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.
“Pick one,” Stephen Colbert likes to mock-pressure his guests. “We’re at war.” There are times that’s legitimate advice. This weekend certainly qualifies.
You can’t be a Mets fan and not, at some point, find yourself strongly disliking the Yankees, their fans and just about everything they stand for, whether they actively stand for it or just make noise like they do. If we can separate baseball hatred from the more dangerous real-life kind, insert “hate” for “strongly dislike”. They’ve been bringing it on themselves for as long as I’ve been aware there was another New York team besides the Mets.
I was ahead of the curve as a kid, prior to their late ’70s renaissance and our concomitant disintegration. I strongly disliked…OK, hated the Yankees when they were comprised primarily of Frank Tepedino, Jake Gibbs, Jerry Kenney, Steve Kline and Lindy McDaniel. It wasn’t a sidebar as much as an agate-type box, but it was there. I didn’t want them to exist. But in the heyday and afterglow of the Miracle Mets, it wasn’t a big deal. Certainly there were those inevitable bus stop arguments over who was better — Seaver vs. Stottlemyre, Agee vs. Murcer, Grote vs. Munson — yet not a few kids in my circles more or less liked both teams (as 6% of New Yorkers claim to do now). Perhaps that was a reflection that after 1969, with the notable exception of a few hot weeks in the late summer and early fall of ’73, both were competent but neither was setting the world on fire. Perhaps it was just the unfully formed judgment of youth not quite capable of making a proper decision. Come 1977, though, this “I’m a Mets fan but I guess I like the Yankees” behavior all but disappeared. If you were a Mets fan, you hated the Yankees. If you were a Yankees fan, I wasn’t too crazy about you. I never was.
From what I could gauge from my encampment on the late ’70s Met side of the fence (where except for the steadfast Joel Lugo, I didn’t have a lot of company) it didn’t always go the other way. That makes sense. One of the things we intrinsically despise about them is the haughty lack of awareness of anything that isn’t them. Why would they hate what they failed to acknowledge? Without the Interleague play we’ll be encountering this weekend, you’d have to go out of your way to know the Mets were still in business if your team wasn’t scheduled to play them. By 1979, you almost never heard about us. That in itself was maddening, but another kind of maddening.
The saving grace to being a fan of the sixth-place Mets in 1979 was that Yankees fans were consigned to rooting for a fourth-place club. It was a delightful respite in the long, hot summer of Richie Hebner, Sergio Ferrer and everybody else who made our club so darn embraceable. My interactions with Yankees fans were far more satisfying than in ’77 and ’78 because all they knew was their team was subpar (89-71 but never remotely close to the eventual division champion Orioles). Thus, instead of “Mets suck” as the automatic response to anything I said about their team, I reveled in their head-shaking agreement that, yes, their Yankees sucked now. Ah, clarity.
It was easy for me to choose sides thirty years ago because the sides were clearly defined for me for ten years prior. On the other hand, I never got the hang of the other pressing dispute if that Disco Demolition summer when some moron named Steve Dahl was blowing up records in Comiskey Park and the White Sox were forfeiting the nightcap of a doubleheader to the Tigers.
Rock vs. Disco was, like John Maine at the moment, a non-starter to me. At sixteen, I was and had always been a Top 40 listener. Come 1979, it encompassed rock and it encompassed disco. Most disco hits ran about two minutes too long in their 12-inch format but otherwise Chic, Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, McFadden & Whitehead…it was all good to me. Yet when Neil Young would come along and sing defiantly or perhaps morosely that hey, hey, my, my, rock ‘n’ roll will never die, I dug it. Led Zeppelin was coming in through the out door with a new album. Cheap Trick emphatically wanted you to want them. Supertramp was pretty logical. Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t dying. I liked it, but not to the exclusion of what so many bristled at. Blondie blended rock and disco in “Heart of Glass” and it was sublimely transparent to me that both genres could co-exist. I was smitten by the c-c-catchiness of the Kn-Kn-Knack; I kn-kn-knocked on wood with Amii Stewart; I hummed along when Anita Ward rang her bell even. People out there, as John Stewart reported in the summer of ’79, were turning music into gold. It all had value when I listened.
Agee over Murcer. Mazzilli over Rivers. Wilson over Kelly. McRae over Williams. Beltran over Cabrera. Those are worthwhile arguments. Let’s Go Mets trumps all.
METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball is coming to Manhattan on Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet the authors of A Magic Summer, Mets By The Numbers and Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, talk baseball with us, watch the Mets beat the Orioles just as they did in ’69 with us and have a generally great time. Details here.