How appropriate for a person who sees almost everything through Mets-tinted lenses that on the final day of this decade I turn 47. When I see 47, of course, I see not so much a chronological measurement but a uniform number. And when I see that uniform number at the end of this decade, I think of the man and the game that wound up defining this decade for me.
Some nice people have wished me a happy Jesse Orosco birthday, and I appreciate the sentiment. Of course Jesse’s the 47 of record in the Mets uniform pantheon, the only 47 caught on film doing something extraordinarily worthwhile. Why, I think I see his glove hovering over Queens right now. Less mentioned but worthy of some kind of smallish celebration was the 47 for whom Orosco II would be traded in 2000, Super Joe McEwing. Perhaps Super was intended ironically, but until he was utilized far too much to be effective, he was the ultimate Mets utility player, and every team needs one of those.
Lingering in my subconscious from the spring of 1978 is Mardie “The Chief” Cornejo, 47 the first year I ever entered with no hopes of the Mets contending for anything beyond fourth place, which proved a plateau well beyond their reach. Nevertheless, early on they didn’t look so bad, and early on two guys I’d never heard of, Mike Bruhert and Mardie “The Chief” Cornejo, helped set the pace. “The Chief” bit struck me as absurd (the chief of what, exactly?), but no more so than the concept of the 1978 Mets competing for fourth place. Even with Orosco’s glove in orbit and McEwing’s Superness in full flight, sometimes somebody says “47” and I think “The Chief”.
There’ve been a handful of other 47s over 48 seasons, as Mets By The Numbers could tell you. There was the original 47, Jay Hook, one of the many geniuses who staffed Casey Stengel’s pitching corps. I’m not kidding about that. As Bill Ryczek notes in The Amazin’ Mets, 1962-69, “In terms of education and intellect, no staff in any league (save perhaps the Ivy League) could match the 1962 New York Hurlers.” At the head of the class was Hook and his Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern. Famously, Hook could explain in precise detail why a curve ball curved…he just couldn’t get his own to move proficiently.
Even at my advanced age, I have no memory of the 47s who followed Hook — Tom Sturdivant and Darrell Sutherland — or why, according to MBTN, the number went unworn between 1964 and 1978 when “The Chief” commandeered it. Post-Cornejo, Orosco proceeded to wear the heck out of it, clear through the end of 1987. Then it was picked up by one of those for whom our only successful Game Seven closer was traded, Wally Whitehurst. Whitehurst threw softly and kept quiet, making no big deal of 47 even after taking a temporary grip on the fifth-starter role, an assignment that essentially forced the trade of Ron Darling to Montreal; in case you were wondering why the Mets stopped winning in 1991, that’s a clue. Mike Draper wore 47 with not much distinction in 1993, a year when distinction, let alone dignity, was hard to come by in any Mets uniform. Jason Jacome raised a touch of hope when he donned 47 in ’94 but extinguished it just as quickly by putting it on again in ’95. Reid Cornelius and Derek Wallace were the next two 47s; they cut out the middle man by raising as little hope as possible.
The last Met who wore 47 was Casey Fossum, who couldn’t get out of it fast enough. Fossum slipped into 47 on April 21, 2009 and slipped out of it on April 26, 2009 before slipping out of our lives altogether. 47 did not fit Casey Fossum, but I don’t hold it against him.
47 may never fit any Met again, and for that you can thank T#m Gl@v!ne.
What, you haven’t thanked T#m Gl@v!ne lately? What are you, a Mets fan?
I’ve mostly kept Gl@v!ne out of my mind since June when the Braves bastardly bounced him after he went to the trouble of rehabbing for them. Talk about two parties and nobody to root for. T#m worked hard to come back and pitch for Atlanta at age 43. The team, for whom he excelled (in and out of their uniform, for as we know he was long stationed here undercover as The Manchurian Brave) turned its Tomahawked back on him, avoided paying him a million bucks and elevated Tommy Hanson in his place. Hanson was the right choice, but it was an awfully cold front office maneuver, even for them. In the abstract, I scolded the Braves. In my darker precincts, I chuckled that they ruined Gl@v!ne’s last stand.
Much as he ruined ours in 2007 and, in a way, this decade.
Once in a while (though not very often), some Mets fan will nominally take T#m’s side and huff that it’s not like he was trying to lose on September 30, 2007. I don’t argue that he was. T#m Gl@v!ne might have earned a win for himself had he pitched better, and wins for T#m Gl@v!ne always seemed of paramount importance to T#m Gl@v!ne. If the Mets advanced via his left arm, so be it. But he didn’t have it on September 30 vs. the Marlins (0.1 IP, 7 ER), the same way he didn’t have it on September 25 vs. the Nationals (5 IP, 6 ER), same as he didn’t have it on September 20 vs. the Marlins (5 IP, 4 ER). He came up small, smaller and smallest down the stretch as the Mets diminished, dwindled and disappeared completely.
The consensus future Hall of Fame pitcher may have been trying, but he wasn’t coming close to succeeding. You wouldn’t hold that against Brian Lawrence or Philip Humber, the two improbable starters on whom Willie Randolph found himself sadly dependent during the 17 games when the Mets stopped leading the Phillies by 7 games. You wouldn’t hold that against Mike Pelfrey, clearly not yet ready for prime time, even though it was clearly prime time. You’d take issue with John Maine and Ollie Perez if they were dreadful when it mattered — and each was — but you also remember them each pitching a gem during that period, so you cut them slack for their missteps. The only Met who didn’t give you a bad start over those 17 games was Pedro Martinez, but he could only give you so much after his injury and never on anything but extended rest.
Gl@v!ne I hold it against. I hold the 14.81 ERA over three crucial starts versus the division’s bottom-dwellers against him. I hold September 20 against him. I hold September 25 against him. And I forever hold September 30 against him. I hold that one against him — and every one his teammates — when I think about it. I think about sitting in the Upper Deck of Shea Stadium down 4-0 after five Marlin batters batted; down 4-0, with the bases loaded, after eight Marlin batters batted: down 5-0, with the bases loaded, after all nine Marlin batters batted around. The last of the Swingin’ Fish, Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis, technically trotted to first after he was hit by the last pitch T#m Gl@v!ne would ever throw as a New York Met.
Then Gl@v!ne leaves, two of his baserunners score and there goes 2007’s last stand, dead on arrival. In the middle of the first inning, it’s Marlins 7, the Mets coming to bat.
From there, the following occurred:
• The Mets lose 8-1 while the Phillies beat Washington and there goes 2007, the year when we were supposed to avenge the quirk ending of 2006. The Phillies are division champs and I’m sitting in the Upper Deck for an eternity trying to figure out how we and I wound up here.
• T#m Gl@v!ne, in the postgame clubhouse, treats his fatal implosion like a bad day on the yacht, as if the shrimp wasn’t chilled quite to perfection. Otherwise, he can go home and count his mansions, completely undevastated by the events of the first inning.
• The aura of The Worst Collapse in Baseball History hangs in the air well into 2008, as the Mets get off to a crummy start, Willie Randolph stays far too long at the fair and I find myself in a continual state of being pissed at my team
• The Mets end 2008 just about exactly as they end 2007, which means 2007 never actually ends, it just keeps going.
• The 2009 Mets codify the decade’s disappointment factor by clearly ending the era we decided, circa 2006, was going to yield an extended mix of joy and championships. We finish with 92 losses and an overwhelming sense of despair that haunts us to this very last day of a decade when we were granted multiple chances and made optimal use of none of them.
• My 47th birthday puts me in mind of T#m Gl@v!ne, of whom, because of my Mets-tinted lenses, I will find myself thinking every time I am asked, “Age?”
On the other hand, it’s just a number. One year from now I can forget all about T#m Gl@v!ne.
And think, instead, of Aaron Heilman.