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.
Except that it shocked my teeth with its sweetness and tasted a tad fermented, I loved Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal when it hit grocery store shelves in the early fall of 1999. I loved that when Major League Baseball and the Players Association licensed — with proceeds directed to charity — baseball player images to an outfit called Famous Fixins, we didn’t see an individual Met on the box as was the case with representatives of other teams involved in similar promotions (Cal’s Classic O’s; Barry Bonds MVP Crunch; Derek Jeter’s Suck It With Milk). Our cereal featured approximately a third of our roster. That seemed at least 33% appropriate. Those 1999 Mets were, in every sense of the phrase, a team effort.
There was Al Leiter into his windup; Rey Ordoñez in mid-balletic leap-and-throw; John Franco pumping a fist (presumably after squirming out of a bases-loaded jam); Mike Piazza sending one nine miles; Edgardo Alfonzo guessing curve; Robin Ventura poised to pounce on a bunt; Rickey Henderson rounding third and heading for home; and John Olerud, hard hat and mitt ready for anything.
A sweet cereal for a sweet season. I could eat those ’99 Mets with a spoon.
Everybody should have been snapping up boxes of Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal. The front announced “ONLY 250,000 PRINTED,” but they would have made more had the demand been overwhelming. I did my part. I bought box after box. Gave ‘em out as Christmas presents. Saved at least one unopened, buried somewhere in a closet a few feet from where I type. I’m hoping it doesn’t contain ten-year-old bugs by now.
I thought about Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal in the wake of my co-blogger’s Tuesday assertion that it’s all right not just that our opponents this weekend continue to exist but that on some level it’s OK that they flourish.
…we don’t entirely mind sharing our city with that baseball colossus up in the Bronx, the one that soaks up sportswriter attention and back pages and free-agent dollars and the loyalties of the soulless and the misguided.
He said I disagree with his assertion. He is correct.
I get Jason’s longstanding point, that it’s helpful to have an automatic safety valve to siphon off the a-holes who gravitate to the A-Rods, thus keeping them from gumming up the works for the rest of us. I get it and I respect where it’s coming from. But I don’t quite buy it, not the way I once bought boxes of Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal.
The other night, as we were settling into our temporary Excelsior Caesars lifestyle, we bandied about the pros and cons of this new ballpark of ours that has become, in head-spinning time, a familiar presence in our lives and certainly a constant in mine. I’m still grappling with the size issue, the alleged intimacy of Citi vs. the sweeping grandeur of Shea (though that could also be framed as the human scale of Citi vs. the hulkingness of Shea). One of the side notes that saddens me about Citi Field’s truncated capacity, I said, is that the Mets will never again do what they did six times at Shea Stadium, including last year: they will never again lead the National League in home attendance.
“Really?” my co-blogger asked in that genuinely incredulous tone I elicit from him about three times per season. When I affirmed yes, of course, he wondered what prize we earned for that particular feat of ticket-selling.
None that was tangible, obviously, but I liked it. I liked the sense that “everybody” was on the same page I was, that “everybody” wanted to go where I wanted to go, that “everybody” was into what I was into. I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation, as some do, of being intensely devoted to something that attracts the attention of relatively few. I won’t not like what I like because it’s unpopular, but liking what’s unpopular doesn’t necessarily make me feel cooler or hipper or smarter than all those I could write off as lemmings. Frankly, it makes me feel lonely. I never craved Mets fandom for popularity by association’s sake, not even when they were the most popular team around. But I won’t say I didn’t find the phenomenon gratifying.
Besides, if our team is that popular, it means they’re doing something right.
When the Mets ascended to the heights in 1969, revisited them in 1973 and swatted airplanes from them in ’86 and ’88, there was no loneliness to being a Mets fan. “Everybody” seemed to be a Mets fan. Did that include some who were not necessarily pure of heart or less than grating? Absolutely. But shoot, you get that at Mets games no matter how they’re doing. It may not be considered frontrunning or bandwagon-jumping when the Mets aren’t sprinting or rolling, but encountering individuals you consider less than ideal company is part of the human condition. Did we encounter a greater proportion of them during the years when the Mets were, by consensus, the most successful baseball show in town? To be honest, I couldn’t say. I was too busy enjoying the Mets and all the hoopla surrounding their success.
We are owed another of those periods, let the soulless and misguided land where they may. We’re overdue for delivery. By 1999, all of New York should have been dining out on Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal. It shouldn’t have been a cult breakfast. That season and that team deserved to take a back seat to nobody in public perception. That team should have owned its city. It was all it could do to sublet. Perhaps if the Mets had staved off sogginess against Atlanta in Game Six, sliced the Braves like bananas in Game Seven and then gone to a postseason Subway Series and prevailed, that would have taken care of business.
But that’s results. That’s after the fact. We won it all in ’69 and ’86, we didn’t quite in ’73 and ’88. But we were It in all four years and the seasons that surrounded them. The Mets go to the trouble of truly contending, it is my contention that they deserve the spoils attendant a top-notch team in a great, big city. We began a long journey upward in 1997 in virtual privacy. I adored 1997, but it bothered me that we were a sidebar instead of the back page. We got to ’99 and made it past September and I somehow expected it to be bigger news — 55,000-seat huge as opposed to 42,000-seat moderate. And it would have been, I’m convinced, if there hadn’t been that other thing that raced ahead of us to local prominence in the mid-’90s and had the gall to stay there clear to the end of the decade when it should have been our time. They’ve never quite vacated the stage since, either.
No, I don’t think that’s a good thing because I know that it’s a far, far better thing when the Mets are New York’s unquestioned baseball colossus. We handle it just fine. It was my experience the last time around that the town is happiest when the Mets are its toast (as opposed to the Mets being toast and inspiring absolutely no cereal). Yeah, you’ll get some intrusive dunderheads who don’t belong trying to hitch a ride, but mostly you’ll stoke people’s better angels. When the Mets are It, New Yorkers worry for them and care for them in the earnest hope that they will revel in them. The process doesn’t much resemble the mind-numbing Number Oneism of self-satisfied jerks getting off on being self-satisfied jerks, the behavior commonly linked to followers of other top-notch baseball teams in New York more recently (though not all that recently, given the paucity of top-notch baseball teams locally of late). My evidence, not unlike the contents of my unopened box of Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal, may be a little stale, but I’d be willing to corroborate my theory anew by observing much Met winning and commensurate amounts of Yankee losing. We can start tonight.
You wouldn’t notice the soulless. You wouldn’t notice the misguided. You would just notice how good you felt every day as long as it lasted. And you wouldn’t want it to end.
In the meantime, you shouldn’t wait to begin reading 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.