs. And their World Series opponent made them all the more rootable. It’s been a while since anybody could apply such an adjective to any Marlin unit.


The 1979 Pirates. At age 16, I was fed up with the Mets finishing behind everybody in the National League East, so I took it out on the Pirates. Also, I had pulled from afar for the upstart Expos that season, and Pittsburgh short-sheeted that vicarious thrill. They went on to beat the Reds in the NLCS, which most years would have been fine with me, but this was when the Reds had Tom Seaver, and I was obligated to root for Tom Seaver’s team (he’d never again see the postseason). Hence, i was immune to the charms of “We Are Family,” et al. In the World Series, the AL banner was clutched by the Baltimore Orioles, who by this point I had come to appreciate as an avatar of ongoing excellence — especially after three consecutive years of the AL flag having flown in the Bronx. So I went with Earl Weaver’s O’s over Chuck Tanner’s Bucs. The Bucs, led by Pops Stargell, had other ideas and won in seven. Seeing as how it’s the most recent World Series celebrated by the denizens of where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the mighty Ohio, that’s cool.

(Say, whatever became of the Montreal Expos?)

The 1982 Cardinals. I don’t think I’d ever had anything substantial against St. Louis until 1985. I just liked the Brewers more. Milwaukee used to be in the American League, you know. Anyway, I rooted for Yount, Molitor and the Crew. They lost in seven. If I had known in October of ’82 that the Cardinal first baseman would become the Met first baseman in June of ’83 and thrive as a Met icon forever after, I might have been happier for Keith Hernandez at his first moment of triumph.


The 1983 Phillies. Given their long track record of intradivisional success, I really hated the Phillies by 1983, but there they were, the NL East’s standard-bearer, and I got it in my head that if I was a fan of an NL East team, I should get behind my division’s champion. I think that came from reading something while I was in college to the effect of as much as you may hate your conference rivals, you have to root for them in their bowl game. My alma mater was in the Sun Belt Conference then and didn’t have a football team, so this was all very theoretical. I gave Rose, Morgan and Perez a shot of temporary loyalty. It didn’t go anywhere, as they fell in five to the Orioles (who I was back to resenting for having taken the ALCS from the White Sox, who I was about to have very mixed feelings about given their imminent plucking of Seaver). The Phillies would soon make the whole thing moot by generally sucking for the next decade.


The 1996 Braves. You were up two-zip on the Yankees. You could have nipped that whole fucking dynasty thing in the bud. But you lost the third game, the fourth game, the fifth game and the sixth game. Fuck you, Braves.


The 1999 Braves. The enemy of my enemy couldn’t be my enemy because the 1999 World Series was Enemypalooza. Still, I’d have preferred the fucking Braves over the fucking Yankees, though I have to admit that after the searing nature of the 1999 NLCS, I watched maybe a half-hour total of the action to confirm whether New York would be spared another goddamn parade. We weren’t. Thanks again, jerks.

(Delightful unintended consequence of the Nationals’ brand new pennant: No NL East franchise has gone longer without a World Series appearance now than the Atlanta Braves.)

The 2009 Phillies. Basically the same paradigm as 1999, except the Phillie-inflicted wounds weren’t so fresh, since the 2009 Mets had nothing to do with anything connected to anybody’s championship aspirations. Those Phillies did briefly harbor Pedro Martinez, thus I did have a Dykstraesque pang of nostalgia on his behalf, but otherwise, this was a fleeting allegiance of convenience. I was sorry the Yankees beat the Phillies; I wasn’t sorry the Phillies were beaten.

(It took ten years for another NL East rival of the Mets to ascend to the World Series. That’s what a division gets for getting on our bad side.)


The 1980 Phillies. Funny, as much as I loved Tug McGraw, I rarely drew any contemporary naches from his having been on the mound for the final out of Philadelphia’s first World Series championship. Years later, I was glad he got to have that distinction, but at the time, he was just a Phillie, and I despised the Phillies. That hasn’t changed. At the time, I really liked the Royals, who the Phillies defeated. That has changed a lot.

The 1985 Cardinals. This was really the first time the National League was represented by a team that had swiped its postseason ticket directly from the Mets. All the preceding NL East franchises to make it to the Fall Classic did so in years when the Mets weren’t close to first place. In 1985, we had first place in our grip in the middle of September. Then our grip loosened and the Cardinals pried first place away from us. Our attempt to wrest it back in the final week of the season fell short. By early October, my hostility for Whitey Herzog was unmatched for any opposing manager before or since. By late October, when the good ol’ Royals took the World Series away from their fellow Missourians, I felt properly avenged.

The 1987 Cardinals. Not exactly the same trajectory or details or circumstances as 1985 (1986 had happened), but close enough. I still hated Herzog. I still hated the Cardinals. I still salute Minnesota.

The 2008 Phillies. There was a genuine pro-Rays streak running through my rooting interest eleven Octobers ago, but mostly I wanted the Phillies to crumble like Shea was going to: without another world championship. Nope, couldn’t even get that.


The 2019 Nationals. Should Houston do the right thing and build on their current three-one advantage in the American League Championship Series, I seriously doubt I’m going to get out of the habit of feeling Astronomically positive about their achievements. Shed of the sense that we automatically have to hate anybody we play nineteen times per annum, I get the feeling I might gin up a little enthusiasm for certain of the graybeards Washington has ridden this far, but the Mets do play the Nats a lot, and contemptuous familiarity takes a toll on objectivity. The Astros have beaten the Yankees in a recent ALCS and are trying hard to do so again; what have the Nationals ever done for me? Should Houston have a problem (sorry), and somehow the Yankees worm out of their playoff hole and land in the World Series versus Washington…

Like I’ve been saying for a while now, go Astros.

Doctor, My Eyes

I blinked. And I blinked again. Maybe I rubbed my eyes. I don’t remember. Whatever I did, it left me seeing a trail of optical detritus. It was just what wasn’t there but briefly appeared to be. I was six, a first-grader. I had no idea how eyesight worked, just that it worked. But I had heard a phrase involving seeing spots. Was that what I was seeing? How would have I known? I was six.

I did like to repeat phrases I’d heard, though, so I told my parents, one night in the first half of October of 1969, “I think I’m seeing spots.” I didn’t say it with alarm, just reporting a recent development. Making conversation. Trying to be interesting in my six-year-old mind. I just saw something that people talk about seeing. Isn’t that something?

It was taken as something, all right. It was taken as a sign that the boy might not be seeing straight. “Chuckie,” the mother of the six-year-old said to the father, who went by Charles to everybody else, “you need to take him to the eye doctor.”

I don’t remember who our family’s eye doctor was, but I know the doctor was situated in Brooklyn. All of our doctors seemed to be situated in Brooklyn, which was a schlep from where we were on Long Island. We hadn’t lived in Brooklyn for seven years. I had never lived in Brooklyn. Born there, but swaddled up and driven east soon thereafter. Someday we’d find doctors closer to us. Not then. We didn’t sever associations easily, apparently.

I don’t know why my father was nominated for the driving west to Brooklyn, especially on a weekday. Maybe my mother was having back problems that week. It was strange that my father would take time from work in the middle of a weekday, a Thursday, to do this, but he did. My eyes weren’t bothering me, so we didn’t talk about that on the ride to Brooklyn for an appointment that precluded my being in school. We talked about what I was looking forward to after the appointment. I wasn’t thinking about glasses. I was thinking about watching TV. I was thinking about watching the Mets. Their game would start at one.

It was Thursday, October 16, 1969. I know that after the fact. Maybe I knew it then. I can attach the date to the event because it was written about a lot in things I’d read, without glasses, in the not so distant future.

We arrived in Brooklyn sometime late that Thursday morning. Maybe early afternoon. Late morning sounds more likely. My father no doubt needed to get this over, drive me home and then hop on a train to get to his office in Manhattan. I wasn’t used to seeing him around on a Thursday in the middle of the week unless it was at dawn or at dinner. My eye doctor, whatever his name, no doubt needed to get this over, too. Other appointments, other patients.

My agenda was twofold: get this over; and avoid eye drops. I don’t think I came into the examining room with an anti-eye drop bias, but I developed one quickly. I’m still against them, by the way, but maturity has allowed me to cope with some items I don’t care for. At six, I was all id. Or all “AAUUGGHH!!” as any number of Peanuts characters might have put it. You’re gonna put what in my eyes? Oh, I don’t think so.

The doctor thought so. He couldn’t get at the heart of my spots if he couldn’t examine my eyes thoroughly, and that involved drops. I didn’t care. I saw fine. The only thing that would hinder my eyesight was this man trying to cloud my vision with this horrible liquid. I shut my eyes tight and screamed a little.

My father rarely played disciplinarian. He was a businessman. His business involved listening and talking, ultimately getting people to strongly consider a proposition he was empowered to offer them. Here, he had leverage, so he got me to consider this:

“If you don’t let the doctor put the eye drops in, you can’t watch the World Series later.”

I opened my eyes and stopped screaming.

There was nothing wrong with my eyesight on October 16, 1969. My “spots” report was misinterpreted. I could have told my mother that. I probably did. Listening wasn’t always my mother’s strongest suit. There were no glasses forthcoming for me for more than a decade. There were no complaints. Eye doctors for years gave me great reports. In recent times, I was told that despite age my eyesight has somehow gotten better. To be certain this is still the case, I should probably go get them checked anew.

On that Thursday, they were checked, they were fine and they and the rest of me were back in the car, headed home to the portable TV in my sister’s room. She was in eighth grade and at school. Where else would a kid be on a Thursday afternoon but school? Yet I wasn’t. This eye doctor appointment was fortuitous timing. The Mets were playing the fifth game of the World Series. If they won this game, they’d win the World Series. I got to turn on that TV and watch however much of the game remained.

I couldn’t tell you about the shoe polish play first hand. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see Donn Clendenon hit the home run that followed Cleon Jones going to first that followed Gil Hodges showing the umpire a ball marked with shoe polish proving Cleon had been hit in the foot by a Dave McNally pitch. I read up on that later, which is how I learned and memorized the date. I couldn’t tell you about Al Weis hitting the home run that tied the game at three, not from experience. I just know that that while I watched, the score was Mets 3 Orioles 3, and that Cleon Jones doubled; and Ron Swoboda doubled; and Cleon scored to put the Mets ahead, 4-3, and that something else happened (an error) and Swoboda crossed the plate to make it 5-3. Decades later, I saw a rebroadcast of this game, saw the eighth inning play out and realized what i remembered from my childhood had really happened exactly as it had sat in my memory. At six, I knew the Mets were ahead by two home runs. I thought every run was a “home run”; I also thought innings were “hittings”. I had a lot to learn.

In the ninth hitting…make that inning, I saw the last out. I saw the crowd run onto the field because with the game over, the Mets were world champions. I saw interviews with the players, all of them either drenched in champagne or drenching others with it. I comprehended exactly what had occurred. The Mets were champions of the world. The Mets had been my team for no more than a couple of months at that point. I followed them in the papers and on TV and radio. My father brought home the Post, then published in the afternoon, that night as he always did. And I grabbed it from his briefcase, as I had gotten in the habit of doing to keep up on the latest Mets news. This time it was to confirm what was televised. Newspapers delivered that service daily, even as soon as later the same day.

I had picked up on the Mets being the “Amazin’ Mets” and the “Miracle Mets” without knowing exactly what made them Amazin’ or this a Miracle, other than every time I turned on the TV in September and October of 1969, people were running onto the field and players were pouring champagne on everybody in sight. That was Amazin’ and Miracle enough.

The next morning, I wasn’t talking about spots. I was talking about the Mets. I asked my two friends who lived down the block, Jeff and Scott, if they knew the Mets had won the World Series yesterday. I wasn’t sure if everybody knew. Everybody knew. Everybody still knows.

It happened fifty years ago today, and I’m still watching.

The Greatest Story, Ever Retold

If you set your DVR to record Seaver on Sunday or early Monday, you may think your unit was manufactured by M. Donald Grant, for neither the scheduled 4:30 PM showing on Channel 5 in New York or the 1:00 AM airing on FS1 went off hitchless. That’s the danger in saying something will run immediately after a live sports telecast window when it is widely understood that live sports telecasts run long — and unnecessary postgame shows run longer. Fortunately, Fox and FS1 eventually got around to showing Seaver. Channel 5 switched to Tom at 5:11 PM…41 minutes late, which one could smile about once it became clear the documentary wouldn’t be joined in progress or cut off before it ended. The overnight airing came on at 2:55 AM Eastern Time. No poetry in that, but insomniac types still buzzing from the Astros’ eleven-inning victory in ALCS Game Two had to be satisfied.

Seaver, in case you didn’t keep up with the intermittent announcements that it was in production, is a film directed and narrated by the actor Ed Burns and produced by, among others, Bill Madden, who still contributes a weekly “what’s wrong with baseball today” column to the remnants of the Daily News. Madden, however, has something going for him that other baseball writers don’t. He’s maintained a relationship with Seaver, and thanks to that, we as viewers got a visit with Tom Terrific at his home and vineyard in California. It’s one we’ve never had and one we’ll never have again. For bringing us inside, we have to say thank you, Mr. Madden. Thank you, too, Mr. Burns, for putting together a loving, knowing tribute to the greatest Met there’s ever been or ever will be. It is a necessary tribute for the ages, thoughtfully rendered evidence in one neat sixty-minute package (including commercials) of who Tom Seaver was and what he meant. Thanks Fox and FS1 for eventually getting it on the air.

If you’re a lifelong Mets fan whose life extends back to the time defined by Tom Seaver’s excellence, the basis of the film — that you can’t understand the Mets without understanding Seaver — is Metsiana 101. Still, you like to see it. You like to be told it and retold it. Most history about things we cherish is like that. Tell us the story we know, tell it well and maybe tell us or show us a little something we didn’t already have covered. Seaver does that. Up front it’s very good with still photos we couldn’t have seen unless we were thumbing through the Seavers’ family albums. Tom and Nancy were certainly generous in that regard, and it’s fun to see them as they were before a large Metropolitan area realized they were both Terrific. Good to hear from Tom’s childhood friends as well.

And you don’t have to be a looky-loo to get a kick out of spying Seaver Vineyards or the gracious home accompanying it. So this is where the Franchise sleeps. It’s a nice spread. Good. They earned it. From his walk with Madden among the grapes, it’s clear Tom has kept earning it. The man’s love of wine seeps through just as his affection for pitching has been apparent since 1967.

The part of the story that you know — Mets are a horror show before Seaver; Seaver comes along; Gil Hodges comes along; the Mets are champions — is treated appropriately. The footage won’t shock you if you’ve spent the equivalent of months watching Mets Yearbook and such, but who can get enough of watching Seaver fan a generation of would-be batters or Shea tremble with delight as he does? You and I already know this part of the story coming out of the windup, but are you tired of hearing about 1969? It’s fifty years later, and I’m not. Much of 2019 has been devoted to retelling 1969. It’s been a year well spent.

Burns, Madden and everybody else involved keep the momentum aloft post-1969, which might loom as a challenge, because once you’ve retold The Greatest Story, everything after is bound to be a little anticlimactic. Unless you’re a Mets fan, that is — then every year has its own climaxes. Seaver’s first decade pitching was nothing but climax, really, so 1970 and 1971 (strikeout and ERA titles) are properly admired. In 1972, we pause to mourn the passing of Hodges and all that could have been. Nineteen Seventy-Three is its own thing, of course. This is where we get a little something we didn’t already know, or at least not in the terms it is offered. In framing the 1973 World Series, at the juncture the Mets are up three games to two, Sal Marchiano, longtime New York sportscaster, suggests Tom wanted the ball in Game Six on short rest because it bothered him to have not been on the mound when the Mets won it all in 1969. That Tom was intensely competitive is not news. That Tom basically insisted to Yogi Berra that he pitch is also well understood; it wasn’t aberrant back in the day for an undisputed ace to go in a World Series as soon as soon as he could lift his pitching arm high enough to comb his hair.

But Tom looked at Jerry Koosman having been The Man in Game Five four years earlier and let that supersede whatever good might have come from him getting an extra day for a potential Game Seven, when George Stone was available to start against the A’s in Oakland? That’s kind of heavy to think about. It goes unchallenged. Marchiano is a talking head. Seaver’s in Calistoga. This isn’t an FS1 shout show. There’s no back-and-forth. It’s just put on the table and left to linger as we learn the A’s beat Seaver, 3-1, setting up an equally unsuccessful Game Seven. Audio from 46 years ago has Reggie Jackson explain, almost apologetically, that we didn’t see the real Tom Seaver today.

By the way, Seaver’s short-rest Game Six line was seven innings, two runs. Below his standards for 1973, perhaps — but above pretty much everybody’s in this century. It goes unremarked that the Mets didn’t hit Catfish Hunter. He’s also in the Hall of Fame.

Seaver’s Mets career goes on brilliantly until 1977, when there is no editing, no narration, no CGI wizardry to prevent what we know is coming. Just as I reflexively pumped a fist whenever Tom and the Mets were shown winning games, I angered and saddened all over again at the sight of Dick Young and the mention of M. Donald Grant. The documentary was obviously doing its job, even if it’s one we wish hadn’t been needed. In the rest of the film, Seaver goes on as a Red (no-hitter), a Met a second time (until plucked from a sloppy unprotected list), a White Sock (300th win) and a Red Sock (inactive 1986 World Series opponent). He retires, he comes back to Flushing now and then and…well, he won’t be coming back again. The reason is made explicit, and it hits us all over again that the Mets without Tom in 2019 is as wrong as the Mets without Tom was at any previous juncture in their history.

Contemporary Tom on camera is basically the Tom you saw when he did games for WPIX between 1999 and 2005 or visited as a VIP from 2006 to 2013. Maybe one scene has you pulling for him to keep his train of thought on track because you understand why it appears to be derailing; you’re glad his thoughts were captured on what must have been some relatively good days for a man suffering from dementia. You’re thankful Nancy is there. Nancy is every bit the Franchise as Tom in the Seaver story. They will always reign as the king and queen of Queens, whether in California or memory.

Now to be Comic Book Guy’s cousin Media Guide Guy about the production…

Twice in the film it is mentioned the Braves illegally signed from the draft — and the Mets serendipitously drew from a hat — Seaver in 1965. No, it was 1966.

In the segment devoted to the 1973 NLCS versus the Reds, we see Seaver throwing a strike to his catcher John Stearns. That happened in 1975.

Fred Wilpon sits for an interview; he vouches that Brooklyn Dodgers fans missed baseball, but says nothing about the title subject of the film.

We hear from some press people who covered Seaver, and some who came along later but grew up as fans of his, yet we don’t hear at all from Howie Rose or Gary Cohen, who only know everything about the Mets.

We hear from two teammates associated with Seaver’s Met prime — Koosman and Ron Swoboda — and are moved to wonder where some other voices intimately attached to that era are.

Several Hall of Famers who attempted to hit against Seaver weigh in. We would have welcomed a longer procession.

There can always be more. We always want more. If it were an hour-and-a-half long, we’d want two hours. If it were two, we’d demand the kind of length we get from Ken rather than Ed Burns. For an hour, though, the film tells its story well, whether to an audience eternally immersed in it or altogether new to it. Seaver on short rest, delays and all, is as good a bet as you’ll find this October.

FS1 has a passel of reairings scheduled between October 20 and October 24, fortunately none that seem to follow live sports programming, so they should actually be shown as slated. Check your cable listings and set your DVRs to include extra time just in case.


An opportunity to hear from four other members of the 1969 Mets is at hand, Monday night, October 21. It will be presented by FANS for the CURE and hosted by Ed Randall, of WFAN’s Talkin’ Baseball, at the SVA Theatre (School of Visual Arts) on West 23rd St. between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Manhattan. The four World Champions taking the stage will be Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda and Cleon Jones. Edgardo Alfonzo joins in as special guest. It looms as a great Mets evening and, as Ed notes, it’s the night before the World Series, so it’s not like you have to miss a ballgame to attend.

The event itself begins at 7:15 PM, with a reception at six o’clock. Details are here. For further ticket info, please call 212.625.1025, or e-mail FANS for the CURE, Ed’s great cause, promotes the early detection and treatment of prostate cancer and supporting research against the insidious disease.

The Molina Crunch

When the League Championship Series are over, there is a certainty that the more sporting among us will feel compelled to say something nice about at least one team we don’t care for. Whoever emerges between the Nationals and Cardinals we’re not naturally inclined to praise. Half of the ALCS already potentially looms as a guaranteed pitfall for the civility our society once claimed to cherish.

Obviously, go Astros, the good half of the junior circuit finals. Save for some hard feelings over Mike Scott and sandpaper, we have nothing against the Houston club. We hailed them two Octobers ago on their glorious quest and are happy to go to hail on their behalf again. (And thanks for J.D. Davis!)

As for the National League, the Cardinals are a tough sell around here in any decade, though I’ll confess that not having gone head-to-head versus St. Louis for a sizable bag of marbles since 2006 has left me autumnally vulnerable to their cause a couple of times. I didn’t mean to board their rally squirrel train in 2011, but kind of did as they dramatically blew up the Texas Rangers’ world championship plans at the last possible minute. When they were briefly in possession of Carlos Beltran’s excellence during the 2013 World Series, I could at least conceive a reason to root them all the way home (where they didn’t get). Otherwise, they haven’t been in the playoffs since 2015 and they haven’t been missed.

Yadier Molina, the major reason my relatively dormant mid-’80s disdain for all things Redbird reignited as it did on 10/19/06, has become a latter-day Chipper Jones in my view. I hated Chipper Jones in 1999 and continued to hate Chipper Jones well into the new century. Yet I could send Larry Wayne off into retirement with a cap-tipping booooooo in 2012; I stood, I clapped, I jeered. I may not rise to my feet for Molina whenever I know it’s his last tango in Flushing, but I no longer instinctively reach for a bat and imagine what I might to do him with it when his image flickers across the television. I don’t know if that’s progress or going soft.

I still despise what Molina did to the Mets, and could do without him doing any more of it, yet the fact that he’s still doing what he does to anybody, including the Braves in the NLDS, can’t help but earn a grudging admire from me. Yadi and Chipper basically morphed over time into the Malachi Brothers from the legendary Pinky Tuscadero arc of Happy Days. Sure, they were demolition derby villains, but the Count (a.k.a. Marvin) and Rocco were sportsmanlike enough to show up at the hospital to look in on Pinky after the Malachi Crunch inflicted injury on her. Even the Fonz gave them the thumbs-up. By the end of the two-parter, Garry Marshall ensured you could no longer truly hate the Malachis.

You’re welcome to hate Molina, just as I’m sure there are some who’ve never degrudged from Jones, but a career that’s gone on and on with no more than a couple of annual drive-by reminders of whatever became of Aaron Heilman seems a little less abhorrent every year. Time heals, a tad. Molina and Jones did their worst and then stuck around running up Hall of Fame credentials. Whatever we lost to Molina and his equally culpable batterymate Adam Wainwright we eventually found. Sure, 2006 remains a bitter end, but 2015 removed the lingering sting and turned it into history as opposed to something awful that I swore happened the week before.

My perception of these Malachi types differs from the likes of Chase Utley, who recently said something benignly complimentary about the passion of Mets fans (no sale). Utley never faded as an enemy for us because he wasn’t around that much longer beyond his crime, a misdeed that wasn’t simply about competing and succeeding, but a cheap, unpunished shot. Ditto for Roger Clemens, his selective control and his faulty object recognition. Utley and Clemens aren’t sitcom villains. They’re the crew Walter White schemes to blow up at the end of Breaking Bad.

As for the Nationals, I have the feeling that if they went under some other brand and emanated from some other division, they’d represent a decently accessible feelgood baseball story from afar. It’s been nine years since we’ve had to process the presence of a division rival in the NLCS. The last instance was 2010, when the Giants did us the tremendous solid of removing the Phillies from the postseason premises. The only NL East team to advance beyond the NLDS since then, until this very moment, was the 2015 Mets, which was wonderful. The Nats, on their fifth try, are carrying our sector’s banner into the deep end of October now. We’ve dedicated ourselves to sticking our tongues out at Washington through too much of the decade to reel it back in so quickly.

That said, I don’t really despise too many of their frontline stars. Other than wanting the Mets to beat him when they face him and Jacob deGrom to outpoll him when Cy Youngs are distributed, I can’t help but like Max Scherzer. Ryan Zimmerman is essentially David Wright repackaged for the Mid-Atlantic market. Anthony Rendon is breathtaking. Juan Soto is mind-boggling. I’m not crazy about Strasburg, mostly as residue from chanting HARVEY’S BETTER, but I have to hand it to him for hanging in there as he has. Sean Doolittle seems like a righteous dude. Asdrubal is Asdrubal, albeit in the wrong uniform. Adam Eaton I’ll detest for Todd Frazier’s sake, but he’s Adam Eaton.

Most of our active animus for the Nationals stems from 2015, when they were our perfect foil, and the aftermath, when they swiped our NLCS MVP and recast him as Stan Musial. Daniel Murphy is safely disappeared from DC, and with him the sense that the Nationals exist as a specific plot against our happiness. They’ve also persevered minus the resting Bryce face of their franchise, which is delicious. Harper went to the Phillies. The Phillies went nowhere.

I was predisposed to get behind the Nationals the first time they entered October, in 2012. Davey Johnson was their manager and their Expo roots hadn’t totally withered from contemporary memory. Whatever made them a modestly empathetic story early in their relocation has gone the way of Chad Cordero and Nick Johnson. Too much water has flowed under the Francis Scott Key Bridge to kindle even fleeting postseason simpatico. The Nationals are the Phillies are the Braves, indistinguishable within the big ball of ongoing distaste we call divisional rivalry. (Marlins, too, should they ever choose to involve themselves in a playoff race.) Plus — and this is a big one — my Mets-loving friend Jeff who lives down there hates them with the fire of a thousand Utleys. It’s bad enough he couldn’t dance on the Nats’ NLDS grave a fifth time. I’d hate to think of him choosing sides within a Nationals-Yankees World Series if it comes to that.

I’d hate to think of an anybody-Yankees World Series. Like I said, go Astros.