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ABOUT US

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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Life After Jake

When we began this blog fourteen years and one day ago, we didn’t have Jacob deGrom to root for and write about. Jacob deGrom was a high school kid four months shy of his seventeenth birthday and nine years away from making himself known to us. But had Jacob deGrom been a 2005 Met coming off a Cy Young season and glimpsing forward toward eventual free agency, I would have fiercely believed there was no way he and the Mets would part ways. Maybe eventually, after his next contract played out to everybody’s satisfaction, but not while he was in his prime, not when he was so comfortable in orange and blue, not while the Mets were benefiting so bountifully from his excellence.

Here in 2019, as FAFIF’s fifteenth Spring Training gets underway, we have the actual Jacob deGrom coming off an actual Cy Young season, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s wearing some other team’s threads by this time in 2021, if not sooner. Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe the Mets and their ace will stare deeply into each other’s eyes and realize they’re unquestionably better together than they are apart, sealing their sentiments not with a kiss but the appropriate extraordinary dollar amount.

But maybe not. I’m leaning that way based on the inability of the two parties to have gotten anywhere despite the installation of deGrom’s former agent as Mets general manager (there’s a sentence you don’t expect to type). Jake and Brodie Van Wagenen blandly platituded this week, save for the modest dollop of newslike information that Jake wouldn’t rule out seeking an innings limit to preserve his right arm so it is fit to carry a boatload of money wherever he might happen to encounter it in due time.

If that characterization sounds a bit harsh, well, everybody’s a professional here. Everybody but the fans. Jake’s a pro’s pro. I don’t really expect him to put himself on ice for self-preservation’s sake (he’s welcome to skip a start between the division clinching and the postseason). I’ve seen nothing out of him across five superb years of pitching to suggest he’ll put forth anything less than a full-tilt effort when on the mound. Still, “I think that’s a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents” is a far cry from “just give me the ball, Skip.”

I don’t blame Jake, even with a $17 million arbitration award in his pocket, for theoretically hedging his bets. He’s the best pitcher in the game, but the game is weird right now. The game is weird enough right now that Jacob deGrom has to be asked whether he might want to keep his innings in check in the season ahead because, $17 million notwithstanding, way more money might be sitting on another table elsewhere. There are enough variables floating around to make nothing automatic, not for the star performer who says he loves being a part of the only team he’s ever known in the bigs, not for the team that has seen him succeed wildly whenever he’s performed for them.

Still, what’s the point of being a Major League Baseball franchise if you’re not going to secure the best talent possible, especially when that best talent already dresses in your clubhouse and doesn’t appear in any rush to leave it? In a perfect world, Jake remains a Met more or less forever. Nobody connected to the Mets wants another outcome. But anybody watching the Mets these past fourteen seasons — or any team in this era — knows other outcomes are waiting to engulf and devour what is ideal. Ideal is Jake continuing to pitch and pitch very well for the Mets well beyond 2020. His early Tommy John surgery and his relatively late promotion to the majors implies less wear and tear than your typical thirtysomething pitcher. Jake is hardly typical of his breed to begin with. If you’re gonna sign any pitcher up for keeps, sign this pitcher up for keeps.

Or don’t. Because maybe the best pitcher in the game in 2018 will never be quite as good again. Maybe? Probably. Getting a six-month ride of 1.7 earned runs allowed per nine innings seems a ton to ask for more than once in a lifetime. But if you got something approximating last year mixed in with what you got the four years before, you’d take that, right? DeGrom doesn’t have to learn to pitch. Doesn’t need to mature. Doesn’t need to get used to New York. That’s worth plenty, you’d think. Even if we are to assume that a pitcher who passes age 32, 33 and so on might have a little less on the ball every year, we would also figure this pitcher will know what to make of what he has.

Yeah, that would be swell. So would David Wright gracefully entering the penultimate year of his long-term contract in tandem with Yoenis Cespedes continuing his more compressed megadeal uninterrupted. Wright’s a front office guy now and Cespedes is guessing when his heels will be up for baseball activities. On some since-erased drawing board in St. Lucie, they were marked down as batting third and fourth in 2019.

Emotionally, which is where fandom comes in, I know I would cringe hard at Jacob deGrom buttoning another jersey over his shirt and tie and announcing that, though he’ll always cherish the memories he has as a Met, he and his family are grateful for this opportunity with this new team in this new city and he can’t wait to get out there and pitch for these great fans.

It’s as likely to happen that way as it’s not. In 2005, despite a lifetime to that point of seeing almost all of my favorites slip or storm away, I would not have accepted this a fifty-fifty likelihood. Intermittently since 2005 I’ve generally refused to accept lurking departures as faits accomplis. The Mets would never let their homegrown batting champion go away. The Mets would never let their first twenty-game winner in more than twenty years go away. The Mets would never do less than everything they can to keep their best players on the team.

Handshakes and lifts to the airport aren’t a 21st-century invention, but perhaps my acceptance that they’re inevitable is. I’m heading into my fifty-first season as a fan. I’m still a little shaken that the Mets traded Ron Swoboda after my second, never mind Tom Seaver in the middle of my ninth. This has been going on forever. What hasn’t is my preparing myself to sort of shrug the day Jacob deGrom becomes an ex-Met, should that day occur. I won’t like it. I will despise it. But I half-expect it. I will reason that though I will always cherish the memories he brought us as a Met, I really look forward to this new season.

Will I really? That’s a discussion that’s going to have to be had with my agents.

Embrace the Unknowable

Snow. Sleet. Rain. Wind. All of it inundated the Metropolitan Area on Tuesday, yet we convinced ourselves it was Springtime in New York by way of St. Lucie. If you avoided looking out the window and just took Florida’s word for it, it was as Spring as you wanted it to be.

The pitchers, the catchers and many of the others professionally engaged to wrap themselves in Mets garb have congregated where we can keep a distant eye on them and be vicariously warmed by their proximity to one another. Yay, of course. The fact that Pitchers & Catchers occurs 44 days prior to Opening Day doesn’t mean you’re not welcome to treat the calendar equivalent of November 18 as New Year’s Eve if that’s how you choose to roll. Celebrate the slow-burn onset of good times, come on!

How good will Met times be in 2019 — so good, so good? We’ll see. I mean that. We’ll see. That’s all I’ve got in the way of predictions and projections. Predicting the outcome of a baseball season yet to be played is always silly and projecting it like you have the answer tucked inside your shirt pocket is even dopier. There are no spoilers to avoid. There’s only statistically delineated fan fiction.

Predictions have always been around. They’re good-natured enough. “How do you think the Mets will do this year?” “Hmmm… I think if everything goes well, and nobody gets hurt, maybe the Mets will finish…” seems harmless if you don’t take it overly seriously. We probably take it overly seriously because it soon dawns on us that Spring, with its Pitchers & Catchers & Co. doesn’t really have much meat on its bone. There are no games for the first dozen or so days and then there are games that totally don’t count for weeks on end. Predictions give us something to talk about, whether they’re our own or those of experts — experts being anybody with an opinion that gets printed somewhere. I used to seek validation in preseason magazines that showed the enlightenment to pick the Mets to win their division and curse as clueless the ones that consigned us to also-ran territory. Little did I know I understood decades in advance the concept of media outlet as personally curated echo chamber.

Projections seem more insidious for their insistence on being taken overly seriously. One of the last baseball rites of winter (note the lower-case for the season that deserves the least respect) is the dissemination of PECOTA by Baseball Prospectus. To be confused on some level with Bill the 1992 Met utilityman New York wound up not loving, PECOTA stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. It’s supposed to tell you, via complex sabermetric formulations and such, how a player might do in the season ahead. From there, if you add all a team’s players together, it’s supposed to tell you how a team might do. All the teams, actually. Every year around this time, I see PECOTA quoted in certain circles as if it’s gospel. Or GOSPEL.

In 2018, the PECOTA horseshoe came admirably close to a team’s final record in some cases and missed by a veritable mile in others. Which figures, because who the hell knows what’s going to happen? Moreover, who the hell wants to know? Guessing can be fun. Educated guessing of a PECOTA nature can be a kick to construct and dissect if that’s how you choose to roll. Gathering intelligence to fuel your forays within the gambling community or fantasy league jungle is simply due diligence.

The most educated guess is still a guess, though, no matter what disappointing former Mets jack-of-all-trades donates his identity to your clever acronym. The Mets and their twenty-nine sets of colleagues will produce the only results that matter 162 separate times in 2019. And when they do, I will react in accordance with their winning and their losing and how they play the game. If you could tell me in advance exactly what the Mets will do between March 28 and September 29, I’d politely request you get that bleep outta my face. Just as I can wait for Opening Day through six weeks of Spring, I can wait through six months of baseball for six months of baseball. I want to revel in the wins when they arrive. I want to cope with the losses even if I don’t want any. I want to figure out for myself whether I think they have a chance and discover thereafter how wrong or right I was.

I don’t want the answers. I want the experience.

There are pleasures in being right in advance, but think about happy you’ve been to have been wrong in your certainty where the Mets are concerned. Getting it wrong, as in having no idea they were going to be as good as they turned out, is what makes seasons you remember seasons you remember. Even the rare seasons when you were right that they’d be really good were really better because you had no idea how they’d make it as far as they did. Journey edges destination; losing or winning, reality is eventual.

Or JED LOWRIE for short.

Towering and Enormous

Frank Robinson managed among us not so long ago, in 2005 and 2006, skippering the Washington Nationals upon their transfer from Montreal. As Mets fans, we mostly rolled our eyes at or rooted against Robinson when he poked his head out of the RFK or Shea dugout. He was the opposing manager trying to beat the Mets. We couldn’t have that. Almost without exception we roll our eyes and root against every manager who tries to beat the Mets.

Yet simmering underneath the surface as the Expos morphed into their new identity was an inescapable constant: this was Frank Robinson. It didn’t matter who he was managing or what he was doing. This was Frank Robinson. It bears repeating. Amid average, run-of-the-mill baseball games between the Mets and the Nationals, one of the people in the middle of everything — holding a lineup card, making a pitching change, having a word with an umpire — was Frank Robinson.

Do you realize how incredible that was? How incredible that is? Frank Robinson was in baseball his entire adult life, yet Frank Robinson was no ordinary baseball lifer. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being an ordinary baseball lifer. As baseball fans, we memorize more about ordinary baseball lifers’ careers than they probably do themselves. Being hired to manage a major league team is the pinnacle of professional achievement for the vast majority of ordinary baseball lifers.

In 2005 and 2006, it was just something else Frank Robinson was doing. We were compelled to treat the sight of him making moves as ordinary. Just another manager in just another season.

Yeah, right.

If you were a baseball fan born in the second half of the twentieth century, you learned the name Frank Robinson quickly and you weren’t likely to forget it. He was a towering figure from his beginnings in the game, an enormous figure throughout his tenure in the game. The game cannot be thoroughly explained from 1956 onward without Frank Robinson’s name coming up repeatedly.

He was National League Rookie of the Year for the Cincinnati Redlegs when, as Terry Cashman would so elegantly put it in “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & The Duke),” there was one Robby going out, one coming in. Frank debuted in Jackie’s last season, too much of the nation and its pastime still mired in the repugnant attitudes of institutionalized racism. Jackie’s story of fighting back (and not necessarily being able to fight as much as he would have preferred) is rightly celebrated to this day. The stories of black players whose careers followed in his wake encountering the same insidious obstacles sometimes get overlooked. Steve Jacobson, the former Newsday columnist, examined their trials in Carrying Jackie’s Torch: The Players Who Integrated Baseball — and America. As Jacobson noted, Frank’s excelling on the field might have earned him plaudits, like winning the MVP as he led the Reds to a first-place finish in 1961, but it cut him only so much slack in the town where he starred.

“They clinched the pennant in Chicago,” Jacobson wrote, “and Cincinnati was dancing in the streets when the Reds got off their plane and headed to a downtown club for a team party. Robinson and [Vada] Pinson got out of their taxi at the club as they went to the door, the owner intercepted them. They couldn’t come in. Negroes weren’t welcome. It was 1961 in Cincinnati.”

Frank lasted ten years as a Red (garnering MVP votes in nine of them), taking him to age thirty, which is hard to forget in baseball lore because Cincinnati general manager Bill DeWitt decided, in terms so quotable that they are invoked regularly to this day, that Robinson was an old thirty. The right fielder had just belted 33 home runs, drove in 113 runs, scored 109 runs and batted .296, but OK, sure. DeWitt traded Robinson to Baltimore for pitcher Milt Pappas. It’s worth pointing out that Pappas had been a fine pitcher and would continue to be quite reliable for several seasons beyond 1965, finishing his career with more than 200 wins.

Yet it still goes down as one of the most lopsided trades of all time because Frank Robinson, at 31, put up a season for the ages, young or old: 49 home runs, 122 runs batted in, 122 runs scored, .316 average, all of it leading the American League to earn him the triple crown and vaulting the Orioles to their first-ever pennant and world championship. Frank became the first to win the MVP in each league, a feat that hasn’t been matched yet. Think about how superstars nowadays move fairly frequently between the National and American, which they didn’t do then, and consider that what Robinson did in 1961 and 1966 remains a singular standard for individual performance.

Consider also that Baltimore in 1966 wasn’t so far removed from Cincinnati in 1961. The future Hall of Famer who was transforming the local ballclub into a nearly unparalleled powerhouse met resistance when he tried moving his family into an otherwise white neighborhood. In defying DeWitt’s assessment of his abilities, Robinson had already proven age wasn’t the most accurate of gauges. Meanwhile, America had passed its 190th birthday, yet it surely had a lot of maturing left to do.

The two-time MVP wouldn’t be stopped. In concert with another Robinson, third baseman Brooks, Frank led the Orioles to three more pennants, with each league champion totaling more than 100 wins. It is not hyperbole to say Frank Robinson led those clubs. He did it with his style of play (manager Hank Bauer observing that once his teammates saw Frank slide hard into second during Spring Training, “pretty soon they’re all doing it”) and he did it with the kind of clubhouse presence that couldn’t be quantified. One of the legends of the Baltimore Orioles you learned if you were growing up in the midst of their AL dynasty was that of the kangaroo court, the Honorable Judge Frank Robinson presiding, a mop atop his head to make certain all who had business before him knew he meant business.

It was both as silly as it sounds yet serious enough to matter. Kangaroo court convened only after wins so every Oriole was in a good mood. Mistakes were brought before the bench with the intent to assure they wouldn’t happen again. A player could be fined for missing a sign or not getting a runner over or not paying attention. The team served as jury, Frank keeping mood light. Fines were levied. Lessons were learned. Games were won.

Oh, how they were won. When the leagues split themselves into divisions, the Orioles took out a lease on the Eastern Division penthouse, going all but unchallenged in their native habitat in 1969, 1970 and 1971, winning those first three flags by 19, 15 and 12 games, respectively. The American League Championship Series — we just called them “the playoffs” back then — was similarly easy pickin’s, with the O’s sweeping three from the Twins twice and the A’s once, evoking their four-game dusting of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. In the middle, the Orioles overwhelmed the burgeoning Big Red Machine in five games to take the world championship in 1970 (and deny the team that cast off Robinson). They fell short in 1971, losing the seventh game to the Pirates after Robinson, forever sliding hard, practically willed Baltimore a win in the tenth inning of Game Six. Frank had walked with one out, took third on a single to center and scored on a sacrifice fly to center.

Not that simple exactly. As F. Robby himself recounted in John Eisenberg’s From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles, “Both of my Achilles tendons were hurting, really aching. My hamstring was bugging me, too.” He booked his own trip from first to third: “I hit second and I said, ‘I’m gone.’ I didn’t need a coach.” His headfirst slide beat Vic Davalillo’s throw. “Then Brooks came up and hit a 250-foot fly ball. Billy Hunter’s standing there and says ‘Go!’ and I said, ‘What?’ I took off.” This throw from Davalillo was slowed just enough by a bounce off the mound to allow Frank to slide in under Manny Sanguillen’s tag, a tableau captured the following spring when Topps released its World Series cards.

The 1971 World Series is remembered primarily as Roberto Clemente’s showcase, sparking the Pirates to their championship from every angle, and that’s a legitimate portrayal, but I can still see Frank Robinson winning Game Six with that slide. It was celebrated that Saturday afternoon because it was what we were regularly told Frank Robinson did as a matter of course. Frank Robinson led the Orioles. Frank Robinson played all out. Frank Robinson won.

Maybe all he didn’t do was read his most current scouting reports. Whatever Robinson knew about the New York Mets from his time concurrent with theirs in the National League between 1962 and 1965 was woefully out of date by October of 1969. Frank and his teammates had a date with the Mets in the upcoming World Series. After 109 wins and a dismissal of Minnesota in the first ALCS, maybe they thought all they needed to learn was what time to show up and take four more games.

“Under the frank regime of [Earl] Weaver,” George Vecsey wrote in Joy in Mudville, “the Orioles were casual enough to admit they didn’t know much about the Mets. They didn’t know who played third base, for example.” The Judge also wasn’t shy about showing how little he’d studied the Mets’ depth chart.

“Bring on Ron Gaspar!” Frank Robinson dared the NL champs in the victorious ALCS clubhouse.

Young Merv Rettenmund dared correct his elder: “Rod, stupid!”

Duly noted, Robinson more or less said. What he actually said was, “Bring on Rod Stupid!”

The prevailing Oriole attitude didn’t begin to look dumb until Game Two, when one of those anonymous Mets third basemen, Ed Charles, scored what turned out to be the winning run in the top of the ninth inning at Memorial Stadium to tie the Series. Ignorance exploded in Baltimore’s collective face when Rod Gaspar — that’s who — scored the winning run in the bottom of the tenth of Game Four at Shea to push the Mets toward the heretofore ungraspable. As for Game Five, Frank Robinson homered but got no satisfaction. He was sure he was hit by a pitch later, but home plate umpire Lou DiMuro overruled him. Cleon Jones, on the other hand (or polished shoe), got an HBP call, came around on Donn Clendenon’s subsequent home run and the Mets were on their way to their fourth straight victory and a world championship. Though the Mets had won 100 games and featured a couple of pitchers named Seaver and Koosman, it was considered an upset…which is what the Orioles remained decades later in Eisenberg’s book.

“We were better,” Frank maintained, “but what did that matter?”

After the 1971 World Series, Robinson was 36 and the Orioles decided they had to clear space for an up-and-coming outfielder named Don Baylor. They traded Frank back to the National League, to the Dodgers. One year later, the Dodgers traded him down the Santa Ana Freeway to the Angels (along with, among others, promising youngster Bobby Valentine), where a sinecure of sorts awaited him. The American League was instituting a new quasi-position called the designated hitter. It was perfect for a slugger whose legs couldn’t tolerate the outfield any longer. In 1973, the season he turned 38, Angels DH Frank Robinson blasted 30 homers and knocked in 97 runs.

Late the year after that, Frank was sent from California to Cleveland, setting the stage for history baseball had been waiting too long for. After the 1974 season ended, the Indians announced their manager for 1975 — their player-manager — would be Frank Robinson. There hadn’t been an African-American manager in the majors to that point. Jackie Robinson died two years earlier expressing as his last public desire that there be one soon. It didn’t happen in time for Jackie to experience it. Based on everything but regrettable precedent, it was destined to happen for Frank. He’d managed in Puerto Rico winter after winter. Reggie Jackson was one of his charges and attributed his growth as a player to Robinson’s guidance. Of course Frank Robinson would manage in the major leagues. He’d be the precedent.

It was a big story. Barriers being broken usually are. Player-managers are, too. Frank reluctantly wrote himself into his first Opening Day lineup in Cleveland. He homered. The Tribe beat the Yankees. In his first two seasons as manager, Robinson molded a perfectly competent Indians team. That was an accomplishment on the shores of Lake Erie. He finished playing in 1976, completing his career with 586 home runs, 2,943 base hits and a passel of other Cooperstown-worthy numbers the BBWAA would validate on his first ballot. Frank managed until Indians ownership let him go partway through the 1977 season. All managers, whatever their background, are hired to be fired.

Frank was hired anew in 1981 by the Giants. San Francisco hadn’t been going anywhere for a while, but in 1982, Frank drove them on a late-season surge that nearly stole the NL West out from under the Braves. It didn’t quite happen, but they knocked out the Dodgers on the final weekend, which is nearly as delightful for a Giants fan to dwell on. A four-season stretch in San Fran ended amid a disappointing 1984. After a stint coaching for the Brewers, Robinson gravitated back to Baltimore, eventually elevated to his third managerial post in 1988. It wasn’t an ideal situation. These weren’t the dynastic Orioles of Frank’s extensive prime. These O’s were 0-6 and cost an organizational icon, Cal Ripken, Sr., his job.

First thing Robinson’s Orioles did for him was lose their next fifteen games, burying them at 0-21. A player as dedicated to winning as any whoever lived — he didn’t want teammates chatting up opponents around the batting cage when they were supposed to be focused on thrashing him a couple of hours later — absorbed most of a 107-loss season. Then, a year later, twenty years after the Mets redefined “Miracle,” Frank Robinson’s Orioles executed nearly as dramatic a turnaround. The 1989 O’s battled the Blue Jays down to the wire before ceding the American League East. This dose of Oriole magic earned Frank AL Manager of the Year honors.

Two years later, he was fired. It was the third time, each time with a season in progress, a team told him they had to make a change. This is a fate that befalls baseball lifers, no matter that they are in the Hall of Fame, no matter that they were the performance peers of Aaron, Mays and Clemente. Roberto died young, not only too soon in general but too soon to manage. Hank and Willie either didn’t get those opportunities or didn’t fully pursue them. Frank, an immortal not only as a player but as a leader when he played, got treated like any other manager who didn’t finish in first place.

Robinson seemed to have left dugouts behind for good when he joined MLB as its vice president of on-field operations in the late 1990s. The kangaroo court judge was now given greater jurisdiction over player behavior. He had worked as an assistant GM for the Orioles after managing and then oversaw the Arizona Fall League and other projects in the Commissioner’s office. He was qualified to be a VP. He was qualified to be Commissioner.

The incumbent in that role, Bud Selig, had let the Montreal Expos wither on his watch. The team became a ward of its competitors, the worst kind of fraternization. With Major League Baseball running the show, MLB turned to one of its executives to take on the thankless task of managing a franchise that was about to float somewhere between relocation and dissolution.

Frank Robinson was a manager again in 2002, first time since 1991. With nobody expecting them to go anywhere but away, Robinson guided the Expos deep into the NL Wild Card race in ’02 and ’03. He posted winning records in consecutive seasons in Montreal, something that hadn’t been done since the Expos were run like a big league operation in 1993 and 1994. Robinson stayed with the ’Spos to the end, which came at Shea on October 3, 2004. When MLB finally gave up Montreal’s ghost and transferred it to Washington, DC, they asked Frank to continue doing what he did.

For a half-season, he did it magnificently. The Washington Nationals, still seeking full-time ownership, took the District by storm in 2005, on pace to win a 1969 Metslike 100 games at the halfway point of their inaugural season. Reality caught up to the Nats come high summer; the second half was a mirror image of the first — 50-31 to 31-50 — but Frank brought his orphans home at .500. As with the Indians, the Giants, the Orioles and the Expos a team managed by Frank Robinson exceeded expectations.

He’d have one more season running the team. Nobody would interrupt his tenure this time. He’d get all of 2006, but no more. New ownership took over midway in the Nats’ second season and, as the campaign wound down, Frank was informed he wouldn’t be invited back for 2007. The job was still thankless.

But the Nats did give him a farewell, not something every baseball lifer gets. It came on the last day of the 2006 season, October 2, in a ceremony preceding Game 162 at RFK Stadium. The NL East champion Mets happened to be the opponent, so I happened to be watching. It’s stayed with me to this day. On Thursday, when Frank Robinson died at 83, I found it on YouTube and watched it again. I’d advise you to do the same.

Watching Robinson say goodbye more than a dozen years ago on that Sunday afternoon was and is breathtaking. The player who made his name in places that were now only memories — Crosley Field, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds — found himself reflecting on more than a half-century in baseball. “It’s a great game,” he told the Washington crowd. “And it’s getting better all the time.” He wasn’t there to tell you baseball was better when he played. Frank was by no means an old 71.

Parochially, I was impressed because of what this avatar of the big, bad 1969 Orioles who hadn’t thought it necessary to know the names Garrett, Charles or Gaspar did next. I’d always held a bit of a grudge that Frank Robinson had tried to beat the Mets on the biggest stage when I was six years old. How dare he? I saw him at an offseason banquet thirty years later and was conflicted. On one hand, that was Frank Robinson, who if he had never ascended to the managerial chair still would have been an outsize historical figure in his sport. On the other hand, he was someone who took the 1969 Mets too lightly, which I grudgingly continued to consider bad form.

Well, he never did care for fraternization. Yet by 2006, moments from his last game in uniform, he could look past his ancient antipathy for how the Mets beat him and his team. The graciousness he was about to display was overwhelming.

“I would really like to take the time to congratulate the New York Mets organization for winning the Eastern Division championship,” Frank said, eliciting a hearty cap tip from his opposite number, Willie Randolph, and applause from the visitors’ dugout. He acknowledged Randolph, Omar Minaya (previously his GM in Montreal) and the rest of the Mets.

“Great season, guys.”

Great gesture, too. It would be returned once Frank was done speaking — which he wasn’t yet. He thanked the “great baseball city” that had been barren for 33 years for opening its heart to this team of transplants. He praised the effort from everybody associated with the Nationals, singling out the equipment managers and trainers as well as the players. He emphasized that though this was a goodbye, “I’m not retiring,” and sure enough he’d return to MLB’s offices, eventually serving as executive vice president of Baseball Development between 2012 and 2015 and as a senior adviser to the next Commissioner thereafter.

“I have had my time as far as managing,” Frank said, which lent an air of sadness to the sunny day. Robinson didn’t want to leave the stadium feeling blue, however, so he closed on an upbeat note: “I don’t have any regrets for anything that happened to me in this game.” He ticked off a couple of the questions he said he tended to receive about having “come up a little bit short” of 3,000 hits and 600 homers, but underscored his theme: “I have no regrets…no regrets…no regrets about this game. All I tried to do was make this game a little better, because that’s what I do, and respect this game, and always will.”

After giving Washington one final blessing as a worthy baseball town, he copped to having to do something harder than anything he’d done before: “And that’s to say goodbye.”

Upon conclusion of his remarks, Robinson was saluted from the stands by Nationals fans and immediately surrounded on the field, though not by Nats, but by Mets. Randolph, his coaches, his players, everybody in orange, blue, black and gray streamed toward the manager whose team they’d strive directly to defeat one final time. The Mets were going to the playoffs. They could be generous of spirit. They recognized the moment and its protagonist. They understood this towering, enormous figure was one of their own and then some. Everybody’s a baseball lifer while they’re living a baseball life.

One hug for Frank after another ensued. Paul Lo Duca. Jose Valentin. David Wright. Shawn Green. Michael Tucker. The relievers jogged in from the bullpen to take part. Then his own players added their props, swallowing him in a home plate circle and cheering their manager as if he himself were a walkoff hit. Game recognized game.

What a game Frank Robinson gave us.

The (Last) Rites of Winter

Winter does what it can to get us through itself. Every year it pounds signposts into the frozen tundra so we understand what feels like it will last forever doesn’t. We don’t anticipate the baseball rituals that get us through because we’re too busy anticipating the baseball spring that lies beyond them — and resenting that we have to wait at all.

The signposts of baseball winter are best observed in the rearview. But they were there all along.

There was the Arizona Fall League.

There were the Caribbean Winter Leagues.

There were the Winter Meetings.

There were the GM meetings.

There was SABR Day if you were so inclined.

There were fanfests put on by teams who believe reaching out to their fans and giving them a fun day is all to the good — and there was good ol’ QBC, put on by Mets fans for Mets fans because the Mets aren’t one of those teams.

There were all those awards the BBWAA announces and that banquet the BBWAA holds to hand out those awards and other accolades besides. They gave a prize to the 1969 Mets, several of whom showed up to remind us that fifty years on, the 1969 Mets are all-time winners.

There were grips and grins as applicable, with jerseys counterintuitively modeled over dress shirts and ties, as if baseballwear isn’t formal enough.

There was the tiresome Hall of Fame speculation and the tedious Hall of Fame debate and the actual Hall of Fame election and the heartening Hall of Fame press conference where you wind up feeling good for whoever made it regardless that you didn’t root for them and probably wouldn’t have voted for them.

There was the MLB Network concocting lists for you to yell at when they don’t rate Jacob deGrom the best pitcher in baseball.

There were coat drives and blood drives and canned food drives, with ticket vouchers and holiday spirit serving as lure.

There was a Met dressing as Santa Claus for the benefit of local schoolkids and the inevitable finger-crossing that the nebulous Curse of Santa Claus doesn’t strike the player in question. (Brandon Nimmo’s still with us, I’m pretty sure.)

There were glances at what the new baseball cards will look like, including the new old Heritage set, which this year will reincarnate the 1970 style from my first full season collecting, which, like the 1969 World Series, is rumored to have taken place almost fifty years ago.

There were sporadic bulletins regarding where old Mets are heading next, one more unlikely than the one before it. Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson in Miami. Jordany Valdespin in Minneapolis. Jennry Mejia in Boston. James Loney in Sugar Land, Tex., where our contingency Wild Card first baseman of yore will attempt to do a little of everything for the Atlantic League Skeeters: hit, field, coach and pitch.

There were the pitches from Mets season ticket reps, which I used to field politely, or at least curiously, but now I just duck.

There was remembering not to forget what’s about to change. Most pressingly this year, our new flagship radio station is WCBS, 880 on your AM dial; delete 710 for your presets at will. Wayne Randazzo is full-time with Howie Rose. Ed Coleman is the pregame host again. Brad Heller is the voice on the periphery. (It is with no slight intended toward the new team to note Josh Lewin and Pete McCarthy will be missed.)

There was the ubiquitous use of the phrase “hot stove” and the reflexive rejoinder when nothing much was going on that “the hot stove has grown cold.” WCBS will host a “Mets Hot Stove” show Thursday, February 21 at 7 PM. SNY continues to air a similarly named program every Thursday night at 10:30.

Swings in New York temperature notwithstanding, we are at about the spot where we can store said stove away until next winter. Oh, the weather outside is still capable of turning frightful, but winter for the baseball fan is all but over. The countdown to Pitchers & Catchers is so ritualized that we’ve not bothered to notice Spring Training has become a soft-launch proposition. Players of all positions trickle in ASAP. They wear t-shirts and shorts instead of the otherwise required uniform, and the workouts appear less regimented, but they arrive under the radar and ahead of the report date. There’s been a “pre-camp” in quiet progress this week. I’ve not heard that expression before. Perhaps it’s no different from a mini-camp. Perhaps a collective of baseball players preparing to play baseball needs a name, lest anarchy reign. Syndergaard, Matz, deGrom are stretching out those golden arms under the St. Lucie sun already. Todd Frazier’s on hand, talking up everything everything between taking grounders everywhere.

So Spring (as opposed to spring) is basically here. It comes earlier every year even if it is universally agreed it can’t come soon enough. The powers that be have cleverly manipulated the winter to ensure that, as Arthur Jensen suggested in Network, all boredom is amused.

• When the Jets won Super Bowl III, on January 12, 1969, the Opening Day that presaged another Flushing-based miracle was 86 days hence.

• XVIII years later, when the Giants won Super Bowl XXI, on January 25, 1987, the beginning of the title defense of the fairly miraculous World Series championship from the October before awaited 72 days in the future.

• There was no New York angle to Super Bowl LIII, but once the Pats and Rams were done Sunday doing as little as offensively possible with their prolate spheroid, we didn’t have to count nearly so high to measure the return to the horsehide portion of our lives. Opening Day, once the clock struck 0:00 on February 3, 2019, was only 53 days away. Official Spring Training sat no more than a Thor toss away.

Winter still drags on forever, but the NFL has successfully elongated January and MLB has cleverly compressed March to make February more tolerable than was ever dreamed. We distract ourselves with some football — better prolate than never — then tackle the specter of another Mets season the second it materializes on the horizon. The Super Bowl was the penultimate signpost. Truck Day, a rather recent contrivance in terms of sponsorship and being A Thing, was the last.

The first? That was the day after the Red Sox won the World Series. On October 29, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado filed for free agency. The Red Sox got a parade. Harper N. Machado — I’m beginning to think they’re one person — haven’t gotten substantively closer to not being free agents. They’ve just passed the hundred-day mark of not being affiliated with a particular team, as if that’s a milestone steeped in the grand tradition of Truck Day. The year is now divided into baseball season and wondering where Funny Girl descendant Manny Bryce will play in the next baseball season.

Baseball’s reluctance to shower him…er, them with hundreds of millions has rained on their parade. Those fellas are not my concern. They could have been had somebody around here wanted to engage them in a little hot stove talk. Somebody didn’t. Brodie Van Wagenen didn’t exactly approach the winter as if Second Hand Rose — Cano! Diaz! Ramos! Lowrie! Familia 2.0! Justin Wilson, even! — but BVW and Jeff Wilpon have apparently decided to direct their resources elsewhere. I say “apparently,” because players aren’t unavailable until they’re unavailable. Nevertheless, the trucks that rolled south Monday don’t seem likely to be sent back to fetch either Manny’s or Bryce’s gear.

Maybe just as well when you try to envision Year Eight of any megadeal (or Year Three of Cespedes’s). Maybe not when you consider those perk-imbued fans chosen to say “Play Ball!” on CitiVision and how a plurality of them seem to have been “season ticketholders since” either directly after a World Series run or one of those winters when the Mets made an outsize move to catapult them toward a World Series run. More than three decades since they traded for him and lucratively extended his contract, I still hear “season ticketholder since 1985” and conclude shelling out for Gary Carter continues to pay dividends. “Hi, I’m calling from the New York Mets and we just brought a likely future Hall of Famer on board” is a call a Mets fan is less likely to duck.

I don’t know if Harper N. Machado will go to Cooperstown, let alone hustle there. I don’t know if either of him/them would earn the 2019 Mets a fiftieth-anniversary invitation to the 2069 BBWAA dinner. I don’t know if Justin Wilson will strike out the lefty he’s specifically inserted to retire or, for that matter, if he’d be compelled by law to face more than one batter. But I do know making it through another baseball winter was an accomplishment for all of us.

Let’s not do it again real soon.

Welcome, THB Class of 2018!

Ah, the THB Class of 2018! Greet ’em quick, because many of ’em are already gone!

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

THB Class of 2018

Here they are, your THB Class of 2018!

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

Before the rest of them become Mariners, minor-league free agents or otherwise move on, here are your 2018 Mets, in order of matriculation:

Adrian Gonzalez: The first Met to matriculate in 2018 was an aggressively pointless acquisition, arguably emblematic of this franchise’s recent wheel-spinning. Gonzalez, a former star much dimmed by back woes, blocked Dom Smith and prevented Wilmer Flores and Jay Bruce from getting more reps at first, three more sensible answers (from a long list) than employing Adrian Gonzalez. His redeeming quality in the team’s eye was that he was cheap, which may not be a redeeming quality in your eye. Anyway, it was an old song we’re tired of hearing played: Proven Veteran™ Will Nuture Young Player and If Everything Goes Right He’ll Also Bounce Back and Then We’re in the World Series! Everything didn’t go right and Gonzalez was cut after a third of a season wasted. Insult to injury: His 2018 Topps Series 2 card was a horizontal. All right-thinking people know that horizontal cards are designed to lure kids to Satan worship now that backwards messages on LPs are no longer an option.

Todd Frazier: Perhaps you know him from such Mets-media beats as “from Toms River,” “the most enthusiastic teammate ever” and “once played in the Little League World Series.” Frazier arrived on a two-year below-market deal, an admittedly not-crazy find in the free-agent supermarket’s dented-cans and day-old bread aisle. (As always, the real problem is that the owners of the National League’s New York franchise do most of their shopping in that aisle, with no interest in, say, a prime cut of Bryce Harper.) Frazier was, well, Frazier: he didn’t hit for average, did draw walks, played pretty good defense, was the most enthusiastic teammate ever, and continued to be from Toms River. Being a Met, he also spent a ton of time on the disabled list. Notable highlights included somehow stealing an out thanks to a flop in the Los Angeles stands and the discovery of a kid’s rubber mock baseball, and umpire Tom Hallion being so steamed about this chicanery that he pulled a Tiananmen Square as Frazier finished a walk-off home-run trot. Seriously, how weird was that? 2018 Topps Heritage card in which he looks like Todd From Toms River.

Anthony Swarzak: First he was hurt, then he was horrible. Honestly, how many new Mets of recent vintage does that describe? On paper, Swarzak seemed like a pretty good addition: he’d put up the best year of his career in 2017 after knocking around with fly-by-night outfits such as the Doosan Bears, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and the New York Yankees. But he got hurt in spring training, had to leave his second outing of the season, didn’t return until June and then was reliably awful. That glugging sound was $6 million of grimly extracted WilponBucks clogging up the toilet, with another $8 million ready to pour in 2019. The Mets then offloaded Swarzak on the Seattle Mariners, to the relief of all concerned. 2015 Topps card as a Twin.

Jose Lobaton: Every THB class includes an aged catcher or two, signed as Triple-A depth and summoned after that depth proves necessary, catching being what it is. (This goes from probability to lead-pipe cinch when you employ Travis d’Arnaud, who’s probably plummeting through a skylight at this very moment.) Generally it’s not worth getting too worked up about emergency backstops — sometimes they get one big moment (Taylor Teagarden) before being forgotten, but usually they go in the I Forgot That Guy Was a Met stack (Rick Wilkins, Tom Wilson, Taylor Teagarden again). Lobaton hit a triple in his first Mets AB, was rendered superfluous by the arrival of Devin Mesoraco, spent the summer in Triple-A and then returned in September as a reward for good behavior. [Author is carefully expressionless except for a slight upturn at the corner of his mouth.] While the Mets were at Fenway, a plus-sized rat caused various Mets to vacate their dugout positions, and cameras caught Lobaton trying to flush the rat from its hiding place beneath the bench. “Why on Earth is he doing that?” I asked anybody who’d listen, which at that point was nobody. “Is he actually planning to beat the rat to death on national television? Does he think it’ll reconsider its options and board a hidden rats-only elevator?” Honestly, if you can’t count on ancient catchers to show common sense, what can you count on them for? 2016 Topps card as a National.

Gerson Bautista: A right-handed fireballer who wasn’t ready for prime time, Bautista made five appearances for the Mets, looked awful in four of them and left the impression that a) he had cool hair and b) some nice person should buy him a cheeseburger. His existence then nagged at me because he was the one THB Met who didn’t have a card, and I was goddamned if I was going to spent nearly $20 on a Salem Red Sox set to fix that. For some reason Topps then included 1.5 Gerson Bautista cards in its update set: he has one of his own and shares another one with Luis Guillorme. Recidivist Met Jason Vargas, by the way, got a Series 2 card and an Update card. I love Topps, but every year they offer a reminder that monopolies are not good for quality control. Anyway, Bautista is now a Mariner and I hope someone feeds him.

Corey Oswalt: Oswalt was serviceable as a starter, not so great as a reliever, but only turned 25 in September and never really had a defined role. Honestly, a limitation of these THB write-ups is a lot of them are first impressions of players when no one can know what those players will be. (This lament is particularly true for pitchers.) Anyway, Oswalt made the big leagues after six years in the minors and many years of hard work and dreaming before that. That makes him an immortal, however the rest of his story unfolds, and we shouldn’t forget that. Stuck with a 2013 Topps Heritage Minors card, because Topps consigned him to one of its lamentable new duo cards in its Update set.

P.J. Conlon: Recalled for a spot start in Cincinnati, Conlon became the first Irish-born player in the big leagues since World War II, which seems like something that would have been a big deal in the Eisenhower administration. After a pair of not particularly successful appearances, he was designated for assignment, claimed by the Dodgers, and posted a classy Twitter thank-you to New York on his way out the door. Then, after less than a week as a theoretical Dodger minor leaguer, he wound up back with the Mets. Which led to this amended tweet:

That’s genuinely funny! Anyway, Conlon will be a spring-training invitee in 2019, and still born in Ireland. I’m sure some bored beat writer will get a March story out of it. 2018 Topps Heritage card.

Devin Mesoraco: A catcher with a doctor’s chart that would make Travis d’Arnaud blanch, Mesoraco came over from the Reds when Matt Harvey was finally exiled and crushed five home runs in his first two weeks. Alas, his Mets career path then followed the John Buck arc: he cooled off, got hurt, and only had 12 plate appearances in September. Still, he earned plaudits as a catcher from Jacob deGrom, whom one can regard as an authority on such things. Got a not bad 2018 Topps Update card in which he’s trotting off the field in full catcher’s armor, mask in one hand and weary expression on his face.

Luis Guillorme: Coolly caught a bat one-handed in spring training in 2016, a highlight you’ve probably seen. Made his big-league debut this year and was given very little opportunity to show what he could do, but honestly, can you blame the Mets? I mean, when you get the chance to use a roster spot on the fly-laden corpse of Jose Reyes, you take it instead of worrying about trivialities such as the further development of excellent defensive shortstops. The Mets’ infield has only gotten more crowded since the season ended, and Guillorme’s likely to be an odd man out. Some old Bowman card, as Topps Update stuck him on one of those damn duo things.

Buddy Baumann: A May acquisition from the Padres, Baumann was put on the active roster for a game that got rained out, and then sent back down having never occupied a roster spot for an official game, leaving me with a conundrum: If Baumann never pitched for the Mets, would he count as a ghost? Or would he be, somehow, the ghost of a ghost? Considerable angst was avoided when Baumann was recalled again, and this time he actually got to pitch. It seems like an anticlimax to write that I remember the roster debate more than I do anything he did on the mound, but it’s actually the perfect ending. Some card as an Omaha Storm Chaser, which sounds like the kind of thing Jose Lobaton would do if not properly supervised.

Jose Bautista: Another piece of bruised, discarded fruit that Mets ownership brushed off and assured us would be tasty and nutritious. And to be fair, it kind of was. The former Blue Jays star (and long-ago Met on paper) arrived after the Braves had no spot for him, but proved moderately useful in a half-season as a Met before being flipped to Philadelphia. He connected for a walkoff grand slam against Tampa Bay that was, somehow, his first-ever walkoff homer. He also reportedly played a crucial role mentoring Amed Rosario, which is the kind of thing that different segments of a fandom can simultaneously undervalue and overvalue. Pretty decent 2018 Topps Update card.

Tim Peterson: Arrived at the end of May as part of a grab bag of new relievers and pitched really well in June, then not so well after that — as a lowlight, there was a game against the Pirates in which the abracadabra-walk rule meant he allowed four baserunners on six pitches. Yikes! In fairness, Peterson was also a victim of Mickey Callaway’s growing pains managing a bullpen, at one point spending nearly two weeks on the active roster without appearing in a game. And he wasn’t the only one. Anyway, one of a string of basically interchangeable right-handed relievers. 2018 51s card.

Scott Copeland: Nope, don’t remember him. The record shows that he pitched on May 31 against the Cubs at Citi Field, a night Seth Lugo started and was relieved by Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Buddy Baumann, Copeland and Gerson Bautista. Yikes! Copeland pitched better than any of his fellow relievers in that game, facing five batters and giving up a lone single. He apparently wore 62, which is the kind of number big-leaguers once refused to wear unless it was March. I liked it that way better. Some old Topps Pro Debut card.

Chris Beck: No memory of him either. I looked at his horrific pitching line and am glad I’m coming up empty. Pitching 10.1 innings and giving up 10 hits, nine walks and three home runs is not something you want to put on your resume. Some old White Sox card.

Drew Smith: A big right-handed reliever (honestly, they may as well grow on trees), Smith was vaguely handsome in an utterly unmemorable way. Seriously, the guy looked like a generic action figure before some Chinese prisoner glued the cowl on and made you go, “Ohh, it’s Batman/Captain America/the Green Hornet/etc.” Smith pitched pretty well though, only walking six guys in 28 IP. He’ll now probably walk everyone and his grandmother, because middle relievers. 2018 51s card.

Kevin Kaczmarski: Ya got me. Apparently I bought a 2016 Columbia Fireflies set to get a card of him. That qualifies as dedication. And it seems he wore No. 16? Did I get mad about that in some forgotten post? No offense to Kaczmarski, but who let that happen?

Tyler Bashlor: Right-handed reliever. Came in the same Fireflies set that yielded a Kevin Kaczmarski card. Be thankful for small favors.

Drew Gagnon: Right-handed reliever who looked vaguely like Matthew McConaughey, at least to me. Didn’t do much … and will be 29 in June. Good luck. 2018 51s card.

Jeff McNeil: Is there a worse career move than succeeding as a rookie hitter for the New York Mets? After two years lost to injury, McNeil got his Daniel Murphy on as a member of the 51s in 2018, but the team stubbornly refused to call him up until late July, when the trade of Asdrubal Cabrera finally opened up the spot he’d earned about two months earlier. He actually got to play — another thing the Mets have been reliably terrible about in recent years — and took advantage, hitting .329 and proving almost impossible to strike out. He was a success story in the field, too: despite having his defense habitually derided, he worked his butt off and by the end of the season looked more than adequate at second. Honestly, it was everything you could reasonably ask of a rookie, both in terms of preparation and results. So how did the Mets reward him? By bringing in not only Robinson Cano but also Jed Lowrie. McNeil is now being talked up as an outfielder. Maybe that will work out and he’ll be a Ben Zobrist type. Or maybe the Mets are setting up yet another promising young hitter to fail. Old Bowman card, but he has a 2019 Topps card coming out in a week or so.

Austin Jackson: A quietly aggravating player, Jackson had a good first month after being discarded by the Rangers and then went back to being the kind of guy who’d get discarded by the Rangers. His lone skill as a baseball player was his ability to be terrible without being obvious about it. For instance, Jackson was a consistently horrible center fielder, but it took close scrutiny to reveal it: he failed by freezing on contact and having a slow first step, which won’t make highlight films but is actually more damaging on a night-to-night basis than occasionally diving and missing or getting hit in the head by an enemy double. It’s giving guys like this 200 ABs that kills seasons. Jackson won David Wright’s farewell game with a walkoff double, which doesn’t change my verdict appreciably but ought to be acknowledged. 2016 Topps card as a White Sock.

Bobby Wahl: Big right-handed reliever. See anywhere above. 2017 Topps card as an Athletic.

Jack Reinheimer: Nondescript utilityman who came over from the Diamondbacks on waivers in an acquisition that proved serenely pointless. Since the season ended he’s been waived by the Cubs, designated for assignment by the Rangers and claimed off waivers by the Orioles. Sometimes I wonder how stuff like that works. Does poor Reinheimer have a stack of HR paperwork to deal with in addition to having to figure out where the heck to get an apartment? Got a 2018 Topps Update card as a Diamondback, a team he last played for on Aug. 2, 2017. C’mon, Topps.

Daniel Zamora: Big right-handed … oh wait, Zamora was left-handed and actually useful out of the Mets bullpen. It was a small sample size and he’s a middle reliever, but something to build on, maybe. 2018 Rumble Ponies card.

Eric Hanhold: The final new Met of the year was … a big right-handed reliever who didn’t do much but about whom any conclusive judgment would be premature and unfair. If you couldn’t see that one coming by now, I don’t know what to tell you. 2018 Rumble Ponies card.

Who Are These Guys Again?

Jed Lowrie was sitting next to Brodie Van Wagenen on Wednesday answering a reporter’s question about being reunited with Chili Davis, which is a scene that would have been a rather random one to describe as recently as the middle of October — a perfectly viable page of Baseball Mad-Libs come to life. Yet Lowrie was wearing a Mets jersey, the backdrop was comprised of Met and Met-adjacent logos and it’s the middle of January. We know who these people are in our lives now. We will rely on them, among others with whom we were heretofore familiar but not intimately so, to heighten our hope and happiness as the year ahead of us unfolds.

Before returning to treating this essentially overnight transformation of individuals from ”yeah, I’ve heard of him, I guess” to “C’MON JED!” as a perfectly normal evolution, let us acknowledge its inherent weirdness. It’s weird that Van Wagenen is the point man for our dreams, not because he’s Brodie the ex-agent turned GM (which is specifically weird), but because he’s a person none of us ever gave five seconds of thought to until last July when he asserted the Mets better get on the ball where Jacob deGrom’s long-term contractual needs were concerned. And then we thought about him for five minutes.

I’d rarely thought about Davis over the past couple of decades, save for a couple of anecdotes from his playing career (“he ain’t God, man,” Chili memorably declared when asked why he was able to hit universally unhittable young Doc Gooden). He was a hitting coach? Yeah, I suppose I knew that. Now he’s our hitting coach. He used to be Jed Lowrie’s hitting coach? I can honestly say I didn’t know that.

Lowrie was a member in good standing of the Vague Brigade, one of those players I kind of knew played for some team that wasn’t the Mets and didn’t play the Mets very often. I might have even voted for him to start at shortstop on an All-Star ballot once when I needed to fill out the American League half with a shortstop who sure as hell wasn’t Jeter. To say I didn’t otherwise care about Jed Lowrie sounds crueler than I would intend, but I didn’t care about Jed Lowrie. Now I do, apparently.

Fine. That’s how we roll. We get a new, relatively accomplished infielder (position to be determined daily). We get a new, presumably qualified hitting coach, as teams will when they were judged not to have hit enough under the old one. We have this still new general manager who hires and acquires all kinds of slight acquaintances and total strangers in advance of making them our guys. Keon Broxton hit home runs off deGrom in consecutive series in the same month two years ago. Hector Santiago matched some zeroes with Matt Harvey the night Harvey and Bobby Parnell one-hit the White Sox across ten innings, which is now six years ago. Rajai Davis hit that home run for the Indians in the World Series. Gregor Blanco made that catch behind Matt Cain in his perfect game. All of the above are Mets now and, if things go well for them, will be Mets in 2019, perhaps longer.

Same goes for J.D. Davis, formerly of Houston, no relation to Chili as far as I know. I’d never heard of J.D. Davis before we got him. Or Walker Lockett, who we got from Cleveland for Kevin Plawecki. Davis is a utility infielder type, Lockett a righthanded pitcher, should you be keeping score some day in the near future and wonder what it is they do and why it of import to you. I’d heard of Luis Avilan, though I couldn’t have told you from where (despite his having made his major league debut versus the Mets in 2012), but I’m willing to believe he’s a good candidate to throw lefthanded relief for us because that’s why he’s here, thus let’s be positive on Luis Avilan’s behalf.

It goes like this to some degree every winter. It goes like this to some degree every season. Last summer I was a little dumbstruck that a slice of my specific partisan attentions were now given over to Jeff McNeil, Austin Jackson and Bobby Wahl because basically the week before, McNeil was some name on the organizational depth chart; Jackson was an ex-Tiger I’d lost track as the Vague Brigade drilled in characteristic out of sight/out of mind fashion; and who the hell was Bobby Wahl? Now it is up to Brewers fans to ask that question in the present tense, given that Wahl is who we traded to Milwaukee to get Broxton, who, you might recall from a past paragraph, took the soon-to-be best pitcher in baseball deep twice, yet isn’t really considered much of a hitter. Maybe Chili Davis can work with him.

I got used to McNeil, who’s still a Met, albeit of undetermined application. I got used to Jackson, who is no longer a Met. I got used to Wahl before he went on the DL after seven Met appearances and into the Met past after the Broxton trade. And I’ll get used to Lowrie and the rest of this lot rather quickly as they blend with the players and coaches Van Wagenen previously hired and acquired and the crew of holdovers who haven’t been traded, released or bid adieu ceremoniously or routinely. Every year it’s a little weird. Then it isn’t.

The Years of the Pitchers

Today is the last fiftieth anniversary of any day in 1968, the last year whose baseball season I don’t personally remember. No memories whatsoever. When I think of the 1968 baseball season, I think of sitting on the edge of my bed in some undetermined year a few years later studying a New York Times-sponsored sports record book my parents gave me for my birthday in 1969, which was forty-nine years ago today, but never mind 1969 for the moment (or the fact that I’m about to have baseball memories measuring a half-century in length). We’re on the cusp of the fiftieth anniversary of 1969 and will be reveling in it in 2019. But this topic for these first few paragraphs is 1968, which was the subject of that sports record book. It had “1969” in the title, so I assumed it had very current results, like how the Knicks did the night before. I didn’t know how publishing worked (and, honestly, still don’t). I didn’t know they sometimes put next year’s year on the cover before next year becomes this year. I would learn that when I became a devoted World Almanac reader, which I would be for a very long time, but not yet.

Despite the “1969” sports record book sponsored by the New York Times not having last night’s Knicks game or this morning’s NBA standings in it, I tore into it. It had sports in it, all of them. It had statistics. It had a lengthy section on the most recent baseball season that had been played, 1968. Everything I first knew about 1968 I got from that book. I learned Denny McLain won 31 games. I learned Bob Gibson registered a 1.12 ERA. I learned Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in hitting with a relatively low-sounding .301 average. And I discovered that Jerry Koosman, whom I considered pretty good but not great as I sat on the edge of my bed gleaning, had a great rookie season: 19-12, 2.08 ERA. Those were practically Seaver numbers to my early 1970s mind. Yet the Mets themselves had been 73-89 and in ninth place.

Ninth place? Thirty-one wins for one pitcher? How did the pitcher who had the 1.12 ERA not have the 31 wins? How could only one batter in an entire league hit above .300? What was this Year of the Pitcher all about? How come the Mets couldn’t get Koosman a twentieth win? How could Koosman not have won Rookie of the Year? It was the pitchers’ year. I knew who Johnny Bench was. I knew he was nonpareil, even if I didn’t know the word “nonpareil”. But Johnny Bench didn’t win 19 games.

What a bizarre world the 1968 baseball must have been. It might as well have been 1868 from where I sat on the edge of my bed.

The Tigers were world champions. Denny McLain wasn’t the big hero, though. It was Mickey Lolich, three wins in the World Series, 17-9 in the regular season, same as Koosman in 1969. Lolich and Koosman were second fiddles to McLain and Seaver, respectively. Koosman also had a bigger World Series than Seaver, though that I picked up on later. It wasn’t included in that 1969 sports record book. It went to press too soon for that.

All of this raced through my head as I sat on the edge of my bed some sunny morning, shades closed, lights off, probably home sick from school, a few years after December 31, 1968, the end of the last year whose baseball season would have to exist exclusively for me on pages practically falling out of a paperback book. The cover had come off pretty quickly. That’s how much I handled that sports record book. That’s how much I yearned to learn about baseball from right before I got to baseball.

Today is the last fortieth anniversary of any day in 1978, the last year whose baseball season I couldn’t fully follow every last day. When I say “fully follow,” I mean that from August 10 to the end of the season, there was a New York newspaper strike, meaning the game stories and columns I was used to weren’t there. No Post. No News. No TimesNewsday published; a suburban paper from Jersey showed up at our local luncheonette on Long Island; and there were a few thin strike papers that were mostly day-old wire copy, but it wasn’t the same. My well-developed baseball habits — watch the Mets game tonight, read about it the next day — were unmoored. The games went on, but without the stories and the columns, it just wasn’t as textured. Still, I stayed attuned. John Stearns was breaking a stolen bases record for catchers. Jerry Koosman remained snakebitten. That was a term Bob Murphy used for a pitcher who pitched well but never seemed to win (he used it a lot for Lolich when he became a Met). Willie Montañez was piling up RBIs. The Mets weren’t doing very well after a reasonably good start — 23-24 in late May — but at least it wasn’t as depressing as 1977 when we traded Seaver. At least I don’t think it was. It was hard to be sure without the newspapers.

Enough data was delivered through whatever channels were available to let me know that Craig Swan was leading the National League in ERA. You wouldn’t have guessed it from his won-lost record. He wasn’t going to win ten games from the looks of things, but you could still have a low earned run average regardless of how little your team supported you. Swannie’s ERA wasn’t as low as Guidry’s in the American League (TV talked ad nauseum about what Guidry’s team was up to) but it was better than his cohort. The pitchers closest to Craig — Steve Rogers of the Expos, Pete Vukovich of the Cardinals, Bob Knepper of the Giants — didn’t have the biggest names. The pitchers with the biggest names — Perry of the Padres, Blue of the Giants, Carlton of the Phillies, even Seaver of the Reds — didn’t have the smallest ERAs. They were all under 3.00, but they weren’t under Swan.

Which is to say that in the pitching category that counted most if you were aware of snakebittenness, they were all under Swan.

In his final start, Swannie allowed one earned run to St. Louis in seven innings, lowering his ERA from 2.47 to 2.43 and raising his won-lost record to 9-6. Word got around that he won the ERA title. The Post made its own deal and resumed publication in early October, in time for the overly covered ALCS. The News andTimes were out for another month, completely missing the Yankees winning another World Series from the Dodgers, though I wouldn’t say they missed anything. The Mets, who ended up in last place three games behind the Cards, wouldn’t truly be back until 1984, the year they released Craig Swan. He wound up an Angel, which I remember as really strange.

Today is the last thirtieth anniversary of any day in 1988, the last year when the Mets won 100 games in the regular season. It’s not automatically the last where perpetuity is concerned. They are theoretically eligible to win 100 games in any season in which at least 100 are played, certainly when there 162. But it has not happened since.

Lord, those Mets were good. A tad schizophrenic from a chronological standpoint, but when they were in good mode, they were dynamite. I inevitably split the season into three sectors: the 31-11 start (dynamite); the 40-40 middle (fizzle); and the 29-8 conclusion (dynamite redux). The hitting was the inconsistent personality element. Except for Strawberry. Strawberry carried the offense. He’d homer in the first or second inning and the pitching would make it hold up. The pitching was consistent. Consistently astounding, nobody more so than David Cone, whose leapt from “this guy could be pretty good” to “how did this guy get so great so fast?” in a blink. From 5-6 and rotation insurance in ’87 to en route to 20 wins and near-ace status in ’88. I say near-ace because Doc Gooden was having a fine season and nobody could out-ace Doc in my heart (just as nobody could out-ace Seaver, win totals and ERA crowns in a given campaign be damned).

But Coney was as good a pitcher as anybody during the biggest chunk of the year. Danny Jackson got going sooner (David wasn’t even in the Mets’ rotation when the season began) and Orel Hershiser was grabbing headlines later (something about a shutout streak), but Cone was baffling hitters from May through September, the month when all the Mets asserted themselves. What had been a nervous divisional race with the Pirates evolved into a blowout. Kevin McReynolds joined Darryl as an MVP candidate. Mookie caught fire. HoJo was blazing. Gregg Jefferies, the projected story of tomorrow, became the phenom of today. And David Cone, on Friday night, September 30, threw a two-hit complete game to beat the Cardinals, 4-2, and pick up his twentieth win — 20-3, 2.22 ERA, plus 213 strikeouts.

It was the Mets’ 98th win. On Saturday, Sid Fernandez won his twelfth and the Mets their 99th. On Sunday, Ron Darling won his 17th (notching the same 17-9 record as Kooz had in ’69 and Lolich had in ’68) and the Mets their 100th. Perfect round number. It took them only 160 games. Two rainouts weren’t rescheduled, meaning that from a winning-percentage perspective, we had just finished watching the second-best Mets team ever. Not quite the 108-54 1986 Mets, but .008 better than the 100-62 1969 Mets. The playoffs and the World Series awaited, and once those were won, then we could figure out where to rank this incredibly talented team. Gooden would pitch Game One in the NLCS against the Dodgers, Coney Game Two. You had to feel good about our chances. L.A. had won only 94.

Today is the last twentieth anniversary of any day in 1998, the last year when it had been forever since the Mets had been to the postseason. Psychically, every year when the Mets aren’t in the postseason feels like forever, but one must calibrate rationally. The last time the Mets had been in the playoffs was 1988, when we didn’t beat the Dodgers. We contended legitimately if half-assedly in 1989 and a little more seriously in 1990 but came up short both times. I can’t say “it was OK,” but it had been only two years and when there was only one playoff position to be had from a given division, it was greedy to assume we’d be granted one. The ’80s were over. Greed wasn’t good.

We continued to contend in 1991 until early August. Then we quit cold turkey. It was hard to think of ourselves and the playoffs in the same thought bubble anymore. A makeover prior to 1992 yielded pretty much the same effect: hanging in there until early August, then an utter implosion. Nineteen Ninety-Three was worse than the two previous disasters combined. We were a seventh-place team, which seemed as impossible to grasp as ninth place had been when I first found about it post-1968.

Simply not being as abysmal as 1993 was the goal in 1994 and we achieved it. I thought we’d be much better in 1995, and we were, but not until fairly late in the season when it was too late to cobble together anything resembling a playoff push. Both seasons following ’93 were strike-shortened. If we could have added together the respectable portions, maybe that would have gotten us into a race.

That’s not how it worked in baseball by then, but it was indeed working differently. There were three divisions, not two, in each league. There were two playoff positions attainable. You couldn’t have them both, but if you didn’t win your division, you could be a Wild Card. The encouraging ending in 1995 had me thinking the Mets could be that Card in 1996. Didn’t happen. Didn’t come close to happening. I didn’t come close to thinking Wild Card in August and September. Get a winning record, then we’ll talk. We hadn’t had one since 1990.

In 1997, we had a winning record. Shorn of expectations, we exceeded them. From nowhere we shot into the Wild Card picture. It was real and it was spectacular. It fell a little short (four games), but for the first time in a long time, I could enter the next season with legitimate expectations.

The next season would be 1998. We were taking our 88-74 pepperpot and spicing it up with cast-off world champion Marlins. The Marlins weren’t like other world champions. The Marlins won the Wild Card, then two rounds of playoffs, then the World Series. It was legal. They were entitled to call themselves world champs and defend their title accordingly. They didn’t bother with the latter. Their owner didn’t think even a world championship team was going to attract fans in regularly rainy Miami. He wanted a ballpark with a roof. If he wasn’t going to get one, he wasn’t going to keep his world champions intact. So off they were scattered, trade by trade. Two trades directly benefited us. One was for a dependable lefty reliever named Dennis Cook, the other for an intermittently successful lefty starter named Al Leiter.

Leiter turned into the prize of the offseason and the ace of the next season. He was never better for any team than he was for the 1998 Mets. Control didn’t elude him. Health didn’t much hinder him. Little went wrong when he was on the mound. Plus he was from New Jersey and talked constantly about having been a Mets fan as a kid, loving Seaver, loving Koosman. How could we not love Al Leiter?

How could we not love the 1998 Mets and the prospect that they could make the playoffs? A strong start of 9-4 indicated 1997 was no fluke. They muddled for a bit thereafter while injuries occurred, but come May the Marlins came to their rescue again. Florida had acquired Mike Piazza. They had to if they wanted to rid themselves of Gary Sheffield and a few other well-compensated players. They also wanted to rid themselves of Piazza ASAP. The Mets, to the surprise of many, wanted to add the All-Star catcher, the former Dodger universally recognized as the best hitter at his position since at least Bench, maybe ever.

We got him. We got Mike Piazza. Mike Piazza showed up on a Saturday in late May, caught a shutout from Al Leiter and away we went. Not without obstacles, perhaps, but definitely for real. We were in it to win it, it being the Wild Card. Atlanta, now in the East, was too far ahead for us to touch, but this second playoff spot was really and truly in our grasp. Us, the Cubs, the Giants…it was gonna be one of us.

Why not us? We had Al Leiter. On the penultimate Sunday of the season, Al shut out the depleted Marlins for eight innings, hiking his won-lost record to 17-6 and lowering his ERA to 2.47, third-best in the National League when the regular season was over. Unfortunately, when the regular season was over, so were the Mets. They carried a one-game Wild Card lead into the final week of 1998, yet neither embellished nor defended it. The Mets lost their last five games, including Al’s decent until it wasn’t start in Game 161 at dreaded Turner Field. The Mets were eliminated in Game 162. Their playoffless streak had reached ten years. For the first time since 1988, because it was so very much the goal of the season, it really felt like it had been forever.

Like I said, it always feels like forever, but this one really hurt. I was pretty much ready to give up baseball the way the Mets gave up the playoff hunt. I got over it. I stayed engaged to see the Mets end their drought in 1999. They haven’t gone ten consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance since the end of the 1998 season. They’ve come close, but they’ve snapped to just in time to keep their strings of annual absences in single digits.

This is not a dare, by the way, just an observation.

Today is the last tenth anniversary of any day in 2008, the last season when going to “the Mets game” instinctively meant going to Shea Stadium. I went to Shea Stadium for 44 Mets game at Shea Stadium in 2008. I wasn’t going to let go of it without a fight.

The fight was futile. The Mets announced in 2005 that they’d be replacing Shea, began digging up the parking lot to accommodate its replacement in 2006 and had erected the outlines of what appeared to be a ballpark in 2007. It would be called Citi Field and it would be what meant going to “the Mets game” would mean from 2009 until it was decided a new state-of-the-art facility was necessary.

I fumed with resentment over this encroaching affront to my instincts. Never mind whatever was icky or sticky about the incumbent. Never mind my fondness for retro baseball palaces I’d visited out of town. I knew what going to the Mets game meant. You weren’t going to change my meaning on me.

Shea gave 2008 much of its meaning. Johan Santana gave it the rest. Oh my gosh, we got Johan Santana? Who saw that coming? This was like Piazza, but for pitching. He was one of those hypotheticals you floated with friends and strangers, as in “maybe we can get Santana next year if the Twins want to dump his contract,” but we didn’t really think it would happen.

We didn’t really think Shea Stadium’s demise would happen, but it did, so why not Johan? Right around the moment the Giants were preparing to defeat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII (speaking of things you didn’t think would happen), we got Johan. We got Santana, formerly the best pitcher in the American League, to go with Pedro Martinez, also formerly the best pitcher in the American League, though longer ago. The rest of the rotation was whoever. The important thing was Johan. What a makegood for the way 2007 ended.

We needed more than Johan, actually. He was all right as the season got going, but the Mets stumbled along, posting a losing record into July and getting their manager dismissed in the mediocre process. Then, as if they remembered they were good, the Mets heated up. Our core of Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado (especially Delgado) played like the stars they had been in previous seasons. And our ace reminded us of why were so excited in February. Johan was positively Twinsome. Shea was alive. So were the Mets. We led the East into September. Then, thanks primarily to a barren bullpen — plenty of bodies, but a paucity of ability — another stumble. The Mets were probably competing more for a Wild Card than the division as the schedule wound down. Whatever it took, we would take it, as long as we had Johan.

On the final Saturday of the 2008 season, the final Saturday of Shea Stadium’s life, the formula was foolproof. Those of us who attended will never forget it. I imagine the same could be said for anybody who watched it on television, listened to it on radio or sensed its vibes through any medium. Oh my gosh, we had Johan Santana. Pitching on three days’ rest (which nobody ever did anymore), on a bad knee (which nobody knew about in advance), Johan went nine innings (which everybody understood was essential in light of the bullpen being marked a hazardous waste site). The nine innings were of the shutout variety. Johan, completing a 16-7, 2.53 season that didn’t being to describe how masterful he’d been, scattered three hits and beat the Marlins, 2-0. He didn’t drive in the two runs and he didn’t record every putout, but it feels absolutely accurate to say it was he who beat the Marlins, 2-0. He kept Shea alive and the Mets alive. Johan hadn’t lost a decision since late June and the Mets were 13-3 in his final sixteen starts.

That was Game 161, my forty-third at Shea on the season. It might have been the ideal juncture for us all, Mets included, to stop going right then and there.

Today is the last day in which anniversaries of 2018 can be expressed in no more than months. This is the last day of 2018, also the forty-ninth anniversary of my seventh birthday when I got that sports record book (you do the math). I became a Mets fan fifty years ago this coming season, 1969, but like I said, we’ll talk about 1969 in 2019. This is 2018, the year whose season was the only one we talked about in the present tense. We talked mostly about how this wasn’t a very good season but we had the very best pitcher, Jacob deGrom: 1.70 ERA, 269 strikeouts, all kinds of metrics that have been developed over the decades to further confirm his magnificence. His won-lost mark is more Swannish than is fathomable in light of his other numbers, but when we read all about it these days (rarely in newspapers let alone almanac-style record books), we get that a 10-9 record means only what you want it to.

We generally agreed it meant nothing at all in 2018 when it came to deGrom. We generally agreed we’d never seen anything like deGrom, not even in the Year of the Pitcher…though I already made clear I saw nothing in the Year of the Pitcher. I saw the Year of the Pitcher when it was history. Sometimes, because I studied those statistics so carefully, I feel as if I was there for Koosman’s 19-12, just as I was for Swan’s 2.43, Coney’s 20-3, Al’s 2.47 and Johan’s closing kick. All these years ending in 8s were all years of the pitcher to me.

And all these pitchers have kept me coming back for the years that followed, even when I swore I was done.

The 2018 Oscar’s Cap Awards

Sure, Oscar Madison’s column was a big deal in the New York Herald sports section, but who made sure Oscar’s copy made its way from Oscar’s messy desk to his editor? None other than his secretary Myrna Turner. The same Myrna Turner who made halftime history showing off her tap dancing bona fides at the Alabama-Mississippi game. The same Myrna Turner who peered into a bank of inscrutable dots and discerned at once she was running late. The same Myrna Turner who, when she learned her boss’s super’s son was wriggling around under Mr. Madison’s bed because he was looking for an outlet, had the common sense to ask, “Have you tried tennis?”

Myrna left the paper when she married Sheldn (the “o” was left off his birth certificate), but we know that somewhere — mostly in reruns — she continues to assist Oscar, just as we know Oscar continues to do sports columnists everywhere proud by having the clout to a) rate a secretary and b) eschew objectivity in favor of showing his favoritism.

Oscar, whether he was covering baseball, theater or the flower show (“the flowers smelled good”), could always be counted to shed his rumpled suit and don his Mets cap. It was usually backwards, which is fine, because this is the feature when we, too, look backward on the year in Mets popular culture. Yes, it is time to hand out our seventh annual Oscar’s Cap Awards.

We didn’t even have to peer into a bank of inscrutable dots to know that.

Oscar’s Caps are tipped to film, television, music, literature, sundries, what have you in which the Mets show up strongly or subtly. It could be from a work of art that first saw light in 2018; it could just as easily be from something we only just got around to noticing from way back when. We keep an eye and an ear out for the sight and sound of Metsiana where we’re not necessarily expecting to see and hear it. We also rely on the kindness of fellow attentive consumers of pop culture who diligently share accounts and descriptions of what they’ve caught Metwise lately.

Unlike Oscar, Myrna didn’t wear a Mets cap, nor did she ever much indicate an outsize interest in baseball. Must have been that SEC football background. As for Penny Marshall, who made Myrna real (and who passed away on December 17), she merely altered every fan’s frame of reference when she directed 1992’s A League of Their Own. Not a Met credit per se, but certainly an indelible one. Or have you not heard the canard about the prohibition on crying in baseball?

One member of the crew that shot A League of Their Own was an aspiring filmmaker named Sam Hoffman, a Mets fan who also served as body double for Geena Davis when catcher Dottie Hinson needed to make a bullet of a throw to second. Twenty-five years later, Hoffman would write and direct a charming movie called Humor Me that showed there is lingering bitterness in baseball:

“They’re winning, 7-2, ninth inning. But watch, they will find a way to blow it. This closer is horrible.”
“Who are they playing?”
“Philly. Remember how you used to hate the Phillies? You went crazy when they traded Dykstra and McDowell for that — what the hell was that guy’s name?”
“Juan Samuel.”
“Juan Samuel. That was a horrible trade.”

That exchange between father (Elliott Gould as Bob Kroll) and son (Jemaine Clement as Nate Kroll) would rate an Oscar’s Cap on its own merit, as would a scene in which Nate finds “ticket stubs from Mets games” in Bob’s storage locker. But Marshall protégé Hoffman earned a veritable Oscar’s Batting Helmet this year for the following credit:

In Madam Secretary, Season 4 Episode 18, “The Friendship Game” (April 22, 2018; directed by the aforementioned Hoffman), Matt Mahoney (Geoffrey Arend) walks up to meet his blind date Afia Naroogi (Nikki Massoud) at a movie theater showing the baseball documentary Man on Third. In doing so, he passes Greg Prince and Jason Fry of Faith and Fear in Flushing, “the blog for Mets fans who like to read”. Both Prince and Fry are wearing caps that display the FAFIF logo while they wait on line for the fictional film.

Yes, that’s us. If you missed the backstory, you can read all about our unlikely day as CBS extras here.

On October 9, 1969, there was witchcraft in baseball. Of course there was, you might infer, given that the Mets had three days earlier won the pennant and two days hence would be in the World Series. On this Thursday night between vanquishing Braves and upsetting Orioles, Samantha Stevens was overtaken by hunger on “Samantha’s Curious Cravings”, the fourth episode of the sixth season of Bewitched. One of the places she found herself in search of food is Shea Stadium, where quite suddenly she’s chowing down on a hot dog while Willie Davis hits a grand slam. She had been urged to think about something besides food, which eventually led her to contemplating hot dogs, and where else is a witch gonna go?

On April 10, 1974, there was baseball on Kojak. Telly Savalas may have loved ya, baby, but it was Kevin Dobson’s character Bobby Crocker who was the detective show’s resident Mets fan, at least once sporting a wool Mets cap similar to that given away one Fan Appreciation Day. In the Season One episode “Therapy In Dynamite” (S 1 E21, April 10, 1974), part of the plot hinges on a twi-night doubleheader between the Mets and Braves. Players namechecked include Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, Marty Perez, Mike Lum and Hank Aaron. One line that stands out: “Now, me, I know why I’m mad. Because the Mets lost a doubleheader yesterday.” Another exchange features a bet over a Mets-Cubs game. Put that in your lollipop and suck it.

Before Joey Bishop tried his hand at hosting a late night talk show on ABC, the Rat Pack’s comedian-in-residence played a sitcom version of himself on The Joey Bishop Show. In “Joey and the L.A. Dodgers” (May 2, 1964; Season 3, Episode 28), the Mets for some reason hosted the Dodgers in an exhibition game that headed to the 27th inning, keeping six Dodgers — Don Drysdale, Ron Perranoski, Willie Davis, Moose Skowron, future Met Tommy Davis and future Met manager Frank Howard — from appearing on Joey Barnes’s TV show. Per Vin Scully’s call, Casey Stengel sent up Duke Snider as his last pinch-hitter and Duke hit a ball that sounded on the radio as if it was gonna end the ballgame, but Willie Davis made a spectacular catch in the bottom of the 26th. Fortunately it started raining (after a rain dance from Joey’s manager Larry Corbett) and the special guests could make it after all to re-enact the Las Vegas stage show they had performed with Joey at an earlier date Though Shea Stadium was in its first weeks, the ballpark where the game was being played was never mentioned…and Snider was sold to the Giants before the 1964 season started.

“Tell Alan that the Mets suck — from me, big time. Go Pirates!”
—Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), The Office, “Hot Girl,” Season 1, Episode 6, April 26, 2005

Late night talk shows, what with their emphasis on topicality and comedy, continued their tradition of spotlighting Mets baseball. Most prominently, on July 20, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert presented Stephen’s visit to Citi Field (taped June 8) to offer some ideas to pick up baseball’s pace of play. The host interacted with Todd Frazier in the dugout, Jerry Blevins and Kevin Plawecki in the bullpen, Seth Lugo on the field and Noah Syndergaard in the tunnel. He did trust falls and worked on mound visits with Blevins and Plawecki; introduced Frazier to “Young Todd Frazier” and worked Lugo, Syndergaard, Frazier and Plawecki into romantic baseball cards. Stephen also sang the national anthem, rode a scooter around the track and described stretching as everybody looking for their contact lenses.

Three months earlier, on April 17, Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan wore a Darryl Strawberry 1986 Mets jersey and a Mets cap as he and Ghostface Killah appeared in a sketch with Colbert. Method Man’s outfit got more exposure in a widely circulated Instagram photo he and his bandmate took with author and former FBI director James Comey, who was Colbert’s main guest on the same episode.

On November 27, currently inactive late night host Jon Stewart took over the Late Show desk from Colbert for a few segments during which he interviewed his former Daily Show correspondent. True to form, Stewart used the Mets as an example of the kind of small talk fodder he favors.

On July 19, Cousin Sal hosted a segment in Times Square on Jimmy Kimmel Live while wearing a Mets cap, which Sal referred to as embarrassing. Kimmel (like Stewart a Mets fan) agreed the Mets are having a “sad” season.

The season may never have been sadder than at the end of July when the Mets fell to the Nationals by a scant 21 runs. On August 1, Jimmy Fallon observed on The Tonight Show, “Last night the Mets lost, 25-4. Or as Mets fans put it, ‘Sweet, we scored four runs!’” Kimmel also poked fun at the 25-4 loss, saying letting Jose Reyes pitch was akin to the IT guy at your office handing you back your laptop and telling you he’s stumped, why don’t you try fixing it?

Late Night with Seth Meyers spoofed in impressive detail the Terry Collins-Tom Hallion rhubarb video in the context of making a Trump joke on June 18.

On the September 21, 2018, edition of Real Time With Bill Maher, the host told guest Michael Moore that unlike other celebrities, he doesn’t have any “stupid hobbies,” except for continuing on as a minority-share owner of the Mets.

On the third episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, which first aired on Netflix, March 9, 2018, David Letterman asks Malala Yousafazi, “Yankees or Mets?” A befuddled Malala replies, “What’s Yankees?” The audience applauds.

How long have the Mets been a part of late night? Well, in a promo for the May 13, 1987, episode of Late Night With David Letterman, Jay Leno and Gary Carter compete in a written test of baseball and comedy knowledge to see who will be Dave’s first guest. Gary loses out because he doesn’t know who the manager of the Seattle “Giggles” is.

But it goes back far further. In the summer of 2018, video from an August 1964 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson surfaced in which the host (whose program in those days emanated from New York) refers to the harmonica incident between Yogi Berra and Phil Linz and, as an aside, notes the Mets have won four games in a row

In the current Netflix animated series Big Mouth, the teen characters announced with authority in 2017 that they were Mets fans. The kids said “Let’s Go Mets” and a Yankees pennant was put to use as an emergency tampon.

On the 1965-66 NBC series My Mother The Car, Ann Sothern, reincarnated as a 1928 Porter, explained her newly automotive self to her son Jerry Van Dyke: “I’ve heard of something called the New York Mets. If they’re possible, I’m possible.”

“That edition has more errors than an early Mets game!” is something you would have heard had you been paying attention in the 1960s to PDQ Bach, described by a fan as “Weird Al Yankovic meets classical music”.

In the deliciously tense 2018 novel, Righteous Assassin: A Mike Stoneman Thriller by Kevin G. Chapman, Todd Frazier hits a grand slam for the Mets at Wrigley Field, as heard over a cop car’s radio.

Comic Jim Breuer, whose Facebook videos accompanied the Mets’ surge in 2015, couldn’t help but lapse into his Joe Pesci impression while visiting Howard Stern on SiriusXM on January 8, 2018, and, in character, talked about being at a Mets game.

Will & Grace rebooted itself for a ninth season and put itself to good use on January 18, 2018, with “The Wedding” (Season 9, Episode 10) on NBC, when Vince (Bobby Cannavale) appears with “one of my famous homemade soaps. Look, made from real shea butter. I call it Shea Stadium. It smells Amazin’. You know, ’cause the Mets?” Then, to quizzical looks, he realizes, “Wrong crowd.”

In the 2017 GQ video, “Fred Armisen and Bill Hader Tell the Very True History of Simon and Garfunkel,” it is explained that the musical duo was less interested in music than “Da Mets”. Hader: “They would finish a song and go, ‘Oh man, I just wanna get out of the studio so we could go see the METS play!’”

“Give me the name of a baseball player.”
“Darryl Strawberry.”
“No, a real one!”
—Frasier and Martin Crane, Frasier, “A Cranes’ Critique,” Season 4, Episode 4, October 22, 1996

Documentaries don’t have to be about Mets baseball to remind us of Mets baseball. The American Masters Itzhak Perlman episode (PBS, October 14, 2018) begins with the subject arriving at Citi Field in his PERLMAN 70 jersey, riding through the Rotunda on his motorized scooter, watching BP, chatting with Neil Walker and playing the national anthem, spliced from two performances: prior to the Subway Series on August 1, 2016, and the NL Wild Card game on October 5, 2016.

A 2012 edition of the local PBS series Treasures of New York visited Louis Armstrong’s house in Corona and featured a photo of him from late in life wearing a Mets cap. Armstrong, à la Perlman, was a big Mets fan.

In the second part of The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (HBO, March 27, 2018), Chris Rock is spotted in a Mets cap and director Judd Apatow is wearing a Mr. Met t-shirt.

Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult wears a Mets cap while he’s interviewed in New Wave: Dare To Be Different, the 2018 documentary exploring the impact of Long Island radio station WLIR (debuted on Showtime March 30, 2018).

The May 12, 2017, front page of the New York Post — with a Photoshopped Mr. Met asking “WHY DOES GOD HATE THE METS?” — is visible tacked up over the workspace of New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush in The Fourth Estate, Season 1, Episode 3, “American Carnage,” June 10, 2018.

This past summer’s PBS American Masters installment Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, is a documentary about a baseball player, so any Met sightings aren’t technically the stuff of Oscar’s Caps, but since it was directed by Mets fan Nick Davis — and because he did think to insert some splendid footage of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman meeting the Splendid Splinter at the 1969 All-Star Game — we will tip our cap to it here (and here).

A Mets ski cap pops up in a Kyle Mooney sketch on Saturday Night Live, March 10, 2018 (season 43, Episode 15). Mooney as Chris Fitzpatrick asks passersby for their opinions on rock and rap.

In 2018, Scott Rogowsky, the host of the popular Twitter-based trivia show HQ Trivia, was sporting a wool Mets cap as his avatar, owing to his lifelong fandom, particularly a childhood allegiance to Tim Teufel.

Phil Rosenthal wears a Mr. Met cap in the 2018 Bangkok episode of the Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil.

New York Post back page in 1994’s It Could Happen To You: METS WORST TEAM IN BASEBALL.

“Besides, those Piazza baskets you designed — Charles, they’re confusing and they’re unpopular. There’s an element of sadness to them.”
—Jim Brockmire on one version of the gift baskets he gives his (ahem) dates the morning after. It contains a squatty-potty and olive oil (because “he’s an Italian catcher — it’s so obvious,” according to Charles). From Brockmire, Season 2, Episode 1, “The Getaway Game,” April 25, 2018

A Keith Hernandez bobblehead appears on Daniel Russo’s desk in the YouTube Red series Cobra Kai (2018).

Mets fan and author James Preller used Game Six of the 1986 NLCS as the model for parts of Six Innings, his 2008 youth-oriented baseball novel.

In Supergirl, Season 3, Episode 18, aired on the CW May 14, 2018, Brainiac-5 deduces Winn is somebody who collects New York Mets baseball cards as well as dirt, and chooses to give him dirt because “judging by the last 783 uninterrupted Major League seasons, I figured dirt was more likely to hold its value.”

Axe, Wags, Wendy and eventually Taylor descend upon Citi Field for the Spartan Ives Capital Introduction Event, filmed outside and inside the ballpark, with the playing field and Mets logos visible. In one of the Excelsior suites, during Axe Capital’s presentation, Keith Hernandez is visible in front of a framed picture of fireworks exploding over the ballpark. Keith is listed in the credits as playing himself but has no lines and is never referred to.
Billions, “Elmsley Count,” Season 3, Episode 12, June 10, 2018

In the TV movie, The Prince of Central Park, aired on CBS, June 17, 1977, T.J. Hargrave as J.J. — a kid who, with his sister, runs away from home to escape an abusive foster mother — wears a plastic Mets batting helmet both in the film and on the cover of the video release. No doubt, given the date it premiered, he was extra shaken up by the instability in the Mets family that week.

In Fantastic Four #1 (August 2018), the canvas “LET’S GO METS” sign is visible atop the recognizable Citi Field scoreboard in a scene with Johnny Storm in a baseball uniform.

Billy Joel wears a Mets cap on the cover of the July 15, 2018, issue of Parade.

“METS VS CARDINALS” is visible as a viewing option on the marquee outside Tortilleria Nixtamal, a Mexican restaurant in Corona in the 2017 film Lost Cat Corona. Mookie Wilson appears in a non-speaking role as a priest.

On Blue Bloods (April 27, 2018; Season 8, Episode 20), there was this exchange leading to Sid Gormley’s conclusion:

“This is the Yankees getting-Stanton good.”
“Ah, I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Neither would I.”
“More like the-Mets re-signing Bruce good.”

On Frasier, “Halloween,” Season 5, Episode 3 (October 28, 1997), a party guest wearing a baseball uniform evocative of Roy Hobbs’s in The Natural features a royal blue cap with an NY suggestive of the Mets’ version (though it’s a lighter orange tinged with white) — more Mets than Knights

An early episode of Growing Pains referenced a game-winning extra-inning home run Donn Clendenon hit on Opening Day (there was no such home run, but it was a show that featured Seavers).

Simon the tow truck driver (Danny Glover) wears a Mets cap in Los Angeles-set Grand Canyon (1991)

“Dr. Ryan. Tough loss for your O’s last night.”
“Could be worse. Could be a Mets fan.”
—Jack Ryan, Episode 1, 2018 (Amazon)

Seven episodes later, in the Season One finale of Jack Ryan, Mets fans are visible in the Navy Yard-Ballpark Metrorail station in the aftermath of a Mets-Nationals game at Nationals Park.

A Mets cap is among the items on display at a stoop sale in 2014’s extraordinarily talky Listen Up Philip.

Long before he’d go to work for some other New York baseball team, George enters Jerry’s apartment wearing a Mets cap in “The Alternate Side,” Season 3, Episode 11, of Seinfeld, December 4, 1991

In 1999’s Mickey Blue Eyes, the Newsday front page celebrating the 1986 Mets’ world championship (with Jesse Orosco leaping into the air) is mounted to the wall when Michael Felgate (Hugh Grant) asks Frank Vitale (James Caan) for Gina’s hand in marriage.

Marv Throneberry materialized during the goodbyes on Saturday Night Live, January 30, 1982 (Season 7, Episode 10), which was hosted by his fellow Miller Lite spokesman John Madden. Marv’s lone line echoed his beer commercial catchphrase: “I don’t know why I’m here.”

Many thanks to the Faith and Fear readers who regularly share their “I just saw…” sightings with us. You enhance the Mets in the Popular Culture historical record every time you do.

You are why we’re here.

We also wish to tip our caps to the memories of those outside the immediate Mets family who departed the scene in 2018, each of whom in his own way added a degree of depth to the Mets experience.

• Neil Simon, America’s premier playwright of the second half of the twentieth century. If he hadn’t created an Oscar Madison to wear a Mets cap in The Odd Couple, we’d have to refer to this feature something else.

• Dan Ingram, synonymous with afternoons on WABC in its Top 40 heyday. This meant he helped set the stage for dozens of night games over the Mets’ original radio frequency, a fact he recalled fondly with erstwhile pregame host Howard Cosell when Ingram marked twenty years on the air in New York.

• Lee Leonard, original co-host of Channel 5’s Sports Extra, where a generation of Mets fans tuned in on Sunday nights for expanded video and commentary of that day’s game.

• George H.W. Bush, forty-third Vice President of the United States, which is the office he held when he donned a Mets jacket and threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the 1985 season to new Mets catcher Gary Carter at Shea Stadium.

• Peter Simon, photographer whose talents enhanced one of the definitive volumes of New York Mets history, Twenty-Five Years of Baseball Magic.

• William Nack, who was most noted for making horse racing come alive in Sports Illustrated, but also, on the eve of the 1986 postseason, gave readers a penetrating profile of a thoroughbred named Keith Hernandez — “simply the best and most valuable player in the franchise’s history” — particularly his fraught relationship with his father John.

• Philip Roth, great American novelist whose memoir of his father, Patrimony, includes a riveting recounting of their transatlantic conversation regarding the conclusion of the 1986 National League Championship Series.

• Dave Anderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times sports columnist who pungently observed in the troubled runup to the Mets’ 1987 title defense that perhaps their marketing slogan oughta be “We’ve Put That Behind Us.”

• William Goldman, the celebrated screenwriter who spent a year chronicling his sports obsessions in the book Wait Till Next Year, chief among them the frustrating fall, sputtering rebound and aggravating crash of the ’87 Mets.

• Stan Lee, the visionary behind Marvel Comics, whose pages were peppered with Mets homages. Lee even officiated Spider-Man’s wedding to Mary Jane Watson at Shea the night Doc Gooden returned from drug rehab.

• Larry Eisenberg, limericist who gained fame within the comments section of the New York Times. In 2010, he offered this critique on the state of the team: “True, the Mets lost their place in the son,/But the year has moved onward by one,/Wounds have healed, time to grin/At each has-been brought in”.

Finally, let’s take a moment to remember these Mets who gave us at least a little of the lives they lived before passing on in the past year or so…

Tracy Stallard, first Mets game, April 9, 1963
Tracy went 10-20 for the 1964 Mets, yet kept his ERA under 4.00, injecting validity into the polite adage that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose twenty games. Two of his wins were shutouts; eleven of his starts went the distance.

Frank Lary, first Mets game, May 31, 1964
Eight days after shutting out the Astros on two hits on July 31, 1964, Frank attracted interest from the contending Milwaukee Braves, who gave up promising young righty Dennis Ribant to land him. Next spring, Frank was a Met again — the first of what we like to call Recidivist Mets. The last game he won in the uniform he didn’t know how to quit, on May 24, 1965, was the first ever saved by a young lefty named Tug McGraw.

Johnny Lewis, first Mets game, April 12, 1965
On June 14, 1965, Jim Maloney struck out eighteen Mets and held them hitless for ten innings, yet the Mets beat Cincinnati that night because Johnny took Maloney deep to lead off the eleventh. It was one of fifteen he whacked that year.

Larry Miller, first Mets game, June 3, 1965
The last time Casey Stengel removed a starting pitcher, Larry was the reliever he brought in. Following that Saturday afternoon game at Shea, the Ol’ Perfesser broke his hip, leading to his retirement. “I got this limp,” Casey reasoned, “and if I can’t walk out there to take the pitcher out, I can’t manage.” Miller may not have been the kind of pitcher a manager left in for very long, but he maintained a winning perspective, telling author Bill Ryczek in his essential book on the 1960s Mets, “My locker was right next to Sandy Koufax’s when I was with the Dodgers. When I was with the Mets, it was right next to Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. I was always close to greatness.” More importantly, Larry helped his daughter, the victim of a car accident at age 13, achieve her own kind of greatness.

Jack Hamilton, first Met game, April 16, 1966
As a hitter, Jack launched a grand slam. As a pitcher, he achieved something even more unlikely, becoming the first starter to lift the Mets to a .500 record when he threw a complete game five-hitter versus the Braves. The perpetually losing Mets were 1-1 and, for a moment, anything felt possible.

Al Luplow, first Mets game, April 16, 1966
The first time Al homered as a Met, on July 2, 1966, it provided the margin of victory over the Pirates in a 4-3 New York victory. A year later, the Pirates were impressed enough by the memory of Al’s powerful swing to purchase his contract.

Ed Charles, first Mets game, May 12, 1967
Ed’s signature across the heart of Mets baseball was his identity as Poet Laureate of the 1969 World Champions. But the Glider did more than rhyme: a homer in the division clincher; the single that sparked a tiebreaking rally in Game Two of the World Series; and the throw from third to first that sealed the Mets’ first-ever Fall Classic victory. His celebratory sprint to the mound following Game Five would be the last thing he’d do on a big league field, but the Miracle Mets would have no greater griot over the next half-century.

(A fuller appreciation of the life of Ed Charles is here.)

Billy Connors, first Mets game, August 22, 1967
Billy threw twenty-seven innings in a pair of seasons for the Mets, spanning the regimes of Westrum, Parker and Hodges. The influence must have been palpable, as he found himself an in-demand pitching coach and guru for decades to come.

Rusty Staub, first Mets game, April 15, 1972
Rusty was rarely upstaged as a Met between 1972 and 1975 and again from 1981 to 1985, but one of his biggest hits was one that was barely noticed in the aftermath of a legendary victory for which he was largely responsible. In the first inning against the Giants on May 14, 1972, Rusty’s grand slam off Sam McDowell staked Ray Sadecki to a 4-0 lead. Who could overlook the cleanup hitter cleaning up so emphatically? Probably because this was also Willie Mays’s first game as a Met, against his old team, no less. Willie’s fifth-inning home run in what became 5-4 Mets win couldn’t help but be the biggest deal. That was all right. Rusty would have many Met days when everybody said “hey!” to his exploits.

(A fuller appreciation of the life of Rusty Staub is here.)

Chuck Taylor, first Mets game, April 16, 1972
Chuck was part of an enormous trade, the one that sent Donn Clendenon, Art Shamsky and Jim Bibby to the Cardinals and brought Jim Beauchamp, Harry Parker and him to the Mets. He was also part of a sizzling start in 1972. When Chuck threw three and two-thirds scoreless innings in relief of Tom Seaver on May 16, he notched his second save, allowing the first-place Mets to raise their record to 19-7. It was the fifth of eleven consecutive wins, still the team winning streak standard.

Tommy Moore, first Mets game, September 15, 1972
Talked up continually by Bob Murphy as one of the leading prospects in the Mets system, Tommy got a shot to show his stuff, starting against the Expos on October 2, 1972, pitching into the eighth inning and giving up only one run. (It was the nightcap of a doubleheader at Jarry Park; the opener featured a Bill Stoneman no-hitter.) A little over two years later, the righty was part of the St. Louis-bound package that made Joe Torre a Met. Considering Torre got his shot as a manager with the Mets and today Joe is in the Hall of Fame, you might say none of it would have happened without Tommy.

Jerry Moses, first game in a Mets uniform, April 8, 1975
A member of the 1970 American League All-Star team, Jerry made the Mets’ 25-man roster in advance of Opening Day. For fourteen games, he sat behind veteran Jerry Grote and rookie John Stearns. Then his contract was sold to San Diego, meaning he wore a Mets uniform — No. 5 — but never played as a Met. We call a player who is on hand but doesn’t get into a box score a Ghost Met. Nevertheless, Jerry enjoyed an expansive big league career that dated to 1965 and for a few weeks toward its finish line he provided a numerical link in the chain that began with Hobie Landrith, ran through Ed Charles, continued through Mike Phillips, extended through Davey Johnson, John Olerud and Tsuyoshi Shinjo and surely ended with David Wright. We’d all take that ghost of a chance.

Something So Wright

At first he lingered in the shadows of 2018, less an afterthought than a forethought swiftly whisked to the side. In the running log I kept of the large and small details that filled the Mets season (not to be confused with this here blog), his name showed up twice on Opening Day:

• Frazier becomes 167th Mets 3B all time, 38th since David Wright’s debut

• Wright introduced last among non-starters

After March 29, I wouldn’t have reason to type his name in my veritable diary again until April 27:

• Mets claim LHP Buddy Baumann off waivers from SD, send him to Vegas, move Wright to 60-day DL to make room on 40-man roster

The season ambled along mostly without him. Once in a while I’d receive a report or would be moved by contemporary happenings to recall his name.

MAY 31
Wright plays catch for first time all year

JUNE 2
Indians sign Ollie Perez to major league contract after Yankees released him from his minor league deal. Only 2006 Met besides Reyes and Wright still active.

JUNE 3
Wright continues baseball activities with fielding grounders but not throwing them

JUNE 22
Mets have lost ten straight to Dodgers, including every game in 2017; last win was last game Wright played in; streak started with the “our ass is in the jackpot now” game

JULY 8
DeGrom is first Met to earn a repeat selection since David Wright made his last All-Star team in 2013

Another month would pass until the figure in the shadows would begin to stretch in earnest.

AUGUST 10
David Wright playing five innings Sunday for St. Lucie at Clearwater, defense included

AUGUST 12
David Wright goes 0-for-3 in first rehab start for St. Lucie at Clearwater, plays third base for five innings, says he feels great; referred to himself as “all smiles” while maintaining a fairly unexpressive face

Reyes two hits, including two-run homer (4th on season, all on the road); also turned ninth-inning DP (perhaps inspired by Wright playing rehab game)

AUGUST 13
Wright plays another rehab game for St. Lucie, remains in one piece

AUGUST 15
Wright and Bruce play in a regulation (non-exhibition) game together for first time, at St. Lucie

AUGUST 19
Wright records first two hits of rehab assignment; is 2-for-17 thus far; jokes Jay Bruce wanted to give him the ball from his first hit

AUGUST 24
Wright plays full nine innings for St. Lucie; Marc Carig article details physical demands facing David just to prepare to play on a given day

AUGUST 25
Nimmo begins rehab assignment at St. Lucie; Wright has single and double

AUGUST 27
Wright gets a second consecutive game off in St. Lucie

AUGUST 28
David Wright continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Las Vegas; makes trademark barehanded pickup and throwout at third

AUGUST 29
Post reports Wright is “driving this train” in terms of whether he’ll get to play in September; insurance money may be at crux of matter

AUGUST 31
Mets say they want to see more from Wright, who has joined them to continue rehab, before activating him; Wright wants to play soon; Mets look bad as usual, Wright seems determined to get back on field

The determination was genuine. So was the emergence, at last, of the figure standing in the shadows of love. When September came, he wasn’t just a thought. September sort of masqueraded as March, as if hemispheres had flipped. Like we say about baseball every spring, he was coming back to life. Time may have ignored him as it devoured the first five-sixths of the 2018 major league schedule, but we hadn’t. How could we? For a baker’s dozen years, we had set our calendars to him. He was the constant of our team, the captain of our hearts. He never had to do another thing for us. But would it be asking too much to ask one more favor where he was concerned?

Could David Wright come out and play?

For him. For us. Same difference.

Though most of the season went on without him, we decided collectively it couldn’t end that way. And it wouldn’t. He’d make it all the way back, if for little more than a moment. Yet it was a moment to treasure and keep in a way few moments are, just as he was a player to treasure and keep in a way few players are. It wasn’t as if we didn’t already have a plethora of his moments to have and to hold. Really, he didn’t have to give us anything. We didn’t have to receive two more games, three more plate appearances, four more defensive innings or one more moment. But he gave them to us, and we were all better off for it.

For the way he returned to the Mets present and reminded us why he will forever matter to the Mets fan, Faith and Fear in Flushing is delighted to present the 2018 Nikon Camera Player of the Year award — dedicated annually to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — to The Last Days of David Wright.

If you want to consider it a lifetime achievement award, go ahead. Half of David Wright’s life was been spent becoming, being and becoming again a New York Met, possibly the best New York Met position player ever. His status was secure long before the final weekend of September 2018, but Wright — possibly the best Met person at any position ever — elevated the occasion of his brief renaissance so definitively and so gracefully, that his two more games, three more plate appearances and four more defensive innings catapulted him to a whole new level.

That’s some kind of moment.

SEPTEMBER 5
David Wright to work out Friday, play simulated game Saturday

SEPTEMBER 7
David Wright works out, John Ricco continues to tamp down chances that he’ll play, citing the need for him to be a complete player, not just a pinch-hitter…which is code for not wanting to impede insurance payments

SEPTEMBER 8
David Wright homers off Tim Peterson in simulated game. Will play another one Tuesday. Also says he’ll talk to Jeff Wilpon.

SEPTEMBER 11
David Wright takes simulated ABs versus prospects Justin Dunn and David Peterson; doesn’t play third because of field conditions after rain

SEPTEMBER 12
Announcement regarding plans for David Wright expected Thursday; word is he will play final homestand

When not watching the Mets, I take in the occasional history discussion that airs on C-Span2 Book TV or C-Span3 American History TV. One such program a while back focused on James Byrnes, a name that I vaguely associated with Franklin Roosevelt but knew next to nothing about. Byrnes was a substantial figure in the political landscape of the mid-20th century. An ally of Woodrow Wilson in the House of Representatives. An influential United States Senator. A champion of the New Deal. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. A key wartime adviser on the domestic front to FDR. Potential VP nominee. Harry Truman’s Secretary of State at the dawn of the Cold War. Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Governor of South Carolina. Grey eminence of Palmetto State politics after leaving office. Lived nearly nine decades, 1882 to 1972. Yet what I took away from the talk was this phrase:

“Now largely forgotten.”

Those three words saddened me. Not out of any sudden affinity for Byrnes, but on principle. You go from being a big deal one century to being nobody in the next. Maybe you don’t necessarily deserve immortality let alone reverence merely for being famous (Byrnes opposed the school desegregation mandated by Brown v. Board of Education), but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect to be remembered.

It may seem a leap of sorts to pivot from the latter-day obscurity of James Byrnes, who died in 1972, to contemplating the legacy of David Wright, who was born in 1982, but collective memory is only so elastic. We are inundated with an ongoing influx of information — people, the things they did, what those things meant in their day — and involuntarily purge what falls to bottom of mind to create space for the new stuff. You can only remember so many substantial figures as time marches forward.

In September 2018, you couldn’t forget David Wright.

You had before, though. Not in the “now largely forgotten” sense (not with so many WRIGHT 5s still visible at Citi Field), but on a daily basis, life went on. It had to. The schedule demanded it. The 2016 Mets had 115 games remaining when David was scratched from the May 28 lineup with a troublesome neck, 116 counting the Wild Card Game they earned while he was physically unable to play. The 2017 Mets faced an entire 162. In 2018, the club was 144 games’ worth of wins and losses (mostly losses) old when word spread that not every game in the Mets’ future would be as Wrightless as the prior 400-plus.

A fuss was building. Maybe it wasn’t universal, but it reflected the will of the Mets fan, the same creature who had also been trying to will their team into calling up Peter Alonso. That move never happened in 2018. Fifty-five Mets had played for the club so far this year, yet none was the most dynamic power-hitting prospect the system was cultivating, most recently at Triple-A. The Mets had been going nowhere since May, yet Alonso was coming no closer than Las Vegas. Despite 36 home runs and 119 runs batted in accumulated between Binghamton and Vegas, the Mets had to keep him off the 40-man roster for reasons related more to clockstarting than competing.

Fourteen seasons earlier, David Wright was Peter Alonso, the organization’s shiniest beneath-the-surface gem. We’d only seen numbers and highlights. Eighteen home runs in Double-A and Triple-A to mid-July. A spot in the Futures Game. Hope for a team’s fans groping for optimism. The 2004 Mets season hadn’t yet evaporated in the heat of high summer the way the 2018 Mets had in the midst of a rainy spring, so maybe we weren’t as down then as we’d be this past year. Still, this Wright was supposed to be the real thing. Let’s get him up here and see what he can do.

He did plenty with what was left of 69 games: 14 HR, 40 RBI, .293 BA. Most of us were just learning to look at the statistic that added together the ability to reach base and hit for power, but that was impressive, too. David Wright’s first major league OPS was .857. Two Thousand Four ended brutally for the Mets, but Wright’s debut was beautiful.

The last we’d hear of Peter Alonso during the 2018 season was encouraging. He launched a walkoff homer in the last game the Las Vegas 51s would play as a New York Mets affiliate. Syracuse beckoned as the home of the Mets’ top minor leaguers in 2019. One of them would probably be Alonso, at least for a couple of Basic Agreement-tinkering weeks. Then, once service time considerations were appropriately manipulated, we’d probably get a legit scoop of his potential. Then, not now.

To be fair, by September 1, the Mets could have activated Wright from the disabled list, promoted Alonso from the Pacific Coast League and distributed ice cream to every fan for the ride home and they still would have been largely unpalatable. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan still hanging in there night by night by September in a year like 2018, you deserve a treat.

The peckish among us were getting worked up over a 35-year-old being authorized to play a little for a fourth-place also-ran more than two years after he was reasonably healthy, more than three years since nobody had to wonder how his back would hold up under game conditions. This was the treat we badgered the Mets for?

Damn Wright it was.

SEPTEMBER 13
David Wright will be activated September 25, at the beginning of the season’s final homestand. He will start at third base on Saturday, September 29, Game 161. The word “retirement” is never spoken during press conference with Jeff Wilpon and John Ricco, but Wright admits he won’t pursue playing over the final two seasons of his contract given the physical difficulties he’s encountered.

David says he got to a point in his rehab where he said, “I just wanna put this uniform on again.”

Tickets for Wright game selling like hotcakes, prices shoot up on StubHub

Callaway indicates Reyes will start alongside Wright on September 29; Reyes fairly emotional talking about Wright postgame

At the beginning of the week when the Mets figured out how to usher their captain back onto the field for a kiss & cry, the Jets were starting a new era of their own. The Jets are always starting a new era of their own, though this one was off the most promising start imaginable. Their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold broke into the NFL by leading the Jets to a 48-17 victory at Detroit. Forty-eight points on the road was a Jet record, edging the previous standard of 47, set by Joe Namath & Co. in 1968 at Fenway Park versus the Boston Patriots.

That’s a longstanding record by any measure. The part that gets me is “Boston Patriots,” which the Patriots stopped being in 1971 and haven’t resembled whatsoever since 2001. This football note would have grabbed my attention any week, I suppose, but in the week it was announced that David Wright would play again, it really resonated. It hadn’t been as long since we’d seen the Boston Patriots, but the Montreal Expos hadn’t been around in quite a while, either — not since 2004.

Not since David Wright’s rookie season. Wright broke in against them. Major League Baseball departed Montreal before the next season, but a dwindling handful of reminders lingered along the MLB landscape nearly fifteen years later. Bartolo Colon of the Texas Rangers, who is pretty much the last everything, was the last active Expo. The last GM of the Expos, Omar Minaya, was one-third of the Mets acting general manager apparatus. One of his Montreal predecessors, Dave Dombrowski, was now running the Boston Red Sox (who were still playing at Fenway a half-century after Namath last took a hike there).

Any extant Expo connection that could be uncovered in 2018 was not to be taken lightly. Longevity never should be. Wright had more links to the baseball past in his backstory that most modern Mets (besides Colon) could claim. The first time he played ball in the big leagues, Wednesday night, July 21, 2004, versus those Expos, his teammates included pinch-hitter Todd Zeile, whose first game in the majors came as a St. Louis Cardinal in 1989; left fielder Cliff Floyd, who suffered a horrific injury as the Expo first baseman when Todd Hundley ran into him at first base; shortstop Kaz Matsui, who began building his high-profile Japanese career for the Seibu Lions the same year Floyd was recuperating and Zeile was first traded, in ’95; center fielder Mike Cameron, who became a Seattle Mariner in 2000 as a result of the M’s trading Ken Griffey to the Reds once a trade of Junior to the Mets fell through — with Zeile if without Griffey, the Mets would go to the World Series that year; reliever Mike Stanton, who first reached the postseason with the 1991 Braves; right fielder Richard Hidalgo, who made the playoffs with the 1997 Astros; defensive replacement Shane Spencer, a phenom on the eventual 1998 world champion Yankees; and second baseman Jose Reyes, 21, whose Futures Game was 2002, whose celebrated callup was 2003 and whose position was actually shortstop, but Matsui had been quite the prize on the international free agent market, so Kaz got first dibs at short.

The television play-by-play announcer for David Wright’s first game was Ted Robinson. The color man was Fran Healy. The network was MSG. The site was Shea Stadium. The Expos, when their road trip was done the next afternoon (they had lost Wright’s debut, 5-4, despite three hits from their centerfielder and notorious Metkiller Endy Chavez), would resume their home slate at Olympic Stadium. The improbably upstart Mets, diligently hanging a few games from first, would continue in their unlikely pursuit of the perennial NL East powerhouse Atlanta Braves that weekend at Shea, taking on a team whose neverending title defense was managed by Bobby Cox, powered by Chipper Jones and closed as applicable by John Smoltz.

The Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs had zero World Series titles among them since the end of World War I. The Houston Astros had never won one since their entry into the National League, alongside the Mets, in 1962. Neither had the Giants since taking up residence in San Francisco in 1958. Washington, the capital of these United States, hadn’t hosted more than an occasional major league exhibition game since 1971. The Giants’ Barry Bonds was en route to his seventh Most Valuable Player award, The Astros’ Roger Clemens was pitching his way to his seventh Cy Young. With numbers like those, both were on every bit the collision course with Cooperstown as Floyd unfortunately had been with Hundley nine years before.

Todd wasn’t playing anymore, but the catcher who replaced him on the Mets, Mike Piazza still was, albeit at first base. The pitchers Piazza had caught regularly since 1998, Al Leiter and John Franco, were still Mets, too. Down at Binghamton, the next potentially great Met lefty pitcher, Scott Kazmir, learned his craft. Second baseman Chase Utley was in his second year with the Phillies, catcher Yadier Molina in his first with the Cardinals. Robin Ventura was a Dodger, Edgardo Alfonzo a Giant, Benny Agbayani a Chiba Lotte Marine, Rickey Henderson a Newark Bear. Jesse Orosco and Bob Murphy were each in their first well-earned year of retirement.

The New York Mets David Wright joined were barely weeks removed from having been at their best. On Independence Day weekend — July 2, 3 and 4 — they hosted the Yankees in the Subway Series. Hosted them and swept them right out of Shea. Kaz drove in five runs in the opener, an 11-2 rout. The next afternoon summoned the spirit of Matt Franco, veering back and forth on a Fox Saturday until the Mets pushed across a tenth run in the ninth inning, our Matsui scoring on Shane Spencer’s bases-loaded squib. When the Mets prevailed, 10-9, the Shea speakers blasted OutKast’s “The Way You Move,” selected by Cameron and Floyd as 2004’s “Mojo Risin’”. The Mets would scale unprecedented intracity heights the next day. The star of Sunday’s proceedings was second baseman Ty Wigginton. He’d homered off Javier Vazquez with Jason Phillips on first in the second to put the Mets up, 3-0. He’d homer again off Tom Gordon in the eighth to untie a 5-5 score and provide the margin of the sweep. The Mets were 3-0 in the series, 4-2 against the Yanks in 2004 and, at about the season’s halfway point, two games out of first place in a division where they weren’t expected to compete.

The year before, they’d lost 95 games. Maybe the only everyday bright spot had been Wiggy, as Ty Wigginton couldn’t help but be referred to. With little prospect hype, he earned and kept the vacant third base job in 2003 (Fonzie was West Coast-bound and his presumed replacement, erstwhile Osaka Kinetsu Buffalo Norihiro Nakamura, had a change of heart), starting 153 times and driving in 71 runs. A BBWAA member judged him worthy of a third-place Rookie of the Year vote, matching the total Reyes won when the otherwise godforsaken year was over. Ty was the Opening Day starter at third in 2004, eventually sharing the spot with Zeile. Wiggy didn’t automatically sit when Todd played. As Reyes worked his way back from the injury that postponed the beginning of his sophomore season, Wiggy was called on to fill in at second. Anything for the team for Ty. On July 21, he started at first base. He had to flex his versatility, for third base was suddenly occupied for the foreseeable future, and not by Todd Zeile.

Ty Wigginton had 1,081 big league games ahead of him. The final 1,074 would be for teams other than the New York Mets.

As Wiggy was reading the Wrighting on his wall, George W. Bush sought a second term in the White House. Will Ferrell, who had imitated Dubya on Saturday Night Live, was urging San Diego to stay classy in Anchorman (drawing $28.4 million from moviegoers two weekends prior). Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, was preparing to introduce himself to the nation by delivering the keynote speech at his party’s convention in Boston. Chad Pennington was the incumbent starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Eli Manning was going through his first training camp as a New York Giant, but for now would sit and learn behind Kurt Warner. It was hard to turn on the radio that summer and not hear Hoobastank or Yellowcard or, for that matter, OutKast. The fifth highest-rated network series in the just-concluded prime time season, according to Nielsen, wasThe Apprentice, a reality program where self-styled entrepreneurial hustlers vied to curry favor with a high-profile businessman host.

SEPTEMBER 14
Callaway indicates Reyes will start alongside Wright on September 29; Reyes fairly emotional talking about Wright postgame

SEPTEMBER 15
David Wright presented with a “5” from the Fenway scoreboard by Dustin Pedroia (a truncated farewell tour, to be sure)

SEPTEMBER 17
Wright presented with NYM from Citizens Bank Park scoreboard; Jay Horwitz also recognized with a cake; Charlie Manuel and Bobby Wine were the presenters of the respective gestures

Foley’s to rename itself Wright’s for David’s final weekend

SEPTEMBER 20
Pete McCarthy’s guests all week reflect on Wright: Lo Duca, Phillips, Manuel, Rubin

SEPTEMBER 23
Ryan Zimmerman presents David Wright with Mets flag from foul pole; Jay Horwitz presented with cake (was out to dinner with media the night before)

Mets keeping Wright from talking to media until he plays

David Wright belongs to multiple eras. The one when Franco, Leiter and Zeile were winding down. The one when Conforto, Nimmo and Rosario were warming up. John Franco was born in 1960. Amed Rosario was born in 1995. Both entered games started by David Wright.

Fourteen different quarterbacks — Pennington to Darnold — started for the New York Jets while David Wright was a member of the New York Mets. This squad doesn’t include Tim Tebow, backup Jet quarterback for one season and Met farmhand for two going on three. The two were Port St. Lucie neighbors in the summer of 2017 as each attempted to make up for lost baseball time.

Know David by his Mikes: Mike Piazza, Mike Stanton, Mike Cameron, Mike DeJean, Mike Matthews, Mike DeFelice, Mike Jacobs, Mike Pelfrey, Mike Hessman, Mike Nickeas, Mike O’Connor and Mike Baxter were all teammates of David Wright’s. So were Michael Tucker, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Conforto, not to mention Miguel Cairo and Miguel Batista. Plus Mike Hampton’s leaving the Mets facilitated David Wright’s coming to the Mets via compensatory draft pick.

John Franco. John Maine. John Buck. John Lannan. Jon Adkins. Jon Niese. Jon Switzer. Jon Rauch. Juan Padilla.

Dave Williams. David Newhan. David Aardsma. Ike Davis. All with David Wright.

When Pedro Martinez left the world champion 2004 Red Sox and Carlos Beltran departed the National League runnerup Astros, David Wright was in St. Lucie to greet them. Big acquisitions of future offseasons — Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca, Moises Alou, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay, Curtis Granderson — all had their hands shaken and probably their phones texted by David. Wright had the opportunity to welcome Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets on three separate occasions, all after competing with him in Citi Field’s only Home Run Derby.

Chosen with a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft, David Wright played against the 1992 Mets’ top pick, Preston Wilson, in the 2006 NLCS and behind fellow ’01 first-rounder and Game Seven pitcher of record Aaron Heilman. Unbowed by defeat, Wright would keep playing at a level as high as he was drafted, alongside Met No. 1 picks Lastings Milledge, Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Eddie Kunz, Ike Davis, Matt Harvey, Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki, Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto. He played with the players for whom a few of them were traded. For example, Milledge was swapped to Washington, so Wright played with those who came in return, Brian Schneider (the ex-Expo who caught a foul pop off David in his very first game) and Ryan Church. Church was traded to Atlanta for Jeff Francoeur, and Wright became chummy with Frenchy. Frenchy was shipped to Texas and the ex-Ranger Joaquin Arias. Arias was part of a double-switch in Jerry Manuel’s final game managing the Mets when Manuel removed Wright to elicit an ovation. It was Arias’s final game as a Met.

David had 1,004 behind him and 581 in front of him.

Prospects. Journeymen. Legends. Obscurities. Future Hall of Famers. Former All-Stars. Players who had won awards. Players who were winning awards. Ring-wearers from elsewhere. Thirty-four catchers who caught Met pitchers. Fifty-one pitchers who recorded Met saves. Forty-two third basemen who followed the trail he blazed to the Met hot corner. Twenty-four men who were on the Met roster he joined July 21, 2004. Three-hundred thirty-one men who’d thereafter attach themselves to the Met roster he was a part of, he was the center of, he would work his spine off to return to before September 30, 2018. Accepting the definition of teammate as anybody who was a Met while David Wright played, healed, rehabilitated, strived and captained as best he could, nearly a third of everybody who has ever played for the New York Mets has been a teammate to David Wright.

And David Wright was a teammate to every one of them.

SEPTEMBER 25
David Wright activated; John Ricco says he’s unlikely to pinch-hit vs Braves because ATL still fighting for home field advantage

Scant crowd intermittently chants “We Want David,” but cries go unheeded by manager

Wright in talking to media about his success as a Met credits Reyes, Delgado, Beltran and Lo Duca for being on base or batting behind him; also says he talks to Brian Schneider, who made a nice play on him in his first game in majors

Jose Reyes tweets picture of baseball shoes David Wright inscribed for him; David calls him his Dominican brother

SEPTEMBER 27
Wright doesn’t play at all in series

David Wright left a bottle of Don Julio tequila in each teammate’s locker, inscribed with No. 5 and “Thanks for the Memories.”

Only Wright and Reyes take BP; Wright signing lots of autographs during BP, after game going to players’ parking lot

While the 2018 Mets were finishing the road portion of their schedule in Washington, someone else closely associated with Queens and having loads of hits was coming up to bat for the last time in Flushing Meadows. Paul Simon was playing a show he billed as his career finale across the way from where Shea Stadium had stood and Citi Field now awaited a few more swings. Simon didn’t just hang around backstage. He played as soon as he was eligible. That’s how you treat a king of Corona.

The homeward bound David Wright had to cool his heels, his spine, his desire to return to the game. Shades of mediocrity enveloped the mood. We wanted David ASAP. We didn’t get him the second he was activated in advance of the last homestand of ’18. You could be understanding of proceeding with caution and fume anyway. You could also begrudge the Mets only so much for sticking to their plan. They make so few of them to begin with.

Another Queens voice, LL Cool J, advised against calling what he was up to c. 1991 a comeback. You could call what David Wright was up to anything you like, though ever since stenosis definitively knocked him out, it was clear the most we could hope for was a cameo. Still, Wright had been here for years. He and we deserved another couple of days together so we and he could get back where we once belonged.

The Beatles played Queens quite notably, too.

If he wasn’t the gamechanger the Fab Four were, No. 5 was No. 1 over and over again where Mets records were concerned. David didn’t have to lace up another spike to claim ownership of most every high-profile position-player category. The hits; the two-base hits; the runs; the runs batted in. More times up to bat — 6,869 between 7/21/04 and 5/27/16 — than any Met by the equivalent of a full season and another half-season besides. If he didn’t top every chart, he was ranked way up there.

Paul Simon had been performing in concert for more than a half-century, yet it didn’t stop his fans from queuing up to take in one more show. Likewise, no matter that a David Wright plate appearance was literally the most common individual occurrence in Mets history, we of course called for an encore. The sounds of silence would not do.

There wasn’t enough David to go around as 2018 wound down, but maybe that was all right. Leave us wanting more. The worst thing you can be is a formerly great Met still on the Mets. Witness the long denouement of the Dark Knight, Matt Harvey. We couldn’t wait to get him back when he went on Tommy John’s shelf in 2013. We were collectively unperturbed when Matt, his drama and his lofty ERA moved on five years later. Witness the uncomfortable homecoming of Jose Reyes, half of the infield’s left side on the Mets’ 50th Anniversary team, selected in conjunction with David Wright in 2012 despite having just slipped away to the Marlins. Wright’s DL assignment created space for Reyes’s return in 2016, but the murky circumstances behind Jose’s unlikely availability meant the storyline could never be as clean as a friend filling in for a friend at third base.

Harvey the Red disappeared into Cincinnati, then the past; the James Byrnes of Met aces. Reyes the Met didn’t have that luxury. He maintained a Met roster spot despite a batting average that rarely peeked above .200 and the dissolution of most of his baseball skills. The franchise’s all-time shortstop, in the third season of his second term, saw whatever homecoming aura that briefly surrounded him completely wear off. The domestic abuse allegation that led to his suspension by MLB and release by Colorado never quit hanging in the air. Jose had been a solid citizen as far as we could tell since that night in Hawaii led to police reports and mug shots, but it was hard to stay sentimental on his behalf — especially as he was batting .189.

We might devour our own when not adequately sated by performance, yet Wright never experienced serious backlash on any kind of scale. A few cranky calls to the FAN lobbying for an expedited retirement so his compensation could be reinvested into payroll? Sure. A recurring urban myth that none of his 1,777 hits was what one would deem “clutch”? There’s a conspiracy theorist in every crowd. But no complaint ever gained critical mass. There wouldn’t be enough futile at-bats to instinctively try our most polite patience. There wouldn’t be a few too many grounders beyond the reach of a third baseman no longer capable of diving. There’d be no widespread kvetching that David, as great as he had been when he was younger, had grown old and obsolete and why are they keeping him around? A steady diet of absence had done wonders for our heart’s fondness.

We knew we loved David Wright in theory. We were just aching to do so again in practice. We didn’t get to see him in the last Mets-Braves series of his career. In the first of those, July 24 and 25, 2004, Cox, Smoltz and Chipper were all presented and accounted for. Two games, both wins for Atlanta. Smoltz saved each. Chipper had three hits.

So help me, I wanted to see them in the visitors dugout at Citi Field in September 2018. And I wanted to see Wright beat them.

SEPTEMBER 28
David Wright returns as pinch-hitter, batting for Paul Sewald, grounds out to third baseman Brian Anderson (sharply) on first pitch from Jose Ureña leading off the fifth inning, receives huge ovations

Wright admits to great nervousness while in the on-deck circle, particularly in the fourth before Kevin Plawecki makes the third out. Says he thought he’d throw up, which he never felt, not even when making his MLB debut. Also noted he dropped his bat as he was being applauded.

Wright was all smiles after grounding out and continued to appear incredibly happy after the game despite the 0-for-1 and loss.

Wright’s appearance, his first since May 27, 2016, was essentially the only highlight of the evening

Wright said deGrom and starting pitchers presented him with bottle of wine, though Jake couldn’t quite get the words out

Reyes was first teammate to greet Wright after his groundout

Wright becomes the 56th Met to play in 2018, extending the franchise record

Kristie Ackert writes in News about golden reputation Wright has with Citi Field employees, regularly asking about their families and doing heartfelt things for them

SNY did not cut to commercial in the middle of the fifth inning, staying to focus on Wright preparing to bat

Colin Cosell overdid the PA announcement of Wright’s at bat, referring to him as “THE CAPTAIN” and blaring his name; Alex Anthony remains missed at Citi Field

Plate appearance was the 6,870th of Wright’s career

Wright has given several in-depth interviews to, among others, Ed Coleman, Wayne Randazzo, Steve Gelbs, all expressing sincere appreciation for everything about his career, basically

Jarring to realize, after Wright returned to the dugout, how the game just kept going on, Gary, Keith and Ron commenting on the next at-bat and so forth; baseball is like that

Yankees take out full-page newspaper ad to salute Wright, though the ad is mostly a Yankee logo

On the occasion of his first Major League plate appearance in two years, four months and one night, the Captain of the Mets might as well have been Rudy. That’s Rudy from Rudy, the spunky kid who dreams of running out of the tunnel with the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. Never mind that, as it is accurately observed in the 1993 film, Rudy is five-foot-nothin’, a hundred and nothin’ and has barely a speck of athletic ability. That’s not David Wright. But the postgame moment when, after he pinch-hit and grounded out, David admitted that he didn’t know the signs…that was so much like Rudy not knowing what to do when he was left in to play defense after finally getting his chance on kickoff coverage.

The Captain as undersized underdog. It was so very Metsian. So was anticipating a pinch-hitting appearance in the 160th game of a season between a fourth-place club and the only club to trail them. So was my cat Avery getting jumpy when I reached for a tissue as the home fifth began. Avery sees me go for a tissue, he expects a sneeze that will blow him off the couch, so he vamooses.

I wasn’t about to sneeze. And there wasn’t “something in my eye,” to invoke that manly expression of detachment. I was crying. I was crying because David Wright was about to come to bat for the 6,870th time in his career. I didn’t react remotely so emotionally in advance of the previous 6,869. I suppose choosing now to get choked up was Metsian, too.

It wasn’t the last time I’d do it during this series between the fourth-place Mets and the fifth-place Marlins.

You didn’t have to hold David Wright above all others to recognize how admirable and honorable he was and to therefore yearn to admire and honor him to the greatest extent possible. Yet I will confess, as if a confession is warranted, that Wright was never My Favorite Player in the Seaver sense of the phrase. As this century got going, Jose Reyes got to me first with his speed and his smile, the year before Wright came up, and held the title tightly until he left in 2011. There was probably a wafer-thin wisp of me that reluctantly resented that David was extended through 2020 while Jose was allowed to walk. Sports being sports, we’re always choosing sides, even when there’s no competition.

Turns out neither Wright nor Reyes was the best of long-term bets. Jose had his moments as a Marlin and Blue Jay but ceased starring away from Flushing. David, after signing his veritable Met For Life contract in December 2012, made one more All-Star team (2013’s at Citi Field) and never enjoyed another season free and clear of injury. The stenosis diagnosis from May 2015 was accompanied by a recitation of previous athletes to have suffered the same affliction. None of them recovered and resumed their careers unaffected.

The Mets had to go on without David Wright. They never cancelled a single game in any of the seasons since he came along. Postponed, yes, but no “never mind” to any contest scheduled since August 14, 2003, when the Mets, Giants and all of New York were blacked out and a makeup date was deemed impractical. The Mets kept playing in 2016 after David felt something in his neck before a game against the Dodgers. They kept playing throughout 2017 when rehabbing came slow. They kept playing in 2018, starting on March 29 and grinding along Wrightlessly through September 27.

David’s first AB of what was finally his fourteenth season in the bigs occurred on the tenth anniversary of Shea Goodbye, the day the 2008 Mets were eliminated and Shea Stadium was disappeared. One decade later, we had fewer and fewer Mets from Shea on whom to keep tabs in an active vein. We had Reyes, however regrettable his lingering presence had been viewed. We had Ollie Perez, who wore out his conditional welcome early in the Citi Field era, yet was reborn as a lefty specialist and thus became eligible to pitch forever. We had Jason Vargas, a footnote from 2007, a contributor to the debacle besetting us until late summer 2018. We had Joe Smith, the heretofore young submariner who used to take the subway to Shea. We had Carlos Gomez, so fast that he was here and gone and almost came back before we blinked. We had that Daniel Murphy dude, whose wicked bat and sinful glove introduced themselves to us in the last weeks when you could still use terms like “Loge” and “Mezzanine” in the present tense. And now we had David establishing himself as the 56th Met of 2018 and inserting himself in the season’s 160th box score to make it seven Shea Mets still around.

Endy Chavez, off the MLB grid since 2014, hadn’t retired. The architect of the greatest catch & throw Shea ever saw, on October 19, 2006, spent 2018 patrolling the outfield for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. The closer for the Long Island Ducks was one of the first Citi Field Mets, Frankie Rodriguez. K-Rod’s late-season batterymate from 2009, Josh Thole, logged time in the Tigers organization after a whirl with Wally Backman’s New Britain Bees. Darren O’Day, an ’09 Met for a few minutes (before a dimwitted roster machination chewed him up and spit him out) continued to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles. Otherwise, twenty-three players who landed in Flushing expecting to contend for a title in a shiny new ballpark and instead found themselves on a voyage of the baseball damned were altogether done playing by 2018. Mets who were first Mets in 2010 suddenly had no more than a handful of representatives in the pros. Justin Turner was a heavy hitter for the Dodgers; Lucas Duda was warming the bench for the Braves. Ruben Tejada was hanging on in the Orioles system. Dillon Gee was pitching for the Chunichi Dragons. That was it. New Mets from 2011 were also hard to find on a field near you. There was Blaine Boyer, a Royal for a spell in 2018. There was a Pedro Beato, a Phillie farmhand. A nation hadn’t lately turned its lonely eyes to Brad Emaus, Chin-lung Hu or Chris Schwinden.

The recent past developed a disconcerting habit for making itself surprisingly distant. Jon Niese, who won a game at Shea Stadium on September 13, 2008, didn’t make it out of Spring Training with the Rangers. Mike Pelfrey, who started the first game of the final series at Shea Stadium on September 27, 2008, transitioned into college coaching. Bobby Parnell, who threw the last pitch any Met would throw at Shea Stadium, was released by the White Sox in 2017.

Miracle of nature Bartolo Colon (in the minors when David was in middle school) notwithstanding, it’s hard to hang in there. It’s hard to hang on at all. Fresh faces grow stale. The bodies they’re attached to do them no favors. We, the fans, watch them come and sometimes miss a trick when they go. Weren’t we just at Shea rooting for these guys? Didn’t we migrate, however unwillingly, to Citi Field and root for them there, too? Wasn’t everybody young a yesterday or two ago? That included us, right?

Wright?

SEPTEMBER 29
David Wright starts final game of his career at third base, goes 0-for-1 with a walk; his last AB ends in a pop foul caught by Peter O’Brien

After four innings, Mickey Callaway sends Amed Rosario out to shortstop, with Jose Reyes shifting to third, thus ending David Wright’s career

Extended ovation for Wright as he departs. He hugs Reyes, hugs Plawecki, hugs every teammate and coach in front of the dugout, takes a curtain call

Fourth sellout of the season, sixth-largest regular season crowd in Citi Field history on hand to say goodbye to the Captain

Wright soon shows up in TV and radio booths in full uniform, the action on the field ignored by the announcers; Gary Cohen fought back tears as David left the field

Later, David is back in the dugout, waiting with his teammates for resolution of a thirteen-inning game that the Mets win 1-0 on Austin Jackson’s double

Mets are 9-9 in extra innings; their eighth walkoff win of 2018

David addresses crowd after game and short tribute video (for which most of those in attendance stuck around, Fireworks Night notwithstanding); David talked about the love of the evening and how the fans had his back and said thank you a lot

David was more smiling than sad throughout the proceedings

David and Jeff Wilpon held forth in press conference room afterwards, Jeff presenting David with Mayor’s proclamation that September 29 was David Wright Day in New York

Wright admitted his body feels not so great and reiterated that he’s not exactly at peace with his ending, but thanked Wilpon and Mets for the opportunity to have an ending; thanked the fans a lot; referred to himself as undeserving of so much attention

It can never again be said the Mets have never shepherded a career or an ending like this

Peter O’Brien is new villain for catching David’s last foul pop and ending his career; seemed cool with the attention

Last pitcher to face David Wright: Trevor Richards

Among those on hand: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud (all DL’d for months), Michael Cuddyer, Cliff Floyd, Todd Zeile

In TV booth, Wright thanked Hernandez for saying (in a video) he could start for 1986 Mets, though Hernandez told him he’d have to bat seventh

After game, Wright, along with family and friends, went to Foley’s which changed its name to Wright’s for the weekend

Reyes led off with double, McNeil moved him to third with sac bunt, setting up Wright for first-inning RBI opportunity, but he walked; Mets didn’t score (nobody scored for thirteen innings)

Reyes led off, Wright batted third

Gates opened at 4:30, half-hour earlier than usual, to allow fans to watch BP; Wright signed plenty of autographs, posed for many pictures

SNY simulcasted with Channel 11 (which originally had the game); SNY aired “The Wright Stuff” in leadup to pregame show, mostly Mets Classics featuring the Captain, starting with his first game from 2004

David Wright’s two-year-old daughter Olivia Shea throws out first pitch to her father with rest of family on field

Mayor Bill de Blasio declares September 29, 2018, David Wright Day in the City of New York

Simon had his Garfunkel. Wright had his Reyes. “The sounds of the city sifting through the trees/settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends.” Their first game for 5 and 7 on the scoreboard as 5 and 6 in your scorecard was August 4, 2004. After the Matsui experiment was declared less than a smashing success, Wright at third, Reyes at short became the rule. They set the record for most games composing the Mets’ left side in the summer of 2007 when they were still in their young and starry phase. It didn’t take them three years to forge a mutual longevity mark. Part of that was on the franchise. The Mets didn’t do longevity much in the forty-one years before either of them showed up. But mostly it was a credit to the pair for sticking together and excelling together.

Somewhere amidst their seemingly endless days as the starting shortstop and third base tandem, Jose and David grew a little less young, which is to say maybe they got older. It doesn’t fit what we knew about them. In the mind’s eye, they are the future — 2005, 2006, surrounded by veterans whose travel itineraries brought them to New York for a fee. Everybody else of import on those Mets was an import. That was fine. That was business. These kids, though, were ours, nurtured in our system. We’d receive bulletins now and then alerting us to their progress, providing us with ETAs that were never soon enough. It took savvy trades and pricey free agents to build the Mets into a legitimate contender. But it was legitimate because we built from those two blocks.

Maybe the collapses aged them. Maybe it was the demise of Shea Stadium and the cynicism of Citi Field. Injuries, which mostly left them alone from ’05 through ’08, began to make their place on the left side a little less assumed. Jose was out from the third week of May to the end of 2009 and a little in and out in 2010. David took a fastball off the helmet in August of ’09 and missed a couple of weeks (he probably should have sat a while longer). Wright’s back first felt something in 2011 and he had to sit out a couple of months. Jose’s hamstrings were sensitive even as he pursued and achieved a batting title. On September 28, 2011, they ran to their positions as one for the 859th and apparently final time.

What came after was also business. Jose the free agent. Jose the Marlin. Unimaginable to this reporter as late as the moment it was reported as happening. My guy was gone in December 2011. The other guy, honorable and admirable, remained. Wright the company man in my mind. It didn’t occur to me he was losing an old friend. I had the opportunity to ask him about it at one of those events the Mets used to invite bloggers to. At that instant, in November of ’11, the smart money had at least one of Jose’s Under Armour Yard cleats out the door, so I asked David for his thoughts on transitioning from Reyes to Ruben Tejada. I fully expected a preprocessed statement about Ruben being a good teammate and that they’d work together to make the Mets the best team they could possibly be, yada, yada, yada.

David said nothing of the sort. Instead, he looked me in the eye and referred to Jose as his baseball brother, telling me that he’d miss him terribly, that he wasn’t giving up on him staying, that he’d keep texting him to convince him not to go. Then, because he didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, he allowed that if Jose was gone, sure, Tejada was a good player, too, and of course playing with him would be swell. No yada. No company man. A real person giving a stranger a real answer.

As the Mets trudged further and further from their lone David & Jose postseason appearance, I tended to think of Wright as the Daveotronic 5000, someone who would cheerfully read a public service announcement on behalf of mosquitoes if asked by management. He almost always had a measured response for everything. The answers were inevitably modest, vaguely upbeat and avoided pot-stirring. There was “nothing about you that is controversial,” as Lester Bangs told babyfaced William Miller in Almost Famous. Nevertheless, a little up-close glimpse convinced me David wasn’t the way David was because somebody programmed him that way. He really was the way he was. Low-key authenticity, question after question, year after year. I came to understand and appreciate him beyond his endurance and statistics. The parts around him were, by necessity, interchangeable. His sentiments weren’t.

The last days of David Wright couldn’t help but be substantially about David Wright and Jose Reyes, reunited. David Wright deserved everything to go his way after being inundated with so much physical misfortune. He should have his choice of shortstops. Jose Reyes was gleefully reincarnated at the end of a difficult campaign as lovable sidekick to the man of the hour. Tennille to his Captain. Love had kept them together. Or as Thin Lizzy might have pegged it more raucously, the boys were back in town.

Realizing they’d be starting a game together for the 860th time brought me back to another September series, in 2003, Expos at Mets. The telecast was anchored for the first several innings by Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. Murph had announced his retirement, effective the end of that season. He and Ralph had been assigned different booths since 1982. Not tonight. Bob moved over from the radio side and he and Ralph were partners one final time. That it was exactly as it should have been didn’t make it not sad as hell.

Kiner and Murphy. Wright and Reyes. How did that comparison get apt? How did the kids from 2005 and 2006 become the veterans? The Last Veterans, I decided they were sometime in 2018. I’d never again look at any Mets the way I looked at these two now. I didn’t grow up with them (I was 40 when Reyes debuted, 41 when Wright came along), but their active status couldn’t keep them from a past that seemed almost inaccessible from the present. Nobody played in Shea anymore, but David and Jose had. Nobody wore black jerseys and black caps with blue brims anymore, but David and Jose had. Nobody high-fived John Franco or Al Leiter anymore, but David and Jose had. No current Met was 23 and on the precipice of the first of presumably many championships in 2006, but David and Jose were.

It wasn’t just the chronological distance from the early prime of Messrs. Wright and Reyes. The age deduced from David’s birth certificate was less telling than the age he emanated from. Watching him and listening to him as he reluctantly accepted the spotlight that fell on him reminded you what he’d been all along: a gentleman. How many ballplayers — how many fellows, regardless of profession — evoke that kind of sensation? Team first. Teammates first. Respect for everybody who touched his career, fans included. David was the object of many well-meaning messages on social media from his peers. Curtis Granderson tweeted lovingly. So did Johan Santana. I hoped somebody pointed the kinds words out to David. He wasn’t gonna see them otherwise. He talked about Twitter and the like as something that came along after him, as if a communications innovation that spread when he was in his late twenties was simply too newfangled for someone set in his old-timey ways.

Jacob deGrom had recently turned 30 and, if we were lucky, would be a Met for so many more years and Cy Youngs that I’d eventually revise my estimation for who the Last Veteran was. Maybe he and Syndergaard and the other pitchers would maintain a bond and I’d get misty in my sixties for when the world was young, when Jake and Thor and Matz were winning us a flag and now everything is different, but at least we still have those kids from 2015 and 2016. It could very well play out as such.

But at the end of September 2018, I wasn’t looking ahead. I was licensed to look back. I didn’t have to pay lip service to the future. Nobody was demanding valuable starts be given over to the latest callups from Las Vegas. Nobody was insisting the old guys chronically clogging our roster must have two cheeks on the bench, one foot out the door. The past was being planted firmly in the present.

My kind of last homestand.

Writing in Reyes at shortstop and Wright at third for the 860th time fell to Mickey Callaway, a man who could turn filling out a lineup card into the hardest of Double Jeopardy challenges (“Who is batting where?”). Mickey was the fifth manager David Wright played for. Hard to believe there weren’t more. The first was Art Howe, whose last name should have been affixed to a question mark. Then came Willie Randolph, whose penchant for professionalism meshed nicely with David’s fealty to chain of command. When Willie’s law and orderly ways dissolved into a puddle of underachievement, Jerry Manuel emerged as precisely the breath of fresh air this organization needed. When the Mets eventually revealed themselves thoroughly disorganized under Manuel, Terry Collins was brought out of managerial purgatory. Collins, who had last skippered in Anaheim at the end of the previous century, was an object lesson in hanging in there. He managed Wright’s teams nowhere for four seasons, but Terry went nowhere. Finally, climate change overtook Citi Field in 2015 and Collins was still running the show. You felt wonderful first and foremost in ’15 for Wright making a World Series (and for yourself getting to experience it), but no matter your views on his moves, you had to love that the manager few figured would last beyond a de facto caretaker period had persevered to a pennant.

Two seasons later, Terry Collins was done and Mickey Callaway was named his successor. Callaway had never managed before and it showed. He’d also never had cause to address the media on a nightly basis before and that showed. So often I’d hear him opine on the state of is team and the game it had just lost and think, “Mickey, why would you say that?” One of the less harmful but not brilliant things he mentioned as Met manager was when he equated the hubbub surrounding David Wright’s final game with that you’d find at a playoff series.

Mickey hadn’t been here in 2015, but he’d been to the playoffs as Cleveland’s pitching coach. Surely he recognized the difference. David was a playoff participant twice, nine years apart. No way he’d have mistaken one kind of excitable sellout crowd with another. Neither would I. Neither would any Mets fan who’d been lucky enough to interact with any Mets playoff game dating back to Saturday afternoon, October 4, 1969, when the Mets played the Braves for the first time in the first NLCS.

Yet on the Saturday that shaped up as the last game David Wright would ever play, when 43,928 jammed into Citi Field specifically because it was the last game David Wright would ever play, I did sort of align myself with Callaway’s misguided view of the world despite my disagreement with his assessment of the situation.

That is I went out for a clinching pizza. It’s what I went out for on the Saturday in September 2015 when the Mets clinched the National League East. It’s what I went out for on the Saturday in October 2016 when the Mets clinched a National League Wild Card. The difference then was I waited for the clinching. Late afternoon starts ensured dinnertime celebrations. Here, this September 2018 Saturday, when the first pitch was scheduled for 7:10 PM, there’d be no point in waiting to secure some dinner.

“You want pizza?” I asked Stephanie. “We oughta have pizza tonight.” She agreed. It wasn’t the playoffs, but it was something. It deserved pizza. Pizza from Franco’s (no relation to John, Matt or Julio, as far as we know), official playoff-clinching pizzeria to the Princes. If it was the playoffs actually about to be played, I doubt I could have eaten once the night was underway. My stomach tied itself in knots in the hours before playoff games in 2015 and the one we were allotted in 2016. No, Mickey, this wasn’t that. But pizza is pizza. I rushed off to Franco’s and scurried home with our pie just in time. I didn’t want to miss an iota of what was going to make this night pizzaworthy.

Avery was on notice to beware the Kleenex box.

The ceremonial first pitch, as delivered by the third baseman’s two-year-old daughter, was perfect in spirit if not a strike. The dash out by the third baseman to third base was perfect. The coupling with Jose? That was what I’d been dreaming of since 2016, maybe since 2011. Choose your analogous scene. Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck in the “People Get Ready” video. Andy and Red on that beach in Mexico after they’re both out of Shawshank State Prison. Paul and Artie in Central Park. From now on when we see old friends find each other at last, we’ll invoke David Wright and Jose Reyes on the left side of the Met infield, September 29, 2018. In a year of oddities and extremes — an 11-1 start; a 5-21 June; a 25-4 loss; a 24-4 win; the most Mets ever deployed in a single season — nothing could have been more normal than No. 5 taking his position at third. He’d run out there at Shea Stadium, at Citi Field and everywhere else the schedule sent him 1,570 times over thirteen seasons.

But how could you not be giddy that he was getting to do it a 1,571st?

Alas, you couldn’t do anything about arranging line drives when David batted. I’d maintained a fantasy that Don Mattingly would school Trevor Richards in the lore of Denny McLain serving one up on a room service platter to Mickey Mantle as Mantle was about to hang ’em up in 1968, but Trevor Richards was no 30-game winner and the Marlins have never been very good about cooperating with our late-September wishes. Despite not knowing the signs, David knew enough to draw a first-inning walk. Despite having to torture himself to prepare to stand around the diamond, David was able to bend for a ground ball, handle it cleanly and throw accurately to Jay Bruce at first base in the second. It was fundamentally sound, solid, unremarkable baseball being played by one of the most fundamentally sound, solid, remarkable baseball players the Mets ever had.

If I could have choreographed the background, I would have placed every David Wright teammate in seats so they would have been visible to those of us watching at home. A decent contingent had traveled to Citi Field to bid him goodbye. Michael Cuddyer from Virginia and 2015. Cliff Floyd from 2006 and all those charming stories about how the veteran directed the budding star to carry his luggage. Todd Zeile on assignment for SNY. Zeile had received a warm sendoff at the end of ’04, one of the few the Mets had ever bothered conducting. Dedicating tonight to one player reaching his road’s end, was sui generis for an organization that studiously paid little attention to most of its memories. Maybe things were changing. Jay Horwitz was about to embark on a new phase of his career, reaching out to Mets alumni from 1962 forward to let them know they were Mets family. David Wright was also sui generis. In the runup to Saturday night, he kept shifting the spotlight to others who meant so much to him. He namechecked Brian Schneider, now a Marlins coach and thus in attendance, as a teammate who’d stayed his friend. I had a hunch no other Mets from 2008 or 2009 remained in touch with Schneider.

Even the Mets’ disabled list, where David languished for more than two years, came to life to honor its most distinguished alumnus. Lagares. d’Arnaud. Cespedes. You never saw them around as the season wore on without them. Maybe they were around but you never noticed them. They all showed up at Citi to see their Captain bring his ship into port. It wasn’t technically a retirement party. It couldn’t be, not with contractual issues and insurance payments at stake. Yet “the industry,” as it’s depressingly labeled, knew what was going on. David’s impromptu farewell tour on the last road trip — Boston, Philadelphia, Washington — was muted but sincere. A Mets fan could be forgiven for being surprised that a Met rated that kind of attention and affection away from Flushing. We saw that sort of thing as rarely as we saw Lagares, d’Arnaud and Cespedes in the second half. Opponents probably hadn’t honored retiring Mets before because the number of Mets who combined industrywide stature with a definitive conclusion to time in a Mets uniform was limited.

Fifty-seven seasons in, there was David Wright and nobody else.

Then, after a foul pop to Marlins first baseman and Mets fan instavillain Peter O’Brien leading off the home fourth, there wasn’t any more David Wright. His third plate appearance of 2018, his 6,872nd since 2004, would be his last. There’d be one more trot out to his position, then a choreographed exit. A handshake from third base umpire Mike Winters. A hug from Jose Reyes. A hug from Kevin Plawecki. Amed Rosario offered an embrace when he came out to replace him (bumping Reyes from short to third), as if anybody could replace David. A hug from everybody in orange and blue. The dugout turned into the hugout. I strained to see if maybe the current Mets had expanded their roster. I looked for Beltran, for Delgado, for Collins. Where the hell was Field of Dreams when you needed it?

Citi Field transformed into the House of David. The slugger who eschewed curtain calls now had to absorb and acknowledge the applause he merited. They stood in Queens. I stood in my living room. It would have been disrespectful to not salute the Captain. No, Mickey, this wasn’t the playoffs, but it definitely went perfectly with pizza.

When he was announcing his abbreviated comeback on September 13, David was very specific. He didn’t want to wear a uniform again. He wanted to put this uniform on again. Mets on the front. His name appearing on the back was probably incidental to him. Wearing Mets once more, Wright was in no rush to shed his threads. After leaving the game, he went on a tour of nearby broadcast media: the SNY TV booth, the WOR radio booth. He did it in uniform while the game progressed. He looked too good in it to comprehend that he wouldn’t be donning it any longer. No. 5 was his second skin.

But the game did progress. In the seventh, Steve Gelbs was keeping with the theme of the evening, interviewing Cuddyer, celebrating Wright with the Mets-Marlins action purely incidental. Brandon Nimmo, in the process of rounding first on a single, grabbed his hamstring and grabbed focus back from the past. Was Nimmo hurt? What was wrong exactly? How serious might it be?

The game kept progressing without Nimmo. Late innings became extra innings. David returned to the dugout, uniform still on. He was going to make a few remarks whenever the game ended, which we did not know when it would be. It was turning into a George Carlin special. Usually, Game 161 between two non-contenders would be rapidly hemorrhaging attendees once the line score needed to be cleared, scheduled postgame display of fireworks or not, but this Game 161 was most unusual. The third baseman batting .000 was still the main attraction.

Yet after he left the game, I could sort of feel the next generation coming into focus. We wouldn’t go to Spring Training anticipating Wright or depending on Wright or wondering when Wright might be ready. It was strange enough going into 2018 with Todd Frazier penciled in as third baseman, no David on the horizon. But at least he was in the shadows.

Twenty Nineteen would be about Conforto, Rosario and Nimmo, right hamstring willing. It would be about deGrom, Syndergaard and Wheeler. It would be about whoever the Mets signed or traded for. No Wright. No Reyes. The Last Veterans would take their shared era — or what remained of it — with them. Opening Day of 2006, the season when their present brimmed with possibility and their future never loomed brighter, now stood further away from the present than Opening Day of 2030. And it stood in the opposite direction of where we were inevitably going.

This weekend was less the end of an era than one hauled out of storage.

In the thirteenth inning, Austin Jackson, a midsummer pickup I privately referred to as Awesome Jackson (an aspirational nickname at best) did something truly awesome. He drove in the winning run of this heretofore scoreless game. It had a score now: Mets 1 Marlins 0. David Wright would go out a winner. The Mets’ record when he played couldn’t say quite the same. They’d won 792, lost 793. There was probably something symbolic in there.

After Awesome Austin doubled home Conforto, I know what should have happened next. Jackson, starting pitcher Steven Matz and David should have crammed onto the set of Kiner’s Korner. Ralph should have asked Steven about his six innings of shutout ball and eight strikeouts. Austin and Ralph should have compared notes on game-winning hits. And oh-for-two David should have grinned with humility, wondering à la Marv Throneberry in those Lite beer commercials, what he was doing on a show featuring the real stars of the game.

Instead, David would be a solo act. No Ralph Kiner. No Steve Gelbs. The man who played with all those Mikes would pick one up for himself and address the adoring crowd. The “W” in Wright was silent, but this was no time for him to be reticent in expressing himself. “This is love,” he told his throng twice — a love for real, not fade away. “You had my back,” he mentioned four times. He thanked everybody as sincerely and heartily as he could, just as he had on TV and radio, just as he would in the press conference room a few minutes later. He straddled the line between completely understanding why this night and this crowd and this breed of fan was dedicated to him and being honestly baffled that anybody thought he deserved a fuss.

It was late in the evening, and he blew that room away. We talk about people who get it. Not only did David Wright get it every minute he spent as a New York Met, he defined it, he embodied it and he emitted it. He handled his farewell brilliantly. Never mind Paul Simon’s calculus; David found the singular way to leave his lovers.

We got him. We loved him. I’m not sure we had his back, though. If we had, would have fixed it for him.

SEPTEMBER 30
Jose Reyes started at short and led off; after one AB, he was removed with a modicum of ceremony, though nothing like that which attended David Wright’s last appearance the night before

Reyes could be seen hugging Wright and others in the Mets dugout as Amed Rosario took his spot in the field. The “Jose!” song played and he emerged from the dugout to applause, which he heartily acknowledged

Reyes not necessarily retired but will clearly not be brought back by the Mets in 2019

Wright, with 1,777 hits, and Reyes, with 1,534, end their time as active Mets as the franchise leaders

Hit leaders among active Mets: Flores, 488; Lagares, 443; Conforto 350; d’Arnaud 327; Cespedes 322; Bruce 212.

David Wright in evidence at final game, but doesn’t play. Presents flag to Veteran of the Game to great applause; spends quality time with kid who gets his last jersey in Jerseys Off Our Backs postgame presentation

O’Brien continues to be booed for crime of catching David Wright’s final pop foul the night before

A slide show tribute to Wright airs (hard to call it a montage)

David Wright played in his 14th season as a Met; only Kranepool (18) played in more; Franco also played in 14

Wright becomes a non-recidivist Comma Met

Jose Reyes played in his 12th season as a Met

With the departures of Wright and Reyes, Juan Lagares is the longest-tenured Met

We may have been all cried out from Game 161, but the last days of David Wright weren’t sad. The sad part was before the last days, when he couldn’t put this uniform on again, when he couldn’t pinch-hit, when he couldn’t come out and play. We were happy because we were granted a few more fleeting, indelible glimpses.

The WRIGHT 5s who populate Citi Field’s Promenade, Excelsior and so forth won’t be quickly retired. There are too many in circulation. The 5 Wright himself wore is another matter. It should take no deliberation to raise his digit high above left field. Honor though it may be, that’s just scorekeeping. Even understanding the significance of joining 37, 14, 41 and 31, David Wright’s Met career and presence transcends something as mundane as number retirement. If you want a gesture that measures up to the man, issue an edict that the title of Captain will belong only to David Wright as long as there is a New York Mets.

Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco — great Mets all — were each appointed captain for a spell, but for none of them was the title synonymous with their essential being. David Wright was the Captain of the New York Mets so much that “Captain” rather than “Third Base” could have been listed as his position.

Seriously, can you imagine ever calling anybody else Captain?

It was in his self-conceived job description to speak for his team. Before they made him Captain, a role he took seriously as death, he recognized that somebody had to explain the Mets when the Mets were at their most inexplicable. When the Mets were hopeless, circa the weeks that followed his July 2004 arrival. When the Mets were hopeful in 2005. When the Mets ascended toward the mountaintop in 2006. When the Mets stumbled, plunged and took their sweet time climbing back between 2007 and 2014. When the Mets neared the apogee again in 2015. He wasn’t around enough to explain the Mets fall from grace after 2016, their descent into terribleness in 2017 or their absolutely abysmal first half of 2018. He made it back just in time for a touch of conditional hopefulness, the kind that infected us when David was catching fly balls with his bare hand. The Mets had actually posted the best record in the National League East from July through September. They’d just have to learn to lead the division in stuff from the beginning to make our hopes stick.

But those would be hopes for next season and the seasons beyond and somebody else would have to explain them. The Captain had done his duty. When the Mets succumbed to Molina. When the Mets overcame Utley. When Jerry or Terry pushed buttons that didn’t connect to anything. When he connected with a game’s last pitch and drove in its winning run, forever crediting the batter ahead of him for getting on base. When he tried to offer timetables for the return he and we craved.

That’s the David Wright Era. He was attached to all of it. The unofficial spokesperson for the bulk of it, answering for so many crappy teams his skills and leadership made marginally less crappy. This is the Dave we know. Our bridge over the troubled waters that flooded the late 2000s and the first half of the 2010s. He also elaborated on its intermittent triumphs, its trips to the periphery of the promised land, its possibilities that maybe only he saw every spring. Barely a handful of Mets truly belong to the ages, plural. Wright is one of them.

He may not have swaggered like Namath, but David practically guaranteed the way he’d be remembered. The origin story he presented of himself was that of a Mets fan growing up near Norfolk, rolling with the Tides as his home team, and then getting drafted by the parent club. Like the qualities that merited his captaincy, his childhood affinity for the orange and blue wasn’t incidental to his adult self. It’s who he was. A Met. He wanted to be a Met and he got to be a Met. He took thatseriously as death. Every hand he shook, every hug he exchanged, every gesture of goodwill he extended was not from the idolatry playbook. It was a Mets fan doing for another Mets fan. He didn’t need social media to link to Mets fans. The ballplayer he became kept a dignified distance from online chatter; the fan he always was didn’t need to tweet or post. He came to us one of us and he stayed one of us. The only difference was his WRIGHT 5 jersey was a little more gameworn than the ones in the stands.

When free agency hovered in the discernible distance, somebody who was in a position to make these judgments suggested to me David would at least have to test those waters. This was 2012, another Met year whose tentative promise melted into the familiar morass of Met failure. We were eons removed from 2006, while 2015 was nowhere in sight. Chipper Jones, this person noted, was retiring from the Braves and they’d have an opening at third base. David was a star in his prime and had to do due diligence. It made too much sense for a star nearing his thirtieth birthday to not at least contemplate trying on another uniform. Surely his fortune and his fortunes could both improve somewhere else.

Whatever thought David Wright gave the idea of leaving, he never acted on it. He signed to stay a Met for longer than his body would allow him. His heart was another matter. David Wright was and is a Met for life. His life. Our lives. As fans, we live for that sort of mythic figure, not just to cheer him, but to cherish him and nurture him from his first day to his last. Welcoming him; hanging in there with him through good days and bad; saying goodbye when he knows it is time for him to go. A career fully and properly shepherded by fans and franchise, beginning to end…even allowing for requisite Metsiness to occasionally interlope and step on the storyline. The David Wright story was sturdy enough to withstand a few bruised toes.

We never had that precise story before. We never had something so Wright. We have now.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016: The Home Run
2017: The Disabled List

All We Want for Christmas is More

Even Eartha Kitt, whose memos to the North Pole were famously insistent, would be grudgingly impressed with what the new general manager of the New York Mets has done seven weeks into his term. He’s brought us a renowned middle-of-the-order bat; a dazzling reliever to close ninth innings; a familiar reliever to take care of an inning or two before that; and now an upper-tier catcher who didn’t cost us our left fielder, right fielder, shortstop or fireballingest starting pitcher.

And it’s not even Christmas!

Still, if you understand Eartha’s tastes, you sense she wouldn’t be satisfied yet.

Santa Brodie, you’ve been doing a decent job so far
Things were awful last year
Santa Brodie, so hurry with more hitters ASAP

Good point, Ms. Kitt. If we were adding Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos to an already dangerous lineup, that would be like topping our big, bold tree with a star or two. But we’re not really at the point of merely trimming our relatively humble Balsam Fir and thinking we’re ready to jingle bell rock. The 2018 Mets were more Linus Van Pelt than Rockefeller Center. It may not have been such a bad little tree by September, but Al Roker wasn’t coming out to emcee its lighting.

Which was why you couldn’t be hastily cutting down its Nimmo, its Conforto, its Rosario and especially not its Syndergaard, not if you weren’t going to know how to replace all of those foundational branches when several of them were not yet completely sturdy themselves. Visions of the Marlins’ backstop dancing in our heads proved only surreal (or surrealmuto). Sure, a Realmuto would have shimmered — and the stories about how our jolly GM was going to deliver it to us were keeping us up at all hours with anticipation — but what good is bringing home the most sparkling of catchers when you’ve inadvertently made certain there won’t be enough surrounding it?

A less jolly older gentleman might have advised you decorate the tree you have, not the tree you might want or wish to have at a later time. Cultivating the tree so it can support every conceivable ornament would seem most ideal. I remember a tree that one December suddenly had a catcher named Carter added to its splendor. You think a Realmuto shines? You should have seen this Carter. Not easy to procure such a gem these days, but the Mets in those days knew how to transplant a catcher in a most arboristically responsible manner. On Hubie, on Fitzie, on Youmans, on Herm! On to Montreal they were delivered. In their stead, a Kid would lead us.

That’s heartwarming history. Unfortunately, they rarely make Decembers or catchers quite like that anymore. Signing Ramos for two relatively economical years wasn’t as flashy as some of the much-discussed modern alternatives (no J.T., no Grandal, no Grote types), but it strengthens the tree without undermining its roots. Our trees used to be known for their catchers. Maybe this tree will be to some extent, too.

Nevertheless, Ms. Kitt likely still wouldn’t be sated.

Santa Brodie, the bullpen leans a little to the right
Matchups we sometimes fear
Santa Brodie, go get us some more pitchers pronto

Ramos will catch Edwin Diaz late, Jeurys Familia prior and Noah Syndergaard, among others, every fifth day. The editor of the New York Sun, circa 1897, would delight in informing its most inquisitive reader that yes, Virginia, there is a Noah Syndergaard on the New York Mets. He exists as certainly as deGrom and Wheeler and Matz exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy. Well, deGrom does — and Wheeler in the second half last year. Syndergaard can be Christmas cheer incarnate in July as well. He can also sap the spirit straight out of a game with one too many baserunners stealing a few too many bases. When those runners are naughty, it definitely isn’t nice.

Ramos with his skills so bright is here to help young Noah guard against such bad behavior. Tweak his few flaws, direct his focus, keep him away from children who haven’t the most sanitary of hands, feet and mouths…Wilson could definitely guide Noah’s sleigh most nights. Still, Thunderous Thor can make you wonder what might be in our stocking (and our seasons yet to come) if we could bear to part with the gifts his right arm projects to keep on giving.

You can’t help but think about it if only because it keeps getting rumored about.Trade Thor? To Miami to nab us Realmuto? Or to a team as distant as San Diego for prospects who might someday be as good as Thor? Or to the Bronx because we apparently lack sufficient holiday anxiety? Alas! how dreary would be our world if there was no Noah Syndergaard! Worse yet, if there was Noah Syndergaard, but he fell into the wrong hands, feet and mouths! Brodie Van Wagenen at his best may be evoking St. Nick this month. But does he want to go down for all of eternity as a latter-day Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner who legend has it thought selling off Babe Ruth so he could finance No, No, Nanette was a splendid transaction? Different centuries, different players, but singular characters who excel are not to be dismissed lightly.

Syndergaard pitching for somebody else? No — Noah a Met. Rosario and Nimmo and Conforto, too. Nevertheless, Eartha Kitt demands that while we hold on to our most valuable chips, we continue to make the grandest of deals.

Santa Brodie, you said that we will be a win now team
Haven’t won enough of late
Santa Brodie, so make with the improvements at once

The Christmas rush doesn’t necessarily apply to baseball. December 25 doesn’t even take us to the Baseball Equinox. No, that annual landmark midpoint between the final out recorded in the last Mets game of last season and the first scheduled pitch of the next Mets season arrives a short spell after all the tinsel and the wreaths begin to overstay their welcome. This year’s Baseball Equinox makes its presence felt at precisely 3:12:30 AM EST on Saturday, December 29. Leave out some milk and cookies for it. Or, if you’re Orthodox, some Rheingold and chaw.

Even if commercials don’t inundate us with Equinox sales and radio doesn’t deluge us with Equinox carols, we should be internally grateful that as next season approaches in earnest, although Santa Brodie’s shopping isn’t yet done, we haven’t missed it. Sure we want a fully operable bullpen and a dependable center fielder and a fortified bench…and we want it now…but there’s still time. Still time before Spring Training. Still time before Opening Day. Still time to dream. It may be too much to dream that we can wake up one morning and discover someone has seen the light and purchased us the free agent equivalent of the prize turkey hanging at the poulterer’s on the corner — not the little prize turkey; the big one marked “Harper” or maybe “Machado”. That’s probably not going to happen, yet we can keep dreaming that Van Wagenen can keep scheming and all of us can look forward to greeting the season we care about most.

Until then, enjoy this one. It just needs a little baseball.