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

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

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

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The Baines of Our Existence

I must have read something in Baseball Digest or The Sporting News. Or maybe I saw something on This Week in Baseball or heard a mention on NBC one Saturday afternoon. Somewhere early in his career, I formed the impression that Harold Baines was a really good ballplayer, one of the best of the week or month that his name filtered into my baseball consciousness. Early impressions can be unshakable, especially when you’re not concerned with altering them later and not exposed to much countervailing evidence. Harold played each of his twenty-two seasons in the American League and would cross paths with the Mets in only six games, making the chance that I’d have Baines on the brain fairly remote. Thus, I went through the length of Harold Baines’s very long career benignly certain that he was one of the best of the years or decades when he was active. Nobody was running around saying he was, but nobody was running around saying he wasn’t.

When it was announced at the outset of the Winter Meetings that Harold Baines would be going into the Hall of Fame, I was a little surprised, given that he hadn’t been much mentioned as a contender ahead of the Today’s Game committee balloting. I was more surprised, however, at the torrent of criticism his selection provoked. Not getting mentioned much as prospective Hall of Fame material and then, in fact, becoming a Hall of Famer must angry up a whole lot of discerning blood.

My early impression of Baines as someone who would someday make a perfectly reasonable choice for Cooperstown doesn’t seem to stand up against the modern methods of determining who should be in and, more pointedly, who should be out. Baines had the kind of statistics that would look Hallworthy from a couple of eras’ remove, the way players I’d never seen and barely heard of registered as just fine when I was kid. ”Also elected by the Veterans Committee today, was Harold Baines, an accomplished batsman for the Chicago White Stockings during the Deadball Era…” Like that. “That Harold Baines must have been real good in his day,” I would have shrugged before redirecting my attention to what was then today’s game.

The actual Harold Baines was real good in his day. Not “pretty good,” which is apparently the worst thing you can call a Hall of Famer, but real good. Very good. Counterintuitively, that’s also framed as a knock because — deep breath — it’s not the Hall of Very Good. (Got it.) I don’t believe very good is anything less than what it purports to be. Baines played more than twenty years. He had almost three-thousand hits, hit almost four-hundred home runs. He made a half-dozen All-Star teams. He was regularly coveted by contending teams navigating stretch drives. He had his number retired halfway through his playing days and had a statue erected in his honor following his retirement. That’s the stuff of very good, perhaps great in a generous context.

Concomitantly, he wasn’t quite or maybe nearly as good as Phil N. deBlank, as in fill in the blank with whichever player who’s not in the Hall of Fame but has an excellent case for being in before it would occur to you to induct Harold Baines. If the vote had come down to Harold Baines vs. Gil Hodges, or Keith Hernandez, or Rusty Staub (or, less parochially, Dale Murphy, or Davey Concepcion, or Steve Garvey, to name three National Leaguers I admired from afar), I might be up in arms that Baines got in ahead of those I’ve long judged overlooked and gave a bundle of thought to besides.

But it didn’t work that way. Only twelve men were on a ballot that only sixteen voters considered. They came up with Baines and Lee Smith as their choices. I was a little miffed that Davey Johnson from the same ballot was bypassed, but Davey was under consideration as a manager, and that’s a whole other plaque of worms. Davey, like Gil, has a trophy to his and our name. From a Metsian perspective, maybe everything else is immortality gravy.

Despite sufficient analytics-based evidence that others are Hallworthier than Harold, I took his election as a triumph for the too easily dismissed. It’s become fashionable to point to Baines and say, well, if he’s in, the voters (whether BBWAA members or the next committee to convene) have to seriously consider fill in the blank. That would be great, even if it didn’t get any of my Met pets any closer to Cooperstown. Baines’s candidacy evaporated around the time the writers’ ballot was becoming subject to microscopic examination, a couple of years before what to do about the so-called steroid guys became the unavoidable story. So many players, so much debate, so little oxygen left over for anybody who didn’t jump off the page. If you weren’t anointed a cause, you received no more than a pat on the head in those endless series of columns devoted to dissecting the careers of higher-profile cases.

Consider Carlos Delgado, who put on a power display that crossed international borders and spanned a generation. Consider Johan Santana, who dominated batters in both leagues and was deemed state-of-the-art at his not insignificant peak. Consider that they each had a single shot on the writers’ ballot before disappearing from view. The veritable umpires who determine Hall of Fame fodder squeezed them both. Sure, Delgado was great. Sure, Santana was great. But we have to bemoan the size of the ballot and rend garments over somebody else now. Neither got more than a cursory glance from the tastemakers. Their fate was to be unfairly ignored by the writers until the next time a writer needed an example of somebody who got unfairly ignored.

By dint of his surprise election, it is Baines’s fate to bear the banner of the chronically/initially overlooked. He may not be the ideal avatar, but he’s carrying that banner upstate this summer. If his presence nudges the door open sooner or later for the likes of Hodges, Hernandez, Staub, Delgado, Santana, John Franco, John Olerud or even somebody of distinction who wasn’t a Met, the museum won’t crumble for inclusion. I understand standards and elitest of the elite and all that, but I rarely if ever find myself put off by somebody getting into a Hall of Fame, National Baseball or otherwise. It’s the keeping out that’s a bummer. There’s enough greatness floating about that’s gone underappreciated and there’s nothing wrong with somebody residing at the uppermost tier of very good being granted a niche.

Besides, imagine bumping into Harold Baines by chance. “I saw Harold Baines today,” you’d likely tell anybody who’d listen. “He was a great ballplayer.” You wouldn’t stop to detract from the experience with “well, maybe not as great as Phil N. deBlank if you compare their fWAR side by side.” The blanks absolutely deserve an opportunity to fill themselves in, but Baines’s reputation doesn’t deserve to be dinged in the process. More than twenty seasons. Nearly three-thousand hits and four-hundred home runs. Very good, indeed.

Oh, Lee Smith, too. You absolutely didn’t want Lee Smith on the mound in the ninth inning against your team when he was in the prime of his eighteen-season career. When I think of Smith, I first flash back to 1984, when beating the menacing Cubs was imperative for the young, aspirational Mets. Smith faced the Mets in seven games that hopeful season. He was a substantial reason hope was not enough to get us where wanted to go. Chicago’s record versus New York when Lee pitched in ’84: 6-1. Smith won two of those decisions and saved three more. The Cubs were monstrous as summer steamed into September and Smith was an essential component of their sadly unbustable success.

On a more personal level, I think of Smith from either end of the 1990s, once as his prime continued, once when he was done quelling offensive threats. On September 4, 1990, the Mets and Pirates were running nip and tuck for leadership in the NL East. We started this Tuesday night a half-game up, finishing a two-game set in St. Louis. We’d won the first and I desperately craved the second. The finale came down to the ninth inning, the Cardinals up, 1-0. Lee Smith was their closer now, and I thought maybe we could get to him. Gregg Jefferies didn’t come through, though. Nor did Darryl Strawberry. But Kevin McReynolds drew a last-gasp walk, bringing up Howard Johnson. HoJo, we all knew, could send a fastball a long way.

Yet Smith could send a fastball past even the most formidable opponent. In a classic battle of strengths, the pitcher prevailed on a three-two delivery. HoJo went down swinging. With the Pirates having beaten the Phillies, the Mets moved down to second. And I emitted such a yowl that my then-fiancée came running out of the bathroom and into the living room to see if I was all right. We had never lived together through a September pennant race before, so Stephanie didn’t know what I was suffering from.

From Lee Smith, I explained.

Fast-forward from the first year to the last year of the decade. The scene was Shea Stadium, a May 1999 afternoon whose pregame festivities were devoted to the second relief pitcher to breach the 400-save barrier, our very own Johnny from Bensonhurst. Franco had surpassed four-hundred a couple of weeks earlier. The Mets were giving him a Day, much as they had three seasons earlier when he reached 300 (though this time there was no brawl and no ejection of the guest of honor). Gifts and accolades abounded, well-meaning if standard treatment for such an occasion. Then came a surprise. Introduced without advance notice was the first relief pitcher to breach the 400-save barrier, the all-time leader in the category that, for better or worse, redefined how conclusions of contests were interpreted.

It was Lee Smith! Yes, an exclamation point! We at Shea hadn’t collectively thought much about Lee Smith lately except for acknowledging that he had indeed saved more games than any pitcher in baseball history. We had that ingrained in our heads because he was mentioned regularly in relation to Franco’s standing. Smith had the most overall; Franco had the most as a lefty. And now save was recognizing save, so to speak. We were informed that Lee had traveled all night from his home in Louisiana to join Johnny here today. It was such a gosh darn respectful gesture that we couldn’t help but rise and applaud harder for a valiant opponent of yore. (The event ascended another emotional notch when Franco was presented with a motorcycle, less for the bike than who removed his helmet and revealed himself as the presenter after driving it out from the right field bullpen — none other than Tug McGraw.)

The ceremonies ended, Smith went back to Louisiana and 478 stood a while longer as the saves record. That eventually ceased to be the metric’s magic number, but to the Today’s Game gang, Lee’s prestige more than lingered. The close affiliation of several members with a couple of Baines’s teams has been heartily described as committee cronyism in action. Harold didn’t necessarily have a dozen close, personal friends pulling him into the Hall, but he had a few, and eventually they helped add up to the twelve out of sixteen votes required for election. Smith, on the other hand, went 16-for-16. Everybody meeting to decide this round of selection remained suitably in awe of those 478 saves, third-most to this day, trailing only Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman’s already in Cooperstown and Rivera presumably has a non-refundable reservation on a wall near Trevor. Not all of these voters stood in the box against Lee Smith, but they could collectively appreciate the challenge doing so represented.

Conferring what we loosely refer to as immortality is also a challenge. Or so we’re convinced annually. Yet there’s a right fielder who transitioned with aplomb to top-flight designated hitting (deplorable though the position’s existence may be). And there’s a righthander who preserved victories at prodigious rates (debatable though the prevailing statistic may be). With considerably less angst than is attached to every January’s drama, we have two new Hall of Famers. Harold Baines. Lee Smith. Immortal as they need to be.

Don’t begrudge them. Respect them. And, by all means, add to their ranks.

The Mets Have a Pronouncement to Make

Now — and again — pitching and batting ninth for the New York Mets, Number Twenty-Seven…


There haven’t been too many Mets whose first name gets pronounced with such diversity, but however you say it, welcome back Jeurys Familia, former setup man and closer, to your new role as prospective setup man and, one would guess, occasional closer. Given baseball’s infatuation with bullpen flexibility, he could be opening games, stanching rallies or getting that one big out anywhere in the course of Metropolitan events.

Pitching philosophies have evolved quite a bit since 22-year-old Familia rose to the majors for a quick peek in September of 2012. The Mets’ fortunes rose with his ascent and fell partly in sync with his inconsistency. Jeurys was a legit team MVP candidate in 2015 en route to our division title and pennant. He shared in the goat horns of the World Series that followed. He became that closer who piled up loads of saves yet stood out in the mind’s eyes for those he didn’t get or nearly blew. He gave up the home run that killed our last playoff appearance in 2016 (though it’s not like we were scoring that night). He was suspended, injured, revived, not quite revered, missed a bit when traded, gone not long enough to be forgotten.

Familia’s a Met again — the 48th Recidivist Met, once he sees action — signed for three years at some amount that is either a bargain or outrageous. We’ll know how to rate it based first on who else we’re told can’t join him because Familia got paid, then on how well he does and we do. At his best, he does very well. He helped us to two postseasons, then Oakland to one in his blink of an eye as an Athletic. The back end of a bullpen that pencils in as Familia to Diaz sure seems formidable. If our rotation is four-fifths the guys we consider our headliners (subject to change…especially Synderchaange), you’d think that leaves only an inning or two here or there that isn’t theoretically covered. Oh, but how games and seasons can be lost in those random innings.

Let Brodie Van Wagenen keep building the pen without giving away the store as he figures out the rest of the field. And though it’s been said, many times, many ways, welcome back Jeurys to you.

What's in a Number?

Our co-newest Met is wearing a familiar number.

Flamethrower Edwin Diaz, whom I already appreciated for being really good before discovering his nickname is “Sugar,” will wear 39. That’s no particularly big thing in the annals of Met lore: the first 39 that pops into my head is Gary Gentry, the blueprint for all too many young Met hurlers over the years. Thirty-nine was last worn by Jerry Blevins, who’s expressed interest in returning to the Mets and had to at least frown at seeing his digits on another back. Oh, and didja know Diaz was discovered by Joe McIlvaine? Neither did I until I Google’d it, but any new Met who arrives with links to our past makes me a little happier to welcome him.

But enough about Sugar. It’s the link to our past that’s left some fans feeling salty about that other, better-known acquisition.

Robinson Cano appeared at his news conference, and will presumably appear on Opening Day, with 24 on his back. That’s a number to conjure with, worn by Willie Mays during his return to the city that made him a legend and that he enhanced quite a bit himself. After Willie said goodbye to America, the number was mothballed in Flushing, at least for the most part. It was briefly and mysteriously assigned to the anonymous Kelvin Torve in 1990, a tempest in a teapot that Torve recalled rather drolly in an interview with our pals at Mets by the Numbers. After discovering the mistake, or at least the outcry, Charlie Samuels hastily reassigned Torve to (wait for it) 39.

24 returned again nearly a decade later, adorning the back of Hall of Fame-bound Rickey Henderson, who wore it with distinction in his first go-round as a Met and something considerably less than distinction when brought back for a second campaign. And then it returned to numerical limbo until Cano’s arrival.

Give me a minute and I’ll try to sketch out a philosophy of quasi-retired numbers; for now, a little about Cano. I don’t think 24 should be handed out to just anybody (sorry, Kelvin Torve), but Robinson Cano is not just anybody. He’s somewhere between a likely and a certain Hall of Famer, with Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric ranking him ahead of the likes of Cooperstown residents Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Nellie Fox. (And if you think PEDs have destroyed the game, best not to Google “Willie Mays red juice.”) Cano is a .300 lifetime hitter with 300+ career home runs, eight All-Star nods and a decent chance at 3,000 hits.

That checks the Numerically Worthy box, but Cano has a more personal reason for wearing 24, too. He’s named for Jackie Robinson and donned 24 for the other New York franchise, the one in the arriviste league with bad rules, because it was the inverse of Jackie’s 42. He then switched to 22 in Seattle because 24 had been retired for Ken Griffey Jr. For me, that ticks the Awareness of Baseball History and Personal Connection boxes as well.

But for most Mets fans, this isn’t an argument about Robby Cano. It’s about Willie Mays.

In the Twitter era we’re expected to have insta-opinions and die upon never-before-glimpsed hills. That’s left us all struggling with an idea that once didn’t seem particularly revolutionary: that multiple things can be true at once. Was Willie Mays’s Mets tenure a glorious homecoming or a regrettable example of an immortal lingering too long at the fair? Before we head for our respective corners, snapping and snarling, let’s at least consider the possibility that it was both.

And there’s a further complication here. Mays returned to New York in large part because Joan Payson adored him beyond words — she stood all but alone among shareholders in opposing the Giants’ move to San Francisco, and tried unsuccessfully to buy the club to stop their relocation. A few years ago, our friend Jon Springer wisely short-circuited a Mays-and-24 debate by suggesting the Mets indeed retire the number — but for Payson, not Mays.

It’s a lovely idea with a real sense of grace, but that ship failed to sail some time ago. In the meantime, though, is 24’s state of limbo really such a bad thing?

I’d argue it isn’t. I like the idea of quasi-retired numbers; in fact, I wish the Mets would take it further.

I believe that number retirements should be rare events. Linking them to a given criterion — Cooperstown, for instance — is too rigid for me. But I think the caretakers of teams should be cautious about putting digits on the wall, allowing time for reflection and remembering that there are generational superstars in teams’ futures as well as their pasts. On this score, at least, I think the Mets have done well. 31 41 14 37 and the baseball-wide 42 is a solid set, with 5 on deck as an addition at the proper time.

To that, I would add … well, not much, actually. The number I’d put beside those is 17, for the combination of a brief but iconic time in uniform and a far longer, also iconic afterlife. But only because there was a second act to go with the marvelous but brief first one.

I’ll stop here to revisit that idea of believing multiple things can be true. I personally wouldn’t retire any of the other numbers embraced as causes by good people … but if the 2019 Mets decide to put any of them on the wall, I’ll be in the stands getting misty-eyed at the pomp and circumstance and applauding madly. This is a hill to sit down on and talk things over, which sounds a lot more pleasant than dying, particularly if that hill has a view of a nearby ballgame.

What I would do is have another tier of cherished numbers, ones that are out of circulation but not retired, available to special players under special circumstances. What the Mets have done and are doing with 24, in other words — even if they’ve never articulated that philosophy.

It isn’t just Mays who’s been given that treatment. The number 8 hasn’t been worn in a Mets dugout in 16 years, which is as it should be; it shouldn’t have been handed out in 1992, but unless you have a time machine it’s too late to fix that. (And, anyway, you should reserve it for more important things, such as telling Timo to run, having Duda practice throws home, and maybe killing Hitler or something.) The aforementioned 17 hasn’t been worn since 2010.

That’s a good start, but only a start. If it were up to me, 15, 16, 18, 36 and 45 would join 8, 17 and 24 in being oft-invoked but rarely seen, with their reappearance an event to be discussed just as we’re doing now. I’m sure Austin Jackson is a good person, but he shouldn’t be wearing 16; if Jacob deGrom wants that number, on the other hand, his 2018 invocation of 1985 makes him worthy of it. (And if Jake wants to go on adding to the lore around 48, that’s fine too.) You get the idea: keep 15 for deadly hitters who patrol center field, 36 for give-no-quarter lefties, 45 for excitable closers who make you sweat but also make you believe.

And it’s also OK if none of that is discussed in a media guide, and quasi-retirements are part of the lore safeguarded and curated by fans, columnists and mildly insane bloggers. “Why does no one wear No. 8?” is the starting point of a conversation. So is “who’s Jerry Koosman?” There will always be young fans or new fans who don’t know this stuff but will absorb those tales like orange-and-blue sponges, the way we once did. Tales for the middle innings of a 12-3 stumble, or a rain delay on a warm summer night, the kind of stories that make new fans realize they’re both witnessing and adding to a much longer narrative. Tales of once upon a time, to be sure, but also of what is to be, with new players and new seasons crafting additions to that unrolling story.

Glass Half Mets

It occurs to me that I haven’t been exceedingly happy when greeted by offseason news of a fresh Mets acquisition (meaning a Met who hadn’t declared free agency sticking around, basically meaning Yoenis Cespedes twice) since the trade for Johan Santana nearly eleven years ago. He was Johan Santana, two-time Cy Young winner in the very same decade during which the trade was consummated, widely acknowledged as the best pitcher in the American League over the previous several seasons. Why wouldn’t I be delighted to get Johan Santana on the Mets for two young players (Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber) I’d seen a little and two (Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey) I hadn’t seen at all?

Besides, when the Mets had made moves of a similar caliber in the offseasons prior to the Winter of Santana, those moves made me exceedingly happy. Pedro Martinez. Carlos Beltran. Carlos Delgado. Billy Wagner. Paul Lo Duca. Moises Alou to a certain extent. Big names. Glittering credentials. Age could be an issue and contracts could give me pause, but above all, I was convinced these were signings or trades that were about to make my team substantially better.

I miss that feeling.

Finding myself more joyed than overjoyed to have inked all-time single-season saves leader Frankie Rodriguez in December 2008 directly on the heels of his having set that still-extant record of 62 should have been a sign that my hot stove mood wasn’t going to automatically warm to every get the Mets got. If anything, it’s just kept cooling. From Jason Bay in December 2009 to Todd Frazier in February 2018, any move that could have been passed off as huge seemed like no big deal to me in terms of elevating the fortunes of my ballclub. It probably has something to do with the quality of the players, the parameters of the transactions and the general state of the franchise. Glass half full at best. Glass half empty at worst.

Given how I’ve conditioned myself to process these bulletins, I’m not surprised that when assaulted by the dispatches that informed me we were about to acquire Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners for five Mets of major and minor league pedigrees — plus money — my reaction was Glass Half Mets. It could work. It might not. We’ll see.

And we will, future tense. What we see now is a pair of names into whom there is much to be read, along with a quintet of individual departures meriting farewells that range from benign good riddance to wary goodbyes. Of course we don’t know how this exchange of personnel will shake out on the field or in the standings. We can project, but we don’t know now and won’t know for seasons to come. What looks fantastic in 2019 can look ludicrous amid the hindsight of 2029. It won’t mean we were wrong to feel however we did whenever we did, including today.

I saw the trade repeatedly referred to as a blockbuster. I hadn’t seen that word much connected to the Mets in recent winters. That alone made the deal exciting. Who didn’t love a trip to Blockbuster to rent a new release? Or a classic? Who doesn’t want to bust a block of mediocrity?

Is that what we’re doing here? Are we instead ensuring a continuation of our mostly sub-.500 ways that date to somewhere between the sizzle of Santana wearing off and the buzz over Bay failing to spark? Can I continue writing sentences that end in question marks? I will, but questions are in ample supply in December. Answers come later. We are all GMs in our heads. We’re also self-appointed CFOs, farm directors, analytics specialists and group therapists. We examine these trades from every angle.

And we still don’t know.

In the meantime, let’s respectfully usher westward the Mets we did know. Jay Bruce, last winter’s semblance of a blockbuster sequel when he was lured home from Cleveland amid a soft free agent market, did not offer a compelling argument for reboots. He played physically compromised in 2018, then didn’t play at all. Jay’s bat perked up a little toward season’s end, but his glove found no room in the outfield’s corners and appeared utterly alien at first base. But he never stopped seeming like a very good guy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday some young Met who played with him grows into a veteran and recalls some savvy advice he absorbed from Bruce way back when. Anthony Swarzak didn’t have nearly as good a 2018 as Jay…and Jay didn’t have much of a 2018. The former Brewer was going to set up Jeurys Familia. Familia didn’t last the year, while Swarzak’s took forever to start — another episode of injuries undercutting whatever effectiveness there was to be mined. To put it kindly, maybe we never saw the Swarzak who attracted the Mets’ interest twelve months ago.

If familiarity breeds contentedness when it comes to letting go of players we’ve seen enough and thus don’t mind losing, mystery can drive us mad from uncertainty. We had only five glimpses at Gerson Bautista. They weren’t promising (he gave up runs in four of those outings), but we were willing to judge him a prospect from the time the Red Sox told us he was one when they took Addison Reed off our non-contending hands at the 2017 trade deadline. We never saw Justin Dunn, but we had time to mull who the righty the Mets chosen in the first round of 2016’s draft might develop into. I followed his progress semi-intently because he’s from a town that neighbors mine — Strong Island solidarity in action. Geographical curiosity aside, young pitchers with a reported upside will tickle a fan from anywhere.

Jarred Kelenic made me think of something Leo McGarry once said. Leo was President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff on The West Wing and, in a tense Situation Room moment, explained to Admiral Fitzwallace, “I take my daughter to a seafood place, the first thing she does is name all the lobsters in the tank, so I can’t eat them.” In my case, the lobster was Kelenic. He was that relatively rare Met minor leaguer who didn’t have to be from Nassau County for me to anticipate his arrival. I’m usually pretty chill about trading prospects unless I have reason to believe we should by no means trade a particular prospect. It hadn’t occurred to me to place an untouchable tag on Kelenic because it didn’t occur to me the Mets would trade a kid who was rocketing up the minor league rankings so soon after they picked him sixth in the nation in June.

I saw his numbers. I read the reviews. I salivated over the clips. Granted, it was all very early in the 19-year-old’s career, and a handful of highlights don’t tell you all that much; how often do you see video of prospects when they’re not succeeding? Still, outfielders who are said to have all the tools are the lifeblood of fandom. We may not see it, but we need it. It’s long-term hope that keeps us going between short-term bursts of adrenaline.

Conversely, trading 19-year-old Kelenic is the stuff of long-term dread. If he breaks through as forecast, we’ll be regularly reminded that this is a star player starring for somebody else…and he used to belong to us. If this Hindsight Haunter happens after who we traded him for didn’t pan out, well, what was the point of making such a stupid trade? If everybody gets what they came for — the Mets ASAP, the Mariners after a fashion — well, that’s good, but far down the road we will have still given up something that’s happening “now” for something that already happened and can’t help us when that version of now comes to pass.

Truthfully, any trade that isn’t Keith Hernandez for Us and Neil Allen/Rick Ownbey for Them is never going to be fully satisfying.

On the other hand, there’s an army of can’t-miss prospects who miss in baseball. In our perceptions, an immense percentage of them tantalized us at Lynchburg, Jackson, Tidewater and all manner of Met minor league outposts until their ultimate major league shortcomings tormented us in Flushing. A decent person won’t root for Kelenic to Ownbey. An honest person will admit a better outcome for him is, by extension, a lesser outcome for us. A reasonable person reminds himself that he’s 19 and has yet to see Single-A pitching. Precedent habitually feathers beds of unreliable narrative, but consider one guidepost based in recent history and take it for what it’s worth: Brandon Nimmo was drafted out of high school in 2011, debuted as a Met in 2016 and didn’t stamp himself a full-fledged borderline star until 2018.

One prospect’s trajectory is by no means definitely another’s, but whatever regret you’re gathering over Kelenic being traded, perhaps defer revisiting it for a while.

By the time we fully understand what Jarred, Justin and Gerson have become, we’ll be discussing Robinson Cano in the past tense. How fondly we will speak of him — and his not-incidental swapmate Edwin Diaz — will depend on the seasons directly ahead, especially the first one. That’s the idea, per Brodie Van Wagenen. At the press conference introducing our new players, BVW swore the Mets are going to be “relentless and fearless” in pursuing improvement (which reminded me of Nuke LaLoosh assuring Crash Davis that he would play this game with “fear and ignorance”). The Mets he’s shepherding are supposed to win now or die trying…though the latter was merely implied and isn’t considered preferable. “Win now” a different wintertime mindset in these parts. Even when the Mets were a team heading into, then out of a pennant year, their non-Cespedes business tended to come on little cat’s feet. If Van Wagenen chooses to make like March and come in like a lion, gosh darn it, let’s saddle up and ride that tiger!

Feline metaphors aside, the 2019 Mets will have a highly accomplished hitter in their lineup and an elite closer in their bullpen. That’s also different. Putting aside the most pessimistic precedents in our arsenal, that indeed looms as an improvement over what we had in 2018. We didn’t have any everyday player who’s yet had a career on the level of Cano’s or a reliever who had year remotely like Diaz’s. The pitcher sits on the cusp of his prime. The batter’s performance indicates a prime that isn’t necessarily over. Adding players who can do the good things they’ve done to date and, in the best of Diaz scenarios, do more than they’ve done before are how you go about winning now.

It will take adding more than the duo from Crane Country. Robbie and Eddie could be as sharp for the Mets as Frasier and Niles were for NBC, yet they’re not going anywhere grand without a fully robust cast. How the Mets build beyond the second baseman and the closer is at the heart of this winter’s Remains To Be Scenery. The rumors of who might go next for who can be chilling from a lobster-naming perspective, but one blockbuster done, it is energizing in light of Van Wagenen’s rhetoric of aggressiveness to consider we’ve migrated from the land of “if?” to the realm of “how?” Front office consensus has apparently coalesced around the controversial theory that 77-85 doesn’t cure itself.

Cano would have indisputably been the superstar to snare when he was on the market as a free agent in the winter leading to 2014, no matter that he was past 30 — which didn’t then seem like a baseball crime — or that he’d most recently plied his craft in a borough uncomfortably close to ours. The terms proposed by his aspirational agent Brodie Van Somebody were, however, out of the 2014 Mets’ sanity range. Half of the contract he signed with the Mariners has run its course, no doubt the most productive half. Nevertheless, Cano in the year he was 35 (when he wasn’t suspended for let’s say using a diuretic) could still hit the ball hard and often. Do that some more at 36 and we can shift up and out of Glass Half Mets mode…provided he doesn’t completely plunge off the notorious cliff that has tripped up some previous second base imports of great renown. Institutional memory can be such a bastard.

I can do without Cano wearing 24, but it seemed too much to ask the Mets to stop themselves from giving it to him.

Diaz saved 57 games in 2018, just five fewer than K-Rod totaled in 2008, and joins us with considerably less mileage on his right arm. I liked Rodriguez a lot during my “the Angels are my AL team” phase, but prolonged exposure to our closer-to-be left me believing we would not be getting the best of him. I’ve seen about as much of Diaz as I have of Kelenic, but his numbers and reviews, at the major league level, don’t even fit on charts…that’s how off them they are. Age isn’t a problem. Price isn’t a problem. Ninth-inning leads, when we have them, may not be a problem. I’d love to say “won’t,” but why stir up the gods in offseason?

Van Wagenen said something about this trade pushing the Mets toward becoming a 90-win team. In my experience, the Mets have become a 90-win team only one way: by winning 90 games. That morsel of obviousness is offered here to say offseason pronouncements are better left vague, while offseason rosters better be improved. Trade One in the Age of Brodie seems, for now, a long first stride in the desirable direction. What it seems like later, well, we’ll have to see, won’t we?

Tender Sentiments for Wilmer Flores

In a “win now” world, give it up for a Met who helped us win then, Wilmer Flores. Brodie Van Wagenen sure did. Actually, he gave up Wilmer Flores, authorizing the non-tender of the cuddliest of Mets on Friday somewhere between his high-stakes wheeling and go-for-it dealing.

Few baseball acts are as onomatopoeic as non-tender, for it is exactly what it sounds like. I can’t think of anything as non-tender as telling your ballplayer he is no longer wanted. Perhaps the non-tender should be relabeled the harsh so we’d read, clearly and accurately, “The New York Mets have harshed Wilmer Flores” when we scan the Transactions section of our information outlet of choice.

Instructing Wilmer to take a hike (which is also what he Flores would do when ostensibly sprinting from first to third) is surely transactional. That’s what we are as a franchise right now. We have to be. We’re not sentimental from the top down. No time for that in fourth place, no time for that with a new GM who doesn’t seem to know anybody he’s never represented. If what Van Wagenen is up to pays off ASAP, we’ll tie him a bowtie and call him the reincarnation of Frank Cashen.

Brodie’s got Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and goodness knows what else in his eyes. He’s got 2019 on his mind, perhaps 2020, we’ll see about later when later rolls around. Brodie’s all Mets present, a modicum of Mets future, only incidental Mets past. He’s not thinking about August 6, 2007, the day Wilmer Flores simultaneously turned 16 and signed his first professional contract and started becoming a Met. Three scouts are listed as having inked Wilmer — or as many hits as it generally takes to score him from first. To Sandy Johnson, Ismael Cruz and Robert Alfonzo, the kid from Valenzia, Venezuela, came on like a dream, peaches and cream, hit like strawberry wine. More Strawberry than Throneberry, presumably.

As he batted his way up the Mets chain, he got noticed. Baseball America kept ranking him as a Top 100 prospect. Today, that’s enough to get you thrown into a Win Now trade. Then it was enough to let you grow into a major leaguer slowly but surely. Parts of three seasons at lower Single-A Savannah. Parts of three seasons at higher Single-A St. Lucie. About the time he turned old enough to drink in Flushing, he graduated to the upper levels of the minors: Binghamton in 2012, Las Vegas in 2013 and, six years to the day he was signed, New York. Denver, actually. Wilmer made his major league debut against the Rockies on his 22nd birthday, a shortstop turned third baseman called up to fill in for another homegrown third baseman in his background, David Wright.

The Flores climb was by no means complete. His first pot of coffee (101 plate appearances) yielded no slash line component as high as .300. Wilmer started 2014 attached to Las Vegas and was subject to the transcontinental shuttle until he was recalled once and for all in late July. He played more middle infield than hot corner. He stepped up his production. Not only was it enough to earn Wilmer a spot on the 2015 Opening Day roster, he was handed the starting shortstop job. Some players are said to be cursed with versatility. Wilmer was blessed with assorted adequacy. His bat was judged promising enough to allow for a glove that never looked at home at any of the four positions he was assigned. Defense wasn’t an enormous priority with Sandy Alderson’s Mets.

A shortstop who can slug will make any GM look genius. When June began, Wilmer had eight home runs and the Mets were locked in a duel for first place with the Washington Nationals. As July dawned, however, he was in a slump and the Mets were scuffling to stay close to the Nats. By late July, help was on its way. Michael Conforto from Binghamton. Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from Atlanta. More was needed. Perhaps a veteran power/speed guy who could not only hit but field. Maybe one who was available for a package centered on a former prospect who wasn’t overwhelming major league pitching in his first full season and not smothering every ground ball in his vicinity.

This is where Wilmer Flores went from being a likable enough kid with some pop to a Wednesday night curiosity to a Friday evening cause to a legend forever after. This is where a transaction went missing and sentiment shot up the charts. This is where a trade that was supposed to bring former Met Carlos Gomez back to New York for Wilmer and injured pitcher Zack Wheeler was reported as a sure thing. Word spread throughout Citi Field, where the Mets — including shortstop Flores — were in the process of losing to the San Diego Padres. We knew this swap was going down. It was on Twitter, for crying out loud. So when we saw Wilmer, en route to Milwaukee, come up to bat for what would be, we were informed by reliable sources, the last time as a Met, we gave him an appreciative hand. Thanks for stopping by, young man. Good luck in the Cream City. When’s Carlos getting here?

Funny thing, though. Wilmer stayed in the game. Crazy Mets, huh? Other teams take the players they’re trading out of the game ASAP. Our team hadn’t. Unbeknownst to those of us in the ballpark, nobody told Terry Collins he couldn’t use Wilmer Flores and Terry obviously hadn’t checked his mobile device. Wilmer, meanwhile, only knew what happened because the fans close enough for him to hear were suddenly wishing him bon voyage. Seriously, though, where’s Gomez gonna bat?

We transactional bastards were routinely preparing to get on with our lives as fans when it became apparent that Wilmer Flores, suddenly informed he was an ex-Met, decided instantly he didn’t want to be that. We’d known him for parts of two prior seasons, then this one. He’d known the Mets and only the Mets for approximately a third of his life. Sixteen years old when signed, a week shy of his twenty-fourth birthday as Twitter was elbowing him toward Wisconsin. He hadn’t yet digested this reported trade in the context of baseball being a cold business.

So he started crying, if not out loud, then visibly for the television cameras to pick up. Nobody’d ever seen a scene quite like this. A player getting emotional while playing. Not hotheaded emotional break a bat over your knee, but human feelings of coping with rejection and dejection. Not in pee wee league, but in the National League.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the reports of Flores’s demise as a New York Met were premature. The trade with the Brewers fell through. The Mets still needed help, but at this moment, on July 29, 2015, they weren’t going to find it via deletion of Wilmer.

Help would have to wait two more nights, to Friday. A trade would happen, Yoenis Cespedes of the Tigers headed to New York in exchange for two minor league pitchers. Yo was invigorating news, but he wasn’t going to arrive until Saturday. Friday night there was a game to play. A game to win, as much as a game on July 31 had to be won. It was against the Nationals, the first of three. The Mets were three back. This was the first must-win series in Citi Field history. Astronomically speaking, this was also the first time the Mets played a game at Citi Field while a blue moon hung in the Flushing sky, an appropriate enough phenomenon considering first place was our shoot-for-the-moon priority.

Never let it be said Mets fans can’t multitask. Yes, root for the Mets to take it to the Nationals. Yes, concentrate on the standings and what Cespedes might mean to how they would align in the coming days and weeks. But look who’s playing second base for us: it’s Wilmer Flores! Wilmer Flores cried because he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving us! We love that, we’re pretty sure, because nobody has ever expressed quite that sentiment quite so genuinely.

So the game became Wilmer Flores Appreciation Night from the first inning on, when he handled a simple 4-3 putout to thunderous applause. His first at-bat, in the second, rated a standing ovation, not for the groundout he produced but for the mere fact that it was he who produced it. Driving in the first run of the game, on a fourth-inning infield single, certainly didn’t hurt his rising Q rating.

The sun set. The night set in. The occasion’s Wilmerian subtext meshed amiably with the overarching Met goal of advancing from second place. Matt Harvey had the Nationals no-hit into the sixth, shut out into the eighth. Matt finally gave up one run, which was a problem for the pre-Cespedes Mets because they hadn’t added to that one run from the fourth. The game would have to go on beyond nine innings.

When it got to the bottom of the twelfth, still 1-1, it found its identity. So did Wilmer Flores. The Wilmer Flores Game. Wilmer Flores, who everybody thought was traded; who touched everybody’s heart as his eyes spilled tears; who assured everybody he didn’t want to leave; who was embraced for staying; who hit the third pitch he saw leading off the inning over the left field fence to win the Wilmer Flores Game, 2-1; who chose as his walkoff punctuation, just ahead of crossing the plate, the grabbing of the wordmark on the front of his jersey.

“Mets.” That what it said. That’s who Wilmer was. To him. To us.

After that, it didn’t really matter what else Wilmer Flores did. He was ours in a way few others could possibly be. Having catapulted us toward first place on July 31 (and provided SNY approximately 80% of its future offseason programming), the heaviest lifting would be assumed by Cespedes for the rest of the summer. Flores would homer five more times over the final two months en route to a total of sixteen, but otherwise filled a supporting role on a club whose offense rapidly morphed into Yoenis and the Mets…the National League East Champion Mets. Ruben Tejada’s dependable defense grew valued as the season grew late. He took over as the starting shortstop of record. Freed from filling in at first once Lucas Duda left the disabled list, Daniel Murphy shifted back to second. A reasonably agile David Wright, stenosis notwithstanding, also shook off the DL and anchored third again. Wilmer finished 2015 with an OPS a tick above .700 and began the postseason on the bench.

Tejada didn’t last the second game of the NLDS, having been viciously Utleyed out of action. Wilmer was a starter again, chipping in to elevate the Mets to the World Series, if not doing much to help them win it. Few Mets outright excelled against the Royals. Wilmer went 1-for-17 and took strike three from Wade Davis to end our crusade for ultimate glory in extras. Game Five went twelve innings. Not every twelfth inning was destined to belong to Wilmer Flores.

But the one from July 31 did and always would. We’d unfairly expect Flores to perpetually come through versus everybody as he did against Felipe Rivero and the Nats. Hopeful, heartfelt applause upon sighting No. 4 in games that were late and close became the stuff of Pavlov. Though orange-and-blue moonshots couldn’t be conjured on demand in response, we didn’t cease clapping. The circumstances would never again quite match those surrounding the Big Bang, but Wilmer delivered three more walkoff home runs over the next three seasons and knocked in the game-ending run on ten separate occasions overall. On July 3, 2016, the Mets didn’t require a dramatic finish because Wilmer was incredible the whole game through. Versus the Cubs, he homered twice and singled four times, a 6-for-6 Sunday, tying the team record set seventeen years earlier by fellow Venezuelan Edgardo Alfonzo.

As the Mets attempted to repeat their magic from 2015, Wilmer roved about the infield, playing 51 games at third, 27 at first, 18 at second and eight at short; eventually, he’d become the only Met to log at least 100 games apiece at all four positions. His power versus portsiders could not be ignored (OPS+ of 190 in 107 plate appearances), but if he loomed large against lefties, he proved limited in other facets of the game. Righties foiled him regularly, fielding vexed him and he was never gonna be in there for his speed. The player who tugged at his “Mets” and our better angels a year earlier was demoted to reserve duty. Come September, he was eliminated from the picture altogether, having wrecked a wrist sliding into home in Atlanta, Turner Field’s final curse on us. Floreslessly, the Mets battled their way into a second consecutive postseason before being shut immediately out of it in the Wild Card Game.

That era when the Mets extended their years into October was over in a blink. Wilmer remained stubbornly lovable (“I’ll be there for you…”) and recurringly clutch, but the team he personified receded into competitive obscurity. The guy who ended more Mets wins with one swing of the bat than anybody the franchise ever harbored couldn’t last a full season. The wrist in September ’16. A broken nose in September ’17. Arthritis diagnosed in both knees in September ’18. Considering he had no position to call his own, his mastery of lefties had diminished and you kind of need your knees in tip-top shape to play ball at your best, the new general manager of the Mets couldn’t necessarily be blamed for thinking offering a sentimental favorite a contract for ’19 was the most worthwhile use of the resources at his disposal. Thus, the non-tender.

Wilmer warmed our hearts those nights in 2015, but nobody said baseball had stopped being a cold business.

When Wilmer got here, at 22, the Mets were dismal. As Wilmer departs, at 27, they’ve been dismal. Van Wagenen is trying to change that condition pronto. He’s trading some well-regarded future for a blast of present as his bold first stab at improvement. If that doesn’t work out, we can blame him for that (we can be cold, too). Yet like the GM, we want a better ballclub sooner rather than later. We understand change has got to come.

Unlike the executive class, even in our most transactional mode, we come fully equipped with a Met memory. We can and will be sentimental even if we’re determined to be logical. What the hell, we don’t construct the roster. We’ve liked Wilmer Flores all along and loved him since the night he redirected the Mets once and for all away from the dismalness that had enveloped us for so long. Sure, there’d be another wave of dismal awaiting us on the other side of the era we fully entered once Flores took Rivero joyously deep, but we did get an era to revel in. Maybe it wasn’t much of an era when measured by length or, honestly, accomplishment. Just two seasons in the playoffs, just one in the World Series, no visits whatsoever to the Canyon of Heroes.

But it felt like so much more while it was at its best. Like the night of July 31, 2015, when the kid who’d rather cry than leave made certain we’d win instead of lose. That was quite the transaction Wilmer Flores conducted.

Outstanding Clubhouse Presence

No better baseball clubhouse existed during this decade than the one you’d find on East Eleventh Street in Manhattan, just west of Broadway. That was the physical location of Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, where Jay Goldberg — owner, manager, Wright-level captain — steered his ship to nothing but winning records.

We have been conditioned to dismiss or at least seriously question the value of clubhouse presence, clubhouse chemistry, being great in the clubhouse, whatever you want to call those analytically elusive human being intangibles. If you’d ever spent a few minutes in this Clubhouse, you’d put an extremely high value on it.

Jay Goldberg personified Menschiness Above Replacement. Still does, even as he’s closed the brick-and-mortar iteration of the Clubhouse on Eleventh, which is a shame for New York baseball fans of all stripe. Bergino was a seamhead’s DMZ. I sat inside its four walls with fans of every club and it housed us comfortably and cordially. I shared bonhomie with Mets fans, found common ground with Yankees fans, strolled uptown (so to speak) with Giants preservationists and detected echoes of Ebbets. There was something for everybody, even out-of-towners. When the Astros were at the low point of their teardown, losing a hundred-plus games year after year, I was charmed that in the Bergino restroom, there was a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer graced with their logo. Like the Houston franchise over the life of the Clubhouse, it gained a measure of dignity the way it hung in there.

Bergino wasn’t a memorabilia shop. It wasn’t a gallery or a museum. It wasn’t a boutique. It had elements of all those things, yet it was its own thing. It was a Toots Shor’s for the Twenty-First Century, minus the cigar smoke, the Scotch & sodas and the proprietor calling you a crumb-bum. Not Jay’s style. He was gracious and giving, no more so than those nights he tranformed the Clubhouse into a salon, inviting baseball writers to have a seat next to him and discuss their work for an intensely interested audience. I had the honor of sitting in that chair a few times and took just as much pleasure being a face in the crowd while somebody else spoke. I had no idea such an arena existed for baseball books and authors before I stumbled into it at Bergino and I couldn’t believe somebody else hadn’t thought to create one once I got used to the idea that this was real and this was spectacular.

Now I have to get used to the idea that Jay has moved on to other ventures and adventures. The Bergino brand continues online, and you should check out the very fine goods under its virtual awning. Also, Jay would also love to hear from you if you’d like to be part of a passion project he’s pursuing, “Remember Your First Baseball Game?” If you do remember and wish to share, you should get in touch with Jay ( As I learned when I’d inevitably linger at the Clubhouse after his events wound down, he’s an excellent listener.

When introducing an evening’s program, Jay would greet us with a simple “welcome home.” If you were a baseball fan at Bergino, you got it immediately.

A Little Less Fun

I was going to bemoan that we can never keep a splendid team together, but we kept Howie Rose and Josh Lewin together for seven fun-filled seasons, making them the longest-running Mets radio tandem since the Hall of Fame duo of Bob Murphy (Frick Award, 1994) and Gary Cohen (New York State Baseball HOF, 2018) held forth from the end of the Eighties to the early Aughts. Be happy for what has been, not sad for what is no longer, or whatever the phrase is, I guess, but Josh leaving us before we migrate from 710 to 880 is a blow to fun-loving Mets fans everywhere.

That’s the word I keep coming back to: fun. Josh was fun. Josh brought fun. Josh made Mets radio more pure fun, perhaps, than it ever was. Tuning into Mets baseball can be fun on its own merit — it’s Mets baseball! — but nobody who preceded Josh (it seems overly stuffy to refer to him by last name) ever seemed to be having such an out-and-out good time keeping us apprised of balls and strikes. That sense of glee…that honest-to-goodness happiness to be here…it transmitted cleanly through the crackling deficiencies of WOR’s signal. Josh didn’t just appreciate or embrace announcing Mets baseball. He got a huge kick out of it.

Before any misguided radio management types, in their nebulous quest for a “fresh” sound or whatever they’ve bizarrely decided is required at a new frequency, dared to possibly kick him out of it, Josh stepped away from the Mets booth on his own steam. The Post’s Andrew Marchand this week reported that Josh is taking his talents to San Diego to anchor the Padres’ pregame and postgame coverage (and doubtlessly do a damn entertaining job of it). Given Josh’s work on behalf of UCLA athletics and his previous connection to the Chargers, it makes sense that the Rochester native’s center of gravity shifts all the way west. As Albert Hammond might have sung, seems it’s always Josh in Southern California.

Aside from having all the on-air tools of his trade down pat, Josh was the right Met voice at the right Met time, the first of our play-by-play announcers who understood that much of the sports world before, during and after games now revolved on social media. He wasn’t constantly kibitzing on Twitter, but he was present and certainly didn’t resist the platform’s shall we say charms. There was less of a barrier around him than we were used to from his profession. He intrinsically got the community aspect of fandom, virtual and actual. The kid who grew up rooting for Willie Montañez and Nino Espinosa had been around the majors plenty — four other teams plus nationally on Fox — yet he was clearly ready to let his Met flag fly when he alighted in Flushing in 2012.

Perhaps the online exposure to the way fans can be in this day and age led him to be a little more likely to allow his innate allegiance to the orange and blue reveal itself across the innings. I’m not sure if Josh was severely bummed when his childhood team lost a game, but he understood the vast majority of his listeners were when theirs did. “We” and “us” didn’t infiltrate his patter, thankfully, but there was a palpable difference between how he called a Met’s home run and that struck by an opponent. Consider the emojis you’d click in those respective situations and you can hear his disparate tones. Raised on Murph generally concealing his partisanship and forever admiring the way Howie can elevate an outstanding performance by somebody in another uniform, I have to admit the more obvious pro-Mets tilt didn’t always burrow snugly inside my ears. But I totally dug where the tilt was coming from.

Play-by-play isn’t the only reason you listen to baseball on the radio. You listen for the company, the companionship. If you’re lucky, you feel an announcer is talking to you. With Howie and Josh, we were luckier because we felt we were hanging with them. And why wouldn’t we want to? They were talking about the Mets for three hours a night, finding that sweet spot between taking it as seriously as you did and recognizing there’s a reason a game is referred to as a game. It was more than the idealized image of having the radio on in your backyard so you could keep up with the action. It was being invited over to their backyard for a barbecue, Howie practically asking if we want another burger, Josh graciously passing us another beverage, Conforto sending a ball into the gap and Cabrera chugging home from second. The sun may have set, the darkness may have overtaken the sky, the occasional mosquito may have required swatting, but you never wanted to get up and leave this little party they were throwing.

The deep dives into Seinfeld. The most Yiddish-inflected broadcast since Molly Picon was in high demand. The namechecking of the season ticketholding residents of Section 318, directly beneath their booth. The railing at network stooges (Howie’s trademark Sunday night grudge, but one egged on good-naturedly by his partner). Affection for the franchise. Affection for its followers. You didn’t have to be Sly Stone to recognize Howie and Josh created hot fun in the summertime. Spring and fall, too.

Seven years weren’t enough for this most splendid of teams. But they will have to do.

I don’t know if this merits a “full disclosure” disclaimer, but full disclosure: Josh Lewin has been a genuine friend to this blog, extending a stream of unexpected kindnesses toward this blogger through his seven seasons in the Metsian midst. Like his indelible descriptions of Jordany Valdespin and Ike Davis walkoff grand slams, they won’t soon be forgotten.

Somebody Knew Something

It was a June evening, the season before this last one, at Citi Field, by one of those tables out beyond center field where you stand and you chat and you chew. The combination momentarily got the best of me as a crumb went down the wrong way between sentences. I coughed a little. Maybe a lot. Certainly enough to draw the attention of my companion.

“You all right?” he asked with genuine concern. Yes, I said, once the crumb found its path to digestion. Thus relieved, my friend put my brush with mortality in perspective:

“If you’re gonna go, could there be a more appropriate place for you to go than here?”

I realized that if that crumb had gotten the best of me and I had succumbed right then and there, prior to a Mets game versus the Pirates, everybody who knew me would have focused on the “there” and fast-forwarded to the same conclusion regarding my conclusion. “At least he went where he wanted to be,” I imagined it would be said. I suppose anything could be said without my input in that situation. I wouldn’t be around to object.

It’s a romantic notion that an individual would choose to meet one’s end precisely where one chose to spend much of one’s life. It’s also a little presumptuous to believe it. Is that really how I’d want to call it a day, choking on a bite of Shake Shack or Blue Smoke while Dave Racaniello warms up the starter in the bullpen? I wanted to see the Mets win that night, sure. But I also implicitly wanted to see the next morning. I got one out of two — the one I’d take in a heartbeat, as long as I have a heartbeat.

These thoughts from the night I overcame that rogue crumb have revisited me in the wake of the passing of William Goldman, the screenwriter responsible for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidAll the President’s Men and a multiplex’s worth of other beloved titles. His credits spanned film, theater, literature. Goldman did a lot of writing about a lot of things in his eighty-seven years.

And one year, he devoted his talents to the Mets.

Well, the Mets and five other teams, all of them playing in and around New York. The year was 1987. Goldman and Mike Lupica teamed up on a book called Wait Till Next Year. The premise was New York was the reigning center of the sporting universe, let’s see how that plays out from the alternating perspectives of a big-time newspaper columnist and an impassioned fan. The Mets were defending a world championship. The Giants were, too. The Yankees and Jets were respectable second bananas. The Nets and Knicks weren’t much, but basketball is the city game and Goldman was known for his courtside presence at the Garden.

Others remember William Goldman for “follow the money,” or “the fall will probably kill ya” or, most famously, “nobody knows anything,” the last of those lines his assessment of how Hollywood works. When I learned of his death, I remembered “Stats for Nuts”. That was Goldman’s idealized take on the sheath of statistics ballclubs compile, now as then, for the media daily. Today, they’re accessible to anybody online, nutty or otherwise. Thirty-plus years ago, if you were a civilian (which Goldman was, despite his celebrity status allowing him to wrangle credentials), they were a revelation. Honestly, on that handful of occasions I’ve entered the Citi Field press box and casually picked up the sheaths put out by the Mets and their opponent du nuit, they remain a revelation.

Goldman marveled at Shea in September of 1987 that this was “something that sportswriters get before every game and don’t think much of, but for us True Believers,” the statistics were “a little bit of heaven…I mean pages of them. All neatly mimeoed. How many pages? The number varies from game to game but for the Montreal opener, I was flipping through close to thirty pages of single-spaced, legal-sized, fact-filled stuff. (I think the Mets — and all home teams for that matter — should put a paper clip on them, call them ‘Stats for Nuts’ or something Madison Avenue-ish, and sell them at the park for a buck; make a fortune.)”

To this day, when I get my hands on the press notes or even open them in PDF form, I think, “Stats for Nuts.” Dude really knew how to make a phrase stick.

Rereading Goldman’s Mets chapters reminded me that early in the book, he didn’t consider himself a serious Mets fan, confessing he preferred the other team and stadium for some nonsensical reason, but by late September, with only one local team hanging tough in a pennant race, his tune had changed.

“I had, at 2:42 P.M. on Friday, the twenty-fifth of September, 1987 — an epiphany,” he testified. “Do you remember a few pages back when I put in my little aside about me being a Yankee fan? Well, I wasn’t anymore. For the first time in forty-five years I had switched allegiances not for a geographical reason.” Goldman blamed having been “Steinbrennered to death” for his estrangement: “I slogged through it before, telling myself I liked the team but detested the owner,” yet he came to admit that he’d reached a point of no return, finding himself utterly unmoved by Bronx Bomber fortunes. “The Yankees were just the Yankees now,” Goldman swore. “The Mets were mine now. And I had to get them home.”

We know he and we didn’t, but not for lack of trying. Note the ephiphanous date the book’s co-author cited: September 25, 1987. It was a grand day for Goldman professionally. The movie version of The Princess Bride (“my favorite piece of my own writing, my only favorite piece”) opened that day to rave reviews. Two weeks earlier, the Mets were on the verge of closing. Closing ground, that is. On September 11, the Mets were hosting the Cardinals, while Goldman was stuck in Los Angeles on business. As part of his initiation into full Mets fandom, he decided that he must not offend the baseball gods by becoming aware of the score of the game in progress before it was complete. (It was a different technological world in 1987).

Long story short, Goldman thought he had his bases covered clear up to a phone call he received around twenty of eight Pacific Time, or twenty of eleven in New York. He figured it must be somebody phoning from back east with definitive good news. “I answered,” Goldman wrote. “And heard among the happiest words of the year: ‘They’re partying at Shea.’” Goldman’s pal on the other end of the line filled him in on the glorious details of this Friday night in Queens, particularly how HoJo joined the 30-30 club while the Mets were taking it to the Cards. It was a Stat a Nut of Goldman’s stature reveled in while he calculated the gap the Mets were diminishing. A half-game tonight, then Doc pitching Saturday, then, “at last, after all the injuries and bad luck and bad behavior the Mets were going to be in first place, and rightfully, tomorrow by sunset.”

The caller updated his report on the mood in Flushing. “‘They’re dancing in the aisles at Shea,’ he said, bubbling.” Goldman could picture his fellow fans staying and celebrating long after hard-won victory had been secured. “‘They just won’t leave the ballpark,’ I said. I know the feeling. An event is done, gone, but the texture of the air is so splendid, you just linger.

“‘Not till Willie McGee makes the last out,’ the guy said.”

Whoa. Goldman grasped what he was being told. Not only was his correspondent jumping the gun regarding the “partying” and “dancing” at Shea — a last out still hung in the balance — but he had served to violate Goldman’s deal with the gods to not know anything about the game before the game was through.

“‘As calm as Chamberlain at Munich I said, ‘Uh, you mean the game isn’t quite over?’

“‘As good as. Two outs, two strikes, top of the ninth, Roger McDowell with stuff on the mound. I can’t quite see the set from here, I’m across the room, I thought I’d share the news.’

“‘There really isn’t quite news yet, is there?’ I said. ‘It’s really more of an interim report than news.’”

A little uncomfortable small talk followed between Goldman and his no longer welcome caller. “‘Finally I said, ‘Is Willie McGee still up?’ I heard the phone being put down. Steps. I hear the phone being picked up. ‘No big deal, he singled, Pendleton’s up, no power, four-two, two out, two strikes — ’

“I screamed, ‘Get the fuck off the phone!’ and slammed my receiver down. Agony.

Yes, agony. For Goldman. For all of us sentient in September ’87. Whatever aisle dancing may have occurred ceased when Terry Pendleton belted a homer to center and halted the party altogether…an update Goldman also hung up on when the guy called back to tell him. From there, he attended to a dinner engagement during which he learned, against his will, that the Mets had gone on to lose, 6-4.

“Reality set in.” Goldman wrote, “I’m a Fan, and I knew the long-range truth: Terry Pendleton was my Titanic. After that liner sank, no one ever felt quite as confident again, not in deep water. And I was in deep water now…”

Yet Goldman hung in there the rest of the way, like the convert turned True Believer he fancied himself. He went to that game against Montreal on the Twenty-Third, where he shuffled like Teufel through his stack of stats. He stressed over El Sid’s chances at besting the Pirates’ Mike Bielecki (whom he referred to as “some typo”) every bit as much as he worried how The Princess Bride would be received by critics on the Twenty-Fifth. He believed as best he could, like any defending World Champion Mets fan.

Yet despite declaring nobody knows anything, Goldman knew something. The Mets may not have been eliminated on the Eleventh, but Goldman sensed something had gone irreversibly awry, same as every Mets fan in September of Nineteen Eighty-Seven. His deal with the baseball gods was null and void the second he answered the telephone in L.A.

I don’t know what was on the man’s mind when he died on November 16, 2018, but Goldman theorized thirty-one years, two months and five days before how his last breaths might unfold.

“On my deathbed,” he wrote, “if I have grandchildren and they ask, ‘Grampa, what does Willie McGee make you think of?’ I would answer that Willie McGee makes me think of this asshole who called me to gloat before the game was over.”

Goldman had one grandson. I kind of hope he asked.

Winning For Losing

First you noticed the last name, specifically its unorthodox spelling, and you made puns because it’s what you do with a last name that looks different. Then you got a load of the hair, particularly its length, and you couldn’t help but get tangled up in that because it, too, looked different. Eventually, you got used to the name and the hair (before most of it disappeared) and you focused fully on the pitcher who needed nothing else unorthodox as a calling card because he already brought to bear something different from all his contemporaries.

He pitched better than every single one of them.

Within the National League, that was made clear Wednesday when the Baseball Writers Association of America displayed uncommon, nearly unanimous wisdom and voted Jacob deGrom the 2018 Cy Young Award, making it six Cys for the Mets in their history (three for Tom Seaver, three for everybody who isn’t Tom Seaver). Given that the New York Mets compose one-fifteenth of said senior circuit, it follows that the best in the league is the best on his team and, sure enough, we certify that here and now.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody who might have given the matter the slightest passing thought, Faith and Fear in Flushing proudly announces that the winner of the Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met award for 2018 is — for the second year in a row and the third overall — Jacob deGrom.

Since the inauguration of our little token of recognition, no incumbent MVM has ever been re-elected, but since we began covering the Mets on a going basis in 2005, no player has so dominated the Metscape without interruption. If we stick with the politico lingo, consider deGrom the dark horse victor in a spiritually low-turnout contest in 2014; the default nominee who ran unopposed in 2017; and, in 2018, our winner by acclamation.

Though the Mets as a whole barely made it past the New Hampshire primary phase of the past season, a few theoretical vote-getters dotted their ticket. Brandon Nimmo often gave us reason to grin like Brandon Nimmo; Zack Wheeler corralled his potential and processed it into long-projected success; and if we could smush them together, a second baseman we’d dub “Asdrubal McNeil” would pass as a worthy if belated successor to Edgardo Alfonzo. Honorable mention cap tips can be directed as well toward Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario for finding their respective grooves in the latter stages of the second half.

But deGrom was the one Met who transcended all of Metsdom, a situation that registers as both feature and bug of 2018. If there were more Mets like Jake, the Mets would have been a lot better. Not that Jakeishness is easily passed around the dugout like sunflower seeds, but teams can have more than one transcendent player in captivity at once. I’m sure I’ve seen it.

Yet somehow, especially since there is nothing that can be done about it now, there was something sort of beautiful about the stubbornness of the futility with which the 77-85 Mets surrounded their ace. They wouldn’t pitch in? He’d just pitch better. They lost 18 of his 32 starts? He retained his composure. They sank into the second division? He was first class. In this age of player agents morphing into general managers, imagine Jerry Maguire as Brodie Van Wagenen last winter furiously typing up an iconoclastic mission statement through the night for his client and his client’s team to follow:

Fewer baserunners. Less winning.

Not a formula designed to show us the pennant, but this moment was (to again paraphrase Mr. Maguire) the moment of something real, and fun, and inspiring in this godforsaken season.

Well, maybe not fun with the team losing so much, but definitely real and surely inspiring.

• Twenty Eighteen was the moment during which Jacob deGrom compiled an earned run average of 2.13…in the eighteen starts of his that the Mets lost.

• It was the moment during which the Mets scored no more than two runs in seven of deGrom’s starts. DeGrom posted an earned run average of 1.87 in those same seven starts…and the Mets lost every one of them.

• It was the moment during which five consecutive Jacob deGrom starts yielded 36 innings pitched, five earned runs allowed…and zero Mets wins.

On and on it went like this, from March 31 through September 26, encompassing 32 starts, or approximately one every five games. Despite a barking back that cost him the Opening Day assignment he’d earned through four prior years of superb service. Despite a non-existent rain delay that managed to keep him idle for more than a week in September. Despite the disabled list detour when a briefly hyperextended elbow sent us into hyperextended panic. Despite a veritable shoeless dance across hot coals that followed the DL visit: a first inning in Philadelphia that loaded the bases, required 45 pitches yet resulted in no runs. Not taking any chances after the elbow scare, Mickey Callaway pulled deGrom as soon as he emerged with his bare feet intact. Not singed in the least from his brush with fallibility, Jacob returned to regular rotation duty ASAP, never again lasting less than six innings in any of his succeeding 24 starts, never surrendering more than three runs in a single outing, only once leaving a game while a Mets defensive inning remained unresolved.

Perhaps Callaway learned a little about managing his star if not everybody else on his roster. Leave Jake in as long as you can, Mickey. Your team may not win in the end, but you’ll never do any better before the score goes final.

Twenty-nine of thirty BBWAA voters were suitably impressed by deGrom’s performance — more so than deGrom ever seems by himself. According to Baseball-Reference’s calculations, no National League player at any position, including pitcher, posted a higher total WAR in 2018. Jake finished first in earned run average; second in walks and hits to innings pitched; third in hits per nine innings and walks per nine innings; second in strikeouts per nine innings, innings pitched, situational wins saved, strikeouts and strikeouts-to-walks ratio; and first in fewest home runs per nine innings, adjusted ERA+ (by a lot), fielding independent pitching, adjusted pitching runs, adjusted pitching wins, base-out runs saved, win probability added and base-out wins saved.

Some of that needs no explanation. Some of it could probably use a little statistical elaboration. All of it means Jacob deGrom had it goin’ on.

No. 48 with the long locks and the and the small “de” before “G” may have been a surprise when he strolled onto the scene via side entrance in 2014 — he’s not really the type to burst — but by 2018, we shouldn’t have been shocked he’d be a Cy Young contender. Rookie of the Year in ’14. All-Star in 2015. Handed the ball to commence the first Met postseason in nine years. A one-hit shutout highlighting ’16. Fifteen wins for a team that garnered only 70 in ’17, back when we paid attention to how many of those a pitcher was credited with. Jacob deGrom was, by any standard, one of the best around before 2018.

Then he ascended to a whole other level, pitching on a plane that overshadowed the Scherzers, the Nolas and anybody else you cared to identify as one of the best around. Long after the daily grind of the Mets season remained must-see viewing for anybody save the diehardiest of the diehards, Jacob turned every start into a hotly anticipated deGrom Bowl and left you feeling privileged that you got to watch. He did it with run support that would have had to have increased to be described as minimal and he did it with peerless consistency.

DeGrom persevered from beginning (5.2 IP, 4 H 1 BB, 7 SO, 1 ER in his first effective if unremarkable start to defeat the Cardinals) to end (8 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 10 SO, 0 ER in his season finale, when every pitch was a Cy-building cause, utterly silencing the Braves). Closer to the beginning than the end we knew something was up, perhaps because his ERA stayed down as his win total grew stagnant. On May 18, deGrom lowered his world-beating earned run average to 1.75 and raised his won-lost record to 4-0. By the time his next win rolled around, on June 18, his ERA checked in at 1.51. In between, Jake was all but untouchable, yet absorbed a pair of losses and three no-decisions. And after the aberrant 12-2 victory at Colorado in mid-June, the drought resumed: 2 Ls, 2 NDs, 3 Ls…and an earned run average that ballooned clear to 1.85.

There was no question he’d be an All-Star (the only Met selected). His Cy Young candidacy was presumed before the first half was done, though his primacy was no sure thing. We were still grappling with the idea that a 5-5, 5-6, 5-7 pitcher could compete with rivals who were into double-digits before the Fourth of July. Scherzer notched his tenth win on June 1 (10-1). Nola got there on June 28 (10-2). As late as September 16, Jacob deGrom was a sub-.500 pitcher…in language we used to use.

Besides retiring nearly every batter he faced, deGrom smashed a paradigm that had held sway for more than a century. Jake wasn’t the first starting pitcher to make us re-evaluate the efficacy of the win, but nobody so definitively knocked the W down to lower-case in common perception. At the break, it had to be argued that a pitcher whose season was indifferent to wins and losses was worthy of consideration as the league’s top pitcher. As the year wound down, the fact that Scherzer and Nola were, respectively, eight and seven wins ahead barely resonated.

The Mets found it within themselves to score four runs in deGrom’s penultimate start to boost him to 9-9 (Jacob reached .500 on September 21, the same date the 1973 Mets did, when they also climbed into first place) and three in his last to push him over the hump at 10-9. If 1.70 and everything else didn’t say enough, now he was what previous generations called a winning pitcher. “There,” Jake might have been saying, as if putting on a coat and tie to quell a parent’s nagging, “you happy?” He knew a season like this wasn’t about superficial niceties. It was about what you did and who you were.

And in 2018, he did and was the best.

Since we’ve said something similar twice in the previous four years in conferring MVM honors on Jacob deGrom, maybe we need to expand his horizons. Let’s look into two contexts and see where we can further fit Jake.

MET OF THE 2010s
If you haven’t noticed, we’re about to close out a decade. Mets fans should know you can’t write a ten-year history too far in advance. The 1969 Mets blew up perceptions about what kind of Sixties the franchise enjoyed and the 1999 Mets altered the narrative of the Nineties. If the 2019 Mets upset expectations and win it all (or a substantial chunk of it), and if…

• Michael Conforto has an MVP season;

• or Yoenis Cespedes pulls a Heaven Can Wait and stumbles into a healthy body that will steer him back to his August 2015 incarnation;

• or some heretofore unknown free agent appears in Flushing and puts up a string of statistics that evoke Barry Bonds, Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby

…while Jacob deGrom takes the theoretical world championship year off, then the question of who the Met of the 2010s is will be up for a shred of debate. Otherwise, there will be no debate. A triple Ashburn winner with a Rookie of the Year award, a Cy Young, at least two All-Star appearances and a key role on a pennant-winner etched into his five-going-on-six-season Met ledger is going to be nearly impossible to beat. DeGrom’s blend of longevity and excellence looms as unmatched for the seasons encompassing 2010 through 2019.

But no need to get ahead of ourselves. We can do the 2010s when the deGrom decade is over. It definitely looms, however, as the deGrom decade. Or deCade if you still dig that sort of thing.

You may recall and perhaps revile the ESPN telecast of August 13, when the Mets visited the Bronx to make up a rainout against the Yankees. Keith Olbermann held court as de facto play-by-play announcer. While deGrom was on the mound striking out twelve and putting to rest the silly notion that any pitcher anywhere else in New York was his equal (Luis Severino gave up four runs in four innings before exiting), KO basically hosted a chat show with a ballgame in the background. It’s only the Subway Series, Keith. Even for an Olbermann acolyte like me, the experiment offered a mixed bag. Some of his patter was irrelevant, some of it was self-indulgent, but, because he’s KO, plenty of it was intriguing.

The most compelling element of his conversation with Tom Verducci and Eduardo Perez, amid a strained appraisal of who the best Mets ever were, was Olbermann’s incidental mention of Jacob deGrom as a Top Five Met. He didn’t trumpet it with Olbermannian gravitas; he just kind of dropped Jake’s name in, somewhere behind Seaver. You could have missed it if you were busy being aghast that he was dismissing Piazza altogether because he tended to think of Mike as a Dodger.

Until KO brought it up, it had never occurred to me to think of deGrom within the realm of Greatest Mets, probably because his arrival seemed so recent and his story was still unfolding. Yet in the middle of his fifth season, when he was hyperextending his unhittable spurt and elbowing aside all competition, perhaps the time had arrived to give it some thought.

There’s never any mystery to No. 1 Met of All Time. By any measure, it’s Tom Seaver. It’s been Tom Seaver since 1967 and, though somebody else needs to come back and confirm this assertion 49 years from now, it will be Tom Seaver in 2067. If a future Met wishes to surpass Seaver, he is welcome to excel.

When I last fully contemplated the matter, as the Mets were turning 40, I was convinced Keith Hernandez had edged out Mike Piazza for No. 2. David Wright didn’t come along until the Mets were in their forty-third season. Now he might be No. 2. Or it might still be Hernandez. Or it could be Piazza, no matter what Olbermann thinks. Piazza played a few more years after my initial rankings, cemented his status as an icon, and was elevated to Seaverian status when he went into the Hall of Fame as a Met and had 31 raised above Citi Field adjacent to 41. Yet Wright, as we were reminded intensely in September, is the only Great, Great Met to stay a Met and nothing but a Met for his entire long career (no offense, Eddie Kranepool). And he’s David Wright. Then again, Keith Hernandez, as the script of “The Boyfriend” clarified, is Keith Hernandez, the only position player among these three Great, Great Mets to lead — and I mean lead — the Mets to a world championship.

Two through Four is a fascinating exercise, one that isn’t the point here. The point is deGrom. I don’t think he’s quite at the Keith-Mike-David level. He’s not Darryl-Doc Great, Great Met great, either, not yet. He hasn’t endured like Jerry Koosman, who was outstanding early, outstanding late and clutch when it counted like crazy.

I’ve named seven Mets whom I don’t think Jacob deGrom can be ranked above at present, three of them pitchers. Let’s stay with pitchers, since that’s what Jake is. Let’s accept that Seaver is beyond comparison within the Met universe; and that Gooden was not just spectacular for a couple of years but solid for a long while; and that Koosman, despite not wearing the ace title until Seaver was exiled, was front-of-the-rotation material for more than a decade. I’m comfortable with them as my Top Three Mets Pitchers.

Is Jacob deGrom, five seasons in, already the best or greatest or most accomplished — however you wish to phrase it — Mets pitcher who isn’t one of those three?

I’m not sure he is, but I’m also not sure he isn’t. DeGrom’s Mets career to date — with plenty more to come, we hope — shines no less bright than those attached to arms we’ve long revered.

Sound the roll call… Matlack. Swan. Darling. Fernandez. Ojeda. Cone. Jones. Reed. Leiter. Martinez. Santana. Dickey. Plus a handful of others who stuck around meritoriously without generating much reverence. DeGrom fits in fine with this crew. He slots above several already and seems en route to topping all of them. For what it’s worth, he’s also outlasted or outstripped everybody who’s pitched in the same rotation as him, regularly taking the ball with noticeably less self-imposed drama than a couple of them. Superhero personas are entertaining as all get out as long as you get outs. But sometimes you don’t mind a starting pitcher who bypasses phone booths on his way to the mound and requires no costume flashier than a Mets uniform.

He’s not a bird. He’s not a plane. He’s Jacob deGrom. Pitching doesn’t get any more super than that.

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

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2018.

Culture Club

We should all be able to introduce ourselves amid resounding employer-generated fanfare when changing careers the way Brodie Van Wagenen did as he left superagenting and shifted into hopefully super general managing. We should all have the kind of top shelf opportunity available to us when we tire of succeeding in our previous career.

If Van Wagenen is pretty good let alone super as Mets GM, it won’t seem weird that this is what he’s doing or that he’s doing it for us. If Van Wagenen is miscast in his new role, the results will transcend the weirdness. For now, it’s still weird. If we’d heard of Van Wagenen prior to his appointment as general manager, it was as somebody trying to put the lucre in lucrative for his baseball-playing clients, negotiating on behalf of individual Mets and prospective Mets with the Mets organization. Now he personifies the Mets organization and we will perceive him as we perceived Sandy Alderson, Omar Minaya and all their predecessors. Many contribute to the construction of a baseball team. We focus on one man. Sandy’s gotta make a move. Omar’s gotta go. What on earth is everybody from George Weiss to Jim Duquette thinking?

What all those fellas had in common was they had been GMs for somebody else, or assistant GMs for the Mets, or some kind of executive within the infrastructure that pieces together a baseball team. Van Wagenen has been in baseball, but organization-adjacent. Think about those medical salespeople you see flitting in and out of doctor’s offices while you wait to be called into the examining room. Now think about that slickly coiffed salesperson suddenly greeting you on the inside, telling you to turn and cough.

Not a perfect analogy. There is none. It is weird. Yet it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable that the guy who brings the latest in high-end baseball personnel to the reception window of a baseball organization has framed himself for that organization as the latest in must-have material. I’ve sold you on pitchers. I’ve sold you on hitters. Now for something completely different, let me sell you on me…

It apparently worked on the Wilpons like Lyle Lanley’s promise of municipal makeover via monorail worked on Springfield. Brodie Van Wagenen sold himself to the Mets. The weirdness will take care of itself one way or another. I hope it takes care of itself with parades on top of pennants. I have no idea if it will, but that would be the optimal outcome of the Van Wagenen wager. The Mets are betting on articulateness, connectedness and intelligence piling high and deep enough to cover any gaps in job-specific experience.

There’s something to be said for articulateness, connectedness and intelligence. There are many current, former and deputy general managers out there. Most of them guide or have guided baseball teams that haven’t won championships. Thirty organizations, one championship per year…that leaves behind a lot of coulda-beens and wanna-bes not to mention used-to-bes. There’s only so much ultimate winning to go around, no matter how hard you try to cultivate it. There are, no doubt, many fine front offices dotting the baseball landscape, yet the only one anybody’s writing odes to this week belongs to the Red Sox. Last year it was the Astros who could do no wrong; the year before that, the Cubs. Reach any further back, and you’re no longer winning. You won. Past tense.

I’m capable of taking a certain degree of comfort in what has been won whenever it was won. Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager may or may not have been splendid on the whole, but 2015 sated me where his track record is concerned. Getting to that World Series recontextualized the miserable seasons he oversaw as growing pains. Whatever came after, as in 2017 and 2018…hey, lay off Sandy, he got us to the World Series! Still, we ended the Alderson Era bogged down in misery. I’m aware 2015 occurred. I will always appreciate 2015 (and 2016). But I know the approach of 2019 puts ever greater distance between the resounding victories from then and the lesser circumstances defining now.

Did Alderson and the operations he helmed until late June leave us in a worse place than we were in when Alderson succeeded Omar Minaya in the autumn of 2010? It’s hard to say. The 2015 World Series really did include the New York Mets. So did the 2016 postseason. They were great years. Alas, the tickets that admitted us to those festive falls won’t scan anymore. Everything’s been on the fritz since Conor Gillaspie took Jeurys Familia distressingly deep. Something completely different might very well be the order of the day.

Upon his introduction, as he attempted to transition from weird choice to impressive as hell, Van Wagenen invoked the c-word: culture. The man who has never run a baseball organization stressed that what this one needs most, besides an injection of him, is a changed culture. “A winning culture.” “A culture of positivity.” So much culture that Free Yogurt Friday will henceforth anchor the promotional schedule. Mickey Callaway emphasized culture when he was hired to manage in 2017. Boy George didn’t talk up culture as much as fresh Met management does — and he was in Culture Club. I guess it’s not much of a selling point to come into a troubled situation and declare an intention to relentlessly stay the course. In Van Wagenen’s case, I wonder if he was pointedly interpreting the whispers of his erstwhile Met clients that Brodie, dude, everything here is really effed up; or if he found himself practically tripping over sluggards and layabouts in the hallways when he returned for a second interview; or if he was just slinging the usual BS that gets slung at how-do-ya-do press conferences.

I honestly don’t know what “culture” means in the context of building a baseball team that consistently wins far more often than it loses, perhaps because I’ve had so little recent experience closely following a baseball team that does that. I don’t remember a word about the Mets’ awesome culture in 2015. I mostly remember Alderson trading for Van Wagenen’s client Yoenis Cespedes. A far more winning and positive culture developed once we stopped depending on Eric Campbell and John Mayberry, Jr., for RBIs. There was probably some pretty decent culture clicking on all cylinders for a while to catapult us from crummy when Alderson got here to the World Series once Alderson put down roots. The warranty on the gears must have lapsed later.

Engineer all the culture you can, Brodie. Or get lucky and reverse-engineer the story after the fact. I don’t really care how the Mets get better as long as the Mets get markedly better fairly soon and don’t fall apart shortly thereafter. Win like the presently irreproachable Red Sox did by getting good, then staying good, then escalating to magnificent. Or win like the Astros or Cubs did, by giving into temporary grimness in the name of eventual greatness. Or do whatever the Royals did, besides beating the Mets. Bulk up the analytics. Use an abacus. Meaningfully increase the payroll. Spend sparingly but wisely. Collaborate so everybody’s core competencies are activated, actualized and optimized — ask the usher who jealously guards field level seats during rain delays for his theories on defensive positioning; he’s pretty good at keeping anybody from advancing. Or puzzle it out all by yourself while you’re stuck on the LIE and give yourself a bonus and title bump for every World Series captured.

There were other more traditional candidates for GM. Even the relatively unorthodox candidates were run of the mill compared to Van Wagenen. It’s no longer about who wasn’t picked, though. It’s not even about the fellow who was. We’ll trust in Brodie because we have to. We trusted in Sandy. We trusted in Omar. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it will work again.

Sometimes it won’t. Mets Fan Culture hasn’t yet fully suspended reality-based rooting. Cynicism, skepticism, pessimism and fatalism have become as formidable a rotation for us as deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz (along with Vargas, who is capable of blending in with either quartet). Two years when most everything went wrong will explain hesitation to all out embrace the uncertain like it’s a sure thing. Plus six years when little went right prior to the sunny interregnum of 2015 and ’16. Plus not winning The Big One for nearly a third-of-a-century. Plus, until and unless proven otherwise, the owners who hired the new GM. General managers enter and exit. Somehow the culture keeps requiring transformation. Go figure.

Better yet, go Mets. “I want to give Mets fans hope,” BVW said by way of LGM in a tidy Twitter video. “I want to create optimism. I want to change the narrative that this franchise doesn’t succeed. I want them to believe we’re going to succeed now and every year to come.” I’m not hip to how Brodie’s negotiations usually proceed, but I’ll make a proposition to him: we’ll believe a little now, you succeed a little soon and we’ll both do our best to ramp up exponentially from there.

Do we have a deal?