“I’ve got a speech if he wins, I’ve got a speech if he doesn’t.”
“You wrote a concession?”
“Of course I wrote a concession. You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?”
“Then go outside, turn around three times and spit. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“It’s like 25 degrees outside.”
— A sensible Toby Ziegler admonishing a presumptuous Sam Seaborn on “Election Night” in “The West Wing”
Last fall, I was going on about one thing or another with Chuck, articulating my anxieties over Cardinals versus Astros or Red Sox versus Yankees or Kerry versus Bush (two of three ain’t bad), and as I planned and replanned and edited my strategies for following and potentially affecting the outcomes of each contest, I blurted in all seriousness to him, “I’m not a superstitious person.”
Chuck takes pride in claiming to know me better than anybody else does. He stopped me in midrant.
“Greg,” he told me, “you’re the most superstitious person I know.”
I waited for the laugh to indicate he was only joshing me. But he wasn’t. When I doth protested too much, he catalogued about a dozen instances of how I had told him over the years I wore this or that, stood here or there, thought that but not this so I wouldn’t disturb whatever forces of nature were going to work in favor of whatever cause – almost always the Mets – I absolutely needed to succeed at that moment.
In all those instances, I insisted, I was kind of kidding around with him, but now that he mentioned it, I guess I was a little more serious every time that I let on how worried I was about jinxing and kiboshing and gumming up the works for the Mets even though I have yet to play in a single game for them.
Being told you’re superstitious after a lifetime of being sure that you’re not must be like finding out you were born in Utah. “I’m a Utahan? I am? Wow, who knew?” I don’t avoid ladders, I don’t care much for the Osmonds and I’m not one of those fans who thinks he’s So Crazy because he has a hundred little rituals spoken and unspoken, but evidence is evidence. And Chuck knows me better than anybody else does.
Last night, another dear friend got in touch to ask if I was going the partial season ticket plan route again, à la what you and I did in ’01 and ’02. “It might be nice to have a shot at playoff tickets,” she said.
It was like 25 degrees, but I demanded she go outside, turn around three times and spit. As of this writing, I don’t believe she has.
So now we’re screwed.
There’s too much damn blind optimism around this team right now and it scares the hell out of me. When Mets fans who should know better are worried in February about playoff seating, I’m reminded of whichever 1920s tycoon it was who decided it was time to sell off his securities when he heard shoeshine boys furiously exchanging stock tips.
Yes, this is the time of year when every team’s a contender, every rookie’s a keeper, every McEwing’s a McCovey. That’s fine. But I’m used to having my Mets sensibilities offended by sneering, not cheering. Usually by now (and it hasn’t been totally absent), I’ll read something about how the Mets have some nerve aspiring to finish as high as last and I’m ready to crack media heads.
Instead, I read yesterday a comparison between this new, untested infield which could be, if all goes well and nobody gets hurt, pretty serviceable and the (gasp!) 1999 Greatest Infield Ever. Olerud, Alfonzo, Ordoñez, Ventura. Twenty errors all year. Two gold gloves. Shoulda been three.
I’ve heard our rotation — three old guys coming off not peak seasons and two younger guys with a history of arm problems — referred to as the best in the National League. Better than the Braves. Better than the Dodgers. Better than the Marlins.
And Carlos Beltran has been elevated from very talented .267 hitter to the only “six-tool player” in baseball because not only can he do it all on the field, but he’s comping the kids at Gold’s Gym, where I can just hear hamstrings a poppin’ any minute now.
Worst yet, I’ve been told the Mets are answering their phones, “The New Mets.” I thought back to the New Orleans Breakers of 1984. Yes, the New Orleans Breakers, a USFL franchise which had just moved to the Bayou from Boston. The Breakers had been doing well in their division at mid-season, so their switchboard operator greeted callers with “First Place New Orleans Breakers!”
The New Orleans Breakers fell out of first, didn’t make the playoffs, moved to Portland and evaporated along with the rest of the league within two years.
Come to think of it, did our Tuesday/Friday plan of a few years back yield us any playoff tickets?
It’s not superstition I’m selling here. It’s pre-emptive non-presumptuousness. All of my tics and impulses are not about doing things to help my team win. It’s to keep the other team from beating us. I can’t help the Mets, I know that. The best I can hope to do is not hurt them. I haven’t worn a rally cap since the mid-’80s because the one time I did, it killed a rally. I almost never clap with two strikes because when I do, it always leads to four balls. Always. It’s only because of my complicated commute and commensurate stadium exit strategy that I dare stand up with two outs and a six-run lead in the ninth. I don’t actually think Looper or Benitez or Franco or Skip Lockwood has it in the bag. Why would you think I would think that?
The tipping point from happy, proactive “we’re gonna win!” rooting to anxious, preventive “oh god, how I have effed them up now?” writhing came the afternoon of October 9, 1988. I had a friend in high school with no interest in baseball. He went to college and settled in Boston and developed — as one will, I suppose — a fondness for the Red Sox. I had teased him a little bit two years earlier when his new team lost to my old team in the World Series. But he was a good guy and he was not unsympathetic to our cause. And in October 1988, the possibility existed for a Mets-Red Sox rematch.
Except on the Sunday afternoon in question, the Red Sox had just been swept out of the American League playoffs, four games to none, by the A’s. The Mets would play that night, up 2-1 on the Dodgers with Doc Gooden going at Shea. I called the guy in Boston and got his machine. I left him a message of condolence and told him to look at the bright side: Now you can root for the Mets in the World Series against Oakland.
That night, in case you’ve forgotten, the Mets were three outs from going up three games to one when Doc walked John Shelby and surrendered a home run to Mike Scioscia, knotting the score at four. The Dodgers won in the twelfth. They went on to win the pennant in seven.
Needless to say, I don’t pencil in World Series appearances or angle eight months out for playoff tickets since then.
And I try not to use the phone at all if I can help it.