Last week, Daniel Murphy told reporters at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner that, “Expectations for us this year are like any other. We expect to go to the playoffs.”
Good for him. If I expected the Mets to go the playoffs, I’d mark myself as delusional, but if he didn’t expect the Mets to go to the playoffs before Spring Training commences (or couldn’t muster the self-confidence to declare he does), I’d be rather despondent.
David Wright tried the same line a couple of Februarys ago, very dutifully delivering some variation on “we expect…” and it actually bummed me out. The Mets were sliding in the wrong direction then and it felt like David (no matter how he might have believed what he was saying) was acting as Minister of Propaganda for a corrupt regime. The Mets are no closer to contending status now than they were then, but these days only the delusional among the non-uniformed personnel believe it, so when Murphy says it in that Murphy way of his, it’s almost a psychological shot in the arm.
Doesn’t particularly matter what anybody says in winter. It’s early fall when a statement regarding going to the playoffs has some merit. The Cardinals were able to say it at the end of September, and look where it got them. If we use the football calendar, summer talk is just talk. January and especially February talk truly tells the tale, sometimes as ticker-tape settles gently over the tale’s final postscript.
The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals needed 188 games — 162 of theirs, 26 of the incredible, disappearing Braves — to make the playoffs with a 90-72 record. It was the least best record of teams in the playoffs, but the key phrase there is “in the playoffs”. The Cardinals were just that, and after a few weeks, they were the champions of their sport.
The 2011 New York Football Giants won and lost regular-season games in almost the same proportion: 9-7. It was just good enough to edge them into a division title, which entitled them to one ticket to one playoff game. From there, they earned another…then another…then another…then the trophy everybody else wanted. You gotta be in it to win it. The Giants were. And they did.
It doesn’t always work that way. It can’t. For most of the postseason tournament entrants, the ticket doesn’t get punched successfully clear to the end of the line. Seven baseball teams played in October but did not achieve what the Cardinals achieved. Players representing eleven very recently active members of the NFL weren’t brushing confetti from their shoulder pads Sunday night. But those teams and their runner-up brethren in other top professional leagues at least had a conceivable shot at the so-called brass ring — a better shot than those who didn’t make the playoffs.
So if Murph wants to say that’s where the Mets are headed in 2012, more power to him. Because saying it may be as close as we get. It’s as close as we’ve gotten since 2006.
How long ago was that, by the way? Consider that there hasn’t been a top-level professional sports team based in the New York Metropolitan Area since Called Strike Three to have not made the playoffs in whatever league they’ve played. Some of these teams and leagues have come and gone; some of them, to be honest, I barely knew or didn’t know existed. But they each made it to a championship tourney more recently than the Mets have been in one.
• Last New York Giants (NFL) playoff game:
February 5, 2012
• Last New York Red Bulls (MLS) playoff game:
November 3, 2011
• Last New York Yankees (MLB) playoff game:
October 6, 2011
• Last New York Liberty (WNBA) playoff game:
September 19, 2011
• Last New York Knicks (NBA) playoff game:
April 24, 2011
• Last New York Rangers (NHL) playoff game:
April 23, 2011
• Last New York Jets (NFL) playoff game:
January 23, 2011
• Last Long Island Lizards (Major League Lacrosse) playoff game:
August 21, 2010
• Last New Jersey Devils (NHL) playoff game:
April 22, 2010
• Last New York Titans (National Lacrosse League) playoff game:
May 15, 2009
• Last New York Dragons (Arena Football League) playoff game:
July 5, 2008
• Last New Jersey Ironmen (Major Indoor Soccer League) playoff game:
April 12, 2008
• Last New Jersey Nets (NBA) playoff game:
May 18, 2007
• Last New York Islanders (NHL) playoff game:
April 20, 2007
• Last New York Mets (MLB) playoff game:
October 19, 2006
This doesn’t count minor league locals like the Long Island Ducks, but the Ducks were in the playoffs more recently — October 2, 2011 — too.
The Giants were the only New York-area team whose very last playoff appearance was a victory. Everybody else stood by and watched various bands of Tigers, Celtics, Steelers and so forth celebrate. The defunct Dragons, I just learned, lost a heartbreaker to the Philadelphia Soul. That’s the chance that is taken when the playoffs are made. The Mets have avoided that kind of crushing final scene for more than five years now.
Further, it’s the way it goes that some teams don’t make playoffs for quite a while. Check with the Kansas City Royals (1985), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1992), the Toronto Blue Jays (1993) and the handful of teams who’ve waited longer than the Mets to return — or, in the Washington Nationals’ after-Expo case, debut — in Major League Baseball’s postseason. Also, the Mets can take solace in remaining a going concern, unlike, say, the unironically named New Jersey Ironmen, who didn’t have the endurance to keep playing beyond 2009, when they migrated to the Xtreme Soccer League…which also doesn’t exist anymore. And they can rationalize that MLB is more selective than the NFL, NBA and NHL in choosing its playoff participants. Even when Selig & Co. get around to shoehorning a second Wild Card into each league, baseball will take only ten teams in thirty to its postseason dance.
Still, the Mets are the fifteenth-most recent New York-area major league professional team to play a playoff game. Don’t tell Daniel Murphy. I don’t want him to know.