Tonight the Mets will kick off the remaining 75/162th of the season at Shea, against the Cincinnati Reds. Bronson Arroyo will face Orlando Hernandez. Lastings Milledge may be patrolling left.
If I close my eyes I can imagine what Lastings' face will look like between his cap and the top of his jersey — a little bit of bravado, a little bit of uncertainty. I can easily picture El Duque's chin tucked against his shoulder as his knee scrapes the sky. Whatever role he's in, I can picture Rickey Henderson laughing in the dugout, still looking like he can play. (And telling anyone passing by the same.) I can see Jose regarding the pitcher with his mouth slightly open as his bat moves lazily back and forth. I can conjure up Wright rubbing his nose in his jersey and giving his head a little shake as he regards his bat. It's easy to think of Lo Duca squinting out at the pitcher, already vaguely annoyed about something. I can visualize Delgado's smooth, deceptively placid practice swings. Give me a minute and … yep, I've got Beltran looking still and imperturbable at bat. I can smile at how Shawn Green's always all elbows and knees. I can shake my head predicting that Jose Valentin's batting helmet will fold down the top of his ear. (Doesn't that hurt?)
I can see all these little quirks that you pick up over weeks and months and years of watching the players on your team through innumerable at-bats and defensive positionings and moments collecting themselves outside the batter's box. But there's one thing I can't see with any kind of accuracy, no matter how hard I try.
I have no idea what the Mets will be wearing tonight.
Black unis? White uniforms? Pinstripes? Black caps? Black and blue hats? The all-blues?
Kind of scrambles those mental images a bit, doesn't it?
It's been a long time since the Mets added a bushel of new variations to the uniform that had been good enough, names on the back and numbers on the front and racing stripes and a tail and drop shadows and an orange button notwithstanding, to wear since 1962. I'm not against change — if anything, I err on the side of rushing it in before it's quite ready. By now I'm used to the black uniforms, added in 1998, and the white ones, introduced the year before. (Though not to that wretched black cap with the blue bill, which needs to join the ice-cream cap and the METS with a tail in the dustbin of sartorial Met history.) What I am against is the sheer randomness of the Mets' uniforms, the way they take the field wearing this one or that one or the other one without apparent rhyme or reason. (See here for a history of Mets uniforms from Ultimate Mets Database.)
Howie Rose paints the word picture ably, just as Bob Murphy did, or Gary Cohen before SNY came calling. But no matter how good Howie is, there's a moment early on in his broadcast when I'm thrown out of the whole proceedings. And that's when Howie (or Tom McCarthy) describes “the Mets wearing their [insert one of many uniforms here].” In baseball, painting the word picture is about one-third keen observation and two-thirds summoning up, through time-honored shorthand, what the listener is already picturing in his or her head. When Howie has to stop and tell me what uniform my favorite team is wearing, the whole facade teeters for a moment. My recalibrating my mental images to show the correct uniform is the like being at the theater and noticing the backdrop's just painted and you can see hands tugging on cables in the rafters, and then having to yank your attention back to the story.
It's a uniform, for Pete's sake. The very word means it's supposed to be the same. Or at least predictable. What the Mets have now is a … there isn't really a word for it. A cacophon? A cluster … oh, let's just say it's a mess is what it is.
It doesn't have to be this way. Allow me, if you will, a modest proposal. And it is truly modest — it doesn't excise uniform variations (well, except for those stupid black and blue hats) or demand things be the same as they were in 1965 or 1986. It shouldn't endanger the slightest percentage of revenue from merchandising. It merely seeks to restore a certain sanity to what should never have become so complicated in the first place.
Here they are, the proposed uniform rules for your New York Mets:
Home night games: Pinstripes and blue caps.
Home day games: White uniforms and blue caps.
Weekend night games and holiday games: Black home uniforms and black caps.
Road night games: Gray uniforms and blue caps. (Or black. Monochromatic on the road works for me. But pick one.)
Road day games and holidays: Black road uniforms and black caps.
It may not be perfect. But it restores the traditional uniforms to what I see as their rightful role. They'd once again be the norm, while allowing plenty of chances to cash in on the current mania for variations that's infected clubs with lineages far older than ours. (Those red Braves uniforms, my God.)
Exceptions would be allowed. If the team wins five in a row and the players aren't inclined to mess with a winning streak, every fan would understand. If Pedro's convinced the black unis will end a five-game skid, listen to the man. And building on this foundation would let unique days feel actually unique, instead of just like an additional throw of the equipment-manager dice. Negro League uniforms are always cool. Wearing the various agencies' caps on September 11th makes for a quietly moving tribute. Break out the '86 unis every September 17th. And why stop there? Stars-and-stripes uniforms for the Fourth of July (the Binghamton Mets did it), camo togs for Memorial Day, pink unis instead of just bats for Mother's Day — I could live with all of that, if only the rest of the year were predictable. What If? nights with the Mets wearing concept designs for the Meadowlarks, Burros, Continentals, Skyliners and what-not. Heck, have “The Natural” night with the Mets in the yellow-and-white uniforms of the New York Knights — I just made that one up. I could even hoot cheerfully at the return of the Mercury Mets, as long as the leadoff hitter isn't given a third eye.
On second thought, that last one's too much.