Well, I'm in midseason form — somehow I thought the season started
next week. Along with the time change. This extended winter is
destroying my brain.
Quick question: When you hear “partially herniated disk,” do you think,
“Well, that's no big deal”? Me neither. Not with Trachsel on the shelf.
Not with the ghost of Edgardo Alfonzo hovering over both of us. Some
good news on Matsui would be most welcome.
On to the 30's.
I admit to branding Bobby Jones
a cancer once he replaced Jose Vizcaino as my scapegoat for Everything
That Was Wrong With the Mets. He was so … average. Except for the
famous Steve Avery/Jose V. game, in which he was … Estesian. And, of
course, for the clincher against the Giants, in which he was …
Koufaxian? Johnsonian? Fellerite? Whatever he was, no one's timing has
ever been so good. You'd think a one-hitter to clinch a postseason
series would make even the most jaded New York fan regret saying all
those bad things, and I did regret them … until about next June. For
which I'm not as ashamed as I probably should be. I guess it's that in
my eyes, most of the time he was neither Estesian or Koufaxian, but
right exactly between them, embodying the quietly soul-killing
mediocrity one sometimes fears is the natural state of existence. By
the way, that thing with the other Bobby Jones on the roster at the
same time was just ridiculous. Once per franchise was enough, thanks.
(Memo to Pedro A. Martinez: Stay retired.)
On the other hand, I loved Todd Hundley
for so much less. All that piss and vinegar, sometimes even channeled
into the game of baseball. I loved that he was Randy's kid in the wrong
uniform as far as Chicagoans were concerned. I loved that he was blunt
to a fault, in the fine old Backman tradition, that he snuck cigarettes
like Mex, that he stayed out too late like the whole '86 squad. It
wasn't quite so cool that the other side of midnight ate up a lot of
his potential, in the not-so-fine old Elster tradition, but that's a
risk one runs liking that kind of player. And in this age of chemical
suspicion, I don't like to revisit my astonishment that the twiglike
Double-A catcher who announced himself with his shockingly unlikely
double off Dibble in '90 soon transformed into a hulking backstop.
Regardless, Hot Rod stayed Hot Rod — I saw him in Candlestick near the
end, looking bewildered and unhappy out in left field, but still egging
on the frat boys in the bleachers by cupping his hand to his ear as
they gave him the business. And when the Dodgers wound up going into
the stands at Wrigley, I immediately looked for him, confident he'd
been in the scrum throwing hands, as Lenny Harris liked to say. And
indeed he was.
I was standing next to you for Rey Ordonez's famous debut, and what sticks with me is the sound.
Remember that? It was this sort of rolling murmur that went on and on,
rising and falling, of a sort that I'd never heard 50,000-odd people
make. That's because 50,000-odd people don't generally turn to their
neighbors and quietly ask, “Did he really just do that?” Later, we'd discover
he couldn't hit at all, had a habit of collecting wives, was on a
first-name basis but not a last-name basis with his trainers, and was
too self-centered to even feign interest in his own highlight video.
But that's mostly forgotten. The memory of that sound remains.
Every team needs a Lee Mazzilli.
He was the capstone of the '86 team, the piece that made you happy in a
way anyone with a heart would be happy, because when he came back it meant that it wasn't too late for Lee Mazzilli after all
– his faith had been rewarded, his struggles would get to mean
something. “You gotta excuse me, I've been smiling for two months now,”
he told some reporter or other before the World Series, and so had we
all. When he was shipped out again, this time to Toronto, I wasn't
surprised he was done almost immediately. I liked to think he'd left
everything he had with us.
About Armando Benitez, all I
can say is this: One day in December 2001 I'd tracked in something or
other and found myself vaccuuming an annoyingly large portion of our
downstairs hall. No one else was home, and my various chores had led
me into the kind of meditative state in which you aren't 100% aware of
your own thoughts anymore. Except suddenly I realized I was fuming. Goddamn Armando, I realized I was subvocalizing repeatedly. Goddamn Armando.
And I wasn't thinking about Brian Jordan; I was thinking about Paul
O'Neill and his fatal at-bat, which had transpired 14 months ago. And had been thinking
about it, in increasing agitation, for a good 20 or 30 minutes. Goddamn Armando.
When I was an intern in New Orleans, Ron Swoboda
was a sportscaster for a local TV station. He'd occasionally come down
to Molly's at the Market, the Decatur Street hangout for journalistas,
and the woman I'd started dating knew him and spoke of him with amused
familiarity. All of this terrified me, because I seemed to be the only
one who understood that this was no local sportscaster — this was Ron
Swoboda. Ron Swoboda who made The Catch. The woman I'd started dating
didn't know anything about The Catch, which shocked and appalled me at
the time, and, come to think of it, still does. I never did meet
Swoboda that summer, for which I'm grateful, because I would have made
an idiot of myself even by the low standards of my usual behavior. I
don't know when he left broadcasting, but now he's the only
Met old-timer who looks cool on those fantasy-camp TV spots. He says
his pitch and tilts his head at the camera a little bit and kind of
smirks. If I'd made The Catch, I'd be on my 36th year of kind of
smirking and looking cool, too.