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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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Not Particularly Fun Circus Seeks Desperately Needed Tent

For that, I need the Mets to keep playing well against lousy competition and hold their own against mediocre foes, to say nothing of taking on the big boys of the NL. I need to watch a lineup that scares somebody other than me. I need a whole lot that this team shows no signs of delivering quite yet.

OK, when I wrote that not so long ago, I figured the Mets would take two out of three from the Cubs, because they’re the Cubs. I was more worried about the Giants, Brewers and Cardinals.

But no, the last two nights the Mets have proved me right in gag-inducing fashion. The first game at Wrigley wasn’t the worst defeat the Mets had suffered all year, but it was definitely the most annoying. The team beat itself quite impressively, with Daniel Murphy costing them a run on the basepaths, David Wright muffing a double-play grounder, Scott Rice failing to do the only thing Scott Rice can sometimes sort of do, and nobody managing to get a big hit when it was needed. As a team-wide failure, it was impressively comprehensive. As an evening’s entertainment, it was ghastly.

Fast-forward to tonight, when the Mets doubled down on last night’s ineptitude by being terrible at everything. As did the Cubs — this was one of the worst baseball games I’ve seen in a couple of years, with both teams trying to one-down each other.

The Mets have good starting pitching, though that wasn’t in evidence tonight. The bullpen shows some promise, though Terry Collins‘ handling of it remains execrable. But they can’t hit, they can’t play defense, they can’t run the bases, and unless one of the intriguing young pitchers is front and center, they’re deeply boring to watch. The best moment of the night? It was Keith Hernandez remarking that “Murph is thinking he’s invisible again.” That’s one of Keith’s best lines of the year. (Update: The line is actually Wright’s, in a welcome departure from uttering Jeteresque nothings.) Too bad it was wasted on this farce.

To purge your system of the latest evening of horrible boring baseball, some reading material:

First off, check out this Joe Posnanski piece about the Oakland A’s. It’s not about sabermetrics or Moneyball or anything else that scares some of you. It’s about things that are much simpler: patience, and sticking to your guns. As Posnanski writes, “it’s not about KNOWING things others don’t. It’s about ACTING differently from other teams.” When the A’s make decisions, they do their best to make dispassionate ones, without snap judgments, groupthink and emotional baggage. It’s how they gave Josh Donaldson another chance despite his having failed in two previous appearances with the team. It’s how they saw past Tommy Milone‘s underwhelming fastball to his scintillating strikeout-to-walk ratio, made up their minds about him and then stayed with their decision. It’s how they plucked Scott Kazmir from the discard pile — Posnanski quotes Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi as saying that “we chose not to be bothered by his history.”

The card that started it all.

The card that started it all.

Here’s another one for you: former Met C. J. Nitkowski all but pleading for the Mets to scrap three decades of La Russan bullpen dogma in favor of using their best relievers when the situation dictates and not getting hung up on closers or all the roles that follow, like dominos, from naming one. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately Nitkowski’s argument contains its own rebuttal: “It takes the right personnel and the right manager, but the Mets have that here and they could start a trend that may change baseball.” Yes, the Mets have the right arms. But they don’t have the right manager — I think Collins deserves more credit than he gets for being a good clubhouse skipper, but his in-game moves are aggravating Pleistocene stuff. He fetishes sacrifice bunts that decrease the team’s chance of scoring, had to be threatened into playing kids instead of Proven Veterans (TM), and is as boringly conventional as possible when it comes to bullpen roles. (Look at tonight, when he turned to retread Dana Eveland with the game on the line because it was an early inning, or something.) The Mets are indeed in a good position to try something new: They’ve got a passel of young flamethrowers who haven’t been around long enough to throw hissy fits about when and how they’re used. But unless they suddenly trade for Joe Maddon, conventional thinking is going to rule all, and the opportunity Nitkowski see will pass them by. Baseball’s going through a fascinating period in which smart front offices are searching for an edge with everything from pitch framing to defensive shifts, but the field generals are still largely from the school of Will to Win and other Just So Stories.

* * *

You probably heard that Don Zimmer died tonight. Zim hit .077 for the ’62 Mets, which was bad enough to get him shipped out of even that lowly outfit. I’m too tired to do him justice — I’m sure Greg will do the honors far better than I could — but I’ll add one personal note. And that’s to say that The Holy Books are sort of Zimmer’s fault.

My original goal was pretty straightforward: I wanted to collect all the Topps Mets cards. And I was making steady progress when I happened on Zimmer’s 1962 card, in which he’s wearing a Mets cap but we’re told he plays “3 BASE” for the “CIN. REDS.” (Topps paid homage to this a couple of years back by shooting David Wright from the same angle for Topps Heritage and making him a Red 3-Baseman.)

A player in a Mets cap is a rare sight in ’62 Topps even for guys actually identified as Mets — Topps mostly used hatless shots taken with the new Mets’ old clubs — so when I discovered the Zimmer card I had to have it. I puzzled over what to do with it for a while: It wasn’t a Met card, but Zimmer was obviously a Met on it, which was an interesting conundrum. Eventually I stuck it in a binder by its lonesome. Then, one by one, I started putting aside other ’62 Mets who’d never gotten Mets cards: There was Zimmer’s fellow Met/not-Met Bobby Gene Smith, whose cap was at least up at a logo-less angle, as well as Herb Moford, Sherman Jones, Joe Ginsberg, Dave Hillman and other immortals.

That led to collecting Mets without Met cards in other years beyond ’62. And then to deciding I needed all the Topps cards of anybody who’d ever been a Met. (Ouch to Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, and that was before I discovered Al Weis shared a rookie card with Pete Rose.) And then to finding cards of guys who never got a Topps card, and then to making cards for guys who never got any card, and most recently to making Mets cards for guys who should have had one. It’s a rabbit hole I’m still falling down, and it all started — as did so many baseball tales — with Don Zimmer.

20 comments to Not Particularly Fun Circus Seeks Desperately Needed Tent

  • Zvon

    I didn’t know you collected Met cards. Hey, I put the Zimm right in the first page for the 62 cards. I’d make the first page of each year the opening day line-up. Laid out like that no-one even notices he’s on the Reds(especially because of the Met hat). I think I still have all my ’62 cards. A few doubles too if you need any still.

    I didn’t know about that Wright card. Gonna go look for it now.

  • metsfaninparadise

    Keith was actually repeating a line originated by Captain Wright earlier in the week, that Murph thinks he’s invisible on the basepaths. Born in ’62, but didn’t become a diehard until Tug McGraw made me Believe. The only ’62 card I was ever able to find was that of Chris Cannizzaro, or “Canzoneri” in Stengelese. Kudos for your characterization of Collins’ bullpen mismanagement as execrable.

  • Lou from Georgia

    I listened to MLB Network Radio yesterday and a couple shows mentioned how there are only a few really bad and really good teams this year, with everyone else hovering a few games above or below .500. I don’t know if this really is an abnormal year in that regard, but if the Mets want to get over that mark by the end of the year moreso than just good starts, they need to reduce the bonehead plays. I like Murphy’s bat but he’s gone from aggressive to outright stupid on the base paths. I’ve completely turned on him- I think it’s time to package him with an arm for a real impact bat and give Flores a full time shot at second.

    • I love Murph, but agree the Mets ought to trade him — he’s probably at the peak of his value as a player and nearing a contract the Mets won’t want to give him and I’d argue probably shouldn’t give him. Package him, Niese and Familia for a bat or bats and you might really be able to get something.

      • Lou from Georgia

        I’m with you on Familia, less so on Niese. If Gee were healthy I’d probably trade him. I think he’s a solid major league pitcher and is fairly equal in terms of giving quality starts, but Niese’s left-handedness makes him more of a fit for this rotation going forward. But yes, let’s do it. And the bat better be an outfielder. Throw Chris Young in the deal for a bag of balls to be named later.

  • kd bart

    “When the A’s make decisions, they do their best to make dispassionate ones, without snap judgments, groupthink and emotional baggage.”

    That is so not #MetsTwitter

  • Ed Rising

    I think Gary Cohen deserves a raise and a few days off for good behaviour through this malaise the Mets call an offense. The man continually gets excited when we score our usual run in the first inning. But his sense of amezement is lacking when we leave the bases loaded. And when Keith Hernandez cannot keep me enterained throughout a 4 hour boring ballgame well then something needs to be done. Maybe SNY ought to send Keith down to the Mets clubhouse and force the Mets to take batting practice with him.
    Are we still paying Bobby Bonilla? Maybe he could be an assistant hitting coach – or at least teach the guys the tricks to texas holdem! We need some help here – we don’t need a free t-shirt!

  • kd bart

    My favorite Met stat for this season. The Mets are 9 for 61(.148) so far this season with the bases loaded. 2 guys, Ike & Q, who are no longer with the team are a combined 2 for 2. Tejada is 2 for 2. Campbell is 1 for 1 and Flores is 2(both Monday) for 5. The rest of the team is 2 for 51(.039) on the season.

  • Dave

    Mets need to find a way to hire CJ Nitkowski, because he is speaking the truth. I am sick of this platoon approach to using setup men and this “I need to know my role” attitude that it promotes. You’re a pitcher, you know what your role is? There are hitters who wear different uniforms than you. Get them out. It doesn’t matter what inning it is, if there are runners on base, if the team is winning or losing or by how many runs, and especially, it doesn’t matter if they’re left handed or right handed. Get them out.

    This also leads to the major league roster status of the likes of Scott Rice, who in case Terry Collins hasn’t noticed, is not very good at following the “Get them out” instructions referenced above. Lefties hit one-whatever against him. Yeah, because they don’t have to get a hit because he’s going to walk them. And then they release Buddy Carlyle because Dana Eveland is so much better? WTF? Are bad pitchers OK to have on your roster if they’re left handed?

    Terry, this isn’t working, and it never has. Reference the definition of insanity and do something different.

    • Agree — and love your definition of a pitcher’s role. But Terry isn’t the guy to do this. Great teacher, underrated leader, but not one to break with strategic orthodoxy, even when it’s hopelessly out of date.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    …and it all started — as did so many baseball tales — with Don Zimmer

    Me too, sort of.

    My 2nd live game ever (but the first one I really remember) was June 23, 1956, with the Cub Scouts. Zimmer gets beaned by Hal Jeffcoat.

  • Ed Rising

    The ‘situational’ lefty or such specialty pitcher can be functional not only for his specialty but should be able to get other batters out. Even with 12 or 13 pitchers on the roster we cannot afford such a luxury. Dave is right these relievers have to stop being pigeon holded into a particular role and this starts in the minors. Just work towards getting ‘outs’, learning how to pitch to entice a ground ball rather than trying to strike out the world. Sandy Alderson and his team have brought some change into the organization – don’t think it is the right one. We need new voices and get back to playing the game.

    • Dave

      Think about…arguably, the best closers in Mets history (and I’m not trying to start a debate about who belongs on such a list, but you’ll get my point) are McGraw, Orosco, Franco, Myers and Wagner. If any of them were in their prime today, they’d be situational lefties instead of (at their best, at least) dominant closers.

      • open the gates

        And, to add to C.J. Nitkowski’s argument, the last time the Mets won a WS they did it with a closer platoon of Orosco and McDowell, with each trading roles of closer and set-up man (sometimes in the same game!). The whole “the pitcher needs to know his role” thing is ridiculous. You’re in the major leagues – get over it and pitch. And there should be a rule against bringing in a pitcher to face one batter. No one wants to see Anthony Recker trying to save a game because Terry wasted the bullpen pitching to two guys or something. Enough already.

  • Lenny65

    I can’t stand the endless parade of relief pitchers every game either, it’s beyond annoying. “The pen needs a break”…of course they do, because everyone in it pitches every single day. I never had any reason to actively dislike TC but his act is beginning to wear thin IMO.

    I figured that by now at least one of the question-mark bats would have heated up to respectability but here we are, as flaccid as ever. I hate being one of those “MUST DO SOMETHING NOW!!!!” kind of fans but geez, this lineup really blows. When Reuben Tejada is your current “hot hand” then you have problems.

  • mikeL

    buddy carlyle, we hardly knew you!

    i thought he’d earned himself his own spot to lose after that somewhat epic performance on sunday.
    throws strikes? check
    fearless? check
    smart? check
    his presence might keep torres from blowing his arm out one of these day? check

    oh well…

    agree on murphy.
    the boneheaded plays are getting to me (especially the ball he chris younged last weekend!)

    and yes, i’m awaitng a SA press conference where he simply says of chris young, i f*cked up, there’s no point in waiting for him to get hot, he’s bad for the team, we’re releasing him and eating his contract. we’re going to give raises to all of the call-ups who have made this team the least bit watchable. we need to move on and win some games…

    i can dream…

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