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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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Mookie in Plain Sight

Not long ago I was at a game with somebody who loves the Mets but isn’t necessarily on top of their day-to-day machinations. He noticed from where we stood a very familiar figure he hadn’t noticed previously during the 2011 season.

“Mookie Wilson’s a coach?” he asked with a bit of surprise.

Yes, I said, first base coach. Funny thing was I wasn’t shocked that this particular Mets fan might have missed Mookie’s presence after several months of him standing in the same box night after night. If anything, I gauged my friend’s reaction as fairly savvy in its way. To me, there’s always been something just a little…let’s say off about Mookie Wilson serving as the Mets’ first base coach.

I felt it this year, and I felt it during his first stint in the role, from 1997 to 2002. It’s not a reflection on Mookie’s skills for the job, whatever it is a first base coach does exactly. Mookie coached baserunning as well as outfield play. Apparently he didn’t do it smashingly enough to pass muster with the Mets, for he, along with several of his colleagues, have been dismissed and/or will be reassigned. I couldn’t tell if you if Mookie was great at coaching or not particularly suited for it. During my last on-field visit, I saw him doing, if you’ll excuse me using sophisticated baseball jargon, coach stuff. Mookie was hustling in and out of the dugout, hitting grounders, providing tips, carrying gear. He was doing what coaches do.

Mookie, doing what coaches do. (Photo by Sharon Chapman)

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s that your legends becoming workaday baseball men is at odds with the mind’s eye. Make no mistake: Mookie is one of our legends. Mookie is — not was, is — one of our champions, and I mean that in a more transcendent sense than he was on the roster the last time the Mets won a World Series. Howard Johnson was a coach for several years. As good as he was as a player, and as authentic as his 1986 credentials are, I didn’t find his descending from his lofty status among the Mets’ all-time statistical leaders to work on the swings of mere Met mortals all that strange. When Tim Teufel is third base coach next year, he’ll be Tim Teufel, the old infielder doing what old infielders do. If he gets a runner thrown out at the plate, I won’t find his playing identity trumping his errant decision.

Mookie, however, will always be Mookie. I never needed him to be anything more. His being something that by the nature of the job isn’t legendary couldn’t help but be a letdown. When I’d listen to him talking about pedestrian issues like how a generic runner gets a good jump, or what a youngster like Lucas Duda has to do to craft himself into a legitimate right fielder, I felt a tad disappointed. “You’re Mookie Wilson,” I would think. “Your being Mookie Wilson is plenty. You shouldn’t have to take Chin-lung Hu’s helmet at the end of an inning on those extremely infrequent occasions he’s on base. You shouldn’t have to hit fungoes to the likes of Scott Hairston. You’re Mookie Wilson! Isn’t that enough?”

Actually, I’m sure it wasn’t. Mookie Wilson is a legend to and for us, an avatar of everything we wanted our Mets to be, but ultimately, he’s a person who worked in an industry and wanted (after a hiatus) to make a living in it. Few are the stone immortals who can write their post-athletic ticket on image alone. Mookie wasn’t quite that, at least outside of Queens (and maybe Toronto). He’s a baseball man. Baseball men work in baseball. Coaching first base and baserunners and outfielders at the major league level is a pretty good gig. Of course Mookie deserved a shot at such a job if he wanted it, particularly in a Mets uniform.

And yet…he was Mookie. He was Mookie who streaked down the line, and Mookie who never gave up on fly balls, and Mookie who treated second to home like it was ninety feet and Mookie who ran hard but never appeared overheated…and Mookie who hit the grounder. I was trying to go as far as I could without playing the Buckner card, but let’s face it, it’s a helluva card. Yet Mookie’s not Mookie because he hit that grounder. Mookie hit that grounder because he’s Mookie.

Kind of zen, but so is Mookie Wilson, I’ve always believed. Unlimited exposure to Mookie, however, made him seem almost ordinary, as if he was hiding in the coaching box in plain sight. I want him to grace us with his presence reasonably regularly, but at the risk of messing with another man’s money, I didn’t want him held to some boring standard of whether runners ran bases better because of him or outfielders tracked deep fly balls properly because of him. I want Mookie around, but now and then, not as wallpaper. I want him to offer a wave, to tip a cap, to answer a question about what it’s like being Mookie Wilson. That’s worth compensating handsomely in the Mets universe. I never wanted a Mookie Wilson sighting to be rendered ordinary.

He’s too extraordinary for that.

18 comments to Mookie in Plain Sight

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    Didn’t realize that Mookie was out as first base coach. Is it another way of saying Mookie wasn’t helping Duda develop in right, Pagan using his head in center and Murphy , Tejada and even Reyes with running the bases?

    Hope this doesn’t put a strain on his relationship with the team in general and that the new job offer is really a good one, but I doubt after working on the major league level Mook would want to trek it back to the minors once again.

  • Dave

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Mookie emerge as the next Al Jackson, a guy who’s a Met For Life in one role or another, even if it’s a behind the scenes job in none-too-glamorous settings. Maybe he can’t turn Angel Pagan into Mike Cameron (or even into Jason Pridie for that matter), but I bet there will be outfielders and baserunners in Kingsport or Savannah or Coney Island he can help a lot, next year and beyond.

  • open the gates

    I remember reading an article about Gary Carter’s first job as an A-ball manager. I remember thinking, here’s a guy who is a superstar, as iconic as any Met in history, probably has enough money that he never has to work another day in his life, and he’s sitting on a bus from Podunk to Altoona with a bunch of 19-year-old prospects. Some guys, like Gary and Mookie, just love the game, and will do anything they can to stay involved for as long as possible. If nothing else, I hope Mookie imparted some of that passion to the current crop of Mets. Because they’re going to need all the passion they can muster in the next few years.

    • open the gates

      Needless to say, that article was written quite a few years ago. As always, my prayers are with Gary.

    • Just to be clear, all power to Mookie and to Gary (another guy I couldn’t quite grasp as just another coach or minor league manager) for wanting to keep at it in the game and business they loved. That they didn’t just appear one day and simply say” give me a Big Shot job” is to their credit (Carter’s ill-timed 2008 remarks notwithstanding), even if as a fan, I could never quite wrap my mind around what I was seeing.

      • Dak442

        It always seemed incongruous to me that Carter was managing in the low minors. Or managing at all, really. You just don’t see that many greats of the game descending from Olympus like that. If anything, I thought he’d end up a broadcaster.

        I hope the Mets have made Mookie a solid offer for a cool job, maybe some kind of alumni relations director, or community outreach, or marketing. Something where he is visible to the fans and beyond reproach – it would feel petty and wrong to criticize Mookie for sending a runner or some such offense. He’s Mookie Wilson, and I am always glad to see him.

  • March'62

    Mookie, with his mega-watt smile and all-time Met persona, should be the team’s goodwill ambassador. Sort of like Mr. Met. He should travel around promoting the Mets and their brand all over the world.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    I was surprised to see Mookie let go, yet still be given another job.

    Does anybody know why they let go of Mookie?

  • Guy Kipp

    Another coaching purge, and Dan Warthen survives yet again to give Mets pitchers another year of his tutelage and overall expertise.

  • Sad to see Mookie lose any Met related job. The guy deserves to be in that uni for as long as he wants.

    On another tangent, are the Mets grooming Tim Teufel for the manager’s job? He’s made the steady progression through the system, and is now being installed as the 3rd base coach.

  • Ed

    Like Seaver, Straw, Buddy, Cleon, Krane and Piazza, Mookie is one of those all time Mets who should always be part of the “Mets Family”. I hope that he accepts a new position with the Mets and as another suggested, that he would be great as some kind of Mets community -good will ambassador.

    Who wouldn’t want to shake Mookie’s hand or get his autograph? Tell him we love him and thanks for the great moments?

    Collins and Alderson can hire some other coaches that will improve the outfield and baserunning play. I would think they may bring up a coach who worked with Duda in AAA?

    I love Mookie – I hope the Mets make him realize how special he is because too many times over the years some of our all time greats have been slighted.

    Over the years, I cherish games when old favorites return to Shea/Cit. When Buddy coached for us in the 80’s; HoJo and Mookie in more recent years. Remember the first day of ticket sales we use to have at Shea? One year got to meet Kranepool, Felix Millan and of all people George Foster at Shea! It was a trip meeting these guys!

    One of my highlights from 2011 was Last year a game where 4 or 5 former Mets including Jim McAndrew and Rick Aguilera appeared at Citi for the purpose of a charity event. During the game they had a trivia contest, – Who won game 6 of the ’86 World Series?

    Well the fan got it wrong – but it was fun that Aguilera presented the fan with a signed baseball!

    If this change was done to improve the team – then fine. However, there should always be a spot for a man named Mookie with the Mets.

  • […] though Mookie’s were the fastest, they tend to come in second in terms of the legend (even if Mookie is a certifiable legend in his own […]

  • […] A note on 1: The reviled Castillo, off the payroll at last, beat out Esix Snead, who wore 1 in a second callup well after he hit a walkoff home run in September 2002 as No. 23. By “beat out,” I mean, “One: Luis Castillo…ah hell, I could’ve said Esix Snead!” Yet I can still see Snead as 1 even though MBTN says he was Mookiefied for no more than a few days. Random is sometimes how these number associations go. (Separately, Mookie’s been designated roving instructor and club ambassador for this season and hopefully every season; here’s to No. 1 in our programs, our hearts and most everything else.) […]