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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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Funnest Met Ever

“When I’m finished, I’ll get the best seat to see him play. I’ll pay whatever price to see him play.”
—Pedro Martinez on Jose Reyes, July 23, 2005

Somewhere in the midst of the conference call Sandy Alderson held with some of us bloggers last Thursday night, the Mets’ general manager used an unremarkable phrase that caught my ear nonetheless. His front office, the GM said, was out to put a “better product on the field — better and more entertaining”  in 2012.

I was instantly reminded of Mike “Meathead” Stivic’s reaction to a grocery item label that promised “NEW AND IMPROVED!” on All In The Family. What, he asked, were we using before: old and lousy? Whatever the Mets’ missteps over the years, it never occurred to me they were intentionally going for worse and more torpid.

What got me was the use of the word “entertaining,” as if it was a disparate competency from “better”. If winning is colorless, sign me up for the Monochromatic Pack at once. If the Mets are winning consistently, the fun generally reveals itself therein.

But embedded in Sandy’s well-chosen words, I supposed then (and feel certain of now), was a cushion of warning for Mets fans…as if we hadn’t figured where things were inevitably heading for ourselves. The Mets, he seemed to be saying, will strive to be entertaining next year, even if it doesn’t involve a ton of winning, let alone the presence of the most entertaining player we’ve ever employed.

No matter how drab the Mets turned post-2008, one colorful character leapt out from their tedious tableau. No matter what kind of film with which you metaphorically shot him in these digital days, there’s no way Jose Reyes would print in black and white.

I’ll miss that sense of dazzle. I’ll miss the runs, triples and stolen bases, of which he collected more than any Met in franchise history. I’ll miss the production at the plate and the prevention in the field (whatever your defensive metric of choice indicates). I’ll miss not having to wonder who would bat leadoff. I’ll miss the 1,300 hits and how somebody was finally going to catch Eddie Kranepool while wearing Eddie Kranepool’s number. I’ll miss that the last of the 2003 Mets was the one 2003 Met whose sudden presence and instant impact in 2003 cheered me up when I was as down as I’d ever been about the state of the Mets.

But that doesn’t even get to what I’ll miss most. Call it entertainment value if you like, though when you’re a fan of a team, you don’t worry about being entertained. You’re far too engaged for such superficial concerns. You want to be entertained? Download Adele. Go see George Clooney. Subscribe to the MLB package and watch the Miami Marlins. That’s dispassionate entertainment.

What it was to me was Jose being Jose. Jose lashing. Jose dashing. Jose gunning. Jose grinning. Jose and the Mets winning, Maybe not as much as they had been when they were an annual 89-win proposition (on average) for four straight years and he was leading off virtually every day, but enough so you could put together his legs and his arm and his bat and their fortunes. Gosh, it was fun to be in your seat by the start of the bottom of the first if you were going to the game or at your TV no later than 7:11 if they were on the road. Gosh, it was comforting crossed with exhilarating knowing the game couldn’t commence until Jose had the first of his ups. Gosh, he relished being a baseball player, and he did it as a New York Met.

Who else ever made us sing not just his praises but his name? Repeatedly? To say Jose was the most fun Met ever doesn’t quite get to his essence. It was more like he was funnest. You felt like a kid watching him play, so it’s only fitting to express yourself that way, too.

I joined in a knot of media last month at the event the Mets held to unveil their altered uniforms so I could hear what Ike Davis and David Wright each had to say about Jose Reyes. Ike was almost bubbly talking about how “excited” he was to have been Jose’s teammate. I asked David to share his thoughts on Ruben Tejada, noting he’d probably been asked plenty about Jose. I have to admit I wondered how much of a company man he’d be if given the opportunity to move on to the next shortstop. But David, bless his Metsian heart, didn’t bite. Jose was “one of a kind,” David said (before adding some respectful boilerplate about Ruben).

These tidbits occur to me because one of my favorite images from Jose Reyes’s nine years as a Met come from a game he didn’t play, the final Saturday night of last season, the second half of a day-nighter against the Phillies. The Mets won it with Jose on the bench, yet after the final out was made and the SNY cameras captured the lads funneling toward their clubhouse, the guy leading the charge — and the guy more ebullient than anybody else at having won an allegedly meaningless game — was Jose Reyes. You would have thought it was the Mets, not the Phillies, getting ready for the playoffs. In that moment, the notion that somebody was “just happy to be here” shone through as it rarely does. And this was no scrub. This was our star.

The Mets are fun to us because they’re the Mets; it’s the same reason the Mets are a pain to us. But some guys are just more fun and more meaningful than the rest. That was Jose. Jose made leading off a happening. Jose made his staying through the trade deadline a cause, even if it turned out to be a reprieve more than a pardon from the governor. Jose was a sunshine rod. If things were working even a little for him, you were having a better day because of it. You might not have trekked to Shea Stadium or Citi Field specifically to see him, but he was the one who drew you in once you were there.

It’s good to have that. It’s good to have someone to depend upon as a constant in your life as a fan. It’s a more sacred sensation than “entertainment”. If you’re caught up in the development and evolution of a player from the beginning of his career in your midst to the end, the entertainment takes care of itself. Your equity with your team tends to be tied up predominantly in a few special players at any one time. If you’re lucky enough, you have those players with you 100%, from hotly anticipated callup to final tip of the cap. Their ride is your ride.

Of course we never, ever have that over the long term, save for the aforementioned Kranepool and maybe Ron Hodges, depending on your definition of special player. I would have loved to have had it with Seaver, with Strawberry, with Alfonzo…but I didn’t get it. I won’t get it with Reyes, either. There are reasonable explanations for why this has come to pass, whether you count them to 70 million or 106 million, but it doesn’t make them feel any more legitimate.

I feel, on the most basic of levels, as if my trust in my team has been violated. For whatever reason I became a Mets fan at the age of six, it wasn’t to be calmly understanding of ownership when it led the club down a path of competitive ruin. And it wasn’t to make rationalizations on behalf of vague nods toward a better, more entertaining day after tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it was to root for a whole lot of players who played for my team and to fall in baseball love with one or two of them in every Met generation. Reyes was that guy for most of the past decade.

I have no idea who will be the next one or when/if it will happen again.

A little more recommended reading…

Last week’s Sandy Alderson conference call, still instructive despite being a little dated by now, was courteously transcribed by Amazin’ Avenue here.

Marvelous encomium to Jose Reyes from Patrick Flood, here.

The big picture, broken down stroke by insightful stroke by Metstradamus, here.

And one of my favorite Faith and Fear pieces, wherein Jason eavesdrops on a contentious conversation between scout and sabermetician as regards a young shortstop on the rise, here from 2005.

21 comments to Funnest Met Ever

  • Chris Galligan

    Once again you have described the heart of the matter;pun implied. I didn’t expect to be in the World series next year but I expected to have fun watching my Mets ,especially Jose. I thought I was kidding myself when I told my rep I would hold off on my plan until the Reyes matter was settled . I wasn’t.
    I know these things happen and I will hear from all and sundry that we don’t have the money and it will probably help in the long run etc..I however cannot imagine either winning or losing being better without Jose Reyes.

  • maryanne

    Thank you for a wonderful read, Greg. It’s a difficult day to be a Mets fan.

  • If you want the Wilpons gone then stand together against them:

    http://nomorewilpon.weebly.com

    - No More Wilpon. We will not fund this franchise while they run it. Join and support the growing movement that we want the Wilpons gone.

  • Ken

    It will be far more difficult watching the Mets next year. I feel like I did after Seaver was traded. As I was in college in New England at the time, I started watching the Red Sox. Maybe with Bobby V there I will start doing that again over MLB.TV.

    Yes in 1979 I rooted hard for Lee Mazilli of the Mets in the allstar game, and was happy to watch Mookie come up, perhaps the funnest and sunniest Met prior to Jose. But it wasn’t until Strawberry and Gooden came up in late 1983 and 1984 that the Mets became must-see TV again. When will the Mets bring up another Gooden or Jose? Odds are it will be five or 10 years, because players like that don’t come around often.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    OK let me get this right. We make no attempt to sign our best player and lose him to the fish?

    Then you have the nerve to RAISE SPRING TRAINING TICKET PRICES, while you field a semi-pro team!

    Really?

  • Dak442

    Everyone that got fleeced by Madoff, from middle-class retirees to the Wilpons, is a schmuck. “Hey, this is great! Free money!”. A child knows that there is no such thing. I am no real estate tycoon nor investment genius, but I would never entrust a substantial amount of my money to some guy who won’t tell me what he’s doing with it, just “hush and be glad you’re allowed to invest with me”.

    I’m not so much mad that Reyes is gone, because you know damn well had he signed with the Mets he would spend half of his contract resting his hamstrings or suffering from shrimp-related ailments or having dreadlock reconstruction surgery. (Of course, now he will likely hit .350, win several MVPs and go to the HoF as a Marlin.) I’m mad that my team is owned by stupid schmucks who have found a way to lose money owning a baseball team in New York! Bad decisions snowball into other bad decisions and we’re faced with an avalanche of shitty baseball for the foreseeable future.
    Unless brainwashed by their parents, what kid is going to choose to be a Met fan in the next two or three years? (Not to mention the three or so just past.)

    On the plus side, the tickets on Stubhub are gonna cost about 75 cents this season.

  • Michael

    The letting go of a player of Reyes stature sends a terrible message to me as a Mets fan in so many ways. It is the latest, and perhaps most tragic episode of a gothic novel known as the House of Wilpon. They have not been fortright regarding a massive debt and the madoff saga which is still far from over. The gaffs with media in interviews by Fred and Jeff have been mind boggling. They have sent messages over and over to mets fans how little they care for them or the brand. I lived through the M.Donald Grant/DeRoulet saga. I never thought it would be that worse again. Sadly I am wrong. The Wilpons have resided over a Big city franchise which has displayed little vision and instead has become joke material for writers and late night comedians. Jose Reyes did suffer injuries, yes. But when on the field he played hard, and raised the energy of a team and fanbase in desperate need. I cannot trust this ownership family anymore. I will still like the Mets, but pray for the day Fred and Jeff Wilpon have no other choice but to sell. And shame on Bud Selig as well. He was tough on the McCourts, as well he should have been. But he refused to be the same way to his Friends, The Wilpons during this madoff saga

  • Rob D.

    It’s 1977 all over again.

  • Rob D.

    How the eff does a NY based National League team LOSE $70MM? How is that POSSIBLE????

  • Lenny65

    The most galling thing about this is how we’re supposed to accept that the Mets are playing by “small market” rules, that they simply “can’t afford” to pay their stars. It’s absurd, it’s insulting and it’s demoralizing, for sure. The poverty act is really tired and played-out, if Wilpon can’t hang in the country’s largest market perhaps he should bail and sell the franchise to someone more capable. Low-budget “small ball” is never going to play in NYC.

    I’ll miss Reyes: when he was on he was electric. But when I read comments comparing losing Jose to the Seaver trade, I must scoff and scoff heartily. Tom Seaver was one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived, he led the Mets to a WS title and an NLCS win over the hated Reds and he was as consistently awesome as any Met ever was. While Jose was a terrific Met, he was not without a downside. There are the frequent injuries, the way he tailed off in 2006 & 2007, the maddening inconsistency. It’s not to say he won’t be missed or that the Mets made the right move because I believe neither, but as much as this stings it’s not comparable to shipping away the best Met ever for garbage in the middle of June.

  • Barry

    It’s more like 1979 than 1977. At least then we had Matlack and Koosman and Milner still. The Mets are getting close to having no one to root for in addition to being flat-out BAD. But under this all is what the Wilpons have allowed their fanbase to absorb in relation to their rivals.
    The Mets weren’t always second-class citizens. Through 1990, they ”owned” New York more than the Yankees. Yes, the Yankees won more often. But if it wasn’t a championship season, it was more often than not the Mets’ town. When both were good (like 1985), the Mets had better TV ratings, better attendance, better general interest. But the early 1990′s changed that and the Wilpons did zero to make sure it ever changed back. Given the Yankees’ history and ability to sell all those championships, you can give them a pass on THAT.
    But the Braves have rubbed their noses in it for 20 years with a seemingly infinite number of division titles, heartbreaking wins, young talented players. The Phillies stole division titles from them late in 2007 and 2008, won a world title and then another pennant. The Marlins, not content with two fairly recent world titles, ruined 2007 and 2008 for the Mets … and now they emasculate them by taking Reyes too. Add the evolution of the Washington Nationals to respectability and a commissioner only too glad to let the Wilpons own the Mets for ETERNITY and this doesn’t feel like 1979. This feels like something Dante would have concocted in ”The Inferno,” a special circle of hell for which there appears no imminent escape.

  • Baseball Oogie

    I’ve been a Mets fan a long time — long enough to see them win one World Series, but not two.

    The Seaver trade still sticks in one’s craw, but this, in its own way, is much worse. It is indicative of complete and utter surrender by the franchise. It is dropping the gun and walking away from the front line. After this, can any among us really think that Wright will be here in five years? That there will be any signings to replace them?

    Reyes was a polarizing player — often injured, sometimes mindless, but when healthy and focused, easily the most dynamic and energizing player in the majors. I had just a touch of the sublime in watching him dash around the bases, in the joy he had in playing. The doubles, the triples — the sparkplug that made the offense go. One of the few *Mets* greats.

    And now — and now I can’t even muster up any enthusiasm for the next season. It may change after a long winter when any baseball is better than none, but I just don’t have it now.

    The sad part is that I saw this coming since the start of last year. At the same Spring Training game that I saw Oliver Perez mercifully make his last appearance as a Met, I won an autographed Reyes jersey in a charity raffle. And I knew for a fact he wouldn’t be back next year.

    And so it goes.

  • Lenny65

    Oh yeah, it’s going to be brutal watching Jose leg out a three-bagger in Citi Field while wearing that horrible teal uniform. Although I can accept losing out on the bidding, it’s very tough to accept the whole “what could we do, we can’t compete financially with the Marlins of the world” attitude. If your franchise can’t keep pace with the Marlins, you have to ask why and so far the main reason appears to be “managerial incompetence”. It’s even harder when you share your market with a franchise that, when faced with a hole on the roster, fills it by backing up dump trucks full of money to the best available talent. It’d be nice if ownership would take the time to explain to the fans what the long-range plan here is aside from “saving the Wilpons money”. Putting a winner of the field would solve 90% of these issues and until that happens nothing will change. That place is going to be a tomb halfway through the 2012 season and I don’t see how that will help Wilpon recoup his losses and get things turned around in the right direction again.

  • open the gates

    What Lenny said.

    I would compare this more to the late-season trade of David Cone. We got Jeff Kent, a good player (of course, a better player once he left New York) but not on the level of a David Cone. We got Ryan Thompson, the first in a never-ending series of overhyped young outfielders who wound up being more hat than cattle (see: AlexOchoaAlexEscobarButchHuskeyJayPaytonVictorDiazFMart etc etc with more to come). But most of all, we lost David Cone, the last tangible reminder of the good times of the ’80′s. (And I don’t count Dwight Gooden, who at that point in his career was a reminder of no good times at all.)

    But what got me at the time was the perceived inevitability of the move. The idea that there was no way we were going to be able to hold on to Cone, so let’s just ditch him for two live young bodies and cut our losses. That we were moving away from the ’80′s to something new, and that new thing could not possibly be as good as what was left behind. For what it’s worth, our last good times with this team were the heady early days of the Minaya/Randolph regime, and that was embodied by Jose Reyes. And now he’s gone, and we’re staring into the abyss. And it ain’t a pretty picture.

  • Joe D.

    “I feel, on the most basic of levels, as if my trust in my team has been violated.”

    Greg,

    Once again I think you have spoken for all of us.

    Sell the team.

    • srt

      I second this.

      Great read, Greg.
      As a diehard since ’68, I cannot help but think the Mets are entering what will be another dark period in franchise history. And dang…I’m getting too old to keep telling myself ‘in a few years’. ’86 was too long ago now.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I think we should all take a 2nd look at this in 2013 when Reyes has a season of 68 games, 197 at bats, a .273 average, and 23 stolen bases, the first of several such seasons. It was time. Made no sense to keep him. Yes, they’ll be a worse team next year, but the “Leadoff Sweepstakes” as well as the “Second Base Sweepstakes” will be interesting to watch on a daily basis. I envision about 150 different lineups during the course of the season, i.e. Party Like It’s 1967.

  • Dennis

    No comparison to the loss of Seaver. Time to move on. What a coincidence….he has his best season in his walk year. Think he will duplicate that again? Wonder how many of you would have been bitching had they signed him and he comes up with a pulled hammy in the spring and follows up with 6 mediocre seasons while hampering the payroll?

  • [...] me strive to become a better writer, check out Greg Prince’s write up on all this over at Faith and Fear in Flushing So long [...]

  • Dave

    Not a surprise of course, but a slap in the face; as I told a friend today who’s a fan of that other team, something that their fans never experience, and there’s no way fans of a franchise in the nation’s biggest market should ever be forced to accept. As one reader said, cheap tickets on StubHub this year (again).

    Might as well have a New Wave or Disco Night, queue up for $1 a gallon gas and have Jimmy Carter throw out the first ball, because it’s 1979 all over again.

  • [...] over at Faith and Fear in Flushing, Greg Prince lamented the loss of a Mets legend. Difficult to replace will be the run production that Reyes brings to the [...]