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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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If We Make It Through December

I know of a guy who’s got a lovely wife and a couple of fine kids. He was supposed to be on his way home to them, but he was in a pickle of a limbo of a quandary: Should I get on back to the missus and my children or should I go live with Heidi Klum? His family needed him and he needed his family, but Heidi Klum greatly appealed to him on a certain level.

Somewhere along the way, the guy noticed one little hitch. Heidi Klum hadn’t made him an offer. So he stuck with the wife and kids.

Not to insinuate the Atlanta Braves are the supermodel of the National League East (not anymore they’re not), but geez that’s what Tom Glavine reminded me of the last few weeks. “Mets or Braves? Braves or Mets? With whom should I sign?”

Uh, Tom? Choose the Mets…they’re the only ones who are choosing you.

So it’s come to pass that Tom Glavine weighed the offers between the Mets — a ton of money and every detail, save geography, the way he wanted it — and the Braves — no contract whatsoever — and figured out he should remain a Met.

Everybody says Tom Glavine’s a real smart cookie. I have to agree. He signed with the only team that showed any inclination to sign him. Way to go, professor.

No hard feelings for the delay. Seriously. I never understand why fans and media get sore at players for taking their time. If I was sorting out offers (or in Tom’s case, offer), I wouldn’t want to be rushed to a decision just to rescue a bored public from another day of Michael Strahan vs. Plaxico Burress vs. ESPN. Glavine said he’d let the Mets know before the Winter Meetings and he did. Good. Glad to know we have at least one future Hall of Famer’s services to bank on from the start in ’07.

And that the Glavines won’t go hungry, wherever they live.

***

The next move is toward Barry Zito. Not a bad idea, I suppose. The enthusiasm is a bit lacking here partly because there will be an inevitable breaking-in period (there always is) and a staff of Glavine, Duque and Zito means fewer starts for the young’uns. Of course Zito’s not so old and Duque’s not impervious to overall body soreness or whatever it was that befell him last August. I know it is assumed American League pitchers transfer to the National League and throw three shutouts a week — because with Pujols, Howard, Berkman, Soriano, et al batting, there is no offense of which to speak in these parts. But has Zito been setting the A.L. on fire since his ’02 Cy Young? Not really. He’s better than what we had for much of last year, but I wouldn’t be totally opposed to seeing Perez and Maine and Pelfrey, to name three, get the ball a lot next year and watch the chips pile up or fall where they may.

I place the current Zito bakeoff in the same box as the pursuit of Wagner last winter. If we get the prize pitcher, great. If we don’t bag him, we do have options. Maybe I’m just cushioning myself for the potential blow of not winning him. I’m almost curious to see what Omar will whip up in case the Trib (or whoever owns the Cubs next) decides to write more and bigger checks.

***

I love a splashy free agent signing as much as the next Mets fan, but in the spirit of milestone anniversaries, I’m more than a little bit haunted by Decembers past, particularly those of five and fifteen years ago. You remember December 2001, don’t you? We signed everybody who was signable and traded for everybody who wasn’t tradeable to anybody else. In this, the era of good feeling, I shudder to mention the names (Alomar, Vaughn…) that we all thought were going to turn 2002 into chicken salad. Likewise, there was a stretch back there in December 1991 when we were on top of the world. More eventual unmentionables (Bonilla, Saberhagen…) were stalked and savored by our front office. It all seemed so promising.

Yeah, December isn’t the kindest month in Mets history. Staying on the milestone-anniversary track, twenty years ago this month, we traded Kevin Mitchell and showed the door to Ray Knight. Thirty-five years ago, we traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.

We traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.

It hasn’t been all bad. The Mets’ very first December, 1961, yielded the Mets’ very first All-Star, Richie Ashburn. Future world champion Don Cardwell arrived in December 1966. Ten years ago, quiet transactions yielded mum John Olerud and loud Todd Pratt.

We traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.

***

Past isn’t necessarily prologue, but December is my most ambivalent month. I was born in December. It’s my look-back-in-reflection time. It’s also when I’ve found myself as often as not wishing to run out the clock and get this year, whatever the year, behind me because of whatever disappointments arose between January and November. Next year…next year.

Given our prevailing baseball winds, I’m reluctant to turn the page, let alone replace one Bill Goff calendar with another. I love the 2006 Mets even if they don’t quite exist anymore, not without Chad Bradford (three years?). After having luxuriated in the way we built a 97-65 record, we’ll be 0-0 in four months, which kind of sucks when you got used to being way ahead of four other teams for six months. 2006 was the first year when I could and would spout snide about the Atlanta Braves again and again without repercussion. I don’t want to not be able to do that, y’know?

***

You’re smart and you’re funny, you have a great attitude. You do everything on your own terms. You’re, like, from a cooler world.

—Tom breaking up with Jane on Daria

One item that makes this December different from others in recent memory is a change to the arbitration rules. In past Decembers, those Mets not offered arbitration by midnight last night were good as gone. The governing clauses have grown arcane but the newly printed bottom line is you can still negotiate with your free agents to whom you don’t offer arbitration. Doesn’t mean you’re going to sign them. It just means you can.

If you haven’t, though, it’s presumably a kissoff for the immediate future. The Mets have opted to offer arbitration to Guillermo Mota (curious — won’t be back for 50 games plus not likely to be welcomed warmly…unless he’s really good) and Roberto Hernandez (futile — he’s allegedly all but gone to the Indians, but at least we receive a draft pick). The Mets did not offer arbitration to Chris Woodward or Darren Oliver or Steve Trachsel, three players whose past contributions and liabilities will probably be approximated by similar 2007 models to be named.

To no one’s surprise, Cliff Floyd also went wanting for an arbitration offer. His contributions have been immeasurable, and when he signs elsewhere as is universally expected, we will miss him more than we can possibly realize.

Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.

—Jules Winnfield, citing Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction

In a warmer world, Cliff Floyd remains a Met because he should. He doesn’t start in front of Moises Alou, but something is figured out. He’s a latter-day Joe Orsulak as a fourth outfielder or some variation of Rusty Staub as a pinch-hitter deluxe. He reacquaints himself with first base. He takes fly balls in right just in case. He signs an incentive-packed pact. He heals like he did two years ago when Willie Randolph famously “challenged” him to stay in the lineup. Less pressure, less money, some room to grow into the role of elder statesman slugger with portfolio.

We’ve got elders and statesmen to burn and we have sluggers, too, but if you don’t have Cliff Floyd on the Mets, you don’t have Cliff Floyd on the Mets. It’s hard to imagine a very good team gets better by subtracting him. But a very good team will attempt to do just that.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Guys who are a great fit on a team don’t fit into that team’s plans. Cliff may or may not get healthy. He may find a spot somewhere that will allow him some flexibility to recover to everyday status. He may happily revert to the 2005 Monsta version of himself and make the Mets look shortsighted in letting him go. He may nurture some one-slugger-short squad right past the Mets. Or Floyd ’07 resembles Floyd ’06 and our Alou-enhanced lineup won’t miss a beat without him.

Either way, it’s neither a warm enough world or a cool enough world, certainly not in the cool-as-Cliff sense.

Cliff Floyd shepherded several of our Mets through the valley of darkness.

Cliff Floyd has been his brother’s keeper.

Cliff Floyd’s wallet is the one that says Bad Motherfucker on it.

Cliff Floyd won’t be a Met next year.

It’s December.

It’s a damn cold night.

24 comments to If We Make It Through December

  • Anonymous

    Hang in there, partner — the holidays have their own momentum, which means it'll soon be January. And while even December 30 seems an eternity away from February (a whole diff'rent year!), January 2 seems awfully close to it.
    Re Cliff, it goes without saying that I'll miss him, but I doubt he could be a part-timer. I'm not smart enough to find his career pinch-hitting stats, but I bet they're grim. Time to move on, but he sure as hell better get a standing O when he returns to Shea. At least his return is one of my can't-miss dates on the calendar.
    Re Zito, Ted Lilly's left-handed, just two years older, and 49-44 since '02 compared with Zito's 55-46 mark. And he'll probably be a heckuva lot cheaper — if any free agent in this year's class can be said to be cheap. I've got nothing against Zito, but I hope the Mets don't treat him like the only entree on the menu.

  • Anonymous

    Cliff Floyd, 15 regular-season pinch-hitting at-bats as a Met, 2003 to 2006:
    0 for 15.
    So, yeah, maybe — even with his 34th birthday coming Tuesday — that's not a career path he is quite suited for just yet.
    Kind of makes that decision to send him up in Game Seven a little suspect, too.

  • Anonymous

    True. Although, I'm not sure anyone could have done anything with that curve Wainright threw to Cliff. It was “wicked nasty,” in the words of my roommate.

  • Anonymous

    floyd's departure is not going to be easy to explain to my son. heck, it's not that easy for me to accept. i can understand it, in the way a clinician can understand a diagnosis, but…
    and letting darren oliver go is not a genius move either.
    sigh.

  • Anonymous

    Ha. I said to a friend the other day that Glavine's “can't decide if I want to stay with the Mets or return to the Braves” was like telling your boyfriend that your relationship is on hold until you can decide between him and George Clooney. Then he “opted against” returning to the Braves. Yeah, and I opted against going out with George Clooney last night. Tonight I opted against winning the Lotto.
    As for Roberto Hernandez going to the Indians, I really needed more ammo against that stupid f'ing trade of Xavier Nady, didn't I? Sorry, Omar… the whole ludicrous incident has to go firmly under the heading of WHAT THE **** WERE YOU THINKING??? I put it there on July 31st. One good Oliver Perez start notwithstanding.
    And Cliff kicked one of our Mets while he was down, and reeling in the valley of darkness. Personally that's still an issue for me. Thank God for Pedro, who truly was his brother's keeper. But all that aside, best of luck to Cliff, wherever he may land. Let's hope it's not the Bronx.

  • Anonymous

    It's the All Star break of 1998. I'm fifteen, and I'm with my sleepaway camp on a trip to Cooperstown. Me and my friend are staring at Mickey Mantle's shoes or something, trying to manufacure a sense of awe in ourselves.
    “Holy shit,” I say. “Isn't that Cliff Floyd?”
    “Who?”
    “Cliff Floyd. The Marlin's outfielder. Over there, looking at Babe Ruth's bat. He's really good.”
    And yes, that is Cliff Floyd, gazing with misty-eyed reverence at the Sultan's Swatter. And I stare at him for three reasons: (1) he's a major leaguer, duh, (2) this dude is freaking HUGE and (3) his wife is pretty hot. I try to be subtle, but I am terrible at being subtle. We make eye contact. And then something wonderful happens.
    “Hey man, would you come over here for a second?”
    AMAJORLEAGUEBASEBALLPLAYERISTALKINGTOME!!! AAAAHHH!!!
    “You mind taking a picture of us?”
    There are no words, so I just nod. He hands me his camera, and poses with his wife in front of the bat, flashing those pearly whites. My mind is racing, flashing forward to years later, and Cliff is showing someone around his rumpus room, saying “This is me with Babe Ruth's bat… there was very nice young man who took this picture for us.” I snap the shot and hand the camera back, smiling gleefully.
    “Thanks, buddy,” he says. “Sure, Cliff,” I reply, emboldened into first-name basis by his announcement that I am his buddy. Then he notices my cap.
    “Mets fan, huh?”
    “Yeah,” I say. “Maybe if you ever leave the Marlins you can come play for us.”
    He laughs. “I'll see what I can do.”
    There are really three morals to this story.
    (1) Me and Cliff Floyd are basically best friends.
    (2) He became a Met because I told him to, so you're welcome.
    (3) I'm really gonna miss the guy.
    Bye bye, buddy.

  • Anonymous

    Cut this man a commission check. Nice scouting!
    (FYI, this ranks right up there with CharlieH's Del Unser story.)

  • Anonymous

    If I recall, the kid's three favorite players as of Summer 2005 were Floyd, Cameron and Piazza.
    Hang in there, son.

  • Anonymous

    Adam Wainwright better become the next Bruce Sutter. I don't want to look back and try to comprehend how some fly-by-night rookie who never amounted to anything after his brief moment in the spotlight squirmed out of that ninth inning unscathed.

  • Anonymous

    My old-man memory is failing — which Met did Cliff kick while he was down?

  • Anonymous

    Victor Zambrano?

  • Anonymous

    To approximate quoting Greg, “Laurie's loyal to who Laurie's loyal to.”

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Greg. :)
    Though it's hard to compete with any story that features speculation as to the size and color of Willie Mays' genitalia…

  • Anonymous

    Try saying that three times fast…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg.
    What's wrong with December? It's a great month that has played an integral part leading to our two only world championships.
    On December 15, 1967, we traded Jack Fischer and Tommy Davis to the Chicago White Sox for Tommie Agee and Al Weiss – we would never have had our 1969 miracle without them! On December 10, 1984, we traded Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, etc. to the Montreal Expos for somebody named Carter. Do not want to think of the Kid's bat not being sandwiched inbetween Hernandez and Strawberry.
    So forget about the Fregosis, Vaughans, Alomars and others and rejoice in the knowledge that December has been a monumental month for our Met team. These two trades alone make a month to remember!

  • Anonymous

    It's hard enough typing/reading it.

  • Anonymous

    Beltran was definitely December. And LoDuca?

  • Anonymous

    Well done, Joshua!
    Cliff really did have a good dynamic with the fans. When he was rehabbing in Brooklyn he made sure he signed every last ball and baseball card that a kid (and i use that term loosely) put in front of him. He's quite a sight next to all those scrawny little A-ball players, I can tell you. And wouldn't you know it, he was chatting away with that Monsta Cliff smile on his face.
    'Course, it didn't have the raw wattage of Cameron's smile, but man, that thing was dangerous.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Joe,
    I was just going for the five years ago, ten years ago, et al Decembers for random sampling purposes and my own half-decade and decade mania.
    Of course Decembers have yielded some fine pickups like those you mentioned…and also the Amos Otis for Joe Foy fiasco and Rusty Staub for Mickey Lolich lollapalooza. It probably all comes out in the laundry as they say.
    Z, Lo Duca was Lo December. So was Pedro. Beltran seeped into January.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    And this month marks the 30th anniversary of the trade for Tommie Agee and Al Weiss – which fits into your five and ten year cycles. Happen to remember a picture of Gil Hodges playing the drums appearing the next day in the back of the “New York Post”. Paraphrasing the caption, it asked “Is Gil Hodges beating the drums for getting Tommie Agee or for losing Tommy Davis?”. I think we all know the answer. And Agee never forgot how Hodges stuck with him throughout his disasterous 1968 season.
    And what of Al Weiss? His first homer in 1969 came in a crucial series against the Cubs on a hot Wednesday afternoon late July at Wrigley (J.C. Martin lost 20 pounds catching one of those games). And when “mighty might” hit his 7th inning home run in game 5, remember Brooks Robinson's reaction? His head slumped down in despare knowing the series was over even though the game had only been tied (with the Agee and Swoboda catches, the Martin bunt, the shoe polish, etc. with Weiss sending it over the fence, he knew it was only a matter of time).
    I know none of this is new to Met fans, but these memories sure warm the heart on this, the coldest day of the winter season so far.

  • Anonymous

    40th anniversary, no?
    30 years ago, the Mets were deciding how the future might look with Pepe Mangual and Bruce Boisclair.

  • Anonymous

    You're right, 40 years, not 30. But if I'm old enough to have seen the 1962 Mets in the Polo Grounds, then I guess I'm also old enough to start forgetting how to add and subtract LOL.
    And 30 years ago not only were the Mets deciding how the future might look with Pepe Mangual, Bruce Boisclair, etc., they were also wondering how Shea would look with 40,000 empty seats. So if we're re-naming portions of the surrounding area how about dedicating a manhole cover to M. Donald Grant?

  • Anonymous

    Joe, you're slightly ahead of the curve. Agee and Weis were December '67. As much as we want the 2007 season to get here soon, it's still December '06. Their trade was 39 years ago this month, a perfectly fine number, but one at odds with my fealty to base ten mathematics.

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    You guys are really getting me scared now – this was the second correction of my math in a row. Just hope I'm not starting to lose some of my facilities (losing Shea is enough).
    I do know that it was indeed 40 years ago today (December 6, 1966) that we traded Dennis Ribant and Gary Kolb to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Don Bosch and Don Cardwell. The “can't miss” prospect went on to become a truck driver while the old guy who was just a throw-in went on to become an important veteran influence for a young and prosperous pitching staff.