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Don't Hide Your Fame

Hall of Fame Weekend has come and gone. We won’t worry too much about Cooperstown until early January. Gil Hodges should be in [1]. Keith Hernandez, too. We know that.

But what about the Mets Hall of Fame?

The what?

Yeah, that’s right, it exists. You’ve heard of it. Probably. Maybe. Have you seen it? It is, if it hasn’t been moved into Public Storage, on the press level of Shea Stadium, somewhere near the Diamond Club. I’ve only seen it because I got to a game real early one night ten years ago and was desperate to ditch my companion for a little while. I got on an elevator, went looking and found it.

It was a bust. Actually, it was a bunch of busts. That’s it. That’s the Mets Hall of Fame. A glass case, maybe two. On display is a head for each honoree. At that time, the last head belonged to Tug McGraw, inducted in 1993. Since then, the Mets have added Mookie, Mex, Kid and Tommie Agee.

I was reminded of all this by the only Metsian blog that’s more historically minded than this one, Mark Simon’s ever-intriguing salute to Mets Walkoffs. Today he’s on top of the Mets HOF [2], and if he doesn’t mind, I’m going to take his ball and run with it.

Or, more specifically, take his ball and smash the glass case(s) with it.

Hey Mets, what are you ashamed of? Why are you hiding your Hall of Fame? Better question: Why are you blocking access to its membership rolls?

Mark points out that the Mets do not have a Hall of Fame induction scheduled for 2005. They haven’t inducted anyone since Agee in 2002 (two seasons too late for him to enjoy it although he retired from baseball following 1973), and that was a minor fiasco. His induction was in August 2002, as bad a Mets month as has ever been played. That was the month when the Mets didn’t win a single game at Shea. Not one. They could’ve scheduled all their August games in February that year — same amount of wins and a lot fewer losses. With the Mets in some serious dumps, Bobby Valentine called a team meeting before a Sunday afternoon game.

At the very moment that Bobby was reading his players that week’s riot act (and his players were pointedly ignoring it) in the Mets clubhouse, Tommie Agee was being inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame on the field. It’s bad enough that the organization does most of these well-meaning things before the fans arrive, but it was worse that there were no Mets in the dugout to see one of their predecessors given, theoretically, the greatest honor a Met can get. Tom Seaver, who was there, lashed out at Bobby V later for not understanding the importance of this. Bobby V’s reaction was along the lines of “I’ve got other things to worry about.”

Sadly, I doubt many 2002 Mets would have known who Tommie Agee was or would’ve taken much inspiration from his induction, but Seaver was right. This is your big team benediction and the congregation isn’t even in its pews? Not even the ones who are paid to be there?

Typical. Why do the Mets run things this way? Why have the Mets only inducted four individuals in the past dozen seasons including this one? All props to those who have gone in, every one of them deserving, but how hard up are we for heroes that we can’t induct a few more?

Where is Rube Walker? Rube Walker was the Leo Mazzone of his generation minus the rocking. Rube Walker tutored Mets pitchers for fourteen productive seasons. His students were kids named Seaver, Koosman, Ryan and McGraw. Seaver swore by him. Hodges trusted him. Together they instituted the five-man rotation, not a small factor in two pennants and one world championship never mind that it became the model for all of baseball. The Mets’ strength has always been pitching and the godfather of it deserves to be honored by his team.

Where’s Ron Hunt? The Mets’ first All-Star in the sense that he truly belonged to the Mets. He started the 1964 midsummer classic at Shea (why we never hosted another one is another question for another time), not an easy task considering the team he played for lost 109 games. Ron Hunt was the first player to give Mets fans legitimate hope that their club could manufacture something besides laughs. For that, he deserves to be honored by his team.

Where’s Lee Mazzilli? I know, Baltimore. But who carried our dreams and aspirations during the darkest days of the franchise? Who was New York’s own? Who had not only his own poster but his own poster day? Who was the only Met All-Star to turn an All-Star Game around with his bat? The late ’70s and early ’80s were deadly times to be at Shea, but somebody made them that much more alive. That somebody deserves to be honored by his team.

Those three choices a little esoteric? OK, let’s talk 1986. Let’s talk the architect and the field general. Where oh where are Frank Cashen and Davey Johnson? How can the best single edition let alone the best era of Mets baseball be so grossly underrepresented in the Mets’ own Hall of Fame? Cashen has long been the linchpin of the HOF committee, but whatever his involvement, he needs to be inducted. The Mets were a laughingstock — a real laughingstock — before Wilpon and Doubleday hired him to be GM in 1980. He completely reinvented the organization. That’s not worth an honor? As for Davey, he transformed the team in the dugout from sad sacks to world beaters. He integrated youth with veterans and dared all comers to beat them. They couldn’t do it. That’s not worth an honor?

Two other guys from then, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry…them, too. They’re Mets Hall of Famers, except for not being in. I know, not the most savory of characters, but this isn’t the Daughters of the American Revolution. This is a baseball team whose greatest homegrown players of the past thirty years are no longer playing. What’s the wait, gents? Next year’s twenty years since 1986. No time like the very immediate future to make a statement about your history, that you’re proud of it and proud of those who committed it. Get Darryl and Doc a couple of head sculptures and commission a few more for the Lennys and Wallys and HoJos and Knights and some older players and executives and other worthies (Tim McCarver? Jack Lang? Karl Ehrhardt the original Sign Man? I’m not kidding about any of these. The totality of a team’s history is defined by the sum of many, many important parts.)

In the words of Linkin Park, what the hell are you waiting for? The Mets will be in their 45th season of existence next year. That’s a lot of history. Celebrate it regularly. Stop worrying about being busts and stop hiding the busts. Bring your Hall of Fame into the sunlight. Let everybody see it and let it grow. Even though you’re the Mets, you can handle it.