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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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Last of the Old School

Dallas Green, who managed the Mets through a lean period of fizzled prospects and bad uniforms, died yesterday at 82.

It’s funny paying tribute to someone whose baseball resume lists more accomplishments for other franchises. Green was most definitely “ours,” a Mets pitcher in the summer of 1966 (albeit for five undistinguished innings) and then a manager for nearly four seasons from May 1993 through August 1996. Yet he’ll be primarily remembered for his work on the field for the Phillies and off the field for the Cubs.

Green managed 512 games for the Mets, which is more than I would have guessed without a peek at the stats. That’s more than he managed for the Phils and Yankees combined. But he won a World Series title in Philadelphia — the first for that perennially bedraggled franchise — using his booming voice, outsized personality and well-practiced whip hand to drive a team with a reputation for summer lassitude past the Astros and then the Royals. The Phillies variously feared, resented and detested him, but they won … with old friend Tug McGraw on the mound for the final out. And so they became immortal together.

The joy wasn’t to last. Green was gone after 1981 and moved on to the Cubs, where he acquired Ryne Sandberg from his old team, built the club that would hold off the Mets in ’84, and drafted Greg Maddux, Mark Grace and Rafael Palmeiro. After he tired of fighting newspaper executives in Chicago he was hired by George Steinbrenner. That proved a match made somewhere south of Heaven, and Green wound up summoned to the other side of New York to clean up the mess left by Jeff Torborg.

If I close my eyes, I can summon up a few things from Dallas’s tenure in Queens. There was that voice, of course — so big that the parabolic mikes behind home plate at Shea could pick up exactly what he was saying to umpires, often to the consternation of squeamish TV viewers. Which wasn’t the fault of the guys in the truck — when Dallas Green was pissed in Queens you could lean out your window in Brooklyn and hear a distant rumble. And at full boil he was a one-man Krakatoa, a challenge to even the most distant of sound barriers.

There was also his habit of staring out of the dugout in open-mouthed astonishment when Mets who should still have been in Tidewater did something particularly stupid on the field, as happened depressingly often during that era. No matter how disgusted I was with those hapless Mets, the sight of hulking, voluble Dallas Green rendered speechless by them would reduce me to helpless laughter. He’d gape at the proceedings until he reluctantly accepted that what had just happened was real, then mount the dugout steps trailed by a cloud of can’t-believe-this-shitness and do … well, most of the time it wasn’t clear what if anything could be done, but by the time Dallas reached the mound or home plate he’d think of something.

By the end of his Mets tenure it was pretty clear that Dallas was a man from another era. He took heat for a domestic-violence crack that would have had a clubhouse full of (all male) reporters laughing in 1973 but wasn’t so funny in 1993. He chafed at having to teach young Mets things they should have learned before earning a big-league diploma. He scowled at suggestions that he keep such thoughts to himself. After leaving the Mets he never managed again, returning to the Phillies as an adviser.

In 2011, his 9-year-old granddaughter was killed in Arizona by the gunman who targeted Gabby Giffords. Christina-Taylor Green had been born on 9/11 and loved baseball; her grandfather liked to imagine her growing up to become the first woman to play in the big leagues. Green was heartbroken and sought solace in baseball, but he also spoke out about gun control, deftly balancing his love of hunting and support for the Second Amendment with his belief that our gun laws had careened out of balance. But that was no surprise; Green rarely left an opinion unstated, whatever tumult that opinion might cause. His managerial tenure wasn’t much to remember, but the man sure was.

* * *

As a mournful coda to the above, this morning I went through the New York papers looking for the best columns about Green — and found next to nothing.

No memories of one of the four men to manage both the Mets and Yankees? Really? Of the guy who had to deal with an Augean stables of bleach throwers and explosive hurlers? Really?

Really. Even a couple of years ago, Dallas Green’s death would have meant a column in every paper at the very least. But it isn’t a couple of years ago in the newspaper business, which has been stripped of reporting muscle and institutional memory — and there’s no end in sight to the downsizing. Nor are digital outlets immune — the powers that be at ESPN New York have opted to replace Adam Rubin with indifference.

It’s enough to make this former reporter feel like a man from another era himself.

One There Could Write That Team

It was only natural that Jimmy Breslin addressed the Mets’ status at the top of the heap in 1986. Breslin covered the Mets in 1962, when they concluded their affairs eighty games from breaking even. They buried themselves so deeply beneath .500, they’re still trying to dig out in the cumulative sense. Chances are they never will. With their loss to the Phillies last October 2, the Mets regular-season record from April 11, 1962, forward fell to 4,215-4,555. Forty and One-Twenty really set a tone.

In Met terms, 1986 was light years removed from 1962. One-Hundred Eight victories and everybody there playing this game with aptitude unimaginable at the franchise’s origins. Their success was a big story. Breslin, long moved on from baseball and sports, covered big stories. He turned whatever he covered into a big story because it became a big story the second it ran under his byline. He was a big story in 1986, winning a Pulitzer Prize. In theory, that put him in company with the team winning everything in its grasp.

Yet those 1986 Mets didn’t sit right with him. I can’t find the original article right now, because when you Google something specific for somebody who has just died, as Jimmy Breslin has at 88, everything else you’re looking for about him hides behind the wave of news, obituaries and tributes posted in his memory. Breslin, the reporter, wouldn’t poke around the Internet looking for the answers he sought. He’d have his shoes on and be off tracking down what he wanted to know. But on a Sunday night in March, Googling “Jimmy Breslin 1986 Mets” is as far as I’m willing to trek, and it’s taking me nowhere. So you’ll have to trust me when I paraphrase from memory what Jimmy Breslin had to say about the 1986 Mets in 1986.

He didn’t like them. He didn’t go in for how much they won. It was too much. They’re too good, he wrote. Something to that effect. I wish I had the exact quote in front of me, but when it came to the Mets, Breslin proved wholly accurate quotes can be overrated.

Jimmy Breslin embraced the Mets at their worst and had limited use for them when they were the absolute best. Sounds right. As a columnist across the New York decades, Breslin didn’t hide his contempt for those riding unreasonably high and never concealed his compassion for those who needed a hand. The 1962 Mets needed an arm, a leg and a couple of dozen bodies warmer than room temperature.

Question asked, edited and answered for eternity.

They needed a chronicler to cast them out of tenth place and into immortality. They found what they needed in a Queens-bred sportswriter from the Journal-American who saw past the defeats, the dismal batting averages and the objectively measured hopelessness. Jimmy Breslin’s brand of analytics discerned that those Original Mets excelled at absurdity above replacement and led the league in empathetic zone ratings. He got them and, just as importantly, he got us.

“The New York Mets are in existence for a simple reason,” is how he leads off Chapter Two of the book he wrote after a season’s worth of exposure to the depths of blatantly non-competitive baseball: “New York City needed them.” And toward the end of the sixth and final chapter: “So the Mets are a bad ball club. All right, they’re the worst ball club you ever saw. So what? The important thing is they are in the National League and they are familiar. The National League, to a lot of people around New York, is something hard to describe, but important. Like the chip in the table in the living room when you were growing up. It was always there. Sometimes you can buy ten new tables over a lifetime. But the one with the chip is the one that would make you feel the best.”

Here’s how he finishes.

“The Mets lose an awful lot?
“Listen, mister. Think a little bit.
“When was the last time you won anything out of life?”

Anybody who could extract such wisdom from 120 losses wouldn’t figure to be terribly impressed by 108 wins.

Breslin wasn’t the only writer to deftly handle the first edition of the Mets with care, but it is his account that elevates a last-place enterprise to the heights of huggability. His is the one to which we reflexively refer — specifically, implicitly and instinctively — whenever it occurs to us we picked a chronically bizarre team to fall hard for. That applies even to those among us who never caught a glimpse of Marv Throneberry’s spikes not catching an iota of first base. Or a scintilla of second.

The work is called Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, published in 1963 and forever the foundation of every baseball library of a blue and orange hue. The title is ideal because a) the question it asks answers everything you’d want to know about its subject and b) contrary to understandably popular belief, it’s apparently not exactly what Casey Stengel said. Ol’ Case wanted to know if anybody among those he managed could play “this here game”.

Ah, close enough.

Breslin decided to hear Stengel slightly differently, and a legend’s embellishment was underway. Thank goodness it was. Without Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? we wouldn’t have, more than a half-century later, the author’s conclusion, which isn’t his most quoted passage from the text, but deserves to be carved into any spare rotunda the Mets might add to their physical plant when renovations are demanded in the name of keeping up with the latest architectural trends.

“[T]he New York Mets come out as something more than a baseball team as far as an awful lot of people are concerned. The Mets are a part of life. You can start keeping track of time with them.”

For 55 years and counting, millions of us have. That Jimmy Breslin got exactly right.

Thanks to all who came out to Foley’s NY on Sunday afternoon to officially launch my current book about the Mets, which includes an extended rumination on the worst team the franchise ever put forth without the leavening benefit of Casey Stengel’s involvement…plus a beefy section devoted to the period where they get real good and, unlike Mr. Breslin, we don’t mind at all. The book is called Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star. It spans, in its way, the years 1992 to 2016, so it gives you everything save for one of those pesky world championships. If you’re in Connecticut Tuesday night, swing by Staples High School, 70 North Avenue in Westport, at 7, where I’ll be talking about the book, the Mets, being a Mets fan who writes, and anything else that comes up.

I recently took part in an expansive conversation on the book and the upcoming season with the always engaging Gary McDonald of Mets Musings, which you can listen to here.

A Fist Pump in the Morning

I’m guessing the last time I made any kind of directly baseball-related gesture of exultation after sunrise and before noon was March 30, 2000, when Armando Benitez struck out Joe Girardi to seal the Mets’ eleven-inning 5–1 victory over the Cubs in Tokyo, a game best remembered for the grand slam Benny Agbayani launched to put the Mets ahead in the top of the eleventh. Since then, the Mets haven’t played any games in the Far East or in that timeslot. They’ve stayed up awfully late in these United States, but they’ve rarely gotten going that early.

The Tokyo Dome, however, is still up for hosting AM baseball when translated to American clocks, and on Wednesday morning, the stadium where Benny poured one of his most potent Hawaiian Punches served as my field of nonjudgmental yawns. Excuse the yawning. It was too early to be polite. I can’t help that night reigned on the other side of the world.

Israel was playing Japan in the World Baseball Classic, words that even as I type them strike me as Mad Libs answers. Israel? Japan? World Baseball Classic? Is there another month when any of that would flow logically? Then again, is there another month when a Heisman Trophy winner from the previous decade would be handed a Mets uniform and cause a stir every time he looked like he remotely deserved to wear one, even if it’s No. 97? It’s March. It’s the month when traditionally every Spring thing that happens wherever it happens not only stays there but is destined to be 97% forgotten.

Multiply that by four, as in years, for anything that goes on in the WBC. Baseball’s foremost international showcase is the most Brigadoon thing the game has got. It happens as often as a New Jersey governor’s race, though it tends to produce less embarrassing outcomes. March 2017 is for devoting stray thoughts to the WBC. April 2017 to February 2021 is for…well, we should only live so long. Play ’em one day at a time and all that.

But this, right now, is the magical month. This is WBC time, early, late, all night, all morning, depending on where the pools are placed. This was, until Wednesday morning, the month that belonged to Team Israel, never mind that as the WBC proceeds toward its finale, Team Israel won’t be involved. Tough break for those of us who knew a sweet bandwagon when we jumped aboard.

Somewhere around here I have a small Israeli flag. I got it when I was a fervently Zionist kid. I probably didn’t know what Zionist meant, but I was into Hebrew School for a spell, plus I enjoyed a Hebrew National frank on occasion. That was about the peak of my quasi-nationalistic fervor. I wish the Israelis well in geopolitical matters pertinent to their survival, but otherwise don’t think about them very much. Israel competes in Olympic sports. I don’t watch the Olympics. But I watch baseball. Israel crossing baseball’s path — with the Mets in the midst of conducting exceedingly meaningless exhibitions — somehow got my attention.

The Ikes of March, briefly back in fashion.

Israel played three games in Seoul and won them all. One was against host Korea, the other versus the Netherlands. I’ve heard of ballplayers being from those countries and of those backgrounds. Israel, not so much. True, the Team Israel players represented Israel more in the sense that Israeli citizenship is open to them by bloodlines than from being born and raised on the ballfields of Israel (which are mostly nonexistent). But a good story is a good story. This, it was said, stood as a little miracle in the making: a modern David slaying a slew of Goliaths; enough horsehide oil to light the upper deck lamp across an eight-night homestand; Jews hanging in there against overwhelming odds in any setting you choose to reference.

I read an article that said the Israeli players didn’t necessarily care for that interpretation, that they weren’t Cinderella in spikes, that they were plenty good enough to win without divine intervention. Maybe so. The 1969 Mets have always said much the same thing, and they received from Rabbi Hodges the wisdom and confidence to apply their innate baseball skills in the most holy of causes. Still, if somebody wants to infer from you miraculous properties, maybe step into the box and let us have our fun.

Israel winning baseball games in a somewhat worldwide arena hit all the right notes if you ever spent any part of your life learning to read from right to left. Did I mention in addition to my small Israeli flag I also collected a button in my youth that espoused JEWISH POWER, with the Star of David sitting in for the “o” in power? Speaking of Jewish Power, how about that Ike Davis? That’s what I asked seven Aprils ago when Ike landed on Citi Field’s doorstep and made himself essential to us with one mighty swing after another. That’s a while back now, and I’d gotten over my fleeting Ike fixation once his mighty swings created breezes rather than runs. Davis went on to wear other uniforms, some less appealing than others.

Wednesday morning, however, Ike was again in a uniform I could get behind. Neither his presence, nor Ty Kelly’s, nor that of any other Team Israel member was extending the Cinderella storyline. After leaving Seoul 3–0 and taking care of Cuba in the next part of the pool, Israel ran into too much Goliath. The Netherlands crushed them and Japan was doing the same. The second loss was going to remove them (and, pending further developments, my impromptu tournament passion) from the WBC. The ninth inning came around. Israel was down, 8–0. Midnight was approaching between 9:00 and 9:30 AM. I watched anyway.

I watched Kelly, likely my favorite transcontinentally shuttled Las Vegas 51 in the months ahead, get on. I watched Ike drive in the first Israeli run of the morning. Then I watched both Ty and Ike score on a double from the vaguely familiar Ryan Lavarnway. It was 8–3. Israel was forging a comeback. I was raising an arm and pumping a fist. I did that in March of 2000 when the Mets were beating the Cubs because I was then as I am now a Mets fan; and 2000 was the year I was determined to urge the Mets into the World Series they just missed in 1999; and it was never too early to start, not in March, not in the morning.

In March of 2017, I allowed my imagination a thirty-second sprint that five runs down with two outs left was nothing in the face of a miracle gathering strength. Then I called my imagination back into the dugout, because 8–3 in the top of the ninth with one out versus Japan in Japan was a taller order than anything Benny, Armando and everybody else faced seventeen years before. Besides, winning this game, creating a tiebreaker situation and somehow pushing on to the semifinals in L.A. was hardly the point here. Team Israel had already won me over. And I wished no ill on Japan as it went about recording the final two outs. The thing I like best about the WBC is there are no enemies, only opponents. I want everybody to do well and come back in one uninjured piece. As for a surfeit of pride as regards where my or Ike’s or Ty’s people can trace their ancestry, my only quasi-nationalistic fervor since Hebrew School boils on behalf of those who proudly identify as Metropolitan-American. (And I really don’t care for Washington Nationals.)

Nevertheless, replays of the ninth inning will indicate that the hand of mine that wasn’t exulting over a few late runs early in the morning was reaching for a Kleenex or two. It couldn’t have been more surprised with its assignment, but the third base coach stationed in my eyes definitely relayed the sign for an emotional squeeze play. It took all my baserunners by surprise.

Ike Davis. Israel. The Tokyo Dome. The Mets. Miracles. Baseball to feel good about instead of everything else that makes us miserable. There they were, together on my TV and in my mind. Some things that stay with you have a way of rounding your bases when you’re not expecting them to take off on the pitch. As that button I’ve got around here somewhere says, Jewish Power.

I join several other Mets bloggers in previewing 2017 for Cards Conclave. Check it out here.

Good Fundies had me on to talk Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star, and it was quite a lot of fun. Listen to the podcast here. (I enter around the 40:00 mark.)

A reminder that my new book and I will be at Foley’s NY in Manhattan on Sunday at noon and Staples High School in Westport Tuesday night at seven. Details for both events are here. I hope to see you out on the promotional trail.

Why ‘Piazza’?

I was very happy when Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame on his fourth try, though probably not as happy as I was irked when he wasn’t elected on his first, second and third tries. Judging by the real-time reactions that exploded every January between 2013 and 2016, I wasn’t alone in either of those Mets fan emotions. We wanted our guy in the Hall and we wanted him there ASAP, not three years later.

Our guy and our fandom, validated.

Once the deal was sealed, the importance we as Mets fans had placed on Mike Piazza’s ascension into baseball immortality intrigued me. Not just the Hall vote, but the whole issue of how he would be portrayed on his plaque (the “go in as a Met” aspect) along with resolution regarding the fate of No. 31 and whether it would be officially taken out of circulation. We were concerned with Piazza, we were concerned with his cap, we were concerned with his uniform. It represented a lot of care devoted to somebody who hadn’t swung a bat on our behalf in a Koonce age.

But we’re fans that way, and Mike made us only more so. That’s the short explanation of why I decided to write the book that has just been published. Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star strives to answer the question I was asking myself while Mike was being made immortal: why did this matter so much to us? We already loved Mike Piazza as a Met and he left an undeniably deep impression on us. I don’t logically believe we need a Hall of Fame to reinforce our sense of how his accomplishments moved us between 1998 and 2005, but the Hall exists, just as do identifiers on plaques and team number-retirement rituals. If these validations are gonna be around, we sure as shootin’ want a piece of their action. Damned if we’re gonna be left out of having our fandom validated.

Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star (subtitled in a nod to the popular spy novel my father favored) is out now, digital and in print, online and at retail. It was, at heart, written by a Mets fan for Mets fans. Other segments of its prospective audience include anybody who loves baseball; Hall of Fame junkies; ’90s nostalgists; Dodger/Marlin/Padre/Athletic completists; and, to a certain degree, students of the human condition. The book is for anybody who is interested, actually, but a Mets fan wrote it in an undeniable New York state of mind.

The book begins its journey in the late summer of 1992, a moment in time to which its three intertwining elements — our notions of baseball immortality, the contemporary Mets experience and Mike Piazza’s career — can trace their roots. You’ll cross paths with the first Mets Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, watch a franchise sink to its lowest point of esteem in more than a decade and glimpse a largely unheralded September callup get his feet wet. The next steps are into 1993, when the Mets fall and Piazza rises in extreme proportions, then the seasons directly beyond, when circumstances eventually conspire to bring the two parties together for the benefit of a third actor…us.

Once we are all linked in common cause, you’ll be immersed in perhaps the most riveting period in Mets history, the years we remember first and foremost as Mike Piazza’s. Of course Mike had help. His supporting casts come into play, as no team rises only on its catcher, slugger, icon and star. Those teams, steered by Bobby Valentine, came close to winning a different prize every year for four consecutive years: the Wild Card in 1998, the National League pennant in 1999, the World Series in 2000 and a division title in 2001. They didn’t win any of them when each was their immediate aim, but damn they came close, and nearing each of those goals couldn’t have been any more exhilarating had they managed to capture them.

That was Mike’s doing. And Valentine’s. And so many others who made our revolving extended family until most of them were ushered away in that circle-of-life fashion baseball in general and the Mets in particular deploy sans sentiment. The last of the Piazza Mets to go was Piazza himself, amid a farewell unprecedented in the otherwise oblivious annals of Met goodbyes. Mike’s final bow as a Met commenced in 2005 and took a dozen years to complete. Before it was over, we grew eternally grateful, then impatient, then testy, then, at last, rewarded.

That’s more or less the book. I think you’ll like it. I hope you’ll read it. It’s available now. I’ll be appearing in a couple of places in the Metropolitan Area to sign and talk about it in the next few days — Foley’s in Manhattan Sunday 3/19 at noon, Staples High School in Westport Tuesday night 3/21 at 7:00 — with more such dates to be announced. I look forward to seeing you soon and thank you for your consideration as always.

How Did Zack Look?

Friday there was a reason to pay attention to what was going on in Florida. Zack Wheeler was pitching. There was no TV or radio transmitting back to us how Zack looked live, which was too bad, because for a team whose likely composition is largely known, Wheeler’s 2017 isn’t a projection we can reflexively paint by number into the big picture. We needed to get a look at him.

Ever since we were introduced to the concept of Zack Wheeler in the summer of 2011 what Zack has actually accomplished, for one reason or another, has been of less importance than how Zack has looked and, more recently, how Zack has felt. Zack Wheeler, by now, was supposed to be past all of that. Zack was supposed to be doing big things in the major leagues. If the Mets were going to be doing big things, Zack was going to be one of the primary reasons.

The Mets have done big things. Zack is still waiting to pitch in.

None of this is an indictment of a youthful if not quite so young anymore hurler from whom those big things were expected. This is not the story of a Met pitcher failing to live up to expectations and letting us down. Wheeler has made 49 starts for us, yet he’s barely just begun. Or so it feels. Our observation of Zack has always been, more or less, like it was on Friday. We weren’t so much concerned with what Zack did as we were with how he looked.

The first time most of us got a gander at Wheeler was Spring Training 2013, when he’d been the most tantalizing prospect in the Met system for a year-and-a-half. It didn’t matter that few of us had seen him as a minor leaguer. We were told this guy was worth sacrificing the last couple of months of Carlos Beltran, and just about all of us were on board. Naturally, we wanted to see what we were in for. How did Zack look?

We got a better portrait of his abilities before the 2013 season was at its midpoint. The Mets called him up to Atlanta, near his hometown in Georgia, and told him to pitch the back end of a day-night doubleheader in mid-June. He was the youngest Met ever, chronologically speaking, the first to have emerged from a womb in the 1990s. Soon enough, we assured one another, he’d lock right arms with the sensational Matt Harvey and lead us to better afternoons and evenings in the latter portion of the 2010s. How did Zack look?

It was reasonable to show patience with Wheeler for the balance of 2013 and all of 2014. There was nothing else to do but learn and grow and understand that Rome would have to be built tenuously every five days. There were good outings, bad outings, middling outings, a couple more good outings. It was all part of a process unfolding away from anything resembling pressure. These Mets, like their stud under construction, were in the midst of finding their way. How did Zack look?

Then came 2015 and we barely got a look at Zack before he had to get looked at by a doctor. Tommy John replaced Matt Harvey as his companion. Matt came back from similar circumstances. So would Zack, our intuition and the Mets told us. In Zack’s absence, the Mets stepped up, all the way to the World Series. Surely they’d rise even higher in 2016 once Zack stretched out his moneymaker sufficiently. How did Zack look?

Except he never returned in 2016, what with some TJ surgeries working their miracles less miraculously than others, not to mention other issues making themselves nuisances. We were assured the postponements were leading somewhere, to March 2017, to the first time Zack took the mound in something approximating a Mets game in two years. How did Zack look?

He looked all right, according to sources. He threw hard, he experienced no reported discomfort and he didn’t get lit up. Really, who could ask for anything more? By now, we figured we’d be asking of Zack what we’ve routinely leaned on Matt, Jacob, Noah and Steven for, what we are ready to expect on a regular basis from Seth and Robert, thanks to how they filled in last season. Every one of those starting pitchers has thrown in the heat of a playoff race or two. Four of them are veterans of October. A few of them were promoted with the kind of fanfare attendant to Zack Wheeler’s elevation. We are interested in how they look at this stage of the exhibition schedule, partly out of curiosity, partly because the results themselves don’t count a lick, partly because almost everybody on this staff has experienced some kind of physical red flag in the recent past.

Zack Wheeler is still getting going, still needing to look good before we can feel fully confident in insisting that he be fairly great. We continue to root for his progress until we don’t even have to think about it.

I’ve been enthusiastically talking Piazza lately and would love you to listen in. Tune into the Mookiee podcast (hosted by a couple of aces) here and Cannoli & Knish at WNHH in New Haven here. I’ll be signing copies at Foley’s in Manhattan on March 19 and speaking at Staples High School in Westport on March 21, details on both appearances here. Oh, and you can order your copy of my book about Mike’s Mets here.

What If We Had an Opening Day and Nobody (New) Came?

I was going over the Mets’ spring roster the other day because of a suspicion that’s kept bubbling up in my brain.

Tomas Nido’s too young. So are Amed Rosario and Wuilmer Becerra. None of those guys is going to make the Opening Day roster. Travis Taijeron’s been passed over before and the Mets already have 75 corner outfielders. Hmm, non-roster guys. Can’t see P.J. Conlon making it this year. Tom Gorzelanny looks ready for the fork in the back. Tim Tebow … hahahahahahaaaaaaaaa.

Unless there’s a trade or something weird happens (entirely possible since it’s mid-March), the Mets who stroll out to their positions at Citi Field on April 3 will all be guys we’ve seen in blue and orange before. Same for the Mets waiting in the bullpen and on the bench. All 25 of the initial 2017 Mets will be returnees.

Has an all-recidivist Opening Day roster ever been assembled before? It seemed unlikely, so I started digging through Ultimate Mets Database.

I’ll save you the manufactured drama: it has happened before, and in rather amazing fashion. But it’s only happened once in any fashion at all.

The 1973 Mets won just 82 games, yet might have won a second World Series title if not for Yogi Berra‘s overmanaging. The team pursued another bat in the offseason, but passed on potential trades for Jim Wynn and old nemesis Ron Santo. GM Bob Scheffing was reluctant to break up a stellar pitching staff, and no doubt reasoned that the team’s usual combination of plenty of starting pitching and just enough hitting would make it a contender again. It wasn’t to be — the ’74 Mets lost 91 games — but Scheffing can be forgiven for a little optimism. Hadn’t the ’73 Mets taken the A’s to a seventh game despite an absurd run of injuries?

In the first week of April 1974 the Mets made their final cuts before leaving St. Petersburg. They released John Glass and sent down Steve Simpson, Randy Sterling, Ike Hampton, Rich Puig, Benny Ayala and Bruce Boisclair. Those seven departures made it official: the ’74 Mets would begin without a single new player on the roster.

And so it was on April 6 at the Vet, an Opening Day that began with Tom Seaver‘s fastball MIA and ended with Tug McGraw giving up a walkoff homer to a young hitter with a career average below .200 named Mike Schmidt. The Mets trudged through April and May and into June without a single new player, an oddity that became exasperating after Bud Harrelson was kept on the roster with a broken hand, proving you can pinch-run in a cast though not that it’s a good idea.

Stasis was finally broken on June 16, when Jack Aker arrived from Atlanta and took the hill in the ninth at Shea with the Mets getting blown out by the Dodgers. Aker didn’t improve matters, as Steve Garvey hit a home run. Still there was finally a new ’74 Met. And eventually there would be others: Jerry Cram and Ayala in August, then an incoming September Tide of Sterling, Hampton, Puig, Boisclair, Brock Pemberton and Nino Espinosa.

How weird was ’74 for its opening 10 weeks without new Mets? No other campaign comes close. I only found five other seasons in which the Mets didn’t have a new addition to The Holy Books by the end of Opening Day, in fact:

  • In 1976 Mickey Lolich was the first new Met out of the gate, starting the season’s third game against Montreal hurler Dan Warthen.
  • In 1977, Luis Alvarado began his short Mets career on April 13, the season’s fifth game.
  • In 1983 Danny Heep made his debut in the Mets’ second game.
  • In 1986 Bob Ojeda relieved Ron Darling in the season’s second game.
  • In 1988 – a year that saw a record-low four Mets debuts, third-string catcher Mackey Sasser‘s arrival had to wait for the season’s sixth game.

Best I can tell, all of those mentioned above were on the Opening Day roster. Aker wasn’t, and his debut came in Game 60 of the ’74 season. If anything involved with a meh relief performance involving Jack Aker can be called amazing, that qualifies.

As for 2017, one imagines that Rosario and other promising youngsters will be granted a taste of big-league life; an extra catcher will report for duty after something unlucky happens to Travis d’Arnaud; various relievers will need to be run through the Terry Collins Arm Sawmill; extra outfielders will be summoned to further retard Michael Conforto‘s development, and so on. Stuff will happen, as it almost invariably does.

And look, it’s not like any of us would mind if the Mets won the World Series despite not adding a single player to the Holy Books, right?

Hm. Actually, I’d mind.

But I’d get over it.

Taken Out to the Ballgame

The stars aligned for the Mets in the middle 1980s, and in his way, nobody did more to display them than Bill Webb. He caught the rising stars so we could watch them shine on Channel 9. He did for this franchise what Jason Lee as Jeff Bebe as more or less Glenn Frey asked Patrick Fugit as Cameron Crowe stand-in William Miller to do for Stillwater in Almost Famous. Bill Webb made the Mets look cool.

The Mets of the middle 1980s, in turn, made baseball look irresistible, and Bill Webb, who directed their WOR telecasts, was the man behind that sex appeal. Frank Cashen provided the substance. Webb made it sizzle. Bill took an effective product and turned it into a smoking hot brand. Hot, cool, however you choose to identify it, the Mets of those days had it. I know they did because Webb showed it to us that way.

The consensus all-time great director who died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer could also imbue a lukewarm product with genuine heat. He did it for SNY in the years between Shea’s demise and Citi’s coming of age when the Mets never stopped being must-see television despite their failure to play consistently compelling baseball. That was as much Webb’s doing as it was the announcers we regularly praise. The sense of event that came across the screen from the moment SNY infiltrated our cable systems and redefined our viewing habits in 2006 was recognizable to anybody who tuned in two decades before. The names changed. The voices changed. The results weren’t always as sparkling. But the common denominator was Bill Webb’s direction, and he always conducted an unparalleled symphony of sound and vision.

Bill Webb’s name filtered into the Mets fan consciousness while the Mets’ fortunes, like those stars in the Channel 9 jingle, commenced to rise. Tim McCarver regularly told us who Bill Webb was, which was good, since we learned who was responsible for taking us out to so many Mets games without us ever having to buy a ticket. He took us out and he took us into the world the Mets of 1985 and 1986 inhabited. From a television standpoint, he created it for us. We didn’t just see Doc and Straw and Kid and Mex. We sat right down next to them in the dugout. We sensed we were meeting them as Mets and then some. We followed them to the plate and to the mound and wherever the ball was headed. Our front row seat floated all over the field and into the stands thanks to Webb. He crafted the modern visual vocabulary of the sport we embrace. He enhanced it all over again in the new century. The Mets on SNY, from first pitch to last, constitute a first-class production. That’s Bill Webb’s doing and legacy.

I’m so glad we had his time together.

Shadows in the Moonlight

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

AKEEL J. MORRIS
Relief Pitcher
June 17, 2015

Nuke LaLoosh was portrayed by Tim Robbins, a real-life Mets fan and the closest I could come up with as a precedent for what 22-year-old Akeel Morris tried to do Wednesday night in Toronto. The differences in their tales, beyond fiction and what actually happened, were stark. For example, LaLoosh walked 18 and struck out 18 in his Bulls debut, the cinematic Carolina League being notorious for its disregard of pitch counts. Morris, meanwhile, wasn’t having such control problems down at St. Lucie. He was having a whale of a season when the bullpen-stressed Mets reached down and called him up for what seemed like the hell of it. The Mets, trailing by three in the eighth, gave Morris a chance at Rogers Centre. Everybody deserves a chance. The view to Akeel, however, obliterated any chance the Mets had of coming back on the Blue Jays. The kid faced eight batters and retired two. Five of his runners scored. His earned run average, a spiffy 1.69 in 24 Single-A appearances, sits at 997. Sorry, that’s his chronological rank in the countup toward One Thousand Mets. Morris’s MLB ERA is impolite to mention in public.
—June 18, 2015
(Traded to Braves, 6/8/2016)

DANIEL JOSEPH “Danny” MUNO
Infielder
April 17, 2015 – July 24, 2015

You don’t have to pick up Troy Tulowitzki, throw his back legs over your shoulder and drag him Pete Campbell fantasy-style through the snow to Citi Field, but my goodness, is it that hard (and that expensive to hunt down a 2015 version of, say, Bob Bailor? A bench player who talents transcend those of Danny Muno is not an unreasonable request.
—July 11, 2015
(Released, 6/28/2016; signed with White Sox, 7/2/2016)

DARIO RAFAEL (Espinal) ALVAREZ
Relief Pitcher
September 3, 2014 – October 1, 2015

Hats off in particular to […] Alvarez for pulling a modern-day Rich Sauveur in striking out Bryce Harper after coming out of close to nowhere and making his first pitches of the season count like crazy…
—September 7, 2015
(Selected off waivers by Braves, 5/25/2016)

JOHNNY MONELL
Catcher
May 9, 2015 – October 4, 2015

Monell would face Santiago Casilla, which begged the question of 1982 Mets backup catcher from after Stearns got hurt (which means he wasn’t good enough to play in front of perpetual scrubeenie Hodges) Bruce Bochy, “You’re actually bringing in a pitcher specifically to face Johnny Monell?” Johnny Monell, the .182 wonder? Johnny Monell, who got to .182 from .095 the week before by getting on what for him qualified as a torrid streak yet .200 was a distant dream? Johnny Monell, who the legendarily wise, lavishly bejeweled Bochy saw no need to keep around despite an eight-game front row seat to his talents in 2013? Yes, indeed. One of the greatest managers of the modern era brought in a pitcher specifically to face Johnny Monell. Or simply decided he’d seen enough of Romo, the man who gave up two ninth-inning hits in the same season to Michael Cuddyer.
—July 7, 2015
(Free agent, 10/10/2016; signed with KT Wiz, 12/9/2016)

JUSTIN MARSHALL RUGGIANO
Outfielder
July 30, 2016 – August 26, 2016

[T]he entirety of whatever trip the Mets were on last night must have looked a lot better through a hallucinogenic prism. Not that the part where I imagined Justin Ruggiano hit a grand slam off Madison Bumgarner wasn’t, well, far out, but Jacob deGrom and I kind of crashed when Bumgarner came up in the bottom of the very same inning, the fourth, and hit his own two-run homer to completely erase what was left of the lead Ruggiano built with a single four-run swing. Trippy right?
—August 19, 2016
(Free agent, 11/5/2016; signed with Giants, 12/16/2016)

GABRIEL (Gomez) YNOA
Relief Pitcher
August 13, 2016 – October 2, 2016

Next up was lefty-swinging Logan Schafer, perhaps not the one Twin to have up when you’re having no more than a two-run lead, which is exactly what Ynoa was nursing on the mound. There was no reason to think the rookie righthander wouldn’t retire Schafer, but if you were Terry Collins, and you’d just gotten to two out in the fifth with Gabriel Ynoa filling in for Jacob deGrom, why push it? Exit from Schafer City, Mr. Ynoa…
—September 19, 2016
(Sold to Orioles, 2/10/2017)

DILSON JOSE (Garcia) HERRERA
Infielder

August 29, 2014 – October 3, 2015

We love Dilson Herrera because he’s new and has done nothing to disappoint us. We watch him show a good eye at the plate and a compact swing and soft hands in the field and imagine we’ve got something here. And hey, maybe we do.
—August 31, 2014
(Traded to Reds, 8/1/2016)

JONATHON JOSEPH “Jon” NIESE
Starting Pitcher
September 2, 2008 – November 1, 2015
August 2, 2016 – August 23, 2016

Jon Niese, per the late Dennis Green, is who we expected him to be. Three fine innings against those poisonous Arizona Diamondbacks, a dreadful fourth, gone in the fifth. You can’t say he didn’t provide distance, to judge by how far Rickie Weeks and Yasmany Tomas hit their home runs off him. To be fair to Niese, he was pitching in an unfamiliar time zone, in uniform tops that are described as alternate, on a Wednesday, which is a day that only occurs once a week, so how was he supposed to get comfortable?
—August 18, 2016
(Free agent, 11/3/2016; signed with Yankees, 2/19/2017)

ANTONIO FRANCISCO (Rafael) BASTARDO
Relief Pitcher
April 8, 2016 – July 30, 2016

The other deal: Antonio Bastardo to Pittsburgh for Jon Niese. No, really. When it was announced, I heard myself say “YAY!” and it wasn’t to welcome back Niese. Bastardo has delayed my last train. Enjoy your reacquaintance with all three rivers; jump into any and all of them if you like.
—August 1, 2016
(Traded to Pirates, 8/1/2016)

JAMES DUFFY “Jim” HENDERSON
Relief Pitcher
April 5, 2016 – October 2, 2016

Jim Henderson is either pitching way better than we could have expected or exactly as we should’ve expected. After a season in the minors rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder, the former Brewer closer (and old-friend protégé) is pitching with a vengeance. In three innings, he’s faced and retired nine batters, seven of them on strikeouts. Given Henderson’s recent track record, no, you couldn’t have expected that. But given the Hendersons’ track record, yes, of course we knew he was gonna be splendid. The Mets have had three prior Hendersons in their history. Every one of them emerged in a blaze of glory.
—April 11, 2016
(Free agent 11/2/2016; signed with Cubs, 1/27/2017)

EARL LESTER “Buddy” CARLYLE
Relief Pitcher
May 31, 2014 – May 15, 2015

Exit Blevins, enter Buddy Carlyle, the incredibly well-traveled vet who was barely in the Mets’ plans until approximately 48 hours earlier. Carlyle had been pitching on and off in the big leagues since 1999 and had never recorded a save. He had never pitched on Opening Day until now. A Mets game isn’t truly a Mets game until a Mets fan braces for the worst. Here in the bottom of the ninth, we had ourselves an official ballgame. Carlyle will never rival Wright in the Mets record book — he is more likely to land among the Collin Cowgill curiosities — but he was having a moment in this spotlight. One ground ball from Ryan Zimmerman to shortstop. Another ground ball from Wilson Ramos to shortstop. Wilmer Flores, at one point a budding third baseman in an organization where there’s been no future in that job title since July 21, 2004, handled both of them cleanly, firing them to Duda for the second and third outs. For the first time in his major league career, Buddy Carlyle was a closer. For the eighth time in his major league career, David Wright was a winner on Opening Day, 3-1. The mighty Nationals were 0-1. The 2015 Mets were 1-0.
—April 7, 2015
(Released, 3/25/2016; retired)

SCOTT LOGAN VERRETT
Starting Pitcher
June 18, 2015 – September 23, 2016

And speaking of legends, let’s hear it for Logan Verrett, the veritable Seventh Beatle of our already immortal starting rotation. Logan is an afterthought all-star, ostensibly lower on the depth chart than still-rehabbing Zack Wheeler, even. Nobody asked this son of a Leach to squeeze into the class portrait, but based on his first two starts — 12 IP, 0 R, 9 H, 3 BB, 10 SO — somebody needs to Photoshop him in.
—April 20, 2016
(Sold to Orioles, 11/30/2016)

ERIC SINGLETON CAMPBELL
Infielder
May 10, 2014 – October 5, 2016 

Yes, Soup is on again. He’s been chilling in the shadows for several days since his unlikely callup from Las Vegas. The Mets called everybody up once the Triple-A season ended. It would have been impolite to leave Eric behind. After the copious pinch-hitting and pitching changes, somebody needed to play first. Soup played it with aplomb. Good for him. Great for us.
—September 10, 2016
(Free agent, 11/7/2016; signed with Hanshin Tigers, 11/19/2016)

ALEJANDRO ALBERTO (Cedea) DE AZA
Outfielder
April 3, 2016 – October 2, 2016

Three cheers for Alejandro, formerly known to me as Almostandro for the way he never quite came through. He is these days experiencing a De Azanaissance, making this a welcome period of rebirth for us all. Thursday, Al (as we fair-weather fans of his call him) pulled in a possible Cardinal homer at the wall in the first, singled in two runs in the fourth and went very deep with two on in the fifth.
—August 26, 2016
(Free agent, 11/3/2016; signed with A’s, 1/20/2017)

JAMES ANTHONY LONEY
Infielder
May 31, 2016 – October 5, 2016

How about a Kris Bryant grounder to the ever aggressive Reyes, who, instead of firing to Rivera for one excruciation-extending forceout at the plate, went around the horn, throwing a little low to Walker, who stretched for the putout that offed Baez? Walker, in turn, pivoted and sent a slightly wayward bullet to Loney. Loney had to be a bit gymnastic to receive the delivery on the fly, but he did. Such a sequence of events is spelled, in baseball shorthand, 5-4-3, as in game-ending double play. The Cubs, with the bases loaded and nobody out, lost, 2-1. The Mets, on the other end of that exact equation, won, 2-1. How the hell did that happen? Exactly as detailed above, but seriously. How the hell did that happen?
—July 20, 2016
(Free agent, 11/3/2016; signed with Rangers, 1/24/2017)

KELLY ANDREW JOHNSON
Infielder
July 25, 2015 – November 1, 2015
June 10, 2016 – October 2, 2016

Johnson, as you know, is the Brave who became a Met who became a Brave who became a Met who started as a Brave before sojourning to all of the American League East as well as Arizona. Lemme check…yeah, he’s a Met now. Not only is he a Met, but he is a Met who homered in the eleventh inning of a nothing-nothing game.
—June 26, 2016
(Free agent, 11/3/2016; currently unsigned)

RUBEN DARIO TEJADA
Infielder
April 7, 2010 – October 10, 2015

I had no problem figuring out Saturday that Ruben Tejada is pretty damn good at second, even if he’s actually a shortstop. He was in the middle of an around-the-horn double play early and made a sensational jump and throw to retire Adam Jones later. Ron Darling compared him to Roberto Alomar, presumably the pre-Met version. Tejada was showing himself to be a free-range second baseman, unencumbered by age, injury and lack of mobility. He also singled and scored what proved to be the winning run in the sixth. I’m not sure I’m ready to anoint Ruben Tejada the second baseman of the future or even the present. He’s supposed to be a shortstop and he’s only 20 years old. He’s batting .185 and is obviously raw. But he is exciting and the Mets are winning.
—June 13, 2010
(Released, 3/16/2016; signed with Cardinals, 3/19/2016)

BARTOLO COLON
Starting Pitcher
April 2, 2014 – October 1, 2016

The impossible did happen. Red Smith called it once, and Gary Cohen confirmed its recurrence. Bartolo Colon hit a home run. It was a midseason shot heard ’round the world for our times, one marveled at ad infinitum on devices barely bigger than the ball Bobby Thomson sent soaring into legend with 20-year-old Willie Mays on deck. We saw it, we heard it, we emoted and emojied it and we relish reliving it the day after because it was just that inexpressibly fantastic. Now let’s never forget it. It’s too good not to be remembered.
—May 8, 2016
(Free agent, 11/3/2016; signed with Braves, 11/17/2016)

Eight Balls for a Walk

Everything about baseball goes by too fast. It needs to be slowed down, stretched out, made to last longer. Eight balls for a walk, with the intentional kind requiring sworn affidavits pertaining to original intent as well as footnoted dissertations regarding the true meaning of purpose. Seven strikes for an out. Five…no, six outs to an inning. Twenty-three innings to a game, unless it’s tied after twenty-three, then they gotta play twenty-three more.

Batters need to step out between pitches every pitch. Pitchers need to meet with their catchers between every batter and pull up a chair if the count reaches seven-and-six. Coaches, managers, therapists and spiritual advisors can and should visit the mound frequently enough to earn a nightly footlong from Subway.

The season needs to start sooner, say January 1. The season needs to end later, say a year from January 1. Spring Training can take place during mound visits from October to December. All games should begin five minutes after the hour every hour. If we don’t like the way the game that began at 7:05 is going, we layer a new score on top of it at 8:05, and we keep going until we’ve put twenty-three or forty-six or more innings in the books.

The goal of lengthening baseball is to make it less and less like other sports, endeavors and distractions. All of life that isn’t baseball is a distraction from baseball. Baseball is essentially perfect as is, but these changes will make it more perfect and presumably more attractive to people who haven’t yet figured out how perfectly attractive baseball is. The more baseball, the better. Baseball fans can attest to that. Non-baseball fans will now be given every opportunity to figure this out for themselves.

By keeping going and never stopping, baseball will become more pervasive until there is no chance that it can be avoided, though why anyone would want to avoid baseball is beyond the comprehension of baseball fans — the people who already love baseball and can’t get enough baseball and support baseball and anticipate baseball and find the defensive posture of those who wish to make baseball more palatable to the portion of the population that doesn’t recognize its essential perfection absurd.

Speaking of defensive posture, all fielders will henceforth shift so much that we will forget what positions they play. Should balls get by them, time will be called and they will be summarily replaced by another fielder on the 85-man roster, except in September, when there are 105 players available (half of them lefty relievers), and November, when there are no limits on personnel and all mitts come equipped with handwarmers.

An alternative to this total-immersion approach to broadening the essentially perfect game’s appeal is to more or less leave it the fudge alone. I’m good with that, too. I’m good with what works for those who’ve embraced baseball their entire lives and those who are intrigued enough to begin embracing baseball at first sight. Baseball is for everybody. If everybody isn’t for baseball, that’s everybody else’s problem.

A Couple of ‘Piazza’ Parties

I have a new book coming out that Amazon recently decided was the No. 1 Hot New Release in its genre — and who am I to argue with hourly algorithms? Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star will be officially released March 14, meaning I will be on the loose talking it up shortly thereafter.

Hot stuff!

On Sunday afternoon March 19, from noon to two, I’ll be at Foley’s NY, 18 W. 33rd St., between Fifth and Sixth, convenient to Penn Station, not far from Grand Central. Foley’s is simply the best baseball bar and restaurant in all of New York and I’m delighted to be returning to the site of past book and blog soirées. Copies of Piazza will be on hand and I’ll bring a pen if you want one signed. Cap tip to Friend of FAFIF Sharon Chapman for serving as a guiding light in putting together this event.

Two nights later, on Tuesday, March 21, at seven o’clock, I’ll be making my Connecticut debut (as an author; I’ve been in the state before), speaking about Piazza and all matters Met at Staples High School at 70 North Ave. in Westport, home of the perennial powerhouse Wreckers baseball team. The program is open to the public; admission is free and books will be available. My thanks to Staples Baseball and the Diamond Club for inviting me up and Rob and Ryder Chasin for helping to make it happen.

I look forward to seeing you in one or more components of the Tri-State Area next month. In the interim, I hope you’ll check out Piazza, the story of how we went from having one Met in the Hall of Fame to two. If you lived to root for this team in the 1990s and survived, this is the book for you.