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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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Home Is Where The Hall Is

“Thank you. This is really, really amazing. And it feels so good to be home.”

So said Doc Gooden Sunday as he was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame, and he couldn’t have been more correct — for him or for us.

On some level, Dwight Gooden’s been wandering the periphery of Metsdom since the day after his team won the World Series in 1986. He didn’t show up for the ticker-tape parade a grateful city threw its champions. Five months later, he tested positive for cocaine and wasn’t present on Opening Day when the flag his team earned was raised and the rings with which they were to be rewarded were distributed. He’d be pitching again in June and would be a mainstay of the rotation for another seven years, but Doc was never quite at the heart of this operation again.

If he had been, it would have seemed more tragic or heartbreaking when he tested positive a second time in 1994. It may have been tragic yet it didn’t seem all that heartbreaking. Regrettable, yes, but the hue and cry was muted. He had his problems in 1987, he was welcomed back. They reignited in 1994, the door was over there — be sure to use it. The Mets of post-1993 were a whole different story, a whole different vibe from the Mets of post-1986. There was no patience for an addict or a junkie or a recidivist user, whatever he was. Go away, Doc, was the prevailing verdict. Fix your life on your own time.

We stopped caring diligently about Dwight Gooden because Dwight Gooden apparently didn’t care about himself. We had to move on. We did and he did. He had his moments of success and so did we. We had our slipups and so did he. We’d hear about him from time to time, but he wasn’t our concern and there was no way of telling if we were any of his. Any opportunity that arose when he might have re-emerged, he wouldn’t or, more likely, couldn’t. Whether by conflicting commitments or by law or by personal discomfort or even choice, the estrangement proved immovable.

It would go on that way until September 28, 2008, when Doc Gooden materialized out of the shadows and into the Met midst. The occasion was the final afternoon of his old address. He was one of dozens of former players to take the Walk of Shea that day, but he was the one who jumped out at you. He was the one who owned the place as no more than maybe three or four others owned it, and he was the only one to never set Met foot in it after his title on the property lapsed.

Doc was just visiting, just checking in before Shea would check out. But after fourteen years in which his absence was occasionally noted, his presence was genuinely felt.

Two years after that, he came home for good. Dwight Gooden — Doc — is a Met again. Not because he signed a one-day contract in order to symbolically retire as a Met. Not even because there now hangs a plaque that says he was a Met. It’s because every effort to certify his standing as a pre-eminent Met of Mets was made and achieved. The Mets did their part and so did Gooden.

He’s no longer the NO PHOTO AVAILABLE in our alumni newsletter. He’s no longer on the outs. There are no grudges or grumblings or self-imposed exiles anymore. Doc’s one of the Met family again. Better yet, a Met family at last exists for him to be a part of.

My happiness for Doc Gooden’s happiness on Mets Hall of Fame Day is an emotion I reproduced in quadruplicate Sunday so as to include Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen in my loud ovations and quiet satisfaction. I was beaming on each of their behalves from the Promenade as each made brief but heartfelt remarks about what it meant to them to be inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame.

Did you hear that? There’s a New York Mets Hall of Fame! It’s real. It’s a living, breathing, functioning entity. It’s not shunted away in the Diamond Club. It’s not just two display cases of sculpted heads. It’s not just those couple of pages in the media guide that never require updating. There was an election for it in January, there’s been a museum housing it since April and there’s been a parade of promotional announcements beating the drum that there’d be inductions into it for weeks. Yet not until I actually saw Cashen, Johnson, Gooden and Strawberry express their thanks for being a part of it did I really and truly believe it was real and true.

Each of those gentlemen treated membership as an honor of the highest order, a pinnacle to their long and distinguished baseball careers. I’d been to three previous HOF days at Shea — Mookie Wilson in ’96, Keith Hernandez in ’97, Gary Carter in ’01 — and while those were delightful, they didn’t rise to this occasion. Those were outliers, nice tributes, but essentially a “Day” the same way you might see Copiague Day recognized forty minutes before first pitch.

This was serious, nearly solemn business. I don’t mean to imply it didn’t have its lighthearted moments (Davey complimenting us as the most intelligent fans in baseball because he always heard us on the radio telling him how to manage was a hoot), but this ceremony had gravitas. The Mets organization made as big a deal as it could out of this and the honorees seemed truly humbled. It wasn’t just one more rubber chicken circuit award they were scooping up. These guys actually cared about being Mets Hall of Famers.

What a worthwhile endeavor this was, reviving this thing that barely existed before, and making it bigger, better and more beautiful than it’s ever been. Kudos to all involved on a classy, meaningful presentation — and some unsolicited advice below to Dave Howard, who rained, or at least drizzled in advance, on his own parade when he told Brian Heyman of the Journal News, “I don’t think it’ll necessarily be an annual thing.”

Make sure it’s an annual thing, Dave. Build on this tradition. You just did it for the first time in eight years. The last time you did it, you inducted a great Met, Tommie Agee, a year after he died and thirty years after he last played for the Mets. Then you let it wither. It’s back and it’s blossomed on your watch. You should be proud of these ceremonies and that museum and those plaques (even though the end date on Doc’s plaque says 1995 and his last Mets game was 1994). You should be proud to honor Met greats and even Met very goods every single year.

Mike Hessman just became the 890th individual to play as a New York Met. Fourteen players are in the New York Mets Hall of Fame. I’m thinking there have to be at least a couple of Mets worthy of strong consideration on an annual basis among the 876 Mets who aren’t in our (yes, our) Hall. Take that momentum, sir, and run with it. Just as I was this year, I will be among the first to buy tickets next year for Mets Hall of Fame Day. And I’ll bet more will join me as it becomes an established event.

One other thing I particularly enjoyed about Hall of Fame Day and presumably will for a very long time is that the speakers invoked the name “Shea Stadium” repeatedly. Shea lives! Lives on in the official memory again, that is. 2009 was the year we were told Mets history began ten minutes ago and their only home ever was Citi Field. Now, in 2010, I sat in Citi Field and heard the village elders speak fondly of Shea. There’s nothing to lose in remembering it existed, that the franchise’s greatest baseball was played there and that it sure was fun at Shea.

Now, it sure is fun at Citi. Like Doc Gooden, I’m home…whatever drawbacks the current house engenders.

After the ceremonies ended, the 2010 Mets played a baseball game that was as dreadful as the ceremonies preceding it were beautiful. But I had a really good time, hanging back, no thoughts of streaks (and little of possible contention) in the air. I was with my old friend Dan for the first time since the Home Opener in 2008 (with a welcome half-inning cameo from Sharon) and we just talked non-stop Mets/life for nine innings, much as we might have in the Upper Deck or Mezzanine or Loge in Shea days of yore. In my 54th regulation game there, it was the first time feeling at home felt effortless. Just as I’d been waiting for Doc to return to the Mets for fourteen years, I’d been waiting to for my own sense of ballpark estrangement to completely evaporate for most of two seasons.

Me and Doc, we arrived together where we belong. And we are so happy to be home.

In case you missed ‘em, some perspective on the Mets Hall of Fame tenures on Davey Johnson here, Dwight Gooden here and Frank Cashen and Darryl Strawberry here.

28 comments to Home Is Where The Hall Is

  • maryanne

    It was a touching day at CitiField. Doc and Daryl are just so human. Let’s go, Mets!!!

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: For Doc Gooden and me at Citi Field, home is where the Hall is. #Mets http://wp.me/pKvXu-1Fn [...]

  • Inside Pitcher

    Beautifully stated Greg.

    Once again, you found a way to put words to something that most of us felt but couldn’t articulate. Thank you.

  • [...] To read more about the event, check out Faith and Fear in Flushing. [...]

  • The amount of empty seats yesterday was a bummer, but the ceremonies were certainly nice. Maybe in other parts of the park it sounded different, but from my seat the loudest ovation of the ceremony went to Keith. That’s pretty telling, and good ammo for the “Retire 17″ front.

    Hearing “You Belong to the City” while the new HOF’ers were being carted off was surreal. I said to a friend, “I watched A Year to Remember about a hundred times as a kid, and here I am seeing these guys again, listening to this song.” It’s always comforting to know the “Shea DJ” is a fan, too.

    I figured Doc would throw to Darryl for the first pitch, but I was glad Carter was chosen as his battery mate instead. Great touch. Also a great touch to have Mookie deliver an autographed baseball into the promenade, and Carter to do the same later.

    Outside of the wretched game, and the sight of empty seats (and the thought of Dave Howard smirking somewhere), it was a great day to be a Mets fan at the ballpark. And you’re absolutely right: it was awesome to hear everyone talking about how great it was to be at Shea.

    • Hearing “YBTTC” as well as the organist slipping a little ELP (“welcome back my friends/to the show that never ends”) was a great touch.

      Keith did get a nice hand. He’s more familiar to a lot of the people in the stands.

      Empty seats are too bad but 83% capacity isn’t chicken feed and, as I said, it takes time to build a little tradition. Everything there is overpriced, as we know — and the team on the field is underperforming. This is a journey, and the Mets are getting there.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Yesterday was not the worst debacle for a Mets Old Timer’s Day (or HOF day as the case may be).

    This, I believe, was the first ever Old Timer’s day, featuring Old Dodgers and Giants (not counting the ones on the 1962 Mets).

    Note that the Mets were behind by 17-0 at one point, and also note the attendance, higher than yesterday’s.

    http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1962/B07140NYN1962.htm

  • LarryDC

    Greg — I of course agree on Piazza and Darling as candidates to join the MHoF … and I’m 95 percent there on HoJo and Franco … but geez, to commit to one of these days every year? At what point would you reach silliness like what the linked story mentioned, about the Giants inducting Rich Aurilia and Shawn Estes? (Though I might vote to induct Estes as a Met, not for his lousy aim at despicable opposing batters but because he pitched a complete game win the only time I ever bet on baseball, during a visit to Reno, NV.)

    I dunno. Is there some sort of middle ground? Every year for 10 years, then reevaluate? Or every other year for 20 years?

  • Great, warm, wonderful piece, Greg. And while it may be asking too much to have an annual Hall of Fame induction (there really wouldn’t be enough guys to induct), it is not too much to ask for an annual day devoted in some way to honoring the Mets’ past, whether it be an Old Timer’s Day or a commemorative anniversary or whatever. There are signs that the Mets may be beginning to realize that there is a value to such things even if it is difficult for accountants to measure it.

    • I’d be comfortable with one day/night a year devoted to Mets recognition, not necessarily HOF (like Ralph Kiner night or 40th anniversary of ’69) but I think the Hall needs to gain traction as a tradition, so I’d commit to it as an annual event for the next five years at least. This was probably the largest class they’re going to have in a while. Two people per year — players, managers, organists — would be sufficient. Continue to make a day of it. It’s too good an idea and has too lovely a physical repository to let fade again.

      • Inside Pitcher

        I’d be good with one player a year plus an achievement award every couple of years, in order to recognize people like Jane Jarvis whom you wouldn’t put into the HOF but who are nonetheless part of Mets history.

  • karol dondero

    Greg,
    Even better…… when Doc visited the booth during the game. I have never seen Ron Darling
    that animated! He was like a little kid seeing his boyhood friend again after 20 years. Apparently
    Darling charted Doc’s pitches ( do current pitchers still do this?).
    Would love to see Kevin Burkhardt interview Darling to get his viewpoint.
    Great day- brought a tear to my eye when Doc came out onto the field…….

    • I recorded and watched the visits to the booth. You’re right about Doc and Darling. I never pictured them having more than a working relationship. It was great to listen to No. 1 and No. 2 starters on the best Mets team ever throw off sparks.

  • CharlieH

    Great ceremony. It was great to be acknowledged by the greats: the WERE listening!

    A quibble: where was Seaver?

    • Well, I know Ed Kranepool was in the Hamptons…

      I wondered how all-in the living Mets HOFers would be for Mets HOFers who weren’t their teammates. Rusty played with/for yesterday’s honorees and Buddy was a coach then. Seaver? Other than being let go by Frank Cashen and not making the team when he was trying to hang on and they were trying to hang in, I guess didn’t feel compelled to fly in — or nobody asked.

      This is still a work in progress. Bringing the family together once a year means reaching across generational lines. Would have meant a lot to have seen Seaver congratulating Gooden. But these are the Mets. We should be glad the sprinklers didn’t come on in the middle of it.

  • Mex_17

    Great stuff…thanks!

  • BlackCountryMet

    Obviously I’m a newcomer being from over the pond, but I’m WELL aware of the stature these guys have and it was very emotional watching Sunday. Fully agree there should be some sort of day of recognition every year, not sure we can do HOF annually but certainly for the next few yrs.

  • [...] Sunday, before the Mets were so fired up by the presence of their 1986 predecessors that they stormed forth and lost by thirteen runs to a last-place team, Davey Johnson spoke to the [...]

  • [...] would call pride. Pride of the Met variety. I wanted an up-close look at the four new plaques for our four new Hall of Famers. It gave me chills to see one for Frank Cashen, one for Davey Johnson, one for Darryl Strawberry [...]

  • [...] took eight years. When the first Citi Field class of Cashen, Johnson, Gooden and Strawberry made their acceptance speeches, the phrase “Shea Stadium” was uttered over and over. That’s where those guys’ triumphs [...]

  • [...] eight-year absence of Mets Hall of Fame selection and induction came to an end in 2010, and what a welcome sight it was to see four new members of the Hall receive the recognition they long ago deserved. Darryl [...]