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

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

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

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Who Are These Guys Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Years of the Pitchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2018 Oscar’s Cap Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are why we’re here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something So Wright

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

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

• Wright introduced last among non-starters

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

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

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

MAY 31
Wright plays catch for first time all year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could David Wright come out and play?

For him. For us. Same difference.

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

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

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

That’s some kind of moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now largely forgotten.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn Wright it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mets keeping Wright from talking to media until he plays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER 27
Wright doesn’t play at all in series

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

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

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

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

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

The Beatles played Queens quite notably, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reyes was first teammate to greet Wright after his groundout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wright?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David was more smiling than sad throughout the proceedings

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

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

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

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

Last pitcher to face David Wright: Trevor Richards

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

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

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

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

Reyes led off, Wright batted third

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My kind of last homestand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avery was on notice to beware the Kleenex box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wright becomes a non-recidivist Comma Met

Jose Reyes played in his 12th season as a Met

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

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

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

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

Seriously, can you imagine ever calling anybody else Captain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All We Want for Christmas is More

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

And it’s not even Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baines of Our Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Lee Smith, I explained.

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

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

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

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

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

The Mets Have a Pronouncement to Make

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

Jay-uh-reese…
Jay-reese…
Juh-reese…
Juh-ree-us…
Juh-roo-us…

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

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

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

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

What's in a Number?

Our co-newest Met is wearing a familiar number.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glass Half Mets

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

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

I miss that feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

And we still don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tender Sentiments for Wilmer Flores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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