Tim Raines can stop retroactively beating the Mets now. Ever since his Hall of Fame election came into view a couple of months ago, I’ve seen two clips repeatedly: Tim Raines beating the Mets with his baserunning (sliding into second base on a successful stolen base attempt) and Tim Raines beating the Mets with his bat (hitting a grand slam off Jesse Orosco when neither a World Series-saving lefty nor the scourge of collusion could stop him). Based on archival footage, a Montreal Expo continuously ran wild and slugged mightily against the New York Mets, thus making the rooting life of a Mets fan endlessly miserable.
Did anybody tape Raines doing anything else besides beating the Mets?
Whoever picks the clips to illustrate the essence of a Hall of Fame candidate pretty much got it right, because those actualities are actually how I remember Raines, a fearsome opponent on a regular basis throughout the 1980s, when if you were asked when you thought Rock might roll into Cooperstown, you’d say he’s on his way there now and he’ll no doubt make it before long.
He was on his way, but he ended up there after long…way after. Raines, who debuted with Montreal in September 1979 and partook of a few more sips of coffee the next year, was around forever before anybody had heard of his fellow Class of 2017 inductees Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. I was watching this guy beat the Mets when I was in high school, and I assure you I haven’t been in high school for quite a while. The writers, not some veterans committee, just voted him in. Such a development implies recency. It’s as if I wasn’t in twelfth grade two-thirds of my lifetime ago. Thanks for the shot of youth, BBWAA. See what you can do about giving the Grammy for Record of the Year to “Bette Davis Eyes” next month.
I graduated the same spring Tim Raines truly burst onto the scene, 1981 — and if any ballplayer could be said to have burst onto a scene, it was Raines. I was hoping it would be another leadoff hitter.
Nineteen Eighty-One was the second year in which the Mets were scheduled to rise from the valley of the ashes the late ’70s left behind in Flushing. The Magic was evanescently Back in 1980. It was advertised as Real going forward. One of the wizards who was going to abra-ca-dabra us out of the second division was a speedy rookie outfielder named Mookie Wilson. The prospect reports predicted Mookie, who we glimpsed late the previous season, was gonna get on base and run like no Met before him.
And he did. Just not immediately. Mookie got off to a shaky start in his first full season, batting only .216 and stealing one solitary base through the Mets’ first dozen games. He wasn’t walking, he wasn’t running, he was just getting his feet wet. Fair enough, except someone I hadn’t given much thought to leading up to Opening Day was stealing bases and Mookie’s thunder like crazy. In that same stretch during which Mookie scuffled at the top of the Mets’ order, Tim Raines — batting in the same leadoff spot for another team — excelled. Over the Expos’ first thirteen games of ’81, Raines was a .380 batter, a .952 slugger and on base almost half the time. He had thirteen steals in his back pocket, or one for every game he’d played.
This, I reasoned, was what we were supposed to be getting from Wilson. The wrong rookie was shaping up as the Mookie of the Year. My impression was forged from an up-close perspective. The Mets and Expos faced off six times between April 18 and April 26. The Expos took five of them. Raines starred. Wilson didn’t. Mookie would have his day. Tim was having plenty of them early and often.
The days became the better part of a decade. The Expos didn’t necessarily live up to their Team of the ’80s projections, but Raines remained formidable, never somebody you wanted to see the Mets let get on base, for if he reached first, there was a good chance he was going to extend his trip to touch second, third and home. When he became a free agent after 1986, a bidding war for his services seemed a decent bet to break out. Pitchers and catchers couldn’t prevent Raines from running, but colluding owners cut down his options on the not-so-open market. Twenty-six major league franchises were suddenly run by true gentlemen who, my word, would never attempt to poach another team’s star, never mind that stars like Raines were supposed to be unencumbered by previous contractual obligations. The way things went, Raines couldn’t go anywhere, leaving him no choice except to go back from whence he came, which was Montreal, which happened to be in New York on May 2, 1987, the date of the first game he was eligible to play after a May 1 deadline redirected him back to the Expos.
Raines burst all over again onto the scene that Saturday afternoon, going 4-for-5 versus the Mets, the fourth of those hits being the grand slam off Orosco MLBN will be happy to cue up for you in case you require visual evidence of Raines’s excellence. It seems to be the only video that exists of Raines’s hitting skills.
I guess there are other clips out there. Raines played until 2002, by which time tape and digital technology presumably managed to capture a few other highlights of his. He left Montreal following 1990 and bounced around a bit as his production inevitably leveled off. To me he would always be the Mookie of the Year from 1981, mercifully removed from my eighteen-times-per-annum field of vision. Your divisional opponents can get on your nerves. The Expos got on my nerves in the era that Raines made them go. That’s a compliment. I’ve intermittently mourned the Montreal Expos since they morphed into the Washington Whatchamacallits, but constant opponents aren’t for mourning. They’re for spiting. I spite the Phillies, the Marlins, the Braves, the Whatchamacallits even. I spite the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates when applicable for crimes committed to the Metropolitan psyche between 1969 and 1993. The Expos, due to their lack of existence, I tend to give a pass to.
Bygones should be bygone, even if you prefer Raines’s Montreal Expos weren’t. Defeats inflicted decades ago are irreversible. Life went on in 1981 and 1987 and so forth. Life stopped going on for the Expos and their fans in 2004. Who would root against a memory that won’t be coming to bat ever again? Spite has an honest place in a fan’s heart, but it shouldn’t overshadow our better angels.
Except the Expos live again through Raines stealing second and homering against the Mets over and over. Seeing him as he was in those contexts doesn’t touch off the best of my instincts. I may like and respect Raines and appreciate what his induction will mean to a group of partisans who’ve had nothing except memorialization of their memories to cheer since 2004, but I gotta tell ya: when I see Raines playing against the Mets the way I remember Raines playing against the Mets, I bristle as I did when Tim and his team were in their prime.
I’m enjoying disliking the Montreal Expos again. A Mets fan should dislike the Expos. Opponents are not to be cherished. They are to be, at best, grudgingly acknowledged for their splendor. They can also be detested. That’s what they’re for. That’s what the Expos were there for from 1969 through 2004, same as everybody else the Mets opposed in the National League East. When the Expos vanished from the face of the continent, the proper emotion to tap when they crossed the green fields of the mind was wistfulness. There were no more Montreal Expos. It was a sad state of affairs. They were a part of our lives several series a year for thirty-six years and brought spice and variety to our schedule. There was élan to playing the Expos, particularly visiting the Expos. There was something special.
Of course you’re gonna miss that. But what you don’t realize you’re missing is the enmity of opposition, of gritting your teeth and snarling and conjuring up whammies to stick it to those stupid Expos. It’s a skill set that no longer has any application, as pointless as raising a hackle at the sight of a Kentucky Colonels logo or having it in for the Ford-Dole ticket.
So, even if it’s just for a little while, in the immediate aftermath of Raines’s election and then again this summer when the scene shifts to Cooperstown, bring on the dormant notion of the hated Expos. Bring on the deep-seated resentment of a great player doing great things and how it made your innings miserable. It’s better to remember Expos for being Expos, not for being bygone.
Mookie Wilson, who had himself a fine career, was a Met in part because of the work of an outstanding scout, Harry Minor; Tracy Ringolsby explains their connection here. Minor also signed off on the drafting of Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Wally Backman, Hubie Brooks, Kevin Elster, Kevin Mitchell and Gregg Jefferies, among others. On the same night Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez learned they would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was in the audience for a fascinating discussion of baseball scouting, and the hightly entertaining speaker brought up Minor’s name, ironically for something Harry considered the worst miss of his long and distinguished scouting career. Minor watched a young Greg Maddux and reported back to the Mets that whatever his potential, he was probably a little too small to make it in the majors, so maybe the Mets shouldn’t select him in the next draft.
Oh well, you can’t win them all. On the other hand, you can’t win anything in baseball without men like Harry Minor skillfully deciphering talent. Minor was enormously important to the Mets as a scout between 1967 and 2011, encompassing the championships of 1969 and 1986, accomplishments that have Harry’s fingerprints all over them. The Mets honored him with their Hall of Fame Award the same day they inducted Mike Piazza into the team shrine in 2013, the last time the Mets held such a ceremony. You can be forgiven if you didn’t much notice Minor that Sunday. Piazza cast an enormous shadow and scouts tend to thrive where nobody else is looking.
Minor died on January 18, just as baseball was celebrating the newest class of Hall of Famers. Scouts don’t receive Cooperstown consideration. The shadows apparently stretch to Upstate New York that way. Yet there is no obscuring the results of the work they do. Harry Minor, who was in baseball one way or another for sixty-five years, forty-five of them with the Mets, helped provide us with some of our best days.
Friday night, as I was watching the Nets lose — an activity surely signifying the depths of winter for both me and the team to which I’ve clung through four post-Julius Erving decades as if I’m convinced the Doctor will be coming out of the locker room shortly to start the second half — we lucky viewers were enticed with the promise of even more Nets basketball, Nets and Sixers, at a special start time of noon on Sunday. I was thinking how that sounds awfully early for a basketball game, though I reasoned that once in a great while the Mets will play a makeup doubleheader on a Sunday starting at noon, and that would sound great right about now.
But there was to be no Mets baseball on Sunday, only more Nets basketball (another loss, which I forgot was in progress until the third quarter) and Giants football. There will be more Nets basketball imminently; January is lousy with the stuff. The Giants, having lost their playoff game in Green Bay later in the day, find themselves on hiatus sooner than desired, though it does clear their schedule for sailing and other tropical pursuits.
The Mets, meanwhile, are nowhere to be found.
The last we heard from them, the Mets were signing righthanded relief pitchers Ben Rowen and Cory Burns to minor league contracts. Ben Rowen is a submariner. Cory Burns is said to have a deceptive delivery. Actual submarines are supposed to be deceptive, but you can tell a submariner from a mile away. If only we were a mile from baseball season. Instead, it sits an eternity up the road.
Ben Rowen and Cory Burns, however they contort their arms in service to pitching, are nowhere in sight. Nor are any Mets doing any actual Met thing. Bring on the sidearming reliever. Bring on the unconventional reliever. Bring on somebody who can get somebody out. Bring on loaded bases and something to get out of.
This winter is endless. The next Met season’s gestation period is endless. It snowed on Saturday. There was no sense of baseball being blanketed. The Mets weren’t trading for George Foster or Johan Santana as they sometimes used to in the dead of winter. They weren’t even inviting Ben Rowen to camp. They already did that, just as they already preemptively directed Cory Burns to frolic among the minor leaguers. We got our big name taken care of weeks or maybe months ago. It’s hard to remember anymore. Yoenis Cespedes is in the fold, which is splendid. Everybody else who’s contractually bound to the Mets is very familiar. Nothing wrong with that. Cuts down on the awkward introductory phases.
Then there’s Ben Rowen, the submariner with twelve games as a Ranger and Brewer to his credit. Should he make the Mets, he might come through in the seventh inning and we will praise Ben Rowen. Or he might implode in the sixth inning and we will condemn Ben Rowen. We will have our Ben Rowen plot points on the graph of perception and adjust accordingly. But I’d love a look at Ben Rowen warming up about now. Or Cory Burns, who’s been a Padre and a Blue Jay, though neither lately. Last year Cory was a Lancaster Barnstormer, which is not to say he couldn’t make a fine New York Met if given the chance. Or a terrible New York Met if given the same chance. You know how relievers are, in that you never know how relievers are. Every member of your bullpen should sign the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm. Then have a colorful delivery, a colorful shtick, a colorful backstory of how you chilled on Justin Bieber’s yacht on your off day before entering the frozen tundra and not dropping the ball…I mean striking out Bryce Harper.
You remember relievers, don’t you? And starters? And baseball in general? This past weekend I’d have given all the Nets basketball (of which there’s a surfeit) and all the Giants football (of which there is none any longer) for a 12:10 doubleheader, or even a 1:10 single game.
Same deal all week. Go ahead, make me an offer.
The Baseball Equinox is behind us, meaning we’re closer to 2017 Mets baseball than we are to the 2016 variety — a comforting thought with the teeth of winter pearly and bared. But we still have 2016 Mets business to attend to, namely the offering of formal greetings to those who joined the orange-and-blue ranks in the season that most recently was.
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 matriculation: 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, 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 qualified as a Met ghost.
If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it unless it’s 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. (Circle of Life, y’all.) Eventually that yields this column, previous versions of which can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)
Your 2016 THB Mets!
Enough with the throat-clearing. Here are your 2016 Mets, in order of matriculation:
Neil Walker: Replaced Daniel Murphy after Murph’s unexpected star turn in improv productions of “Damn Dodgers” and “Damn Cubs,” inevitably followed by the bringdown sequel that was “Damn Royals.” Y’know, for the first couple of weeks it looked like the jury was out on whether the Mets or Nats had got the better of their second-base switcheroo. But Murph kept up his MVP form while Neil returned to Earth and landed on the DL, felled by scary-sounding back surgery. Still, a good player and a decent soul who’ll be back for another go-round in 2017 because of a qualifying offer. Photoshopped Topps team-set card.
Asdrubal Cabrera: We were all wrong! And we loved it! Arrived with more warning symbols than the scary humming equipment caged in the basement — too old, can’t hit, no range — and made an excellent case to be the Mets’ MVP, carrying the team back into contention late in the year despite playing on one leg. His season’s exclamation mark was his thrilling extra-innings walk-off against the Phillies, a bit of punctuation punctuated by a bat hurl and arms shot skyward. Moments like that are why we keep watching years of 8-1 embarrassments, because you never know when … oh, just go watch it again. Serviceable Photoshopped Topps team-set card.
Alejandro De Aza: The best .205 hitter in baseball? Jaw-droppingly useless in the early going, when we speculated if the Mets were the victims of a truly odd hoax in which the same underwhelming guy kept showing up in Port St. Lucie in various disguises: was that De Aza, John Mayberry Jr. or Chris Young? With the Mets showing no inclination to send De Aza packing we all glumly accepted his presence … and he started getting hits that actually mattered, not all the time but often enough that we noticed, while filling in tolerably for the injured Yoenis Cespedes. If there’s a scale measuring Fan Reaction to That Guy Grabbing a Bat, De Aza managed to climb from Snarling Disgust to Apathy to Half-Willing Shoulder Shrug to Somehow I’m OK With This. You shouldn’t hit .205 for a whole season, but if you must, do it the De Aza way. Dopey Topps Heritage card, because the update set stuck him with a soul-killing horizontal. (WHICH THEY ALSO DID FOR WALKER AND CABRERA, AUGGGGHHHH STOP IT TOPPS STOP IT STOP IT.)
Jim Henderson: Returned from two years of shoulder woes and looked pretty good in the early weeks … good enough that Terry Collins treated him like a shiny new toy and re-destroyed his arm. Sigh. Topps Heritage card in which he looks like he knows that bright light ahead is, in fact, a train.
Antonio Bastardo: Arrived via what looked like a sensible two-year deal for a lefty reliever who’d been pretty good in Pittsburgh. And he was decent enough at first: witness his Houdini escape from bases loaded, none out in San Diego. But that was Bastardo’s World Series — after that he was so bad that we would have endorsed his being traded for Ramon Ramirez, Rich Rodriguez or a mad scientist’s failed experiment comingling tissue from Ramon Ramirez and Rich Rodriguez. This ended when the Mets sent Bastardo back to Pittsburgh … in return for addition-by-subtraction poster child Jon Niese. RECORD SCRATCH. Yes, Virginia, there is a less-desirable outcome than dumping a squishy, quivering mound of comingled tissue that was once Ramon Ramirez and Rich Rodriguez on the floor of a major-league clubhouse. Anyway, 2015 Topps card as a Phillie. Addendum re Niese: it’s not really fair to pin this on Bastardo, but in 2016 Topps gave the pride of Truculence, Ohio a) a Series 1 card as a Met b) a Photoshopped Pirates team set card and c) a redundant Update card as a Met. All of which my OCD required me to buy. Good God do I hate Jon Niese.
Rene Rivera: Being a Mets backup catcher is an interesting gig: you come out of nowhere, get a few big hits, are talked up as a replacement for the perpetually confounding Travis d’Arnaud, are a bystander as people point out such an idea is insane, and then get replaced by an essentially identical guy. Rivera broke the mold a bit, though, in ways both new- and old-school. He was a terrific pitch framer, a once-neglected skill that’s now been mainstreamed in front-office thinking, and he was a highly visible pitcher whisperer, ably talking balky hurlers through tough times with generally good results. Unexpected Topps Update card that saved him from a misspelled 51s card.
Matt Reynolds: In 2015 Reynolds made his bid for the kind of baseball immortality that nobody wants. He was added to the postseason roster but never appeared, making him provisionally the 10th Mets ghost in club history, the third to never appear in a big-league game for anyone else, and the first to achieve the additionally galling status of postseason ghost. Reynolds’ time in limbo proved brief, however, as he got the call in May 2016 and acquitted himself fairly well, playing multiple infield positions tolerably and getting some big hits. His best day by far came when he was summoned to Cincinnati, arrived after a sleepless all-night odyssey and responded with three hits, one of them a home run. That’s just a bit better than being a ghost. Bog-standard Topps card. He’ll take it.
Ty Kelly: Looking like an extra beamed in from an old Jimmy Cagney movie, Kelly arrived after the 2015 season with four previous organizations on his CV and one notable skill: the inclination to take a walk. That fit the Mets’ philosophy, and they sent Ty to Las Vegas, where he led the league in batting in the early going. That earned him a call to the big leagues, where the results were about what you’d expect from a rookie struggling with minimal playing time. Kelly took some walks, got a couple of big hits, but mostly sat on the bench. But hey, he made it, didn’t he? My cap is tipped. Yours should be too. Las Vegas 51s card.
James Loney: A flashpoint for Mets fans, who variously saw Loney as an empty hitter with head-scratchingly nonexistent range at first or a solid veteran bat with good hands. Seriously, blood was shed over this: we’ll always remember where we were when the James Loney Riot spilled out of the Mets Clubhouse store and into Bryant Park, necessitating Governor Cuomo calling out the National Guard and the Mets hustling in Rusty Staub to recreate his ’73 appeal for peace in our time. (Or maybe people were just shitty to each other on Twitter, but you remember it your way and I’ll remember it mine.) My take? Loney was better than either Eric Campbell or parking Lucas Duda out there strapped to a hand truck in a full-body cast. Still, points for his homer against the Phils on wild-card-clinching day and his not particularly restrained reaction. Inexplicably missing from Topps Update, so stuck with a subpar Topps Heritage card.
Brandon Nimmo: Sandy Alderson’s first draft pick arrived from the nontraditional baseball climes of Wyoming with a smile as wide as his home state. So far, Nimmo’s pattern has been to struggle at each new baseball level and then shine. It’s not clear where his playing time will come from in 2017, but it’s also a baseball truism that you usually wind up needing more outfielders and starting pitchers than you think. Should that be the case, here’s hoping Nimmo sticks to his pattern — or at least keeps smiling. Topps Update card in which he’s … wait for it … smiling.
Seth Lugo: Not so long ago Jacob deGrom — a pitcher our blog had mentioned exactly zero times during his minor-league career — arrived in New York and became a big star. It’s horribly unfair to start talking about Seth Lugo that way but also hard to resist, because Lugo was so unheralded that he made deGrom seem like Paul Wilson. That’s what happens when you’re the 1,032nd player taken in the draft and pitched for Centenary College. Anyway, although he was essentially Plan H for the Mets in terms of starting pitchers, Lugo arrived in July and rode a terrific curve to a significant role down the stretch. In some alternate universe the Mets are World Series champs and “Seth Lugo” is the new “Hey, y’never know.” This universe is different, but Seth Lugo still had a really good year. 51s card, for now.
Justin Ruggiano: Hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner in 2016. Did you hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner in 2016? 2015 Topps card as a Mariner.
Jay Bruce: What the actual fuck? It’s been a while, so I should just … no, I was right the first time. What the actual fuck? The Mets had a sound second-base plan in which Neil Walker would hold the fort while Dilson Herrera got a little extra seasoning instead of enduring a year answering questions about not being Daniel Murphy, then blew it up to acquire the kind of defensively challenged corner outfielder they already had too many of. Bruce then rewarded Sandy & Co. by playing like a wide-eyed rookie dropped into the center of a minefield and told to run sprints. Seemed like a nice fella, and his mild late-season resurgence was a relief, but what the actual fuck? Topps Update card.
T. J. Rivera: Murph, is that you? Rivera came up and hit a bunch, proved disinclined to take a walk, looked better than one would have expected in the field and played with a certain intangible but welcome moxie. Not a bad start. 51s card.
Gabriel Ynoa: Maybe the least memorable Met of the campaign. He pitched, which you need guys to do. Might pitch a lot more or might be the guy you miss on quizzes about 2016 Mets years from now. 51s card.
Josh Smoker: What’s in a name, anyway? Did Josh Smoker’s parents look down at him wriggling adorably in his cradle and say, “Josh is totally gonna come into baseball games late throwing fastballs?” (If this happened, by the way, it was when I was 20 years old. Please excuse me while I stick my head in the oven.) Smoker fanned a bunch of guys, but another bunch of guys hit prodigious home runs off of him. Still, perspective: Smoker flamed out as a Nats prospect and sank all the way to the indy-ball ash heap before beginning a phoenix-like resurrection that culminated with throwing heat for a big-league club. Light a cigar, Josh! Latest in our string of 51s cards.
Robert Gsellman: Forget the GEICO caveman, Gsellman was the real Jacob deGrom barroom fakeout. Though what got stuck in my head was that deGrom was Snoopy and Gsellman was Spike. I think this is funny and am going to keep referencing it until someone takes pity on me and acknowledges it as genius, or at least a good try. Anyway, Gsellman arrived as emergency relief after Jon Niese blew out his knee in St. Louis, pitched bravely in a game the Mets won, and proved gutsy and dependable during the unlikely run to a 163rd game. Good things sometimes do happen to the Mets. Some ancient Bowman card in which he has short hair and so could be anybody.
Fernando Salas: Most years feature a late-season deal or two in which a reliever shows up and is asked to haul sandbags to the riverbank posthaste. Sometimes this works out pretty well — Addison Reed, for instance. Sometimes it works out less than well — remember Reed’s THB 2015 colleagues Eric O’Flaherty and Tim Stauffer? With Salas it worked out pretty well. Between small sample sizes and the spaghetti-at-a-wall essence of middle relievers, you should conclude absolutely nothing from this. 2015 Topps card as an Angel.
Gavin Cecchini: The last guy standing at the dugout rail, Cecchini had two lonely at-bats in two weeks before being inserted in the 5th inning of a farcical 10-0 bombardment inflicted on the forces of good by the Phillies. If you were still watching, Cecchini collected a pair of doubles and was in the thick of everything as the Mets lost the damn thing, 10-9, but still left us feeling like they’d won something. Way to go, kid. 2016 Bowman card.
We didn’t tweet in 1977, but if we had, I’m sure we would have assailed the year we lived in for being #TheWorst for taking from our midst so many beloved icons (and that’s not counting the baseball business conducted on June 15 of that year). Elvis died. Bing died. Groucho and his brother Gummo. Charlie Chaplin. Zero Mostel. Maria Callas. Toots Shor. Guy Lombardo. Joan Crawford. Eddie Anderson (Rochester from The Jack Benny Show). Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French from Family Affair). Diana Hyland (Dick Van Patten’s wife on Eight Is Enough and John Travolta’s true love in real life). Most of these people were transcendent, and they were all going at once.
We didn’t tweet yet in 2003, but we would have hashtagged ourselves into a mourning frenzy that September. Warren Zevon, John Ritter and Johnny Cash went in a four-day span; George Plimpton, Robert Palmer, Donald O’Connor and Althea Gibson joined them in the great beyond before the month was out. It was veritable celebrity carnage.
It’s not a contest, picking the year that packed the most attention-getting passings, but as much as we sadly shook our fist at 2016, it’s not like this sort of thing was invented over the past twelve months, though we certainly endured one of the most overwhelming onslaughts of morbid bulletins where people we’d heard of were concerned. I didn’t quite get why we as a culture faulted 2016 itself — it was a time period, not an actual grim reaper — but we do tweet nowadays, and the habit has led us to adopt and indulge strange customs and catchphrases before we’ve had a chance to road-test them for logic.
Death is a part of life, you might have noticed. Whether it touches us directly or from a distance, it touches off in us the impulse to remember. I believe keeping alive the memories of those no longer with us is a decent thing for the rest of us to do while we’re still here. It’s what I try to do when I pay tribute in this space to the recently deceased, whether I knew them intimately, casually or not at all but was moved by what they did while they were around.
With 2016 done doing whatever we decided 2016 did, I’m going to take a few minutes and remember some people who died in the past year, specifically those whose departures I didn’t get a chance to note here even though I’m sure I meant to. Baseball, predictably, is the thread that runs through them, but they weren’t all necessarily baseball people. I’m also going to throw in a name whose passing predates 2016 because it should never be too late to remember another human being…especially one who played for your favorite team.
On September 14, 1984, I had the Mets on my mind. Big surprise, I know. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was driving westbound on Interstate 4, the highway destined to become known at the I-4 Corridor, specifically the segment between Orlando and Tampa. This was early in my senior year in college, when I was the Board of Regents correspondent for my college paper. I had traveled from my campus, USF, to the campus where the BOR was meeting, UCF; did my reporting (dictating a story over a pay phone, as old-timey as that sounds); and now I was returning. The second-place Mets would soon be playing the first-place Cubs at Wrigley Field, beginning a three-game series that represented their last remote chance at possibly pulling out the division. It was a long shot, though. We stood 7½ out and had to sweep. There was a bar I’d pass on my way back to my off-campus dorm, the Copper Top. They had a sign in the window advertising the installation of cable TV and the broadcast of all manner of live sports, which was a pretty exotic proposition for an unwired college student in 1984. Maybe they had WGN. Surely they had WGN. And what other sporting event would they be showing on a Friday afternoon? Yeah, I’m definitely gonna swing by the Copper Top.
My train of determined Met thought was interrupted by the song that came on the car radio, probably from one of the Orlando stations, since they always seemed to be a couple of weeks ahead of Tampa. It was so bouncy, so effervescent, so captivating. I didn’t know what it was called, but I was instantly in love with its jitterbug!s, its boom-boom!s, its out-of-nowhere reference to Doris Day. What’s its name? “Wake Me Up Before You Go”? No, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham…I mean, Wham! Repetition and exclamation fit a song that encompassed more energy in three minutes and fifty seconds than I did in a week. I never did stop by the Copper Top (preferring my bed because I decided I was running on fumes), but for the rest of the fall of ’84, I was so hyped up every time I heard “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!, that I was left with little capacity to rue the Mets’ failure to catch the Cubs. How upset could someone be if he lived in a world onto which the sun was said to shine like Doris Day?
The group’s follow-up single, “Careless Whisper,” made clear the name of the half of Wham! who put the boom-boom into their sound was George Michael. It was inevitable that he’d plan on goin’ solo. Like the Mets of the mid-’80s, George would produce a ton more hits, many of them sparkling and spectacular. None, however, landed on the ear as viscerally or vivaciously as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” which I count to this day as No. 30 on my personal Top 1,000 (and No. 1 among songs that greeted me in 1984). When I learned late on Christmas Day that Michael, my demographic contemporary, had died, my mind found itself speeding along I-4 once more.
The honor roll of musicians who left us in 2016 was, as has been documented elsewhere, staggering. Within that circumstantial supergroup is a subgenre of artists of parochial interest: those whose songs would become inextricable from the Met narrative. Glenn Frey’s “You Belong To The City” scored a montage of the Mets being every bit as big as New York itself in A Year To Remember. David Bowie’s “Changes” resonated through the difficult trades & transition period in An Amazin’ Era. “Volunteers” provided the backbeat to the scenes in which the 1969 Mets took over the world in the Eighth Inning of Ken Burns’s Baseball. The song was recorded by Jefferson Airplane and co-written by Paul Kantner.
Those gentlemen became associated by the Mets by use of their music. A singer just as famous a generation before them brought his talents to the Mets because he was a Mets fan. Julius La Rosa sang the national anthem at Shea often from the ‘60s into the ’90s, back when it was performed mostly on special occasions (otherwise, Jane Jarvis would play it on the organ or a canned recording would be used). La Rosa was synonymous with big days at Shea, including WNEW Day in 1975, when the Mets celebrated their affiliation with their flagship station. Julius had a second career in progress as a disc jockey at AM 1130, playing records from the pre-rock days when he was as big star in his field as Seaver and Kingman were in theirs.
Annually there is no bigger day in Flushing than Opening Day. Though I’d been watching and listening to Shea lidlifters since 1970 (and had my tickets turn into rainchecks in 1981), I didn’t attend a Home Opener until 1993. None of us among the 53,127 on hand had any idea what was in store for that season — it was all good on April 5. You believed anything was possible, especially when you saw who walked out for a special presentation. It was Dennis Byrd, a cause of Metropolitan Area concern the previous fall when he couldn’t rise on his own power from the slick Meadowlands turf, surfaced as the most hopeful sign related to power of positive thinking and proactive healing.
When Byrd went down in the rain against Kansas City after crashing into a teammate, he instantly became a former Jet defensive end, unable to walk. Rehabilitation was his next game. It proved successful. Though his football career was over, he was up on his own two feet (with the aid of a cane) to welcome the baseball season. The Mets invited Dennis to Opening Day and, as part of the pregame pomp, handed him Mets jersey No. 90, the same number he’d worn in green and white. “A Met for life,” he was deemed. The DE knew his way to Shea, which didn’t used to be anything unusual for New York Jets. He’d served as a Banner Day judge last August. He also knew his way into Mets fans’ hearts.
“If it rains,” he told the crowd on this indefatigably sunny afternoon, “we don’t have to play. And if I hit the ball over the fence, I get to walk around the bases. I can do that.”
The Mets wouldn’t exist had the Giants and Dodgers not abandoned New York, but some Giants and Dodgers stuck around long after those franchises made themselves scarce. The two men who gave the storied rivalry its signature moment were permanent Metropolitan Area fixtures for decades. Bobby Thomson remained on the scene until his death in 2010, leaving Ralph Branca to carry forward the legacy of The Shot Heard Round The World. That Branca was on the wrong end of the most legendary home run ever hit did not hold him back from embodying baseball history, even if it went against him. He was the ultimate good sport in the company of Thomson, the most supportive of teammates to rookie Jackie Robinson, the knowing father-in-law of Bobby Valentine and even the Met pre- and postgame radio show partner to Howard Cosell in 1962 and ’63. Kids like me would see Branca on Old Timers Day and understand that baseball didn’t begin with the Mets.
An adult like me encountered him once. I was behind him at the sign-in table for a press luncheon years ago. Next to his name, where we were asked to list our affiliation, Ralph wrote “BASEBALL”. I thought that covered it quite comprehensively and accurately. (So does the writeup of someone who knew him well — please see what Matt Silverman had to say about his old friend in his entry of November 24.)
I’m fond of saying that I’m a New York Mets fan in my heart and a New York Giants fan in my soul, reflecting a deep affinity for the team that represented the city’s National League interests for 75 years, right up until five years before I came along. If the 1883-1957 portion of my soul had a facilitator, it was Bill Kent, founder and guiding light of what became known as the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, which was a splendid name, but I’ll always remember our little group as “the guys,” which is how Bill referred to us when we first took shape.
Bill did it all for “the guys,” no matter how few or how many we numbered on a given day. Membership fluctuated from the time he first called me in 2004 to invite me to a meeting, having inherited a list of phone numbers from a predecessor organization nobody committed to keeping organized. That was not a responsibility that eluded Bill, a loyal Giants fan who rooted without pause from Mel Ott to Madison Bumgarner, coastal relocation notwithstanding. He was always reaching out, getting “the guys” together whenever and wherever he could find adequate space. A grudging user of e-mail, Bill preferred to call individually with date and locale for our next caucus. I looked forward to picking up the phone and hearing a gravelly voice greeting me with “rackadoolie!” I just assumed it was Bill’s version of “23 skidoo!”
We followed the bouncing Bill from the far West Side of Manhattan to Riverdale to Kingsbridge. He was the gray tornado, disheveled enough to worry you that he wouldn’t remember we were assembling when he said we would, sharp enough to book speakers, order pies and make sure everybody got seconds. When he was up for driving, he’d offer to pick you up from the Spuyten Duyvil train station or drop you off at the 231st St. stop on the 1 line. If you were concerned about traveling from relatively far away, he’d play transportation matchmaker. In between, he’d be happy to tell you about the time at the Polo Grounds that his childhood chum Little Louie sparked Ernie Lombardi’s ire by taunting him about how slow he was (according to Bill, Ernie was too torpid to effectively chase Louie down). Bill shepherded us as we grew from a handful of diehards and historical fetishists to a vibrant social club that attracted the attention of WFAN, The New York Times and the San Francisco Giants. Bill made the Giants aware of us and they included us on the New York leg of their three world championship tours.
Eventually, a difference of opinion regarding operating philosophies led to a breakaway group that ultimately proved more popular (and it is definitely a swell bunch), sending Bill’s guys back to meeting in the smallest room a Bronx church had to offer. He was still the essence of servant-leadership the last time I saw him, in the spring of 2015, wrangling our proceedings to informal order; pulling straws from his raincoat pockets in case anybody wanted one for the sodas that came with our pizza, urging us to buy one of our guest speaker’s books; asking our speaker if he could give the guys a break on the price; and forever passing around a sheet of paper to make sure he had everybody’s contact information.
The Nostalgia Society became a thing of the past soon after. Membership received an email from his son explaining that because of health issues, Bill, like the team he loved, had moved from New York to California. The kicker was his destination was Southern California, though we were assured being around all those Dodgers fans wasn’t going to alter Bill’s allegiances one bit. No doubt they stayed solidly orange and black to the end, which, I eventually learned, came October 6, one day after the 2016 National League Wild Card Game, a most unfortunate affair for us Mets fans, but boy do I hope Bill got to see his team win one last game. He deserved to go out a winner.
James Loney hit his first home run as a Met on the same day Muhammad Ali died, the juxtaposition of which won’t necessarily mean anything to you, except it got me to thinking about names. Ali changed his as an adult from Cassius Clay. It was a defining element of his biography. And what does this have to do with James Loney? Nothing, exactly, except as I got used to Loney being a Met, I wondered, in the vein of Ali vs. Clay, why he was James and not Jim. I remembered two decades before somebody I worked with telling me about a conversation with a man named James, a person with whom had had never spoken before. My colleague, capable of being one of these overly familiar sorts, calls him up and says, “Hi Jim,” only to be told “there’s nobody named Jim here.” This guy was James, and you were to address him as James. Since then, I have known Jims who didn’t go by James, Jameses who didn’t go by Jim, a couple of Jimmys who were pretty free and easy about the whole thing…and one semi-complicated case.
During the Jerry Manuel era, a fellow named Jim dropped us a line here at Faith and Fear to ask if we would link to a Met story he wrote somewhere. Sure, I said. And we did. We said, in so many words, check out this article by Jim. He expressed gratitude, but added, “One more favor, at the risk of my sounding like a numbskull: Could I ask you to put James (Middle Initial and Last Name) in parentheses, where you list Jim at the link? I actually prefer both names being listed that way, so — only if it’s no bother — that would be perfect.”
It wasn’t a bother, and I assured him he wasn’t a numbskull. It came up a couple of more times over the years. He’d ask for a link, I’d say no problem, Jim, do it and then I’d be asked, hey, could that be James, not Jim? Again, I complied, but since he seemed to go by Jim in real life, I didn’t know what the big deal was. I wasn’t calling him Cassius.
The confluence of Ali’s death and Loney’s arrival made me think of Jim/James a little…and then a lot, because that very same weekend in early June came word that he had died. It didn’t come as a total surprise, since I had seen on Facebook that he had recently been hospitalized, but it was still a shock. He was in his mid-fifties, though you might say he had an older soul. Jim seemed to enjoy giving the impression he went way back — even further back than guys our age already do. If it made him happy, so be it. Ditto for his habit of calling me seeking information that the rest of civilization could and would easily Google. The exchanges would inevitably start something like this:
“Hello Greg, this is Bob Murphy,” said in a voice that didn’t sound very much like Bob Murphy. “How about those Amazing New York Mets?”
“Hey Jim, what’s up?”
“No, this is Bob Murphy.”
“Uh-huh. Hey Bob.”
After asking how authentic I found his Bob Murphy impression and not quite believing I didn’t find it fully convincing, he got to the ostensible reason he called, which was to obtain a data point that allegedly only I could deliver at that moment. He was writing something, see, and he couldn’t remember this or that, and he just knew I would know. Maybe he also wanted to let me know that he’d read something I wrote the other day and he really liked it. From there, he’d instigate a debate on some recent roster move, almost always encompassing an insistence on his part that Nick Evans never should have been let go. There’d be an accusation that some local columnist or broadcaster was using his material without crediting him, and he’s not mad or anything, it’s just that it would be nice if he’d been properly sourced (he was indeed a solid writer). Oh, and there was a problem with an editor who cut the best part of a story. There was a mention of some really old movie that he’d hoped I was familiar with so we could talk about that. And Shea Stadium ushers — he was fonder of them on the whole than I was and proceeded to tell me yet again about one of them now working at Citi Field who was telling him how they were all getting screwed over by management. And you know what he really enjoys eating when he goes to a game? Why, the Premio Italian Sausage, of course. It was his favorite at Shea and it’s his favorite still.
“Hey, do you think I should go to the day game next week?”
“I don’t know, Jim. If you want to go, go.”
Under whatever name he preferred, Jim/James was reaching out, and not in that empty corporate way the phrase implies. He was reaching out for another person, for a connection. Somewhere along the way, he decided I’d be the person he’d reach out to where the Mets were the subject. He was a Mets fan. I was a Mets fan. In theory, it was the basis for a relationship. I tried to reach back. In all honestly, I didn’t always have it in me to meet him halfway. But maybe the Mets did give up on Nick Evans too soon.
Ziggy also died last spring, a little before Muhammad Ali and Jim/James. Another unwelcome Facebook dispatch. I never heard the cause of death. Ziggy was my classmate in Hebrew School, an acquaintance through elementary school, a lockermate in seventh grade and a constant presence on the periphery of my life until I graduated high school. Ziggy, who lived a few blocks from me, and I were heading to Shea Stadium separately on July 17, 1976, but when his dad saw my sister and me walking toward the train station, we were invited into their family stationwagon (a.k.a. the Ziggymobile) and offered a ride. My sister was wary, but I vouched for the Ziggys’ collective character, having been over to their house once and emerging unscathed. We arrived at Shea in fine fettle but Suzan declined Ziggy’s dad’s invitation to meet afterward for a ride home.
Ziggy had a more traditional first and last name, but à la Cher and Madonna, he didn’t need them. For as long as I could remember, nearly everybody called him Ziggy, and he seemed to go with the flow, just as I did when Ziggy pulled his signature move of walking up to me, no matter the situation, and telling me, in his low deadpan croak, “Shut up, Greg.” He even signed my yearbook that way.
You might have heard Chris Cannizzaro, one of the Original Mets, died last week. Caught for the Mets from 1962 through 1965, played in the majors clear through 1974. Casey Stengel referred to him as a defensive catcher who couldn’t catch. Casey had a way with words, but Cannizzaro surely proved himself a big league survivor. Not until Ramon Castro returned for a fifth season of backup duty behind the plate was Chris bumped from the Top Ten list for most games caught by a Met. He ranks thirteenth to this day.
Did you hear Phil Hennigan died in June? If you did hear, word almost certainly didn’t reach you until September. Just because a person was well-known a while back, it doesn’t keep him in the limelight forever after. Phil was living his retirement in Texas. That’s where he passed on with relatively little notice outside of his community. That’s how it goes for most of us.
We know Phil Hennigan from his stint as a Met in 1973, which is to say he was a member of the National League champions, albeit before they were champions. In 30 games between April 11 and July 7, the ex-Indian reliever compiled an ERA over 6 and trudged around a record of 0-4. The righty was demoted to Tidewater and never pitched in the majors again. Hennigan became the first Met to end a season with no wins and that many losses since Sherman “Roadblock” Jones in 1962. On the other hand, Phil did record three saves, and given that the Mets won the East by a mere game-and-a-half in 1973, well, You Gotta Believe every little bit helped.
Every time the Mets score an absurd amount of runs and you reflexively place tongue in cheek and ask, “Did they win?” think of Dick Smith. The game — Mets 19 Cubs 1 — from which the old Met chestnut that somebody called a newspaper to ask how many runs the club scored that day and then incredulously asked if they had managed to prevail sprung was earned to a great extent on Dick Smith’s dime. That afternoon of May 26, 1964, at Wrigley, Dick’s bat put the boom-boom into the Mets’ attack, recording three singles, a double and a triple. It was the first five-hit game in Mets history. He scored three and drove in two, having himself the kind of afternoon Kirk Nieuwenhuis enjoyed just before the All-Star break in 2015 when Kirk became the first Met to hit three homers in a home game.
The comparison is apt for temporal reasons. Facebook has a Baseball Player Passings group that tracks when somebody in the game dies. Usually there’s a timely report. Sometimes it takes a while, as we saw with Phil Hennigan. In Dick Smith’s case, the baseball-loving public didn’t become aware of his passing for more than three years. Mr. Smith died in Oregon on February 19, 2012, three days after Gary Carter. We all knew about Carter. Gary went right after Whitney Houston and a couple of weeks before Davy Jones. It was a trifecta of bad tidings. We were probably cursing out that awful 2012 for being so cruel.
It’s not the years that do it, it’s just life. Let’s be glad we have those we had in our lives for as long as we do, whether we consider them bit players or superstars.
Tonight, January 3, at 6:16 PM Eastern Standard Time, set your emotional clocks forward. That very moment marks the arrival of the Baseball Equinox, the instant when we are as close to the scheduled first pitch of next season (1:10 PM on April 3) as we are to the documented last pitch of last season (11:21 PM on October 5). I can’t speak for what else 2017 will bring, but barring the disastrous and unforeseen, it will give us Mets sooner than it won’t. There will be spring; there will be hope; there will new reasons to remember; and there will be metaphorically and maybe meteorologically a sun that shines brighter than Doris Day and Harvey Day combined.
Baseball’s coming. Rejoice.
Hey, T.J. Rivera, you who debuted in a big way last August and found yourself competing, however briefly, in the postseason by October: I dig your .333 batting average, your OPS+ of 117 and that 1st career home run of yours, the 1 you hit off Mark Melancon in the top of the 10th at Nationals Park on September 13 to ward off what felt like imminent doom. But today, the number of yours that I really like is that number of yours, the number on your front and your back.
You, relatively young man, are 54. I, not such a relatively young man, am 54. I’m not wearing it on either end of me, but it’s what my odometer says I am on this, my 54th birthday. You’re considered kind of old for a rookie, but you’re only a little more than half my age.
My age is getting up there. All ages get up there provided they keep going, but this number feels like it’s playing for keeps. Because I came along when I came along — and because I am the way I am — I’ve realized that within a couple of days I will have spent more of my life alive in the 1990s, the 2000s and the 2010s than I did in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. That’s just chronological bookkeeping, I suppose, but it’s jarring. Those early three were my formative decades, yet as of January 2, they will be more than half a lifetime ago.
Nevertheless, I’d like to think I’m still forming.
Every year on December 31, I pause to try my new age on for size and it’s become impossible, given what I’ve devoted most of these 54 years to contemplating, to not think in terms of what Mets line up with my fresh numerals. Of course when I turned 41, I declared it my Seaver year. I couldn’t not think of Armando Benitez (and a whole gang with whom he shared one thing in common) when I turned 49 or the combined forces of Sid Fernandez and Benny Agbayani as I reached 50. I tried real hard to think of anybody other than T#m Gl@vine at 47.
That’s good fun for December. Come February, when the Mets rematerialize as players on a field rather than figures on a roster, I’ve forgotten all about it. By Spring Training, my age is, like myself, old news. It’s like writing the right year on your checks, assuming you’re of an age when writing checks is something you continue to do. It’s a challenge for a week or two, then it eventually sinks in.
Still, 2017 will be my T.J. Rivera season unless he is disappeared from the Mets or requests and is granted a new number (in which case, the kid is excused from the rest of my rumination). He and I are slated to share a bond, as I have, whether I’ve thought about it or not, with other Mets at other ages in my Met-oriented life.
For the hell of it, I looked up who T.J. Rivera’s predecessors were, specifically who wore what number in the season that number was my age. I thank Ultimate Mets Database and Mets By The Numbers for refreshing my memory on some of these. I thank the Mets for keeping me so engaged as I continue to grow up, never mind grow old.
Blank, 1962: Everybody
I didn’t show up until nearly nine months after the inaugural season started. The Mets didn’t show up in the win column until after nine losses had been compiled. They wore no number on the fronts of their jerseys. I’ll take that to mean they were symbolically saving some space for me. Either way, neither they nor I did very much in 1962.
0, 1963: Unassigned
No Met wore 0 when my age was yet to be expressed in years — not should any Met ever wear 0 again — but for the record, Tim Harkness had 3 when I was 3 months old, at the start of my first season; Charlie Neal 4 when I grew into a grizzled 4-month-old; Norm Sherry 5 when I had 5 months in the books; Larry Burright 6 when I was at 6 months; Chico Fernandez 7 when I hit 7 months; and (the late) Chris Cannizzaro 8 when I reached 8 months. The season ended on September 29, just before I got to 9 months, or Jim Hickman territory. Like all of the 51-111 1963 Mets together, I was just learning to crawl.
1, 1964: Charley Smith
I was 1 year old when third baseman Charley Smith arrived in a trade from the White Sox, donned No. 1 for the Mets and smacked 20 home runs. No Met would hit that many again until Tommie Agee in 1969. I’m gonna guess I was good for 20 tantrums in 1964.
2, 1965: Chuck Hiller
Chuck Hiller was another midseason addition, coming over from the Giants in May. Made 14 errors while wearing No. 2 in 1965. I can’t imagine I didn’t drop my share of easy grounders as I began to get around on my own two feet at the age of 2.
3, 1966: Bud Harrelson
Buddy was settling into what was about to become his position for the next decade in September. At Candlestick Park, the 22-year-old shortstop turned No. 3 into a blur, tripling and stealing home in the ninth to set up a dramatic win. I’ve been told I could be quite melodramatic at the age of 3.
4, 1967: Ron Swoboda
Ron Swoboda, in his third season, hit .281, Ol’ No. 4’s highest average to date and, as it turned out, ever. At 4, I started nursery school. Higher education awaited.
5, 1968: Ed Charles
The Glider led the Mets in homers the year before the Miracle, with 15. When I was the same age as Ed Charles’s No. 5, I was tempted to run home from kindergarten. Seriously, it wasn’t my scene.
6, 1969: Al Weis
Al Weis, No. 6 on your scorecard, hit the home run that tied Game Five of the 1969 World Series and enabled 6-year-olds like me shortly thereafter to vicariously shout “WE’RE NO. 1!” like we had something to with it. At a tender age, I learned the essence of fandom, so thank you, Al.
7, 1970: Ed Kranepool
Ed Kranepool had been a Met since before I was born, had been wearing No. 7 since I was 2 and was on a baseball card I’d drawn a mustache and beard on when I was 4. The season I was 7, which was the first year I watched the Mets from beginning to end, he was sent down to Tidewater for a spell. I was pretty new to the whole rooting enterprise, yet I knew enough to be surprised that Ed Kranepool could be even temporarily extracted from the Mets. Imagine how Ed felt.
8, 1971: Yogi Berra
At the tender age of 8, I had little idea what a first base coach did, but I assumed No. 8 with the name I couldn’t believe was so close to a cartoon character seemed to do it well. Yogi Berra, Eddie Yost, Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano…immovable fixtures to my young mind.
9, 1972: Bill Sudakis
By the time I was 9, I was used to certain guys being in certain places. Bill Sudakis was a Dodger catcher, period. Then again, it was the same season Jim Fregosi of the Angels, Rusty Staub of the Expos and Willie Mays of the Giants suddenly became Mets, so why not Bill? As No. 9 for us, he batted .143 in 18 games. Not everybody is Willie Mays or Rusty Staub, though the Mets would prove plenty capable of finding more Jim Fregosis.
10, 1973: Duffy Dyer
Duffy Dyer was backing up Jerry Grote forever, give or take a Bill Sudakis. No. 10 for as long as I could remember (and I had a pretty long memory for a 10-year-old), yet in 1973, Duffy seemed like old news behind flashy newcomer Ron Hodges. It was the kind of year when Ron Hodges could seem flashy. But Duffy chipped in down the stretch, and No. 10 made it to his second World Series, at least the part where they introduce the bench guys.
11, 1974: Wayne Garrett
The season I was 11 started with me in fifth grade, ended with me in sixth grade and No. 11, Wayne Garrett, going in the opposite direction. The hero of September 1973 played almost every day in 1974, batted .224 and inspired the acquisition of Joe Torre to replace him. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed sixth grade a lot more than I did fifth.
12, 1975: Jack Heidemann
I remember, before I turned 12, being pretty excited that the Mets had traded for Jack Heidemann. He played 61 games as No. 12, failing to reach .300 in either on-base or slugging percentage. Not that I knew those stats at the time. I just knew that before I was done being 12, I had ceased being excited about Jack Heidemann.
13, 1976: Unassigned
I wore my 13-year-oldness with pride the January day I was bar mitzvahed, but no Met wore 13 the rest of that year. Except for Roger Craig trying to break a losing streak in 1963, 13 was avoided like it was a shonda. The 1976 Mets were lucky to win 86 games.
14, 1977: Retired for Gil Hodges
When I was 14, I had to come to grips that I was rooting for a team that traded Tom Seaver. Had No. 14 still been alive and managing the Mets, he would have coolly walked to the press level and quietly removed M. Donald Grant from Shea Stadium, because, as we learned when Cleon Jones didn’t hustle after a ball in the outfield, the manager didn’t accept anybody not doing his best to help the Mets win. We sorely missed the likes of Gil Hodges long before 1977, we cherish Gil Hodges always.
15, 1978: Butch Benton
Four games for the first Met to wear No. 15 following the departure of Jerry Grote. Catching prospect Butch Benton was hyped as a future Met star when I was 15. He was done playing for us by the time I was 17.
16, 1979: Lee Mazzilli
The Mets are the worst I’ve ever seen them when I’m 16, but No. 16, Lee Mazzilli, is a legitimate All-Star, batting .303 and rating his own giveaway poster day. He’s the best thing since Seaver, so I hang his picture in my bedroom, where I never took down my pictures of Seaver. The Mets (63-99) are still the worst, but looking at Mazz makes my adolescence a little easier on the baseball front.
17, 1980: Jerry Morales
The Magic was Back when I was 17, except for No. 17. Jerry Morales was relentlessly mundane in 1980. I can still see him chasing a Davey Concepcion fly ball into the right field corner. The ball came out. I’m not convinced Morales ever did.
18, 1981: Joel Youngblood
At the moment I’m becoming an 18-year-old high school graduate, No. 18, Joel Youngblood is sitting on a .359 average. Why would he be sitting amidst a fifth-place club? Well, for one thing, he was injured. For a second thing, there was a players strike dragging into its second week. Also, Ellis Valentine had been obtained to ultimately take his spot in right, so had there been a Mets game and had Youngblood been healthy, who knows whether Joe Torre would have found room for his .359 average. God, what a weird team and weird time. As college drew closer, the strike was settled, and Youngblood was named an All-Star. Baseball was back! Such excitement! Joel Youngblood’s gonna bat! He pinch-hit for Fernando Valenuzela, popped up to end the inning and did so while wearing a goddamned Atlanta Braves helmet. I waited all summer for that?
19, 1982: Ron Gardenhire
At 19, I felt I was beginning to learn a little about life as an adult, but I never learned why No. 19, Ron Gardenhire, played 141 games for the 1982 Mets despite demonstrating no particular acumen for hitting or fielding. Perhaps some things are meant to remain a mystery.
20, 1983: Rick Ownbey/Mike Fitzgerald
I wish I could have planted the seeds for my future as effectively when I was 20 as Frank Cashen did for the Mets’ future when he traded No. 20, Rick Ownbey, on June 15, 1983 for a first baseman from St. Louis. My contemporary age-number would be passed along to rookie Mike Fitzgerald in September, and Fitzgerald would wear it well immediately, homering in his first major league at-bat. It wouldn’t stop Cashen from trading Mike for a catcher from Montreal. Who knew 20 would turn into such a lucky number, let alone a championship three years removed from its dual occupation?
21, 1984: Ross Jones/Herm Winningham
At 21, I was old enough to drink, plus it was my first presidential vote (I had to have Hart). Wearing 21, Ross Jones elected to deliver exactly one base hit in April, but it drove in the winning run, and we all drank to that. Ross was gone by May. Come September, Herm Winningham would don his digits. Herm hit .407, which was great mostly because it made him attractive enough to be part of the same trade with Fitzgerald that landed the aforementioned Montreal catcher, Gary Carter, who lined up alongside that former St. Louis first baseman, Keith Hernandez. Good work, 21!
22, 1985: Ray Knight
I graduated from college at 22. I had not majored in patience, because I was sure No. 22, Ray Knight (.218/.252/.328), was never going to be worth a damn for the Mets. I was right, of course, at least until I was 23.
23, 1986: Bud Harrelson
When I was 23, I was urging Kevin Mitchell home on a wild pitch in the tenth inning of the sixth game of the World Series. So was Bud Harrelson, except Buddy was wearing No. 23 and coaching third base. We both had the right instincts.
24, 1987: Unassigned
24 was out of circulation the year I was 24, as it has been out of circulation most every year since Willie Mays left the Mets’ employ, but I was in circulation enough to meet my future wife. Say Hey, that worked out pretty well.
25, 1988: Keith Miller
Keith Miller, No. 25, is a largely forgotten supersub, but he was good for a spark to the lineup now and then. I, at age 25, needed a kick in the pants. I could still use one, actually.
26, 1989: Kevin Tapani/Frank Viola
Kevin Tapani would go on to a fine career. Frank Viola had already had a fine career. Each wore 26 for the New York Mets in 1989, the season I was 26 and just getting my career as a magazine editor off the ground. Neither pitcher was particularly distinguished as No. 26 for the Mets directly before or after they were traded for each other. Me, I was still figuring out how to properly use the computers at work.
27, 1990: Tom O’Malley
On June 5, the heretofore utterly dispensable No. 27, Tom O’Malley, hit a walkoff home run that went a long way toward turning the 1990 season around and confirming for me, at 27, that I was never going to grow out of taking this Mets thing seriously.
28, 1991: Tommy Herr
The season I was 28 was the last season during which I was technically single. I got married after the season was over in 1991, by which time Tommy Herr, No. 28, was an ex-Met, released in August after producing 35 singles from April onward. Also, he never stopped being a fucking Cardinal as far as I was concerned.
29, 1992: Dave Magadan
In 1992, at 29, I bought my first new car. In 1992, at 29, Dave Magadan reclaimed his old number, 29. Viola wore it in 1990 and 1991, then left. Magadan never played for the Mets again after getting injured in August. I’m still driving that same car.
30, 1993: Mel Stottlemyre
Mel Stottlemyre, No. 30, tutored some great Met staffs, starting in 1984. In 1993, the Met staff wasn’t so great, so it became his last year as Met pitching coach. I was your garden-variety disgusted Mets fan the season I was 30 years old, but I can honestly say it never occurred to me any of what was going wrong (59-103 and a new embarrassment every week) was Mel’s fault. Here’s to the now 75-year-old Stottlemyre continuing his reported recovery.
31, 1994: John Franco
Before another strike cut the legs out from another season, John Franco was enjoying as good a run as he ever would as No. 31 for the New York Mets. John had 30 saves through August 11, but there’d be no more leads for anybody to protect while making you nervous. At 31, I was enjoying the mini-renaissance of 1994 following the epic disaster of 1993, but withstood the strike far better than I had in 1981. Practice at deprivation must help.
32, 1995: Unassigned
Pete Smith was gone. Paul Wilson wasn’t yet here. At 32 in 1995, my lonely eyes cried out for Jon Matlack, but would have settled for another No. 32 of yore, Tom Hausman.
33, 1996: Andy Tomberlin
No. 33, Andy Tomberlin, wasn’t too bad (OPS+ 117) as reserve outfielders on subpar teams went. The 1996 Mets (71-91), however were determinedly subpar. At the age of 33, I was OK, I guess, but I would have been better had anybody else been world champions that season.
34, 1997: Bob Apodaca
Bob Apodaca slipped on the same No. 34 he sported as a reliever in the mid-’70s and guided the pitchers won 88 games, or more than any Mets team had won since 1990. It was a full-blown Flushing revival, and one that makes me look back on the year I was 34 as one of the happiest of my adult life. Was anything else particularly great going on around me? Let’s say nothing terrible got in the way of my love for the 1997 Mets.
35. 1998: Rick Reed
Rick Reed — 16-11, 212.1 IP, 29 BB — was an All-Star in No. 35 when I was age 35. Meanwhile, Franco traded in 31 for 45 because another 31 wandered onto the premises. A pretty good numbers year all around, save for the lack of 1 more win at the end of the season. I’d look back with more fondness on 1998 had the Mets not gone 0-5 in their last five games and blown the Wild Card…but it’s not like I was letting a baseball team dictate my mood.
36, 1999: Greg McMichael
No Met season held me in its grip tighter than 1999, yet for all of my deep and textured memories from the year I was 36, my recall of the performance of No. 36, Greg McMichael, is dim. I do remember his inclusion in the trade that brought Billy Taylor to town, and that batters went to town on Billy Taylor. I more vividly remember my tattered emotional state following the final game of the NLCS and it striking me that at age 36, maybe it’s odd that I find myself in a veritable fetal position on the living room carpet momentarily unable to cope with the realization that the team I love more than just about anything else has been eliminated and the impending World Series is about to include the two teams I hate most in all of creation. Then I shooed that thought away and returned to reverting to my base self.
37, 2000: Retired for Casey Stengel
The number that matched my age of 37 had been enshrined on Casey Stengel’s behalf for 35 years when the Mets returned to their first World Series since 1986. Bobby Valentine expertly juggled several players who were not championship-caliber to push the Mets to a pennant. Casey Stengel, in his prime, might have found a way to push them four games further. He would have pinch-run for Timo Perez, I bet. If ya wanna take yer time, buy a wristwatch. If ya wanna be a ballplayer, get yer kaboose in gear. The train to Virginny leaves at the crack of dawn and sunset come fast if yer gonna move slow.
38, 2001: Jerrod Riggan
At 38, I was reminded (as we all were in 2001, whatever our ages) that baseball can’t transcend everything. But Jesus, that game two days after Piazza hit the home run. Armando gives up the home run to Brian Jordan in the ninth, then another run that allows the Braves to tie. It’s two innings after that that Jerrod Riggan, No. 38 and preternaturally obscure even as he’s pitching right in front of you, gives up another fly ball to Jordan that isn’t coming back, and when the Mets can’t do anything against Smoltz in the bottom of the eleventh, I’m so incredibly pissed off that the Mets have lost, even though it’s September 23, 2001, and all that date implies by its proximity to the date a scant dozen days prior. The voice in my head telling me that some things are far, far, far worse than the Mets losing ground in a last-ditch playoff chase is muffled by my cursing out Braves 5 Mets 4 and thinking about baseball and only baseball for a few minutes, which is the first time I’ve done that since, oh, September 10. Life went on, which I suppose was the silver lining.
39, 2002: Steve Reed
Steve Reed was acquired for the stretch drive in 2002. He put on No. 39 and pitched well, but the stretch drive was more like a stretch dive, as the Mets splashed down in last place for the first time since 1993. At age 39, I was in the stretch drive of my time with the magazine I’d been at since I was 26. Really, it was more like playing out the string at the very end. Reed moved on to the Rockies. I found another magazine where I could ply my trade by December.
40, 2003: Jae Seo
Jae Seo, No. 40, was one of the few bright spots for the otherwise doomed 2003 Mets. At 40, and getting my new magazine off the ground, I wasn’t writing about baseball in any capacity except in e-mails, but I was fond of framing the scope of Mets history as spanning “Jay Hook to Jae Seo”. I still like that line. And, boy, did I need to discover blogging.
41, 2004: Retired for Tom Seaver
I was 41 and found myself laid off as we were on the verge of buying a home for the first time. Not Terrific.
42, 2005: Retired for Jackie Robinson
When I was 42, and starting a baseball blog with my friend in 2005, putting the number 42 on every ballpark wall was tribute enough to the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Everybody wearing 42 all at once one day a year came later. So did a Rotunda. It’s all good, I guess.
43, 2006: Bartolome Fortunato/Royce Ring
Because Faith and Fear was up and running in what became one of the great regular seasons in Mets history, I can go back in the archives and confirm that after my age 43 season was over, I considered the two wearers of No. 43 remarkably insignificant contributors to the 97-65 division-winning campaign. I ranked Fortunato (3 IP, 27.00 ERA) the 49th-best Met of 2006, fully aware that exactly 49 Mets suited up and played that year. Ring (10.2 IP, 5.06 ERA) checked in as 39th-best. I have to admit, I have no recollection of what boosted Royce’s stock that high.
44, 2007: Lastings Milledge
At 44, I was waiting for No. 44, Lastings Milledge, to truly bust out. I’m 54 now and am still waiting. (Lastings could say the same of me and I wouldn’t strenuously argue with his critique.)
45, 2008: Pedro Martinez
When you stick around long enough, you can step back and be amazed at how fleeting so much is. Pedro Martinez joining the New York Mets was an enormous deal when it happened. He put on No. 45 for us and it was news every time he showed his face let alone used his right arm. By 2008, when I was 45, he was pretty close to being just another starter behind Johan Santana. It hadn’t helped that he’d been injured and (like all of us) was aging, but mostly his being a Met just wasn’t news anymore. Save for a rather poignant exit from the mound in what turned out to be his final Met and Shea Stadium start, his last season in our laundry was the textbook example of whimper. These days, Pedro Martinez, New York Met, is a footnote. He was a real had-to-be-there phenomenon in his day. I’m very glad I was there.
46, 2009: Oliver Perez
At 46, I really resented having to transfer my fandom from Shea to Citi Field. I couldn’t believe how little of their story the Mets chose to tell in their new ballpark, how few artifacts from their old home they kept and displayed. Yet they managed to find space for No. 46, Oliver Perez. Yeesh.
47, 2010: Hisanori Takahashi
I’m a fan of small success stories that are destined to be forgotten. When I was 47, the Mets at their best were little more than the sum of a handful of small success stories. Hisanori Takahashi, No. 47 for that season and that season alone, epitomized the concept. He came over from Japan without a set role and filled several admirably, picking up five wins as a starter, five as a reliever and saving eight games as a temporary closer. After the 2010 season ended, the Mets released Hisanori, he signed with the Angels and we all pretty much forgot he ever existed. Maybe we have only so much capacity for so many players.
48, 2011: Pat Misch
When Pat Misch joined the Mets in 2009, I scoffed, mainly because I had never heard of Pat Misch. By the time Misch, No. 48, was finishing his three partial seasons as a Met in 2011, I, at 48, had come to modestly appreciate his having hung in there as long as he did. It’s not that he wholly confounded my lack of expectations or led the Mets anywhere except through another acre of necessary innings. I think it occurred to me that dismissing somebody in advance because Who the hell is Pat Misch? isn’t fair to a perfectly honorable professional. I seemed to be maturing late in my fifth decade. Then again, his 10.29 ERA in six appearances in 2011 may not serve as the ideal Exhibit A — or R.A. — against judging a retread pitcher too quickly or harshly.
49, 2012: Jon Niese
Jon Niese, No. 49 for a surprisingly long time, had his best season in 2012, when I was 49, and he was still kind of a drag. To be fair, the season was a drag and the era was a drag, so if Niese helped define those desultory days, whaddaya want from the guy? He fit Niesely into his surroundings and circumstances. Shortly before my 54th birthday, I found myself watching an SNY rebroadcast of Santana’s no-hitter, which was wonderful, natch, but also a little offputting in that wow, what a bunch of crummy players the Mets had in 2012. We rightly applauded Johan’s bona fides as he ascended to the stratosphere of Met pitching that June 1 night, but the guys who supported him: Omar Quintanilla, Andres Torres, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter (golden catch notwithstanding), Josh Thole (granted, the only Met catcher to ever handle a no-hitter)…looking at them now, they read like a Triple-A roster. The picture didn’t get much better when the rest of the team mobbed Santana when it was done. This was the season R.A. Dickey won 20 games and David Wright was healthy and all-around wonderful, yet the team as a whole was still dispiriting to consider. No wonder they went 74-88. No wonder I was Met-grumpy as my forties wound down. No wonder Niese was Niese.
50, 2013: Scott Atchison
I was 50, but Scott Atchison, who wore 50, looked 50, or what I imagined 50 was supposed to look like. He was 37. He may have been the oldest-looking man in a Mets uniform since the Ol’ Perfesser inhabited No. 37. This is all ageist talk from someone on the less sunny side of the half-century mark, but seriously, Atchison appeared to have been around longer than three Julio Francos. Like most transient Mets of the early Alderson-Collins period, he was destined to not be around us for very long.
51, 2014: Dave Hudgens
The Mets weren’t hitting when I was 51, so they fired No. 51, Dave Hudgens, their hitting coach. They replaced him with Lamar Johnson. They didn’t hit all that much with him on board, either. Kevin Long came next. He’s either a genius or there are better hitters for him to coach. I have to confess, I haven’t advanced in my understanding of what exactly coaches do since I was 8 and Yogi Berra was issuing reassuring pats on the ass to Mets who occasionally reached first.
52, 2015: Carlos Torres/Yoenis Cespedes
My age 52 season began with Carlos Torres as No. 52 and ended with Yoenis Cespedes as No. 52, and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about 2015, I can recommend a book that will giddily fill you in. Due respect to Mazzilli when I was 16 and Reed when I was 35, I don’t think anybody ever synced better for me than Cespedes when I was 52. (And I always had a soft spot for Carlos, Tsuris notwithstanding.)
53, 2016: Unassigned
Honestly, I hadn’t noticed nobody wore 53 the season I was 53. To paraphrase from the movie I’ve probably cited more often than any other in this space, “I mean, seriously, how often do you really look for a No. 53?”
ADDENDUM: Off in the shadows of the official roster, a vigilant reader notes, Dave Racaniello, longtime bullpen catcher, wore 53 in 2016. You don’t have great pitching without someone preparing the pitchers, and goodness knows preparation is to be appreciated at any age. Thank you, Dave, for all you do to make our Mets better.
54 T.J. Rivera 2017 (Projected)
The season I’ll be 54, fortunes to be determined. Not knowing what will happen next is one of those conditions of aging you get used to.
Happy recent Koosmanic birthday to my friend Kevin, himself entering his Sean Gilmartin season. Our December exchanges over the years helped inspire this trip down numeracy lane. And Happy New Year to all our readers, no matter where on the roster your birth certificate lands you in the twelve months ahead.
If there was one candidate for higher office everybody could get behind in 2016, it was Oscar Madison. Our favorite fictional sportswriter was running for New York City Council, which you might have missed amid other political news, but in reruns, the best campaigns always pick up right where they left off. In “The Odd Candidate,” which first aired on October 20, 1974, on ABC, it wasn’t Oscar’s idea to seek the seat — Felix got him involved on behalf of saving neighborhood playgrounds — but once Oscar committed to the race, he literally used his head to win votes. He and his volunteers fanned out all over the 34th District and showed residents they were devoted to New York’s best interests in the most accessible way possible.
By wearing Mets caps on the stump.
As we Mets fans understand intrinsically, the Mets cap doesn’t always signify a winner (Oscar lost to longtime incumbent Councilman Simpson) but we know when we see one that there’s a lot of heart in the head that hosts it. At the end of every year, we salute the character who wore the Mets cap with the most verve and panache of anybody in the history of popular culture, Oscar Madison, portrayed for five seasons on The Odd Couple by Jack Klugman, and hand out the Oscar’s Cap Awards. They, in turn, recognize the breadth and depth of the Mets’ presence in pop culture over the preceding twelve months.
What “Aristophanes” is to “ridiculous” is what the Oscar’s Cap is to the sighting of Mets apparel, memorabilia, personnel or awareness in film, television, theater, literature, song…really anywhere outside the world of sports and sports-related news where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to encounter Met-specific content. If it pricked our consciousness in 2016 — either as new or new to us (’cause we’re always discovering great old finds) — it rates a mention here. And that, sports fans, is essentially the Oscar’s Cap.
Whereas the original Odd Couple series smoothly and subtly worked the Mets into its fabric from 1970 to 1975, the rebooted version currently airing on CBS makes a bigger show of its Met associations, but since when do we mind attention? In the episode titled “Madison & Son,” which ran on April 28, Oscar (Matthew Perry as a sports talk host in this incarnation) gets to realize a lifelong dream and throw out the first pitch prior to a game at Citi Field. His catcher for the occasion will be his buddy Marcus Murphy — “Murph,” they call him — a former Met who has six All-Star appearances and eight Gold Gloves to his credit. Oscar clearly had dad issues, because he tries overly hard to impress his father, Walter, played by the creator of the original incarnation of the series, Garry Marshall. Instead of hitting Murph’s mitt, Oscar hits Mr. Met in the head. Well, as these things will go, Oscar becomes a citywide object of ridicule and he has to return to the Mets clubhouse and apologize to Mr. Met, who is wearing a bandage on his head. Mr. Met plays himself.
Other notes from this most Met-intensive episode of anything from 2016:
• Oscar wears No. 4, Murph No. 11 — authentic Mets jerseys.
• Walter wears a very old Mets cap.
• In Oscar’s living room, he and Walter watch Matt Harvey pitchers versus the Marlins. Harvey’s “really throwing smoke,” in Oscar’s estimation. Walter tells him he thinks he saw Harvey once at a Denny’s, maybe a Red Lobster.
• Howie Rose can be heard providing play-by-play.
On November 7, in “Taffy Days,” The Odd Couple tacitly acknowledged Marshall’s real-life passing by having the character of Walter die and Oscar attempt to scatter his ashes. The son’s parting words: “I hope that wherever you are, the New York Mets are on and it’s always the ’86 World Series.”
As if all this isn’t heart-tugging enough, a second CBS sitcom determinedly colored itself orange and blue in 2016. Kevin Can Wait, starring celebrity Mets fan Kevin James, draped itself in Metsiana to a greater extent that Citi Field did when it opened in 2009. A fleece blanket with the Mets skyline logo was visible in a summertime promotional spot. In the pilot, which aired September 19, retired cop Kevin Gable (James) wears a Mets hoodie while sitting on an exercise bike he’s not pedaling too strenuously. “GO TO METS GAMES” is on a PowerPoint presentation of potential group outings he shows his similarly retired cop friends, which should be easy enough since the series is set in Massapequa. James chose to shoot the series on Long Island in part because he wanted to stay close to home and take his real-life children to more Mets games. In later episodes, Kevin’s TV wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) wears a Mets shirt to bed and Kevin sports The 7 Line’s New York State tee.
But why stop with Met garments when you can have an actual Met? James used his pull to lure Noah Syndergaard onto the October 31 episode, “Hallow-We-Ain’t Home,” in which Thor guest stars as the Viking, an otherwise unnamed character who plays his music loud at a Halloween get-together, but is otherwise soft-spoken and cooperative (his girlfriend wanted the music loud; when he explained he turned it down in deference to a complaint, she complains that he’s so boring).
Syndergaard got around in 2016, In a baseball-themed episode of Cartoon Network’s Uncle Grandpa, which debuted October 22, Noah voices himself and is drawn in a Mets uniform. He is introduced (alongside several other All-Stars) as “the powerhouse pitcher that his fans call Thor.” Noah emerges from the cartoon’s version of the cornfield and says to the title character, “I’m guessing you want me to sign that for you,” pointing to an oversized Thor’s hammer. “Yes, please,” the coach says, and Thor does. Later, Thor explains baseball: “It’s just hitting the ball with a stick. How hard could it be?
While Thor was being animated, Harvey was being Harvey on Bravo’s Look Who’s Talking: Live with Andy Cohen, guesting alongside Connie Chung on January 28. There was one baseball question (pertaining to staying in for the ninth inning of Game Five; Harvey claimed he had no idea what inning it was until he went back out to the mound) and the rest involved whether Harvey’s been in a three-way (he has), whether he’s had shall we say relations on a ballfield (he has, in college), whether he’s in the mile high club (he’s not) and which Met brings the most sizable Louisville Slugger to bear, if you will (he invoked the Fifth Amendment). At the end of the show, Cohen promised a call-in to the aftershow from “the catcher with the best ass in baseball,” Anthony Recker. On February 3, Harvey continued his run of unlikely appearances when he showed up on Late Night With Seth Meyers, ostensibly promoting his role as a “men’s ambassador” during New York Fashion Week.
The talk/variety show circuit has always had a place for the Mets. If you got the Decades channel in 2016, you were reminded that in the introduction to the trailer for 1986’s Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee, as himself, wears a Mets cap, selling tube socks on the street. This was shown on The Dick Cavett Show, where Spike entered in a white NEW YORK baseball jersey (block letters blue with orange outline). As rerun on Decades thirty years after the fact, Spike and Dick discussed how great the recently completed 1986 World Series was. Spike said he was at Game Six. “Here we are in December, and you’re still celebrating the Mets,” Cavett said. “Believe it or not, after all this time, we still have a few Mets fans in the audience,” Cavett winked as he opened the show, which aired on ABC late in the fall of 1986 but was taped not long after the World Series for later broadcast — and after he had some genuine Met guests. Nothing new for Cavett. In the previous iteration of his late night show, on April 14, 1970, Dick Cavett welcomed defending world champs Jerry Koosman, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, Ed Kranepool and Ron Taylor.
Indeed, the Mets had come a long way since October 1, 1964, when, on that evening’s episode of The Jimmy Dean Show, Rowlf the Dog (Jimmy’s puppet sidekick) held up signs that said “Drop Dead Mets” and “Lets Go Mets”. The tenth-place Mets were about to put a scare into the pennant-contending Cardinals on that season’s final weekend, so one supposes Rowlf couldn’t be too careful. The early misfortunes of the Mets no doubt informed the thinking of composer Skip Battin in his 1972 musical lament, “St. Louis Browns,” when he wrote and sang, “The St. Louis Browns were a baseball team/and they lost more than the Mets could ever dream.”
Ah, but when the Mets were good, they remained legendary. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, there is an exchange between two time-disconnected characters, Eddie Dean (from New York, 1987) and John Cullum (Boston, 1977). Cullum wants to know, “Have the Red Sox won it all yet? Have they ever won the Series? At least up to your time?” Dean talks him out of wanting to know before cheerfully telling him, “You don’t want to die before 1986. That’s gonna be a corker.”
On the first episode of HBO’s 2016 animated series Animals (“Rats”), two “PDNY” horses are discussing parades they can march in and doubt there’ll ever be a “Mets parade…they’re terrible this year,” though one says his father’s father “was in the ’86 Mets parade” and adds an aside about Doc Gooden, “blow” and horse tranquilizers. Similarly, on February 2’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (“Karen Peralta”), Jake Peralta is told his “birthday surprise” has arrived: “You got the ’86 Mets? Be warned, a lot of them turned out to be drug addicts, so this could be a bummer.” (A few episodes earlier, on December 14, 2015’s “Yippie Kayak,” Rosa says to Amy “You’re always cold. You brought a blanket to a Mets game in mid-July.”) Remembering a more innocent championship season was Coach Ken Reeves on The White Shadow, December 23, 1980, in “A Christmas Story”: Ken Howard’s lead character chooses a 1969-vintage wine because, as the nun (Penny Peyser as Coach Bellini) he’s drinking it with notes, “The Mets won the Series.” Ken confirms that he indeed chooses wine vintages based on a given year’s World Series.
Ken Howard, like Garry Marshall, passed on in 2016. Along the way, we picked up on a couple of other Met pop culture contributions left behind by another star who departed the constellation this year. You can’t beat this lyric from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Skypager” (1991): “I keep my bases loaded like the New York Mets.” The Tribe’s late Phife Dawg wore a Mets jacket and Mr. Met cap on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on November 13, 2015.
In Everything Is Copy, the 2016 HBO documentary, Nora Ephron is seen wearing a Mets cap while she’s directing the 1992 film This Is My Life, which may explain this exchange from her script for When Harry Met Sally (1989):
HARRY (Billy Crystal): Did Julian seem a little stuffy to you?
JESS (Bruno Kirby): He’s a good guy, you should talk to him, get to know him.
HARRY: He’s too tall to talk to.
JESS: He took us all to a Met game last week, it was great.
HARRY: You all went to a Met game together?
JESS: Yeah, but…it was a…last-minute thing.
HARRY: But Sally hates baseball.
A different kind of romantic comedy vibe emanates from “The Panic in Central Park,” the March 27 episode of Girls (“The Panic in Central Park”), in which Marnie encounters this complaint from another young lady: “Why is everybody such a fucking disappointment?” She asks, “Guy problems?” and is told, “Yeah — if you call a hot dyke with a strap-on and a Mets cap a guy.”
New Yorkers should be familiar with the fashion happening that is the Met Gala, an event, that Stephen Colbert explained on the May 3 edition of The Late Show, “is all for charity, and I hope they raise enough money so Mr. Met can finally get the cranial surgery he so desperately needs.” In the realm of fashion, let’s award style points to O.T. Genasis for wearing (or “rocking,” as some prefer to say) a custom leather Bartolo Colon jersey during his performance at the 2016 BET Awards; the members of Major Lazer for performing at the 2016 Global Citizen Festival at NYC Central Park while dressed in pinstriped Mets jerseys; and one of Bruno Mars’s backup singers, who modeled a black Mets jersey with HUNDLEY 9 in white letters on the back on October 15’s Saturday Night Live.
Two other SNL sightings to log: on April 9, in advance of the New York primary, Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton flipped around a Yankees cap to reveal a Mets cap, thus proving her longstanding allegiance to “the New York Meats”; and Michael Che wore a Mets cap during the goodbyes at the end of Saturday Night Live, October 8. That was the installment hosted by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which provides the segue to note one of the managers of the Hamilton softball team wore a Mets shirt as the cast, led by Miranda, gathered outside the Richard Rodgers Theater on June 1 to sing “Heart” from Damn Yankees.
As long as we’re up on stage, let’s record that in March 2015, Jon Weber, our esteemed blolleague over at The Ballclub, directed a play titled Great Kills, at Theater for the New City. As Jon describes it, the production “opens with a solo character, Mr. G (played by Joe Pantoliano), watching a fictitious Mets-Reds game on TV. Yours truly played the part of Gary Cohen’s voice, as Jacob deGrom pitched to Joey Votto in the third inning. Ultimately, the sound is turned off and the game becomes part of the background. Later, Mr. G requests to be left alone so that he can go back to watching the game. The play closed with the TV being turned back on and we learn that Bobby Parnell ended up blowing a three-run lead and the Mets wind up losing, 6-5.”
All the world’s a stage, and regarding the one we care about most, Citi Field, we became aware in 2016 that the May 21, 2009, episode of Ugly Betty (“Curveball”) was filmed in part at the then-new ballpark. It was the first television show to shoot there. Game footage of the Mets and Nationals is interspersed. A first ball is thrown out and relationships are pondered. The CitiVision board is used to great effect as the title character considers the two guys she likes and imagines their faces appearing on the Jumbotron, each getting a “ding!” for every nice thing she thinks of them. The magazine at the series’ center, Mode, is promoting its wedding issue at the game, which explains what the characters are doing there. Much of the show’s action takes place in the Delta Sky360 seats. Also, in case you missed it, Law & Order: Criminal Intent shot footage in 2012 at Citi Field in Caesars Club, Acela Club and the board room of the administrative building.
While the Mets were away winning at good old Turner Field on June 25, Dead & Company played Citi Field, and when it came time to play “Ripple” for an encore, John Mayer came to play in a No. 77 Mets jersey.
Elsewhere on the Met pop culture spectrum…
Randy Rice wore a The 7 Line neon Shea catcher cap on the January 29, episode of The Smartest Guy in the Room on the History Channel.
In the 2015 novel Third Base…A Love Story by Kenny Arena, fictional Mets third baseman Danny Reynolds is a gay ballplayer who falls in love with Jake, who is based loosely on the author (a real-life Mets fan who grew up in Jackson Heights).
“…that shit-brown Camaro you won betting on the Mets,” is something Skip says to a record store guy on HBO’s Vinyl, March 6.
On The Middle (“Crushed,” April 6), perennial misfit Brick wears a slightly too large hybrid blue and orange Mets cap to prove his commitment to becoming a “professional baseball man,” which is really about trying to get his parents to loan $700 they don’t have to his girlfriend Cindy’s parents so they don’t have to move.
In 2016’s Season 2 Episode 2 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix (“Kimmy Goes On A Playdate!”), Titus Andromedon is hit on by construction worker Mikey: “I like you. You remind me of Carlos Delgado of the Mets.” In Season 2, Episode 12 (“Kimmy Sees a Sunset!”), Mikey wears a The 7 Line “Eat, Sleep, Mets, Repeat” t-shirt.
Mets fan John Oliver wears a Mets cap riding alongside Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld in a 2016 installment of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.
In the 2016 play, Another Way Home, Philip, the dad character, wore a Mets cap in its Washington, D.C., production.
On March 8, 1996, Jason Isringhausen appeared live via satellite from Port St. Lucie on The Late Show With David Letterman, throwing baseballs at an archery target. Dave kibbitzed aggressively, Izzy appeared a little baffled.
A Dwight Gooden jersey is visible on the cover of the 1989 Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique.
In HBO’s The Night Of (2016), Stone (John Turturro) has a son named after Dwight Gooden.
In the 2016 CBS series Angel From Hell, Kevin Pollak as Marv Fuller tells a love interest that if she loved the Mets, he’d marry her right now.
Yogi Berra, portrayed as a Met, is one of the many characters portrayed by illustrator Jack Davis — another 2016 loss — on the cover of the 1979 Mad Magazine paperback It’s a World, World, World, World Mad.
In the 1966 film Penelope, banker’s wife Penelope Elcott, played by Natalie Wood, asks police lieutenant Horatio Bixbee, played by Peter Falk, “Who’s Ron Swoboda?” upon finding him in a pack of baseball cards (that Falk is carrying only for the bubble gum) and “Do I get to I keep Ron Swoboda?” as they part ways.
Kristy McNichol as Molly (or “Pete,” as she prefers to be called) wears a Little League-style shirt — yellow letters on red background — that says METS, Starsky & Hutch, “Little Girl Lost,” a Christmas-themed ep first aired on December 25, 1976. Southern California seemed to breed this sort of off-brand Mets identity in the Bicentennial year, for one of the teams in the North Valley League in The Bad News Bears (1976) is known as the Mets.
In bringing up the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Lily Mays, The West Wing Weekly co-host Joshua Malina likens her name to Willie Mays and briefly mentions his Mets fandom on the podcast as he and Hrishikesh Hirway discuss the Season One West Wing episode, “The White House Pro-Am” (recorded in 2016).
In Season 2 of USA Network’s Mr. Robot (2016), taking place in the early summer of 2015, a character is reading a newspaper and says, “Mets won again…this could be their year!”
In the Amazon series Crisis in Six Scenes (2016), Episode Four, Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus) complains to Sidney Munsinger (Woody Allen) that he had the TV on until 2 AM. He tells her that game went into extra innings and he wanted to see “if the Mets would beat the Dodgers.”
Characters dress up in Mets jerseys and caps at a Halloween party on Fox’s Scream Queens, 2016 (the show’s second season).
Looking ahead, a trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017 release) includes a PIAZZA 31 HALL OF FAME pennant in Peter Parker’s apartment. Next year will also see the premiere of Going In Style, which, as reported in this space a year ago, is slated to feature Morgan Freeman in a Mets cap.
Thanks to all who tipped us off, knowingly or otherwise, in the course of the last year to stuff we weren’t aware of. We keep an eye peeled for Mets pop culture appearances, whether they’re fresh or well-preserved, but we don’t necessarily see or hear everything. If you want to tell us about any Met sightings you think we might not already know about, feel free to mention them in the comments or drop us a line. (And for more on Met-infused lyrics, particularly in hip-hop, check out this comprehensive Amazin’ Avenue survey.)
Maybe Terry Collins should have motivated the Mets more directly once they got to the postseason. Maybe he should have taken a page from Walt Michaels, the Jets head coach who, in the midst of the 1982 NFL playoffs, grabbed his players attention by focusing it squarely on the bottom line.
“I remember Walt Michaels walking in — I forget the difference in dollar amount, if you won the game or lost the game — but I think the first game if we won, you got $5,000 per player,” Marty Lyons told Greg Prato in Sack Exchange: The Definitive Oral History of the 1980s New York Jets. “I remember Walt walking in there with a stack of one-hundred dollar bills at the team meeting, and saying, ‘Hey do you guys want this? Then win.’ And the next week, he did the same thing […] It was a materialistic thing that you could look down and go, ‘Wow, man, that’s a stack of a-hundred-dollar bills. If we win, we each get a stack.’”
The Jets beat the Bengals, then the Raiders, road wins earned when Michaels showed them the money. The coach literally brought a briefcase of bills into the locker room. His players responded. It was genius, at least until Don Shula directed the Orange Bowl grounds crew to keep the tarp off the field in a monsoon. There, into the Miami mud, went the Jets’ opportunity to make the Super Bowl for the first time in fourteen years, not to mention the $36,000 each man could’ve stuffed into his own briefcase had they won what non-rights holders are legally obligated to refer to as The Big Game.
Fast-forward to the 2016 Mets. Different sport, different times, different values, but you’d figure the chance to survive, advance and cash in might still carry sway among professional athletes. A little “walking around money” never dampened anybody’s enthusiasm (unless that was its intention). So maybe if Collins, before first pitch on October 5, had gathered his troops and opened a couple of valises of legal tender and told them how they could be enhancing their personal situations by sticking it to Madison Bumgarner, then perhaps the lefty wouldn’t have proven so unhittable to them.
Ah, probably not. Major League Baseball players, on average, pull in more than $4 million a year. That’s a lot of hundred-dollar bills and a lot of luggage to begin with. Postseason bonuses probably don’t hold the same sway they did in 1951, when, after Ralph Branca gave up a home run of some renown to Bobby Thomson, Carl Erskine remarked to Clem Labine, “That’s the first time I’ve seen a big fat wallet go flying into the seats.” Erskine knew that just for showing up in the World Series, the Dodgers would have gotten paid. Instead, the Giants picked their pockets.
The Mets showed up for just one game in the 2016 postseason, and they got a little somethin’ somethin’ for their trouble. That’s how it works these days. Even the Wild Card teams that get left behind are entitled to a taste. Fifty percent of the gate receipts from the two Wild Card games goes toward filling the overall postseason qualifiers’ players’ pool, so why shouldn’t have the Mets gotten their beaks modestly damp?
Among them, our boys got to divide $1,149,417.41. One would like to think the 41 Seaveriffic cents was Met-specific, but the Orioles got the same amount for making/losing the A.L. Wild Card game. The total was not only less than the Mets received for winning the pennant in 2015 ($16,771,715.82), but their individual full shares of $17,951.65 amounted to $386.53 less than the $18,338.18 each world champion Met received in 1969. It’s nice to know some numbers still hold up in baseball.
The Mets already did their voting and sharing and so forth, issuing those 51 full shares, 12.75 partial shares and five cash awards. They don’t tell us who exactly got what (they include coaches, trainers, batboys and various characters in their calculations). As we discussed in this space a year ago, there is a long and rich — sometimes not so rich — tradition to this business. When the Mets finished tied for third in the National League East in 1975 (back when a “first division” finish earned you points), The Sporting News was kind enough to let its readers know Jerry Moses, the catcher who spent time on the roster but never in a game, was awarded $27.34 by his sort-of teammates.
They didn’t ask me then to help distribute the funds, and they haven’t asked me lately, but as in 2015, I’m not going to let that stop me. Here, for the players’ theoretical chump-change pleasure and our vicarious thrills, are the second annual — and ain’t it great that we get to do it two years in a row? — Faith and Fear Mets Postseason Shares Like They Oughta Be. We have 46 members of the 2016 Mets to take care and $1,149,417.41 with which to do it. We’d love to be more generous, but we’d also have loved it if the Mets had won the World Series and collected the $27,586,017.75 the Cubs pulled in.
In the midst of the Christmas and Chanukah seasons, as in early October, it serves as a good reminder that we can’t have everything we want, but a little is better than nothing.
The Biggest Share: The Most Valuable Met gets the most valuable slice. Let’s give Asdrubal Cabrera a cool $80,000.
The Biggest Bat: You don’t get anywhere without Yo. Yoenis Cespedes can use his share to purchase polish for the wheels on one or two of his flashy automobiles. $65,000.
The Captain: In our imagination, he’s too humble to accept a dime after missing the final four months of the season, but we’ll pull rank on David Wright’s behalf and let him now his position still means something to us. $60,000.
The All-Stars: In addition to Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon each earned trips to San Diego. Unlike Cespedes, they actually went (none pitched; thanks again, Terry). $50,000 each.
The Team Player: Curtis Granderson remained active every day of 2016, the only ostensible regular who could say that. Played in 150 games. Switched positions as needed. A team man and then some. $45,000.
The Mainstays: Alejandro De Aza, Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins remained on the active roster every day of 2016. They were the only Mets besides Thor, Bart, Jeurys and Grandy to do so. They are recognized for their durablity. $42,500 each.
The Almost Mainstays: Hansel Robles missed only the first two games of 2016, serving a dopey leftover suspension from 2015. Jacob deGrom left only for family reasons in April and was gracious enough to stick around in September even though he was unable to pitch. $42,000 each.
The Tough Break: Wilmer Flores, Neil Walker and Steven Matz were coming back any day. Really they were. The stretch drive ensued without them, but they pushed the Mets toward the edge of success. $40,000 each.
The Rescue Squad: Who had René Rivera, James Loney, Jose Reyes, Kelly Johnson, T.J. Rivera, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the Ultimately Indispensable Pool on Opening Night? $35,000 each.
The Remembered Guys: Not to be forgotten are those whose contributions were curtailed after being vital elements of a contender early. Here’s to Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares and Michael Conforto. $30,000 each.
The Big Hang With ’Ems: Better days ahead, we hope, for Matt Harvey, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, three whose careers took a step back in 2016. $25,000 each.
The Power Ball Bonus: Let’s say two-hundred per Met homer for Jay Bruce. $1,600.
The Latecomer: Fernando Salas showed up just in time to be sort of important to the cause. $1,200.
The Grand Illusion. A grand for the illusion that was Justin Ruggiano in a Mets uniform. Was he really here? Did he really hit a grand slam off Bumgarner? Damn, that might have come in handy in October. $1,000.
The Welcome…Aboard: Matt Reynolds, Ty Kelly, Brandon Nimmo and Josh Smoker all made promising debuts. We promise they’ll get more if they come back and do more to get us further. $500 each.
The April Showers: Logan Verrett and Jim Henderson were twice as good in the fourth month of the year as they were at any other time. $400 each.
The Sayonara: Good luck in Japan, Eric Campbell. You too, ideally, Rafael Montero (seriously, he should definitely try pitching on the other side of the International Date Line, since that’s where most of his pitches land anyway). $300 each.
The Long Schlep Back. No doubt Josh Edgin worked hard to return to the majors. To what end is another matter, but the effort is appreciated. $200.
The Nice Kids: Gavin Cecchini and Gabriel Ynoa certainly seem nice enough. Niceness should be its own reward, but we’ll be nice to them. $150 each.
The Also Appearing: Clearly I’m missing something with Sean Gilmartin and Erik Goeddel, because I almost never remember either is on the roster (and am almost invariably sorry to learn they are after they’ve pitched). $100 each.
The Decision: It was recently pointed out to me that Antonio Bastardo appeared in 41 games without a decision, and that must be a franchise record. I looked it up, and sure enough, it is, beating Alex “The Hat” Torres’s previous standard by two. For an 0-0 record and taking a Keith Hernandez sigh-inducing eternity to come to the decision that he wanted to throw a pitch, we’ll give him $17.
The Him Again: Jon Niese, like Tom Seaver, was traded back to the Mets by the team they traded him to — for Antonio Bastardo, no less. For earning a mention in the same sentence as Tom Seaver in the only way we could imagine in 2016, we’ll give him and his 11.45 ERA in six appearances the remaining 41 cents.
We now join a traditionally accurate version of “Meet The Mets,” already in progress.
’Cause the Mets are really
Recording those outs
Putting up zeroes
Leaving no doubts
That’s not how it goes, but it is a reflection of Mets baseball like it oughta be, right? This is the pitching-rich organization, the franchise defined by the Franchise, whose most delicate operations were once assigned to the Doctor, whose annual offseason talking point is how good its rotation is. That’s what one of our aces is talking about as 2017 looms, it’s what got us giddy going into 2016.
The starting pitching was real good last year, if not as great as we cracked it up to be. On paper and occasionally in practice, we had a Fab Four, several Fifth Beatles and a couple of crucial Wings for when almost everybody else fell through. There’s no way the Mets would have hung on as they did without their starting pitching.
But there would have been nothing to hang onto had it not been for their slugging. More than at any point in their 55-year-history, the Mets we met lived up to the real lyrics in their Metropolitan anthem. The Mets were really socking that ball, hitting those home runs over an array of walls 218 times, more than they ever had before. The previous team mark was 200, set in 2006, so this year truly represented a decisive blow for striking decisive blows.
Met home run records are not easily surpassed as a rule. The 1962 total of 139 stood as the impregnable house standard all the way until 148 were launched in 1986 (68 more wins, just nine more homers; go figure). On the lone batsman front, we’re about to enter the third decade of Todd Hundley’s 41 proving difficult to tie—only Carlos Beltran has done so— and impossible to top. Hell, it took thirteen years for Dave Kingman’s 36 to unseat the Original Frank Thomas’s 34.
I’m guessing you didn’t know 200 had been the Met record or that it was set in 2006. I didn’t know it, and I’ve been accused of knowing lots of stuff like this. It’s quite likely your garden-variety knowledgeable Mets fan would have been quicker to tell you about the 1980 Mets and their notoriously low 61 homers than any edition that cranked out more than three times as many. Your New York Mets simply tend not to hit a lot of home runs, so when they reverse form in record-rewriting style, it deserves to grab our attention.
It has. In recognition of the record that provided the backbeat of a playoff season, Faith and Fear in Flushing presents its Nikon Camera Player of the Year honor — the award bestowed upon the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — to The Home Run. Without it, we surely would have been…OUTTA HERE!
Home run production rose as a rule in 2016, with 5,610 rounding the bases throughout the majors, second-most ever, a veritable tick behind the 5,693 clobbered in 2000. That was at the height of the something’s-up…and we don’t just mean baseballs flying through the air…era. Nobody tested for anything back then and we were a few years from genuinely wondering how everybody had gotten so darn powerful at once over the course of the previous decade. PED testing and improved pitching were supposed to have taken care of that unnatural spike. In 2014, all of baseball got all of the baseball, so to speak, 4,186 times, making for the lowest full-season (non-strike) home run total since 1993. Normality had returned. Then another new normal took hold. The number jumped to 4,909 in 2015 and practically broke the windows across Waveland Avenue this past season.
Was pitching not all it was cracked up to be? Were the balls wrapped tighter that specifications dictated? Did somebody miss a test? Without anybody pushing 60 or even 50 home runs (Mark Trumbo, with 47, was the only major leaguer who topped 45), it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary was going on. Let’s shrug our shoulders and admit we have no concrete idea.
The strangest thing, relative to our parochial concerns, was the Mets finished second in the National League in home runs, seven behind St. Louis. The Mets are almost never one of the top two home run-hitting teams in the league. They placed first every year from 1988 through 1990 — Strawberry, McReynolds, HoJo — but have otherwise historically found other ways to score.
In 2016, the Mets found almost no way other to score. When they weren’t homering, they were abstaining (courteously), finishing eleventh out of sixteen in runs sans home. They had the fourteenth-most doubles, fourteenth-most triples, fourteenth-most steals, eighth-most walks…but, oh my goodness, as a unit, boy they could homer.
As individuals, they did OK, too, though not to an eye-popping extent. You’d guess the team with the second-most home runs in the National League would be represented among the most sluggingest of sluggers. Good intuition, bad result. No Met was among the five top home run hitters in the N.L. Jay Bruce finished tied for sixth, but 25 of his 33 were swatted for Cincinnati. You don’t find a Met among the league leaders until you get to the ninth-highest position, for which Yoenis Cespedes tied Yasmany Tomas with 31, a total that is robust enough, but not that impressive in the annals of Met single-season homering.
Thirty-one, certainly a pleasant number in the realm of Metsopotamian association, has been exceeded twenty-five times in Met home run history. No. 31, Mike Piazza, did it four times, Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson and Dave Kingman three times. Ike Davis and Bobby Bonilla — to name two no more than semi-legendary Met mashers — each blasted more than 31 in given years. It’s a damn fine total (no Met before Cespedes had ever hit exactly that many, and Yo reached it in only 132 games played), but it’s nothing overtly landmark, not even for a traditionally power-averse outfit like the Mets.
Where the club bulked up was with several very good if not great totals; call it strength in numbers. Behind Cespedes lurked Curtis Granderson with 30 (and, seemingly, 15 RBIs, but he really drove in 59), Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker with 23 apiece (a middle-infield power combo for the Met ages), part-timer Wilmer Flores with 16 and the Gun of April, Michael Conforto, with 12. It could have been a double-digit festival to behold had a few more balls carried or stayed fair off the bats of James Loney (9), Kelly Johnson (9), Jose Reyes (8), Bruce (8), Lucas Duda (7) and David Wright (7). You’ll notice a thread running through everybody who missed 10 by just a little: none of them was on the active Met roster for close to a full season. The Mets stitched together a lot of partial individual seasons to get where they got, but each of them charged with an ample power supply.
Four Met rookies — Ty Kelly (1), Matt Reynolds (3), Brandon Nimmo (1) and T.J. Rivera (3) — hit their first career home runs as 2016 Mets. One Met due in Japan — Eric Campbell — hit what looms as his last North American homer, at least for a while. Journeymen like Justin Ruggiano (2), René Rivera (6) and Alejandro De Aza (6) chipped in their share. Travis d’Arnaud (4), Juan Lagares (3) and Kevin Plawecki (1) you figured might have been good for a few more. Lest we forget about how important Met pitchers were to 2016, Noah Syndergaard tied Walt Terrell with two home runs in a game and Tom Seaver with three in a season.
And, as if it’s escaped your short-term memory, erstwhile New York Mets and current Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Bartolo Colon hit one…one home run, that is.
According to Baseball Reference’s essential Play Index tool, you get to 218 with 10 lidlifting leadoff homers (seven from Grandy, three by Jose); back-to-backers to start a game for only the second time in franchise history (Jose and Asdrubal replicating what Jose and Ruben Gotay did in 2007); 13 of the pinch-hit variety; 7 grand slams; 32 spanked on the first pitch of an at-bat; 21 on a full count; 7 apiece off Jeremy Hellickson and Tom Koehler; 17 that tied games; 62 that untied games; 2 from designated hitters (though we won’t hold that against them); 45 in August, spanning the month that went to hell and came back on the verge of heavenly; 112 at previously daunting Citi Field; 18 at Citizens Bank Park, including 6 in one game there; 10 to the opposite field, 2 that were part of an overall six-for-six afternoon (Wilmer’s), 6 in extra innings; and 4 that definitively ended games.
Walker started the fun with a line drive to right off alleged “old friend” Chris Young in Kansas City on April 3 (help beat us a World Series, you’re not much of a friend). Ces gave the home folks one to grow on at Citi Field on April 10. It was a quiet first week or so: eight games, two home runs. Then it was off to Cleveland, future site of epic cursebreaking, and, to borrow from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Explosions! The Earth Was Moving! Was That An Earthquake? No, it was the Mets with seven home runs in a weekend visit to Progressive Field, just ahead of the dozen that left Philly across three more games. At that point, it was off to the races, a.k.a. Home Run Derby.
How about that freezing April night a hobbled Yo came off the bench or out from behind the scenes or wherever he was and proffered a three-run pinch-bomb to tie the Reds in the seventh? And how three nights later when he cherried the bleep out of an offensive sundae by blasting a grand slam to top off a record-setting twelve-run inning? Of Cespedes’s 31 homers, approximately a thousand of them were Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’. Even the requisite great home run launched in a losing cause was a truly great home run: a nine-pitch battle versus Adam Wainwright ending with a wallop deep to left, putting the Mets up 4-3 in a game that got itself lost 5-4. But Yo — the first batter to visit Citi Field’s promenade during the course of play (versus the Cubs on June 30) — did much in winning causes, particularly those three homers in two games in his first series back at San Francisco.
Cespedes hit one of the stretch drive walkoffs, too, but drama was present in nearly every swing from nearly every Met during late August and throughout September. Granderson, who posted 10 of his 30 from August 30 onward, saved two for the same set of extra innings, tying Minnesota in the eleventh on September 17 at Citi Field and beating them in twelfth. Rivera earned his first curtain call (road game notwithstanding) by breaking a 3-3 deadlock in Washington in the top of the tenth on September 13. Reyes never hit a bigger Met homer than the one that tied the Phillies at six in the ninth on September 22, and no Met hit a bigger homer in 2016 than Cabrera’s game-winner two innings later.
When Cabrera badly needed a day off in early September, Reynolds picked up any hint of slack by belting one out of Great American Ball Park. Bruce didn’t do nearly enough, but when he got around to slugging, his four homers in the last week of the season reminded you why he was always such a trade target. Wright couldn’t move around very much, but he got around on three pitches for four bags apiece in his last week of action way back in May. Walker missed a little more time than desired, but his bat kept the dam from bursting when his three-run job salvaged the last game of the Rockies series at the end of July and a two-run ditty did the same trick a week later at Detroit. Johnson’s well-timed clout was the “1” in a 1-0 thriller that went eleven at Turner Field. And, finally, Loney did a convincing Crash Davis impression when he reacted with authentically earned WOW, ME, HUH? glee as his sixth-inning round-tripper, the last Met shot of 2016, more or less clinched the Wild Card on October 1.
Did we mention Bartolo? Even if we did, it bears repeating: Bartolo Colon hit his first major league home run, for the Mets, on May 7 in San Diego. Rob Manfred immediately disqualified himself from future Hall of Fame consideration by not immediately abolishing the DH.
You can close your eyes and see them all if you try. Or, as our friends at Amazin’ Avenue recommended, you can go to YouTube and watch them all in a row. Two-hundred eighteen home runs take about 44 minutes to witness in a montage, about six months to properly enjoy, and about 55 years to compile. Indeed, it required more than a half-century, but at last, we Mets fans could say everything was coming up Apples.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
The 2016 Mets were on the verge of coming apart. Asdrubal Cabrera kept them together. Move over Elmer, there’s a new glue guy in town.
There was so much to like about Cabrera and so little to detract from his season and his contribution that we are stuck on the idea that nobody was more valuable to the cause than our power-hitting, solid-defending shortstop. He made it stick, so Faith and Fear in Flushing will attach to Asdrubal Cabrera the title of Most Valuable Met of 2016.
Where would have we been without him? Probably not in the playoffs. Probably not in contention for the playoffs. Probably not in as many games as we were. Asdrubal was almost all upside almost all the time. When he was less than his best, he didn’t kill us. When he found himself, he made us stronger. This was a baseball player’s baseball player, a Mets fan’s Met.
And a year ago, despite a career that dated to 2007 and encompassed two All-Star appearances, we were barely aware of him. Beautiful how that can work.
He filled a need. Shortstop, by consensus the most important position on the field, was kind of a black hole for four seasons, no offense to Ruben Tejada (whom we don’t mind offending anymore, I suppose), Wilmer Flores and whoever else stood stage left to David Wright’s glove hand post-Jose Reyes 1.0. Let’s just say the position rarely felt fully settled. Cabrera settled that once and for all, starting at 134 games, more than any Met shortstop since Reyes in 2008. “He made all the plays” may be a cliché, but, yeah, basically, he made all the plays. You didn’t worry when Asdrubal was out there, no matter who his double play partner was (and he had five of them).
He was literally a winner. The Mets won more games with Asdrubal Cabrera playing than they won with anybody else. Play a lot on a winning team and you’ll win a lot when you play, one supposes, but thanks to Baseball Musings, we can quantify on Cabrera’s behalf. The Mets won 87 games; Cabrera played in 79 of them, or two more than runner-up Curtis Granderson did. The Mets’ winning percentage with Asdrubal playing was .560, just an eyelash off that compiled when Yoenis Cespedes participated (.561). When the Mets and Cespedes made official their long-term intentions, Sandy Alderson noted, “it has been clear that when Yoenis Cespedes plays for the Mets, the Mets win.” It’s just as clear the same result occurs when Asdrubal Cabrera is in the game.
He persevered through pain. How’s your left patella tendon? Asdrubal’s wasn’t so good all year. He hurt it in Spring Training. He played anyway. Only when it got too bad to put pressure on did he go on the DL in August. He was missed. He returned. He wasn’t in the best of health down the stretch. He played anyway. The Mets made the playoffs, you might recall. There was a quad problem, there were back spasms, there was all kinds of mishegas that made you cringe when you watched the shortstop not rest, but you, like he, knew that what’s the offseason is for. Cabrera’s gamer-manship postponed the offseason as long as it could be put off.
He made a difference. The shortstop who comes back from the disabled list and pulls the infield together is a legendary figure in Mets lore. That’s what Bud Harrelson did for the 1973 Mets, the direct linear ancestors of the 2016 Mets. That’s what Cabrera did forty-three Septembers later.
He solidified the batting order. On August 20, Terry Collins wrote in Reyes, then Cabrera, then Cespedes at the top of his lineup card. This was the beginning of the 27–12 stretch that clinched the Wild Card. RCC (or JAY, if you prefer) forged a formidable unit that anchored a Met offense that had meandered all year. Cabrera in the two-hole was key. Before August 20, he bounced around. Once we had a 1-2-3 that was as solid as that rock Ashford & Simpson serenaded, Granderson slipped in beautifully behind them as the cleanup hitter, and suddenly the Mets had stability, like a real playoff team. Asdrubal was in the middle of that alignment — slashing .350/.413/.650 as the Mets rampaged to a clinch — just as he was in the middle of the Reyes-Cabrera-Cespedes trio said to define the heart of the team off the field.
He overcame adversity. There was a point when the Mets had this one guy who could never get a hit with runners in scoring position. His name was Asdrubal Cabrera. He went 0-for-32 during one vexing RISP stretch, a span covering more than two months. It didn’t overwhelm him (he claimed he wasn’t aware of the schneid). That it became an asterisk to his year rather than its calling card reminds us what a long season 162 games can be — and good players will eventually play well if you give them time.
He showed uncommon power. For what seemed like a million years, Eddie Bressoud held the Met record for home runs in a single season by a shortstop as a shortstop, with 8 in 1966, including the last home run any Met ever hit off Sandy Koufax. Then Kevin Elster came along and shattered the shortstop mark…OK, barely topped it, with 9 in 1988. Eventually Reyes made the whole thing moot with 19 in 2006. Cabrera outmooted them all, blasting 22 from the shortstop position (plus one as a pinch-hitter). In this regard, Asdrubal looked less like Harrelson and more like Howard Johnson. HoJo, though primarily a third baseman, hit 45 as a shortstop between 1985 and 1991. His most memorable homers came as a shortstop, actually, including the bomb off Todd Worrell that sent the Cardinals reeling in early 1986, and the one later that year that put the Mets ahead in the fourteenth inning at Cincinnati in one of the two craziest games the Mets ever won (a.k.a. the Eric Davis-Ray Knight/Gary Carter at third base/Orsoco and McDowell in the outfield affair). The other craziest game, the nineteen-inning game of July 4-5, 1985, also featured a Howard Johnson home run when HoJo was a shortstop. Asdrubal now takes a back seat to no Met shortstop when it comes to dramatic home runs, not after his bat-flipping, arms-raising, game-winning shot of September 22, the eleventh-inning three-run walkoff job that gave the Mets a 9–8 decision over the Phillies, reversed the tide from the Ender Inciarte Game the night before and deserves to air as a Mets Classic until the end of time. It was the signature moment from the signature player of 2016.
He was the most pleasant of surprises. You knew Yoenis Cespedes would be an important part of the 2016 Mets. You figured Noah Syndergaard was likely to fully establish himself as a top starter. You could be confident in Jeurys Familia after 2015. You had no idea, however, that Asdrubal Cabrera was going to be granite throughout the year and a meteor down the stretch.
Mets didn’t come any more valuable in 2016.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS
2005: Pedro Martinez
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Yoenis Cespedes
Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2016.
As recent election returns go, I suppose this set rates no more than a shrug in the scheme of scary things, but it’s baffling that there was very recently a vote concerning excellence in baseball announcing in which Gary Cohen was a nominee, yet Gary Cohen did not emerge as the winner.
Talk about the system being broken.
Earlier this week they gave the Ford C. Frick Award to Not Gary Cohen. The winner’s identity is irrelevant to me. If I say something sporting like, “I’m sure he’s deserving, too,” I’d be disingenuous. Nobody’s more deserving than Gary Cohen within a universe of candidates that includes Gary Cohen.
Gary was a wonderful partner to Bob Murphy, half of a perfect team with Howie Rose and the anchor of a booth in which both Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling shine. And he’s never better than when it’s just him and us. He’s great at the dramatic moments, he’s even better during the slow innings. He hits every play-by-play note, he analyzes every on-field and off-field situation with aplomb, he knows when to step back, when to cede the microphone to others, when nothing need be said.
I’m biased, I suppose. I’ve been listening to Gary Cohen broadcast baseball on a nearly nightly basis for twenty-eight years. I’m convinced nobody on any ballot could be any better. When he showed up among the finalists for the 2017 Frick Award, I was delighted. When he didn’t get it…well, let’s just spin this as a rain delay. When they roll up the tarp of obtuseness that denied Gary the award this time around and give it to him down the road, they’ll have the good fortune of adding to its presentation however many more “major contributions to baseball” with which he’s embellished his legacy by then. Twenty-eight years in baseball broadcasting is several drops in the bucket, but good sense and good health be willing, Gary will be filling our aural pail for many seasons to come. Frick voters know his name. Hopefully they’ll remember to check it off next chance they get.
Elsewhere in the realm of selections a little out of the blue and orange is the report that the next United States ambassador to Japan could be our beloved guide from one millennium to the next, Bobby Valentine. “Diplomat” is not a word I’d look for on the front or back of Bobby V’s baseball card — “You’re not dealing with real intelligent guys for the most part,” is how he characterized his own players late in 1999 — but he is renowned for understanding the culture of the country to which he might be assigned, and not all ambassadors can say that. And express discontent as one will with a vast array of elements pertaining to the incoming administration (for example, its existence), the president-elect did kind of nail one issue of Japanese-American trade in 2004 when he volunteered, “I would certainly say Kaz Matsui of the Mets has been a bust. There’s no doubt about that.”
There really wasn’t.
The part I like best about the possible Valentine appointment is it was apparently suggested by occasional transition macher Chris Christie, who I wouldn’t trust to regulate traffic on the Shea Bridge, but is the kind of Mets fan who, all things being equal, seems to put the Mets first. Thinking that results in “Met legend who was big in Japan” as the ideal ambassadorial prospect can only come from a Mets fan. If you’d asked me forty years ago to recommend appointees to President-elect Carter, I would have endorsed Bruce Boisclair for a posting in Paris, if only because a) his name sounded French; b) he was a Met; c) Le Grand Orange had already been traded; and d) I was not quite fourteen years old. For that matter, this correspondent predicted in 2006 that Bobby V would be Japan’s prime minister by 2026, and ambassador in 2017 is close enough.
I’m guessing not all of Christie’s high-level recommendations have been received as warmly. Otherwise, based on the recent trend of shall we say counterintuitive cabinet nominations, we’d be looking at Daniel Murphy for Secretary of Defense, Ray Ramirez at Health and Human Services, and Steve Trachsel and Antonio Bastardo to co-chair the new efficiency initiative at the Department of Labor.