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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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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A One and A Two...

They scheduled a baseball game in the northeastern United States for March 29 and snow was on the ground within a week of its first pitch. Imagine that. You’ll have a harder time imagining the baseball being played under climate conditions ideally associated with the sport in question, but bundle up and begin picturing the game that’s coming. Barring snowout, rainout, chillout or (shiver) blowout of a vital ligament à la what’s happened to Rafael Montero, we know that somewhere within the shadows frosting Citi Field on Thursday, March 29, Noah Syndergaard will throw the first pitch of the 2018 season.

And he’s “super jacked” to do it, according to himself and his own sense of occasion, which I heartily applaud. The hell with “it’s an honor, but it’s just another game” or bland words to that effect. Thor embraces being Thor, and Thor embraces being the Opening Day starter: “It’s just a great feeling, second year, starting Opening Day and coming out of the gates hot.”

Noah also offered up some blandness so nobody handing him the ball would regret the choice: “It kind of benefits me to just go out there and pretend it’s another game. I feel like we kind of put it on this pedestal,” he said upon accepting his assignment, before throwing together the best of both attitudes: “The hype gets a little overwhelming, the same thing with playoff games, Wild Card games. It’s just another game of baseball.”

Thor would know, for he has pitched all of the above, generally living up to the hype. He is the only pitcher in Mets history to start a Wild Card game. He is the first starting pitcher in Mets history since Al Leiter to have pitched in multiple Met postseasons. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, his compadres from 2015, were all on the shelf by the fall of 2016. Had the Mets won that 2016 Wild Card game of his and moved on, he’d have been blending his talents with an entirely different cast (as Bartolo Colon was a bullpen inhabitant during the ’15 postseason). The Mets didn’t advance, but there is no blaming Thor. He was The Man in that game, particularly if you watched only the tops of innings and then turned the whole thing off after eight. Even given his team’s eventual bottoming out versus Madison Bumgarner, Thor etched his name into the annals of Mets big name pitchers for the ages that night and, after largely carrying the Mets rotation from April to October, totally deserved the Opening Day start that followed in 2017.

One year later…sure, why not? In one of those facts that’s repeated so often that it’s no longer fun to invoke, no Mets pitcher has started consecutive Opening Days since Johan Santana in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Because Johan was recovering from anterior capsule surgery, Mike Pelfrey emerged from the All Other pile to toss the first horsehide of 2011. Pelfrey, who has lately slipped into MLB retirement and taken up college coaching, was coming off a 15-9 season, which certainly looks Opening Dayworthy in a vacuum. No chance he would have gotten near the ball on the night the Mets began 2011 had Johan been healthy, because Johan was Johan, very much The Man, and even if Johan hadn’t thrown a single major league inning the year before, you’d give Johan the ball to start the next season.

That’s exactly what Terry Collins did in 2012. Santana was out all of 2011, but it didn’t matter. Johan was an ace deluxe and resumed his reign in style on April 5, 2012, throwing five shutout innings against the Braves at Citi Field. He didn’t get the decision — it went to the immortal Ramon Ramirez — but the Mets won, 1-0, thanks to David Wright’s sixth-inning RBI single.

Santana starting, Wright hitting, the Mets winning on Opening Day. Talk about Baseball Like It Oughta Be. As midseason Wrigley Field attendee Ferris Bueller once reminded us, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Eventually we’d be missing Wright (the missing still in progress) and very soon we’d be missing Santana, who would be done pitching as a major leaguer by August and hence be unavailable on April 1, 2013, when his traditional first turn in the rotation came up. Thus began the parade of Ones who were soon done as Opening Day starters: Niese, Gee, Colon, Harvey. They all made a certain kind of sense in context, though none was a fella you’d automatically tab after pitching no innings the year before. (Harvey missed all of 2014 and had to wait for the third game of 2015 to make his next start.)

The closest the Mets have had to that kind of Johanian presence since Santana, apparently, is Syndergaard, because Mickey Callaway is giving the ball to a guy who threw all of thirty-and-a-third innings last year. Next to Santana in 2012, that looms as the fewest innings a Mets Opening Day starter has come off of from the previous year. Prior to Johan setting a standard that can not be undersold — try pitching fewer than 0.0 IP — the record was held by 1982 Opening Day starter Randy Jones, who threw a scant 59.1 innings in 1981. A 1981 sighting should always set off your sensors, given the strike that split what is normally a 162-game season into two chunks of barely more than fifty apiece. There’s more to the Jones aberration than the strike, though. Even with the ruptured asterisk glued to the Humpty Dumpty of baseball years, understand that Jones missed time to injury in 1981 (cruelly and ironically spraining an ankle during a hastily arranged exhibition game in Toronto to prepare for the second half), and he wasn’t supposed to be the 1982 Opening Day starter.

“Supposed to” is a loaded phrase when it comes to the Mets and pitching.

Nineteen Eighty-Two was the year snow fell in spring, not near the baseball season, but on the baseball season. New manager George Bamberger’s best laid plans to go with Pat Zachry wound up buried under a cold, white blanket. Not that Zachry was the perfect choice to lift the lid on 1982, either. Pat hadn’t thrown as many innings as Bambi would have preferred during Spring Training, but he was slotted for Opening Day. Then it snowed a ton in the Northeast, which not only postponed the Mets’ Opener in Philadelphia twice (the last time the Mets had their first game kiboshed by anything but labor strife), but kept the Mets stuck in New York while confining Zachry to his home in Greenwich. Try getting your throwing in in Connecticut. Explained Bamberger with impeccable logic, “You can’t tell somebody from Connecticut to drive here in a snowstorm and work out.”

So George went with Jones (the Cy Young winner from six years earlier). Jones pitched a solid six innings and the Mets beat the Phillies in front of 15,000 at the Vet some 48 hours beyond the season’s projected starting time, providing fodder for the killjoy camp that likes to remind you it doesn’t matter who starts Opening Day, it’s just one game, it’s forgotten the next day, yada cubed.

The very next year, Bamberger was in something of a similar pickle. He had his Opening Day starter chosen, but a fly circled the ointment, and a last-minute replacement simply wouldn’t have jibed with the desired aesthetics. It wasn’t snow messing with Bambi, but a potential injury. The slated starter had pulled a quad muscle in his left thigh during Spring Training and Bamberger couldn’t be certain the guy was going to be ready to throw that first pitch. He had Ed Lynch ready in reserve, and Ed Lynch was no doubt capable of throwing six solid innings à la Randy Jones, and perhaps the Mets could have beaten Philadelphia again.

Except this game was at sold-out Shea Stadium, and the Greenwich-residing starter Lynch would have been subbing for was not Pat Zachry, but the pitcher for whom Zachry was traded in the first place: Tom Seaver, back in a Mets uniform for the first time since (shiver again) June 15, 1977.

“All these people were here to see him pitch,” Lynch said, “and if I’d had to start, I could just hear the boos. No, actually, I’d have heard a lot of whos: ‘Who the hell is Ed Lynch?’”

The question never needed to be asked. Seaver — The Man, if ever there was one — decided he was fine, Bambi gave him the ball, the fans exulted, and the Mets won by shutout, 2-0. As with Santana generations later (and Syndergaard last year), the decision went to a reliever. Also as with Santana in 2012 and Syndergaard presumably in 2017, nobody held it against Seaver in 1983 that he was coming off a light previous year’s workload. The 111.1 innings pitched by Tom as a miscast Red in 1982 ranked as the fewest by the next year’s Mets Opening Day starter since Jones’s 59.1 in 1981 until Santana’s nada in 2011.

One inning per team game qualifies a pitcher for the league ERA title. In Mets history, only six Opening Day starters to date haven’t been mathematical qualifiers the year before: Santana, Jones and Seaver in the seasons mentioned, along with Dwight Gooden in 1990 (118.1 IP in a 1989 interrupted by a shoulder injury); Roger Craig in 1962 (112.2 IP for the Dodgers in 1961, when there were no Mets and therefore no ace in place); and Don Cardwell in 1967 (101.2 IP for the Pirates in 1966, when there was not yet a Seaver on the Mets; Wes Westrum reportedly wanted to start Tom on Opening Day ’67, but couldn’t bring himself to give the ball to a nominally raw rookie). Syndergaard, barring bad weather or darkness of the soul, will make it seven.

In the yin-and-yang or what have you of figuring out who is an Opening Day pitcher by birthright and who makes for a decent contingency plan, Syndergaard rates as close enough to Seaver and Santana so that you don’t have to check his totals before trusting him with Opening Day, the game that transcends, at least for a few inherent first-inning jitters, Just Another Game status. Thing is, unlike your peak Mike Pelfreys, your latter-career Randy Joneses and your “Who the hell is Ed Lynch?” substitutes, it’s not like the Mets don’t have a worthy alternative to Noah as 2018 approaches.

More than worthy.

Jacob deGrom could very well be our Opening Day starter. If you’d asked me when 2017 ended who we would, could and should look forward to striding to the mound to begin 2018, I would have said Jacob deGrom. When 2017 ended, Noah had been mostly inactive for months (thoughhe did start the final game of last year, making it four years in a row now that the final starter from the season before — Colon, Harvey in Game Five of the World Series, Syndergaard in the Wild Card Game and tentatively Syndergaard again — is the first starter in the season at hand). DeGrom won Cy Young votes last season. He won Faith and Fear’s Richie Ashburn MVM award. The only thing of note he lost was some hair, and those locks were shorn of his own choosing.

But then deGrom went and had his lower back tighten up on him for a bit in February, and Callaway’s wheels of progress moved forward, and Thor was clearly healthier than Jake, and there you have the beginning of your 2018 rotation, unless there’s a blizzard or goodness knows what. It’s Thor one, Jake two.

I can live with that. In my heart, based on the lone consistently positive aspect of 2017, I’d go with Jake one and Thor two, but by Game Three, we’re supposed to be on to Matz, then Harvey, then (if his shaky Spring hasn’t utterly expended his goodwill with the new regime) Wheeler, which itself will be a milestone development in the history of Metkind should it really and truly happen. The Mets make plans, the fates have their own ideas. We’ll see if the five-phenom rotation that never was actually is. It would be fun to behold at least once before Vargas returnsand/or the rest of us disappear.

Jacob has looked swell all Spring. His Spring just hasn’t encompassed as many reps as Noah’s. But you’re not losing an ounce of credibility starting Syndergaard before deGrom. In the optics department, it’s all pretty much equal. Jacob would likely be more on message about the Just Another Gameness of Opening Day, but his relative lack of flair (and hair) would be made up for by everything he did to cement ace status in 2017: 15-10, 239 strikeouts, 201.1 innings, staying in one piece when each of his staring pitching colleagues shattered into multiple fragments.

No matter. Jake will start Game Two. Jake has started Game Two before. He started Game Two in 2015 and 2017 (the pending Syndergaard-deGrom consecutive-year One-Two combo will be the first of its kind since Gooden-Viola in 1990 and 1991; now that’s fun to invoke). He started the home version of Opening Day in 2016, which was the third game of the season. He started Game Two of the NLCS and the World Series in 2015. He also threw the Mets’ first postseason pitch in nine years when he started the first game of the 2015 NLDS. He was quite wonderful that night.

You’d think there’d be some order to who starts a season’s second game. You’d think that if you have Tom Seaver starting Opening Day ten consecutive seasons as the Mets did between 1968 and 1977, that the guy who is considered the ultimate No. 2 pitcher in franchise history, Jerry Koosman, must have started most of the Game Twos that directly followed. Koosman was a rookie the year after Seaver. Koosman stayed with the Mets beyond Seaver. Other than Gooden, nobody really gets between Seaver and Koosman when it comes to appraisal of all-time Mets starters.

Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle liked to say when Tom and Jerry were young. A dive into Baseball-Reference reveals Koosman didn’t get that many Game Two starts. In 1968, as the Mets doubled down on brilliant young starting, yes, it was Seaver (who let a win get away) on Opening Day, then Koosman (who evened the Mets at 1-1) in Game Two. Jerry went on to outwin Tom in ’68, 19 to 16. Still, Tom was The Man, and Gil Hodges didn’t mess with the natural flow of Met things. Of course Seaver started Opening Day 1969 (and, not of course, got blasted by the brand new Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium). Just as naturally, the second game’s start went to…

Jim McAndrew? Yup, Jim McAndrew, a flashy rookie himself in 1968. It was by no means a disavowal of Jerry Koosman. Kooz’s left elbow had given him trouble in Spring Training. Sort of like deGrom’s lower back. Hodges had his own wheels of progress to attend to. Thus, McAndrew got Game Two (which the Mets won, 9-5, thanks to a lot of long relief from Tug McGraw once McAndrew imploded), and Koosman had to wait until Game Four for his season debut. Kooz was back in the secondary saddle in 1970, yet would not pitch immediately behind Seaver again until 1977. In ’71 and ’72, Gary Gentry followed Seaver. From ’73 through ’76, the role belonged to Jon Matlack, who was having a heckuva prime in those days. Koosman wasn’t forgotten, just slotted a bit further down the line. When Seaver was no longer available to start Opening Day for the New York Mets, in 1978, Jerry finally got to throw a season’s first pitch (and notch that season’s first win, via complete game, no less).

While Opening Day assignments often come down to obvious aces or something going awry, second games are mostly if not always a function of Just Anotherness. Sure, you will get your de facto rotation vice presidents locked into place sometimes. Witness Ron Darling starting the season’s second game five consecutive years from 1984 through 1988 (the best five-year period in Mets history). Witness imported virtuosos Frank Viola (1990 and 1991) and Bret Saberhagen (1992 and 1993) being asked to play second fiddle to maestro-in-residence Gooden most of the time (in 1992, when Doc was still recovering from his 1991 rotator cuff injury and was held back a few days, nobody’s afterthought David Cone started Opening Night in St. Louis ahead of KC Sabes). Those were pretty good bananas to bring out behind your top ones.

But some years a manager simply goes with who he has ready, whether in the first game or the second game or, as we saw in 2017, most of 162 games. A little rain here, a little soreness there, suddenly you’re going with Braves castoff Pete Smith as your No. 2 starter in the first series of 1994 (Gooden went first and Saberhagen was serving his leftover firecracker suspension from 1993). A year later, coming off the winter’s long labor layoff, Dallas Green skipped his biggest name, Saberhagen, and opted for Bobby Jones for Openers and Jason Jacome for the game after. Jones would pitch two more Opening Days for the Mets in the ’90s; Jacome would pitch for them four more times altogether. It looks weirder now than it did then. The Mets had two lefty aces up their sleeves to commence the current millennium in 2000, having brought in former Astro Mike Hampton to join born Met Al Leiter. One and Two, you’d assume. Ah, but the first two games were in Tokyo, and Bobby Valentine figured leaving Leiter home to prepare for the next week’s US opener at Shea made better sense, thus Rick Reed — not a slouch on any continent — became the second Met to start a game in Japan (and the first to start a game the Mets won there).

Mets history is dotted with “huh?” second-game starters, names that slotted in rationally in their day, but read strange from a distance. Mark Clark in 1997; Kevin Appier in 2001; Brian Bannister in 2006, a year the Mets went on to run roughshod over the National League East mostly without Brian Bannister, who hurt himself running the bases in San Francisco in late April. Bannister, making his major league debut, started second in ’06 mostly because nobody else who would have could have. Pedro Martinez was nursing a malady and had to miss Opening Day. T#m Gl@v!ne, who started behind Martinez to get 2005 off on a future Hall of Fame footing, took Pedro’s slot, and everybody else seemed to be aching.

Of such arrangement is the honor of second start of the year constructed.

You can look up Opening Day starters with ease. You have to dig to identify second game starters. The first of them, in 1962, was Sherman “Roadblock” Jones, who had about as much Mets longevity ahead of him as Jason “Rhymes With Block-a-Me” Jacome. Rain had disturbed the first week of the Mets’ first season, so Roadblock provided access to the Mets’ Home Opener. Three years later, in the final second game of Casey Stengel’s illustrious managing career, the Ol’ Perfesser went with new Met Warren Spahn. That was all that was new about Spahn, who famously said of Stengel that he pitched for Casey before and after he was a genius. Spahnnie was 44 by then. Neither he, who was sold to the Giants, nor Stengel, who retired, would make it to the end of the 1965 season at Shea, but boy were those four-year-old Mets experienced.

Two men who recently passed on were second game starters in the early days: Tracy Stallard in 1964 and Jack Hamilton in 1966. Stallard is known mostly for surrendering Roger Maris’s 61st home run on the final regular season day when the Mets didn’t exist, October 1, 1961. Hamilton, sadly, is tagged as the pitcher who beaned Tony Conigliaro in the horrible 1967 incident that derailed a promising career. We remember them here late this snowy spring for getting our seasons going in fairly mundane fashion. Stallard lost his Game Two, but gave Stengel a complete eight innings at Connie Mack Stadium. Hamilton went all the way in beating the newly transplanted Atlanta Braves at Shea and evening the Mets’ record at 1-1. That was no small feat, for it positioned the Mets, for the first time in their history — and the last time until 1969 — to rise above .500. The Mets won their third game of 1966 and briefly brandished a winning rather than a losing percentage.

When the 1980s began, the Mets’ ace of record was Craig Swan, and Zachry was, when well, the back half of a decent one-two punch. Alas, in April 1980, Pat was not well, so the Magic is Back cards fell of their own volition. Ray Burris, better remembered as a Cub, was Joe Torre’s next in line at the dawn of that decade. Two years prior, after Kooz, Torre went with neither the emerging Swannie nor Zachry, but Nino Espinosa, who had a sound arm and a ’fro you couldn’t miss. Other second-gamers who it might not occur to you ranked in a given Met rotation’s Top Two at the top of a season included Mike Scott in snow-delayed 1982 (he also started the second season’s Opening Day in 1981), Steve Trachsel in 2002 and 2004 (no, wise guy, those games are not still going on) and John Maine in 2010 (bet you totally forgot that John Maine was a key Met pitcher in the past ten or so years). Bobby Ojeda, who filled in for Gooden when Doc had a sudden appointment at Smithers on Opening Day 1987, took what had become the Darling start in 1989, essentially ending Ronnie’s vice presidency. In addition to pitching the second game of the 21st century in Tokyo, Reed got the ball for the final second game of the 20th century, at Joe Robbie Stadium in 1999. Orlando Hernandez, a.k.a. El Duque, was starting pitcher dos in 2007, at Busch Stadium. And R.A. Dickey, who was about to embark on a Cy Young season, got going with a second game start in 2012, right after Santana’s encouraging return.

For the most part, any pretty to very good pitcher in Mets history has started either the first or second game of a Mets season…with a couple of noteworthy exceptions. First among non-first/non-seconds is Jay Hook. Stengel didn’t start hook until Game Five of the 1962 season. The Mets lost. Hook’s second start was the Mets’ first win, in Game Ten. Obviously Casey forgot to pack his genius-period crystal ball when he took the Mets job. Then, in far more successful Met times, there was Sid Fernandez, who never got the ball any earlier than in a season’s third game. His managers had so many options that they could peer past El Sid, who is right — or left — up there among the greatest southpaw starters the Mets have ever thrown at any point on their schedule. As Fernandez taught us amid his indelible championship-preserving relief outing in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series, it’s not where you start, and it’s not only where you finish. Sometimes it’s where you middle.

In whatever order they appear, please bring on the pitchers. And get rid of the snow.

The Draw of the Cards

Spring Training is ideal for taking pictures of Mets and printing them on cardboard.

Jose Reyes, third baseman (!), evokes 1969 on his 2018 Topps Heritage card, which is the idea behind Topps Heritage, a time machine that propels current players 49 years back in time. Not every card then, never mind now, was shot in Spring Training, but plenty used to be, so when I saw this image, I swooned over how much idealized 1969 Reyes reminded me of actual 1969 Koosman.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Needless to say, anything that evokes 1969 where the Mets are concerned is ideal.

The Glider, Ed Charles

The first thing you remember about Ed Charles if you’re a Mets fan is how he rushed the pitcher’s mound at Shea Stadium, October 16, 1969. If those New York Mets had an In Action card, that picture would be its front side. Jerry Grote was hoisting Jerry Koosman, catcher and pitcher, ebullient in World Series victory. These two who were officially championship company were about to be a crowd of three, as the third baseman couldn’t resist a mound visit. Mr. Charles certainly wouldn’t be the last to frolic on the Shea dirt and grass that Thursday afternoon alongside the Jerrys, but he was the first. It’s an unforgettable image. Not that you’d ever want to forget it.

The second thing you remember about Ed Charles is up to you. Me, as I ponder the passing of the beloved poet laureate of the most beloved baseball team a city ever embraced…I remember a movie. Not the movie you’d suspect if you saw 42, the well-meaning 2013 biopic in which the uninitiated learn that, oh by the way, young Ed Charles, a future big leaguer from Daytona Beach, Fla., crossed Spring Training paths with trailblazing Jackie Robinson. The trail, incidentally, would require more blazing than one man could possibly provide, and Mr. Charles wound among those who’d follow Mr. Robinson in making a sport and a country that much better by their determined presence in it. We know it wasn’t easy for the man we revere for wearing 42 in Flatbush. It wasn’t much easier for the fellow who eventually graced No. 5 in Flushing. Ed Charles signed to play professional baseball in 1952. He was promoted to the major leagues in 1962. Let’s just say it wasn’t his talent that kept him in the minors for ten long years.

Yet the movie I’m thinking of is not 42, but The Blues Brothers, the rollicking 1980 music-heavy comedy that has nothing explicit to do with Ed Charles. Except for the gag in which Elwood Blues’s driver’s license lists 1060 West Addison — Wrigley Field — as his home address and thus crosses up the cops who are foiled in tracking him and his sibling down, it has nothing to do with baseball. Yet there’s one scene that sticks out for me where Mr. Charles is concerned.

The scene features Curtis and the band stalling for time at the Palace Hotel Ballroom. The band is dressed in civvies, while Curtis is wearing the same dark shades, suit and hat favored by Jake and Elwood, which adds up, given that Curtis is the father figure who raised them. At this moment in the film, the title characters — portrayed by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — are trying desperately to avoid their burgeoning army of enemies and make their way to the sold-out gig they arranged to save their childhood orphanage. As the crowd demands a show, Curtis has a brainstorm.

CURTIS: Do you guys know “Minnie the Moocher”?
MURPHY DUNNE: I knew a hooker once named Minnie Mazola.
CURTIS: No, the song “Minnie the Moocher”.
STEVE CROPPER: Yeah. So what?
CURTIS: Hit it!

And with that command, the ragtag musicians are transformed into a tuxedo-clad troupe from decades gone by, led by Curtis at center stage, resplendent in white tails. In all but name, the character reveals himself unmistakably — as if there was any mistaking him to begin with — as the immortal Cab Calloway. With the Blues Brothers band backing him up, Curtis/Cab indeed belts out “Minnie the Moocher” in all its glory, distracting the onscreen audience and treating moviegoers to a performance for the ages (before we get back to the car chases and such).

The image of the one and only Cab Calloway suddenly and magically decked out in the most classic of threads flashed through my mind three winters ago when walking through the door of McFadden’s at Citi Field, site of the second annual Queens Baseball Convention, came none other than the Glider, Ed Charles. I don’t know how Ed Charles usually dressed, but at our instant of contact, he was the epitome of dressed to the nines. Mr. Charles raised QBC’s style quotient exponentially all by himself. It wasn’t CGI and it wasn’t exactly a plot twist. We who had constructed the program for that year’s QBC had promised Ed Charles would show up to receive an award. Except it was getting late, I hadn’t heard from Mr. Charles and I wasn’t exactly sure if we would be seeing him, never mind seeing him look so sharp.

It was something like waiting for the Blues Brothers to appear, I suppose, except no representatives of Illinois’s law enforcement community had chosen to join us. Also, in this case, Mr. Charles was the star attraction as well as living legend. The rest of us were Mets fans dressed like Mets fans. Ed Charles, upon his entrance, was Cab Calloway at the Palace Hotel. He radiated class. The topcoat. The suit. The cane (a bit of an impediment to the Glider actually gliding, but I’d swear that was his gait). And, of course, the World Series ring.

I don’t know how many dozens of us were left on the premises late that Saturday afternoon in January 2015 to greet him. More than enough for a quorum, but not nearly as many as had been around at the height of the event. There should have been as many as had greeted him and his teammates on Lower Broadway forty-six Octobers prior. We should have showered him in ticker tape. QBC saved the award, the one we named after Gil Hodges, for the final presentation. It was both a high point to go out on and a bit of a shame, because by the sixth hour of a fun-filled day, some had already departed, having had their fill of fun.

Their loss. Ed Charles brought the curtain and the house down. Sparked by his electricity, McFadden’s morphed into one of the big rooms. The Cotton Club. The Savoy. Shea Stadium. In the best sense of the phrase, he was a sight to see.

And he was someone even better to listen to. On the phone, when I’d been explaining what QBC was and why we would be honored to have him there, his frailty was palpable. I’d already heard he wasn’t doing well, and our conversation confirmed for me that asking him to come to our DIY fanfest was asking a lot. He lived in East Elmhurst, only about forty blocks from McFadden’s, but still, at this stage of his life, in his condition, I could envision his good intentions in accepting our invitation going by the wayside.

I envisioned incorrectly. Ed Charles showed up, took the stage and took over. He could have worn anything he liked, but he was receiving an award, and he meant to receive it seriously, thus the GQ ensemble. But clothes, no matter how fine, are just clothes. Ed Charles struck the figure he did because of what else he brought to bear: humility; gratitude; dignity; and the implied authority of history he personified. He talked with us about Gil Hodges. He talked with us about 1969. He talked with us about Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. He answered every fan’s question. He read his poetry. He gave out autographs. He asked for nothing. Despite how far along he was in years and how difficult it had to be, he stood the entire time. We had a seat for him. He didn’t bother with it.

I was in awe of him that afternoon. I was in shock a few days later when he called me at home to ask if I could send him a copy of my introductory remarks (he liked the stat I included about all the homers he hit off future Hall of Fame pitchers). I was overwhelmed every time I thought of Mr. Charles on that frigid Saturday warming the spirits and souls of strangers. Then again, for the Glider, a stranger was just a Mets fan he hadn’t yet met. He didn’t know from me or QBC or McFadden’s, but he surely knew from Mets fans. I’ve thought of the entire scene often, the way he emerged from the equivalent of a sickbed, the way he swept into the room and the way he stayed in the room until all who wished to be touched by him knew they’d been touched. The privilege of presenting an award to Ed Charles and then standing off to the side and experiencing him accepting it is a prize I will always cherish.

The championship he helped present me when I was six years old was pretty special, too.

Before 2015 was out, Ed Charles was back at Citi Field. He and Ron Swoboda strolled to the mound to deliver first pitches during the National League Division Series. The Glider still needed the cane to get around. He had a full house applauding him that night.

We applaud him still, in tribute to a singular life that brought millions together in joy. We miss him now that he is gone, having passed Thursday at his East Elmhurst home at the age of 84, but we are grateful for his coming to us when he did. On the field. Off the field. In our memories. In our hearts.


Someday Spring Training will be over. I’m basing that solely on precedent and occasional commercials hawking ticket packages that include access to Opening Day. Otherwise, we’re marooned inside that Journey song that implores us to not stop believing, the one whose movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…

Entering Tuesday, the Mets’ Grapefruit League record was 5-11 with two ties. I only know that because Buster Olney tweeted a link to the Spring Training standings and I clicked on it out of fleeting curiosity. Up to that point, I couldn’t have told you the Mets’ record nor how many games comprised it. I sort of remembered the ties.

Tuesday afternoon brought the Mets their twelfth loss, which I kept on in the background via Astros radio. It wasn’t baseball that mattered in the least, but it was close enough for a dreary March afternoon in the middle of a Spring Training that goes on and on, et al. I guess that’s the point of Spring Training as consumed away from its origin point. Other teams’ announcers sound like anthropologists when they talk about your team in March. Because they were facing the Mets and they rarely have cause to think about the Mets, these Astros blokes retold the legend of “¡Yo La Tengo!” — and it’s surely to their credit that they did. The 1962 Mets are canon. Besides, what else are they gonna talk about where the Mets are concerned? Rafael Montero being out of options? If I were broadcasting an Astros game as a visiting announcer in Spring Training, I’d be quoting generously from the latter pages of Ball Four. “Say, did you know what Jim Bouton wrote about Harry Walker?”

This was a split-squad affair. Tuesday night was to bring other Mets playing the Nationals. You can’t keep Spring Training going without keeping Spring Training going. If I were broadcasting a Nationals game as a visiting announcer, I’d eventually mention that the short-lived television version of Ball Four had Jim Bouton playing Jim Barton playing for the Washington Americans, back when Washington didn’t have a major league team.

These days, Washington has the Nationals. It just never has a National League Championship Series.

Brandon Nimmo does something good every time I tune in to one of these faux affairs. Nimmo led off with a homer for the Mets only run Tuesday afternoon. I’m partly excited to see if this will translate to Brandon Nimmo doing many things well when the alleged season begins. I suspect he won’t be as good as he’s looked and sounded, won’t be as bad as I fear. I’m not necessarily worried about Brandon Nimmo, especially if he plays center when the left and right fielder each throw out a runner and I can thus refer to our outfield as Guns and Nimmo. I do worry that his talents are being wasted on games that don’t count, games that are counted only in standings that list only teams that train in Florida, standings that have to pause to figure out what to do with ties.

The Mets didn’t sign Jonathan Lucroy. He was out there for quite a while, as were many name-brand free agents. Maybe they really do like Travin d’Arwecki more than a two-time All-Star catcher who could’ve been had for a song, Journey’s or otherwise. I suspect they like the Plawecki portion of their platoon more than the d’Arnaud slice.

Every Spring it hits me there is a cache of Mets who have been young up-and-comers for as long as I’ve known of them, yet they are now in the hearts of their careers, as up-and-come, perhaps, as they’re likely to get. A few years ago, it was everybody who was still around from having made their debuts under Jerry Manuel. Suddenly, it’s the first wave of legit prospects to introduce themselves to Terry Collins. Harvey. Familia. Lagares. Wheeler. Flores. D’Arnaud. Montero. DeGrom. We got our first looks at each of them between 2012 and 2014. None of them is younger than 26. DeGrom, the oldest among them, is sneaking up on 30. None of them is ancient for baseball, let alone life. All of them have been what we call around, albeit only for us. For those who have not yet produced consistently, I’d like to believe they haven’t peaked. For those who have descended from their peaks, I’d like to believe they will rise again.

I came up under Gil Hodges. I’d like to think I have some elevation space left.

Is unconditional release an option for the out-of-options Montero? I’m willing to risk the inevitable “they should have shown more patience with him” blowback when he three-hits the Mets three times in the next three months. Callaway and Eiland were recently spotted morphing into Collins and Warthen watching their bullpen not end innings. But it’s only spring.

Neil Walker is unfortunately a Yankee. But he’ll always be from Pittsburgh to me.

The Mets continue to experience injuries. I thought they might have systematically eliminated those. Yoenis Cespedes played with a sore wrist for a few days. Didn’t mention it to anybody. That would make him a gamer in September. Makes him misguided in March. Also probably not a good idea to not mention it in September, but playing through pain with a playoff spot on the line is one of those things we admire and respect. Playing through pain when hardcore fans are unaware of how many you’ve won or lost doesn’t seem a great idea.

Nor is judging Yoenis Cespedes on the direction he wears his cap during fielding drills.

David Wright will refrain from baseball activities for the next eight weeks. The first few weeks will be easy, as it seems to involve listening to Mets minor leaguers being described by out-of-town radio announcers. Those are my baseball activities at the moment. David’s been on the force for so many years. Everybody’s urging him to turn in his weapon and take that desk job. But Det. Wright still has crimes to solve and criminals to nab. Admiration and respect reflexively flow toward David. It hurts to know he is drifting inevitably into the cornfield. Maybe eight weeks of rest will freshen his back, his shoulders, the entirety of his anatomy. We’d like to not stop believing there’ll be a playoff spot on the line in September, and Cespedes can’t carry us to it alone, not with that wrist of his.

Anthony Swarzak’s left calf is still a thing. So is Dom Smith’s left quad. On the bright side, the spirit of Jon Niese was last seen being exorcised from Steven Matz’s left arm.

Matt Harvey doesn’t want to talk about the past. Fine. Go make a present worth raving about.

Adrian Gonzalez and Tim Tebow are still being given every chance to play against major league competition. What the hell, it’s only March.

March weather in New York has been relentlessly dreary. Odds are it will still be dreary on March 29, but that won’t stop anybody from pretending it isn’t.

Has Noah Syndergaard put on a shirt yet? He’s going to need one by the end of the month.

Out of Right Field

Since New York and environs have been subject to the whims of nor’easters lately, let’s amble out to the northeast of the standard baseball field diagram and consider right field and its most practiced Metsian occupants thereof. We could forecast the weather, but the weather is revealing itself. We could forecast the Mets’ rotation, but it, too, will make its composition clear once the games begin to count. Let’s fetch our topic from out of right field.

I think Stan Isaacs, whose cheeky Newsday column was titled “Out of Left Field,” would appreciate our counterintuitive approach.

Let’s first spend a moment on Darryl Strawberry, who played more games in right field — 1,062 — than any other Met. Darryl’s been floating through my subconscious ever since he started making the media rounds last fall to promote Don’t Give Up On Me: Shedding Light on Addiction with Darryl Strawberry, a book tied into the work he’s dedicated himself to via the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Centers, surely a very serious and worthwhile subject. The book plays off of Strawberry’s experiences in baseball to illustrate how addiction can bedevil, but Don’t Give Up On Me is not a baseball book, per se.

Still, when Darryl speaks, memories of his baseball career eventually arise. Our right fielder of record has always had a knack for attracting attention (otherwise Darryl wouldn’t have been struck so many bookers as a get). You may remember some buzz about Strawberry insisting he was through with the Mets organization, or some titters regarding the between-innings escapades to which he copped. Me, I’m just happy he played baseball between between-inning escapades, and now lives to tell about it for the greater good. Either way, nobody who ever wore a Mets uniform generated more electricity whether he was wearing his uniform or not.

It’s easy to lose sight of just how freaking good Darryl Strawberry was as a New York Met. Controversy, self-stirred and otherwise, may have shadowed his excellence between 1983 and 1990, but it couldn’t eclipse it. There is a knee-jerk reflex to bemoan how splendid his career could have been had he not let personal problems get the best of his talent. I’d suggest inverting the thought. It’s amazing how great his career was despite all of his problems (the truly regrettable aspect is what he experienced as a person, not as a player…and the impact his actions had on those close to him). Not too many whose lives were plagued by addiction, abuse and anxiety also managed to belt 335 home runs and drive in a thousand runs across seventeen major league seasons. Strawberry’s first 252 homers were blasted as a Met, the most of any Met now and — barring the miracle it would take to enable David Wright’s return — for the foreseeable future.

David is sitting on 242 home runs, emphasis on sitting. Next-most by an active Met as a Met? Jose Reyes, 34 and never a power-hitter, at 104. Yoenis Cespedes has 65, Wilmer Flores 57, Michael Conforto 48, Travis d’Arnaud 46 and Asdrubal Cabrera and Jay Bruce 37 each. Age, injury history, contract length and common sense combine to suggest no more than one current Met has a realistic shot to someday catch up to Straw. Maybe…maybe Conforto stays healthy, sticks around and keeps pounding the ball. He’s only 25.

Of course before Darryl turned 25, he had 108 home runs, or 60 more than Michael. I’d love for Wright to heal or Conforto to chug along, but honestly, the Met most likely to hit more home runs than Strawberry has yet to make himself known to us. Or possibly his parents.

The numbers are more impressive than generally remembered with Strawberry, because Strawberry was so memorable just for being Strawberry. The two factors went hand-in-hand during the heart of Darryl’s extensive prime. They still do. For example, at the outset of his aforementioned media tour, I listened to Straw hold court on WOR’s Sports Zone. This was just before he made headlines about being upset with the Mets (the organization, not the fans, he stressed). The host that night, filling in for Pete McCarthy, was the iconic Warner Wolf, who at the time was nearing eighty, yet still getting his breaking stuff over. Both Wolf and Strawberry were huge in New York in the 1980s. No wonder their conversation trickled back in time.

Warner asked Darryl how felt about the taunting chants of Dar-ryl…Dar-ryl that originated at Fenway Park during the 1986 World Series and caught on around the National League. Darryl’s response was so calm, matter-of-fact and perfect, that I went to the audio tape and took down every word of his answer:

“I realized that everybody knew that I was in the ballpark. I needed to get my job done. Especially when I was on the road, I kinda like really fed off of that, I thought it was pretty cool that everybody knew I was there, so I figured I’d just hit a couple of long home runs and that would just like make everybody sit down and be quiet.”

When Darryl didn’t come through or when perhaps his demons got the best of him, it wasn’t tough to lose patience with someone who defined superstar for us in his twenties and was gone from Shea before he turned thirty. But that little explanation brought back for me just what it was like rooting for Darryl Strawberry’s Mets — especially Darryl Strawberry — when he was piling up those games as our all-time right fielder.

You’d just stand up and be loud.

More than 500 games behind Darryl among right fielders, though no less a legend in Queens, is Rusty Staub. We’ve been compelled to think about Rusty of late for sad reasons, but we can also think about Rusty for the joy he provided us, at the bat and in the field. It’s why we’re so adamant about wanting him to pull through his current condition.

Staub was a damn fine right fielder for 535 Mets games, the bulk of them during his initial New York tenure between 1972 and 1975. He didn’t have Strawberry’s gait, grace or height, but he got the job done along the same segment of Flushing real estate. The Shea Stadium right field wall could attest to the impact a Rusty Staub right shoulder could make in pursuit of a pennant. And nineteen baserunners thrown out in 1974 would second that emotion as regarded his right arm (he famously batted left, but threw from the other direction, whereas Cleon Jones in left batted right but threw left). Forty-four years later, Rusty still holds the Mets’ single-season record for assists by an outfielder.

That milestone was carved in Staub’s right field prime, before the American League and time conspired to mostly confine him to hitting. He still got his mitts on the ball as a Met the second time around, though. When he returned to New York in 1981, Staub was slotted in as the starting first baseman. Indeed, Joe Torre penciled him in there 40 times that strike-split season, including Opening Day, when Rusty homered in a 2-0 victory over the Cubs. George Bamberger, however, wasn’t afraid to ask the ol’ redhead to patrol familiar territory. At 38, and carrying the title player-coach, Rusty started in right field fifteen times for the 1982 Mets. The next May, Strawberry arrived and Rusty’s days of being around in right — except under emergency circumstances — essentially ended.

As with Straw, the hitting made the deepest impression. A few months ago, my friend Dave Jordan, who collaborated with John D’Acquisto on the decidedly big league memoir Fastball John, riddled me this: “When did Rusty Staub, in 702 plate appearances, bat .276, with a .350 OBP, 13 HRs, 102 RBIs and 31 2B?” I told him I didn’t know. Dave responded it was 1981 through 1985 as a Met. What a find on Dave’s part — over the equivalent of a very full season, Rusty Staub as a part-timer, pinch-hitter and right fielder emeritus, compiled an incredibly representative Rusty Staub bottom line.

I suppose another line has been attributed to several highly skilled players, but I know I also heard it said of Rusty that if he awoke in the middle of the night in the middle of winter and picked up a bat, he would line a double into the gap. I believe he’d have done it before his eyes were fully open and his yawn was fully done.

One-hundred one games behind Rusty and in third place among those out in right field for the Mets is Ron Swoboda. Maybe you haven’t entered Citi Field through the right field gate lately. Take a look at the silhouette that designates the position the next time you pass through its turnstiles. The diving figure portrayed, his glove outstretched to reel in a miracle, is Ron Swoboda. The Mets didn’t mark much history as they erected the new ballpark in 2009, but they did remember to remember Swoboda’s game-saving catch from Game Four of the 1969 World Series.

Good catch on their part.

Admittedly, Ron was not known as a defensive wizard through most of his six Met seasons, but what’s 434 run-of-the-mill regular-season games in right when you have one shining moment in the sun robbing Brooks Robinson? Thirty-one years later, Swoboda’s catch was immortalized in the movie Frequency with the line, “Man, I’ll love Ron Swoboda till the day I die.”

By then, there was one market where moviegoers must have been jarred by the mention, not because Ron Swoboda wasn’t worthy of a lifetime’s affection, but because Swoboda meant something different to them than he did to us. Long before Warner Wolf became a household word among TV viewers in New York, Ron Swoboda did the sports on Channel 2, weekends mainly. Lots of former players get such gigs. Swoboda stuck with it. He left New York for Milwaukee by the end of the ’70s to get better at it and, before the ’80s were over, put down stakes in New Orleans.

He’s still there, doing the local sports ever since and becoming a regional institution in the process. Though their broadcasting roles differed, you can compare Swoboda and Ralph Kiner. Pittsburgh idolized Ralph Kiner for home runs. We adored him for talking about home runs. In the Big Easy, Swoboda became what Kiner became to us in the Big Apple. We still think of him as the Met who made the catch. Down there, he’s the guy who talks about those who make or maybe prevent catches.

Two instances from the offseason that caught me off guard where Swoboda’s second life is concerned. The first occurred while I was watching an NFL Network documentary about the late Sam Mills, stellar linebacker for the New Orleans Saints during their first heyday. Who shows up as a talking head, identified as a New Orleans sportscaster, in this film? Why, it was Ron Swoboda, fondly recalling the exploits of the Dome Patrol, as the stars of that outstanding Saint defense were collectively known. I waited for the narrator to explain that Ron Swoboda made an unbelievable diving catch for the 1969 Mets, that he was as responsible as anybody for the most improbable World Series championship in baseball history, that millions of New Yorkers will love Ron Swoboda till the day they die. But no. Swoboda was already introduced properly via chyron graphic for the position he was playing. Not the Mets’ right fielder, but a Saints’ observer.

Wonders didn’t cease when, around the same time, I was directed by my funny friend Jeff to the blog of comedian Elayne Boosler. She was addressing the mounting (not to mention highly unfortunate) revelations of aggressively sexist behavior infecting show business. Her point was it hardly should have rated as news, considering it had been going on too long. Boosler remembered an episode that took her to Louisiana to represent HBO and accept a check on behalf of the long-running charitable endeavor Comic Relief. The site was a basketball arena. She showed up for the gig, during a game, and was told, “No women in the booth.” This happened in the latter stages of the 20th as opposed to the 17th century.

The presence of a hero shouldn’t have been required, but a hero in Boosler’s tale emerged.

“Real men often ride to the rescue, and who just happened to be present (and stopped the heart of his lifelong baseball fan)? Only the gentleman who made ‘The Catch’ in the 1969 World Series, Ron Swoboda. You never know who’s a fan. Mr. Swoboda first apologized to me (he had nothing to do with any of it; he just apologized as a human being). He then went into that booth and read those shit kickers the riot act, letting them know exactly who I was, forcing them to hand over the check, was for charity, for fuck’s sake.”

A broadcaster and a gentleman. And a heckuva right fielder when it mattered most. That’s our Ron Swoboda. New Orleans’s too.

The gentleman description surely works for the Met who holds down No. 4 on the Mets right field list, and I imagine if he wants to go into broadcasting, he’ll succeed at that — though that’s a little ways away because he’s still a ballplayer. Like the three fellows he trails, he topped 400 games in right as a Met and added some World Series games besides. He’s Curtis Granderson, a stalwart who rode to the rescue of a position in dire need of stability.

Remember right field after Strawberry and before Granderson? You found it in the vicinity of a revolving door. Mets right fielders came, Mets right fielders went. Some were pretty good for a little while. None endured for long.

And then along came Granderson. In 2014, according to Ultimate Mets Database, Curtis played 130 games in right, the most by any Met in any season since Jeromy Burnitz in 2002. In 2015, Granderson outdid himself and a slew of his recent predecessors. He played 155 games out there, the most ever in a single season by a Mets right fielder. What’s more, by leading the team in games played in right field in two consecutive years, he became the first Met to achieve that seemingly simple feat since Alex Ochoa in 1996 and 1997. In neither of those seasons did Ochoa play more than 84 games in right, and he surely didn’t help lead the Mets to a National League championship.

Granderson, on the other hand, was the rock of the Mets’ first pennant-winning club since 2000, the only Mets who you could count on finding virtually every day from April to November where you counted him to be. That included the World Series, when Granderson was one of the few Mets who let no Mets fans down. Should they sensibly set a Frequency reboot in 2015, for accuracy’s sake somebody better swear he’ll love Curtis Granderson till the day he dies.

Grandy was still holding down right in 2016, still chasing down fly balls, still drawing his share of walks and slugging his cache of big home runs. By late in the season, in deference to the acquisition of Jay Bruce and the lack of better options, Curtis, 35, sprinted to center field and helped nail down a Wild Card. He still led the Mets in games played as a right fielder. Nobody had strung three such seasons in a row as a Met since the prime of Mr. Darryl Strawberry.

That all happened while Curtis Granderson was being one of baseball’s premier citizens, a distinction recognized when he was voted the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, reflecting the acts of someone who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Yup, that was Curtis Granderson as a Met, all three and two-thirds seasons of him. The Mets sent him to Los Angeles last August as his contract wound down. The Dodgers were winning nightly and you could envision Grandy being fitted for the ring he didn’t quite grasp as a Met two years earlier. Alas, the Dodgers left Curtis off their World Series roster and they got what they deserved, losing to Carlos Beltran’s Astros in seven.

Given the fading finish to his 2017, there was some thought that Granderson would be finding something else to do in 2018. The Toronto Blue Jays had a more appealing idea, namely playing the outfield in Ontario. Newly Blue Grandy’s about to turn 37 and about to enter his fifteenth season. Meanwhile, Bruce, after a brief Cleveland detour, figures to work his way seriously up the Mets’ right field chart. Despite bolting in August, Jay led the Mets in games in right in ’17 with 90. He’s currently tied with Dave Kingman for 20th on the Mets’ all-time list, having played right 134 times during his first Mets tenure. If he stays put and stays well, Jay could soar as high as seventh this season.

But after close to two-and-a-half decades when replacing Darryl Strawberry proved challenging, it’s best to take right field one game at a time.


If you’d like to know what our top four right field practitioners consider the hit that meant the most to them in their major league careers, I’d recommend Mark Newman’s wonderfully conceived new book Diamonds from the Dugout: 115 Baseball Legends Remember Their Greatest Hits. Newman, a veteran baseball reporter, asked scores of ballplayers to answer that one question with one hit, Straw, Rusty, Rocky and Grandy among them. Plenty of other Mets, not to mention immortals, weigh in with their memories as well, and it makes for a delightful trip through the annals of baseball.

The foreword was contributed by Brooks Robinson. He mentioned Swoboda, too.

The Shea of Water

The Oscars were handed out Sunday night. Thus, per Monday morning-after tradition, the Academy pauses to remember those Mets who have, in the baseball sense, left us in the past year.

Starting Pitcher

May 7, 2017

Adam Wilk did the best he could under the circumstances, which were on a par with the weather and score. Wilk shouldn’t have wound up (or been working from the stretch) on Citi Field’s mound Sunday. That was Harvey’s assignment. Harvey, in our own historical montage, wants the ball, takes the ball, throws the ball past batters and we roar with approval. Hard to cue up that image lately.
—May 8, 2017
(Selected off waivers by Twins, 5/10/2017)


Relief Pitcher

May 20, 2017 – July 18, 2017

The Mets furnished a splendid lineup of speakers, though the first one didn’t show. Terry Collins was going to talk to us, but we were told he couldn’t make it. I fantasized he was too busy unconditionally releasing Neil Ramirez, but maybe he was just too tired from the previous night’s late flight from Miami.
—July 1, 2017
(Free agent, 7/24/2017; signed with Nationals, 7/27/2017)



August 26, 2017 – October 1, 2017

You saw Taijeron come to bat with two on and one out in a tied ninth inning and the best you could hope for was an echo of a September cameo past. Esix Snead won a game under similar circumstances in September 2002. Craig Brazell won a game kind of like this in September 2004. And now, in September 2017, it was Travis Taijeron’s turn. He lined a ball that confounded Jace Peterson in left (and cleverly avoided Ender Inciarte in center), driving home Plawecki’s pinch-runner Juan Lagares for the 4-3 Mets victory. Soon, you’ll mostly forget about it. Someday, though, it might resonate like crazy.
—September 27, 2017
(Free agent, 11/6/2017; signed with Dodgers, 11/20/2017)


Starting Pitcher

May 27, 2017 – July 27, 2017

I had hoped Tyler Pill might be Grover Powell. Grover Powell’s first major league start, for the Mets in 1963, was a complete game shutout, which didn’t happen for Mets rookies every day in 1963, nor, come to think of it, today. Before long, Tyler Pill 2017, who reacted well to the lights in Flushing for 5⅓ innings, appeared more to my eyes as a proximate ringer for Rick Anderson 1986. Do you remember Rick Anderson’s major league debut? Came up to the team you’d think least likely in need of a spot start and spot-started his heart out — 7 IP, 0 ER — before his bullpen blew both his and the team’s win. There’d be no W next to Pill’s name mainly because Asdrubal Cabrera uncharacteristically chose Tuesday night to ever so briefly be the reluctant reincarnation of Luis Castillo.
—May 31, 2017
(Free agent, 11/6/2017; signed with Diamondbacks, 1/15/2018)


Starting Pitcher

May 10, 2017 – September 20, 2017

Tommy Milone has a 5-0 lead and pitches like he wants to make the Nationals regret ever giving up on him. Through four innings, Tommy and the Mets are cruising. Milone’s revenge fantasy predictably disintegrates in the fifth, an inning he can’t get out of. No decision for Tommy, but a decent choice by Terry Collins when he replaces his Quadruple-A starter at the first sign of trouble with Hansel Robles.
—August 27, 2017
(Free agent, 10/26/2017; signed with Nationals, 12/16/2017)



September 2, 2017 – October 1, 2017

Nori Aoki seems to be in decent shape. The Mets’ right fielder du jour collected three hits, drove in two runs and stole a base in the Mets’ intermittently competitive 8-6 Sunday loss. This should earn him a regular starting job for at least a half-week since he doesn’t seem terrible and the Mets clearly don’t have anybody else.
—September 3, 2017
(Released, 10/30/2017; signed with Yakult Swallows, 1/20/2018)


Relief Pitcher

May 25, 2017 – September 30, 2017

It was never clear whether he wanted to be called Chasen or Chase. By the time it became a question, everyone was too low and numb to particularly care what he wanted.
—January 18, 2018
(Selected off waivers by Mariners, 1/19/2018)


Relief Pitcher

August 19, 2016 – September 30, 2017

Every reliever, including newcomer Josh Smoker, was culpable, as was everybody who wore a glove solely for decorative purposes, as well as everybody who carried a bat to ward off evil spirits, because they certainly weren’t using them to knock in runs.
—August 20, 2016
(Traded to Pirates, 1/31/2018)


Relief Pitcher

September 1, 2016 – August 5, 2017

What to do with a 1-0 loss? Throw stuff? Suck it up? Shrug? There are no wrong answers. It is the baseball epitome of close but no cigar. I’m not sure of the appeal of cigars, but one run sure sounded good on Wednesday. One Met run, that is. There was one National run, and it sounded, if you’ll excuse the expression, devastating. Wilson Ramos hit a solo home run off Fernando Salas in the seventh inning in Washington and it felt like we had just gotten our ash kicked beyond the point of surgical repair. All that was required of the Mets in their subsequent two innings of batting was a single run to change the tenor of the late afternoon, but some days a molehill is a mountain.
—September 15, 2016
(Released, 8/16/2017; signed with Angels, 8/20/2017)


Relief Pitcher

September 1, 2014 – September 25, 2017

On Saturday, when my buddy Dan pointed out Goeddel was warming up, I groaned louder than I had at the sight of Edgin. Goeddel is to me what the Great Gazoo was on The Flintstones. Gazoo couldn’t be seen by most of Bedrock. Goeddel’s uselessness seemed until very recently to have escaped the notice of every Mets observer but myself. Every game he enters, our esteemed announcers are telling me what an absolutely outstanding job he’s done out of the bullpen. All I remember is five runs in a third of an inning. I don’t know which third of an inning or who scored the five runs. To invoke Bill Maher for the second consecutive month, I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true. As someone who values an actual fact, I’ll go with this one: Goeddel got out of the fifth.
—September 19, 2016
(Free agent, 11/6/2017; signed with Rangers, 12/19/2017)



May 17, 2016 – October 1, 2017

He was safe at first
Brew Crew brain cramps
Proved the worst
Asdrubal hustled
Home from third
Broke the tie
Oh my word
Replay challenge
Should confirm
What at last
Hath turned the worm
Milwaukee aimed
Milwaukee missed
To what can we
Attribute this?
The Villar-Scooter-Carter
There-Went-Wilmer twist!
—June 11, 2016
(Sold to Nationals, 2/12/2018)


Relief Pitcher

April 10, 2015 – April 30, 2017

Now that Collins and Mike Matheny were legitimately low on personnel, a technically dull game was promising to get incredibly interesting. Matheny would eventually turn to starter Carlos Martinez. Terry went with perpetual mystery guest Sean Gilmartin, a pitcher whose identity would surely stump Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf. Gilmartin, in case you’ve forgotten, is the pitcher who keeps pitching for the Mets because he was obtained in the Rule 5 draft. Rule 5 specifies that you must keep Sean Gilmartin on your roster all year long. Rule 6 delineates that you keep forgetting who Sean Gilmartin is. Gilmartin pitches very well for someone who barely exists.
—July 20, 2015
(Selected off waivers by Cardinals, 6/11/2017)



April 30, 2016 – August 16, 2017

The combination of deGrom and René Rivera seemed to click as well as Syndergaard-Rivera, Matz-Rivera and Harvey-Rivera. The staff ERA with Rene behind the plate is 1.91; it’s 3.20 for the team overall. Can somebody be everybody’s personal catcher?
—June 2, 2016
(Selected off waivers by Cubs, 8/19/2017)


Relief Pitcher

July 13, 2012 – July 28, 2017

We braced for Bryce. Edgin threw ball one. Harper of the .400-plus batting average and .500-plus on-base percentage then fouled one off. The next pitch to the former and possibly future MVP was miraculously bounced back toward the mound. Josh grabbed it, flung it accurately to d’Arnaud for the force and then stood by while Travis relayed it to new first baseman T.J. Rivera to create a 1-2-3 game- and skid-ending double play. If a team not at bat can be said to have forged a walkoff win, this was it. The Mets didn’t break a tie and they didn’t storm from behind. They stayed from ahead. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. And when you’ve done it the way these Mets did, you know how good it feels.
—April 29, 2017
(Free agent, 10/4/2017; signed with Orioles, 11/27/2017)


Second Baseman

April 3, 2016 – August 11, 2017

Neil Walker’s a good, solid second baseman who is a perfectly serviceable hitter, sometimes a very productive one. But we can stop kidding ourselves that he is an overall upgrade over the Daniel Murphy who exists right now, essentially the same Daniel Murphy who swallowed two postseason series whole last October. At this stage of 2016, taking Walker over Murphy is like choosing the respectable court-appointed lawyer who looked good in a suit over Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. Murphy’s methods as a Met may have been as unorthodox as Vincent Gambini’s in defending Ralph Macchio and friend in Alabama, but who drove off with the pennant and Marisa Tomei as the closing credits rolled?
—July 10, 2016
(Traded to Brewers, 8/12/2017)

Relief Pitcher

September 1, 2015 – July 28, 2017

Addison Reed, mostly unhittable in 2016, was completely unhittable in the eighth. As is his peculiar trait, Reed walked off the field with his cap brim pushed back on his head in such a fashion that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s filming Bowery Boys shorts in the offseason.
—June 22, 2016
(Traded to Red Sox, 7/28/2017)



March 31, 2014 – August 17, 2017

You gawk at Curtis Granderson working the veritable rope line like a small-state governor seeking his third term. When it comes to fan relations, Curtis is running unopposed, yet takes nothing for granted. If you were eight years old and your teacher asked you to draw a “really good baseball player,” you’d draw Curtis Granderson. When Curtis Granderson was eight, I imagine, he started making lists of what he’d do when he became that really good baseball player. I’ve never seen anyone embrace those types of self-imposed responsibilities more diligently. He greets little kids as pals. He smiles broadly at ladies of a certain vintage. He signs anything and poses with everyone. He takes his time and is never perfunctory. It’s so beyond too good to be true it makes me cynically wonder what the hell he’s up to.
—August 15, 2015
(Traded to Dodgers, 8/19/2017)


First Baseman

September 1, 2010 – July 26, 2017

Lucas always strikes me as…I don’t want to say not quite human, but there’s something about Duda’s demeanor that suggests he was developed in a laboratory, then forgotten about by science. When it was mentioned during the San Diego series that Lucas hailed from Southern California, I was genuinely surprised. I don’t think of Lucas Duda as being from anywhere. I just assume he materialized one day on the Mets’ organizational chart and they kept routinely promoting him, sort of like Milton in Office Space. Nevertheless, Duda is listed on the roster as real and he hit a real, long shot on Thursday night that wasn’t a big deal on the surface, but I noticed that when he returned to the dugout — and his sensors told him to cooperate with the forthcoming human horseplay — they started in with the towels. My first instinct was to scoff that trailing by eight runs, the Mets should put the kibosh on their silly celebrations. My second instinct, however, countermanded that call. I decided it was a positive sign that the bench was engaged in a game that was about to be lost. If they haven’t truly given up when down, 9-1, maybe they won’t give up as a matter of course in whatever remains of this season. Not giving up can pay off. Rattling a capricious closer can pay off. Keeping slight but daunting deficits from widening can pay off. Insisting on a replay review can pay off. It’s the little things that become big things, and the biggest thing was Duda swinging at Rodriguez’s first pitch and beaming it toward his home planet, or at least Wauwatosa. The 2-0 defeat to which the Mets were sentenced was commuted in the space of eight pitches: one to Murphy, six to Wright, one to Duda. One less than the same trio needed to torpedo Rivera.
—July 26, 2014
(Traded to Rays, 7/27/2017)

The Met Most Grand

The 1973 Mets, for months more easily detected on the disabled list than within the National League East standings, overcame health issues once. Now we’re wishing they can do it again. Eddie Kranepool. Buddy Harrelson. Now Rusty Staub. You’d like to believe thoughts (and prayers, if you’re the type to keep those handy) will do these icons who sculpted the identity we latched onto in their and our youth some good. You gotta believe the concept certainly couldn’t hurt.

Rusty is hospitalized in Florida, reported as having contracted a staph infection that led to kidney failure. Bill Madden described the situation facing him in the Daily News on Friday. Friday, Madden wrote, was better than Thursday, and Thursday was better than Wednesday. That’s a trend line you’d applaud if you saw it rising from the dugout, strolling to the on-deck circle and preparing to take the one swing that could turn this thing around

Medical treatment is a complex affair, yet the metaphor of coming through in the clutch is irresistible here. It’s what Rusty did as a Met for four seasons as the regular right fielder and five more as a pinch-hitter deluxe, which sounds like something you’d order at your local diner, provided you couldn’t get a table at Rusty’s. You are no doubt cognizant that Mr. Staub stepped up to the plate in the culinary arts, too. It was his panoply of competencies and commitments, combined with his signature ability to literally change games, that made Rusty Rusty, a person and persona you not only couldn’t have made up but it would have occurred to you to have tried.

He steadily served a stream of satisfied customers. He selflessly served countless families of fallen first responders through his dedicated charitable foundation. Oh, and he served quite a few pitches into the outfield, pushing two generations of Mets clubs into position to win or at least come back.

Coming back. Another metaphor for Rusty. In his second Met go-round, when he was as much living legend as active player, you usually saw Rusty only once per game, generally late in the proceedings. We were probably behind or tied. One swing from Rusty could drastically alter that uncomfortable situation. It was his sacred skill, his higher calling, his raison d’être. He was no longer asked to field or run (save for a memorable spring afternoon in the autumn of his career). But he could hit like he could cook. Just go ahead and get in his kitchen if you had any doubts.

Rusty Staub established his professional credentials as a Colt .45/Astro; colored Canada Le Grand shade of Orange as an Expo; chaperoned the likes of Fidrych, Trammell, Whitaker and Morris as they earned their Tiger stripes; and had a few moments as Daniel, Texas Ranger. But within that pool of characters who you know in your bones are natural-born Mets, was there anybody who seemed to fit our bill more perfectly than Rusty Staub? He is right there with Eddie and Buddy and a handful of others who made the Mets the Mets. Mets like them are Mets you could never imagine as anything but Mets, never mind the baseball cards you had that sometimes indicated otherwise. Rusty had to be traded for the first time, and he had to be signed anew a second time, but he was always a Met waiting to happen. Once he took off the uniform, he remained a Met. Remains a Met to this day.

Every day is a good day to think grand thoughts of Rusty Staub, New York Met. Le Grander, the better.

Get the Feb Outta Here

Thinking along the lines of “fewer clients, less money” got Jerry Maguire booted from Sports Management International, but I’ll dare to express one of The Things We Think And Do Not Say:

Spring Training shouldn’t have started so soon. Too many Spring Training baseball games in February are unnatural. Too many Spring Training baseball games in February are just wrong.

February is no longer day to day. It is outta here, like a lamb with a quad muscle that bears watching. The Mets have been playing baseball games that don’t count since Friday, February 23, preparation for their playing baseball games that will count on Thursday, March 29. The hubris of too-soonishness is splattered all over the calendar.

Oh, I’ll take it if they’re giving it to me. I’ll take it on March 29 as I’ve taken it since February 23, tuning in wherever the Mets have wandered as they’ve attempted to find themselves. SNY…Channel 11…WOR…the Braves radio feed, even. The Atlanta radio guys aren’t bad, although one sounds like a sober Jim Brockmire and both talk way too much about the Braves. I’m a Mets fan, and if it has something to do with Mets baseball, I’m digging in. Yet I know what I’ve been digging into is half-baked and consumed at one’s own risk, like some ill-advised chicken tenders I dug into at Shea one long-ago August night.

But at least it was in August. That’s one of the baseball months for real. February has its place. February prepares us for March. March prepares us for April through October, maybe November if we’ve been good. February is not traditionally part of the recommended yearly allowance of baseball games. Another example of the FDA falling down on the job.

There was a February baseball game this week interrupted by an hour of rain and eventually given over to hours of No. 96es meandering through the motions, as if it was already March 10 or thereabouts, meaning our meaninglessness clocks are all off-kilter. Keith Hernandez was so antsy to leave, he was publicly swearing off cocktails. Gary Cohen had his bags packed for college basketball duty. Hardly anybody was in the stands. No manager or coach was making a personnel decision based on anything transpiring in their midst. They could have run instructional league footage and we wouldn’t have known the difference.

Running instructional league footage in December, on the other hand, is a capital programming idea.

I get the feeling the baseball gods are offended by our accelerated pace of play and, as punishment, have inflicted a slew of early injuries on one Met after another. An outbreak of everything wasn’t supposed to happen this year, what with all our new trainers and protocols and fresh supplies of gauze. Nothing serious. It never is in February. A shoulder here, a lower back there, pulls and pains from the tops of legs to the bottom of feet. And those are just the nicks the Mets have reported. Noah Syndergaard clearly had a shirtectomy. Steven Matz is afflicted by a lingering case of Setauket. Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki have been diagnosed as ragingly adequate. Hansel Robles reportedly can still point skyward. The spirit of Ray Ramirez lingers in the St. Lucie atmosphere.

An optimist would say it was a good idea getting the Mets into baseball shape early because Mets baseball shape inevitably involves injuries. An optimist would discern recovery time has started ahead of schedule. An optimist would declare DeGrom, Cespedes, Bruce, Smith, Lagares, Swarzak and Tebow (sure, why not?) will all be fine sooner because they’re not so fine now. That, I’m optimistically telling myself, is the utility of baseball in February, though I won’t be telling it for too many more hours, because March is lion in wait.

And March, when spring traditionally becomes Spring, is the first month of the rest of our year.

Born Near Third Base

The old adage “if you wanna win a ballgame, you gotta be able to triple” doesn’t exist, but based on foundational Mets lore, maybe it oughta. In their first nine games of existence, the Mets totaled 68 hits. Eight were doubles, twelve were homers, the rest were singles. All of the games were losses. In their tenth contest, a Met tripled. Bobby Gene Smith, who came on as a defensive replacement for right fielder Gus Bell in the bottom of the seventh at Forbes Field on April 23, 1962, batted in the top of the eighth with two out and two on. Smith proceeded to stop where no Met batter had stopped before. Previous Met runners had made it to third. Those twelve Met instances of home run-hitting presumably encompassed the touching of third, though with those Mets you wouldn’t automatically swear every base that needed to be touched got properly grazed.

Smith we know tripled. Stroked a ball to center, scored Felix Mantilla from second, Elio Chacon from first. Put the Mets up over the Pirates, 9-1, which is to say had Bobby Gene not been quite so dynamic, the Mets would have still led substantially and probably still would have won, thus rendering the triple excess extra-base baggage. You’d take it, though you didn’t exactly need it. But, again, these were the 1962 Mets trudging a zero through the win column. You’re not gonna retroactively turn down a surfeit of insurance runs on their behalf. And good luck proving a counterfactual. The Mets hadn’t tripled for nine games and were 0-9. A Met finally tripled, and just like that, that and that, they were 1-9.

If they wanted to win more ballgames, they had to be able to triple.

Yes, triples should have become a essential component of the Mets playbook (that’s assuming there was a Mets playbook). Casey Stengel should have fined anybody who didn’t poke a ball into a Polo Grounds alley and proceed t’run like the ushers is chasin’ ya outta th box seats. Smith should have been Casey’s go-to guy, Mr. Triple incarnate. Instead, the Mets paid their burst of good fortune no mind. Within three days of his signature three-base hit, the Mets traded the author of their first and thus far only triple to the Cubs for Sammy Taylor.

Never mind that Smith was a .136 batter overall for the 1962 Mets. Never mind that Taylor was imported to beef up a catching corps that was judged so lacking in bulk that on the same day they acquired Sammy, the Mets promised a player to be named later to Cleveland for another backstop, Harry Chiti (the player to be named later eventually identified as, uh-huh, Harry Chiti). Never mind that no proof exists that Bobby Gene Smith was anybody’s answer to anything in 1962. We shall not deny that the man hit .172 for the Cubs, was sent to the Cardinals, hit .231 for St. Louis, and then stayed free and clear of further major league action until 1965, when he resurfaced as a California Angel, stinging the ball at a .228 clip before retiring.

Together, Smith and the Mets may have had something going. Apart, they got nowhere. Bobby Gene never tripled again after April 23, 1962. The Mets had a hard time winning 39 more games the rest of that first year, despite the additional 39 triples Casey’s Metsies managed in Smitty’s absence (including nine from Charlie Neal, who established a club record that went unbroken until 1984, and one from Bob L. Miller, who became the first of 21 Mets pitchers to triple — or 20, when you consider Jon Niese’s lone triple came as a pinch-hitter). Was there a burgeoning chemistry triangle brewing among Smith, the Mets and the triple that would have accelerated the development of a champion? Or was that just the aroma wafting over Coogan’s Bluff every time a vendor poured a Rheingold? Who’s to say for sure where triples are concerned? They are by their very nature squirrelly creatures: difficult to pin down, challenging to make sense of, but nuts to take lightly.

You get a guy who shows you he can triple, and you win one game after losing all nine you ever played, maybe you ride that squirrel for all he’s worth. Maybe you don’t unload him on the Cubs for Sammy Taylor.

More than half-a-century later, perhaps the Mets have learned their lesson. Consider the most recent triple in club history, which occurred on September 30, 2017, also the date of the most recent win in club history. That triple was delivered at Citizens Bank Park by Smilin’ Brandon Nimmo, the youngster’s first ever. In the ensuing offseason, it would be reported the Mets could have made a trade packing potentially far greater impact than Smith-for-Taylor. Supposedly, they could have plucked former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates had they parted with Nimmo. No dice, the Mets said of letting go of their Wyoming-bred product who had just given them three bases on which to chew and chew hard.

Trade Nimmo? The guy who tripled? You mean like our predecessors traded Smith, all but ensuring the worst record in modern baseball history? Sure, McCutchen has credentials, but Nimmo tripled and we won.

We don’t know this was anybody’s thought process, but we do know what did happen. The Mets declined the Pirates’ reported entreaty, Brandon stayed put, the Buccos looked elsewhere for a transaction partner, Cutch headed to San Francisco, Jay Bruce came back to New York, and the spirit of the late Bobby Gene Smith could finally rest, for the Mets had at last paid his triple its proper due.

Of the 1,043 men who have played for the New York Mets, 313 Mets have — à la Smith and Nimmo — tripled at least once, which is to say 730 have not, meaning a tick over 30% of all Mets are responsible for 100% of their 1,667 triples in regular-season history. While you can render a pretty good guess as to who composes the 30%, you can never truly know unless you look up the answers. For example, was Eric Cammack one of your guesses? Eric Cammack was a reliever breezing through the Met pen at the turn of the century. He came to bat exactly once, in 2000, and made it count in triplicate, recording one triple, or one triple more than solid, professional hitter Willie Montañez.

That’s the same Willie Montañez, who…

• came to bat 1,019 times as a Met in 1978 and 1979;

• drove in 96 runs in his one full Flushing season;

• and inspired the San Diego Chicken to display heightened acts of hot doggery in tribute to the master;

…yet didn’t triple at all for us.

Bruce, sidelined as we speak with a sore left heel, has 575 Met ABs so far and no triples whatsoever. Should Jay take it easy on that foot — not make a heel turn, as it were — he stands an excellent chance of ranking fourth among all tripleless Mets batters by the end of April. He’s currently in seventh place, not too many swings behind apparent triskaphobics Tommy Davis, Charlie O’Brien and Mark Carreon. On the other hand, Bruce has hit more home runs as a Met than anybody who has never tripled as a Met, so we probably won’t hold his failure to pull into third after taking off from home against him.

Every batter just tries to hit the ball, right? Just make contact. If that’s your goal, and you’re good enough and lucky enough to reach your goal, you could single. If you’re committed to hitting the ball hard and you know what you’re doing, doubles figure to be within your purview as a big leaguer. Muscle up, as they say, and you could reasonably expect launch a homer. There’s a whole angle devoted to that these days.

A triple is different. A triple is as exotic as it is exciting. A triple takes skill, yet tripling is not exactly a skill. On some level, it just kind of happens. To be sure, there are multiple skill sets that contribute to their materialization, but if Eric Cammack can hit one, if Victor Zambrano can hit one and if Al Freaking Leiter can hit one — they each hit exactly one as Mets (same as Amos Otis, Robin Ventura and quadragenarian Willie Mays) — it doesn’t seem like a triple is specimen whose forensic formula can be broken down precisely in the lab.

There’s the hitting part, there’s the running part and there’s the dumb luck part. Kooky dimensions can aid and abet the batter whose sprint morphs into a marathon. It helps if an outfielder falls down, which explains Leiter’s three-bagger, not to mention John Olerud’s cycle. It also helps if the luck is only so dumb. Marlon Anderson and Ruben Tejada each motored for inside-the-park home runs when defensive foibles overcame their outfield opposition, yet Anderson never tripled as a Met and Tejada did so only once. Come to think of it, on his first out-of-the-park homer, at Wrigley Field in 2010, Ruben was so certain the ball he actually hit over the fence remained in play, he slid diligently into third. Tejada literally couldn’t triple for homering.

Once Smith introduced the Mets to the joy of three, the club has averaged one triple approximately every five-plus games. That’s one or two triples a week — save for the oddball occurrences like Doug Flynn tripling three times one night in Montreal — which leaves us generally unprepared to respond instinctively to a triple. All game and personnel situations being equal, we generally know what to do when faced with other varieties of hits. We clap politely for a single. We are heartier in our applause for a double. We leap to our feet for a home run. And for a triple, we…what do we do? We don’t know in advance that our scratch-off lottery ticket has three-matching prize amounts any more than we realize a triple is just kind of happening. Then it unfolds across an eternity. The ball has been hit, it’s in the outfield, we know it hasn’t been caught, that it’s good for one base for sure, most certainly two and…OH MY GOD! HE’S NOT SLOWING DOWN! HE’S AROUND SECOND! HE’S GOING FOR THREE! IS HE GOING TO…YES! YES! HE MADE IT! THREE! THREE! TRIPLE!

The only semi-regular baseball experience more thrilling than watching a triple become a triple would be to watch us watch a triple become a triple.

You can bet your sweet BABIP that triples occasionally reveal themselves as freaks of nature — Sid Fernandez had two as a Met, same as Mike Piazza — but the ability to hit combined with the gift of speed goes a long way in getting a Met to third base often enough so the surprise factor diminishes. Still stimulating, just not as shocking. For a veritable handful of Mets, triples were less aberration than arsenal. You’re probably familiar with the handiwork of Jose Reyes, who has legcrafted 110 triples in his two terms as a Met. Or is that legwork and handcrafted? Either way, this category has officially belonged to Reyes since July 20, 2008, when his 63rd career triple, achieved at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, whisked him past Mookie Wilson. (Observing the passing of the torch was the Reds’ rookie center fielder, Jay Bruce, a lad not impressed  enough by the whole three-bases concept to duplicate it eight or nine years later.)

The Mets team record for most triples in a season, 49 (in endless 2009), is lower than the Mets team record for fewest homers in a season, 57 (in strike-shortened 1981). It follows that high individual triple totals are  not in abundance in these parts. Reyes and Wilson are the only Mets with as many as 50 triples as Mets. Well in back of Mookie’s total of 62 is Buddy Harrelson at 45, after which we have only three other Mets who’ve tripled more than thirty times: Cleon Jones (33), Steve Henderson (31) and Darryl Strawberry (30).

Had he stayed longer than approximately a year-and-two-thirds, chances are that the next Met on the list, Lance Johnson, would slot higher than seventh and claim a whole bunch more than 27 triples. One Dog, as White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson dubbed him in his base-racing prime, showed us how the right pair of feet, in association with a pair of hands working splendidly with a bat, could send a Met tripling up this chart. Lance chose 1996, his one full season in Queens, to be at his Johnsonian best. Originally a Cardinal pest nurtured to thrive on Astroturf, he never hit like crazy prior to 1996, not in St. Louis, not on Chicago’s South Side. But in ’96, he lashed like a lunatic: hit .333, slugged .479. The gaudiest portion of the larger number was born of three-base power. Johnson found his gaps and took advantage of them with aplomb, chalking up 21 triples among his 227 hits. Both established Mets records. Only Reyes has approached the former and no Met has neared the latter.

Wouldn’t you know it, the Mets of the moment have a budding tripler who already resembles Lance a lot. This tyro tornado of the basepaths also gets compared frequently to Jose, which is understandable, given the multiple strands of their workplace proximity association. With any luck — and not the dumb kind — he may emerge as a singular archetype in his own Met right. First, he’ll need to run like we’ve seen him run, and hit more than we’ve seen him hit.

It should be fun watching him try.

One triple prior to Nimmo’s three-base finale of 2017, on September 26, 2017, we were treated to our fourth taste of tripling as a way of life when, with nobody on, Amed Rosario zoomed into third base, having shot what (pending a sudden signing somewhere) looms as the final pitch of R.A. Dickey’s career deep into center at Citi Field. Amed wound up stranded on third — is there anything more frustrating than a wasted triple? — but the kid’s mission statement stood.

Shortstop Amed Rosario wasn’t promoted from Triple-A at the outset of August to stop at second base. He didn’t always drive the ball between two outfielders, and he didn’t always round second before one or the other picked it up and threw it in, but just the small sample size that indicated how capable he is of regularly sparking such a scenario sure feels like something worth leaning into. As exciting as it is keeping tabs on Dom Smith’s alarm clock and calculating how many starters will squeeze inside Mickey Callaway’s new age rotation, 2018’s most tantalizing lure is the promise of Rosario blazing a path toward third base from the moment this season starts.

Of course getting to first is a first step, and young Amed didn’t do that with anything reflecting reassuring regularity during his two-month sneak preview. He tripled more than he walked. Same could be said for homers and doubles: he whacked four of each to three bases on balls. The slugging percentage was pumped up decently, but the on-base percentage was nowhere to be seen. There was also an uncomfortable ton of striking out and some preliminary Debbie Downer data, presented by Eno Sarris for Fangraphs, that suggested, 170 plate appearances into his big league tenure, that Son of Reyes may not be as savioresque as we dream him to be. “Though he showed some power,” Sarris wrote in November, “he usually hit the ball softly and on the ground.”

Yet four doubles, four homers, four triples before turning twenty-two years of age gives us, I think, realistic hope that Rosario — universally rated highly as a minor leaguer and compared by the ever upbeat Callaway to Francisco Lindor — isn’t a lost cause, sabermetric or otherwise. The Rosario Speedwagon to whom we wish to hitch our star notched his fourth 3B by his 151st AB. That sounds prolific.

It is, even if his pace of exhilarating play is not wholly unprecedented in Mets history. A dive into Baseball-Reference’s Play Index informs us eight Mets rookies besides Rosario racked up at least four triples in the first season they broke into the majors. Strawberry totaled seven, Henderson and Jeromy Burnitz, six; Juan Lagares and Edgardo Alfonzo, five; and Reyes, Rey Ordoñez and Ron Hunt, four. All of those fellas debuted significantly earlier in their maiden campaigns than Amed did in his. Straw needed three months to reach four triples (which nobody much noticed, since we were preoccupied monitoring Darryl’s home runs), whereas Rosario got there in less than two. Reyes was a four-triple wonder by his 41st game, which isn’t surprising, considering Jose emerged from the womb halfway to second.

The statistical parade Reyes heads is ideal for advancement. It doesn’t take too many triples to rise relatively high as a met. Rosario’s fourth triple catapulted him into a 25-way tie for 92nd place on the all-time Mets triples list. If he’s not in the Top 20 by 2020, something’s probably terribly awry. For perspective, Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, with five triples apiece, are two of 17 Mets tied for 75th place. After 56 years, only 46 Mets have double-digit triples as Mets.

By gum, we can plod with the best of them.

A few veterans from elsewhere have made indelible triples impressions upon alighting as Mets. Start with the fast-wagging tale of One Dog. Johnson showed up in our midst on April 1, 1996, and was a four-triple Met by April 21; two days later, as if to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Bobby Gene Smith’s three-bag feat, he added two more…and by May 1, Lance had seven triples and was definitively off to the races. The year before, Brett Butler spent barely more than three months as a 1995 Met, yet registered seven triples in the orange and blue (or as many as Rusty Staub rumbled for in nine seasons here). Then there was the strange case of Cory Sullivan, an overlooked avatar of 2009 Metsiness. Cory joined us on July 22 of that besotted season, a slog during which the only thing the Mets did well was triple. It’s what brand spanking new asymmetrical Citi Field was allegedly designed for. Nobody could homer…and nobody could stay healthy…but everybody could triple.

To prove it, Sullivan slipped in among us as a one-piece body for 64 games and produced five triples in 136 at-bats. That’s approximately one triple every five minutes, which is certainly not a bad thing. The impact his tripling wrought, however, did us little good. Not Cory’s fault; what was he supposed to do — not triple? The 2009 Mets legged out 49 triples. They’re the ones who own the franchise record. They also lost 92 games, demoting The Most Exciting Play In Baseball to mundanity, not to mention a state of competitive uselessness. Tim McCarver’s proclamation that triples are better than sex was filed well prior to the platonic three-bagging perfected by the 2009 Mets.

If there’s a grand correlation between winning and tripling, I haven’t stumbled into it. Lance Johnson may have never been called out at third when stretching his doubles, but he also couldn’t hustle the Mets to more than 71 wins, as the ’96 Mets tripled 47 times in service to losing 91 games. The ’78 team that featured Willie Montañez amusing the San Diego Chicken also compiled 47 triples, or roughly half as many as triples as they had losses (96). At the other end of the spectrum, no Mets team tripled less than the 1999 edition, which chugged from home to third a paltry 14 times — and that was with a 163rd game tacked on as a coda. The ’99 Mets overcame their aversion to tripling to win 97 games and the National League Wild Card. Tied for second-fewest triples was the 2015 Mets, with 17 triples on their dance card and an embossed invitation to the World Series anyway.

There’s not necessarily an inverse relationship at work. Good Mets teams have tripled competently. Lousy Mets teams have tripled sparingly. Reyes’s tripling no doubt fueled the 2006 Mets in their quest for the postseason. Harrelson’s tripling was part and parcel of the 1970 Mets’ legitimate attempt to repeat their 1969 heroics. And it’s not as if the crummy 1992 Mets were any less crummy because no 1992 Met tripled more than twice.

We come back to the flukish nature of the triple. It is a special guest star in any given box score, a recurring character available for only so many episodes in a given season. You simply can’t count on triples. They’re three bases of lightning in a bottle, with no guarantee you can pour them fluidly home. Yet with triples, especially when you get a Rosario who plants in you the notion that he can be ninety feet from scoring in a heartbeat, there is an old adage that might apply if you don’t mind paraphrasing:

It’s not the destination. It’s three-quarters of the journey.


Here’s Eno Sarris’s cautionary piece on Rosario’s first two months.

Reasons for Optimism 2018

Yoenis is trying yoga.

Conforto’s hitting from a tee.

Alderson’s talking up Tebow.

Mickey leaves nobody standing around.

Ah, spring!


Matz is sharp.

A-Gon is wise.

Gsellman’s got flow.

Who knew Ramos was a hoot?

Ah, spring!


Wheeler will do whatever’s best for the team.

Flores will play wherever asked by the team.

Frazier is thrilled to be here.

It wasn’t known Trump Jr. was going to be there.

Ah, spring!


Everybody’s noticing that nobody’s noticing Rosario.

Smith is still in the best shape of everybody’s life.

All those young righty relievers are showing their stuff.

Maybe a young lefty reliever has a chance to emerge.

Ah, spring!


David isn’t playing, but he’s still a leader.

Matt Reynolds is gone, yet Matt den Dekker’s returned.

DeGrom’s left camp to become a father again.

Thor just hit another guy.

Ah, spring!


We have a chance.

We can compete.

We are ready to win.

We’ve got games that don’t count starting Friday.

Ah! Spring!