When Glenn Close reprised her national anthem performance from the World Series on Saturday night, we all noticed the incongruity of the actress/singer showing up in her 1994 uniform top. I had what I thought was the obvious answer  Sunday:
I’m assuming she was the singer at the Home Opener a dozen years ago and, true fan that she is said to be, kept and cherished her very own jersey.
It was so obvious, it was incorrect. I dug out my 1995 yearbook, sure I would find a picture of La Close belting out that rocket’s red glare. Nope. It was Queens’ own Cyndi Lauper (in her 1986-era jacket, no less) who did the Opening Day honors in 1994. I came across no pictures of Glenn, so I can’t say for sure when she got what she was wearing.
But I did discover something that was more chilling than the tail on the Mets’ shirts from those sad old days.
The ’95 yearbook featured an uncommonly in-depth special section on Met scouting: how they draft, how they trade, how they evaluate talent. Written by Bruce Herman, it’s at once very entertaining to read and terribly informative, especially with hindsight.
How many times have the Mets been honest enough with their fans to place in a yearbook a quote from the current general manager that a trade was made because the current manager couldn’t stand a player? That’s there, with Joe McIlvaine analyzing his swap of Jeromy Burnitz for Dave Mlicki, Jerry DiPoto and Paul Byrd thusly: “It was no secret we had to move Burnitz, who wasn’t getting along with Dallas Green.”
And how many times has a yearbook slathered empty praise on a team employee nobody’s ever heard of? Lots, probably, but have more haunting, foreshadowing words ever been written within such a vehicle than those that described “the vigilant and nurturing wing of the club’s director of minor league operations”? That wing belonged to Steve Phillips, apparently a young man on the move. His nurturing side would get him in a touch of hot water in 1998 , you might recall. And you can ask the Blue Jays why on earth they didn’t agree to Phillips’ reported vigilant trade proposal  from 2002. The Jays, a Toronto paper said after this year’s All-Star Game, were looking to trade Jose Cruz, Jr. Steve Phillips was interested. He offered a minor league third baseman. Just a kid. Just a kid named David Wright.
Taking gratuitous swipes at Steve Phillips is fun, but that’s not the gold in the yearbook. That was mined in a spread called Mets 2000. Remember that when this was published, spring 1995, the Mets had no present to speak of and an immediate past wrapped in shame. So it was the future the Mets were trying to sell. With Baseball America having just slotted five Met prospects in its top 40, perhaps it was possible that just over the horizon lay better days.
Thus, Mets 2000. The premise was simple. Let’s say that our lineup at the turn of the next century is going to be filled only by players who are not yet in the Majors: “What might the club’s starting lineup look like five years from now if only players from the organization who had rookie status in 1995 were considered?”
It was a Met version of Conan O’Brien’s creepy sci-fi bit In The Year 2000…
C – Brook Fordyce
1B – Byron Gainey
2B – Julio Zorilla
SS – Rey Ordoñez
3B – Edgardo Alfonzo
LF – Preston Wilson
CF – Jay Payton
RF – Carl Everett
RHP – Jason Isringhausen
LHP – Bill Pulsipher
The yearbook stressed that this was all theoretical. It wasn’t a promise and it wasn’t exactly a threat: “Of course the team’s roster in the year 2000 will also include veterans, probably some of whom are Mets right now.”
That’s a retrospective relief. When I bought the yearbook, during a May loss to the Expos, I’m sure I flipped by this article and thought, “No Hundley? No Brogna? No Kent? Whither this youth movement?” Then I turned the page and likely stared at all the fun a tike was having wallowing in a pool of green balls beyond the outfield fence at the post-modern entertainment experience known as Nickelodeon Extreme Baseball, something children born after the year 2000 would be enjoying decades to come. In any event, I forgot about Mets 2000 quickly if I noticed it much to begin with.
Not to read too much into the future as it appeared in club propaganda eleven years ago, but this 2000 via 1995 lineup is frightening. No knock on the players involved per se. Most of them did make the Majors and several are still having careers. But within this relatively innocent “future’s so bright” presentation lurked an uncomfortable truth as it applied to the Mets then and too often since.
The Mets were not serious about winning.
That the organization would even float the idea, even for the hell of it, that if you come back in five years you’ll be looking at these players as your saviors is scary. That the Mets would suggest that “veterans” were kind of an afterthought to their long-term Logan’s Run planning is shocking. That the Mets of early 1995, who were in the fifth year of an involuntary rebuilding program, had little to hype beyond the chance that Julio Zorilla would be playing second in five years is something I’m glad I glossed over back in the day.
Then again, would have I really argued against painting the rosiest picture possible? By the time this yearbook came off the printing press, we had heard of Pulsipher and Isringhausen. Alfonzo and Everett had made the team out of truncated spring training. There had been whispers of a sensational fielding shortstop who defected from Cuba. Maybe there was a foundation for the future here.
But we know that future took lots of twists and turns, right through “the year 2000” and up to this very moment. In terms of the personnel highlighted, it didn’t get as far as 1997 unscathed. It was barely recognizable by 2000. It was all gone after 2002.
Yet there was its spirit, on the Shea mound in the bottom of the ninth last night.
In possibly the best game of quite possibly the best season here in two decades, the winning runs were scored off Jason Isringhausen. The Mets gave up on Izzy seven years ago in the midst of one of the other best seasons here of the past two decades. We couldn’t have conceived in 1995 that Jason Isringhausen wouldn’t be one of our aces for years to come. We couldn’t have conceived we’d trade him for Billy Taylor. He had washed out as a Met, but we might have figured he’d have a real good run at some point, though probably not in ninth innings, where he’s succeeded ever since leaving here. Of course he’s had his problems lately. His most recent one was named Carlos Beltran.
Carlos Beltran was unimaginable to Mets fans in 1995. Not so much the player himself (he was only 18) but the concept. Carlos Beltran may very well be the best player the Mets have ever had.
We’ve thrown around the phrase “five-tool player” with such scorn since 1995 — when Bobby Bonilla was traded for the original Ace Helpful Hardware Man Alex Ochoa — that it may have taken us a while to understand that indeed a creature exists who hits, hits with power, runs, throws and fields. It’s probably taken us longer to comprehend he’s not an urban myth but that he’s ours, all ours. Maybe it’s only sinking in now that we are incredibly lucky to have him and that spending $119 million between last year and 2011 to get him represents a monumental bargain.
That’s not the walkoff home run talking. That’s Carlos Beltran’s entire season and the way there’s no meaningful flaw in Carlos Beltran’s game. There wasn’t any between his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1999 and his bank-breaking October in 2004 either. He had one lame year last year and now, I would guess, at age 29, he’s good to go for the length of his contract.
Can you imagine the mid-’90s Mets signing this kind of player for that kind of money? Can you imagine Mets 2000 bringing him in? It’s not that the Steve Phillips stewardees weren’t pretty well compensated, but did they ever have a guy anything like this or go hard after him? No and no. They could have but they didn’t. Can you imagine anybody but Omar Minaya going out and signing Carlos Beltran to be the kind of Met the Mets have never had?
For that matter, did the Mets of old, pre-Omar vintage, ever go out and get Shawn Green for the kind of role and the period of time envisioned for Shawn Green? Trading David Wright for Jose Cruz, Jr. (allegedly) — or Melvin Mora for Mike Bordick, or Jason Bay for Steve Reed — was more Phillips’ Before They Were Stars deadline speed. It wasn’t that Phillips was afraid to acquire a veteran. It’s just that he did it so badly.
Phillips on Bay in the Times this July:
We thought he’d be an upper-level minor leaguer. When we got him, I didn’t really see him play. He showed a little bit of pop and speed. The reports we got said he was a fifth outfielder.
In 2002, a fifth outfielder with a little bit of pop and speed would have been a revelation around here. But who needs to look at a player who might be that when you can have Steve Reed for two months?
Green is a bit of a risk, a monetary gamble, but Omar has a championship in our sights. He went out and spent some of our dough for a guy who could be the difference-maker. And who did he give up? Evan MacLane.
I’ve heard of Evan MacLane. He was some guy at Norfolk. If Sanchez hadn’t gotten reamed and Nady hadn’t gotten traded and Floyd hadn’t gotten hurt, maybe MacLane would be a Tide now and a Met in September. That he won’t be will cost me no nevermind. Anybody who finds it disconcerting that we no longer have Evan MacLane (and they’re out there) is either related to MacLane or is one of those fans who is never happy with the present because everything must be devoted to a nebulous future.
Evan MacLane may someday make us regret Shawn Green the way folks in Detroit must have eventually decided Doyle Alexander’s seven clutch weeks in 1987 weren’t worth John Smoltz. Maybe he’ll be another Bay that got away. Unlike the 1995 Mets yearbook, I can’t see the future. But I doubt there will be Kazmirian repercussions from trading Evan MacLane. I trust Omar to do the right thing (even though I know he traded Bay from the Expos, but Montreal was Minaya’s practice round). In 2006, the right thing, first and foremost, is to secure our near-term future.
Right now, that means Shawn Green. Not Jose Cruz, Jr., DFA’d this summer by the Dodgers; not Preston Wilson, released by Houston, picked up by Izzy’s Cardinals; not Timo Perez, the kind of limited outfielder with whom the Mets were content to get by for three years after they caught lightning with him for two playoff rounds. They would have been relatively inexpensive pickups, but cost is not Omar’s first priority.
The Mets under Phillips, particularly after 2000, made some wacky moves. The Mets of Jim Duquette were more throwbacks to the Mets of McIlvaine, when youth was embraced and budgets were preserved. (Notice the general pattern on general managers: Cashen saved, Harazin spent, McIlvane saved, Phillips spent, Duquette scrimped, Minaya splurges. It’s not unlike the way “players’ managers” are replaced by “disciplinarians” who are replaced by “players’ managers”.) When Duquette took over, we were just thrilled to get rid of Phillips’ boondoggles and get somebody, anybody in return — the younger and cheaper, the better. Duquette spent 2003 discarding and collecting. More discarding than collecting. The only names that were retained to any visible extent as compensation from the bloated-salary purge of three years ago were Royce Ring (from the White Sox for Robbie Alomar) and Victor Diaz (from the Dodgers for Burnitz II). Ironic, maybe, that on the night the Mets invest in Shawn Green, they demote Ring, who’s done nothing, and designate Diaz, who did one thing  long ago.
The old Mets, the pre-Minaya Mets, would have trotted Victor Diaz out there plenty more than these guys did. And this old Mets fan, I have to admit, would have pined for Victor Diaz based on that one thing he did long ago, that ninth-inning, game-tying homer he socked off LaTroy Hawkins to sink the Cubs while I sat in the loge on Yom Kippur 2004 (a day Shawn Green sat out  in California). Victor providing the spoiler was a beautiful thing, one of my favorite things in its era, but it was never followed up on consistently. Yet Victor Diaz, under previous management, would have ridden that tater to a starting assignment for a couple of years. If he didn’t hustle to first or after balls, he would have been given more chances regardless.
Victor Diaz is off the 40-man now. He’s part of the past, of when the Mets would leave the continued patrol of centerfield to Timo Perez instead of Carlos Beltran. When they depended on Pulsipher instead of Pedro. When they tried to trade David Wright instead of locking him up. When Braden Looper was a closer for us instead of a setup man for someone else. When a Byron Gainey was considered sufficient for a job best filled by a Carlos Delgado. When Evan MacLane was a matter of concern and Shawn Green was out of our price range. When fatal attraction wasn’t a Glenn Close DVD but the Mets’ relationship to their own shaky prospects. When extreme baseball was a side show, not the way this team plays from first pitch to last.
It’s the year 2006. I’ll take this future every time.