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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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Meaning and Games in September

I can’t take me anywhere. I can, but I can’t depend on me to respond as social norms suggest I should.

I took myself to Citi Field Tuesday night at the invitation of a friend. The ostensible lure was the manifestation of that old Wilponian chestnut, Meaningful Games In September, MGIS for short (mishegas for our readers who have just celebrated the Jewish new year).

MGIS, a phrase infamously uttered by the Met Chairman of the Board in Spring Training 2004, instantly fired up his troops. It fired them up into a state of confusion. These were the reactions captured by Lee Jenkins of the Times when he asked Wilpon’s players of yore what exactly hey thought the owner meant by Meaningful Games In September.

“What does that mean?”
Mike Cameron

“I don’t understand.”
Jose Reyes

“Well, I guess you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Cliff Floyd

The general manager back then, Jim Duquette, spoke his best boardroomspeak to interpret his employer’s thinking. “I don’t think there’s any more of a definition,” the GM said as helpfully as he could. “You can take it whatever way you want.”

OK then…

What did Fred Wilpon mean by meaningful? This three-part elaboration emanated straight from the horse’s mouth:

1) “You’ll know it’s meaningful when it’s there.”

2) “You’ll be able to feel it and taste it.”

3) “We’ll be in a position to attain something.”

The first part implies Fred had no idea whatsoever. The second part confirms the first part. The third part, however, got as close to the crux of the matter as Wilponically possible.

It’s September. The Mets are, in 2015 if not 2004 (when they misplaced their Kazmir and fell on their Zambrano), in a position to attain something. Coming into Tuesday they were riding the pennant race express to runaway proportions. You might say they’d just about overshot their MGIS goal. There was none of the feisty scratching and clawing Wilpon probably envisioned when he tried to change the conversation after last-place 2003. The Mets in the here and now were aiming to extend a winning streak to nine and reduce a magic number from ten. The meaning was pretty clearly implied.

It was there. You could feel it. You could taste it. But for one night it couldn’t be attained.

It’s not like the Mets didn’t try to beat the Miami Marlins on Tuesday and it’s not like we didn’t try to urge them on. The Mets still hustled and we still buzzed. This was not your slightly younger self’s September night at Citi Field. There wasn’t an enormous crowd, but it couldn’t rightly be labeled sparse. There were sustained ripples of enthusiasm even as the score continually tilted in the wrong direction. There was always the sense that this team was never really out of it, ergo we shouldn’t give up. Everybody did what they could, it’s just that none of it worked.

What did it mean?

Probably nothing.

I mean, sure, I could be more agitated that Tom Koehler plunked Yoenis Cespedes on his powerful hip. I could be more frustrated that every home run the Mets nearly hit either died at the track or drifted foul. I could be more concerned that Jacob deGrom hasn’t looked terribly deGrominant of late. I could have scowled more as I entered “L 9-3” in my Log when I got home. I could even wallow in Washington picking up an entire game in the standings to now trail by 8½ with — hide your eyes if you’re squeamish — 17 to play.

But after those eight straight wins and everything else, the following areas are where I opted to derive my meaning at the first Meaningful Game In September game my friend and I ever attended at Citi Field.

• A serious discussion of whether the Mets should erect a statue of Marv Throneberry. We agreed they should. It would display an organizational sense of humor true to the franchise’s roots. The two caveats we decided upon were 1) of course you’d have to have a Seaver statue to balance the ridiculous with the sublime; and 2) the ideal Throneberry statue portrays Marvelous Marv looking longingly at the piece of cake his manager swore they wuz going to give him but wuz afraid he’d drop it.

• A hypothetical offer my friend made me: I could have another Mets world championship affixed to their past. That is to say any year I wanted could be added to 1969 and 1986. It could be a year they came close, it could be a year they finished last. It would be worked into their backstory and our memory bank. It wouldn’t alter the course of team history otherwise and I wouldn’t have to do anything wacky like go back and live my life from that year forward, but it would come at a cost. In exchange for that third retroactively granted world championship, the Mets could never have had Tom Seaver. They’d still win what they won in 1969 and 1973, but without The Franchise or anybody truly like him. Seaver never would’ve existed as a Met. Forty-one would be just another number. Would I take that deal, he asked. I thought for less than 41 seconds and told him, no, I would not. We have one actual Seaver (if no Seaver statue) after more than fifty years. Except for Cespedes, he’s our one authentic all-time Met great. That’s got to be worth one hypothetical championship.

• A unanimous decision that the Met who looked strangest to us in a non-Met uniform was Cleon Jones as a White Sock. My friend and I are roughly the same vintage of Mets fan. We knew as kids that there were such things as trades, but we didn’t really believe they could happen to “iconic” Mets. Once in a while they did — Swoboda to the Expos, Agee to the Astros — but icons were icons. Icons weren’t simply cast off. Then one summer day in 1975, Cleon was. He resurfaced in 1976 with the Chicago White Sox. He played in only a dozen games for them, but it was long enough to be photographed in one of those blousy Bill Veeck jerseys that are looked back on with revisionist fondness four decades later…but what the hell was Cleon doing in one of them? Yeah, that was the strangest sight these eyes ever did see as Mets in the wrong clothes go. (My friend says he’s seen Cleon in the slightly older White Sox red-pinstriped jersey he never actually played in, but I can’t even process that possibility.) Bud Harrelson as a Texas Ranger is a distant second.

We were finishing up the strange-looking expatriate Met topic as Tuesday’s game ended. We kept talking about it while our section cleared out. The players were in their respective dugouts, the PA had stopped blaring and the ushers were clearing their throats at us. The Mets had just lost, allowing their inevitability to bog down a bit, but I wasn’t fixated on that. I was fixated on a final point my friend was making about Ken Boswell having been the only 1973 Met to have worn the earliest iteration of the Astro rainbow getup. It occurs to me now that Boswell’s manager, Yogi Berra, wore a later version as a Houston coach in 1986. For that matter, except for throwbacks, you never saw the rainbows in National League action again after NLCS Game Six. Same deal for our old road grays with the racing stripe down the side and script Mets across the chest. It’s like Game Six was so intense that they had to burn all the uniforms.

Honestly, I could have sat there for another hour and continued to talk about all that stuff that makes baseball baseball with my friend. This was fun. Maybe not the kind of fun the attainment of first place has been, yet fun on its own merit. It wasn’t precisely what we came to Citi Field for this September evening…no, that’s not true. It’s exactly what we came to Citi Field for, pennant race notwithstanding. First place and a seemingly imminent clinching is plenty nice, but where else besides the old ballpark do you find yourself planning statues that will never be built, vetoing acquisitions of imaginary championships and dwelling on what Cleon Jones wore worst? Yes, we could have gone on another two hours if left to our own devices.

Alas, the men in the red and green polo shirts were emitting impatience like Dee Gordon had been recording base hits, so reluctantly we put a lid on our musings, rose and left, having derived all the meaning we required from this one September game.

Someone else I spoke to very recently: Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, regarding the shifting sands of the city’s baseball scene. Read my two cents on the potentially emerging Mets town in our midst here.

41 comments to Meaning and Games in September

  • Eric

    In 2007, the Mets were 7 games up with 17 games to play, not 8.5 up with 17 to play, and the magic number was 11, not 10. But. The Nationals have 18 to play. In 2007, when the Mets had 17 to play, the Phillies also had 17 to play. And they didn’t gain 7 with their 17 to play. By season’s end, they gained 8 games to win the division by 1 game.

    In other words, if we write in a W for the Nationals’ Thursday game on the Mets’ off day, the final 17-game W-L from 2007 gives us a tie in 2015.

    Whatever Colon had, then passed onto Niese, deGrom seems to have caught it. Since deGrom dropped his ERA to 1.98 on August 18, it’s risen to 2.64 over 5 starts. deGrom seems to be an obvious candidate for a skipped start on top of the 6-man rotation, but that doesn’t appear to be planned yet.

    Today, we turn to Colon to plug the opening left by deGrom and beat back the stalking, probing 2007 Mets collapse.

    • Matt in Richmond

      Dude, enough already. Nats are toast. There are no more analogies to be made. The race now is between us and LA for the coveted #2 spot.

      • Eric

        Embrace it. The close proximity of the current standings to this same week in the 2007 season where began the 7-year downfall is a framed opportunity to kill and bury the 2007 Mets collapse and its progeny.

        We thought the Phillies were toast in 2007, too. We were looking ahead to the play-offs with the best record in the NL at the time, not just vying for the 2nd seed. Redemption is we don’t turn our backs on the 2nd place team that we’ve left for dead, but (has now won 3 in a row and) is not dead yet, and this time we focus on completing the mission of winning the division until it’s done.

        • Rob E

          Don’t worry….they’re only a 1/2 game behind the Cubs for the second wild card spot, and they have to play Pittsburgh twice, the Cardinals, and their interleague series is against the Royals…the three best teams in baseball. Feel better now?

          • Eric

            I neglected to note the most obvious parallel between the 2007 Mets and 2015 Mets after game 145: the same W-L record, 83-62.

            Right now, the Cubs are 83-61. The hypothetical of collapsing again after game 145 like the 2007 Mets collapsed would affect the Mets in the WC race, too.

            In 2007, the Mets finished 5-12 against the Phillies’ 13-4, which if repeated and the Nationals win tomorrow would result in a tie for 1st place in the NL East. If that happened, the Cubs would have to go 5-13 to tie the Mets for the 2nd WC. (In 2007, the Mets finished with 88 wins and the WC team was the 90-win Rockies.)

            http://m.mlb.com/news/article/59527184/playoff-tiebreaker-rules

            That the 2015 Mets have tracked this close to the 2007 Mets collapse – even sharing the same record, 83-62, when the 2007 Mets collapsed – is the right position for the redemption. It’s the closest setting to travelling back in time to September 13, 2007 for a do-over.

          • Rob E

            The Mets have lost 11 out of 41 since they got Cespedes, and in your scenarios, they would suddenly have to lose 12 out of 17. It CAN happen, but why on earth do you think it WILL happen?

          • Eric

            This exercise is about can, not will.

            In 2007, the Mets were playing well at game 145, too. We knew the unlikely possibility a collapse could happen but we didn’t believe it would happen when we led the league, let alone the NL East, at 83-62.

            Now back at 83-62, the Mets are playing well, deGrom’s loss last night notwithstanding, and the odds are again highly on our side. And again, I don’t believe a collapse will happen. But this time, we don’t just know but appreciate what can happen – because it happened.

            The redemption is we’ve been returned to the place where it went wrong for the Mets in 2007 for the next 7 years. The Mets now hold the special opportunity to fix right in the same place they did wrong in 2007.

            For Mets fans, fixing right what we did wrong in 2007 means this time, we do not look past the Nationals until the division championship has been put in the books.

        • Gil Stengel

          I remember 2007 too. The way I recall it is that the Mets started playing like ass right after the break, there was a constant feeling of dread hovering over everything. The way everyone goes berserk after every loss this year is maddening. It’s baseball, even the greatest Mets team ever did lose 54 games.

          • Eric

            Indeed. The last 7-game lead the Mets lost wasn’t the 1st 7-game lead the Mets lost in 2007.

            The collapse stands out because it was the final one and came so late, of course, but also because the Mets had just pushed the division lead back up to 7 with 17 left to play. The Mets were playing well again. What nervousness we had was freshly replaced by our confidence that the Phillies weren’t going make up 7 games with only 17 left to play with the Mets’ easy schedule. But the Phillies then, like the Nationals now, had an easy schedule, too.

            Nevertheless, we weren’t wrong. The Mets shouldn’t have lost the lead to the Phillies in 2007. It shouldn’t happen with the Nationals in 2015. I don’t expect it will happen again. These Mets are resilient.

            Coming back now to 83-62, the same record when the Mets collapsed in 2007, with the Nationals with about the same record as the Phillies, is the opportunity to set right in 2015 what shouldn’t have gone wrong but did in 2007.

  • Matt in Richmond

    I became a baseball fan in large part because of Darryl Strawberry. He just seemed different than every other player. The way he threw. The way he ran. Mostly, the way he wiggled his bat before that huge knee kick when he swung. I was devastated when he went to the Dodgers, but my dad (somewhat) calmed me down, told me it was part of the game and I could still root for him even though he was no longer a Met. Then the unthinkable. He went to the evil, hated, loathed Yankees. It’s funny how different things are when you’re a kid. It felt like a personal insult.

  • That’s a great hypothetical.

    I’m too young (36) to have seen Seaver pitch for the Mets, so I think I would take that trade. My initial instinct would be to take that 2000 WS Title they would have won if Timo ran, or Giambi slid. But I think the better option would be for the Mets to have completed their furious rally post-9/11 and beaten the Yankees in the 2001 WS.

    • Dave

      I second 2000. I hope to hell the Mets can knock the Yankees out of playoff contention this weekend. There will be some measure of payback, though I think a debt is still owed.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    C’mon, don’t you think that Yogi in an Astros Uniform is the strangest ex-Met in Another Uniform ever? Enos Cabell, yes, Yogi, no.

    Cleon in a White Sox Uniform just looks like an Ex Major Leaguer who’s now in some beer league somewhere, pretty much like all those White Sox did.

  • Gary

    I think I’ve figured it out. “MGIS” = sellouts.

    We just forgot to consider for whom it’s meaningful.

  • Dave

    Honestly, who cares about Cleon in a White Sox clown costume if we’ve seen Doc and Darryl playing for the team in the Bronx? The White Sox were probably just taking a chance on a veteran bat to see what he had left. Steinbrenner was determined to embarrass the Mets (extended to Cone and even an attempt to revive Sid too).

    • Rob E

      Agree on Dwight & Darryl. Gooden’s no-hitter was one of my worst baseball nights ever. I was more upset that night than the last day of the collapses, and I still remember it vividly.

      Now there’s more of a sense of loss with Cone. Dwight & Darryl mostly came back, but Cone totally defected. In fairness, Cone wasn’t here for ’86 and never won with the Mets. Still hurts.

      I always thought that Steinbrenner violated baseball “karma” with the ex-Mets and Red Sox he signed. For reasons that don’t hold up in today’s money-driven sport, it was wrong. I always respected Andy Pettitte for refusing to consider the Red Sox when he was a free agent.

      • We decided last night the reason Cleon stood out was because there was no time to get used to it. Saw a picture in the paper when I was 13 and it stayed with me as weird, whereas I grudgingly grew accustomed to those other icons in odd refinery.

        Keith Hernandez as a Cardinal wasn’t weird. Keith Hernandez as an Indian was.

        Same, despite his journeyman past, for Rick Reed as a Twin. Never really accepted that.

  • 9th string catcher

    Maybe this is an obvious one, but seeing Tom Seaver first put on his Reds uniform? Sickening. Of all teams, the Reds? That would be like seeing Jeter put on a Red Sox uniform.

  • BlackCountryMet

    I will prefix my comments with this: I believe we will WIN the NL East and make at least the NLCS

    At the start of the season, I, like a large percentage of the FAFIF public, was fairly aggrieved at one B Harper, resident of the parish of Washington and his comment along the lines of “Show me the ring now” Such arrogance, such presumpiveness, how dare he? I have to say that recent comments stating that the NL East race is over and that we are merely awaiting coronation have the exact same ring to them. How about we wait till it’s over, before so confidently stating it’s over?

    • Eric

      I see it as eagerness to deliberately expel the miasma over the Mets since the 2007 collapse. They consider ostentatiously dismissing the possibility of history repeating to be an element of embracing the fan experience of these resilient 2015 Mets.

      The problem is it comes across as early hubris when the lesson of the 2007 Mets collapse was that the baseball gods frown on early hubris … at least for Mets fans. (They seem to indulge it in Yankees fans.)

      Harper’s boisterous confidence when the Nationals signed Scherzer following the Nationals’ 2014 season reminds me of our confidence on September 12, 2007 in the then best-in-the-NL Mets following the Mets’ 2006 season.

      I too believe these Mets are headed to the NLDS. The point is, after game 145 in 2007, I believed those Mets were headed back to the NLCS to take care of unfinished business.

      After losing game 145 last night, the Mets have returned to the same record, 83-62, that they held after game 145 in 2007. The Nationals after game 144 are 1 game behind in the loss column from the Phillies after game 145 in 2007.

      The odds are highly in the Mets favor. The odds were highly in the Mets favor at this point of the 2007 season.

      Here and now, the baseball gods have given the Mets the opportunity to redeem the 2007 collapse.

      But have we learned our lesson?

      The early hubris by some Mets fans in writing off the Nationals just like we wrote off the Phillies at this point of the 2007 season is unwise in the face of the fickle baseball gods who have given us a chance for redemption.

  • Dave

    9th SC – Seaver wearing a uniform that said neither Mets nor New York was dreadful, and I still remember where I was when I learned the trade happened (HS graduation rehearsal, to date myself). But to me, the Reds were just another team, wouldn’t have been any better or worse if it was the Padres or the Indians or the Astros or whatever. Doc and Darryl’s destination was major salt in the wound, and fully intended as such.

  • open the gates

    Any “iconic” Met in Yankee pinstripes was weird. Doc, Darryl, Maz, Dave Kingman, even Beltran this year. Just weird. But probably the weirdest of all time was Tom Seaver as an injured Red Sock during the ’86 Series. That was just wrong on so many levels.

  • Will in Central NJ

    Wearing Phillies uniforms, the sights of Tug McGraw (c. 1980), Jerry Koosman (1985) and Lenny Dykstra (c.1993) were unsettling.

  • Laurie

    I came here today hoping to be talked down from my (admittedly insane) ledge, and at first I was disappointed by this post. I was looking for reassurance at best, and pointed criticism of my nervousness at worst. But now I’m thinking that, by not addressing it at all, you sort of did reassure me. Your decision, conscious or no, to not tell me I shouldn’t worry, was in itself a message that I shouldn’t worry. If it’s not worth addressing it’s not worth thinking about. At least that’s how I’m taking it.

    • Eric

      We’re back at 83-62 after game 145. The Nationals after their game 144 are 1 game behind in the loss column of the 2007 Phillies after game 145.

      We’re back to the place the Mets collapsed in 2007. Don’t fear it. Embrace the redemption.

    • I see no point in addressing a situation that I don’t believe exists. Glad you got what was implied by noticing what wasn’t explicit.

      • Nick

        Oh my God, Greg, will you please address it? Explicitly now, tomorrow, while we wait for the Yankees series to begin? — There was a whole entire article on MLB.com about the Harvey Innings nonsense, and NOT ONCE did it use the word ‘if’ — it was all ‘in the post season’ as opposed to ‘we need Harvey to get us to the post-season.’ I can’t stand it. Going back into my cave to keep fighting World War 2 now….

        • Eric

          Don’t worry about it. The Onoda premise was a suspect analogy.

          It might work for a Mets fan who hypothetically defaults to the 2007 Mets collapse long after VJ Day or the Mets winning the division title thereby putting to rest the 2007 Mets collapse era.

          But the Mets haven’t clinched anything yet. 10 is not 0.

          For a better fitting WW2-Pacific analogy, the Mets season currently is roughly at Iwo Jima. (As the Mets lose or add games to their lead, you can roll the timeline backwards or forward.) At that point of the war, Japan’s defeat seemed likely, but Japan was not yet defeated and the two nations and their allies were still competing. At that point of the war, Onoda’s stance was correct and the Japanese soldiers who took the opposite stance were deserters and/or traitors.

        • Nick, if I thought the sky was falling, I’d be writing you a 4,000-word piece that would serve as your umbrella. Blue skies with a few harmless puffy cumulus cloud.

          You may do whatever you like, cavewise.

  • Andee

    I see zero indication that 2015 WAS=2007 PHI. Those Phillies swept the last five games from us. We have swept the last six from WAS, the last three coming from behind in their yard, including one where we wiped out a 6-run deficit. I don’t remember the ’07 Mets having this many CFB wins this late in the year. Nor do I remember ’07 PHI having as many bullpen issues as ’15 WAS.

    Put it this way: if the tables were turned and we were 8.5 in back of WAS right now, and we were the ones with the arson squad bullpen whose setup man just broke his thumb slamming his locker shut, how worried would their fans be about us? I mean, really, you could easily make the case that the WAS/MON franchise and DC baseball teams in general are at least as snakebitten as us, if not more so.

    • mikeL

      not a news flash, but boy are we a damaged fan base.

      a couple of things i took away from last night.

      first, the team has deserved to lose a game several times over the past week+.
      as with outs, maybe there are productive losses as well.

      actually losing a game every once in a while can generate a needed re-set, re-focusing all involved for the task ahead – which will of course feature more elite relievers than trainwrecks who can’t locate.

      it’s good to know that cespedes will not always tie or win a game – nor will the pinch-hitter.

      i fully expect this team to bounce back from adversity as it has the better part of the season.

      having the nats’ two studs looking to stage an unlikely comeback for the division crown is good for all of us (the team included) lest any complacency creep into the planning ahead for the post-season. the added intensity of a resurgent nats can only help the drive towards home-field advantage.

      as for the whole excorcism idea.
      yes we all want to cast aside the post 07/08 experience once and for all. as for the parallels, maybe it would be better to think of these mets playing the role of the phils.
      after all it’s the mets who came out of nowhere to pass thd team annointed to go all the way. these mets were not sitting atop the division for 2seasons running only to have a late-comer snatch it away.
      well these nats were never those mets, and unlike the those phils, these mets got rolling with two months to go.

      last nite was ugly, though not as ugly as the rain delayed mess that started this all. now we’ve all gotten that ugly loss out of the way. the rest of it will make sense as we get there…

      lets go bart!
      lets go mets!

      lets get down to 9 (or 8) tonite so we can all sleep well ahead of the arrival of the yanks.

      cheers!

    • Eric

      Last week’s sweep of the Nationals was a milestone in the redemption.

      In 2007, the Phillies started their run to 1st place with a 3-game sweep of the Mets, then immediately followed the sweep by gaining 2.5 more games with the teams’ next series. The Phillies subtracted 5.5 games from the Mets’ lead, from 7 to 1.5, in a week.

      Last week, the Mets swept the Nationals and then immediately followed the sweep by gaining 2.5 more games in the teams’ next series. The Mets added 5.5 games to their lead over the Nationals in a week.

      Milestone reversed. Next up.

  • sturock

    How come our pitchers never retaliate when one of our hitters is plunked on purpose? The Cespedes Incident reminded me of Piazza/Clemens. I’m still waiting for a Yankee to go down, rub his head a little, look up and ask, “Where am I?”

    Why didn’t deGrom put one of those Marlins on his tush? I’m serious, I’m not being Keith or Ron “this is how WE did it.” You don’t have to go-head-hunting-while-tripping-on-steroids Roger Clemens style. Just send a little message to a fleshy part of the body. Who cares if we put a man on base. We are way ahead in the standings.

    Why is our team so soft? No matter who manages, no matter who pitches. Unless it was 1986, why is our team so soft?

  • eric1973

    Just googled some pictures of ex-Mets who look very strange in these uniforms:

    —-Closeup of Cleon in a WSox uni
    —-Harrelson with Philly, in Bill Bixby shades
    —–Garrett with long hair and moustauche on Montreal, and then with what appears to be a perm on St. Louis

  • […] also gonna decide Duda’s emerging from whatever’s plagued him. When I went to Tuesday night’s game — between opting not to trade Tom Seaver’s legacy and mulling over how strange Cleon Jones […]