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.
Whatever comes of the Mets’ latent attempts to commemorate their nearly half-century of operation as New York’s National League franchise, they need to remember one non-obvious detail above all others.
Mark 1999 on a wall somewhere.
I’ve seen the World Series and pennant flags fly, framing the Pepsi Porch. It’s a good start, and if you’re going to have a pecking order, you start with the world championships you’ve won in 1969 and 1986 and then you make room for the league championships from 1973 and 2000.
Then you get to the three other playoff teams. And let’s be clear: all of them, for the purposes of commemoration, are equal.
Though one of them was more equal than others, technicality that one somehow seems lesser aside.
When a wise guy, perhaps one hosting a sports talk radio show, would want to find an eighteenth or nineteenth reason to put down the Mets when the team called Shea Stadium home, he might eventually get to “and they have a banner up for winning the Wild Card!“ because somehow making the postseason but not making all of its hay could be considered undignified.
I loved the 1999 season as no other, so it should be no surprise that I want it marked. But I loved that banner, too. I loved that it changed its wording once or twice. The Mets weren’t shy about posting something for 1999 in 2000. There was no flag to run up a pole, but a banner they could do (the Mets were always big on banners, you might remember). If memory serves — and, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always — they gave themselves credit first for just the Wild Card. Then they realized, no, wait a sec, we did more than that. Not that winning the Wild Card wasn’t something, considering how they had to get there. But the banner morphed into a celebration of the playoff victory over Arizona: NLDS Champs.
A little unwieldy, but accurate, even if I don’t remember once thinking, on the heels of Todd Pratt’s home run, “We’re champions of the division series!” Yet the real beauty of that 1999 team wasn’t a specific title — and without a division in its pocket, it was hard to identify one anyway — but the spirit it represented. The ’99 Mets’ shiningest moments may have glittered most strongly in their final two games, known in Amazin’ shorthand as the Grand Slam Single Game and the Kenny Rogers Game (except, of course, for the Kenny Rogers part). Yet “SPLIT LAST TWO NLCS GAMES” wouldn’t have looked quite right in right field, so the eventual compromise that became the 1999 banner…
…fit just fine. If it couldn’t be briefly explained, all the better. Baseball is about passing on stories. If someone ever wanted to know, “What’s the deal with Wild Card & NLDS winners sign?” you could pass a good half-inning nailing the nomenclature for the uninitiated.
The other two markers pasted over right field at Shea, one for the 1988 N.L. EAST DIVISION CHAMPIONS and one for the 2006 N.L. EAST & NLDS CHAMPIONS…bring those back, too, in some form. Like 1999, neither of those years was quite poleworthy, but they ought to be good enough to be scrawled on a wall and never erased. There’s nothing more you can do in the course of 162 games (or 163, if you’re 1999) then get to the playoffs. You can win a division title, and that can be an awful lot of fun, but it doesn’t guarantee you a trip up the flagpole. That’s why the three non-pennant playoff teams are equal…even if one, because of the magnificent hell they put themselves and us through, will always be a little more equal than the others, certainly in my heart.
The ’99 Mets were in stone contention for the division title most of that season, incidentally. They were alone in first as late as August 19 and within one game of the top entering the rollercoaster that the year became starting with a frightening plunge into Turner Field on September 21. From there, it was a freefall, but then — unlike what you might have noticed the last couple of Septembers — there was a rise, culminating in three consecutive wins at the end of the schedule, thereby necessitating a fourth game and a fourth win…which was won, on October 4, 1999. That pushed the Mets into the playoffs, which is the reason there was any kind of banner to script at all.
The Mets winning a few games when they absolutely needed them…shoot, that should be worthy of a wall unto itself.
Relive 1999 and all the other Mets season as you never have before in Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook. And for a touch of modest populist outrage at the disappearance of affordable middle-tier seats where the Mets play ball, check out, of all things, Variety.