As the fires of the season from Hell cool to a smoldering pain, I’ve caught myself thinking about what the most agonizing part was. And I think I’ve figured it out.
It was the anticipation of disaster.
As the season wore wearily on, we were a beaten people by the middle innings. Then by the bottom of the first. Then by the Star-Spangled Banner. Then by late afternoon. It wasn’t a question of whether something disastrous would happen, but what form, exactly, the disastrous something would take. Bases-loaded walk? Flurry of GIDPs? Appalling error? Walkoff grand slam? Game-ending unassisted triple play?
By the end you might be surprised by how we lost, but not by the fact that we had. Maybe this was just a function of being a horrible team (and maybe wins like this always fit the formula) but the win that was arguably the best of the year — this 10-9 victory over the Phillies — was doubly astonishing because the Mets somehow hadn’t hit a Phillie with the bases loaded or had someone erased on an ill-advised steal of third or done some other stupid thing that would eat at you come 3 a.m. (I’d call Santos taking Papelbon deep the other great win of the season, but that happened before we had to accept the year was a total loss.)
So that part was the worst. The second-worst thing? It was the sorry part.
By late summer when I’d run into other baseball fans on the street or at parties, the conversation would take its inevitable turn and I’d grit my teeth, waiting.
Hey, sorry about the Mets. Tough year, hate to see that. How are you holding up?
The sentiment was genuine, the impulse was laudable. It’s what decent fans say, knowing full well that their team has a plague year in its future. Heck, I’ve offered back pats to friends whose teams are channeling November around the All-Star Break.
But man oh man, had I forgotten how much it sucks.
It sucks more than grudging respect: I didn’t think it would happen, but that’s a pretty good team. You guys have a chance.
It sucks a lot more than finger-wagging warnings against complacency: I dunno, you’ll probably win the division, but are those the starters you want in a short series?
It sucks a lot more than reflexive woofery: You guys are having a good year, but we’re going to totally smoke you in the playoffs.
It sucks way more than the attempted jinx disguised as surrender: It’s your year! We have no chance!
And yeah, it sucks more than outright, unvarnished hostility: Sorry man … but I HATE THE METS!
2007 and 2008 were different — there was pity, but not the endless drip-drip-drip of condolences. The ’07 and ’08 attaboys felt lousy too, but they didn’t eat at you day after day. You didn’t wind up bracing for them.
Before the 2007 season, I wrote a Mets season preview for Deadspin that was equal parts loving look back at 2006 and paranoia about the fact that Omar Minaya hadn’t done much to improve that team. (I daresay that part looks prescient now.) To which one Deadspin commenter had this to say: “I hope at least one of these season previews will be somewhere along the lines of ‘My team is fucking great and we will rape our way to the World Series.’ Enough of this wishy-washy bullshit!”
I ignored that because, well, we’re the Mets. With the brief exception of the Bad Guys Won era, that’s not our style. (And even back then our CBA — Converted Braggadocio Average — was a lousy .200.) Ours is a legacy of miracles and humiliation, which doesn’t lend itself to strutting.
But after half a season of pity, I find myself coming back to that long-ago comment. I don’t want enemy baseball fans to feel sorry for us. I want to hear some grudging respect, some attempted jinxes, some outright hatred. Some Paul Lo Duca discussion of ending the other guy’s season. Some Wally Backman talk of opponents being buried and having no worries unless there are another 20 fucking car wrecks. (Good timing!) We’re nowhere near rampaging our way to much of anything, but next time we look like we might be, I’m not going to worry about baseball gods I might offend. Because honestly, what the hell have they done for us recently?
One of my favorite sages famously remarked that baseball has to be played with fear and arrogance. We’re missing half of the set, and I’m tired of it.
Enough of this wishy-washy bullshit, indeed.