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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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The Alternate-Reality Mets

The Mets beat the Orioles somewhere down in Florida today, which means nothing except that it's no longer completely, utterly winter. Which isn't a bad bit of meaning to extract from a gray New York February day, but it's no longer transformative. At least not for me.

I'm even busier than usual this spring (three Star Wars books to push across the finish line), which isn't a great thing to combine with my usual disenchantment with spring training. I love baseball, but spring training just leaves me cold. Once upon a time, it took six weeks of calisthenics and wind sprints and exhibition games to get guys who'd spent the winter driving trucks or selling things into fighting shape. When I was a kid, baseball cards still occasionally mentioned what players did in the offseason; that's long gone unless Topps decides that “Joe spends the winter lifting weights, going to the batting cage and eating special diets in a nearly empty condo in Florida” would be a catchy thing to put on a cardback. Now, pitchers need spring training and everybody else tries not to die of boredom, including scribes stuck in St. Lucie and all of us back home. In theory, spring training is the renewal of hope and all that. In practice, the best you can say about it is it's nominally better than winter.

Besides, spring training's not supposed to be about news. “News,” in this case, does not mean “trying out a new pitch,” “in the best shape of his life” or “playing with a newfound maturity.” Those are cliches, baseball slots waiting to be filled by a different player each March. In spring training cliches are noise; news is signal. And in spring training real news almost always signals something bad: Hoped-For Third Starter Felt a Pop and Is Flying Back to New York, Right Fielder Punched the First Baseman on Photo Day, or (and I'm sorry for being even more cynical than usual) Marginal Roster Guy Is Hitting .783. Because the last is inevitably a statistical fluke that will lead to Marginal Roster Guy being taken north and regressing to the statistical mean in a cruelly public fashion.

Of course we could be the Yankees, in which case “news” would mean This Year's High-Profile Player Apologizes for Taking Perfromance-Enhancing Drugs. Which is amusing for us, except for the fact that our guy's turn in the stocks will inevitably come. And I'm not even going to mention Expected Phillie and Unexpected Met Engage in Something That Can Be Inflated Into War of Words, because I'm tired of that whole charade.

No, I think David Wright had it right last week: “This is the way it's supposed to be –- quiet.”

In the absence of news and resistance to cliche, I found my eyes drawn to these two Hardball Times pieces by Brandon Isleib. They're part of a series looking at how baseball's pennant races would have played out if the leagues had always been divided into divisions and played unbalanced schedules. As you might expect, the 1962-1968 Mets aren't a factor in this baseball alternate reality either. The '69 Mets still get a miracle. (Though the Cubs make the playoffs in the pretend NL Central anyway.)

And then it really gets interesting.

In real life the story of the early-1970s Mets is a frustrating one: Three third-place, 83-win seasons before a lovably flawed near-miracle. It's the triumph of great pitching lifting lousy hitting all the way to the middle of the pack. But in Isleib's world, the smaller divisions and unbalanced schedule gives the Mets division titles in 1970 and 1972 in addition to 1973, with the Braves edging them by a single game in 1971. That's one final-day bout of dismay (can't imagine how that feels) in the middle of four postseason appearances.

But wait — you want to know about the 1980s. Well, the 1984 Mets are a second miracle, coming from nowhere to win the NL East. And it's the first of seven in a row. Imagine that!

What does all this mean beyond a welcome diversion from February? To me, it's that reputations are carved in stone based on surprisingly small taps with the historical chisel.

The '69 Mets wind up looking less miraculous, and more like the blueprint for building a team around pitching and defense. This isn't as good a story, but one the players and front-office personnel on that team would appreciate, since “miracle” has some pretty demeaning implications. (And let's not lose sight of the fact that those post-season checks meant a heck of a lot more back then.)

As for the 1980s, David Wright wears a different number today — because 5 would be on the Citi Field wall and the Faith and Fear in Flushing shirt, and we'd all know it immediately and instantly as Davey's number. There's no way Davey Johnson gets fired in the spring of 1990, not with a perfect track record. And therefore there's probably no way Buddy Harrelson's reputation gets cruelly but not unjustly diminished, or the Mets try to rebuild around a lemon-pussed outfielder whose hobbies include throwing explosives near little girls, or we ever have to talk about Jeff Torborg with anything other than the joyously red-faced hilarity he deserves as a bad manager for other teams. I'm also quite sure, though I can't prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Mets' string of triumphs also leads to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, warnings being heeded about Wall Street risk models not reflecting reality, a Shake Shack as centerpiece of a revitalized Brooklyn waterfront, and my nearing 40 with a lustrous skein of golden locks that would make a TV anchorman seethe with jealousy.

In Isleib's reimagined world the Bad Guys Win all the time. The Mets of the mid-1980s aren't a parable for wasted talent and the perils of late nights, but a celebration of apology-free behind-kicking. The late-1980s Mets no longer look like a thunderous but spastic team of mismatched parts, and Gregg Jefferies is no longer the scapegoat for everything from second-place finishes to global warming. No, they look like a continuation of a Met winning tradition that would have been a bit ho-hum by then, though presumably not to us.

If all this had come to pass, what would we see looking back? A mini-dynasty and an maxi- one in the blue-and-orange history books. What would that do to our little-brother reputation in this town, the one that leaves us by turns irritated and not-so-secretly relieved? And what would it do to our sense of self as Met fans? Would it be better, or worse?

You'll get less cynic and more into-it if you buy Greg's book — Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available for pre-ordering now via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers.

16 comments to The Alternate-Reality Mets

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Not to burst one's bubble but had the league been divided the way it is now, the results might not have been as similiar. Somebody replayed the 1962 Met season with a simulation game and before stopping in mid-August Casey's crew had already won more than 50 games, were only 16 or so games under .500 and on pace to win more than 70.
    So much for re-creation.

  • Anonymous

    Stupid 1971 Mets…

  • Anonymous

    1971 was such a crushing season for us.
    I took my dad to a Father's Day doubleheader (complete sellout) and after we beat Philly in the first game our record was 37-25. By my birthday we upped it to 42-28 and was just two games behind. Unfortunately, we went 41-51 the rest of the year and finished a distant third, 14 games out. We only scored 38 more times than the opposition so with that great pitching we know how bad the hitting was (the only bats we had were Jones, Kranepool and Boswell – Agee was out for a stretch and Clendenon slumped badly).
    But we did lead the majors in attendance!

  • Anonymous

    I would think things would not have played out much differently, actually. It was Donald Rumsfeld, I think, who said, “You try to win the division you're in, or go for the wild card, or rebuild.” The other GM's in what is now the NL East would have made different decisions if they thought they had a chance at winning now, and would probably not have allowed the Mets to win seven straight division titles.
    Since the Expos and Braves (not so much the Phillies) had the Cubs and Cards ahead of them as well as the Mets, they both chose to fortify their farm systems and ended up with some great teams in the early 90's. Maybe the Braves, especially, would have been much more into the FA market had they thought the Mets were their only obstacle.
    The point is, it's impossible to know what would have happened had the divisions been constituted differently, and given the Mets history, it probably wouldn't have been much better than it was.

  • Anonymous

    I'm no Islander fan, but I imagine one could tell you all about little-brother status after an 80's dynasty.
    A Star Wars question for you Jace, if you are the fan I think I've heard you are: which was more painful for you, 2007-2008, or the prequels? (things to consider: Tom Glavine, Jar Jar Binks)
    I myself am dreading the pain I'll feel in the theater when JJ Abrahms takes a dump all over Star Trek.

  • Anonymous

    The “little brother” thing didn't exist in the early '70s. It didn't exist in the late '80s. It took phenomenal mismanagement and convenient mass media amnesia to kindle it in the '90s. Remember, the reason the Mets exist is New York was considered a National League town. The audience was in place, the franchise was well-heeled, it just needed a good team to activate it full-force, which is what happened in 1969. The Mets in actual reality were never the dynasty the Islanders were, but the Islanders never “owned” New York. They were, by mission statement (as drawn on their sweaters), serving a niche of the population. They may have been the best hockey team everywhere, including within the greater New York metropolitan area, but they were Long Island's team — and Long Island had pre-existing loyalties in many cases. They would eventually be mismanaged into orphan status, but the Islanders were founded as an expansion team seeking to cultivate a potential audience. The Mets were a makegood for a fan base that was waiting for them.
    The whole little brother thing never should have seen the light of day. It's only kept alive when perpetuated by those who have the power to do so (most prominently those who build relatively tiny stadiums in the nation's mightiest metropolis because they forgot how many fans they have).

  • Anonymous

    I remember being horribly frustrated in the summer of '71. You've pretty much covered why.

  • Anonymous

    Based on what we've seen the past two Septembers, I come away from this thinking baseball could have gone to a 30-division format and we would still blow the Wild Card.

  • Anonymous

    Another baseball/Star Wars query, Jason. Am I the only one who thinks of Jar Jar Binks when he reads the name Jair Jurrjens?

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Spoiler alert if you're watching tonight (avert your eyes):
    Snighcast opens with 1962 kinescope of the Original Mets stretching (and presumably) failing while Bob Murphy welcomes us to St. Petersburg.
    Best opening ever.

  • Anonymous

    I will now do so from this moment on. Thanks, I think.

  • Anonymous

    Baseball pain is forever. I don't want to know how many times I'll stare at the ceiling at 3 a.m. in years to come and think of Glavine getting shelled. Or Murphy at third, Wright at the plate, nobody out. Or Timo NOT FUCKING RUNNING. Or Shawn Green leaping for Pube Chin's fly ball. Or Brian Jordan. Or Game 7 of the 1988 NLCS. Or…

  • Anonymous

    Another resounding Grapefruit League win, a 9-0 thrashing of the Marlins!
    That makes our record…0-0. Damn.

  • Anonymous

    Pube Chin. Classic.