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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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Words We've Lost

“If they boo, that’s fine. That’s the history they’ve got from not being so good, I guess.”
—Johan Santana

“Who wants to be a Mets fan? There’s no future in it.”
—Miriam Chan

Last week’s New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society triannual meeting was graced by the presence of Frank Deford who was kind enough to come and chat with us about the days of Matty and McGraw, a subject he immersed himself in as he researched his wonderful 2005 book The Old Ball Game (highly, highly recommended if you haven’t read it). In painting a picture of the colorful era during which John McGraw managed, Christy Mathewson pitched and the New York Giants ruled, Deford referred to contemporary accounts and the colorful language that was used as a matter of course by sportswriters of yore. It’s a shame, he said, to consider some of the words we’ve lost, both in baseball and the general vocabulary. Frank picked four in particular that had their day but don’t any longer:

Spunk

Ginger

Pluck

Moxie

In the context of the coverage of early 20th century sporting life, they all basically seemed to mean the same thing. I’d recommend opening a dictionary and looking for a picture of Lenny Dykstra if you require further elaboration.

How we talk has changed in a hundred years. How baseball is played has changed, too. John McGraw used to grab hold of opponent baserunners’ belts so they couldn’t get a jump off third (until a clever runner simply loosened his belt and left Little Napoleon with nothing but a handful of leather). Everything changes, which is fine and natural no matter how some of us sporadically rage against it. Still, it would be nice to observe a little more spunk, a little more ginger, a little more pluck and a whole lot more moxie these days. Call it whatever you want in 2008, but for the love of Turkey Mike Donlin, ya think we could get a little of that ol’ pepper milling starting tonight at Shea?

The Mets are spunkless, gingerless, pluckless and constitute a completely moxie-free zone. They’re…I don’t know what they are, but I have a pretty good sense that whatever it is, it’s not all that wonderful. The 5-6 record would be a leading indicator, but that’s not it.

What’s missing? What modern-day equivalent of spunk, ginger, pluck and moxie hasn’t been mixed into the stew? Why don’t the Mets as a team add up anymore? Why are the Mets as a concept causing me such a crisis of faith lately?

And why was anybody who wasn’t fall-down drunk booing Johan Santana on Saturday? Is there really so little rope left at Shea that the most coveted offseason acquisition the Mets have ever scooped up can’t be cut some slack for coming up one batter shy of a solid quality start?

Are we that stupid?

Of course it wasn’t all 54,701 of us making such derisive noise. I doubt it was even 5,470. Yet the boos are what stand out and the boos are what get noticed and the boos are what the best pitcher in the universe gets asked about afterwards. If Santana sounded a bit put off by the minority opinion — “I wish we could do everything the way everybody wants, but we’re human beings and we’re going to make mistakes sometimes” — well, he is human. On the days he’s superhuman, the possessors of these same dismal minds that generated disapproval for Johan, bitterly clinging to their rationalizations that these tickets cost a lot, he gets paid plenty and hey-it’s-a-free-country, will be up on their feet and clapping, thinking, perhaps, that their toughlove showed him the way, as if a two-time Cy Young winner needs such motivation, as if Johan Santana is a Venezuelan variation on Scott Schoeneweis.

But I’m not here to kick and screed as regards the poor judgment that informs home-team booing even as I deplore it, because to tell you the truth, I’ve been with it myself. I’ve been booing the Mets inwardly and grumbling about them outwardly. I’m wondering less and less what the fudge is wrong with the current group of players wearing Met uniforms and wondering more and more what’s wrong with the whole Mets thing.

• The Mets thing that ends what shaped up as the best season in twenty years mired in a total hitting slump that culminated in a called strike three with the tying runs on.

• The Mets thing that saps the momentum and the emotion out of a budding golden era by playing indifferently for months and ineptly for weeks and not all come October despite a large September lead.

• The Mets thing that has no obvious representative speaking forcefully for it; the Mets thing that has nobody in a uniform betraying any real concern that cumulative inertia appears to have settled over Shea and Citi like a flat, ominous cloud; the Mets thing that, as discomfited as any individual may be over a mediocre start, has not seemed to have mussed a single hair on the unit’s legendarily level head one little bit.

Comedian Wally Matthews is a moron. We know that. But when he implied Monday that clubhouse buffet tables left literally upright and figuratively undisturbed leave an incongruous impression that twenty-five professional competitors don’t give a damn, I wasn’t dismissive. I would kind of like to see the Chicken a la King go flying after five double plays render fourteen hits and eight walks irrelevant. I would like to hear the skipper tear into one of the inanimate objects lingering on the roster. I would like the captain-in-waiting to be less shucksy self-deprecating every time he opens his mouth, but David Wright’s approach to the postgame (or the game) is the last problem this team has.

Jose Reyes has been underwhelming for a while, but without him in the lineup, it’s quite the ordinary assemblage of players: a couple of stars, some guys on the wrong side of the hill, a few pickups whose talent levels aren’t always going to be up to the sincerity of their respective efforts. Except for payroll, what differentiates a lineup like those we saw penciled in this weekend from anybody else’s? Pedro Martinez has been absent with leave most of the past year-plus, but without him in the rotation, even with one platinum ace on board, it’s like anybody else’s five-man: checkered by youth whose mistakes get in the way of its progress and dotted by journeymen who will be heartwarming one night, goodness knows the next. The vets on the bench are admirable and amiable, but they’re vets on the bench. Bullpens are bullpens everywhere. This manager has shown no signs of eliciting great performances from his choir when the group isn’t already singing on key. Plus, without the full Reyes and a measure of Martinez, this team just isn’t that much fun to be around. At this point, I’d accept grim success as a holding action until the whole gang has rediscovered its inner Tug.

So what gives? It’s an average-ish team in an average-ish league. Ownership presumably has a few bucks stashed away to make up the difference between 81 wins and 91 wins should it come to that, but you can’t accuse anybody in charge of a penurious nature. Besides, money doesn’t buy happiness. It bought Johan Santana and the universal happy factor has been trimmed exponentially in some quarters after three measly starts. He may be new here, but he nailed it on Saturday that we’ve got some history from not being so good. And the octogenarian-plus lady profiled in Sunday’s Times — who admittedly wouldn’t be my go-to source given her deeply embedded unfortunate allegiances — may not have been far off the mark either when she convinced her grandson that the Mets weren’t the best bet for a better tomorrow.

Plaid present.

Shady past.

Murky future.

Swell.

It’s not about winning. It’s never been about winning, not primarily. When I hang with those New York Baseball Giants fans three times a year, I hear a lot of stories and absorb a lot of insights, but I never glean any regret that they hooked onto a team whose grandest days were clearly behind it by the time they were old enough to know better. The Giants won exactly one world championship in their last twenty-four seasons in Manhattan, all of two pennants in their final two decades. Their archrivals grew into a juggernaut during the same period and, as Richard Sandomir pointed out, only grew larger in the mind’s eye after leaving Brooklyn. The Giants, in the rooting lifetimes of those still around to recall them fondly, were rarely as good as the Dodgers and never better than the Yankees. Yet they stayed. They stayed New York Giants fans clear through 1957 and they show up at a church rectory to sit and reminisce about them a half-century later. They do dwell on Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays, you can be sure, but it isn’t the success that keeps them coming back. There just wasn’t that much of it.

There hasn’t been that much of it for us either. We’ve had two world championships in 46 seasons. If you’re under 40, you’ve experienced only one of them. If you’re under 25, you’ve experienced none of it. So it’s not the success that keeps our tribe running. If it’s not the success, then I’ve always figured it’s got to be the fun (and the force of habit). But if this team can’t show that it’s having fun, can’t create a little fun, can’t pour on a little spunk, a little ginger, a little pluck and a whole lot more moxie than they’ve dispensed and displayed while plowing drearily through their assigned maneuvers in the early hours of 2008…then I ask you, dear friends, what’s the point?

18 comments to Words We've Lost

  • Anonymous

    UH-MAZING post, Greg. I couldn't agree more.
    I've asked myself the same question about this season and I keep coming back to the same answer: it's Shea's last season. That's the point. Making one last trip to the Gate E concession area. Getting one last ticket to the Field, Loge, Mezz, and Upper levels. Dreaming one last dream of witnessing a Met no-hitter at Shea.
    Even if the Mets continue to annoy, I owe it to myself to keep coming back to Shea to enjoy it in it's swan song. Even if the Mets continue to annoy, they may still have one thrilling game left in them to remain a Shea memory forever. Even if the Mets continue to annoy, Shea will continue to charm me.
    As far as, “why are we fans if it's not for their winning ways,” you know the answer to that question as well as I do: faith. Faith and hope that one day all our suffering will pay off, and the “champagne will taste a little bit sweeter.”
    We're Met fans because we're forever hoping (to be hopeful would be a tad too optimistic).

  • Anonymous

    I preface all of this with the qualifier that I probably don't know what I'm talking about, entirely.
    Steve Somers said something last week about Jose Reyes being asked to tone things down, not tone things OFF. And I wonder if a 20 something kid has the ability to feel his way through those emotional shades of grey.
    And then I think about Milledge and LoDuca and wonder who we have left on the Mets who isn't offering Crash Davis-type platitudes on a constant basis. (TBF says, Billy Wagner, and I agree, but he's not out there every day.) Don't get me wrong, I think that Paulie Baseball was finished with us and I'm ambivalent about Milledge. But someone else opined that they thought the Mets got rid of them because the Wilpons don't like anything showy. I don't know for sure what to think about Milledge but I think he got a bad rap and no one wanted to try to work with him to let him grow up. And that if a white boy had run along the base line high-fiving the crowd he would have gotten a dressing down and a chuckle but not had to live it down for years (and they are still talking about it in the upper deck, fwiw).
    Booing Johan Santana is so moronic that it's not even worth addressing but as others have observed, people are bitter and angry. It isn't just 2007.
    It's 2007, it's a ticket price increase, it's the looming spectre sitting just beyond the outfield wall that people are concerned about. they won't be able to decide “hey, my day sucked, let's go see a baseball game” and roll up to the box office at 5pm. the people who have had a saturday plan for 15 years will find they no longer have that option available to them (and from what i saw in the preview center last weekend, they're probably right).
    who are the mets these days? who has any personality? who's expressing any personality? please don't tell me pedro. the whole 'pedro is god' thing is driving me nucking futz in 2008. we should just activate him after the all star break and be done with it. i know what he did
    it's not about winning, but it's not about ignoring the fact that you're losing, that you lost last year, and that we're paying a lot more money… to come see you lose. at shea for the last time. and we don't know if we'll be able to see you win or lose next year.
    GRATUITOUS PLUG:
    MetsGrrl + Mets By The Numbers + more
    Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 4/17, 730pm
    http://metsgrrl.com/index.php/site/comments/april_17_metsgrrl_mets_by_the_numbers/

  • Anonymous

    My Pedro thought got cut off. Trust me I understand what Pedro has done for us. But let's stop thinking he's a viable member of the rotation.

  • Anonymous

    We can't count on him anymore, it's true. But I just feel/felt so much better when he's around, pitching, being Pedro. It gives me confidence that there are people on the team who care to be there. Even if, at this point, his body just isn't going to cooperate. If not Pedro then somebody needs to fill that role. So far, it doesn't seem like Santana is the guy, as good a pitcher as he is. David Wright…maybe, he's trying.
    The 2005 team was not a great team. They were average and occasionally transcended themselves and played brilliantly. This team is the opposite. They're good and they play average and sometimes atrocious. The 2005 team had, I think, those words we've lost. Maybe not enough, but they had them. They were the beginning of what was supposed to be the new era. It's starting look more like a Brave New World dystopia. But there's really no reason why we shouldn't be able to reclaim whatever it was that we had that made the Mets fun to watch.

  • Anonymous

    Nailed it, Greg.
    It's nagging at me and nagging at me and I hate to even admit it to myself:
    This year feels like a 2002 rerun.

  • Anonymous

    The 2006 team, of course, appeared to have both skill and spunk, but I feel like in that team's dominance, the seeds of indifference that plague us now were sown. The '05 team had to claw their way to a 3rd place finish. The wins and the losses all mattered. They nurtured this blog in its infancy. The future was undoubtedly brighter than the present which was brighter than the past…
    The possible missing ingredient of '06, adversity, is back with a vengeance…and well, since this crop is better than the '05 crop, in general, shouldn't it things just fall into place…?

  • Anonymous

    As I posted also anonymously before in another thread, I refuse to have this team rule my life this year. if they don't care, I don't. I'll keep my full season plan and root like hell when I'm there, but I am questioning what I have done to my son. No, really.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Greg.
    This team has been so flat that they're barely two-dimensional.
    If they don't care, why should we?

  • Anonymous

    I am going to reply to my own post. Asking reyes to tone it down reminded me of when they asked Doc to change his windup so he could hold runners on better and to not throw so many pitches. That worked out well. Leave the kid alone and let him play.

  • Anonymous

    In general, I will not dispute that there is a head-full-of-molasses feeling to being a Mets fan these days. The Mets have been a .500 team for a long time now and it's natural to look bad when you're going bad.
    But I part company with those who link this to a 2007 team lacking in pluckiness or whatever. We forget (except for Greg who could afford to lease memory capacity to the space program) the incredible comebacks and near-comebacks that took place in September 2007 because our mismanaged bullpen squandered them.
    After his return from his drug suspension, Guillermo Mota led all Mets relievers in innings thrown.
    Maybe it's not all his fault, but what exactly does Willie Randolph bring to the table? Aside from, you know, insisting in the press that Angel Pagan isn't actually all that good? And insisting Luis Castillo needs to bat in front of Wright and Beltran?
    His calm demeanor? The winnerness that comes from being a Yankee and sitting next to St. Joe for a couple of years?
    Fire Randolph already. That's an easy solution that I strongly believe would yield quick results.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently tonight Church will hit second, Castillo eigth.
    (Channeling Emily Litella)
    Nevermind.
    But fire him anyway.

  • Anonymous

    You know, we probably need to remember that the season is only 11 games old.
    5-6 in 11 games is disappointing. But not devastating. To coin a phrase.

  • Anonymous

    Everything written here from the start of the uninspired play on through this post has been completely spot-on brilliant. I often wondered why I didn't care about watching games nearly as much as I used to around the second or third month of last season. Why I was just a little happy about getting Johan and just a little peeved about trading away Milledge. Why I still think back fondly, often, to the Bobby Valentine era and even the Worst Team Money Can Buy. Why, outside of most of 2006, these Willie Randolph Mets just cannot get me going.
    You nailed it. A franchise built on being the underdog rising up in defiance to come from a six runs back on a wing and a prayer… this isn't it anymore. I feel like a zombie in Shea. I will feel moreso in Citifield.
    And thank you for always making me feel less bad for constantly holding David Wright in contempt.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing should ever make you feel less bad for holding David Wright in contempt. If you can't appreciate David Wright you cannot possibly derive any joy from being a Mets fan, so why bother?
    Go watch jai alai or something.

  • Anonymous

    There hasn't been that much of it for us either. We've had two world championships in 46 seasons. If you're under 40, you've experienced only one of them. If you're under 25, you've experienced none of it.
    Hmm…by this standard, though, almost every ballpark in America should be empty. Certainly no one should ever go see a Nationals or Mariners or (especially) Rangers game, ever. The Phillies have gone longer without a championship OR a pennant than the Mets have. Even the damn Braves haven't gone all the way in 13 years and probably won't this year either (no, seriously).
    Yet somehow almost every other ballclub's fans manage to refrain from booing their own players' asses off during the entire month of April. Even teams with no shot at all, not even in dreams. Why is that, you think?
    Me, I blame the Yankees.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree about booing Santana. I was looking forward to reading this blog after today's article in the Times. It's completely idiotic, but in a way it shouldn't be unexpected. This is a team that for the last 21 years, has almost always underachieved.
    They've blown it in September (1998, 2007), they've blown it in the playoffs (1988, 2006), they've overhyped underachievers (Kaz Matsui and many more), never could beat a rival in the biggest games (Braves, Yankees, Phillies) and have just plain stunk (too many years to count). Last year was simply the coup de grace.
    Add to it the 3rd highest ticket and concession prices in the league and the lackluster start this year, and you get boos for the new star when he fails to pitch a shutout.
    I just see a team without a lot of passion and fire, including and perhaps especially, the manager. Most of the key players are quiet , laid back types, which means that there is a lack of passion at a time when this team needs to demonstrate that last year's play was unacceptable and will not be tolerated again.
    The Red Sox were able to turn themselves around by bringing in clubhouse leaders who knew how to handle the pressure cooker that is NE Corridor baseball. Where are the David Ortiz's, Kurt Schilling's, Jason Varitek's, etc. on the Mets?
    The Mets need to figure out who is going to step up and lead this team, with David Wright being the most likely candidate. Until they find that leader and some moxie, they'll be nothing but mediocre and the fans will be nothing but pissed off.

  • Anonymous

    Let's all just back off the ledge. The season is young. We're .500. And there are reasons to be joyful after tonight. They are:
    Reyes.
    Wright.
    Pelfrey.
    DUANER!!!
    This team looks a lot better to me than it did 12 hours ago.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder at what point is it acceptable to boo? Do we have to peel through multiple shades of grey before we express ourselves this way?
    This is Baseball, do we have to consider the social/political implications before some of us boo?
    Just fucking play ball and give us the indication that you are prepared to earn you ridiculous sums of money…Fans, boo all you want when you want!