And you remember
The jingles used to go
Sunday afternoon September 29 should be earmarked for nostalgia, a state our 52-year-old franchise embraces sporadically and reluctantly. The Mets resist embracing their past as if they don’t have enough of it or they doubt a substantial proportion of their loyalists treasure it. In this month when we’re exactly 40 Septembers removed from perhaps the most dizzying rush any team has ever put on toward achieving a league title, the organization charged with tending its legacy has mostly ignored it.
But September 29 has potential, no matter how little 1973 gets mentioned at Citi Field these nights. It will be Closing Day and all that implies. It will be Mike Piazza Hall of Fame Day, rightly honoring the signature star of the last certifiably sensational epoch of Mets baseball. And it will be the final day when a game is brought to you on the WFAN Mets Radio Network.
That last one is both a milestone and something of a technicality. In one sense, all that’s happening when Mets baseball stops airing on WFAN is a contract expiring and not being renewed. Mets baseball will air somewhere in 2014, it is universally agreed, and the chances are as rock-solid as can be that the game broadcast itself will sound 99.99% similar on a frequency to be named later. Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner changed stations more often than the Mets changed pitching coaches during Rube Walker’s long reign as arms chief (1968-1981), but come the top of the first, it was still Lindsey, Bob and Ralph telling us who threw what. Likewise, there will still be books and Howie Rose will still command positive results be put in them after a successful last pitch is thrown.
Yet it is a milestone, one someone as historically inclined as I am may not have completely appreciated upon the announcement that 660 and 101.9 won’t add up to Mets baseball anymore. For me and my 45 years of fandom, WFAN represented the longest pause I ever took tuning up and down the dial in search of the game, yet for others somewhat less tenured (but certainly fully vested) in the ways of Metsdom, WFAN has been it. If you took up the Mets as your cause 26 or fewer years ago, you poor bastard, you’ve never known a world championship and you’ve never known anything radiowise but WFAN.
I have to confess I was surprised by how many people I’ve heard from who tell me they’ll miss this: “LET’S GO METS! F-A-N!” It’s been aural wallpaper to me, a signal that I have a couple of minutes to think about something else while Remax is trying to sell me a house or somebody else wants me to donate my K-A-R to KIDS, but radio is so deceptively personal a mass medium that its most inconsequential elements worm their way into your bloodstream before you can receive inoculation against their effects.
Hence “LET’S GO METS! F-A-N!”…I get it.
More tangibly, the Mets in the WFAN era have been about a handful of voices describing moments great and small. Bob Murphy’s voice led the way when, on July 1, 1987, 1050 AM stopped taking listener requests to hear Reba McIntire and began taking listener calls demanding to see Randy Milligan. Murph was just doing what Murph had always done; he was simply doing it under new call letters, and he’d do it full- and part-time clear to the end of 2003.
Murph is obviously no longer on the air, but his two greatest acolytes remain vocal and vibrant. They are — with nods of appreciation to Gary Thorne, Ed Coleman, Josh Lewin, Jim Duquette and, what the hell, Todd Kalas, Ted Robinson, Tom McCarthy and Wayne Hagin — the living voices most associated with 27 seasons of Mets baseball on the FAN. Howie Rose still anchors the radio broadcasts. Gary Cohen, who was slowly but surely handed the microphonic baton from Murphy, has slid over a few feet to handle the same responsibilities on television.
What I’m wishing for on September 29 is that the two thriving flagship voices of Mets baseball, each connected by deep roots to the flagship station of Mets baseball, are paired once more on WFAN.
Let’s get a simulcast going on Closing Day. Let us, for one hopefully sunny Sunday afternoon, make at least part of experiencing a Mets broadcast listening to Howie Rose and Gary Cohen together, the way we did regularly for a couple of golden years in the mid-’00s (Piazza’s last ones as a Met, as it happens), the way I assumed we would for decades to come before the invention of SNY in 2006.
It is the understatement of the 21st century to declare Gary, Keith and Ron (with a helping of Kevin and a dash of Jerry) have been a boon to the TV side. Their telecasts are the best show on television most nights, no matter how full of holes the plot down on the field can be. It was for the best that SNY as we came to know it between 7 and 10:30 every evening emerged as it did, even if it broke asunder the perfect Mets radio team. Meanwhile, starting in 2012, a beautiful radio rapport blossomed between Howie and Josh. I’m very glad Mr. Lewin came aboard to join Mr. Rose when he did.
But if a nostalgic Mets fan had his druthers, if not a time machine, Howie and Gary…well, you can’t exceed perfect synergy. Not on September 29 you can’t.
Status quo would suffice on Closing Day, FAN contract expiration or not, but the status quo will not be in effect. Josh Lewin, I’m assuming, will be off to San Diego to take care of his autumnal business as he does every Sunday this time of year. So that opens up nine innings alongside Howie, space which I assume will be filled, as it was this past Charger Sunday, by Ed Coleman. Eddie C has been an intrinsic part of the Mets radio experience, too. He’s hosted the pregame and the postgame, he’s reported trades and injuries and he’s filled in for everybody dutifully as needed. His FAN-employed voice is the one that I suppose is in a bit of limbo as the FANless future encroaches.
Fine. Let Eddie do most of the game with Howie. And let Gary do his usual TV with Keith and Ron (assuming they’ll both be on hand for the finale). But for let’s say two innings — one to get used to the idea, one more so we don’t spend the whole thing caught up in the novelty — let’s simulcast. Let’s have Gary come on over to the Bob Murphy Radio Booth and sit next to Howie. Let’s plug in SNY’s transmitter. Let the TV audience — the people who watch every Mets game as if it’s the last Mets game they’ll ever see— in on a chunk of the final WFAN broadcast. Read the commercials that need being read, let the billboards and the bumpers take their course, service the advertisers and promotional considerations as needed. At the top or bottom of the hour, tell us we’re listening to the WFAN Mets Radio Network even as we’re watching SportsNet New York.
But mostly give us, the fans, a couple of innings of Howie and Gary.
While the Mets and Brewers wind down their 2013s, let Rose and Cohen reflect on what it meant for the Mets to be on America’s first all-sports radio station for 27 years and what the connection might have meant to their listeners. Let them reminisce a bit about Murph; about Piazza; about Coney and Fonzie and Endy and Dickey; about working with Eddie and the immortal Chris Majkowski and filling rain delays with the Schmoozer Steve Somers and each other. Let them each call some balls and strikes and invoke their childhoods with transistor radios under the pillow and their later loathing of Richie Hebner.
Then Gary can return to the Ralph Kiner Television Booth and finish out the proceedings with Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, and Howie and Ed can put a button on the Met days of 660 AM.
And then, when it’s over, we can, in the immortal advice of Larry Sanders, flip. At the close of baseball on September 29, I imagine many of us will channel Laraine Day from 1948 when it comes to our personal relationship with the FAN. When she was informed by reporters that her husband Leo Durocher was transferring his managerial abilities from Brooklyn to Manhattan, Mrs. D considered her radio, which was at that moment airing the Dodger game, and asked, “Then why am I listening to this?”
At which point Laraine turned off the damn thing.
But we can be Laraine Day when Closing Day concludes. When it commences, give us a wisp of well-earned nostalgia. Give us Howie and Gary on radio and TV for a couple of innings. If the Mets and affiliated parties can’t untangle a couple of details and get something like this done on Closing Day, then somebody’s just not trying.