There are supposed to be 162 games every season. Since 1962, the Mets have failed to play at least that many to a conclusive result in eleven different campaigns. A total of 132 were lost to labor stoppages in 1972, 1981, 1994 and 1995. Eleven more were forever rained out or cancelled by whatever means necessary: two apiece in 1962 (imagine the N.L. not forcing the Mets and Colt .45s into a replay of a 7-7 rain-shortened tie) and 1988 (ever wonder why the Mets took a legendary ten of eleven from the Dodgers as opposed to eleven of twelve?); one each in 1966, 1973 (we clinched in the 161st game the day after the season was supposed to end — so much for the planned doubleheader), 1991 (Olympic Stadium was falling down), 2002 and 2003 (a confluence of the August blackout, the Springsteen concerts in October and the Giants ultimately not getting hung up on home field advantage).
By my reckoning, somebody owes us 141 games. And no, the 163rd game in 1999, as awesome as it was, does not reduce the total. We’re entitled to the full complement.
More to the point, the full complement is entitled to us. Whatever constitutes a complete season knows what it’s doing. It’s the Mother Nature of baseball: you can’t fool it. It knows all. It will hunt you down. It will take your measure. It won’t let you get away with any more shortcuts than those itself is willing to give. It eats you alive, it catches you at the border, it shakes you down and it won’t get out of your way.
In light of the way the most recent version of itself played out, Faith and Fear announces that the Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2008 is the 162-game schedule. In the end, it always wins.
You can consider this a lifetime achievement award, certainly one earned in 2008, but not a factor for the first time and probably not for the last time. The 162-game schedule, in the words of Beavis, rules.
That’s an innocuous thing most years, a good thing some years, a rather unfortunate fact of life these past two years. In 2008 and, yes, 2007, the Mets could not hide from the full complement. These weren’t the first instances of the Mets’ fate being determined at the finish line.
• If the 2008 season had ended after the Mets played 157 games, there would have been a postseason at Shea.
• If the 2007 season had ended after the Mets played 158 games, there would have been a postseason at Shea then, too.
• Conversely, if the 1999 season had ended after the Mets played 159 games, there would have been no postseason at Shea…and imagine how dull life as we know it would have been these past nine years without everything that happened from the 160th game of 1999 to its bittersweet end.
• In 1998, double-conversely, we would have had some October action for sure if we could have put a capper on matters after 157 games.
The Mets brought the 162nd game to the National League in 1962, they and the Houstons. Expansion spurred the lengthier schedule, up from the 154 that was the standard from 1904 through 1961. It would figure that the last few Met-mandated contests would make such a tangible difference in our fortunes four times in eleven seasons.
If the 162-game schedule, the six-month equivalent of ninety feet from home to first, underscored anything in 2008, it’s that it’s a very long year. To those of us who try to make sense of it on a going basis, we are plainly shot down again and again by the length of baseball’s year. So many times I sorta, kinda had this team figured out, only to have time undo my assumptions. It’s not so much a matter of whether I was wrong or right — believe me, I was wrong a lot — but rather how impossible the 162-game season makes it to reach a definitive conclusion about your team, let alone live in the moment.
I can’t tell you how often and how much I wrote off the chances of the 2008 Mets well in advance of their 162nd game. That they did not successfully extend their season would seem to prove me out, but I’d say no, it proves nothing of the sort. My thoughts on the ’08 Mets weren’t of the “they’ll come up just short again” variety. They were “don’t even get me started.”
The Mets began to be written off by me, a professional writer, on April 6:
On our side of the fence, the Mets clearly aren’t clicking, save for Santana and Church. Let’s hope they can resist the pull of their new teammates and their old karma. It’s already begun to suck Schneider and Pagan into that stale and dismal vortex that seems unchanged from last September, the one that makes you forget we’re only five games into 2008.
One game later — six games in — I confirmed that it was going to be a lousy and long year:
It wasn’t a brand new season full of hope we saw take shape on Tuesday. It was September 31, 2007. And it was damn depressing to watch.
Well, it would be long. One-hundred sixty-two games long. It always is, save for the exceptions noted above. But that wouldn’t stop me from having it all figured out after ten games:
I’m past comparing this season to last season. The current edition has yet to put together an early stretch of dominance even close to what the Mets of 2007 racked up. Ten games in, they are, in the argot of the chronically inarticulate, what they are. They are a .500 ballclub, good some days and nights, less so on others.
After eleven games:
It’s an average-ish team in an average-ish league.
After nineteen games:
The Mets defy useful analysis at the moment. The slippery slope of trying to unravel their ennui runs from “what’s wrong now?” to “what’s wrong tomorrow?” to “will it ever be righted?” and in about 15 seconds you’re hosting one of those enlightening shows on SNY wherein second-tier WFAN talent shouts each other down for half an hour.
After 21 games:
Your 2008 Mets: They could be better, they could be worse, they don’t look, after an eighth of a season, like they’ll have much to do with the playoffs.
After 28 games:
They’re not thoroughbreds, but perhaps the Mets might give Nascar a whirl. It seems to feature lots of going in circles.
After 39 games:
The just-completed seven-game homestand against the sincerely second-division Reds and Nats should disabuse us of the notion that Mets are a good team. They are not good. They’re not necessarily bad. I’d call them ungood. Ungodly ungood.
After 49 games:
This is not an illusion, this is not a rough patch, this is not one of those potholes a team has to steer around in the course of the schedule. This is an abyss and the Mets are not equipped to rise above it. They’re not. So why bother kidding myself that they are?
You’re getting the idea, I’ll bet. The Mets weren’t going to be any good. Mike Pelfrey wasn’t going to be any good. Carlos Delgado wasn’t going to be any good. We were, individually and collectively, doomed.
The season wasn’t one-third over when I buried them. The season wasn’t close to half over when I dismissed a starting pitcher who, at 24, would win 13 games, and a first baseman of borderline Hall of Fame credentials who would hit 38 home runs and drive in 115 runs. After 75 games, I wasn’t all that sold on Johan Santana. The Mets were more than three months away from their 162nd game when I decided, for sure, they weren’t going anywhere.
As fun as it is to indulge in self-deprecation, that’s not the purpose behind saluting the 162-game schedule. You have to give it its props because not only does it outwit the baseball fans and baseball analysts and baseball bloggers, it outwits the baseball teams. It outwitted the Mets.
Outlasted them, to be sure. The other side of the 162-game coin was when they started to look very good, the impulse was to give the Mets plenty of rope. The idea wasn’t that they would hang themselves with it; rather, we (and they) thought they would lasso themselves a playoff spot. I sure hoped they would — after spending the first three months condemning them under my breath and on our blog. But they didn’t.
The 162-game schedule knew I couldn’t have it both ways. It knew I couldn’t not trust them and trust them implicitly. Likewise, it knew the Mets couldn’t float 3½ games above the crowd with no bullpen (Stokes to Ayala…it didn’t seem that crazy), no second baseman, two-thirds of an outfield and a crate full of catchers not worth a bucket of spit without rediscovering gravity. It knew — it just knows — you can’t get a division title or a Wild Card with four dependable everyday known quantities, no more than three go-to starting pitchers and zero bullpen.
The 162-game schedule won this round. It wins every 162-game round. It did us in in 2008. It did us in in 2007. Yet we still look forward to the next full complement in 2009. And I still want those extra 141 we never got.
Let’s face it: Baseball’s got our number but good.
FAITH AND FEAR’S NIKON CAMERA PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
The 162-Game Schedule