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Up Where We Belong

After I am elevated to the position of Maximum Leader Regarding All Things Baseball Or At Least Those That Interest Me, my first act will be to decree Gil Hodges inducted into the Hall of Fame. If some heretic waving a list of “similar players” who came along later dares to dissent, I, as a benevolent Maximum Leader, will not seek vengeance upon the heretic. Instead, I will explain that Gil Hodges earned a place in the Hall of Fame for his seven consecutive 100+ RBI seasons; his statistical standing among the greats of the game at the time of his retirement; his stellar defense; his performance and presence on one of the greatest teams ever; his exemplary conduct and the uncommon reverence it evoked among his contemporaries; and his managerial magic over eight seasons in Washington and New York. The problem with the Hall of Fame as it stands now is you get in as a player or you get in as a manager. Gil Hodges deserves the honor for a career in full.

Once I've seen to it that Cooperstown is lucky enough to receive Gil Hodges, I'll then move Cooperstown to Valley Stream or somewhere that won't be such a schlep for me to get to.

Having corrected this glaring oversight, your Maximum Leader will then codify into the promotion schedule of every Major League Baseball team an Old-Timers Weekend or something like it. Each franchise will be mandated to acknowledge its past heroes and even its past demi-heroes on at least an annual basis. And all former players who participate in the pension program will be required to accept invitations to such events.

We will institute this homage and we will institute it immediately. Respecting the past is urgent so as to avoid what's plagued certain organizations too often or too long.

We're getting our spate of The Boys Are Back In Town stories again regarding the 1986ers. By my count, it's the ninth consecutive spring that we've been told that the Mets are finally reaching out to their last and, in terms of accomplishment, best champions. During Bobby Valentine's first camp, he made a point of bringing in Mookie as a coach and Mex as an instructor and said it's about time the Mets have Mets around. That was 1997. The number of those vintage Mets on hand has trickled up since then. We seem to have reached critical mass with, by the count in Monday's Newsday, fully a third of the 24-man Series roster connected to the team in 2005.

Yet if there really are that many Mets of yore making the St. Lucie and Shea scenes, why does it seem that their impact hasn't really stuck? Why has it been such a struggle to link the aspirational Mets of the present with the presumably inspirational Mets of 19 summers past?

There's no one reason, but we know all the major threads to the storyline: the scum bunch; the hard living; the messy plane; the disappointments; the underachieving; the overreaction; the annual quest to wipe the slate clean. Really, it started in 1987 when amid the turmoil of the team's final St. Petersburg spring, the Mets were continually insisting that whatever problems they were having they were putting behind them. It led the great George Vecsey to write that the team should replace “Baseball Like It Oughta Be” with “We're Putting It Behind Us”.

Frank Cashen, as quoted in Sunday's News, still carries a grudge against Doc and Darryl, which is sad. I don't know how many second- and third-generation acolytes of Cashen — whose GM tenure resembled a Robert Moses arc of great works early, outmoded thinking with dire consequences later — still carry sway at 126th and Roosevelt. Omar, like Duquette, was an assistant to Phillips, who worked under McIlvane, who, like Harazin, was a lieutenant to The Bowtie. I've always had the feeling that a quarter-century in, this has remained Frank Cashen's front office even if Cashen himself is retired. Seeing as how Minaya left town and came back with his own ideas, maybe the spell has been broken (though ultimately that's up to Fred Wilpon).

Remember when the Mets altered their uniforms in 1993? They ditched the racing stripe and came out with something resembling but not matching the pinstripe look of the '60s. When asked why they didn't just go back and do retro right, Harazin said something like, oh, tradition is for the Yankees. We're supposed to be new and modern.

In a tenure laced with stupid pronouncements, this was the dern stupidest yet. The Mets were more than 30 years old then. Now they're over 40 and seem to be catching on that there is a history to them and that their fans care about it.

Yet when I read something, as I did in the News Sunday, that the Mets have ditched Old-Timers Day because it doesn't sell, I can't help but think the ghost of Harazin has infiltrated the water coolers.

Though they haven't called it Old-Timers Day for a long time, celebrations of Mets history have sold well recently. You were there for the All-Amazin' Team's unveiling in 2002. That drew more than 50,000 who didn't care that the current Mets were stinking up August left and right. They got close to 46,000 on a drizzly Sunday for the Ten Greatest Moments ceremony in 2000, us among them. Don't tell me they don't draw.

For years, the Mets had this brain-dead habit of starting their Old-Timers festivities about two hours before game time, which is fine if you push back game time. Only in the last five years did they realize nobody was showing up at 11:30 in the morning. All it takes is a little observation and followup action to make these things viable. Both in 2000 and 2002, they started their ceremonies at the announced game time, thus avoiding embarrassing acres of empty orange seats.

Does it help the team to have old Mets around? I dunno. Bobby Ojeda was pretty vocal about how he thinks the '86ers are brought around as window dressing but they're not taken seriously. He had an unhappy experience as a minor-league pitching coach in the Mets' system and he's entitled to his opinion. Just because he was 18-5 one year doesn't mean it's right. Doesn't mean it's wrong, either.

But it's not about old Mets helping new Mets, though that would be great. It's about the fans. It's about the opportunity for people like us to, once a year, go to Shea and applaud not just Tom Seaver (who was also unpardonably estranged for the longest time) but Tom Hausman. Bring back as many Mets as you can. Bring back the '86 stars and the '96 scrubs and the '76 trombones. I know they do these Mets Alumni signings somewhere by the Nickelodeon Burial Ground on weekends, but make more of it for more of us.

As part of my Maximum Leader ruling on this topic, I also declare Doc Gooden welcome back at Shea Stadium for the mandatory Old-Timer's Weekend. He can make a living in Tampa, do what he has to do, but let's stop pretending that the second-greatest pitcher in Mets history — and the greatest Met ever for a single season — didn't exist. He did and he does. Sure, he disappointed Wilpon and Cashen and loads of us (probably more for the no-hitter than for the drugs), but the statute of grudges has run out. I decree it so.