Before moving on to ten more Greatest Mets, you’ve spurred me to take one more long look at a few of my first twenty.
* Stephanie referred to Kevin Elster as The Cute One. He was the first Met she publicly took notice of that way and, to date, the only one.
* Maybe if I’d been in a meeting and missed Carl Everett‘s grand slam of 9/13/97, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to vault him onto The List. But I was watching from our living room, hopeless and in despair, explaining to the aforementioned missus that down 0-6, we’re screwed, we’re screwed, we’re screwed, and this wonderful season, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over. Entering the ninth, Stephanie, who hadn’t been in the room most of the afternoon and was a fan mostly by osmosis, said unto me the three words any man would want to hear at that moment: “You Gotta Believe”. That dramatic win was powered by my wife’s faith as much as Carl Everett’s bat.
* Myth: The early Mets were stocked with ex-New York Giants and ex-Brooklyn Dodgers. Fact: While nine ex-Brooks, à la Duke Snider, eventually became Mets, no ex-Jint was a Met until 1966 when Eddie Bressoud joined the cast and set a Met shortstop record for homers with 10 (tied by The Cute One in 1989). The only other NYG to be an NYM was that fella Mays. It is my duty as an occasionally dues-paying member of the New York Giants Historical Society to note former Giant catcher Wes Westrum managed the Mets and Joan Payson owned a piece of New York’s first and foremost baseball dynasty. She was, famously, the only dissenting vote when its board voted to move to San Francisco. And Casey, of course, was ex-everything.
* I’ve had no use for women’s soccer ever since Brandi Chastain nudged Matt Franco off at least one front page, maybe more. I had no use for women’s soccer before that either, but her timing was as rude as your Wednesday fortune cookie.
* I saved just about everything that was printed down the stretch in 1999, at least the stuff I wanted to remember. That includes the Lisa Olson column on Shawon Dunston‘s valedictory, run in the Daily News that October 21. I’d gladly type in the whole thing right now, but I don’t want to violate any copyright laws, so I’ll just excerpt a gut-searing passage:
“‘I am so proud to be a Met,’ said Dunston, voice cracking. Darryl Hamilton looked up, and felt the tears on his cheeks. Someone else sobbed. Al Leiter wiped the water from his eyes. The passion play that was the Mets season had just completed its last, heart-wrenching act, the Mojo dissipating with a 10-9, 11th-inning loss to the Braves Tuesday night.
“Dunston pointed over at Mike Piazza, his limbs held together by sticky glue, and told him how thrilled he was to have the catcher as a teammate. Piazza’s stony face rarely cracks, and now it took every ounce of energy in his aching bones not to melt into a quivering mess.
“Dunston motioned to Armando Benitez, staring at the wall. Only the Mets knew how much the stoic closer has been hurting these past few weeks, not because Benitez tells them, but because he can barely walk to the shower. Dunston looked at John Franco, who had just taken his sixth cortisone shot of the season so his shoulder would hold up one more time.
“‘You guys made me believe again,’ continued Dunston. ‘You made baseball fun for me. I will never, ever forget what this team did.’
“Grown men aren’t supposed to cry, but Dunston’s words put a quick end to whatever cool machismo the players were clutching. The clubhouse doors opened and it was like a giant flash had gone off, resulting in eyes that were red and oh-so-stunned.
Dunston, the first pick in 1982, out of Thomas Jefferson High in Brooklyn, is one of those players who observes everything but tells nothing, which made this moment all the more precious. ‘Fans look at Mike and all they see is $100 million,’ Dunston explained. ‘He’s set for life. He doesn’t have to go through that beating. But he acted like he’s making $100,000. All he wanted to do was play.
“‘Kenny (Rogers), he’s so hurt, but how would we know it? He said, I don’t care about my arm. I’ll throw whenever. I didn’t hear about money, guys talking about how (they could be) fishing, golfing. Even during the seven-game losing streak. All I saw was a team that would do anything to win.’
“He saw a team that raged, raged against the dying of the light, and when the flash finally went off, when Rogers, working like a heart surgeon afraid to make the wrong move, walked in the winning run, Darryl Hamilton curled up like a turtle in center field. Straight ahead was Ordonez at short, hands to his side as if he were expecting another play. Hamilton is not ashamed to admit he was crying. He thought of all the trepidation he felt when he was traded to New York, how he expected to hate it, and how wrong he was.
“‘What a great three months I’ve had,’ said Hamilton. ‘It was really neat to hear Shawon speak from the heart like that. It’ll give us something that’ll carry us through the winter and give us the determination to pop the champagne next year.’
“What a great three months, what a great series, what a great game. When Piazza, limping like Kirk Gibson, hit that home run in the seventh to make it 7-7, Dunston jumped up and screamed, ‘We’re going to the World Series! We’re going to play the Yankees!’
He was a little kid again, in love with the game. He believed the same way John Franco did when Leiter trudged into the dugout after getting shelled in the first inning and, with the Mets in a 5-0 hole, put his arm around Leiter and said, ‘We’re going to win this thing.’”