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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 [1], 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 [2] 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 [3] costing them a run on the basepaths, David Wright [4] muffing a double-play grounder, Scott Rice [5] 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 [6]‘ 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 [7] 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 [8].

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

First off, check out this Joe Posnanski piece [9] 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 [10] another chance despite his having failed in two previous appearances with the team. It’s how they saw past Tommy Milone [11]‘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 [12] 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. [13]

The card that started it all.

Here’s another one for you: former Met C. J. Nitkowski all but pleading [14] 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 [15] 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 [16], 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 [17] 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 [18] 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 [19], Sherman Jones [20], Joe Ginsberg [21], Dave Hillman [22] 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 [23] and Yogi Berra [24], and that was before I discovered Al Weis [25] shared a rookie card with Pete Rose [26].) 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.