“Hey, do any of you guys know a pitcher named Bartolo Colon?”
“I know Bartolo Colon! I saw him drive a run in for the Angels off Mike DeJean in 2005! It was his last hit in the majors, and he’s still playing today!”
“I was at that game! Kaz Ishii struck out the side in the top of the first and had 8 K’s through five yet didn’t make it out of the sixth!”
“Colon won 12-2, and the next night Marlon Anderson pinch-hit a game-tying inside-the-park home run off Frankie Rodriguez in the ninth inning!”
“Cliff Floyd won that game in the eleventh with a home run! The next day the home plate umpire threw out Mike Piazza for questioning a strike call…in the first inning!”
“Colon won 20 games and the Cy Young that year!”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
Did somebody mention Bartolo Colon’s name?
“You guys talking about Bartolo Colon? I listened to a game where he went toe to toe with Shawn Estes in Montreal in 2002!”
“I heard that game! Colon scattered 13 hits and went the distance to beat the Mets, 2-1!”
“He stranded the bases loaded in the ninth inning when he grounded out Edgardo Alfonzo!”
“I thought the Mets had a chance for the Wild Card but they fell apart within a few weeks and Bobby Valentine got fired!”
“The Expos were about to go out of business, but Omar Minaya traded three future stars for him anyway!”
“Colon won 10 games for the Indians before the trade and 10 games for the Expos after, which made him a two-team, two-league 20-game winner!”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
“Bartolo Colon won 18 games at the age of 40 in 2013!”
“He played in a stadium that was mostly empty seats and raw sewage!”
“He was on the seventh team of a career that began in 1997!”
“He made the All-Star team a year after being suspended because of PEDs and started the first game of the playoffs for the A’s three years after not pitching at all!”
“Colon was a teammate of Dwight Gooden’s, struck out Mo Vaughn and pitched versus Pete Schourek all in the same postseason series!”
“I hear Colon gets his blood spun in a revolutionary but controversial fashion at a clinic somewhere in Boca Raton, Florida!”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
“Bartolo Colon is considered one of the most effective control pitchers in baseball!”
“Only David Price walked fewer batters in the American League last year than Bartolo Colon!”
“Only Anibal Sanchez had a lower earned run average in the American League last year than Bartolo Colon!”
“Only Max Scherzer won more games in the American League last year than Bartolo Colon!”
“Colon threw three complete games last year and every one of them was a shutout!”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
“Bartolo Colon is listed at 265 pounds but is generally believed to tip the scales at something a lot closer to 300!”
“Colon will be 41 years old next season!”
“On the day Bartolo Colon was born, the Mets beat the Dodgers in 19 innings in a game that ended at 4:47 in the morning New York time!”
“I remember that game! Chris Cannizzaro pinch-hit for the Dodgers, and he was an Original Met!”
“Did I mention Colon’s like 300 pounds? And gonna be 41?”
“Most guys his age and size would be long retired by now! But not Bartolo Colon! Colon just got $20 million for two years from a team that’s supposed to be hamstrung by limited resources!”
“Colon was considered a real catch at the Winter Meetings and it was the Mets who caught him!”
“The Mets got Colon the day after they introduced Curtis Granderson, who they’re giving $60 million to over four years — and Granderson missed more than a hundred games last year!”
“The Mets haven’t signed a pitcher for a lot of money since Oliver Perez, and they bid against themselves to sign him!”
“Oliver Perez refused to go to the minors when he deteriorated beyond repair in 2010 and wound up getting released with a year left on his deal!”
“Perez became a decent reliever with Seattle and was on the market this year, but the Mets signed Colon!”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
“Bartolo Colon’s gonna pitch for the Mets next year because they won’t have Matt Harvey!”
“Matt Harvey dates a supermodel and posed naked in a magazine!”
“Harvey was the best pitcher in the National League until he hurt his elbow in August, and he was only 24 when his season ended. Colon was 40 yet kept pitching and winning while Harvey was trying to avoid Tommy John surgery!”
“Tommy John started that 19-inning game against the Mets the day Colon was born!”
“George Stone won that game for the Mets! If Yogi Berra had started Stone in the World Series, the Mets would’ve beaten the A’s!”
“Colon’s gonna have to be at least pretty close to what he was for Oakland last year to justify his contract!”
“If the Mets didn’t get Colon, they’d have to figure out a way to hold on to a Harang or a Dice-K or rush one of their minor league pitchers!”
“It still seems like a risk to commit that much money to Bartolo Colon, though it could also work out if he stabilizes an otherwise young rotation!”
“Bartolo Colon may be older than Scott Atchison and Bartolo Colon may be bigger than Mickey Lolich but Bartolo Colon can really pitch!”
“Did somebody mention my name?”
“To Bartolo Colon!”
“The Mets were for the common people, I thought — the policemen and the doormen and the shoeshine boys and the newsdealers and the hot dog peddlers.”
—Ford C. Frick Award winner Lindsey Nelson, 1966
“There is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.”
—J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Roger Angell, 1962
The hot stove season, particularly during its winter meetings interlude, seems to fit Ralph Kiner’s description of the weather in Chicago: “If you don’t like it, just wait 10 minutes.”
Great advice, Ralph! as Fran Healy might have offered in rejoinder, for stories come and go mighty quickly and my mood is blown hither and yon with just as much velocity depending upon who’s tweeting/trading who. For example, five days ago I began conceiving a piece on not taking well the news that Carlos Beltran had opted to shed his last shred of human decency and sign with the Yankees. Then I got distracted. When I returned to attempting to flesh out my thoughts yesterday, I discovered I don’t really care what Beltran does or where he does it…the fink.
OK, maybe I care a little. But not that much. On Friday I was emotionally vulnerable because of the timing. First we sign Curtis Granderson, former Tiger and whatnot, and I’m getting used to the idea that this could be a splendid acquisition. Then the other team in New York swoops in and grabs a guy who was one of our best players ever, though not a Met since the middle of 2011 and not owing me or any Mets fan any consideration regarding what he does with the rest of his career.
It wasn’t that we didn’t re-sign Beltran for the next three years, which I never thought we would. It’s not that I believed Beltran was necessarily a better option than Granderson for 2014 — if Curtis’s age and return from injuries bothers me a little, Carlos’s Atchisonian wear and tear would spook me a lot. And it wasn’t exactly that Beltran had decided to allow himself to be clad in what my blog partner now and then refers to as the raiment of the beast. Simply pinning the tail on the Pinstripes wouldn’t explain my morose state as the news sunk in. Ex-Mets from Duke Carmel to Raul Valdes have been changing at Grand Central for the uptown 4 since 1965. What the hell, they gotta eat, too.
What got to me, I suppose, was that when Beltran and the Yankees agreed to do business, it felt as if one of the happier hot stove nights of my life had been erased, that Saturday night in January 2005 when Beltran and Scott Boras told the Houston Astros “no” and the New York Mets “yes.” That was business, too, but to me it was missionary work. Carlos Beltran had looked deep within his heart, saw where his services would bring hope to the most downtrodden people and chose us. Never mind that his missionary zeal was greased by $117 million of goodness or that it came out not long after that Boras shopped him late to the Yankees for a somewhat lesser but still lucrative deal and they uttered the heretofore unimaginable words, too rich for our blood. The best player on the market, the one who had just torn up the postseason, was going to be a Met!
No, it was better than that. He was going to be a New Met! Surely you remember the shall we say money quote from his feelgreat introductory press conference of January 11, 2005:
“I feel proud to be part of the new family, the New York Mets. The New Mets. I call it ‘The New Mets,’ because this organization is going to a different direction, the right direction — the direction of winning.”
Not quite seven seasons played out, some Newer than others. By the end, when Carlos Beltran’s aging knees were traded for Zack Wheeler’s fresh arm, fortunes had grown fairly old in Flushing. Beltran joined a Mets franchise that had previously finished 71-91. He was leaving one that would wind up 77-85, and they haven’t done even that well since. He did all he could, sometimes it was almost enough, never did I think his stay wasn’t worth it. Even through these last two years when he plied his craft as a distasteful Cardinal, I could peer past the red he was wrapped in and see him mouthing that phrase as prologue to our giddy rise from endless nothing to short-lived something.
To paraphrase agent-in-crisis Jerry Maguire as it was dawning on him that his star client’s father had gone behind his back to secure different representation, I was still sort of moved by Carlos’s “New Mets” thing.
Then Friday night, he does what it was assumed he would do in 2005 and goes to the Yankees of his own free-market will. He wasn’t a selfless missionary for the greater forces of all that is good and Metropolitan anymore. He was a soulless mercenary, that nasty epithet Astros fans hung on him nearly nine years ago when he left their team to join our team. Houston’s snit constituted a sour-grapes reaction from a bunch of ingrates, I had decided. Those yahoos didn’t deserve him.
Oh, all right, Carlos Beltran was a mercenary then, too, and I knew it, but he was our mercenary, which meant he was getting paid on the side of the angels. Now he was taking the most money and running to the Bronx…except, no, he apparently could’ve gotten more money from Arizona but really wanted to be a Yankee, reportedly “over the moon” to at last don their beastly raiment.
He’s a Yankee, but so was Curtis Granderson, and that bothers me not a bit. Ex-Yankees began crossing the Macombs Dam Bridge to the Polo Grounds in 1962 when Marv Throneberry (by way of Baltimore) and Gene Woodling (Washington) made the trip. They were greeted in Upper Manhattan by their old skipper Casey Stengel and might have recognized in their midst a onetime Yankee farmhand by the name of Rod Kanehl when they arrived. It’s a recurring phenomenon now more than 50 years old. In 2013, Aaron Laffey, David Aardsma and Sean Henn all showed they knew the way to Flushing Bay: just jump off a scrap heap and transfer at Grand Central for the Queens-bound 7.
My tolerance for intracity changes of address, whether made directly or after a cooling-off period, has built to a decently sturdy level over the past couple of decades. It’s certainly been tested since the mid-1990s, when we temporarily (I still hope) stopped having better records and drawing more people than our near-northern counterparts.
Doc, Darryl, Coney…two desperately needed a job and one had developed a hired-gun reputation. I didn’t love that they (and their once-familiar eventual Hall of Fame manager) brandished shiny new World Series rings in 1996, but I didn’t love that their teammates with no Met connections whatsoever did a whole lot more.
Robin, Zeile, Oly…all arrived as the dynasty was showing cracks, each went low-profile and none thanked the good lord for making them a Yankee, popularly parroted propaganda that seemed to be in vogue among newly enriched Steinbrenner Inc. employees around the turn of the century.
Leiter? It should’ve felt harsher given all he had done for the Mets against the Yankees in the 2000 World Series, but he was from there to begin with. I gave him a pass.
Vizcaino? The crime wasn’t being a Yankee. The crime was winning Game One in 2000 for the Yankees against the Mets. Besides, he was Jose Vizcaino…y’know?
Orosco? Betcha forgot Jesse Orosco who closed out our most recent world championship was a Yankee toward the end of his exceedingly long and winding road. It was no more than a15-game moment of surreality in 2003 as the 46-year-old lefty specialist caught his breath between San Diego and Minnesota en route to retirement. No harm (12.46 ERA), no foul. His glove eternally soars over Shea.
Benitez? Take our closer. Please.
And other than particularly repellant types like post-9/11 conspiracy theorist Mike Stanton and springtime drop-in Jim Leyritz, I’ll accept converts from wherever they emanate. The David Weatherses, the Graeme Lloyds, the Ricky Ledees…I didn’t ask for papers. I just asked them to not suck a whole lot. (They didn’t always do what I asked, but they weren’t alone in that distinction.)
I wouldn’t have asked the ingratiating Granderson to say anything unkind about his former professional circumstances when he was introduced in Orlando on Tuesday, and he didn’t. But of course I kvelled when he wove a simple question about adjusting his game in deference to differing ballpark dimensions into perhaps the best preseason slogan since Baseball Like It Oughta Be.
“A lot of the people I’ve met in New York have always said true New Yorkers are Mets fans. So I’m excited to get a chance to see them all out there.”
Natch, most of the context was clipped from his response in a nanosecond and it became Curtis Granderson laying down the Subway Supremacy gauntlet or something like that. Not the most accurate of interpretations, but upon reviewing the transcript of his Q&A session, it definitely reads like a line he was determined to get on the record. Not cynically, perhaps, but probably not delivered without agenda. Sort of like Beltran after Boras first suggested he strongly consider this heretofore hapless organization that was courting him and the checkbook it was willing to wield to lure him.
But January 2005 was almost nine years ago. So was last Friday night, as far as I’m concerned. True New Yorkers aren’t terribly interested in Carlos Beltran’s whereabouts these days. True New Yorkers are instead suddenly excited to call Curtis Granderson their own.
Maybe we’ll all see him out there.
Sometimes you find yourself a defender of the conventional wisdom.
Here’s Brian Mangan on the Mets signing Curtis Granderson. His take is smart, and it ain’t pretty. But I’m still happy.
The baseball stuff I’ll deal with quickly: I take heart from the fact that Granderson’s nightmarish 2013 was driven by not one but two bone-breaking HBPs, the first one on the inaugural pitch he saw in spring training. (Geez, how’s that for a star-crossed year?) His skill set seems like it will age better than Jason Bay’s. (Caveat: Like my blog partner, I was in favor of the Bay deal at the time, though tepidly.) From the overlays I’ve seen, I’d expect Granderson’s power to play just fine in Citi Field. He’s a good guy in the clubhouse, a quality I don’t put enormous stock in but could be valuable if Sandy Alderson tries to move Granderson. Ideally, he’s a Cliff Floyd figure for the Mets — helps bring along some young players, does OK out on the field, and is a bridge to a better future.
But as always with the post-Madoff Mets, it’s not really about the baseball. Except this time I can say that without despair creeping into my voice.
This may be the most surreal and depressing era in Mets history. The early Mets were terrible, yes, but fans at least had the honeymoons of National League baseball returning to New York and a brand-new stadium. The Mets of various post-1986 valleys were awful, but they were big-market awful: You knew the collapses and teardowns would be followed by attempts to rise anew, however ill-conceived.
The closest comparison to the post-Madoff Mets would be the Mets of early free agency. Like this team, that one was a dreadful outfit that had alienated its fans and refused to admit economic reality: The Mets showed interest in free agent Gary Matthews by sending him a telegram asking him to contact their offices, which somehow didn’t work. They were baseball’s North Korea — but their situation was so comically awful that you knew it couldn’t last, that new ownership was going to come from somewhere.
In recent years there’s been no such promise at Citi Field. The Wilpons looked crippled, continually moving the financial goalposts on Alderson, playing accounting games with payroll and operating under the shadow of massive bills coming due. But they also looked determined to hold on at all costs, and there wasn’t even a hint that the feckless Bud Selig would pressure them into a sale. (Selig’s tenure as commissioner will be argued about for years, but even if you’re one of his defenders the bookends are pretty awful: He arrived as the product of an appalling coup and will depart having let the Mets be run like an orphanage, shrugged off the cynical shell games played by his fellow Expocutioner Jeffrey Loria and marooned the A’s in a backed-up sewer.) The Mets have looked destined to become baseball’s Chicago Blackhawks, a wreck of a franchise that only divine intervention can save.
And maybe that’s what they still are. But whatever one might think of the Granderson signing, it isn’t shopping in Scott Boras’s fruits-and-nuts aisle. It’s not two years of Frank Francisco or a flier on Shaun Marcum or maybe seeing something in Marlon Byrd. Even in today’s suddenly expensive free-agent landscape, it feels like Real Money.
As for those who scoff at the idea that there’s a value to Changing the Narrative, I’d counter that it’s sure changed mine.
I can’t recall being less enthusiastic about the Mets than I was in October and November. I missed most of the last week of the season and didn’t care. I left the blog in Greg’s capable hands for the early part of the winter because there was nothing I wanted to say about the Mets — past, present or future. Someone sent around a clip of the Ball off the Wall and I felt … nothing. Occasionally I would rouse myself to snarl something vicious on Twitter, but that was about it.
Some of those Twitter bleatings were both vicious and inaccurate. A question about where to play Young in the outfield left me snarking about not wanting Young in the starting lineup at all … oh wait a minute, he meant Chris Young. I lost my mind about what I saw as penny-pinching Justin Turner out of a job and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this was a good sign, as the logical read on the situation was that the Mets planned to bring in another shortstop and slide Ruben Tejada into the backup role he’s earned, making Turner superfluous. I’d stopped paying attention and started becoming a generically angry fan. Look, I’ve said plenty of stupid things over the years and will say plenty more, but I’d never fallen into that particular trap. I’d never been disengaged like that.
If the Mets do nothing else this winter, despair and apathy will beckon again. Heading into the winter meetings, they still need that other shortstop, are still shopping Ike Davis and/or Lucas Duda (with maybe Daniel Murphy headed elsewhere too), and still need a warm body or two for the Harveyless starting staff. (Please God not Mike Pelfrey.) If Granderson is their last significant move of the winter, that’s a problem. But for the first time in a long time, I’m not automatically assuming the worst. For the first time in a long time, I actually want to think about my baseball team.
That’s only my narrative. But it desperately needed changing.
The Mets are signing somebody! Cue the applause!
I’m clapping, and not just politely, to my mild surprise. I’m all for the Mets securing the services of better players, and I’m fairly certain Curtis Granderson is better than what they had before they got him. Perhaps because I didn’t expect the Mets to actually get him — or anybody of note — I wasn’t all that enthused when he became The Guy a few days ago, a transformation that seemed rooted in his ordering a celebrated plate of salmon and the sense that with everybody else doing something, why weren’t we?
Now that something’s been done, what the hell, I’m more or less on board. The more should be obvious, given what Granderson’s accomplished in the not altogether distant past. Why the less? Well…he was severely limited by injury last season; he’s beyond traditional “prime” age; he’s guaranteed maybe one year too many for our comfort; he’s changing addresses to dimensions that might not really play to his strengths; and I am plagued by the nagging feeling that if something can go wrong for the Mets, it will go wrong for the Mets.
Those were my concerns before Curtis Granderson said yes to the Mets. With a reported $60 million committed over the next four years, those are still my concerns.
But we did something. We got a better player than anything we had in his neck of the field when 2013 ended and 2014 approached. The economics wouldn’t be worth talking about, given that economics have blowed up real good throughout baseball, except these are the Mets and budgetary implications aren’t just the stuff of lip service. I’m still in the dark about whether paying Granderson an average of $15 million a year over the next four years will represent an untenable burden in the Land of Wilpon.
I didn’t worry about those things when Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana were all lavished in riches for what were considered, in their day, luxurious long-term deals. I never complained about their lengths, either, not even when they crossed into albatross territory. Those guys were each signed to do more than merely “something”. Piazza (seven years) and Santana (six) were convinced, respectively to stay with and join contenders and, to my mind, did all they could do up front, making their back-end decline the unfortunate cost of doing serious business. Pedro’s four years seemed excessive, as they were tendered at one of those rare moments in the sport when sanity had seeped into executive thinking and almost no starters were being signed for more than three years at a time. Pedro was marquee-level Pedro for only his first season-and-a-half, but that’s what he had to be when he had to be it most, and his presence and performance made a massive difference in the big Met picture he entered.
Granderson is not the kind of megastar those guys were. The Mets don’t point and click on such upscale merchandise anymore. But Curtis — first-name basis OK? — is star enough in this market and, I’ll say again, he’s an upgrade in the post-Byrd world the Mets had been living in. If Granderson gives us a couple of seasons akin to what Byrd gave us over five months of 2013, and does it from the left side, that will be highly valuable. Of course it won’t be as cost-effective as Byrd’s output was, but when we’re focused on the games, we’re rarely calculating price unless someone expensive is exhausting our patience.
Which inevitably brings us back to if something can go wrong it will go wrong or, to use the convenient Met shorthand, Jason Bay. That isn’t fair to Granderson, no matter that Baseball-Reference’s comps suggest the two outfielders hold very similar statistical profiles. They’re different people and different players, even if the circumstances of their arriving as Mets feel of a piece. By December 2009, the Mets didn’t really know what they were doing, so they defaulted to doing something. I kind of thought buying Bay would work. It didn’t. Now that I’m spooked that grabbing Granderson won’t work, maybe it will.
How’s that for insightful analysis?
Let’s go out on a limb and decide Granderson won’t be Piazza 2000 but won’t be Bay 2010, either. Let’s assume Granderson is simply a pretty decent version of Granderson while he’s 33 and 34 in the first two years of contract. Let’s assume that’s better than running Andrew Brown into the outfield, to name a low-profile survivor of 2013 who started 27 games in left or right. Let’s assume that means maybe not as many homers runs as he popped into the infamous short porch slightly to our north but a Byrd-plus figure in the upper 20s. Let’s throw in his established glove, his extra-base power and whatever you want to assign to his undisputed good-guy intangibles.
Do all that and pencil in a (presumably) healthy Curtis Granderson for a couple of very fine seasons. What does that do for the Mets in 2014 and 2015?
I don’t know.
It’s better than seasons that aren’t very fine from a player who is less credentialed or capable. But what does it do if these are the blah Mets we expected plus Granderson? It’s the same philosophical quandary I encountered a decade ago when the Mets were reported hot and heavy on the trail of Vladimir Guerrero for five minutes. (Except Guerrero was close to his all-world peak and the numbers being thrown around were period-reasonable.) All I could think was “the Mets suck…if they get Guerrero, they’ll still suck, but they’ll have Guerrero, and he’s really good.”
The Mets needed more than one guy then — even if he really was The Guy — and they need that now. Otherwise, you’re talking about something along the lines of Willie Montañez coming to a dreadful Mets club in 1978, driving in almost 100 runs (which was the be-all and end-all of stats in those days) and the Mets being just a tad less dreadful than they were in 1977. Or, to borrow an example my blogging partner mentioned the other day, albeit I’m sure in a differently intended context, you have Cliff Floyd in 2003 and 2004. Floyd was a good player who had, basically, good Cliff Floyd seasons. He was productive when he played, he was held back by injuries both years and the Mets were, give or take an embarrassing contretemps here and there, as dreadful as they were in 2002. Floyd came around for a Monsta year in 2005, which dovetailed with the additions of Martinez and Beltran and the blossoming of Wright and Reyes. He was 32 and in the third year of his four-year deal. The timing was great as the Mets leapt into legitimate Wild Card contention.
A year later, Floyd was hurt again and struggled. The Mets were much better overall and you didn’t really notice, if you were inclined not to want to, that Cliff wasn’t truly helping the cause. It wasn’t until he came up to pinch-hit in arguably the most dissected ninth inning in New York Mets history, Game Seven’s in the 2006 NLCS, that I realized how little I wanted our hobbled heretofore hero up in such a stressful situation.
It always comes back to October 19, 2006, in these parts, doesn’t it?
Anyway, the point, I think, is if you’re gonna pay as much as the Mets are paying Curtis Granderson, you want to believe there’s a high purpose to it. It was fun to watch Montañez drive in runs in ’78 and it was swell to see Floyd go on a pre-DL tear in ’03, but the team was still lousy. You didn’t really think about pound-per-dollar production where either of them was concerned because neither of them had been meaningfully framed as The Guy in the preceding offseason, not to the extent that we were led to believe either of them would make a ginormous difference in our lives.
Granderson, as old this coming Opening Day as Floyd was in 2006, seems to be exactly that at this December juncture, but that’s a function of the inflationary marketplace for available talent and probably as unfair as deciding he’s Bay after Bay became a synonym for everything going wrong. Problem is that without substantially more help, the Harvey-free 2014 Mets aren’t likely to contend. I wouldn’t hazard a guess about what lies beyond Opening Day 2015, except that once it gets here, Granderson will be 34. If we’re willing to believe in young pitching, speedy recoveries and a lack of prohibitive financial constraints, it’s not unreasonable to dream we might really make a run at a playoff spot by 2016 and be honest-to-goodness championship timber by 2017.
At which point Granderson will be 35 and 36 and be owed an average of $15 million annually and still employed by those wonderful folks whose last half-decade has been brought to us by Bernie Madoff.
Is there enough in the till to find enough help to make Granderson more than just an enhanced 2013 Byrd while we’re killing time wandering the competitive desert? Does this front office have the skill to parlay finite resources into infinite improvement? Did the plucking of Byrd and LaTroy Hawkins constitute the bulk of their luck for this decade? Is Granderson-Lagares-Young going to be an outfield that inspires absolutely no “what outfield” jibes?
What of the other Young and first base and shortstop and the fourth and fifth starters and who’s gonna close and close effectively if Parnell is slow to heal and is d’Arnaud gonna hit and will Murphy remain a Met long enough to make his date as the Mets’ designated Santa Claus given that it’s a role usually filled by a player who is about to be stuffed in a sack and boosted up the chimney with great care?
We’re getting into the details, and the details are potentially fun when you think you’re going in the right direction. I hope Curtis Granderson constitutes a one-way sign indicating a clear path to a club that every day in every way keeps getting better and better.
Obtaining a better player should seem like a surefire start toward that goal. With the Mets, though, I never can quite tell.
Five Mets who were never the shiniest available objects glistening in the display case of a given free agent market stopped being Mets altogether this week. Non-tendered as possible prelude to a purposeful pursuit of Curtis Granderson — or whoever can be lured for a lesser price and/or fewer years — were Justin Turner, Jeremy Hefner, Jordany Valdespin, Omar Quintanilla and Scott Atchison. With Granderson’s strengths, weaknesses and fondness for fish coming under the Metroscope for incisive examination, we’ve probably forgotten about the lot of them already. Maybe one or two will circle back and thus give us reason to forget they were ever not with us. Maybe one or two will land elsewhere and make us regret the Mets’ decision to not retain their services. Probably not, I’m guessing, but one never knows.
Every personnel move of this nature is fraught with frightening implications for the team giving up on the player(s). All the Mets were doing with this quintet was creating 40-man roster space and maybe looking to save a few bucks. They receive no players in exchange, so the best they can hope for is it won’t look bad in a vague sense, never mind tangibly backfire on them. If Hefner, for example, recovers fully from Tommy John surgery, winds up in the American League and wins 15 games with the Rangers, that looks bad. If, say, Valdespin becomes the Braves’ everyday second baseman, hits .480 versus the Mets and wins three World Series, that’s tangible backfire.
If you’re the Mets, the best you can hope for from players you nurtured, encouraged and blessed as worth coming out to see is that they’ll quietly fade away. You wish them well, but you mean it more in a human then a professional sense, I imagine. “Best of luck, Justin,” means keep being a “great presence in the clubhouse” somewhere else, not “hey, you be sure to morph into superstardom now that you’ve pied your last peer.”
Mets fans don’t need much to set their insecurities aflame, so it wouldn’t take much Atchisonian success to have us slapping our foreheads yet again, convinced this always happens to us. It’s not too many steps from Omar Quintanilla telling Kevin Burkhardt, “Oh, definitely it’s sweeter to get a big hit like that against an organization that let you go” to invoking Ryan-for-Fregosi, Otis-for-Foy and both ends of Jeff Kent, coming and going.
There is another possible outcome, however. There’s the lightly considered Mets castoff who, by dint of change of scenery, attitude or instruction, transforms himself into an instant avatar of regret — but not necessarily an enduring one. He’s hitting or pitching at a fantastic pace, the Mets appear idiotic to have so carelessly abandoned him, he’s the toast of his new town…and then the guy’s luck or skill runs out. He’s injured. Or he wasn’t that good to begin with, just hot. The Mets stop seeming like idiots, at least on this count.
Let’s call this recurring phenomenon of Mets who got away but didn’t get all that far in the end our Momentary Lapse of Season Mets. To qualify for this status, the players in question had to have:
a) played mostly unspectacularly for the Mets and not for very long;
b) been deemed so superfluous that the Mets bounced them for little or nothing in return;
c) excelled so much in their new surroundings that Met brass had to answer for why they were so quick to give up on that fellow;
d) and receded from their newfound stardom almost as soon as they achieved it.
These are the kinds of situations that pain you acutely, but not endlessly. By the time the player has had his moment, you’ve moved on to stewing over some new Met-inflicted indignity — or back to interminably cursing Ryan-for-Fregosi.
MOMENTARY LAPSE OF SEASON: 1974
In the age when Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman represented a triad of unwelcome challenge to opposing batters, it wasn’t surprising that one of the pitchers who helped the Mets win a pennant in 1973 would lead the National League in ERA the following year. It was, however, stunning that the pitcher who took the title was neither Seaver, Matlack, Koosman nor anyone else wearing a Mets uniform in 1974. The man of the hour instead found himself having a wonderful life well south of Shea Stadium. You might even call his season Capraesque.
Bob Scheffing had to sort through a slew of talented arms, both established and promising, the spring after his club’s surprise appearance in the Fall Classic. The GM solved his numbers problem when he sold the man who wore No. 38 to Atlanta. The Mets received cash. The Braves uncovered gem.
For $30,000, Atlanta took professional possession of Buzz Capra and boy did they take that deal to the bank.
After three years of splitting his time between Flushing and Tidewater, Capra — whose most memorable Met moment involved Pedro Borbon taking a big, juicy bite out of his cap during the NLCS brawl of the previous October — was still fighting for a slot in St. Petersburg in the spring of ’74. When his contract was sold, his prevailing emotion was happiness. Buzz was finally going to get a chance to pitch regularly. “Every year,” he said upon the news of the sale, “I came here and I had to pitch my way onto the team. There were times I thought I should have been given the chance to have to pitch my way off the team.”
Planted like one of Joe Pignatano’s tomato plants in the bullpen as a Met, Capra parlayed a successful long-reflief effort into his first Brave start on May 19. He won a complete game. Atlanta manager Eddie Mathews gave him another chance. He threw a shutout, the second of five consecutive starts of nine innings.
On the same team as recently crowned home run king Henry Aaron and knuckleball master Phil Niekro, Buzz Capra was the one creating a stir just in time for the Mets’ mid-June visit to Atlanta Stadium. His earned run average was down to 1.18, best in the N.L. His opponent was to be none other than Tom Seaver, who was mired in the worst year of his career, toting around an ERA three times as high as Capra’s. The optics, as they’d say in the 21st century, did not favor the Mets’ ace. Tom made himself scarce for what was supposed to be a joint press conference of aces. Capra, despite expressing a twinge of retrospective disappointment about not getting enough of an opportunity on his old team, couldn’t have exuded any more happiness over his new surroundings.
“Sometimes,” he admitted, “I say, ‘What am I doing? Whatever it is, I want to keep doing it.’”
So he did.
The matchup wasn’t a great game for either pitcher (the Braves won in extras), but Capra kept on trucking from there. Yogi Berra named him to the first National League All-Star team to not include Seaver since 1966, though his old skipper did call on him to pitch in the N.L.’s traditional Midsummer Classic victory. His ERA didn’t remain microscopic, but at 2.28, it did wind up leading the league. Buzz even attracted a Cy Young vote…or one more vote than all the pitchers on the Mets’ vaunted pitching staff combined.
Thanks in great part to William Lee Capra’s 16-8 effort, the Braves enjoyed their first winning season since 1969. And without him — and with Tom Terrific going a plebian 11-11 — the Mets finished with their first losing record since 1968.
In 1975, Capra was undercut by an arm injury. He was through pitching in the majors by 1977. By then, the Mets’ lack of Tom Seaver more than obscured any stray recriminations regarding the Buzz who got away.
MOMENTARY LAPSE OF SEASON: 1994
Twenty-four years old. Lefthanded. A complete game, one-hit shutout in his fourth major league start. If you ran a major league team in dire need of hope and improvement, what would you do with someone like that?
If you were the 1994 Mets, you’d put him on waivers and heartily waive him goodbye when somebody picked him up. Sounds ridiculous nearly two decades later, but in the context of the moment, it seemed…nah, it didn’t seem like that swell a move then, either.
But you have to understand the context of the Mets’ decision to jettison a pitcher who on paper was still plethoric with promise to grasp why it wasn’t surprising to see them send Pete Schourek packing when the ’94 season was less than a week old. As with Capra, the official reason for the move was an excess of pitchers for a finite quantity of spots. There were a couple of fallen stars (Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen) at the head of the rotation and a couple of guys named Smith and Jones (Pete and Bobby) behind them. GM Joe McIlvaine’s fifth-starter choice thus came down to Schourek or another lefty, Eric Hillman.
At the time, which was directly after the fetid 1993 campaign, the impulse of the haggard Mets fan was to suggest, “Take them both…hell, take everybody.” The x-factor, though, was the manager, Dallas Green, and his intense distaste for Schourek. He didn’t exude much in the way of enthusiasm for many of his players, but the self-styled Mouth That Roared really didn’t seem to care for Pete. If Schourek had a bad outing, Green did not withhold his criticism in his postgame remarks. For example, when Schourek gave up four runs in the first third of an inning of a 5-2 loss at Atlanta, the manager reared back and flung his starter beneath the nearest Greyhound:
• “It looked like he forgot every lesson he learned in his last start.”
• “We’re down to about one guy a day not doing his job.”
• “If I don’t start Schourek, we have a 2-1 game.”
Toughlove, if that’s what it was, didn’t do Schourek any good as his 1993 concluded at 5-12 with an ERA nearly scraping six. Given those results and his skipper’s temperament, it’s little wonder Green once “sarcastically offered Schourek as a Christmas present to a group of reporters in his office,” according to the New York Times’s Jennifer Frey. Nevertheless, the Schourek-Green relationship was the gift that threatened to keep on giving as Spring Training 1994 got underway. The right things were said. Schourek, who was out of options, insisted he knew he had to do better to maintain his Mets affiliation. Green claimed the lefty had a clean slate. Pete was indeed part of the team when it arrived in Chicago to start the season.
By the time the Mets flew to Houston, however, he was off it. Before he could throw a single pitch, McIlvaine — without any objections from Green — placed Schourek on waivers to make room for reliever Doug Linton. Hillman had won Schourek’s old rotation spot and there was no desire to use the deposed starter out of the bullpen. The Reds snapped him up.
Shifted to Cincinnati, Pete Schourek flourished. Between Reds coaches revising his motion and Schourek shunning alcohol, the kid found both success and maturity: 7-2 in strike-truncated 1994 and a startling 18-7 in the 144-game 1995 season, when Pete finished second to Greg Maddux in National League Cy Young voting and 20th in MVP balloting for his role in propelling the Reds to the N.L. Central title. A WHIP that had soared to 1.660 in 1993 was down to 1.067 two years later, a figure that trailed only Atlanta’s Maddux and L.A. rookie sensation Hideo Nomo.
In the midst of his run of redemption, the onetime would-be “Christmas present” left a little something under the tabloid tree, informing the Daily News in June of ’95 that Dallas Green shouldn’t expect a holiday card from him after he was done pitching in that fall’s postseason.
“He’s an ass,” Schourek said. “You can write it. What do I care? He’s taken enough potshots at me. If you want to call him an asshole, that’s fine with me. I still don’t know why he singled me out. Maybe because I was young and I couldn’t do anything about it. [...] The guy buries me in the paper and he won’t even say ‘hi’ to me in the clubhouse. Then I’m put on waivers and it must have been the happiest day of his life because he comes over to me, and he’s smiling, shaking my hand, wishing me well.”
Guiding the Phillies to the 1980 world championship probably rated a bit higher among Dallas’s Best Days, but Schourek’s point was made. He left Green’s Mets and became one of the best pitchers in the league, while the mediocre Mets basically maintained their mediocrity through the end of Green’s tenure in August of 1996. The trajectory Pete’s career took might be better remembered as a greater Met embarrassment if 1995 was the harbinger of a career arc to come.
Unfortunately for Schourek, not only did it never get any better after he won those 18 games, it never came close to being nearly as good. Injuries hampered him to such an extent that over the next six seasons, Schourek won all of 25 games for four different teams. His final appearance came in a Red Sox uniform in 2001 at the age of 32. By decade’s end, though, he was back in Mets gear, not tutoring minor leaguers (as Capra eventually did) but suiting up as a fantasy camp coach. Not seen anywhere near St. Lucie at the time: Dallas Green.
Which was probably Schourek’s fantasy in the spring of 1994.
MOMENTARY LAPSE OF SEASON: 2001
The Mets harbored a surfeit of outfielders following their 2000 National League pennant, which wasn’t exactly the same thing as having a bounty of them. The fellows the Mets featured that October certainly got the job done under pressure, but a dispassionate reading of the Shea pasture might have indicated Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Timo Perez could stand to be supplemented by a reasonably proven-veteran type, one who had played an understated role in the club’s most recent autumnal activities, no less.
But with Agbayani, Payton and Perez on board, Darryl Hamilton continuing to recover from injury, super-versatile Joe McEwing and Lenny Harris hanging around and exotic import Tsuyoshi Shinjo attracting their roving eye, the Mets forgot all about Bubba Trammell. Almost as an afterthought to the December wheelings and dealings that brought them Shinjo, Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel, they shipped Trammel — whose seventh-inning pinch-single tied the opening game of the 2000 World Series — to San Diego for the commodity GM Steve Phillips seemed to value above all others: bullpen inventory.
The trade was Trammel, 29, for Donne Wall, 33. There was no “i” in Donne and no point to his presence on the 2001 Mets, as it turned out. The righty, who had been an effective setup man before his October 2000 shoulder surgery, pitched in 32 games as a Met. The Mets lost 28 of them, including 10 in April — 12.2 IP, 6.39 ERA — when Bobby Valentine had yet to be disabused of his confidence in the former San Diego Padre.
Reliever ERAs aren’t considered the most reliable indicators of effectiveness. Indeed, the 4.85 earned run average with which Donne finished his 2001 doesn’t begin to illustrate the full extent of his lousiness or, more charitably, his failure to truly mend from surgery. Nor does his 0-4 record. Perhaps the writing on Wall is best comprehended via his three extra-inning outings as a Met. In two of those games, he gave up the losing runs and thus took the losses. In the other, the Mets scored six in the top of the tenth at Houston and he didn’t blow it.
While Wall was helping to dig a hole from which the defending league champions would never climb out, left, center and right constituted more Mets minefield than outfield. A dozen different players shuttled in and out of three positions, none of them starting as many a hundred games. The Mets would recycle Mark Johnson, promote Darren Bragg, rush Alex Escobar and acquire Matt Lawton (for 2001 All-Star Rick Reed) to plug the holes that never quite closed…a few neon-orange moments of Shinjoy notwithstanding.
As the Flushing whirlpool swirled, Trammell was doing just fine in San Diego. He was beyond fine, actually. If he’d stayed at Shea, his season would have been the best put together by any Mets outfielder…or, really, just about anybody not named Mike Piazza. Unspectacular as a Tiger and Devil Ray and not deployed much after he was picked up by the Mets in July of 2000, Trammell started more games for the Padres than he’d ever played for anybody in a given year. Near-daily duty agreed with the soft-spoken Tennessean. His 25 home runs outpowered every Met but Piazza. His 92 RBIs were two shy of Mike’s total and 30 more than driven in by any other Met. Agbayani, Payton and Perez collected nine fewer runs batted in as a unit than Trammell did by himself.
And Steve Phillips traded him for Donne Wall.
Subtract the damage Wall did to so many late-inning Met affairs and transfer Trammell’s production back east from the Padres, and one can imagine the six games by which the Mets lost the division in 2001 dissipating in an instant. Wins Above Replacement may not work that way, but it’s difficult to not believe Bubba emerging in right and Wall remaining out of sight wouldn’t have somehow added up to a substantially better result.
No bitterness from Bubba bubbled up while he was making his former employers look like very shaky evaluators of talent. “When Steve Phillips told me I was traded,” he said that August, “he told me it would be a better fit for me this year. I’m happy he gave me the opportunity to get to play. Maybe I wasn’t going to get the opportunity there.”
Everybody else did, so, yeah, he probably would have. The man who joked he’d play for free if he was guaranteed 500 at-bats translated his 546 plate appearances in 2001 into an enormous raise for 2002. Alas, with a starting job locked up, Bubba took the field for San Diego the next April and slumped. While Mets fans sorted through the accumulating wreckage of their team’s first last-place season in nine years, Trammell hit eight fewer homers and drove in 36 fewer runs. His major league journey took him back to New York by the spring of 2003, traded by the Padres to the Yankees for Rondell White. He DH’d briefly to no great effect before leaving the team without warning after complaining Joe Torre wasn’t playing him enough.
Trammell eventually acknowledged a battle with depression. He bounced among a few different organizations between 2004 and 2007, but never made it back to the big leagues. This past September, he reappeared in the news following an allegedly nasty “domestic incident” in Tennessee.
MOMENTARY LAPSE OF SEASON: 2007
The New York Mets who were about to take the National League East by storm in 2006 were 1-0 when Willie Randolph handed the ball to a rookie righthander about to make the first appearance of his major league career. Soon enough, the Mets would be rolling toward their first division title in 18 years and the rookie would be holding down a spot in their rotation.
Then April ended. Things were never quite the same for Brian Bannister again.
Four starts in, Bannister — the son of a major leaguer himself — had collected two victories and looked progressively sharper, earning his place among Pedro Martinez and T#m Gl@v!ne on the team that took control of first place the first week of the season and never let it go. The fifth start, however, was the bad-luck charm in Bannister’s Met tenure. In the top of the sixth of a 3-3 game at San Francisco, Brian helped his own cause, doubling with one out (it was his fourth hit of the young season). One out later, Kaz Matsui doubled, too, but Bannister’s trip home was no jog in AT&T Park. As he carried the tiebreaking run around third, the pitcher pulled his right hamstring and left the game after scoring.
The next time he pitched for the Mets was almost exactly four months later. By then, the team had all but sewn up its division flag and Bannister had been surpassed on the pitching depth chart by just about everybody in creation. Two token relief appearance were all he’d muster in September and he wouldn’t see the postseason roster.
That December, perhaps taking a cue from his mentor Phillips, GM Omar Minaya sought to shore up the never quite stable Mets bullpen by sending the cerebral 25-year-old to Kansas City for Ambiorix Burgos, the possessor of a promising 22-year-old power arm. Minaya envisioned Burgos, who definitely threw harder than Bannister, as a potentially devastating member of the army of setup men who would construct a sturdy bridge from the starting pitcher to closer Billy Wagner.
Burgos pitched in 17 games for the 2007 Mets, none after May 26. He was sent down to New Orleans to make room for Guillermo Mota, who was returning from a PED-related suspension. The youngster eventually went in for Tommy John surgery that kept him from the majors in 2008. While not pitching for the Mets that September, Burgos was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. There’d be more legal troubles ahead, culminating in charges of kidnapping and attempted murder in his native Dominican Republic in 2010. His pitching career was over.
Bannister, meanwhile, joined the Royals’ rotation in late April of 2007 and seemed to pick up where he left off that fateful day in San Francisco one year earlier. By early September of ’07, when the Mets were on their way nailing down their second consecutive division crown, he sported a 12-7 record for also-ran Kansas City, his ERA bottoming out at 3.16. By year’s end, he had impressed American League beat writers enough to finish third in A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting…an honor for which he still qualified given that his shot on the 2006 Mets had been so drastically abbreviated by injury.
From the East Coast, Bannister’s breakout campaign in the middle of the country looked awfully useful as the Mets found themselves juggling starting pitchers through the late summer and early fall. As they resorted to the likes of journeyman Brian Lawrence and unready rookie Phil Humber, the Mets discovered their October plans were far more wobbly than they could have dreamed. In what became known instantly as The Greatest Collapse In Baseball History, the 2007 Mets leaked a seven-game lead with seventeen to play and missed the playoffs completely. They have yet to return.
Bannister was good for a 2.8 WAR in 2007. Burgos’s two months produced a 0.2 in this advanced statistical metric, though it is far more tempting and probably just as accurate to say his time as a Met was good for nothing. The Mets finished one game behind the Phillies. Maybe an untraded Bannister would have made the difference between a close but successful finish and The Greatest Collapse In Baseball History.
Brian Bannister didn’t go down in the upper tier of “what were they thinking?” annals probably because his 2007 was never equaled. The Royals thought they had finally avenged Cone-for-Hearn when Brian spurted to a 3-0 start (0.86 ERA) in April of 2008. By year’s end, however, that sparkle had faded. Bannister concluded his second season in Kansas City 9-16, allowing 5.76 earned runs per nine innings in the process. From ’08 to ’10, he was a 23-40 pitcher and his ERA of 5.58 suggested that unlike his hamstring giving out on him, his fate wasn’t the product of bad luck. He planned to try his hand with the Yomiuri Giants, but the effect of the tsunami and earthquake that struck Japan in March of 2011 changed his mind. Barely turned 30, Brian Bannister retired from baseball.
“To the world,” Bannister once told a reporter for a Christian newspaper, “we’re judged completely based on our numbers out on the field, but there’s a higher power up there looking and judging us by who we are and what we’re doing on the inside.”
In that vein, perhaps the ultimately transient sting of the transactions that rendered Capra, Schourek, Trammell and Bannister excellent ex-Mets for only a limited time is evidence of that supposed higher power’s capacity for forgiveness of general-managerial malpractice. It wouldn’t explain Foy-for-Otis, but you can’t have everything in this world.
I clearly remember Bob Murphy opening the broadcast of September 27, 1998, from Atlanta by expressing his conviction that “there are days in your life…and this is one of them.” Made all the sense in the world to me. Too bad the Mets didn’t receive his message. They went out on that most urgent of days, which required a win to remain alive in their playoff chase, and lost.
Alas, some days in our lives are better than other days. Some days deserve to be upper-cased into Days. There’s Opening Day, of course, on which the Mets have won a baseball game almost every year since 1970. There’s Closing Day, an occasion I haven’t missed since 1995. There’s Hump Day…guess what the Mets’ record was on Hump Day in 2013…guess what their record WAS (12-12: not stuck behind the hump but not really over it, either). The Mets’ very first game — 4/11/1962 — was played on a Hump Day. The Mets’ very first division title — 9/24/1969 — was clinched on a Hump Day. The Mets’ most recent postseason victory — 10/18/2006 — was attained on a Hump Day.
Do not underestimate Hump Day.
There was Montreal Expo Boots Day, whose 1972 Topps card I’m pretty sure I’m still getting every time I open a pack. There was latter-day Montreal Expo Zach Day, who won four of five career decisions against the Mets. There was actress Laraine Day, whose marriage to Leo Durocher lent an extra dollop of glamour to the final decade of the New York Giants.
If you’ve watched your Mets Yearbooks carefully, you know not just about Banner Day and Helmet Day but Dairylea Day and Variety Day. If you go way back, you might remember that it was on Rheingold Day in 1963 that Homer the beagle, the Mets’ first furry mascot, set out to run the bases only to forget to touch third; he romped directly from second base, over the mound, and into the waiting arms of his trainer at home plate, a trick even Marvelous Marv Throneberry never tried with Gus Mauch. Or perhaps you recall Thanks Rusty Day in 1986 when the pending world champs honored their recently retired comrade by donning orange fright wigs and visors bearing the logo of Rusty’s restaurant. As day turns inevitably into night, you can’t beat the Day portion of the day-night doubleheader of June 27, 2008: Mets 15 Yankees 6, Carlos Delgado driving in a team-record nine runs.
Ontario’s own Bryan Adams referred to the summer of ’69 as “the best Days of my life,” and he wasn’t as much as summering in the Hamptons that year. Those were the Days — Mary Hopkin (and perhaps Bobby Pfeil) thought “they’d never end.” And let us not forget how we were “so in phase,” not to mention “cool on craze” in our “dance hall Days” a good two years before Wang Chung turned their attention to the fun everybody should be having tonight but right in step with when the Shea craze of hanging K’s for Dwight Gooden was clearly in phase.
Add to these very special Days a subset of much of more recent vintage. Put a circle around them and pray, secularly or otherwise, for their eventual return circa April 2015. We can’t have them in 2014. We reveled in them in 2013. All 27 of them as taken together were the best Days of our year.
Our Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2013 — the award bestowed to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or in this case transcends the year in Metsdom — is Harvey Day. Amid the muck of five muddled months when one week felt pretty much like another (and the season as a whole resembled far too strongly those directly preceding it), Harvey Day was a Day in a league of its own.
New York Mets baseball in the post-Shea era has been an stubbornly tepid affair. Harvey Day, though, ran hot every time its number came up. It was a phenomenon that felt unprecedented in franchise history. The Mets had sent to mounds excellent pitchers before. Tom Seaver authored one of the great pitching careers of all-time from his Roosevelt Avenue office. Dwight Gooden crafted one of the great pitching seasons ever (and was known to electrify his share of Friday nights). R.A. Dickey gave great narrative.
But who before Matthew Edward Harvey ever had his own Day? And how is it we all knew from the get-go to observe Harvey Day as a shared civic celebration?
Matt Harvey was promoted to the big leagues in July 2012. He started 10 games. His performance was very promising and tugged at the Mets fan imagination to conceive of what might be in 2013. Still, I don’t remember any of his rookie starts being granted Day status. Yet come April 3 of this year, it was as explicit as it was viral. It was Harvey Day, the first of not quite enough to come but plenty to gorge on anyway.
Harvey Days: the feast days for the Mets fan soul. Let’s pick at the succulent leftovers and hope they sustain us until the kitchen’s open again.
HARVEY DAY THE 1ST: April 3 vs. San Diego
So damn cold (44 degrees). So damn windy (21 MPH). So damn doesn’t matter this…whaddaya know…Hump Day. The first seven pitches produced seven Friars swinging through these December-like conditions. All those Padres bats did, though, was contribute to the wind chill. Matt Harvey’s first three innings were perfect. The next four were close enough. The scoreboard generated a SEVEN NATION HARVEY graphic that wouldn’t be seen again this year. The sound system repeatedly blared the U2/Jay-Z mashup of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Matt’s entrance tune of choice, whenever he ended an inning in strikeout style. That would be heard a lot as 2013 wore on. In all, Harvey threw seven innings, struck out ten, heated the frigid Citi Field night with a 97-MPH fastball that set up an 8-4 victory and allowed two walks and one single…or as many singles as he accounted for batting. The pitcher did not accept an additional layer of clothing when he became a baserunner. “I like to play baseball, and, in my mind, a jacket doesn’t belong on a baseball field.” In our minds, Matt Harvey (1-0) belonged at the front end of all pitching conversations.
HARVEY DAY THE 2ND: April 8 at Philadelphia
It’s the first hint of a showdown in Harvey’s young career: the phenom takes on an old master. Roy Halladay, however, is not physically up to the task this Monday. He gets rocked. Harvey rocks on: another seven innings, another nine strikeouts, another victory (7-2) to place aside an ERA that checks in at 0.64. “When you face Doc,” Matt says of his Cy Young-certified competition, “it’s something special.” We’re assuming that’s a line other pitchers will be spouting in deference to Harvey soon enough.
HARVEY DAY THE 3RD: April 13 at Minnesota
What could warm a Mets fan’s heart more than a Saturday afternoon in April in Minneapolis? As long as you weren’t actually sitting at Target Field, this 35-degree Harvey Day was the hottest stuff yet. Matt no-hit the Twins through six innings. It was an erstwhile Minnesotan that removed “first no-hitter” from the Metropolitan bucket list, but still, who wouldn’t want Harvey to also achieve the heretofore purely fantastical feat in his 13th major league outing? Well, Terry Collins could have done without the question shifting from theoretical to pressing given his pitch-count anxieties with Johan Santana the previous June 1. It never became an issue in this 4-2 win once Justin Morneau shot a slider off the right field foul pole with two out in the seventh. Matt wound up going eight, giving up two hits, walking two and moving with ease to 3-0. As for failing to pitch the second no-hitter in New York Mets history, Harvey promised, “I’ll be pushing for another one.”
HARVEY DAY THE 4TH: April 19 vs. Washington
If he wasn’t exactly baseball’s best-kept secret before the Mets returned from their Arctic World Tour (a.k.a. Minnesota and Colorado), this Friday night at Citi Field marked Matt Harvey’s no-turning-back coming out party. It kind of did the same for Citi Field itself, which had never much threw off sparks for a ballgame whose stakes weren’t evident going in (R.A. Dickey’s 20th) or coming out (Santana’s no-hitter). Tonight, the Citi did not sleep. Starting for the visitors was Stephen Strasburg, the Matt Harvey of 2010. A paid attendance announced reasonably accurately at 26,675 responded to the matchup the way Mets fans always did at Shea when trying to change perceptions. They let Strasburg know he wasn’t all that — and that Matt Harvey surely was. Harvey’s seven four-hit, three-walk, one-run innings were fairly par for the course (save for a rare bases-loaded jam from which he wriggled with minimal scarring). The crowd, however, was off the charts. Somewhere in the sixth, as the Mets were providing Harvey insurance runs, Strasburg was informed that despite his reputation and slightly longer résumé, “HARVEY’S BETTER!” It was repeated relentlessly for emphasis, as if a spiritual successor to 1969’s “GOODBYE LEO!” had been uncovered. Harvey, 4-0 with an ERA still bubbling under one, was indeed better, at least in this 7-1 Metropolitan conquest of the Nationals. Based on early returns, he shaped up as the best pitcher and potentially the brightest star in the entire sport. “It was nice,” was how the kid from Connecticut downplayed his entrance into the Strasburgian stratosphere, cautioning, “We’ve got a long way to go.” Every Mets fan sure as hell hoped so.
HARVEY DAY THE 5TH: April 24 vs. Los Angeles
Harvey Day was now officially A Thing. The Mets made it so with their first Mattcentric ticket offer: $45 for a left field Field Level ticket and a t-shirt imploring the stadium to STAND UP FOR HARVEY. Alas, it was a Wednesday night more suited to bundling up for warmth. Matt left on the losing side of a 3-1 score after six. It was the first game of 2013 when he wasn’t lights out, yet he held the Dodgers mostly in abeyance until the sixth when Matt Kemp took him deep. Even when not at his most effective, Harvey struck out seven in six, or as he put it to reporters afterwards, “In my mind, I sucked. And I have to be better.” It was a callback to every start of his rookie year when anything less than a perfect game galled the kid. As it happened, Harvey learned baseball’s a team game. David Wright took him off the hook with a game-tying single in the ninth and Jordany Valdespin made the Mets 7-3 winners on a walkoff grand slam in the tenth.
HARVEY DAY THE 6TH: April 29 at Miami
Superman meet Kryptonite. For reasons unknown to science, Matt Harvey had more trouble against the Miami Marlins than any other team in 2013. He threw 121 pitches, he didn’t make it out of the sixth and he gave up seven hits in the process of not devouring the fifth-place Fish. Yet, because he was Harvey and this was 2013, he left with a 2-1 lead. There would be no Monday night win for either the pitcher or the team, however, as the Marlins forged a ninth-inning comeback and outlasted the Mets in fifteen. Kryptonite couldn’t fully take super Matt’s measure, however. For his collected work across six April starts — 4-0, 1.56 ERA, 46 SO in 40.1 IP — Harvey was named the National League Pitcher of the Month. Nobody could be heard crying for a recount.
HARVEY DAY THE 7TH: May 7 vs. Chicago (A.L.)
If April amounted to a month of Harvey Days, what would May bring? Near flawlessness, it seemed one week in, whether judged by his budding romance with international supermodel Anne Vyalitsina or his first home Interleague start. The White Sox’ first-ever visit to face the Mets in Flushing flirted with monumental. It wound up settling for epic. Twenty batters wearing Chicago uniforms came up, twenty batters went down. Then, with two out in the seventh, Alex Rios grounded a ball deep to Ruben Tejada’s right. He got to it, he threw it to first and…it wasn’t quite in time. One stinking infield hit marred nine otherwise spotless innings. There were no other hits. There were no walks or errors or hit batsmen. Just Rios left to rot on first after he broke up what seemed destined to become the First Perfect Game in New York Mets History. It didn’t occur, yet Harvey kept on happening. The next Sock up, Adam Dunn, swung and missed on a one-two pitch to end the seventh and thus turn Rios into the Sox’ only LOB of the night and himself into Harvey’s tenth Tuesday K. When regulation was over, Matt had a dozen strikeouts and absolutely no runs scored on his behalf (Jersey native and Mets fan Hector Santiago was pretty sharp in his own right for Chicago). But he was deemed done after 105 pitches of the 0-0 battle. One tidy Bobby Parnell inning of relief allowed Mike Baxter to drive in the winning score in the tenth. Harvey’s ND, however, was the game’s and probably the season’s signature accomplishment. To find a more all-around overwhelming nine-inning Met starting pitcher performance, per Bill James’ Game Score metric, you had to reach back to October 6, 1991, when David Cone struck out 19 Phillies. To find a pitcher with as many as 125 strikeouts and no more than 25 earned runs in his first 17 career starts, per Elias, you could look only to Harvey. He was proving unprecedented in his dominance. Even the pitcher’s chronic self-criticism was curbed for an evening. “Obviously,” Matt said, “everything was working.”
HARVEY DAY THE 8TH: May 12 vs. Pittsburgh
Harvey’s stupendous story had to share baseball-narrative space with that of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were making their own slice of history in 2013, aiming for their first winning season in 21 years. On this Sunday afternoon, their tale took precedence, with a 3-2 victory earned against Scott Rice. After going 4-0 in his first four starts, Matt had suddenly been left no-decisioned in his next four. He certainly kept his team in the game, going seven and allowing only two runs, but it was his first outing of the year that verged on the ordinary; even his struggle against the Marlins was noteworthy for showing how good he could be was when he wasn’t that great. It was also the first time that Mets fans had a different storyline than Harvey Day to consider as their man pitched. This was the weekend when Valdespin homered and hot-dogged in a blowout loss (Friday), was plunked with the Mets’ implicit blessing in another blowout loss (Saturday) and let it be known he wasn’t too happy with any of it. For what it was worth, Harvey, without making a big whoop of it, let a pitch get away and hit the Bucs’ Michael McKenry in the fourth inning Sunday.
HARVEY DAY THE 9TH: May 17 at Chicago (N.L.)
The Sports Illustrated cover hex is one of athletics’ most cherished myths. Matt Harvey became one of its most authoritative debunkers immediately after fronting the May 20 issue (where he was dubbed “The Dark Knight of Gotham,” giving him a second nickname on top of “The Real Deal,” which was coined within an enthusiastic @DocGooden16 tweet). Harvey’s first post-cover start was also his first visit to Wrigley, and after a rough first inning — three consecutive hits culminating in two Cub runs — he essentially tangled his opponents in ivy across a lively Friday afternoon on the Near North Side. Matt made it to one out in the eighth by giving up only two more singles; he nursed a 3-2 lead he himself built with a tie-breaking RBI in the seventh. It was classic “helped his own cause” stuff and, combined with the old saw about getting to a great pitcher early or not at all, it stood up for Harvey’s fifth win against zero losses. “This guy,” Collins emphasized by way of understatement, “is different.”
HARVEY DAY THE 10TH: May 22 vs. Cincinnati
A two-run third-inning blast from Joey Votto was a bad sign. A string of three singles in the seventh could have been fatal. It wasn’t Harvey Day like it oughta be this Wednesday afternoon, yet the Mets battled back just enough to keep their ace out of the loss column. The eventual 7-4 defeat went on Parnell’s ledger. Still, there were uncommon quantities of runs (four) and hits (nine) charged to Harvey. “It was not like they crushed him,” said catcher John Buck. And it’s not like they beat him, either…but Harvey Day had seen better days.
HARVEY DAY THE 11TH: May 28 vs. New York (A.L.)
Matt Harvey’s childhood favorites provided the opposition in the second game of the revamped weeknight Subway Series. The fuss that had become customary when the 24-year-old righty was growing up in awe of the other New York team had receded, yet as the abbreviated home half of the four-game intracity tussle ensued, the not quite 32,000 on hand this Tuesday understand what the current wave of hype was all about. Harvey was magnificent in defusing the Bombers: six mostly scattered singles, ten strikeouts, no walks. Matt left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, trailing 1-0. On came one of the stalwarts from Harvey’s era of Yankee-rooting, Mariano Rivera, making his final regular-season Citi Field appearance. In a shock to the Subway Series system (even if something like it had happened a couple of times before), the great Rivera found himself up against the third rail of the Met lineup in the ninth. Daniel Murphy doubled, Wright singled and Lucas Duda singled. Within nine pitches of entering the game, Rivera was the loser; the Mets, en route to a four-game, two-stadium sweep, were 2-1 winners; and, with the Empire State Building about to be bathed in orange and blue, Harvey — his ERA down to 1.85, his strikeouts up to 84 after 78 innings — was entitled to stand as tall as the recently topped-out One World Trade Center.
HARVEY DAY THE 12TH: June 2 at Miami
“I wish we could score some more runs while he’s out there and get him some wins,” David Wright said of Matt Harvey when Harvey had to accept a sixth no-decision in seven starts after the Yankee game. Well, the Mets put six on the board for Matt in five innings at Miami in his next start. And Harvey left as the pitcher of record on the winning side, leading 6-4. But all the Mets’ hitters and all the Mets’ runs couldn’t put a win together this Sunday. The bullpen fell apart, leading to an 11-6 Met loss, but honestly, Harvey couldn’t complain about this W getting away. When you give up four runs, ten hits and two walks in five innings, an ND — especially against your mystifyingly vexing 16-41 nemesis — doesn’t look so bad. “I’m not happy about the start at all,” Harvey declared after his ERA rose over two for the first time all year (never to dip into the ones again). “I’m excited to face them again on Friday.”
HARVEY DAY THE 13TH: June 8 vs. Miami
Matt gained an extra day of rest for this Saturday afternoon start thanks to a Friday night deluge. He and everybody else would need it, for a long day’s work awaited both the Mets and Marlins. The anticipated Harvey-Jose Fernandez duel of young guns was scintillating enough, as both flamethrowers doused their share of batters. The only run Harvey permitted scored on a sac fly in the fourth, tying the matinee at one. That’s where the score would stay for roughly an eternity. The Mets and Marlins went to extras and then some more extras and then sent out for even more extras. The 1-1 game reached a 20th inning, becoming the Mets’ longest home contest since the Cardinals topped them in 25 in 1974. Same basic result here. The Marlins pushed across a second run in the top of the 20th and the Mets couldn’t respond. Easy to forget following six hours and twenty-five minutes of, uh, action was Harvey’s line — 7 IP, 6 H, 6 SO — and that he left in the eighth when he felt a touch of tightness on the right side of his lower back. It was physically discomfiting for Harvey and definitely made the 20,000 who watched him exit uneasy, but ultimately it was a blip in the pitcher’s season, which continued on schedule six days hence.
HARVEY DAY THE 14TH: June 13 vs. St. Louis
The morning’s forecast suggested the game wouldn’t be played. But the only rain Citi Field experienced this Thursday afternoon was when Matt Harvey’s record was dampened for the first time in 2013. He pitched fine for seven innings: one run on five hits and a walk. Adam Wainwright simply pitched better. During a period when the Mets weren’t hitting against anybody, this was not an ideal moment to run into somebody else’s ace. The Mets tried to bail out their man one more time — Marlon Byrd homered with one out in the ninth to cut their deficit to 2-1 and Buck doubled behind him — but there was neither a win nor no-decision to be had for Matt Harvey. He’d have to live with a 5-1 mark…though he didn’t have to like it. “Today I needed to go out and put up seven zeroes,” he insisted, “and I wasn’t able to do that.”
HARVEY DAY THE 15TH: June 18 at Atlanta
The quest for perfection or something very much like it resumed in the first half of a day-night doubleheader when Harvey was determined to live up to his lofty standards. While Zack Wheeler waited in the wings to make his major league debut at Turner Field, the relatively old pro whose success he’d be attempting to emulate set to quieting chops, chants and bats. Two walks in the third were it by way of Brave baserunners and Matt mistakes for six innings. Staked to a 2-0 lead, the sophomore sensation — was this really only his 25th career start? — had Mets fans once more sitting on the Santanian edge of their seats. This particular dream died on a Jason Heyward trickler up the first base line that Harvey fielded and threw to, as it turned out, nobody. Lucas Duda wasn’t in position to cover, but his faux pas went down as a Heyward hit. Oh well, whaddayagonna do? Why, construct a strike ’em out/throw ’em out double play against the next batter, Freddie Freeman (who broke Dillon Gee’s heart the night before with a walkoff home run). A slightly deflated Harvey exited amid a messy eighth, but by then, the Mets led 4-0, their cushion just plump enough to safely preserve a 4-3 win when it was over. Matt moved to 6-1 with his 13-strikeout gem. “He has electric stuff,” Dan Uggla marveled, adding his voice to an amen corner loaded with opposing hitters who couldn’t touch the man on the mound. When Wheeler earned his first win the night half of the twinbill, it was easy to squint and see a Mets team coming together not just for a Super Tuesday but for a helluva long time.
HARVEY DAY THE 16TH: June 23 at Philadelphia
Can six shutout innings in which only three runners reach base be described as routine? For Matt Harvey this Sunday at Citizens Bank, it was very much business as usual, with the Phillies serving as his anti-Marlins; by year’s end, he’d have faced them five times in his brief career and allowed but four earned runs over 33.1 innings. The only element that got in Harvey’s way was precipitation. A rain delay of 20 minutes was enough to nudge him into the clubhouse after 72 pitches. It had been learned earlier in the week that Harvey was pretty indomitable there, too. In 2012, it was now being reported, reliever Jon Rauch — 6’ 11” and dripping tattoos — attempted to haze/bully/intimidate his rookie teammate with a bucket of ice water to the body; Harvey had been napping, and it wasn’t a good idea to wake him so coldly. Paying no obeisance to Rauch’s veteran status never mind his seven-inch height advantage, Harvey challenged him to fight on the spot. Rauch didn’t accept. He wasn’t a Met after 2012. Anyway, with the Mets up 6-0, Collins figured a little rest couldn’t hurt, and indeed, the Mets cruised to an 8-0 victory, cranking Harvey’s record to 7-1. The All-Star break loomed two weeks away, but it didn’t seem likely Matt would have too many of those days off.
HARVEY DAY THE 17TH: June 28 vs. Washington
Harveysteria had provided an every-fifth-day oasis for Mets fans as the first half of 2013 groaned on, but after a grueling four-city, three-time zone road trip, something unforeseen was developing: the Mets were actually playing pretty well. Starting with Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s Father’s Day blast that stunned Carlos Marmol and the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, the club took off on a legitimate roll, winning eight of twelve as they returned to Citi Field to face the Nationals. Hell, if you tracked back to May 26, you’d discover the Mets had carved the division’s best record. Why? Eric Young, Jr., picked up from Colorado in exchange for Collin McHugh, stepped in as the leadoff hitter and left fielder the Mets had been missing all season. Marlon Byrd manned right beyond all expectations and re-established his offensive bona fides. David Wright was every bit the All-Star the Mets were promoting him to be. Key contributions were chipped in by everybody from Shawn Marcum to Josh Satin. And topping it off at the beginning of an eight-game homestand was the first Harvey Day of the year that packed just a shade of competitive implication. Maybe the fourth-place Mets wouldn’t go anywhere in this year’s playoff hunt, but they trailed the supposedly mighty Nats by only 5½ games for second. The pieces were in place to allow a Mets fan to dream moderately big. How did the ace respond? By registering 99 MPH on the radar gun and retiring the first 14 batters he faced. The string was snapped when Ian Desmond tagged him for a solo home run that knotted the score at one in the fifth, but Byrd and Satin responded immediately, driving in a run apiece to hand Harvey a 3-1 lead. The manager rode his starter for seven innings, 109 pitches, 11 strikeouts and three hits. After three months, Matt Harvey toted an earned run average of exactly 2.00, the best in the league. Then Collins went to his bullpen, which was where this Friday night affair went to die, 6-4. The Mets never did catch the Nationals.
HARVEY DAY THE 18TH: July 3 vs. Arizona
A sellout crowd befitting the industry’s most pulsating success story showed up on a soggy Wednesday night (first pitch was pushed back nearly two hours by rain), though to be accurate about it, the promise of postgame fireworks probably spurred sales quite a lot. Either way, more than 41,000 jammed Citi Field to watch Matt Harvey’s explosive fastball sparkle. They got nine strikeouts from their live right arm but the outing was more grit than greatness until it grew gruesome. Harvey was one out from escaping the sixth with a 2-0 edge when former Florida Marlin and lingering canker sore Cody Ross lofted a fly ball to left that refused to stay in the park. Three runs scored and the evening lost its festive edge. Matt started the seventh by surrendering a walk, a single and a double to give the Diamondbacks a fourth run. Thus ended Matt Harvey’s first Fireworks Night in a fizzle, the Snakes hissing away with a 5-3 decision. At the exact midpoint of the season, Harvey had just experienced his second loss.
HARVEY DAY THE 19TH: July 8 at San Francisco
The Mets were making a habit of playing extraordinarily lengthy games and Matt Harvey (who pinch-bunted in a thirteenth inning against Arizona) seemed to start the longest of them. He was on the mound the night the Marlins beat the Mets in fifteen and the afternoon the Marlins beat the Mets in twenty. Getting Matt away from the Marlins was always helpful, but they weren’t the only team that kept the Mets on the clock. What had begun out west as a battle between pitchers with premier reputations — Harvey against Tim Lincecum — didn’t end until sixteen innings and almost five-and-a-half hours were put into Howie Rose’s books. For a change, the marathoning Mets won one of these insomniacs’ delights, taking a 4-3 decision from the struggling San Franciscans, though the efforts of the starters were obscured by the extended circumstances. Harvey and Lincecum combined for 17 K’s (11 of them Timmy’s) in their six innings apiece, but they did not come close to replicating the mano-a-mano mound duel between Giant Juan Marichal and Brave Warren Spahn when their teams went sixteen at Candlestick 50 years and five days earlier. Those fellas each pitched complete games by the Bay, Spahn’s ending when Willie Mays took him deep to end the evening, 1-0. Terry Collins would sooner have thrown himself into McCovey Cove than try anything remotely like that with Matt Harvey.
HARVEY DAY THE 20TH: July 16 vs. American League All-Stars
“The All-Star Game’s not on my mind,” Harvey declared in early July when questioned about what seemed his inevitable assignment. The Mets were hosting for the first time since 1964. They had one of the best if not the absolute best pitcher in captivity on their roster. On July 6, his inclusion on the National League team was made official. All that remained to be clarified was whether Matt would be available to take the ball. The Mets’ schedule lined up to have Harvey start the final game before the break in Pittsburgh, but there wasn’t a chance in the world that was going to happen. Despite a touch of tut-tutting from the professional naysayers who saw fit to note the All-Star Game was no more than an exhibition, Terry Collins temporarily expanded his rotation to six men, gave long reliever Carlos Torres a turn against the Buccos, and “rested” Harvey just enough so that he’d be ready should Bruce Bochy want to use him for a couple of innings in Queens.
The dominoes fell perfectly. Bochy, whose call it became when he led his Giants to the 2012 World Series, named Harvey the National League starter for the 2013 All-Star Game. “Harvey had a great first half,” the defending champion skipper said. “This is Citi Field. It’s great for baseball and great for the fans of this club that he is the guy,” adding “it wouldn’t have mattered what city we were playing with the year he’s had.” Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (the Giants’ archrivals) owned an ERA 0.37 lower than Harvey’s at the time of Bochy’s choosing and a longer record of accomplishment. The former Cy Young winner wasn’t thrilled at the de facto coronation taking place under his nose. “It hurts,” he said of Bochy implicitly dismissing his outstanding season. “Yeah, it hurts.”
The high-fives of Mets fans resounded too loudly for Kershaw’s protestations to be picked up anywhere but Los Angeles. A year earlier, the consensus was R.A. Dickey was deprived of a well-earned All-Star start in Kansas City that went instead, at Tony LaRussa’s behest, to Matt Cain. The space between Julys had altered the landscape. LaRussa was fully ensconced in retirement; Dickey had been traded to Toronto for what boiled down to a blend of payroll savings and future considerations (a segment of which had been on display at the Sunday Futures Game when Blue Jay import/Binghamton Met Noah Syndergaard showed off his tantalizing right arm); and a 2012 Buffalo Bisons stood square at the center of the baseball universe, tabbed to do what only Tom Seaver in 1970 and Dwight Gooden in 1986 and 1988 had done as Mets.
How fast did he come along? So fast that Jimmy Fallon could hand an unidentified Matt Harvey a microphone and send him and a camera crew into Bryant Park to ask passersby for their thoughts on this “Matt Harvey” person. Most everybody seemed to know who the guy in question was, even if they didn’t recognize their interrogator as that guy. Perhaps the problem was the pitcher’s choice of apparel. Most folks had seen him only in No. 33 and/or nothing at all, the latter attributable to his appearance in ESPN: The Magazine’s annual body issue (where athletes’ bodies were photographed but their uniforms weren’t). The consensus of the fan in the street was Harvey — wherever he was — was outstanding. A discouraging word, however, was picked up at the end of the bit.
HARVEY: What do you think of Matt Harvey?
DISSENTER: I think he’s decent, but he hasn’t proved enough. He’s only gone a couple of months now.
HARVEY: What kind of advice would you give him if he was standing right here next to you?
DISSENTER: I would tell him not to blow his arm out and not to go too many innings, not to go over a hundred, pitchwise.
HARVEY: That’s great advice. Do you think he’ll start the All-Star Game?
DISSENTER: Uh, no.
HARVEY: You don’t. Who do you think will start?
DISSENTER: Uh…Kershaw, I think.
HARVEY: You think Kershaw will? He’s a great pitcher. Well, we appreciate your time. Thanks.
HARVEY: I’m Matt Harvey, by the way.
The baseball, media and Late Night spotlight all converged on Harvey so that by the time he threw his final warmup to Yadier Molina in the Tuesday twilight, America was primed to meet the wonder. Captain Wright had served as the ambassador of local goodwill throughout the festivities and Legend Seaver was introduced with a minimum of fanfare to offer first-pitch benediction, but going into the first Flushing-flavored All-Star Game in 49 years, it was Matt Harvey who drew the primary attention of the camera phones.
The seventh overall pick of the 2010 amateur draft — Omar Minaya’s final No. 1 selection as Mets general manager — was, three years later, the starting pitcher for the National League All-Star team. Could you blame him for being pumped? For being so pumped that inside his first three pitches he allowed a double down the right field line to the Angels’ Mike Trout and hit the Yankees’ Robinson Cano’s right leg? After all the excitement, reality set in: two on, nobody out, the consensus best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera, coming to bat.
Harvey calmed down and conquered all. He struck out the Tiger who had been slashing at an 1.132 rate. He skied Oriole Chris Davis and his 37 home runs to Bryce Harper in center. And he fanned the Jays’ Jose Bautista. One inning later, he converted David Ortiz, Adam Jones and Joe Mauer into a flyout, a 98-MPH strikeout and a lineout, respectively.
Thirty-two pitches, twenty-two strikes, the sense as he finished his mandated two innings that if Bochy let him stick around that the American League would regret not having gotten to him in the first. He and his counterpart Max Scherzer were many pitchers removed by the time the 3-0 A.L. win went final — by then Mariano Rivera’s Midsummer Classic swan song had become the night’s vital statistic — but Matt Harvey definitely made an impression…and vice-versa.
“Once I got out there,” the pitcher said of his All-Star surroundings, “I felt great. I felt like I was home.”
HARVEY DAY THE 21ST: July 21 vs. Philadelphia
In his return to the grind, Matt Harvey continued to shine. On the first Sunday after the break at Citi Field, where Doc Gooden bobbleheads were handed out and designated tickets were marked down 30% in deference to the three American Leaguers Harvey struck out Tuesday, Matt displayed stellar form. He outshone fellow All-Star Cliff Lee (who had glared for a national TV audience when Mets fans greeted his Phillieness none too kindly) and set down his patsies per usual. Philadelphia batters rustled up only three hits in seven innings, failed to walk or score and went down swinging or looking ten times. One of Harvey’s fastballs in the 5-0 win that raised his record to 8-2 measured triple-digits on the home radar gun. Yet somehow Matt was an angry young man afterward, complaining that a profile in the current Men’s Journal had made him out to be something of a jerk. In the article, he waxed philosophical about drinking, dating, dollars and Derek Jeter. There are probably a couple of other d-words that could be mixed in there as well. “The way I was portrayed,” Harvey insisted, “is not who I am.” Hence, he pitched with a little extra fire that Sunday, leaving the Phils singed in the process.
HARVEY DAY THE 22ND: July 26 at Washington
Harvey’s second day-night doubleheader assignment of the year came on the back end this time. The day portion belonged to Jenrry Mejia, emerging from injury rehabilitation to make a startling 2013 debut. Mejia shut out the Nationals over seven innings and the Mets came away with an 11-0 thumping of the defending divisional champs in the matinee. Since June 16, they were a 22-14 club and had crept within two of Washington for second. At seven below .500, progress was all relative, but the Mets of this moment were a better baseball team than they’d been all season…and they had Matt Harvey pitching the nightcap. Sure enough, the ace went eight innings and didn’t give up an earned run, striking out seven along the way. But a lone Washington tally did manage to sneak through on a Daniel Murphy miscue in the fourth, leaving Matt no-decisioned. The 1-1 tie was blown up in the bottom of the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman belted the game-winning home run off LaTroy Hawkins. While Harvey remained 8-2, the Mets unknowingly commenced the closing stretch of their season in familiar fashion. From their apogee of 46-53 between games of the doubleheader, the Mets would fall to 74-88 by campaign’s end.
HARVEY DAY THE 23RD: August 1 at Miami
Five one-hit innings. Then the pumpkins changed back into Marlins. At Marlins Park in 2013 that generally meant bad news for the Mets. This Thursday afternoon marked New York’s last visit to South Florida and Harvey’s third and final start in what amounted to his own personal shark tank. The sixth is what came up to bite him: consecutive singles to Juan Pierre and Christian Yellich; two outs; an RBI for Logan Morrison; an HBP of Ed Lucas to load the bases; and two more runs after Donovan Solano singled — the only hit Harvey allowed in seven sacks-full situations all year. Eight strikeouts, no walks, yet removal with two on and a 3-0 deficit, the ultimate final score. In none of Harvey’s starts at last-place Miami did he complete six innings or throw fewer than 100 pitches. The Mets lost all three, this one to Stony Brook alum Tom Koehler. It was bafflement all around. Marlins manager Mike Redmond: “I don’t know that I can explain it. For whatever reason, we really lock it in against him and we’ve just been able to kind of rise to the occasion. Harvey (8-3) himself: “It’s not like I take this start or this team any different than against any other team. It’s just been that team this year that happens to squeeze out some runs.” Harvey’s ERA for the season now stood at 2.21. Subtract his sixteen frustrating innings in Miami and it dropped like a rock to 1.94.
HARVEY DAY THE 24TH: August 7 vs. Colorado
Tom Seaver needed 24. Dwight Gooden required seven. Matt Harvey? He posted his first complete game shutout in the 33rd start of his thus far brilliant career. Seeing as how nobody seriously counted Seaver’s pitches in 1967 and the custom had yet to catch on when Gooden debuted in 1984, it can be calculated that Harvey’s first blanket blanking of an opponent arrived right on time in 2013. Five times to date, including in his MLB debut at Arizona on July 26, 2012, Harvey left a game with no runs permitted, but never before the opposition had been fully filed away. On this Wednesday night, Terry Collins let an economical Matt (106 pitches) do his thing against Colorado to its logical conclusion. The only discernible bump on the road to his four-hitter was one he absorbed when the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon lined a comebacker off Harvey’s knee with two out in the ninth. The ball bothered him no more than the temperatures of April or the All-Star glare of July. Judged sound enough to continue, the starter turned finisher, popping up Troy Tulowitzki to end the 5-0 whitewashing on his own steam. First shutout, first complete game, maybe the first night when Harvey couldn’t find anything to pick apart about his performance. “It’s awesome,” he said of the 2:20 game that lifted his record to 9-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.09. “As a starting pitcher, that’s what you shoot for every time.” No less an authority than Todd Helton — who would retire at season’s end with more 2,500 hits compiled across 17 years — tipped his cap on his way out: “He was as good as I’ve seen in a long time.”
HARVEY DAY THE 25TH: August 13 at Los Angeles
The quotes that were missing last time out in New York were back in force in L.A. Matt Harvey wasn’t happy at his very human outing at Dodger Stadium, where he was outphenomed by Hyun-jin Ryu on the mound and Yasiel Puig at the plate. Even utilityman Nick Punto got the upper hand on Harvey, doubling in the two fifth-inning runs that shoved the Mets behind, 2-1, en route to a 4-2 loss, Matt’s fourth of the season. His ordinary six innings of eight-hit, two-walk ball drew scalding criticism from his harshest critic: himself. “I was pretty inconsistent all night,” Harvey told reporters. “I just couldn’t locate anything. When I tried to go in, it was all over the middle. When I tried to go away, I was yanking it a bit. And when you’re not hitting your spots and making quality pitches against a team like that, they’re going to put the ball in play.” Starts like these will happen to the best of them. In fact, it just did.
HARVEY DAY THE 26TH: August 18 at San Diego
Matt Harvey was good in Matt Harvey terms, which would translate to greatness for most of the rest of the pitching population, but not good enough to bolster a Met lineup whose four-through-seven spots were held down by rookies. The Mets were breaking in Josh Satin, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud and very much missing an injured David Wright. Harvey’s six innings of two-run ball was sufficient to forge a 2-2 tie. Collins tried to crush the deadlock by pinch-hitting for his pitcher in the seventh, even though he’d thrown only 86 pitches, but no runs resulted. The Padres came away as 4-3 winners this sunny Sunday afternoon at Petco Park once Max Venable homered off Pedro Feliciano in the bottom of the ninth. It marked Harvey’s twelfth no-decision in his previous twenty-one starts. Matt gave up two or fewer runs in eight of the 12 NDs. The Mets won only three of the dozen games in question. Of course Harvey blamed himself in the postgame clubhouse: “I need to go out and not give up runs like I did in the fifth inning. If I don’t do that, maybe I’m still in the game.” Notice he didn’t say the game would be over and the Mets would have won. He must have figured out that his posting zeroes and his young teammates producing runs were two separate matters entirely.
HARVEY DAY THE 27TH: August 24 vs. Detroit
A late-summer Saturday. A late afternoon, at that. Fox wanted in on this one: Max Harvey (9-4) vs. Max Scherzer (18-1), reconvening at Citi Field in an unprecedented in-season rematch of All-Star starters. The Mets sold more than 35,000 tickets. Detroit was surely a glamour opponent, but Harvey was Harvey, and Harvey Day was a happening regardless of who occupied the visitors’ dugout. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” played, No. 33 warmed, the crowd anticipated and…something was wrong with this picture. Matt worked around two hits in the first, but couldn’t deter the Tigers in the second. It wasn’t just that there were four hits that led to two runs. It’s that every ball was addressed with authority. You’d expect that from Miguel Cabrera, who came in batting .356, but this was everybody swinging and connecting. And this wasn’t Daisuke Matsuzaka who was attempting to tame them. The Tigers clawed Dice-K in his first Met start on Friday night. What Detroit did to Harvey wasn’t quite so ugly, but by the time he was pulled with two out in the seventh, the Motor City Maulers had mass-produced thirteen hits off New York’s ace; even Scherzer notched a double. Remarkably, the score was still 2-0. Maybe it wasn’t remarkable, because Matt Harvey wasn’t just a thrower. He was an elite pitcher of the highest order 36 starts into his career. Elite pitchers know how to work around trouble. But Harvey had found himself in so little trouble in 2013, that it was hard to reckon the racking around he took. Scherzer’s 19th win, 3-0, became Harvey’s fifth loss. This one, though, felt heavier than all the rest. “Just a poor performance,” the ace acknowledged. “I’m getting pretty tired, but so is everybody, and you have to work through it.”
HARVEY DAY: The Abrupt End
August 29 was the next scheduled Harvey Day. It never came.
Well, August 29 came, but it morphed into a Carlos Torres start. A couple of days after the Tigers battered him, the Mets announced the ulnar collateral ligament in Matt Harvey’s right elbow was partially torn. In English? He was done for the season and probably the next season. There was a quick round of recriminations (what did the Mets know and when did they know it?) followed by some bravado about rehabbing the arm and avoiding operations altogether (mostly from Harvey, who tweeted that he planned to be back in time for Opening Day), but there was little doubt as Harvey was leaving the stage for 2013 that the next pitcher he’d be facing would be Tommy John…or the ligament-replacement surgery that was named after him. Sure enough, Matt went in for the procedure on October 22. It was pronounced “successful,” though surgery is rarely termed a disaster if the patient emerges intact.
Harvey’s absence for all of 2014 is the wound that won’t soon heal for Mets fans, but their ace’s career can legitimately be considered on hold as opposed to in danger. Bleacher Report estimates well over a hundred pitchers active in the big leagues in 2013 encountered Tommy John at some point in their careers. Darren Oliver, who pitched for the Mets in 2006, had it in 1991. Jenrry Mejia and David Aardsma, Harvey’s teammates this past season, each had it in 2011. Stephen Strasburg, whom Harvey so memorably outpitched in April, had it in 2010. Adam Wainwright, who dealt Harvey his first L in June, had it in 2011. And of course Tommy John, who came up to the bigs in 1963, had Tommy John surgery in 1974. He returned to the mound in 1976. He stayed there until 1989.
“Tommy John surgery is a bigger part of baseball than Cracker Jacks,” Joe Posnanski wrote this past November. “You almost never see people at the ballpark eating Cracker Jacks. You almost always see a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery.”
HARVEY DAY: The Meaning Of It All
So the end of the world has every chance of being a temporary condition, albeit one with as much discomfort around Citi Field as Harvey felt in his right forearm after that start against Detroit. The final month of ’13 offered an unwanted sneak preview of life without Harvey Day. Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese could all produce a good start, and a good start can be fun. But there was no transcendence to be found in their assignments; certainly no Days deferred their identities as homage to any of them. They’re swell guys who can pitch some swell games, but they’re not defining our lives and times in a baseball sense.
Matt Harvey did. Matt Harvey created a season within a season, a season apart from the standard Met mediocrity. It wasn’t 24 + 1 in the nefarious A-Rod sense of Steve Phillips’s most memorable turn of phrase, but it was definitely different from everything else in its midst. Harvey threaded an experiential jamboree through the staid maneuverings of his colleagues. It’s almost difficult to recall that Harvey Day was technically part and parcel of the 2013 New York Mets. It was, as the customers determined on April 19, BETTER!
The sum total of Harvey Days — save for the All-Star interlude — added up to a 9-5 record that didn’t begin to illustrate how dominant its progenitor was. Harvey landed in the Top Ten of seventeen different National League pitching categories, both traditional and advanced. His earned run average of 2.27 was third-best in the senior circuit. He was second in walks and hits per innings pitched with 0.931. He struck out more than a batter per inning, a rate that ranked him third in the N.L. No starter gave up fewer home runs per nine innings. No pitcher had a higher fielding percentage. Despite missing that final month (when he was probably going to have his innings curtailed anyway), he finished tied for fourth in Cy Young voting, trailing Clayton Kershaw, Wainwright and Jose Fernandez.
The dissenter from the Jimmy Fallon video must have felt vindicated.
Numbers told a great deal of the Harvey Day story in 2013, as they provide the subtext to nearly every baseball story. But Harvey Day was more than the box scores and pitching lines, even more than his ungodly fastball and uncommonly hard changeup, slider and breaking stuff. Harvey Day was a sense that today or tonight, something great might transpire and nothing bad will happen. The latter is every bit as important to the post-2006 Mets fan psyche as the former. That, one supposes, is the sense of security a stopper generates, but the point for those who have stuck by these non-contending Mets wasn’t stopping. It was starting.
Matt Harvey starting approximately every fifth day felt like the start of something decidedly bigger than what we’d grown used to in the Citi Field era. Harvey Day existed on the road, but it was at home where it meant the most. The “HARVEY’S BETTER!” game, the near-perfecto versus the White Sox, the serendipity of the All-Stars flocking to Flushing this year of all years…we needed that. We needed something worth our hard-earned money, t-shirt included or not. (Matt’s 1.89 home ERA made for plenty good value anyway.)
We’ve had little to stir us since Shea, where the late-period misfortune was at least dramatic. In the not-so-new place, not enough of surpassing consequence has occurred or even been on the line. Everybody who accomplished something certifiably sensational in Citi’s first terms — a batting title, a jinx-shattering no-hitter, a twentieth win — wasn’t around by the next season to enjoy its goodwill. The team’s best everyday player, the one who isn’t going anywhere, has spent five seasons trapped in a cycle of coming to grips with the effects of the ballpark on his offensive abilities. As he plugs away into his early thirties, knocking off almost every career team hitting record in sight and modeling only the most admirable of behavior, David Wright isn’t likely to become measurably more exciting, no matter how much he might excel. You will probably always want to appreciatively applaud Wright’s earnest professionalism and plus production.
But what you really want to do is leap to your feet at the sight of Matt Harvey. You want to jump on his back and trust him to take you to a higher place than third and to seasons that don’t trail off by the end of July. You want to keep coming out to witness the making of history and to believe in something extraordinary. You want to hope like hell that his rehabilitative powers match everything else in his arsenal. You want a rotation of fully realized talents to coalesce around him and a lineup that can approximate his output sprout in support of him.
Mostly, you want the first Harvey Day of 2015 to get its ass here already.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
’Twas four weeks before Christmas
When over by Shea
Chris Young had been hired
And promised he’d play
That was it for a spell
As signings would go
Talk had been active
But action was slow
The fans became restless
Wondering who’d be a Met
With checks to free agents
Not written yet
The club sent out e-mails
Wishing its very top tiding
While nurturing a roster
That wasn’t exciting
Eyes turned to Sandy
Who we thought would spread green
But he offered up quotes
Touting all that we’d seen
“We’ll take another meeting
“Like we did with Peralta
“Just don’t be dismayed
“If again it’s Tejada
“On Davis! On Duda!
“On Flores and Satin!
“Our glut around first
“Is as thick as Manhattan!”
This is the part
Where someone rides to our aid
Who provides us with players
And won’t moan they get paid
But we root for the Mets
So that would be folly
At least to this point
When little seems jolly
Still, it’s only November
Let’s hope things grow bright
Enjoy your Thanksgiving
Find protection for Wright
A dialogue on fandom — Mets, Giants and in general — between Mark Mehler and me transpires here at Purple Clover.
First off: There’s nothing wrong with Chris Young.
Heck, it’s even a potentially shrewd move. Going into the offseason, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs had Young as one of his potential free-agent bargains. Yeah, he only hit .200 last year and is never going to be great at hitting righties. But he’s 30 years old, a plus defender and baserunner, has some pop and can take a walk. And he’s coming off a .237 BABIP campaign, suggesting that a good chunk of what was wrong with him last year was basically bad luck. (More from Cameron here.)
But wait, you say: If a year of Young at $7 million is shrewd, then what was wrong with two years of Marlon Byrd at $8 million each? Well, as Ted Berg noted on Twitter, Byrd’s coming off his best season in four years and is 36 years old, while Young’s coming off his worst season in four years and is 30. You don’t have to be a stathead to see why that one makes sense.
But wait, you say: Even if Young rebounds, why should I care? After all, he’d be basically average. Yes — but as also noted on Twitter, the 2013 Mets were 29th in slugging, 29th in batting average and 25th in on-base percentage. Average would be a big step up.
So, in my book there’s nothing wrong with adding Chris Young as our latest entry in the annals of Wait, Didn’t We Have That Guy Already? (See also the Bob Millers, Bob Johnsons, Bobby Joneses and Pedro Martinezes.) I can easily see Young having a pretty good season and getting flipped to a contender in late July, just like Marlon Byrd — whom we remember fondly and might remember even more fondly if Dilson Herrera can cut down on the Ks and live up to the rest of his scouting reports.
But wait, you say: Weren’t we supposed to be done with this sort of thing? Wasn’t 2014 the year we got to be a normal team again?
And here, I’m not going to talk you down. Because you’re right.
The Mets are playing their usual games with payroll figures, making people guess what they think they’ve spent and recheck what they said they were going to spend. They’re making beat reporters comb through spreadsheets to figure out if the Santana and Bay buyouts count against this year or last year or are being recorded through some new accounting method involving hexadecimals and phases of the moon.
The Mets — or rather, the usual Met sources we’re heartily sick of — are bleating about being surprised by the market and having sticker shock. Which just leaves me fuming, because it reminds me of nothing so much as M. Donald Grant instructing his minions to send potential free agents telegrams asking them to make contact with the club. Tough noogs. Deal with it, like the other 29 teams are dealing with it.
The Mets are also doing their usual thing of claiming they’ve been misunderstood and spending can be raised if the right opportunity presents itself. This barely merits laughing at by now — it gets said every offseason and again in late spring, but somehow that opportunity never seems to show up.
This was supposed to be the offseason when such games stopped, but so far it sure seems like the same carny barking from ownership. There’s nothing wrong with the Chris Young signing, but what’s very wrong is the likelihood that Chris Young is about as good as the news is going to get this offseason. (And it’s possible for both of these things to be true.) Shin-Soo Choo? Too expensive. Jhonny Peralta? Same. Robinson Cano? Oh hahahahahaha. Nelson Cruz? Stephen Drew? Keep dreaming. Sandy Alderson’s still in the scratch-and-dent aisle.
So the problem isn’t Chris Young. It’s the overall budget, and what that says about the Mets. Which wasn’t supposed to be a problem anymore.
The problem is this:
The only sane conclusion is that the Mets are broken, and are going to be broken as long as they’re owned by the Wilpons. They’re going to be broken as long as Major League Baseball continues to let the National League’s New York franchise be run like the old Chicago Blackhawks, who couldn’t be fixed until “Dollar Bill” Wirtz shuffled off this mortal coil.
I’d love to be proved wrong about all that. Hell, if I’m proved wrong I’ll print out this post and eat it on the Shea Bridge.
Somebody prove me wrong. Sandy? Jeff? Fred? Bud? Anybody?
Is there any better promotion for Mets baseball than the news that the Mets have invited Brandon Allen to Spring Training?
Sorry, too easy. I’ll try to maintain a clean slate for Brandon Allen, the Quadruple-A first baseman brought into supplement the Mets’ existing “glut” at that position. Once upon a time it was easy to dismiss an agate-type transaction involving a Robert Allen who had an additional name up his UCL-less sleeve and that heretofore underknown R.A. worked out quite O.K.
By midseason, we might require no further enticement to come on out to Citi Field than the knowledge that 2014 Brandon Allen is making 2013 Chris Davis look like, well, 2013 Ike Davis. On the off chance that Allen, Miguel Socolovich, Joel Carreno and Anthony Seratelli don’t bust out of St. Lucie limbo and into stardom, however, there will be other reasons (besides stubbornly ingrained habit) to make the trip to Flushing this year.
Will one of those reasons be that the Mets sign somebody who doesn’t require a grudging benefit of the doubt? Somebody who, if he succeeds, it won’t be a surprise? Somebody who, if he disappoints, will generate a different kind of dismay than that to which we’ve become accustomed (“can you believe the Mets spent THAT much on THIS guy?”). Sterling Mets hasn’t dug deep for years and it’s reported as premature fact that they won’t again — never mind whether they’re actually able to secure the services of legitimate major league talent — but if we knew how these things are going to unfold out this far in advance, we wouldn’t be counting the days until Nats @ Mets, March 31.
The count, by the way, is down to 129.
Given the prevailing mopey state of player procurement, I doubt there’s much mood to get in on the ground floor of the season that’s a mere eighteen weeks from lurking right around the corner, but in case you’re getting antsy and you don’t mind not knowing who’s going to play many of the skill positions, the Mets have been kind enough to clue us into their 2014 promotional schedule well ahead of 2014. It’s a welcome change from the tradition of recent winters when they waited interminably to tease us with the exact date, time and location for another go at Collector’s Cup Night. Same for single-game ticket sales, which have been ongoing by specially distributed code for a few days already and will be open to all comers as of Saturday. I don’t know if this is wholly the influence of Lou DePaoli, the guy who came from Pittsburgh to take over (more or less) the Dave Howard role in the front office, or just a sense on the part of decision-makers that if all they have to sell is a promise-free Mets experience, the earlier the selling begins, the better.
Either way, it’s nice to learn of some of what’s awaiting the first 15- or 20,000 hands when they pass through Citi scanners on specially marked Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the days when the club generally charges the most for admission (whereas the Mets seem rather adamant that you won’t be getting any additional bang for your dynamically priced weekday buck).
First off, no Collector’s Cup Night is listed. Huzzah! The conception of Collector’s Cup Night in 2010 was a fraud because a cup with a design shouldn’t be put on a pedestal as if it’s a special event. A cup with a design should be available 81 times a year at every concession stand in the house. Simply offer a large fountain beverage in an attractive vessel and charge an extra dollar or so for the keepsake. That’s how it was done at Shea.
Speaking of the dearly departed, I shook with delight when I saw “Shea Stadium 50th Anniversary Canvas Print” as the item in the spotlight for April 19. Now that you put on a pedestal. Given ownership’s elimination of Shea Stadium itself before we could wish it a happy 45th birthday, I’ll take the Canvas Print version of Shea as a belated historical victory for preservation of memories if not Mezzanines. And if it’s hard to believe that six years after the Wilpons pretended nobody would miss Shea they’d try to amp up attendance at its successor facility by giving away a reminder of what was replaced, what’s M. Donald Grant thinking down where he resides? Dastardly Don signed off on the trade of Nolan Ryan to California in December of 1971, yet Nolan will reappear in a Mets uniform, albeit in bobblehead form, come May 10 vs. Philadelphia
Nolan Ryan struck out 15 Phillies in 1970 when he was 23. Grant transformed him into an Angel before he turned 25. Bobblehead Ryan will be presented as a 22-year-old 1969 Met, well before it seemed like a swell idea to trade him (and three others) for Jim Fregosi (and nobody else). If we’re adjusting past misjudgments to sell current tickets, we might as well polish them to a high-gloss sheen.
As long as we’re bobbling creatively, if we can have a 1969 Nolan Ryan, we can have a 1973 Willie Mays. The Giants are in the first weekend of August, so hell, let’s have the real Willie Mays join us. He’s Willie Mays. He was New York’s in the ’50s, the New York Mets’ in the ’70s and never without a good word for what the city means to him still. He was given a Night in the Polo Grounds in 1963 and a Night at Shea Stadium in 1973. Citi Field is overdue to Say Hey.
Mr. Met, who’s never been traded and could never be torn down, will star on a Canvas Print all his own on August 30. David Wright gets a similar treatment on May 24, one day before Banner Day 2.3. There’ll be a Met cereal bowl for 15,000 on July 6; my friend Sharon asked if that means the Mets will acquire Coco Crisp — I would guess the generic equivalent is more likely. And speaking of generic equivalents, three Player Poster dates are penciled in. Which players? The schedule doesn’t say. With Matt Harvey shelved, David Wright canvassed and little else certain, can you blame the schedule for being so diffident?
Every Friday but one will offer a t-shirt. I don’t suppose the shirts will vary in size. The Mets’ customers do, don’t we? Every Sunday will conclude with a Mr. Met Dash. There will be 2014 magnetic schedules for all on Opening Day and 2015 magnetic schedules for all on Closing Day (excellent grace note). Fireworks Night will explode three times, either pleasing 126,000 pyrotechnic maniacs or diluting the phenomenon altogether. Four postgame concerts have been slated, though only two have been specified: Boyz II Men on August 16 and Huey Lewis & The News on July 12.
Huey, you might recall if you share my capacity for retaining minutiae, helped sell out PNC Park when the Mets were visiting in 2011 (and DePaoli was running their show). Two years later, PNC Park was selling out because the Pirates themselves were the News. Y’know what, though? I’m all for catchy distractions and neato curios to enchant us while we find ourselves between pennant races. When you don’t have a contender to sell, you sell everything else. You pour on the cereal bowls, even if they won’t be sponsored by Dairylea.
Twenty years ago at this time, coming off the sludge-covered wreckage of 1993, the Mets were preparing to instill a fan-friendly ethos in St. Lucie in the hopes of transporting it to Shea. They were encouraging autographs and tripling up on fireworks and constructing a theme park beyond the outfield fence (the short-lived Nickelodeon Extreme Baseball) and introducing the DynaMets Dash and rebooting good ol’ Mr. Met after forgetting he existed for a couple of decades. Boyz II Men was still a chart-topper in those days, so you wouldn’t have seen them performing after a Mets game, but had postgame concerts featuring amiable out-of-code acts been in vogue in 1994, you might’ve had a shot at hearing, I dunno…Stealers Wheel on the same night you watched David Segui.
The Mets turned out better than expected in 1994 though they were still stuck in the middle with mediocrity (which was also better than expected following 1993). I don’t know what to expect in 2014. But I expect to be surprised if I haven’t wrangled a Shea Stadium 50th Anniversary Canvas Print by April 19 and a Nolan Ryan bobblehead by May 10.
UPDATE: We have a candidate to fill in one of those Player Posters! And he’s an outfielder! The Mets are reportedly on the verge of signing Chris Young. Not that Chris Young, but this Chris Young. Good news: this Chris Young hit 32 home runs in 2007 and was an All-Star in 2010. Bad news: this Chris Young compiled a 0.0 WAR in 2013, which is more recent than both 2007 and 2010. Decent news: I’ve heard of this Chris Young. Probable news: Mets management is excited that it doesn’t have to order a whole new “Chris Young” clubhouse stall nameplate.
No matter whom his high-profile agent seeks out as a dining companion on any given evening, Robinson Cano won’t be a Met in 2014, 2015 or ever, at least until his career is nearing its end and his options are limited to Spring Training feelers (which is traditionally the moment the Mets prefer to pounce). But a homophonic approximation of Cano was already one of us, way back at the beginning of us.
You could look it up.
Hell, I did. I got it straight from the plaid-clad horse’s mouth. Lindsey Nelson, in his 1966 book Backstage At The Mets, explained how Casey Stengel — who “could remember an inconsequential detail from fifty-two years back, but…couldn’t remember a name two minutes after he heard it” — foretold the tale of the Met superstar second baseman of the future…give or take a vowel and a half-century.
Coming north from St. Pete the first year, Casey was asked by a Baltimore writer for his lineup for an exhibition game against the Orioles. The newspaperman had a Met roster to check off the names.
“At first base, Hodges,” Casey said. “At second, Canoe. At short…”
“Wait a minute, Casey,” the writer said. “Who at second?”
“Canoe, Canoe,” Casey said impatiently. “And at short…”
“I don’t find any Canoe,” the writer said.
“Look, I’ll show you,” said Casey. He took the writer’s roster and pointed to the name, Rod Kanehl. To Casey, he was Canoe then and forever.
Canoe/Kanehl rode not the waterways but the subway to the Polo Grounds for ballgames and all over town just for fun, spending “most of his spare time” tooling around on the trains, according to Nelson (whose name Stengel famously called for whenever he wanted at least one of the resident Bob Millers to warm up). The hyperuseful utility player, who sooner or later boarded every position on the diamond save for pitcher and catcher, lasted three seasons as a Met. Hot Rod remains beloved in legend, though by Lindsey’s mid-’60s reckoning, “He couldn’t hit, and now he’s the foremost authority on New York subways in Springfield, Missouri.”
No matter his career batting average of .241, Kanehl/Canoe was a willing man of the people, traveling among them without pretense on a daily basis. That’s about as Mets as it gets.
Given his glamorous choice of representation as he pursues unprecedented riches somewhere beyond the penultimate stop on the 7 line, we’ll simply note “Cano” kind of rhymes with “limo”.