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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Face Facts

American League batters will no longer have Al Leiter to kick around nor, I suppose, will we.

Our erstwhile ace hung ‘em up yesterday while a Yankee exhibition was already in progress, saying the time was right. Seemed very Al-ish to bid the game adieu in mid-game. Throw a pitch, get an out and grab a YES headset in order to talk about it. Even in the last uniform he wore as he left the mound, that was our Al.

Al did a lot of talking in his 19-year big league career, especially during his Mets tenure. From 1998 through 2004, he was more often than anyone the voice of the clubhouse, the guy whose quotes peppered more stories than anybody’s. It seemed to have reached a point toward his Flushing finish where he went from articulating eloquently to not knowing when to shut the eff up. Before all was said and he was done, Al Leiter may have talked his way out of blue and orange.

I’m in the midst of Adam Rubin’s Pedro, Carlos & Omar, a dutifully detailed work that is long on nuggets and short on dirt (which is fine). The author is so conscientious and so fair that nobody comes off all that badly in his book. But Leiter edges close to it precisely because Al had a mouth and he knew how to use it. Nothing extremely revelatory on this count, but it’s not a celebration where ol’ No. 22 (and our “Hundred Greatest” No. 28) is concerned. Al as clubhouse counsel…Al as unnatural chum of ownership…Al as denier of misdeeds in L’Affaire Kazmir…Al as head of the Florida Marlin chamber of commerce successfully luring Carlos Delgado to Miami’s allegedly higher standard of living…Al as sulking, spurned homecoming float last April, deflated by the darting boos of the Shea crowd when he was the visiting starter; sorry ’bout that, ol’ pal, but we’d moved on to Pedro.

Al came off as a bit of operator in the book, fairly true to my recollection of him circa 2004. The sense I always got, though, was it wasn’t an act and he wasn’t being a phony. Al, I’m guessing, was being Al all along, which would explain his political aspirations. He was genuinely a politician, but genuine for the whole ride. That’s why we liked Al, really liked Al even if we (or least I) never quite loved him.

The mouth, when in motion on our behalf, could be endearing, especially the oft-repeated tales of growing up one of us, a Mets fan from the suburbs. Al Leiter, until it no longer served his professional purposes, took being a main Met very seriously. We wish every ballplayer would bond with his uniform that closely. Best of all, he talked like he pitched — until he couldn’t anymore.

Al Leiter’s mouth is just one element of Al Leiter’s face, and Al Leiter’s face was, hands down, the best part of his anatomy. Yes, it even beat his left arm when that particular limb was winning 95 games as a Met (sixth-most in franchise history). In a game that’s so at home on radio, you really needed TV to appreciate Leiter. All the effort, the frustration, the disgust, the joy, the result of any given pitch was right there on the face. Wearing his emotions on his sleeve would have been superfluous.

If the Mets were, as one of the marketing slogans of his day insisted, Always Amazin’, Al always looked amazed. Amazed at the diving play Rey made behind him. Amazed he didn’t get that strike called. Amazed his cutter didn’t cut as he intended. Amazed there was contact between his bat and a ball. Amazed that he grew up to pitch for the team to whose Opening Day his dad took him and his brothers when he was a small child deciding he wanted to someday be Seaver or Koosman. That quality of saying it all with his face was what made him more Amazin’ than most.

3 comments to Face Facts

  • Anonymous

    What a face, indeed. I suppose timing had something to do with my adoration of Al–I was 11 in 1998 when he and Mike Piazza found their way to Shea from the Marlins–and they were what truly inspired my fanatical Mets fan-dom. The glorious, but heartbreaking years of '99 and 2000 followed and I couldn't get enough of Leiter (or Piazza for that matter). Game Five was exquisitely painful, beautiful and lethal, and like you said Greg, it was all on his face. All 142 pitches. We all lost that night, but nobody more than Leiter, how he could return to the Yankees after that….well, that's our Al.
    So, sure, I loved him because he helped us win. And that slider–who didn't love that slider!–striking fear into the hearts of lefties and righties alike. I did like that he could talk, so many ballplayers can't these days, and Leiter had the opposite problem, which was refreshing. He was pure and unadulterated Leiter, from mouth to face.
    But what really appealed to me, from the very first, was the sheer wonder of his Mets heritage. How often do you get to grow up and pitch for your childhood team in the World Series? Never. But we had two such living phenomena–Leiter and Franco! And for all the problems we've had with those two since, I still wish deep down that they could have sucked it up and retired in orange and blue where they belong.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, Greg. Leiter remains one of the Mets I really want to get in my Mets book, but have not been able to snag. (Piazza and Gooden are the othes)
    Now that he's hung 'em up, we can discuss this: Leiter certainly doesn't get his number on the wall. But does he get a bust in the Mets under-utilized Hall of Fame? I say yes! He was the guy we wanted on the mound for big game in the years he pitched. The Yankee taint is there, but I can get over it.

  • Anonymous

    i first saw al pitch in the mid-80's when he and his brother mark were both farmhands on the skanks' double-a team in albany. so for his personal cycle, perhaps it's best that he go out a skank, since he hit the bigs as one.
    al was a good addition to the mets when he arrived, and for many years after; i often felt he was the best #2 pitcher in the national league(even though he was our ace).
    it's sad that he sort of became a bit of a bad influence by the end of his run. he didn't mean to, but he was hamstrung by his very al-ness. i did enjoy seeing his expressions — with his grunts and grimaces, he reminded me of keith jarrett. the trouble was, al wasn't as good at improvisation.