For once the actual weather matched the spiritual forecast: A day after a thoroughly entertaining World Series that featured a Game 6 for the ages, the East Coast got walloped by a blast of snow, slush and mess. The mess is gone but it’s still cold, and on some essential level it will stay that way until mid-February or the beginning of March or Wednesday, April 4 or Thursday, April 5.
By the end of 2011 I was tired, and it wasn’t so bad to have the Mets go away for a little while. It had been a tiring conclusion to the season, and I think we all sense it will be a tiring off-season, full of dispiriting talk about Jose Reyes and payrolls and most likely a slow-dawning acceptance that the Mets’ salvation will need to either come from within or await a change in ownership. Yet during the league championship series I found myself wrestling with a different cross for us to bear.
I’m referring, of course, to the disfigurement of The Holy Books by horizontal baseball cards.
For the uninitiated: I have a trio of binders, long ago dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re ordered by year, with a card for each player who made his Met debut: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Jose Reyes is Class of ’03, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, including managers, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That includes the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for nor managed the Mets.
Then there are the legendary Lost Nine — guys who never got a regulation-sized, acceptable card from anybody. Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card that looks like a bad Xerox. Leon Brown has a terrible 1975 minor-league card and an oversized Omaha Royals card put out as a promotional set by the police department. Tommy Moore got a 1990 Senior League card as a 42-year-old with the Bradenton Explorers. Then we have Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig. They have no cards whatsoever — the oddball 1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz cards are too undersized to work. (I no longer want to talk about Schmelz, the White Whale of my Metly Ahabing.) The Lost Nine are represented in THB by DIY cards I Photoshopped and had printed on cardstock, because I am insane.
During the season I scrutinize new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. At season’s end, the new guys get added to the binders, to be studied now and then until February. When it’s time to pull old Topps cards of the spring-training invitees and start the cycle again.
Now, about those horizontals. Periodically card companies get cute and shake things up with a horizontal card to lend their sets a certain variety. I have always hated these and replaced them as quickly as possible. Yet sometimes no replacement emerges, and a horizontal sneaks into THB.
This started to bug me this year, when Topps gave Justin Turner a much-deserved update card and it turned out to be a horizontal. Turner already had a normal Mets card from Upper Deck, but I was still annoyed — and before I could stop myself I’d launched a horizontal witch hunt. Crummy horizontals for Robert Person and Carlos Baerga were simple to ditch in favor of vertical Mets cards; ditto for Topps non-Mets horizontals of Rich Rodriguez and Jim Tatum. More problematic were Pat Mahomes, Mike Remlinger, Tony Phillips, Manny Alexander and Rodney McCray, all of whom got horizontals for their lone Mets cards. On the JV front, Chris Carter and the immortal Andy Green have horizontal Buffalo Bison cards.
Out with all of them, I decided. Better Manny Alexander right side up in an Orioles uniform than sideways looking like he’s about to make an error while wearing a Mets ice-cream hat. It took me some web searching and a few PayPal transactions, but a week later the Mets horizontals were reduced to zero, and all was briefly better about the world. Except, perhaps, for having to know that you actually are the kind of person who buys three Rich Rodriguez cards and then agonizes over which one is the best.
Anyway, previous annals of the THB roll calls are here, here, here, here, here and here. And now welcome to the first class of the Alderson regime. Are they heralds of a better era, or standard bearers for the new austerity? Ask us in a few years.
Miguel Batista: A wily veteran with a largely improvised repertoire and an professorial bent, Batista is a published author whose oeuvre includes poetry, philosophy and thrillers. Unfortunately, baseball only permits one niche per team/fanbase for “intellectual player whose reading material doesn’t prominently feature pictures of naked women,” and R.A. Dickey has that slot filled. So we pretty much ignored Batista’s off-field interests. The man pitched a two-hitter on the final day of the season, but that was the day Jose Reyes won the batting title and Terry Collins flubbed his likely Mets farewell. So we pretty much ignored Batista’s superb on-field effort, too. Unfair, but sometimes life’s like that. Batista arrives in THB with a 2008 Topps card in which he is contemplative and a Mariner.
Mike Baxter: Baxter hails from not too far east of Citi Field, and attracted a big cheering section for his Mets debut. His first at-bat was a double, albeit one given a little help from Kyle Blanks’s incompetent outfield play, and sent his friends and family into near-Citi orbit. It’s a small memory from 2011, but a nice one — one that will linger even if Baxter does not. Baxter gets an oddly martial 2009 San Antonio Missions card.
Pedro Beato: Another local boy, Beato pitched well enough at times to justify his Rule 5 status but poorly enough at other times to remind you that he’d have been sent down if not for that status. Worth it as a medium-term investment, and deserves a place in our hearts for telling reporters he hated the Yankees instead of blathering about tradition or pinstripes or the quiet leadership of Derek Jeter. Series 2 Mets card.
Blaine Boyer: Former Brave got axed early in the season after a couple of not good outings. Being a journeyman middle reliever is like being a competitive skater, only you start out with a broken shoelace, indifferent judges and nobody particularly caring that the ice is thin and/or missing in spots all over the rink. Stuck, probably forever, with a 2001 Bowman card.
Taylor Buchholz: Buchholz went on the DL at the end of May with shoulder fatigue, but stayed there because he was battling depression. Not so long ago, the Mets’ reaction to Ryan Church sustaining a concussion was basically to tell him to man up; this year, faced with something that might have seemed more ephemeral, they did far better. Kudos to the Mets for understanding that depression is real and nothing to minimize or mock, and kudos to Buchholz for being forthright about what he was facing. In some small way, that will help people trying to deal with depression know they’re not alone and don’t need to feel ashamed, just as it will encourage people who still dismiss depression as weakness or malingering to think again. Here’s hoping Buchholz gets better; in one sense, the Mets already have. If you want a lighter note, well, Buchholz gets a 2009 Topps card in which he’s apparently about to get mugged by a mascot.
Tim Byrdak: Some of Sandy Alderson’s moves worked and some didn’t. This was one of the ones that did. Byrdak proved more than capable stepping into Pedro Feliciano’s role, earning himself a one-year extension, and showed signs of a personality by videobombing reporters’ stand-ups to amuse himself. 2009 Upper Deck card in which he’s an Astro pitching in front of a sea of empty seats.
Chis Capuano: One of Alderson’s two rolls of the post-injury dice at the back of the rotation, Capuano exceeded expectations, giving the Mets a mix of mostly serviceable starts. Granted, “serviceable” isn’t a particularly exuberant accolade. Lots of Capuano’s starts followed a predictable pattern: He’d look good early, then get nicked for an unlucky run or two, then crash and burn. In late August, though, he faced one over the minimum while fanning 13 Braves. Using the Bill James Game Score metric, it was the best pitching performance in the big leagues in 2011, the best Mets performance since David Cone eviscerated the Phillies at the end of 1991 and the equal of Tom Seaver in the Jimmy Qualls Game. (You probably won’t guess who’s No. 1 in club history, though he was mentioned in a recent Happy Recap.) Still, one game does not a season make. Capuano did better than might have been expected, but the idea of asking him for more in 2012 makes me cringe. Series 2 Mets card.
D.J. Carrasco: Early in the year I decided I liked D.J. Carrasco. He wore his socks high and his utilitarian, vaguely tragic face reminded me of Jesse Orosco’s. Plus he had the guts of a burglar, as I declared after he escaped one encounter with the Marlins. Subsequent outcomes suggested Carrasco in fact had the guts of a burglar who kept wearing highlighter yellow and breaking into houses while people were there. Oh, and he’s signed for another year. A middle reliever having a bad campaign isn’t the end of the world, but ouch. Carrasco got a 2011 Bisons card, which he thoroughly earned.
Brad Emaus: Named Opening Day second baseman after a frustrating spring training in which he was essentially the tallest midget, Emaus showed so little with bat or glove that Alderson sent him packing after just 14 games. It was a weirdly hasty execution, but the Mets came out OK: Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada all played more than capably at second. A position where the Mets had next to nothing for the last several years now has a logjam of players, yet more proof that we’ll never figure out baseball. And this is probably the first time you’ve thought of Brad Emaus since May. Got a 2011 Topps Series 2 card despite being Rockies property by then.
Scott Hairston: If Emaus demonstrated impatience can be a virtue, Hairston served the more traditional role of demonstrating the opposite. He started abysmally, but finished the year as a useful bench guy and genuine pinch-hitting threat. Will probably move on for 2012, but did his job. 2011 Topps Update card.
Willie Harris: Deprived the Mets of approximately 462 late-inning comebacks while playing for the Braves and Nationals, making the addition of his glove for 2011 a no-brainer. Unaccountably, Harris then started the year showing little flair on defense, leading to an epidemic of moaning about how these things always happen to us. (But, seriously … it’s weird, isn’t it?) As with Hairston, Harris hung in there to have a pretty good second half. Could return and we’d probably welcome him back. 2011 Topps Update card.
Daniel Herrera: The principal PTBNL in K-Rod’s trade to Milwaukee, Herrera was about four feet tall, had a Muppetesque mop of hair and pulled his cap down so low that it was a week before you could verify he had eyes. And he didn’t want to be called Danny. All that was endearing; so was the fact that he pitched pretty effectively, admittedly in garbage-time conditions. 2010 Topps Heritage card on which he’s a Cincinnati Red.
Chin-Lung Hu: His early billing as a good-glove no-bat shortstop proved half-right. Some Topps Dodgers special-issue card I got God knows where.
Mike O’Connor: Former National qualified as a warm body, didn’t merit a September call-up, and filed for free agency. Will possibly catch on somewhere and elicit an “Oh yeah, I forgot about that guy…” sometime next summer. 2011 Bisons card.
Valentino Pascucci: Last seen in the final Expos game, Pascucci earned a trip back to the big leagues after being a folk hero for stats-minded fans in recent years at Buffalo. Resembled Andre the Giant’s character in The Princess Bride, with the caveat that Fezzik seemed faster. Struck a decisive blow in a late-September game in which it looked like R.A. Dickey would lose a 1-0 non-no-hitter to Cole Hamels. Fezzik’s no-doubter of a blast into the left-field seats put an end to that talk; in the replay you can see me standing and whooping in the background while my kid races (in vain) for the HR ball. Those are reasons enough to remember Big Papa fondly in the Fry house. Trivia: Was first Met to wear No. 15 after Carlos Beltran. I still think the number was reissued with shameful speed, but that’s not Pascucci’s fault. 2011 Bisons card.
Ronny Paulino: Backup catcher. Won some plaudits for keeping Mike Pelfrey semi-focused at times. Fainter praise would actually be invisible. Sorry, I really was trying, but hey, he was the backup catcher. The backup catcher is generally a wise old veteran who briefly earns raves for straightening out some spooked-horse starter, flirts with taking the starter’s job, then proves there’s a reason he’s a backup catcher and is soon replaced. Where have you gone, Todd Pratt? 2011 Topps Update card.
Jason Pridie: Decent fourth-outfielder type, capable enough as a bench player and defensive replacement. Stunned everybody with a shot most of the way up the Pepsi Porch one night in the dregs of an otherwise anonymous game. I wonder if he’ll ever do that again, or if he just hit it perfectly that one time. Either way, I bet it was fun and at odd moments for the rest of his life Pridie will remember that one and smile. 2011 Topps Update card.
Josh Satin: No, not Josh Stinson. Might have generated more excitement if he weren’t basically Daniel Murphy, a promising hitter with no position. Emily thought he desperately needed a significant other who’d convince him of the wisdom of trimming his eyebrows. His THB card is some weird Topps issue proudly noting that he’s a Single-A All-Star.
Chris Schwinden: Watching this lumpy, sweaty pitcher with awkward mechanics and indifferent stuff, it was all I could do to keep from screaming, “ISN’T IT OBVIOUS THIS GUY IS NOT A MAJOR-LEAGUER?!!!” There are so many reasons I should shut up, including the fact that I don’t look that good even by the low standards of guys who type all day and the fact that the last player I had this kind of caveman reaction to was Heath Bell. If Chris Schwinden would like to make me look stupid for the next decade, he’s welcome to do so. 2011 Bisons card.
Josh Stinson: No, not Josh Satin. Pitched pretty well before the return to the statistical mean knocked him for a loop. Given his recent arrival, both on Earth and in the big leagues, the jury should remain out for a couple of years. 2011 Bisons card.
Dale Thayer: Porny mustache deserves some kind of praise. And so: I praise your porny mustache, Dale Thayer. 2011 Bisons card.
Chris Young: Gigantic, affable Princeton grad thrived in the early going, spinning terrific games against the Pirates and Nats before holding the Phillies at bay for seven shut-out innings in Citizens Bank Park on May 1, leading to Kevin Burkhardt staring at Young’s clavicle while the pitcher smiled pleasantly and spoke into a mike above Burkhardt’s head. Unfortunately, it was Young’s last start of the year — shoulder woes wiped out the rest, and possibly his career. 2011 Topps Series 2 card.