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Say Good Night, 2006

“Some people never got over the sixties, or the war, or the night their band opened for the Rolling Stones at the Marquee, and spend the rest of their days walking backwards; I never really got over Charlie. That was when the important stuff, the stuff that defines me, went on.”
—Rob Fleming, High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Exactly five years have gone by since the Mets were a single successful swing away from a trip to the World Series. They seem light years removed from being in that position again.

So I’m not surprised I drunk-dialed 2006 last week, or did the video-viewing equivalent thereof.

It was bound to happen. Every October from 2007 on, I have my fingers on the keypad but usually hang up, choosing instead to mutter to myself about the way it was and the way it was going to be. This October, though, it was creeping up and into me in such a fashion that it could not be avoided. Last Monday night, as the Cardinals were bashing the Brewers, TBS’s announcers again and again referenced the Cardinals’ victory in the 2006 World Series. Try as I might — and I didn’t try very hard — I couldn’t remember anything about the 2006 World Series, save for three facts:

1) Tiger pitchers made an error in every game.

2) I watched very little of any game.

3) I seethed with resentment [1] while all five games took place.

Facts 2 and 3 are closely related.

Last Tuesday night, as the Tigers strove to slow the Rangers at Comerica Park, my attention was focused squarely on the Texas left fielder, Endy Chavez. When Endy, batting ninth in the league where non-La Russa players can do that, made his 2011 postseason debut, Fox had the decency to run the clip we used to see about every 10 seconds when Endy wore No. 10 for the Mets. Scott Rolen swung, Chavez went back, Chavez leapt at the fence, Rolen was out.


Joe Buck sort of remembered Endy turning it into a double play with a dynamite relay throw. Tim McCarver thought Buck was hallucinating. Of course Buck was right (“of course Buck was right” is a phrase you won’t read too often). Endy did fire the ball back into Jose Valentin who in turn hustled it to Carlos Delgado to double Jim Edmonds off first. Endy Chavez had saved two runs and created two outs along with Oliver Perez’s bacon. We’ll let McCarver off the hook for faulty memory this one time seeing as how Tim was just back from “minor” heart surgery. Besides he and Cardinal Joe were properly awed five years after the fact by Endy’s…I was gonna call it handiwork, but that’s too generic for something so unique to one man and one catch. They were properly awed five years after the fact by Endy’s Endywork.

All it took for my eyes to water ever so slightly was the sight of Endy at all in October. Even in Texas blue. Even wearing unfamiliar No. 9. Even grounding out unheroically to second. Endy the Ranger can’t hide his true colors nor his magical aura. He’s a Forever Met. That catch cemented his status.

Five years later, it’s his Rangers and those Cardinals in the World Series. It’s good to see Endy thrives to this day. There was something wonderfully retro about the fame that followed him in the wake of his catch. Hey kid, you made a quite grab there! How would you like to be in our ad for milk [2]? Endy could do no wrong the rest of his Met career, which, like the Mets’ viability as contenders, wound through 2008. Endy’s catch was voted the fourth-greatest moment in Shea Stadium history by fans I’d otherwise scoff at for displaying such short-term memory (winning the 1969 World Series ranked behind Piazza’s 9/21/2001 home run, for crissake). Hey kid, what a catch! We want to put you on this big-time list [3]! Endy’s catch was the last fantastic thing to happen for the Mets as opposed to the last fatalistic thing to happen to the Mets. The final score of Game Seven should have been Cardinals 3 Mets 1 Endy ∞ for infinity. Endy’s catch, at least when viewed as a moment unto itself, transcends piddling bottom-line results.

Being reminded of it and all that surrounded it — starting with the “2006 World Champion” yammering the night before — was enough to make me check out of the ALCS for a couple of innings and check my DVD shelf for a disc I bought as soon as it was released [4], and watched, I’m pretty sure, only once:

The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets.

I’ve still only watched it once from start to finish, sometime in the spring of 2007. Last week, I joined it in progress, in the August chapter, during an interlude devoted to the 1986 Mets’ 20th anniversary and how it made all sense in the world that we’d be celebrating that team from that time in a year when this team in this time was marching inevitably toward something approximating its ancestral glory.

Drunk-dialing 2006 as I was, I expected to get sloppily emotional when the last Met season with which I had a satisfying relationship picked up on the other end. But it wasn’t like that. If anything, after tracking down 2006 on that DVD, I am, at last, over 2006.

Thus, after a half-decade spent intermittently praising the last year the Mets won anything, I come here tonight to necessarily bury it.

According to the DVD, Endy still makes the catch. And yes, the Mets still rack up 97 rollicking wins in the regular season, still blow away the rest of the East by midsummer, still steamroll the Dodgers in the NLDS. Yes, there are still dynamite individual performances and there is still reassuring team cohesiveness. From that perspective, revisiting the last Met season with which I had a satisfying relationship panned out. In small doses, with a skilled fast-forward finger, I could have used The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets. as a soothing balm for my chronically aching baseball soul.

But that doesn’t happen when you drunk-dial. You’re probably too angry and upset to be soothed. A few happy highlights don’t serve the function of an electric heating pad set on HI. You want more from your DVD. You want to be taken away to a better team and a better time and lose yourself in all the winning it gave you.

Instead, I was left to cope with the reality that all the winning they gave me in 2006 wasn’t quite enough and that all they were explicitly promising to give me after 2006 — narrator Tim Robbins played up “the years to come” as practically a sure thing — never arrived. Therefore, instead of misting up and wallowing in the sweet memories of the undisputed best season of the past decade, I just got angrier and more upset.

Which is where drunk-dialing turns ugly.

Stupid 2006, what did YOU ever do for me? What did you leave me with? NOTHING! I gave you a year of my life and then I gave you a pass for what you didn’t give me later. And now all you do is mock me with your talk of “years to come” with your fancy new ballpark and your core young players and all the valuable experience they gathered that will surely pay off in championships and elation. But it didn’t. And now look where we are: the Cardinals are on the verge of making another World Series, Endy Chavez is on somebody else’s contender and I can’t even count on you to keep Jose Reyes. “The Team?” “The Time?” I bought what you were selling! I thought we were going to be together forever. I thought this would STILL be the time! But it’s not. Have you seen the standings? Have you seen how bad it’s gotten? We finished behind the frigging NATIONALS this year. We finished fourth three years in a row. You know who the only teams are who haven’t won as many as 80 games in a season the last three years? I’ll TELL you who they are: The Royals, the Pirates, the Orioles, the Astros…AND US! That’s who we are now. Some team and some time you turned out to be.

By then, I’m certain the 2006 DVD had stopped listening to my pathos-fueled rant, which was OK, since I was only venting at that point. Still, I couldn’t look at The Team. The Time. The 2006 Mets. anymore. I ejected it from the machine and returned it to its case and its case to its shelf. I put the ALCS back on, but I wasn’t much in the mood to pay attention to 2011. I had exhausted all my energy on 2006, a year I was now ready to declare I was finally over.

That only took five years.

But that’s normal, according to my ballological clock. A half-decade’s remove is usually what it takes to tell me, beyond the last lingering shadow of a doubt, that whatever year I hold particularly dear is gone for good. You’d figure the calendar would take care of that, but it doesn’t, not in baseball, not when you’re stuck on a season that defines its era, one you wish hadn’t ended…or hadn’t ended the way it did.

I knew 1986 was over once 1987 rolled around and refused to unfold overwhelmingly in our favor, but deep down I kept waiting for what I decided was normality to kick in and for Baseball Like It Oughta Be to, well, start being again. Even as ’86ers were peeled off the roster by attrition, or premeditated acts of “what have you done for us lately?” forced amnesia, I refused to believe there wasn’t a 1986 hiding somewhere inside this franchise as 1987 and 1988 and 1989 and 1990 progressed. On the fifth anniversary of the seventh game of the 1986 World Series — which helpfully coincided with the seventh game of the 1991 World Series — something clicked. It was a new era. Others contended for and went to postseason. The Mets were a wreck. There wasn’t a 1986 in them anymore. It was time to move on.

But I could always count on my videotape from 1986 [5] to overwhelm me with surpassing joy when I needed a shot of it.

I replayed October 1999 over and over, year after year. What if we started Rogers at home where he was untouchable instead of on the road where he was worthless? What if Bobby brought Reed back on short rest against Atlanta instead of Leiter, who couldn’t handle it? Where was Yoshii after Game Five? How come nobody could get a bunt down? We would have won a Game Seven — no question. The Mets went to a World Series the season after, one that, like store-brand cereal, tasted like disappointment and presented its own set of soggy regrets, but I was willing to shrug off the final chapter of 2000. 1999 was the one that should have had more life in it. 1999 was the cure for the common postseason. 1999 never would have been lost on some rookie nobody had heard of six weeks earlier leisurely trotting from first to home in a World Series. It might have been lost, but it would have been far more operatic and at least partially life-affirming (imagine Melvin Mora not busting it the way Timo Perez didn’t; ya can’t). Anyway, the 2004 Red Sox came along and did what the 1999 Mets didn’t do but I was always convinced should have: climb back from 0-3 to win a seven-game series. The only thing I didn’t like about the Red Sox doing it was they weren’t the second to do it. But I was glad they did it. I took one final regret-filled lap that autumn and finally let 1999 rest on its pedestal. It was time to move on.

But I could always count on my videotape from 1999 [6] to overwhelm me with surpassing joy when I needed a shot of it.

October 2006 has stayed with me from the moment it ended shy of what I and millions considered its destiny. It has shaded nearly every overarching Met thought I’ve generated in the past five years. At first, it was “2006 was great, therefore 2007 will be greater.” Then it was “2006 was great, 2007 turned into disaster, let’s get it back in 2008.” Then it was “2006 was great, 2007 and 2008 were insults to its memory, and I think we may be much further removed than one unhittable Adam Wainwright curveball from returning to where we left off.”

Then it was 2009 and 2010 and 2011, three seasons that bore no resemblance to 2006’s six-month festival of self-confidence. As we sank from a club that almost won in October to a club that found ways to lose in September to a club that didn’t win very often from April onward, 2006 grew ever more distant, and not just chronologically. One by one, then two by two, members of the 2006 team departed the Met ark. In five years’ time, nobody, save for the two biggest names, was left from that postseason.

Still, deep, deep down during these past three years, I still tended to think we were living in the same era as 2006, that if this wasn’t “The Team,” then maybe it was still “The Time”. That maybe we weren’t winning many ballgames and weren’t realistically competing for any playoffs, but that somehow it was all an aberration. That if somebody would just fix something, “The Time” would kick back into gear and “The Team” could resume being the kind of fabulous operation that we were so convinced it was on the cusp of being.

Never happened. And it never will, at least not in any way that connects “then” to potential future Met success. The Time, the era that encompassed 2006, clearly ended with the closing of Shea Stadium in 2008. It didn’t have to, but it did. The standings made that clear by 2009 and the composition of the roster underscored it. The sense that we were on the precipice of a boom period in Mets history evaporated everywhere but deep, deep down as Citi Field began getting lived in. The early years of the new ballpark were supposed to be when the Mets’ time was cresting, when the Mets were going to be the team in New York and the team in the National League East and, quite possibly, the team in all of baseball.

Never happened.

2006, whatever its charms while it was in progress, predicted nothing. It wasn’t the start of something big. It was the sole high point of an era that stopped short of becoming an epoch. The Mets weren’t what we thought they were going to be. They weren’t a dynasty. They weren’t even a mini-dynasty. Nestled as their sole divisional title was between eleven consecutive by the Braves and five in a row from the Phillies, they were George Lazenby [7], the not-so-famous actor who played James Bond for one movie between Sean Connery’s and Roger Moore’s extended runs. Or Steve Patterson [8], the not-so-famous center at UCLA after Lew Alcindor (a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and before Bill Walton.

The 2006 Mets were the ones who didn’t make more of their big chance, which never got bigger than it did five years ago tonight [9], October 19, 2006, when Endy Chavez made an unbelievable catch, but also when Jeff Suppan couldn’t be hit, when Yadier Molina couldn’t be kept in the yard and when Adam Wainwright threw a curveball that almost certainly couldn’t be touched…though it might have been nice had the otherwise sainted Carlos Beltran reached out and attempted to touch it.

For five years, I’ve been reaching back and attempting to touch 2006, to reach into it and find its most enduring properties. Sadly, it mostly comes down to one catch that came in a loss that ended what felt like a season for the ages yet turned out to be an age that didn’t last long.

The DVD won’t be coming off the shelf again for a while.