Break up the Mets! They’re 2-2 against the Yankees!
Actually that already appears to be happening: the Mets left Robert Gsellman  in to throw a ton of pitches against the Yankees Friday night while Jeurys Familia  sat in the bullpen in a sweatshirt, got hugs from teammates and was spoken of evasively in postgame interviews. He’s either been traded or is about to be traded, and we all know he won’t be the last ’18 Met to get a new address.
If Friday was Familia’s last game as a Met, at least he saw an exciting one. Exciting and nauseating — it was more bar brawl than athletic contest. Noah Syndergaard , Seth Lugo  and Gsellman all labored mightily to hold the Yankees at bay, with none of them recording a 1-2-3 inning. (Plus Syndergaard departed after a drop in velocity, a mound visit and extensive conversations with Dave Eiland  and the trainer. Mickey Callaway  says he’s fine, but this is the Mets we’re talking about.)
The three pitchers got — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — no help from their defense, with Amed Rosario  a particular culprit. Rosario had one of those games that make you grit your teeth and mutter platitudes about growing pains, ending his night with a throw to first that came after the game was over. Better to get an out you don’t need than to need an out you don’t get, I suppose, but yeesh nonetheless.
Fortunately the Mets outhit the ill-advised things done or not done with gloves. Asdrubal Cabrera  (speaking of Mets likely on the move) and Michael Conforto  led the charge, with Yoenis Cespedes  returning and sneaking a home run off the foul pole. The Mets built a 6-1 lead, but the Yankees kept coming, leaping out of closets and dropping out of attics like a particularly stubborn slasher-movie villain. Devin Mesoraco ‘s quick footwork kept the game from being tied 6-6 in the 8th, and Cabrera’s leadoff single in the 9th led to a much-needed insurance run and eventually an enormous sigh of relief . It felt like the Mets were going to lose this one, but somehow they didn’t. We’ll take it.
Still, every good slasher movie has a sequel or 12, and these two teams will be back at it for a Saturday matinee. I’d advise everyone wearing blue and orange to lock their windows and doors and sleep with a gun under their pillow.
Oh, and playing better defense might help too.
* * *
Even disappointing seasons go on — oh boy, do they go on. As Mets fan, we’ve got plenty of experience with watching a team play out the string — and at least for me, this is about the time nostalgia makes an appearance on the calendar. It’s a survival instinct, I suspect: if the current Mets aren’t going to offer much to get excited about, I look for solace in remembering previous iterations of the team.
I regard nostalgia a bit warily — the novelist Don DeLillo once called it “a product of dissatisfaction and rage” and “a settling of grievances between the present and the past.” But one nice thing about it is that it blurs losses and disappointments.
I’ve rattled on a few times about making custom cards for those Mets who never got Met cards, or cards of any sort. I’ve made more than 100 by now, filling out The Holy Books with cardboard memorials to September callups, May unconditional releases, momentary acquisitions and lost-cause roster fillers. Which means I avidly watch Topps’s auctions of old slides from previous decades — sometimes to buy, other times just to admire. Those Topps shots offer rare glimpses of momentary Mets (including some who only suited up in spring training), and many of them are wonderful baseball photos even if you don’t care about bubble-gum cards.
By now I can spot a classic-era Topps shot at a glance — there’s a quality to the lighting and the poses that’s unmistakable, down to the photographers’ habit of composing portraits so the player is level instead of the horizon. (This is known among baseball-photo dorks as the “Topps lean.”)
Joe Nolan  collected 11 plate appearances in September 1972, when a rash of injuries left the Mets in need of catching help. (Nolan’s first hit would have to wait until he reappeared with the Braves three years later.) For a momentary Met, Nolan’s been amply photographed, so I wasn’t too excited when Topps unveiled two new Nolans last week.
But one of those shots caught my eye not because of Nolan, but because of who else was in it. No. 54 is longtime Mets coach Rube Walker , No. 14 is of course Gil Hodges , and No. 20 is Tommie Agee . That’s three Miracle Mets, legends all, captured as bystanders as a kid who’d never appeared in a big-league game pantomimed a big-league swing.
Nolan’s minor-league record and the look of the photo (trust me on the latter) fix the date of the photo: it’s spring training 1972, meaning it was snapped in the final weeks of Hodges’s tragically short life. I still can’t believe I’m older than Gil Hodges ever got to be — he died two days shy of his 48th birthday. In some better universe Hodges lived and is now a stooped but still sharp man of 94. Perhaps he handed the managerial reins over to protege Davey Johnson , and is greeted rapturously by Citi Field crowds when he throws a first pitch before heading upstairs to spend an inning talking baseball with Gary, Keith and Ron — who inevitably marvel that his big hands are still strong.
Billy Murphy  is the opposite of Joe Nolan — present on a roster for an entire season but rarely photographed. Murphy was a Rule 5 pick who spent all of 1966 with the club, as per rules at the time; he got a high-number card in the ’66 Topps set, which he shares with another Bill, the somewhat better-known Bill Hepler . It’s one of the more expensive cards in that set, featuring Murphy squinting up at something — whether it was a pop-up, zeppelin or interesting Florida bird is something we’ll likely never know.
When I made a custom card for Murphy, that small photo was all I had. So I grafted Murphy’s head and shoulders onto the body of Cleon Jones , as captured on his iconic ’69 card. Which was itself quite possibly shot in 1966 — when the players’ union started flexing its muscle in the late 1960s, one of its first showdowns came with Topps. Numerous players refused to pose for Topps photographers unless they were paid more than the standard agreement, leaving the card company stuck using older images.
A couple of weeks back, Topps put up a pair of Murphy images for auction — a hatless shot (taken for insurance in case of a trade) and a pretty good portrait with cap.
I won the latter, and it came with a fun bonus: the half-envelope Topps had used in its filing system. It tells us that Topps had (in this folder at least) three Murphy shots: one each of Head, No Hat and Action. I wonder if the action shot was the one used for his 1966 card — if so, the slide would have been physically cut down to fit the space. That half-envelope also gives us the name of the photographer: Jim Laughead, a legend  who essentially invented the basics of sports photography. (Laughead called his standard football poses “the huck ‘n’ buck.”)
But you’re probably wondering: who’s Billy Murphy? Nicknamed “Murph the Surf,” he was born in Pineville, La., but grew up in Tacoma, Wash., where he was a three-sport star at Clover Park High and caught the eye of Yankees scout Eddie Taylor . Murphy struggled in 1963, his second year in the Yankees’ system, missing a month with blood poisoning, of all things: he cut himself sliding and, with no trainer available, treated the injury himself. 1964 was a washout, but Murphy rebounded to hit .291 with power and speed for Binghamton in 1965, a performance that caught the Mets’ eye.
Murphy didn’t play a full game with the Mets until a month of the season was in the books; he collected his first three hits on May 13, when he came in for Jim Hickman  against the Giants. His first hit was a three-run homer off Ray Sadecki  in the fourth; he then singled in the 12th off Frank Linzy  and in the 16th off Bob Priddy . (The Mets lost  an inning later on a Jim Davenport  homer off Murphy’s fellow Lost Met Dave Eilers .)
Murphy’s other ’66 highlight came in Philadelphia on Aug. 20 : with the Mets and Phillies tied 4-4 in the 11th, Murphy ran headlong to center field with his back to home plate, snagging a long drive by Richie Allen as he smashed into the fence 430 feet away. The ’66 Mets being the ’66 Mets, Murphy’s great play only delayed the inevitable: Bill White  immediately doubled off Dick Selma , Tony Gonzalez  singled him in, and that was that.
Murphy never made it back to the big leagues, bouncing around with in the Mets, Cardinals and Cubs farm systems before retiring after the 1970 campaign. But he’s a Met, a proud member of The Holy Books, and it makes me happy to recall him while holding a little bit of baseball-card history.
Weirdly, that’s not the only reason the 1966 Mets have been on my mind. I was looking for footage of Pete Harnisch  getting into a fight in May 1996, which led to John Franco  being ejected  on John Franco Day, a spectacle Emily and I watched from the Shea stands on a sparkling spring day. (Doug Henry  blew the game in the ninth; Rico Brogna  won it with his second homer of the day in the 10th. It’s amusing to try and find the fight in this Baseball Reference game log .)
I didn’t find a clip of the fight, but I was offered something else: a broadcast of the Sept. 17, 1966 game between the Mets and Giants at Candlestick, with Juan Marichal  facing Dennis Ribant . I started listening out of curiosity, but what I really liked was I had no idea who’d won. (And I’m not going to tell you: Google the date at your own risk.) Ralph Kiner  is on the mic, his voice welcome and familiar, there are lots of commercials for Rheingold, Giants fans blow vuvuzelas throughout the game, and you get little gems such as Ralph marveling at the speed of young Bud Harrelson  and looking forward to a start in Houston by 19-year-old Nolan Ryan , who at that point had all of two innings of big-league ball under his belt. (The Astros would knock Ryan out with four runs in the first.)
And the broadcast began with something I certainly didn’t expect: a Mets jingle I’d never heard before. Here are the lyrics, which I swear I am not making up:
In all Baseball Land
There are no fans so grand
As our Mets fans
When we play other teams
Oh what blood-curdling screams
That’s our Mets fans
But when Mets fans shout “Go!”
What they mean we all know
We’ve got no place to go … but up!
I’ve been at this a while. I’ve heard of Homer the Beagle, lived through Mettle the Mule, heard “Meet the Mets” bastardized as cheesy soft rock and then restored, and endured “Our Team, Our Time.” But that one was new to me. Listen for yourself .