- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

You Can’t Eject the Past

Adam Hamari, a relative stranger to our ongoing narrative since his arrival as a major league umpire in 2013, is now seared into our consciousness as a) the arbiter who arbitrarily deprived 42,000 ticketholders of the opportunity to watch and cheer Noah Syndergaard [1], premier starting pitcher for the New York Mets, and b) enabler of the easy-as-pie Los Angeles Dodgers victory that followed on the heels of Thor’s unmerited dismissal.

This is not how we want to get to know anybody better.

Thor threw a mile behind Chase Utley [2] to begin the third inning, never remotely endangering the well-being of an opponent whose well-being is apparently indestructible. It was every bit as symbolic a pitch as the one Jesse Orosco [3] tossed D.J. Carter before Saturday night’s game. It was meant to evoke an indelible image from an iconic autumn in Mets history. In Syndergaard’s case, it was to remind Utley that, hey, we remember you. You took out our shortstop in the 2015 playoffs, you broke his leg, you never served a suspension, your misdeed had yet to be even slightly avenged, so here’s this calling card in case you get any ideas that we forgot who you were. Utley, avatar of old-school right-wayness in the view of those whose fibulas weren’t broken by his 26th-degree assault on second base last October, didn’t require an interpreter. He got the message. By all accounts, he was waiting for it.

It was ball one. Generally you don’t want to see your starter go one-and-oh on anybody to begin an inning, but this was ball one for a good cause, and besides, Thor has fairly immaculate control (he insisted with a face as straight as his hair is long that this one simply got away from him). He could come back from one-and-oh.

No he couldn’t, it turned out, because he wasn’t allowed to. Enter Hamari, the focus of the action, the center of Saturday night in Flushing. That’s who we came to see. Not one of the elite pitchers of the moment at the top of his form. Not a revered group of ballplayers who brought enduring joy to a city. Adam Hamari, tyro with an itchy trigger finger, an attraction to the spotlight and no particular understanding of the sport he is paid to officiate.

Syndergaard? Gone. His manager? Also gone. Roars of approval emanated forth for both Thor and Terry Collins. They did what they had to do, each obliged to uphold the honor of their posts and the rituals of their trade. The skipper we didn’t necessarily need in the dugout. The pitcher we could have used on the mound. The umpire? He was supposed to issue a warning. Everybody knows that, just as Utley knew a pitch like that which Syndergaard unleashed was coming. Pitcher sends message, batter receives message, umpire warns, everybody moves on.

But now we don’t. We grudge and grudge some more. We despise Chase Utley. We despise Adam Hamari. We are robbed continually of resolution (we won the NLDS versus Utley’s Dodgers, but if that took care of everything, why was this still simmering seven-and-a-half months later?). Oh, and we see our Mets spanked [4], 9-1, as the villain in Dodger blue, facilitated by the villain in umpire blue, blasts two home runs, including a grand slam, off Met relievers in what eventually broke down into bullpen-by-committee batting practice. Logan Verrett [5] couldn’t save us. “The Curly Shuffle [6]” couldn’t save us. Only wisdom behind the plate could have helped, and that was not in abundance.

Perhaps Utley would have homered off Syndergaard. If he had, we would have hated that, too, but it would have been fairly and squarely achieved. Hamari flew into the ointment and smeared his nonsense all over the encounter. Thor was ejected before he had a chance to bat against his opposite number Kenta Maeda [7], the Dodger pitcher he homered off twice in Los Angeles. Would have been fun to have seen them go at it again. Maeda, incidentally, absorbed a Michael Conforto [8] line drive off his pitching hand in the first inning. He was in obvious discomfort. When he indicated he was fine, we, Mets fans, applauded encouragingly, proving we don’t wish ill on 24 of 25 Dodgers.

We didn’t come for blood. We came for baseball. We came for Syndergaard vs. the Dodgers and we came to salute our champions, the 1986 Mets, a unit so strong and so enduring that even at their respective advanced ages, the lot of them were impervious to the rulings of Adam Hamari.

Hey, Hamari: Just try to eject the 1986 World Championship from Citi Field. Go climb the flag pole over Soda Pop Plaza. Shimmy along the Excelsior facade where the postseason emblems hang. Maraud your way through the museum. Spray paint the commemorative bricks. Do your worst, if you can sink any lower than you already did Saturday.

It won’t do you any good. The Mets are still the World Champions of 1986, a status we celebrated with all our heart and soul thirty years after the fact. The fact isn’t going anywhere. I’d like to believe Adam Hamari is taking a hike, but Angel Hernandez — every bit as synonymous with atrocious officiating as the 1986 Mets are with splendid baseball — is inept to the point of corrupt and he’s in his 23rd year on the job.

Good luck getting rid of a dismal umpire. All we can hope for is that Hamari’s insipid decision to rid a baseball game of its star attraction in the third inning doesn’t cost the Mets a playoff spot, the way it could be argued Hernandez’s midseason massive error in judgment cost the 1998 Mets.

Long memories here. 1998 didn’t work out and we readily identify a culprit (Hernandez called an extra-inning slide into home that Bobby Valentine [9] correctly identified as “lousy” and “illegal” good and pure in Atlanta and immeasurably aided and abetted the cause of screwing us over). 1986 worked out gloriously and we continue to rise and applaud the victors when they re-enter our midst. Like the self-policing pitch that should muster no more than a don’t do that again, you have been warned, our reaction to our eternal champions is one of those things you know is coming.

This, unlike what happened in the third inning, did come and it was as delightful as we could have imagined.

“You guys have been around baseball a long time,” Terry said during his pregame press conference to a line of questioning seeking an answer as to what the pearl anniversary of the ’86 champs meant to him and his current edition. His point, proffered as diplomatically as possible, was to say it didn’t have a great deal to do with the present. He got why it was being asked, he labeled the upcoming ceremonies “a deserving night for those guys in ’86” and in general believes “these things are kind of cool,” but as for his players of today, “You could parade the ’86 Mets through our clubhouse” and his charges “would not know ten of ’em.”

That’s just the way it is [10], I seem to recall Bruce Hornsby mentioning a few hundred times in the same autumn that the ’86 Mets paraded through lower Manhattan and all of us knew all of them. Whippersnapper baseball players play in the present. They always have, respect for elders optional. When I asked one of Collins’s predecessors, Davey Johnson [11], about his impressions of all the Old Timers Days and commemorations he sat through as a player and manager, mostly he remembered that he and his contemporaries “never thought about being old…but that was just wishful thinking.”

I don’t know if Davey or his charges ever wished they’d be remembered and embraced forever, but if they did, Saturday night was evidence that wishes come true. The 1986 Mets are not and never going anywhere. We won’t let them. The reception we gave them at Citi Field in 2016 was every bit as committed as the one we offered at Shea Stadium in 2006 [12]. There is something chemical in the relationship between Mets fans and these particular Mets. 1969 warms the heart. 1986 sets it ablaze. Attribute it to a deeper trove of videotape, a more pronounced air of badassery (Koosman efficiently avenging Agee by plunking Santo notwithstanding), the gaudiness of its characters and its times, those ever sharp racing stripes, its 17-year edge in recency, but there’s a difference. We cherish 1969. We fucking love 1986.

We continued to do so Saturday night. I secured both a press credential and a ticket for the proceedings and deployed each to optimal effect. As a baseball writer, there were some things I wanted to try and learn up close, and it was valuable for me to attend the pregame media availability, which was roughly akin to the out-of-the-cornfield onslaught from Field Of Dreams. That’s how I got to listen to Terry, talk to Davey and chat briefly with a few of the ’86ers. It was a terrific opportunity and I thank the Mets for providing me entree.

But I’m not a baseball writer without being a baseball fan, so when 6:15 rolled around, I exited the press box and made my way to Promenade, just as I might have thirty years before to see the 1986 Mets, except then the highest you could go was called the Upper Deck and the Upper Deck could get way higher than Promenade. The 1986 Mets got you high every day, and I don’t care that there are obvious implications in that phrasing. Once you inhaled the ’86 season, the contact buzz is permanent.

I loved how they presented those Mets this time around. Not so much the enormous World Series trophy or the endless red carpet from center field (tacky enough that they could’ve been lyrics to “Get Metsmerized”). But the order in which our Mets were revealed was brilliant. Instead of counting up from scrubs to stars, emcee Howie Rose told a story. He started with “the architect,” Frank Cashen (represented by his bowtied son Greg) and, after Davey and a nod to coaches and trainers, he transitioned into an April-to-October retelling. Howard Johnson [13]’s signature swing against St. Louis came in the season’s third week, so he was introduced early. Tim Teufel [14]’s grand slam — from when only second basemen we liked homered with the bases loaded — happened in June, thus he walked out a little later. Randy Niemann [15], generously recalled for a spot start in August (which I watched from Section 46 or thereabouts), emerged in 2016 well after Ron Darling [16] and Keith Hernandez [17]. Dwight Gooden [18] (the division clincher) preceded Danny Heep [19] (World Series DH).

Nobody cued us that this was how they were going to bring the boys out. It was left for us to make sense of the unorthodox batting order. We got it. Terry could have been talking to the entire stadium when he said, “You guys have been around baseball a long time.” This was the epitome of team over individuals, something you don’t have to have been around baseball for all that long to understand is paramount. It doesn’t always add up in the team’s favor. Noah tried doing something for his team (and goodness knows we in Section 516 loved it), but his stab at vigilantism backfired. “I was not big on personal goals,” Davey told me when I asked him about the Mets’ retired numbers lacking a representative from among his accomplished personnel. I guess it was enough that “1986” is amply etched around the ballpark.

Howie kept reading, the champs kept coming and the juice was surely flowing. He brought us to Game Seven: Ray Knight [20], the go-ahead home run and MVP, home at last; Darryl Strawberry [21], producer of the insurance run that’s still going; and, because there’s no other way to accurately conclude 1986, Jesse Orosco. Jesse threw the final pitch past Marty Barrett [22] then, just as he threw the ceremonial first pitch Saturday. He should have thrown it to Gary Carter [23], who clutched the last out of the last (make that most recent) world championship in Mets history, but fate made Gary’s appearance an impossibility. Not that you would have known it based on the group hug we offered his wife Sandy and his son D.J. His old manager was right in that pregame session when he said, “Kid is here as far I’m concerned.”

We felt the spirit. We cheered the pitch Orosco threw to the son of Kid. We also appreciated that as many stretched and loosened 2016 Mets who could be rounded up — led by Collins — paraded out of their dugout to greet the 1986 Mets once Howie introduced them all and they were lined up around the diamond. It’s quite possible the eternal world champs recognized as many as ten of the defending league champs.

“I don’t live in the past,” Davey said to me. Neither does baseball, but its weekend getaways there are something to behold.

View the entire 1986 ceremony here [24].