If I’ve learned anything from the returning Keith Hernandez these past few years that he has analyzed Mets games. it’s that ballplayers like to come up with new names for old things, particularly if they save the players some syllables. Thus, it was no surprise to me when I started hearing Keith make occasional reference to “fundies”…as in fundamentals.
Fundamentals: four syllables. Fundies: two syllables. Look how much effort a ballplayer saves in the shortening.
Keith gives me the idea that a ballplayer is more than happy to cut out syllables as well as steps. So much of their life is repetition repeated ad infinitum, from February to, if you’re lucky, November. It’s only human nature to now and then want to find shortcuts.
Unless you’re intent on playing ’til November.
The Mets, you may have noticed in 2009, were neither masters of the shortcut nor the fundamental. They couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t execute the little things and, as a result, fundie got broken up in to two even small words:
Two small words describe what happened pretty aptly because the Mets wouldn’t commit to doing the little things that win ballgames. And the littlest thing of all erupted into the biggest play of the year in terms of encapsulating all that went wrong for them.
Faith and Fear in Flushing announces, with no joy whatsoever, that the Nikon Camera Player of the Year — the award bestowed to the entity or concept that best symbolizes the Met season gone by — is Two Hands.
As in “TWO HANDS!!” the aggrieved cry of Mets fans everywhere following the gaffe of all 2009 gaffes, Luis Castillo’s failed one-handed non-grab of Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning, two-out popup on June 12 at Yankee Stadium. It turned an 8-7 win into a 9-8 loss; it turned an assumption into an imperative; it turned us all into bench coaches.
TWO HANDS!! we would yell starting June 13 and keep yelling for the rest of the blighted season. We would yell it at Castillo and any Met who drifted toward or settled under a pop fly. If we didn’t yell it, we surely muttered it or thought it to ourselves. Castillo’s utter failure under the Subway Series glare — after not catching the ball, he didn’t throw it to the right base either — made us all wary of how the Mets played for the balance of 2009.
We should have been warier earlier. We should have taken to heart as more than just one of those things that no Met fielder consistently looked like he knew what he was doing from the time the season started. Mets baserunners were generally just as clueless. This predates the injury wave. The injuries were severe, to be sure, but I’d take a sound team of substitutes over a cavalier bunch of regulars any day. We’d have less talent, but more skill.
By the end, we were dealing primarily with alternates who didn’t pay attention to details. It was the worst of all worlds. It was the Mets of 2009.
Luis Castillo put up admirable offensive numbers one season after he was completely useless as a Met. He did not wither after June 12. Singling out his disastrous error is not intended as one more jab at him personally. This could be about Daniel Murphy falling down, Carlos Beltran not sliding, Jose Reyes watching a double assuming it was a homer, Fernando Martinez assuming he didn’t have to run at all when he had just been called up; David Wright slowing down between third and home to negate a run, Carlos Delgado not corralling a foul pop, Jeff Francoeur losing a ball in the lights, Jeremy Reed throwing wildly from first, Ryan Church not touching third, Angel Pagan not calling off Beltran, Emil Brown passing Castillo on the basepaths…these were professionals. Some of them were decorated professionals. They all made inexcusable, mindless plays. They all saved themselves the effort of thinking.
Everybody makes mistakes. Vapor lock is the term Keith used in his excellent diary of the 1985 season, If At First, to describe the most inexplicable kinds. One now and then is forgivable. It’s part of the human equation. But on the 2009 Mets, vapor locks just multiplied and spread. Everybody seemed to lock up. They didn’t, as a rule or as a unit, ever seem to unlock. They never seemed to understand just how bad they played. It wasn’t the 70-92 record that stands as galling. It’s how they got there.
The players did not use two hands in the literal or figurative sense. The manager and his coaches did not effectively drill into them the importance of two hands…or a brain, it seems. The Mets made fundamental mistakes early and they made fundamental mistakes often. I got the impression they barely noticed and weren’t bothered that their lack of fundies made the fun die so brutally.
They never grew any more aware, but I sure did and so did you. Every fan became a maven for fundamentals in 2009. If we didn’t full realize coming in to the year, by the end, we all understood the importance of two hands.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2008: The 162-Game Schedule