Thanks to Jason for issuing such a warm invitation to Varsity Letters (Thursday night, 8 PM, details and directions here) as well as for offering a relatively objective review. Thanks to all, really, who have made these first few weeks as a published Mets author so inviting. Your support is as uplifting as it is touching.
Especially from one corner I wasn’t expecting.
Because of the book’s publication, I find myself being taken more seriously by some people who weren’t all that interested in what I had to say before. I won’t mention any names, but I think it’s fair to say that a certain organization in Queens suddenly noticed someone who had been watching them relentlessly for forty seasons might have a few notes to share. This group asked me (after I’d been railing at them online for almost four years) what do you want? You’re an author now, we kind of have to consider your ideas, what do you think we should do?
I told them. And they listened. God help me, the Mets listened to me. And if you’re going to a game this year, there’s a good chance you’re going to be the beneficiary.
It’s not listed on the promotional schedule yet, but I’ve gotten the go-ahead to announce here today that 2009 will be Mets History Miniature Bobblehead Year at Citi Field. It’s an initiative envisioned and coordinated by…well, me.
I don’t dream big, but it’s kind of a dream come true.
A little background is in order. Late in the 2005 season, I’m sitting at Shea with a friend of mine who’s a big bobblehead collector. It was Willie Randolph Bobblehead Day and we each got our flexible little statue and we were happy, but we got to talking about how the Mets could do more, much more in this realm. Maybe they could create a bobblehead not just for the current players (and manager) but do historical figures as well. They had done Tom Terrific the first year of bobbles, in 2000, and Mookie Magnificent (a coach at the time), but after that, it was all about promoting whoever was on the roster right now.
Wouldn’t it be great, we asked each other, if the Mets were to take the time to think about a given season and a given player or person who impacted them and made a big bobbleheaded deal of it? And, for the love of Mike Bruhert, not just give them to kids who don’t know enough about Mets history to appreciate it. (In 2000, the aforementioned Seaver and Wilson dolls were for the 14-and-under set, even if it was burgeoning codgers like me who salivated over them).
I put the idea away for a while, but then Stephanie and I visited Miller Park in 2007 on a Friday night and discovered every Friday night was 1982 Brewer Bobblehead Night. We were each given a miniature Pete Vukovich. Not just smaller than Pete Vukovich himself, but smaller than your average bobblehead by about two inches. (Actually, we got one Vuk in a home uni and one in a road; call it a bratwurst bonus.) By the end of the season, Brewers fans — adults and kids — all over the greater Milwaukee area could trot out an entire lineup of their last pennant-winning team.
Why, I asked Stephanie, can’t the Mets do something like this? Why do we always have to look like the small-market team when compared to somebody like the Brewers? I was going to post about it, but this was September 2007, and I got distracted by more pressing, collapsing matters. But I never let the idea go, so when the Mets contacted me and asked for one slam-bang suggestion, one way to make Citi Field feel more like the home of the Mets and less like some sterile corporate playpen right off the bat, I laid out the parameters:
• Give out 47 mini bobbleheads through the course of the year, one for each season the Mets have played.
• Each should represent a different figure in Mets history.
• They should be given out in chronological order.
• They should be given out to everybody: not restricted by age or by how quickly you had the ticket you paid for scanned.
• Each player/person chosen to be depicted had to be tied into the particular season he was representing, and couldn’t show up again.
• The bobblehead had to resemble who it was supposed to be in the course of that year, so if you’re talking about so-and-so in this season, he couldn’t look like so-and-so in that season.
• All uniform details would have to be exact to period specifications.
• To stimulate the local economy, previously unknown Queens ceramicists should be hired to craft the bobbleheads — no ordering crap from some underpaid overseas factory.
• Finally, a crack committee of Mets historians, overseen by yours truly, would have (within reason) final say over who would be honored with the bobbleheads.
And you know what? They went for it. Had to tweak a little along the way, and there was the inevitable corporate politicking, but the Mets were largely cooperative and gracious. Thus, while completing the book and beginning to promote it, I’ve been working feverishly with some very dedicated artists and a number of similarly minded Mets fans/writers (they know who they are) to make sure 2009 will really be Mets History Miniature Bobblehead Year at Citi Field.
I see nothing of monetary compensation from this, by the way. This was the proverbial labor of love. Everybody on the committee volunteered his or her time and efforts. The artists and craftspeople couldn’t be paid a lot, but they will get exposure. And the Mets aren’t handing these out only at ritzily priced weekend games. They’re spreading them around. They see it as a premium to all who are investing in the future of this team by paying for the generally higher seat prices (though Promenade-sitters won’t be left out of the fun). The past, I convinced them, helps pay for the future. The adults will love it because this is their history. The kids will become intrigued and informed (each bobblehead comes with a lengthy bio and stat package, put together by the committee).
FYI, none of this affects the already-announced Frankie Rodriguez Bobblehead Day planned for September 6, presented by Gold’s Horseradish. The Mets have that relationship locked in place, so that will be a standard, taller bobble, but at least it won’t be age-restricted. I hope K-Rod, or whatever he wants to be called, makes history, but he’s the present. We’re honoring the past for now.
Without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to announce the roster for Mets History Miniature Bobblehead Year at Citi Field. I’ll add a little explanation of why who was chosen, but can’t reveal all of the committee’s machinations.
1962 Casey Stengel — This was a unanimous choice, for pretty obvious reasons.
1963 Roger Craig — I argued for at least one Polo Grounds Met player of distinction (as opposed to somebody who was simply symbolically terrible), and who better than the titular ace who had to be good enough to lose twenty games twice?
1964 Ron Hunt — First Mets starting All-Star the year Shea opened and the year Shea hosted its only All-Star Game. As closely associated with that year as LBJ and the Beatles.
1965 Ron Swoboda — It begins to get tricky here because the players we tend to associate with ’69 start coming onto the scene, and because nobody who isn’t around later really peaks. We went with Rocky because this was his rookie year when Swoboda’s whole “Stronger Than Dirt” persona began to take hold.
1966 Cleon Jones — Not his best season, of course, but the season he became a regular. Expect a much younger-looking Cleon model than the one to whom you might be accustomed.
1967 Tom Seaver — Immediately the best pitcher the Mets ever had. The best player, too. Rookie of the Year choice. We could wait to do Seaver, but Mets fans had waited long enough for someone like him to come along.
1968 Jerry Grote — All-Star selection, came into his own as the Mets’ best defensive catcher and the key to what would become an incredible pitching staff. I imagine his bobblehead will carry a bit of a snarl.
1969 Gil Hodges — Not a no-brainer, considering what kind of year 1969 was, but it was agreed with little dissent that Gil and ’69 are synonymous.
1970 Tommie Agee — His best year for speed and power, one of the few Mets who shone in ’69 and sparkled a little brighter in ’70.
1971 Bud Harrelson — All-Star starter, Gold Glove winner. I was very adamant with the committee that we should generally avoid lifetime achievement awards, but I couldn’t picture doing this without Buddy. And ’71 was the pinnacle of his career in terms of recognition.
1972 Willie Mays — The year he came home from his extended leave in San Francisco and belted that homer against the Giants. If you weren’t around, you have no idea what a big deal that was (though you will when you read the bio/stat package I compiled to go with Willie’s bobblehead, I don’t mind telling you).
1973 Tug McGraw — You Gotta Believe this was one of our easiest selections. Of course the glove meets the thigh.
1974 Ed Kranepool — A dispiriting post-pennant season, but this happened to be the moment when Krane found himself as the “pinch-hitter deluxe” who won the fans over. Hit .486 off the bench that year.
1975 Rusty Staub — The end of his first term in New York, the first time a Met drove in 100+ runs. This bobblehead will be Grande.
1976 Jerry Koosman — His twenty-win season. No way was Kooz going to go unbobbled after the Met career he (and we) enjoyed.
1977 Lenny Randle — The worst of times, except for one fluky pickup who had one quirky year. I understand the artist who does Lenny is going to try to capture his face as it appeared when the blackout hit (though no such pictures exist).
1978 John Stearns — Oddly, the Dude made the All-Stars four times, but one of those seasons when he didn’t, this one, was clearly his best in terms of speed and power. (Not included: an opponent bobblehead player or mascot on which bobble Stearns could take out his frustrations.)
1979 Lee Mazzilli — The choice wasn’t much cause for debate, but there was a pretty heated argument as to whether we wanted him in a road uniform to represent what he accomplished in Seattle at that year’s midsummer classic. The Mets wouldn’t budge on home togs, however. As we used to say in 1979, can’t win ‘em all.
1980 Steve Henderson — If you’ve read the book, you know my fingerprints were all over this one given the memories he gave me with his walkoff swing of June 14. Fortunately, everybody else on the committee could relate.
1981 Dave Kingman — How’s this for attention to detail? The sketches I’ve seen have SkyKing, in his ’81 incarnation, holding a pen, recalling the peace offerings he gave beat writers upon his return. He told them to write only good things.
1982 Mookie Wilson — Another one of those seasons where there wasn’t a lot of good going on, yet we didn’t want to accentuate too much negative (sorry, George Foster). As you know, there’s nothing negative about Mookie. This was the year he truly established himself as a starter and set the longtime team stolen base record, so this is his bobblehead year.
1983 Jesse Orosco — It might have been fun to have had Jesse represent ’86 (sans glove), but this was truly his best season and, not irrelevantly, nobody else had a particularly great year around here.
1984 Keith Hernandez — As you can guess, this is where we start getting to the heart of the order of Mets history’s second great span. Mex became the Mets’ most significant position player ever in this epic turnaround season, so he gets the bobble nod.
1985 Dwight Gooden — I brought up Doc’s name, asked if there were any other suggestions, and the committee just laughed.
1986 Gary Carter — Kid will like this, and I think it’s appropriate he gets to hoist the bobble banner for the Mets’ most rousing championship season. I asked the artist if it was possible to have a glint of camera flash on Gary’s face. Not sure how it will come out.
1987 Darryl Strawberry — Kind of a sad season, but Darryl really broke out (30-30, 104 RBI), so it’s his season. He’ll be portrayed in uniform, not in a studio recording “Chocolate Strawberry“.
1988 Davey Johnson — In recognition of his five consecutive seasons of 90+ wins. Too bad we didn’t win more in the postseason in ’88. Too bad he had already shaved his mustache.
1989 Howard Johnson — Running wild, hitting ‘em far, otherwise keeping his own counsel. I would expect his mouth won’t be open on his bobblehead.
1990 John Franco — Brooklyn’s own returns to Queens. Funny, but doesn’t it seem he came up with the Mets? Prepare to see him in a racing stripe uni, which you might forget was still in effect clear through ’92.
1991 David Cone — In a year when only HoJo really stood out (he had a habit of coming through when everyone else was in the tank), Coney gets the bobble nod for striking out nineteen Phillies while the cops waited to have a word with him on the final day of the season. That he tied the N.L. record for K’s while in that dreadful block-letter road jersey? That was the real crime. (But he’s in home Mets gear here.)
1992 Bobby Bonilla — We really don’t want to accentuate the negative, but this is 1992 we’re talking about, and once you assign certain players to certain seasons…let’s just say Bonilla’s bobblehead fits 1992 like a glove. But here’s a twist to make it all go down a little smoother. Bobby Bo’s biggest moment that season, once we understood who he was, was his walkoff homer in late August against Rob Dibble on Turn Back The Clock Night. Thus, the Bobby Bo you get in bobblehead will be wearing a 1962-era Mets uniform. Anything to blot out ’92 is welcome.
1993 Anthony Young — The record losing streak made AY indelible in the story of ’93. But the grace with which he conducted himself under immense pressure makes this bobblehead a story of redemption. Can’t help you with that tail on the Mets on the uniform, however. That’s what they wore back then.
1994 Rico Brogna — The committee was composed of about as savvy a bunch of Mets historians as there are, but I got blank stares when I brought up 1994. Nobody shot down my suggestion of Rico Brogna as that strike-shortened season’s temporary savior because nobody had a better one.
1995 Jason Isringhausen — I have to hand it to the Mets for not wanting to completely obscure the existence of Generation K. I think they’re pretty proud of their scouting. Izzy was and is a talent, evidence by his trying to hang on in Tampa Bay. For a few months in ’95, he was ours. So were Pulse and Paul, but just one bobble per star-crossed trio.
1996 Todd Hundley — The single-season Mets home run champ has laid low since the Mitchell Report surfaced, but he’s still the single-season Mets home run champ, and that season was ’96.
1997 John Olerud — Yes, he will be wearing the hard hat. And for fun, it will be the white, “ice cream” model. (Deal with it.)
1998 Al Leiter — We thought about saving Al for 2000, specifically the game of the World Series, but we didn’t want to have his left arm fall off after 142 pitches. Al was new in ’98 and making quite an impression. First bobble in black, FYI.
1999 Robin Ventura — They’re doing a thing — and don’t ask me how it works — in which raindrops appear visible as bobble Robin swings. He will be upright, not tackled at second.
2000 Edgardo Alfonzo — This was the year when the world at large recognized Fonzie as the most underrated player in the game, so if you look closely, you’ll see the artist has incorporated just a bit of a shadow cast by other, more famous teammates.
2001 Bobby Valentine —Bobby V will sport an NYPD cap in recognition of his above & beyond efforts on behalf of the 9/11 families that September and thereafter.
2002 Mike Piazza — Maybe you were wondering if we forgot the big man. Any Met year from 1998 forward could have been Mike’s, but we chose ’02 partly to accommodate other Mets icons from ’98 to ’01, partly because we didn’t want to give into our real feelings about this wretched season by giving it to Roberto Alomar and partly because it was Piazza’s last really productive year as starting catcher. It was also the season Mike had to deal with a particularly nosy press delving into his personal life, so let’s at least give him a bobblehead as a consolation prize.
2003 Bob Murphy — In a year when no player stood out, Murph’s goodbye lives on. Seemed appropriate to recognize his place in Mets history here. Too bad we couldn’t have a little speaker built in so you could hear some of his most memorable calls. He’ll be wearing the uniform that was presented to him on his night on September 25 (No. 42, for all the seasons he talked us through).
2004 David Wright — Rookie David, so young and eager and fresh. Could be easily confused with modern David. Truly the bright spot then, truly the leading light now.
2005 Pedro Martinez — The committee avoided distracting debates about the value of his contract in the long term and quickly agreed that Pedro represented all that was encouraging about that crucial turnaround year in Mets history. This bobble has the best smile in the whole band.
2006 Carlos Beltran — This, on the other hand, was not a smooth selection. Other Mets had their supporters, as it was a team effort to go to Game Seven of the NLCS. Beltran’s all-around excellence and Hundley-tying 41 homers carried the day. And no, he’s not standing and looking at strike three.
2007 Jose Reyes — This is the happy Jose who sped out to the MVP lead for the first four or five months, the one who broke Mookie’s record for steals. It’s not the one who did a reverse-Metamorphosis in September. We don’t bobblefy collapses.
2008 Bill Shea — As you can imagine, the lobbying for Johan Santana was intense. Not that I wouldn’t want to give Johan a lot of ceramic love after last September 27, but I argued that we need to be optimistic and imagine an even better signature season for our ace down the road. As for Mr. Shea…this one was indeed for lifetime achievement. His name will never again be on as many lips as it was in 2008. Bill will look as he did in ’64, but he will be resplendent in last year’s final day closing ceremonies shirt (No. 64 on the front, No. 08 on the back).
There you have it: 47 Mets for 47 years. Not perfect, but, I think, fair. Also a great value-added premium when you buy a seat at Citi Field this year. The good news is if you miss out on a given night (there are only 42,000 seats in the new place, after all), the Mets are going to work with local manufacturers to produce more. The idea is to set up permanent Bobble Stands at Citi. Those of you who went to the St. John’s game Sunday noted the presence of what appeared to be some unused or wasted space. I can now reveal that’s what those spaces are going to be devoted to: making every year Mets History Miniature Bobblehead Year at Citi Field. There might be some at-large or Wild Card selections in due time to add to The Original 47 (remember, our 50th anniversary season is practically around the corner), but let’s not get carried away. I think this program I’m announcing today is a helluva start and I applaud the Mets’ promotional minds for getting on board.
Don’t be fooled into not getting your copy of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Listen to me tonight at 7 with Mike Silva and Howard Megdal on NY Baseball Digest; come see and hear Jason and me at Varsity Letters tomorrow night at 8; keep up with book happenings at Facebook; and maybe look into a shirt. It’s a real bargain.