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ABOUT US

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

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

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

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Maybe, Maybe Not

The Mets should definitely keep Carlos Beltran as their manager for the coming season.

The Mets should definitely replace Carlos Beltran as their manager for the coming season.

Major League Baseball did not suspend any of the Astros players for electronic sign-stealing.

Major League Baseball singled out Beltran among all players as part of its report on electronic sign-stealing.

The steps the Astros and Red Sox took to dismiss their managers have no impact on what the Mets do.

After A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora took a hit, the Mets can’t ignore Carlos Beltran’s rather obvious role in this episode.

“We believed in Carlos when we went through a rigorous interview process, and he is still that same person we hired,” the Mets said in an official statement

”More information has come to light making our initial choice untenable,” the Mets said in an official statement.

“Certainly we will face questions as Spring Training begins and the season follows,” one Met source said, “but the near-term distraction will fade as Carlos settles in and the team benefits from his leadership.”

“This is something we don’t need,” one Met source said. “Beltran was already something of an unknown quantity, given his lack of experience, and the questions he’ll face will only add pressure.”

Beltran made a mistake, has owned up to it, and we should all simply move on.

You can’t put a guy at the center of a cheating scandal out front as the representative of your franchise.

Beltran’s career shouldn’t be defined by this episode. He has a long and distinguished record in baseball, and it’s not fair to derail his future as a manager before it even starts.

Beltran can’t be handed this kind of responsibility under this kind of cloud.

Overall, it hasn’t been easy coming to these conclusions. You could just as easily look at it an entirely different way.

Overall, it hasn’t been easy coming to these conclusions. You could just as easily look at it an entirely different way.

UPDATE: We now know Carlos Beltran is out.

Welcome, THB Class of 2019!

Another year in the books! Another decade in the books! And another class of matriculating Mets to welcome to The Holy Books!

Background: I have a trio of binders, long ago dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re in order of arrival in a big-league game: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Noah Syndergaard is Class of ’15, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, the managers, ghosts, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That page begins with Hobie Landrith and ends with the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for the Mets, managed the Mets, or got stuck with the dubious status of Met ghost.

THB cards from 2019If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it unless it’s a truly horrible — Topps was here a decade before there were Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Mets card by Topps? Then I look for a minor-league card, a non-Topps Mets card, a Topps non-Mets card, or anything else. That means I spend the season scrutinizing new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. At the end of the year I go through the stockpile and subtract the maybe somedays who became nopes. (I now have several stacks of nopes — tough business, baseball.) Eventually that yields this column, previous versions of which can be found hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere and here.)

Enough preamble, let’s get to the amble:

Pete Alonso: Because of the way this feature works, guys get assessed for what they did in their first Mets season, even if that season is relatively brief. Which can leave their THB welcome bios a little scanty, compared with their later biographies. (Though, perspective: If you manage to be a merely interesting Met we’ll devote ~20,000 words to you in a given season. It’s what we do.) Go through previous iterations of this column and you’ll find entries for Dom Smith, Amed Rosario and even Matt Harvey that don’t give much of a hint about what’s to come. Alonso probably deserved a cameo in 2018, and at the time I was bummed that he didn’t get one — and I’m still a little bit bummed, because that meant his career never overlapped with David Wright’s. But the silver lining is we get to give him a full accounting now, instead of a couple of lines about how he’s big and smiley and well, we’ll see. By waiting another calendar year, Alonso became the first to Metriculate in ’19; by doing what he did, he stormed his way to first in our hearts. He collected his first hit in Washington on Opening Day, his first homer in Miami in Game 4, and was off and slugging after that. He smashed the club home-run record by a cool 12 (53 to the seemingly impregnable 41 that had belonged to Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley), won the All-Star Game Home Run Derby (though Vlad Guerrero Jr. prevailed in its equivalent of the popular vote), won the MLB homer crown (no asterisk required), garnered Rookie of the Year honors, proved far more able in the field than we’d been warned to expect, and was the clear club leader in fan relations, down to stripped-off uniforms, shirt-worthy acronyms, and so much besides. But you know all this already. And that’s the greatest thing of all — a rookie we hoped might hit a few long balls and contribute more runs on offense than he took away on defense put together a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming rocket ride of a season that ended with me saying of his many accomplishments, “But you know all this already.” 2019 Topps Series 2 card in which he’s wearing a dumb blue top. Not to worry; he’ll get a lot more.

Robinson Cano: Hall of Famer as a Yankee, solid player turned PED suspect as a Mariner, Cano came back to New York along with Edwin Diaz (about whom a whole lot more in a bit) in exchange for a mega-prospect (Jarred Kelenic), a useful prospect (Justin Dunn), a lottery ticket (Gerson Bautista), a misfit toy (Jay Bruce) and a guy we never wanted to see again (Anthony Swarzak). It was an odd trade, given the years and dollars left on Cano’s contract and the fact that it pushed Jeff McNeil out of a position he’d more than earned, but there we were. Cano then had an interesting year. He was hurt, he loafed and was kinda sorta not really called out for it in one of Mickey Callaway’s many instances of stepping on his own dick while doing something not particularly complicated, he got raging hot… it was a lot, let’s leave it at that. Cano did get credit for mentoring Amed Rosario during what turned out to be his breakout season, an unquantifiable thing that’s been a storyline in a couple of recent Mets seasons and ought to be thought about more. Still, Cano will be around for four more years at $24 million per, and not one of those seasons is likely to be anything close to a bargain. 2019 Topps team set card in which he’s wearing a Photoshopped Mets jersey. (He got a 2019 Update card, but it was a horizontal, and by now I don’t need to tell you that horizontal cards lead to devil worship, blindness and death.)

Wilson Ramos: We knew about Ramos already, based on him being built like a brick shithouse (I think Noel Coward coined that term) and beating said house’s usual contents out of us far too often as a National. But seeing him every day gave me a new appreciation for him. No, he’s not a great catcher — there were raise-an-eyebrow ERA stats and mild battery controversies and lectures about pitch-framing — but he was such a potent hitter that we usually forgave all that. Plus there was an additional something about Ramos — a glimmer in the eye and an angle at the corners of the mouth that suggested a sense of irony and wise detachment from the ebb and flow of a pitiless, punishing sport. Ramos put together an astonishing 26-game hitting streak during the summer, tying for the second-longest in club history. Twenty-six games! For a 32-year-old catcher! Who has to run at top speed to have a tectonic plate not outdrift him! In the summer! And he didn’t even start in four of those games! And in his last AB he saw nine pitches and was only out because Howie Kendrick made a gorgeous diving stop! 2019 Series 2 card.

Keon Broxton: His floor was “lithe, defense-first fourth outfielder,” while his ceiling was “breakout star.” Alas, the Mets haven’t had luck with this particular player profile for a very long time. Broxton got irregular playing time and didn’t do much with it, which is a familiar Rorschach pattern of failure for players with his profile, and in early May the Mets let him go. He didn’t stick with the Orioles either (ouch), wound up in Seattle and in December came back to the Brewers. And you think you had a complicated year. 2019 Series 2 card, issued after he was already gone.

Edwin Diaz: OK, actually Edwin Diaz had a really complicated year. Arriving after serving as the Mariners’ lights-out closer, the man they call “Sugar” had a pretty good first month as a Met — arriving for work at Citi Field on April 29, he had eight saves to his credit, an ERA of 0.84, and had fanned 20 in 10 2/3 innings. That afternoon, Diaz was brought into a tie game in the 9th and gave up a game-killing homer to Jesse Winkler. Two days later, he was beaten in the same situation by Jose Iglesias. There was a meltdown out in Los Angeles, a gag job against the Cardinals, a disaster in Philadelphia … on and on it went, capped by Kurt Suzuki’s walkoff in D.C. in early September. The Mets had been 806-0 in their less-than-storied history when entering the ninth with a lead of at least six runs; after that one, they were 806-1 and you were entitled to never believe anything again. Calling Diaz’s season a disaster profoundly understates the case; it was a disaster that simultaneously spat in the face of a mathematician’s cool logic, an emo poet’s talent for mordant reflection, and an innocent child’s yearning for reassurance that the universe is not ice-cold and murderous. Every time Edwin Diaz threw a slider in an important spot, it was not just hit but hit out of a ballpark. And yet … he continued to strike out hitters at an elite rate. The ball may be different in 2020, which might help. Or Diaz could simply see his luck regress to the mean, which might help a lot more. Do you feel lucky, Mets fan punk? Well do ya? 2019 Update card in which he’s pumping his fist. Guess it was shot in April.

J.D. Davis: He can’t play third base. Despite working his butt off, he can only kind of play left, and that’s if you squint a lot and have rosary beads close at hand. What he can definitely do is hit. Jonathan Gregory Davis — the “J.D.” is a back-formation from his initials — was an odd man out with the Astros, picked up by Brodie van Wagenen in the best trade of his tenure so far. Davis slugged 22 homers, was money at home and in the second half, and became Pete Alonso’s sidekick in everyone’s favorite buddy comedy of the year. The Polar Bear dubbed Davis “the Sun Bear” (as Greg noted, “the Solar Bear” was just sitting there), and Davis was the Met I was most likely to confuse with an adorably insane cartoon character. There was his sleeveless, drenched WWE-style postgame interview after beating the Indians, but my favorite moment was his heckle of the Cubs after another Alonso homer. Davis has a lot of talents, but heckling isn’t one of them: He has a voice that doesn’t travel, coming out pinched and reedy instead of deep and booming. “Whaddya gonna throw ‘im?” Davis screeched at the Cubs from the dugout as Alonso circled the bases. “WHAT NOW?!” Four months later, it’s still making me laugh. Given their glut of outfielders and Davis’s limitations, the Mets might be better off trading Davis for much-needed parts, but I hope they don’t, because it really might break my heart. 2019 Series 2 card in a stupid blue top.

Justin Wilson: The unassuming-looking Wilson arrived as a 31-year-old pitching for his fifth organization and had a 4.82 ERA in early May when he went on the IL with a stubbornly sore elbow. Nearly two months later, I was sitting a couple of rows from the bullpen mound in the Staten Island stands and noticed the Cyclone warming up about eight feet away had fancy personalized cleats. The answer to this mystery: It was Wilson, whom I not just hadn’t recognized but also hadn’t thought of since he vanished. A couple of days later, Wilson was back with the Mets and was one of their most dependable relievers for the rest of the year. Middle relievers, man. Go figure. 2019 card from the resurrected Topps Total brand.

Luis Avilan: A lefty specialist, Avilan was sent out against righties early in the season, which didn’t go well. Imagine that! He then got hurt and was out from early May through early July with elbow tightness. (No, I didn’t copy and paste this from Justin Wilson’s entry.) When he returned, he faced mostly lefties, and things got much better. Imagine that! For the year, Avilan held lefties to a .102 average, but was battered by righties at a .373 clip. The three-batter minimum may play havoc with his career next year, but then the same was true about working for Mickey Callaway. It’s true Carlos Beltran has no record as a manager, but his lifetime NBMC percentage — that’s a new stat called “Not Being Mickey Callaway” — is 1.000. 2016 Topps card from back when he was a Dodger.

Ryan O’Rourke: Appeared twice in early May, pitched 1.1 innings, was sent down, recalled again at the end of the month, but optioned before appearing in another game because the Mets needed a spot for Aaron Altherr. Did they really, though? 2019 Syracuse Mets card. It’s very orange.

Adeiny Hechavarria: I already disliked Hechavarria for being an annoying, sporadically good Marlin, and huffed and puffed when the Mets signed him as infield depth for 2019. But hey, maybe he wouldn’t be called up? The Mets called him up at the beginning of May to avoid losing him because of an opt-out clause in his contract, a move I excoriated at length, decrying Hechavarria as the kind of Proven Veteran™ who only gets a roster spot from teams that have no strategy except avoiding criticism from crusty old baseball lifers who also have no strategy. Which wasn’t incorrect, really, except Hechavarria played pretty well for a brief stretch. In such situations I always say I’m glad to be wrong, but I was glad with a big seething asterisk. With Robinson Cano back on the active roster, Hechavarria rode the bench and was ineffective in a part-time role. The Mets designated him for assignment shortly before a $1 million option would have kicked in, which was simultaneously a sound baseball move and typically cheapjack Wilponian shit. Hechavarria wound up as a Brave, hit .328 for them, and thanked God for delivering him from the Mets. Oh but wait: He then singlehandedly tried to ruin Closing Day, connecting for a home run in the ninth off Paul Sewald to tie the game at 4-4 and then hitting another one in the 11th off Walker Lockett to give the bad guys a 5-4 lead. Dom Smith saved us from the Adeinypocalypse, thank God, and my last look at Hechavarria was while his team was being destroyed by the Cardinals in one of baseball’s all-time postseason beatdowns. He didn’t play, but I made sure I caught a glimpse of him, because I am in fact that petty. He’s now a free agent, hopefully bound for a league in Korea, Antarctica or on Mars. Go away, Adeiny Hechavarria. Go away forever. 2019 Topps Total card as a Met, which I wish didn’t exist.

Wilmer Font: Baseball wouldn’t work without ham-and-eggers like Font, guys who eat innings and keep getting looks because a) there’s talent there and someone always thinks they’ll be the one to unlock it and b) somebody’s got to take the ball. But while baseball needs a steady supply of Wilmer Fonts, something’s gone wrong if one of them is on your roster for more than a couple of weeks. The Mets acquired Font from the Rays in May and sold him to the Blue Jays in July; a couple of years from now he’ll show up in another uniform during the fourth inning of some snoozy game and you’ll cock your head, say “oh yeah, him” and the person next to you won’t remember. 2019 Topps card as a Ray.

Rajai Davis: On Nov. 2, 2016, the Cubs were up 6-4 on the Indians in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, with two outs and a runner on second. The Cubs hadn’t won the Series since 1908; the Indians hadn’t won since 1948. Facing Chicago’s Aroldis Chapman was Cleveland journeyman Rajai Davis, with 55 homers to his name over an 11-year career. Davis hit Chapman’s seventh pitch over the left-field wall, tying the game and unleashing bedlam at Progressive Field. Unfortunately, the Cubs won in the 10th, which always make me wonder how Clevelanders view Rajai Davis. He’s a hero, obviously, but how much of a hero? Will he never have to buy a drink in that town? You’d think … except the Indians didn’t win. So, I dunno, maybe he’ll never have to buy a first drink in that town? Anyway, Davis became a Met on May 22, arriving when the team finally figured out Brandon Nimmo was actually hurt. In his first Mets AB, Davis clubbed a three-run homer in the eighth inning off the Nationals’ Sean Doolittle, the exclamation point on a four-game sweep. (To get in uniform, he had to take a $243 Uber ride from Pennsylvania.) Then, in September, Davis hit a bases-clearing double off the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu to break a scoreless eighth-inning tie, keeping the Mets’ season alive. He didn’t do much in between, but with moments like those two, he didn’t have to. 2019 Topps Total card.

Aaron Altherr: Two days after Rajai Davis homered in his first at-bat as a Met, Aaron Altherr did the same thing, launching a sixth-inning homer to give New York a brief-lived 7-6 lead over the Tigers. He did almost nothing else of note, so any expensive Uber rides he took weren’t deemed newsworthy, and he wound up with an .082 batting average for the year. 2018 Topps Heritage card as a Phillie.

Hector Santiago: He spent nearly a month as a Met, most of it during June when everyone paid to pitch baseballs for a living was hurt. You’d think I’d remember a guy who was on our roster for a month, but I didn’t. Googling revealed he was the winning pitcher in the Tomas Nido game. Ah. That I remember — I was in a Thai restaurant with friends, peeking down at Gameday on my phone, which was tucked between my knees. That made me remember that Santiago did his best to lose the game he won, throwing about a billion balls and perilously few strikes and somehow escaping getting eaten (figuratively) by Tigers. Honestly, I was better off not remembering him. 2019 Syracuse card.

Brooks Pounders: Baseball is reliably hilarious, in ways both unexpected and thoroughly expected. If I told you there was a pitcher named Brooks Pounders and asked you to come up with a capsule biography, you’d probably decide he was a hefty middle reliever with a dog’s breakfast career spread over multiple organizations. And you’d be right! The joke within a joke is while Pounders appeared in seven games with the Mets and racked up a 6.14 ERA, he only gave up a run in one of those appearances, a 13-7 disaster against the Phillies where no pitcher covered himself in glory. Still pretty funny. 2017 Topps Update card.

Stephen Nogosek: As the 2017 season crumbled into wreckage, the Mets traded away pretty much every player someone wanted, which was understandable. What was less understandable was that in every deal, the Mets got the same underwhelming thing back — a right-handed minor-league reliever considered a lottery ticket by scouts. Exit Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson; enter Drew Smith, Gerson Bautista, Jamie Callahan, Stephen Nogosek, Ryder Ryan, Eric Hanhold and Jacob Rhame. It’s only a mild oversimplification to say the Mets acquired the same pitcher with seven different names, like they’d been dropped into a straight-to-video knockoff of Highlander in which the immortal hero’s bad at swordfighting. Nogosek pitched effectively in the minors last year, so maybe he’ll be the wheat amid the chaff, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also not looking forward to seeing Ryder Ryan come up this July and surrender four earned runs in 1 1/3 on a getaway day in Cincinnati. 2018 St. Lucie card in which Nogosek’s sporting an ill-advised mustache. That card probably cost me $5 on eBay. Stupid Mets.

Walker Lockett: I hated Tommy Milone. Actively detested him and would writhe around on the couch in torment when he was on my TV. I just felt sorry for Walker Lockett … and for myself, and for all the rest of us. Why does God allow such things to happen? 2017 El Paso Chihuahuas card. Yes, that is an actual professional baseball team. Why does God allow such things to happen?

Chris Mazza: We make fun of interchangeable middle relievers and one-and-done spot starters, and it’s an acceptable coping mechanism for staying sane as fans — so long as we remember that even the least of these guys is a world-class athlete who’s spent years and years working his ass off doing something incredibly hard for a lot less money than we think. Mazza turned 29 about two months before the Mets made him a minor-league Rule V draftee in December 2018. He’d been released by the Twins in 2015, by the Marlins in 2018, and if you thought his future looked bright, you were either a family member or a truly incurable optimist. But Mazza proved useful in Binghamton, got the call to Syracuse and did OK, and in late June he found himself in the big leagues, wearing blue and orange striped stirrups he bought himself on Amazon. So how’d it go? He was in line for his first big-league win during a grim Verdun of a game against the Giants in July — 1-2-3 15th inning, on long side after a Pete Alonso homer — but imploded in the 16th, facing five batters and retiring none of them in one of the season’s more frustrating losses. But the story isn’t done yet! Did you know Chris Mazza threw the last pitch for the Mets in the 2010s? He relieved Walker Lockett on Closing Day, got Francisco Cervelli to ground into a double play with the only pitch he threw, and was the pitcher of record when Dom Smith sent us all home happy. That’s a big-league victory, in so many ways. He’s now 30 years old and Red Sox property; Godspeed, Chris Mazza. An old Jacksonville Suns card. Their unis were better in the days of Amos Otis and Gary Gentry, trust me.

Marcus Stroman: If you want to understand the depths of Mets-fan trauma, the team’s acquisition of Marcus Stroman in July could be Exhibit A. At first glance, Stroman’s surprise acquisition should have been great news, bolstering an already-strong starting corps with the team fighting for a wild-card berth. Except it was widely assumed Stroman’s acquisition was the prelude to the team dealing away Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard with an eye on future salary obligations, which would not have been great news. And that scenario only seemed more likely after the Mets trumpeted Stroman’s Long Island roots and high-school rivalry with Steven Matz — among their other fine qualities, the Wilpons are deeply parochial, the kind of people who think a feel-good local story will mesmerize fans and keep them from asking pesky questions about payroll. As it turned out, the Mets traded neither Wheeler nor Syndergaard, fell short of the wild card, but then let Wheeler become a Phillie without stirring from their slumber, so you tell me what the plan was, assuming there ever was one. The silver lining at the center of all that was Stroman himself, an undersized, overamped bulldog of a pitcher, demonstrative on the mound and in the dugout. It was a pleasure to watch him in 2019; it’s a pleasure to think that there’s more to come. 2019 Topps Heritage card, as a Blue Jay.

Donnie Hart: Threw nine pitches in one inning for the Mets, recording three groundouts near the tail end of a blowout win over the Pirates. That was in August, on a night I had duties at a sci-fi con in Tampa, Fla. I missed that part of the game and so in all likelihood missed Donnie Hart’s entire Mets career. First Met I’ve completely missed since I moved to New York in 1995? It’s possible. Thanks to the magic of the MLB.tv archives I could go relive the Donnie Hart era in all its glory, but I think it’s more poignant and poetic to leave things the way they are. 2017 Topps Chrome card as an Oriole — autographed, no less.

Joe Panik: A San Francisco Giant legend, Panik was born in Yonkers and went to St. John’s, playing in the exhibition game against Georgetown that christened Citi Field back in 2009. (Panik went 2-for-4; I was there but won’t pretend I remember him.) Given all that, a homecoming was inevitable once it became clear that Panik no longer had a place with the Giants. With Robinson Cano on the shelf, Adeiny Hechavarria and his impending $1 million option were subtracted, Panik was added, and on we went. Panik started out with a hot couple of weeks, cooled off after that, and all in all was perfectly serviceable before becoming a free agent at season’s end. Honestly, Joe Panik not being Adeiny Hechavarria would have been enough for me. I hate that guy. 2019 Topps Heritage card, as a Giant.

Brad Brach: The Cubs signed Brach before 2019, and it looked like a good move — Brach had proven reliable with the Padres, Orioles and Braves. But it all went to hell in Chicago, and the Cubs released Brach and his 6.43 ERA at the beginning of August. The Mets figured out he’d been tipping his change-up and fixed the problem; even before then, Brach endeared himself to us by revealing that he’d attended a 2015 World Series game, not as a laminated-thing-around-the-neck MLB guy but because he’d grown up in Freehold as a huge Mets fan. (I will not be taking questions about parochialism and/or hypocrisy at this time, thank you.) Emily noted that neither “Brad” nor “Brach” exactly rolled off the tongue while cheering from the couch, so she invoked him by his full name, which turned into “Breadbox” within a homestead or two. Worked for me. Breadbox will be back in 2020, hopefully remaining rubber-armed and useful. Yet another 2019 Heritage card, as a Cub.

Sam Haggerty: Looking for a path to the big leagues when you’re not considered a front-line prospect? Your best bet is to be a good defensive catcher; if you’re not, raw speed is a good Plan B. Haggerty got the call in September after spending most of the season at Double-A, with a video of Syracuse manager Tony DeFrancesco delivering the news going mildly viral. Used mostly as a pinch-runner, he scored two runs and was hitless in four ABs. The first of them was a nice September moment, with the entire team paying avid attention from the dugout and the Citi Field crowd cheering him on. The Mets released Haggerty this week, but whatever else he does in life, he’ll always be a major leaguer and that’s awesome. 2019 Rumble Ponies card.

Jed Lowrie: He lives! A truly star-crossed acquisition, Lowrie came aboard as a useful veteran expected to log time at multiple infield positions, but came down with a sore knee in February and then shit got weird. There was talk of him returning in May, but there was a hamstring problem, Brodie Van Wagenen poked his head up momentarily to babble about kinetic chains, other body parts malfunctioned in ways no one seemed inclined to explain, and eventually we all shrugged and forgot about Jed Lowrie. I wonder, idly, if 2020 spring training will bring an article that recounts his odd lost season, and if that article will reveal that there was something wrong nobody wanted to talk about, or merely detail a perfect storm of physical woes. Whatever the case, Lowrie came to the plate as a Brooklyn Cyclone in the New York-Penn League playoffs and I reacted like I’d seen a UFO. He then made a miraculous return to the big-league roster in September … and went hitless in eight thoroughly unmemorable plate appearances. 2019 Topps Heritage card in which he’s a Met but looks like he’s holding very still out of fright. Honestly, it’s perfect; perhaps it’s even the moment when whatever happened to him happened.

Boarish Behavior

I admittedly know nothing about ranching, but if ranches are prone to wild boar attacks, then I can’t really blame Yoenis Cespedes for taking steps to prevent a wild boar from attacking him on his ranch. And if a wild boar winds up breaking free of the trap set by the proprietor of stately La Potencia Ranch of Vero Beach, Fla., I also can’t blame Cespedes for trying to avoid the wild boar, as he apparently attempted…and if Yoenis’s defensive action here was less effective than the kind that won him a Gold Glove for his work in Detroit, and it resulted in him fracturing an ankle by falling into a hole…well, I’m sorry he got hurt more than he already was from double heel surgery — and I’m glad he didn’t get hurt worse.

All that said, geez, what an (ahem) unusual story the Post reported Friday night. It was already out of leftfield that the left fielder’s insanely large-in-hindsight contract was slashed to merely ludicrously large-in-hindsight. That basically never happens in baseball, but the Mets got back many of the millions upon millions they were supposed to be paying Cespedes, since Cespedes was supposed to be not letting wild boars get in the way of him trying to play baseball again relatively soon. Or something like that. When we heard that Cespedes’s deal was reduced like Cespedes’s gear was in the Mets’ team store once “La Potencia” definitively rhymed with “in absentia,” we more or less figured it had something to do with the what-else-is-new? news that Yo took a spill into a hole on his ranch. But we didn’t know exactly what that bit of business was about when it was revealed last May.

Now we do. It was about Yoenis Cespedes trying to stay on peaceful terms with a heretofore trapped wild boar who wasn’t crazy about having been trapped. It could happen to anybody.

Anybody on the Mets, especially.

The Best That You Can Do

I learned two things from watching Brodie Van Wagenen’s official introduction of Dellin Betances on Thursday, as streamed by SNY:

1) Brodie Van Wagenen believes we are more interested in negotiation protocols and processes than we actually are. Stop telling us what miracles you and your compatriots have worked by hammering out a contract offer to a player who you’re convincing us out the other side of your mouth wanted nothing more than to play for us or at least our geography. I don’t expect Betances to pull an Andre Dawson c. 1987 and let the Mets fill in however small a collusive number they feel can masquerade as fair, but why is the GM describing for us the horrible stress there was in getting a New York-based pitcher into a New York-based uniform? Just cut straight to, “It’s great that Dellin’s a Met.”

2) It’s great that Dellin’s a Met.

The second part of my BVW-generated education is a best-case scenario. Everything about the Mets’ bullpen — which was mostly a living, breathing, cringe-inducing worst-case scenario in 2019 — asks that we see the best in all involved. Edwin Diaz will get his head and slider together and revert to 2018 greatness. Jeurys Familia, lighter physically, will be solid mentally and throw sinkers with requisite heaviness. Seth Lugo won’t be unhappy to be in relief and remain just as good as he was when he was the exception to the drool. Michael Wacha will be delighted with his role once he discovers he’s the sixth starter in a five-man rotation.

And Dellin Betances will overcome a year of injury-laden inactivity and return to being the monster that made him a four-time All-Star and an anchor within the bullpen on the other side of the Triborough. It’s a big if (he’s a big pitcher), but if we get that, and we get all the other ifs to break our way…well, let’s just say the Mets bullpen hasn’t blown a lead yet in 2020.
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Don Larsen was the best that he could be on October 8, 1956. Throw a perfect game in the World Series and you’ll never have to pick a day when you’re any better. Of course that was Larsen’s calling card for the rest of his life, and naturally it’s what we all recalled about the former major league pitcher who died on New Year’s Day at the age of 90.

Thing is, Larsen didn’t just touch down from thin air in Yankee Stadium that Monday afternoon more than 63 years ago. He’d been pitching in the bigs since 1953 — commencing with the St. Louis Browns of all things — and he’d keep pitching professionally until 1968. His last MLB action came in 1967 with the Cubs, but he stayed at his craft another season beyond that in the minors.

Few think of Larsen as anything but the Yankee starter and winner in Game Five of the 1956 Fall Classic, throwing 97 pitches that never resulted in a baserunner and catching a jubilant Yogi Berra after the last of them was called strike three on Brooklyn Dodgers pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell. Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down. Why would you think of Don Larsen in any other context?

Except I have. When Larsen died, I thought of how I ran across his name repeatedly during some research I was doing of Met box scores from their early years. It felt anachronistic seeing Larsen appear in anything but World Series kinescopes, but he didn’t ascend to the heavens after the last out. There were other games for him to pitch, none of them perfect; and other hitters for him to challenge, not all of them helpless against his stuff.

Take the Mets of 1964, for example. The Mets of 1964 were helpless a lot, but against Don Larsen, they found their groove, defeating him four times, once when he was with the Giants, three times after he’d been sold to the Colt 45s. The Mets had never before beaten any pitcher as many as four times in a single season, and they’ve done it only thirteen times since — and never while en route to a tenth-place finish. Larsen lost to the 1964 Mets twice as a starter, twice as a reliever. One of the starts was a classic hard-luck defeat, as Don scattered eight hits over seven innings but was outdueled by Frank Lary, who tossed a two-hit shutout for the Mets. The game could also be termed a Ron Hunt special, as the National League’s starting All-Star second baseman gladly accepted a Larsen pitch to his person with the bases loaded to push the first run of the game across the plate. (Larsen’s catcher at that moment? None other than Houston’s 21-year-old rookie receiver Jerry Grote.)

Losses were more prevalent than wins in Larsen’s career. Not that we take Ws and Ls all that seriously anymore in this age of deGrominant enlightenment, but Don was an 81-91 pitcher overall — yet a 4-2 pitcher in five World Series, and 1-0 with zeros across the board on 10/8/56. How can you not love baseball knowing that the imperfect man who threw a perfect game at the perfect instant was also the first pitcher to lose four games in a season to any Mets team, especially a Mets team that went 53-109 overall? Nevertheless, we shall remember the man at his best.
___

Andy Hassler at his best was pretty decent. That was mostly in the American League, where the lefty began pitching out of view of Mets fans in 1971. His won-lost mark didn’t exactly shine, but he kept finding his way to teams aspiring to postseason. Hassler helped the Royals make the playoffs in 1976 and 1977 and then joined the Red Sox as they attempted to not let a large AL East lead get away in 1978. That didn’t go as well, but it should be noted that in the eighth inning on October 2, 1978, directly after Bob Stanley gave up a leadoff home run to Reggie Jackson that allowed the Yankees open a three-run lead at Fenway Park, Hassler entered the one-game playoff to decide the division and shut the door, retiring Nettles, Chambliss and White in order, and then coming back for two more outs in the top of the ninth, by which time the Red Sox had closed the gap to 5-4. The Bucky Dent Game ultimately wound up one run out of Boston’s grasp, but it wasn’t Andy Hassler’s fault.

In the middle of the following season, at the June 15 trading deadline, the Red Sox sold Hassler to the Mets, the same day the Mets traded Mike Bruhert and Bob Myrick to Texas for Dock Ellis. If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume the Mets were making a big move in their division, bringing in a pair of veteran starters with October pedigrees. But, no, this was 1979, and the Mets were just trying to get through the season.

Still, Hassler — who died on Christmas Day in Arizona at 68 — gave the Mets some quality pitching during the balance of that benighted year. Like Larsen against Lary in 1964, Andy unfortunately saved his 1979 best for somebody else’s even better. On the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, Hassler pitched a complete game: eight innings, five hits, one lousy third-inning earned run allowed on back-to-back doubles to two lefthanded batters: Steve Carlton and Bake McBride. Carlton, who is one of those thirteen pitchers after Larsen to lose at least four times in a season to the Mets (amid his 27-10 1972 campaign, no less), chose this Independence Night to flirt with his own brand of perfection. The bid for regular-season Larseny, so to speak, was foiled when Elliott Maddox reached Silent Steve for a one-out double in the seventh. Carlton would create a little more trouble for himself by committing an error on a grounder hit to him by Richie Hebner. But he’d escape the mini-jam, and that would be the extent of Met baserunning for the evening. The game wound up Phillies 1 Mets 0, with a one-hitter going in Carlton’s column and another among 71 career losses (versus 44 wins) the best Hassler could collect.

Andy may not have thrown any more gems of that caliber in 1979, but he did give Joe Torre a touch of flexibility, racking up four saves, three of them in September. The combination of eight starts and four saves is unusual in Metsian annals. Hassler’s season in Flushing — a partial season, at that — is one of only seven meeting those versatile parameters in Mets history. In fact, something like it has been achieved only twice since Hassler did it. Anthony Young started 13 times in 1992 while saving 15 games, and Hisanori Takahashi saved eight in 2010 on top of making twelve starts.

Hassler, who would leave as a free agent, couldn’t prevent the Mets from settling deep into the basement in 1979. Nor could Ellis, who New York would sell to Pittsburgh down the stretch of their spurt toward the World Series. Wayne Twitchell was another veteran pitcher the Mets hoped could eat up some innings that season. Twitchell did for a while, until he was sold to Seattle. Only a Mets fan of a certain vintage and intensity would think of this trio as Mets rather than members of the teams where they made their more indelible (or Dellinable) marks. Yet at least one Mets fan moved to linger over the 1979 Mets’ game log page on Baseball-Reference can’t help but notice that the pitchers of record on the losing side three consecutive nights in early July in foul, fetid, fuming, foggy filthy Philadelphia were Dock Ellis, Wayne Twitchell and Andy Hassler. They were all Mets in passing, yet this Mets fan looks at those names; remembers them as Mets; and is certain each man did his best while a Met.

They weren’t perfect, but hardly anybody is while on a major league mound.

Do the Math

The first time I learned the word “decade” was just a tick over fifty years ago, December 31, 1969. It was my seventh birthday, which was cause enough for me to obsess on numbers; I decided I liked being 7 a bunch more than I liked being 6. It was also New Year’s Eve, which meant we’d get a whole new year the next day…and, my sister explained, a whole new decade.

A decade? What’s that?

Suzan, who was then Susan, told me it’s a ten-year period, specifically the one that holds the years we’re in. We’re not just moving from 1969 to 1970, she elaborated, but we’re going from the 1960s to the 1970s.

WHOA! This was a revelation. I had been living in the 1960s my entire seven-year-and-a-day life and just found out about it. Our local drug store issued its receipts on pre-printed forms that had space for “MONTH” and “DAY,” but the year portion explicitly read, “196_” allowing the pharmacist or cashier to simply fill in one number. It was easy to assume, if you were six or under, that there was some permanence to the “196_” part, as if it was always going to be Nineteen Sixty-Something.

Whichever decade you find yourself in, may it be permanently nice for you.

Nothing was permanent, I learned as 1969 became 1970, and, except for Shore Park Pharmacy’s inventory of unused receipt notepads, that was OK. It was great for me, actually. I was getting in on the ground floor of this new thing, the 1970s. I went around all of my seventh birthday prattling on about this “decade” development, maintaining my excitement into New Year’s Day, then carrying it all the way back to school once Christmas vacation was over. When the teacher reminded our first grade class that we’re now in a new year, I piped up, “It’s also a new decade!”

Then I stopped thinking about decades until probably December 1979; focused like a laser on the “decade” concept for the next few weeks, until the existence of January 1980 no longer seemed terribly novel; and repeated the process roughly every ten years thereafter to the present.

In that spirit, welcome, fellow Mets fans, to 2020 and the 2020s, because it is also, once again, a new decade. In a few days it will still be this decade but we won’t much notice. Then we won’t notice at all. If we got completely hung up on such demarcations, we’d have never gotten out of the 1970s.

Part of me never did. The Seventies are “my” decade, perhaps because it’s the first one that I knew was a decade, more likely because most of my tastes and impressions were formed in the years when I was 7 to 17, which jibes nicely with my fondness for the ’70s and, for that matter, the number 7. I drew my first breath in the ’60s, encountered bits and pieces of the world around me with eyes of wonder in the ’60s and, most crucially, became a Mets fan in 1969. But I began engaging the Mets and life surrounding them in earnest starting in 1970.

Which is now fifty years ago. And that’s a mind-blower to me. It probably won’t entirely be in a few weeks or months, but it also probably will be a little forever.

When I turned 50 on the final day of 2012, I waited to feel different. I didn’t, and I went about my business as if nothing of substance had changed. Clicking up from 49 to 50 (or 56 to 57) isn’t nearly the shock to the system that the transition from 6 to 7 is. The inherent chronology of aging stops being a revelation as one gets older and you tend to roll your eyes every time somebody far younger than you remarks, “wow, that makes me feel old.” But the one thing about “50 years” that truly jolted me in 2012 was that the Mets — the expansion Mets; the “New Breed” Mets; the “Youth of America” Mets; the born the same year I was Mets — now had 50th anniversaries as a matter of course.

It was one thing for the organization to do the math, acknowledge the milestone and sew a 50th-anniversary patch on its uniform sleeves in 2012. That was conscientious commemoration of which I heartily approved. It was a whole other sensation for the stream of “This Date In…” features you’d hear on the pregame show or see on social media to routinely include items that happened to the Mets “fifty years ago today”. Stranger, as 2012 became 2013 and so on, those innocent notes would refer to “fifty-one” or however many years ago today. I first noticed how bizarre it landed on my ears when Johan Santana pitched his no-hitter and most every summation included a note that “in the 51-season history of the New York Mets,” this was the first one.

A no-hitter thrown by a Met seemed less out of left field to me than that there was a daily history of the Mets that involved a span of time greater than half of a century. The patch came and went. The everyday math only intensified. “Fifty-three years ago today, in 1964…” I might have heard in 2017, and I required a two-step process to absorb the information. Random Mets games didn’t happen 53 years ago, I’d think, before quickly correcting myself. Yeah, I guess they did.

Fast-forward, as time inevitably does, to today, January 1, 2020, and everything from the 1960s is more than fifty years ago, just as everything from my home decade of the 1970s is more than forty years ago…and the 1970s’ very first hours are a shade over fifty years old. This stuff is happening all over calendar and calculator apps everywhere. It stopped being the 1980s more than thirty years ago and started being the 1980s more than forty years ago. The 1990s have shed all pretense of recency. The concept of 2000 as the future grows ever more quaint. And 2010? You mean the year/season that was ten years/seasons ago?

In one sense, wow. In a larger sense, whatever. But for today and a few more days, wow.

A Connoisseur’s Guide to Closing Day

’Cause it all begins again when it ends.
—Roxette, “Joyride

My December festival of retrospective introspection (or introspective retrospection) feels like it’s reached a logical endpoint here on the last day of the month, the last day of the year, and have I mentioned it’s the last day of the decade? Also, it’s my birthday — happy Johan to me! — and on my birthday, I should get to go to not just any game, but my favorite game.

My favorite game is Closing Day, for which I am either three months late or nine months early. Oh, the drawback of being born out of season. Ah, but what a bonus to be born on the closest thing the winter calendar has to Closing Day. It’s the closing day of the month, the year…of the whole darned decade! In honor of this moment that comes around no more often than every tenth year, I present to you my Connoisseur’s Guide to Closing Day, born of my experience attending every final regular-season home game of the past quarter-century. All Closing Days are good in their way, but some are better than others. Some, for that matter, are worse. If you’re a connoisseur, you can tell the difference.

I dare to consider myself a connoisseur, ergo I will tell right here…

THE AGGRESSIVELY ANTICLIMACTIC CLOSING DAY
(I went because I go but, honestly, I could have stayed home.)

GAME NO. 2 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 1996, Phillies 9 Mets 5
I convinced myself it was essential to pay in-person homage to Todd Hundley and Lance Johnson on the heels of their historic accomplishments. Hundley stayed stuck at 41 home runs. Johnson added one base hit to give himself 227. Bernard Gilkey was sitting after doing something to himself in Houston earlier in the week, so his 117 RBIs weren’t going anywhere. I thought the whole place would erupt with cheers when the power trio showed its faces. There was polite applause when they and John Franco came out to accept an award of some sort pre-game. The muted reaction was a bracing reminder that no matter how great Lance, Todd and Bernard had been, three do not make a team, as the Mets’ record was about to be 71-91. I’m surprised to relearn that this was a 9-5 game and that the Mets led it, 4-0, after two. I remember it as a desultory 2-1 kind of loss in which nothing happened. Usually I remember the score of Closing Day, but since Closing Day wasn’t yet indoctrinated in my mind, I let this one go. Based on my never having written about this game even in passing, this is the clear winner for My Most Obscure Closing Day.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Tim Bogar; Jerry DiPoto; Chris Jones; Paul Byrd; Alvaro Espinoza (he homered); Mike Fyhrie; Charlie Greene
NOTEWORTHY: Ryder Chasin was born to be a Mets fan on this very day somewhere in the Tri-State Area. I didn’t know him then, but I met him shortly after he turned 13 and we’ve been to one Tuesday night game together every August since. He’s currently 23.

GAME NO. 12 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2006, Nationals 7 Mets 3
Mets were still hung over from clinching a week earlier. Not a bad problem to have. Motions were gone through this humid, lifeless Monday evening. The main goal on Fandini Night — a head schmata giveaway sponsored by WFAN — was nobody getting hurt. Nobody got hurt, though in a few days, amidst the season-ending road swing through Atlanta, we learned that Pedro Martinez would not be well enough to pitch in the playoffs. Not a good problem to have.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. There were six games left to play.
NOTEWORTHY: In a clever nod to “Takin’ Care of Business,” the Mets victory song of 2006 (which couldn’t be played following a loss), the Shea A/V squad ended the home schedule by blasting BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”.
___

THE TONALLY APPROPRIATE CLOSING DAY
(These seasons simply had to end.)

GAME NO. 8 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2002, Mets 6 Braves 1
Bobby Valentine deployed 21 players, Bobby Cox used 24, and it was nine-inning game The box score was a mess, which is appropriate because the season was a mess.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Edgardo Alfonzo; John Valentin; Mark Guthrie; Steve Reed; Brady Clark (until he came back in 2008); also Valentine’s final game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: Cox sent pitcher Jung Bong up to pinch-hit. It was widely thought this was a slap at Bobby V for how he handled the Met pot-smoking allegations weeks earlier (pantomiming some toking for reporters). I want to believe that was Cox’s reasoning, but I have a hard time buying the theory.

GAME NO. 23 IN THE STREAK
September 27, 2017, Mets 7 Braves 1
It was a Wednesday night. It belonged on a Wednesday night. The entire 2017 season should have been played on a Wednesday night. Better yet, 4 AM on a Thursday.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. The Mets were headed to Philadelphia that weekend, where a story would break that Terry Collins, long lauded for his communications skills, hadn’t communicated with most of his players all year. Collins would be replaced as manager by an affable doorstop.
NOTEWORTHY: Jamie Callahan notched his first and, to date, only major league hold.

GAME NO. 24 IN THE STREAK
September 30, 2018, Mets 1 Marlins 0
Time of game: 2:10 in a season that couldn’t have been gotten over with fast enough. Time of game the night before: 4:14. Probably not a coincidence that nobody had the energy to score. It was the second 1-0 win in a row for the Mets, also the second game that saw the end of a legendary Met’s career. Saturday night it was David Wright and a Citiwide embrace. Sunday afternoon it was Jose Reyes for anybody who wasn’t off looking for a fresh pretzel.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Reyes; Jay Bruce; Austin Jackson
NOTEWORTHY: Peter O’Brien, the Marlin who dared to catch the foul pop that resulted from David’s final swing the night before, was booed every time he so much as blinked. That’ll teach him to do his job.
___

THE NAGGINGLY UNSATISFYING CLOSING DAY
(I should have enjoyed these more than I did.)

GAME NO. 17 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2011, Mets 3 Reds 0
My favorite player clinched my favorite team’s first batting title. I should have wanted to have made an appointment to get a tattoo of “.337” applied to my back. But Jose, Jose, Jose…why did you have to scoot into the dugout one millisecond after reaching first base in the first inning? Would it have killed you to trot out to short to start the bottom of the inning? I mean it might have, given your injury history, but still.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Reyes (until he came back in 2016); Nick Evans; Willie Harris; Jason Pridie; Ronny Paulino
NOTEWORTHY: Pete Flynn officially retired this Wednesday afternoon. Can you name the current head groundskeeper? (I can’t.)

GAME NO. 19 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2013, Mets 3 Brewers 2
Mike Piazza went into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in a dazzling pregame ceremony that drew an actual sellout crowd. I think we all should have gone home right after, because nothing the Mets did was going to match the thrill of our all-time catcher, surrounded by legends from every Met generation, telling us we, Mets fans, were his true friends. Why don’t the Mets do more Hall of Fame ceremonies? Why don’t they have more Piazzas? The game was fine, but I was antsy to leave when it was over, which basically never happens on Closing Day.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Justin Turner; Mike Baxter; Frank Francisco
NOTEWORTHY: Juan Lagares threw out Sean Halton at home in the fourth, giving Juan the league lead for assists by a center fielder with 14. Juan was so excited he didn’t scoot into the dugout.
___

THE MALICIOUSLY METSIAN CLOSING DAY
(These give Mets a bad name.)

GAME NO. 4 IN THE STREAK
September 23, 1998, Expos 3 Mets 0
The Mets entered this week one game up for the Wild Card with five to play. They had an off day, two on Tuesday and Wednesday night against Montreal at home, another off day, then three in Atlanta. Essentially, all they had to do to make the playoffs for the first time in ten years was not lose all five. They lost all five. Closing Night was the second of the queasy quintet. I stuck around to watch the traditional postgame season-saluting video. I could have counted the others who did the same. Maybe it was that pair of off days that sapped the Mets of their concentration, but you somehow knew this wasn’t going to end well.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Jorge Fabregas
NOTEWORTHY: The video ended on a frame of Mike Piazza and Todd Hundley high-fiving at home plate after Hundley’s dramatic pinch-homer in Houston a week earlier. Hard to believe only a week had gone by.

GAME NO. 13 IN THE STREAK
September 30, 2007, Marlins 8 Mets 1
Aw, hell no.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: T#m Gl@v!ne; Paul Lo Duca; Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez; Lastings Milledge; Guillermo Mota; Ruben Gotay; Sandy Alomar, Jr.; Jeff Conine; Innocence
NOTEWORTHY: Dig my strategy: I brought a retro Washington Senators cap I’d bought years earlier so it would send good vibes to the Nationals, who adopted the Senators’ look as their own when they moved from Montreal. Once the Mets fell waaaaaaay behind, I switched from Mets to Senators on my head, hoping it would inspire the Nats in Philadelphia. It didn’t work.

GAME NO. 16 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 2010, Nationals 2 Mets 1 (14)
It’s difficult to fathom the Mets don’t end every season in front of a mostly empty and totally freezing stadium with Oliver Perez on the mound walking in the go-ahead run deep into extra innings. But it happened only this one time.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Perez; Luis Castillo; Sean Green; Hisanori Takahashi; Chris Carter; Jesus Feliciano; Mike Hessman; Joaquin Arias; also Jerry Manuel’s last game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: After four hours and fourteen minutes of frustration, the Mets deployed a phalanx of employees on the field level to blandly thank us for coming and unhelpfully point us to the Rotunda staircase.
___

THE PROVISIONALLY SATISFYING CLOSING DAY
(Swell, but more is coming…right?)

GAME NO. 6 IN THE STREAK
October 1, 2000, Mets 3 Expos 2 (13)
Momentum is the thing with a five-game winning streak, which is what we had headed to the playoffs after sweeping the Expos on top of taking the final two in a series from Atlanta, the first half of which we used to clinch our second consecutive Wild Card. By the time the regular season was done, you could forget we’d blown an excellent chance to win the division.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Pat Mahomes
NOTEWORTHY: Benny Agbayani scored the winning run in the Mets’ final regular-season victory 160 games after driving in the winning run in the Mets’ first regular-season victory. That was the grand slam in Tokyo the morning of March 30, which seemed like an absurdly early date (never mind time) to start a season. The Mets will start 2020 on March 26. You keep doing you, MLB!

GAME NO. 21 IN THE STREAK
October 4, 2015, Mets 1 Nationals 0
Twice in this century we’ve had this uptown problem wherein we’ve slumped after winning the division, and the online Mets world devolves into two camps: one fretting that the Mets suck and the other tut-tutting that these losses need not be taken seriously, for the clinching has occurred and it’s just a matter of tuning up for the playoffs now. I’ve toggled between the two stances. In my book, you get one or two hangover games, then you should get it the bleep in gear. But do the Mets read my book? During the final week of 2015, the Mets looked like they needed a nap. WAKE UP!!!!! YOU’VE GOT THE DODGERS NEXT WEEK!!!!! At last, the Mets won a game, with Jacob deGrom and six relievers shutting out the Nationals, and Curtis Granderson bopping an eighth-inning home run to give us peace of mind and a 1-0 win, necessarily in that order.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Johnny Monell
NOTEWORTHY: Jeurys Familia tied Armando Benitez’s club record for most saves in a season. Someday we have to be able to look at a sentence that includes “Jeurys Familia tied Armando Benitez” and feel free, clear and good about it.

GAME NO. 22 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2016, Mets 17 Phillies 0
Unicorn Score sighting! The Mets, front-running for first slot among Wild Card contenders, not only pounded the Phillies, they pummeled them via the biggest, baddest, broadest shutout in franchise history. We didn’t know for sure there’d be baseball again at Citi Field in 2016, but with six road games remaining, confidence was deep.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. Terry Collins would use everybody in the week ahead.
NOTEWORTHY: Jose Fernandez was reported dead that morning. A Mets 1986 throwback jersey, which the Sunday outfit through 2016, hung in the home dugout with FERNANDEZ 16 stitched on the back.
___

THE MOURNFULLY LOADED CLOSING DAY
(Sad endings edge happy recaps.)

GAME NO. 7 IN THE STREAK
October 7, 2001, Expos 5 Mets 0
It had been 26 days since September 11; 16 days since Mike Piazza’s home run; 8 days since the second Brian Jordan game; 5 days since the Mets were eliminated from their unlikely run at the division title. It had been a lifetime in a short time that didn’t have all that much to do with baseball, yet baseball came back and went on, first with the Mets, soon without the Mets. Right before this game, America announced military action in Afghanistan. That’s still going on, you may or may not have noticed.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Jorge Toca; Glendon Rusch; Tsuyoshi Shinjo (until he came back in 2003); Desi Relaford; Alex Escobar
NOTEWORTHY: It was Notebook Day for kids. There was a surfeit of spiral notebooks and a paucity of kids. As this portion of the schedule had been bumped back a week, the attendance figures reflected reality as opposed to some nebulous tickets sold total, which is to say there really were no more than 15,540 people on hand. As a gesture of good will, the Mets could have given every child and every adult a notebook and had plenty left to distribute to local schools and fraternal organizations. They instead clutched tight to policy and inventory.

GAME NO. 9 IN THE STREAK
September 25, 2003, Pirates 3 Mets 1
Bob Murphy Night on a dreary Thursday. It should have been Bob Murphy Day on a sunny Sunday. Shea Stadium was half-filled at best. It should have been packed. It was so sad. But what else could it be? The most optimistic broadcaster in the world was turning off his mic for good.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody. The Mets had a weekend series ahead in Miami where they’d lay down for the Wild Card-clinching Marlins.
NOTEWORTHY: Mike Glavine started the game at first base, Mike Piazza finished the game at first base, so your announcer of 42 seasons leaving the air may have been only the third-most unusual event of the evening.

GAME NO. 14 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2008, Marlins 4 Mets 2
Shea Goodbye. Need we Shea more?
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Endy Chavez; Joe Smith; Scott Schoeneweis; Luis Ayala; Shea Stadium
NOTEWORTHY: Losing the last game at the ballpark was horrible. Losing the last game at the ballpark to be knocked out of the playoffs was horrible. Losing the last game at the ballpark to be knocked out of the playoffs for a second consecutive Closing Day was horrible. But the ceremonies to close the ballpark were beautiful.
___

THE HAPPILY HISTORIC CLOSING DAY
(This is the content I come here for.)

GAME NO. 10 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 2004, Mets 8 Expos 1
I do believe this is the game that made Closing Day an upper-case experience in my perception. Though the Mets were going nowhere except into winter, it had so much in store that there was no way I’d skip Shea this Sunday: the end of the Expos; the retirement of Todd Zeile; the sendoff for John Franco; the nudging aside of Art Howe. As a bonus, we got the one and only half-inning of catcher Joe Hietpas, making the latest major league debut any Met has ever made in a season (including Jed Lowrie). Mix poignancy with the kicking of an opponent’s ass — even if you feel bad that the opponent will no longer identify as they had for 36 years — and you have an event worthy of a title.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Franco; Zeile; Hietpas (first and last); Danny Garcia; Wilson Delgado; Craig Brazell; Jeff Keppinger; also Howe’s last game as Mets manager
NOTEWORTHY: Mike Piazza started at first base and — like the Expos in Montreal — never played there again.

GAME NO. 11 IN THE STREAK
October 2, 2005, Rockies 11 Mets 3
This was all about Mike as no game I’ve ever been to was all about one Met. Every breath he’d take, every move he’d make, we were watching him. The hold Mike Piazza had on our imaginations was as all-encompassing as the grip on his bat was tight. He was an era unto himself. He had lots of help launching us to the near-stratosphere before and after the turn of the century, but he was The Man in an everyday way I’m convinced no other Met has been in his time. And remember: he wasn’t retiring on the last day of 2005; he was finishing his contract. Details, details. We inducted him into every Hall of Fame we had in our hearts that afternoon.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Piazza; Gerald Williams; Marlon Anderson (until he came back in 2007); Danny Graves; Mike Jacobs (until he came back in 2010); Shingo Takatsu
NOTEWORTHY: They ran a video montage of season highlights postgame, but nobody paid it mind because Matt Loughlin was on the field interviewing The Man of the hour. Pedro Martinez had been such a sensation at Shea when the season began, yet as it ended, his image was ignored because real life Piazza was talking in front of us. Either way, I don’t recall the Mets running a classic Closing Day montage on the video board after 2005.

GAME NO. 18 IN THE STREAK
September 27, 2012, Mets 6 Pirates 5
The fairy tale reached its final chapter, R.A. Dickey winning his 20th game in front of fans who bled, sweat and articulated every pitch with him. R.A. was a cause for everybody who came out that Thursday afternoon. “Mets fans in New York City chanted his name, waved giant R’s and A’s and loved him in a way that people love a child or a monk or a dying man who has shed all his armor and come before them in his truth,” Gary Smith wrote in Sports Illustrated without a whit of overstatement. R.A. got what he meant to us and struck out 13 in seven-and-two-thirds in response. We chanted “Cy Young!” for him and he got that, too.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Nobody, as a six-game road trip beckoned.
NOTEWORTHY: Jon Rauch nearly blew the game. Mets bullpen, same as it ever was.
___

THE SURPRISINGLY ELEVATING CLOSING DAY
(How can you not love this team on days like these?)

GAME NO. 1 IN THE STREAK
October 1, 1995, Mets 1 Braves 0 (11)
This wasn’t my very first Closing Day (I was there in ’85 and ’88), but this is when the impulse began to become an obsession. I had to be at the last game of the year because the Mets’ record in games I’d been to in 1995 was 6-7 after starting at 0-6, and I had to take a shot at evening it up. Eleven innings and a bases-loaded walk to Tim Bogar later, I had .500, which is all a Mets fan in the mid-’90s could ask for. Hell, it was more than a Mets fan in the mid-’90s could ask for, and how often did we get that much?
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Joe Orsulak; Bill Spiers; Pete Walker (until he came back in 2001); Damon Buford
NOTEWORTHY: I saw somebody in Mariners gear when licensed apparel for a team from far away seemed unusual and wondered if that person came specifically to watch the out-of-town scoreboard because, if you think about it, what place was better during the pre-At Bat app era to follow your team’s progress from across the country as it strives for its first playoff spot? But I didn’t ask.

GAME NO. 15 IN THE STREAK
October 4, 2009, Mets 4 Astros 0
My thirty-sixth game at Citi Field was the day tensions thawed between me and it. I’d spent my first 35 games resenting its existence, but on Closing Day, with StubHub seats in 326 (still overpriced), I found a vibe I liked and, for the most part, made the spot my own once a year more years than not thereafter. Nelson Figueroa shut out the Astros, who were about to start tanking in earnest.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Figueroa; Anderson Hernandez; Jeremy Reed
NOTEWORTHY: I spent an inning at one of those Excelsior-level bars, the only time I ever did that. If I were more of a drinker — or a drinker at all — I’d probably do it again.

GAME NO. 20 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 2014, Mets 8 Astros 3
While Closing Day was totally A Thing for me by now, this was the one that confirmed that I was doing it because I loved it, not just because it’s something I do. It was the end of another sub-.500 season, though September had been pretty decent. Yet it wasn’t about the Mets’ record or discernible progress. It was shall we say relaxing. Exciting (Lucas Duda swatted his thirtieth homer), but relaxing. Fulfilling, most of all. This is the game you should get to at the end of a long season if you don’t have anywhere else to go. I both didn’t want to go home for winter and didn’t need another wisp of baseball to get me to the following Spring. It was, within reason for a 79-83 club, perfect.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Eric Young, Jr. (until he came back late in 2015); Matt den Dekker (until he came back in 2018); Juan Centeno; Wilfredo Tovar; Bobby Abreu
NOTEWORTHY: Jake Marisnick started in enter and batted fifth for Houston. He went 1-for-4. It’s unlikely I’d have considered this noteworthy until a few weeks ago.
___

THE EMOTIONALLY ASTOUNDING CLOSING DAY
(The best of end times.)

GAME NO. 3 IN THE STREAK
September 28, 1997, Mets 8 Braves 2
With one out in the top of the ninth, I started crying. Feeling a little silly, I looked around when there were two out and saw others crying. After three out, when they showed the video on DiamondVision, scored to Gloria Estefan’s “Reach,” Carlos Baerga started crying. We’d just finished with our first winning record in seven years. Tell me our souls aren’t constructed of the most appreciative DNA in the league.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Carl Everett; Alex Ochoa; Roberto Petagine; Jason Hardtke; Juan Acevedo; Carlos Mendoza
NOTEWORTHY: John Olerud whacked a three-run homer to pass the 100-RBI mark because you thought John Olerud would enter the final day of the season with 98 runs batted in and not get to a hundred?

GAME NO. 5 IN THE STREAK
October 3, 1999, Mets 2 Pirates 1
I went to 415 games that counted at Shea Stadium, regular-season and postseason, and this was, is and always will be my favorite. In a nutshell, everything was on the line and the Mets came through, with Melvin Mora scampering down the line to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth and Shea absolutely exploding with joy.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: Shane Halter
NOTEWORTHY: That same day, in St. Petersburg, Fla., the same city where he used to report to Spring Training to stir our hopes that every day would have stakes like this first Sunday in October did, Darryl Strawberry played his final regular-season game.

GAME NO. 25 IN THE STREAK
September 29, 2019, Mets 7 Braves 6 (11)
I’ve been to 281 games that counted at Citi Field, regular-season and postseason, and this is surely my favorite of the regular-season variety. In a nutshell, nothing was on the line and the Mets came through, with Dom Smith emerging from two months of inactivity to bop the come-from-behind, game-winning home run in the eleventh inning and have his shirt torn off by his teammates at home plate. It wasn’t quite Shea on Melvin Mora’s day of jubilee, but I absolutely exploded with joy and it’s quite possible I’m not done exploding. I’m still pretty joyous over Mora, and that was twenty years ago.
FINAL METS GAME FOR: We can’t yet say for sure, given the machinations of the hot stove, but I’d put the over/under at five guys. We do know that Mickey Callaway would soon be directed to stop trying to manage.
NOTEWORTHY: I’m sitting here on my birthday, on New Year’s Eve, writing about Closing Day because of games like these. May your new year, new decade and next game be that good.

It Always Comes Back to Goodbye

Melancholy is apparently one of my favorite flavors, and it doesn’t take much for me to dig a pint of it out of the freezer and devour most of it in a single sitting. Take the news of October 4, 1981, announcing that Joe Torre had been fired as manager of the New York Mets. It sounds laughable from many moons down the road to think a Mets fan found that move sad, what with Torre having become our bête noire in different roles in ensuing decades, but by 1981, we’d been living with Joe as our own for a long time, first as a player who’d come home to Brooklyn, then as a manager doing his darnedest to lift Queens out of its morass. Torre’s minions had indeed given us a couple of abbreviated runs at respectability, the second of them only recently truncated during the just-completed split-season demi-pennant race. Joe Torre was fired and I was bummed about what had been snuffed out.

It probably didn’t hurt the framing of my mood that there was a song gaining radio airplay that seemed written to encapsulate the Met moment at hand, “Just Once” by Quincy Jones. Except Quincy Jones didn’t sing it. His vocalist, initially unbilled by disc jockeys but eventually famous in his own right, was James Ingram. Ingram’s baritone communicated perfectly the sadness I was feeling:

Just once
Can we find a way
To finally make it right
To make the magic last
For more than just one night

The magic James sang about translated in my ears as The Magic is Back, the signature Met phrase of the Joe Torre Era. And “just one night”? If we had to boil it down to one, that would have to be the night of June 14, 1980. Steve Henderson hit a game-winning home run to bring the Mets all the way back from a 6-0 deficit, inching us ever closer to .500 and all those teams we were always lagging behind. That “just one night” had a sequel of sorts, the Sunday afternoon of September 20, 1981, two weeks before Torre was canned. Henderson had been traded for Dave Kingman in Spring Training but rookie Mookie Wilson was here to stay and he socked a two-run homer off Bruce Sutter to beat the Cardinals, 7-6, in that ephemeral chimera of a lunge at half a division title. It was the same score by which Henderson had bested Allen Ripley of the Giants, though the Mets had been down a mere 5-0 to St. Louis. Both moments were the essence of that silly Magic marketing campaign the Mets ran after ownership changed hands. It was silly, but I bought into it with all my late-teens heart and soul.

I thought about all that when I learned James Ingram died on January 29, 2019. I thought about those summers when the resolutely crummy Mets of 1977, 1978 and 1979 were determined to be something better in 1980 and 1981. I thought about Tom Hausman, the middle reliever I considered the Most Valuable Met of 1980 while the best part of 1980 was in progress. When Henderson hit that home run, it was Hausman who was warming up in the bullpen. He caught the ball. Four nights earlier versus the Dodgers, same homestand, Tom threw five innings of scoreless relief in another come-from-behind Magic-type victory. Hausman posted an outing of four-and-two-thirds in relief to beat the Pirates four days before that. In the week prior to the Fourth of July, he’d add three innings in Philadelphia for a save and another five from the pen to beat first-place Montreal. I thought about all that when I learned Tom Hausman died on January 16, 2019.

I thought about those 1980 Mets again later in 2019, when I learned that Jose Moreno died on September 6. Moreno was a part of those Magic is Back Mets, same as Hausman…but not exactly. Funny how a fan’s memory can be granular nearly forty years after the fact. Whereas I associate Hausman with the thrilling comebacks of 1980, I associate Moreno mostly with the denouement of a year that proved Torre’s Mets had a long way to go. Jose’s big hit as a Met came on the afternoon of August 26, when he homered as a pinch-hitter for Mark Bomback in the fifth inning at Shea, closing the gap against the Padres to 4-3. Hausman replaced Bomback on the mound, but by this point in the season, the Magic wasn’t as palpable. Tom gave up a couple of runs, though so did the Padre pitchers. The game wound up going eighteen innings. The Mets lost, 8-6. They were now nine games under .500 and freefalling. Still, I was glad Moreno had finally come through. He’d been batting .161 entering the day.

I thought about a bottle cap when I learned Jerry Buchek died on January 2, 2019. I never saw the infielder when he played for the Mets in 1967 and 1968, but somewhere back there in time I saw his face on the liner of a Coca-Cola bottle cap. I think a neighbor gave it to me because that’s what neighbors gave little boys in America. The face of a baseball player was on the liner, part of a promotion to save and collect ’em all. I didn’t know the terms “liner” or “promotion” yet, and I was only beginning to grasp what baseball was. But it said “Mets” above his face, and I understood they were the local team, so I saved and collected this one bottle cap picturing Jerry Buchek. It’s the only one in the series I ever had. I didn’t save it forever, but it stayed with me. Now that I think about it, Jerry Buchek was probably the first baseball player whose picture I ever went out of my way to keep. He may have been the first baseball player I processed as a Met, even if I didn’t see him perform as such.

Jerry Buchek wasn’t the only Met who played before I was paying attention to have died in 2019. This summer, I wrote about the August 19 passing of Original Met lefty and eternal Met family man Al Jackson. I also had the honor of authoring his biography for SABR. One nugget I noticed after those pieces that I think is worth noting now is how often Al Jackson got into games not to pitch, but to run. Fifty-one times Mets managers sent Little Al into games to pinch-run. Considering he pitched in 184 games in two terms as a Met, Jackson had to have been, from an arm & legs standpoint, one of the most versatile players to ever wear the orange and blue.

Jackson played in the majors from 1959 to 1969. My first exposure to him was on a Topps baseball card from 1970. It was a Reds card, but I could tell, once I examined it a little, that his uniform top was that of the Mets. When we next saw him regularly in that kind of jersey, it was as bullpen coach on the 1999 and 2000 teams that went to the playoffs. We tend not to think about coaches too much, but in 2019, I thought about two coaches who left us.

Mel Stottlemyre was the pitching coach for the Mets for ten seasons, between 1984 to 1993, which means Stottlemyre shepherded a world championship staff, most of it coming into its own under his watch. Stottlemyre, who died on January 13, was pitching coach to Dwight Gooden when Dwight Gooden broke in and broke records. He tutored Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, Roger McDowell, every one of them a rookie in 1984 or 1985. He guided Bobby Ojeda and Jesse Orosco, too. Later, he had David Cone under his tutelage as Cone soared to stardom.

Twenty years after the 1986 Mets went all the way, the 2006 Mets seemed headed in the same direction. These guys hit their way to a division title and the seventh game of the NLCS. Their hitting coach was Rick Down, who died January 5. His hitters over two-and-a-half seasons with the Mets included David Wright, Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. Every one of them had a banner season in 2006. I don’t know how much of the great hitting was attributable to Down, just as I don’t know how much of the great pitching c. 1986 was attributable to Stottlemyre — Jim Bouton, who died on July 10, let us know in Ball Four that not every big league coach is necessarily a fount of wisdom — but I do know those guys showed up in the postseason as part of two of the greatest Mets teams I ever saw.

I didn’t see Larry Foss, who died on June 15, 2019, pitch for the Mets at all. There’s a very reasonable explanation for my dereliction of duties where his five games as a Met are concerned. They all occurred more than three months before I was born. The first of Foss’s outings for Casey Stengel came on September 10, 1962, the last of them on September 17. Five days later, Ed Kranepool made his major league debut. Larry was the 44th-ever Met, Eddie the 45th. It’s something to think about somebody being, among other things in his life, the last Met to become a Met before Ed Kranepool became a Met.

Bob Friend, who died on February 3, 2019, was already a celebrated pitcher when he came to the Mets in the middle of 1966. For us, he racked up the final five of his 197 big league victories. Friend’s last appearance came on September 24, thirteen days after the debut of Nolan Ryan, who’d go on to notch 324 wins of his own. So, if you think about it, the 1966 Mets may have won only 66 games (albeit the most in their history to date), yet they got 14 starts out of two righties who overlapped to win, between them, 521 games.

Just as Bob Friend was better known for being a Pittsburgh Pirate, Pumpsie Green, who died on July 17, 2019, was most famous for being the Boston Red Sox player to break that franchise’s color barrier. Elijah Jerry Green first played for Boston on July 21, 1959, almost exactly sixty years before his passing and, mind-bogglingly, more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Dodgers. Pumpsie’s career ended with seventeen games on the 1963 Mets. Jimmy Breslin wrote in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, “When Pumpsie Green takes the field for the Mets, anybody who does not stand up and root for him and root hard, simply has no taste for the good life.” In his first three games for New York, he went 5-for-7, so let us remember Mr. Green not just as a baseball pioneer but as a .714 hitter.

Ted Lepcio, who died on December 11, 2019, missed his chance to be fully part of the fun immortalized by the likes of Breslin. Fifteen days after the expansion draft, on October 25, 1961, the Mets signed Lepcio, an available infielder of the mostly American League variety since 1952, technically making him their first free agent acquisition. (Tom Hausman, incidentally, became the first free agent the Mets ever signed in the modern Marvin Miller sense of free agency when he voluntarily joined our ranks on November 21, 1977.) Despite coming off a .167 season with the White Sox and Twins, Lepcio had to figure he had a pretty good shot at making this brand new team in the senior circuit. Yet as the legendary worst team expansion could concoct was coalescing, Lepcio was left out. March was over, Opening Day was approaching and Ted had gotten only two innings of exhibition game action in, hardly enough time to make an impression on Casey Stengel.

According to Leonard Shecter in Once Upon the Polo Grounds, Lepcio declined to confront his manager. “The hell with that,” Ted said. “He knows I’m here. I’m not going to go begging him to play me.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, apparently, for Lepcio was released on April 6, four days before the Mets were scheduled to materialize as a real, live ballclub. Ted would never play professional baseball again, but as Shecter wrote in 1970, “by now he must be remembering that terrible spring with fondness. It isn’t everybody who was once almost a Met.”

Gary Kolb, who died on July 3, 2019, was definitely a Met, traded here the Milwaukee Braves middle of the 1965 season. After 40 games for us in ’65 and all of 1966 with Jacksonville (where he played alongside 21-year-old Tom Seaver), the outfielder was dealt in tandem with Dennis Ribant to Pittsburgh for Don Bosch and Don Cardwell. Bosch may not have panned out as the Mets’ center fielder of the future, but Cardwell proved essential to the pitching depth of the 1969 Mets, meaning that on some level, journeyman Kolb did, too.

Joe Grzenda, who died on July 12, 2019, was mostly an interesting spelling on a 1972 Cardinals baseball card to me when I was a kid. In 1967, he pitched in eleven games as a Met and registered a good-looking 2.16 ERA. Sammy Taylor, who died on October 8, 2019, I have to confess I’ve often conflated with Sammy Drake. They were both members of the 1962 Mets. Drake was an infielder who I always think was a catcher because Taylor was a catcher. Sammy Taylor caught 49 games for the ’62 Mets and 13 more for the ’63 Mets. Sammy Taylor is not to be confused with Hawk Taylor, who caught 101 games for the Mets between 1964 and 1967.

You can’t blame a kid for not necessarily keeping straight which Bob Johnson who had once been a Met was which. I saw Bob Johnson the pitcher win the deciding game of the 1971 NLCS for the Pirates, vaulting them toward their world championship. He was a September callup on the 1969 Mets, not to be confused (even if he occasionally was) with the Bob Johnson, who died on October 9, 2019. The latter Johnson was an infielder for the 1967 Mets, a season after earning a World Series ring with the 1966 Orioles. Upon his teammate’s passing, Jim Palmer tweeted that Johnson was “one of the ‘good guys’!”

Jim Palmer is today a teammate of the aforementioned Nolan Ryan in the Hall of Fame. No Mets fan can get very far into Ryan’s story without reciting one name: Jim Fregosi, the All-Star shortstop from California for whom the Mets decided to trade the frustratingly erratic yet tantalizingly talented Ryan. More ambitiously regretful Mets fans mention that Bob Scheffing threw three other players into the Angel-bound jackpot. Two of them, Leroy Stanton and Francisco Estrada, are suddenly and recently gone.

Frank Estrada, who died on December 9, 2019, played in exactly one major league game, catching all of four innings for the Mets — the sixth through the ninth — in the first game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Expos at Shea, September 14, 1971. Ryan had one of his less promising starts, and Ron Taylor wasn’t fooling many batters in relief of the flamethrower, so, with the Mets losing, 12-0, Gil went to his bench. Art Shamsky pinch-hit for Taylor in the bottom of the fifth, and as long as he was bringing in a new pitcher (Charlie Williams), he changed his battery altogether, resting Jerry Grote, and inserting Estrada. The rookie batted for the first time in the seventh and singled off Bill Stoneman. He batted a second time in the ninth and made the last out of a 12-1 blowout. Frank’s batting average stood at .500 and would stand there forever more. In the winter, he’d be going to Anaheim, but never play for them or any other major league team.

Yet Frank was by no means done playing baseball. He’d go on to catch in the Mexican League for twenty years beyond his MLB experience, still active as late as 1994, at the age of 48 (one year after Ryan retired from the Rangers at 47). Estrada was revered as a manager in his native Mexico, winning three championships and gaining election to both the Mexican and Caribbean baseball halls of fame. No less a source than Mike Piazza sung his praises as a catching mentor.

Leroy Stanton, who died March 13, 2019, crafted a longer big league résumé, playing five seasons for the California Angels and two more for the Seattle Mariners, including the M’s first year, 1977, when he launched 27 homers and drove in 90 runs. As a fan of not quite nine, I clearly remember having mixed emotions about letting go of Ryan (who walked too many batters for my taste) and trusting Fregosi (a shortstop who was supposed to play third), but I was truly annoyed that the Mets decided Stanton was expendable (I can’t say I had any opinions about Estrada or the fourth Met we traded, Don Rose). Leroy played in only nine games between 1970 and 1971, but I guess he made an impression. He certainly did something unusual in Met annals. By doubling and tripling as a Met, but never homering, Leroy Stanton founded a club that to this day has admitted only four other members:

• Bob L. Miller (not to be confused with Bob G. Miller), who tripled for the Mets in 1962 but didn’t double for them until 1974. You can’t blame Miller for not getting around to it sooner since he was mostly playing for other teams in the interim.

• Herm Winningham, who was so impressive notching his extra-base hits — he batted .407 in a September 1984 cup of coffee — that he got himself traded for a future Hall of Famer, Gary Carter, as opposed to getting himself traded with a future Hall of Famer as Stanton did.

• Frank Tanana, a teammate of Stanton’s and Ryan’s with California, and, like Miller, a pitcher nearing the end of his line as a Met in 1993, but you wouldn’t know it by his bat. Tanana doubled the day after his 40th birthday and tripled the following month…and this was after wasting his flair for offense in the AL for twenty seasons.

• Shawn Hare, who with that kind of name you’d infer was no tortoise on the basepaths, but in 22 games as a 1994 Met, yet never attempted to steal a bag.

Stanton’s triple, a leadoff job at Shea, was both memorable and unfortunate in that as he arrived at third base in the first inning on September 28, 1970, the relay throw nailed him in the back of the head and he had to leave the game and end his year. Replacing him immediately as a pinch-runner and in center was Rod Gaspar, and pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth for Gaspar was Dave Marshall. The Mets were tied with the Cubs with two out and the potential winning run on third when Hoyt Wilhelm, yet another future Hall of Famer, walked Dave. Wayne Garrett then came up and blasted a three-run homer to win the game for the Mets, 6-3.

Dave Marshall, who died on June 6, 2019, was certainly in the right place that night, but in a broader sense, you had to question the outfielder’s timing. Marshall arrived on the Mets after the 1969 season, obtained from the Giants with Ray Sadecki for Jim Gosger and Bob Heise, and departed the Mets before the 1973 season, traded to San Diego for Al Severinsen (a pitcher who never played for the Mets or anybody else after the transaction). Missing the 1969 and 1973 seasons but being present and accounted for for the ones in between indicates a guy who was, as Dr. John might have put it, in the right place at the wrong time (Dr. John died on June 6, 2019). But while he was a Met from 1970 to 1972, Marshall had his share of big hits coming off the bench for a team that always finished its seasons with a winning record.

The timing, at least on paper, looked better for John Strohmayer, who died on November 28, 2019. The Mets acquired Strohmayer from the Expos in July of 1973, just as the team was convincing itself it had to Believe. Strohmayer pitched out of the bullpen with Tug McGraw, though not successfully enough to make the postseason roster. Nevertheless, he could say forever more that he was a member of the National League champions. John could also say, as of 2009, that he was quite a winner, for during that year, as an educator in California, he was part of a group of school district employees that shared in a lottery purse of $76 million. Soon thereafter, John Strohmayer opted to become a retired educator.

One of Strohmayer’s teammates with the Expos was Ron Fairly, who died October 30, 2019. In Estrada’s only major league game, Fairly enjoyed a field day, doubling twice for four runs off Ryan and singling off Taylor for a fifth RBI. I saw Fairly play plenty for Montreal and remember it was sort of a big deal that he was named the Toronto Blue Jays’ first All-Star in 1977, given that he’d been in the majors since 1958. Yet when I see Ron Fairly, I will always see Ron Fairly preparing to take a throw in Spring Training. He’s wearing a Dodgers uniform top over a warmup jacket and has his glove in the air, even if he doesn’t appear anywhere near any given position. The lack of context for his defense is understandable. I’m seeing Ron Fairly on his 1967 Topps card, one of the first baseball cards I ever collected, from the cache my sister had gathered and bequeathed to me when it was clear to her that she no longer cared in the least about baseball. Fairly exists for me mostly on that card like Jerry Buchek exists for me mostly on that bottle cap.

One of my other original inherited 1967 cards was that of Bob Clemente. I learned to appreciate him in three-dimensional form a few years later as Roberto Clemente, one of the best players in baseball. I didn’t know why Topps had shortened his first name, but I did know that few outfielders were considered as great as Roberto. Our announcers praised him. National announcers praised him. When he died in a plane crash while coming to the aid of Nicaragua’s earthquake victims on New Year’s Eve 1972 (my tenth birthday), it was stunning. Harry Truman, whose office had sent me a thank you note for remembering what turned out to be his last birthday (his eighty-eighth), had died five days earlier. Gil Hodges, the only Mets manager I had ever known, died the previous April, two days shy of forty-eight years old. I understood death as a concept, but comprehending it as something that happened to people I admired was difficult.

Roberto Clemente was only 38. His wife, Vera Clemente, was only 31. She lived until 2019, when she died on November 16. Vera’s name became part of the fabric of baseball in the nearly 47 years she survived as Roberto’s widow. She picked up on his good work, heading the foundation that carried his name and made myriad appearances carrying forward the spirit of helping others that both obviously shared. In 1999, I had the great fortune to attend an MLB alumni dinner whose guests of honor were Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson (who died February 7, 2019) and Vera Clemente. The men spoke for themselves. Mrs. Clemente spoke for her husband and did so movingly and eloquently. I came away a great admirer or hers.

I can’t say I was ever an admirer or fan of Eric Cooper, the major league umpire who died on October 20, 2019. I’ve always thought that if you are aware of who an umpire is, he must have done something wrong that sticks with you. On June 12, 2005, Eric Cooper tossed Mike Piazza for griping about a strike call while Piazza was batting in the first inning at Shea. This was the season when every Piazza sighting was precious because we knew we wouldn’t be seeing him around regularly after 2005, and Cooper robbed a Sunday crowd of 43,582 of the chance to revel in the presence of the franchise’s reigning idol. After that, I could never hear Eric Cooper’s name during a game and not snarl publicly or privately at him. As late as the last week of the regular season he worked, I didn’t hesitate to apply epithets to Cooper.

“Kill the ump” and all that is good baseball fun within reason, but after I learned of Cooper’s passing, I felt like what I had called him in September — an idiot. I read all the sincerely nice things his colleagues had to say about him, thought about his family losing him at the age of 53 from a blood clot, and realized there is always going to be more than meets the eye to a guy on the field occasionally ruling incorrectly against your team. It’s tough to calibrate as a fan. We “hate” while knowing hate is a corrosive notion. Umpires probably realize it’s nothing personal against them and everything personal about our allegiances. Still, no reason to not once in a while pause and think amid our snarling and act like a person. I’m sorry to have been a jerk toward Eric Cooper and wish he was still on hand to make his calls. (The Piazza thing remains egregious, but that’s life.)

As a Mets fan who likes to read and lives to write, I take particular notice when somebody who covers the sport dies. The death of Marty Noble, on March 24, was a black armband occasion to me. He wasn’t writing that much for publication any longer, but the knower and stylist of all things Met for nearly fifty years had stayed with me as much as the best Met players he covered had. On November 6, another baseball writer, John Delcos, died. John’s was one of those names I knew for a while from being a consumer of baseball news without having read him. When he came to the Mets beat with the Gannett papers in the northern suburbs, I read his work online, and found him to be a solid reporter and writer.

But that’s not what I remember him for. I remember that he was the first beat writer who interacted with the fans. He’d sit in the press box in the late years of Shea and, between pitches, do Q&A with anybody who reached out to him in the comments section of his blog. Now that we have Twitter, it’s not unusual for reporters to give and take with their readers. Sometimes it doesn’t cast either party in the best light, but overall it’s a healthy trend. Plus, it’s baseball. What do you when you’re watching a baseball game but turn to the person next to you and weigh in on what you’re both looking at?

Before Twitter, what Delcos was doing was an absolute revelation. Even better, he didn’t come off as any kind of high and mighty authority. He took the questions seriously, treated his inquirers with respect and issued information when he had it. I never took part in these sessions, but I was amazed that they existed. Perhaps without realizing it, Delcos was a social media innovator. Later, after newspaper downsizing cost him his job, he showed up at one of the blogger outreach dinners the Mets PR staff used to hold in the offseason. He introduced himself and handed me and others his card. I thought that a BBWAA type of his caliber shouldn’t be down here with the likes of us, but for the time being, he was continuing his coverage of the Mets any way he could and he was approaching what he did as a professional. I respected that immensely.

Just as newspapers reduce sports sections, and sports magazines shave staff and frequency, venues devoted to the act of reading get caught up in the same deleterious trends. I’ve been fortunate enough (and absolutely honored) to have been invited to read my work aloud in several places that value the written word. Two more of them passed into memory in 2019. The death of Turn of the Corkscrew in June hit me hard. It was practically in my backyard, in Rockville Centre here on Long Island. We’d never had many independent bookstores in this neck of the woods, so on that merit alone, Corkscrew was a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

The name, though, should convey that the shop was something more. They were part bookstore, part cafe, accent on wine selection. Aesthetically, it was a joy to walk into the converted house and feel at home. Personally, having been given the chance to talk to what amounted to my hometown audience was a thrill. Co-owners Carol Hoenig and Peggy Ziernan, who had worked in book retailing previously, could not have been more inviting. There wasn’t much of a sports book inventory in their location, but when I walked in cold off the street one day in 2016 and explained that I was a local guy who wrote this book about the Mets having gone to the World Series last year and maybe you’d consider having me in to talk it up one night, they couldn’t have been more quick to whip out their calendar and pencil me in.

May 16, 2016, might have been my favorite night as an author, not counting when I’m alone with my thoughts. The room was packed. My eighth-grade English teacher came. My sister came. Friends from way back and recently came. Total strangers who heard there was going to be something about the Mets came. I talked about Mets fandom, the 2015 Mets and whatever else seemed pertinent. Peggy and Carol sold books and drinks. Any event in which someone asks me to speak means a great deal to me. This one meant the world. It also meant the world to be welcomed back a year with my next book. It meant plenty to have this store a stone’s throw from where I lived.

We don’t have an independent bookstore in the area anymore. It’s a loss.

The least likely venue to have had me as a speaker was the Cornelia Street Cafe, which the New York Times referred to as “a pillar of Greenwich Village experimentation,” one that closed its doors on New Year’s Day 2019. It had been in business since 1977 and “quickly became an heir apparent to the Village’s old coffeehouses, which were people by poets and folk songsters in the 1950s and ’60s,” the Times said. One winter’s night in 2010, they hosted a baseball writer. Two, actually. The main attraction was Frank Messina, whose name you might recognize from his work as the Mets Poet. He’s not only a very talented artist, but a generous one. Frank invited me to join him in a showcase at Cornelia Street. I’m no poet, so I read for a mixed audience — not necessarily baseball fans — about faith, fear, Flushing and so forth. It was a terrific, unusual experience, the sort I imagine many creative people relished taking part in across the more than four decades Corneila Street attracted a crowd.

A few friends showed up to support my efforts in the Village that snowy evening. One of them I invited specifically because I knew he was an aficionado of poetry and I thought that as a Mets fan he’d get a kick out of learning about the Mets Poet. My friend, David Corcoran, seemed to absorb the experience the way he seemed to take in everything, with genuine curiosity and appreciation that it had occurred.

I knew David from the New York Times, which is to say I knew David because Chuck, my best friend from college, wound up working at the Paper of Record through the 1990s and, when the 1999 Mets finally made the playoffs, Chuck alerted me that there was an e-mail chain going around the newsroom made up of hardcore Mets fans and you’ve gotta get in on this. Itchy to talk/write Mets with anybody and everybody in October of ’99 whether I knew them or not, I put together some thoughts and sent them to a bunch of addresses belonging to a bunch of people who’d never heard of me. The guy who appeared to have convened the group seemed wary at first, but a Mets fan is a Mets fan, and Mets content in a city where Mets fans weren’t getting nearly enough of it (this was 1999, when some other team was getting most of the ink) was Mets content. In short order, I became an accepted link in the chain. Writing for this audience is part of what ramped me up toward a larger audience.

Far more importantly, I made several lasting friendships from this e-mail group. One of them was with David, who when not crafting poetry of his own or worrying about what Bobby Valentine would do next, was a top-notch reporter and editor at the Times until his retirement in 2014. If you were a reader of the Science Times section, that was David’s editing to which you were treated. I was treated to his company in three different ballparks: Shea Stadium, Citi Field and Keyspan Park. We had a great discussion about stadium lighting while watching the Cyclones. We had great discussions about any number of things, baseball pre-eminently. He had a fantastic story about Charlie Finley that I’ll keep between us, but I always smile when I think about it.

Because of the Times e-mail group, I received tremendous encouragement from David Corcoran and more of it from Peter Putrimas, the ringleader who was initially wary of my infiltration of his underground network of Mets fans. As with David’s, I got excited during the early 2000s whenever I saw Peter’s e-mail address pop up in my inbox. It was going to be something about the Mets and it was going to be something good. I wasn’t at Game Five of the 2000 World Series, but Peter was, and his account and description virtually put me in the Upper Deck boxes next to him (though maybe not to the very last out; it wasn’t the happiest of endings).

Peter and I never got to a game together, but our correspondence went on for years. Once, he arranged through another member of the group to get the three of us together for lunch at a coffee shop approximately equidistant from our respective offices. He turned out to be an incredibly warm person in person just as he was through the computer. Like David, Peter was kind enough to take up reading the blog when we started it and he didn’t hesitate to share some very thoughtful feedback.

After serving as one of those pros essential to the production of the New York Times for 35 years, Peter retired earlier in this decade, moving out west as David had done. The old e-mail group, which had expanded beyond the virtual walls of their former employer, faded from the ether over time. It was enough to have gotten to know the Mets fans behind the addresses and keep knowing them, keeping in touch here and there, at least until, without noticing it, you realized you weren’t in touch that much anymore. Still, once in a while, there’d be an e-mail wondering about this thing at Citi Field or that move the latest manager had made.

Peter died on January 25, 2019. David died on August 4, 2019. I loved knowing them and I miss writing for them.

The 2019 Oscar’s Cap Awards

You had to love how Oscar Madison covered sports. For example, the New York Herald columnist was assigned a Jets-Dolphins tilt for first place, but his roommate Felix Unger, paralyzed by a fear of flying, convinced him to accompany him on a flight Houston by persuading him that his talents would be better challenged writing up the game between the bottom-dwelling Oilers and Chargers at the Astrodome. And then, when Felix performed two 180s — walking off the Houston flight before booking them passage on a parachutists club charter that wouldn’t land until it reached San Diego (which wasn’t initially clear to the roomies, thus the comedy) — Oscar calmly absorbed the news and explained he’d just watch the matchup on TV and write it from there.

Kind of like us! Not just for the ballgames, either, for we also cover everything Metsian we see, hear and read outside the foul lines, whether it’s on TV, in the movies, in books, in song…wherever the Mets pop up in unexpected places, we fly you there at the end of every year via the Oscar’s Cap Awards.

In this, our eighth annual survey of the Met year in popular culture, we track in no particular order Met sightings and soundings two ways: stuff that originated in 2019 and stuff we just found out about (or suddenly re-remembered) from past years this year, either on our own or through our vast network of helpful tipsters. Like the Mets cap on Oscar Madison’s head in so many episodes of The Odd Couple, we are on top of this beat. At least we try to be.

You know who doesn’t have to walk a beat, because he’s an NYPD detective? That’s right, Mike Stoneman, back in another Mike Stoneman thriller, Deadly Enterprise. The Stoneman series is close to our heart because it is penned by Mets fan and Friend of FAFIF Kevin Chapman, and Kevin did not disappoint in his 2019 followup to Righteous Assassin. Detective Stoneman, visiting the Hospital for Special Surgery, crosses paths with Noah Syndergaard in New York prior to Spring Training. Syndergaard is visiting Dr. David Altchek to get a “routine check-up” prior to heading to St. Lucie. Taking place in February 2019, Syndergaard expresses enthusiasm for the return of “my man Familia,” while affirming Stoneman’s excitement for “this kid, Alonso,” who Thor refers to as “a beast”.

You know who didn’t get beat in 2019? Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, when she ran for president. The former Madam Secretary earned her promotion and, as chief executive, visited Citi Field in the second episode of Season 6 (“The Strike Zone”). At Citi Field, President McCord throws out the first pitch, with Luis Guillorme serving as ceremonial catcher. In advance of her fling, McCord dreams she plunks Mr. Met in his considerable noggin, but on screen, it all comes off without a hitch. (In real life, it was filmed prior to the Mets-Indians game of August 22, 2019.) Madam Secretary soon thereafter concluded its prime time run on CBS because once you’ve built a fragment of an episode around an honest-to-goodness Faith and Fear in Flushing sighting, what other hills are to climb?

It’s likely Citi Field was never seen by as many people for baseball as it was during the telecast of a football game (perhaps watched professionally by Oscar Madison himself). An overhead shot of the barren ballpark (perhaps photographed by Pop Belkin himself) appeared in the trailer for Avengers: Endgame, debuting during the Super Bowl LIII, February 3, 2019. What was it teasing? Well, in the movie that came out later in the year, half of New York is gone and the Mets have been disbanded. “I miss the Mets,” says a character listed as Grieving Man (alias Gozie Agbo), played by co-director Joe Russo.

In a sunnier vein, according to a January 18, 2019, tweet thread from J.K. Rowling, some Hogwarts students in the Harry Potter universe wind up on the New York Mets (“a historically awful baseball team in New York City”) via the whims of the Sorting Hat: “It didn’t happen often, but when it happened, that kid had to leave Hogwarts and go play for the Mets. Professor Dumbeldore have hand them a uniform and then call them a taxi to the airport … Some Mets legends like Darryl Strawberry and Ron Swoboda came straight from Hogwarts. So did some real duds like Alex Ochoa and Bill Pulsipher. Bill Pulsipher should have become a wizard instead of a Met.” The Sorting Hat, Rowling revealed, was known to sing “Meet The Mets”.

The future looks promising on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Season 7, Episode 4 (October 21, 1998), when Captain Benjamin Sisko brandishes an antique baseball from the 21st century. He explains it was used in that epic World Series battle between the Giants and the Mets and mentions reverently that every game went into extra innings.

“What’s the score?”
“Mets are down by two.”
“What else is new?”
—Conversation between Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and the guard at the stage door of the 46th Street Theatre in the summer of 1975 during the original run of Chicago, portrayed in Episode 7 (“Nowadays”) of Fosse/Verdon, May 21, 2019

Previously on Fosse/Verdon: In Episode 5 (May 7, 2019), set in the late summer of 1973, Bob Fosse, Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon are standing around the television set watching a baseball game, bemoaning the outcome. Fosse (Sam Rockwell) tries countering the despair by saying, “You gotta believe.” Though the footage on the TV isn’t a period Mets game, the 1973 Met implication is quite clear.

“And finally, it was the Mets walloping the Pirates…”
—Overheard on a radio news report in a car driving around Chicago in the summer of 1968, Medium Cool (1969)

In Blue Bloods, “The One That Got Away” (Season 7, Episode 13; January 20, 2017), Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) gets a kid whose father clubbed him with a baseball bat to open up to him by engaging him in a discussion of their mutual favorite Met, David Wright. Here’s an additional detail didn’t get away from attentive Blue Bloods viewers: In “My Brother’s Keeper” (Season 9, Episode 14; February 8, 2019), a Mr. Met plush toy is evident.

On the November 14, 1967, episode of The Jerry Lewis Show, Jerry and Audrey Meadows, spoofing Bonnie and Clyde, are holed up in their apartment, with the police having surrounded their building. A smoke bomb from an unseen cop comes through the window, but fails to go off. In what sounds like an ad-lib, Jerry Lewis announces, “That cop has been with the Mets.”

No, the Mets didn’t get any respect in their early years. In Bewitched, Season 2, Episode 3 (“We’re in for a Bad Spell”), September 30, 1965, Aunt Clara researches the Book of Spellees (referring to those who have had spells cast on them) and finds the New York Mets listed alongside relatively recent two-time election loser Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, in the Peanuts strip of November 25, 1967, Linus Van Pelt glumly concludes, “Little brothers are the New York Mets of life!”

But at least some scriptwriters wanted to help. In The Twilight Zone’s “A Kind of Stopwatch” (S5, E4; October 18, 1963), McNulty the bore comes into possession of an unusual stopwatch that, when he clicks it, stops the world. Everybody and everything but McNulty is frozen in time. Another click and the world resumes its motion. The protagonist eventually figures out he can stop the world, walk into a bank and leisurely take as much money as he likes. Until then, he uses the stopwatch mostly to commit pranks — like going to the Polo Grounds to watch a Mets game, and stopping the world to move second base closer to Ron Hunt so the Mets’ rookie sensation can steal second. Hunt’s rigged theft proves decisive as Duke Snider drives him in with the game’s winning run.

In The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 4, Episode 9 (2019), “Sliding Van Doors,” there’s a reference to Jacqueline’s alternate-reality husband Mikey (Mets fan, gay construction worker) sitting around watching “the Mets win World Series after World Series”. He’s wearing a blue and orange jersey, but no team logo is visible. The episode also has a Mr. Met reference. In the season’s final episode, Eli the agent offers Kimmy Mets tickets, and a baby in the epilogue is named after Keith Hernandez.

In John Grisham’s 2018 book The Rooster Bar, the two lead male characters go to a Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium; the author notes the series is overhyped and not sold out. They also attend the first of the two games at Citi Field, also not a sellout. The Mets, you’ll be glad to learn, won the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

A “PIAZZA 31 HALL OF FAME” pennant appears in the bedroom of Peter Parker in the early 2019 trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home (the film was released in July).

A preseason baseball magazine featuring Tom Seaver on the cover is visible at a newsstand in a Season 8 episode of Mannix that originally aired in 1974.

During Mets fan Jimmy Kimmel’s October 2019 week of shows in Brooklyn, Pete Alonso appeared in a freshly produced local commercial for Grand Prospect Hall, while Noah Syndergaard showed up on stage to deliver the host an enormous carton of lo mein. Noah’s work shirt featured a Thor name tag. Pete also swung by 53rd and Broadway to “Hit Things Real Good” outside the Ed Sullivan Theater with Stephen Colbert on the October 4 edition of The Late Show.

“That’s right — [Trump’s] not even trying to hide the lies anymore. Not only do we have fake news, we now have fake weather, too. I’m hoping we get fake sports, because I want to see the Mets win the World Series.”
—Kimmel, September 3, 2019 (same night as the 11-10 loss in Washington)

Elsewhere on the talk show circuit, on Real Time, February 8, 2019, political opposites Bill Maher and Chris Christie concluded their interview on common ground, reflecting a bit on their shared Mets fandom.

Jerry Seinfeld and Matthew Broderick live out their childhood fantasy by romping around Citi Field in Season 11 (2019) of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. They wear t-shirts from The 7 Line Army at one point, and Matthew tells a story about Ralph Kiner visiting him backstage when the actor was co-starring in The Producers. Back when nobody much knew about Jerry’s baseball predilections, in “The Busboy,” on Seinfeld (S2, E12; June 26, 1991), a poster of the Mets skyline logo appears in Antonio the busboy’s apartment.

This one here is a time capsule item, for sure. On the 1967 album, Senator Bobby & Friends: Boston Soul by Wilder Things with the Hardly-Worthit Players, Senator Bobby (portrayed by Bill Minkin) and the Questions talk over an instrumental version of “96 Tears,” during which the Senator’s staffer suggests “going really big, and [getting] something like the New York Mets” as potential vocalists to sing on the record. “New York Mets? I’d like all of my singers to be on my team,” Senator Bobby responds, “but I don’t think I want that team on my team, no.”

A man in a Mets cap is literally dancing in the aisles during the 2017 concert that forms Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Wembley or Bust. In an unrelated concert apparel development, Nas wore a Pete Alonso jersey on tour in 2019. And in an archival clip from Hulu’s Fyre Fraud (2019), Ja Rule is interviewed by someone in a Mets jersey and cap.

In 2019, the song “Doc Gooden” appeared on the Mountain Goats album In League With Dragons. Lyrics include: When the speedball would squeal
/With the highlight reel
/When the headline hype/Was on the front page in extra large type/It was me, for all the world to see

Doc was everywhere this year. On Grey’s Anatomy, “Good Shepherd,” Season 15, Episode 21, April 11, 2019, Dr. Atticus “Link” Lincoln recalls a childhood wish granted from when he was 10 years old and being treated for osteosarcoma, a form of cancer, on his thigh (from which he is in full remission). He got go to “a baseball game at Shea Stadium” and “got to meet my favorite player, Dwight Gooden.”

On the May 27, 1972, edition of American Top 40, Casey Kasem introduced the No. 22 song, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon with a geography lesson regarding the location of Corona. Casey told his listeners then (and now, through the magic of archival recordings) that Corona is near Shea Stadium, “home of the New York Mets, who play some pretty tough baseball.” When this particular AT40 was recorded, the Mets were comfortably in first place, riding an eleven-game winning streak.

Tim McGraw’s had plenty of radio airplay in his time, but dig this station ID from his dad in the early 1970s: “Hi, I’m Tug McGraw of the New York Mets. When we’re out in the bullpen, we talk about the great music they play on WPRB-FM in Princeton.” (Also audible: the word “bull” and a good bit of bleeping.)

Bob Murphy certainly mentioned Tug among many Mets. Well, somebody mentioned Murph, too. “Summer’s Voice,” a tribute to our Hall of Fame broadcaster, appeared on Arlon Bennett’s album of the same name. It was first released in 2007.

We know the Beatles played Shea Stadium, and we know that in the 2019 film Yesterday, everybody but one person has forgotten the Beatles ever existed. But did you know that Citi Field appears briefly in Yesterday? You do now. You can also consider yourself informed that parts of the 2019 video for “Mona Lisa” by Mike DelGuidice (the leader of Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot and part of Billy’s ensemble as well) are filmed at Citi Field. Mega Mets fan Kevin James does the acting while Mike does the singing.

Close enough: In Season 2, Episode 49 of Batman — “Catwoman Goes to College” (February 22, 1967) — Robin refers to a Lions and Tigers concert that will take place at Spayed Stadium.

On Black Monday, Season 1, Episode 3 (“339”; February 10, 2019), Keith’s son’s Bar Mitzvah is Mets-themed. Later in the series, there is a reference to some powerful drugs that, once ingested, can “turn the Yankees into the Mets,” which, of course, represents an upgrade (and not just morally) amid the show’s 1987 setting.

There’s a fleeting mention of the ’86 Mets in the 2017 Netflix production of Oh Hello with John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. And because that team won a World Series, contemporary talk show guests in the wake of their title included Lenny Dykstra the night after the ticker-tape parade on Late Night with David Letterman and Keith Hernandez, who visited Robert Klein Time on the USA Network in the winter of ’87.

“We are sorry the Mets lost.”
—Phil Hartman, Bartles & Jaymes commercial parody, Saturday Night Live, October 18, 1986 (Season 12, Episode 2), the cold open. This episode aired following Game One of the World Series, which, in fact, the Mets did lose, 1-0 (Hartman referred to it as “a real slugfest”). Spike Lee, he of the reliable sports allegiances, would appear on the show later, wearing a Mets cap and a white baseball jersey that read NEW YORK in blue letters with orange trim.

Bob Costas visited Cheers for a pregame segment during the 1986 World Series to ask Sam Malone how he would pitch to the Mets and, specifically, Gary Carter (who’s “damn near as good looking as I am,” according to Sam). It aired prior to Game Three, October 21 (which the Mets won).

More NBC synergy was at work during the writers’ strike of 1988, when, after he’d been off the air since March, David Letterman stopped by Shea Stadium to interview David Cone for a pregame segment on NBC’s June 25 Game of the Week. With Marv Albert coaching him, Letterman asked Cone if he’d consider throwing a game to avoid being on Kiner’s Korner.

In Chapter 10 of Netflix’s The Kominsky Method, “An Old Flame, An Old Wick,” first streaming in 2019, the characters played by Michael Douglas (Sandy Kominsky) and Paul Reiser (his daughter’s boyfriend Martin) bond over the 1969 Mets since they’re close in age. From the same service, in 2019’s Marriage Story, a Mets pennant is visible on the wall of the bedroom of Charlie’s son, Henry. Say, as long as we’re getting our binge on, Gregg Jefferies appears in 2019’s The Irishman in a game between the Phillies and the Mets, September 22, 1996. Jefferies was a Phillie at the time, but nobody’s perfect.

A backwards baseball cap sporting the script Mets wordmark appears on a character’s head in the North Jersey-set Hulu series Ramy (2019). And on Survivor: Edge of Extinction, airing on CBS in the late winter and spring of 2019, Dan “The Wardog” DaSilva sports a Mets tattoo.

In “The First and Last Supper,” Season 1, Episode 13, of All In The Family (April 6, 1971), Henry Jefferson reveals his brother George doesn’t want to come over to meet Archie Bunker. Instead, “he’s at Shea Stadium, watchin’ the Mets,” which was Archie’s plan for the evening: “Dinner? I’m going to the Mets game tonight. Mike’s going with me.” In another episode, Archie wins a bet on the Mets, “beating them San Diego Padres”.

“As it happens, I was sitting on this very stool when the Mets won the Series in ’69.”
—Barney Hefner, Archie Bunker’s Place, “Barney and the Lawsuit,” Season 1, Episode 15 (December 16, 1979)

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? and the 1962 Mets are given their props in the 2019 HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists. From another precinct in the genre, Mayor Ed Koch is roundly booed at Shea Stadium late in his final term (Opening Day 1989) in the 2012 documentary Koch. Hizzoner reasons there were more yeas than boos (which there weren’t).

Appearing the fourth episode of the 2019 season of Bojack Horseman is a screen name and message — “metsfan2005: METS SUCK!!!!” Also animated: a foreground character in the durable comic strip Hi & Lois seems to be wearing a Mets cap while reading a newspaper (October 2019).

The July 19, 2019, New Yorker cartoon has a baseball-headed and –capped figure, in khakis and a polo shirt, shaking hands with somebody, telling that person, “Please, call me Michael — Mr. Met is my father’s name.”

In the wake of Mike Piazza generating the back page tabloid headline, “I’M NOT GAY,” in May 2002, The Late Show with David Letterman debuted a new commercial the allegedly “defensive” Mets were airing. Narrator: “Come out to Shea Stadium this weekend as the heterosexual Mets take on those sissies, the Florida Marlins. That’s right, the non-gay Mets will be kicking a little ass in a three-game series. Nobody has more heterosexual sex than these guys! In fact, if the Mets do happen to lose, it’s only because they were up the night before nailin’ chicks.”

David Letterman’s Top Ten Other Unconfirmed Rumors About Mike Piazza (May 24, 2002) includes No. 10, “Spends two hours a day on his swing, five hours on his goatee”; No. 9, “His number 31 is also the number of bat boys he’s strangled”; and No. 5, “About to be named Squatting Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’”.

David Letterman’s Top Ten Things You Never Knew About the New York Mets (July 26, 2007), with ten players presenting facts, includes No. 9, “Mets is short for Metrosexuals” (Shawn Green); No. 8, “We all carry Blackberries so we can blog on the field” (Carlos Delgado); and No. 1, “We’ve really bonded since we started watching Oprah as a team” (David Wright). Others who appeared: Reyes, Milledge, Maine, Gl@v!ne, Anderson, Lo Duca, Heilman. Paul Shaffer’s band played “Meet the Mets” before and after the presentation.

Post-Letterman Late Show field producer Jake Plunkett wore a Mets cap while sitting with Stephen Colbert in 2019, though it was one of those black caps on which the NY is white.

In the 2004 Hank Zipzer young adult novel Zippity Zinger by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, the title character is portrayed on the cover in a blue pullover Mets jersey (1980s warmup style). Within the text of the baseball story, the hero is told, “Listen, Zip, almost every athlete has something that’s a lucky charm. Turk Wendell, he used to be on your stinkin’ Mets…he brushes his teeth and chews licorice between every inning.” Zip didn’t know that, but he knew that Turk wore No. 99.

Bury My Heart at Shea Stadium by Alexander Jucofsky is a 2019 novel available on Kindle Unlimited and billed as “the first novel infused with the pain and suffering of every Met fan”.

On Saturday Night Live, December 3, 1983 (S 9, E 7), Tom Seaver appears as himself in his NBC sportscaster guise, reporting in the cold open on the rain delay that may push back the beginning of tonight’s show. In the SNL of February 9, 1985 (Season 10, Episode 13), we follow the Minkman Brothers (Al and Herb, played by Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest), purveyors of fake vomit and such, as they take part in Mets Fantasy Camp. They wear contemporary uniforms, Al in No. 1, Herb in No. 2. Ed Charles and Bud Harrelson are on hand.

“Yankees or Mets,” a guy asks a girl at the outset of Law & Order: SVU’s “Delinquent,” Season 12, Episode 23, May 11, 2013. They appear to be back at the woman’s apartment after they’ve gone out. She answers, “Yankees,” which surprisingly does not end the date right then and there. Also from the L&O universe: a framed, autographed photo of Howard Johnson hangs on a wall behind Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) in a Law & Order episode from the show’s second season (1992).

Sunnyside didn’t last long on NBC, but the sitcom aired long enough to leave us with this bit from Season 1, Episode 2 (“The Ethiopian Executioner”) on October 3, 2019: lead character former Queens councilman Garrett Modi makes a reference to having been hit in the face trying to catch a fly ball at the Mets game last week and Jimmy Fallon having had “a field day” with the clip.

Another Season 1, Episode 2 attempt to make a good first-ish impression on Mets fans came from CBS’s Beauty and the Beast, October 2, 1987: An abduction victim asks someone charged with watching her, “So…how ’bout those Mets?” Amazin’ly, in 2015’s The Big Short, a sample of banker-customer small talk from the 1970s includes, “How About Those Mets?” (Good conversation is timeless.)

In the 1985 movie Seven Minutes in Heaven, a scene is shot at Shea, featuring what looks like the Mets and Expos, though the Met logos are obscured and the Expo uniforms seem to indicate the home team’s opponents are called the NJ Eagles.

On Jeopardy, July 22, 2019, under the category of flags, the $800 answer was: “A 2017 article written in June — not August or September! — asked, at 31-41, ‘Is it time for the Mets to wave this’?” The correct response was: “What is the white flag?”

And while Ike Davis was becoming the No. 27 Met of the 2010s, our first baseman from the first part of the decade found time to play catch on MTV’s Silent Library, April 14, 2011 (S 4, E 13). Ike appeared in full uniform during the Gloved Catch segment and had not yet confronted the perils of the Coors Field pitcher’s mound.
___

Well, that does it for another edition of the Oscar’s Caps. For all the help we received in putting this together, all we can say is thank you for flying Belkin Airlines.

It’s the Times of the Seasons

If you aren’t the sleep-through-the-night type, then you’re in luck, because you stand a good chance of being awake for that great annual act of winter, the Baseball Equinox, set to occur Saturday, December 28, 2019, at 4:03 AM Eastern Standard Time. As organically occurring phenomena go, the Baseball Equinox is right up there with aurora borealis when it is localized entirely within Seymour Skinner’s kitchen.

So grab a steamed ham and prepare for that instant when we are exactly between the final moment of the previous baseball season (September 29, 2019, 6:56 PM EDT, Dom Smith stomping on home plate) and the scheduled first pitch of the upcoming baseball season (March 26, 2019, 1:10 PM EDT, presumably coming out of the right hand of Jacob deGrom). When you’ve finished taking in the glory of nature threading us through its offseason needle, you can bask in being closer to next year than last year and know that, yup, we’re gonna make it after all.

In the spirit of this particular offseason, the Baseball Equinox we are approaching is the final Baseball Equinox of the decade, which is the sort of thing I’m enjoying saying because no later than the end of next week, we won’t be giving a whit of thought to what decade we’re in. We only do that when we’re reaching the end of one, and even then it signifies only what we decide it does.

We just got through counting down The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s because they were there just waiting to be counted down. But as mentioned when we prefaced the series, there’s no particular baseball magic to a ten-year period, whatever number each year in question has in common with the other nine. Baseball is measured by innings, games and seasons. Everything else is a matter of taste.

Imperfect chronological parameters of a decade notwithstanding, what is left to say about the Mets of the 2010s that didn’t seep through between Aardsma and deGrom? For a while there, the Tens/Teens felt cohesive from a Met standpoint. The first year became the second year and we weren’t much getting anywhere through the first five years. Still, every year had its moments and its players.

My pal Jeff, like the rest of us who are desperate for rumor-free baseball content in December, was kind enough to work up a spreadsheet that revealed which baseball season gave us the most Top 100 Mets of the 2010s. You’d think it had to be 2015, clearly the standout season among the past ten. But, no, it was 2013, the clubhouse leader for most depressing season of the 2010s until 2017 came along and blew it out of the water and into a hole on Yoenis Cespedes’s ranch.

Why, Jeff wondered, did the 74-88 Mets of 2013 contribute 37 different Mets for the Top 100, while the 2015 National League champions gave us 36? Putting aside obvious overlap between the two seasons (sixteen Mets had a foot in both 2013 and 2015), I guessed to Jeff that the roster churn on a lousy team like the 2013 Mets probably generated more opportunities for players to stand out briefly and thus be present and accounted for in the lower echelons of our countdown. Consider two members of the 2013 Mets who made the Top 100 for isolated incidents: Collin Cowgill, the personification of unforeseen Opening Day grand slamitude (No. 80) and Juan Centeno, rifle-armed catcher who cut down Billy Hamilton in his base-stealing prime (No. 94). Cowgill’s big moment was April 1; Centeno’s was September 18. They never played together on the Mets. But they each made an indelible impression on the FAFIF Committee for Contextual Listmaking. Somewhere in between the fall of Cowgill and the rise of Centeno, the multitudes that encompassed Buck, Marcum, Byrd, Rice, Young (EYJ, that is), Hawkins and the Alphabetical Avatar himself, David Aardsma, stopped by, stepped to the fore, grabbed a thin slice of our attention, then stepped away from the fore forever more. That’s how 2013 winds up slightly more loaded with Top 100 players than 2015.

Yet no Met season among these ten was better than 2015 nor more important. The World Series appearance speaks for itself, I suppose, but what really made that year howl with significance was it gave us something big, bold and indisputable to hang our Met hats on. The era that was still mostly in progress when 2015 shook off the doldrums that preceded it predated the decade in progress. You can go back to 2009 and all the losing that didn’t stop. You can go back to September 2007 and the winning that ceased at the worst possible moment. However you measure your eras, you and I deserved a break by 2015, and blessedly we got it.

Though that season began on April 6, and the Five Days in Flushing mythology marks its turning point as July 31, I like to remember a night in 2014 when, for the first time since Johan Santana was shutting down the Marlins at Shea, I felt honestly good about where we were going. It was Saturday night, August 2, a game that has disappeared from every available arc, which is a shame, because I do believe it made for a pretty good preview of what was ahead.

I refer to it privately as the “Kids in America” game, named for the Kim Wilde song that I invoked in the blog post I wrote the subsequent Monday morning. I wasn’t covering Saturday night’s game, and Sunday’s game was so miserable that I wanted to go back and write about Saturday’s scintillating Mets win instead. After paying lip service to the Mets’ 9-0 loss at Citi Field to the Giants, I retraced the steps of Saturday night, when rookie Jacob deGrom dueled veteran Jake Peavy for six no-hit innings apiece. Did ya ever hear of such a thing? That night, Twitter lit up with references to Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney, who ninety-seven years earlier had engaged in baseball’s only double nine-inning no-hitter (Vaughn of the Cubs finally cracked in the tenth, but Toney of the Reds kept his no-no intact for the 1-0 win).

Though deGrom and Peavey were the story for most of the night, to me — certainly once each man gave up a hit — the game became about who besides Jake was pushing the Mets toward an eventual 4-2 victory:

The runs were generated by d’Arnaud, Lagares and Flores. The outs were recorded by deGrom, Familia and Mejia. None of them has played an entire major league season yet. None of them is older than 26. All of them are excelling together, feeding our dreams, fueling our momentum.

The Saturday night win left the Mets four games under .500, in fourth place in the East and not breathing down anybody’s neck for the Wild Card. They’d lose Sunday and Monday, and I reverted to the frustration that defined the 2010s to that point. But I had hope and I had an inkling that maybe these kids and other kids were gonna start putting it together before long. One year from August 2, 2014, the Mets of deGrom, d’Arnaud, Lagares, Flores and Familia (Mejia not so much), who by then were also the Mets of Cespedes, Syndergaard, Conforto and so on, were sweeping the Washington Nationals and tying for first place. It wasn’t a direct route from the Kids in America to the leaders of the National League East, but it’s fun now to regather the breadcrumbs that pointed to better days.

There was no real era surrounding 2015 like there were in other swell Met times. There were those intermittent good vibes in 2014 and there was that Wild Card surge in 2016, though 2016, once it became the year we remember for its return to the postseason, looked and felt little like 2015. Early on, it seemed we were on a roll from one successful campaign to the next. By September, however, the Mets from April had mostly disappeared. Cespedes was still Cespedes; same for Granderson, Familia, Syndergaard and Colon, but Wright was nowhere in sight. Walker, the reasonable replacement for Murphy, was out. Lagares and Duda were barely back. No Harvey. No Matz. Cripes, no deGrom. Twenty Sixteen gave us the on-the-fly changes of Reyes and his baggage, Kelly Johnson 2.0, James Loney, a pair of Riveras, plus Lugo and Gsellman when we had no idea who they were. Asdrubal Cabrera, who we anticipated as something of a Tejada upgrade, was indispensable. Nimmo was up, but we had little clue what to make of him. Conforto had bounced from vital to superfluous to enigmatic. Jay Bruce was suddenly a Met and on the bench. It was chaos, yet it coalesced. My affection for 2015 is mammoth, yet I don’t know if I was ever Met-happier in this decade than I was in September of 2016. It really was 1973 all over again.

Then it was 1974 in 2017, and so much for an era. Except for another Saturday night at the tail end of the vague plausibility 2017 offered. There was no chance in hell we were going anywhere in ’17, but because we’d seen what they had done the previous two late summers, you thought, well, maybe… But no, no way, no how. Still, on Saturday night, July 22, the Mets were burying themselves per usual, yet stormed from behind against another Bay Area team, the Oakland A’s. Long story short, Wilmer Flores hit a walkoff home run, his first since Tears of Joy. For a brief, shining moment, it was 2015 again at Citi Field. It wasn’t that chants of LET’S GO METS and WIL-MER FLO-RES rang through the ballpark staircases, It was that they reprised themselves on the staircases at Woodside. No kidding. That’s how how giddy we had learned to be in the middle of this decade. If you didn’t look at the standings, it felt like anything was possible.

Within the week, the Mets went on a trading spree in the other direction: Duda to Tampa Bay; Reed to Boston; Bruce to Cleveland; Walker to Milwaukee; Granderson to Los Angeles; René Rivera and Fernando Salas gone, too. Another youth movement was on, more Kids in America stirring hope or something short of it for the rest of 2017 and into 2018 and 2019.

Then, as you don’t need much reminding, 2019 went crazy and we went with it as far as we could, which was no farther than Dom Smith stomping on home plate at 6:56 PM EDT on September 29, though, spiritually, that was plenty — certainly enough to shoot us toward our Equinox and then the next Opening Day, the next decade, and the next who knows what with this team.

The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s

Here in one place, after ten years and eleven installments, is Faith and Fear’s countdown of The Top 100 Mets of the 2010s, with links to each of the writeups. (An introduction to the series is available here.)

Nos. 100-91
100. David Aardsma
99. Paul Sewald
98. Ronny Paulino
97. Pedro Beato
96. Chris Young (the pitcher)
95. Luis Hernandez
94. Juan Centeno
93. Collin McHugh
92. Vic Black
91. Kevin Plawecki

Nos. 90-81
90. Daisuke Matsuzaka
89. Shaun Marcum
88. Buddy Carlyle
87. Bobby Abreu
86. Scott Rice
85. Anthony Recker
84. Logan Verrett
83. Rajai Davis
82. Devin Mesoraco
81. Jason Vargas

Nos. 80-71
80. Collin Cowgill
79. Frank Francisco
78. Tyler Clippard
77. Chris Capuano
76. Marcus Stroman
75. Jason Bay
74. Jeremy Hefner
73. Tim Byrdak
72. Robinson Cano
71. Edwin Diaz

Nos. 70-61
70. Eric Campbell
69. Josh Edgin
68. Rafael Montero
67. Hansel Robles
66. René Rivera
65. Michael Cuddyer
64. Jason Isringhausen
63. Neil Walker
62. Dominic Smith
61. Hisanori Takahashi

Nos. 60-51
60. Justin Wilson
59. Rod Barajas
58. John Buck
57. Jordany Valdespin
56. Eric Young, Jr.
55. Jay Bruce
54. Scott Hairston
53. Carlos Torres
52. T.J. Rivera
51. James Loney

Nos. 50-41
50. Juan Uribe
49. Kelly Johnson
48. Josh Thole
47. Mike Baxter
46. Kirk Nieuwenhuis
45. Justin Turner
44. Todd Frazier
43. Robert Gsellman
42. Francisco Rodriguez
41. Pedro Feliciano

Nos. 40-31
40. LaTroy Hawkins
39. Bobby Parnell
38. Mike Pelfrey
37. Wilson Ramos
36. Jerry Blevins
35. J.D. Davis
34. Marlon Byrd
33. Amed Rosario
32. Addison Reed
31. Jenrry Mejia

Nos. 30-21
30. Angel Pagan
29. Carlos Beltran
28. Brandon Nimmo
27. Ike Davis
26. Ruben Tejada
25. Dillon Gee
24. Zack Wheeler
23. Travis d’Arnaud
22. Steven Matz
21. Seth Lugo

Nos. 20-11
20. Asdrubal Cabrera
19. Jeff McNeil
18. Jon Niese
17. Juan Lagares
16. Johan Santana
15. Jose Reyes
14. Jeurys Familia
13. Bartolo Colon
12. Lucas Duda
11. Wilmer Flores

Nos. 10-2
10. Pete Alonso
9. Michael Conforto
8. Curtis Granderson
7. Noah Syndergaard
6. Matt Harvey
5. Yoenis Cespedes
4. R.A. Dickey
3. Daniel Murphy
2. David Wright

No. 1
1. Jacob deGrom