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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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Shaking Up the Future, 1969

Three weeks ago in our time, 45 years ago in their time, Freddie Rumsen directed his bottom-of-the-bottle pal Don Draper to get off the booze and “do the work”. On Saturday, Zack Wheeler did the work, which is to say he labored so hard through six-and-two-thirds innings that Howie Rose repeatedly invoked the P-word to describe his process: Pelfrey.

It took 118 pitches for Zack to not quite complete seven innings, which definitely gave Saturday a retro Big Pelf feel. The Diamondbacks wrung no more than three runs from Wheeler, but with every Met not named David Wright or Curtis Granderson merely tickling Josh Collmenter — and nobody’s bat even gently brushing against the uniforms of three Arizona relievers — three might as well have been thirty.

And Don? The last time we checked in from here on the Mad Men universe, it was April 22, 1969, and we kvelled from learning just what a Mets fan our favorite exiled creative director was. He’d retacked Lane Pryce’s pennant to his office wall; he invited recovering alcoholic Freddie to Shea; he belted out an inebriated chorus or two of “Meet The Mets”; and he woke up the next morning hung over but not so hung over that he didn’t think to ask Freddie if the Mets won the game they never made it to. (They didn’t.)

We haven’t heard much about the Mets from Don since then, immersed as he’s been in helping Peggy Olson craft the appropriate strategy for potential client Burger Chef. But I have a feeling that in tonight’s midseason finale, we will circle back to the true subtext of Mad Men: Don Draper’s accepting and embracing his Metsian destiny.

If you didn’t get burnt out on too many pitches from Wheeler on Saturday, here’s a look at one more pitch: the one I predict Don is going to make tonight to Burger Chef.

***

Gentlemen, you have a very successful fast food chain, and you’re in a growing field, but you also have some serious disadvantages. It’s very competitive, what with McDonald’s having taken over the “big sandwich” segment with its still-new Big Mac and Burger King expanding at a breakneck speed.

You have a good product, but I need to look you in the eye and tell you it won’t be enough if you want to last. The Burger Chef name is evocative but it’s not enduring. Not in our space age. Not when your target customer is either consumed by live TV footage of astronauts eating freeze-dried food and drinking Tang or, counterintuitively, their sudden desire to get back to nature.

Now I can’t suggest Burger Chef’s future is in space. We can’t put a restaurant on the moon just yet — I once had to break it to a very headstrong man that you couldn’t put a hotel there, either — but I think the other direction is just as intriguing for you.

You’ve probably read in Life magazine how the kids today are turning away from the cities and the suburbs and seeking a kind of authenticity in the country. The draw may be the communes and their admittedly enticing living arrangements, part and parcel of the so-called “free love” movement, but I don’t have to tell you one unassailable fact of life: nothing is free, not even love. I grew up in circumstances that proved that — but I also spent some of my formative years on a farm. I can tell you from first-hand experience that while the idea of bucolic beauty is powerful, the reality can be depressing.

You, on the other hand, can make the experience a joyous one. Burger Chef isn’t imperial. It’s not a “King” and it’s certainly not mass-produced on the scale of a McDonald’s. It’s not part of some overbearing computer-generated nightmare manufactured by IBM and leased to companies desperate to appear if not actually be modern. Burger Chef is something simpler. It’s like a Hershey Bar on a bun in its appeal. You have a sweetness your competitors can’t match, and I’m not talking about sugar content in your delicious milkshakes.

You can take that capacity to generate genuine affection and you can stake out new ground in your category. You have the opportunity to demystify the increasingly offputting restaurant experience with something that’s pure and basic to America’s roots. Your lead item, though, isn’t the burger. It can’t be. You need to differentiate. And your standard retail outlet shouldn’t be a foreboding building filled with Formica tables and plastic chairs. It should present itself as humble, communal, accessible and, above all, real.

You’re not Burger Chef. You’re Shake Shack.

People will line up for what you offer no matter what distractions are put in front of them and they will remain lined up for what you offer no matter what they’re ostensibly missing as they queue up, no matter what they might be hearing between visits to your uniquely situated locations.

Gentlemen, if you rebrand Burger Chef as Shake Shack now, you will reap the rewards well into the next century. There’s a saying we true New Yorkers have amused ourselves with since 1962: man will walk on the moon before the Mets win the World Series. I know you know man is about to walk on the moon and I imagine you’ve checked the sports page enough to know the Mets aren’t that far off from joining our brave astronauts in reaching for and attaining a foothold in the stars.

I have a newer, more accurate adage for you to mull over: long after man stops walking on the moon, long after the Mets finish winning World Series and long after “Burger Chef” is little more than a faint, nostalgic memory best left to the storytellers of tomorrow, everybody who populates the future will still want to go to Shake Shack.

I’d stake my very own name on it.

8 comments to Shaking Up the Future, 1969

  • Lou from Georgia

    I was at the game yesterday, came up from Braves country. Wheeler looked better than he has in his last couple starts but I’m starting to think the Giants got the best of Sandy in that trade. Zack has a high ceiling but may never reach his potential. The comparisons to Harvey are unfair, but perhaps it might do Zack some good to adopt a little of Harvey’s bulldog attitude. Seems the hitters smell blood in the water when Zack is on the mound. Hitters can use the very same hitting philosophy the Mets try to employ, because everyone in the building knows Zack will waste pitch after pitch struggling with his control. It was a totally meh game on a meh afternoon.

    It was however nice to be among my blue and orange kin, and only my second trip to Citi. I managed to get Shake Shack before the game and it was indeed worth the hype.

    • You and Zack, spending a Saturday away from your home state right here among us #TrueNewYorkers. Very nice!

      The more I see (and yesterday hear) of Zack in his first full year the more I think about Darling in 1984: the talent is there but so is the struggle, more pronounced because of who each was/is pitching behind (in Wheeler’s case not the current rotation but the popular perception). Ronnie found his level and succeeded nicely. So will Zack.

    • Dennis

      “I’m starting to think the Giants got the best of Sandy in that trade.”

      Not sure how the Giants got the best of Sandy in the Wheeler – Beltran trade. The Giants basically only had Beltran as a rental for maybe 50 games that season, in which they didn’t make the postseason, then lost him to free agency. No other players were involved in the trade. People need to be patient with Wheeler. Up until now, he’s still only had one full season under his belt.

      • Lou from Georgia

        Greg- Good times! Even got a pic with my wife and Mr. Met. A very good day despite the loss.

        Dennis, I think Beltran is bad news to teams in the postseason, not through his fault but it sure seems to have worked that way. Mets lost opportunity of course, Giants bookended his partial season with championships, Cards lost in the World Series, now he’s on the Senior Pro team, the St. Pete Pelicans, and going nowhere. As for the Giants, I think they have a pretty good rotation without Zack… Probably knew something Sandy didn’t. I just hope Zack gets it together. He’s a Georgia kid so I’m pulling for him.

  • 9th string catcher

    Don. thank you for that very interesting pitch. I feel like you’ve taken me for a spin on a carousel. That said, I think you’re way off. The Burger Chef name is national and cannot be changed. Shake Shack? Sounds like a small insane asylum. What’s next – having restaurants in baseball stadiums? I can’t even imagine it.

    In 50 years or so, after the McDonald’s name has long been forgotten and the King of Burgers has been removed from his throne, Burger Chef will have restaurants in every state and every country, from here to Rhodesia. The idea of changing our name has given us a real hardee laugh. But thanks for having us in.

    Oh, and your Mets are having a surprisingly nice season. Too bad the Cubs are too much for them.

  • ljcmets

    I think we’ll see the moon landing during tonight’s episode; and I hope we’ll see growing consciousness of the Mets and what was happening that summer and how they were taking over the conversation in the city.

    If I’m correct, last episode left off in June – right before or during the Mets 11-game winning streak – and if we do get to Apollo 11 and the moon landing I hope we get some off-handed mention of the home-and-home series with the Cubs, during which the back pages exploded with Mets mania and which of course included the “Imperfect” game. Will the last seven episodes end with the World Series as a backdrop?

    And back in real Mets time, I have to say I am enjoying going back 45 years with “Mad Men” much more than watching this year’s version. This franchise has so much rich history…and the current ownership seems intent on wasting every ounce of it, making the team generic in the extreme, and bleeding it dry. When will we ever have that kind of excitement again, with the Mets dominating every baseball conversation in New York? It doesn’t seem like any time soon….sigh.

  • BornAMet

    Only the Mets, who are struggling with offense, would sit a guy like Campbell, who’s delivered 6 RBI’s in his first 8 games. So when Duda goes 0 for 7 with runners on base, their philosophy dictates – start him again the next day!