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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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Welcome, THB Class of 2017!

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

(First of many sighs.)

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

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

2017 THB Mets

Your 2017 THB Mets!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Springtime for Hitters Like Adrian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same as the Old Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 Oscar’s Cap Awards

How does one define age?

“I wonder if I’m too old to be discovered by the Mets.”

How does one define full?

“Did you get enough to eat?”

“Enough? I got enough for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets.”

How does one explore the year in Mets popular culture? By referring to words spoken by the signature character of the genre many years before.

Welcome to the sixth OSCAR’S CAP AWARDS, Faith and Fear’s annual late-December/early-January survey of the prior twelve months (and change) of Mets references where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find them. We absorb cinema, television, music, literature, what have you. We keep our eyes and ears open. We follow leads and we keeps a lengthy list that’s deep into its second decade of curation. Sometimes we are witness to a fresh Mets tidbit. Sometimes we stumble into one well-preserved that somehow escaped our attention from the previous century. If we learned about it or were strongly reminded of it in 2017, we’re bringing it to you here.

And we start with Oscar Madison, the Mets fan who was the messy half of Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE, first on film (Walter Matthau), much later in a TV reboot (Matthew Perry), but most prominently for our purposes in prime time between 1970 and 1975 by Jack Klugman. The two Oscar quotes above were uttered in 1971 but captured in 2017 where most of Klugman’s and Felix Unger’s repartee has lived forever: in syndication.

For the record, it was in the Season One episode entitled “What Makes Felix Run?” that Oscar’s new flame Dr. Nancy Cunningham asks him, as dinner winds down, “Did you get enough to eat?” and he responds, “Enough? I got enough for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets.” (They shot the series in Hollywood, so we’ll excuse Oscar’s two-team appetite). Early in Season Two, in “Hospital Mates,” we remeet Oscar as he comes home all happy from softball and wonders aloud to himself, “I wonder if I’m too old to be discovered by the Mets.” We never learn the answer specifically, but we do figure out that a) the series is much better without the clumsy laugh track and b) things have gotten serious between the sportswriter and the good doctor. Oscar and Nancy are both wearing Mets caps in the pivotal scene, in which they are on their way to play more softball, but Oscar snaps his Achilles tendon.

Oscar may have been too old to be discovered by the Mets in ’71, but his injury-proneness made him a prime prospect for ’17.

MeTV’s weekly Odd Couple airings put these vintage episodes top-of-mind last year (while the contemporary reboot, whose modern-day Oscar also likes the Mets, got the boot from CBS). We got the rest of our roster from keeping eyes and ears open to as much media as possible — and from viewers…er, readers like you. For example, when we ran this feature just over a year ago, one of you was kind enough to note JEAN SHEPHERD devoted several of his 1969 storytelling radio shows on future flagship WOR to the best story of that or any year, the New York Mets.

More recently, the eighth episode of the 2016 steaming series HORACE AND PETE gave us a monologue from Pete (Steve Buscemi), who described to his cousin Horace where his head was at:

“[Y]ou’re sort of, you know, just biding your time to see what happens next. See what life offers. Maybe hit the lottery. Meet someone special. Maybe the Mets will win the playoffs, or if they make it into the playoffs. You know, or, like, looking forward to Easter this year.”

In 2016, making it into the playoffs was enough to fend off Metsian depression, at least for a spell. In 1989, Shea Stadium was booked for another event. “We’re sorry the Mets didn’t make it to the World Series,” Mick Jagger told the audience from the stage, which had been built across the far reaches of the Shea outfield as the ROLLING STONES began the Shea portion (six shows) of their Steel Wheels tour that October . “Too bad—but we’re going to have the World Series of Love!” Dan Epstein of Hardball Times brought that quote to light in an expansive article in late ’16.

MTV CLASSIC, formerly VH1 Classic, rang in last year’s new year with a raft of hip-hop beats from the early ’90s, a great time to spot era-appropriate Met apparel in videos:

• In “Summertime” by D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (1991), somebody wore a white cap, blue bill and Mets in script.

• “Iesha” by Another Bad Creation (1991), gave us a t-shirt on which the script Mets logo looks almost spray-painted on.

• “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men (1991) eschewed each of its title cities to show off a couple of Mets fashion jerseys.

• “U.N.I.T.Y” by Queen Latifah (1993), included a crowd highlighted by a person wearing a traditional Mets cap.

Bonus genre fact discerned: the lyrics to 1999’s “Nature Shines” by future Citi Field performer NAS included the line, “I rap for Giants, the Jets, the Yankees, the Mets”. But mostly the Mets, right Nas? Keeping preferred New York teams straight wasn’t easy during BILLIONS (March 19, 2017; Season 2, Episode 4; “Currency”), either, where a nervous cooperative witness, wearing a wire, asks the guy he’s stalking about last night’s Knicks game. When the guy counters there was no Knicks game last night, he corrects himself to say he meant Mets game, then suggests they catch one soon.

Keith Hernandez was a great get as a guest in the aftermath of the 1986 World Series. On November 26 of that year of blessed memory, Keith paneled on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW, recounting his having put away “two Buds” in “Davey’s office” during the Game Six rally (though he came out against fans drinking beer at games); spoke to the power of positive thinking; was nudged to recall how he walked on his hands in his “birthday suit” out of the shower room when women were first admitted into the clubhouse as reporters (but now, he added, there is “no sex,” everybody there is simply a writer) and played nicely with fellow guests Susan Lucci and Mike Tyson. And yes, this was the same Keith Hernandez who appeared in LAW AND ORDER during Season 4, Episode 18 (“Wager”) on March 30, 1994. Keith played Drew Harding in an episode that included references to his former teammates Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez.

From Keith to Kevin, as in Kevin James, the leading celebrity Mets fan of our time. Judging by the content and wardrobe of KEVIN CAN WAIT, James is more a Mets fan who happens to be a celebrity the rest of the time.  As Kevin Gable, Kevin James wore a cap and shirt featuring The 7 Line logo on January 16, 2017 (Season 1, Episode 12, “Kevin vs. the Dutch Elm”). In the seventeenth episode of the first season (February 13, 2017, “Unholy War”), Kevin checked to see if the Mets would be home before committing to his daughter’s wedding date (turns out the Mets would fictionally be in San Diego on June 17). Kevin James as Kevin Gable also told kids in Sunday school in said ep that he knew there was a God in “1986…the Mets are one out away from losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox. Mookie Wilson hits an easy ground ball towards first base that will end it all. Across town, a wiry 16-year-old from Massapequa says a prayer, and God heard me. ’Cause He opened the legs of the great Bill Buckner, that ball rolled through, and the Mets won the Series.” A kid asked, “Didn’t people also pray for the Red Sox to win?” Kevin’s answer:

“Apparently not hard enough, right?”

In the first-season finale, Gable wanted to go to Mets fantasy camp, but his plans went awry. From what we hear about the continual Mets references on the series, it sounds like James’s series is one big fantasy camp for him.

One of Kevin’s 2016 guest stars, Noah Syndergaard, kept a toe in acting in 2017. His face definitely made a cameo, though the pause button helped if you wanted to make him out. Thor appeared on GAME OF THRONES (Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War,” August 6, 2017) as a Lannister soldier hurling a spear. The spear killed a horse, but the soldier played by Syndergaard was burnt to a crisp by a dragon. As if his lat muscle hadn’t been through enough.

In SNEAKY PETE, Season 1, Episode 10, “The Longest Day” (Amazon), a couple receives a text that says, “Check the Mets score,” a nudge designed to get them to look at their newspaper.

Ed Kranepool and Art Shamsky counted hits on SESAME STREET on Episode 0267, May 18, 1971.

“You struck out more times than the 1962 Mets.”

—Carol to Jerry, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, “Carol Ankles for Indie-Prod,” Season 6 Episode 20, March 4, 1978

When Rachel goes to return Barry’s engagement ring in the Season 1, Episode 2 of FRIENDS (9/29/1994), there’s a Mets hat on the door. A Mets hat appears in the next episode as well, in Joey and Chandler’s apartment.

“How many Mets games can YOU postpone?”

—Member of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant softball team, THE SIMPSONS, “Caper Chase,” Season 28, Episode 19, April 2, 2017

During the 2016-17 television season, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE reportedly made reference to old evidence in the evidence room being the purest cocaine anywhere because it was used by the 1986 Mets.

Jack Antonoff, lead singer for Bleachers, wore a “Let’s Go Mets” tank top featuring Mr. Met, while performing on JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE, April 17, 2017. And Antonoff showed his true colors yet again when he wore a Mets cap on the 2017 MTV VMAs, August 27, 2017. Kimmel kept it Metsian more than once, too. When he brought his show to Brooklyn on October 18, 2017, Jimmy and his sidekick Guillermo played stickball in the street. When they broke a window, the owner of said shattered glass was revealed to be Mike Piazza, who appeared at the window wearing (as he would) a Mets bathrobe.

Dialogue between a tenant and Eddie the Doorman from Netflix’s MASTER OF NONE (Season 2, Episode 6, 2017, “New York, I Love You”):

“Hey, Eddie, how those Mets doing?”

“Eh, we can’t win. You know how it is.”

Eddie is listening to Howie Rose doing play-by-play twice in the opening scene.

“I just got an offer from New York, darlin’”

“The Yankees?”

“The Mets.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I know.”

—Jim Brockmire (played by legit Mets fan Hank Azaria) and his then-wife Lucy, in a flashback to 2007, BROCKMIRE, “It All Comes Down To This,” Season 1, Episode 8, May 17, 2017

Bernard Madoff’s personalized Mets jacket appears in the 2017 HBO movie THE WIZARD OF LIES.

There’s a three-hour preseason cruise for Mets fans in the Season Three finale of THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (2017).

In the opening credits to the 1977 CBS sitcom BUSTING LOOSE, Jack Kruschen as Sam Markowitz appears wearing a souvenir Mets batting helmet, brandishing a New York Mets pennant on a stick. In one episode, Sam watches a game with his son Lenny (played Adam Arkin) and utters the phrase, “Rah, Mets! Rah, Mets!”

In SPIDER-MAN: THE HOMECOMING (2017), Peter Parker’s bedroom is adorned with a Mike Piazza-themed Mets pennant, a Mets cap on a shelf and what is described as a Mets hanky.

Two bits from a LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS MONOLOGUE, July 2017:

• “Chris Christie caught a foul ball and got booed by Mets fans. Usually, the only way to get booed by Mets fans is to be a Met.”

• “The Mets introduced a bobblehead that appeared to have a sex toy on it. They finally figured out a way to give Mets fans pleasure.”

Mets New Star Pitcher
To Undergo Tommy
John Surgery,
Macarena to Blame!

— Headline from Quad Cities Times on office bulletin board in recreated Exit 57 sketch with Matthew McConaughey, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT, July 31, 2017

“This was the exact face he made when I surprised him with Mets tickets.”

—From the Netflix series, ATYPICAL, Episode 1 (2017). The characters are looking at flash cards that show emotions for their autistic son. The dad tried to connect with his son and the son refuted him.

“I remember, in 1969, everything was going right with the world — the Mets looked like they might win the pennant and I was doing Gene Pitney recording sessions and sessions with the Drifters and the Platters…and I even getting paid for some of this stuff.”

—Rupert Holmes, GILBERT GOTTFRIED’S AMAZING COLLASAL PODCAST, 2017 (co-host Frank Santopadre is a longtime Mets fan)

Jerry Seinfeld wears a METS EST ’62 warmup jacket while in front of his childhood home in his 2017 Netflix special, JERRY BEFORE SEINFELD: BACK ON STAGE. During the performance portion at the Comic Strip, he takes an audience question, “What’s wrong with the Mets?” which Jerry uses to launch into a variation of his rooting for the laundry bit.

“The Mets at the Reds in Cincy, what’s the line?”

“Reds and one.”

“New York’s due. Who’s pitchin’ tomorrow, Seaver?”

“Tug.”

“Hmm, whaddaya think?”

“I don’t think. You want the action?”

“All right, all right. Gimme a hundred on the Metropolitans.”

—THE DEUCE pilot, 9/10/2017, James Franco as Frankie, laying action in Times Square, 1971

On IMPRACTICAL JOKERS, “Take Me Out At The Ballgame,” Season 6, Episode 23, September 28, 2017 (truTV), Noah Syndergaard autographs and tosses balls into the stands at Citi Field while one of the Jokers grabs them from fans and predictably infuriates them.

THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT incorporated the exterior of Citi Field into its opening montage, September 2017. On a related note, the LL Cool J career highlight montages during the KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, aired on CBS, December 26, 2017 (recorded December 3), featured his September 16, 2017 performance at the Meadows music festival in the main Citi Field parking lot, set against Citi Field’s very visible exterior.

Jason Isaacs of Star Trek: Discovery guested on panel discussion at NEW YORK COMIC CON while wearing a Mets cap, October 2017.

“Oh, Sybil, you know the way Archie is. I mean, he says he hates everybody. President Carter. Mayor Beame. Walter Cronkite. Bella Abzug. Mr. Abzug. The Mets, the Jets, all the United Nations. And they don’t get upset, so why should you?”

—Edith Bunker, ALL IN THE FAMILY, “Edith’s 50th Birthday (Part One),” October 16, 1977

THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (2017) includes references to Asdrubal Cabrera hitting into a double play and Terry Collins moving Bartolo Colon to the bullpen. The Mets talk is a substitute for the characters expressing how they really feel.

“I saw the New York Mets play five times last year. That’s far out enough for me.”

“Well, I guess the Mets will probably lose today, too.”

—Two Metsian lines from Bert Monker, the deli man who had been swooning for Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), “Roses, Romance and Rye Bread,” THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, Season Four, Episode Six, October 28, 1964

In the LOCKHORNS comic strip of Sunday, October 29, 2017, as Leroy leans back and watches a baseball player in a blue cap with a bat on a large flat-screen television, Loretta comments to a friend, “If it were up to Leroy, our song would be ‘Meet The Mets.’”

Clyde Lawrence, of the band LAWRENCE, often wears Mets gear while performing.

“Where in New York City is the ball dropped every year?”

“Citi Field.”

—From Jon Stewart’s New York City citizenship test, administered to Conan O’Brien on CONAN (visiting NYC), November 7, 2017

“Well, first in the National League, it was the Mets over the Braves, three to two…”

—Setup to joke in the first set David Letterman performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, November 24, 1978, featured on DAVID LETTERMAN: THE MARK TWAIN PRIZE, aired on PBS, November 20, 2017 (presented at Kennedy Center, October 22, 2017)

Good luck to Dave on his new Netflix interview series, though his guest list can’t possibly top the eleven Mets who joined him on THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN on January 22, 1996 to count down the Top 10 Reasons the Mets Will Do Better in 1996. For the record, they were Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino, Ryan Thompson, Jason Isringhausen, Rico Brogna, Carl Everett, Todd Hundley, Bill Pulsipher, Bobby Jones, John Franco and Dave Mlicki (whose Letterman pronounced as MY-lacki.

“The American Revolution, we don’t have statues of King George. He lost, he’s out. World War I, the people who lost, we don’t have statues. Otherwise, the Mets would have a statue every year.”

—Mets fan John Leguizamo regarding the continued existence of statues honoring the Confederate side of the Civil War, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT, November 22, 2017

In his 2017 Netflix special, THE RETURN, Judd Apatow shows his audience a picture of himself at Citi Field posing with Jerry Blevins and Logan Verrett. Apatow admits he didn’t know who they were, but notes they were very nice and “ripped,” muscularly speaking. Apatow goes on to show himself throwing out a first ball while Jacob deGrom looks on, Apatow speculating that deGrom grew impatient with him.

In the 2017 Off Broadway musical BULLDOZER: THE BALLAD OF ROBERT MOSES, a radio reports traffic on the Grand Central is backed up to Shea Stadium, “but, how about those Mets?”

Finally, in very early 2018 (January 3), new Mets first base coach Ruben Amaro, Jr., guest-starred on THE GOLDBERGS, playing his father in the Philadelphia-set series.

Thanks to everybody who hipped us to the Mets stuff we didn’t catch for ourselves. Please keep paying attention in those hours when you’re not following the Mets themselves. And if you’d care for a concentrated look at Mets and movies, Amazin’ Avenue screened quite a few here.

The Sourdough Rises Again

 

Across nearly thirteen years, we’ve written enough here at Faith and Fear in Flushing that a few postings are bound to slip through the cracks of memory. Thus, when we received a note a few days prior to Christmas regarding a story ours allegedly titled, “‘I’m Tellin’ Ya, It Was Sourdough,’” I initially mistook it for spam. What the hell was this — clickbait from an offshore baking consortium? We write about baseball. we don’t write about bread.

Ah, but we did, sort of, once, as I relearned from Kelly Cruse, who provided the 2009 link that freshened my memory:

‘I’m Tellin’ Ya, It Was Sourdough’

If you click on the link, you’ll find a picture of Casey Stengel mid-argument with an umpire, the Ol’ Perfesser’s hands far enough apart to suggest he was heatedly discussing a loaf about yay wide. The photo came to us courtesy of FAFIF reader Jason Gerrish, who told us the original hung as in banner form near the Gate A Field Level entrance at Shea, which at the time was in the process of being deconstructed. Jason had been looking for more info on the picture, both its details and the availability of a print.

I’d forgotten about it, but Jason Gerrish’s friend Kelly Cruse hadn’t. This is the note Kelly sent us in December, nearly nine years after the fact:

“[T]his summer I went to a Mets game with ‘longtime Faith and Fear reader Jason Gerrish.’ The gate we entered chose to line its walls with photos of the late great Casey Stengel. I was enamored with the various expressions on Mr. Stengel’s face (what a face!), and when I mentioned that to Jason, he spent, oh I don’t know, the better part of that evening schooling me with factoids about the legend, during which, he mentioned his attempt to track down this photograph, going so far as to write to you about it, back in ’09.

“In the spirit of wanting surprise him this Christmas with the longstanding ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ competitive spirit that comes with being best friends with someone, I tracked down the photo, which aside from the watermark, is a hell of a lot cleaner than the ol’ flip phone shot.

“This is where you come in. I hope I’m not overstepping here, but I noticed that you asked if anyone knew anything, to pass it on. I was wondering, in what would simultaneously accomplish solving the mystery, and temporarily grant me victory in our friendly competition to surpass the other in Mets trivia, if it wouldn’t be too much to perhaps update your blog post with this newfound information? I’ve already printed out a copy of the picture for him, but you know, I thought it would be the icing on the cake to also print out a copy of your post…to frame side by side.

“This is what friends do, right? ;)”

Right on, Kelly. Nice job fishing out the post, the picture and this information:

“Baseball: New York Mets manager Casey Stengel (37) upset, arguing with NL home plate umpire Ed Sudol during game vs Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field. Game 1 of doubleheader. Pittsburgh, PA 4/26/1964 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X9977 )”

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/new-york-mets-manager-casey-stengel-upset-arguing-with-nl-news-photo/177150520

Image

Still don’t know what Casey and Ed were at odds over. Since it was in Pittsburgh, maybe it was pierogies.

The Top 56 Seasons of All-Time

When New Year’s Eve, a.k.a. my birthday, falls on a Sunday, as it does this weekend, I am put in mind of the Sunday birthday I celebrated when I turned 10, a scant 45 years ago. It was the day I discovered the year-end countdown, specifically the Top 79 songs of 1972 as offered up by Miami radio station WFUN-AM. It was truly one of those moments when I could feel my plates shift, for a year-end countdown was perhaps the greatest thing I’d ever encountered, and all I wanted to do from there on out was listen to Top 40 radio and make lists based on what I’d heard. The last time my birthday fell on a Sunday, eleven years ago, I explored the phenomenon in depth. My linking is still off, but here it is if you’re interested:

Waiting On The Countdown

The Top 500 Songs of All-Time

I’ve since expanded my own Top 500 Songs of All-Time countdown into a Top 1000. Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful” is No. 501, Better Than Ezra’s “Rosealia” is No. 1,000. Please send a SASE if you’d like to know the rest.

Instead of counting down songs for you on this birthday, I’ll count down Mets seasons. There’ve been 56 of them, or one more than I’ve had birthdays, so I’ll rank the Top 56. This is a more or less objective effort as opposed to merely playing favorites.

My criteria?

• World championships are better than pennants.

• Pennants are better than playoff appearances.

• Playoff appearances are better than winning/contending seasons.

• Winning/contending seasons are better than losing seasons.

• Nuance informs the rest.

The list has been marinating for a while, but the details will be derived from stream of consciousness. Casey Kasem prepared for countdowns much better, but my birthday is in the on-deck circle, I have a stubborn head cold and, on the edge of 55 years old, I can only riff so much regarding Orel Hershier, Shawn Estes and the less distinguished Met wearers of 55. (Hi, Neil Ramirez!)

Leading off, from the bottom of the order…

56. 1979 (63-99; last place)

The Mets all but ceased to exist in 1979. That’s the determining factor in shoving 1979 into the basement. 788,905 was the home paid attendance. That’s a full home season, mind you. No strikes, just no desire by New York to visit its threadbare National League franchise. Lee Mazzilli provided a touch of adolescent excitement, hindsight would reveal Jesse Orosco was a very good pickup, but the Mets, their mule and their clueless ownership (I mean really clueless) might as well have been invisible except to those of us with special orange-and-blue glasses.

55. 1993 (59-103; last place)

Really, 1993 shouldn’t finish ahead of any Mets season, but at least you knew they were on the scene for a while. A trainwreck makes noise. The line I’ve used often is a book referring to “the worst team money could buy” came out in April, condemning 1992 as the be all of all bad, and it was out of date by July. Nineteen Ninety-Three surpassed its predecessors. Except for 1979. At least we had false hope entering 1993. We really thought the Mets were gonna be good. There was no hope in 1979. No illusions. No nothing. We had to wait a few weeks to get brought down by 1993. Otherwise, it’s a spiritual tie.

54. 1977 (64-98; last place)

They traded Seaver, and that pretty much covers it. It’s not behind 1979 because 1979 was the logical result of trading Seaver. Why should anybody come to see your ballclub after you’ve traded Seaver?

53. 1965 (50-112; last place)

Four years into their existence, the Mets shouldn’t have been backsliding. They were. Second-worst record ever. The debuts of Tug McGraw, Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda hinted at the talent that would someday coalesce, but what a slog.

52. 1962 (40-120; last place)

I elevated 1962 as high as I could for as long as I could. I understand and treasure its legend, how happy we as a people were to have National League baseball back, that Casey Stengel was spinning a one-of-a-kind yarn, that the stories will live forever. But I can’t get past the 120 losses — 80 games below .500 — nor the 60½ games out of first. So much losing. Consider how much losing we experienced in 2017 and then tack on approximately another 30 percent. That’s a massive amount of anybody here can’t play this game.

51. 1963 (51-111; last place)

Only the 1963 Mets could have netted a 10-game improvement and still lost 111 games. There were moments that year. A whole week of them in June: Tim Harkness’s 14th-inning walkoff homer; Jimmy Piersall’s backwards trot; the snagging of the first Mayor’s Trophy. The ’63 Mets made the best of a bad lot. It was a bad lot, but they were getting marginally better. Worse wasn’t a conceivable option.

50. 1964 (53-109; last place)

The top-ranked of the First Four Seasons by my reckoning. Best record, newest stadium, hotshot young All-Star named Ron Hunt, a little scare thrown into the eventual NL champion Cardinals on the final weekend. One step forward, a ton back, but progress had to start somewhere. It started in Flushing.

49. 2003 (66-95; last place)

The most underrated awful year in Mets history in my estimation. Pick any facet of the operation and you wanted to hide under your seat. Art Howe was a disaster. Year Two of Roberto Alomar was misguided and mercifully curtailed. Mike Piazza’s shift to first base couldn’t have been handled worse. Bob Murphy Night was hastily arranged and sad. Jose Reyes, the one shining hope of the organization, got hurt at the end of a game in August. It was as if the good times of the late ’90s and early ’00s had never happened.

48. 2009 (70-92; next-to-last place)

The year everybody of note — Reyes, Wright, Delgado, Beltran — missed time. Not Castillo. He was out there every day, yippee. Citi Field couldn’t have been christened less fortuitously. Extra demerits for that Dominos Pizza uniform patch.

47. 1967 (61-101; last place)

They promoted Seaver, and that explains the extra couple of notches 1967 receives. Otherwise, it was a mess that seemed to wipe out the tentative climb upward that had occurred the year before. Fifty-four players were Mets that year. Only one of them was Seaver.

46. 1982 (65-97; last place)

A sneaky bad season. The Mets traded for George Foster, raised our expectations, got off to a pretty strong start (27-21) and then just morphed into a total morass for the next four months. There was a 15-game losing streak straight out of the Polo Grounds at one juncture. George Bamberger was miscast as manager and, for that matter, Lorn Brown was not the man to pair with Ralph Kiner.

45. 1978 (66-96; last place)

Logically this should be buried down with 1977 and 1979, but there were a few minutes when it felt like we were getting somewhere. We held first place briefly in April. Everything felt fresher. Trim on the uniforms; Willie Montañez styling around first; John Stearns stealing bases; Craig Swan winning the ERA title. That said, they won two more games than the year before and vanished from view with the August newspaper strike (whereas New Yorkers managed to hear about their other team loud and clear into October).

44. 1992 (72-90; next-to-last place)

I think it’s illustrative of what so many of our 56 seasons to date have been like that a year that inspired “The Worst Team Money Could Buy” is judged as better than a dozen other years in this survey. Process of elimination, mostly, plus a good start (21-15). I ranked these granularly as I could, which is to say I remembered the good and the not-so-good as best as possible. There was a little good in 1992. It evaporated, but it happened.

43. 2002 (75-86; last place)

A decent facsimile of 1992, which is to say a winter makeover and a promising launch (18-11) eventually went to hell. But as with ’92, the ’02 bunch, unlikable for the most part, actually hung in there to August. They were over .500, the Wild Card was still in play…and forget it from there.

42. 2017 (70-92; next-to-last place)

Hey, we know this season! It was the most recent season we lived through. With about 90 days’ perspective, I can honestly say I remember almost nothing good about it. It could have been worse, as Seasons 56 through 43 demonstrate. Perhaps someday we’ll want to revise its standing to reflect it was the year Amed Rosario debuted and didn’t he turn out to be something? Let us hope.

41. 1974 (71-91; next-to-last place)

A precursor to 2017, expunging the goodwill from an unlikely ascent to the postseason the year before by the All-Star Break. Also little to recommend it. Whereas the 2017 Mets replaced their manager, the ’74 corps offed its GM, after which the new guy made a slew of moves, a few of which weren’t terrible. Still waiting on the slew in advance of 2018, but that’s for another year.

40. 1996 (71-91; next-to-last place)

Also terrible in every way that can be conjured, but three individual performances — Todd Hundley’s 41 homers, Lance Johnson’s 227 hits and Bernard Gilkey’s all-around offensive prowess — gave us something to keep track of as the rest of New York got itself distracted by playoffs and stuff.

39. 2013 (74-88; third place)

This wasn’t so long ago that you’ve forgotten it was probably lousy, yet here it is, ahead of seventeen of its compatriots. My god, what a franchise. Bonus points for the Harvey Day phenomenon, the All-Star Game finally coming back around and a pleasant midsummer surge (22-14) that briefly made me believe something good might come of something.

38. 2010 (79-83; next-to-last place)

We have reached the first season which was undeniably bad yet sprinkled with just enough good to allow a person to gin up an iota of nostalgia. But just one. The Mets, buoyed by Ike Davis, Angel Pagan and R.A. Dickey, were fighting for first place in late June, a legitimate Wild Card contender as the second half got going. Then they sleepwalked (sleptwalked?) off a cliff and into their usual abyss. They were over .500 in the middle of September. Jerry Manuel was fired anyway.

37. 2011 (77-85; next-to-last place)

The Terry Collins epoch commenced. Again, a sub-.500 season, but we wouldn’t have been surprised had it been sub-.400. Things spiked for a spell. They were four games above break-even in late July, but new GM Sandy Alderson was taking the long view, trading off Beltran and Rodriguez, which wasn’t the wrong thing to do. Brad Emaus was offed early. Jose Reyes won the batting title late (and then vamoosed to Miami).

36. 2004 (71-91; next-to-last place)

Discouraging sum of its miserable parts doesn’t indicate the pretty good segment that kept things interesting into July. The Mets went from 9-15 to 43-40. They should’ve quit there. Howe was no help. Reyes kept getting hurt. Kaz Matsui was not an answer. Young David Wright was a bright spot. So was imported center fielder Mike Cameron. But the plan in general was to throw everybody at the wall and hope the wall doesn’t crack. It did.

35. 1991 (77-84; next-to-last place)

Know that feeling when you’re coming down with a cold? That was the New York Mets, summer of 1991. They were being their usual contending selves, fifteen games over, Pirates in their sights, and then they started having the sniffles. It took them six years to recover. Manager Buddy Harrelson both deserved better and needed to go. An inappropriate end to a valiant Mets career.

34. 2012 (74-88; next-to-last place)

Overall as dismal as its demographic cohort, especially the last couple of months, but oh those highlights! Johan and the first no-hitter. Twenty victories and the Cy Young for Dickey. David’s sixth-place MVP finish and surpassing of Ed Kranepool for most hits in a Met career. Seven games over as the All-Star break approached. Even Jordany Valdespin was a revelation. Some years we should take Warren Zevon’s advice and enjoy every sandwich.

33. 1966 (66-95; next-to-last place)

The Mets not finishing in last place and not losing a hundred games was the frigging pennant. Bonus points for Cleon Jones becoming an everyday player.

32. 1983 (68-94; last place)

Best last-place season the Mets ever had. Make no mistake: they finished last on merit. They were dreadful for definitive stretches. But they made changes and the changes began to show some payoff in late summer. Orosco blossomed into a top closer. Strawberry came up and eventually slugged to notices. Keith Hernandez was stolen from a passing locomotive. Tom Seaver pitched on Opening Day in those new racing stripe unis. It’s a hindsight delight to realize what was coming together. On the other hand, 94 losses and last place were written in unerasable ink. Fortunately the franchise (if not the Franchise) had some kind of future ahead of it.

31. 2014 (79-83; tied for second place)

Gonna show a touch of recency bias here based on the year or two that emerged after 2014, which I still remember like it was a year or two ago. Some seeds were being planted. Others were taking root at last. Jacob deGrom emerged. Juan Lagares ran everything down. Duda went deep 30 times. Murphy went to the All-Star Game. Wheeler…Familia…d’Arnaud…Flores. A very decent September, which was unusual. We still kind of sucked, but maybe we wouldn’t suck forever.

30. 1994 (55-58; third place)

We are entering what I shall call the context years. You had to be there to appreciate what a freaking great year 1994 was, which is to say you had to be in 1993. The Mets played 49 fewer games because of the strike yet lost 45 fewer. It was the truncated summer of Rico Brogna, which was enough to keep me going through the nuclear winter of go-nowhere labor-management negotiations.

29. 1995 (69-75; tied for second place)

Another partial season, another modest triumph. Not at first. The season started late from the strike and the Mets forgot to show up, but almost without warning young talent showed its stuff: Edgardo Alfonzo; Carl Everett; Jason Isringhausen; a sneak peek at five-tool sensation Alex Ochoa. We didn’t know who would do what down the road, but we saw genuine improvement, from a 35-57 start to a 34-18 finish. The strike was over, the Mets were fun, the horizon was detectable.

28. 1981 (17-34 first half, 24-28 second half; next-to-last place first half, fourth place second half)

Let’s set aside the crummy first half. MLB certainly attempted to, dividing its prestrike results from its poststrike possibilities and jiggering together something called the split season, something the Mets were brilliantly suited for, given that it slotted them at 0-0 on August 10. They were weird circumstances, but the Mets made the most out of them into late September, crashing a pennant race for the first time in an eternity. It didn’t go anywhere, and an overdue overhaul (bye-bye, Joe Torre) was undertaken. But I swear those six weeks of contending felt like the real thing.

27. 1980 (67-95; next-to-last place)

You probably know the story. New owners (Nelson Doubleday, Fred Wilpon), new GM (Frank Cashen), abysmal start of 9-18, a continuation of the bad times from the late ’70s. Then, as if an ad campaign came to life, the Magic was Back. The Mets reeled off 47 wins in 86 games, enough of them of the come-from-behind variety to make a person believe everything had changed. First place could be seen from Shea. Ultimately, it was a mirage, attested to by the 11-38 skid that ended 1980, but what a Magic summer, what a shot of good will.

26. 1968 (73-89; next-to-last place)

The most sainted losing season in Mets history. Not only an improvement of a dozen games (and an exit from the cellar), but for the first time, there was talent on display: Seaver the sophomore star; Koosman the rookie sensation; decorated receiver Jerry Grote; Cleon Jones flirting with .300 in a year when nobody hit. It was Gil Hodges’s get-acquainted year. He got the Mets acquainted with achievement. More would come.

25. 1971 (83-79; tied for third place)

I keep coming back to a description Leonard Koppett offered as 1971 being the season the Mets presented themselves as a resolutely ordinary baseball team. I was in only my third year of rooting, but I could feel the blahs. The hitters didn’t hit. Seaver pitched like crazy down the stretch, and there was some ace relieving from Tug McGraw and Danny Frisella, but the Mets felt light years removed from the division champion Pirates despite dueling them at midyear. On the other hand, we’re talking winning record here and from here on out.

24. 1976 (86-76; third place)

Kind of an odd duck. The won-lost was the best it had been since 1969 and the best it would be until 1984, but this wasn’t a particularly solid edition of the New York Mets. Koosman won 21 and Kingman hit 37 home runs (he was on pace for a lot more before making the mistake of attempting to field with his hands), but they fell way behind the Phillies fairly early and were not a factor in the NL East race. Joe Frazier managed, Mickey Lolich pitched, Roy Staiger played third…it’s not surprising that 1977 came next.

23. 1972 (83-73; third place)

Another ten-over-.500 finish to consider, with six fewer games played thanks to the April players strike. Nineteen Seventy-Two shaped up as potentially the best Mets team to date and they certainly started ablaze (25-7), but the injuries took a toll, hitting went AWOL and it was all these Mets could do to finish the season. On the plus side, Jon Matlack was Rookie of the Year, John Milner was the Hammer, ex-Expo Rusty Staub was exactly what the Mets needed, his broken hand notwithstanding, and Willie Mays came home. Less sunnily, Jim Fregosi was a bust and nothing could have been more damaging never mind tragic than the death of Gil Hodges.

22. 1989 (87-75; second place)

We reach the tier of teams that contended, that honestly had a shot, that finished with respectable records, yet were kind of a drag. Welcome to 1989, the year 1986 checked out for good. We eschewed Wally the preceding December We traded Lenny in June and Mookie by August. We’d bid adieu to Keith and Gary before the tarp grew cold for autumn. We got Juan Samuel and stuck him in center. Still, we were in it in September, not far off the pace set by the Cubs, but just couldn’t get it done. We’d learn as the ’90s unfolded that 87-75 second-place finishes were nothing to sneeze at, but this one was an enormous disappointment to have lived through.

21. 1975 (82-80; tied for third place)

One of those years a fan remembers fondly if he happened to be twelve while it transpired, but Yogi Berra was fired, Cleon Jones was let go and the Mets tripped all over themselves at every opportunity to get serious about winning. The closest they came to a lunge at first was early September at Shea, pulling to within a few of Pittsburgh, Tom winning No. 20, striking out his 200th along the way. Rookie Mike Vail collected a hit every game for a while. Dave Kingman appeared from San Francisco and broke our home run record. Rusty crossed the 100-RBI barrier. Felix Millan was in the lineup literally every day. Many pleasant elements to hold fondly, even if you weren’t twelve. But not much to show for it in real time.

20. 2001 (82-80; third place)

This baby was destined for 1974/2017 territory until late August. Then the defending National League champs remembered how to win. They won like crazy for weeks on end. They pulled themselves to wishing distance of the Braves. And they came closer than is generally remembered. A pitch here or there, and it’s quite possibly the Mets who give New York something to get lost in come October of 2001, just when it needed a distraction most. A transcendent Shea moment on the third Friday night of September would have to do.

19. 2005 (83-79; tied for third place)

The forest recalls this season being a low-level blast, an authentic turnaround from a bad stretch, big names coming to the fore, enthusiasm building. The trees remember it as a frustrating mess much of the year. The Mets had fallen to five games below .500 in the middle of September and appeared to be plummeting back to the Howe old days. But Willie Randolph’s crew — Beltran, Martinez, Reyes, Wright, Floyd, the last belts of Mike Piazza — made one final push for respectability and it drove them to the edge of 2006. The best Septembers that don’t lead to Octobers at least point you in the desired direction.

18. 1970 (83-79; third place)

My first full year as a Mets fan, and even I knew it wasn’t 1969 anymore. Still, there was an aura around the team from That Championship Season that didn’t melt so easily. But Seaver wasn’t quite the Seaver he had been, only Agee and Clendenon came through with any consistency at bat, and maybe the team as a whole was hungover. Can’t blame them after the year they had the year before, I suppose. Somehow stayed with the Pirates until the talent gap finally showed.

17. 1998 (88-74; second place)

This is the best possible advertisement for the concept of Next Year, because 1998’s ending needed to be thoroughly wiped away. Through 157 games, it was a mostly exhilarating season. We got Piazza. Leiter was a wizard. Reed was an All-Star. Olerud hit .354. There was always a hole in the dike that kept the Mets from rising comfortably above sea level in the Wild Card race, but it looked like we’d make it. We got to the final week in position to return to the postseason for the first time in a decade. Then we lost the last five, let two teams pass us and that was that. Except there’d be another year in 1999. Thank goodness.

16. 2007 (88-74; second place)

Yeah, I know. Yet in the vein of our standards — winning record, contending team, spring and summer of excitement — 2007 measures up, or beyond a whole lot of Met seasons. Insert Mrs. Lincoln reference here.

15. 2008 (89-73; second place)

Splitting hairs to rank this above 2007. Perhaps we were better braced for what would become of the ending. I also recall the gratifying push into first place when we took nothing for granted. Randolph was gone, Manuel was in, Shea was closing and it looked like the Mets might understand what they were supposed to do. They did go 40-19 from early July to early September. Maybe they should have called for a strike. Lack of depth killed us down the stretch. No Wagner, no Maine, no Tatis, very little Easley. What a bullpen. But the main four guys — Reyes, Wright, Delgado and Beltran — were mostly sensational and you can’t say enough for Johan on September 27. Distance has allowed me to not snarl at 2008 on the order I snarl at 2007.

14. 1987 (92-70; second place)

Nineteen Eighty-Seven was a 162-game headache, yet there we were, over 90 wins, a couple of swings from a final-weekend showdown for first place in St. Louis. The talent was remarkable in those days. That the Mets could survive the loss of all of their starting pitching for chunks of the season tells you they could hit (also that we had Terry Leach). Carter and Hernandez were commencing their decline but they were picked up by Strawberry, by HoJo, by McReynolds. Basically, they did all they could to not win a division title and almost won it anyway.

13. 1997 (88-74; third place)

Pound for pound this may be my favorite season, but this isn’t about personal preferences. It’s about recognizing turnings of corners and changings of guards and whatever cliché you care to add. Bobby Valentine’s first full year was the bright red line separating a decade of debacle from an era of ebullience. Olerud, Reed and Alfonzo all broke through. Todd Hundley was still a slugging threat. Bobby Jones pitched like he really was from Fresno. Bobby V pounded in spare parts you never heard of and the engine purred. Matt Franco one minute, Steve Bieser the next, a little Jason Hardtke or Roberto Petagine later. Not being out of the race was different. Winning more than losing was different. Getting to September with a puncher’s chance at the Wild Card was a boost to our collective self-esteem. We didn’t reach our destination, but there was no turning back.

12. 1990 (91-71; second place)

The notion of the Mets as dynasty could have proven true in 1990. They’d missed on a couple of their post-1986 opportunities, but the team that rampaged through June and well into July — Viola, Jefferies and Franco joining forces with remnants of the old gang — was as good a Mets team as I ever experienced for a month or so. Alas, it was a month or so, and the season lasts longer than that. Harrelson was the right man to right the ship at the right time, but injuries dragged the enterprise down and the Mets couldn’t quite sail through September. We had no idea that the Mets wouldn’t be this good again for a very long while.

11. 1984 (90-72; second place)

Davey Johnson took over. So did Doc Gooden. And here came the Mets, resembling nothing they had been in recent years. Only full disclosure compels me to note the Mets had the division in their grasp and let it go to the Cubs. They weren’t ready, but it was aggravating while they fell to second. But, geez, to fall to second after all those years of coming in second-to-last being viewed as an accomplishment? The good times were rolling. Hernandez became Hernandez that year. Darling started becoming Darling. Backman, too. There is no reason to remember 1984 as anything but beautiful.

10. 1985 (98-64; second place)

Let me stop you from saying what you might be thinking. The Wild Card didn’t exist. You can drive yourself bonkers by retconning it into the ’80s. If it had been around, the Mets would have been October regulars. Probably. We don’t know how schedules and transactions would have worked out. We also don’t know if some Wild Card from somewhere that wasn’t Houston would have knocked us off in 1986. So just revel in what 1985 was: the best season the Mets could possibly ever have without making the playoffs. As in ’84, the title was theirs for the taking, only more so. They were in first place after a searing series at Shea versus St. Louis in September. The pedal came off the gas, and 98 wins proved a few too few. Oh well, we can say considering what we know came next. Even before we knew it, though, we knew about Keith and Gary and Doc and Darryl and Mookie and Jesse and everybody getting it done until they could get done no more. I’ll take my chances with 98 wins every year for the rest of my life.

9. 2016 (87-75; NL Wild Card)

It wasn’t a beauty, but hey, it was all right when it mattered most. The 2016 Mets, one year removed from a pennant, were stuck in the swamps of Flushing three weeks into August. Then they thundered to a second consecutive postseason slot. It wasn’t that long ago, yet I find myself a little baffled that it happened. These were the Mets of two dependable starters, two unknown rookies filling out the September rotation, of scrap heap pickups holding down several positions…and they went 27-12 to clinch a Wild Card and home field advantage for its doomed one-and-done manifestation. Either Terry Collins did the best managing of his career or he didn’t get in the way of his players. However it happened, it was a thrill.

8. 1988 (100-60; NL East Champs)

I bristle at the memory of Mike Scioscia just like you do, but unlike you I relish recalling how good these ’88 Mets were before the ninth inning of Game Four of the NLCS. I remember the 100 wins. I remember Coney going 20-3, Doc winning 18, Darling 17, Randy Myers establishing himself as a fierce closer, McReynolds nipping at Strawberry’s heels for MVP honors, Gregg Jefferies making all those rookie cards seem like a bargain, the slapping down of the Pirates at every inflection point. This was a wonderful team that ran into a better story. It happens. Some nights I don’t accept it, either.

7. 1999 (97-66; NL Wild Card, NLDS Winners)

Ventura. Alfonzo. Piazza. Henderson. Agbayani. Olerud of course. Al and Rick and Orel Hershiser and Masato Yoshii and young Octavio Dotel and a bunch of relievers getting a bunch of outs and Rey Ordoñez flying through the air with the greatest of ease and Bobby V almost fired and then winning 40 of 55 and how were you gonna fire him then? Nearly blowing the whole thing before rising from the dead over and over. The ride of a lifetime. They should have won two more games in the National League Championship Series and four in the World Series. Otherwise, they were everything we could have wanted. The postseason placard that hangs from the facade of Excelsior in left field needn’t list their accomplishments. It could just say “1999”. We’d all get it.

6. 2006 (97-65; NL East Champs, NLDS Winners)

The regular season was 1986’s Mini Me. The division was never in doubt. The first round of the playoffs was a relative breeze. Just a little more pitching. Then just a little more hitting. Then maybe one swing, if just to foul one off and stay alive. But my gosh, we knocked the Braves out in April, brushed the Phillies aside in June and romped for six months. I understand it’s a consolation prize, but it warms me still.

5. 2015 (90-72; NL East Champs, NL Champs)

We’re up to the pennant-winners, so I have to get out my hair-splitters to divide them from one another. I suppose 2015 could rank ahead of 1973 and 2000, or between them. I choose to slot it a tick or two behind them. It’s all good. It was all very good when Wilmer Flores shed a tear and Yoenis Cespedes lit the fuse and Harvey returned from Tommy John and Familia took over for Mejia and deGrom struck out the side in the All-Star Game and Thor and Conforto debuted as needed and David Wright flew in from stenosis purgatory and Daniel Murphy went undercover as Barry Bonds circa 2002. The 2015 Mets were actually pretty good to have hung on to late July (lest we forget the eleven-game winning streak in April), but that crew in August and September…it was if all those years under Collins were leading to something.

4. 1973 (82-79; NL East Champs, NL Champs)

The record isn’t deceptive if it’s your record; nevertheless, I think we learned that if the 1973 Mets had been at full strength for an entire season, they wouldn’t have needed a miracle finish to pull out the division. They were a terrific team full of very good players in their prime and, by September, they were healthy. Of course much goes into sorting out a division and partisans for the Cardinals and Pirates could say something similar. Winners get to write this history. We had Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Tug every damn day, Rusty, Cleon and Wayne on fire, Buddy holding it together, Felix turning DPs, Grote running the show behind the plate, 12-3 from George Stone, Ron Hodges getting the biggest moment of his 12-year career out of the way early, Willie Mays giving the benediction and Yogi understanding it wasn’t over. Eighty-two wins reads like a technicality. It’s also how many they won, which doesn’t matter since it was enough, but we are splitting hairs here.

3. 2000 (94-68; NL Wild Card, NL Champs)

Nineteen Ninety-Nine’s less glamorous sister nonetheless brought home a better report card, succeeding to the World Series and carrying the Bobby V era banner as high as it gets to fly in these rankings. No Mets fan fully adores 2000 when 1999 is in the room, but that 2000 team delivered a great deal. They put a stranglehold on a playoff spot in late July. They wrestled an NLDS from the favored Giants. They grounded the Cardinals. The final step of the journey wasn’t taken as we’d have cared for, but I never believed Piazza, Alfonzo, Leiter & Co. didn’t go down fighting. I give 2000 the edge over 1973 for having a better all-around season (and maybe because ’73’s era has a higher-stationed representative just up ahead) and the nod over 2015 on Fall Classic fine points. The 2015 Mets got beat. The 2000 Mets came up short. “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters very much,” I’ve heard.

2. 1969 (100-62; NL East Champs; World Champs)

If the New York Mets franchise could sign its name, the autograph would have to include 1969 written somewhere on that scrap of paper. That’s how much the signature season figures into the identity of the Mets, all for the good. Nineteen Sixty-Nine not only meant everything while it was going on, it reset perceptions ever more. The Mets who had never won anything had won it all. The Mets had shattered precedent, shredded expectation and gave heart to perpetual underdogs everywhere. They also stormed from far behind to win a division title, swept their playoff opponents and overturned the apple cart of a prohibitive World Series favorite. String the names together — Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew, Ryan, Cardwell, Taylor, McGraw, Koonce, DiLauro, Grote, Dyer, Martin, Clendenon, Kranepool, Boswell, Weis, Harrelson, Pfeil, Charles, Garrett, Jones, Agee, Shamsky, Swoboda, Gaspar — and stick Gil Hodges at the front of line, and you see again that nothing is impossible.

1. 1986 (108-54; NL East Champs; World Champs)

Fifty-six years of Mets and fifty-five years of me in the books, and I can say confidently you get one 1986 in a lifetime. You get one baseball season when EVERYTHING goes your way. You lead and you keep leading and you’re so far ahead that you forget who you’re leading. Every day is thick with ticker-tape and every night is drenched in champagne. And that’s before you actually clinch anything. The pitchers pitch, the hitters hit, the fielders field. All of them do it better as a unit than anybody in sight. You can’t believe you’ll ever lose another meaningful game, certainly not in October. October attempts to bring you down to earth, and boy does it make its case for being an entirely different month from the six that preceded it, but no. This the year when EVERYTHING went our way. Once in a lifetime. A sequel would be sweet, particularly for those who weren’t on hand for the original when it was in first-run, but I can’t imagine any Mets year being any better.

I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, however. May your, my and our next year be the best yet.

Good Will Toward Mets

Early Sunday afternoon, Christmas Eve, my wife and I were riding the LIRR westbound into the city. We were rolling slightly beyond Forest Hills, which meant Woodside was the next station. My instinct was to stand, approach the vestibule and wait for the train to pull in so I could step off and walk the platform to the staircase for the 7. I’d climb up, swipe my Metrocard, climb another flight and peer down the tracks until the next Flushing-bound train appeared. Once boarded, I’d ride the eight local stops to what the MTA now refers to as Mets-Willets Point but our souls will always recognize as Willets Point-Shea Stadium. In my mind, I was there. I was already deciding which security apparatchik I’d submit my bag to for mandatory pawing.

That fleeting plan on how I’d spend my December 24 wouldn’t have bore much fruit, as the Mets once again failed to schedule a Christmas Eve doubleheader. Thus, I maintained my seat until Penn Station approached and we stuck to our initial plan, which was to do something that wasn’t baseball. Yet I stand by my instinct. I was pulled into the Mets orbit and, psychically anyway, willingly floated toward my home planet, no matter the holiday blues that surrounded it.

’Twas practically the night before Christmas and the Mets couldn’t have been coming off a worse week, a week when they’d lost no games and traded no players. Perhaps they, like me, were under the impression that it was still December, still three-plus months from Opening Day, still time to augment the offseason bounty that thus far consisted primarily of middle reliever Anthony Swarzak and backup catcher Jose Lobaton.

Time is only on your side for so long these days, for here came our ’18 nervous breakdown. Shortly after the Mets joined the Lobaton Galaxy of Stars, Marc Carig of Newsday noted in print and pixel that the emperor had no payroll, or certainly hadn’t made any useful proclamations lately regarding the ability or inclination to add to it. It was one of those facts of Met life that had been nagging at all of us but nobody with a media megaphone had bothered to shout it from his or her perch.

Carig did, and free-floating anxiety hell broke loose. Joel Sherman of the Post chimed in that the Mets’ payroll was gonna be $20 million less than last year, reflecting a lack of management confidence in how good the finished product could possibly be in 2018. Per the Post’s Mike Puma, Fred Wilpon was “irate” that the Yankees had traded for Giancarlo Stanton, the trigger transaction that reminded us who in these parts traditionally absorbs MVP megacontracts and who doesn’t. As murmuring and muttering elevated to grousing and grumbling, a boycott buzz grew in the name of shaking up ownership. Steve Phillips emerged on Twitter to bemoan the lack of “empathy” for his erstwhile employers. The gesture from the former general manager whom I’ve never forgiven for trading Rick Reed came off as tin-eared but landed (to me) as almost endearing, given that empathy is a decent gift to give any time of year. Speaking of former Mets GMs, Omar Minaya suddenly returned to the Citi Field executive suite, deputized a special assistant to Sandy Alderson, who confined his enthusiasm for the move to a prepared statement. Not in the fold? Ed Kranepool, the ur-Met, currently on the outside looking in, telling Wally Matthews in the Times that, for the most part, his club no longer calls, no longer writes, no longer cares.

Holiday blues were never tinted so orange.

Somehow it was still December, yet the Mets were plunging through the standings of perception, falling behind the Phillies for talent and the Braves for future while mounting a spirited challenge to the Marlins for narrative. In a blink, the 2015 National League championship was never won. The 2016 playoffs were never reached. Good will toward Mets was erased. “Sell the team!” “Don’t pay to see the team!” “Damn this team!” Me? I swore that if the Mets didn’t start getting serious about building a better ballclub, I was going to stay a Mets fan.

After 49 seasons, I’m a wee bit rusty at threatening to walk.

I tried to reactivate old anger at the Wilpons, if only to stay current with the Metsopotamian mood. I couldn’t (except for the Kranepool part — be nice to Eddie; we only have one of him). They’re the same owners who owned the team when it went to the World Series 26 months ago. 2009 through 2014 were fairly miserable, but 2015 and 2016 did happen. I tried to be satisfied. I couldn’t do that, either. The Mets are likely healthier than their 70-win selves of 2017, but otherwise not appreciably improved, distance to March 29 notwithstanding. Excitement on the order of having just acquired Gary Carter or Carlos Delgado seemed an inappropriate reaction, no disrespect to Swarzak and Lobaton intended, though I’m still pretty stoked to see what Mickey Callaway and new trainers can do with what they have on hand. I’d like to think January and February will imbue the roster with ballast if not dazzle. I’d like to insist that our NYC ADI entitles us to a little big-market oomph, though I tend to believe major league should be major league in any city. I can’t see myself refusing to go to Mets games out of principle when the organizing principle of my life is the Mets. I could sooner see myself going to Citi Field on Christmas Eve for a game that didn’t exist.

If the Mets don’t improve and they play like it, mass interest in them figures to wither (save for folks like us who consider them constantly). Indifference is the sharpest tool in any kit and it’s crafted organically. Twenty games attended becomes ten. Ten becomes five. The Mets being on tonight becomes something else to do. Messages get sent. Hard-edged boycotts, however pure-hearted, strike me as better suited for making statements that transcend “get us a second baseman already.” Maybe you and I, the fan/customer, just allocate our resources differently if we are not convinced they, the Wilpons/Alderson, are allocating their resources remotely optimally. That right is embedded in every fan’s constitution, the section where it says you are under no obligation to choose between your rights and your Wrights.

No, no definitive answers here, except it would sure be nice to have a game to go or not go to ASAP.

I’m having some technical difficulties, so apologies for the lack of links within the body of the above text. If you don’t mind a little cutting and pasting, here are a few hopefully helpful URLs:

https://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/mets/mets-jeff-wilpon-1.15485312

https://nypost.com/2017/12/21/inside-the-mets-20-million-payroll-cut-and-whats-next/

https://nypost.com/2017/12/21/fred-wilpon-irate-about-yankees-getting-giancarlo-stanton/

https://mobile.twitter.com/MetsBrian/status/945830890814484480?p=p

https://mobile.twitter.com/StevePhillipsGM/status/943447896564948993

http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/21846522/omar-minaya-returns-new-york-mets-special-assistant-gm

The Final Fall of Mike Francesa

Mike Francesa, who used to provide a lead-in to Mets Extra, is leaving the radio station that used to broadcast Mets games. Without that de facto Metsian connection, I doubt I would have listened to him much if at all. He has benefited from prime legacy real estate where my listenership is concerned. Francesa — first with the exponentially more irritating Chris Russo, then without — was on the air before the show that came on before the Mets game. I was waiting for Howie Rose or, to a far lesser extent, Ed Coleman. Mike Francesa talked sports. The Mets are sports. I was a sport for listening to him.

Now and then I’d share a burst of disgust with a friend over something Mike Francesa had just said about the Mets, and the response was inevitably some stripe of, “Why are you torturing yourself by listening to him?” Habit was usually my response. Not an ingrained habit, but a default one. Sometimes I prefer company to silence. Sometimes I prefer talk to music. I almost always prefer sports to everything. The radio is nearby. There’s somebody talking about sports, somebody whose tics I know and, on untouchy days, tolerate. Habit wins another ratings book.

I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic to hear what Francesa has to say about anything, but he is digestible in doses. I’m reminded of what former Mets blogger and lifelong Taco Bell aficionado Ted Berg said when asked how he could be so attached to Taco Bell when New York featured an array of bueno Mexican cuisine. He didn’t adore Taco Bell because it was Mexican food, Ted explained. He adored it because it was Taco Bell.

So is Francesa, so to speak.

As Francesa’s 28 highly rated years in afternoon drive at WFAN have wound down to epic FANfare, I’ve listened a little more frequently and a little more closely than I had in quite a while. When WFAN and the Mets parted ways in 2013, I separated myself from 66 AM (and FM 101.9). If they couldn’t be bothered to keep my team, I didn’t need to be bothered keeping their company. But it’s New York and I like sports and I like radio and it’s the middle of the day and I know what I’m getting, so what the hell?

WFAN as a concept was hatched when the Mets were everything to everybody in New York, in 1986. They won the World Series and loads of listeners. The people who owned country station WHN, flagship of the world champions, decided there was more to be tapped from the passion the Mets engendered beyond pregame, game and postgame. In a matter of months, it was goodbye Ronnie Milsap, hello Ronnie Darling. Sports and sports talk never had to end.

Mike Francesa slipped in when nobody was listening, part-timing and day-parting in the shadows of the original WFAN’s name-recognition lineup. It was the home of Greg Gumbel and Jim Lampley and Pete Franklin. Two were guys known from national TV, one was allegedly killer at what he did on the radio in Cleveland. If you listened to that iteration of WFAN, it was because you knew the Mets game was going to be on at some point…and because it was sports in New York.

Hard to believe now, but Francesa was kind of an underdog story. The old line about having a face for radio was irrelevant. Francesa didn’t have a voice for radio. He sounded like a caller. He sounded like one of us. Information-driven radio stations didn’t normally put guys from Long Island on the air unless they cleansed the Nassau and Suffolk from their dialects.

Francesa didn’t bother. They gave him and Russo late afternoons and, as Francesa reminded his habitual listeners every few minutes since deciding to depart, the rest was history. Mike & The Mad Dog reigned for nineteen years, Mike’s On for the next nine. The Mets receded to the shadows on their own flagship. They didn’t win any more world championships (the Curse of WHN?). Mike talked about them either in unflattering tones or not very much. He harped on the successes of another local team. From a Mets fan perspective, he definitely wasn’t one of us.

But he was on and he was predictable and sort of tolerable, both to me and my father. I’d call my dad in the afternoon in his later years and hear Francesa blaring in the background. I appreciated that he replaced Rush Limbaugh as his default company. “I get a kick out of him,” he’d say, and it gave us another morsel of small talk to chew on. Didja hear Francesa get on the Jets? From such topics would awkward conversational yardage get eaten up. Sports was useful for us that way.

It seems appropriate that Francesa’s farewell comes at the end of fall or, for those of us who picked up on the radio lingo, the fall book. The tic of his I latched onto most was Francesa’s insistence on order. Fall was here, he’d say in September, as if we were all settling in for another semester with him. Everything was going to happen before we knew it. “Before you know it,” it would be Halloween…it would be Thanksgiving…it would be Christmas. Everything was aligning in Francesa’s worldview, all of us traveling the path he set out for us, yet he always expressed surprise that it happened. He couldn’t believe it was already Week Whichever of the NFL season. He couldn’t believe it was almost Thanksgiving. He couldn’t believe Christmas was right around the corner. He warned us of the sequence of these events and their inevitable immediacy; he was amazed nonetheless. Anything slightly askew from the ordinary was “crazy”. Games that went into overtime were crazy. Trades that materialized quickly were crazy. Players expressing an opinion that diverted from the established order were crazy. Mike didn’t seem to care for crazy, even if it got his phone lines lit.

The Francesa New York Sports Pecking Order was as clear as it was intractable. The Yankees were the Yankees. Of course they were signing this free agent or that. Of course they were in first place. Of course they were tuning up for the playoffs. Andy’s gonna start Game Two. The Giants, intermittent lousiness notwithstanding, were generally beyond reproach. They were the Giants like the Yankees were the Yankees, if not quite as much. The Mets and Jets existed for people who couldn’t quite get with the program, a portion of his audience Mike catered to occasionally out of necessity and condescendingly out of personality. He’d treat them like real teams if circumstances absolutely demanded he do so — which wasn’t very often. Everything else depended on how much the host cared about it for the length of a segment. He cared more about horse racing than anybody on the other end of the speakers. The Knicks were the Knicks, but merited attention mostly for playing somebody better. Hockey existed in spurts here and there, and then exclusively at the Garden. The Nets and Devils might as well have been based in Saskatchewan, never mind that their games aired over WFAN.

Sometimes Francesa would tackle the world at large like he tackled the line for Patriots at Steelers. That, as with his deep dives into the Masters and third hours devoted to what made Mickey Mantle his and therefore America’s boyhood idol, was usually a good time to find a nice song on another station. I could tune away for five minutes that would become five hours that would become five weeks. Eventually and habitually tuning back reminded you of the Taco Bell appeal. There were other perfectly good takes to be gotten elsewhere. You could only get Francesa from Francesa. Sometimes you develop a taste.

The Long March from December

We still reside on the shadowy side of the Baseball Equinox, that annually anticipated milestone on the calendar that sits precisely between the final pitch of the last Mets season and the first pitch of the next Mets season. This offseason’s midpoint won’t arrive until we have passed 89 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes from Sunday, October 1, 2017, at 6:20 PM in Philadelphia and edge to within 89 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes of Thursday, March 29, 2018, at 1:10 PM in Flushing. For those of you scoring at home, the 2017/2018 Baseball Equinox graces the Eastern Time Zone on Saturday, December 30, at 3:45 AM.

So there’s still time. There’s still time every December. The Baseball Equinox reassures us we really and truly are getting there. All we’re doing any December is getting there. We won’t be “there” until Opening Day. Everything else between now and then is about doing the getting.

The Mets did some getting this chilly Wednesday, getting themselves one of those relief pitchers everybody’s talking about. I don’t know that anybody was talking about erstwhile Milwaukee Brewer Anthony Swarzak, but reasonably reliable relief pitchers are all the buzz these days, what with baseball’s advanced thinkers dropping the pretense that starters are designed to come close to finishing. The middles of starts are ever more up for grabs, so the more relievers you have who can produce outs, well, the more outs you might get without allowing runs. Analytically speaking, that’s half the winning formula. Generating runs before making too many outs is the other half.

Swarzak is one small step for the Mets. The giant leaps — leaps of any size — have yet to present themselves. A leap from 70 wins and fourth place to respectively more and higher is nominally the ultimate 2018 goal. Perhaps the genuine goal is a leap into 2019, with 2018 simply not serving as another deep puddle of mud. The length of the leap remains to be gauged. It’s December. The small steps, however small, are encouraging.

The Mets have brought in righty Anthony Swarzak and signed a couple of minor leaguers (lefty reliever Matt Purke, lefty outfielder Zach Borenstein). They also have a breath-of-fresh-air manager, a raft of new coaches, a developing training protocol and, on May 5, a Yoenis Cespedes garden gnome that hopefully isn’t as fragile as its inspiration. So the steps are being taken. None besides the manager and maybe the gnome are glamorous. If glamour is your thing, you know better than to look toward the Mets for very long. There are Mets components, maybe even a Mets nucleus, but the entirety of the entity is right now more a matter of Swarzak than swagger.

Which is something of a shame because being the biggest, shiniest object in your division and your league (and your town) is a lot of fun. I remember when the Mets loomed large over the baseball landscape. It was a heckuva coupla hours. I thought it would last longer. It didn’t.

The oft-referenced window, the one representing conditions amenable to contention, doesn’t appear open more than a crack anymore. Could enough steps raise it to where the Mets could leap through it in 2018? Is there a leap to be taken prior to March 29 that would give the next set of Mets a running start? “Someone oughta open up a window!” I hear every Fourth of July. Will we have given up on prying the damn think skyward by summer? Will the fresh breath of air Mickey Callaway brings have brought a surprisingly bracing breeze? Or is it gonna be another stuffy summer stuck near 70 wins and in fourth place again?

These and other questions…we’ll know answers when we know answers. We’ll know who will be the Mets we don’t yet know about when we know their identities, too. One minute we didn’t know from Swarzak, the next we’re figuring out how to optimally interchange him with Familia, Ramos and Blevins. Not much use in dreaming on the window-smashing celebrities who would accelerate our leap if only they were lavishly signed or traded for. The Mets seem to be on a number of recognizable players’ DO NOT TRADE HERE list and need to work on becoming the baseball team baseball players want to be with. We are getting a pretty solid hint that a mystery Met who would blow the shutters off our expectations probably doesn’t loom in our immediate future.

Our slotting on the industry popularity scale is both too bad — because who doesn’t want more great players, or at least the theoretical ability to procure them? — and maybe not altogether awful — because, as mentioned, the Mets roster maybe has a Charlie Brown Christmas quality to it.

It’s not such a bad little roster. Maybe it just needs a little love.

It has a shortstop we were all figuratively dying to see, and a first baseman who clearly wishes to make an impression, and an ace pitcher who missed virtually all of last season, and another ace pitcher who singlehandedly kept what there was what of last season together, and a gnome-inspiring outfielder who’s supposed to be fully healed, and another outfielder who’s supposed to be on his way to mostly healed, and a couple of catchers who meshed decently, and a passel of relievers who promise to be tactically deployed, and some other familiar cast members whose strengths on a good day make you forget their weaknesses on other days.

It’s a little thin in spots, but no tree is perfect and not every ornament budget is limitless. Or obvious. I don’t know what the Mets can or will spend. I do know $14 million was just committed to two years of Anthony Swarzak. I would think that’s substantial, but baseball’s personnel outlays defy gravity and orbit beyond a layman’s parsing. Swarzak, whether used in the fourth or the ninth, will be worth the investment if he gets outs. Great. Get more guys who get outs without giving up runs and more guys who get runs without making outs.

That’s all we want for our version of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa, the one we unwrap on Thursday, March 29, 2018, at 1:10 PM in Flushing.

So Crowded, Everybody Went There

Did Citi Field seem roomier to you in 2017? There were 328,980 fewer customers paying their way into the old ballgames there than there were in 2016 — and we know paid “attendance” doesn’t fully reflect the relationship between fannies and seats. The approximate 11.8% drop in official visitation to the home of the Mets is understandable. One year the Mets were coming off a pennant and driving toward the playoffs. The next year the Mets were falling off a cliff. A seventeen-win plummet is a tough selling point in any market.

So there was more wiggle room from Promenade on down. Shorter lines at the concessions. Decreased demand to be inside the fancy/schmancy clubs. “Lonely People” by America spiritually replacing “Piano Man” by Billy Joel as the eighth-inning singalong. The reported total of 2,450,622, ninth-highest in the National League, is a respectable enough figure when you stare at it (if Citi were a city, its attendance would have been the fourth-largest city in the United States), but it was definitely less than the Mets had drawn each of the previous two notably more successful seasons.

Yet there was one spot the Mets operated that appeared more popular than ever. It was the destination everybody talked about and almost everybody elbowed, shouldered, kneed, muscled and practically collapsed their way into. Per Yogi Berra, perhaps, it was so crowded, everybody went there in 2017.

It was The Disabled List, the hottest spot in town and recipient of Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Nikon Camera Player of the Year award, presented to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom.

All season long, the chatter around the Mets was “DL this” and “DL that,” as if the rich and famous were aching to be a part of its scene. It almost hurt to consider the accumulated star power it attracted. And it wasn’t a day-to-day thing, either; you had to commit…ten days…sixty days…who could keep count after a while?

You could try, but it would be painful.

The true mark of what makes a spot hot is the buzz it generates, and the best way to understand what made the Disabled List sizzle is to sift through the online reviews its glitzy patrons left. Taken together, their feedback reads like a cry for Yelp.

“I keep a regular table there, in the back. Sometimes it feels like I never leave. It’s the personal touch I appreciate. The Maître D, Ray, treats me like family.”
—David W., April 2

“Try the inflamed elbow. If you have the time, it’s worth it.”
—Steven M., April 2

“I’m having what Steven is having.”
—Seth L., April 2

“If I can be oblique about it, I’d recommend the left one.”
—Juan L., April 2

“I’d had ham before, but the hamstring was something else.”
—Brandon N., April 2

“You wouldn’t call me hyper, but when it comes to the DL, I’m all about hyperextension.”
—Lucas D., April 20

“Two words: the knee.”
—Wilmer F., April 20

“Have the strain. Try it without water.”
—Yoenis C., April 28

“I’d heard so much about the DL that I had to grab a seat — laterally.”
—Noah S., May 1

“I’d been so often that I didn’t think I could be surprised, but with this trip, you might say I learned the wrist of the story.”
—Travis D., May 5

“You’d have to be a clot to not want to check this place out.”
—Jeurys F., May 12

“Thumbed my way to the DL. Nothing could keep me away.”
—Asdrubal C., May 16

“I didn’t think I’d need to be here, yet here I am. Go figure.”
—Tommy M., May 24

“Thumbed my way back to the DL. I wonder if they have branches of this place somewhere else. I’m definitely gonna ask if they can send me to check them out.”
—Asdrubal C., June 13

“I tried the shoulder.”
—Josh S., June 14

“The joint has barely changed since I last showed up.”
—Neil W., June 15

“I said ‘scallops,’ but they had me down for ‘scapula’. I’m not sure they understand me anymore.”
—Matt H., June 16

“Saw David and Neil again when I walked through the door. Like old times.”
—Juan L., June 16

“The biceps tendinitis is pretty exotic.”
—Zack W., June 21

“If you don’t go to the DL, it’s like you don’t really care.”
—Robert G., June 28

“So busy! I’d lend a hand if I could.”
—Michael C., July 1

“They weren’t kidding about the crowds. It was like I could barely breathe when I arrived.”
—Brandon N., July 8

“My reaction after they told me to leave the Disabled List? Let’s just say it was stressful. So back I went for more.”
—Zack W., July 24

“I was torn about making the trip. Eventually the DL wins out.”
—T.J. R., July 28

“Far be it from me to impinge on such a popular place, but I couldn’t resist.”
—Seth L., August 15

“I tried the ribs. They cage them fresh.”
—Jose R., August 17

“Frankly, it feels more like home for me here than home does.”
—Steven M., August 22

“I’d fall all over myself to get to the DL again. No more separation pangs for me.”
—Michael C., August 25

“What can I tell you? I’m just not a big fan of the water.”
—Yoenis C., August 26

“Heaven nose I tried to make a reservation, but they don’t accept them after September 1. It must be like wearing white after Labor Day.”
—Wilmer F., September 2

“I hear Ray is leaving. I’m still here. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative, but I’d like to think the Disabled List won’t be such a hot spot next year.”
—David W., October 1

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016: The Home Run