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ABOUT US

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

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

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

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Spring Its Ownself

On Wednesday morning, March 13, a bright, warm Florida day, Jeffrey M. Hysen woke up with a squirrel in his stomach. In his good life as a baseball fan, there had never been a month quite like this one. In the next few hours he was going to see Noah Syndergaard sharpen his right arm for the season ahead, Jeff McNeil reacquaint himself with the peculiarities of third base and Ol’ Sol challenge his personal comfort level. The Mets and Astros are sold out, to Jeff’s surprise. The ticket today will have to be in the picnic area. Even though he’s been going to these Spring tuneups since March began, the excitement of it, the lure of the games, makes him nervous. Nervous but delighted. Baseball to Jeff Hysen, and thousands of other expatriate New Yorkers, is as essential as air conditioning. It is what a Mets fan grows up with, feeds on, worships, follows, plays and, very often, dies with. Jeff Hysen, 60, married, father of two boys, semi-retired attorney, intermittent stand-up comic (he’s told jokes in one of the rooms Jerry Seinfeld frequents), Fantasy Camp graduate, baseball enthusiast, was either going to live a lot this afternoon or die a little.

Jeff Hysen is a modern semi-retiree. Being a modern semi-retiree means Jeff Hysen chases the Mets up and down Florida’s so-called Treasure Coast as if they’re going somewhere. They are, to Washington in a couple of weeks, where Jeff will be in position to greet them, since he still lives near there most months, though not most of this one. Jeff retired from his 31-year government job at the end of last year and promised himself one satisfying detour en route to new life adventures as winter begat spring and spring begat the runup to another baseball season. Jeff was gonna plant himself close enough to Port St. Lucie to keep a wading white ibis’s eye on his New York Mets.

And he has. He has a ballpark, backup ballparks and a tube of sunscreen. He’s seen the Mets play the same handful of teams over and over again because that’s what the Mets do in Port St. Lucie, in Jupiter and in West Palm Beach, each facility reasonably accessible from his snowbird home base in Boynton Beach (“I’m 60 and I feel young here”). He’s gotten to the ballparks early, stayed in them late and soaked it all in, not every day but most days. Jeff’s as warm all over about his choice of activity as someone who carries a tube of sunscreen every game he goes to by necessity. You have to do that in Florida, even in March.

Does he like these Mets? Jeff does, particularly the routine he’s attached himself to. “It’s been fun,” he swears. “The weather has been fantastic and it’s always good to see the Mets.” Words to live by from a lawyer who dedicated himself heart and soul to ethical issues at the Federal level, which may sound like an oxymoron to the civilian ear (like “starting left fielder Jack Reinheimer”), but Jeff took his job seriously. Comedian by night, you couldn’t as much as jest with him in daylight about the niceties of the Hatch Act or any Act. Jeff’s colleagues took him and his dedication to heart. When he retired, they chipped in and presented him with a bottle of wine autographed by Ed Kranepool.

Multiple trips up and down I-95 have made Jeff a Spring Training authority. He even knows the names of the facilities by their sponsors and tenants — FitTeam, with the Astros and dogass Nationals in West Palm; Roger Dean, home of the Cardinals and lonely Marlins in if not on Jupiter; and of course historic old First Data Field, formerly everything else, in St. Lucie, where the Mets and the antelope have played since 1988, or just after Jeff started being a Fed. Jeff wound up in the District of Columbia the year prior because he won a contest on WHN right before it became WFAN. The prize was a train ticket and a game ticket to see the Mets and Phillies at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. It rained and it was cold and he escaped to the dry and warmth of Union Station where he found his future job listed in the Washington Post. The Mets wouldn’t make regular visits to RFK until 2005. Jeff accepted gainful employment nearby anyway.

As a newly minted sunscreen-toting semi-retiree, Jeff will tell you the first priority at any Spring game is “shade. It’s important in Florida. You think that you want to sit as close as possible to the field, but it’s 83 degrees and sunny, so you move back.” If the games look empty on TV, it’s not because baseball doesn’t still tickle Florida’s fancy. “In reality,” Jeff explains, “everyone is hiding from the sun.”

As a modern Mets fan, Jeff objectively ranks First Data as his favorite Spring ballpark, followed by Roger Dean, then FitTeam. Across the board, “the food is mostly garbage,” he concedes, “and they don’t allow any outside food, so you have to find the good places.” Jeff also advises you bring your own water bottle, either sealed, or empty “to fill inside.” The dimensions at First Data are leftover from Shea…and so is “lots of the food,” Jeff says, “but the pizza will make you think that you’re in Queens,” plus there’s Nathan’s hot dogs and fries. Ten dollars near the tiki bar will buy you “a good grilled chicken sandwich with Nathan’s fries. That counts as a bargain.”

Go for tacos at Roger Dean, Jeff counsels. Avoid the pizza. “That’s not what pizza is supposed to be!” is what he felt like telling the guy who sold it to him, but Jeff kept the thought to himself. At FitTeam, “eat at the concessions stand behind home if you hate yourself.” If you don’t, go with the Italian delights out beyond center.

Jeff is also happy to rank parking, a must given the lack of 7 train or, for that matter, Metro (Jeff despises the Metro after 31 years of waiting for the Red Line to arrive as scheduled). Roger Dean’s lot edges First Data’s based on the permanent “annoying traffic jam” at First Data. The parking lot at FitTeam “might as well be in Houston,” he says, given the hike to and from the front gate. As for the fans who come in the cars, well, Jeff swears to Gil Hodges that Mets fans are the best in their slice of the Grapefruit League (“so smart and good looking”). Runners-up are Astros fans “because I have no reason to dislike them.” He can report having “actually” sighted a Marlin fan. Behind that lost soul in Jeff’s estimation are “Cardinals fans, who are not smug as in past years. I surprisingly met some nice ones.”

Nationals fans, Jeff has decided, “are as ignorant and arrogant here as they are in Washington,” and he’s had opportunity to comparison-shop. “I thought my dislike for Nationals fans might change in the Florida sunshine,” he admits, “but when I went to a Mets away game and saw the Nationals red, it felt like a regular season game.” Jeff’s adherence to ethics forbids him from saying anything inaccurate about the collective baseball IQ he encounters every summer at Nationals Park…or pointing out the pocket schedule he picked up at FitTeam identifies “Sherzer” as the Nationals’ pitching ace.

It doesn’t matter where he takes in a Spring Training game. Jeff believes there are some rules fans of all stripe should be legally required to uphold. Like not “yelling ‘I got it’ at a foul ball that is many sections away”; like saying “can of corn” on a fly ball, “a cliché that makes you sound stupid”; like “clapping when the PA commands, ‘everybody clap your hands!’ Please stop,” Jeff begs. “You’re just encouraging them.”

This is lowbrow big league behavior at Spring Training prices, which Jeff regrets is also bordering ever more on big league. “It’s getting more and more expensive” to get them not to neglect you, Jeff reports. “Tickets are at least $25” for games that don’t and never did count. “Roger Dean has a ‘day of game’ surcharge, parking is ten bucks and all three places inspect you like you’re boarding an airplane” when it comes to potentially smuggling a sandwich past the turnstile. “I hope that the towns in Florida and Arizona are not pricing out their customers in an effort to recoup the money that they are paying to keep teams when greedy owners threaten to leave.”

For someone who can and will volunteer a list of what’s wrong around the edges of Spring Training, Jeff is just as quick to tell you the whole thing “is a delight. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of baseball in March.” He’ll even share a secret with you: the best spot to “experience the Mets in a way that you can’t during the regular season” is whichever corner they’re assigned to set up their bullpen at Roger Dean on a given day, where you can get so close, you’re surprised you don’t have to whip out extra to cover the proximity fee. Wilson Ramos stood right next to Jeff one fine day. Jacob deGrom practically loosened up inside his camera. “I didn’t need to zoom in,” he marvels. “What a thrill to be that close to the Mets.”

Jeff’s been thrilled by the Mets even when he’s been disgusted by them during most of his sixty years. He grew up near them in Great Neck and suffered the distance from Shea as he built his career and family outside Washington. The names change, the loyalty doesn’t. Nor does his discernment. Jeff didn’t come to Florida merely to lounge in the shade, snap photographs and kvetch purposefully. He’s done some scouting.

Jason Vargas has impressed him so far (“I can’t believe I just said that”). He’s also high on Seth Lugo, Pete Alonso, Dom Smith and J.D. Davis “as a hitter.” He insists Robinson Cano “is going to be fun to watch,” observes a young catcher named Ali Sanchez “has a great arm” and praises Rajai Davis for “his instincts as a runner. It’s not something that the Mets are good at. He is smart and can help the team off the bench.”

Less of a thrill: Corey Oswalt (“the press likes him, but I don’t”); Jacob Rhame (“the only uniform that I want to see Jacob Rhame wearing is a Nationals uniform”); J.D. Davis “as a fielder”; and, deGrom’s preferences notwithstanding, Devin Mesoraco, who, Jeff suggests, “seems to have trouble catching the ball, which is part of his job description.”

With less than two weeks remaining to Opening Day, Jeff describes his ownself “as optimistic as a Mets fan can be. I think they can finish anywhere from first to fourth,” which doesn’t speak bountifully for optimism. “Brodie made many good moves that could pay off, but I’m not sure if he did enough with starting pitching depth and the outfield. Plus, the Phillies, Nationals and Braves improved as well. They could finish first but they could stay in fourth.” Regardless, he says, “I’m excited about the season and can’t wait to see what happens.”

In the meantime, he’s not done in Florida. Is he really going to Jupiter for Mets-Marlins again?

Jeff Hysen looks offended. “They’re playin’, aren’t they?”

Thanks to Jeff for providing the information. Thanks to Dan Jenkins for providing the inspiration.

The Adventures of Pete & Not Pete

You knew me as Peter if you knew me at all
I tower several inches above six feet tall
I’d prefer if rather than Peter you please call me Pete
Get me onto the roster, I’ll get you out of your seat

You’ve known me as Dominic or interchangeably Dom
I used to be a prospect you’d ache to take to the prom
That was before you saw me play yet rarely succeed
From my ranks of supporters you were swift to secede

Pete here — you should now know me as that
I trust you’re growing familiar with my big booming bat
Have you caught my power-laden act thus far this spring?
Have your eyes lit up once they’re filled with my swing?

I’m still Dominic or interchangeably Dom
I, too, am capable of launching the occasional bomb
My entire game has improved, just like my demeanor
I can hit balls past fences, I can smother a ’tweener

Don’t ya wanna see Pete, your potential new idol?
Wouldn’t ignoring my talent make ya just wanna bridle?
I’m hearing crazy things about years of control
Hey, focus on offense — mine’s on a roll!

As a former hyped rookie I’m wishing Pete well
But having been Dominic has been kinda hell
All that went wrong for me has gone in for repair
You can’t ignore two kid first basemen amid a March tear

Listen Dom, I rake righty, I see you lash left
If we’re both in New York, our platoon could be deft
I’m up for a timeshare that looms as productive
The sum of our lumber is surely seductive

Pete, my amigo, I’m in no spot to complain
Discounting our hot streaks would be simply insane
We’ll share the position till one of us slumps
I know from hard knocks we’ll encounter speed bumps

You got a deal, Dom; now someone inform Brodie
Omitting our wood will make fans ornery as Grote
As you can infer, I’ve studied Met lore
I plan to add my name to it when I go four-for-four

They can spell yours just “Pete,” me I’m chill on the choice
Having sputtered for two years will soften one’s voice
Call me Dominic, Dom, Mister Smith or Ol’ Smitty
A team without each of us would be a real pity

To Seaver, The Best

Tom Seaver is no longer a public figure. Lyme disease and its long-term effects have assured we won’t see him when the living members of the 1969 Mets gather at Citi Field in late June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a world championship that Seaver never viewed as a miracle. Tom had a point, as there could be nothing miraculous about a team led by Tom Seaver proving itself the best on the planet.

When word spread on Thursday afternoon that one of the greatest pitchers ever and the greatest Met there will ever be has been diagnosed with dementia and has thus “chosen to completely retire from public life,” it was simultaneously a shock to the system and not exactly surprising. We’ve read and heard about Tom dealing with Lyme disease for ages and had more than an inkling that it was taking an inevitable toll on someone who rarely gave into anything or anybody during that extended period when so many of us chose him as our idol. Seaver had already stopped traveling across the country to attend Hall of Fame induction weekend, an event he never seemed to miss in the first couple of decades after he himself was honored. I’d noticed that when the Mets put out statements and releases celebrating Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young last November, there was no boilerplate quote from the Met who’d won three of them. The media guide stopped listing him as a Club Ambassador in 2018. I can’t recall him having been present in Flushing since the 2013 All-Star Game, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch to David Wright. Quietly, Tom slipped from view.

Except when you thought about the Mets. There he was and is and forever will be — No. 41, on the mound, pitcher-perfect motion, striking out any of 2,541 batters between 1967 and 1977 and then again in 1983 who dared thought of connecting with his fastball. Yes, there’s a 41 at the end of that figure, just as there’s a 41 at the top of any list of anybody who’s ever played for the Mets. He’s been the greatest of Mets since his debut in 1967, he’ll be the greatest of Mets come 2067. We’re open to auditions between now and then, but we don’t seriously expect anybody to supplant Tom Seaver atop our chart.

Tom’s family says he’ll continue to work in his California vineyard. In that spirit, if you’re so inclined, raise a glass to Tom Terrific and those who will care for him as he goes on. Think of him at his best. There’s a ton to think about there.

Year Book

The Oscars were handed out Sunday night. Thus, per Monday morning-after tradition, the Academy pauses to remember those Mets who have, in the baseball sense, left us in the past year.

Cue the montage…

___

GEORGE CHARLES “Buddy” BAUMANN IV
Relief Pitcher
May 16, 2018 – June 2, 2018

Baumann looked good in his first inning of work but terrible in his second, establishing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s suited to be a member of this ridiculous, ramshackle franchise.
—May 17, 2018
(Free agent, 11/2/2018; currently unsigned)

___

KEVIN MICHAEL McGOWAN
Relief Pitcher
August 22, 2017 – October 1, 2017

Out came Terry. On the scoreboard, his expression was in plain view: he looked not so much like a deer in the headlights, as a deer uncertain what headlights are, but vaguely aware that they’re nothing good. As Terry waited for Kevin McGowan, I thought about the situation. Here was Terry Collins, in the last game of his Mets managerial career, standing on the mound in the middle of an inning that had gone to hell, making a pitching change four batters too late. And as I took this incredibly representative situation in, I couldn’t help but smile again.
—October 2, 2017
(Released, 9/25/2018; currently unsigned)

___

SCOTT REAST COPELAND
Relief Pitcher
May 31, 2018

Scott Copeland — with Tim Peterson one half of the Who? Brothers Show Band and Revue — acquitted himself nicely from out of nowhere and that can surely be interpreted as inspirational.
—June 1, 2018
(Free agent, 10/1/2018; signed with Nationals, 12/30/2018)

___

CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL “Chris” BECK
Relief Pitcher
June 15, 2018 – July 8, 2018

Where were we? Oh yeah, losing. Losing 3-2 after four, losing 5-2 after five (Daniel Descalso doing the longball honors), losing 6-2 after Jon Jay drove in pesky Dyson, who had walked, stolen second and stolen third off the inspiring duo of Plawecki and Chris Beck, the latest Mets pitcher you’d never heard of until basically just now.
—June 16, 2018
(Free agent, 10/1/2018; signed with Cardinals, 11/29/2018)

___

GERSON BAUTISTA
Relief Pitcher
April 17, 2018 – June 2, 2018

As Rose Marie advised, wait for your laugh. It’s coming. It will take a while if you’re a Mets fan. Perhaps the tale of the team whose first six pitchers struck out 24 batters in thirteen innings before its final two gave up six runs in the fourteenth will come off as amusing in a future context. Not hilarious at this juncture, however. Buddy Baumann didn’t strike out any Cubs. Nor did Gerson Bautista. Outs of any sort were elusive for that duo until the barn door was detached from its hinges.
—June 3, 2018
(Traded to Mariners, 12/3/2018)

___

JAMES DOUGLAS “Jamie” CALLAHAN
Relief Pitcher
September 2, 2017 – October 1, 2017

[Ron] Ziegler would have loved flacking for the Mets relief corps, as inoperative a unit as you’ll stumble across on a September evening this sad season. Hansel pointed the Mets toward a loss; Chasen Bradford confirmed the direction the game was going in; and the rest of the poor little lambs who’ve yet to find their way waved home wave after wave of Cub after Cub. By the time Kevin McGowan, Jacob Rhame and Jamie Callahan had clocked some of that all-important valuable experience, the Mets were down, 17-5.
—September 14, 2017
(Free agent, 11/3/2018; signed with Giants, 12/28/2018)

___

PHILLIP MATTHEW “Phil” EVANS
Infielder
September 8, 2017 – August 1, 2018

It doesn’t get more athletic in the middle of the infield than Reyes at second and Amed Rosario at short. And it doesn’t look less athletic at the corners than Smith at first and Phil Evans at third. They are athletes, they are skilled, they have futures at the highest level of professional baseball…but it is striking how they each — as rookies — appear to have wandered over from a keg-intensive softball game in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On the other hand, the limber and lithe Rosario seems to display a little less savvy every diamond day. Let’s give everybody a clean slate come spring. This season hasn’t honed anybody to a fine edge, physically or mentally.
—September 25, 2017
(Free agent, 11/2/2018; signed with Cubs, 12/17/2018)

___

MATTHEW G. “Matt” den DEKKER
Outfielder
August 29, 2013 – September 28, 2014
July 11, 2018 – July 26, 2018

We learned “den Dekker” is Dutch for “not Lagares”. This is linguistic clarification gleaned after the Mets center fielder of the moment lost three fourth-inning fly balls in translation. Mets fans with memories longer than a Yankee Stadium short porch home run will recall Matt den Dekker was originally cast as the can’t miss defensive whiz in the attempted 2013 reboot of the Mets as a competitive baseball entity. Turned out den Dekker did miss — loads of time, due to the injury which opened the gates for Lagares to take his projected Gold Glove role — and could miss, specifically a trio of not easy yet not impossible chances hit in his general direction Saturday. They went for a triple, a double and a single, but when measured by cringe factor, the first was a boot and the next two were reboots. Given that Matt is 0-for-17 since his surprise recall from obscurity, one wonders what his particular major league acumen is at present.
—July 22, 2018
(Free agent, 10/1/2018; currently unsigned)

___

JOSE MANUEL LOBATON
Catcher
April 13, 2018 – September 28, 2018

Jose Lobaton, presumably aboard an eastbound flight from Vegas, you’ll recall from killing the Mets as a National. Now he gets a chance to make it up to us.
—April 13, 2018
(Free agent, 10/29/2018; signed with Mariners, 1/24/2019)

___

ROBERT MARTIN “Bobby” WAHL
Relief Pitcher
August 2, 2018 – August 16, 2018

There was a plethora of contributors. One of them was Bobby Wahl, another very recently introduced name (called up August 2) growing suddenly into a person we recognize as our guy. Wahl replaced Noah Syndergaard with the bases loaded and one out, Joey Votto up to bat. The Mets were ahead by five, so maybe the leverage didn’t soar as high as McNeil’s homer, but it was a tall enough order for a reliever with minimal cachet. Wahl walked Votto, which should probably count as a rite of National League initiation, but then struck out another All-Star, Scooter Gennett, before giving way to Robert Gsellman and, ultimately, closer du nuit Jerry Blevins.
—August 7, 2018
(Traded to Brewers, 1/5/2019)

___

JOHN PATRICK “Jack” REINHEIMER
Utilityman
August 15, 2018 – September 29, 2018

Oh, and Jack Reinheimer collected his first major league base hit. That’s more of a Jack Reinheimer highlight, but he’s entitled to one for himself, just like we were entitled to a night of swimming in Mets-related jubilation. The pool has been empty all summer. What fun to find it filled.
—August 16, 2018
(Selected off waivers by Cubs, 11/2/2018)

___

AUSTIN JARRIEL JACKSON
Outfielder
July 27, 2018 – September 30, 2018

Austin Jackson’s .350 as a Met has been fashioned in a similarly brief span. Unlike McNeil, who excelled at Binghamton and Las Vegas after an otherwise off-radar minor league run, no Mets fan was rattling cages to get Jackson on our roster. Jackson’s been on most everybody else’s roster since 2010. We usually get a turn at guys like that, generally when we’re desperate for help and they could use an opportunity.
—August 5, 2018
(Free agent, 10/29/2018; currently unsigned)

___

ANTHONY RAY SWARZAK
Relief Pitcher
March 29, 2018 – September 29, 2018

Then, suddenly, Anthony Swarzak got up and, almost just as suddenly, Anthony Swarzak was in the game. Nobody fast-forwarded to skip over the boring warming process. They got him in there just before it was too late. A couple of instants later, it was too late. The stilted two-pitcher process that permitted four Pittsburgh runs required 25 pitches in all. The eventual result approached our rainy shoreline with the relentlessness of Superstorm Sandy. You could see it in the forecast. You knew it was coming. You braced for the worst. There went the trees.
—June 28, 2018
(Traded to Mariners, 12/3/2018)

___

TYLER PATRICK “Ty” KELLY
Utilityman
May 24, 2016 – April 5, 2017
July 9, 2018 – July 23, 2018

In a sense, Mets at Pirates was an understudy’s gala, with the unlikely character of the rookie third baseman, played by little-known Ty Kelly, rescuing the first act with a display of power clearly at odds with the script’s prevailing narrative arc. There was no hint that Mr. Kelly — whose name was familiar only to those whose Playbills were properly supplemented with squares of white paper alerting the audience to his existence — had such a forceful outburst in him, but proponents of baseball will always default to their pastime’s capacity to jar as explanation for such illogical turns of event.
—June 9, 2016
(Free agent, 10/1/2018; signed with Angels, 2/5/2019)

___

ADRIAN SABIN GONZALEZ
First Baseman
March 29, 2018 – June 10, 2018

I’m not looking to rush Adrian to the exit, but most of what I see when I look at him is a large man with a bad back who I’m kind of surprised to learn used to play professional baseball. I’m impressed he’s on an active roster. I’m impressed that he’s active in the older adult who takes walks in the woods now that his doctor has recommended this new bladder control prescription sense. I should talk; I’ve done nothing for two games but sit on the couch and form opinions. Gonzalez was thrown out going first to third on a Juan Lagares single in the sixth, which didn’t really hurt our sacred cause, and could be taken as evidence that Mickey Callaway is running a suitably aggressive ship. Things are so borderline giddy right now, I was convinced he was going to be safe. Someday, somebody will be surprised to come across evidence that Adrian Gonzalez was a Met. Maybe it will be in the 2018 World Series highlight film. That would be sweet.
—April 1, 2018
(Released, 6/11/2018; currently unsigned)

___

ALEJANDRO “AJ” RAMOS
Relief Pitcher
July 30, 2017 – May 26, 2018

AJ Ramos, who not so long ago was considered by experts a major league closer, a major league setup man and/or a major league pitcher, was called on next, perhaps as some sort of immersion therapy so he and we could face our worst fears. We all feared seeing Ramos facing the Brewers approximately ten psychic minutes after he walked them to victory the night before. Our fears couldn’t have been any more founded: three runs in a mere two-thirds of an inning. Ramos truly puts the frack in fraction.
—May 27, 2018
(Free agent, 10/29/2018; currently unsigned)

___

JOSE ANTONIO BAUTISTA
Outfielder
May 22, 2018 – August 27, 2018

I got a particular kick out of sitting practically directly behind Jose Bautista, who spent his defensive day doing what appeared to be tai-chi to stay loose. Jose had no putouts but was a crowdpleaser between innings, consistently reaching fans with balls and smiles. That stuff goes a long way when batting averages no longer climb very high.
—August 23, 2018
(Traded to Phillies, 8/28/2018)

___

RAFAEL MONTERO
Pitcher
May 14, 2014 – October 1, 2017

Rafael Montero doesn’t normally pitch into the ninth inning. Rafael Montero doesn’t normally limit his opposition to no more hits than there are bases. Rafael Montero doesn’t normally get a Mets fan excited, except to see what else is on. To be fair, almost nothing gets a Mets fan excited at this juncture of the current Mets season, save for the knowledge that the current Mets season will eventually give way to a different Mets season. But Rafael Montero and what we’ll refer to as the Rafael Montero Game (at least until we have another one remotely like it) did. You wouldn’t have thought any Met starter whose last name begins with an upper-case letter could, but Montero was as good as any Met not named Jacob deGrom could possibly be. Against the Reds, he was sublime.
—August 31, 2017
(Free agent, 11/2/2018; signed with Rangers, 1/4/2019)

___

KEVIN JEFFREY PLAWECKI
Catcher
April 21, 2015 – September 29, 2018

You know who looked happy? The guy from the charter bus company who threw out the second first pitch (a guy from a car company threw out the first first pitch). The charter bus company guy was stoked to stand at the lip of the same mound Steven Matz was about to tread, even more stoked to toss one on the fly to Kevin Plawecki. Imagine being that happy to see Kevin Plawecki.
—July 7, 2018
(Traded to Indians, 1/6/2019)

___

HANSEL MANUEL ROBLES
Relief Pitcher
April 24, 2015 – June 19, 2018

During the third game Wednesday, in the bottom of the sixth, Wheeler the ace was — because this will happen in a pitcher’s second start after two years’ absence — huffing and puffing in an effort to blow away three more batters. The wolf, however, wouldn’t exit the doorway. Zack got two outs but loaded the bases. Away went Wheeler, along came Hansel Robles, making his eighty-fifth appearance of the thus far nine-game season…check that: it was his third night in a row pitching. Seems like more. Robles is too talented to dismiss, to enigmatic to trust fully. Enigmatic is one of those words you use when you want to acknowledge a reliever’s talent but chronically cringe when he shows up with runners on base, especially when all of the bases have runners. Cringing turned to caterwauling when the first pitch Robles threw to Maikel Franco turned into a grand slam and chopped the Mets’ lead to 5-4.
—April 13, 2017
(Selected off waivers by Angels, 6/23/2018)

___

JERRY RICHARD BLEVINS
Relief Pitcher
April 6, 2015 – September 29, 2018

Blevins and Bourn battled for eight pitches. The count reached three-and-two. The Mets led by three. The Diamondbacks had two on. Sixteen runs had scored on Monday. Eleven runs were in on Tuesday. I didn’t know it for a fact that Bourn was going to drive in anywhere between one and three runs imminently. I just knew it was true. Here’s some truth: Blevins struck out Bourn on the eighth pitch. Three innings later, Jeurys Familia would come on to record his fortieth save of the season by pitching a one-two-three ninth and officially preserving a nervous 7-5 Mets victory — their first over these demons of the desert — but, really, Jerry saved the day. Syndergaard’s swing was more glamorous, but the one Blevins coaxed from Bourn proved the most vital.
—August 17, 2016
(Free agent, 10/29/2018; signed with A’s, 2/4/2019)

___

JAY ALLEN BRUCE
Outfielder
August 2, 2016 – August 9, 2017
March 29, 2018 – September 30, 2018

Bruce is productive. Other Met hitters are sporadic. A couple are dinged up — contusions of the wrist (d’Arnaud) and hyperextended elbows (Duda) are all the rage this spring — but only one lately seems prone to produce dingers, plural. That’s the Jay Hey Kid, as we’ve been calling him ever since I wrote the first part of this sentence. If breathless cable news talking heads applied their talents to baseball, they’d declare that Jay Bruce launching those missiles is when he became president.
—April 20, 2017
(Traded to Mariners, 12/3/2018)

___

ASDRUBAL JOSE CABRERA
Infielder
April 3, 2016 – July 26, 2018

Cabrera simply gets the job done. The job at hand in the bottom of the eleventh with two on and one out was monumental. If Asdrubal could avoid grounding into a double play, it would rate as a net-positive. If he could as much as walk, it would be welcome, since it would set up Cespedes as the potential game-winning hitter for a third consecutive night, and you know what they say about third times and charms. If indispensable Asdrubal could manage to stay in one piece amid the myriad possible outcomes given the precarious condition of his continually balky knee, well, that would be keen, too. Asdrubal transcended all ancillary aspects of the job when he connected authoritatively with the final pitch Ramos threw, the last of 409 delivered by nineteen pitchers in all. As soon as Cabrera swung, he knew it was gone. His bat was flipped, his arms were raised, his trot was jubilant. The camera stayed on him an instant before it cut to the ball Gary Cohen was describing in flight, so we could tell it was going to land easily beyond harm’s way a tick ahead of the rarely uttered double-OUTTA HERE! the home run so richly deserved. Ender Inciarte was in another city and no Phillie could climb, leap or pray high enough to do a darn thing about this one. It was indeed outta here, outta here. The Mets were 9-8 winners.
—September 23, 2016
(Traded to Phillies, 7/27/2018)

___

WILMER ALEJANDRO FLORES
Infielder
August 6, 2013 – September 18, 2018

Asdrubal and Yoenis each made an out, leading to (assuming Steve Henderson was unavailable) Wilmer Flores as humankind’s last great hope to win the game on one magical swing. Wilmer had done that before, my companion reminded me, as if I needed the nudge. Wilmer Flores might as well approach every one of his late-and-close at-bats tugging at the wordmark on his jersey. He is the walking, talking, swinging, stinging embodiment of Tears of Joy™, one of the Citi’s most humble and lovable characters, a veritable Shoeshine Boy who, whenever there is a call for help, emerges as Underdog! Wilmer could make forays into the sciences, the arts, public policy, anything you name, and the first question he’d be asked is how it compares to that home run he hit against the Nationals two nights after he was weeping on the field over being traded, which he wasn’t. Flores’s Flushing calling card is made of such sturdy stock that nobody ever mentions he took called strike three to end the 2015 World Series. Carlos Beltran might go into the Hall of Fame…might go into the Hall of Fame as a Met…and he will never not be reminded in Metsian circles that he took a strike three to end a postseason series. Different strokes for different folks — and not all Met folks are certified Met folk heroes. Wilmer Flores is assuredly that, and his legend grew on Saturday night, July 22, 2017, when he lined a Simon Castro pitch over the left field fence for a game-winning homer not exactly like the one from July 31, 2015, but close enough to exhilarate 39,629 skeptics, 15,000 of whom thought they’d be leaving the park with nothing better than a bobblehead, none of whom (save for my companion) sensed they’d get to take home a 6-5 walkoff win boxed inside a stirring comeback from five runs down. Prof. Flores, in the parallel universe in which he takes up laboratory work, had just found a cure for chronic doubt. As he accepted his Nobel, he was asked how it compared to that time he beat the Nationals.
—July 23, 2017
(Free agent, 11/30/2018; signed with Diamondbacks, 1/21/2019)

___

MATTHEW EDWARD “Matt” HARVEY
Starting Pitcher
July 26, 2012 – May 3, 2018

If long-term health and contractual status hold out, there will be plenty of time and way more evidence provided to determine if, indeed, Matt Harvey is better than Stephen Strasburg or, heaven forefend, Stephen Strasburg is better than Matt Harvey. Matt Harvey will go up against other aces from other rivals, too. Matt Harvey will draw crowds and focus in an age when crowds are usually sparse and focus tends to be fractured. Matt Harvey will win and the Mets will be forced to follow if they care to keep up. Inevitably, it will all be traced back to the “Harvey’s better” game, one of those nights destined to stay with those who were in on its ground floor. Mets fans from 2013 who have yet to be introduced will sit next to one another some night up the road and trade reminiscences as Mets fans do. They will feel each other out, who was where for what and so forth. If it’s the relatively near future, one of them will say “Harvey’s better,” and the other of them will know what it means. If it’s far off, there will be a prelude to set the scene, about this game I was at when Matt Harvey was in his first or second year, against the Nationals, and the sentence will be finished by a different voice: you mean the ‘Harvey’s better’ game? I was there, too!
—April 20, 2013
(Traded to Reds, 5/8/2018)

___

JOSE BERNABE REYES
Infielder
June 10, 2003 – September 28, 2011
July 5, 2016 – September 30, 2018

The Mets wouldn’t have won on July 23, 2005, without young Jose Reyes, and they wouldn’t have won as they did — 5-3 — on July 22, 2016, without older Jose Reyes. As if to bookend the eleven-year trail of Reyes runs, we even got another nifty quote from his starting pitcher, this time Logan Verrett, who said, “He’s like a can of Red Bull balled up into a human being, and that’s something we were lacking.” Jose is indeed energetic, but also a human being, and we know, through the circumstances under which he was available to re-emerge as a Met earlier this month, that human beings are capable of doing lousy things to their fellow human beings. Upon his return, it was hard to look at Jose, not see the domestic violence charge and instinctively not want to look at him at all. It was nearly impossible to look at Jose and see the Jose-Jose-Jose wunderkind to whom we took such a melodic shine a long time ago. The vision is changing. I suppose it’s transactional. Now that he’s hitting and running and resembling the Reyes of yore, I’m less inclined to dwell on the legitimately negative (human beings will do that in exchange for a couple of runs sometimes). I’m seeing the Met again, the above-average baseball player. I’m hearing the kid we once embraced in pre- and postgame interviews and he sounds like Jose, except older and perhaps wiser. He is full of pep and positivity and, where the rest of his life is concerned, hopefully nothing else. I’m rooting for my longtime favorite player again. I don’t know that he’s my favorite player anymore, but he’s here, he’s getting on base and I’m getting used to him.
—July 23, 2016
(Free agent, 10/29/2018; currently unsigned)

___

DAVID ALLEN WRIGHT
Third Baseman
July 21, 2004 – September 29, 2018

David Wright was up to stay and David Wright, unlike his worthy predecessors of the preceding quarter-century, wasn’t going anywhere…in the good sense. With Wright’s arrival, the Zimmer-Wigginton epoch was over. With Wright’s recall, recalling Met third base travails became trivial, not troubling. David Wright is the best third baseman in Mets history. When all is said and done, even though the saying and doing is barely out of the first inning, we will likely recall him as the best third baseman New York has ever seen. And as great as the feats in front of him will be, he is to be admired now for something he’s accomplished already: he has put all the laughable, cryable, mystifyable connotations attached to “playing third base for the New York Mets” far, far behind us. It’s no wonder that so many of us are willing to wear his name and number on our backs.
—July 11, 2006
(Released, 1/7/2019; joined Mets front office as special advisor upon release)

Are You Ready?

First exhibition game? I know people get excited, and that’s great, but for me, having done this over so many Springs, it’s about knowing what I can do and when I’m ready to do it. Believe me, I’m excited, too, but I’m not gonna do anything crazy today.

What I plan to do is get my watching in, nice and simple. Gonna take it easy. Don’t wanna overdo it on the first day or even the first weekend.

I’ll see a few pitches, then ramp up to full plate appearances. I’ll listen to the announcers, settle in for a couple of innings, let the remote get comfortable in my palm again. Work on thumb flexibility — volume mostly. I watched TV during the offseason, but watching TV under game conditions is a whole other discipline.

Checking out other games between innings comes later in Spring. Picture-in-picture you save for the last week.

I’m scheduled to switch to the radio for the middle innings, hear how that sounds, probably alternate with the TV a little. Then, the next day, I start with the radio and then go to the TV. Ideally you wanna get to the point where you can listen to both at the same time while tweeting. You don’t do that too early in these games, though. That’s a headache waiting to happen.

TV and scroll. Radio and scroll. Then TV and radio and scroll. Only then do you wanna start tweeting. Besides, observations this early are gonna be half-baked by their very nature. “Baseball’s back!” gets repetitious fast. I mean you hafta do the drills — the disparity in weather between here and Florida; uniform numbers above 90; Darren Reed comparisons; Tebow pro or con — but you gotta keep in mind that you’re preparing for a long season. Short threads now keep your tweets fresh later.

At this stage, really, you just look to build up strength and stamina. No sense trying to follow the action. Right now it’s about anecdotes and generalizations, forming vague impressions. Noticing the score is the last thing you wanna do right out of the box.

You wanna make the roster, natch, but you hafta be conscious that making the roster in February is literally impossible. Somebody’s gonna get injured, and there goes your roster. Somebody’s gonna have a good outing and you’ll wanna put him on your roster. But wait: is somebody else out of options? What about the Rule 5 guy? Three catchers? How versatile is versatile? How deep is a deep bullpen? Seven relievers? Eight? And if so, where’s your third catcher then?

Syracuse, that’s where. See?

You don’t start making a 25-man roster on the first day of games or even the first week. Make a 10-man roster, then a 12-man and keep going. Use a pencil with a thick eraser and keep a sharpener nearby. I like a legal pad. Scratch paper is OK, too. I know they have apps for it now, but fundamentals are key in Spring. You wanna make the roster? Write it out in longhand.

Most of all, remember that you have more than a month to get ready. I know it’s a cliché, but you gotta take it one game that doesn’t count at a time.

Life After Jake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace the Unknowable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or JED LOWRIE for short.

Towering and Enormous

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Nats did give him a farewell, not something every baseball lifer gets. It came on the last day of the 2006 season, October 1, in a ceremony preceding Game 162 at RFK Stadium. The NL East champion Mets happened to be the opponent, so I happened to be watching. It’s stayed with me to this day. On Thursday, when Frank Robinson died at 83, I found it on YouTube and watched it again. I’d advise you to do the same.

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

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

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

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

“Great season, guys.”

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

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

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

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

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

What a game Frank Robinson gave us.

The (Last) Rites of Winter

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

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

There was the Arizona Fall League.

There were the Caribbean Winter Leagues.

There were the Winter Meetings.

There were the GM meetings.

There was SABR Day if you were so inclined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not do it again real soon.

Welcome, THB Class of 2018!

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

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

THB Class of 2018

Here they are, your THB Class of 2018!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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