It happens almost every spring, or least by fall. We pick up the guy who’s widely identified for something besides what he has accomplished in the realm of baseball statistics and achievements. This isn’t a Central Casting  call per se, but rather the guy whose playing fame and whatever skills that has entailed is augmented, sometimes overshadowed, by his infamy, notoriety or slightly off-kilter triviality. What makes them stand out is less reputation than recitation. They’re known for something that they did or was done to or around them before they became Mets and you hear about it an awful lot upon their arrival. There always seem to be a few of those guys around, mixed in with the run-of-the-mill free-agent studs, utility infielders and such. Just by luck of the draw, one supposes every team gets its share. But it sure seems we’ve dipped into that pot fairly frequently over the past decade.
You know who I mean…
The guy whose father’s a sportswriter.
The guy who hardens his hands by not disturbing the plumbing.
The guy who didn’t catch what Steve Bartman shouldn’t have tried to (whoops…same guy).
The guy who played for his pop (Moises Alou — one-man curiosity sidebar).
The guy who was (was, apparently) the greatest Jewish ballplayer since Hank Greenberg.
The guy who was chased into a Spring Training clubhouse by Mike Piazza (though that may have been more our pet peeve than an issue for the industry at large).
The guy who named a Time after himself.
The guy who didn’t stand for “God Bless America”.
The guy who was really old even before he got here and became even older.
The guy who was born in Saigon.
The guy who kept the ball from the last out of the World Series and caught hell for it.
The guy whose wife wasn’t exactly camera-shy.
The guy who mixed it up with a Fenway Park groundskeeper while Don Zimmer attacked a Red Sox pitcher.
The guy, for that matter, who threw Don Zimmer to the ground in the same playoff game (in self-defense) and hoisted a midget on a regular basis (don’t know what that was).
The guy who was traded for Ken Griffey.
The guy who played for everybody…including us already.
The guy who spit at an umpire.
The guy who gave up the record-breaking homer to McGwire.
The guy who was a fashion model in Japan.
The guy whose manager kept a pair of his shoes on his desk so upset he was to have him traded away.
The guy who had been (had been) the first great Japanese pitcher.
The guy who brushed his teeth between innings before somebody told him it was bush.
The guy who wore a helmet in the field.
Some of ’em, like the helmet guy, work out quite nicely. Some of ’em, like the spitting guy, don’t. Others, like Vietnamese native Danny Graves and cantankerous ex-Skank Karim Garcia…I have to confess I’d all but forgotten they were ever here, and they weren’t here terribly long ago.
As for the latest crop of Mets with pasts that don’t show up in the box score, we’ll see if those imported anecdotes about Ross Newhan’s son — what, you hadn’t heard  a dozen times in the last month that David’s dad writes about baseball? — are embellished with actual production in a Mets uniform. If they are, then the “did you know Newhan’s father…?” stuff will fade in due order, as did Carlos Delgado’s stance outside the batter’s box and Pedro Martinez’s eccentric Bostonian past. Can’t do anything about Julio Franco’s age — he just keeps getting older. (So do we all, but he had a head start.)
If Newhan doesn’t succeed? We won’t much care if his spouse’s name is Anna or his maternal grandfather’s full name was Zeile Shinjo Rockefeller. All of the above is footnote stuff, more glaring in spring than in summer. Mets fans create their own histories about their guys, making the contents of their prefab backgrounds immensely irrelevant. After all…
The guy who, if he wasn’t startin’, wasn’t departin’ turned into our last-legged backup first baseman.
The guy who punched out his manager turned into our most dynamic player amid a dismally dark season.
The guy who was at loose enough ends to rate a biopic turned into our man who ran the bases backwards.
The rest of the baseball world may not remember Garry Templeton, Lenny Randle or Jimmy Piersall — to name three — for their Mets deeds, but we do. And that’s the identity that counts with us.
Sure hope Moises’ hands got good and hard by the time he left San Francisco, though. New York’s a soap-and-water kind of town. And we’re big believers in Flushing.