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ABOUT US

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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Happiness is on Back Order

We have it from a reliable source that Steve Cohen was not happy yesterday morning. He had never seen such unprofessional behavior exhibited by a player’s agent. He guessed words and promises didn’t matter.

That was yesterday, Wednesday. Today is a new day, not only Thursday, but Thanksgiving Day. I hope Steve Cohen is happy this morning. I hope he sees professional behavior exhibited by players’ agents. I hope he revises his estimation on the mattering of words and promises. At the very least, I hope he and his family have a happy Thanksgiving.

If Steve Cohen can’t be happy, perhaps it proves the old bromide that money can’t buy happiness. Or maybe that happiness, like so many commodities these days, is bound to get held up in the supply chain. You’d think Steve Cohen would perambulate elated 24/7. You’d think we as Mets fans would be happy at least 23/6 that Steve Cohen lists the Mets among his assets. We sure as hell were a year ago. Perhaps our tendency to see Steve Cohen primarily as a walking billfold irked karma. Now that we’ve got an owner with sky-high resources, we’ll…

We’ll what? I’d contend we don’t know yet. We certainly haven’t contended nor poised ourselves to in the fairly near future. Early returns. Incomplete grades. Not much of a shakedown cruise in Season One of the Cohen Era, and Season Two can be termed only as in development. Steve tried to buy a little happiness by way of Steven Matz’s left arm. I don’t remember Long Island’s Own Steven Matz being a harbinger of happiness all that often as the kid from Suffolk County settled into his inconsistent period (2017-2020), but he was always a nice guy, he had a good free agent year for Toronto and did we mention he was from Long Island?

East Setauket Steve opted to go to St. Louis, prime destination for all our nightmare one-that-got-away scenarios. When we hypothesize worst cases, “just watch — he’ll go to the Cardinals and flourish” is our default mode. Should Matz indeed take to heart the unyielding embrace of the Best Fans in Baseball™, lap up the last ounces of nurturing Yadier Molina has on tap and evolve once and for all from a less aggravating Jon Niese to the second coming of Jon Matlack, well, happy Thanksgiving to him. And if he doesn’t, his agent still worked a pretty good deal for him: four years, $44 million. It’s gauche to count other people’s money, even if it comes with the offseason territory.

It’s gaucher, I would think, to throw a snit fit on Twitter, but maybe I don’t understand the particulars of super big business today. If the guy who could buy the Mets for $2.4 billion and not sweat the groceries prefers to call out Rob Martin — whose name I didn’t know until Steve Cohen made him a November 2021 character in our perennial twelve-month saga — rather than pick up a phone or send a message through channels, who am I to say that’s not the way it’s done? So we don’t have Matz. We didn’t have him anymore, anyway.

We also don’t have Aaron Loup anymore. We did have him. He was very good. His market was bound to blow up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon after his ERA deflated so noticeably, all caveats about relief pitchers and earned run averages understood. Aaron might have pitched close to the tune of 0.95 again for us had the Mets matched or exceeded the length and width of what the Thorified Angels presented him (two years, $17 million). Or he and we might have come to learn why career years are termed as such. Good lefty relievers are by no means a dime a dozen, but arm barns are factory-installed with revolving doors.

Cohen tweeting his displeasure with Matz’s agent was a personal choice. The ballclub he owns opted for staid press releases (how quaint) to let us know three other tidbits Wednesday.

• The Mets signed Nick Plummer, a lefty-swinging minor league outfielder from the Cardinals organization (take that, Matz thieves).
• The Mets claimed waived Rockies righty reliever Antonio Santos, who used to be a starter and has mostly pitched in the minors.
• The Mets noted the removal from the roster of the Estrellas Orientales one Robinson Cano, whose lower back discomfort will be served better by physical therapy than continuing to play winter ball in the Dominican.

Plummer and Santos are each 25 years old. Coming to the Mets might do for them what coming to the Mets apparently did for Loup (or going to the Cardinals we dread will do for Matz). New GM Billy Eppler’s background is in scouting. Maybe he or somebody whose words and promises he trusts saw something particularly intriguing in them. Cano is 39, inactive for more than a year except for winter league stints and shaking off a second PED suspension. Unlike Plummer and Santos, Cano is owed an extraordinary sum. Extraordinary to everyday eyes. Cohen could probably write him a severance check between passings of the cranberry sauce this afternoon and still maintain a hankering for green bean casserole.

If our mouths aren’t exactly watering in the weeks since the hot stove began to flicker, let’s take solace in the knowledge that these days are just the appetizers. Even if everybody is instructed to leave the table and play a spirited game of lockdown touch football soon, a proper offseason dinner will eventually be served. Steve Cohen and we will find some semblance of happiness or at least more ballplayers, some of whom we’ll be delighted to have join us, a few more renowned than Nick Plummer and Antonio Santos, one or two likely fresher than Robinson Cano. There’s probably a manager plus a cornucopia of coaches being prepared for our consumption as well.

In the interim, a happy, bountiful and warm Thanksgiving to all. May it be filled with professional behavior.

Got Another Era Handy?

It took Lily Tomlin’s character Debbie Fiderer two tries to win the favor of President Bartlet when she interviewed for the executive secretary position on The West Wing, though there was a good excuse for missing on the first try (“I was high”) and, honestly, Fiderer wasn’t really about winning anybody’s favor.

“All right,” Martin Sheen as Bartlet said, exasperated as their second meeting seemed to go as badly as the first. “I think the interview’s over.”

“Yeah,” Tomlin as Fiderer agreed sardonically. “But let’s do this every once in a while.”

Debbie gets the job in the end, as the viewer knew she would, because — c’mon, you’re gonna bring Lily Tomlin on the show twice merely for fleeting comic relief? And somebody got the job as Mets general manager after it seemed nobody would because, c’mon, somebody had to.

The Mets made the hiring of Billy Eppler official Thursday night and set him up with his ritual Zoom presser Friday afternoon. The ritual isn’t Eppler’s personally, but it is what everybody the Mets install for a prominent role in the offseason submits to. I know this because the Mets install a lot of new people for prominent roles in the offseason. This offseason. Last offseason. The one before it. The one before that. We indeed do this once in a while.

This franchise hasn’t bridged the gap between seasons without at least one dog/pony show of a New Sheriff In Town nature since the winter of 2016-17. Making their media debuts live or virtually to varying degrees of fanfare since the relative period of stability that reigned during the Sandy Alderson/Terry Collins epoch have been Mickey Callaway, Brodie Van Wagenen, Carlos Beltran, Luis Rojas, Steve Cohen (he bought his way in), Alderson 2.0, Jared Porter and now Eppler. I don’t think Zack Scott got an introductory Zoom, settling instead for a vote of confidence in a prepared statement, befitting his “acting” designation. A manager to be named later will fairly soon sit in his parlor or maybe in front of the wall of dancing logos at Citi Field and keep the introductions coming.

That’s a lot of getting to know people from scratch or, in Alderson’s case, with a fresh perspective. Sooner or later, the tidbits and nuances that seem telling at first blend into a blur. Whose priority was making the players feel loved? Who pledged to build a new culture? Who forecast a world championship in three to five years? Some of them? All of them? Presented in the best light possible when they couldn’t have been more enthused to take on their challenge, they seemed like excellent individuals well-suited for running whichever portion of the Mets was supposed to be their bailiwick and we, therefore, were set to benefit.

Most of those named above are no longer with us in the Metsian sense. Nobody who isn’t here left in a blaze of glory.

Eppler is among us for now, though, and that’s swell, I suppose. With Cohen and Alderson hovering in the adjacent, larger Zoom window, he seemed quite happy to have signed a four-year contract and was sincerely glad to tell every reporter over Zoom that it was good to see them and that they’d each asked a great question. He complimented the passion of Mets fans, which was worth one brownie point, and tied it to experiencing our “rabid” ways first-hand when he sat at Shea Stadium in 2005, which was worth another. He preached the importance of depth for a franchise that deployed 64 players in 2021. He mentioned something about hitters needing to make better “swing decisions,” which sounds an awful lot like knowing when to swing, except in jargon. Also, “probabilistic” is apparently the new “analytic,” which replaced “advanced metric” a few years ago, which itself replaced “sabermetric” in baseballspeak.

I don’t want to be too cynical about what the former Angels GM brings to the Mets, but I also don’t want to read too much into Day One. After so many of these fellows have zoomed into and out of our immediate consciousness, it doesn’t seem worth getting attached let alone excited. If I’m overcorrecting to the point of blasé, I’ll happily recant when the champagne is flowing in two to four years and swear I saw something special there all along, I’m an Eppler, we’re an Eppler, wouldn’t you like to be an Eppler, too?

Good luck, Billy. Good luck to all of us.

Fan Appreciation Month

On November 8, the Monday before last, Edgardo Alfonzo turned 48. On November 16, this past Tuesday, Dwight Gooden turned 57. On November 17, today, Tom Seaver would have turned 77. Being a diehard fan means knowing when your favorite players — Tom, Doc and Fonzie are my Top Three — began to live. Being a diehard fan also demands your fandom and your appreciation of what and who you’re a fan of be taken seriously. Not everybody takes your demand or your fandom seriously, so when you come across those who do, you appreciate it. Given that this is the birth month of so much Met greatness (even the Met skyline logo was unveiled in November of 1961), November seems as good a time as any to appreciate those who’ve appreciated what it means to appreciate.

***
It’s 1954 and nobody’s written at length about the act of going to a baseball game. Well, somebody somewhere probably did, but if they did, it hasn’t become part of the public consciousness. Nonetheless, Arnold Hano goes to a baseball game and decides to write about it. He makes an article out of his experience, submits it to The New Yorker, future home of Roger Angell’s fan/journalist essays, and has it rejected. So he takes his article and expands it into a book. It isn’t an easy sell — who wants to read about somebody going to a baseball game? — but Hano finds a publisher and, as a result, we can all find ourselves spending A Day in the Bleachers.

Arnold Hano, a book editor himself in 1954, inadvertently invented the literary form you read here and any number of places on a regular basis in the 21st century. It wasn’t called fan blogging, but he wrote seriously about being a fan: about wondering whether he should try to get a ticket for the game; about how best to travel to the game (opting for the short walk and long ride of the D train uptown from 59th St.); about the line that was already formed as he attempted to get into the game; about staking out his seat; about the fans sitting around him; about the view; about the food (“I had subsisted on two hot dogs, one beer and two cigars”); about the weather; and about the game itself in a very subjective manner.

The game was only the game in which Willie Mays made what is now known as The Catch. Nice game to pick, especially since what Mays was going to do couldn’t be known in advance. The World Series was in town. Arnold Hano was a Manhattanite and a Giants fan. The Giants were in the World Series. How could Hano resist? There were reasons, actually, mostly centered on supply and demand. But Hano threw himself into his quest, picking a subway, queuing up at the Polo Grounds, waiting out a low hum of anxiety over how many bleacher spots would be available as he berated himself over not arriving earlier, and eventually parting with the two dollars and ten cents it would take to gain admission.

This fella walks into a ballpark and invents a literary form.

Hano got in and basically birthed the blog. He wrote about what we would write about five, six, going on seven decades later. He wrote about having to fork over fifty cents for a fancy souvenir program when all he wanted was “the old-fashioned everyday kind of program with a scorecard, the kind that sells for a dime”. He expressed dismay that some people feel it necessary to watch a live baseball game right in front of their eyes with the aid of a newfangled portable radio. He’s disdainful of the nearby lady Brooklyn Dodgers fan who has converted for the day to the cause of the American League champion Cleveland Indians (his takes on Dodgers and Yankees fans in general are what we’d today call hot). He hasn’t much use for many of the bleacherites around him. Hano came to see the game, but he sees all and reports back.

And he does it without an enormous video screen replaying every play, never mind the cues of Russ Hodges’s play-by-play. Hano sits hundreds and hundreds of feet from home plate yet discerns fastballs from curveballs because that’s how you had to roll at a baseball game in 1954. That’s what he’d been doing since discovering baseball in the 1920s. Young Arnold had been sent to while away summer afternoons at the Polo Grounds the way other kids were sent to day camp. He’d lived practically upstairs from the field, on Edgecombe Avenue, and his cop grandfather had a season pass to seats in the grandstand. Over time, Arnold decided he liked it better in the bleachers, where fans could eschew decorum and just be fans, even the ones he kind of rolled his eyes at as Game One of the World Series got underway.

The percentage of the population that can claim to know what it was like to go to a World Series game in 1954, to see the New York Giants, to see the Polo Grounds, to see 23-year-old Willie Mays running down the longest fly ball imaginable off the bat of Vic Wertz and then turn and throw it into the infield pronto is forever dwindling. Hano’s book, published in 1955, preserves all of that. The morning chill. The afternoon sun. The weirdo parading through the bleachers between during the seventh-inning stretch soliciting donations to buy each and every Giant a wristwatch or a Cadillac or some expensive token of appreciation…or so the weirdo swore. The game. Of course the game. The game that locked in at 2-2 and stayed that way into the tenth inning. Hano is all over The Catch Mays made on Wertz’s drive, but he’s all over everything.

“In the Giant tenth,” Hano notes after Cleveland manager Al Lopez has pulled out all the stops only to remain in a tie, “the Indians were down to a substitute first baseman, a substitute shortstop, a substitute right fielder, and a substitute catcher,” which is about as trenchant an observation as I’ve ever read about going to your bench and coming up empty. Bob Lemon — “a tired, very courageous gentleman” — is still at it on the mound for the visitors. Starting pitchers didn’t necessarily stop at nine innings (or nine pitches) in 1954, and partisans weren’t shy in their admiration for the enemy.

The game ends when pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes takes advantage of the generous right field dimensions, “smiting the ball just as far as was needed” for a 5-2 Giants win that set the stage for a Giants four-game sweep over the heavily favored Indians. The other underdog turned hero from the story is Hano, who publishes the book, continues his career as a writer and advocate for more than sixty years beyond publication, and lives until the eve of the 2021 World Series. When word of his passing at 99 spread last month, I took A Day in the Bleachers off my bookshelf and reread it during the first two games of this year’s Fall Classic. Hano on the Giants and Indians made the Astros and Braves on Fox far more palatable than I could have fathomed.

***
It’s 1987 and nobody’s routinely stayed up all night every night listening to somebody talk sports on the radio, him there, you there under the covers. Sports talk radio has been popularized in small bursts, but not around the clock, not to the point where “all-sports radio” doesn’t sound a little absurd in theory. WFAN, however, isn’t a theory. It introduces itself at 1050 AM at 3:00 PM on July 1, 1987, and announces it will be staying on with nothing but sports the rest of the day, into the night, into the wee hours every day and every night.

It’s kind of crazy, but it’s definitely happening. Jim Lampley, a familiar national sportscaster comes on after the first sports update at 3 PM, which itself is delivered by New England-accented Suzyn Waldman. Howie Rose, whom we know as the lone holdover from WHN, thanks to his new show Mets Extra, follows, bringing us to Mets baseball, rain delay and all. Because the Mets’ flagship is now an all-sports station, we aren’t sent back to the studio for the best of Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn, their considerable talents notwithstanding. Howie stays on and keeps talking sports until the tarp is pulled. Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne take it from there, painting the word picture of the critical Mets’ 9-6 victory over the Cardinals, the otherwise frustrating Mets pulling to within 5½ games of first place.

Then, after the postgame edition of Mets Extra, to carry us through after midnight and before dawn is a warm, throaty voice that is more fan-friendly than radio-typical for 1987. He is not smooth like Lampley or the promised morning man Greg Gumbel, who we recognize from television. This guy we don’t recognize at all. He is a lot of shtick at first listen, yet the shtick sticks. It stuck on me instantly and it stuck around for the next 34 years.

Steve Somers was one of the original voices of the FAN and the last to stay in a regular time slot from the station’s inauguration until just this week. He was Captain Midnight in the late 1980s until the mid-1990s. Then he moved around the schedule some, landing for keeps in the evening/late evening. Steve who came from San Francisco fashioned himself into a native New Yorker around his 40th birthday. He belonged here all along. He fit most comfortably overnight talking sports — a lot of Mets, in particular, as the Metropolitans became his baseball team — and talking life from somewhere in Astoria. Other hosts wanted to let you know how much they knew. Steve insisted over and over again there was no such thing as an expert. Other hosts lost patience with callers. Steve let them go on because it was the middle of the night and he was grateful anybody was on the other side of the phone let alone the other side of the glass. As his nudged if not forced retirement moved into focus this fall, he and those who valued working with him and talking to him came on to schmooze with him, mostly about what it was like all those years ago first hearing him.

WFAN, ensconced at 660 AM since October 1988 and simulcast over 101.9 FM in November 2012 (plus whatever name the app goes by presently) can wear on the modern ear quickly, perhaps because we’ve all trained ourselves to conduct a sports radio show in our head, but no radio station has ever been better about mythologizing itself. When a WFAN voice with ties to the station’s beginnings commences a dialogue with another voice with ties to the station’s beginnings — turning the clock back to July 1, 1987, and the dial up to 1050 AM — it reminds us that we as fans who were tuned in the second WHN signed off from playing country music were about to be taken seriously like we’d never been taken seriously before. Any time, day or night, somebody was likely to weigh in on Darryl Strawberry. Whether they made any sense or not didn’t matter. I kept reading in the papers back then that an all-sports format would never work. Suddenly superserved by one, I wondered how an all-sports format hadn’t already existed. There were a lot of us out here. We were up at all hours. I was in my night owl mode when Steve Somers landed in New York. I never called him, but I was sure he was schmoozing in my direction, certainly in my wheelhouse.

He did this one bit for a while that has stayed with me. Every night (or morning) at 3 A.M., he would play “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, using it to soundtrack the essence of his autobiography, hailing the night as the time when you could sit in your solitude and contemplate your future and where it might take you. There’s a line Seger has in there about a girl he knew when he was young. You know: a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes, and points all her own, sitting way up high…“way up firm and high.”

Without fail with “firm and high,” Steve would interject, “she went to a good school.” Every night I knew it was coming and every night it cracked me up.

***
Until 1898, the Long Island towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay were part of Queens County. In 1898, you might say, Queens took the qualifying offer Greater New Yorker put on the table and joined the new five-borough jurisdiction that is now known as New York City. Its eastern towns, however, were left dangling. For the first few weeks of municipal consolidation, they remained part of Queens without being included in the new NYC. Talk about unwieldy. The solution, reached on January, 22, 1898, was for the superfluous trio to give up their Queens identity and form their own county: Nassau.

This is all according to the official Nassau County website and it’s a little relevant to our conversation because nearly 124 years later, the Queens Baseball Convention gaveled into operation not in Queens, but in neighboring Nassau. Actually, I don’t think a gavel was involved. Nevertheless, jurisdictional niceties may have seemed slightly confusing to those looking at QBC last weekend and wondering what it was doing convening outside the home borough of Mets baseball.

It was making for an Amazin’ time, of course. QBC always does that, no matter where it is. But if the geographic thought did enter the intersection of one’s thoughts, it should have scurried along quicker than the traffic on Sunrise Highway. Metsopotamia, after all, is a state of mind, and Mets fans don’t have to be in Queens to congregate with other Mets fans. QBC proved that in Wantagh on Saturday. I, for one, was delighted by the latest location of the only For Mets Fans By Mets Fans fanfest in operation because, quite frankly, it was a helluva lot closer to where I live than it used to be.

Convenience! It’s not to be underrated nor overlooked. Because QBC paid homage to Queens’s former borders, I didn’t have to schlep on various Long Island Rail Road and subway trains to meet it more than halfway. Instead, I hopped in my sturdy Toyota (it predates Nassau County’s centennial) and zipped across side roads to Mulcahy’s of Wantagh. It was so convenient, I did it twice. Stephanie, you see, was very much up for QBC, maybe not so up for the full seven or eight hours it goes on. No problem, honey, I gallantly said to my wife. After the first couple of hours, I can take you home and head right back. (She offered to take the LIRR, which was also convenient to Mulcahy’s as well as thoughtful on her part, but I wished to revel in my rare alignment with the defining feature of suburbia.)

Location, location, location, as they say in real estate. Affinity, substance, bonhomie, as we say in fandom. Put them together, and you had the keys to what made this QBC as wonderful a QBC as any of those where the Queens aspect was literal. It was worth reaching by any conveyance, wherever you were coming from. It was so nice it was worth reaching twice. It contained such a storm of Metscentric activity that you barely noticed the tornado flying through nearby if not frightfully nearby portions of Nassau County. At one point an announcement was made about a tornado warning — we don’t get many of those around here — and things grew a little eerie for a few minutes, but nature looked kindly on our gathering at Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall and conveniently left Wantagh alone.

My primary reason for attending QBC was to play a role in handing out the Gil Hodges Unforgettable Fire Award. It doesn’t usually take more than one set of hands, but this was a very special presentation, to the family of the late Shannon Forde. If you asked everybody who treasured their relationship with Shannon to help hand out this award, we’d still be there.

I was honored to represent the blogging community. Mets fan blogging began in earnest in the 2000s. Shannon, whose job with the Mets was in media relations, was one who took notice and took action. She invited a bunch of us bloggers to Citi Field as media. She saw the likes of us as a legitimate vehicle that delivered information and perspective to Mets fans. Probably not everybody in her job would have reached out. Shannon went extra miles to make sure we were communicated to by the Mets so we could communicate a little better to the Mets fans for whom we wrote. The “mother’s basement” stereotype was still rattling around then. If you dismissed bloggers’ existence, you didn’t have to pay attention to what they blogged.

That wasn’t Shannon’s style. She treated us like she treated everybody within her professional purview: with nothing but good humor and implicit respect. Shannon took our little cohort seriously, maybe more seriously than some of us took ourselves. It wasn’t just that she invited us out to the ballpark. She waved us inside spaces where most of us would never have otherwise set foot. It was as if she ran around to a side entrance, held a door open for us, and told us, “It’s OK, come on in, you belong.” She understood we who weren’t card-carrying members of the BBWAA may have required a little TLC at first, yet she never approached us as anything less than professionals.

Shannon believed we had a place there as people who were simply trying to tell the Mets’ story in our own individual ways to readers who simply wanted to understand the Mets from every angle possible. We the fans who blogged represented the fans who read. Shannon got that. She provided us a runway to hone our insights and present our team in ways we couldn’t have otherwise. It’s hardly the only reason QBC wanted to acknowledge her, but a lifetime of kindnesses of that nature add up. When she died at 44, everybody who’d come in contact with her praised her for her skills, her professionalism, her trailblazing and, most importantly, her humanity. Gil Hodges left us in 1972, Shannon Forde in 2016. It’s never too late to say a good word on those who made their world better.

The rest of my non-commuting QBC day, given that the organizers didn’t burden me with any other official responsibilities, was dedicated to listening to other folks on stage and hanging out with Mets fans all over Mulcahy’s. There was a lot of hanging out. There were a lot of Mets fans. Mets fans I’ve known for years. Mets fans I was just meeting in person. Mets fans I hadn’t seen since the last QBC in 2019, who I mostly see at QBCs. It was as if my social media feeds had sprung to life, but only the pleasant threads.

***
As fans, we form attachments. Sometimes, as with Noah Syndergaard at the moment, commerce detaches us from the objects of our affection. Yet someday, long after Syndergaard is done pitching in other uniforms, we’ll likely return to 2015 and 2016 and feel our bond with him all over again. Maybe he’ll feel it with us. Check in at a future QBC. Maybe he’ll be there and we’ll be glad to see him.

Syndergaard plays in an era with movement and money. God bless, as they say. Were justice prevalent prior to the challenge Curt Flood brought to the reserve clause system, every player could have explored the marketplace. Ron Hunt, a Mets fan favorite fifty years before Syndergaard came along, played major league baseball in the 1960s and early 1970s. There wasn’t free agency. Hunt’s career was over the same year Catfish Hunter extricated himself from Charles Finley on a technicality, a year before Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally went before an arbitrator named Peter Seitz and won players the kind of freedom Flood had so nobly sought for himself and his peers.

Hunt missed all of that. But Ron, for a long time baseball’s career leader in getting hit by pitches, gave his all to the game and the people who support it. That was and remains his guiding principle as a ballplayer and ballplayer emeritus. As he has told Ken Davidoff, his de facto Boswell in the New York Post — and as he mentioned to me when I had the good fortune to speak briefly with him — he made his career about the fans. I saw it when Hunt appeared at Citi Field in 2019. I met Mets fans who became Hunt fans in 1963 and 1964 and never stopped rooting for the guy regardless that he was traded away. To them, he never stopped being a Met. To him, Mets fans never stopped meaning the world.

Davidoff recently updated his ongoing Hunt chronicling by reporting that Ron’s battle with Parkinson’s disease has stiffened. The good news is there is a treatment that has made his life better. The bad news is the prohibitive expense to keep it going. Ron’s daughter has worked with one of his longtime fans to establish a GoFundMe page to get her dad access to what he needs. Fans have responded, just as Ron has always responded to fans and just as Ron worked hard on behalf of the Baseball Assistance Team when he saw other players in need of help.

Ken’s latest story is here. The fundraising page is here. I thought you might like to know about it.

***
November 18, tomorrow, is the birthday of Jay Hook, Cal Koonce, Steve Henderson, Allen Watson, Matt Wise and Gary Sheffield. But if one of them is among your favorite players, you probably already know that.

Another One Gone

Noah Syndergaard was one of my two favorite Mets.

I’ve written before about why I loved Syndergaard, so here’s the abridged version: When he was at his (admittedly brief) peak, he had the best stuff I’d ever seen a pitcher command. The short version was “triple-digit fastball, vicious slider, evil change-up, pretty good curve” but that didn’t do the arsenal justice. Syndergaard threw the slider at 95, with ungodly break. When I was a kid, I could name every power pitcher in the game who threw 95 — but those were fastballs, some with sink or ride but mostly of the Here It Is Hit It If You Can school. A 95 MPH slider? That pitch didn’t exist when I was a kid. It was the stuff of videogames on cheat mode, or some goofball Saturday morning cartoon featuring, say, Josie and the Pussycats having to outfox robot ballplayers.

Like I said, best stuff I’d ever seen. Yes, better than Seaver. Better than Doc. Better than Saberhagen. Better than deGrom. In 2016, the question for me wasn’t if Syndergaard would do all manner of superlative things — perfect games, fanning 20 in a game, Cy Young awards — but when he’d do them. He was that good, and I’d been lucky enough to see him and dream on him from the beginning. Syndergaard was a stock I’d snapped up at $1 and now figured I’d retire on, spending the rest of my days burying myself in piles of money like some beer-drinking bipedal version of Smaug, and oh my was it ever sweet to think about.

About a paragraph ago some of you started muttering that stuff isn’t everything, and that’s true of course. But Syndergaard was smart, too. Smart enough to discuss how his arm motion was akin to a trebuchet, of all things, and — more importantly — smart enough to change his pitching mix before hitters figured out the best way to counter him. That insane slider was a Dan Warthen special, introduced late in 2015 after Syndergaard realized he needed to do more than torch hitters with the fastball — a realization he made as a rookie, when most guys need two or three years of scuffling for the lesson to sink in. The stuff was there from the jump, but it was imagining what Syndergaard might do after he got done fusing stuff with smarts that really made me salivate.

(Oh, and he was also smart enough to pretend to be dumb when that was what was expected, as epitomized by his half-assed semi-alibi to Tom Hallion, post-Utley and pre-ass-in-the-jackpot, that “I’m tryin’ to throw a fuckin’ fastball.”)

It didn’t work out, because pitchers break. Syndergaard lost a good chunk of 2017 to a torn lat, looked at least something like his old self again in 2018, and then 2019 was a strange year, one in which that arsenal somehow stopped yielding the results it should have. And then came the news we’d all known we’d get eventually: Tommy John surgery. Syndergaard missed 2020 and then wound up missing nearly all of 2021 too, reduced to a lousy pair of cameos in which he was pitching without his breaking stuff.

But that was OK, I told myself. The Mets were going to hand him a qualifying offer, which he seemed inclined to accept. 2022 would be different, right? The arm would be healed, for real this time, the full complement of pitches would be available again, and we’d figure out nagging details like innings limits and the possibility of a labor war if we had to. Noah would be on the mound again at Citi Field, and while I figured I’d have about a million questions about the 2022 Mets, at least that one would be answered the only way I wanted to be.

And then the Angels showed up offering more money and a fresh start, and that was that. The silver lining, I suppose, is that Syndergaard is bound for the AL West and so I’ll mostly forget that he exists. Except when I’m fuming about his being elsewhere, or mourning it.

I’m fucking 52, and I know by now that your favorite players rarely if ever stick around to lift a cap from graying temples at the end of a storybook farewell. Hell, I’d barely started being a Mets fan before M. Donald Grant sent Rusty Staub, my first favorite, to Detroit for having opinions. (If you’re reading this, Lucifer, give Grant another turn on the spit and tell him it’s from me.) Mike Phillips was next, until he was shipped off to St. Louis. Keith Hernandez wound up in Cleveland. Gregg Jefferies wasn’t my favorite anymore by the time he left, but leave he did nonetheless. Edgardo Alfonzo became a Giant, visited various ports of call and never quite made it back where he belonged. My favorite Mets who left as Mets? Offhand, I can’t recall any. David Wright, you might say, but boy did that ever come with a giant asterisk.

And now Noah. I shouldn’t be surprised, let alone hurt, and yet I’m both. And maybe that’s for the best. Maybe to still be a baseball fan in your 50s you have to still be capable of feeling stunned and stung. Maybe that’s the price for also still being capable of feeling wild ridiculous joy about a game.

I don’t know. Ask me in April, if there’s an April that matters. For now, in November, there’s another one gone. Not the first, and certainly not the last, but one that hurts.

At least my other favorite player’s still here. Any news about Michael Conforto recently?

Syndergaard for Eppler

It’s not a trade in the sense that the Mets and Angels got together and exchanged personnel that they had any contractual right to exchange. Billy Eppler hasn’t worked for the Angels for a while. Noah Syndergaard entered free agency. That the former Angels GM is reportedly heading east to take the same job with the Mets and the former Mets ace (or co-ace) is reportedly heading west to assume a starting pitcher role with the Angels nonetheless makes it feel a bit like a swap.

Among other things.

It would be pretty cold to dismiss the impending departure of Noah Syndergaard — our Thor — as transactional trivia. Thor is leaving us. Leaving us cold. Maybe cold deserves cold. But leaving is his right. There’s a Basic Agreement in place for at least a couple of more weeks and, as a free agent, Noah did not have to take the lucrative one-year qualifying offer the Mets made him, not if he thought he could get a better deal elsewhere. The Angels gave him a better deal. More money, at any rate: $18.4 million in 2022 if he took the QO versus $21 million in 2022 from the Angels, pending the physical Thor presumably passes after spending two seasons rehabbing from Tommy John and two major league innings showing he can still throw fastballs.

The Mets at the moment are neither a sinking ship nor a rising tide. I don’t know what they are. They haven’t been a very good baseball team these past two seasons nor four of these past five. Noah Syndergaard hasn’t participated in the bulk of the past two seasons and missed most of 2017 plus a swath of 2018. The Mets’ only winning record in that span came when Syndergaard was able to make his full complement of starts, in 2019 (when his ERA rose uncharacteristically above 4). One can infer a connection between the Mets’ quality and Syndergaard’s presence. One has no idea what the Syndergaard of 2022 will deliver to his team, except that he’ll be delivering it in red and white in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Thor embraced being a Met, which I appreciated. Thor was a Met worth embracing, especially upon his arrival in 2015 and amid his ascension in 2016. One starting pitcher has won a World Series game as a Met since Ron Darling won Game Four in 1986. That would be Noah Syndergaard, Game Three, 2015. Given the paucity of big games won by big-game pitchers on the biggest stage of all, that’s one powerfully punched ticket. After Thor did his “meet me sixty feet, six inches” walking the walk and talking the talk in precisely that order in the face of Alcides Escobar and the rest of the Kansas City Royals, he was golden. After his pitching arm was the only one among the five budding aces to persevere through the league championship defense campaign of 2016 — he made the All-Star team, nearly won the Wild Card Game and simultaneously blew our minds like he blew batters away — he established himself as one of our icons for the ages. After that, everything else in the Thor saga was details.

Unfortunately, baseball seasons are comprised of countless details, including who’s gonna take the ball every fifth day and what’s gonna happen when he does and doesn’t. Thor since 2017 has been a charmer always, a pitcher sometimes. It’s a symptom of being human and throwing at three-digit speeds. He belongs to the Angels now. You don’t love to see him go. You understand these relationships don’t usually last forever. Maybe I’m just numb to this sort of dissolution. I figured I’d be rationalizing Michael Conforto’s farewell before I’d be processing Noah Syndergaard’s. I’ll probably be doing both, if not precisely in that order.

The Angel we get in return in this veritable trade is Billy Eppler, former general manager in Orange County. The Mets were either turned down by or overlooked countless candidates to run their show. Or partially run their show. Or run their show until they can bring in somebody somewhat more senior to run their show above an interim showrunner. The offseason is the time to dwell on these dramas, yet I couldn’t get obsessed by the allegedly endless (now ended) front office talent search. Tell me when somebody takes the job, I asked.

Somebody’s taken the job. It’s Eppler. He has experience. He didn’t get it building a champion or even a contender. The Angels of Trout and Ohtani and whoever else he signed or retained didn’t win. Their status is mostly spoken of in the realm of what a shame it is that Mike Trout never gets to the World Series. Even Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets got to a World Series.

But Eppler’s been a GM, and that’s something. The last two fellas entrusted by the Mets with some approximation of that title were new to the helm and it didn’t work out for different reasons. Let’s hope Eppler and whoever he answers to have learned plenty and are ready to apply it proactively.

We need pitching. We need a winner. Let’s start by winning this veritable trade.

This Looks Like Fun

It’s changed venues, it’s changed counties, it’s changed months — and it’s withstood the onslaught of both COVID and the Mets’ own first stab at a fanfest — yet it appears you can count on the Queens Baseball Convention to be the same kind of great Mets time it’s been since it was inaugurated many offseasons ago.

This year’s version takes the field Saturday, November 13, running from 11 AM until 6:30 PM at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, 3232 Railroad Ave. — right by the LIRR station and just off of Wantagh Ave. slightly north of Sunrise Highway. QBC has lined up its usual sweet slate of speakers, panels and vendors, including Gary Cohen and Ron Darling; Todd Frazier; Omar Minaya; Jay Horwitz; Once Upon a Time in Queens auteur Nick Davis; Mr. Met (!) and a whole passel of people who love to talk about the Mets with Mets fans. Metsopotamia has come alive at QBC in Januarys past, whether in Flushing or Astoria. That familiar fan-fueled vibe is sure to carry forward as it puts down stakes for a Saturday in Nassau County.

I look forward to presenting the Gil Hodges Unforgettable Fire Award to the family of the late Shannon Forde at noon, and I look forward to seeing you at QBC throughout the day. Tickets are $25. More information is here.

The Constant of Our Times

The alliteration was irresistible, but Pedro Feliciano wasn’t so much perpetual, per the clever nickname tagged on him by the SNY booth, as he was constant. Granted, the two words work in adjacent cubicles at Roget’s, but perpetual implies something that goes on forever. Constant — in noun form — is something that is always there, at least as long as you can ask it to be.

Pedro Feliciano at his peak was the constant of the Mets bullpen and maybe the Mets experience overall. Perhaps if Pedro’s parents were partial to Carlos or Camilo or Kenny or any baby boy name that leads with a hard “c” sound, Gary Cohen would have alerted us like clockwork that Constant [Insert Alliterative Name Here] was warming up in the bullpen. As it happened, his parents liked “Pedro” and so did we.

We’ve learned the limits of presumed perpetuity with the news that Feliciano, the Mets’ lefty relief specialist whose solid work in orange and blue spanned a dozen seasons, five managers and a pair of home ballparks, has passed away at 45. It goes without saying that 45 is far too young to go.

It’s also far too soon to lose a Met who called Citi Field his professional home. Perpetual Pedro is the first Citi Field Met to leave us. Citi Field has been in operation for all of thirteen seasons. A decade hasn’t gone by since Pedro Feliciano was retiring batters there. For a while, particularly in its infancy, you could be pretty certain that if you planned a day or night at the Mets’ red-bricked crib, you would see Pedro Feliciano pitch. Maybe slightly before you clapped along to “Lazy Mary”; maybe a half-inning after. You knew you’d hear the song. You were fairly sure you’d see the southpaw. Was the game close? Did the other team have a dangerous lefty hitter looming? Pedro was available.

The final game at Shea Stadium included among its festivities Pedro Feliciano pitching. The first game at Citi Field was no different. Coming and going and Pedro. All were constants of the era. The Mets could be very good when Feliciano was on call — he was intrinsic to the fortunes of the 2006 National League East champs and their uncommonly effective bullpen. The Mets could miss expectations and postseasons, as was the case when the entire bullpen collapsed from overwork in ’07 and ’08. The Mets, quite frankly, could be quite frightful, which was their story most of the other years Pedro was around (2002-2004; 2009-2010; 2013).

But, boy, was he around and on call and constant. Eighty-six appearances in 2008. Eighty-eight appearances in 2009. Ninety-two appearances in 2010. Pedro led the league in games pitched all those years. He set standards no Met reliever has touched since. And his managers didn’t keep finding opportunities for him out of sheer curiosity. Pedro Feliciano tended to take care of the batters against whom he was matched. His mix of poise, resilience and offspeed stuff was effective enough so that he achieved the rare status of 21st-century Met reliever who you remember well and without rancor.

Pedro’s time, in all those games not all that long ago, is part of our time. We’re not remembering somebody from the sepia-toned past. Pedro Feliciano’s last year as a Met was 2013. Jeurys Familia, of the 2021 Mets, was a Met in 2013. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard were Met minor leaguers on the rise then. Feliciano the constant was improbably in his third tenure with this organization that season. Pedro left the Mets twice — to pitch in Japan in 2005 and to take the Yankees’ money in 2011 (after which injury shelved him for two years) — yet never wore any uniform other than the Mets’ in official MLB competition. He wound his way through other affiliations, but that left arm answered only calls from our dugout. Feliciano’s name resides in the upper tier of Nothing But A Met rankings: Ed Kranepool, David Wright, Michael Conforto (pending free agency), Ron Hodges, then Pedro, at the moment claiming six games more as Nothing But A Met than Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo, like Dom Smith, was a 2021 Met who was gaining seasoning in our system in 2013.

So, no, it wasn’t that long ago that we glanced toward right field and saw Pedro get his last toss in and jog through that gate at Citi Field. He predated SNY, but not by that much. He predated this blog, but became a prominent bullpen option while we were watching and writing. My two strongest memories of Pedro Feliciano of the New York Mets aren’t of him challenging Ryan Howard (7-for-38 off Pedro) or Prince Fielder (1-for-10), but of Pedro making himself available in ways not every Met did. There was a Hispanic Heritage Night late in the 2009 season when I was meeting some friends outside the ballpark, and hustling as if from the cornfields and onto Mets Plaza to the delight of pregame loiterers like myself was none other than No. 25, making an appearance Elias didn’t notch. Somebody needed him to pose with a sponsor. Pedro was happy to head outside and do it. He smiled for the camera. He smiled for and waved to the Mets fans who recognized him (the only person in full uniform, he was easy to spot). Barely a couple of weeks later, during the final weekend that season, amid a loooooong rain delay, a knot of fans nestled in the Bullpen Plaza was greeted by a Met who usually claimed the vicinity as his home turf. It was Pedro again. He wasn’t coming to chase us away. He came out to say hi and offer autographs and make fans feel good they rooted for this guy’s team.

I was reminded as I scrolled through social media after learning of Pedro’s passing that he was around again this September, for the most recent Hispanic Heritage Month. A native of Puerto Rico, Feliciano was on hand to represent his homeland and say hi one more time. He posed for pictures and signed whatever items were handed him and brightened the night for those who probably couldn’t believe it had suddenly been eight years since Pedro pitched here. He always pitched here, it seemed.

Filling Out the Ticket

Newly nominated as the Democratic candidate for president in 1972, George McGovern suddenly needed a running mate. He didn’t clinch his berth in the November finals until his party’s July convention, so a nicety such as pursuing a vice president weren’t a priority well in advance the way it is today when primaries take care of top-of-the-ticket business relatively early. Further, McGovern trailed incumbent Richard Nixon by a lot in the polls, so the honor McGovern was ready to bestow wasn’t necessarily seen as much of a stepping stone in the world of politics.

It was said of the United States Senate that every one of its members (when it was almost exclusively a boys’ club) saw a president in the mirror when he set out to shave in the morning. Yet, as historian Rick Perlstein recounts in Nixonland, three of McGovern’s colleagues from that august body — Ted Kennedy, Abraham Ribicoff and Gaylord Nelson — declined to see themselves as a vice president and demurred when McGovern asked each of them to join him on his ticket. Nelson at least was helpful and recommended a possible alternative: Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. It was getting late, so McGovern’s people thought about it for a couple of minutes and extended the invitation. Eagleton wasn’t well-known enough to worry about his reputation being damaged on the wrong end of a possible landslide and said yes.

Great…except then not great, because in the rush to find a vice president, the McGovern campaign didn’t thoroughly vet Eagleton, and soon enough Eagleton revealed publicly he’d encountered bouts of “nervous exhaustion and fatigue” for which he was treated with psychiatric help, “including electric shock”. This was quite a bite of news for the body politic to digest nearly a half-century ago, as was the realization that McGovern’s advisers didn’t know about it or ask about it before offering Eagleton to the convention for nomination. It didn’t take long after the story broke for McGovern to inelegantly nudge Eagleton off the ticket and commence on another search for another potential vice president.

Ribicoff resisted a second chance to step in. As did Nelson. As did rising “New South” governor Ruben Askew of Florida. As did Maine Senator Ed Muskie, who’d been No. 2 on the Dems’ ticket in ’68. Muskie had run with Hubert Humphrey, who’d been an unhappy vice president under Lyndon Johnson. McGovern reached out to Humphrey (who, like Muskie, was one of the candidates McGovern beat out for the presidential nomination) to see if maybe he’d like to try it again. No thanks, Hubert said. Beloved consumer advocate Ralph Nader wasn’t buying, either. Oh, and Ted Kennedy turned down McGovern anew.

But there was Kennedy’s brother-in-law, the former director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver. He became what amounted to the Mikey from Life Cereal candidate. Shriver tried it. The vice presidential nomination, that is. In August, McGovern-Shriver replaced McGovern-Eagleton on ballots and buttons across America. McGovern still lost by a lot, but at least he got the job filled. Of course he did. Somebody was going to take it and the ticket would get through the election, win or lose.

The fact that McGovern-Shriver went down in a 521-17 electoral college rout (or that neither Richard Nixon nor Spiro Agnew served out their re-elected term) is neither here nor there. What is here is sooner or later, no matter how many people turn it down, a high-profile job that needs to get filled gets filled.

The Mets don’t have a newly minted president of baseball operations for 2022 in the first week of November 2021, which wasn’t exactly how they planned to light their Hot Stove. They have been rejected — respectfully, quietly, but definitively in reported account after reported account — repeatedly since the season ended. At first they were rejected by the biggest names they coveted.

Epstein to Beane to Stearns
None cared what a Cohen exec earns
Epstein to Beane to Stearns
Queens doesn’t automatically appeal, a Met-lover learns
Epstein to Beane to Stearns
The Braves were on fire whilst our void still burns

We didn’t get the baseball brains we’d heard of. Theo Epstein reached two previously unreachable stars and didn’t need to go for three. Billy Beane is very comfortable in Northern California. David Stearns is under contract in Milwaukee. Fair enough. They aren’t the only fish in the sea.

Nor are a slew of names I don’t feel like looking up after they’ve all turned us down. Every front office would-be Grand POBO from Boston to Los Angeles and myriad stops in between has passed on the chance to step up in Flushing. Their loss, perhaps. Or our loss, perhaps. I can’t sweat it. I have no control over the situation. I have no control over whether an individual Met gets a hit or makes a catch or throws a strike, but at least I can sit in Promenade or my living room and yell at them and feel I gave my input. I can look at OPS and ERA+ and think I have a clue. The labyrinth that composes a baseball franchise’s power structure is essentially what I read and hear after the fact. Frank Cashen was a brilliant architect because we won a World Series. Everybody since Frank Cashen less so because we didn’t.

I do know I’m no longer invested in the cult of the extremely bright assistant general manager or whatever title they held from somewhere else. We were told Jared Porter was one smart cookie. He didn’t make it to Opening Day. We were told we were lucky to have a shiny penny like Zack Scott in reserve. He didn’t make it to Closing Day nor out of administrative leave. Every name floated during this postseason has had somebody in the know to vouch for his or her potential brilliance if only we could get that person. Maybe the one that got away was The One. Maybe not. Either way, they’re not joining us.

Somebody will. Somebody will take Steve Cohen’s money and Sandy Alderson’s direction and run with both. Somebody will make clever trades and questionable signings. Somebody will pursue this free agent but not that free agent. Somebody will make a tough decision that will pay off on the field or regrettably backfire.

As Pete Alonso said in another context, smile — we’ll get our POBO.

Yet we’ll have somebody collaboratively calling shots eventually. Somebody will be the right hire in retrospect or be replaced by the next hire. I hope for the best person available — the best person who opts to be available. We’ll find our Sargent Shriver.

Sargent Shriver died in 2011, so he’s not available.

It Became Their Year

As September morphed into October in 2000, I had a revelation that I’ve revisited annually. We Mets fans were very high on the Mets as the playoffs approached. I heard over and over again from my fellow Metsopotamians that this would be our year. I may have said it out loud myself, though I cautioned quietly here and there that though we may want to believe this is our year, aren’t our counterparts in Seattle and Chicago (AL) and St. Louis and San Francisco and the other towns thinking the same thing? Who was to say it wasn’t the Mariners’ year or the Cardinals’ year or whoever’s year? As it turned out, 2000 ultimately became none of our year, but there was no telling as the postseason began. If you made it far enough to have a championship three rounds from your grasp, it could happen to you.

Amid sixteen consecutive playoff appearances, it could have been the Atlanta Braves’ year. It was the Atlanta Braves’ year prior to that particular run, in 1995. It could have been again real soon, as soon as 1996. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t in 1997, either. Or 1998. Or every year the Braves kept winning the National League East without pause, which took them (and those held hostage to their numbing excellence) through 2005. A whole bunch of years became not their year. Later, a whole bunch more years that could have been their years also weren’t. Five times after 1995 Atlanta won more than 100 games and it didn’t lead to a world championship. The same flag that flew permanently over the NL East from the mid-’90s to the mid-’00s was raised anew in 2018 and stayed aloft as the decades changed, but as of October 2020 it wasn’t augmented by any other banners of note.

Yet somehow in 2021…when the Braves dragged their mediocre, injury-compromised carcasses across the halfway point of the schedule…as they represented just one more shade of gray in baseball’s drabbest-performing division…it became their year. Not immediately, but eventually. It’s rarely anybody’s year immediately. Eventually is what counts. Wire-to-wire can be electric, but several wires remain after the 162nd game of a regular season. You not only gotta get to October, but you gotta traverse three, maybe four obstacle courses. You look at a team that won 107 games like the Giants or won 106 games like the Dodgers or won by 13 games like the White Sox or pulled down 17 consecutive wins like the Cardinals or boasted an unmatched historical pedigree of 27 previous world championships like I forget their name now and you might think it’s their year.

Or you might go with the Braves and how their going-nowhere-fast momentum steered its way out of a cul-de-sac and took off in the diamond lane. You have to have enough passengers to do that. The Braves picked up a slew of them and picked up speed. They whizzed by the Mets, whizzed by the Phillies and whizzed their way past Milwaukee (who finished the regular season 6½ games better), Los Angeles (who finished the regular season 17½ games better) and, at last, Houston (who finished the regular season 6½ games better). The world champions became the 88-73 Braves, who remade themselves in late July and catapulted themselves to an 11-5 postseason.

You might not have seen them coming, even after they engineered transaction after transaction that rearranged their roster for battle, but the rearview mirror indicates it was obvious all along. That’s how it works when it becomes somebody’s year. It was the Year of the Braves. It says so right there on the list of World Series winners that, when you read the 2021 entry, is always going to say Atlanta Braves. We didn’t know it in July. We know it now and forever more, whether we’re thrilled to or not.

Braves fans, whose elation is not our utmost concern, waited long enough in diehard years. Twenty-six seasons without fullest reward is a stretch. Andy Dufresne did nineteen at Shawshank before having had enough and busting out. Being teased those sixteen cigarless Octobers was probably its own brand of torture. The Mets have been to the postseason only nine times total. It’s been infrequent enough so that we cherish each and every one of our clinchings the moment the champagne pours. Our combined total of seven NL Wild Card, NLCS and World Series shortfalls sting into perpetuity because we understand that, historically, our chances are so scattered. We go to the playoffs once, maybe twice in a given era and then we go on hiatus. We’ve never torn the wrapping on the gift of autumnal constancy. We don’t know what it’s like to be frustrated this late in the calendar year after year, again and again.

When I couldn’t be in front of a television, I listened to portions of a couple of this year’s World Series games over Astros radio on the At Bat app. I like their announcers. I’ve come to know their announcers because the Astros have been in the playoffs five consecutive years and were in the World Series three of those years. Robert Ford and Steve Sparks are comfortable voices for me because I keep bumping into them in October (and November). The postseason is familiar terrain for them. I don’t listen to Astros games during the regular season, yet I feel I know them a little. It struck me how amazing it is that I hear these guys welcoming their listeners to the ALCS or World Series on an annual basis. I get that same vibe from exposure to Dodger Stadium on TV. There it is again, I think. It’s a fixture this time of year.

That must be great if the Astros’ announcers or the Dodgers’ ballpark are your voices or venue. I wouldn’t know. I had a taste of that sort of in-crowd vibe when the Mets went to two World Series in five years when I was a kid, and two sets of playoffs in three years when I was in my twenties, and those back-to-back instances in 1999-2000 and 2015-2016. In the back halves of those veritable twofers, I loved the sense of knowing what I was doing. 1973 seemed natural because I had experienced just enough of 1969 to know how the playoffs worked if the Mets were in them. 1988 was picking up where 1986 left off. 2000 and 2016 continued longform stories that began in 1999 and 2015.

Then, in all those cases, it was over. We didn’t get another opportunity any time soon (with 2006 disconnected from what came before and orphaned by what came after). It was a shock to the system to return to the playoffs whenever we did once the would-be Reigns of Metsdom fizzled away. You never got used to seeing Shea Stadium or Citi Field in the network spotlight. You never counted on hearing Bob Murphy or Gary Cohen or Howie Rose welcome us to Game One of this series or that.

The Braves had that from 1996 to 2020: sixteen times in twenty-five years, most of that built on astounding continuity. Every year for a decade. Clusters of years thereafter. No going home at the very end of September or very beginning of October. Extra games. Extra merch. Extra angst, too, but that’s baked into diehard fandom. You gladly give over your sanity if it means a CHAMPIONS t-shirt.

What you don’t sign up for is falling short again and again, and that was the Braves’ story. The Astros won in 2017 (however they won). The Dodgers won in 2020 (however brief the season that preceded it). After a while, getting to the business end of October over and over had to seem at least as much curse as blessing to those who lived, died and died some more with the Braves.

Until 2021 when it was all blessing. When it was the additions of Soler, Duvall, Rosario and Pederson, all emblematic of front office genius. When it was Freddie Freeman cashing in his Wrightlike long and meritorious service. When it was Ozzie Albies stealing a taco and then some. When it was a shutdown bullpen making up for not enough starting-pitching innings and Ian Anderson and Max Fried intermittently throwing enough innings so the bullpen didn’t break. When it was the deliverance of Brian Snitker to the promised land; and that left side of the infield that apparently doesn’t kill just the Mets; and that catcher we know from somewhere — has a lower-case letter where a capital is supposed to go, plus an apostrophe in a weird place — leaping toward the mound when all was said, done and jubilant.

It became the Braves’ year. Nobody knew it all along. You never do. And you never turn down the chance to find out. You might go home empty-fingered in 1996 and 1997 and 2004 and 2005 and 2010 and 2013 and 2018 and 2019, but then you earn a ring for that finger and it identifies you for the rest of your life. Recently reading Art Shamsky’s sweet-natured book (written with Erik Sherman) drove home for me how much it meant to Art and his teammates that they are still the 1969 World Champion Mets. Listening to Lenny Dykstra’s foul-mouthed musings on the ESPN documentary I was proud to be a part of drove home for me how much it meant to Lenny and his teammates that they are still the 1986 World Champion Mets. And watching Travis d’Arnaud spring into Will Smith’s arms after the final out of Game Six drove home for me how players getting to call themselves world champions is what it’s all about.

Same for being fans of those guys and their teams when it applies to the likes of us who are simply watching, listening and angsting.

The way the Braves arrived at their 2021 triumph put me in mind not only of our playoff years and our Series victories but of a season when we went exactly as far as we went this year in terms of wins and losses. Ten years ago, we were having a surprisingly decent 2011. Little was expected of those Mets. Actually, almost nothing was expected of those Mets, but under new manager Terry Collins, they little-engined as much as they could and found themselves on the periphery of the playoff race in July. But nobody took them seriously — not us, not them. Hence, there were decisions to be made of a contractual nature and the standings weren’t of paramount consideration. Francisco Rodriguez was living up to his elite closer billing, but if the Mets used him too much, he’d have an enormous payment kick in and, well, these were the days when Wilpon-Madoff shadowed everything. We couldn’t be paying Francisco Rodriguez that much money. Also, Carlos Beltran’s seven-year pact was in its seventh year. There was no chance he’d be getting another deal from us, so with him playing very well in his Met twilight, our general manager, Sandy Alderson, looked to ship him for somebody who’d be around in seasons to come. That made perfect sense in the realm of what we appraised the Mets to be in late July of 2011. For that matter, Jose Reyes and his league-leading batting average might have been tantalizing trade bait, seeing as how he had free agency looming, but we didn’t go there.

But we did swap out Beltran’s last two months for whatever future was contained within the right arm of top Giants prospect Zack Wheeler, and we did offload Rodriguez on the Brewers for what amounted to salary relief. Those were smart things to do. We as Mets fans almost universally applauded Alderson for proceeding intelligently. What was the point of holding on to trade chips for a team that at its peak — four games over .500 on July 29 and 6½ games out in a six-team Wild Card scramble where they placed sixth — was a certifiable long shot?

While the Mets sans Rodriguez and Beltran withered away to their 77-85 finish, the Cardinals surged in 2011 in a vein similar to how they surged in 2021, storming past the Braves on the final night of the year to take the Wild Card (there was only one then) and convert it in the weeks that followed into serial upsets of the Phillies, the Brewers and the Rangers, bringing them what is, at this date, their most recent World Series championship. When we were at our peak, the Cardinals were all of one game ahead of us.

Could what the Cardinals became have been us had we not quit on 2011, the way the Braves, who trailed the Mets substantially if not decisively in late July, didn’t quit on 2021? Probably it was improbable, but it’s also an unknowable. We do know that not quitting on a season when it’s even remotely conceivable that sticking with it might be worth it always looks good when it pays off handsomely.

Nobody looks better at the moment than the 2021 World Champion Braves. Congratulations to a team that until further notice defies begrudging.

The Whims of October

But — I said to myself — I want to get in. This is a World Series opener. I’d never seen one. There is nothing in baseball equal to it…
Arnold Hano, A Day in the Bleachers

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying, “If you keep letting the Braves make the playoffs, sooner or later a pennant is gonna fall their way.” Alas, it is true. They earned postseason entry a dozen times between 2000 and 2020 yet went home before the World Series. Because the last World Series they made was at our expense, it had been satisfying ever since to watch them depart the stage with their tomahawk between their legs no later than the NLCS.

So much for satisfaction. The Atlanta Braves are the National league champions. Our champions, so to speak. Yeech, of course. But it was bound to happen eventually. The reason I didn’t think it had much chance of happening this year, as late as late July, was they were missing Ronald Acuña, Jr., and they were missing Mike Soroka. No best player. No best pitcher. While I never fully rule out a mathematical contender, it didn’t seem likely to me they’d step up, never mind step over us. No Acuña. No Soroka. Little chance.

I kept leaning on that, sort of like I leaned on the Cubs couldn’t win the NL East in 1984 because they were the Cubs who hadn’t won anything since 1945, or the Nationals couldn’t storm through the 2019 postseason because the Nationals had never won a single postseason series before 2019. The Braves lost eight consecutive NLDSes between 2002 and 2019 plus the inaugural NL Wild Card Game in 2012. They also coughed up a playoff berth down the stretch in 2011 and crumbled like a Drake’s coffee cake in September 2014. All of that would have been enough for an instinctual advertisement for not believing in them in October 2021 — that and the blowing a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS — but I wasn’t even going there in July. In July, they were without Acuña and Soroka. Being in shouting distance of first place in the East wasn’t going to do them much good if they were missing a couple of their primary vocal chords.

The Braves got themselves a larynx transplant via a fistful of trades that brought them Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, who in NLCS play proved a latter-day Eddie Perez. As sometimes happens, the team trailing in late July becomes a somewhat different team by early August. We kind of remember that being our case six suddenly going on seven years ago. It’s more fun when it happens for us than for somebody we go from leading to trailing. On July 28, the night Michael Conforto gunned down Abraham Almonte at home plate to secure a save for Edwin Diaz, the first-place Mets led the third-place Braves by five games. The Braves beat the Mets the next night and the trade deadline the next day.

By August 14, the Braves were slightly ahead of the Mets. By August 21, the Braves were farther ahead of the Mets than the Mets had been ahead of the Braves before those transformative trades. While we kept straining to glimpse glints of daylight as the California darkness descended upon us, the Braves’ immediate future turned so bright they should’ve worn shades. Atlanta (or wherever they play) finished 6½ ahead of the Phillies in second and 11½ ahead of us in third. That the Braves of Travis d’Arnaud and Guillermo Heredia won a mere 88 games didn’t matter. They were a division champion. Now they’re a league champion, having brushed aside the 106-win Dodgers like they were the 77-win Mets. The cauldron that is the National League East apparently toughened them up good.

I don’t hate the Braves like I hated them in 1999, the last time they went to the World Series. It would be physically impossible to hate the Braves like I hated them in 1999 or 2000 or up to the late-July weekend in 2006 when we definitively ended their divisional dynasty. After that, the Braves receded from archrivalry. Hate became dislike, sometimes deep, sometime de facto. It was, as noted, satisfying to see them fall short. It wasn’t life or death.

It still isn’t. They beat the Brewers in this year’s NLDS, and it didn’t particularly bother me, probably because I was preoccupied by the Giants and Dodgers. Then they took on L.A., and I didn’t really have a side. I don’t like either team as a rule. My contemporary dislike for the Dodgers traces mostly to the presence of Chase Utley on the basepaths in 2015. Utley hasn’t been a Dodger since 2018, but as long as there remain active players in Dodger uniforms who gave Utley an approving pat on the ass for taking out Ruben Tejada at second, he’s still spiritually one of them and they are essentially one of him.

Nevertheless, I didn’t life-or-death the Dodgers’ demise in the NLCS because that would have entailed getting behind the Braves, and being behind the Braves — from a standings perspective — was something I’d experienced too lately for comfort. And I couldn’t life-or-death the Braves’ demise because, yeesh, Utley. So I let it play out and found myself not wholly unhappy that the Braves of d’Arnaud and Heredia were heading to the World Series and at least a little delighted the Dodgers weren’t, though I think had their series gone in the opposite direction, I would have come out of it in a similar mood. The Dodgers of Albert Pujols (who I could swear was already inducted into the Hall of Fame) would have seemed admirable. The Braves would have been done, which is forever satisfying.

Either way, I watched. I’m not one of those Mets fans who ducks out on the postseason when the Mets aren’t anywhere near it. You don’t have to be absorbed by a Metless postseason like it’s 1986, but you shouldn’t take a bow for taking a pass. You’re entitled to sit on your high horse or apathetic alpaca, but I can’t endorse your celebration of not watching or not caring. I’m also not one of those Mets fans who replaces “Meteor” for “Mets” in LGM at every unpleasant October turn. Yankees-Phillies in 2009 was meteorworthy. Yankees-Braves in 1999 was meteorworthy. Perhaps you spot a throughline. Dodgers-Braves was good, survivable baseball. Even if it had been lousy baseball, it was postseason baseball. It was baseball. Come back to me in no more than ten days and tell me that’s not worth something. (Come back in December and you might really be jonesing.)

Over in the American League, I would have preferred the Red Sox as champion, but got the Astros. With the most recent 30 for 30 still playing in my head, the best part of the 2021 ALCS may have been it wasn’t a rematch of the 1986 World Series. It certainly wasn’t life or death for me. I got my life-or-death out of the way in the AL Wild Card Game. Everything after that among Boston, Tampa Bay, the South Side of Chicago and Houston was Not the Yankees, which is all I can ever ask out of the American League.

Granted, the Astros have an elephant in the video room, and one can’t watch them for more than a couple of pitches without remembering they were nefariously identifying the pitches to win a World Series not too many years ago. The Astros, however, are pretty good at being chameleons. They were the Colt .45s at birth. They were baseball avatars of the Space Age with their next chosen identity. They settled in and blandly occupied the Astrodome during the Eighth Wonder’s first decade, rarely being abysmal, never being spectacular, usually thwarting the Mets. They dressed in horizontal rainbow stripes and at least looked exciting. They rose up in spurts, threatening our Once Upon a Time in Queens fairy tale at their peak. Then they ditched the rainbow stripes; disappeared from the top of their division; ditched the residual rainbow accents; changed divisions; and eventually succeeded on a consistent basis, albeit with relatively few noticing.

The Astros kept going to the playoffs in the late ’90s and early ’00s with barely a lick of readiness for prime time. Or perceived readiness. They went 0-for-4 in NLDSes when they started making them almost annually and went almost unseen even as they got the hang of October. For those who miss the golden days of afternoon World Series contests, consider the Braves and Astros met in the NLDS five times between 1997 and 2005, and they were almost exclusively a matinee attraction: 16 day games in 19 dates. ESPN, Fox and whoever else was involved back then would have preferred to show a test pattern in prime time than spotlight the best baseball the Sunbelt had to offer.

Toward the end of the Killer B’s run, the Astros of Bagwell, Biggio and import Beltran — playing on the site of an old train station and dropping the Space Age motif from everything but their name — neared the World Series in 2004, losing the NLCS to the Cardinals in seven. Then, with Carlos B. ensconced in Flushing, they reached the World Series in 2005, only to be swept out of it by the White Sox from the American League. Eight years later, after intentionally falling through the competitive floor, they were in the American League. A couple of blinks later, their process of losing a ton morphed into winning a lot, then winning it all in 2017. It was a great story until details emerged rendering it considerably less great.

Yet here they are in the World Series in their latest incarnation, America’s Anti-Team. The Astros’ roster has mostly turned over since ’17, but the cream of their crop remains and they haven’t missed a single postseason since winning it all, no matter how they won it. Their manager is possibly the most sympathetic figure in all of baseball, Dusty Baker. Baker wasn’t a part of the Astros’ analytical process nor on hand for the surfeit of strategically aimed cameras and voluble trash cans. He’s the lifer who came up under the wing of Henry Aaron and paid more than a half-century’s worth of dues, winning almost everything with almost everybody, save for a World Series ring from the helm of the dugout. Maybe the only feelgood story that comes close to Baker’s is that of his Fall Classic counterpart Brian Snitker, an organization man in the best sense of the phrase. The Braves gave their mostly unknown minor league fixture a shot in 2016 and aren’t they glad they did? Snit has guided Atlanta to four consecutive postseasons, inspiring love and loyalty along the way. And he’s done it in a Braves uniform, for goodness sake.

I adore a postseason when a team I don’t follow comes along and sweeps me up on its journey. This hasn’t been one of those postseasons, and as this postseason pulls to within four to seven games of a conclusion, I don’t have a pennant-winning dog in its ultimate fight. I’m just looking to be optimally entertained and fleetingly engaged. Don’t tell the fans of the remaining playoff teams. It’s life or death to them.

There’s plenty to root against if that’s your jam. There’s something to root for if you let yourself. There’s the pair of teams that survived the gauntlet of a full season and the heat that gets turned up in October. The Braves and the Astros have played some wonderful baseball to get here. It’s wonderful that baseball is still being played. Hell yeah, I’m gonna tune in. This World Series may pit two teams we’re not crazy about, but it’s the World Series. It belongs to us all.