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ABOUT US

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

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

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

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Reasons for Optimism 2018

Yoenis is trying yoga.

Conforto’s hitting from a tee.

Alderson’s talking up Tebow.

Mickey leaves nobody standing around.

Ah, spring!

 

Matz is sharp.

A-Gon is wise.

Gsellman’s got flow.

Who knew Ramos was a hoot?

Ah, spring!

 

Wheeler will do whatever’s best for the team.

Flores will play wherever asked by the team.

Frazier is thrilled to be here.

It wasn’t known Trump Jr. was going to be there.

Ah, spring!

 

Everybody’s noticing that nobody’s noticing Rosario.

Smith is still in the best shape of everybody’s life.

All those young righty relievers are showing their stuff.

Maybe a young lefty reliever has a chance to emerge.

Ah, spring!

 

David isn’t playing, but he’s still a leader.

Matt Reynolds is gone, yet Matt den Dekker’s returned.

DeGrom’s left camp to become a father again.

Thor just hit another guy.

Ah, spring!

 

We have a chance.

We can compete.

We are ready to win.

We’ve got games that don’t count starting Friday.

Ah! Spring!

Here With the Wins

When the expansion draft rolled around on October 8, 1961, the one conceived to simultaneously create and cripple the New York Mets as a nominally competitive entity, George Weiss attempted to build a winning pitching staff from not too many wins. The seven pitchers he chose — Roger Craig, Craig Anderson, Ray Daviault, Al Jackson, Sherman “Roadblock” Jones, Jay Hook and Bob L. Miller — combined for 13 major league victories in ’61, providing the foundation for a team that would collect all of 40 in ’62. Hard to blame Weiss. It’s not like the eight established National League clubs were sharing with their newborn brethren anything resembling their most valuable arms.

Imagine how much more Casey Stengel’s first edition might have popped had it been bolstered by an 18-game winner. You know, Sandy Koufax won 18 games in 1961. Imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers exposing Koufax to the juniormost Senior Circuit clubs, the Houston Colt .45s conveniently passing on the heretofore inconsistent lefty and the Mets plucking the kid from Brooklyn as their first hometown hope. Perhaps it could have happened had the NL expanded a year earlier, when the 24-year-old’s lifetime mark was an indifferent 36-40 dating back to his 1955 bonus baby debut and, per Jane Leavy’s superb biography, “Koufax was ready to quit.” L.A. could have shrugged off what remained of his potential, Weiss could have taken a flier, Sandy could have reconsidered relaunching his career in Manhattan, and…

Such a scenario requires an amount of imagining so enormous that it would have to be expressed in Stengelese. You not only can’t imagine it, you couldn’t imaginate it. Koufax stuck with baseball, the Dodgers stuck with Koufax and, as Leavy put it, “he had his coming out party in 1961 along with JFK. Vigor and speed would be served.” Sandy threw eighty more innings than he ever had before (255.2), led the league in strikeouts (269, setting a new National League record) and brought his ERA down by nearly four-tenths of a run (3.52). The perennial prospect had finally arrived, on the verge of becoming the Sandy Koufax baseball fans of a certain age still find excuses to bring up. I found myself chatting the other day with a Mets fan who went to games at the Polo Grounds. I’m not sure how Koufax entered the conversation, but just as was the case in 1961, Sandy was suddenly there, blazing fastballs worth referencing a mere half-century and change later.

I imagine (or imaginate) my new acquaintance, eight years old in 1962, would have been pretty stoked to have had his new favorite team pick up this emerging 18-game winner. Nobody knew how much more emergence Koufax had in him: 111-34 in his next five seasons, strikeout totals that generated electricity from wind, earned run averages that required a jeweler’s loupe to properly discern. Actually, given that nobody in a Mets uniform would come remotely close to what Sandy Koufax achieved in pre-legendary form in 1961, the Mets fans of 1962 would have been giddy to have received whatever an 18-game winner could give them and take their chances with his immediate future. That we don’t respond the same way to an 18-game winner suddenly becoming a New York Met tells us three things:

1) There’s only one Sandy Koufax;

2) Jason Vargas isn’t him;

3) Jason Vargas won 18 games last year?

Yes, while we were focused on the Mets improving their 1962 win total by 30, Jason Vargas won 18 games last year, 56 seasons after Sandy Koufax compiled the exact same number. We can call it Vargas’s breakout season, even if it didn’t evoke that cusp-of-the New Frontier feeling Koufax’s did. First years of new presidential administrations ain’t what they used to be, just as the prestige attached to relatively gaudy win totals has diminished. For generations, eighteen wins was understood to be a very impressive output, though hardly standard-setting. When Koufax won 18 in ’61, five other National League pitchers, including future Met Warren Spahn, won as many or more. When Vargas won 18 in ’17, no American League pitcher topped him.

As Jeb Bush, in his doomed quest to be serving his first year as president in 2017 infamously requested of his unimpressed audience in 2016, please clap.

No impulse for applause? No wonder. We don’t much care about pitchers’ wins. We’re fine with them when they happen for our favorite starters, we make prideful hay from them if we can, but for the most part we are all Bill Jamesians now. We fancy ourselves analytically minded and reflexively dismiss a statistic that may only incidentally reflect performance. Vargas won as many games in 2017 as Corey Kluber and more than Justin Verlander and Chris Sale. Think we could get an even-up deal for any of those fellows by shopping Jason’s new two-year, $16 million deal around? Kluber, Verlander and Sale were 1-2-3 in AL pitching WAR. Kluber and Sale topped adjusted ERA+, strikeout/walk ratio, K’s per 9 IP, FIP…categorizations where Vargas was nowhere to be found. Verlander was a frequent Top Tenner and, oh by the way, pushed the Astros toward a world championship. For none of them would you go out of your way to stress their victory totals, voluminous though they may be. Plain ol’ wins are still easy to digest, but now they’re just as easy to ignore. So many metrics, so little time for the one that for more than a century emphatically denoted pitching glamour.

I forgot to mention that the only National Leaguer who won as many games as Jason Vargas last year was Clayton Kershaw, who also won 18 in ’17. We don’t have Kershaw. But we do have Vargas.

Getting an 18-game winner in advance of a coming season is something we haven’t done too often in Mets history. Between 2013 and 2014, the Mets added Bartolo Colon, late of an 18-6 mark in Oakland, which we may not have noticed since it was enough that he was Bartolo Colon. Eleven years earlier, T#m Gl@v!ne left Atlanta an 18-11 pitcher, about to transform into a 9-14 New York tourist. The Astros were fortunately anxious to rid themselves of 22-game winner Mike Hampton’s contract following his dominant 1999, the Mets more than happy to assume its obligations. Frank Viola was a 24-7 Cy Young Awardee as a Twin in 1988, but by the time he joined the Mets at the 1989 trade deadline, his most recent sample size was 8-12.

Usually when we add a pitching name as big as Bart’s, the armload of wins attached to the reputation has diminished from its peak. When Spahn was brought to Shea in 1965, our first Hall of Fame-bound Brave lefty — fourteen times a winner of eighteen games or more —was coming off a 6-13 season with Milwaukee. That’s kind of an extreme example, considering Spahn was older than Colon when became a Met. The trick is to get pitchers who will win 18 or more games in a season once you get them. Sometimes, however, you’re willing to try to wring a few more wins from pitchers who’ve done it before. Take Tom Seaver, who won plenty of games as a Met before masqueraded as a Red longer than we preferred. Tom went a Spahnnish 5-13 in 1982 before coming home and posting a proto-Gl@v!ne 9-14 in 1983. (It was still worth it.) Mickey Lolich landed at LaGuardia with a 12-18 record from Detroit in 1975 and produced only a run-starved 8-13 for us in 1976. (It wasn’t worth trading Rusty Staub for.) Twenty-game winners of yore Dean Chance and John Candelaria were, respectively, several and many years removed from their winningest heights when the Mets picked them up to lunge at division titles. Ray Sadecki’s 20-win past was distant when he became a Met six years after the fact, though it certainly didn’t curb his New York usefulness.

Bob Friend (1966) and Ralph Terry (1966-67) were less supreme than Supremes to us, as the Mets kept these erstwhile (1962) big winners hanging on. Doc Medich, a 19-game winner in 1974, ambled by for a September cameo in 1977, unencumbered by recent outsize success. Mike Torrez courteously separated his single 20-win season from his Mets tenure by eight years. David Cone first won more than 18 games as a Met in 1988 and last won more than 18 games for somebody else in 1998. When Coney returned to the Mets in 2003, his slate reverted to blank, as he was coming off a year of retirement. Orel Hershiser was more than a decade beyond his megawin prime when he joined the forces of good in 1999. Likewise, Randy “No Relation to Roadblock” Jones hadn’t been Cyworthy in ages at the moment he became a 1981 Met. Aces still in range of their prime as they became our concern included Johan Santana (15-13 for the 2007 Twins); Pedro Martinez (16-9 for the 2004 Red Sox); and Bret Saberhagen (13-8 for the 1991 Royals). They were generally more effective as Mets than the average former 18-game winner-turned-Met, but like every pitcher mentioned in this and the preceding pair of paragraphs, they all had seasons in their past when they won at least 18 games.

Which means if you cover one eye and squint with the other, this array of luminaries, à la Sandy Koufax, all have something in common with Jason Vargas.

Vargas indeed won 18 games last year. Lolich hadn’t won as many as 18 since 1972, yet the coming attractions portion of the ’75 highlight film made the case that Mickey was gonna be as important to the rise of the ’76 Mets as Seaver, Matlack and Koosman. Win a lot of games somewhere, they’d edit montages for you. Vargas won more games than Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard combined; more than any current Met has ever won in a season; more than any Met since R.A. Dickey won 20 in 2012; and exactly as many as Seaver in ’70, Ojeda in ’86 and Gooden in ’88. Yet in the wake of his signing, we seem to be viewing him as not much more than a depth guy. We have a plethora of talent guys, theoretically forming a rotation whose skill set is dazzling…save for the ability to definitely stay healthy. No pitcher comes with such a guarantee, and ours sport spotty attendance records. So depth is a pretty desirable commodity.

You may remember Jason from his first burst of promise as a 2005 Marlin or his very slight stint as a 2007 Met. He started two games for us pre-Collapse, one a repeatedly aired Mets Classic, though it should be noted that game qualified for its lofty status based on the Mets’ ability to dig out of a hole dug for them by their 24-year-old spot starter. He left us in December of 2008, wrapped inside the bundle of personnel designed to deliver unto us J.J. Putz (mission accomplished). You may be relieved, if you’re a postseason grudgeholder like me, to recall he didn’t have anything to do with the Royals beating the Mets in the 2015 World Series, as he was injured that fall. He probably enjoyed the outcome a little too much, considering he was an inactive Royal, but it’s tough to hold that against him.

The veteran southpaw couldn’t promise he’d take the ball every fifth day in 2015 and 2016, when he was submitting to and recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 2017, at 34, he was a new man, or at least pitched for a while like he had a new left arm. Eighteen of his 85 career wins occurred last year. His WAR, while not up there with the Sales, Klubers and Verlanders, was the best he’d ever posted, 3.4, according to Baseball-Reference’s calculus. For perspective, deGrom’s was 4.4 and every other Mets pitcher’s was hideous. Most beautifully, there was that every-fifth-day dependability that no Met starter besides Jacob demonstrated in 2017. Jason started 32 games, one more than deGrom, a bushel more than every non-deGrominational Met. Vargas was dynamite in the first half, less so in the second half, but the pitching coach he credits for molding him into an All-Star in Kansas City, Dave Eiland, happens to our pitching coach. It’s February, when pitching coaches are geniuses at spotting and correcting flaws. Let’s have a little faith that when Eiland is finished fixing Harvey, he’ll smooth the rough edges off Vargas.

We care about team wins. We don’t reject any based on the identity of the individual officially credited for securing them. Go nine if you can. Go five and give way to bullpenning if that’s Mickey Callaway’s method of modern love. Plow through seven innings of five-run ball as Vargas did on May 17, 2007, against the Cubs, but do be sure to tell your teammates to score five in the bottom of the ninth to win, 6-5. I left Shea giddy that day, no more than vaguely cognizant that the winning pitcher was not particularly solid citizen Ambiorix Burgos, who raised his Mets record to 1-0. I’m pretty sure I applauded most if not all of T#m Gl@v!ne’s 61 wins as a Met (I dedicated 2003 to pettiness and grouchiness, none of which I regret). We get a kick out of one man’s W column rising into the high teens, even if we fully appreciate that every number tells only part of the story, with wins revealed as representing no more than a dubious fraction thereof.

You don’t have to out-and-out embrace the Mets getting a guy who won 18 games last year just because he won 18 games, but you have to adore the 32 starts. Jason Vargas doesn’t quite fit within the ideal of the Mets home-schooled, somehow still youthful rotation, but I do believe he’s worth editing the montage for.

Ol’ Number 13

Faith and Fear in Flushing, which we dedicated as The Blog for Mets Fans Who Like to Read on February 16, 2005, turns 13 years old today, which is neither here nor there, unless you’ve come for a kiddush (in which case you might like to read the Haftorah) or you’re joining us in praise of Edgardo Alfonzo, No. 1 among No. 13s.

We’re 13 now. Fonzie is 13 always. He’s also one of the best Mets ever and deserves to be officially revered as such.

You’re a Mets fan. I don’t have to convince you. If you partook of the Edgardo Alfonzo Mets between 1995 and 2002 — especially prime Fonzie time between 1997 and 2001 — you know Fonzie. You love Fonzie. At the very least, you like him a lot. Who who loves the Mets wouldn’t?

When the Mets spanned the competitive spectrum from pretty good to nearly great for five consecutive seasons, an unnatural state of being for this franchise, Fonzie was rarely not one of the three main reasons for their success. Others came, others went, others aggravated, others’ flaws sometimes obscured their strengths. Fonzie never bothered any Mets fan. He gave us happy days, happy nights, happy late-inning rallies. He embraced being called Fonzie despite arriving in New York without an apparent clue as to who Henry Winkler famously portrayed. It wasn’t a problem. If there was one thing we learned from watching Edgardo Alfonzo of Miranda, Venezuela, play baseball, it was that he could never otherwise be accused of cluelessness.

Fonzie’s career had quietly crept past its peak when he was named the second baseman on the Mets’ 40th Anniversary All-Amazin’ Team by fan vote. He was the starting third baseman on the not so Amazin’ Mets team of 2002 that year, back to the position he played in 1997 and 1998 after apprenticing as a utilityman in 1995 and 1996. He moved from third to second for Robin Ventura in 1999 and it worked out brilliantly. He moved from second to third in 2002 for Roberto Alomar, and it worked less brilliantly. The sum total of complaints we heard from Fonzie over being shifted among positions? Thirteen minus thirteen. Zero.

Ten years later, an expert panel identified Edgardo Alfonzo as the second baseman on the Mets’ 50th Anniversary Team. His excellence was vouched for by online vote and by authoritative figures. Nobody by 2012 had come along since 2002 to supplant him and nobody was reassessed in retrospect as any better. Pending any revelations in the middle of the infield between now and 2022 (including a rear-guard boomlet on behalf of Daniel Murphy), Fonzie will likely be the second baseman on the Mets’ 60th Anniversary Team.

Edgardo Alfonzo is not in the Mets Hall of Fame. Almost all of his All-Time teammates who have been long retired from playing are. The following Mets players were recognized as parts of the 40th and/or 50th Anniversary teams and are in the Mets Hall of Fame: Mike Piazza; Keith Hernandez; Bud Harrelson; Ed Kranepool; Rusty Staub; Cleon Jones; Mookie Wilson; Darryl Strawberry; Tom Seaver; Jerry Koosman; John Franco; and Tug McGraw.

Three who are not — Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran — are, are sort of, or were just very recently active players. The rest who lack enshrinement are Howard Johnson, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra and Edgardo Alfonzo. Dykstra was a ridiculous pick over Jones in fan voting in 2002 (the call was for three outfielders, not one at each outfield position) and has proven himself a reprobate in life. McDowell was twice the choice as righty reliever primarily because few could bring themselves to acknowledge antacid-inducing Armando Benitez as the most dominant right arm in that role. More than Dykstra or McDowell, HoJo, the consensus all-time Mets third baseman pre-Wright, has a legitimate beef with not being recognized as a Mets Hall of Famer. He could be inconsistent between 1985 and 1993, but when he was on, few Mets power hitters have ever been more productive, and almost nobody who hit balls as far as he did could run as he did. Perhaps the less than cordial terms on which he left the Mets as a coach following the 2010 has diminished his status to non-person in Flushing. It wouldn’t be the first time a Met great has been ignored after the fact.

Or maybe the Mets have forgotten they have a Hall of Fame, seeing as how they haven’t inducted anybody inside its hallowed walls since presenting Piazza his plaque in 2013. If they cared about the institution, Fonzie would have been their next honoree. There are no apparent hard feelings between the two parties. Fonzie works for the Mets. He’s been an ambassador. He’s been a minor league coach and, unless a change to the contrary has been announced, is about to manage the Brooklyn Cyclones for a second season. Just over two weeks ago he was the special guest legend at Citi Field for Truck Day, joining Mr. and Mrs. Met in greeting season ticket holders. That’s three delightful Met faces in one fell swoop.

Edgardo Alfonzo comes around regularly these days and he came through constantly in the days of yore. That’s why he was voted to all-time teams ten years apart. Every time Fonzie took the field, he was as good at his position as any Met or any contemporary. When Bobby Valentine (speaking of figures who belong in the Mets Hall of Fame) installed Fonzie at third early in the ’97 season, the team was transformed. Edgardo the everyday third baseman was an anchor. The Mets elevated from second-division afterthought to perennial contender. He hit over .300. He and his left-side compadre Rey Ordoñez let nothing under their gloves. He was the catalyst for a playoff chase.

Within two years, Alfonzo was the second baseman. They acquired Ventura, whose third base credentials in the American League were impeccable. So what happened? Only “the best infield ever,” per the observation of a noted national magazine. Ordoñez and Alfonzo up the middle were as compelling as they’d been at short and third. Ventura and John Olerud at the corners were pretty darn stellar, too. Sports Illustrated wasn’t hyperbolizing in the least.

Fonzie took a sad team and made it better in 1997. He contributed substantially to pushing that team to the cusp of a championship in 1999 and then into a World Series in 2000. Piazza attracted most of the attention. Those who knew where to look knew to look at Fonzie just as much. That savvy group of Metsnoscenti included Mike himself. He paused in his Cooperstown Hall of Fame speech in 2016 to say he couldn’t have done it without Edgardo. He didn’t have to do that, but he knew the story of the Mets at their turn-of-the-millennium heights wouldn’t have been complete without including Fonzie.

Neither is the Mets Hall of Fame.

To be prosaic about it, Fonzie ranks 10th in games played as a Met, 9th in at-bats, 5th in runs scored, 7th in runs batted in, 5th in hits, 7th in walks, 6th in doubles, 10th in homers and 7th in total bases. Further, though he was less than fleet afoot, he is 27th among Mets in stolen bases and tied for 25th in triples, indicative of someone who knew how to run the bases. Oh, and he’s 5th in sacrifice flies, which makes sense, given how much Fonzie sacrificed himself for the good of the team. Edgardo played the fourth-most games of any Met as a second baseman (509) and fifth-most (515) as a third baseman. Despite being pushed and pulled in deference to the presence of others, he was a serious Gold Glove candidate at both positions, finishing directly behind winners Ken Caminiti at third in 1997 and Pokey Reese at second in 1999, then Fernando Viña in 2001. Fonzie won the NL Silver Slugger at second in ’99, made the NL All-Star team in 2000 and garnered MVP votes in three seasons as a Met, placing 13th in 1997, 8th in 1999 and 15th in 2000.

This isn’t Mets Hall of Fame material? And this is before you throw in popularity and personality. On those counts, Fonzie rises to Mookie levels of belovedness. Seriously, do you remember a bad word from a manager, a teammate or a fan from 1995 to 2002? The worst you could say was that given the state of Alfonzo’s back toward the end of his Mets tenure that yeah, maybe he was not quite worth the big free agent contract he was seeking and eventually got. No hard feelings, though (except in his back). Before he left for San Francisco, Fonzie took out advertisements atop a dozen taxis telling New York how much he loved us. As vehicles of gratitude go, that beats a newspaper ad, a tweet and anything Henry Winkler ever did on a motorcycle.

Our Fonz came close to coming back, getting at least as far in 2006 as Matt den Dekker seems headed in 2018 (minor league contract), if not quite as far as where Jason Vargas is going (major league roster). Edgardo never looked right as a Giant or anything else and, by the last year of his four-year deal, after bouncing through Anaheim and Toronto, wound up in Norfolk. I thought he’d rise up from Triple-A by that championship September and be in the clubhouse enjoying champagne with Reyes and Wright.

Didn’t quite happen. He kept circling Shea. Played with Buddy Harrelson’s Ducks in 2007 and 2008. Finally returned home for the Shea Goodbye ceremonies. Was received thunderously. Is still received warmly. The organization seems to like him as a teacher and a person. The fans surely love him. We lined up for his bobblehead in 2012 and we’d rise and applaud for his Mets Hall of Fame ceremony.

We were lucky to have No. 13. Give the man his plaque already.

Speaking of Mets years, Mets fan and FAFIF reader David Jurman has a collection of Mets yearbooks and programs spanning 1967 to 2009 and would love to hear from anybody interested in giving some/all of them a good home. Please contact us at faithandfear@gmail.com if you’d like us to put you in touch with David and his baseball library.

Here They Come Again

You know it, I know it, we all know it. Pitchers have reported to 525 NW Peacock Blvd. in beautiful Port St. Lucie, Fla. People equipped to catch them are there to meet them. Also in attendance: hopes, dreams, a sense of renewal and blessed repetition.

Every February I grow weary of Spring Training. It used to be March, but the cycle speeds up these days. Pitchers & Catchers (the process, not the individuals) expends my goodwill not long after the sports cars and SUVs find their specially marked parking spaces. In the world in which we as fans have constructed for ourselves, it seems these fellows and their position-playing teammates are never really gone. They breeze through the same social media as the rest of us, except we pay attention to their comings, goings, doings and quotings. Our representatives among the unsocial media — what we used to call the working press — are dutifully taking it all down and spewing it back for our consumption. And we consume, because it’s there. We could pay less attention, but we don’t. Of course we don’t. We are conditioned to gobble up every iota of offseason detail to combat our natural winter state of deprivation.

We’d miss baseball more if baseball fully went away. It rarely does. It’s on our minds. It’s on our feeds. It’s just not on TV and radio at 7:10 basically every night, which is the real problem and one that won’t be fixed because there’s stretching and quoting and documenting to the extreme. The Eagles hadn’t put the Patriots away one second the Sunday night before last when it was willfully declared that hurrah, baseball season had begun. Unless somebody had scheduled a midnight first pitch in Flushing, it hadn’t. Same for the impact of Pitchers & Catchers, let alone infielders and outfielders. Same for the first intrasquad game, split squad game, exhibition game, minor league game on the back fields where somebody’s sent to get his work in and every other euphemism for getting ready. March 29 remains the target. March 29 is where we need to arrive.

The arrival is still up ahead. The road rolls on. All we did today was got on the Florida Turnpike. Ah, but at least we’re getting somewhere.

No doubt you are already doing so, but think good thoughts for Buddy Harrelson, whose battle with Alzheimer’s is sadly in progress. Usually I hesitate before invoking the word “battle” when it’s applied to someone coping with an illness, because illness is a bully who doesn’t fight fair. Yet those of us whose Mets fandom was built on the indefatigable nature of Buddy Harrelson can’t escape the sense that it ain’t over until it’s over. Buddy doesn’t give in so easily. We won’t, either.

Here’s Bob Klapisch’s story on Buddy’s battle.

The Grudge Report

Todd Frazier is officially a Met! Which means Mike Moustakas isn’t! News like this demands exclamation points late in an ellipsis kind of winter.

Yet I am delighted enough to punctuate with enthusiasm, not so much because Frazier is a name-brand free agent who’s signed for only two years (I generally fall for those, regardless of how many metrics are quoted cautioning me against ebullience) or because Frazier’s presence shifts Asdrubal Cabrera to second base (even as it sadly casts David Wright further into the shadows), but because it completely closed the door on any vague chance the Mets might have pursued Moustakas coming off his career-high 38-homer output. The odds were long they would have gone after him, but you can never be too careful.

“Boo Yankees” is a good Mets fan policy. Boo Yankees from any year, the most recent, allegedly likable one included. Boo Yankees always and forever. “It’s a part of our lifestyle,” as Jerry Seinfeld once said about other activities. Boo Frazier growing up a Yankees fan and taking to the Yankees with such ease, though he is doing a good job of putting that unpleasantness — including his commandeering for unsavory purposes the gesture Mets fan Gary Dunaier was caught making at Citi Field during the hurricane-displaced Rays’ home game in Queens versus local competition visiting from the Bronx — behind him. Boo all that, as most of us will.

But boo the 2015 Kansas Royals at this late date and the foreseeable future. I can’t stand them more than two years after they committed the crime of absconding with our third world championship. There exists no scenario in which I plan to commence standing them.

I’d rather have a 2017 Yankee join the 2018 Mets than be forced to embrace as ours a 2015 Royal. We’ve had plenty of former Yankees dress as Mets, some so convincingly that we could forget they were Yankees. Yogi Berra and Frazier’s Toms River landsman Al Leiter are classic examples, Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson recent ones. Casey Stengel successfully shook off his prior affiliation and invented us as only Casey Stengel could have. Frazier comes to us unclean, but we can make him ours for the short term. Gene Woodling. Ralph Terry. Jack Aker. Rick Cerone. The last benign season of second baseman Willie Randolph and the less uptight seasons of manager Willie Randolph. A few productive swings, a few smiles for the camera, we’ll judge Todd on Todd, not on that abysmal thumbs-down business which made Frazier a Yankee icon for five minutes.

I couldn’t have made Moustakas ours. Not that there was much chance the Mets were going to ante up for a third baseman who’d have likely merited a larger, longer deal (though in this market, who can tell?), but when I heard Moustakas mentioned as a Met possibility, I cringed. Same for when Lorenzo Cain’s name was bandied about as a potential outfield fit, same for when Eric Hosmer was dreamed up as the ideal first base investment.

Phooey on the lot of them. Phooey on the 2015 Kansas City Royals who beat the 2015 New York Mets. Still. Probably forever. No kidding. Keep them off my team.

Behold the postseason grudge, which, like a banner once said of Ron Swoboda, is stronger than dirt. Postseason opponents can stick in the craw long after the series in which they became foes fade into memory. As the distance between now and then expands, my personal Grudge Report offers this scoop: I still can’t stand those Royals. I don’t have it in me to forgive and I’m not prone to forget.

Postseason enmity is an intense creature, different from that forged toward a division rival (unless it’s one and the same, which has happened once in Mets history). It’s a chronologically fleeting phenomenon, but the time put into it is some of the most textured you will know as a fan. This isn’t “who are we playing tomorrow?” This is resentment compressed into a handy carrying case, large enough to tote around an instantly growing chip on your shoulder. You learn the identity of your opposition and you obsess on them ASAP. You stoke postseason enmity for the longest days of your rooting life. You are completely immersed in bile you didn’t know you could gin up. Could be a night. Could be closer to a fortnight. And then you theoretically move on.

The hell you do. Or the hell I do. The grudge can be selective, but when it elects to endure, it doesn’t shake hands and wish you all the best.

For example, I hated the Baltimore Orioles the first time I saw them, which happened to be the 1969 World Series. We won, but I kept hating them. I hated them in the 1970 World Series and the 1971 World Series and every ALCS in which they competed through 1974. I only lightened up when I fathomed the sole alternative to Oriole success was Yankee success. After a while, the present-day Orioles, whatever the present day happened to be, didn’t necessarily move me one way or the other. Yet in 1999, thirty years removed from my initial exposure to them, when I was stunned to find myself at a baseball banquet mere feet from Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson — absolute greats of the game, zero argument from me — my inner child threw a tantrum. Those were 1969 Baltimore Orioles. Get them out of my face.

No members of the 1969 Orioles, at least not those who played in the World Series, ever played for the Mets, though one of them managed us to the 1986 world championship. I never held 1969 Orioleness against Davey Johnson or, for that matter, GM Frank Cashen. I wasn’t thrilled at the job their pitching coach, George Bamberger, did as our manager in 1982 and 1983, but that was on merit more than background. I will probably give our new pitching coach, Dave Eiland, a pass despite his having held the same post for Kansas City during a very inconvenient week in 2015. While I was grumbling at the likes of Moustakas, Cain and Hosmer that fall, I really wasn’t focused on who was in their dugout calling their bullpen.

The very first Mets postseason opponent was the 1969 Atlanta Braves. They made no negative impression on me whatsoever, probably because we were done with them in three straight and, at six years old, I was only grasping how much ire I should entertain for a team existing only to beat us. By 1970, I held no specific animus for the team that dared to stand between us and the World Series. Besides, they had Hank Aaron. Who of a decent and sane nature could have it in for anything associated with Hank Aaron? They also had three future Mets in Bob Aspromonte, Felix Millan and George Stone, the latter two turning out to be instrumental in our 1973 pennant. I harbored no internal conflict during their Metropolitan tenure.

I had it in for the Cincinnati Reds for a few years after the heated 1973 NLCS, especially Buddy-bashing Pete Rose, but then they went and traded for Tom Seaver, which made rooting against them just because they were the Reds difficult. If I couldn’t have Seaver as a Met, I wanted Seaver to have success. I rooted for the Reds in isolated instances on Seaver’s behalf in the late ’70s, albeit without much conviction. After a while, they were just another franchise, even with the Franchise.

The 1973 Oakland A’s I could never drum up serious animus for, not in the moment, not much in retrospect. They’d knocked off the Orioles in the playoffs and the Reds in the World Series the year before, so I was conditioned to cut them slack. Plus, c’mon, they were the Oakland A’s. I couldn’t not dig on Vida and Catfish and Rudi and most of those guys, let alone those green-and-gold pullovers and caps. I despised Charlie Finley, but so did they. Admittedly, I wasn’t fond of Campy and Reggie as they were ending our hopes — and I bristled at the mention of Darold Knowles pitching in all seven games of that World Series when Brandon Morrow tied his usage record last year — but those A’s were those A’s, and our Mets took them to the brink less than two months after wallowing in last place. There wasn’t a grudge in that. Nor was there for the one and only Oakland A of 1973 to land on a later Met club, Jesus Alou. Besides, based on my exposure to baseball cards, the youngest Alou was instinctively a San Francisco Giant, then a Houston Astro. News traveled slowly when wrapped in wax and redolent of gum.

The next chances I had to develop postseason grudges, I took them and I ran with them. Or I sat on them for a few years.

We took the Houston Astros in six games in 1986, but it felt like it went the limit and then some. They left a mark, one presumably formed by scuffing horsehide with sandpaper. I never stopped begrudging Mike Scott. Ex-Met Nolan Ryan’s post-Astro canonization as a folk hero occurred without my consent. Though Charlie Kerfeld disappeared from the scene pretty quickly, I still hiss at the image of him wagging the ball in the direction of a slumping Gary Carter (oh, revenge was sweet). On the other hand, I didn’t mind when Billy Hatcher went on to enormous World Series achievements as a Red in 1990, mostly shrugged when Glenn Davis was invited to Mets Spring Training in 1994 and treated as a welcome curiosity Kevin Bass’s two-month 1992 Shea Stadium residency. Having around the guy who swung at the last of Jesse Orosco’s nothing-but-sliders was at least a reminder that there really was a 1986.

Our NLCS conquest of the Astros cleared the dishes for the World Series main course, the 1986 American League champion Boston Red Sox. That could have been a whole lot weirder had savvy veteran starter Tom Seaver been active for them, but Tom Terrific was injured and confined to a windbreaker. It also could have been weirder had 1986 followed more closely on the heels of 1978, when I spent the summer in something of a fan-exchange program. I concentrated heavily on the Red Sox in ’78, perhaps at the expense of my usual devotion to the Mets (though I doubt any Boston adolescents returned the favor). I’d always at least kind of liked the Sox. I sometimes practically loved the Sox. Beginning October 18, 1986, I unconditionally loathed the Sox. I didn’t care that I had ached like a New Englander over Bucky Bleeping Dent. I didn’t care who was tendering paychecks to Seaver. I hadn’t waited since 1973 to get to 1986 to experience an ounce of mixed emotion.

And I didn’t. If stomping out the Red Sox was baked into winning the World Series, they were ipso facto my enemy. I despised Roger Clemens long before I REALLY despised Roger Clemens. I treated Bruce Hurst like he was Mike Scott’s lefthanded brother. Oil Can Boyd? Crush that Can! Same for Hall of Fame material Wade Boggs and Jim Rice, same for late-season pickups Dave Henderson and Spike Owen. Same for their stupid lyric little bandbox of a ballpark and the fans who crammed its dopey confines. When a certain first baseman didn’t pick up a certain ground ball that rolled right up to the space between his legs before rolling merrily through, I of course exulted. When given weeks and months and years to contemplate that Bill Buckner’s burden was cruelly heavy for one man to bear, I still exulted, though I allowed myself a scintilla of empathy when I realized it really would have sucked had that fate befallen Keith Hernandez.

But boy am I glad it happened to Buckner, that the Mets won and — because they had to — that the Red Sox lost. I made my first visit to Boston the following spring. Wore my Mets jacket. Absorbed some less than good-natured razzing. Loved why it was happening. When I deign to revisit October 1986, I switch into that same Bring It On mode. I watched a the chapter of Ken Burns’s Baseball recently that included Doris Kearns Goodwin rhapsodizing about what it meant to be a Red Sox fan in those days. Heard myself hurling expletives at Doris Kearns Goodwin. So, no, I’ve never really let go of my grudge at the October 1986 version of the Red Sox for presenting themselves as an obstacle to the October 1986 version of the Mets. But after a couple of years, they were just another American League team to me, to be encouraged in their attempts to beat the Yankees, to be congratulated heartily in 2004, maybe a little less so in 2007 and 2013. The only 1986 Red Sock to wear a Mets uniform after 1986, besides Tom Seaver in the midst of not quite coming back in 1987, was Don Baylor, hitting coach under Art Howe. I don’t think it once occurred to me during those two years to link Baylor to 1986. Maybe if John McNamara had found a way to use him to ill effect in the games at Shea…but he didn’t.

Two years later, we lost to our only 1988 postseason opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and every time Kirk Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley is lauded as one of baseball’s greatest moments, I remind my wife, my cat and any furniture that might be listening that it was Game One; that there were plenty more dramatic home runs that deserve to be lauded more; and oh, by the way, fuck the 1988 Dodgers. I think you can gauge from there the state of that grudge. Funny, though. We adopted the 2002 Angels as our postseason surrogates to such an extent that Stephanie and I planted in our living room not one but four rally monkeys, and it never once occurred to me to reckon that I was rooting for a team managed by human Met inflection point Mike Scioscia. When Mike Marshall and Alejandro Peña washed up on the shores of the 1990 Mets, I didn’t dislike them because they were dreaded 1988 Dodgers. I disliked them because they were dreadful 1990 Mets. Strangest of all, I rather dug Orel Hershiser, 1999 Met, eleven years after I shot visual darts out my eyes at Orel Hershiser, 1988 Dodger. Eleven years away from the postseason will soften your view toward anybody who helps ensure your drought won’t extend to twelve years.

Hershiser’s Mets had to get through the Reds in a one-game playoff which wasn’t technically a playoff, so the 1999 Reds don’t qualify for a grudge any more than they qualified for the postseason. The 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks do, even if they didn’t gain one. For the duration, sure. I revved up my distaste for dry heat, I decided Randy Johnson was that week’s worst person in the world and I’d have bet a dozen bagels on the NLDS outcome against whatever they eat in Phoenix. Minutes after Todd Pratt whacked the Snakes, however, I was done targeting Arizona and on to taking aim at Atlanta. Jay Bell and the second comings of Lenny Harris and Kelly Stinnett would all be Mets in the 2000s. Their ride through the desert on a horse with a briefly objectionable name didn’t faze me. By November of 2001, when the Diamondbacks liberated baseball fans everywhere from Yankee hegemony, gratitude reigned.

Oh, but those 1999 Braves. A different story from all other postseason grudges, for unlike every postseason grudge before them, they were our everyday enemy all year long. Does enemy sound a little heavy for a baseball team vying with a baseball team for a division title? It didn’t in 1999, when we battled the Braves, we succumbed to the Braves and we overcame our September losses to the Braves (three of three at Turner Field, two of three at Shea Stadium) only to meet the Braves once more in the NLCS.

We wouldn’t have had it any other way in terms of matchup. We couldn’t have had it any other way. But we couldn’t beat them in Atlanta, which decided the fate of that series. Came close, pushed them hard, didn’t do it. The only part of that season that wasn’t wonderful involved the conclusion of every crucial game at the Ted, which rhymed with dead and still does. Turner Field is now a college football stadium. The grudge of ’99 has outlasted it, so there’s that.

Over time, I developed a grudging respect for that era’s Braves. More grudge than respect. You couldn’t not give it up for Maddux and Smoltz. You had to sort of/kind of get a kick out of Larry Jones’s son being christened Shea. You had your irredeemable heels, like Rocker, but you also had your undeniable pros. Being on the same level with the umpteen-time divisional champs for a couple of years was a badge of honor, I suppose.

That didn’t mean I wanted one of their Big Three starting pitchers on the Mets when he joined in 2003 and it didn’t mean I wasn’t delighted when he went away in 2007. In between, I could cultivate selective amnesia as needed, but what Mets fan had T#m Gl@v!ne on his or her must-have list? The presence of the Manchurian Brave in Flushing warped the grudge. The fleeting presence of Gerald Williams, who trotted home with the winning run on Game Six’s Eleventh Inning’s Final Fourth Ball, didn’t much impact it. (Nor did that of the aforementioned Baylor, who coached for Bobby Cox; that guy sure got around.)

We never did get even with the Braves in 2000. We didn’t take the division from them and we didn’t take the pennant directly from them. But we did take the pennant, stirring up temporary hostilities against a new foe and a familiar foe along the way. The San Francisco Giants, their New York pedigree notwithstanding, basically minded their own business in our story from 1962 forward, but for a few days in October, they had to be the hated Giants. That’s how postseason works. It worked very well for us, as we lost one blah game at Pac Bell, then wrestled away a nailbiter on each coast to grab a two-one lead. Game Four was a one-hit wonder for Bobby Jones, the latter innings of it devoted out in LF Mezz (I can personally attest) informing Barry Bonds he sucked. It was also agreed that ex-Met Jeff Kent, he of the one hit off Jones, did the same. We finished off San Fran, we shared a good laugh at their expense and we moved on. Giant refugees Shawn Estes and Livàn Hernandez were welcomed with apathetic arms when they became Mets.

The NLDS victim Giants scooted out of view and along came the good ol’ St. Louis Cardinals for the NLCS. To paraphrase from Peanuts, “good ol’ St. Louis Cardinals, how we hate them!” Hate? Hated? Present tense, past tense…from 1985 forward, they received no benefit of the doubt. Amid five games in October 2000, they received no mercy. The grudge that had been shoved to the backburner with three-division realignment shifted into boil mode when it was suddenly Us and Them as in days of yore. It was easy to begrudge the Cardinals again. It was easy to instantly forget them as the 2000 World Series appeared on the horizon. It was easy to forget Fernando Tatis had been a 2000 Cardinal once he became a 2008 Met. It was impossible to forget from whence we retained our signature image of Rick Ankiel, but he was no longer a wild Cardinal pitcher in 2013. He was a last-chance outfielder here for a cup of the coldest coffee imaginable.

Cold water was about to be splashed in our face as the champagne dried from the celebration that drenched Shea the night we won the National League flag. That was a Monday. On Tuesday, we learned who would we would play in the World Series. By Saturday’s Game One, we were in full froth. Actually, the froth related to the Mets playing the Yankees was always ready to spew. Spring Training, Mayor’s Trophy, casual conversation…the grudge existed without a ballgame. Imagine four to seven of them about to be contested for the championship of the world.

Imagine it had gone better. It’s easy if you try. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The only thing I can say to make it feel better more than seventeen years later is the world didn’t end when we lost in five. The grudge from 2000 is almost incidental to the grudge that was already in progress for 38 years and continues to this day, the day we get reasonably excited that a recent Yankee is going to be the Mets’ third baseman. We gave the Yankees enough Mets to enable their dynasty, so what the hell? Two 2000 Yankees would join the Mets: Mike Stanton in 2003 (which I didn’t care for) and Orlando Hernandez in 2006 (which I didn’t mind at all). Three 2000 Yankees coaches also dropped by down the road: Chris Chambliss as unmemorable Mets hitting coach; Willie Randolph as star-crossed Mets manager; and, if you want to count him, Lee Mazzilli, as SNY studio analyst. But Mazz was always a Met, even when he was screwing us on horsespit interference calls while coaching first base under turncoat Joe Torre.

Our return to the postseason six years hence brought us back into contact with our 1988 bête noire, the L.A. Dodgers. Except the 2006 version had no juice to it, so this Jeff Kent team barely angried up the blood, at least not when compared to the encounter from the late eighties. It helped that we swept the NLDS in three straight and Paul Lo Duca tagged two Dodgers out on the same play at the plate. More fun than angst, so not much grudge. Marlon Anderson was a former Met who became a future Met. Ramon Martinez (the infielder) and James Loney would be Mets eventually. To the best of my knowledge, nothing from 2006 was held against them.

We continue to hold everything against the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, particularly their flagship battery of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, each of whom are still St. Louis Cardinals, still intermittently making us miserable, never making us as miserable as they did in the ninth inning of Game Seven because that would be beyond even their immense capabilities. The 2000 NLCS is practically a footnote relative to the eternal grudgeworthiness of the 2006 meeting. Maybe when one or both of those bleeping Birds retires, the overriding Cardinal grudge will contract. No 2006 Cardinal ever became a Met after the fact. They knew better.

Slow-forward nine years and it was the Mets and Dodgers once more. Nineteen Eighty-Eight loomed large in the Mets fan consciousness. Two Thousand Six didn’t. Hence, there was still a residual desire to avenge Scioscia, forgetting we already did that. A good grudge means you remember mostly what keeps you fuming. By the end of the 2015 NLDS, we knew two things:

1) We won in five mostly tight contests, knocking off two top starting pitchers in Kershaw and Greinke once apiece;

2) We hated a Phillie in Dodger clothing to an extent unfelt through Metsopotamia since erstwhile Red Sock Clemens revealed himself a worm as a Yankee.

As long as Chase Utley remained a Dodger, the grudge against the Dodgers would remain in effect. We could rationalize around lovable Justin Turner and admirable Clayton Kershaw and transitory Curtis Granderson, but fuck Utley and therefore fuck the Dodgers. Utley may not be a Dodger in 2018, but his leg-breaking slide into Ruben Tejada happened too recently to let the Chavez Ravineans off the hook. The hell with Randy Newman. We hate L.A. (But we don’t necessarily mind Adrian Gonzalez.)

Mets-Cubs, for the 2015 pennant, was in many ways a lifetime in the making. The Cubs were the Mets’ first serious rivals, in 1969, for which I held them in Oriolesque contempt as a child, teen, young adult and older adult. We’d knocked them out, yet I couldn’t forgive their general air of unsavoriness in the ’69 narrative. Then came four games in October when we steamrolled them, and I no longer felt the fuss. I don’t know that it’s even a little grudgy in the Mets-Cubs universe any longer. I do know we were going to our fifth World Series as a result of sweeping them and that we have yet to reconfigure a 2015 Cubs as a post-2015 Met.

The postseason grudge that has yet to subside was up next, but it isn’t the most recent one. That honor goes to the 2016 San Francisco, our opponent for nine innings in the Wild Card Game, a 3-0 loss mostly attributable to the characteristic brilliance of Madison Bumgarner and the fluky power of Conor Gillaspie. I always liked Bumgarner. I stopped doing that after he shut us out and sent us home, but I haven’t retroactively disavowed whatever nice thoughts I thought about him between 2010 and 2014. As for Gillaspie, Utley can slide into him at will. I was very happy the Giants were one of the few teams worse than the Mets in 2017. Serves them right. I doubt I’ll carry that grudge forward much in 2018 and beyond.

Now back to the grudge of grudges, the one that somehow grows rather than recedes. The 2015 Kansas City Royals…brrrr…and grrrr.

The Mets lost the 2015 World Series to those Royals in five games. The Mets held leads in each of their four losses, three of them late in regulation. Two were taken to extra innings, including the decisive fifth game. Yet it’s the one Mets win that really got my dander up in the Royals’ direction.

Third game. First pitch. Noah Syndergaard comes up and in on Alcides Escobar. Not Clemens vs. Piazza up and in, but hey, you who swings at every first pitch…not this one, pal. Baseball. Hardball. The Royals had been praised as “relentless” throughout that postseason. Syndergaard was determined to make them relent. Fortysome-thousand of my closest personal friends and I roared with approval at Citi Field. Escobar, who had gone down, stood up and struck out. The Mets went on to win Game Three and get themselves back into the Series.

The Royals, leading two games to one, whined. Moustakas whined. Hosmer whined. The whole bunch of them whined. Syndergaard responded with his glorious “they can meet me sixty feet, six inches away” quote. Thor would be awaiting them as the Game Seven starter. Too bad there was no Game Seven.

The Game Three fallout was the instigating moment of the Royal Grudge, but it was more than the whining. I don’t think I ever properly processed the 2015 World Series, so I never — even in the context of a fan holding grudges — got over it. To get over it, one has to get his arms around it in the first place (if you don’t mind a couple of clichés), and I don’t think I did that, either.

I watched that World Series. I wrote about that World Series. I was engaged by that World Series. I was absorbed into the World Series, given that my team was participating in it for the championship of the world, something they hadn’t had in their grasp in fifteen years, something they hadn’t grasped as their own in twenty-nine. Yet there was the slightest of force fields between me and it for at least two of the games, One and Five, each of which went overly long, each of which I experienced alongside my father in the nursing facility where he was spending what turned out to be the final months of his life. A thin but impenetrable layer of distraction hung over the proceedings. (That was also the week my car decided it needed to be in the shop, making the to-and-fro element a Thor-sized pain in the rear.) My dad, physically compromised, was mentally in and out of the action, which meant I was not exactly on top of every pitch. As happy as I was to share the World Series with my father, especially because there was so little for him to look forward to otherwise by the fall of 2015, I wished we could have done it under sunnier circumstances…and I don’t refer to the final scores. So although I saw every miserable momentum shift that cost the Mets the first game and the last game, I somehow don’t feel I was fully present for the whole of it.

Which may be all right, considering those games went all wrong. Game Four, too. OMG, Game Four. I was at that one, which was fun for seven innings and torture for the last two. If I didn’t truly process Games One and Five, I overly processed Game Four. Clippard missing the strike zone. Murphy missing the grounder. Cespedes missing the memo on how far off first base a runner should stray. Yeesh.

Still yeesh. Can’t look at Clippard, who is mysteriously one of the few Mets who gets talking head time in the official World Series film. Can barely remember how Murphy dominated the Dodgers and Cubs. Can’t fully trust Cespedes to do the right thing. And I can’t watch a postseason postgame show anymore without remembering what they look like when you’re inside the stadium. When Game Four was done, I didn’t leave the Promenade right away. Staring at the field, I saw the sets emerge for whichever rights holders were allowed to broadcast onsite. Royals were being interviewed everywhere you turned around. The Mets had disappeared. As Will Bailey told Sam Seaborn on The West Wing, the metaphor alone knocks me down.

Conversely, the end of the World Series leaves me hazy. Once the ninth inning went awry — with tying runs scored and/or moved along by future theoretically desirable free agents Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas — I sort of checked out. Game Five stayed on and I stayed put, but I knew in my considerable gut there’d be no Game Six. When Christian Colon’s name fluttered across the transaction line in December 2017 (he signed with the Braves), I didn’t blink. It took a random tweet to remind me that Colon was technically the 2015 World Series equivalent of Yadier Molina; he pinch-singled in what became the winning run…or, for us, the losing run in the twelfth inning. I’d blocked out everything in extras, everything after Hosmer slid home under Duda’s throw past d’Arnaud. The twelfth inning was the ninth inning nine years later but, like the Mets, my heart wasn’t in extra innings.

I still rue our failure to beat the Cardinals in 2006. Same for the Dodgers in 1988, because how often are we overwhelming favorites? Same for losing to the Yankees in 2000 and the A’s in 1973 despite the air of underdoggedness attached to us. I don’t know how much gas we had left in the tank after the great Wild Card chase of 2016, but I sure would’ve liked a minimum of three more games to find out. Somehow it isn’t the losing/not winning that gets me about the 2015 World Series and the Royals. I’m still delighted we’re National League champions. I’m still blown away at how we rose from 52-50 to 83-61 to put the division away. The whole of 2015 warms my soul. But the World Series, save for Game Three’s 9-3 result and my good fortune to be on hand to witness it, is a misplaced puzzle piece. My sense of closure remains ajar.

My lone full viewing of the World Series film on MLBN, in the winter of 2015-16, left me far colder than any revisitation of any nationally broadcast unhappy Met experience. Sixteen years after the fact, I forced myself to watch Luis Sojo’s 38-hopper off Al Leiter seven times in a row as I was writing about the 2000 World Series in my Piazza book. I thought it would be painful, but by the fifth time, it was just footage in the service of research. Besides, I already disdained Sojo’s far more celebrated teammates. The World Series film from 2015 proved much harder to take, even the scant good parts. Despite being a Major League Baseball production, it was the Royals Show from start to finish. The Mets were barely cast as guests. The winner will always be toasted more than the loser, but the tilt was startling. The Mets got some decent play in the ’73 and ’00 productions regardless of outcome. An attempt to rewatch the ’15 version when MLBN aired it again this past December confirmed my distaste.

So I can’t embrace the official document the 2015 World Series left behind. And I can’t fully enjoy one of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, because I’ve read him pay homage to the recent Royals, whose beat he covered before they blossomed into champions. And I couldn’t stand to look when Ben Zobrist, 2015 Kansas City Royal doubles machine, accepted the 2016 World Series MVP award as a Cub (which he became after nearly becoming a Met, before my grudge fully festered). And I couldn’t help but cheer when the Kansas City Chiefs were eliminated from the NFL playoffs, strictly from guilt by association. And I can no longer automatically pick a least-favorite in any given Royal-Yankee regular-season matchup, despite dormant affection for that time George Brett took Goose Gossage into the upper deck. And I sure as hell wanted nothing to do with Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer becoming a Met. Let Cain live and be well in Milwaukee. Let Moustakas and Hosmer get paid elsewhere. (And may the late Yordano Ventura rest in peace; my malice may be fierce, but it’s not sick.) Would I take some other Royal some other time? Perhaps. How about a Royal deeply associated with the grudge that grips me? No thank you.

Welcome to the good side of New York, Todd Frazier. If nothing else, thank you for being who you’re not.

I spent Super Bowl Sunday morning talking 56 years of Mets baseball with Mike Silva on Metsmerized Online’s Talkin’ Mets podcast. Football’s over, but the listening is still super.

Check it out here.

Gimme a 7 and 7 for the Ages

It would be out of character for me to not cheerlead the return of Jose Reyes to the New York Mets for his twelfth non-consecutive season in orange and blue, so RAH-RAH, I say, that Reyes is back without having gone anywhere. If I could grandfather in the four seasons he was elsewhere (and fully excise from my consciousness some reprehensible off-field behavior), I would. Embedded within the core of my Mets fandom is continuity. The core of Jose’s appeal at this point in his career is the same. Jose was a Met in 2003, at Shea, in the company of Piazza, Leiter and Franco. He is slated to be a Met in 2018, at Citi, alongside Cespedes, deGrom and, I hope, a newly acquired infielder besides Ty Kelly. I cheer Jose’s uncommon Met continuity, unfortunate interruption notwithstanding.

Reyes’s most productive days transpired quite a while ago, synced seamlessly at their peak with those emanating from the bats and bodies of Beltran, Delgado and another kid named Wright. He went into the hole with aplomb then. He got to almost every ball then. Defensive metrics weren’t kind to him in 2017 and they didn’t appear to be skewing the eye test. His fairly solid hitting in the second half of ’17 didn’t fully obscure the almost total lack thereof in the first half. A random soon-to-be 35-year-old matching his contemporary output and contracted (albeit for a relative MLB pittance) to fill an amorphous role probably wouldn’t elicit my pom-pom instinct.

But the Mets didn’t sign just anybody. They signed Jose Reyes, my favorite Met from a generation that is otherwise all but gone. Hence, I shall remain cheerfully invested in what the Mets are selling: Jose as potential utility savant; Jose as Amed mentor; Jose as heckuva teammate (did anybody initiate more let alone more dazzling variations on the high-five last year?); and Jose as classic sparkplug, igniting the occasional fire on the basepaths and catalytically converting the memories of ballgames and ballparks gone by into brand new runs that wouldn’t otherwise cross home plate if left to the legs of his mostly lead-footed teammates. I’ve Jose-Jose’d too much to not maintain an emotional stake in Reyes Inc.

Neither one of us is as young as we used to be, yet we’re each still here. You get older, you appreciate staying power.

The reigning No. 7 leads the 56-year-old franchise in triples and steals, though it’s hard to consider Jose the undisputed No. 1 in his numerical realm, because to Mets fans of a wide swath of ages, No. 7 will always instinctively mean Eddie Kranepool. Eddie spent 15 seasons in 7, and that didn’t even encompass his entire career. Eddie pulled on 21 when he was 17 and modeled it until he was 20, turning to 7 only when  356-game-winner Warren Spahn joined the Mets in 1965. Spahnnie, well en route to the Hall of Fame, made the majors before Eddie was born, giving him prior claim on the number by which he was identified as a Milwaukee Brave, a number that used to signify the minimum voting age in the United States. Eddie was a major leaguer who wore two different numbers in five different seasons before he could cast a legal ballot in a general election.

Warren won four games as a Met and took off for San Francisco midway through ’65. Eddie stuck with No. 7, keeping it for the myriad terms of office ahead of him, all of them served under the Mets banner. That’s staying power. That’s continuity like they don’t make anymore. That’s continuity Reyes can’t touch, continuity Wright sadly aches too much to reach. Ed Kranepool was an active Mets player during eighteen consecutive seasons. No pesky commas disrupt his narrative. He came up to the Mets in September 1962 and stayed a Met until September 1979. When he was done, he didn’t wear anybody else’s colors. In fact, he tried to put together a group to buy the only team he knew. It didn’t work out.

Eddie has remained a Met in every sense that matters ever since the last of his 1,418 hits (third-most in franchise history), which came in the last of his 5,436 at-bats (second-most), which occurred in the last of his 1,853 games (most). Of course Ed Kranepool has remained a Met. What else is he going to be to us? He’s Steady Eddie, the Krane, the youngest Met ever, the longest-running Met ever, an Original Met almost, a World Champion Met forever.

Give or take a couple of details, I’m not telling you much that you as a Mets fan don’t already know the gist of. You may also be aware that Ed Kranepool, who passed 73 in November, is dealing with serious medical issues. The man who banged 36 hits off Bob Gibson, laced the most crucial game-winning single of 1969 off Fergie Jenkins and snuck in a 4-for-9 against Cincinnati Reds ace Tom Seaver (illustrating how hard it is to maintain Met continuity when you’re not Ed Kranepool) could surely hold his own when staring down tough opponents. But it doesn’t get much tougher than kidney failure, a foe of unspeakable ferocity. Ed needs a kidney. He’s looking. Ed also could use a hand with the expenses associated with medical issues. I spoke to his representative, Martin Glover of Momentum Sports Management recently, and Martin told me that while Eddie’s “upbeat” and “proud,” realities are realities, and the most relevant of them are daunting.

Fortunately, one undeniable reality is Eddie garnered a treasure trove of baseball memorabilia throughout his Mets tenure and beyond. Mets stuff. Yankees stuff, if you’ll excuse the expression. Genuine autographed stuff from a legendary big league life. You don’t leave a mark across eighteen seasons without meeting some high-profile people and collecting some high-profile items if you’re so inclined, which No. 7 always was, dating back to when he was No. 21. Because Eddie understands the value attached to it, he’s willing to part with a not insignificant chunk of it. With Eddie’s blessing, Martin invites anybody who’s sincerely interested over to Eddie’s house in Nassau County to have a look and, hopefully, make a purchase.

Monday through Thursday nights in February, as well as on some weekends, Eddie will be home and available for this truly unique opportunity. Please get in touch with Martin Gover, at (212) 918-4545, to set up an appointment. If you’re a collector, this is the chance of a lifetime. If you’re a Mets fan…well, this is Eddie Kranepool we’re talking about.

Recognizing Our Mets-in-Law

When the Hall of Fame voting was announced Wednesday, I felt a mild surge of Metsian pride as two of the four new members were ushered into immortality. Chipper Jones was the quintessential turn-of-the-millennium Atlanta Brave and Vladimir Guerrero’s many splendors were established as a multitooled Montreal Expo. Given their respective pedigrees, we take this moment to recognize them as true Mets-in-law, essential elements of our extended family.

Every extended family has its supreme pains in the ass. In baseball, those are your divisional rivals’ stars, the ones who show up on your doorstep or to whose doorstep you drag yourself. “Oh, hi…good to see ya…how ya been?” You make your small talk through gritted teeth, screwing on a good face to be polite. These out-of-towners tend to cause you heartache and give you headaches. But you put up with them. You see them a few times a year, year after year, because tradition dictates the get-togethers. You’re used to these people. You don’t necessarily care for them, but familiarity will spur you and they to develop a grudging mutual bonhomie.

In the case of the Hall of Fame Class of 2018, National League East branch, that’s Chipper/Larry and that’s Vlad. We had different experiences with both. Chipper required a surfeit of visits before he sort of, kind of grew on us in that “at least we’re not surprised anymore” sense. Come to think of it, it was the almost two decades of visits that landed him on our nerves, but we couldn’t do anything about those. Also, he needed to learn tact. Age seemed to take care of that. Time heals some wounds, or perhaps reframes their context.

Vlad was more gracious. He came to kill us, sure, but never said a discouraging word, at least not that we picked up on. The side of the family he was from, in Canada, was never nearly the issue that Chipper and the Georgia relations were, certainly not in Vladimir’s day. He was fun to have over when you could forget why we were seeing him. Vlad we might have liked to have had stay on a more permanent basis. Such an arrangement wasn’t meant to be.

The other two Hall of Famers selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America — Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman — weren’t total strangers, but rate, to us, as Met acquaintances at best. Thome passed through our field of vision now and again, but he did the bulk of his nice-natured destruction elsewhere. Hoffman you had to be a night owl to know from where his best work was concerned. Overall, you heard good things regarding both. Their numbers, like those compiled by our Mets-in-law Chipper and Vlad, are suitably impressive. Now that none of them is trying to ruin a Mets evening or season, live and be well on a wall Upstate.

Most parochially pressing from the latest round of Hall voting is the ASAP disappearance of Johan Santana, a most discouraging result. Ten years ago, right around this moment, we were edging to the front of our collective seat because news was spreading that Johan was on the verge of becoming a Met. If you could permit yourself to dream of any pitcher joining the bosom of your immediate baseball family in the winter of 2008, or in the several winters preceding that one, it would have been Johan Santana. He was the best of his era, an era that didn’t endure quite long enough to crack the consciousness of the ballotholders. Johan received 2.4% of the vote, higher by far than the portion of Major League batters who wanted to face him between 2004 and 2010, but well off the 5% needed to continue to be considered for Cooperstown.

As disappointing as the expulsion of one of the greats from the ballot is, the upside, I suppose, is no lingering à la long shot Mets Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Gary Sheffield, none of whom neared 20%, never mind the necessary seventy-five. Of course it’s better to be up for a lightning-strike election than immediately dismissed, but there’s something undignified about players who crafted outstanding careers having to be treated as also-rans January after January, one self-serious expert after another paying them lip service, then skipping the box next to their names. A year from now, we won’t have to hear writers offer afterthoughts on Johan, that he was really, really terrific…but not really that terrific, or not as terrific as ten other players, almost definitely not terrific for as long as would have been preferred.

The First No-Hitter in New York Mets History is the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History and always will be. I’ve got a plaque in my head for June 1, 2012, and it was installed unanimously. As for the conferring of immortality, anybody who witnessed Johan Santana carry his team and our ballpark to one more day of life on Saturday, September 27, 2008, doesn’t require further validation. We saw a Hall of Famer that day and we will never forget what he looked like.

I was honored to be the first guest on the new A Metsian Podcast with Sam, Rich and Mike. Thank you Messrs. Maxwell, Sparago and Lecolant for having me on. You can (and should) listen in here.

Welcome, THB Class of 2017!

Should this have been written in 2017? Perhaps. But in an off-season as exciting as this one, it’s hard to find a place for evergreen features.

(First of many sighs.)

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

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

2017 THB Mets

Your 2017 THB Mets!

Anyhoo. Here are your 2017 Mets, in order of matriculation:

Paul Sewald: 2017 began without a single new Met on the roster, which had me gabbing about how the 2017 club could break the rather odd record set by the 1974 Mets, who featured no new Mets until Jack Aker arrived on June 16. Fans protested the ’74 team was being run cheaply and ineptly — Bud Harrelson broke his hand but was kept on the active roster as a pinch-runner — and it wasn’t much of a stretch to see grim parallels there. As it turned out, the foreshadowing was of something rather different. Sewald was summoned almost immediately and made his debut on April 8; the 2017 Mets would feature a numbing, endless parade of has-beens and most-likely-never-will-bes, making our preseason worries about stagnant rosters seem like hubris. As for Sewald itself, he pitched dutifully and bravely, reminding me of long-ago first-year relievers Joe Smith and Jerrod Riggan. Which is an overly complicated way of saying he was a middle reliever making his debut. 51s card.

Adam Wilk: A veteran roster-filler, Wilk was summoned from Vegas when Matt Harvey did one of the unhelpful/self-destructive/immature things that you now increasingly think of when someone says “Matt Harvey.” He took the mound against the Marlins in the rain, was taken deep by Giancarlo Stanton, and basically never heard from again. As we’re about to see, this is not actually the worst thing that can happen. 51s card.

Tommy Milone: This is the worst thing that can happen. Every team winds up throwing a retread starter to the wolves a few times a year when some starter has a balky something and roster considerations/throw days don’t line up at Triple-A. It happens. Milone was summoned in early May after proving less than useful to the Brewers, pitched tolerably in his Mets debut (a horrifying loss), was terrible in his next two starts and then was shipped off to Vegas. As noted, it happens. But then he came back. You know how the cavalry rides in to save the day at the climax of old Westerns? Tommy Milone returning to the roster in late August was the opposite of that, the plot twist that’s never in those movies because it would be fucking depressing. It was the cavalry being recalled to barracks and the Apaches exchanging surprised looks and then burning everyone alive in the stockade. And it summed up the 2017 Mets perfectly. Years from now, if you need a bit of shorthand for the 2017 season, mutter “Tommy Milone” and watch the other people in the conversation scowl and pull at their beers as if they contain medicine. Milone got a Topps Update card, which in theory was good for The Holy Books but actually just made me madder about everything.

Neil Ramirez: Another thing that happens, except it was 2017 and so it kept happening. Ramirez arrived after neither the Giants nor the Blue Jays could find any use for him, which didn’t exactly fill us with optimism. He then managed to underwhelm those low expectations by being steadily, reliably awful, a metronome of suck that no one seemed willing to turn off. Years ago, the veteran beat writer Marty Noble did a regular Q&A for some digital outfit that got increasingly entertaining as Noble became increasingly crabby. The high point, for me, was the day a Met fan flayed Aaron Heilman for general hangdog tragedy and Noble asked what, exactly, the fan wanted the Mets to do with Heilman — send him to prison? By the time Ramirez was excised from the 2017 Mets roster after nearly two miserable months, prison struck me as a perfectly reasonable destination for him. He got a Topps Update card, which I’d prefer not to admit exists.

Tyler Pill: Middling 27-year-old prospect pitched poorly when called up to a terrible team. Not the outcome anybody wanted, least of all Pill, but it would be pointless and mean to blame him for that. 51s card.

Chasen Bradford: It was never clear whether he wanted to be called Chasen or Chase. By the time it became a question, everyone was too low and numb to particularly care what he wanted. 51s card.

Chris Flexen: Pressed into service as a 23-year-old who was still trying to figure out how to pitch. That’s not his fault; neither are the underwhelming results. It’s entirely possible he’ll return in a year or two as a useful part of the future, in which case it would be kindest to pretend that 2017 was just a bad dream. Some really old Bowman card.

A.J. Ramos: The Mets’ “Wait, we’re buyers?” acquisition, which was confusing. Ramos closed when the Mets didn’t have much to close, and honestly I can barely remember his being around, because I just wanted the torture to be over by then. He spells his name without the periods, but that’s annoying and I refuse to do it. 2017 Topps card as a Marlin, though he’ll have a 2018 Mets card in a couple of weeks. Hooray?

Amed Rosario: It’s tough to be anointed savior of any bad team, and tougher when that happens in New York, where every prospect is a shoo-in for Cooperstown until he fails to hit .300 in his first week, after which he obviously should be given his unconditional release. Rosario finally arrived in August and played 46 games, which didn’t really tell us much. You know what? We’ll talk about him this year. 2016 Bowman card.

Dominic Smith: If nothing else, he’ll be fodder for tons of baseball arguments which are actually about baseball. Smith’s been a divisive prospect since the day he was drafted and managed to be a divisive rookie, flashing impressive power, hitting below .200 and displaying few signs of the soft hands he reputedly had at first base. It’s like some mad scientist fused Butch Huskey with Ike Davis. To be continued. 2016 Bowman card.

Kevin McGowan: Righty reliever. It isn’t actually true that they grow on trees, but it’s close enough. 51s card.

Travis Taijeron: Finally made it to the big leagues and for a while it looked like he would never hit anything, as he started his career 0-for-10 with five strikeouts and showed no particular ability to play the outfield. This ended, mercifully, with a double to left off the Reds’ Robert Stephenson, possibly the last time I clapped in 2017. Whew. Seriously, good for him. 2016 51s card.

Jacob Rhame: Righty reliever who came over, sporting goggles, in the Curtis Granderson trade. Didn’t look ready, probably because he wasn’t. An Oklahoma City Dodgers card that I had to pay a stupid amount of money for on eBay.

Jamie Callahan: Righty reliever who came over, not sporting goggles, in the Addison Reed trade. Looked better than Rhame, though both sample sizes were too small for any responsible conclusion. A Salem Red Sox card that I had to pay a stupid amount of money for on eBay.

Nori Aoki: This seemed like a pointless transaction: the Mets added a veteran outfielder who had no future with the club. And in the larger scheme of things it probably was pointless. But Aoki arrived after Outfielder A’s hamstrings exploded and Outfielder B became a Dodger and Outfielder C became an Indian and Outfielder D’s arm flew off on a swinging strike and became a souvenir for the 7 Line (I’m probably forgetting an E and F in there but honestly it doesn’t matter) and by then everything was so so so painful that it turned out having a professional player competently play the outfield was better than having some poor wet-behind-the-ears kid get booed by 3,000 sullen fans, whatever that poor kid’s future might be. 2017 Topps card as a Mariner.

Phillip Evans: Daniel Murphy isn’t dead — in fact, he’s alive and well and beating the ever-living shit out of us 19 times a year as a Washington National. Still, you could be forgiven for wondering if the Mets had somehow reincarnated him in the form of Phillip Evans, an awkward-looking player without a position, unless being able to really hit counts as a position. Of course, if the Mets could reincarnate players they’d a) be advised to animate a new Strawberry or Piazza instead of trying to replicate Murph’s weirdo career arc; and b) they’d send Sandy Alderson out to piously explain why reincarnation wasn’t the right course of action and then glare at people who asked if the Wilpons weren’t actually just too cheap to pay the electric bill for the Player Reincarnator. 51s card in which it looks like Evans is about to be injured by a grounder.

Tomas Nido: Ah, the caboose transaction in which the team looks done with rookie auditions but then calls up one more dude, usually a glove-first shortstop or an extra catcher. Nido was the latter, which can be perilous. Randy Bobb never got into a game in 1970, though he did have Cub cups of coffee, while Joe Hietpas avoided ghostdom by catching the final inning of 2004. According to legend, poor Billy Cotton got as far as the on-deck circle in 1972, only to see the batter in front of him hit into a debut-denying double play. Nido avoided that fate by getting into a game on September 13; a day later he collected his first hit, a single to left off Felix Pena at Wrigley Field. Approximately two minutes later, he reached third on an awkwardly fielded bunt, tried to score and was apologetically tagged out by Pena about 25 feet from home plate, ending the ballgame. Perhaps in a few years Nido will be an All-Star catcher and able to laugh about that one. Or perhaps he’ll shrug and say, “it was 2017, y’know?” And we will. Oh, we will. Bowman Chrome card.

Springtime for Hitters Like Adrian

When the bulletins bubbled forth Saturday night that negotiations between the Mets and Adrian Gonzalez were reaching fever pitch, I thought of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom scheming to hire Roger De Bris to direct “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers, the musical theater’s first known example of tanking.

MAX: Roger De Bris is the worst director that ever lived.
LEO: Do you think he’ll take the job?
MAX: Only if we ask him.

Adrian Gonzalez’s track record outshines Roger De Bris’s, though maybe not so much lately. Injuries limited him to 71 games last season, and the Dodgers proceeded to the seventh game of the World Series without him being around much. He’s put up some outstanding numbers over the years, albeit in years that have grown distant. I feared him in the 2015 NLDS, and with good reason: .316/.381/.526 in five games. But as we’ve learned for ourselves, 2015 currently qualifies as a while ago.

Coming off a .242/.287/.355 season, coping with a bad back and reportedly shunned by his teammates during their most pressing hour (before which he wasn’t exactly forcing his company on them), I was wondering how intense these negotiations needed to get. Did I think the Mets could lure Adrian Gonzalez? Only if they asked him.

They asked. He said yes. The two parties have joined forces for the 2018 season, pending an examination — physical, not mental.

Gonzalez’s appeal is in his deal. It’s enormous, but the bulk of the fortune he’s owed is being picked up by Atlanta, which traded Matt Kemp to get Gonzalez. Actually, the Braves traded for Gonzalez to get rid of Kemp. And the Dodgers traded for Kemp to get rid of Gonzalez. (Gee, it’s a wonderful game?) The Braves released Gonzalez faster than Prince used to release albums. Adrian is due many, many millions of dollars. The Mets will be responsible for a fraction thereof.

Those are the Mets we know and love. No point paying retail for home runs. And if Gonzalez’s back straightens up and his bat does more than fly to right, we shall hail Adrian as the bargain of the century. Maybe he rejuvenates at age 35 (36 in May). Maybe he pushes Dom Smith, whose grip on first base grows only looser despite the Mets’ failure to play a single inning since October 1. Or maybe Gonzalez is, spiritually if not contractually, a latter-day Andres Galarraga in the Met sense. Andres was about done when the Mets took a Spring Training flyer on the 43-year-old Big Cat in 2005. The prevailing rationale was Galarraga was experienced, accomplished and could be a good influence. As it turned out, he was done, saying goodbye to the Mets and the remnants of his MLB career in St. Lucie, similar to how another erstwhile star first baseman from elsewhere, Glenn Davis, bowed out a decade or so earlier.

Yet this type of temptation is tough to resist. What it is L’Oréal suggests about Winona Ryder/damaged hair? “Everyone loves a comeback.” We’d embrace one from the slugger who averaged more than a hundred RBIs a year for eight years from 2007 through 2014. We’d also be thrilled to the marrow if Gonzalez’s presence prompted Smith to build on his flashes of power (9 HR in 167 AB) while correcting his perceived deficiencies (most everything else). Dom is 22 going on 23, hopefully not going on a plane to Vegas never to be seen striking out in these parts again. Smith may not be the definitive long-term future at first, but we know Gonzalez isn’t. Of course the most future we can remotely fathom is the next pitch, and that’s still a ways off, so let the previews commence.

Many thanks to Dan Schlossberg of Sports Collectors Digest for ranking Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star among the best baseball books of 2017. I’m honored by the selection.

Same as the Old Bruce

“You there in the orange and blue jammies, wake up,” Old Man Winter urged me Wednesday night. “The Mets are bringing in a big-name everyday player.”

I rubbed the sleep from eyes and asked for whom my and my team’s hibernation should be so rudely interrupted.

“Jay Bruce,” Old Man Winter said. “The Mets are signing Bruce for three years, $39 million.

“Oh,” I said, “I’ve heard of him. Great. Wonderful. Amazin’, even.”

Then I rolled over and resumed my regularly scheduled slumber, already in progress.

Welcome back, my friends, to the offseason that never ends and doesn’t seem to go anywhere — and welcome back to the Met you might not have noticed was ever gone.

I’m very happy to have Jay Bruce on the Mets again. Well, “very” might be overstating it. So might “happy”. Substitute “vaguely” for “very” and “pleased” for “happy,” and now we’re getting somewhere, much the same as Bruce is getting back to where he once belonged. Jay continues to filter in and out of our consciousness like the weekly mailer with the local supermarket circulars. We never requested it, it’s fine that it comes, when it doesn’t we don’t notice. Except the circulars were never talked up for months as one of our potential prime reading options.

Bruce was one of the big free agents out there. You can only shop the stores that are open. The Bruce Mart was one of them. Can’t go to Waldbaum’s anymore. Can’t go to Pathmark. The mailer doesn’t include enough coupons to make the Manny Machado Market worth more than a fleeting glanc

“Hey how do the Jay Bruce at-bats look today?”

“They’re ripe. And available. And supposedly really good in the clubhouse!”

“Uh-huh. Which aisle are the second basemen in?”

If the Mets had never traded for Jay Bruce at the dawn of August 2016, that theoretically would have been swell. If the Mets had attracted a decent package in exchange for Jay Bruce last winter, I’d have been OK with it in the moment. Had the Mets held on to Jay Bruce for the whole of 2017, I really wouldn’t have complained. Had Jay Bruce found greener pastures elsewhere in his abandoned quest for more green, more power to the power-hitting rightfielder/first baseman, I probably would have thought before nodding off.

But we got him; we kept him; we traded him to Cleveland; and we’ve convinced him to return. All of those were okey-dokey actual outcomes. He definitely did some hitting for us, and, based on the concept of precedent, he figures to do some more for us. Contrary to popular perception, the native Texan and erstwhile professional Ohioan is apparently cool with inhabiting among New Yorkers. Considering that Bruce is essentially bumping a mop handle with a pumpkin head on the provisionally Confortoless Mets depth chart, he’s surely an upgrade over the status quo and constitutes a striking comp for what the Mets fairly recently used to have, namely Jay Bruce.

The Mets grew exceedingly hot while Bruce chilled to ice-cold down the stretch in 2016. With him producing legit homer and ribbie numbers in 2017, the Mets played .450 ball. Without him their pace sank to about .400. Embedded within that trajectory, the prodigal son perhaps looms as an impact player. We sometimes suggest this precise course of action — trade the impending free agent, get something for him, sign him again. That never seems to happen. It did this time.

In this adaptation of the watchable if inane football film Draft Day, Jay Bruce is our Brian Drew, the perfectly decent and familiar veteran quarterback who Browns fans and management all at once decide is preferable to the potential hotshot rookie Cleveland can nab with the first pick. The resolution isn’t all that exciting in the movie and it may not be all that exciting in Flushing. Exciting was the Wild Card race of ’16 and the idea of adding Bruce’s bat to it. Everybody you’ve heard of is more exciting when we haven’t seen all that much of them.

But signing Bruce when nobody is signing anybody is surely something, and somethingness is something else these barren days. Beats nothing, which has been the defining get of the last few weeks of winter, with minor league righty reliever Drew Gagnon a close second. Gagnon, lately in the Angels organization, joins seven other minor league righty relievers snapped up by the Mets since July, one of them for Bruce, on the off chance you’d lost track of Ryan Ryder. The plan for distant-future world domination via bullpenning continues to unfold below radar, while the Mets and Bruce briefly fly above it.

As fashionable as it’s been to note the Mets are shall we say low-keying their roster improvement program, no team has been going nuts signing players. The Marlins dumped a couple on willing recipients, and there have been blips of activity on both coasts, but Old Man Winter’s been mostly napping through baseball conversations. I’ve seen 2017-18 compared to the collusive offseason of 1986-87 (when a free agent class that included future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Jack Morris was barely courted), yet the one I’m put in mind of is 1994-95, which was the strike winter, when now and then you’d hear about a trade, then hear it wasn’t valid because everything was in limbo. The Mets traded for Houston’s Pete Harnisch that November, yet it didn’t kick in on paper until April. Baseball was shut so tight that winter that you started to forget it existed.

Baseball’s not enduring visible labor strife (thank goodness), but everybody who makes announcements about free agents and such seems to have walked off the job. It’s been less quiet than it has been stone mute. The Mets filling their post-Bruce void with Bruce landed for a few minutes like trading for Gary Carter in December of ’84. Then it went back to getting Jay Bruce, which we do approximately every seventeen months. Maybe we’ll get another player before the next snow falls and melts, but I don’t want to seem greedy.

Bruce’s return to the fold makes Jay a member of our exclusive Brokeback Mountain club, comprised of those Mets who just can’t quit us. Should he take the field on March 29 at rechristened Jay Stadium, Bruce will officially become the 44th Recidivist Met. The Mets Jay joined in 2016 were fueled by Recidivism — Kelly Johnson, Jose Reyes and (on the same day Bruce was secured from Cincy), Jon Niese all came home, so to speak, and helped haul our slumping asses to the Wild Card; Johnson and Reyes more than Niese…and more than Bruce.

If you peer past the current endless offseason, you’ll make out Jay coming in third in terms of shortest pauses between Met tenures. His last game with us, on August 9, was the 111th of 2017, meaning the gap between Bruceian appearances projects as 52 Mets games played in his absence. Fleeting Angel (and high school football legend) Kirk Nieuwenhuis is second on the list, boomeranging back to the Mets after a 45-game hiatus in 2015. Greg McMichael was quickest to decontaminate, needing only 32 games to stop being a Dodger in 1998 and resume being a Met.

Johnson will now be tied for fourth on the list, with 60 games breaching his Metsiness, which is worth mentioning here in light of whom he’s tied with, the original Recidivist Met, Frank Lary. Lary pitched for the very last time in our uniform on July 31, 1964…until he pitched in our uniform again on April 12, 1965. In between, he was a Milwaukee Brave, for about as long as Bruce was a Tribesman. Before long, he’d be a Chicago White Sock. Upon his passing at the age of 87 on December 14, Lary was remembered mainly as a Detroit Tiger and by his most lovely nickname: the Yankee Killer. But to us he’ll always be the guy who was the first to realize he could come home again.

The track record for Recidivist Mets indicates most of them are at the peak of their appeal when word comes down that their odyssey is complete. “Yay, he’s back!” Then, with a few exceptions among the 43 cases on file, it doesn’t much pan out. The other semi-relevant winter precedent floating in my mind is 2001-02, specifically the segment devoted to Recidivizing, in separate transactions, Roger Cedeño and Jeromy Burnitz. Cedeño was a key component of the beloved ’99 fight & drama corps. Burnitz had blossomed into a bona fide slugger upon his departure from our midst while the ’94 strike dragged. In conjunction with the trades for Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, the reacquisitions of Cedeño and Burnitz were seen as too perfect.

They were. The whole thing was that winter. Nobody ever said a dynamic offseason necessarily leads to an excellent season. Not that a little more dynamism wouldn’t be welcome right around now. Sure there aren’t any second basemen down this aisle?

Thanks to Stuart Hack of the Hack Attack on Sports for having me on his radio show earlier this week to discuss “Piazza: Catcher, Slugger, Icon, Star” and other matters of Met memory.