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The 83-79 Way

Rarely has anything I’ve anticipated [1] surpassed my expectations the way SNY’s Mets Yearbook did Thursday night. The 1971 highlight film immediately became the second-best thing ever aired on the channel, behind only the 2006 division clincher.

The film was titled The Winning Way, which in itself is beautiful given that the 83-79 Mets were as mediocre as all get-out in 1971. But the first installment in this series of vintage propaganda pieces is a victory in SNY programming. It’s like they took a can opener to my subconscious and emptied the contents into the TV. By the time it was over I was looking forward more to 1972 than I am to 2010 (and that’s despite being enticed by the Mets’ acquisition of that wonderful American League infielder Jim Fregosi).

We see Ralph Kiner coaching Ken Singleton in the Florida Instructional League. We see a candid and relaxed Bud Harrelson star in what looks like a hostage tape. We see toddlers bobbling on Family Day and Gil Hodges doubling on Old Timers Day. We see fans proving Lindsey Nelson’s assertion that Shea is Where It’s At. We see Ed Kranepool mobile. We see a ton, so for goodness sake don’t miss this thing when it reairs [2], or when the next edition (1984) debuts this coming Thursday night at 7:30.

One thing missing from the panoply of ’71 highlights, however, was a spate of Met home runs. The Mets came up short of a spate that year. They did most years, actually. Only if you listen closely do you glean how power-deprived the Mets were as they pursued their Winning Way. The team lead was a three-pronged affair among Kranepool, Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, with 14 apiece. Singleton, in far fewer plate appearances than his more established teammates, had 13. The only other Met in double-digits was Donn Clendenon with 11, but he’s not mentioned (Clendenon was released shortly after the season ended and highlight films generally turned those guys into nonentities as fast as those crazy Mets fans could create banners). The Mets of the early ’70s seemed comfortable emphasizing pitching, defense and a vague sense of “excitement” on the basepaths. At one point in the narration, Bob Murphy tells us Don Hahn is not known for hitting home runs and manages to make it sound like a compliment.

As I watched the 1971 Mets get known for not hitting home runs, the undercurrent of underproduction made sense to me — and not just because I got used to Mets not going deep in 2009. The Mets never hit home runs when I was a kid. And by never, I mean I never expected them. Thus, each of the 98 home runs they belted 38 years ago each seemed quite exotic. I grew up thinking only the Pirates and Reds were permitted to collect four bags with one swing.

Somewhere along the way, the Mets got in on home runs. They have, in their 48 seasons, socked more than 6,000 of those once-rare specimens over the wall in regular-season competition. Ever since Anderson Hernandez made it a nice round number [3] in September, Mets Walkoffs [4] has been celebrating the cream of the crop, or the leading 1%, counting down the Top 60 regular-season home runs in Mets history. It’s more like Top 60 Home Run Episodes, since Mark of MW takes some liberties and makes some groupings. But it’s his list and he’s pretty thorough, so we’ll allow it. He just posted his Top 10, which you can check out here [5].

His No. 10 and No. 9 choices, incidentally, are probably my No. 1 and No. 2 regular-season favorites ever, though sometimes they’re my No. 2 and No. 1 depending on my mood and perspective, with his No. 11 [6] and No. 25 [7] also holding great personal resonance for me. Then again, I’ve yet to meet a Met home run I didn’t like.