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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Identity Issues

It’s nice to know who you are, even if you don’t always buy into it, even if who you are keeps on changing. For example, per a request made here several weeks ago, Andre Dawson will be going into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, making thousands of dispossessed ‘Spos fans (if not Dawson) very happy. For history’s sake — or Cooperstown’s sanctioned version of it — we know Andre Dawson as an Expo.

Then there’s a certain edifice in South Florida, close to the Dade-Broward border. It is now known as Sun Life Stadium. What’s Sun Life? My first guess was a tanning oil concern. My second guess was a marketer of vitamins that were once subject to government recall. Two strikes, so I looked it up: Sun Life is a Canadian insurance concern. Why is a Canadian insurance concern’s name on a stadium in South Florida just in time for the football game that will be played there February 7 when Andre Dawson is reluctantly wearing the cap of a Canadian team for whom he actually starred? I assume money is involved. Sun Life Stadium was, for about twenty minutes, Land Shark Stadium. Before (and after) that it was Dolphin Stadium. Prior to that? Working backwards, it was Pro Player Stadium, Pro Player Park (quite the distinction from Pro Player Stadium) and, when the Florida Marlins moved in there in 1993, Joe Robbie Stadium.

The Marlins are scheduled to move out in 2012, but I get the idea that the building is trying to tell them to get lost already. I’m sure their mail already has, several times over.

Honest to Gosger, who besides those who are paid to do so is going to call it Sun Life Stadium? We like to call it Soilmaster Stadium since there are sacks of the stuff visible in the Mets’ dugout every time the Mets play there. Funny how they found the time to change the name of the stadium every few weeks but they never could build a proper storage shed. But when we’re not mocking the home of the Fish, I still instinctively refer to it as Joe Robbie. Joe Robbie was a guy, not a company. Joe Robbie Stadium is a better identity, no matter what whoever makes these decisions nowadays thinks.

This brings us to the Mets, who will be playing in Mets caps (several variations, per usual) at Citi Field (name holding surprisingly steady after one fiscal year) in 2010. While the Mets can boast of bits of stability where those sorts of ancillary issues are concerned, it seems their identity is up for grabs. Let’s hope it is, because the one being built on their behalf at the moment is not one you’d seek.

As if you hadn’t noticed.

At the slightest provocation, a well-known baseball columnist or two will remind us that the Mets look bad in winter and are likely to get worse come spring. Response from there, whether it be online, on the air or deep within the souls of most every Mets fan paying attention, tends to echo or expand upon the broader points of these scathing critiques — albeit with a modest dose of “everybody stop being so negative!” backlash to the backlash put forth in the name of loyalty or, perhaps, self-preservation. With every wave of anxiety washing over Metsopotamia, we form an ever less impressive identity for our Mets. If they were in a police lineup, surely we’d finger the most hopeless, hapless, clueless group of suspects and declare, “THAT’S THEM! WE’D RECOGNIZE THAT DIM-WITTED EXPRESSION ANYWHERE!”

We wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But we wouldn’t necessarily be right.

The penultimate episode of my favorite dramatic series ever (television series, I should clarify; my favorite dramatic series ever was the ’99 NLCS), Six Feet Under, was entitled “Static”. Why static? Take this exchange between Claire, the grieving youngest daughter of the Fisher family and Nate, her recently deceased brother over whom she is grieving and thus talking to only in her imagination:

Nate: Stop listening to the static.
Claire: What the fuck does that mean?
Nate: Nothing. It just means that everything in the world is like this transmission, making its way across the dark. But everything — death, life, everything — it’s all completely suffused with static. You know? But if you listen to the static too much, it fucks you up.

This is, for Mets fans, the season of static. There’s no baseball and there’s no movement toward perfecting a baseball team once there is. There’s only, you know, re-signing Fernando Tatis and generating buzz about Josh Fogg. It’s not substantive to us. Substance is a pool of Mets making us anticipate Opening Day. It’s a 25-man roster coalescing into a contender. It’s superstar center fielders healing rather than being subject to lawsuits and such.

Little wonder the Mets’ identity is frayed. No wonder the Metsosphere is continuously and maybe justifiably staticky, jittery and expressing discontent. We are, by nature, a gaggle of nervous crosstalkers when we don’t have an actual season to dissect. Right now it’s all nervous crosstalk for Mets fans. We, collectively, remind me of the middle-aged ladies who’d set up card tables in front of somebody’s cabana at the beach club to which my parents belonged when I was little. (That’s the Sun Life I remember.) Those ladies indulged in nervous crosstalk, too, just like us. All we’re missing is four floppy hats, a carton of Tareytons and a few hands of canasta.

Just walking by them made me jittery, and I was only six.

We don’t have any Mets games right now, so naturally we’ll look at anything Mets-related on the card table and tear into it like it’s the Slenderella platter the cabana boy might bring these ladies who lunched. We look at the Mets not signing a passel of seemingly suitable pitchers and we’re pretty sure that all we’re gonna be left with to start the season is a scoop of cottage cheese, a cling peach slice and a naked hamburger patty. We have pitchers who have regressed, pitchers who are rehabbing, pitchers who loom as ridiculous…and, as if to save time in rounding up all three, Oliver Perez. Even if we expect Johan Santana to be fully recovered and routinely wonderful, that makes the projected rotation no better than Exclamation Mark and the Mysterians…with the lot of us poised to cry 2010 tears.

No, as Matt Artus implies at Always Amazin’, the state of our union is far from robust. And yeah, I get why confidence in anyone responsible for organizing or comprising these Mets is not in abundance. I don’t care for the piling on by the Rosenthals and Klapisches (and idiots with undeserved platforms), but I’m also not ready to sell backlash to the backlash. I didn’t buy into the 2009 Mets going into last season when all components seemed to be functioning, and I didn’t take comfort in their briefly splendid record before everything went to health — not when fundamentals-free baseball was running rampant. I don’t have a lot of faith in the 2010 Mets at this juncture either, whatever their best-case potential may be; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Met case acquit itself as a best case. There’s nothing wrong if your discernment leads you to a “negative” assessment of this team’s short- and long-term prospects if, in fact, you honestly assess the Metscape and detect that things are irredeemably awry.

However, they may not be.

This is where I’d love to provide insight and comfort as to why this will be a fine, fine season after all. Alas, I’m afraid I don’t have a silver bullet emblazoned with some secret statistical formula that will prove we are not doomed to mediocrity in 2010. What I have — besides no proof that we are inevitably doomed to mediocrity — are a couple of bits of encouraging precedent, neither of which amounts to Pollyannish positivity, each of which is likely irrelevant, but both of which are better than nothing.

We were supposed to suck in 1984. It was habit, even if I personally didn’t see it that way that winter, despite the spirit-dampening loss of Tom Seaver to the White Sox. The year before we had managed to accumulate at least half a lineup that didn’t suck: Hernandez at first, Brooks at third, Wilson in center, Strawberry in right. George Foster had recovered from his mighty plunge in 1982 to knock 90 runs home in ’83. Junior Ortiz, Brian Giles and Jose Oquendo all showed flashes. No, I thought, we won’t suck. But I didn’t see us jumping all the way from last to second with a pleasant summer’s stayover in first. I didn’t see Dwight Gooden’s medical degree. I didn’t know what a difference Davey Johnson was going to make or how Mike Fitzgerald, Wally Backman and Ron Gardenhire would be upgrades over Ortiz, Giles and Oquendo at catcher, second and short.

I chuckled a bit the other day as I read a post on the prolific and addictive Mets Police site wherein our busy blolleague Shannon Shark bemoaned the Mets’ lack of a brand, which is a cousin, I suppose, of identity. “In the mid ’80s,” the Police chief wrote, “there was a swagger. I think Keith Hernandez personifies it. If you throw another fastball I will punch you. There was a swagger. It was very New York.” I chuckled because, while I don’t think that’s an inaccurate portrayal of those times, winning is what gave the Mets their swagger, their punch, their brand, their whatever. It’s amazing what winning will do for you. When you win, you don’t need an identity. You’re a winner. Everything else is subtext. The mid-’80s Mets started out in 1984 as perennial doormats. They rose from there. Next thing you know: swagger.

The Mets were going to suck in 1984, according to conventional wisdom. Or, according to mine, they couldn’t help but be somewhat better but probably not all that great. We were all wrong. They were an unforeseen contender, the best kind.

We were supposed to suck in 1997. It was also habit. I saw it that way, too. We were the Mets who fell below .500 in 1991 and stayed there for six seasons. There were no big free agent signings after 1996. There was also no sense of competence percolating à la 1984. None of the pitchers on whom the Mets had counted in ’96, the instantly mythic Generation K trio of Izzy, Pulse and Paul, would be available by Opening Day (or, as it turned out, September). Three position players compiled awesome 1996es, yet even with Todd Hundley, Lance Johnson and Bernard Gilkey producing at their highest levels fathomable, we still lost 91 games. What new dismay awaited us next?

Little to none, it turned out. Bobby Valentine, who took over for Dallas Green at the tail end of the previous season, found guys he and he alone counted on. Or maybe GM Joe McIlvaine hadn’t found him anybody better and Bobby learned to cope. However it came to be, journeyman Rick Reed emerged as a superb second starter; overlooked ex-Rockie Armando Reynoso contributed win after win in the early going; the preternaturally obscure Brian Bohanon picked up significant slack after Reynoso succumbed to injury; guys who projected as Tides if anything at all — Matt Franco, Jason Hardtke, Luis Lopez — appeared from almost nowhere to fill in ably. If you were told that this collection of nowhere men would fashion a key to success, you would have scoffed as you’d been conditioned to since 1991.

But Valentine’s sweethearts were difference-makers. As were Edgardo Alfonzo, who was promoted from utility player and emerged as one of the best third basemen in the league once Bobby entrusted him with the job; and Butch Huskey, woefully miscast at third, but utterly useful in right; and a salvaged John Olerud, deteriorating in Toronto, resurgent in Queens; and heretofore unspectacular Bobby Jones, suddenly among the best pitchers in baseball for three months; and Carl Everett, who, for a time, harnessed his talent and plugged whatever hole developed in the outfield.

Funny how Valentine’s hunches, calculations and strategies worked out in light of what didn’t click. Hundley put up good if lesser power numbers compared to 1996. Gilkey slumped almost endlessly. Johnson was injured and eventually traded. The previous year’s great outfield hope, Alex Ochoa, took a nosedive. A herd of relievers — Toby Borland, Ricardo Jordan, Barry Manuel, Yorkis Perez — imported to improve upon the smoldering wreckage wrought by Jerry DiPoto, Doug Henry and other best-forgotten 1996 perpetrators actually proved worse in the clutch than their predecessors. Plenty of the things you would have figured had to go right for the ’97 Mets to be any better than the ’96 Mets didn’t occur…yet the ’97 Mets were way better than the ’96 Mets. They broke the franchise’s six-year losing streak, won 88 games and competed tenaciously for the Wild Card into September. As in ’84, a new and happier era of Mets baseball commenced.

Nobody saw it coming.

Neither of these heartwarming examples guarantees anything for the 2010 Mets. We don’t have a new or almost-new manager implementing a new and improved vision. There doesn’t appear to be a Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Walt Terrell or Sid Fernandez warming up in the wings. There could be the kind of unnoticed or underappreciated gem glistening out of common view right now, the way the talents of Reed and Alfonzo revealed themselves to Valentine before the rest of us could get a good look, but that may require too much blind faith for even those who Gotta Believe to count on. Ultimately, searching for solace in 26- and 13-year-old aberrational examples isn’t the most encouraging way to usher in February, but those seasons did happen. Could they happen again real soon?

Probably not, but we don’t know, do we? I imagine we’ll be able to identify some semblance of success if we happen to stumble upon it.

9 comments to Identity Issues

  • pfh64

    There is nothing on the 2010 Mets that even comes close to foreshadowing that this year’s team will be anything like the ’84 & ’97 teams. No one on the 2010 Mets that resembles a Ron Darling, Walt Terrel or even a Rick Reed on the mound. Terrel & Reed had an idea of how to pitch, and Darling had the moxie, even if he spent two or three years driving Davey Johnson crazy with his nibbling. Pelphrey may be similar to Darling in terms of stuff, and nibbling, but has he shown anything resembling moxie? They did not go after Lackey who is a proven pressure player, but they have not even made legitimate moves to get any other pitchers. Piniero, really? If he was going to be on the Mets you would need to add two runs to his ERA since he would not be facing the Mets any more. Smoltz? Did we not go through this already with Tom Glavine? To make it worse they are talking about him as a starter…as a reliever he is barely tolerable, but as a starter? You are kidding me, right? Right? Jason Marquis & Jarrod Washburn are at least innings eaters, but the team has no interest in them. Marquis is gone, and Washburn? Admittedly he had a good five months in a contract year, but he has put up over 200 innings or close to it almost every year…and he is another left handed starter to throw against the Phillies.

    Is there anyone on this team that resembles the professionalism of Alfonzo or Olerud? Francouer? Maybe, but he has not gone through a spring with the team yet. Although I like the fact that he played through a “broken thumb” to finish a lost season. Murphy is a baseball version of a gym rat, which this team needs more of, but he is only one full year into his career…not to mention the manager is already calling him a “super sub”. He hit 40 doubles and was the team leader (I know not saying much, still) in HRs. And they are giving his at bats to Fernando Tatis…mind boggling. I hate platoons, but if you are going to take ABs away from one of the few players that gives a damn on this team, give them to a Ryan Garko, a legit power threat. And if you are set on a platoon, I could live with the other half being Nick Evans, who the manager also hates.

    Leadership? There is no Keith Hernandez on this team. It should be Wright, but he does not seem ready to want to do it. He has been so busy deferring to the “vets” like Delgado, he doesn’t see it is his team. When he was a rookie and it was Cliff Floyd that was one thing, but Delgado was a negative influence on the team, and no one wants to admit it. He is too polite…He needs to go to Jose Reyes, admit he was wrong for not going to this past weeks’ mini camp and tell him, Jose you and I need to be at Spring Training the day pitchers & catchers report, this is our team and we need to start acting like it. This team does not even have a Ray Knight on it.

    As for the management, when was the last time you thought Jerry Manuel mind-melded with Mike Scoscia? It is bad enough when he manages with a full roster, but the way this team runs, more often than not the manager is forced to play short handed, because no one ever gets put on the DL without a ten day wait to see if the 15-day DL is necessary. As a manager, Manuel deserves his own show on Comedy Central. As far as a manager is concerned, do you ever feel like he has ever outmanaged the other guy? I admit to loving Bobby Valentine, and did when he was here, although I have no way of proving that. I know he is never going to come back, but he should…at least then the fans would feel like the manager grinding things out with the Fernando Tatis’ of the world you would feel like you have a chance.

    As for the GM, do not even get me started (okay, I have already started). The whole younger and athletic thing from his first press conference, anyone seen where that has gone? It seems as if any player the Mets go after is no younger than 35 years old. However beyond that, where is the guy that lost wave after wave of good players as the GM of the Expos/Nationals because they had no money? He has run the organization for five years, and I know they traded some players for Santana (had to be done) but most of the top ten players in the Mets’ farm system are players that were drafted in the last two years. What happened from 04-07? And while, I am excited about a lot of those guys (Holt, Thole, etc…) if the organization was even close to what Minaya did with those other teams, Mets’ fans would have a lot less to gripe about. Show me the legitimate baseball person in the organization that is influential in the “war room”. Why did (and I am not even goin g to try and spell it) Seattle find a guy in the Mets’ front office that had a clue, and Mets’ ownership did not…which brings us to the Wilpon family.

    Mr. Wilpon (either one) what in the heck goes through your heads in the morning, when you wake up? The stuff about the stadium, has been well documents…and we do not need to go through that again. Although I would still like to hear again, your rationale for your immediate reaction of paint over it, when you found out Dwight Gooden signed the wall of one of your sacred high end spots in the ball park. Still trying to figure that out…simply put, this is not about your willingness to spend money, only an idiot would complain about that, your team had the second highest payroll in baseball last year. However, when it is public knowledge that there are players (Marquis & Hudson) that would fit in nicely on your team and they WANT to play here, why does it have to be based on whether or not one of the teams’ biggest mistakes has to be taken care of before anything can be done. This all comes down to one thing…No one in your fan base has any faith that you (father or son) have their back. We had that feeling years ago, when Mr. Doubleday was part owner (whether it was true or not we can only go by what we see) And it has been a long time since Mets’ fans have had that feeling about you.

    Finally, who gives a damn what Ken Rosenthal or Bob Klapisch thinks? They and most of the other media (the guys at Newsday, Madden at the Daily News, among others) are so busy trying to detach their lips from the rear-end of the team in the Bronx, who gives a crap what they think. If the team gets back to the playoffs, and heaven forbid win a third World Series, watch how fast they put their lips to yours as well. You should worry more about how your customers percieve you than the media. The media likes Jay Horowitz, but it is not his job to deal with the customers. Whoever in your front office advises you on how to get the messages out to your customers, needs to be fired…they have made your organization more of joke than thought possible.

  • CharlieH

    We don’t have a new or almost-new manager implementing a new and improved vision.

    Methinks that therein lies the rub…

  • Bluenatic

    Investing oneself in the 2010 Mets is like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket. Sure, there’s a chance (slim as it may be) that you can hit the jackpot. But the much more likely scenario is that you’ll walk away disappointed. And in the end, you’ll be happy just to make your money back.

  • Wow. Talk about negative, guys. I was going to add to Greg’s post that no one expected jack squat from another team: 1969. Sure they were coming off two years of Seaver, a brilliant year of Koosman, and this wild Ryan kid, but no one expected a thing from the rest of the team. McGraw? Unproven and flaky. Al Weis–and this could also go for about half a dozen other members of that team–couldn’t hit a bit. Boswell? Couldn’t field. Agee? Coming off the worst year of his career. Cleon Jones? Is he ever going to follow through on his potential? Gentry and McAndrew? Unproven rookies. And Gil Hodges? Well, he’d had a heart attack in the Atlanta clubhouse in ’68 and might have died if Rube Walker hadn’t gone in to check on him.

    This current club ain’t ’69 and if you want to read about how that team did it, Mr. Prince’s fine contributions to the Miracle Has Landed http://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Has-Landed-Amazin-Shocked/dp/1934186171 would be your next destination.

    But Manuel took a team 7 1/2 out without any bullpen and with many of the same starters he has now to within a David Wright sac fly (he led the league in those in ’08, you know) from at least giving us one more day at Shea. So stop the whining and pining and get behind your team, for God’s sake. They make me crazy, too. But I’d say most people here have lived through at least one dark period in Metdom (everything pre-’69, late 1970s to early 1980s, much of the 1990s, the end of the Bobby V. reign and all of Howe hallucination). This team is as fickle as it’s fans. We were made for each others.

    You’re either with ‘em or agin ‘em.

    • CharlieH

      Go, Matt, go!

      I’ve just been mentally — and financially: I didn’t renew my Saturday plan — armoring myself against whatever let-down 2010 may bring.

      “Happy are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.”

  • [...] you really want to know what a Mets fan is really like, you must read Faith and Fear in Flushing. Greg Prince has a post out this morning that deals with the identity of our team. This part of the [...]

  • Guy Kipp

    It would be nice if the 13-year cycle of surprise contenders repeated itself, but another pattern throughout Mets history seems to portend bad things for 2010: The Mets almost never have an isolated bad season. Just like their good seasons, their bad ones come in clusters. Other than 1974, the Mets have never had one losing season surrounded by two .500 or better seasons. In fact, other than ’74, their losing seasons have always come in bunches of at least three.

  • Andee

    The reason there’s no Keith Hernandez on this team is because there’s no cocaine on this team. Seriously. The ’86 players would have laughed up their sleeves at the entire league in 2010, not just at the current Mets’ roster, because that just was not their mentality. Crank hard, live as fast as possible, screw our health, anyone who cares about that stuff is just a big old whiny binkybaby.

    It will never happen again; an individual player who’s that much of a party animal, let alone an entire team of extreme party animals, won’t last long in today’s game full of fitness freaks, the game where Joe Girardi won’t even let his players have a Snickers in the clubhouse, let alone a cigarette. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the Snickers ban might be a little extreme, but teams like the ’86 Mets and ’93 Phillies fell apart for a reason. That kind of energy is not sustainable.

    Anyway, how do you “lead” a team whose roster is getting further decimated by injuries every day, and has to field the C team more days than not because even the B team was hurt? That was just a staggering number of injuries; no team can survive that. And is Charlie Manuel such a genius compared to Jerry-no-relation? Or Joe Girardi? Nah. Probably none of them is all that bright, but two guys have been lucky and one hasn’t (yet).

    I’ve been on record for years as saying predicting W-L in January is fookin’ stupid, because nobody’s roster remains static between now and September, and and I’ve never been more sure of that that now. And any team that wins big has to get lucky with the guys they pick up off the scrap heap who nobody else wanted and the guys they already had who were left for dead. And of course, players can fall off the table completely, Alomar-style, too. But this roster still has some of the best talent the team has ever had; I can’t count them out. And given our history, I’d rather see them underrated than overrated.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    The only difference between today’s team and those of 1998, 1984 and 1969 is that they all played at Shea.

    What happens to a team that doesn’t like the place they call home? Of course, I’m not referring to the modern ammenities –I’m referring to the distances and high fences hated by the hitters and the stands that jutt out and walls that hug the foul line causing fielders to be cautious (not to mention having to contend with those crazy angles).