If you are a spiritual descendant of Virginia of “yes, Virginia…” fame this Christmas Day, you may want to take the following observation with a grain of salt or at least an ounce of nog.
When the Mets were done hosting Queens schoolchildren last week and the player who took on the role of Santa Claus was permitted to shed his holiday apparel and resume his civilian identity, I noticed an intern balled up the jolly just-worn costume and stuffed it in a Hefty Bag (or quite possibly its store-brand equivalent), presumably to have it laundered and eventually hung in a closet with care for the next time somebody playing St. Nicholas would search for it there.
So no, Virginia, Santa Claus didn’t wriggle down into the Acela Club through the Promenade chimney. Yet Virginia, that doesn’t mean the essence of St. Nick doesn’t exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…even at Citi Field.
It used to be John Franco portrayed Santa Claus for the Mets as regularly as Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero did at Satriale’s on The Sopranos. Then, in 2004, Franco was cast out of the Met family. Unlike Big Pussy, however, he returned from his stint sleeping with the Astros. Nevertheless, somebody had to fill Santa’s boots once John was gone.
Thus was invented a stubbornly perennial point of Met reference whose mythology was long ago outpaced by reality, but when in doubt, as they say, print the legend.
The “Santa Claus curse,” which came up in Metropolitan circles yet again this December, seems to be based mostly on one episode, that of Kris Benson playing Santa at the team’s party in 2005, and then being traded before Spring Training in 2006. The deKringling of Kris seemed to be based mostly on Anna Benson taking her elf role to showy extremes; given the photos Mrs. B left behind, it’s no wonder the story gets repeated annually like it’s a New York Sun editorial from 1897.
There’ve been a couple of other post-Franco Santas who found themselves ex-Mets before the next batch of bundled boys and girls could be bused into Flushing — Mike Cameron, Jeff Francouer — and there’ve been some injuries or declines experienced by others who swaddled themselves in red velvet. Add ’em up and you’ve got yourself a curse…unless you stop to think of all the Mets who haven’t been Santas and try to figure who among the non-Clauses in the past decade hasn’t wound up aching, slumping or dispatched.
A curse or just baseball business of a Metsian nature as usual?
At this year’s holiday party, Daniel Murphy, a fellow whose name has arisen in trade rumors, donned the beard, the hat and the ho-ho-(w)hole get-up. If the swap speculation come to fruition, well, there’s your “curse” at work. If not, we’ll always have the Bensons. Anyway, for the second December in three, Murphy showed his versatility, doing his best to play a representative Father Christmas the way he has worked to succeed in left and at first, third and second. He gave kids gifts and, with the uniform of the day tucked safely in the Hefty, he gave a few of us bloggers answers to a random assortment of inquiries.
One of his responses showed why Daniel Murphy performs as a Franco-level Santa Claus.
The question in question came from young Clayton Collier of Metsmerized Online. I wouldn’t point out that Clayton is shall we say fresh-faced relative to somebody like me except for an exchange we had during some pre-event small talk. The subject of the recently partially demolished Astrodome had come up, including the time it hosted displaced residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This line of conversation led me to recall Barbara Bush’s infamous implication that those folks were ultimately better off living in a sports arena than their own homes in their own city. Clayton was incredulous that this was actually said, earnestly explaining he didn’t really remember Katrina very well because he was only nine when it happened.
That was in 2005, back when the Bensons were in their glory, so to speak.
As I paused to do the math, Clayton added, “sorry if that makes you feel old.”
“No problem,” I said, having completed my chronological calculations. “I felt old before you were born.”
Young Clayton asked youthful Daniel a question middle-aged me didn’t think would get much of a response: “What’s Eric Young, Jr., like at second?” My cynical instinct was that Murphy wouldn’t want to say much pro or con about his theoretical competition. He had already competently fielded questions about the possibilities of being traded (he doesn’t want to go but it’s nice to know he’s “valued” around baseball) or shifted back to first (he prefers second, but if he’d have to reacclimate to one of his former positions, “at least they’d give me a bigger glove”). What benefit, I wondered silently, is there in a player who always seems to be standing on shaky organizational ground either dismissing a teammate or inflating that teammate’s reputation at his own expense in the midst of an offseason where he himself is just trying to stay put?
I couldn’t see anything more than a self-preservational route out of the question from Murphy, therefore I expected to hear something along the lines of “I can only take care of what I do” or some other benign form of jockspeak.
But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. So Clayton asked — and Murph surprised me.
“He flipped a double play in Chicago against the White Sox that was sweet,” the incumbent second baseman said of the player who could very well replace him. Murphy, who was given most of that game off, went onto describe the play that I could vaguely envision once he mentioned it. “He got a low throw, I think, from the third baseman and he took it and he turned that thing over easy. It was impressive not because you didn’t think he could do it, but he hadn’t been there like all year. And he really wasn’t taking a whole, whole bunch of ground balls. He did some work there and turned some double plays, but to just go out there in the best league on earth, flip a double play with a guy bearing down on you…that’s what I would say is impressive.”
Yes Virginia, the guy who’d been dressed as Santa Claus actually said “whole, whole”. Actually, he said a whole lot with his answer in my estimation.
As impressive as Young’s instincts and agility from June were, Murphy’s lack of hesitancy in volunteering how good he thought EY’s DP was rated a sincere “atta boy!” on my scorecard. That showed grace, class, dignity, whatever you want to call it.
Seriously, put a circle around it.
Murph has been a true team man since 2008, playing wherever assigned without a hint of public complaint. Now, minutes after schvitzing as Santa, he was giving the gift of praise to somebody whose very presence might soon make him the former Met starting second baseman or perhaps a former Met altogether. Yet Daniel Murphy honestly assessed Eric Young’s skills and shared his impressions with a handful of strangers who, from a strictly transactional standpoint, weren’t people to whom he really needed to say anything substantive at all.
If this year’s Met Santa Claus is cursed with anything, it’s a generosity of spirit — and I’d call that a blessing.
I had a few other Met thoughts the other day and expressed on The Happy Recap Radio Show. Check ’em out, starting at around the 22:00 mark, here.