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They Should’ve Put a Ring On It
Posted By Greg Prince On December 28, 2009 @ 2:44 pm In Main Page | Comments Disabled
Tomorrow, December 29, is technically the fifth day of Christmas. So in that remaining holiday spirit…
On the whole
in this decade,
our Mets love
Not any rings we can use, anyway.
In terms of not winning a World Series in the 2000s, we are not alone. Ten World Series were played and their spoils were divided eight ways. Six franchises won once, two twice. Twenty-two franchises won none. Those include franchises that never contended even one little bit, franchises that never won as many games as they lost, franchises that competed only intermittently. Those are sad stories, but they’re not necessarily what you’d call frustrating.
Frustrating is coming close. Frustrating is coming close more than once. Frustrating is coming so close that we could taste it. Frustrating is tasting it without ever getting our lips around it but knowing it was right there for the devouring.
Frustrating leads to disappointing. And disappointing was the leitmotif of this decade.
Four times in the 2000s — ’02, ’03, ’04, ’09 — the Mets finished with well-deserved losing records. Crummy, but let’s put those aside. Two times in this decade — ’01, ’05 — the Mets made runs at a playoff spot that seemed improbable and ultimately were. Somewhere north of crummy, but well south of gratifying. No need to explore at this moment the two Septembers — ’07 and ’08 — when leads that appeared safe or at least adequate dwindled, shriveled and went poof! You know what those were.
What’s left are the two very good years the Mets chalked up in this decade. Make no mistake about it: 2000 and 2006 were very good years…in the sense that the grading system they used for our first grade class at West School in Long Beach treated “Very Good” as a euphemism for a B+. “Excellent” was an A. “Good” was a B. Surely the Mets of 2000 and 2006 rank somewhere in between the enthusiastically applied gold star and the perfunctorily awarded check mark.
We really could have used that gold star.
Of the twenty-two teams that didn’t win World Series in the 2000s, we were different from most. Ours, in fact, was the only team in the decade now done that can say it accomplished all of the following:
• Won a division title outright
• Won a pair of Division Series
• Won a pennant
• Never won a World Series
I guess that last part isn’t an accomplishment, but it does, at the upper echelons, define why the 2000s feel so incredibly disappointing. The string of grismality (grim + dismal) from ’02 through ’04, the not-quites of ’01 and ’05 and the blasted c-words in ’07 and ’08 all hurt in their own way, but that’s just losing. Even when losing in voluminous fashion, those eight years don’t put us in the same conversation with the Pirates, the Orioles, the Royals and the Reds, to name four teams who went nowhere at every turn. It leaves us in similar straits, maybe, to the Tigers, who overcame grismal to ascend to their own version of Amazin’ exactly once before stumbling through some genuinely horrific letdowns. Maybe we share some ground with the Padres, who made the playoffs twice, blew a playoff spot once and were otherwise mostly wretched. And let’s not forget our fraternal twins the Astros, who matched us in terms of losing an LCS and a World Series and managed to scrape together the 2001 N.L. Central title on a head-to-head tiebreaker. They were sort of like us, though I don’t think of us as very much like them.
We were not dissimilar from some other teams that had their ups and downs, but, truly, we were a case study in disappointment unto ourselves. That’s not just my innate Metsicissm talking, either. We played ten seasons and can be said to have disappointed at approximately a 90% downer rate.
From bottom to top, consider:
2003 Its mere existence was disappointing. What was Art Howe doing here? Why was T#m Gl@v!ne a Met? Mike Stanton? Who had the bright idea to hand Rey Sanchez a starting job? And the Gang of Four from the year before — Alomar, Vaughn, Burnitz, Cedeño — all got a second chance to fail. Three years removed from a World Series appearance, we lost 95 games and, in fan terms, a reason to live.
2009 Good lord, that was terrible. The injuries were terrible. The mindlessness was terrible. The ballpark…I wasn’t a fan. Expectations were inflated, followed by rapid deflation. And the GM revealed himself, via his bizarre defense of Tony Bernazard, as either venal or a boob (whereas Bernazard apparently revealed both of his boobs).
2004 First there was no hope or pulse. Then there was a pulse and some hope. It all appeared to be an illusion, but there were the Mets of Kaz Matsui; and the right field platoon of Not Vladimir Guerrero; and Howe still filling out lineup cards; and Jason Phillips forcing Mike Piazza to first base; and you get the idea — there they all were, and they were in the midst of a divisional race in July. It’s true, you could look it up. That they fell apart was disappointing, but not overly surprising. That they unraveled completely, on and off the field, was what made it Metmorable for all the wrong reasons.
2002 Basically, Steve Phillips dug up the Al Harazin playbook and reran it step for step. It didn’t work in 1992, it didn’t work ten years later, when the air grew top-heavy with unpleasantness and underperformance.
2001 Two flavors of disappointment: The three-quarters of the season when the Mets were lax and out of contention and the one quarter where they rushed valiantly into contention only to be swatted out of it by the Braves. Two scoops of bitter surrounding a dollop of sweet. Not the recommended serving size.
2005 The Mets were inconsistent and more than a little exasperating. They had that cartoon effect wherein the feet start skedaddling but they don’t take off before the boulder slams them into the ground. But they were not disappointing. If they weren’t the feelgood story of the decade, they were probably the only group of Mets who didn’t ostentatiously inspire a feelbad vibe. Nice going, 83-79 squad that squandered a clear late-August shot at the Wild Card. You were better than your predecessors and we didn’t think you were going anywhere anyway.
2007 Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
2006 Very Good year. It was, however, supposed to be Excellent. And it wasn’t.
2000 The first year of the decade extended further than any of the others. By dint of it not going as far as it possibly could, perhaps that makes it the most disappointing. Also, losing four highly competitive World Series games to our most bitter psychic rivals didn’t help.
Or maybe most the most disappointing “honor” goes to 2006, whose regular season saw everything go more right than any other — and whose postseason went lethally wrong.
Though you’d have a hard time convincing me the way either ’00 or ’06 ended could possibly match the respective horror show and sequel produced by ’07 and ’08.
Though I could also tell myself that at least we were in it to the end those years, something we couldn’t quite pull off in modestly satisfying ’05 and briefly exalted ’01.
Though nothing’s worse than falling out of it with a thud as we did in ’02, ’04 and ’09.
Except maybe for not being in it at all, as was the case in ’03.
Whatever poison you choose, every year in the past ten had its problems and it is their cumulative emotional baggage that we are destined to lug into the next decade.
Y’know, we had some good times together, the Mets of this decade and us.
We really did.
We reveled in victory (815 regular-season wins) more than we wallowed in defeat (803 regular-season losses).
We won more games than we lost most seasons (6 vs. 4).
We were once champions of our league and, on another occasion, we prevailed in our division. Those outcomes, no matter the failures that dimmed their evanescent successes, stand preferable to the alternative of not being champion of anything.
We cheered for some of the best players our franchise ever produced or acquired.
We raised our visibility in several significant ways, most notably with a fairly dedicated television operation and about a million unquestionably devoted bloggers.
We had fun…really we did. Shoot, until Friday, January 1, 2010, it’s the only decade in which we’ve blogged about the Mets. I know I’ve had fun doing that.
Yet how is it that as the 2000s end, we feel so overwhelmed by disappointment? Is it because this was the most disappointing decade in Mets history?
We root for strikes when a Met is pitching and hits when a Met is batting. That’s what we watch. We watch a moment, a moment within an inning, an inning within a game, a game within a season. That’s all that matters. There are no decade standings in baseball. There is nothing necessarily relevant about what happened between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2009. No ten seasons strung together matter as a unit any more than a hundred or a couple do. You take things one pitch and one game at a time because you’re only playing in one season.
By pointing that out, we bow to logic.
Now we turn our backs on it.
It’s the end of a decade. It’s the end of the ’00s as we popularly understand them; check your “there’s no such thing as a Year Zero” misgivings at the door. Our mathematical instinct is to round up before we move on. We have ten years behind us whose last digits ran from 0 to 9 (which is about as much as Timo Perez accelerated once upon a time). We thus have license to join the completion-crazed crowd and think in those terms and ask the following:
Was there ever a more disappointing Met decade than the 2000s?
Let us skew and review.
• The 1960s weren’t disappointing if you were a Mets fan. Was anybody expecting much beyond existence when the Mets began? That alone was a triumph. That new franchise smell was intoxicating, and had only begun to wear off when the 1969 model rolled in. In the time it took Mets fans to build expectations, the Mets fulfilled them. No disappointment per se in the 1960s.
• The 1970s were lousy with disappointment, I suppose, but they had the six or so weeks in 1973 that forgave everything up to June 15, 1977. Then disappointment was transcended by sustained transparent lousiness. But we’d always have You Gotta Believe. Neither the Oakland A’s nor the M. Donalds could take that away from us.
• The 1980s encompassed intense episodes of disappointment, particularly in the latter portion, yet 1986 was a solar eclipse that, with hindsight, blots out the bad endings wrought by talented teams — at least if you’re not too greedy. Nineteens Eight-Seven, -Eight and –Nine were plenty disappointing, but ’86…it was, shall we say, appointing. Decade-defining disappointment was pre-empted the moment one magical ground ball rolled through two wobbly legs.
• The 1990s were a frigging mess for the most part. Expectations were reasonably high enough early on to yield mass quantities of disappointment. But there was a high note right there at the end, in ’99. Not the highest of notes, not when ball four walked in the pennant-losing run, but that Met campaign, as noted in this space repeatedly, was too sublime to be considered disappointing. To borrow from Jim Lampley in Blades of Glory, everything the Mets did in 1999 was drenched in drama.
Come the 2000s, drama would devolve to disappointment, as at every turn everything the Mets touched turned to sadness.
There was no 1969 in the 2000s. There was no 1973 or 1986 or 1999. There was no saving grace to these ten years. There was not a single season that blew out of the water all the seaweed that stuck to our bathing suits. We rode no sustained wave of happiness at any point across this decade. We came close a couple of times, but we inevitably wiped out.
Oh that undertow.
To reiterate from above, we did have fun. I’m convinced we did. I was there when the decade commenced and I’m still here. I never stepped out for more than a figurative smoke. It was compelling enough to stick around throughout. It was likable enough to embrace as ever. It threatened once or twice to be wonderful. But then it would stop and never quite properly rev up again.
Which was disappointing.
It was almost always disappointing. If it wasn’t disappointing right away, it was disappointing eventually. The longer we waited, the more disappointing it became. Sometimes you’d get the disappointment out of the way early and you could cope, or try to. More memorably — and sadly — you’d hang in there with it, put your faith in it, decide it was going to work…and it would all fall apart.
Which was disappointing.
Everywhere you looked in the 2000s, there was disappointment. The Mets rained disappointment on us in buckets. It was an unscheduled promotion that never managed to coincide with Umbrella Day either. When there were flames, the Mets would go down in them. When there was disappointment, the Mets would be drenched in it.
And don’t even get me started on devastation.
One lousy attainable World Championship would have made a great deal of difference as to how we view this decade. We had two legitimate shots at it. We were within three victories once, five another time. Even though our first genuine opportunity was at the decade’s beginning, it would have tided us over a very long time, given the opponent and circumstances. If we had won in 2000, sure we would have complained about not winning in 2001 and 2002 and so on if, in fact, we hadn’t…but if we had won in 2000 — if we had prevailed in the Subway Series, of all things — rest your regulars, guys. We won’t need anything else of substance for a good long while.
And 2006? Big, bad 2006? The perfectly timed china anniversary of 1986? No getting our hands dirty with Wild Cards in 2006. No serious monitoring of the out-of-town scoreboard. We raced out and stayed ahead. We had it in our pocket for six months. Imagine parlaying that feeling through October. Could not have the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Mets done exactly what they did and wouldn’t you be only now getting a little antsy about it?
The Mets would no doubt continue to suffer our gripes of wrath every time one of them dropped a simple pop fly, but we wouldn’t mean it the same way. There’d have been a grace period. There’d have been a WORLD CHAMPIONS DVD to watch over and over when things got tough — not remastered from twenty years ago but practically new. There’d be WORLD CHAMPIONS apparel to sort with the laundry. There’d be WORLD CHAMPIONS satisfaction that would override imminent disappointment. The afterglow wouldn’t have flickered out until somebody noticed nobody bothered to display the 2006 trophy in Citi Field.
The 2006 World Champion Mets. That would have taken care of this decade.
The 2000 World Champion Mets. That would have done it, too.
A pair of chances to put a ring on it, yet the Mets left our and their fingers bare. They left us susceptible to the charms of September 2007 and September 2008 and the whole of 2009. They left us in a perpetual stew.
In October 2000, they lost four games to the Yankees by one run, one run, one run and two runs. Score a couple of runs here or allow a couple of fewer runs there and it is we who are showing off the rings, baby. Three would be enough for the ages because the third would dwarf however many dozens anybody else had.
In October 2006, they lost one final game to the Cardinals by two runs, though we tend to boil that deadly margin down to one unswung swing. Boil it any way you like. It was winnable. Win that night and go tame the Tigers. Think the 2006 Mets couldn’t have handled Kenny Rogers once they instantly solved Adam Wainwright or Jeff Suppan?
At this decade’s end, it’s the Very Good years that are killing us. As wonderful as they were — and they were clearly the best of an otherwise unimpressive ten-pack (typical Mets, sticking you with eight you don’t really want just so you can get the couple you’re actually looking forward to) — they are likely why our affection for our team has so curdled in advance of 2010. I tend to trace my general Met sourness to those 2½ weeks when 2007 fell down a ditch, but that and its 2008 doppelgänger weren’t fumbled championships. They were blown entrées to tournaments in which we could have competed for championships. Same for 2001 and, to a certain extent, 2005. All were tough to take because making the playoffs is all you can legitimately ask for from a regular season. It disappoints when we don’t. It aches when we come close and don’t. But it’s a whole other burning sensation for which you should consult a specialist when you’ve cleared the regular-season hurdles only to fall on your face a few meters from the most ultimate of finish lines.
Which was what happened in 2000 and 2006.
Maybe it’s best expressed as a matter of scale, like the difference between a million and a billion. A million seconds, I looked up somewhere, is 12 days. A billion seconds, however, is 31 years. That’s a significant difference. That’s the difference between missing the playoffs and missing a championship — particularly when you don’t have too many spare championships lying around to distract you. In the 2000s, we’ve never had a championship that is any fresher than 14 years old…a lovely piece that is, nonetheless, about to turn 24 years old.
Twenty-four years represents a period way longer than the span of any decade known to humanity.
It’s inhumane to have to lose and lose and lose. All things being equal, you wouldn’t wish it on the Pirates or Orioles or Royals or Reds. You probably didn’t wish it on the Rays or Tigers when they were plagued by an infestation of defeats. It’s no way to live. We went through it in relatively small doses in the ’00s, though it never seemed there was a way out when the losing (unlike Timo) ran rampant. Years like ’03 and ’09 suffocate you as a fan. Years like ’02 and ’04, when you’re in it, then kind of in it, then on the fringes of it, then totally out of it with seemingly no hope of ever, ever being back in it — those leave you gasping for air as well. You wouldn’t choose that existence. You’d choose to take your chances with a 2007 or 2008. You’d settle, if you were wallowing forever below .500, for a 2001 or 2005. And you’d dream of receiving our 2000 or 2006, blissfully oblivious to their hidden consequences.
But the consequences of getting as close as we did nine and three years ago, respectively, and not making it can wreak long-term disappointment. Sure, better to have loved and lost in the NLCS or the World Series than to sit home alone in the basement with nothing to do but stare at the phone, hoping against hope you’ll be invited to a higher floor. You’ll accept the challenge of coming close every time. Sometimes, as in ’69 and ’86, everything works out magnificently. Sometimes, as in ’73 and ’99, the journey outstrips the unreached destination and you are left with a feeling closer to warmth than disappointment.
That wasn’t what happened the two times in this decade when we thought we held lucky numbers. It felt awful at the moment when we knew definitively that we couldn’t cash them in.
It feels even worse in retrospect.
Knowing it was there. Knowing the Mets could have had one, maybe two of those trophies, two of those rings, two of those parades. One would have sufficed. One would be so much better than none.
It wouldn’t have been at all disappointing.
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