You never know, but now and then you’re overcome by an inkling, and at the moment I’m inkled that the Mets aren’t going to be the mildly surprising success story I sort of thought that maybe, if enough went well, they could be in 2013. The injuries, the traditional vaguely defined recovery periods, the thin layer of talent, the speed at which depth has gone shallow and something about how there’s always a “Mets official,” “Mets source” or “Mets person” willing to whisper a discouraging word in some reporter’s ear have combined to take the edge off the moderate state of sanguinity I could swear I was packing when Spring Training began five or six months ago.
On the positive side for the near term? The Mets are still 0-0…and you never know. Plus Matt Harvey.
But enough doom and gloom and fitting the Mets for a tomb. We weren’t expecting a surge from 74 wins to remarkably more than 74 wins, were we? It’s kind of pointless to put a number on these things at this stage anyway. The next time somebody offers up a bunch of all-knowing projections of exactly how many games 30 major league teams are going to win and lose, take out a calculator and see if the numbers add up to a collective .500. If they don’t, then they’re full of it. And if they do, they’re also full of it.
You can pick a number out of a hat during Spring Training and it’s meaningless. The team you’re contemplating in March will change and change again by September. The personnel will evolve. The competitive circumstances around them will evolve, too. The team you decided would be 12 games better than the Mets might itself be 20 games worse than you realized when you were assigning guesses to the unknowable. Yet another lesson in you never know.
So barring miraculous health, brilliant strategy, a lossless campaign and a romp through the postseason, here’s what I’d like to see from 2013: a much-improved arc over what we’re used to. Even if we can’t have a winning team, I want the sense that things are getting better — tangibly, I mean, not just because somebody is waving prospect rankings at me — and I want a reality that doesn’t feel worse in the interim.
I’m not asking for 1969 or 1984 or 1997, the three patron-saint seasons of delightful surprise. If a reasonable facsimile emerges against all expectations, I’ll accept it with relish (not to mention sauerkraut), but I’m not setting myself up to be disappointed. The Mets of those years produced 100 wins and a championship; 90 wins and a spirited second-place finish; and 88 wins and legitimate Wild Card contention on the heels of, respectively, years that produced 73 wins, 68 wins and 71 wins. You can’t expect to be delightfully surprised like that. You have to allow for the element of surprise to do its thing.
I’m not pegging my desire to a precise result. What I want is that better arc, something like 1994, a season I’m guessing nobody old enough to remember remembers much at all. And well you shouldn’t, to a certain extent. 1994 ended in the second week of August, and not just Metaphorically. The owners tried to be hard-asses, the players struck and it was a mess. The Mets played 113 games that year. If the Mets could’ve lopped 49 games off their dance cards the last three years, we’d probably think more kindly of their 2010, 2011 and 2012 accomplishments.
Nineteen years ago, the Mets finished 55-58. It wasn’t gorgeous, but it was uplifting. For one, it represented a massive turnaround from the year before, 1993, when the Mets went 59-103 and (according to one of my pet theories) dug themselves an image hole from which they as a franchise have never fully recovered. If our damaged self-esteem was going to be in need of intensive psychotherapy until Bobby Valentine came along, 1994 was at least a cup of chicken soup for the Mets fan soul: not all that filling, but at least we could warm up from those terrible chills we’d been feeling.
But it wasn’t just a 55-58 record that made 1994 a little nourishing. It was how the Mets went about compiling it.
• There was a start that was good — not set-the-world-on-fire good, but uncharacteristically positive for the era: 18-14. They were eight games better than they were a year earlier. They were in position for the newfangled Wild Card, though it was a little early to be tracking playoff spots (not that I wasn’t). They were a breath of fresh air, mostly. The Mets don’t suck!
• There was the inevitable backslide — a 15-29 stretch that disarmed any notions that a full-scale revival was underway. It came early enough so as not to undermine any seriously developed dreams but not so early that it crushed one’s Mets enthusiasm out of the gate. OK, the Mets are sucking, but at least it was fun there for a while.
• There was a reversal of form — a solid 22-15 ascent that catapulted the Mets into third place when the bats and balls were prematurely put away on August 11. Mind you, the Mets were a million miles behind Montreal and Atlanta and had generated no buzz in New York while summer was still in progress, but if you were a Mets fan, so what? You created your own buzz. Your team didn’t curl up and die as it had done at the back end of 1991 (24-46), 1992 (21-37) and 1993 (the whole damn thing, really). It showed just enough life to make you wish there was no strike beyond simply wanting baseball to continue. There was no guarantee another, more unfortunate reversal wouldn’t have transpired, but all you could do was go with what you had: a team that had fought its way out of the basement and close to a winning record. And while you cursed the strike, you thought about Hundley and Brogna and Kent and Vizcaino and bought into Pulsipher and Isringhausen and Wilson and…geez, the Mets were not terrible this truncated year and maybe they’ll keep getting better whenever they play ball again.
That’s essentially where I want to be when 2013 ends and that’s how I want to get there. I don’t want to be buried early as we were in 2011 (5-13) or 2010 (4-8). I don’t need to be suckered into believing there’s more going for us than there really is as was done last year (31-23) if it’s not going to take. I just need something decent to hang my hopes on early, something less than total dissolution in the middle and a nice comeback with which to conclude. Get me to the end of a season for the first time since 2006 where I’m actually looking forward to the next season convinced we’re going to build on what’s already there. Not another sorry winter of “we may have to keep sucking before we can get better,” but actual better-getting as the year ends, making it impossible to be reflexively cynical about this entire operation.
I’m not asking for 1969. I’m not asking for 1986. I’m asking for 1994. That’s really not so much to ask for.
And if you’ve ever asked to meet David Wright, here’s your chance (rib cage pending, one supposes) to make it happen, courtesy of the Ride of Fame and your own video creativity.