One of the formative stories for me as a Mets fan comes from 1969. As it’s told in George Vecsey’s marvelous Joy in Mudville, after the Mets reached 18-18 with a win over the Braves, reporters entered the clubhouse expecting “a wild champagne party,” but found the Mets drinking postgame beers and sodas as usual. According to Vecsey, Jack Lang asked Tom Seaver why the team wasn’t celebrating, to which Seaver replied, “What’s so good about .500? That’s only mediocre. We didn’t come into this season to play .500 ball. I’m tired of the jokes about the old Mets. Let Rod Kanehl and Marvelous Marv laugh about the Mets. We’re out here to win. You know when we’ll have champagne? When we win the pennant.”
Even as a kid, I kind of doubted anyone had actually expected a wild champagne party in May, but I knew that wasn’t the important part of the story. The part that mattered was Seaver’s cool, slightly imperious statement, which struck me then as full of wisdom about leadership, expectations and effort, and I suppose still does.
But this year .500 has become a peculiar measure — a mark the Mets just can’t seem to rise above no matter how hard they try. They’ve been above it for all of four days, back in the first week of April, when their high-water mark was a mighty 3-1. They’ve been at it six times. The first three deserve an early-season asterisk: April 2 (1-1), April 7 (3-3) and April 9 (4-4). Those days were followed by a plunge into dark, cold waters, with the lowest sounding at 5-13 on April 20. Remarkably, the Mets then fought all the way back to .500, re-achieving the meh-gical mark on May 20 (22-22) against the Yankees. They didn’t get back there until June 15 (34-34), and have now regained equal footing on June 26, at 39-39.
Don’t get me wrong: To get back to level against the big, bad Texas Rangers is an impressive feat, particularly considering the Rangers bashed seven home runs in the three-game series while the Mets countered with zero, instead bedeviling the Rangers with about a billion singles. Also helping today: well-timed solid defensive play and horrific umpiring, all of which went against Texas. Listening to the game while gallivanting around the city on various missions, I often couldn’t hear Wayne Hagin (rats) over the sustained booing. Later, I was amused to learn that Terry Collins, apparently perfectly happy to look a gift horse in the mouth, had tried to persuade the umps to eject Michael Young after they ran Elvis Andrus and Ron Washington. A guy who’ll push for that kind of advantage when it’s eleventy-billion degrees in Dallas certainly doesn’t need Jeff Wilpon barging into the clubhouse looking for a buffet to overturn because he’s feeling old school.
So the Mets are back at .500, with an off-day before heading to Detroit. I assume there was no wild champagne party this time either, for all the reasons Tom Terrific had to offer 42 years ago. .500’s nothing, even if it does come with the likes of Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda filling in. .500 is a foundation, not a house. Let Jason Phillips and Ty Wigginton laugh about the Mets. I want them to be out there to win.
If they hit .506, on the other hand, I’m breaking out the bubbly. Because that would feel fricking spectacular.