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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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Faces of the Franchise

David Wright now stands alone atop the admittedly rather smallish peak known as All-Time Mets Hits Leaders. He got there with a third-inning tapper up the third-base line, a little excuse-me roller that was thrown away and left Wright waving — perhaps a trifle sheepishly — from second base. It was a small hit for a Met, honestly, but a giant leap for Metkind, carrying David to No. 1,419 and leaving Ed Kranepool behind.

I’d actually been kind of hoping Wright wouldn’t collect No. 1,419 Wednesday night, because I have a ticket for Thursday afternoon, when R.A. Dickey goes for his 39th career Mets victory, which would move him ahead of Ed Lynch, Jack Fisher and (weirdly) Frank Viola and into a tie with John Maine for 23rd on the all-time list. Joshua and I had even engaged in a rather odd debate a couple of nights ago: What would happen if Thursday afternoon’s game went to the bottom of the ninth tied 1-1 with Dickey the pitcher of record and Wright at 1,418 hits, only then David swatted a home run into the Mets’ bullpen? What we wanted to know was MY GOD WHO WOULD GET THE BALL?

We should have such problems, right?

(By the way, the kid and I agreed that Dickey would wind up with it after several long rounds of you first/no after you between two conspicuously team-conscious guys.)

Wanting Wright to wait was a selfish wish, and I’m happy to say I was thrilled for him the moment it was clear he was safe. Wright looks much the same as he did as a rookie in 2004, but all of a sudden we realize he’s been around these parts seemingly forever.

I was at Shea in July 2004 for his first game, having dragged along a colleague from the Journal for a historical milestone I was approximately 50,000 times more interested in than he was. (Our rookie went 0-for-4 as the Mets beat the Expos, improving to .500 for the year.) Since then we’ve seen him as a young player with a precocious grasp of the strike zone, as Cliff Floyd’s good-natured foil, as a dreamer fulfilled spraying Champagne on fans with a soaked cigar in his teeth, as the designated facer of media music after two collapses, as the agonized poster child for Citi Field’s too-distant power alleys, as an anxious leader disastrously expanding the strike zone in an effort to accommodate the weight of the world on his shoulders, as the endpoint of a horrifyingly errant Matt Cain fastball, as a revived presence at the plate and at third base, and as who knows what next. If we close our eyes we can see him wiping his face in his uniform, holding his bat before his eyes like a broadsword and then exhaling deeply before going to work — just as we can probably see him standing in front of his locker, dutiful, patient and Jeteresquely bland-spoken after another bad night of the office.

The face of the franchise? Absolutely. Close your eyes and try that same exercise with anybody else.

I don’t know whether Wright and the Mets are destined to stay on the same path. I get worried when fans talk about re-signing Wright as if that’s solely the Mets’ decision. Their financial future is perilous, and so are their near-term prospects of reaching the playoffs. Wright is decent and loyal, but he also wants to win — and it would be hard to blame him if he’d rather not wait until he’s 32 or 33 to have another chance at that. As No. 1,419 trundled through the grass and Wright streaked for first, I had a thoroughly unwelcome thought: Damned if that doesn’t remind me of Jose Reyes’s last hit as a Met.

I worry that I won’t be able to stop thinking about that. But whatever happens, I’ll also keep thinking of this: At a recent blogger event at Citi Field I stood by the Mets dugout watching Wright after batting practice, and was amazed at how often he was asked to do something — sit down with this camera crew, talk with this reporter, shake hands with this bigwig, take a photo with this family, sign balls for these kids. It was exhausting to watch, let alone go through, and the beginning of the game was still a long ways off. Through it all Wright was gracious and thoughtful, when he would have been absolutely justified in retreating to some corner of the outfield or ducking into the clubhouse for a little peace and quiet. That ought to be part of the applause for his milestone as well.

* * *

Oddly enough, though, on a historic night it was another Met who held my attention.

The last time we saw Jeremy Hefner start a game, he was as bad as a pitcher can be: Seven Phillies came to the plate against him, and all of them reached base. Before he could blink it was 8-0 and Hefner was in the dugout with an Urdanetan ERA for the day of infinity.

Hefner has never exactly struck you as a fit for New York City — he’s a 26-year-old, devout Oklahoman who confessed to Kevin Burkhardt that doing a between-innings interview made him really nervous. His disastrous start found me in a church pew peeking at Gameday, and I silently cursed his name as the carnage reached surreal levels. But my annoyance with Hefner vanished when I saw the footage of him talking to reporters after the game, voice cracking and composure in danger. The Mets had been pasted, sure, but it was one game in a lost season — and as Greg noted, Hefner sounded devastated, not disappointed. Frankly, I was worried about him — worried then and worried tonight as he toed the rubber against the Pirates.

So it was delightful to see him absolutely throttle the Bucs, hitting his location with all of his pitches and having about as fine a game as one could hope for. Asked later if he’d thought about that last start, Hefner didn’t seek refuge in ancient cliches about tomorrow being another day, turning the page, and so on. Yes, he said, he’d thought about it — and it was pretty clear from the look in his eyes and the relief in his voice that he’d thought of little else.

Hefner will start again in Miami next week — as one would expect after seven innings, three hits and no runs. But if he’d had another start like the one against the Phillies, it’s entirely possible he might not have — and conceivable we might never have seen him again.

Hefner’s one of those guys who throws several pitches competently but none impressively, depending on his ability to change speeds and hit spots. He can win when he does those things; when he can’t he’s a good bet to get whacked around. That scouting report could describe thousands of pitchers in baseball history, which is the point: Guys like Hefner aspire to be Greg Maddux or maybe Rick Reed, but the vast majority of them aren’t. If they’re lucky, you find them bouncing around between the back of big-league rotations and stints as spot starters or long men. If they’re unlucky, they get stuck in the minors, putting together long careers that never again break the big-league waterline. The difference between those two fates? It can come down to a start in late September when the bullpen varsity is being saved for the next day and all eyes are elsewhere and your last start was a disaster and you don’t want to think about it but your career may be poised on a knife’s edge.

We’ll hear a lot more about David Wright for years; it’s not clear that Jeremy Hefner will be a name much remarked around here or anywhere else. But what Hefner did was also harder than we might think, and also worthy of appreciation and applause.

* * *

Faith and Fear readers, please offer your support to Shannon Forde of the Mets’ media-relations department. Shannon has always been a great friend to Faith and Fear and our fellow bloggers, and is a wife and mother facing a tough fight against Stage IV breast cancer. Please visit Hope Shines For Shannon and consider attending the November 1 fundraiser in her honor or giving whatever you can to help her family.

19 comments to Faces of the Franchise

  • Tom W

    I’ve always hated the ‘Face of the Franchise’ malarkey. For one, it heaped extra pressure on a fine player who wilted under the weight. For another it was always culturally insensitive – and that’s putting it kindly.

    To many Mets fans, Jose Reyes was their ‘Face of the Franchise’- and for obvious reasons. No Met has ever been happier playing baseball in front of New York fans. The Mets’ failure to even make an offer to Reyes was, as they say, a radicalizing moment. You finally realized, hey, the Wilpons and their new management team clearly favor one ethnic look over another.

    No, no, no – please – none of that “you don’t sign a legs man to a long-term deal” bunko. That’s reading from Alderson’s script of leaks and whispers. That’s from Fred Wilpon’s cultural biases. In truth, Jose Reyes would have broken the incredible Kranepool number about 6 weeks ago. We’d have none of this Wright worship – which will substitute for exactly zero dollars when David seeks his last big baseball deal, here or elsewhere.

    Who can doubt that the Mets chose one great homegrown player over another, or that cultural bias played a role in that choice? No one with clear eyes and an understanding of this franchise’s history.

    Yeah, I’m still a Mets fans. But when I close my eyes and imagine the exercise Jason suggests with anyone else of the same vintage, I come up with a player who gave his all for the Mets, was never offered a contract, should be the Mets all-time hits leader, and playing alongside David Wright for most of his career.

    • Sorry, but gotta disagree here, and rather thoroughly.

      Sure, Wright often addressed the media because some reporters gravitate to a native English speaker, despite Jose’s English being just fine. But I don’t see bias here.

      As I wrote reluctantly at the time, I thought the Marlins’ offer to Jose was insane for a guy with a long history of leg injuries, including one that sunk his second half, and real questions about how he’d age as a player. I wish Jose the best and mourn that he’s no longer a Met, but I wouldn’t have made that offer.

      • Joe D.

        Hi Jason,

        As insane as the Marlin’s offer was, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the only reason such an offer was able to be put on the table was that the front office had no intention of re-signing Jose.

        Until Jose said he didn’t want his agent to negotiate half way through last season, Sandy had exclusive negotiating rights with his shortstop. He did not have to bid against any one else except for the perceived market value Jose could command. If one has a glimmer of hope to sign his player (which Sandy said was the reason he did not trade Jose during last season) nobody but nobody ever STARTS negotiations by placing himself in a position where he has to bid against others. Nor does one tell his player to shop around and come back to him.

        Sandy has proven himself as a savy executive with his decades of expereince in tough contract negotiations not just with player agents but on behalf of major league baseball working under Bud Selig. He knows what steps have to be taken to at least place himself in an advantegous position during these matters.

        He had no intention of re-signing Jose, which is his call, and maybe his reasons for not doing so were genuine. That is not the issue we are talking about. The issue is that again in the SNY booth the other night he again gave us legal double-talk. “Hoping” cannot be construed as misleading in a court of law but it certainly qualifies as a lie in the court of public opinion.

        Keeping that in mind, the issue isn’t really Jose as it is his credibility at least with the fan base. This is not the first time, Jason.

        • Just_Da_Damaja

          Bingo

        • Tom W

          Yeah, I agree. And there were no Reyes jerseys available at Citi Field after July. I know – my daughter wanted one.

          You might look Alderson’s campaign contributions to anti-immigration politician Duncan Hunter. He really does have a arch-conservative bias that I believe infects his ideas about players. I’m not saying he’s a racist – that’s ridiculous give the make-up of the Major Leagues – but I do think he has a cultural bias and blind spot.

          Reyes could have been every bit the “face of the franchise” that Wright is. Indeed, among my three teenagers, Jose was the face of the Mets.

          • Just_Da_Damaja

            Its really a problem that most MLB teams face…

            they have no clue how to properly market someone who doesnt speak english well…to an english speaking audience…

            the ONLY one i have seen do a half-way decent job is David Ortiz…

            now that being said…the Mets do their young prospects no favors by trashing them to the public and throwing them under the bus…

            SNY and their affiliates have trashed Jordany Valdespin almost every chance they get…

            heck for 6 weeks they said Ruben Tejada injured his calf DIVING into 1B…( an absolutely retarded thing to do )…

            lets not forget the 4 guys who missed the Walter Reed hospital incident…

            Dillon Gee…Castillo…Perez…and Beltran…

            mysteriously…Gee got a pass b/c he was playing that night….as if the 24 other guys on the roster were not…

            It is a complex issue…one that wont be resolved until Ownership is out of here and new ownership…who only have concerns with winning are put into place.

    • Dave

      I really think Reyes’ departure ultimately had more to do with Bernie Madoff than anything else. The Wilpons and/or Alderson may have foolishly held out hope for a hometown discount, but I don’t think that there was less interest in bringing him back due to his ethnicity. From the middle of the previous decade through last year, if Wright was Face #1 of the franchise, Reyes was at least #1A. And let’s not forget how much the Mets were criticized (unfairly, IMO) for being “Los Mets” under Minaya’s watch. And earlier still, with at least Fred partially in charge if not Jeffy, Doc and Darryl were perhaps the most marketed players in franchise history.

      But I acknowledge that I’m a white, middle class, middle aged suburbanite, and others might see things differently based on their experience. Everyone has their own filters when it comes to these types of issues.

      I think the fans (at least most of them) and the Wilpons agree that they don’t care if the players come from Whitestone or the Dominican Republic or Greenland…just that we finish that phrase with “as long as they win,” while the Wilpons finish it with “as long as they don’t cost too much.” In the off-season of 2011/12, Reyes was simply going to cost too much, even with a sensible contract.

      • Just_Da_Damaja

        ” And earlier still, with at least Fred partially in charge if not Jeffy, Doc and Darryl were perhaps the most marketed players in franchise history.”

        From 1984-1988 that might be true…

        Once Gregg Jeffries came into play..they tried making him into that franchise player…the rest of the team saw it…and was disgusted…and they shunned him…which led to Gregg going on the radio and crying about it…

        Really…David Wright became everything they wanted Gregg Jeffries to be…

        Once Doc and Darryl’s drug issues came to bite them….then Cone…who had the rape case and mooning the fans issues….

        the mets pretty much went w/o a marketable star til Piazza…who again was clean cut, affable…accessible…productive….

        after Piazza’s star started to wane…Reyes comes up….Reyes in no way shape fashion or form was ever the mets “face of the franchise”…

        then right after Reyes comes Wright….

        If you cant see any difference in the way Wright and Reyes were handled by this ballclub, you are willfully blind.

        • Dave

          Well, as I said, everyone has his/her own filter. Seemed to me that Reyes was certainly one of the most prominent Mets for much of his tenure…was Wright promoted more during that time? Perhaps, but this isn’t a zero sum game.

          Remember, only a few years before Reyes left, the Mets were being widely denounced in several circles (with racism at the root of it, IMO) for having a GM who only wanted Latino players and who crippled the team with contracts to Santana, Castillo and Perez. How do you reconcile that with what you seem to be saying was a strong anti-Latino bias?

          I’m not saying their track record on race is perfect…in addition to trying to put Jeffries on a pedestal as the Golden Boy, don’t forget that they jettisoned Kevin Mitchell out of town basically because he was too gangsta. But I still contend that the reason Jose Reyes is an ex-Met is because the Wilpons couldn’t afford to sign a player at his level last winter. And that’s another unforgivable problem.

          • Just_Da_Damaja

            The Wilpons financial concerns were most def the largest factor in them not offering Reyes a contract…

            Remember though…the Wilpons were also content with letting Piazza leave before they extended him…and it was really Doubleday that made that happen…so there is a precedence for this type of behavior…( also see trading Cone away 1 year before he became a free agent )

            Sorry to make this seem like a racial issue…it really isnt…its a marketing issue in which race ( or rather lack of english ) plays a factor…

            in 1991, the wilpons traded nails for juan samuel…

            the mets actually revealed in a sports illustrated article that they were bringing in samuel ( playing out of position at CF…) mainly to attract the booming latino population in NYC…the whispers had been that they had ignored latinos for so long…latinos traditionally have been Yankees fans…

            this is why Beltran was eager to be a Yankee…Bernie Williams was a GOD in Puerto Rico…so much so that Beltran took on the number #15…which is Bernie’s 51 backwards…

            In the past 50 years the Mets have only signed 2 IFA’s out of Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venenzuela, Panama and Mexico that appeared in an All-Star game..

            ( Alfonzo in 1999/2000 and Reyes )

            thats it…in 50 years…just 2…

            “the Mets were being widely denounced in several circles (with racism at the root of it, IMO) for having a GM who only wanted Latino players and who crippled the team with contracts to Santana, Castillo and Perez. How do you reconcile that with what you seem to be saying was a strong anti-Latino bias?”

            The denouncement itself = the anti-latino bias from the media…

            to me…it was misplaced and totally misguided…

            Oct. 3rd 2004, Adam Rubin has his first interview with Omar Minaya…he harrases him during the interview, constantly asking him if he using race as a factor in his selection of staff…this is UNHEARD OF…

            No one ever accuses Sandy Alderson of being racist when he hires 2 failed ex-gm’s who were booted from their last jobs…

            No one accuses Sandy of racism when the lineup he puts out is mainly white…

            the mets in 2005 ranked 10th in the amount of latinos they had on the roster but the media and a bunch of folks were still ticked off..

            the mets themselves have and have ALWAYS had a marketing issue…NYC is a very diverse crowd…and for a short time ( 2004-2008 ) they attempted to open up their marketing to latino folks…the Yankees did the same thing ( losyankees.com was started AFTER losmets.com )…the mets broke records in revenue and attendance under Omar (the real reason he got that extension)

            the problem is…the wilpons were convinced that latinos were there to see Beltran, Delgado, Reyes, Santana

            in reality…although that may have provided a lil bit more incentive…latinos were there b/c they were winning games…same as white folks…same as black folks…

            this is NYC…all we wanna do is win…this is a concept that in 30 years the wilpons have NEVER understood…there would be no need to put so much effort into spin…or even marketing…if u just win…

            /rantover

            :-)

  • Just_Da_Damaja

    “Wright often addressed the media because some reporters gravitate to a native English speaker, despite Jose’s English being just fine. But I don’t see bias here.”

    There is a bias towards folks who gravitate towards the media…

    the lack of english skills is a factor in the bias…it isnt the only factor…but it is A factor

    Reyes is NOT one of those guys b/c of his lack of english skills..and partially b/c the folks in the media have always had the narrative of painting latin/black players as scapegoats…this affects public perception…which then affects how the club values said player.

    This is why you will hear stories of Justin Upton being a headcase…( despite there never being an issue with him )

    This is why you heard stories of Delgado quitting under Randolph

    On the flip side, This is why Jason Bay got a free pass from the media for sucking tremendously the first 1.5 year of his contract…

    This is why we are still talking about resigning David Wright despite the fact that he hasnt had a complete good season since 2008…

    This is why Met fans were screaming for Omar’s head when he signed Castillo in 2007 and not David Eckstein…despite the fact that Eckstein wanted to play SS and do it for 40 million for 4 years…( he eventually settled for almost nothing with Toronto…who then traded him 4 months later after he was causing trouble after he lost his starting role )

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    R.A. Dickey has just been quoted as saying, among other things, that the Mets can re-build and be competitive at the same time and that what happens with David will give him a better idea of which way the organization is heading.

    http://bleacherreport.com/tb/d8yWk?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=new-york-mets

    The second time I know of which R.A. has voiced concern about where the team is headed. Actually three if we include him in what Kevin Burkhardt reported earlier this week:

    “The players won’t say it or admit it publicly, but the fact that the Front Office didn’t make any moves to help them at the trade deadline, was a “kick in the teeth” to them.”

  • Duffystaub

    Sandy was brought in for one reason – slash payroll as best he could. If the Mets would have signed Reyes to their projected claimed offer of 85 mil guaranteed and 100+ mil with incentives then why not see if they can trade for him now? 10 mil or so is deducted from his original contract so he is in that range. Trade Murphy and some scrub and the Marlins might bite.

    But of course that was a big BS smokescreen. Just the mere fact that they slashed payroll and added absolutely nothing during the year screams volumes that the masses just seem to forget.

    • Just_Da_Damaja

      Bingo !

      I cant even compare Sandy to any previous Met GM b/c his mission is totally different and he is not here for the long haul

  • Dave

    @Just, your reply to my reply…we’re definitely on the same page, amigo. The lack of star caliber Latino draftees is more a scouting and talent issue than anything else. Diversity on the team and in the stands is great, but just win.

    As I recall, Wilpon didn’t even want to acquire Piazza in the first place, let alone bring him back. Nelson Doubleday, where are you?

    • Just_Da_Damaja

      brother this situation is NEVER going to change til the ownership changes…period

      • Joe D.

        Hi Dave and Just,

        All three of us are on the same page. Just, you were on target with saying:

        “I cant even compare Sandy to any previous Met GM b/c his mission is totally different and he is not here for the long haul”

        That’s the point I’ve been making since he first started releasing certain players and replacing them with what he now admits to be “inexpesnive” ones during the winter of 2010/2011. And it’s hard to hold him any grudge for as we all believe, his mission here is to straigthen out a financial mess and keep the product on life support until he does.

        It’s then when the Mets can again be seriously concentrating on the business of baseball itself.

  • Just_Da_Damaja

    “It’s then when the Mets can again be seriously concentrating on the business of baseball itself.”

    The problem with that is that we are not CURRENTLY investing in our FUTURE

    this year…we were ranked 2nd to last in MLB draft spending…only signing 50% of our draft picks…

    for the past 12 years, we have ranked 3rd to last in MLB draft spending

    that is mighty strange for a team that is supposed to be “building for the future”

    …another thing….

    we probably should think of LOCKING UP Ike, Murph, Tejada Parnell to cost-controllable contracts…

    this would make them more attractive to both us and potential trade partners

    I would like to see all 3 arb years bought out plus 1 free-agent year and 2 option years…

    sensible 4 year contracts that can stretch out to 6 years…

    thats how u create a financial firm base…

    when said players hit their early 30’s, they are likely to not command that many years on the open market and u have a half decent chance of keeping them or replacing them with the kid u drafted in year 1 of that contract

    thats how the braves kept replenishing their system…u move the product in/out like produce…and the best are kept ( chipper/smoltz/etc )

  • [...] had its bright spots — quite a few, in fact. There was David Wright’s assumption of the top spot in numerous all-time statistical categories; R.A. Dickey’s 20 wins and ferocious pitching; [...]