Old Timers Day at Foley’s, as we celebrate 10 years of blogging for and with Mets fans who like to read. (Photo by the versatile Sharon Chapman.)
In the brightest days of 2006, which is what passes for 1986 in our era (at least until 2015 reveals itself to be the One True Successor…if only we could get some of these Spring Training games to count), Jason and I were each moved to dive into the word “we” as it applied to the Mets and our reflexive self-identification with them. You know, we win, we’re gonna play tomorrow, we just got Roberto Hernandez back from the Pirates, that sort of thing. We came to the same conclusion: no, we are technically not part of the team; hell yes, we are “we” even if we don’t personally go get ‘em.
I revisit “we” here because there’s another we on the Met-aphorical diamond to consider. We who are in this together. We who cheer together, care together, commiserate together. We who get together now and then to remind each other how much we like being us.
Saturday afternoon, we gathered at Foley’s, the baseball bar on 33rd Street to commemorate Faith and Fear’s 10th anniversary. We as in Jason and me, but we also as in a marvelous cross-section of Faith and Fear readers, which is to say the Faith and Fear family, which is to say all of us.
It was a very nice time. It was an even nicer feeling, knowing that the first-person plural settles into place so comfortably. We want the Mets to win. We want the season to start. We are going to have another beer now.
It works really well.
Though it was spoken in an entirely different context, I’m reminded of something the President of the United States and White Sox fan-in-chief said a few weeks ago in Selma, Alabama:
“The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.”
Potent stuff that first-person plural. Without it, you wouldn’t have “Let’s Go Mets,” or its more formal construction “Let Us Go Mets.”
Just don’t too hastily throw a comma in there, because if we were congenitally capable of being let go by the Mets, then this blog wouldn’t be in its eleventh record-breaking season. Also, “Let Us Go, Mets” sounds like something a hostage scribbles on a scrap of paper and slips under a door in desperate hopes that some passerby finds it and rescues us from the clutches of circumstances we can’t hope to control.
Don’t bother. It’s too late to save us from our rooting instincts.
Thanks to all who showed up and expressed such nice thoughts about what we’ve been doing this past decade. Much love, too, to those who couldn’t make it but sent beautifully sincere sentiments. Strong shoutout to Sharon Chapman for organizing the affair. Appreciation to Foley’s for providing such fine space and service. Applause to Jacob deGrom for dominating the Nationals and several TV screens. And happy Agbayanieth birthday to Mets 360’s Charlie Hangley, our very own CharlieH from way back. All of us together…we’ve got the teamwork to make the dream work.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we attempt to give our era’s most notorious season a Web redemption of sorts.
It’s not that nothing went wrong
Some angry moments, of course
But just a few
And only moments, no more
Because we knew
We had this good thing going
Oh, expectation: pity the year that wears your yoke like a fashion accessory.
Say, a choker.
The 2015 Mets speak here and there of expectation. The 2015 Mets speak out of their callow hats. They won 79 games last year and it is thought that if things go particularly well this year they can win 89…though once that number was bandied about over the winter, it was quickly disavowed by he who publicly suggested it possible. And this was before Spring Training, when everybody’s supposedly an optimist.
The 2015 Mets do not know from expectation. Expectation forms atop achievement. The 2015 Mets are striving to succeed a series of seasons in which nothing has been achieved. The 2015 Mets, should they break the mold, will bequeath the yoke of expectation to 2016.
This is not a year after, not in New York. That’s the deal where better days happened in 2014. That’s the deal in San Francisco, though they probably have a mulligan, given the alternating championship calendar they’ve implemented by the bay. That’s the deal probably a little more in Kansas City, where they got so close to ultimate satisfaction that they can probably slather it in Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque Sauce and taste it.
In late November, when the exhilaration of getting to Game Seven and the disappointment of losing it by one run was all so fresh, MLB.com reposted a video of the Kansas City Symphony making good on its bet with its San Francisco counterparts. Music director Michael Stern conducted a Sousa march while wearing a Giants jersey. The moment was milked for all it was worth, with a “Giant” and a “Royal” bounding downstage with bats in hand, a cheering section appearing upstage wielding appropriate HUNTER PENCE IS TONE DEAF placards and Stern tearing off his black top at the end to reveal a white jersey to honor the home team.
It was lighthearted and sporting as all of it was meant to be, but I also found it a touch sad. Everything in Kansas City had been geared to making the playoffs, advancing to the pennant and then winning the World Series. The first two-thirds of their mission was accomplished. The rest of that symphony is unfinished. The conductor made brave, bold allusions to getting the Giants “next year,” as if the two teams had already signed for a rematch, as if pointing out Pence’s personal shortcoming was still going to be on the municipal agenda. The fact that the Royals shirt Stern dramatically presented himself in said BUTLER 16 indicated how fleeting October heroics can be. Days before the symphony paid off its bet, Billy Butler left KC as a free agent and signed with Oakland.
Maybe there’ll be another Royals-Giants World Series this year. Probably not, though. Consecutive World Series appearances by the same two teams haven’t happened since 1977 and ’78. But maybe the Royals will top what they did last year against some other opponent. Their chances to win another pennant, according to a bookmaker who regularly sends me updated odds, list at 14:1. You can wager they’ll win it all at 28:1. Those are the same odds as the Mets have of winning a respective league and world championship, according to the gambling community.
I’d like to believe the Mets can go all the way in 2015. I’m not sure I’d bet on it. And I know enough not to count on it.
And if I wanted too much
Was that such a mistake
At the time?
You never wanted enough —
All right, tough
I don’t make that a crime
My first full season as a Mets fan wore the yoke of expectation. It was the only way a season ever started in my brief experience, so it didn’t seem unusual. The year was 1970, the year after 1969. I knew what happened in 1969. I lived its final movement, its spectacular culmination (the temptation is to call it a crescendo, but that would be wrong). I knew, as Stephen Sondheim penned it for George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along, we had a good thing going.
We were defending world champions. That meant something in defining the atmosphere surrounding the 1970 Mets, even as I learned that there is no such practical thing as a defending world champion in baseball. There is nothing to defend. Being the most recent champion means you were the champion of last year. This year trumps last year in the present tense. Slip on your rings, raise your flag, thrill a seven-year-old over and over by showing highlights of your triumph during rain delays. It matters for all time and it matters not at all in real time. I loved, in 1970, being a fan of the team that had won the most recent world championship. So did the great many New Yorkers who set a Shea Stadium attendance record that would stand fifteen years. The Mets still had that aura about them.
They just didn’t have quite enough pitching, let alone nearly enough hitting, and aura can only get you so far in the absence of adequate amounts of both. The 1970 Mets finished the year after six games out of first place.
The next year after, 1974, retained a modicum of goodwill from the You Gotta Believe pennant drive of 1973 but none of its competitive juice. Attendance at Shea dropped. Patience wore thin as a muddling summer refused to transform into an electric September. The 1974 Mets thrilled few of their fans, regardless of age.
1987 was the long-awaited sequel to 1970, which is to say 1986 produced a companion to 1969. Once again, Shea Stadium was the place to be in the wake of ultimate victory. Once again, Mets wore rings and a flag flew in honor of what they had previously achieved. 1986 informed 1987’s sense of expectation; some would say entitlement. The attendance record that was set when 1986’s gate bettered 1985’s (which bettered 1970’s) fell in 1987. It was the first season in which more than 3 million fans attended games at Shea, and this was before “tickets sold” was the official measurement. I was 24 that post-championship season. I expected a lot. We all did. The Mets didn’t deliver. I was annoyed. We all were.
I don’t remember 1989 having quite that same “year after” sense to it despite 1988 depositing a divisional championship in our collection. Everything that followed 1986 until, really, 1993 was wrapped up in the same blanket of general letdown. We didn’t much stop to think, at least through 1990 when the equation remained viable, that winning more than losing was a pretty good way to spend 162 games.
The next time the Mets had a year after, it was 2000, which was the only year after that bettered the year before, if only on paper. The 2000 Mets traveled further than their 1999 predecessors, but to those of us who tingled throughout 1999, it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t magical. It wasn’t Melvin Mora coming out of nowhere. It was Melvin Mora going to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. It wasn’t the Best Infield Ever. It was Zeile in for Olerud at first, never mind Bordick taking over for Mora who was no Ordoñez at short, though even Ordoñez at short was no longer precisely Ordoñez at short. The whole vibe just wasn’t as wonderful. But it was, at last, logical. The 1999 Mets almost won the pennant. The 2000 Mets won the pennant. You could complain with how they failed to win their next four of seven games, and you could find stylistic fault with the tenor of the production, but you couldn’t dispute that there was progress.
In 2001, there was regression, dismay, disgust, whatever. Shea was festooned with reminders that the 2000 N.L. CHAMPS played here, but their status cut little ice across a long, dull summer. Whereas attendance climbed from 1999 to 2000, it dropped in 2001. Whereas the Mets chased the Braves’ tail in 1999 and 2000, the 2001 Mets stepped on their own as they went round in circles for most of five months. Then there was a spirited surge as August became September — and a bittersweet lunge at a baseball miracle after September in New York became unthinkable — but the victories wrought by the Mets of ’01 remained spiritual and symbolic. In the weeks they were accomplished, they seemed valuable enough. Years later, though, it’s an 82-80 club that finished six out.
You might say at that juncture the Mets were 1-5 in years after playoff years. If you were to set odds based on such information, they would appear a long shot to make you exceedingly happy in consecutive season.
Yet in 2007, we accepted those odds.
And while it’s going along
You take for granted some love
Will wear away
We took for granted a lot
How much time must pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations? Depends, I suppose, on how long the moment in question lasted.
Nostalgia, according to Don Draper’s Greek mentor Teddy, is “delicate but potent,” literally “‘the pain from an old wound,’ a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” The Mad Men episode in which Don laces that nostalgic definition into his pitch for the angels (a.k.a. the slide-projector men from Kodak), aired on AMC on Thursday, October 18, 2007. It was called “The Wheel,” the finale of the first season of what was swiftly becoming my favorite show ever. Though I might have been distracted in the moment by college football, Mad Men enjoyed a mostly clear field in my viewing priorities that October.
The season finale for what I thought I’d be immersed in for the next month aired on WPIX on Sunday, September 30, 2007. The Mets’ wheel came to a dead halt that afternoon. They were delicate, while the Marlins (and, somewhere to the south, the Phillies) proved potent. We didn’t go forward and it’s not a place where I ache to go again.
We know the climactic scene from 2007. We know the carousel crumbled. We carry with us the numerical particulars — 7 up with 17 to play — and we are saddled with the inability to utter the word “devastated” without reflexively adding a little dig about disappointment. It still stings enough that I subconsciously divide most things in my Mets fan life as B.C. (Before Collapse) and A.D. (After Devastation).
I am not nostalgic for September 30, 2007. I am not nostalgic for seven runs surrendered over one-third of an inning from T#m Gl@v!ne. I am not nostalgic for 8-1, Marlins. I am not nostalgic for the tipping point between the days I rooted for the Mets with abandon without reservation and the nights to come when I found unabashedly rooting for the Mets often impossible. I am not nostalgic for the signal event that separated me from the heart of my passion. I continued to be passionate about my team, but my heart is still waiting to shift fully back into it.
What can I tell ya? After September 30, 2007, I was a mad man. I stayed mad at the Mets into 2008, 2009, 2010…what year is it now? The active anger long ago dissipated, but the faint echo hangs in there. It’s why I remain stubbornly slow to buy into the Mets’ incremental steps upward. It’s why it will take more than a vague hint of 89 wins to stir my soul as it stirred mostly without interruption from 1969 on.
But I can tell ya this: a little while back, I learned that the amount of time that has to pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations is approximately seven years, three months and one day — and that’s if the moment in question is understood to last long enough to encompass the portion of time directly preceding everything going totally to hell.
It started out like a song
We started quiet and slow
With no surprise
And then one morning I woke
We had a good thing going
My brother-in-law hates baseball like I love Mad Men, but that doesn’t stop him from embracing the fact that I love baseball like I love Mad Men. As he visits tag sales and such, he’s always keeping an eye open for baseball tchotchkes to make part of my annual Chanukah/birthday booty (the two events arrive close together). He usually prefaces the presentation by telling me that “this isn’t the big gift” and that “it’s nothing much” and “you probably already have it.”
On December 31, 2014, he undersold to me perfectly the sale item he wrapped up and handed me as if it was an afterthought. He couldn’t have dreamed that it was the big gift; that it was something much; and that I definitely did not have it.
I didn’t even know I wanted it until I opened it and saw what it was.
It was GourMets. I went nuts with delight.
Do you remember GourMets? You remember The Greatest Collapse Ever and Gl@v!ne and all the indigestion from the fashion in which September 2007 was cleared from Shea’s table. But what about the courses before it all went down the wrong way?
Do you remember the Mets being good enough and aspirational enough that of course you’d want to know what they liked to eat and how they made it?
Do you remember wanting the recipe for Alou’s Chivo Guisado? That’s Spanish for stewed goat. This recipe, “furnished by Moises’ wife, Austria,” is the first player-specific entry to come up in GourMets, an alphabetically ordered designation. But Moises’ goat isn’t the first thing to be got in GourMets because everybody’s contributing something to the “New York Mets Family Cookbook,” produced in conjunction with the good folks at Stop & Shop and released for sale in late June. Just by buying a copy for $12, you were contributing to Food Bank for New York City and Island Harvest.
When we say everybody contributed, we mean everybody.
Page 6: Fred Wilpon’s Lentil Soup.
Page 7: Saul Katz’s Pizza.
Page 8: Jeff Wilpon’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
No, really. The Mets offer you the chance to eat what their owners like to eat. And then their GM (Minaya’s Roast Pork with Garlic Mashed Potatoes), their manager (Randolph’s Linguine with White Clam Sauce) and their coaches (beginning with Sandy Alomar’s Savory Salmon, one of his “favorite recipes,” as opposed to coming from a spouse or, in Katz’s case, a prized pizzeria in Brooklyn).
You could smell what the Mets were cooking.
Off GourMets goes, through every coach, then every player who was on the roster radar in the earliest going of 2007, all the way to Mr. Met and his affection for a Homemade Hamburger. The nomenclature was as exotic as the cuisine. Peterson’s Stuffed Artichokes are “Rick’s favorite pre-game snack”; Castro’s Short Ribs compose “Ramon’s favorite post-game meal”; Chavez’s Venezuelan Carne Mechada is made from “one of Endy’s favorite clubhouse recipes”; Easley’s Roasted Chicken? “Damion is a big fan of this dish.” Though Passover had long passed by the time the cookbook was published, the reader learned Green’s Matzo Ball Soup was “Shawn’ clubhouse favorite!”
Still trying to imagine a steaming shissel of the stuff waiting by Shawn’s locker after he clobbered the Cardinals with a walkoff homer. Still can’t.
Whatever the merits of the recipes, who provided them or what they meant to a given Met (Carlos Delgado “prepares” his signature Grilled Snapper with Avocado Salsa “all the time in the off-season”), the real spice in GourMets was the graphic treatment. Almost everybody donned a chef’s hat. Almost everybody slipped into oven mitts. Almost everybody threw on an apron. Almost everybody played with his food. Green held a rolling pin like he would have a bat. Easley was caught mid-mix (albeit with an empty mixing bowl). Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez worked a two-seamer grip on a red pepper. Billy Wagner messed with a knife.
Guillermo Mota was the only player who didn’t goof around with utensils and ingredients, presumably because Mota was PED-suspended while they shot all the photos during Spring Training. Makes a person wonder what his Dominican Pork Chops might test positive for.
I was vaguely aware that GourMets existed in its heyday (and shared a hearty laugh with my friend Sharon over Shawn sipping matzo ball soup in the Met clubhouse) but encountering it on the eve of 2015 was a revelation. I instantly fell in love with my second-hand copy of GourMets and, on some surprising level, I fell for the 2007 Mets all over again…maybe for the first time.
No, I don’t love how the 2007 Mets allowed their season’s soufflé to take a mighty fall, and even while they were maintaining first place most of the year I found them less than wholly tasteful dinner companions. I was always nagged by the sense that they should be winning by more, leading by more, building on 2006 some more. Yet diving into this seven- going on eight-year-old cookbook made them a delectable bunch to me. It transcended records and games. It was better, somehow, than a warmed-over Mets Classic. Here were the 2007 Mets positioned as winners on and off the field. Look at how willingly they pose in kitchen gear! Look at how they smile and make nice with their props! Look at how they give of themselves for charity while they cruise to another division title!
Within the laminated, spiral bound pages of GourMets, the 2007 Mets are better sports than the Kansas City Symphony conductor.
And still I say
It could have kept on growing
Instead of just kept on
After 2007 spoiled somewhere between the stove and the serving, the Mets and Stop & Shop presented a check for $60,000 to the Food Bank for New York and Island Harvest. All 5,000 copies of GourMets had sold out despite all money from playoff ticket sales having to be refunded or otherwise reallocated. The Mets announced their donation on January 28, 2008, and promised another edition of the cookbook for the coming year. Four days later, they went to the market and picked up Johan Santana, but I don’t recall Mets fans ever being explicitly invited to whip up Johan’s favorite clubhouse dish, which a non-Mets source identifies as Reina Pepiada Arepes, a “zesty mixture of avocado and pulled chicken salad”.
Perhaps charitable- and cooking-minded Mets fans would have gobbled up a sequel to GourMets, but none seems to have been published in 2008 or since. Whether anybody would have wanted a taste of what Luis Castillo was cooking is a question that can never truly be answered.
The 2007 Mets weren’t much of a brand name by season’s end. At the year’s beginning, though, when they loomed as the satisfaction-packed sequel to the 2006 Mets, they could’ve sold anything. This was the team that was going to plow through the previous October’s Game Seven defeat and just keep going. This was the team that had stirred in Alou where there had been Floyd, and substituted a Schoeneweis when they ran out of Bradford, but it was the same basic recipe for success. Stars in the center, role players around the edges, enough pitching to bring to a boil.
Movable feast, one year into the next, or so we thought. Either way, they served 3,853,955, or the most who had ever come to Shea to fill up on baseball to that time.
They broke the 2006 Mets’ attendance mark (which itself smashed the record set in 1988). They took first place for good on May 16. The week GourMets came out, the team was in the midst of asserting itself after a June slump. Swept Oakland; took two of three from St. Louis; grabbed three of four at Philly. They led the division by four games as July dawned. They sent four players — Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Wagner — to the All-Star Game. Merrily they rolled along, expanding their lead to five games on August 3, six games on August 24, seven games on August 25. After a disturbing stumble, they pulled themselves together and rose to 21 games above .500 on September 12.
They could be frustrating, but mostly the 2007 Mets were fun until they weren’t. When you went to Shea Stadium for the first five-and-a-half months, you were surrounded by the excitement of expectation. The grumbling that they should’ve been further ahead of the Braves and Phillies or sitting more games above .500 was drowned out by the cheers. These were the Mets we were rooting for. We knew they were good. They may not have been quite as convincing as they had been in 2006, but they were still in the same ballpark. Nobody thought of merely 89 wins as any kind of a goal.
Which was good, because the Mets finished 88-74, or one game behind the Phillies for the division championship, one game behind the Rockies and Padres for a chance to play for the league’s lone Wild Card.
We had a good thing going…
In the end, 2007 wasn’t the sequel to 2006. It was a reboot of 1987 and 1970 but with less recent cushion to fall back on. The September 1970 Mets were bested by the Pirates, but at least there was still 1969. The September 1987 Mets were fended off by the Cardinals, but at least there was still 1986. The September 2007 Mets had their doors blown off by the Phillies and thus would always have Called Strike Three from October 19, 2006, hanging over their heads — unless they could put both nightmarish episodes definitively behind them in 2008.
Which they couldn’t. But that’s another season’s story.
The 2007 Mets are remembered for surrendering an impenetrable lead. I remember them that way mostly. But before they did that, I remember them providing a brilliant tableau. I remember Shea full of us. I remember me between April and September sitting next to a series of fellow Mets fans who were every bit as taken as me by the scene a pennant favorite produces at the height of its perceived powers. All of us reveled in the sense of expectation that came with being Mets fans in that moment. All of us expected October. None of us could have foreseen what was coming. There was nothing in GourMets, nothing anywhere, that could have prepared us for the final course of 2007.
Some of those folks are still my close friends. Some of them I drifted from but check in occasionally with on matters of baseball. Some I have little idea what they’re up to these days. It’s been eight years. Eight years is a long time, I guess. It’s long enough to make some things look better than you ever thought they could.
But we did want the Mets to repeat. They didn’t. Schoeneweis’ Garbonzo Beans, however, probably would if you ate too many.
I’ll repeat one more time: Join Jason and me and your fellow FAFIF readers at Foley’s NY, Saturday, March 28, between 1 and 4 PM to commemorate your favorite blog’s tenth anniversary — or at least the tenth anniversary of the blog you happen to be reading right now.
I’ve been a baseball fan a very long time, but once a year, depending on the circumstances, I’m talked to like I’ve just discovered the game.
Ironically, it didn’t happen when I was relatively new to baseball. When I was a kid, the issue at hand was helpfully childlike in its simplicity. It went something like this:
“The baseball season is about to start. Opening Day is a big deal. Tom Seaver will pitch.”
There. Done. Big day, biggest pitcher. What was to think about? As long as Tom Seaver remained the ace of the Mets’ staff, he would start Opening Day.
That equation held until a dark June night between Tom’s tenth consecutive Mets Opening Day start and what should have been his eleventh. That was the night in 1977 the Mets traded Tom Seaver, an event who repercussions rippled clear to the following April 7 in this particular context. The Mets hadn’t needed anybody else to start Opening Day since 1967, when Tom was a rookie and letting a rookie start Opening Day was unheard of (thus, veteran Don Cardwell in the first-game role). What to do if you don’t have Tom Seaver?
You give the ball to Jerry Koosman in 1978. And when you no longer have Jerry Koosman, as you wouldn’t a year later? You give the ball to Craig Swan in 1979 and 1980. And when Swannie is nagged by injuries in April of 1981? You give it to Pat Zachry.
Seaver. Then your next-best option, though it could be argued if you don’t have Tom Seaver, there is no next-best option, just whoever happens to be warm. That’s your Opening Day formula. When we didn’t have Seaver, we made due with latter-day Koosman, prime-of-his-life Swan, okey-dokey Zachry. I was out of high school before I had to think twice about it. Thinking once was all it took.
A quick aside is necessary to acknowledge the first game of the “second season” of 1981, the year Major League Baseball restarted from scratch after its midsummer strike. The Mets’ Opening Day 2.0 starter was Mike Scott, not because Joe Torre could accurately envision a future when Scott would thoroughly dominate the N.L., but because he was in better shape than his staffmates following the seven-week layoff.
Back to traditional Openers. In 1982, the Mets’ Opening Day starter was Randy Jones because snow had delayed the season’s beginning and George Bamberger had to go with whoever remained more or less in rotation. It was the first time since I’d been paying attention to Opening Day that the hand on the ball belonged to somebody who was not like the others. Randy Jones had started four Opening Days for the San Diego Padres (and stolen Jerry Koosman’s 1976 Cy Young Award), but by 1982, he was less supreme than Supremes, which is to say he was just kept hangin’ on.
That’s all right. Randy Jones beat Steve Carlton on Opening Day in Philadelphia, as probably would have any Mets starter. Steve Carlton lost more often to the Mets than he did to anybody in his otherwise spectacular career. You know why Steve Carlton never spoke to the press while a Phillie? Because the Mets shut him up.
Jones’s aberrant appearance in the long line of Opening Day starters — which, for the record, began with Roger Craig, Al Jackson and Jack Fisher — would resemble a historical hiccup come 1983, when the Mets, behind a triumphantly restored Tom Seaver, defeated Steve Carlton and the Phils to kick off another season. Seaver didn’t get the decision that Opening Day (Doug Sisk did), but Opening Day was complete again. It had the best pitcher possible starting for the team where his tenure never should have ended. Mets fan Carly Simon was probably tempted to call Art Rust’s show that night and aver, “That’s the way I’ve always heard it should be.”
Seaver was a misplaced White Sock twelve months later (don’tcha hate losing a Sock in the laundry?) and we were back to Randy Jones, except in this case it was Mike Torrez, who was basically Don Cardwell. Do you follow? The Mets didn’t have an obvious ace as of April 2, 1984. Their most promising pitcher, raw rookie Dwight Gooden, was slotted for April 7, Game No. 5. Their most accomplished promising pitcher, September 1983 callup Ron Darling, was assigned April 4 duty, the second game of the year. Torrez was the only longtimer in the ranks. He was a wonderful pitcher…during the previous decade. As a Met in 1984, he wasn’t happening. But he had logged his innings the year before and he had been around. Davey Johnson went with the least objectionable choice from that perspective. Torrez got lit up by the Cincinnati Reds, absorbing the Mets’ first Opening Day setback in ten years.
Did it kill the Mets’ chances? No. They went out and won their next six games. Suddenly 1984 was happening in a way Torrez wasn’t any longer. Mike was released in June, destined to land in the dustbin of Opening Day trivia.
By the following April, we had the reincarnation of Seaver for those occasions. We had Gooden, whose prominence was unquestioned. He started every Opening Day but two for the next ten years. In 1987, Smithers (not the Brian Cashman-like underling to Mr. Burns’s George Steinbrenner character from The Simpsons, but the drug rehab clinic) called. In 1992, Dwight’s right shoulder was still rounding into form after arthroscopic surgery, so he was held back until the fifth game of the season, which also happened to be the Home Opener. That was the first time I can recall anybody noting anything special about being the starter for the Home Opener when the actual Opener was on the road. More or less, it was “…Doc gets to make his first start since his injury during the Home Opener; that’ll be nice.”
Gooden’s replacements during his two Opening Day exiles were Bobby Ojeda, who’d been the best pitcher on the World Champions the year before anyway, and David Cone, who’d led the league in strikeouts (including 19 on the season’s final day) in his Opener’s preceding season. Thus, from 1985 to 1994, we were back where we were comfortably nestled from 1968 through 1981 and again in 1983: the Ace pitches Opening Day; if we can’t have the Ace, we go with the next-best option.
In 1995, the season started late after the strike and Dallas Green was sending one of his messages when he skipped over logical choice Bret Saberhagen and went with Bobby Jones. Saberhagen had just enjoyed his best season as a Met in 1994. Bobby Jones was Bobby Jones: a better bet than typical Randy Jones in a Met uniform, but no match for the best of Randy Jones in a Padres uniform, let alone recent-peak Saberhagen. That was strange.
In 1996, after Jason Isringhausen came off a sizzling-hot second half of 1995 and excitement was sky-high for Generation K, Green tabbed Jones again. That’ll teach us to get excited.
In 1997, under Bobby Valentine, Pete Harnisch started Opening Day in San Diego. It was about as dispiriting a choice as one could have conjured. The Mets had no holdovers who at least had a claim on past glories, no healthy young guns. Even Bobby Jones was lacking luster. Harnisch was Torrez. Harnisch, like Torrez, was hit hard and led the Mets to a loss. Harnisch, like Torrez, didn’t last the season. The 1997 Mets, like the 1984 Mets, came alive soon enough and the grim memory of Pete Harnisch surrendering three consecutive home runs to start the sixth and not pitching again until August became a footnote (by which time it was revealed he had worse problems than a ravenous gopher ball).
In 1998, Bobby Jones entered the season as titular ace of the Mets. He’d had an excellent first half of 1997, went to the All-Star Game and “earned” the Opening Day start (even if Rick Reed had surpassed him in reliability during the prior second half). Jones went toe-to-toe with Curt Schilling on one of those Opening Days that makes you want to indulge your clichés. The Mets won in fourteen, long after both of them were gone. Schilling kept on being an ace. Bobby Jones went back to being Bobby Jones.
In 1999, the Age of Leiter was fully upon us. Al Leiter was the Mets’ ace in times the Mets didn’t have an upper-case Ace. When the Mets would import someone of previously established ace credentials, Al would gracefully step aside and generally pitch better than he had when he was titular. Al was the starter on Opening Day ’99 in Florida, ’01 in Atlanta and ’02 at Shea. It made all sense in the Mets’ aceless universe.
2000? You might remember that as the year the Mets went to Tokyo. Mike Hampton was the designated ace. Of course he was. He’d won 22 games for Houston the year before and it was a brassy move to go out and get him in his walk year. You weren’t going to travel halfway around the globe and not start Mike Hampton to usher in the new millennium. As it happened, Mike Hampton was a lousy Opening Day starter and not much more than a co-ace. Had a helluva National League Championship Series, back when the Mets used to play in those.
Leiter was permanently unseated from Opening Day duty by future Hall of Famer T#m Gl@v!ne, who the Mets signed prior to 2003, just as their archrivals, the Braves, decided he wasn’t going to be of much use to them. It was also at the same point when the Mets were sliding into oblivion regardless of what long-ago Cy Young winner they decided to throw money at in the twilight of his career. Still, you pay T#m Gl@v!ne, and your only other remotely appropriate option is Al Leiter, you’re going to start T#m Gl@v!ne on Opening Day. Even I recognize that.
Gl@v!ne’s status took care of 2003 and 2004. Come 2005, it was Seaverly simple again. The Mets got Pedro Martinez. Nobody was going to start ahead of Pedro Martinez on Opening Day as long as Pedro Martinez was physically capable. On April 4, in Cincinnati, he was (6 IP, 12 K). In 2006 (held back for health reasons until Game No. 3) and 2007 (unavailable until September), he wasn’t. Your next-best option was the other future Hall of Famer on the roster, Gl@v!ne. T#m started both of those games, both of them wins.
Then came Johan Santana. No need to think about who’d start Opening Day in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. None whatsoever. There Mets went 4-0 on Johpening Days.
We had skip over 2011 there because Johan was out for the year and Terry Collins was the new manager and manipulating expectations became the in thing at Citi Field. The next-best option to Johan entering 2011 was mostly R.A. Dickey and a little Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey had a first half in 2010 somewhat comparable to Bobby Jones’s in 1997 (though not All-Star selected). He was the longest-serving homegrown guy. Dickey, on the other hand, was the best pitcher the Mets had from the time he appeared as if from out of the cornfield in Field Of Dreams. He was zipping up the charts in terms of becoming the Peepul’s Cherce, if you will. Mets fans who were already Mets fans were in love with R.A. They took Pelfrey with a grain of salt.
Thus was born Collins’s Solomonic decision to start Pelfrey on Opening Night at whatever Joe Robbie Stadium was called by then and fix it so Dickey could start the Home Opener a week later. It was a well-intentioned terrible idea. First off, nobody told Collins how bad Pelfrey was against the Marlins; he was Carlton against the Mets caliber bad. Second, Dickey was the best you had after Santana. You don’t hold back your best. That neither Pelfrey nor Dickey had a good game in their respective Openers only drilled two points home.
Don’t get too cute with Opening Day starters. And there’s only one Opening Day per team.
The Home Opener, regardless of whether it’s the first game of the season, is the fan’s Day of Jubilee. For the team, however, if it’s not the first game of the season, it’s the next game of the season. Give us in the stands the pageantry, the Shea family with the floral horseshoe, Howie at home plate introducing the lineups, the release of orange and blue balloons, a lack of pocket schedules — fabulous. But the team itself should just be putting its players on the field and playing. If it’s the seventh game of the season (as it is this season), then the starting pitcher should be whoever comes up in a rotation set up to maximize pitching strength.
Opening Day — the real one — is where you do honors. It’s where you honor yourself by starting a Seaver or a Gooden if you have one, or a Koosman or a Cone if that’s your best or a Randy/Bobby Jones if weird circumstances dictate. After that, start your second-best pitcher, your not-quite-ace. Then three and four and five and start over, pending off-days, weather, preservation of projected post-Tommy John innings. If you don’t like a matchup, then avoid it coming out of Spring Training. Keep your Big Pelf the hell away from his teal Kryptonite. If you have a long-range forecast that suggests rain, maybe move your Dickey around.
The Mets in 2013 no longer had Santana on the active roster or Dickey in the organization. Their best pitcher as the season approached was Matt Harvey. Collins named Jon Niese his Opening Day starter. Some folderol about him being here the longest and deserving it. Same folderol that was applied to Pelfrey. The Opener was at home. Niese pitched fine. The Mets won. Harvey pitched the second game. He was amazing. The Mets won again.
And on the season went, everybody pretty much forgetting about who pitched when at the beginning of the season until the next season when the subject logically stirred again. It figured to be Niese, given Harvey’s absence, but then Jon was hurting and Dillon Gee had finished strong and he was the inheritor of the “deserves it” reasoning. The fact that the opponent was the Washington Nationals, whom Gee had always worn on his watch chain, wasn’t much mentioned, but that was a bonus. The Opener was at home. Gee pitched fine. The Mets lost. It happens.
So here we are. We have an Opening Day in Washington in 2015 and we have a Home Opener one week later. We have an Ace in Matt Harvey. We have a pitcher who was the best on the staff in Harvey’s absence in Jacob deGrom. And the Mets will start their season with neither of them.
They are going with the updated version of Mike Torrez, the sequel to Pete Harnisch, an echo of Don Cardwell.
They are going with Bartolo Colon, even though they have something better.
They are going with Bartolo Colon, even though they have two things substantially better.
This is where I come to feel like I’ve been a baseball fan a very long time, but once a year, depending on the circumstances, I’m talked to like I’ve just discovered the game.
This is where somebody helpfully pops his head up to deign to explain to me and inform me, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. It’s one game out of 162.”
Because I had no idea 161 games remain after Opening Day. Thanks for that.
In theory, I’m down with not placing outsize importance on any game that doesn’t speak for itself. You know what you’re not guaranteed in the final 161 games, though? You’re not guaranteed the sense of occasion. You don’t have that one chance to start everything the way you’d like it to go before it inevitably doesn’t. Circumstances will get the best of you after the first pitch. Up to the first pitch, you have the circumstances in the palm of your hand.
And, this year, Bartolo Colon’s.
Colon is an excellent choice to start Opening Day if your other choices are Niese, Gee, Randy Jones past his prime and Bobby Jones floating around his. Colon is magnificent choice if you’re Wes Westrum and you don’t have the gumption to give the ball to rookie Tom Seaver. Colon is a splendid choice if baseball’s been on labor hiatus and Bartolo is somehow in better fettle than Pat Zachry and Pete Falcone.
You have Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom on your team. Jacob deGrom was last seen mowing down batters like crazy. Matt Harvey, you may have heard, worked long and hard to return in time to an Aceness that transcends titularity. Either one of them would be a worthy choice to commence 2015. I’d go with Harvey — he appears horselike in his healthiness and was good enough to start for Bruce Bochy the last All-Star Game he was eligible — but I could see going with deGrom. DeGrom just won a major award based on his pitching.
It would never occur to me to go with 41-year-old Bartolo Colon. Not on this team. Not in 2015. Not even as I acknowledge that the first game is statistically one of 162. Not when I can set my rotation to have my two best pitchers pitch first and second.
Colon’s a pro. Colon’s a competitor. Colon’s a survivor. Colon’s a 204-game winner lifetime and a 15-game winner from 2014 despite an ERA+ that was well below league average.
He’s not an Opening Day pitcher for the 2015 Mets…except for the indisputable fact that he has been announced as such.
It’s just one game. It’s the wrong occasion for Colon.
It just is. The choice is at odds with the occasion and its inherent sense.
The best argument I’ve heard in favor of Colon getting the ball at Nationals Park is he won’t get too “amped up”. Y’know what? I want my Opening Day starter to get a little amped up — not to the point of short-circuiting, but I’ll always lean to the guy who absolutely embraces a given opportunity for what it is. Getting amped up in and of itself should not prevent a manager from trusting a pitcher who projects excitement. If a talented pitcher can’t handle the emotions of a given afternoon in front of a large crowd, he may not be who you want around for the long term.
The Mets plan to play big games this year, don’t they? Might as well get used to how they feel.
Opening Day is what we look forward to. Opening Day stokes our passions, including the desire to dwell a bit on who shall stand astride the mound, toe the rubber and lead us into our immediate future. Why not make that day as anticipatable as possible?
If you’re lucky enough to carry the starter from the 2013 All-Star Game and the Rookie of the Year from 2014, you don’t skip them both on April 6, 2015, unless you’re also packing someone with an MVP among his bric-a-brac.
I’d skip over Harvey and deGrom for Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner. Not Bartolo Colon.
It’s not the end of the world to put your first foot forward with an ordinary step when you have extraordinary options. It doesn’t put the kibosh on your dreams of contending (the Torrez and Harnisch starts didn’t portend massive Met revivals, but revive those respective Met squads did). It is, however, the beginning of the season, the instant we count down toward for six months. Rise to the occasion in the style the occasion deserves.
As for the second component of what the Mets have decided — who starts the Home Opener — that’s the game on whose behalf I’d willingly take up the one of 162 argument.
You know who should start the Home Opener when it’s not the actual Opening Day? Whoever’s turn it is. No manipulating, no runner-up prize and for crissake no dabbling in the dark arts of ticket sales to have the current Peepul’s Cherce start a game for which seats aren’t otherwise flying off mets.com. Just start whoever would start the seventh game of the season based on how you started your first and second series on the road.
Think back to some of the relatively recent seasons when the Mets didn’t open their schedule at home. In 2005, when Pedro was wowing Cincy (until Braden Looper deflated the experience), the Home Opener was Gl@v!ne’s start. Y’know why? Because it was his turn. Pedro’s turn was the day before, when he outdueled John Smoltz in the season’s sixth game. That was huge — it put Willie Randolph’s Mets in the win column for the first time — and it was treated as one of 162…which it should have been.
That’s how it worked in 2007, when John Maine got the ball at Shea, and in 2008, when the task fell to Oliver Perez. There was no talk of who “deserved” the Home Opener when the Home Opener wasn’t the Opener. That almost never came up in conversation until Collins invented it in 2011. The Mets opened at home the last three years, so there was no need to delineate. This year the first home game is Game No. 7. Thus we’re told there’s Colon for the real Opener, deGrom getting the “honor” of the Home Opener and, oh yeah, Harvey in Game No. 8, Tuesday night, April 14, 718/507-TIXX.
Way too cute.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we notice how Met turnover subtly became Met stability.
There was an article in the Washington Post the other day that fascinated me. It informed me that you can express the entire history of the United States in the lifetimes of four presidents.
• You have the second president, John Adams, born 1735, lived to 1826, long enough to encompass the birth of…
• Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president, born 1808, lived to 1875, long enough to encompass the birth of…
• Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first president, born 1874, lived to 1964, long enough to encompass the birth of…
• Barack Obama, the forty-fourth and current president, born 1961.
That’s almost as astounding as learning not long ago that two grandsons of the tenth president, John Tyler — who served from 1841 to 1845 — are alive in 2015. One of Tyler’s sons, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853. He, in turn, sired a son in 1924 and another in 1928. They’re both still going.
Longevity is one of my favorite threads. I love to pick it up at one end and follow it back as far as it will go. It’s why one of my favorite recurring FAFIF themes is Longest Ago Met Still Active (LAMSA) and its companion designation Last Met Standing. It’s why one of my Most Valuable Profiles in the first years of Faith and Fear belonged to Julio Franco, pinch-hitter and occasional sage for the 2006 and 2007 Mets. Julio Franco was longevity on a stick. Julio Franco was the teammate of Tug McGraw, who was a player under Casey Stengel, who was a player under John McGraw. If that century-spanning tour of National League baseball in New York wasn’t quite Adams to Johnson to Hoover to Obama — or Kranepool to Orosco to all points west — it was close enough.
Well-traveled, finely aged, not unskilled craftsmen like Julio Franco, Moises Alou, LaTroy Hawkins, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Abreu, along with the occasional guest spot from a Jamie Moyer, can make life worth blogging. They give you license to invoke a dozen names spread out over a hundred years. They open passageways to the past and allow you to imagine who among them in the present Met tense will extend the thread most effectively and efficiently. Who down the road, will it be said, played with the guy who played with the guy who played with Colon who — according to my proprietary research — practically pitched to Henry Aaron?
I love stuff like that, with my affection honed ever greater during the FAFIF Age, because during our time here, it’s felt relatively unusual to find someone with staying power. There were no more Kranepools in our midst. Nobody stuck for 18 seasons in one uniform, let alone our uniform. David Wright has been the highly paid anomaly. While David’s in his prime, it seems a shame to tie his constancy thread to the overall longevity thread, to note too terribly often that he played in 2004 with John Franco, who played from 1990 to 1994 with Dwight Gooden, who played from 1984 to 1987 with Jesse Orosco, who played on the 1979 Mets with Ed Kranepool, who played with almost everyone from September 22, 1962 until September 30, 1979. When Jimmy Rollins dresses for keeps in Dodger blue, it will be David Wright who leads all active players in most games played for one team and one team only.
But let’s leave David out of this Wright now, for he is the highly paid anomaly; he transcends the curiosity factor. And let’s never mind the Bartolos and Julios, the veterans’ veterans who have served us well after serving so many others. Let’s instead bring some others into this.
Actually, we don’t have to. They’re been here all along.
Let me take you back to the Jerry Manuel administration, a period that overlapped two American presidencies not to mention a pair of antithetical competitive states (one a little short of swell, one indisputably lousy). Stability was not a hallmark of the Manuel Era, which, to be fair, hardly differentiated it from the entrances that ushered active uniformed personnel inside Shea Stadium in immediately preceding eras. You and I used Gates E through A. The doors the players used at Shea — and its successor facility — tended to revolve at a dizzying clip.
Between the Mets’ 6-1 loss at Anaheim of Los Angeles of wherever they call it on June 17, 2008, and the 14-inning 2-1 loss to Washington at Citi Field October 3, 2010 (which climate scientists warn is actually still going on), 59 different players played their first games as Mets. Manuel lasted 417 games as manager, meaning just about every week, we were meeting a Met for the first time.
Forty of those players had broken into the majors elsewhere. A couple — Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay — were considered catches. A couple more — Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco — were considered catchers. A few — like Gary Sheffield and Livàn Hernandez — came with distinguished backstories if not a whole lot of future to them. Most weren’t of that ilk. They came. They went. They didn’t stay. Emil Brown became Andy Green became the not so bright neon lights of Lance Broadway. Possible keepers, like Darren O’Day, slipped away. Inevitable discards, like Wilson Valdez, lingered. Andy Phillips spent the equivalent of a holiday weekend. Jon Switzer was Swiffered from the premises after ten days. Angel Berroa was touched by an unconditional release inside of three weeks.
To be fair, that’ll happen, especially in the pre-Prevention & Recovery Epoch of Enlightenment that swallowed 2009. There’s a reason you hear the term “journeyman” more than “craftsman” in baseball. A baseball career is usually a literal as well as figurative odyssey. It’s pretty impressive to just make it to this level and it’s just as impressive when a player finds a way to keep staying at this level. It’s probably wrong that we smirk or roll our eyes or express disgust that the gleaming Mets we signed up for in March can become, by September, the province of the Pat Misches and the Cory Sullivans and whoever else is healthy enough to suit up in a Mets uniform.
But we do. Sometimes we’re less swell than we are lousy. Sometimes we just wanna win more than we lose.
Anyway, 40 of 59 Mets who became Mets for the first time on Jerry Manuel’s watch were veterans of other ballclubs. That leaves 19 first-time Mets who were truly newbies. They were debuting as major leaguers and as Mets between the night Manuel took over for Willie Randolph (though not the middle of that night) and the Sunday Manuel was about to leave the Flushing stage to absolutely no applause. Three of those players weren’t exactly raw rookies. Ken Takahashi, Hisanori Takahashi and Ryota Igarashi were new to MLB but they’d all pitched for a long time in the Japan Central League. Maybe not “the majors” as we know them, but close enough for where they hailed from.
If we exempt those fellows from pure “debut” status (or at least consider them as special cases), that brings our total to 16 MLB neophytes in the Manuel years. And this, to me, is where it gets interesting.
It’s 2015, or at least it will be as of April 6. The Mets broke in 16 fresh-faced major leaguers when Jerry Manuel managed them, which will be no more than four-and-a-half years ago when Opening Day rolls around. Among those 16, to whom we shall refer as Jerry’s Kids, do you realize how many will still be, give or take a DL stint, on the Mets when the upcoming season commences?
Seven. Nearly half. You’ve seen ’em or at least read about ’em just this month.
Daniel Murphy, date of debut: 8/2/2008.
Jon Niese, 9/2/2008.
Bobby Parnell, 9/15/2008.
Jenrry Mejia, 4/7/2010 (6th inning).
Ruben Tejada, 4/7/2010 (9th inning).
Lucas Duda, 9/1/2010.
Dillon Gee, 9/7/2010.
No longer in the team picture from their cohort: Argenis Reyes, Eddie Kunz, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Tobi Stoner, Raul Valdes, Ike Davis, Jesus Feliciano and Mike Nickeas. Valdes and Flores had surpassed 30 when they finally reached the big time in 2010 and Nickeas was on the verge of pushing it that same year, so “fresh-faced” doesn’t really apply to everybody who broke in when Manuel managed. Of the other six, Davis and Thole had their moments in what amounted to extended auditions; Reyes was worth a look considering his unusual first and evocative last name; Kunz and Martinez were colossal disappointments; and no nation was ever going to turn its lonely eyes to Tobi Stoner.
Let’s get back to the survivors. Seven guys who debuted as Mets under Manuel are still Mets. Plus there’s Wright, who debuted under Art Howe and survived the resulting bout with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (Art lit up a room, you may have heard). But David’s the highly paid anomaly. David’s the star, if not — according to Fred Wilpon — a superstar. David’s case is more special than Ryota Igarashi’s. Let’s keep the focus on the Boys of Manuel.
Manuel hasn’t been manager since October 3, 2010. Nobody’s much brought up Manuel since maybe October 5, 2010, the day he was officially not renewed for 2011. Nobody thought much of Manuel once his “gangsta” rap lost its ability to charm. He was the manager who kinda chuckled, kinda cackled in whaddayawantfromme? fashion after losses. He was the manager who batted leadoff man extraordinaire Jose Reyes third for a spell. He was the manager who thought the electric-armed Mejia more suitable for late-inning bullpen work than starting.
All right, so not everything Jerry Manuel came up with or stood for was nuts, but didn’t leave behind a legion of mourners when he chuckled/cackled for the final time.
Turns out he may have left the Mets something better. He left them a legacy. He left them something close to a third of a roster for use a half-decade down the line. The team that is positioned to perhaps win more than it loses for the first time since Jerry Manuel took over from Willie Randolph has as its foundation Jerry’s Kids — not appearing in Port St. Lucie as Jerry’s Adults.
Did the Manuel Seven grow big and strong because of some sweet somethings their manager whispered into their various ears? Does his advice from when they were rookies resonate to this very day? Or are Manuel’s former charges lucky they didn’t have to deal with him one second longer than they did? (Given another spring, would have he ordered Duda to trot across the diamond and take some grounders at short?) It could just be a coincidence that they’ve all kept rolling as Mets from 2008 or 2010 to 2015. Maybe the succeeding administration got tired or just got lazy.
Hard to peg exactly how this happened. Wright, the franchise player, was an überprospect whose rise to the majors in 2004 was a happening. Not even Art Howe could slow his inevitable progress. None of the Manuel Seven who have formed David’s supporting cast carried his kind of hype or hopes. One morning in August of 2008 the Mets needed a left fielder, and Murphy materialized. They were short of starting pitching in September and they reached down for Niese with no particular fanfare. It kept going like that. Only Mejia was any kind of a cause when he opened eyes five springs ago, but most of the commotion around Jenrry centered on fretting that he was being rushed.
The team David Wright came to in ’04 didn’t have a clutch of comparable players who’d been around since the late ’90s; there was John Franco and Al Leiter, both from other organizations (though it doesn’t feel that way in retrospect) and they were on their way out. The late ’90s Mets, in turn, didn’t have a whole bunch of longtimers together from the mid-’90s. By 1994, there was almost nobody left from the last of the contending Mets of 1990. You have to go back to 1990 to find a team with an array of familiar faces firmly in place — Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez, HoJo and Straw were all ensconced from 1986 — though you also would identify those former world champions as clearly having already accomplished a lot (even if you couldn’t see clearly they wouldn’t accomplish all that much more).
It’s almost anachronistic to have so many players make the majors in such a compressed time frame and remain a de facto unit while waiting for them to fully gel. You should need the reserve clause to make this happen. Yet here they remain, the core of a team on the come, modestly decorated veterans who have done all their journeying in one place, all of them with miles to go before they peak.
When the door’s revolutions become less frequent, it seems more than service time can accrue.
• Murphy is No. 14 among all Mets ever in base hits, No. 8 in doubles.
• Duda is 23rd (with a bullet) in home runs.
• Gee is 26th in innings pitched.
• Only six Mets have played more games at shortstop than Tejada.
• Only five lefty starters have accumulated more wins as Mets than Niese, whose collection of W’s piles higher than those belonging to, among other Met celebrities, Frank Viola, Al Jackson, Bobby Ojeda and the great Johan Santana.
• Only McGraw, McDowell, Allen and Myers have saved more games among homegrown Met closers than Parnell.
• Mejia has cracked the franchise’s Top Ten list for lifetime saves by a righty reliever.
How did this happen? I guess we already asked that, but seriously, how did the Manuel Seven — none of whom blossomed so much as grew in fits and spurts — become stalwarts within the Met record books never mind staples at Citi Field? How is they weren’t tossed overboard as the entire enterprise remained under .500? Is this how a foundation is built, with patience and nurturing? Was it more a matter that the Mets, unwilling or unable to pay for more established talent, simply ceased to search for it elsewhere? Maybe it was determined in 2011 and 2012 and 2013 that the upgrades out there weren’t worth the investment. Maybe the appeal of Jerry’s Kids was they were young and thus worked relatively cheap.
These guys didn’t go anywhere, except occasionally back to Triple-A or extended sessions of physical rehab. Their journeys have not been presented without commercial interruption. Murphy and Mejia are Comma Mets, players who missed an entire season of big league action due to injury; Parnell came within one inning of joining them in that punctuation distinction. The others got hurt or didn’t get good as fast as might have been preferred. None of them was Wright, who missed basically no time between his callup in July of 2004 and his taking a fastball to the head in August of 2009.
And let’s not kid ourselves that they all grew up together and coalesced into a winner together. No such thing has happened yet and it may not happen. It would be undeniably swell if it did. I forget where I saw it, but last October somebody mentioned how particularly excited the Royals seemed as they fought their way to the seventh game of the World Series and somebody else said it was the sign of players who’d come along together, lost a lot together and were, finally, winning together.
That would be an ideal outcome here, too. But even after 2008 and 2010 have become 2015, we can’t strut quite so confidently to that conclusion. Just as none of Jerry’s Kids exactly burned up the prospect charts, none has really taken the league by storm during their lengthening tenures. Murphy, the painstakingly converted second baseman, has the only All-Star selection among them (and that was more a Stearns than a Strawberry pick). Niese tries patience every tenth or fifteenth day. Tejada’s still earning his spot. Gee went from teetering on the brink of extinction to the epitome of dependability to Opening Day starter to sidelined to struggling all over again to trade bait to eliciting no takers to long man rescued by unfortunate circumstances. Mejia, who might have celebrated his saves a tad excessively last year, may find his stay in the closer role proves temporary pending Parnell’s recovery…which itself is still very much pending. And Duda, presumably settled in at first at last, has yet to consistently find lefty pitching to his liking.
But they’re all still here. They’re all intensely familiar to us beyond their numbers. We know who’s the jovial Texan, who’s quietly from Carolina, who’s allegedly from California but really seems to have been conceived in a laboratory. We’ve learned what some of them perceive as “lifestyles” and which of them has to be early to be considered “on time”. We’ve watched their hair puff out, we’ve noticed their noses taken in. We’ve witnessed the maturation process play out right in front of us until these guys have come to fit us like seven pairs of reasonably comfortable old shoes.
It could be organizational torpor masquerading as reassuring status quo, but I gotta tell ya: when I received my 2015 Mets calendar in December for Chanukah — you know, the one that’s printed approximately an eon ahead of the gift-giving season — it was kind of nice to notice that, for the first time in memory, every player pictured as a Met was actually still a Met. Based on precedent, I fully expected Jeff Francoeur to be this year’s Mr. April.
The Manuel Seven are practically known quantities elsewhere, too. They must be after all this time. The reasonably informed fan of another team, if one of these guys was rumored to be coming their way, wouldn’t have to ask “who?” They’d recognize the lot of them as having been Mets for quite a while now. If Old Timers Days ever come back in style — the kind where “opponents” are rounded up and introduced to polite applause — you could invite these guys, once retired, to any major league ballpark and they’d elicit polite applause.
“Oh yeah, Duda, I remember him. He hit thirty homers for the Mets once. Or was it more than once?”
There are others by whom we will come to define our own team, but right at the heart of the operation are Jerry’s Kids. We haven’t used a word like “the core” without rancor since names like Santana and Beltran and Delgado and Reyes (Jose, not Argenis) were attached to Wright’s. Big names, big dreams, a reality whose size wound up a little out of proportion to its aspirations. These days, there’s Harvey and deGrom, to be sure; there’ll be Wheeler again; there’s always Wright; plus there’s Cuddyer and Granderson as this year’s hopefully more effective version of Bay and Francoeur; and let’s not forget Terry’s Kids, encompassing the youngsters who we can envision forging the most promising spur of this ballclub’s post-Manuel (and probably post-Collins) path.
The core of the core, though, for better or for worse, can’t help but consist of the Mets who’ve lost together the longest, who’ve struggled individually forever, who’ve managed to redefine Met longevity and perhaps the legacy of their first Met manager. Was it supposed to work this way? Were these seven supposed to become the Mets?
Not likely. But you know they say: Niese is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Don’t make any other plans for Saturday, March 28, 1-4 PM. Join your Faith and Fear compadres at Foley’s NY to help us mark our tenth anniversary in spoken rather than written form. Food, drink and baseball figure to be in ample supply.
The full moon is callin’
The fever is high
And the wicked wind whispers and moans
You’ve got your demons
And you’ve got desires
But I’ve got a few of my own
—Don Henley & Glenn Frey
Thursday afternoon, give or take a sidelined shoulder and a tightened hamstring, Spring Training worked as well as it possibly could. A split squad of Mets were playing and winning on SNY. A whole different split squad of Mets were playing and winning on MLBN. The cries of “BREAK UP THE METS!” had been literally heeded by Sunshine State schedulemakers, yet the Metropolitan fragments that remained extant vanquished Houston in St. Lucie and St. Louis in Jupiter. For that matter, at the very same time the Mets (SS) were sweeping the Florida gold coast, the 1986 Mets were winning the National League pennant (in condensed-for-time fashion) over on ESPN Classic.
Every channel a Mets game, every channel a Mets win. This is how it works in my dreams.
Only the ’86 game counted and that one was put in the books a while ago. The others, per our implicit understanding that March is fleetingly fun but increasingly pointless, go into no books unless something goes terribly wrong. You can’t even call it trivial, because where would you look up the answers to the trivia if none of it gets put in the books? Still, it was uplifting. It was uplifting enough to make me check the Grapefruit League standings, an act for which I should fine myself.
We are apparently 9-8. I mean we’re 0-0, but we’re 9-8 in Florida. I thought we might be 13-2 after such an invigorating afternoon. We’re not, but that’s OK. The Spring Training standings are good for only two things.
1) Marveling at how weird 15 teams unmoored from their usual league and divisional settings look when they’re stacked tightly in one box.
2) Making sure we’re not first or last among those 15.
We’re neither. Thankfully, we’re tied for somewhere in between. Why be thankful for seemingly inconsequential favors? Elementary, my dear Allen/Matt Watson.
You don’t want to have the best record among your snowbird neighbors because you’re likely setting yourself up for a fall (if not the fall) if you do. Nobody wants to be the champions of what doesn’t count.
You don’t want to have the worst record, however, because then something’s probably a little too off about your entire operation to scoff away with, “But it’s only Spring Training.” It bears repeating every year at this time: the 1962 Mets and the 1986 Mets each compiled .500 records in their respective springs. One of those .500 spring teams went on to lose three of every four games when it mattered. The other .500 spring team in this equation of extremes went on to win two of every three games when it mattered.
Which is to say it still doesn’t matter if the Mets — split-squad, double-wide, extra-cheese, whatever — go out today and move to 9-9 or 8-10 or 25 or 6 to 4. But winning two (or three) games with two (or three) different versions of “the Mets” on two (or three) different channels in the very same time slot gets a fan to thinking…
Maybe we really are this good.
Maybe everybody really will hit.
Maybe everybody who’s healthy really will pitch.
Maybe everybody really will pick up ground balls and track down fly balls.
Maybe nobody else anywhere else has their act so fully together.
Maybe Kevin Long is the Granderson whisperer.
Maybe Michael Cuddyer bathes in the fountain of youth — or at least his swing does.
Maybe Wilmer Flores really was the best available all-around shortstop the world had to offer this past winter.
Maybe Niese and Gee and Montero, all of whom effectively muted their opposition Thursday, will soon be up there with Spahn and Sain and we’ll never have to pray for rain after Harvey and deGrom and pass me that Colon.
Maybe this really is the year.
Even as we wait for the other shoulder to drop in the Vic Black case.
Even as Daniel Murphy’s lifestyle turns day-to-day.
Even as we feign surprise to learn Zack Wheeler, in addition to being plagued by tears to his UCL and his tendon, made consecutive starts last August with what doctors now describe as a “small axe” lodged in his lower vertebrae. (When questioned, general manager Sandy Alderson dismissed the significance of the finding, calling the axe “a non-factor” in Wheeler’s and the club’s decision to seek Tommy John surgery sooner rather than later. “It’s just not that unusual to uncover tools and weapons inside of young pitchers today given the nature of how much they throw and the sorts of sales you see at Home Depot,” the GM added.)
Thinking so giddily, even provisionally giddily, nearly short-circuited my springtime serenity, for when you start to thinking your team might win, you start to worry that they won’t win explicitly because you, dummy, made the mistake of putting too much pressure on them by thinking too many good thoughts about them.
This used to go on in my head forever. It was an organizing principle of my rooting when this blog was founded. It dictated how I conducted myself for the entirety of 1999 and 1985, a.k.a. my two favorite seasons, when every day was, essentially, Game Six of the 1986 NLCS. You gotta be in it to win it. We were in it those years. We were so in it, it hurt to imagine seeping out of it. Seep we did, very late in the course of events. It hurt, but the commitment to the idea that the Mets must, must, must win transformed the pain into its own mutation of pleasure. Something was on the line. Something so delicious I could taste it in my mind for months. What if I took such an enormous mental bite that I left nothing for the actual Mets to feast on?
This was how I rooted when the Mets were routinely good, striking a balance between curbing my enthusiasm and reining in my anxieties. I haven’t rooted that way in a while. For the past six years it’s been hope for the best, expect the Mets. It’s a challenge to simply tamp down my disgust. Thursday afternoon, with the Mets winning from town to town, up and down the dial, I allowed myself to imagine a morsel of what I once dug into with brio, hold the hubris. I had the same allergic reaction to imaginary hubris now that I did then.
Anyway, I take that I’m even thinking about thinking like that a good sign that I’m in midseason form…of a much better season than we’ve had here in a while.
Interested in my further thoughts on the season ahead? Cardinals blog C70 At The Bat was, and they present them (along with those of some fellow Mets bloggers) here.
Interested in the fate of the old Mets bullpen car? I was enough to have participated as a questioner in a Q&A with the current owner, who is looking to find it a new home — or perhaps its old home — albeit for the right price. You can read the transcript of the virtual conversation at MetsPolice, your headquarters for all that relentlessly intriguing Mets ephemera you can’t quite put your finger on why you want to know more about, but you do, so good thing there’s MetsPolice.
Interested in hanging with Faith and Fear and talking each other down from our potentially fatal premature 2015 high? Then come to our Tenth Anniversary get-together at Foley’s NY (18 W. 33rd St., between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) on Saturday, March 28, between 1 and 4 PM. Frankly, I have no idea what we’ve got planned, but I assume there will be beer and I know there will be baseball, so please join us.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we scale Mount Acemore.
Bigger than big
That’s how you start it
—Marnie Stern, “Shea Stadium”
Stephen Sondheim, in his A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum phase, might have agreed that Everybody Ought to Have an Ace. We concur! We believe the Mets are far more fun to blog about when they have a charismatic, undisputed head-of-the-staff starter who lives up to his title roughly every fifth day.
It would be easier on us if not exactly everybody had an ace. For example, we could do without the Nationals having quite so many, but that’s not our department. We cover the Flushing waterfront. We prefer somebody on our side who leaves the other team’s batters all wet and — if he can do it without causing great detriment — makes a few waves.
When you’re a Mets fan, you feel deep down you’re entitled to an ace. A real ace. You want ace performances all the way around the rotation, sure; you even mouth with a straight face something that occurred to you in the late ’90s, that whoever’s pitching tonight is your ace. But in your bones, whether they connect to an ulnar collateral ligament or not, you want somebody who’s markedly more stunning than his counterparts. All starts are more or less equal, but one starter should be more equal than others.
This is a Mets fan trait in particular because of whose wings we’ve flown upon to get here. The wings of Seaver. The wings of Gooden. Aces up, baby. No doubt. Tom took us from 1967 to 1983, the biggest presence in Mets history even when he was mysteriously dispatched to pitch for a team in Cincinnati. Technically he was on hiatus for a while there in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but the ace seat was his seat and he came back to fill it again. When the Mets general-managed to find a way to unseat Seaver a second, irrevocable time in 1984, they had Doc ready to move on up and slide right in. Gooden was the ace in residence clear to 1994, ofttimes magnificently, now and then heartbreakingly.
When Gooden couldn’t be the ace here anymore, there was a decade’s worth of vacancy ahead. Good pitchers, fine pitchers, well-meaning pitchers pitched. Talent occasionally surfaced, yet none manifested itself in classic ace form. We got by. We even got close to winning it all. But it wasn’t the same without an ace.
I understood that when, in the very first official Mets game of Faith and Fear in Flushing’s existence, we were reintroduced to the concept and got to know Pedro Martinez. That was an ace. An ace is a pitcher to whom attention must be paid. You couldn’t take your eyes off Pedro Martinez. You watched him when he pitched, you listened to him when he talked, you thought about him when he was nowhere in sight. He was a stadium-sized presence, a personality of Lloyd Price proportions, a pitcher’s pitcher. He was the embodiment of charisma with a track record behind him and just enough left in his right arm to forge a crucial moment of aspiration and expectation. Shea came alive for him as it hadn’t come alive on account of a pitcher since the moon was in the seventh house and Dr. K aligned with Kid.
In 2005, Pedro Martinez was the best part of a good year. In 2006, Pedro Martinez boosted a very good team to a truly great start.
Then it became apparent there wasn’t enough left in his right arm to be who he was for more than spurts. There was still the presence and the personality but there was also the disabled list and the rehabilitation periods and the recurring descents into mortality. In theory and image, Pedro never stopped being the Pedro of 2005, himself the residual version of the Pedro of just a few years before when he was among the greatest ever. On the mound, it must be admitted, he was aging and struggling just like anybody else who’d been around forever and thrown who knows how many baseballs. You tried not to pay attention to that iteration. In consequential bursts, he could still summon the ace. He just couldn’t keep him pitching forever.
By then, however, somebody else was the ace, somebody who’d been brilliant more recently and born not as long ago. In 2008, the Mets imported our next great protagonist. They gave us Johan Santana. It was quite a gift.
Johan wasn’t anything like Pedro and he was quite a bit like Pedro. He was another attention-commander, though more through quiet confidence that colorful cockiness. This ace’s left arm appeared in New York with more peak left to it than Pedro’s right did, though its best days belonged to another team. Johan didn’t light up Shea as immediately as Pedro had, but he effectively assumed the position as first defense against all comers. Effective doesn’t begin to describe the Johan who came into his Met own at the very end of his first campaign. With one hand, he kept Shea aloft. If he were ambidextrous, it never would’ve tumbled to the ground.
The ace kept delivering in the new ballpark until he was physically unable to continue his rounds. Then he missed a year. Then he returned and appeared as great as new, culminating his comeback in a feat no Met before or since has accomplished. Johan engineered a half-century’s worth of catharsis.
Then he could do no more.
As Johan’s star frustratingly faded, another’s was already glittering in our midst en route to achieving supernova status. For a short time he soared from curiosity to colossus. He joined the ranks of the aces. He remade the concept in his own image. Everything he did and said seemed as brilliant as we were dumbstruck by his epic evolution.
He was R.A. Dickey. He was unlike anybody or anything to materialize in a Mets uniform. At first, he was a found object, alighting at Citi Field in 2010, mostly unknown, perhaps overlooked. His quirks were delightful, his pitching revelatory. Come 2012, just as we were about to need a post-Johan ace in the worst way, R.A. came on like knuckleballing, literature-citing gangbusters. He owned opposing lineups. He took possession of our baseball souls. We were along for a ride that was all climax and no denouement.
And about ten minutes after we toweled off and congratulated ourselves for booking passage on Mr. Dickey’s multisyllabic monorail, the attraction was shuttered, shipped off to Toronto for reasons that were sound financially, prudent competitively and shattering spiritually. How did we go from Cy Young to psychologically bereft in a matter of months?
Before we could feel too sorry for ourselves and our narrative — R.A. Dickey was as much a godsend to the Mets fan blogger as he was to the nonblogging Mets fan — we were blessed a fourth time. This one was really special.
Pedro came from Boston, Johan from Minnesota, R.A. from obscurity. Matt Harvey, however, was the ace the Mets made for themselves. The backstory was unfolding right in front of us: first-round draft pick out of college; a couple of years getting acclimated in the minors; then fully grown and instantly ready to roll.
Roll he did. There was a glint of the spotlight just as Johan was setting and R.A. was cresting and then, in 2013, the universe was his. Matt Harvey entered April like a lion and ate up batters as a matter of course. He was born to do this. He was Seaver reincarnated, except maybe more intimidating. He was a cause to rally around. He was the best in his league for as long as he could pitch without pain.
Which turned out to be less than five months, because as we’ve seen in the modern age of aces, some sort of 22nd Amendment must’ve been enacted. Nobody holds office in (mostly) uninterrupted fashion as the Franchise and the Doctor did.
A funny thing inevitably happens on the way to where these aces are supposed to be taking us. Pedro was The Man in practice for a year-and-a-half before sputtering in and out of the rotation for the rest of his four-year deal. Johan, who closed out 2008 with such a flourish, was never around for the close of a season again, including two seasons when he was under contract but wasn’t around at all. R.A., given his beautiful pitch and unorthodox makeup, seemed a lock to be signed long-term. Instead he was traded. And Matt Harvey — calling him just “Matt” or just “Harvey” doesn’t seem appropriate in this context — was directed to the Tommy John table before his first full year was done. His second full year is scheduled to begin far behind schedule.
Pedro and Johan and R.A. became history all too soon. But Matt Harvey has returned to make more of it. To make more good copy for us, too, which I will tell you, quite selfishly, ratchets up my interest in his aceness. Without a certifiable ace, you have to depend upon the achievements of mere mortals and work to find a hook 32 times a year. These guys who top rotations thoughtfully provide framework, fill in blanks, twist, turn, excel, elate and sprinkle our heads with content dust.
You sit in the stands or on your couch and root for the Mets, you embrace a Pedro, a Johan, an R.A. or a Matt Harvey (whose first Spring Training outing was electric enough to qualify as a Mets Classic) at their best because they pitch better than most everybody else. You sit in front of your computer the way we do after they pitch — no matter how well or how disappointingly — and you’re truly relieved the Mets once in a while have this kind of starter. You know they will do something, say something, mean something. They essentially dictate their story to you.
You’re rewrite and they’re honey.
I’ve publicly mourned the respective inevitable departures of each of our previous three aces, but I’m ecstatic thinking that we have our fourth just about back in the saddle. As a class they can be high in maintenance, I suppose, but they are higher in emotional payoff. I’ll grant you there’s something to be said for keeping quiet, being professional, doing your job and not making a big show of it. Speak softly and change speeds. Swell. It fits some pitchers more than others. But that’s not what gets me excited. That’s not what points me in the direction of Opening Day let alone toward a mythical Game One (or Game Seven) to be named later.
Backlash, like resistance, is futile. Aces aren’t like you and me and guys named Chris who are repeatedly signed to one-year contracts in February. Aces shape your season for you. Aces get your fingers flying. You can’t wait to hit “publish”. You can’t wait to copy & paste that URL. J.J. Hunsecker thought he had a hot column? I don’t need to dirty my hands with some grubby Sidney Falco-type schlub when I’ve got an ace up my sleeve like those who’ve graced these pages.
Win or lose, to me that’s the sweet smell of success.
Here’s this pitch: Join us on Saturday, March 28, 1-4 PM, at Foley’s NY to celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Blog for Mets Fans Who Like to Read (about aces and other things) and generally get your Met on. It’ll be fun, if not as much fun as Matt Harvey flirting with perfection. But c’mon — what is?
Well, I guess we’ve solved the Zack Wheeler pitch count problem for 2015.
Depth is a blessing, to be sure, but it is by no means optimal to learn your team will go forward stripped of — give or take a Niese — your No. 3 starter in the season when you envisioned the whole gang taking a splendid leap forward. When we learned Zack would be joining Josh Edgin en route to the Tommy John Surgery Emporium, Rehabilitation Center & Car Wash, we were unquestionably diminished. How much, as the crafters of cautious statements like to say, remains to be seen.
These aren’t interchangeable parts to be shifted around upon availability by Pitching Coach For Life Dan Warthen. Wheeler’s his own package of assets and liabilities, different from Dillon Gee, different from Noah Syndergaard, different from whoever eventually moves into the rotation in his stead. To pretend we won’t be missing something just because Wheeler’s Wheeler (and not, for example, Harvey) is to forget it takes a village to get through a season. I’m somehow reminded of the dimmest argument against the Hall of Fame cases of ballplayers like Gil Hodges and Davey Concepcion, the one that wonders what the heck we need with another Boy of Summer or Big Red Machinist in Cooperstown? As if we can be sure that whatever delicate chemistry produced a legendary team wasn’t dependent upon all of its major components. As if we know we will get this summer from “whoever” what we got from Wheeler last summer.
Which, in case you were wondering, was eleven starts from June 30 to August 27 pitched to an ERA of 2.17. Ten of those eleven starts lasted six or more innings. As the Mets were attempting to mature as a whole, Zack Wheeler was coming of age. Now the maturation process involuntarily pauses.
The legendary Mets pitching staff upon which we have based our springtime dreams won’t materialize in 2015. Its substitute unit may perform just fine, but it won’t be the same without Wheeler, just as the 2014 group was a relative strength but nowhere near as strong as it would’ve been had Matt Harvey been healthy. Matt seems to have been put back together in one formidable piece — a reassuring reminder that TJS mostly works — but, boy, do you hate to miss out on what could be and worry about it turning into what could have been.
And you really feel bad for Zack Wheeler, his right elbow and his postponed present.
A public service announcement from your vaguely killjoy pal here: Please keep in mind as you tune in to comforting video (if strange audio) on SNY/PIX 11, that four things can happen this time of year and three of them aren’t particularly beneficial to the greater good.
1) Stupid Stuff. This encompasses every off-field Spring Training development that wasn’t widely anticipated and garners more than passing attention, usually because it’s of the Met Bites Dog variety. Somebody expressed an opinion. Somebody was quoted at length. Somebody gave somebody else the stink eye. We could label such unscripted activity “controversies,” but that’s giving this kind of business more credit than it deserves.
Some developments in this realm are clearly more stupid than others. Some of them aren’t stupid at all, actually. Much of it is innocuous, simply the byproduct of an entity we care about generating an occasional hiccup of news. You concentrate the Mets and those who cover their every moment in one place for seven or so weeks, stuff will happen and word will filter north. For our fan purposes, if it can’t be filed under Preparing The Team To Win, then how brilliant can it be?
CAVEAT: Now and then stupid stuff will appear pivotal in a confetti-coated rearview mirror, as in, “The moment Parnell removed the fork from Syndergaard’s hand was the moment the 2015 Mets took their first step toward a championship.” If we’re in a position to rewrite what we can barely remember seven-and-half months from now — especially if we’re intoxicated by success — we’ll gleefully buy any retrofitted storyline.
2) Injuries. There are the obvious dings that a professional athlete risks in the course of competition (though you’d rather have those transpire in the course of actual competition rather than glorified scrimmages if they’re going to transpire at all), but far more insidious is the pain that unfolds in slow motion.
He’s not going to throw today as scheduled.
He’s fine, just a little dead-arm period.
They’re taking precautions, just a little stiffness.
He’ll be throwing again in a day or two.
He’s not making the trip to Viera, but it’s no big deal.
He says he feels “100%,” but they’re going to wait.
It might be nothing more than he slept on it wrong.
He may have experienced a slight setback.
Just to be careful, they’re going to send him for an MRI.
They’re going to have him consult with Dr. Andrews, but that’s fairly standard procedure.
He’s going to try rehab.
The way the schedule is set up, they can go without an extra arm until late April.
Surgery was successful.
He should be ready to resume baseball activities before the All-Star break.
He’ll be reporting to Port St. Lucie before August 1.
There’s a chance we’ll see him when the rosters expand in September.
The Mets haven’t yet announced whether they will wear a patch in his memory in 2016.
CAVEAT: The worst-case scenario is never as bad as you imagine, even though the best-case scenario never occurs. Josh, Vic, Zack…we’ll see ya when we see ya.
3) Totally Meaningless Results. Have you noticed how the Mets have been whacking the ball around lately? You know what it means? Not a blessed thing. If the Mets weren’t whacking the ball around, it would mean just as much. They’re 0-0. They’ll be 0-0 until April 6. Hitters hot now will grow cold and heat up again before Opening Day, at which point none of what they’ve done in St. Lucie and environs will matter a whit.
CAVEAT: Maybe somebody will scorch his way onto the club, though on a roster like this, which was supposed to dry like paint, that probably means an injury or extremely stupid stuff arose and ruffled plans. We won’t deprive the next Darren Reed of his moment in the sun, but we’ll take with a pretzel’s worth of salt what it likely means.
4) Nothing. You want nothing out of Spring Training, especially by now. You’ve had the jolt of electricity from baseball’s return. You’ve seen it televised. You’ve heard it broadcast. Perhaps you’ve visited. You’ve got it in your head that winter really does eventually end. You know the season is almost at hand. All you want between this juncture of the calendar and real New Year’s Day is to be bored out of your mind. You don’t want stupid stuff. You don’t want injuries. You don’t need totally meaningless results. You need and want nothing to happen, because when nothing happens, nothing has gone wrong. When something happens, it’s almost impossible to imagine something has gone right. It’s like what football coaches believe in their gut about passing the ball — three things can happen and two of them are bad.
CAVEAT: Nothing happening in Spring Training beats pretty much anything happening anywhere else in the middle of March, so enjoy!
Turn the sound down on those strange voices who aren’t GKR and listen instead to this edition of the Rising Apple Report, where without notes I riff for a quarter-hour on the 1995 Mets. I think 2015 comes up in there, too.
Say, you look familiar.
These March days, when spring somehow infiltrates the air, my instinct is to head to the nearest candy store, stationery store or luncheonette and pick up a pack of cards. More than a pack really. That instinct was finely honed in my childhood when every candy store, stationery store and luncheonette sold packs of cards.
Sadly, they don’t seem to have as many of those outlets anymore, at least not in my immediate vicinity. So I will have to cater to my mood by going back to some random March day in 1975, when I was 12, and buying baseball cards was as easy as strolling to the Cozy Nook or Belle’s or the Laurel or Echo or the Colony or anywhere in my Long Beach midst and putting down my spare change.
Each pack contained 10 cards and a stick of disgusting bubble gum for 15 cents. I’m not sure there wasn’t a markup. I doubt I comparison-shopped. I also know I rarely if ever stopped at one. Four packs was my chosen quantity if I could swing it on a four-dollar weekly allowance. It was a good, indulgent amount. Three wouldn’t have been enough. Five would’ve been too many.
OK, so I’ve gone back four decades with my sixty or so cents and purchased my four packs from the Cozy Nook (same block as Belle’s, but they’re nicer). I shall now open them up and see what I got.
Craig Kusick. Again?
Bart Johnson. Again.
Jim Wohlford. Not again.
Vada Pinson. Hey, he used to be pretty good.
ERA leaders. Leader cards are less exciting than they should be. They have great players on them but they’re not really the cards of great players — y’know? This one has Catfish Hunter before he became a free agent and Buzz Capra after he stopped being a Met. Man, can you believe Buzz Capra led the N.L. in ERA? Nice job, Bob Scheffing.
Diego Segui. I’m pretty sure I’ve been getting Diego Segui every year since 1970.
Rudy May. A Yankee. Yippee.
Lynn McGlothen. I always pronounce it McGlothlen. I guess I’m wrong.
Steve Braun. I sure get a lot of American Leaguers.
Bob Bailey. This could’ve been a better pack.
Joe Morgan. Now we’re talking! All-Star! It says so right there in the bottom right corner.
Don Hahn. A Met! Well, not a Met anymore, since he was traded to the Phillies with Tug, but the card says he’s a Met. I’ll take it.
Bart Johnson. Of course.
1958 MVPs. I love these MVP cards. I’m getting to where I must have most of these. Ernie Banks…I always wanted an Ernie Banks. Didn’t get one until last summer when I got hit in the head by the rudder on the sailboat at Treasure Island Day Camp, which put me out of commission, and my counselor Irwin felt bad for me and visited me at home and brought me a box full of his old baseball cards, all of them from 1967 to 1969, all of them either Mets or stars. Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman’s rookie card was in there. Willie Mays was in there, though he was a Giant back then. Mickey Mantle…Whitey Ford…a really young Bud Harrelson…and Ernie Banks. I didn’t know he won the MVP twice. I’m learning a lot from these cards. For example, I just learned who Jackie Jensen, 1958 American League MVP was.
Craig Kusick. I will never not get Craig Kusick, will I?
Jim Spencer. Texas Rangers, all right! The Rangers are my favorite American League team. They came from nowhere to win 84 games last year. They’re gonna overtake the A’s this year. Billy Martin turned around the Twins, then the Tigers, now the Rangers. What a great manager.
Steve Yeager. I guess that’s good.
Jim Barr. I’ll be flipping this one.
Rusty Staub. ALL RIGHT!!!
Fritz Peterson. Ex-Yankee. Ex-yippee.
Padres team card. I guess they didn’t move to Washington after all.
Dave Chalk. I read about this guy in Baseball Digest. He’s supposed to be good.
Jim Wohlford. There may have been an energy crisis in this country, but there is no shortage of Jim Wohlford baseball cards.
Jim Lonborg. When we went to Philadelphia last year, I wondered if I had brought all my Phillies cards with me if I could’ve traded them to the local kids for all their Mets cards. I should try that sometime. Or do the kids in Philadelphia already have all the Jim Lonborgs they can use?
Rich Folkers. Ex-Met. I like looking at the back and staring at that line in his statistics.
Bart Johnson. Bart doesn’t really exist, except in most every pack I ever get.
Bill Bohnam. Since Ernie Banks retired, every guy on the Cubs is Bill Bonham. Or Paul Popovich.
1970 MVPs. My first year of real collecting. I never got Boog or Bench that summer, but here they are, real tiny on one card. I did get their Sporting News All-Star cards in ’70, but those don’t count.
Boog Powell. How weird is that? He’s a Cleveland Indian now, too, but an Oriole on here. It must’ve been too late for them to have a card that was that up to date. I guess Kingman is still a Giant on these cards. Seriously, I think that by getting Kingman, the Mets have to be the favorite in the N.L. East. Seaver’s gonna be healthy, Unser and Clines are gonna be an upgrade in center, we got Torre for third and now Kingman. First I thought it would be the Cardinals, then I thought it would be the Phillies. I’m sick of the Pirates winning every year. It’s going to be a four-way battle. I’m picking the Dodgers in the N.L. West, the Rangers in the A.L. West and…I hate to do it, but with Catfish Hunter and Bobby Bonds, probably the Yankees edging out the Orioles in the A.L. East. That has nothing to do with Baltimore trading Boog Powell to Cleveland. And I’d pick the Mets even if I weren’t a Mets fan. I’m surprised most of the magazines are ignoring them. Then again, they, like these cards, came out before the Mets got Kingman.
Frank Duffy. Boog Powell’s new teammate.
Brent Strom. I’ll put him over here with Rich Folkers.
Balor Moore. The Expos have the weirdest names.
Tom House. He’s number 525. I wonder why he rates a 5. I thought that was for really good players only.
Bob Locker. I’ve been getting Bob Locker since before I started collecting baseball cards. Seriously, Bob Locker was one of those cards I got from my sister when she gave me her cards, the ’67s and ’68s that she said she bought under peer pressure. It’s weird how her ’68s just peter out after the first series. Topps stopped doing series altogether, which is fine with me. Except I keep getting Jim Wohlford, Bart Johnson and Craig Kusick.
Craig Kusick. If it weren’t for baseball cards, I’d have no idea who Craig Kusick is. Actually, I still have no idea who Craig Kusick is. But I sure do have a lot of him.
Clay Kirby. He’s a Red now? Not a Padre anymore? When did that happen? He was a Red all of last year? I must not’ve been paying attention.
Claudell Washington. World Champion A — excellent!
Ron Cey. All-Star! Not as good as Schmidt, but still.
Roric Harrison. I’ve never met a Roric in real life.
Jim Wohlford. Uh-huh.
Well, that’s it. Four packs. Two Mets. The gum isn’t so bad if you just bite down on it real hard.
No, I take that back. This is terrible.
Let me look at my Ron Cey again.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, the Mets get screwed but good.
When the tenth anniversary of Faith and Fear was on the horizon, I thought about putting together a countdown of the biggest Mets stories of our time on the beat. Then I gave up on that idea because — called third strikes, dropped popups behind second base, consecutive September collapses and even some cheerful developments notwithstanding — there was only one story that truly mattered. There was no bigger Mets story over the past ten years than finding out the Mets had a lot less money than everybody, including themselves, thought.
Conversely, there was no ongoing Mets story that I’ve had less appetite to write about than Bernie Madoff. I don’t mean Bernie Madoff the fiend who went to prison but “Bernie Madoff” as shorthand for the Mets not having as much money as everybody thought. The Madoff scandal broke in 2008. We’re still regularly alluding to it, in a direct or indirect fashion, as it applies to the Mets in 2015. You read it explicitly or between the lines every day, whether in earnest reporting about allocations of limited resources or in snark-filled remarks that the Mets would do some mundane thing, except mundane thing costs money! (hold for laughter as billboards of protest continue to rise).
You know how “Bernie Madoff” continues to apply to the Mets? That’s not a rhetorical question. Really, I’ve never fully comprehended it except for the basics: Madoff screwed a lot of people who didn’t own baseball teams in a very bad way, while the people who do own our favorite baseball team were forever tarred and scarred by what had happened…whatever their angle in it was exactly. Several journalists have committed their considerable talents to explaining it, and I hang in there with their dedicated reportage for a while, but honestly, my eyes eventually glaze over. I’d rather stare cluelessly at a hundred sabermetric acronyms than have to take apart the details of what Madoff means to the Mets.
There was a prospective new partial owner who came and went. There were minority shares sold. There have been credit lines and bridge loans. There have been favorable judgments. There were statements of support from outgoing and incoming commissioners. There is a cloud that lingers.
It’s not enough that the team owners might make decisions about the baseball experience we don’t agree with or that don’t work out on the field. Every team’s fans, save a couple of perpetually satisfied tribes, can bitch and moan about results. We rebel at authority figures when we’re steamed and call every wealthy man “Mister” when we’re not. We instinctively treat these people like heads of state as long as they don’t invade our head space too often. We’re willing to applaud when they enter the premises on ceremonial occasions, assuming they tacitly pledge to otherwise stay out of our way. But these days, which encompass every day since late 2008, we cheer billboards demanding their ouster. They — which is to say “Bernie Madoff” — destroyed our team’s chances for more than a half-decade.
Our team. Not their team. That’s the deal. We dig deep because of that sense of ownership, even if it’s only a psychological stake we hold. Being down on the titular owners in this realm is nothing personal against them, per se, whatever their foibles in other realms. It’s about what they allowed to happen to our team. They’re supposed to be the caretakers, takin’ care of business on our behalf.
That part is personal.
I took one or two shots at delving into all this second-hand when it was relatively fresh. I didn’t know what I was talking about, so I stopped trying to write about it, except to say, in so many words whenever I attempted to piece together the Mets’ immediate future, “Bernie Madoff” — a.k.a. the Mets have a lot less money than everybody thought and that’s probably bad news for the Mets.
You know what I like to write about? Baseball. One of my favorite things is to look at the Mets and try to figure out whether their team is good enough to win, and if it isn’t, I like to puzzle out what might be done to make it better. We all do this. Except every time I’ve attempted to do this for the past six or so years, I hit a brick wall. Every meditation on the near-term fortunes of the Mets inevitably devolves into some version of “…but we don’t really know how much the Mets can spend, so who knows what’ll actually happen?”
That’s the legacy of “Bernie Madoff” in the Met sense. It used to be we knew. We grasped whether the Mets had resources (it was more or less a given that they did) and by their actions they let us know what they planned to do with them. Maybe the Mets spent them wisely or foolishly, but you could follow along at home. When we began blogging in 2005, they had resumed spending enthusiastically. It produced a fun ride for a while.
Then Madoff happened. Actually, I suppose Madoff happened before. Madoff happening — not the part where he was caught, but the part where he seemed to be a wizard and the principal owner trusted him implicitly — meant the Mets acted as if they had resources they didn’t necessarily have. Or they had them before they didn’t.
See, I still don’t quite get it. The Mets used what they either had or thought they had and turned the go-nowhere team that preceded our blogging to the going-somewhere team we took such delight in chronicling. Then they didn’t have the resources to make things happen. Or did they? We’d resign ourselves to spending patterns more in line with the last days of de Roulet, yet suddenly there’d be a Jason Bay signed here or a David Wright extended there. Curtis Granderson took real bucks if not the biggest of bucks. Bartolo Colon cost money. Michael Cuddyer wasn’t exactly cheap.
So the Mets were spending again? No, they weren’t. They couldn’t. They can’t. Can they? Cuddyer may not have been a bargain-basement pickup, but paying ballplayers of a certain level the going rate is kind of the price of admission for competing within Major League Baseball, isn’t it? Anybody who watched the Mets pursue the low end of the market when free agency came along will always be a little shocked that they sign anyone glitzier than Elliott Maddox and Tom Hausman. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be a shock the Mets would sign somebody like Michael Cuddyer. The shock should be Michael Cuddyer turned out to be our winter centerpiece and half of our new inventory.
I’d like to say the ability to spend is none of our beeswax. It’s impolite to talk money in most precincts. But baseball is showbiz and the figures get thrown around freely. Then you factor in New York, which — according to most New Yorkers — is approximately a bajillion times bigger than Pittsburgh and Kansas City put together. We used to use New York’s enormity as evidence that the Mets were a bunch of cheapskates if they didn’t pony up in a given free agent season. They had to have the money to outspend all those pikers in the hinterlands. It’s New York…right?
“Bernie Madoff” made that not matter a whit. Whatever Pittsburgh and Kansas City and their teeny-tiny town brethren lacked in population they more than compensated for by not being home to the financial whiz who screwed the Mets among others. Too bad we couldn’t keep Amos Otis and trade Bernard Madoff to the Royals for Joe Foy.
Besides, small-market/large-market dichotomy ain’t what it used to be. There’s revenue sharing and multiple revenue streams and regional networks and it’s no longer as simple as saying the teams playing in the big cities have an insurmountable advantage over the teams playing in the littler cities. Pittsburgh goes to the playoffs. Kansas City goes to the World Series. The team playing in the city where Bernie Madoff made his bones winds up with the most stubborn disadvantage of all.
Somehow, we arrived in 2015 filling our optimism glass past the halfway point for a change. Oh, that young pitching! Oh, that spectacular center fielder! Oh, the reasonable assertions one can make that everybody is gonna be pretty good to maybe nearly great! And then, if we’re just a little shy, our general manager can go out and…
Or can he? Ah, the wall rears its bricky head again. Say what you will about Sandy Alderson, but say anything definitive at your own risk, because his actions defy definition.
• He let Jose Reyes leave because the batting champ’s future was a dicey proposition or because retaining Jose Reyes was beyond the means of the Mets?
• He traded R.A. Dickey because the package he could receive in exchange for his services far exceeded the value to be extracted from the Cy Young winner’s world-class knuckleball or because retaining R.A. Dickey was beyond the means of the Mets?
• He loved Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores in consecutive offseasons to the exclusion of every possible shortstop alternative available or he couldn’t help but love Tejada and Flores because upgrades were beyond the means of the Mets?
You can make all the inferences you want from Alderson’s public statements or manner or track record to date. You can hail his acumen. You can mock his inactivity. But you can’t really say he’s done everything a general manager can do, because he hasn’t been given the payroll flexibility a general manager is supposed to get.
Or has he? The Mets have never explicitly come out and said, “Whaddaya want from us? Madoff…y’know?” For a while, the story was, yeah, Madoff got to us but not the baseball. The baseball’s fine. Then the baseball operations were obviously impacted. Meanwhile, plans for malls and such went full steam ahead. So everybody was fine? How could they be? If they were, why weren’t the Mets aggressively pursuing this or that player? Because what they had was beyond conceivable improvement? This was a 79-win team in 2014 and it added two major leaguers in advance of 2015. Even with injuries presumably recovered from and prospects on their way, that’s a pretty complacent approach if that’s supposed to be the plan.
Unless it’s the best that can be made of a constrained situation, because “Bernie Madoff” changed everything and will continue to until we can stop talking about it as it applies to the Mets…which we’re not able to yet.
This, I am aware, is not a rigorous survey of the details that have made the Mets a budgetary mystery. This veers to the glib and superficial. Others curse when they don’t know what else to do. Foregoing intellectual rigor in my pursuit of understanding the Mets is my version of dropping f-bombs. I don’t wanna analyze that which eludes airtight answers even after the most exhaustive analysis. I just wanna watch Mets baseball knowing all is being done to make it the best baseball possible.
That’s the Mets we were able to wrap our heads around when we began to blog in 2005. That’s the Mets modus operandi I want back.
Occasional Metpocalyptic forecasts of doom notwithstanding, join us on Saturday, March 28, 1-4 PM, at Foley’s NY to celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Blog for Mets Fans Who Like to Read and actually look forward to the coming season for a change.