In 1904, John McGraw, a baseball visionary if ever one lived, refused to play the World Series. There was no rule saying he had to and he dismissed the American League as a bunch of bushers. A year later, the ultimate championship round was codified and had to be contested.
Too bad. When I woke up on Tuesday morning (called in sick…or joyful; can’t remember anymore), I was overcome with a revelation. We were the champions. We were the only champions. The A.L. still didn’t have a winner. So if we could stop baseball altogether — an earthquake, a wildcat strike, a well-placed bribe — we would remain the only champion of 2000. We would be No. 1.
That wasn’t going to happen, but it was a lovely thought. I paced around the house humming “We are the NationalLeagueChampions, my friend…” For 24 hours, that was all we had to be.
Everything began to fall apart that Tuesday night when the Yankees beat Seattle for the American League flag. Damn it, I was rooting for the Mariners. They had Oly. They had Alex Rodriguez who was said to be coming our way in the off-season. And, best of all, they weren’t the Yankees.
I wasn’t so much afraid of the Yankees. I just wanted them over and done with. They’d hung around far too long and we deserved the stage to ourselves. But mine was the minority opinion in New York. The Mets and the Yankees meeting in October was off-the-charts orgasmic to the media. This was a real Subway Series, 1950s style. This hadn’t happened since there were Dodgers in Brooklyn and Giants in Harlem. It seemed like it would never happen.
In that spirit, I’d like to gloss over it as much as possible.
Practically every Met who did good things against San Francisco and St. Louis did not-so-good things against the Yankees. The most glaring example was our recent catalyst Timo Perez. Without Derek Bell’s Pac Bell injury, we might not have succeeded at all because Timo turned things around. He did that again in the first game of the World Series but not the way we wanted him to. In the top of the sixth with no score, Timo was on first when Todd Zeile, having ingratiated himself at last to my goodwill, lifted a long fly ball that was going…going…
Timo could see that it was a home run. He began to trot, even waving his finger like an umpire to signal it was over the left field wall. The guy was called up in September and in October he’s doing shtick. But I didn’t see that until the replay. What I did see as it unfolded in unforgiving real time was that Zeile’s ball hit the top of the left field wall at Yankee Stadium and unlike Jeffrey Maier, whoever sat nearest to it backed off. David Justice caught it on a bounce. The next image I recall was of Derek Jeter grabbing the relay and throwing home. It was at that exact juncture that I divined:
1) OH SHIT! TIMO DIDN’T RUN! IF HE HAD, THERE’D BE NO RELAY!
2) We’re screwed. We’re gonna lose the World Series to the Yankees.
Yeah, I watched every pitch of every inning of every game the rest of the way and I took every bit of it as serious as death and refused to give in until the very last out was made in Game Five, but when I saw that Timo Perez, a guy nobody’d heard of two months earlier, was going to have a play made on him by Derek Jeter, the most overexposed baseball player in the universe, I knew that was it.
Perez was out at the plate. And for what it’s worth, Zeile had gone into a trot, too.
Game One was lost then and there but it officially took 12 innings. The winning hit was delivered not by Jeter or Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada or Paul O’Neill or Tino Martinez or any of the throbbing headaches who had pained baseball so much since 1996. It came from Jose Vizcaino, the Mets’ shortstop before Rey Ordoñez. Of course it did.
Game Two was lost early and often, mostly when Roger Clemens pitched against Mike Piazza in the most eagerly anticipated encore since Ali-Frazier II. There was a broken bat and an unprecedented flinging of that bat and a lot of huffing and puffing, but when you get right down to it, the Yankees scuffed up NLCS MVP Mike Hampton and built a 6-0 lead and Clemens cruised and after he left, the Mets scored five runs in the ninth but no more. When it was over, I lay prostrate on the living room floor, pounded the carpet with my fists and literally let out the longest, most agonized scream of my life. It was Game Two so I acted like I was two.
We won Game Three at Shea. I didn’t go. I didn’t go to any World Series game. What little satisfaction that was to be derived from actual World Series play was from Armando retiring Justice for the last out. I screamed again but this time out of vengeance. TAKE THAT YOU MOTHERFUCKERS! It was good to get a win, but if I was enjoying this, it was hard for anybody within the sound of my voice to tell.
Game Four was lost on the very first pitch, one Jeter drove over the wall at Shea, where there was discernible cheering because Yankee fans were sitting where I should’ve been. Bobby Jones pitched his last game for the Mets. It had been a long time since San Francisco. Mike hit a home run but when another one would’ve done us some good, Torre brought in the otherwise decrepit ex-Met — didn’t the Yankees scavenge castoffs from any other organization? — David Cone to get him out.
Game Five was so awful that all I clearly remember was Al Leiter’s heart and soul practically dropping out of his insides right there on the mound in the top of the ninth when Luis Sojo tapped the weakest of grounders into the outfield to drive in not one but two runs because his catcher, Piazza, couldn’t block the plate. (Whaddaya know? One pitch did ruin everything.) The same Piazza seemed to hit the game-tying homer in the bottom of that same inning, but it, like our season, died in center. It was a simple enough fly ball that even tin-gloved Bernie Williams could corral it.
I turned off the TV. It was over. The World Series for which we had waited almost a decade-and-a-half was over in five games. It didn’t go well. The Yankees beat the Mets at Shea Stadium. I’m surprised the sun ever came up again.
Giuliani had proposed some kind of joint celebration at City Hall to pat us on the head, but the Mets declined to take part. I don’t know that they ever got as much as a certificate of good conduct. The Yankees received their annual municipal worship session. Stephanie’s job had moved to within a few blocks of the World Trade Center, still close enough to City Hall to know how unpleasant the neighborhood would be under the celebratory circumstances. Having learned from experience, she stayed home from work on parade day.
I went to the office the morning after the Series ended. I had to. A year earlier, after Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones and ended that month of months, I called in sick. I was told that everybody expected it and nobody held it against me. This time, it was Luis Sojo infecting me. If I was going to be one of the company’s signature Mets fans, I had to be there to take whatever was to be dished out by the ubiquitous front-runners who called themselves diehard Yankees fans. The worst part was finding the fax machines covered with crude “dead puppy” drawings, dissing us and our Baha Men.
Generally, I kept a low profile and indulged in several rounds of melancholy e-mail to and from the other true believers with whom I had kept the faith throughout October. Hey guys, I wrote, chin up. Leiter threw 142 mostly beautiful pitches. Zeile basically called Jeter an insincere automaton and for that we should love him. And we still have the pennant.
Which, by the way, Atlanta didn’t. So there was that to hang our collective hat on. And as much as the World Series didn’t pan out, there was something to be said for having been a part of it. No, not because we were privileged to step on the same hallowed grass at (genuflection alert!) The Stadium, but because, except for the results, it was sort of, kind of fun.
The post-season was laced with High Holy Nights, so having a Mets World Series in our home felt like both a blessing and a tremendous responsibility. I placed a WFAN Let’s Go Mets! sign in the living room window to let our neighbors know exactly where we stood, and we planted ourselves on the couch for this once-every-fourteen years epiphany. Bernie and Casey, our steadfast cats, took turns wearing a new orange Mets cap I bought in one of my many merchandise frenzies; they took turns squirming out from under it as well. Stephanie, who had jabbed her right index finger silly trying to get through to TicketMaster, admitted she was perversely kind of glad I hadn’t gotten World Series tickets. She wasn’t going to join me at any stadium for games that were late and cold but she was happy we could watch them on TV together. Hell, she even picked up my superstitious vibe.
“Why won’t you reassure me that everything’s going to be all right?” I asked after fretting about winding up on the wrong side of the Subway Series tracks.
“Because I’m afraid if I say they’ll win, they won’t.”
As helpful as it would have been to have had one of us remain sane, Stephanie’s once-and-for-all absorption into the Metsopotamian culture was even better than finding out she knew who Tom Seaver was back in 1987.
Despite my team being disrespected in my and its own city, it was OK to take it all so seriously in 2000. We were dispensated for our obsession. “Subway Series” was easily understood by the crowd that probably thought baseball was stupid. Well we thought they were stupid. And we didn’t care what they thought all that much to begin with. That was the beauty of building a virtual fort with my crew. There is some comfort to be had in tribal societies.
My family was benignly supportive of my mania, supportive as they could be considering they didn’t really get it. Suzan’s husband thoughtfully cautioned me “not to take it too hard” before Game One (prescient dude). But the friends I depended on to hear me out on why Steve Phillips was killing us or why Todd Zeile was a misguided notion or why Fonzie was the coolest, were, in the realm of the Mets, more like a family than my own family during the baseball-intensive period that climaxed in 2000. My Mets-above-all zeitgeist had been in effect since 1997, when Bobby Valentine first truly insinuated himself into my well-being. He and his charges gave me reason after reason to worry about them. My angst on their behalf was well-honed by October 2000 but it was also extremely genuine. I cared because I couldn’t not care.
With me every step of the way, even more than Mike and Robin and Al and Rick were the Mets fan friends I had made and kept. With baseball serving as our common denominator I realized I knew little else about these people — their politics, their music, their favorite TV shows, all of which are subjects I carry strong opinions about. I didn’t know much if anything about their jobs, their parents, their children, their backgrounds, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations.
All I knew is they, like me, wanted the Mets to win. I didn’t need to know a whole lot more. As the years went forward, I did get better acquainted with most of them and I was never sorry I did.
What’s that they say about baseball being a kid’s game? I respectfully disagree. I played ball when I was 7 or 8. I wasn’t any good at it, but I played. But I also watched. That’s what I wanted to do. When I was in college, I tried intramural softball once and when a ball flew over my head in left field as I broke in to catch it, I called it a career (though my glove got borrowed regularly for the next four years). What I did do in college when none of my various roommates was around was stand in front of the mirror and — good lord, I can’t believe I’m telling you this — practice cheering the last out of the next World Series the Mets won.
All I ever really wanted to do was be a Mets fan. And that I got good at. I was never better than during the wistful winters, the restless springs, the high Bobby V summers and the chill autumn nights of 1999 and 2000. That was when I could be who I was meant to be and be with whom I was meant to be — my wife, my cats and my fellow Mets fans. My friends. Maybe it helped to be not so young. I was old enough to enjoy it, understand it and savor it without self-consciousness in all its unlikelihood.
In the years when the 1-to-10 needle stuck at 10, baseball and all with whom I shared it meant so much to me — so much more than I could’ve imagined when I was a kid watching by myself. I’m told I remember everything, but above and beyond any that preceded or succeeded them, these were days I’ll remember.
The year was 2000, 5 years ago.
I was 37.
Flashback Friday is a weekly tour through the years, every half-decade on the half-decade, wherein a younger Mets fan develops into the Mets fan he is today. Previous stops: 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995. Next and last stop: 2005.