Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Twenty years, 43 Fridays. This is one of them.
If you’re reading this and you like reading this and you’ve liked reading anything I’ve written about baseball, thank Carlos, or as his friends call him, Chuck.
I call him Chuck. I am his friend. I am his best friend. I know I am. He introduces me to people that way. Has since more or less 1986.
It’s quite an honor being Chuck’s best friend, considering he’s the one who’s done the majority of heavy lifting in this relationship. If Chuck were in on this conversation, he’d make some juvenile joke about “heavy,” since I significantly outweigh him. He’d also stop himself before going too far because I significantly outweigh him.
Chuck and I once debated who’d win in an actual fight between us. I have him on size. He has me on fitness. He could sure as hell outrun me, I know that. He prefers not to test my patience, so we probably won’t fight.
But he does like to test me in other ways. Chuck has been for more than twenty years both my most persistent booster and my most annoying goad. He has given me one writer-to-writer pep talk after another, believing the first couple of hundred fell on deaf ears. I listen, but being larger than he is (Chuck’s rather slight, so everybody is larger than he is), it takes a while for me to absorb it all. So while I do, he starts in again. He then tells me he’s done wasting his breath. And he then he starts all over.
Like I said, it’s awfully annoying. And it’s something only your best friend would do. Yeah, Chuck’s my best friend (non-wife, non-cat division). How could he not be? Nobody else not related to me cares that much about what I do with my life. Nobody else knows my buttons as well and pushes them as effectively. If you knew Chuck, he’d do it to you, too. Just not as much.
Chuck has been wanting me to write about baseball for an audience for almost as long as I’ve known him. I say almost because Chuck didn’t have baseball on the brain in August of 1984 when we first came into contact. How smooth was his brain on the subject at the time? Well, let’s put it this way: He thought Dave Kingman was still on the Mets.
Can you imagine?
As most everybody in the Western World (and some in the Eastern) know, Dave Kingman was given his release the previous offseason. With Keith Hernandez having been traded to the Mets in June of ’83, there was no role for Kingman.
Chuck probably thought Keith Hernandez was still a Cardinal in 1984.
He wasn’t sports-illiterate, not by any means. Marooned same as I was back then in Florida, it was easy to fall behind on your baseball if you didn’t work at it. I did. He didn’t. I changed that. For all Chuck has done to motivate, shame and inspire me to write since we became friends on our college newspaper in my senior and his junior year, I’ve done one thing for him that, ahem, outweighs all that.
I turned him into a Mets fan. An up-to-date Mets fan. If I had gotten to Chuck a year earlier than I did, he wouldn’t have thought Dave Kingman was on the Mets in 1984. Because of my diligent efforts, Chuck doesn’t think Mike Piazza is on the Mets in 2006.
Chuck’s a very religious sort, but I’m the one who’s done the important missionary work here. The world needs Mets fans. Good Mets fans. Chuck’s become just that.
Oh, he denies it. Denied in 1986. “I just like them for your sake,” was what he’d say. He’d say that after a several-minute discourse on his part about what a genius of the mound Gooden was, what a genius of the glove Hernandez was, what geniuses of the basepaths Dykstra and Backman were. (Chuck liked that word, genius.) I don’t doubt he sincerely believed he was just going along to get along in some fashion. Chuck will do that. Chuck can stare you straight in the eye and share your deepest interests just long enough so you’ll trust him and tell him your life story. And once he’s got it, he’ll use it. You don’t know how, you don’t when, but it’s in his file of dossiers. It will come back to haunt you.
Nobody does sincerity like Chuck. Sometimes he even fools himself.
He’s still not a Mets fan, not by his telling. It’s all just for my sake. Wants them to do well so I’ll keep from being enraged and using my size advantage on him in a hypothetical fight. I still say he could outrun me, but why take chances? He’s so much not a Mets fan that when I called him yesterday afternoon for the express purpose of wishing him a happy birthday, I couldn’t spit out “happy,” before he asked, “How are the boys doing?”
Chuck, long out of New York, knew a day game was in progress. That’s how much not a fan he is.
My missionary work paid off with Chuck. It doesn’t always. I’ll pay lip service to diversity, but I think everybody should share my priorities, my tastes, my opinions. I think everybody who reasonably can be should be a Mets fan.
I suppose the world needs Cardinals fans so all that red thread won’t go to waste. It needs Braves fans to keep the fannypack manufacturers from going under. It needs Dodgers fans to leave early so the traffic out of Chavez Ravine will flow in an orderly fashion. It apparently didn’t need Expos fans, doesn’t require more than a quorum of Marlins fans and has a surfeit of Cubs fans who, evidence indicates, are really small-b brewer fans.
But the world can always use good Mets fans. The unattached or only lightly affiliated should be ministered to. They should be Mets fans. They should come under our spell. They should be sufficiently charmed and delighted so if exposed to the Mets they keep coming back for more.
My record at capturing the hearts and minds of the otherwise unengaged is spotty. With Chuck, it’s been mixed. He knows more about the Mets than most people. He just won’t admit that he does.
But I don’t care what he says. He’s a Mets fan. What’s small, orange and blue all over? Chuck, that’s what. I did that. I made that happen. Me. Me and the Mets, circa 1986. If you were going to be a Met missionary then, you had a pretty damn good recruiting tool at your disposal, but still, I’m the one who got his attention. Mookie, Gary, Jesse…yeah, they helped.
But they didn’t write to him. I did. When I graduated college a year before he did, in the spring of 1985, I collected a slew of addresses from those I had known at school and gave mine out in return. “We’ll write!” we said. First there were a dozen people who kept in touch. Then a few. Then Chuck. Others fell. He stuck.
What did we write about? Baseball, first and foremost. Again, my doing. I was no more well-rounded (Chuck would have a field day — heavy, rounded…) in the mid-’80s than I am in the mid-’00s. I was also no more brief. Before blogging, before computers, without regard to tendinitis, I wrote letters by hand. Very long letters, very long letters about, as much as anything, the Mets. Those 1985 and 1986 Mets.
Chuck got the fever. It wasn’t like he wasn’t ripe for conversion. He was actually a lapsed Mets fan.
“I went to a game when I was a kid,” he reminded me when I asked a couple of years ago. “I remember Harry Parker pitched in that game. That was when I was a Mets fan like you were a Mets fan — just bonkers about them. My dad brought me.”
Later he loved Thurman Munson and the Yankees. Then, with his family having moved to somewhere near Tampa, he’d been out of it. The impolite term for Chuck was front-runner (or worse, “New York fan”), but I saw past that. I looked into his heart and saw the goodness inside. I saw that this was a Mets fan just waiting to be brought back into the flock.
So I kept writing to him. And he kept writing back. It all got very Metsy between us, both ways.
I have proof. I saved one of his letters. It was written by Chuck during Game Three of the playoffs against the Astros.
Two up, two down. Ronnie’s settling into a groove. Thanks God. (I’m rooting for the Mets only for your sake.)
This was the game Lenny Dykstra won with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, beating the Astros 6-5. Or as Chuck wrote in very big letters at its end:
And after all that, he tells me:
Like I’ve said before, I don’t get too excited over baseball. My interest in it has always peaked during October and November. But this season has been particularly interesting because of the Mets success. Savor it. This is truly a dream season. And for your sake, I’m glad for it.
Yes, for my sake. Because Chuck is my best friend. And he’s not a Mets fan. Not really.
That in 1986 he said his interest in baseball peaked in November either meant he lived for the MVP voting or I had more work to do. Luckily, I had the chance. Eventually, Chuck would move north, first to Washington, then back to New York. We went to Mets games on a semi-regular basis from 1989 through 2001. Nothing will ever be more memorable, however, than the first one we went to, against Pittsburgh. Dave Magadan won it with a walkoff homer in the eleventh. Chuck, the non-Mets fan, reacted at the top of his lungs:
Did I mention he’s deeply religious? I mean over religion, not the Mets. (Of course not the Mets — he’s not a fan, remember?)
It was to my dismay that family matters pulled Chuck back to Florida in 2002. He cleverly missed the downfall of the Art Howe era but has been absent for the rising ever since. The Internet’s a wonderful thing for keeping up, and he does, just like any fan would. One avenue he doesn’t explore very often, however, is Faith and Fear in Flushing. He was very happy to hear about our blog but then challenged me, as he does, as to what I’m gonna do next. When I get around to whatever that will be, I’m sure he’ll ask the same question.
Right after, “How are the boys doing?”