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Kissing Snow White Good Night

When (no ifs about it, let’s hope) Jacob deGrom is awarded the National League Rookie of the Year tonight, there will be a highlight package that features most prominently his record-tying eight consecutive strikeouts to begin his September 15 game against the Marlins at Citi Field. For the next year, probably for the rest of his career, at least a few pitches from that game will air every time somebody wants to illustrate the full scope of Jake’s achievements. Thirty years on, clips of Doc Gooden debuting in Houston in a blue Mets pullover top [1] remain staples of his B-roll.

It so happens that deGrom’s biggest night occurred on a Monday, which means the worst uniform in Mets history likely lives forever.

Just the way Jake looked that night. (Photo courtesy nj.com.) [2]

Just the way Jake looked that night. (Photo courtesy nj.com.)

As long as the jersey says “Mets” or the right shade of “New York” across the chest, even the ugliest uniform can be beautiful. Take my least favorite regular look in Mets history, the road jersey of 1988-1992. Big block letters, no numbers on the front, a font that evoked the wrong shade of New York, overbearing racing stripes on the shoulders, white outline on those stripes…where there was less, there should have been more and where there was more there shouldn’t have anything. It was a shirt I wouldn’t have bought on clearance at Modell’s.

And yet, the first time I saw it in action, after proper amounts of aesthetic revulsion, I walked away happy, because one of the batters wearing it, a fellow by the name of Strawberry [3], launched a baseball to the top of Olympic Stadium. Straw hit two homers that Opening Day in Montreal; the Mets hit six total and went on to win a division title, achieving victory 44 times away from Shea. They outplayed their road uniforms in 1988.

Some good things happened in those clothes over their years. Frank Viola outdueled Orel Hershiser in the first showdown between defending Cy Young winners; Dave Magadan broke out all over Wrigley Field; David Cone struck out 19 Phillies; even Bobby Bonilla made a decent first impression in St. Louis. The apparel on display didn’t bother me those given days or nights.

And the fact that Jacob deGrom was camouflaged while K’ing didn’t hurt my appreciation of him on that “Military Monday” he made us all stand at attention [4], even if I can’t quite get behind the uniforms themselves. The jerseys are well-intentioned tributes to truly admirable Americans, and perhaps they would almost complement a Mets-blue cap, but the accompanying camo hats the Mets insisted on adding causes the whole ensemble cry out for dishonorable discharge. At a juncture when we’re daring to dream of Octobers when the Mets aren’t automatically directed to the offseason, it’s dispiriting to see the lot of them appear outfitted for nothing more than hunting and fishing [5].

The camo (available, amazingly, for purchase) will be back in 2015, as will the Military Monday theme, a concept co-opted from what the Padres have been doing to honor locally stationed Marines for nearly two decades. In theory, it’s a righteous gesture, but the execution is dubious, and what benefit there is in obfuscating the Mets’ identity — to either the Mets or the men and women of the United States military — is so cleverly disguised that I can’t see it.

Except deGrom is about to win a major award, boosted by the night he wore a major’s garb, so now the camo isn’t an outlier. It’s part of the narrative. Just like all that black the Mets ditched to much applause a couple of years ago. That was the black in which Robin Ventura whacked a single over a fence, Mike Hampton took care of pennant business and Cliff Floyd caught the last out of the first division-clincher in 18 years. Mets-black was beautiful in the proper light. I don’t miss it on a going basis, but seeing it — no matter that, like the camo, it was an unnecessary sartorial addition — can take me back to some good places between 1998 and 2012.

Now joining black in the garment dustbin of Mets history are, the club let on last week [6], the snow whites, introduced as special-occasion duds on Jackie Robinson Night, April 15, 1997, and worn for the last time (at least until they’re reintroduced for Turn Back The Clock Night somewhere up the highway) on Closing Day, September 28, 2014. In their eighteenth and final season, the snow whites had transcended their status. They were conceived as alternates, to be modeled mostly on Sundays; there was even a matching hat [7]. The hat was gone before June. The uniforms hung on for close to an eternity, hanging in Met lockers as gameday togs so often that for a generation, they served as the Mets’ de facto primary uniforms.

The snow whites got the start every Opening Day for the longest of spells, as best as I can recall. Bobby Jones, Al Leiter, Kevin Appier and the rest who threw the first pitch of a new Shea season dressed Ivory-fresh clear through to 2008. Mike Piazza emerged dazed and confused from a trade and into the bright Met sunlight in snow whites. John Olerud took it to Curt Schilling in snow whites. Matt Franco beat Mariano Rivera a ninth inning in snow whites. Melvin Mora duckwalked across home plate in snow whites. Todd Pratt created postseason walkoff lore in snow whites. Benny Agbayani created more of it in snow whites a year later (on him they fit like pajamas).

On September 21, 2001, Piazza, in snow whites, took a swing people still talk about. Four years later he was wearing the very same get-up when he said goodbye to his stadium. David Wright pulled his socks real high against the cuffs of those pants. Jose Reyes slid into myriad bases before slipping out of town wearing that top. The snow whites endured to see Citi Field open with Mike Pelfrey being overly welcoming to Jody Gerut; Johan Santana make HI57ORY; R.A. Dickey notch a 20th; and Lucas Duda connect for a 30th.

And yet, I won’t miss the snow whites. Something always seemed wrong about them. They were the first alternate home uniform the Mets ever unveiled. In the late 1990s, almost everybody had figured out a way to sell more jerseys by making more jerseys. Why shouldn’t the Mets get in on the action? Besides, what could be more special than the night 42 was retired at Shea? Why shouldn’t the Mets play the Dodgers wearing something vaguely Dodgerish in nature? Why must the Mets cling to pinstripes at a moment when pinstripes in New York implied something decidedly unMetsian?

So the Mets ran away from their own uniforms. They pre-empted the pinstripes now and then in ’97 (two years after reviving their most classic iteration [8]) and gave the snow whites ever greater priority as the ’90s became the next century. The pinstriped uniform that was the one constant of Mets home games from 1962 through 1996 was relegated to sporadic use. When the Mets played in their only World Series to date since 1986, they wore white jerseys with white pants and they worn black jerseys with white pants, but they never wore pinstriped jerseys and they never wore blue caps.

Mets pinstripes were all but invisible from 1998 to 2006. They were camouflaged, you might say. They almost went the way of Banner Day and Old Timers Day and any number of signifiers of what it meant to be Met.

Without fanfare, however, they crept back into consciousness on October 18, 2006. When the Mets took the field for Game Six of the National League Championship Series, needing to win in order to play again, it was decided they would be the Mets in pinstripes and blue caps again. It was hard not to notice from the Upper Deck; it was the sort of thing a Mets fan would notice, given how absent pinstripes in particular (but blue caps, too) had been from the 1999 and 2000 postseasons. The Mets looked right and they played well and they won. The next night they didn’t win but they still looked right. Possibly the greatest catch in Mets history occurred in pinstripes. It was a small detail in a crushing defeat, but the seeds of a spiritual victory had been planted.

In their desperate hour, the Mets decided to look like the Mets. It was no more than a passing thought in the final hours of 2006, but I had a sense we were turning a corner. It didn’t seem an accident that when snow white-era Mets were introduced on Shea’s last day, they wore pinstriped jerseys the likes of which they almost never wore while active. When we finally turned it, we’d be true to our selves: the blue, the orange, the pinstripes. It took longer than I would have thought, but in 2012, the Mets began to wear them with frequency and without dropshadow. There was even an attempt at regulating uniformity: pinstripes at night, snow whites in the afternoon. But these were the Mets, who get easily distracted. Johan was, by all rights, supposed to be no-hitting the Cardinals in pinstripes since it was a Friday night, but Johan preferred the snow whites, and are you gonna really gonna tell Johan Santana to go change?

Later came blue tops, because they sell, and camouflage tops, because maybe they would, too. But the pinstripe tops — promised in 2015 to shine as bright as they did circa 1969 — were back to stay. And, at last, the snow whites, that never served any great purpose except to make the Mets’ image just a little more pale, were ruled out of play for 2015. Essential Metness triumphed, at least off the field. Or off the rack.

Good night, snow whites. We had joy. We had fun. But you had too many seasons in the sun.