We’ve been asking ourselves a lot lately, in light of everything that’s happened these last few months, why we remain fans of this team. We’ve been philosophical, we’ve been frustrated, we’ve been puzzled.
Well, enough of that. Here are the tangible totems of our Met fandom as delivered through the exercise we called March Metness. First run over several weekends during Spring Training to help fill the hours between meaningless exhibition games, March Metness set out to determine the quintessential Mets thing. In doing so, we had the opportunity to explore 64 separate contenders for the crown. A few of them were of the unhappy variety, but the mere mention of most brought and should still bring a smile to the face of any Mets fan.
With the holidays at hand, I thought we could all use a few dozen reminders of why we remain so attached to this team of ours. Hence, for the first time, the entire March Metness tournament will be replayed in one hopefully riveting sitting starting…now.
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs Mercury Mets (16)
Let’s Go Mets was loud and strong from the start. It need only have cleared its throat. Mercury Mets thought the game took place in the future. Should there be a rematch in 2021, they’ll be ready. But not yet. Let’s Go Mets gave its fans everything to cheer about in a romp.
Sidd Finch (8) vs Mojo Risin’ (9)
Finch’s 168-MPH fastball had the ’99 Mets rallying cry in a slump right there toward the end, but George Plimpton’s creation proved a paper lion once Mojo rose for good. Mojo Risin’ takes on top-seeded Let’s Go Mets on Saturday.
Jane Jarvis (5) vs It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (12)
As Yogi started sizing up the chances of his 1973 prognostication, he started to lose his way. And when Jane Jarvis tickled the Thomas Organ for a spry version of “The Mexican Hat Dance,” it was over.
Black Cat (4) vs Mike Vail (13)
The famous feline who spooked the ’69 Cubs into definitive freefall was a heavy favorite to take on the ultimate flash in the Met pan. But Vail hit his first 23 shots and the black cat got distracted and traded Rusty Staub. Those who had the four-legged creature going far in their brackets should have known better than to trust one of those damn things. Vail, the first upset winner in the 2007 March Metness tournament, will try to maintain his momentum against Jane Jarvis next.
The 7 Train (1) vs Cliffdweller (16)
Wes Westrum muttering about the latest one-run loss did not go over well, not with the 7 Train rumbling past. “Ohmigod, wasn’t that awful?” he commented before giving way to Salty Parker to finish the first-round defeat.
K Korner (8) vs In Ten Years… (9)
Dwight Gooden’s loyalists were looking good for the long-term, waving their strikeout signs in 1985. However, Casey Stengel’s pronouncement that, much like Greg Goossen, Doc was 20 and in ten years had a chance to be 30 proved to be prescient. Gooden was suspended from baseball for all of 1995. In Ten Years… waits only ’til the weekend for a showdown with the 7 Train.
Outta Here! (5) vs Basement Bertha (12)
Gary Cohen’s home run call is sure and true. Bill Gallo’s Met-loving character has seen better days. Many of them. She’s OUTTA HERE! The O.H. advances.
Grand Slam Single (4) vs Bleach (13)
Was there anything worse in the fetid summer of 1993 than Vince Coleman exploding firecrackers in a little girl’s direction in the Dodger Stadium parking lot while Bobby Bonilla cackled nearby? Probably not, but it was the appearance of a child’s toy water rifle filled with Clorox and directed at reporters by Bret Saberhagen that seemed to push the ’93 Mets clearly over the top as one of the worst assemblages of baseball-playing human beings ever. Or under the bottom, if you like. This representative misdeed from that dread-soaked season was seen as an upset candidate given what it had in common with the Grand Slam Single, namely that both the 1993 Mets and Robin Ventura quit running before they were supposed to. But in Ventura’s case, it was charming. Grand Slam Single shows down with its flagship voice Saturday for the right to go to the Rick Sweet 16.
Shoe Polish Ball (6) vs Cow-Bell Man (11)
Not only did Gil Hodges come out of the dugout to convince umpire Lou DiMuro of the righteousness of his protest that Dave McNally’s pitch indeed glanced off Cleon Jones’ shoe, but he was able to have the Cow-Bell Man sit down for an entire inning, thus allowing patrons in the mezzanine to enjoy part of a game unimpeded by his self-styled cheerleading. Shoe Polish Ball rolls on in unhyphenated fashion.
The Franchise (3) vs Lazy Mary (14)
A potential singalong showdown was short-circuited when the best nickname in Mets history stepped out of the dugout and waved its cap to an adoring throng in the seventh-inning stretch, The Franchise making everybody forget about Lazy Mary before the lyrics went from Italian to English. Tom Seaver’s grandest and most appropriate identity tangles Saturday with the Shoe Polish Ball.
Baseball Like It Oughta Be (7) vs The Worst Team Money Could Buy (10)
The Mets’ most forceful slogan was determined to outlast the chronicle of their most shameful season. All the money in the world can’t buy what oughta be. It couldn’t even buy 71 wins. Bob Klapisch and John Harper wrote a helluva book, but they go down to an ad man’s brevity.
Meet The Mets (2) vs 40-120 (15)
When the world met the Mets, they posted the worst yet most memorable record in team history. It still stands. As does another memorable record, no matter how often it is desecrated by new versions. Sadly, you can only meet the 1962 Mets for so long before the .250 winning percentage gets to you. Playing to a 40-120 level got the ’62 club eliminated in August. Meet The Mets plays on against Baseball Like It Oughta Be come Saturday.
Kahn’s Hot Dogs (6) vs Jack Lang (11)
The quintessential Shea Stadium food item versus the quintessential Mets beat writer. Mr. Lang passed away earlier this year, but even if this original Met scribe were still pounding out those ledes, it would cost less to buy his paper than it would to buy a hot dog at Shea. Kahn’s already lost the concession to Nathan’s. Now it loses to Lang.
Kiner’s Korner (3) vs Tomatoes In The Bullpen (14)
Two venerable stalwarts of the Shea scene in the spotlight here. The tomatoes grew for many years over the right field fence under the loving care of bullpen coach Joe Pignatano. Kiner, meanwhile, became famous for what he did under the stadium after the game. The tomatoes continued to blossom even as Ralph’s show faded from view. But then Kiner’s Korner returned for a couple of campaigns. The tomatoes haven’t been seen lately. But Ralph has. It was surprisingly close for a 3-vs-14 contest, but Kiner’s Korner proved the slightly hardier perennial. It will be Jack Lang and Kiner’s Korner in a Saturday faceoff. The winner will interview the star of the game.
The Odd Couple (7) vs Jimmy Qualls (10)
Oscar Madison covered Mets games and wore Mets caps in the movies and on television. In between, Jimmy Qualls broke Mets hearts. Madison missed a triple play. Qualls made Tom Seaver miss a perfect game. He is a symbol of the no-hitter that got away, the holiest of holy grails in all of Metsdom. The Odd Couple series was as New York as it got in the 1970s, but alas, it — unlike its cinematic forebear — was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage. Qualls, ironically, does what ’69 Cub Antichrist The Black Cat couldn’t: survive and advance.
Buckner (2) vs Dairylea (15)
There was time when clipping coupons off of Dairylea milk cartons could earn you free passes for the Mets. Bill Buckner, however, provided the ultimate get out of jail card for the Mets. Thus, it’s a battle of ex-Cubs, Buckner and Qualls, on Saturday, albeit partially by way of Boston gray.
The Ball Off The Wall (6) vs Ten-Run Inning (11)
Ten-Run Inning (’00) was feeling confident. It had just tied the game and Mike Piazza was coming up with the promise of a laser-beam home run to left. However, Mike wasn’t facing Terry Mulholland. He was facing the most pixie-dusted defensive play in regular-season Mets history. Alas, Piazza’s shot hit, yup, the top of the wall and bounded straight into Jones’ glove. He relayed it to Garrett who relayed it to Hodges who put the tag and on the signature big inning Mets history.
Banner Day (3) vs Say Goodbye To America (14)
Willie Mays gave the most memorable speech in Mets history, uttering one of the greatest retirement lines by any baseball player at any time. But Willie could have orated, driven in the crucial run in Game Five of the ’73 NLCS, flown to Oakland and actually caught a couple of balls in the time it took any Banner Day parade — even one from the really sad years — to complete its trek around the track. The perfect expression of fan devotion outlasts the perfect expression of farewell and takes its placards to the next round against The Ball Off The Wall.
Marvelous Marv (7) vs Al Lang (10)
The Mets shared Al Lang (Field, then Stadium) with the Cardinals for the first 26 springs of their existence. Marv Throneberry spent time as property of the Orioles, the Athletics and the Yankees. But the ultimate cult Met belonged to nobody but us. The Mets ditched Al Lang for the wilderness of Florida’s east coast. Nobody has ever replaced Marvelous Marv in Met lore. Throneberry’s a winner.
Rheingold The Dry Beer (2) vs Generation K (15)
Longtime and quintessential Mets sponsor Rheingold offered the 10 Minute Head…or a foam that lasted longer than Izzy, Pulse and Paul lasted as a unit. The ultimate Met disappointment is flattened by the ultimate Met beverage. Come Sunday, it’s beer versus Marv in a battle of classic Met four-letter words.
Who Let The Dogs Out? (6) vs Mettle The Mule (11)
In an all-animal act, the De Roulet daughters made an ass of themselves, unveiling the most unlikely mascot in the history of the Mets. But at this, arguably the organization’s lowest moment, a mule named Mettle was just what the doctor ordered…assuming the 1979 Mets weren’t too cheap to pay a doctor. The fight song of the 2000 National League champions absorbs the upset after ill-advisedly slowing into a trot.
Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (3) vs Scioscia (14)
Mike Scioscia’s ninth-inning home run continues to represent the worst letdown in Mets history. But losing the 1988 NLCS was cake next to the 1962 season as chronicled by Jimmy Breslin. The sometimes stubborn columnist’s timeless work bears down against the legendarily stubborn mule Mettle on Sunday.
Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7) vs LaGuardia (10)
Planes taking off and landing at a major air transportation hub doesn’t make for the best accompaniment to a baseball game, but it is a signature sound of Shea and will probably be so at Citi, too. The jets makes opposing batters step out of the box. But Jose Reyes and his very own sing-song chant unnerves opposing pitchers. Is there a flight that lands at LaGuardia as fast as Jose rounded the bases in 2006? Nope. Jose took off and was never topped.
Home Run Apple (2) vs Bill Shea’s Floral Horseshoe (15)
No surer sign of a new season than Bill Shea or, since his 1991 passing, his family members showing up at their eponymous stadium with the good luck arrangement. Every manager who’s managed Opening Day since 1964 has been greeted with this simplest of gestures. It’s great for the florist business, too. Home Run Apple, on the other hand, once misplaced its leaf. And it sits at the outer edge of a horseshoe-shaped ballpark named Shea. There’s just too much karma to mess with Bill. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our biggest upset of the tournament to date. Bill Shea’s Floral Horseshoe topples Home Run Apple and will run up against Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! on Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
The Happy Recap (1) vs Michael Sergio (16)
Michael Sergio parachuted into Shea Stadium before Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Several hours later, Bob Murphy was delivering the happiest Happy Recap imaginable. Sergio is quintessential Mets trivia. The Happy Recap is quintessential Mets. No contest.
Diamond Club (8) vs John Rocker (9)
Elitist Mets insitution taking on anti-Mets buffoon. Elitism has no place at Shea Stadium. Buffoonery, even the vilest kind, is a baseball tradition. If it’s a choice of having somebody looking down their nose at you versus having somebody to look down your nose upon…Rocker takes this one. The buffoon figures to be a vast underdog to Murph in their Sunday clash.
The Sign Man (5) vs Revised Yearbook (12)
Two prime outlets for information at Shea go head to head. Karl Ehrhardt hoists the message “There Are No Words”. But Lindsey Nelson reminds us our baseball library won’t be complete without the revised edition of our 1976 yearbook which is full of great new pictures and words. Who’s going to argue with Lindsey Nelson? Revised Yearbook upsets The Sign Man.
Seinfeld (4) vs Yo La Tengo (13)
Forty-four years later, it still may be the best anecdote in Mets history, the story of how Richie Ashburn learned to yell “I Got It!” in Spanish in order to call of Elio Chacon, only to have monolingual Frank Thomas not understand him and run him over. It sounds like a plot out of Seinfeld, the television show with more and truer Met plotlines than any other. Ashburn’s in the Hall of Fame, but Keith Hernandez is Keith Hernandez. Seinfeld in a close one. Next stop: Revised Yearbook.
Mr. Met (1) vs Wednesday Night Massacre (16)
Mets fans everywhere grimaced when M. Donald Grant traded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman on June 15, 1977. But Mr. Met just kept on smiling. You think one lousy night is going to get to the quintessential team symbol? Mr. Met keeps his smile pasted on.
Mayor Lindsay (8) vs Serval Zipper (9)
John Lindsay had a topsy-turvy 1969. After a massive snowstorm crippled Queens that February, the Manhattan-minded mayor was slow to get the easternmost borough of New York City dug out. But he was sure fast to find his way to Flushing to have his picture taken celebrating with the champions of the National League East, the National League and, finally the world. It’s said that association with New York’s baseball finest got him re-elected, making Mayor Lindsay the quintessential Met-glomming politician. Just over Shea Stadium’s left field fence, the Serval Zipper sign — the ultimate Met neighborhood landmark — was just thawing out from Lindsay’s neglect. Politicians have to pay the price for dissing Queens eventually. Serval unzips Hizzoner and looks to button up Mr. Met on Sunday.
Pete Rose (5) vs Ed Sudol (12)
No opposing player wore the mantle of Met Villain as long and as hard as Peter Edward Rose, not after his infamous brawl with Buddy Harrelson in the 1973 playoffs. No umpire wore the chest protector as long around the Mets as Ed Sudol, at least not in any given games. Sudol called balls and strikes and kept calling them in the Mets’ 23-, 24- and 25-inning losses in 1964, 1968 and 1974, respectively. In a test of endurance, just about every Mets fan still hates Pete Rose. Even Sudol — officiating left field after Rose trotted out to his position in Game Three — couldn’t eject that emotion. Rose fancies himself a winner, and in this case he’s correct.
1964 World’s Fair (4) vs Called Strike Three (13)
Of the countless third strikes taken by Mets batters in the franchise’s first 45 seasons, one looms over the rest: the very last one. Called Strike Three ended the 2006 National League Championship Series in a most unsatisfying fashion. In the mind’s eye, Carlos Beltran is still standing and looking at Adam Wainwright’s ungodly breaking pitch. The 1964 World’s Fair, which will forever be linked with Shea in the way Beltran and Wainwright are glued together…well, it was more fun than that. And baseball’s supposed to be fun. Fun carries the day here. We’ll see if Peace Through Understanding has any effect on the rambunctious Rose in their Sunday matchup.
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs Mojo Risin’ (9)
Did you know “Mr. Mojo Risin’,” the mystical refrain from the Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” is a perfect anagram for Jim Morrison? Did you know that Robin Ventura intuitively knew it would provide the backbeat for perhaps the craziest September and October in Mets history? Do you remember the bass accompanying Todd Pratt’s trip around the bases once it could be ascertained that Steve Finley caught nothing but air to end the 1999 National League Division Series? There’s never been a less sensical yet simultaneously more appropriate theme for any Mets’ pennant drive. It was “You Gotta Believe” without actually spelling it out. Mojo Risin’ belongs to the dying and resurrecting days of the last Mets season of the last century, a magnificently momentous stretch by any measure. But Let’s Go Mets is eternal. Eternity beats back the Risin’ challenge.
Jane Jarvis (5) vs Mike Vail (13)
Vail is the Cinderella of the Miracle region, ironically going up against the only lady in the March Metness tournament. Mike made it this far based on both the electrifying 23-game hitting streak he put together shortly after his August 1975 elevation to the big leagues and his resounding lack of followup. He earned a starting role for ’76 after his strong debut, but sabotaged himself by breaking a foot playing offseason basketball. Not that basketball has anything to do with March Metness, but let’s just say flashing in the pan will only get you so far. Ms. Jarvis can pound out a triumphant charge as she heads to the next round against the formidable Let’s Go Mets.
The 7 Train (1) vs In Ten Years… (9)
It is not widely known whether Casey Stengel ever opted to take the Times Square-bound IRT after skippering one of his team’s many home losses in 1964 and 1965. If he did, it’s not out of the question that he might have had to have waited an unacceptable amount of time for the next train. And if we accept that premise, Casey may have turned his wit on the New York City subway system and remarked to a companion, “In ten years, one of my Youth of America has a chance to be a star…or sooner than this damn hell-train will commence to arriving.” For a legend whose managerial career ended on a broken hip sustained while getting out of an automobile, perhaps he should have been more patient and used mass transit. In any event, The 7 Train has been synonymous with ferrying Mets fans to Casey Stengel Plaza for well over ten years. It wins. You could look it up.
Outta Here! (5) vs Grand Slam Single (4)
The signature phrase of the most skilled announcer in modern-day Mets history was applied to the signature postseason swing of modern-day Mets history. This is what Gary Cohen had to say about what Robin Ventura did on October 17, 1999: Ventura is waiting. McGlinchy staring in has his signs. The two-one pitch…A DRIVE IN THE AIR TO DEEP RIGHT FIELD! THAT BALL HEADED TOWARD THE WALL…THAT BALL IS…OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE! A GAME-WINNING GRAND SLAM HOME RUN OFF THE BAT OF ROBIN VENTURA! Ventura with a grand slam! They’re mobbing him before he can get to second base! The Mets have won the ballgame! Did the moment make the call or did the call enhance the moment? The answer to both is absolutely yes. This matchup goes not just to overtime but to a fifteenth inning…and is decided by Cohen’s keen and immediate observation, amid a frenzied tableau, that Ventura never got to second base and his presence of mind to note it seconds after unleashing what would be, from another announcer’s tonsils, just a catchphrase. Grand Slam Single is indelible. Outta Here! echoes for the ages. The echo takes it. Will it be resonant enough to drown out The 7 Train? We’ll find out.
Shoe Polish Ball (6) vs The Franchise (3)
Shoe Polish Ball contributed mightily to a world championship. But so did The Franchise. Would have the Mets beaten the Orioles without Gil Hodges’ heady intervention and stoic powers of persuasion? It certainly helped the 1969 cause, but to imbue it with singular responsibility would be to overlook two catches by Tommie Agee, one by Ron Swoboda, fabulous timing by Al Weis, quick wristwork by J.C. Martin and, for that matter, the bat of Donn Clendenon who came up after the smudged sphere nudged Lou DiMuro into sending Cleon Jones to first. It also obscures the masterful pitching of Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Ron Taylor and The Franchise himself, Tom Seaver, who threw a masterful ten innings to capture a) Game Four of the World Series and b) this round of March Metness.
Baseball Like It Oughta Be (7) vs Meet The Mets (2)
Bravado boiled into five words takes on two verses, a bridge and a chorus of friendly-like invitationeering. Meet The Mets is a perennial sentiment. Baseball Like It Oughta Be can portray but one annus. And what a sweet annus 1986 was. The guarantee you’d have the time of your life in the Mets’ theme song didn’t really come true for almost a quarter-century after its debut. When MTM was first heard in 1963, the Mets were preparing to go out and capture 51 ballgames. An improvement over ’62, but hardly a peak in one’s existence. As for knocking those home runs over the wall, the ’86 Mets set the mark with 148, exceeding by nine the previous standard…established in 1962. Info like this Oughta not be ignored. Meeting The Mets is always fun, but Oughta Be pulls off the upset and will meet The Franchise in the Rick Sweet 16.
Jack Lang (11) vs Kiner’s Korner (3)
Jack Lang is closely identified with the Mets beat given that he was on it from its beginning in 1962 to the late 1980s, first with the Long Island Press and then (after the Press folded in 1977) the Daily News. He also wrote the invaluable team history The New York Mets: Twenty-Five Years of Baseball Magic, contributed to Mets magazine Inside Pitch until 2004 and served as longtime secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a job that allowed him the honor of informing retired players that they were about to be immortalized in Cooperstown. As if that weren’t enough, it was Lang who came up with “The Franchise” as the perfect sobriquet for the perfect pitcher, a creation that carries the added bonus of having driven M. Donald Grant to distraction. The chairman of the board once scolded Lang that “Mrs. Payson and I,” not Tom Seaver, were the franchise. In all, it was a long and meritorious career for Jack Lang, one of the most Mets-associated people to never actually work for the organization. But Kiner’s Korner is Kiner’s Korner and Ralph Kiner does not go down easily — or at all — even to a Hall of Fame writer.
Jimmy Qualls (10) vs Buckner (2)
You can argue it was the trade of Nolan Ryan that assured the Mets of missing out on at least seven of the theoretically dozens of no-hitters they could have accrued by now. But it’s impossible to consider Jimmy Qualls — lifetime .223 hitter over 139 at-bats — and not apply his name above all others to the no-hitless Metropolitan phenomenon. What ungodly business did Jimmy Qualls have in reaching Tom Seaver for a single when Seaver was two outs from achieving a perfect game on July 9, 1969? Jimmy Qualls experienced, it’s safe to assume, 138 completely inconsequential at-bats and one that lives forever in the heads of millions of New York National League baseball fans. When Antonio Perez or Chris Burke or Luis Castillo or Kit Pellow or Chin-Hui Tsao or whoever’s next throws up the latest obstacle to that transcendent moment of Met happiness we can all only wonder about, there is but one name that will spring to mind again and again and again. Jimmy Qualls is our quintessential heartbreak kid in our quintessential quest for the one goal we can never reach. What a powerful name it is. If Jimmy Qualls had never been in Leo Durocher’s lineup that July night, if Don Young hadn’t been frozen out of it by his atrocious defense the afternoon before, if Tom Seaver had cashed in that no-hit, no-walk, no-flaw performance, we would be collectively and retroactively ecstatic for all the days of our lives. But if Buckner doesn’t do Buckner…such a hypothetical is not to be contemplated. We would trade a dozen Fregosis and a thousand anti-Quallses for that single, solitary E-3 every time. Outcome: Prepare for Buckner versus Kiner.
Ball Off The Wall (6) vs Banner Day (3)
Ball Off The Wall gave Mets fans every reason to Believe. The one-of-a-kind bounce (score it Fence-7-5-2) allowed the Mets to move within a half-game of first place on September 20, 1973, a position they’d seize the next night and, improbably, never let loose of the rest of that year. It’s moments like those that make fans want to scribble uplifting message on bedsheets for years to come. Funny thing, though, is the Banner Day banners came out in seasons far removed from 1973. No matter how much the Mets fan outlook is informed by a play as perfect and perfectly bizarre as Ball Off The Wall, the banner phenomenon was in place 11 years before Richie Zisk succumbed to Ron Hodges’ well-placed tag. There were banners and placards flying through the Polo Grounds before the Mets could ever dream of reaching .500 let alone reaching a game below .500 — which is where their record stood when Hodges drove in John Milner in the bottom of the inning when he outed Zisk. This, like that game, was a battle that lasted a full 13 innings, but when it was over, Banner Day slid home with the winning score.
Marvelous Marv (7) vs Rheingold The Dry Beer (2)
“CRANBERRY! STRAWBERRY! WE LOVE THRONEBERRY!” So went the chant at the Polo Grounds in 1962. What were those fans…drunk? Only on love for the quintessential 1962 Met. Or perhaps a little on the sponsor’s product. We can’t tell from here. It is ironic, in light of this matchup, that Marvelous Marv Throneberry’s latter-day fame would come from his starring in a beer commercial. It’s too bad it wasn’t for Rheingold The Dry Beer, a brand that disappeared from the market by the time Miller Lite was hiring old athletes to demonstrate the manliness of being calorie-conscious. The Mets would find other cult heroes, other first basemen, even another fan-magnet whose name ended in berry. They’d also take their business to Schaefer and, once the company that brewed it evaporated, Budweiser. But does anybody think of Mets and beer without thinking of Rheingold? Anybody over 40 at least? Even somewhat under 40? The sudsy connection is too strong to be watered down, even at the stone hands of Marvelous Marv. Rheingold The Dry Beer wins — it will take on Banner Day — and graciously throws a victory party for everyone to enjoy. Everyone? Even Throneberry? Well, they wuz going to give Marv a cold one, but they wuz afraid he’d drop it.
Mettle The Mule (11) vs Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (3)
Some futility is cuter than other futility. 1962 futility, as painful as it was to have lived through for the uniformed personnel of the New York Mets, lives on fondly recalled because there is a mulligan and an innocence to be applied to first-year expansion teams, particularly one helmed by someone as eminently quotable as Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. When he rhetorically asked, “can’t anybody here play this game?” all anybody could do was laugh (and, in Jimmy Breslin’s case, take copious notes). But there is nothing cute or innocent or funny about an eighteenth-year expansion team. That was what the Mets had become by 1979, and the introduction of Mettle The Mule as mascot and de facto grounds crew helper underscored that sad, sad fact. It’s not Mettle’s fault the Mets lost 99 games in ’79. Nor were the jokes that followed his removal from the Shea scene — usually involving that strange meatlike dish they were serving in the press room — in good taste. He was just a mule stuck where no more than 788,905 persons chose to be in 1979. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? may have been a question born of frustration, but it advances here for having left behind the happier legacy. One Hundred Twenty losses, yes, but nobody ever had to clean up after it.
Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7) vs Bill Shea’s Floral Horseshoe (15)
Is the lowest seed to make it out of the first round any more than an early season wonder? Bill Shea deserves to be remembered longer than the stadium that bears his name will stand, and it is fervently hoped that the Shea family’s tradition of offering the Mets’ manager a good luck floral horseshoe every Home Opener will survive into Citi Field. It is also hoped that the new joint will vibrate just as the current one did in 2006 with cries of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! and then some. The Sheas did New York proud by returning National League baseball to the city where it belongs. Jose Reyes and those who encourage his exploits are ready to keep the pride going. A happy new tradition edges a beloved and well-meaning established ritual. The four Jose!s next set their sights on answering Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?
The Happy Recap (1) vs John Rocker (9)
The mere thought of “Hi everybody!” emanating from the tinniest of transistor speakers obliterates every ugly thought associated with the ugliest buffoon to disgrace Shea Stadium in all of its 43 seasons. If Bob Murphy can dismember John Rocker at the beginning of his broadcast, imagine what The Happy Recap would do to him. Murph moves forward. Rocker can buy a MetroCard.
Revised Yearbook (12) vs Seinfeld (4)
Given in-season trading deadlines, waiver wire pickups and minor league recalls, it would figure the Mets’ always colorful annuals with their suitable-for-framing team pictures would require a Revised Yearbook. Seinfeld, on the other hand, was Mets-friendly from the beginning. The fifth scene in the pilot episode, when the show was still called The Seinfeld Chronicles, showed Jerry picking up a ringing phone and anxiously telling his caller, “If you know what happened in the Mets game, don’t say anything, I taped it,” before ever mentioning “hello”. Now that’s media that had its priorities start from the first run. Seinfeld is already lobbying for its next gig, against the Happy Recap to be scheduled for — when else? — Thursday at 9.
Mr. Met (1) vs Serval Zipper (9)
The Queens skyline hasn’t been quite the same since the Serval Zipper sign came down. Mr. Met is sympathetic for the loss, but notes he doesn’t bother with zippers. He’s a stitch man himself. And let’s be honest: In your life as a fan, you might peer over the fence and notice Serval Zipper. You might notice U-Haul. You might even notice the occasionally blazing car fire in what’s left of the parking lot. But when he pads on by, you can’t take your eyes off Mr. Met…especially if he stops and sits right in front of you. For now, he stands at the head of his bracket.
Pete Rose (5) vs 1964 World’s Fair (4)
While Shea Stadium and the 1964 World’s Fair are linked by birth, boardwalk and Marina, they were not a single-admission ticket. Shea was considered a commercial success, boosting Mets attendance by 650,000 versus the last year at the Polo Grounds and instantly attracting attention among tourists and locals with rides and exhibits like the 32-inning doubleheader, the Jim Bunning perfect game and Ron Hunt’s start in the All-Star Game. Robert Moses’ other Flushing Meadows project didn’t, uh, fare quite as well. The ’64 version was not as well received as its 1939 predecessor, did not attract the crowds predicted for it and, not long after it was over, its grounds did not maintain itself as any kind of cohesive going concern — as the New York Pavilion’s Gilkeyesque gag cameo in Men In Black illustrated. Pete Rose never called the Shea area home, but as a visitor, he was hardly an alien presence. You gotta have somebody to root against, and for a quarter-century nobody ever quite filled the despicable shoes of Mets Opponent as did Rose. He takes it to the Fair and will bet all he has that he can upset Mr. Met the way he upset Mets fans for a quarter-century.
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs Jane Jarvis (5)
Ms. Jarvis gets this party started by tickling the Thomas Organ as she did so expertly at Shea Stadium from 1964 to 1979. Whether it’s a simple “CHARGE!” or a trademark rendition of “Meet The Mets,” the crowd is suitably moved. Moved? How about revved? Shea has heard the Beatles, the Stones, Grand Funk and Bruce Springsteen, but no live musical act has ever owned the old ballpark like its organist of record. There’s been more to this accomplished pianist’s career than the Shea gig — she recorded several well-received jazz albums and helped run the Muzak company. As recently as 2006, having passed 90, she was playing dates in Manhattan. Recorded music has been the rule since Frank Cashen imported it from Baltimore in 1980, but Jane Jarvis will forever remain a singular name recalled for producing a singular sound as long as Shea Stadium is remembered. If anybody could give Let’s Go Mets an aural run for its money, it’s her. She did, but Let’s Go Mets is a 1-seed for a reason. Truth be told, the Shea crowd doesn’t need much revving beyond the promise of the next pitch. Jane plays her best — she always has — but Let’s Go Mets takes another round.
Banner Day (3) vs Rheingold The Dry Beer (2)
Miracle proved a musical region because you simply cannot think of Rheingold The Dry Beer without wanting to break out into jingle. That’s RTDB’s not-so-secret weapon in taking on one of the great Met traditions. My beer is Rheingold the dry beer/Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer/It’s refreshing not sweet/It’s the extra treat/Won’t you try extra dry Rheingold beer? If you grew up hearing those commercials, you can’t forget the melody or the lyrics. If you didn’t, you wish you had. Rheingold wasn’t just a beer either. It was the sponsor of Mets baseball, the one with approval on who would announce the games. If a man named Norm Varney, account executive from J. Walter Thompson, had balked, there might have been no Murph, no Ralph, no Lindsey. Fortunately, Varney — and George Weiss — had good taste, at least as good as Rheingold’s. “To Err Is Human, To Forgive, A Mets Fan” went one famous fan-drawn banner. It left out the thought that to beer is divine. Banner Day made for some great parades. Rheingold provided an even better backbeat. The Dry Beer douses Banner Day’s championship dream and proceeds to the Larry Elliot Eight against Let’s Go Mets, a classic 1-vs-2 matchup.
MAGIC REGION SEMIFINALS
The 7 Train (1) vs Outta Here! (5)
The 7 Train will eventually get you to Shea Stadium, but it’s been known to slow down at most inopportune stations. If you and it were running late in tandem between 1989 and 2005, you could depend on the voice of Gary Cohen to whisk you to the Willets Point stop in your ear if not in person. As long as you stood near a window, you had as good a seat as whatever the ticket burning a hole in your wallet entitled you to…eventually. Listening to Gary Cohen on whatever radio you had handy was one of the privileges of being a Mets fan during his 18-year stint on WFAN, whether he was calling home runs Outta Here! or merely reading the lineups at Junction Boulevard. Gary’s won greater exposure on television, as fans who would never think to bother with something as hopelessly retro as a radio have discovered him. But for those who relied on him in a pinch, it just isn’t the same. As the 7 Train gets in gear and begins to rumble toward 103rd Street, we listen for Gary. And he just isn’t there. Alas, neither is Outta Here! in this tournament. The 7 Train grinds, squeaks, sputters but, in the end, rolls on.
Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? (3) vs Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7)
Talk about old school against new school. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game encompasses everything about this beloved team’s beloved roots: Casey, Marv, Whitey Ashburn, Hot Rod Kanehl, Roger Craig, the Polo Grounds — the whole tragicomic bit. Jimmy Breslin’s volume describing their downs and further downs is as physically thin as the portfolio of 1962 Met wins but as rich as any baseball book for sheer color. And it’s been said you can’t be too rich or too thin. Just ask Jose Reyes. He’s lithe, he’s well-compensated and he’s writing a new chapter for another generation of fans. They love him every bit as much as the gang from Gilmore’s Tavern in Breslin’s book loved his shortstop predecessor Elio Chacon. (We used to think Pee Wee Reese was pretty good. That was until Elio Chacon came along.) There’s not much irony to the loyalty Jose inspires, just joy. “The New York Mets are in existence,” Breslin wrote, “for a simple reason: New York City needed them.” New York needed Reyes in its own way when he came into our lives in 2003. By 2006, the need had grown in intensity. The legend of the ’62 Mets will not diminish (an odd thing to say about a 40-win unjuggernaut). Yet the legend of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! is poised to only grow. Thus, new tops old in an upset. It will be the 7 Train versus the 7-seed on Saturday.
The Happy Recap (1) vs Seinfeld (4)
Jerry Seinfeld is the celebrity fan in all of Metsdom. He knows his way to his seat because he’s had it for years. The television show that shot him to stardom reflected his true blue & orange fealty. No regularly scheduled network television program did more to promote the cause of the Mets than Seinfeld. The Keith Hernandez episode is the one that springs to the collective mind first, but don’t forget “The Subway,” in which Jerry encounters the naked guy and dissects the Mets’ hitting — Bonilla, Murray; speed — Coleman; and leadership — Franco, while dismissing any worries over Doc Gooden’s rotator cuff surgery. “They got pitching,” he tells the naked guy. All right, so Jerry was wrong about the ’92 Mets, but that stuff doesn’t wind up in a script unless somebody knows what he’s talking about. Of course tipping the cap toward this TV show’s informed baseball content leaves a pretty big matzoh ball hanging out there. We all know who George Costanza wound up working for. Sure he may have gone to extremes in his failed attempt to quit and move across town for a better job (did the 1997 Mets shape up as so lame that they would want to hire George Costanza as director of scouting?), humming a nearly accurate “Meet The Mets” along the way, but Seinfeld’s Mets cred took a beating when the Yankees became George’s employer. Even the sound of Bob Murphy’s voice in the final half-hour ep of the series (the gang leaves Shea early and listens on the car radio only to run up against the Puerto Rican Day Parade) can’t quite compensate for that faux pas. Besides, Seinfeld was famously about nothing. Murph and his Happy Recap meant everything.
The Franchise (3) vs Baseball Like It Oughta Be (7)
Other teams have franchise players, but only one has The Franchise (and we’re not talking Steve Francis). Other teams play ball well, but only one played Baseball Like It Oughta Be (the ’96 Cardinals used that slogan to reflect the return of grass to Busch Stadium, but come now). Tom Seaver and the ’86 Mets are, respectively, the genuine articles of their type in team history: definitive ballplayer, definitive ballclub. They crossed paths in the 1986 World Series, Seaver from the Disabled List, the Mets from on high. Would have The Franchise stymied his old franchise? Could have Tom Seaver, 41 years old, done for the Red Sox what Al Nipper didn’t? We’ll never know. Maybe we didn’t want to find out. It’s hard to think anyone could stop those Mets; even young Roger Clemens couldn’t. But for all the 108-win greatness of those Oughta Be Mets, they left behind no single player who looms as large as The Franchise. With the possible exception of Mike Piazza — imported and here for a shorter tenure — no active-duty man in uniform has had close to the kind of impact on the Mets that Seaver did. Baseball Like It Oughta Be spoke volumes. The Franchise says it all. Tom Seaver and the nickname he inspired clear their throats now for a Sunday showdown with The Happy Recap.
AMAZIN’ REGION SEMIFINALS
Mr. Met (1) vs Pete Rose (5)
You can’t have your team without their team. And they can’t have their team without somebody you can’t stand. Was there anyone who went unstood by Mets fans longer or harder than Pete Rose? His career makes Chipper Jones look like a Larry Come Lately. For twenty-five seasons he came to New York and got under our skin — started doing it as a visitor to the Polo Grounds when he beat out Ron Hunt for Rookie of the Year. Taunted Tom Seaver at the ’69 All-Star Game even though the surging Mets were the talk of baseball: “You’re lucky to be where you are,” he said. (To which Tom answered, “Pete, we’ve got some guys who can get the ball over the plate.”) The takeout slide of Buddy escalated his infamy, though it’s worth noting his clutch and late home runs in Games One and Four of that ’73 NLCS didn’t improve his approval ratings among Mets fans. When Pete Rose became a free agent in 1978, the Mets made him, in their own half-assed manner, an offer. He wasn’t shy about scoffing before signing with Philadelphia. No hard feelings from the Mets, though. They gave him a day at Shea the next April, honoring his having set a new modern N.L. hit streak record at Shea the previous summer. He got standing ovations then (as he did upon having hit three homers in a Saturday game that same year). He was received warmly now. And how did Pete Rose address the Mets fans, his erstwhile tormentors? Did he acknowledge the irony, the shared history, the special relationship? No. He told the sparse gathering between games of a Mets-Phillies doubleheader, “it’s you fans who make me go-go-go!” He could have been talking to a Little League banquet. Detente ended. Pete Rose stayed with the Phillies long enough to become the first face booed lustily on DiamondVision when it debuted in 1982. In his final year as a player, back with the Reds, he inserted himself into the Cincinnati lineup and stroked the three-run single that led to the dismantling of Doctor K, ending Dwight Gooden’s captivating 37-5 stretch on May 11, 1986 in an irksome 3-2 loss. Pete Rose’s lifetime average versus the Mets was .302. Felt higher, probably because Rose was such an overwhelming and irritating presence. His head was figuratively as big as Mr. Met’s is literally. But Pete was a way bigger ass. Pete Rose may be the quintessential Met opponent, but we’ll take ours over theirs when the chips are on the table. Mr. Met hustles past Rose and into the Larry Elliot Eight.
Kiner’s Korner (3) vs Buckner (2)
Best story to come out of Ralph’s treasure trove of tales regarded his interview of the reticent Choo Choo Coleman. He was famously reticent, choosing to keep his own counsel save for calling everybody bub. Actually, he was famous for his manner mostly because Ralph made his tick so unforgettable. Choo Choo didn’t want to elaborate his thoughts a whole lot, which made it tough to ask him questions. But that was Ralph’s job, so he lobbed him a softball: “What’s your wife’s name, Choo Choo, and what’s she like?” The immortal response: “Her name’s Mrs. Coleman, bub, and she likes me.” Ralph has a million of ’em. We are well off for it. It’s hardly fair to compare 45 going on 46 seasons of enchantment with the one moment that enchanted us beyond all others. But that’s what March Metness is about. So let’s put it this way: Kiner’s Korner came on after home games. Buckner kept the most miraculous of home games from ending. A season and a championship dream, too. When it’s put that way, a close decision goes to Buckner. Will Bill ever get revenge on the Mets? He’ll have his chance when the Amazin’ final brings him the head of Mr. Met.
Let’s Go Mets (1) vs Rheingold The Dry Beer (2)
Rheingold is to be congratulated for maintaining such enduring brand equity as the Mets sponsor of all time despite an almost unbroken absence that dates to the last years of the reserve clause. Liebmann Breweries closed down in 1974 and the brand drifted to that great Beverage Barn in the sky, but the label was reborn in 1998 when a new owner dipped into its frothy and glorious heritage. Rheingold II was brewed in Utica but it would still be The Dry Beer, sponsoring Mets radiocasts, pouring in limited quantities at Shea (there was a Rheingold Beach Towel Day — take that, Budweiser) and, for its introductory press luncheon, trotting out Ed Kranepool and Tommie Agee to share golden malt and barley memories. Alas, Rheingold couldn’t go home again. Within a year, the Mets connection was deemed too brittle to sell to a later generation’s thirst and a more modern, less baseball tack was attempted by its caretakers. Rheingold The Dry Beer returned mostly to memory, and that’s not a bad keg to tap. Meanwhile, Let’s Go Mets, which started with Rheingold at the Polo Grounds in 1962, is still foaming strong. Let’s Go Mets chants its way to the Miracle Region championship.
MAGIC REGION FINAL
The 7 Train (1) vs Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! (7)
For anybody who has ever peered left toward Flushing-Main Street or anxiously fixed on first base with Paul Lo Duca in the batter’s box, this shapes up as a long-awaited showdown between endurance and speed, between conveyance of people and conveyance of hope, between two truly Metsian entities proudly bearing the number 7 and operating on an elevated track. The 7 Train has shuttled Sheagoers since the ’60s, but its profile was raised to dizzying heights in late 1999 when John Rocker identified it by numeral as the carrier of everything that was wrong with New York and New Yorkers. Like we cared what he had to say (though it is bizarrely admirable that he knew what it was called). The 7 Train’s moment in the sun may have come in the Subway Series season of 2000 when a DiamondVision public service announcement reminded the crowd of all the public transportation options available to get you to Shea. Ferries and buses and LIRR elicited not a peck of acknowledgment. But upon announcement of The 7 Train, a roar went up. Hey, that’s OUR train! Thanks partly to Rocker (if you can stomach thanking him for anything), partly to the international cachet of those who have Discovered Queens and made it their home but, it’s fair to say, mostly because of the Mets, The 7 Train is probably the most famous subway line in the world. It’s jammed, it’s late, it’s often unpleasant, but yes, it’s ours and it runs. But does it run like Jose Reyes? Express? Always? Fans some seven years ago may have cheered the 7, but the other 7 moved to pre-eminence in 2006. It wasn’t the smoothest of rides. He had gone into the shop a little too much for comfort in 2003 and 2004 and then had some stops and starts in 2005. But from hamstring patient and sabermetric whipping boy, Reyes rose through the ranks in the magical ’06 season to emerge as the quintessential contemporary Met. Pedro may have been Pedro and Wright the early choice for MVP, but only Jose was utterly singled out by the fans in Hey, he’s OUR player! fashion. The cry of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose!, borrowed and altered from another sport but ingeniously mass-crafted to one man’s specifications, was unprecedented in Met annals. There may have been Mooooo for Mookie and Ed-DEE for Kranepool, but this unique, modern homegrown expression of devotion and enthusiasm proved something else altogether. Is it too soon for it to be iconic? Not at all. Is it loud enough to derail the noisy 7 Train? By at least six stations. After all, not everybody takes the subway to Shea, but everybody’s on board with Jose Reyes. Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! pulls off the upset of the Larry Elliot Eight and pulls into the Tom Filer Four for a veritable chantoff versus Let’s Go Mets.
The Happy Recap (1) vs The Franchise (3)
Bob Murphy never tried to pitch, but Tom Seaver did attempt to broadcast. Let’s just say The Franchise’s forte wasn’t found away from the mound. But Seaver, whatever his disagreements with management in retirement and forced estrangements from the team during his playing career, represented the Mets like no player before, no player since, no player ever. Tom Seaver earned a place in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, won his 300th game in a Chicago White Sox uniform and threw his final strike for the Boston Red Sox, but he was never The Franchise for any of them. Bob Murphy announced games for the Orioles and Red Sox, yet no fan of those teams could possibly connect the words Happy and Recap the way we can. Seaver and Murphy were two professionals at the tops of their respective professions when Tom wore the blue and orange and Bob voiced fables, foibles and fierceness that shaded those colors. The Franchise provided the direct foundation for 198 Happy Recaps in 11 different regular seasons, all but nine of those coming before the dreaded Wednesday Night Massacre of 1977. Seaver was out. The recaps grew less frequently happy in his absence. But those that occurred felt every bit as special as any that Murph summed up in 1969 or 1973. Bob Murphy was sunshine when darkness descended on Shea, not just between Seaver’s two Met tenures but long afterwards. He is remembered for 1986, yes, but also for 1993, clear through to 2003. Bad years, good years, all years. Murph made each recap and every pitch that preceded them happy affairs just by communicating them. The Franchise comes away with a no-decision from this intense battle of Met quintessence. The Happy Recap gets the win.
AMAZIN’ REGION FINAL
Mr. Met (1) vs Buckner (2)
It’s easy to make jokes about the size of Mr. Met’s head because, let’s face it, it’s hard not to notice it. But Mr. Met has heart. Miles and miles of heart, extending all the way back to his first appearance as a logo in the Polo Grounds. A man named Dan Reilly put on a papier-mâché noggin and made Mr. Met come to life at Shea in the mid-’60s. We didn’t see much of the personification of MM immediately thereafter, but he never left the Metscape completely. Got a Shea raincheck from the ’70s handy? Look whose picture is there, holding an umbrella and seeming distressed that there will be No Game Today. Mr. Met lives for the game, so of course he’s sad it’s raining. On the other hand, he was delighted when the Mets brought him out of storage and made him three-dimensional in 1994. At the time he may have been the Mets’ best player (him or Rico Brogna), certainly its most popular personality. Mr. Met’s stature has only grown over the past 13 years. He went to ESPN, he went to Japan, he even went into the army reserves (well, one of the guys who wore the head did). Mr. Met is all over New York, all over Shea. He himself is impossible to ignore and why would you want to? The same could be said for the legacy of the moment we need refer to only as Buckner. This isn’t about the first basemen who amassed 2,715 base hits, a batting title and loads of admiration for the way he played. Bill Buckner, too, had miles and miles of heart. His existence, however, remains of interest to Mets fans because of one silly little baseball that changed the course of human events. It wasn’t just Buckner that defined the Tenth Inning. There were three base hits and a wild pitch (passed ball if we’re scoring with our eyes open). There was a tie in place when Mookie Wilson connected. There was a prospective eleventh inning if Buckner didn’t happen. But it did. It’s the most famous play in the history of the Mets, the best moment in the history of the Mets, the signature event in the history of the Mets. Mr. Met is an icon, but Buckner is as iconic as it gets. Twenty-one years after an honorable career went askew, Mr. Met becomes one silly big baseball Bill can handle.
Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose! was surely the Ken Sanderella of this tournament, winning the Magic region by upsetting a 3-seed (Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?) and then a 1-seed (The 7 Train) to reach the Filer Four. J!4’s youth, enthusiasm and 2006 momentum coming into the tournament manifested itself in a memorable run. But when you reach the Sammys, youth, enthusiasm and 2006 momentum aren’t necessarily enough to counter experience, enthusiasm and eternal momentum, for Let’s Go Mets has never yielded an inch or an octave where extreme exhortation is concerned. Urging on a specific player is fine, but as representative of the contemporary Mets as Jose Reyes is, he is still just one Met. Let’s Go Mets lifts all. It asks no questions. It’s team all the way. The Jose Reyes bandwagon figures to continue to roll and to grow in the coming years — and the Mets will benefit from that journey — but the callowness of Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose!, while very appealing in its own special way, is simply no match for the time-tested excitement of Let’s Go Mets. LGM continues the dominance it displayed through the Miracle region and roars into the championship game. Sanderella, alas, exits the ball.
The Happy Recap (1) vs Buckner (2)
This clash of the Met icons seems almost predestined, as Bob Murphy’s happiest recap arose from Bill Buckner’s unhappiest mishap. The two, winners in the Believe and the Amazin’ regions, respectively, are reunited here and linked forever through Mookie Wilson’s fair ball that got by Buckner and the aftermath that allowed the Mets to live another day. What aftermath was that? Rounding third Knight! The Mets win! They win! The call lives on every bit as much as the result. Bob Murphy, however, wasn’t just about those incandescent moments of victory any more than the 1986 world championship was constructed solely from one first baseman’s error. Here he was on the radio broadcasting the end of an equally incredible, equally emotional Game Six thirteen years later: The count is three and two. Now the pitch…he walked him! The season is over for the New York Mets. Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones forcing in the winning run from third base, Gerald Williams heads into score, and it’s celebration time for the Atlanta Braves. What a horrible loss for the New York Mets. Both Game Six events would have an intense feel to them regardless of who told you about them, but coming from Murph as opposed to Vin Scully or Bob Costas, it was coming from family. He was our great baseball uncle. He was blood. He cared because we cared. He cared because he cared, too. Announcing Mets games may have been a job for Bob Murphy, but did you ever detect the slightest ounce of clock-punching in his delivery? Every game was the biggest game Bob Murphy ever did. Considering that The Happy Recap was never guaranteed and more than half the time impossible, that’s an utterly magnificent feat. As few and far between as Game Sixes are, there is no plural version of Bob Murphy. There is only one. The Happy Recap…yes, it wins the damn thing.
Does it get any more Metsian than this? The cry of Mets fans and the voice of Mets fans. Nothing could be any more quintessentially Miraculous, Magical, Believable or Amazin’. But one has to be a bit more so than the other. That’s why they hold March Metness.
Surprisingly, we see the action unfold with a display of drawbacks by each entrant. Flaws? These two? Hard to fathom, but they are on record.
Bob Murphy: Unbridled optimism in the face of a stretch of 64-98 seasons could get to you a little…in later years he blew fly balls, had them being caught when going out and going out when being caught…he blew smoke in his partner’s face, not a good thing for either of them…once referred to Al Leiter as Larry Dierker…hosted Bowling For Dollars, though that could be taken as a plus in some quarters.
Let’s Go Mets: Bastardized by other, unworthy teams in other sports and other leagues…occasionally corrupted via four-syllable mispronunciation by younger generation that has taken its cues from bad “Let’s Go” examples set elsewhere…too often foisted on Shea crowd by electronic means when it’s best left to arise organically from Shea crowd itself…co-opted for use in “Let’s Go Mets!” song and video — a.k.a. “Let’s Go Mets Go!” — though that could be taken as a plus in some quarters.
Yet those foibles did not stop either LGM or THR from being seeded in the No. 1 slots in their respective regions and it certainly didn’t slow them down as they raced through five matchups apiece to arrive at the Metropolitan Championship game. When you get right down to it, there is no way any true blue and orange Mets fan can find any real fault with either of them. There is only good to be had.
The Happy Recap is, to be precise, what Bob Murphy promised following a Mets win. He didn’t make a big thing of it. He never teased it through the broadcast, didn’t say “wow, the Mets are up seven to one, so you know there will be a Happy Recap when this game is over.” Can you imagine Murph being that self-serving? The fans and the game were his constituency. If the Mets lost, there was no mention of a Happy Recap. If they won, there would be a quick word that we (“we,” not “I”) would be back with The Happy Recap after this message. When Murph returned from commercial, it was all about what Cleon Jones or Jerry Koosman or Del Unser or Craig Swan or Steve Henderson or The Man They Call Nails Lenny Dykstra or David Arthur Kingman or Ronnie Darling or John Olerud or you name him did. It was about the players and the Mets and the final score here at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets seven, the San Diego Padres one; our next broadcast will be…
That was it. That was The Happy Recap. A short summation, the runs, the hits, the errors and a signoff. Yet that little tail applied to the end of an afternoon or evening became a signature like nobody else’s in Mets broadcast history. Nobody ever played up The Happy Recap per se. We all just knew about it. We tapped it out like Murph Code. For forty-two years those were our words to root by, our goal to strive for. And when Bob Murphy stopped announcing for good in 2003, they stayed with us.
That’s the power of the local announcer, the local radio announcer. Murph did TV, too, from 1962 through 1981, rotating back and forth between booths with Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, Steve Albert and, briefly, Art Shamsky, but it was Frank Cashen’s genius to assign him to permanent wireless duty in 1982. It was seen as a demotion of sorts in those days. From the invention of television, television was the glamour medium of our time. Stars were on TV. Home run-hitting, Cadillac-driving Ralph Kiner was on TV.
But somebody forgot to tell baseball. Baseball never stopped being at its best on the radio. We were realizing that all over again in the 1980s as a generation that had grown up smuggling a million transistors under a million blankets told its stories. Television could show us much. Radio could tell it all. That was Bob Murphy’s genius. He painted the word picture, the best picture you could have for a baseball game. The man didn’t conduct a talk show from behind a WHN or WFAN microphone. He told you what was going on on the field. He told you who was warming up in the bullpen. He told you who the manager had left on his bench. He did it in a way that kept you engaged when the game was dragging and in a manner that kept you riveted when the game was bursting at the seams. He never discounted the possibility of a Mets comeback, which was darn thoughtful of him.
Bob Murphy clicked with a mass of New Yorkers despite — no, because — he was most un-New Yorkish. Forty-two years on the job and he never picked up a vocal inflection to indicate this was home for more than half his life. Blessedly he never betrayed an ounce of the native cynicism either. Whatever negative thoughts Murph may have brought to the ballpark he put aside when the light went on. Bob Murphy knew he wasn’t granted hour after hour of airtime to air his grievances. He was there to bring us Mets baseball. To bring us hope.
And weren’t we a most receptive audience for his signal?
It is perhaps some cosmic coincidence that hope and Mets each contain four letters. You usually hear “four-letter word” and you think the worst. Not with hope and, 24 of 45 losing campaigns notwithstanding, not with Mets. The 46th year of New York Mets baseball has commenced and here we are once more, hopeful as ever, maybe more hopeful than we’ve ever been. We slip out of winter and into the season — the only season that counts — and we assume our identity all over again. We nurtured it as best we could without a game in front of us but that was theory. Baseball season in all its in-progress actuality is what reaffirms why we exist in the realm we choose to exist.
Why? To be in such a state that we are compelled to type or print or think or mumble or, most appropriately, scream from the top of our lungs and the bottom of our hearts, three words.
Three words. Our three words. There’s no taking them away from us. They’re hardwired in to the genes by now. Splice us and Let’s Go Mets will come pouring out.
On May 30, 1962, Roger Angell took in the Mets-Dodgers Memorial Day doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, Los Angeles having pulled ahead to a 10-0 lead after three-and-a-half. Mets first baseman Gil Hodges led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a home run, cutting the home team’s deficit to 10-1.
Gil’s homer pulled the cork, and now there arose from all over the park a full furious, happy shout of “Let’s go, Mets! Let’s go, Mets!”
Imagine if it had been 10-2.
Let’s Go Mets has been with us forever, just about as long as there have been Mets to go. Chronicling the early days, Leonard Koppett noted that “when President Kennedy landed at Frankfurt, West Germany, and in the crowd at the airport someone held up a “Let’s Go Mets” sign, it was effective indeed.”
Ich bin ein Mets fan? And hopeful amid a hundred and then some losses that were already piling up like dirty dishes? Koppett called it “part exhortation and part self-derision”. Perhaps a little of each, indeed, but perhaps a little more of the first than Koppett recognized from the press box. Anybody who has sat in the depleted remnants of an already sparse crowd on the wrong end of a wide score in the closing minutes of an agonizing Flushing night will recognize this scenario, as recalled by Stanley Cohen in his 1969 tribute “A Magic Summer”.
During one game in 1963 (the team’s last season at the old Polo Grounds), with the Mets trailing by thirteen runs in the bottom of the ninth, two out and no one on base, the New Breed sent up a chant of “Let’s go, Mets.” With each new strike on the batter, the cry grew louder and more insistent. It was a battle cry that needed no battle; it betrayed neither a glimmer of hope nor the sneer of derision. It was a simple and joyous act of defiance, the declaration of a will that would not surrender to the inevitable.
The New Breed — Mets Fans 1.0, if you will — was analyzed by Robert Lipsyte in The New York Times in 1963 as a classic underdog, one who understood the brilliance of taking down the overcat in those rare instances it occurred. Alas, “the pure Metophile is likely to disappear in a few years,” Lipsyte concluded. “Even now, more and more ordinary people go to the Polo Grounds to watch a baseball game. As the Mets progress from incompetency to mediocrity, their psychological pull will be gone.”
Lipsyte didn’t see the future that clearly. Maybe the Mets who pursued garden-variety ineptitude as the team shifted to Shea didn’t inspire anthropological dissection any longer (the Times famously posted correspondents to Africa, yet operated no bureau in Queens), but Mets fans were Mets fans, and as Cohen explained in 1988, a fan base’s memory is collective and enduring.
A team’s followers always outlast its players and even its owners. They do not get sold or traded, they do not retire or become free agents, they do not sell out to conglomerates, and they rarely switch allegiance. They represent a team’s truest continuity; they are the repository of its history. And Met fans, who for years had thrived on failed hopes and comic relief, were of a very special type.
The type that may have shed some of its Upper Manhattan excesses for its trip across the Triborough, but still the type to shout and twist its abdominal muscles into knots. The type that found its voice early and its motivation often. The type that never lost its sense of irony but, when given the slightest impetus, gained a true and awesome grip on hope.
That’s what Let’s Go Mets grew into. 1969. 1986. 2006. A few other almost as great years. A whole string of not-so-great years. A mess of the mediocre kind, too. Let’s Go Mets has always been there. Let’s Go Mets is our mantra, our haftorah, our throatiest admonishment, our most sincere and personal thought.
Our hope. Our Mets.
The Happy Recap is something we all want. Let’s Go Mets is something we will keep crying no matter what kind of recap the fates bestow on us. Let’s Go Mets is for good times, Let’s Go Mets is for times less than optimal but never not good, because any time we can shout it to the skies, it means we are being Mets fans, which is all we want to be anyway. Let’s Go Mets is the eternal expression of hopefulness that fuels each and every Mets fan, none of whom would ever let the lack of a silly commodity like the likelihood of a win get in the way of who he or she is.
Let’s Go Mets is the Quintessential Mets Thing, the winner of the Metropolitan Championship and the recipient of the Joan Payson Cup, the Mayor’s Trophy and a gleaming new 1970 Dodge Challenger. Bob Murphy himself would call a victory that celebrates Mets fandom itself worthy of nothing less than a happy recap.
So if you’ll excuse the gaucheness of electronic cheerleading, I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window. Right now. I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell…