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Right There, Right Then

Welcome to Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End, a milestone-anniversary salute to the New York Mets of 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999. Each week, we immerse ourselves in or at least touch upon something that transpired within the Metsian realm 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago. Amazin’ or not, here it comes.

Can you believe this decade is more than 90 percent over? I can’t.

Weren’t we just fussing over the coming of a new century/millennium? We were.

So what the fudge? I don’t know.

Baseball’s a funny game, Joe Garagiola once told us [1], and it’s funny to me — funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha — how baseball does and doesn’t fit well within the friendly confines of the traditional Gregorian calendar. Of the four major sports, counting hockey for some reason, baseball is the only one whose season falls completely within the parameters of what is known to the outside world as a year. But that’s the (more or less) April to October piece. The new year really begins when…it is unclear.

It could be Opening Day. It could be the first day of exhibition games. It could be when the pitchers and catchers make the like the swallows who return faithfully to San Juan Capistrano and wing their way to Port St. Lucie. It could be a tick after the phenomenon known as the Baseball Equinox [2], when you stand exactly between the end of the last game your team played and the planned first pitch of the next game your team plays. It might be that “next year” becomes “this year” the moment your Ryan Church, your Luis Castillo or your Carlos Beltran makes the final out of what suddenly becomes last year.

Whenever it is, it’s got almost nothing to do with a ball dropping (unless it falls in among Church, Castillo and Beltran). In that sense, the idea that the turning of a decade has much to do with anything on the baseball calendar or clock is probably a tough sell.

But I’d like to sell it anyway for the next bunch of months.

This year’s Flashback Friday [3] theme is “I Saw The Decade End,” which some of you will recognize as a lyric from the 1991 Jesus Jones hit, “Right Here, Right Now [4]“. The premise is this is the final year of the decade we’re in right here, right now…but, somehow, not for long. As I come to grips with time flying like those aforementioned swallows, I hope to use FBF this season to put into historical and personal perspective the seasons that are celebrating milestone anniversaries this season, though in at least one case “celebrating” is a mighty stretch.

2009 is the 40th anniversary of 1969. Not much explanation needed there for now.

2009 is the 30th anniversary of 1979. The antithesis of 1969, but if Flashback Friday isn’t going to pay it homage, who will?

2009 is the 20th anniversary of 1989. A more significant season than might be gleaned on first glance — or at least I’ll try to make it look that way.

2009 is the 10th anniversary of 1999. You might say I’ve been waiting ten years for this one.

One world championship, one Wild Card and one playoffless second-place finish notwithstanding, these are, statistically speaking, merely four of what will soon be 48 seasons of Mets baseball. It is the randomness of chronology that ties them together…that and my fascination with seeing a decade end. Baseball decades in particular don’t really mean anything, not in the begins with 0 and ends with 9 interpretation. That’s why I chuckle when “he had the most wins of any pitcher in the ’80s” or “he hit more home runs than anybody in the ’50s” comes up as an infallible endorsement of somebody’s career, as if Jack Morris or Duke Snider set out to top those lists. There’s nothing inherently more worthy about most wins between 1980 and 1989 than there is about most wins in some other ten-year string. But I suppose it is sexier.

Nerd-sexier, but sexier nonetheless.

It’s not so much that I can’t believe the ’00s are on their last legs. I can’t believe any of the decades I’ve lived through ended so fast. My older sister taught me the word “decade” on my seventh birthday, December 31, 1969. What’s that? It’s not just a new year, but a new “decade”? WOW! Couldn’t get enough of it. When school resumed after the holiday break, I proudly announced to my first-grade teacher, “This isn’t just a new year, it’s a NEW DECADE!”

She was like, tell me something I don’t already know, kid.

Nevertheless, I would get like that every ten years. I was in eleventh grade in December 1979 when I found a way to shoehorn in to my high school paper an inquiring reporter feature asking other kids their most tangible memory of the ’70s (and placed atop the responses that of the guy who said, “The Mets winning the 1973 pennant”). I was in the first year of my beverage magazine job when I demanded we make our December 1989 cover story “The Best of the ’80s,” which became my first cover story and foretold, perhaps, my Flashback Friday future. In December 1999, the millennium bit sort of pre-empted a good old decade-in-review, but I infused our bev-at-the-century’s end features with plenty from the previous ten years.

Now it’s here again, another final year of a decade. Everything for so long pointed to 2000, and now 2000 is nine going on ten years ago. Next year begins the 2010s. I clearly remember an assignment in a college journalism class, my final semester — spring of ’85 — in which we had to write about something was forecast to take place 25 years hence. We all used that verbiage: “In 25 years…” and our professor told us, no, call it 2010, there’s a movie [5] out with that name, it’s sexy!

Nerd-sexy, but sexy nonetheless.

2010 is less than eleven months from arriving. The 2009 season begins two months from today. We are about to see the fifth decade in which there has been Mets baseball end. Right here, in a week, we’ll begin to look at how the others drew to their conclusions.

And, I suppose, at how this one might.