Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of 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.
For life’s a mystery
I shall remember
For thirty days
It was in 2004, I think, that I was doing a little research on the 1999 Mets. I was trying to find something in Newsday‘s archives and was led to a page that promised helpful information. Indeed, it had a list titled something along the lines of “1999 Baseball Highlights”. It mentioned who won the World Series, who got their 3,000th hit, who threw a no-hitter, who set a record here or there, who did particularly well…stuff like that.
There was nothing — nothing — to indicate that the Mets had gone to the playoffs that year on one of the wildest rides imaginable or that they ramped up that ride exponentially right to the moment it was over. No more than five years had passed, yet their collective achievements had disappeared down the memory hole. Somebody at Newsday compiled a list of big deals in baseball from 1999 managing to leave out one of the most extraordinary campaigns in the history of one of the teams it covered every day.
If you’re wondering why I have spent so much time and generated so many words in service to memorializing 1999 here, it’s because I disdain the memory hole, the one down which events that mesmerized us for weeks on end can fall without making a sound if nobody lays out a tarp to catch them; the one down which episodes that don’t fit easily under mundane headings like “world championships” tend to fall. Like you, I lived the smashing crescendo of those 1999 Mets and I know it was, no pun intended, amazing. The final month of that season was the most gripping baseball drama I’ve ever encountered. I knew it when it happened and I’ve never stopped knowing it. Before this blog existed, I compiled a purely subjective and personal list of what I considered the hundred Greatest Baseball Experiences of my first 35 years as a fan, covering 1969 through 2003. The thirty days that spanned September 21 to October 20, 1999 ranked as No. 1. For context, the adventures of Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner ranked as No. 2.
And it wasn’t even a particularly close call.
Nothing touches those thirty days in 1999. Nothing. I’ve now lived through 41 seasons as a Mets fan. I’ve been fortunate enough to have absorbed a cornucopia of incredible experiences since creating that list in 2004. And still nothing touches those thirty days from the end of 1999. Together they constitute the singular episode of my baseball life: the joy, the sadness, the angst, the investment of emotion, the uncertainty of what might happen next and the utmost concern over its outcome…the desire that it just keep going.
Of course it didn’t keep going. Kenny Rogers walking Andruw Jones saw to that. The ride of my baseball life was over just before 12:30, the morning of October 20, 1999: 23 games, 13 losses, 10 wins, hundreds of waking hours, thousands of beads of sweat. I don’t know how to count it. It was too enormous to herd onto a spreadsheet.
I had been consumed by the Mets’ wobbly march toward the playoffs and their determined if flawed quest to remain alive inside them. Once you’re consumed, you don’t necessarily re-emerge easily from that which swallowed you up. The ride was over just before 12:30 that morning, October 20, but I wasn’t about to get off of it willingly.
I doubt I could have even had I wanted.
October 20, 1999, Around 12:30 AM
Three logos appear on my television screen, courtesy of the National Broadcasting Company: that of the Braves, who have just defeated us after the most searing set of games and weeks imaginable; that of the Yankees, whose fans have made the past several years miserable for us; and that of the 1999 World Series, in which, until moments ago, we dreamed of participating.
That’s what I said. I didn’t have to think about it. It was a guttural reaction. After all we put into 1999, we wind up with this: the Braves and the Yankees in the World Series.
Processing that the postseason was going on but the Mets weren’t curled me into as much of a ball as my six-foot frame would allow. Without meaning to, I instinctively went fetal. I was on the floor, I was writhing wordlessly and, for a moment or two, I was crying.
What am I doing here? I thought. I’m 36 years old, yet baseball is doing this to me as if it’s more than a game, as if it’s my life, not just some pleasant diversion from it. I’m allowing it to do this to me. I’m allowing the Mets to do this to me. Why?
One really gets down to fundamentals when in the fetal position.
I rose from my teary heap relatively quickly, and I stopped asking myself unanswerable questions. At that point, I was some thirty years deep into my Mets fandom. I had spent thirty days on the trail of these particular Mets. This was the thirtieth day, the day it ended. Their last game started on Day 29: My Life Held Hostage. I could go now. I was free.
Or was I? Not really. I wouldn’t be free of the 1999 Mets so fast. It would take a while. Their hold on me was too tight. We were tied to each other, even if they didn’t know me from a hole in the head or, in my case, a heap on the floor.
The Braves…the Yankees…the World Series…seriously, UCH!
I wearily picked up the phone and left a voice mail with my editor: I won’t be coming in today, I’m sick, see you Thursday.
October 20, 1999, Noonish
I get up and watch the Channel 2 News. The Mets are the lead story. Their season is over, but what a try, says the afternoon anchor. There’s a report from Shea. The players have flown back from Atlanta and the buses are depositing them by the main offices. There are about five fans there to greet them. I guess we don’t do that meet the plane jazz anymore.
October 20, 1999, Late Afternoon Into Evening
Stephanie (who also called in sick — she stayed up clear through the eleventh inning last night and refuses to function without proper sleep) notes we could use something from the supermarket. I volunteer. I haven’t been out all day. I need to crawl out from under my rock. I also need to get the papers.
I stop in to our local deli. It’s where I’d stop in to get the papers on a Saturday afternoon on my way to the train station if there was a day game. Then it was to bone up on quotes and stats and calibrate my hopes. Now, essentially, it was to read the obits.
The deli, like so much else, was connected in my mind to the 1999 Mets. The 1999 Mets were my most intense baseball romance — were. We were over. Going into that deli for those papers was a bad idea. My love was gone and the deli reminded me of all the fun we had together. It makes me quite sad. As would everything for a while.
I had my own shopping list for the supermarket: two items. One was a magazine I had seen recently but for which I hesitated to shell out $6.95. It was one of those quickie jobs with an unwieldy title: The 1999 Amazin’ Mets Magical Season, a Gold Collectors Series Baseball Magazine (as if that was some sort of seal of approval). The cover lines:
OLERUD, PIAZZA, LEITER GETTIN’ IT DONE!
1999 NEW YORK METS A YEAR TO REMEMBER
In case they weren’t gettin’ it done by the time a prospective purchaser considered the $6.95 investment, a banner across the top of the cover made it clear that WIN OR LOSE — WE LOVE THE METS.
So of course I splurged. It was surprisingly current, or as current as one would want it to be, right up to the home run that beat the Diamondbacks (“Take Pratt, Arizona”). Quite a bit inside on how the Mets had been “Amazin’ Again” in ’99 and how the front office made “All the Right Moves”. A few more articles like that plus a generous dollop of team history. It certainly deserved its Gold Collectors designation.
My other shopping list item: multiple boxes of Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal. Our playoffs might be over, but with Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal, I figured I could maintain the illusion that we were still in the midst of crunch time.
October 20, 1999, First Night Without Mets Baseball
Oh god, these newspapers. If the Amazin’ Mets Frosted Flakes Cereal doesn’t kill me, these will. Except for Long Island’s own Newsday, they’re all earlyish editions. Each has a few pages on the actual game the night before, but the rest of it was sent to press in advance of the final score to meet print deadlines. Thus, there’s both the bad news and lots of conditional “if necessary” stuff, including information on Mets World Series tickets being put on sale Thursday. The Post has a picture of Jerry Seinfeld visiting with Al Leiter and Orel Hershiser on the field before Game Six — why was Leiter chatting up Seinfeld with the biggest game of his life ahead? And why was Seinfeld, allegedly our most famous fan, bothering Al? Is Al wondering “what’s the deal with these Brave hitters?” before giving up those five runs?
The front pages, however, can’t equivocate.
The Post, with Piazza staring into space:
Fans still believe as
Braves end Mets
The News, with Leiter rubbing his face:
Mets’ miracle playoff
run ends in heartbreak
Newsday, with Alfonzo hugging Hamilton:
Winning Run Walks Home as Mets Fall, 10-9,
In 11 Innings; Yanks vs. Braves, Game 1 Saturday
The Times, with Andruw Jones sliding home in the first:
Subway Series Dies Hard:
Mets Lose It All on a Walk
Braves Win in 11th, 10-9, Yankees Are Up Next
October 21, 1999
Back at work. I’m told nobody was surprised I called in sick the day before. Nobody expected me in. Absolved of any charges that my priorities were less than straight, I spread out the day after the day after’s papers at my desk and commence to ignore my work some more.
With no more deadline pressure, the ladies and gentlemen of the Met press are more definitive in their appraisals, many of which read as sympathy cards. In the Times, George Vecsey pays homage to “the dysfunctional Mets, a collection of disparate types who became something akin to a team [that] thrilled the entire baseball diaspora with their highs, their lows, their ups, their downs, as Lerner and Loewe put it.” In Newsday, Shaun Powell suggests baseball skip the Yankees altogether and “just let the Braves and Mets keep playing. Let them keep stretching games into extra innings, keep turning Melvin Mora and Eddie Perez into MVPs, keep the battle between the Bobbys, and keep the pitchers throwing until they drag their aching arms off the mound.
“Let them keep us trapped inside a trance, the way we stayed during the most riveting two games of the season.”
In the News, Lisa Olson immortalizes Shawon Dunston’s farewell address to his teammates:
“I am so proud to be a Met,” said Dunston, voice cracking. Darryl Hamilton looked up, and felt the tears on his cheeks. Someone else sobbed. Al Leiter wiped the water from his eyes. The passion play that was the Mets season had just completed its last, heart-wrenching act, the Mojo dissipating with a 10-9, 11th-inning loss to the Braves Tuesday night.
“Grown men,” Olson continues, “aren’t supposed to cry but Dunston’s words put a quick end to whatever cool machismo the players were clutching. The clubhouse doors opened and it was like a giant flash had gone off, resulting in eyes that were red and oh-so-stunned.”
Best wishes will continue to pour in. From the Washington Post, via my new e-mail buddy Dan, comes Tom Boswell attempting to place this NLCS in historical context:
[T]his four-hour-plus combination of blood feud and chess match was more a testament to the sport itself than to the determination of a champion. Some research, at a future date, when the blood is not pounding in everyone’s ears, will no doubt be required to decide whether this playoff series between the Mets and Braves was the all-time best of its breed. The scores were 4-2, 4-3, 1-0, 3-2, 4-3 (in 15) and 10-9 (in 11). Every one a spellbinder. But, whatever the result of that analysis, one thing’s for sure: This dog can hunt with any.
It’s almost impossible, Boswell decides, to choose one particular contest as “the best game ever to conclude a postseason series. Such categories are a kind of eternal 10-way tie. Everyone gets to pick their favorite. Let me sleep on it. This might be mine.”
I find an ad in a couple of the papers:
To the greatest baseball fans in the world.
You make the Magic!
A special thanks to the more than
3,000,000 fans who came out to
Shea Stadium to cheer us on and
thanks to everyone who believed
in the Mets all season long.
It’s signed with a script Mets logo and the honorific 1999 N.L. WILD CARD WINNER.
October 22, 1999
Word spreads that as the Mets fought their way into extra innings the other night, Rickey Henderson — in a snit over being pulled for Melvin Mora — and Bobby Bonilla — used as a pinch-hitter already and embroiled in a permanent snit — huddled in the visitors’ clubhouse in Turner Field deeply concerned over the game in progress. Except their game was cards. It didn’t go over big with the Mets who went down fighting or the Mets who stayed on the bench to urge them forward.
“Guys who saw it wanted to take a bat to their heads after the game,” it’s reported. “There were players crying and screaming in the dugout. Then they walk in the clubhouse and see that?”
I should be more offended by this than I am. I’m not. I walked out on Game Six when it was 5-0 to pick up Chinese food and didn’t bring a radio. We all indulge our snits in our own way.
Meanwhile, I dwell on my chart of streakiness I’ve been keeping all season and distill it so I can better digest it. This is how the Mets won the Wild Card instead of the division and lost the pennant instead of winning a trip to the World Series. But mostly it’s about how the Mets made the playoffs instead of missing them altogether and how they got to Game Six of the NLCS instead of exiting after Game Four.
October 23-27, 1999
The World Series occurs. I follow perhaps a half-hour of it live.
• As Stephanie and I roll a shopping cart through Pathmark during Game One, I hear on a stockboy’s radio the Braves are leading. Oh, that’s nice, I say. By the time we check out, so have the Braves.
• I put on Game Two to watch the introduction of the absurdly constructed All-Century team — no Seaver, thus all absurdity. Jim Gray acts like a snot toward Pete Rose, who both deserves it and deserves better. Then I turn the whole thing off.
• The night of Game Three, I approve of a rare Tuesday night visit to Blockbuster. The late, lamented Jammin’ 105 has unwanted updates from “the Stadium,” which bring bad news in the car between Spinners and Four Tops records.
• I look in on the ninth inning of Game Four so as not to be a total sorehead about it.
The Yankees sweep the Braves. This is terrible. Had the Braves beaten the Yankees, it would have been tolerable. Tolerable vs. Terrible. I’ll take tolerable every time.
And don’t for a second think I don’t despise these Braves. They had just ended the most wonderful run of my baseball life. They had won the best baseball game I ever saw at the expense of my baseball team. They are the big bang of revolting: Jones, Rocker, Cox, Mazzone, Gl@v!ne. I hate the Braves in 1999 and 1998 as much as if not more than any Met division rival in my life, before or after.
But I wanted them to not lose that World Series. Their losing only meant one thing.
That the Yankees would win. And that is an intolerable outcome anytime.
October 29, 1999, Early Afternoon
Jace, who works downtown, sends me an e-mail:
Man, what a morning. Do you know how difficult it is to inject a vanload of monkeys with the Ebola virus and then get close enough to the damn Yankee parade to release them? I’m wiped out between the broken syringes, the cages banging together and talking to the damn cops. And then a bunch of the fuckers just climbed lampposts instead of biting people. But I’m willing to do my part.
October 29, 1999, Later That Same Afternoon
Stephanie, who works downtown, calls me. Because of renovations to her building, she can wander into the offices across the hall. She got a great view of the parade and took some really good pictures.
It’s the only time I have ever scowled at her over the phone.
November 2, 1999
A nor’easter is blowing through Long Island. It’s knocked the power out, so I’m walking home in total darkness, in the rain, in the wind. Crossing the street has become a death sport because nobody’s regulating traffic. The lights are still out when I walk in the door. But a package that came in the day’s mail has me fumbling for the flashlight. It’s large and it’s from the Mets.
Inside are two miniature baseball bats. These are the bats we were supposed to be handed on the last scheduled day of the regular season, October 3, exactly thirty days earlier. It was Fan Appreciation Day. Most of our appreciation stemmed from the Mets still being alive for a playoff spot despite having recently compiled seven consecutive L’s. But this was the Mets appreciating us.
Their appreciation was trumped by their disorganization. Instead of handing out the bats on the way in as goodies had always been distributed, they saved them for later. Everybody was in such a good mood after Melvin Mora scored on that wild pitch, that I figured the bats would be forgotten by most as they approached the exits. I’d almost forgotten about them.
But you can’t sneak a freebie by a Mets fan. Thus, every exit was a mob scene. Never mind Mora, we want our bats! Overwhelmed Met employees were positively besieged. It was clear Stephanie and I weren’t going to elbow our way to lumber. The best I could do was pick up a pair of rainchecks from the ground. Mail these in, it said, and ye shall receive thine premium.
I was a little annoyed but didn’t want to let it bother me, not with the Mets having just edged a half-game ahead of the Reds pending what happened that night in rainy Milwaukee. I was too happy to be too annoyed. Nevertheless, as we pulled out of the Marina parking lot and saw some dick hauling an armful of wood — nine bats was my estimate — I wanted what was coming to me.
It’s a month later, and they’ve arrived. Two bats with Mets logos are in the package along with a letter (dated October 12) from James Plummer, Director of Promotions.
Dear New York Mets Fan,
Thank you for coming out to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play. I am sorry you were unable to get the Fan Appreciation Day mini-bat on game day.
Citing concerns over fan safety if our game went poorly, the NYPD directed us not to hand out the mini-bats as fans entered the stadium. We questioned the decision to give bats away after the game, and warned the police of the difficulties involved in organizing a giveaway at the exit gates when 45,000+ fans are trying to exit the stadium within a short period of time.
However, the police safety concerns about thrown bats or the potential for fan violence were valid, and the NYPD had the authority to make this decision. As such, we did the best we could to distribute the bats post game.
I apologize for the situation at the exit gates after the game. When the crowds began pushing, grabbing hands full of bats and shoving the promotional staff out of the way, the police insisted that we halt all distribution of mini-bats and that the remaining mini-bats be locked away.
We are enclosing with this letter the Fan Appreciation Day mini-bats that you unfortunately did not receive on game day.
Please contact this office should you have any questions.
I had only one: Didn’t you guys just take out an ad telling us we’re “the greatest baseball fans in the world”?
November 8, 1999
The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association is holding an awards dinner at the New York Sheraton, one of those events Charlie Brown would pay a pretty penny for just so he could see his hero Joe Shlabotnik. Me, I pay nothing. I’m here as a favor to one of the sponsors who found himself with a table that needed filling.
Yes, that’s a favor I can do.
The guests of honor are Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Yogi Berra and Vera Clemente, widow of Roberto Clemente. Each of them will be recognized by the MLBPAA. They’re there and quite a few other baseball alumni are on hand. We who are guests check in out front and are handed baseballs for the cocktail hour. It’s not so much that we are permitted to approach baseball players for autographs. We are supposed to. That’s why so many ballplayers are here.
And this goes down as me doing somebody a favor.
First former player I see is Brooks Robinson, like five feet from me. My first thought is, Hey, that looks like Brooks Robinson. My second thought is, Ohmigod, that’s Brooks Robinson! My prevailing thought is stupid Oriole.
It’s 1999, but it never quite stops being 1969. I don’t want Brooks Robinson’s autograph. I don’t want Frank Robinson’s autograph. But when I see him regaling other partygoers with his delight over his son being named People magazine’s sexiest country star, I sure as shootin’ want Tug McGraw’s name on my baseball. I ease into his group and hand him my ball. Tug is 55. I am, for the length of the cocktail hour, no more than 12. While he’s signing, I tell him that his autobiography, Screwball, formed the basis of three different book reports for me in elementary school, junior high school and high school.
Tug McGraw hands me back my baseball, stares at me and bursts into laughter.
“You’re scarin’ me, man!”
Keith Hernandez is the anti-Tug for the occasion. I bump into him after he’s skulked into the room He looks uncomfortable. He looks like a man who’d rather be anywhere else than a place that reminds him he used to be a ballplayer. But I have a baseball with a great Met lefty’s signature on it. Keith batted lefty. He’s a great Met. I hand him my ball. I have to hold his glass of wine. It’s an awkward transaction. I tell him he was my mother’s favorite player. It’s quite clear Keith has heard it before, but he’s gracious enough. He gets his wine back, I get my ball.
Two Mets, two autographs (and I’ve never been one for autographs). One more Met lefty is immediately accessible on the premises: Rusty Staub, our host for the evening. Rusty’s being pulled in several directions. One of them is mine. He doesn’t pay me a lot of attention, but I get Le Grand inscription.
I have a ball signed by Tug McGraw, Keith Hernandez and Rusty Staub. I’ve just met all three in the space of about ten minutes. I can kind of die now.
The rest of the evening is almost as good. I recognize more players. There’s ex-Met Mike Torrez, but he’s a righty, so he can stay off the ball; besides, as a Met, he never had much on the ball. Yogi (batted left, threw right) is too much of a draw to get to sign — which is to say it’s too crowded around him, so I don’t go there. Yogi surprises me in accepting his award. I figured he gets an award every other week. He’d drop a few malapropisms on us, we’d applaud and it would be over before it was over. But no, he’s quite sincere in appreciation of whatever this honor is exactly. He had been named to the All-Century Team in October and confesses to us he felt ridiculous that he had been selected but Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente weren’t. He actually broke down and cried.
Who’da thunk it?
Rusty’s a great host. He comes over to our table to see how we’re enjoying ourselves as if were a table full of Bar Mitzvah guests. From the podium he compliments this gathering on exhibiting such “joie de vivre,” becoming, I’m guessing, the first ballplayer, retired or otherwise, to throw that phrase around. Being from New Orleans and playing in Montreal must have helped.
Tug is there to introduce Yogi but can’t resist telling a story about Rusty from when they were on opposing sides. Rusty was watching Tug a little too closely from the on-deck circle, so Tug threw at him right there. The room laughed. Tug then kidded that all the money Rusty made hitting off him went to his belly, while all the money Tug made getting Rusty out went right to his liver.
The room went uncomfortably silent.
There was, on the other hand, polite applause when the association’s awards to current players were announced. None of the active men showed up, but they all sent video acceptance speeches. Mike Hampton was named National League Pitcher of the Year for going 22-4. Chipper Jones was honored as N.L. Player of the Year for torturing the Mets. If one other person booed or chanted LAAAA-reeee! I was primed to join in, but nobody did.
Freddie Roman, Dean of the Friars Club (of which Rusty’s a member), served as entertainment. I expected Catskills shtick, and it arrived, but not until Freddie said a few words about happy he was to be here. He grew up a Dodgers fan and switched to the Mets when they came along. It was thrilling for him to see Tug tonight, he said, especially so, because that “You Gotta Believe!” spirit really came alive again this year…and weren’t those playoffs against Atlanta just so exciting?
I waited for a punchline. But there was none. No joke: those were great playoffs.
November 10, 1999
National League Gold Gloves formally announced. Robin Ventura wins one, which is appropriate. Rey Ordoñez wins one, which is automatic. Pokey Reese wins one, which is idiotic. Edgardo Alfonzo, the keystone of The Best Infield Ever, played more, made fewer errors and got to everything and then some. I’m angrier at the voters for overlooking Fonzie than I was for Rickey at playing hearts or Kenny for throwing ball four.
November 13, 1999
Driving somewhere with the wife. Not talking about anything in particular. Not thinking of anything in particular. I just blurt it out sans forethought.
“We would’ve won Game Seven.”
Stephanie doesn’t respond, which is OK. I didn’t say it for her benefit. I just said it. I say it again.
“If we had forced a Game Seven, we would have won. Rick would have beaten Gl@v!ne. I just know it.”
I say nothing else. But I get such a chill.
November 15, 1999
From the Dean of the Friars to the sage of all baseball writers. Every year around this time I start haunting newsstands on Mondays to check table of contents of the new New Yorker. Every fall Roger Angell wraps up the season and postseason as only Roger Angell can, as only Roger Angell has since taking up his singular baseball beat in the fortuitous year of 1962.
Today’s the day Angell’s analysis appears, under the headline “Home Cooking”. I haven’t looked forward to this rite of autumn this much since 1986′s “Not So, Boston”. Per custom, the ostensible focus of his article is the team that won the World Series, but Roger Angell, who’s told more good stories than any baseball writer alive or otherwise, knows one when he’s seen it. To the sport’s premier essayist, the 1999 Mets are more than a baseball story.
He calls them an opera. And he sees all of us on stage in support of their quest.
The Mets’ failure to bring about an all-New York World Series spared us a thousand TV bites and feature stories about the moms and taverns and sociological makeup and choral capabilities of the two rival fan masses, but the Mets folks outdid the Yankees this October. Away from all this since 1988, the Shea people were funny and wolfish with their curses and placards (“FAT LADY YO MAMA” someone held up), and happily devoured the prognathous Atlanta closer, John Rocker (a great baseball name, perfect for the part), and Chipper Jones, the non-quite lovable Atlanta star, who had unwisely let it be known that he had always hated his given name, Larry. “LARRY!” “LAR-RY!” “LAHH-REEE!” now fell upon him from every Shea tier and sector. By the third night at Shea, the game was in the rain, fans were hanging out placards depicting the frazzled and frantic Larry Fine of the Three Stooges. Later that night, I spotted some men and women in the stands gabbling excitedly into their cell phones. Could they be calling their babysitters at such a moment? Their brokers? No, it turned out, they were talking to other fans in other parts of the Stadium, networking bliss with friends they had come with or knew would be there: “My God, did you see that? Isn’t it great? Isn’t it something? I don’t think I can stand this, honest I don’t.”
November 17, 1999
Larry Jones is named National League MVP. All agree he clinched it when he smacked four home runs in those three wins over the Mets at Turner Field in September. Robin, Mike and Fonzie finished 6-7-8 in the voting. Three Mets in the Top Ten? Seems pretty sweet. After the Pokey Reese debacle, I’ll take what I can get.
December 7, 1999
Mike & The Mad Dog have a bulletin: John Olerud — who showed up at Shea in 1997, the same year the resident baseball team just happened to improve by seventeen wins — has signed with the Seattle Mariners. Three years, $20 million, a chance to play where he grew up. Steve Phillips lifted not nearly enough fingers to convince Oly home is wherever the best deal was. The Mets don’t go out of their way to keep their clutch-hitting, sharp-fielding first baseman and now the Best Infield Ever has been dissolved. I have no idea who will take over for Olerud in 2000. Whoever it will be, I’m sure, will not be nearly as wonderful. How the Mets ever can be either is beyond me.
December 12, 1999
Many names were bandied about as John Olerud’s replacement. None of them was Todd Zeile. Olerud is a superb first baseman. Zeile is a journeyman third baseman. But Steve Phillips, we learn in Sunday papers, has done it again, replacing state-of-the-art with run-of-the-mill. Zeile hasn’t always been a third baseman. He used to be a catcher. Can he play first? We’ll find out.
December 13, 1999
ESPN reports the Mets are trading Armando Benitez, Octavio Dotel and Roger Cedeño to John Olerud’s new team for Ken Griffey, Jr. In the time I take to gasp, I find out we traded for Junior, but Junior isn’t coming. He vetoes the deal. He says he wasn’t given enough time to decide if he wanted to be a Met. So we didn’t really trade for him. So we don’t have Griffey and we don’t have Olerud. At least we still have Benitez, Dotel and Cedeño.
They were 1999 Mets. They helped give me those thirty days in September and October. We already gave up Olerud for Zeile. I’m loathe to give up on the other, younger 1999 Mets now, even for Griffey.
December 14, 1999
Our former company president’s former assistant now works as a temp. Her current assignment: Some sort of clerical role with a Queens-based concern. She works for the Mets! She sends us an official season’s greeting from her temporary employer, identified within as the 1999 N.L. WILD CARD WINNER.
Wishing you a
and an Amazin’
Our receptionist hangs it up by her desk with other holiday cards from less interesting corporations. After the new year, it’s still hanging, so I grab it. Nearly a decade later, I notice the Mets misspelled “millennium”.
Oh well, it’s not like it’s a word that comes up more than every thousand years.
December 22, 1999
Sports Illustrated arrives at home. Big story on John Rocker, Public Enemy No. 2 behind Larry Jones. Jeff Pearlman recounts his NLCS experiences.
At Shea, Rocker was a one-man psycho circus. He spit at Mets fans. He gave them the finger. During batting practice he would shag a ball in the outfield, fake a toss to a throng of waving spectators, then throw it back to the pitcher, smiling wickedly. Once he took a ball and chucked it as hard as he could at a net that separated fans from the field. “If there wasn’t a net there, it would have smoked ‘em right in the face,” he says. “But they’re so stupid, they jumped back like the ball would hit ‘em.”
Of course I now hate John Rocker more than any opponent in baseball. But he makes me nostalgic for October.
December 23, 1999
Listening to the FAN again (will I ever learn?). This time they beam a happier bulletin. Dotel and Cedeño are traded, but for somebody who’s actually going to come in return: Mike Hampton, the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association National League Pitcher of the Year. Hampton, 27 and lefthanded, went 22-4 for the Astros. We’re getting him because he’s in his walk year and Drayton McLane knows he won’t be able to re-sign him. So we’re renting Mike Hampton, basically — him and Derek Bell, the other veteran whose expiring contract we’ve been compelled to absorb if we want one of the best pitchers in the game. Anything for an ace like Hampton, goes the thinking. Hampton…Leiter…Reed…gee. I’ll miss Cedeño and Dotel, but we kept Benitez, and Zeile maybe can hit a little and play first OK. We still have Piazza and Ventura and Alfonzo. We came so close last year. Maybe we can come closer next year. Maybe we can get it done.
This could be a pretty good Millennium after all.
Flashback Friday: I Saw The Decade End will conclude with its next installment, a final tribute to 1999, from 1999. You’ll want to have your tape recorders ready for this one.