On Van Wagenen’s Eve, when all we Whos in Whoville gathered around the great big archetype and tried to divine how exactly a superagent morphed overnight into a general manager, we reflected briefly on how we stayed engaged by Metsless baseball for the better part of a month.
We hailed the conquering Red Sox as they just kept conquering. Down go the Astros! Down go the Dodgers! Up goes another Commissioner’s Trophy on the shelf at Fenway, the fourth in fifteen years! Little known fact: it wasn’t always that easy to win the World Series in Boston.
We played the world’s tiniest violin on behalf of Chase Utley and the Dodgers, losers of consecutive World Series, both years at home, this year going down in five, two games sooner than the year before, this time with Utley left off the active roster, but he was still around, so no wonder our violin is so tiny. Six division titles in six seasons for these Dodgers, yet no grand prize since 1988 (if they didn’t want 1988 to hang over their heads for thirty years, they shouldn’t have beaten us thirty years ago). Little known fact: it’s not that easy to win your division every year.
We fell in briefly with the Milwaukee Brewers during their NLDS triumph and NLCS heartbreak. I did, anyway. Less the Brewers than their broadcasts, led by Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker. It should be a widely known fact that Ueck, butt of his own jokes on the national scene for decades, is an outstanding play-by-play man. Different from what we’re used to around here, but a delight from a distance in an October when we had nothing around here. Uecker rooted hard for his Brewers without being unreasonable to their opponents. I listened so much to Ueck and sidekick Jeff Levering that I grew wise to their tics: which fly balls were headed out of Miller Park, which were mere cans of corn, which cans of Miller beer would go great with a Usinger’s or a Johnsonville or a Sheboyagan brat. Brewers radio is nothing if not a sausage party.
At one point, spanning September and October, the Crew (as Ueck unfailingly referred to them) won a dozen in a row and earned all of Wisconsin free hamburgers. Yet despite all the meat in the air, the Brewers could only go so far. At the end of NLCS Game Seven in Milwaukee, the one that sent L.A. to the pennant, Ueck transmitted less enthusiasm for the final out than Howard Cosell probably did when asking to be passed the ketchup. It was an honest reaction. Why should you be happy when your season is over?
Or when baseball ends altogether, as it has for the rest of us, from Southern California to New England? The postseason was a baseball bacchanal if you gave yourself over to it. The teams that kept going reminded me of what Crash Davis said of the women you meet when you make the big leagues. They all had long legs and brains. Hanging with the Brewers and the Dodgers in the NLCS and the Astros and the Red Sox in the ALCS and then pulling all-nighters in the World Series brought me into extended contact with the kind of baseball I didn’t experience much as a Mets fan this season. These teams were in another league, on another plane. With the possible exception of Manny Machado (who built himself into a Pete Rose-style villain, save for the Hustle branding), everybody was out to win at all costs. That included the managers, who kept seeking every edge, analytical, sensical and otherwise. These teams played well into morning if they had to. It was all we could do to stay awake. It was to our detriment if we went to sleep.
The bacchanal ceased Sunday night when Chris Sale struck out Machado with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox leading the Fall Classic by two and Game Five by four. Sale was pitching relief. David Price had started, though he wasn’t scheduled to. Sale was. Or so we thought. Price had been a bad bet in the postseason. Or so we thought. We were mistaken. We were mistaken about many standard assumptions during this postseason. We were mistaken if we thought (as I did) that the Red Sox weren’t necessarily world championship material. I should have known 108 wins don’t lie. It’s a good number to take into postseason. The Mets played the Sox hard in September, winning one and nearly taking another. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think they were unbeatable.
Yet they more or less were, and I was happy for them. When that last out was made, I was low-grade giddy, not so much out of any affinity for the Red Sox (I gave myself over to their fate in 1978 and never again) but just because watching a baseball team celebrate felt right. Pour champagne. Pour beer. Fire up the grills in the parking lot, per Uecker. Congratulate Alex Cora with oomph he never encountered during his two seasons as a Met. Give Justin Turner another atta boy, just like those he received for giving it his all during his four non-championship seasons as a Met. Keep a light on for Curtis Granderson, whose last chance for a world championship was likely snuffed out when the Brewers tapped out. Tip a cap toward the Astros, who I thought would continue to defend a world title indefinitely, but like I said, I was mistaken.
It was good to be inundated by baseball despite my baseball team having stopped playing baseball at the close of September. Like young Ed Charles when Jackie Robinson’s train pulled out of town, I put my ear to the tracks to hear what I could. Metaphorically I did, at any rate. Whatever passed for a bulletin, I devoured. Jacob deGrom was named to multiple postseason All-Star teams. Noah Syndergaard and Robert Gsellman traveled to Europe and attended a soccer match. Brandon Nimmo was spotted on the sidelines at a Jets game. Lenny Dykstra pleaded not guilty in Elizabeth. Ty Kelly filed for minor league free agency. Syracuse officially became our Triple-A affiliate. Endy Chavez made an Endy Chavez catch in Venezuela. Daniel Zamora became a dad. Pat Mahomes’s son became a star.
And, as the Red Sox were drying off and flying east, we got ourselves a general manager. Many a name was bandied about. Many a provisional archetype was constructed. The older guy. The numbers guy. The agent guy. Ultimately, it was that last one, personified in real life by Brodie Van Wagenen, who emerged as the actual GM. The Mets announced it Monday and will introduce him Tuesday. We have no idea what he’ll do and how we’ll do because of what he does, but he’s here, meaning the hot stove flickers to life in earnest and a new era is at hand. The Van Wagenen Era commences even as it overlaps with other ongoing eras that won’t necessarily cease because Brodie’s come to Flushing. This stuff never categorizes itself quite that neatly.
But what fun to begin to put the pieces together all over again. Goodbye baseball for 2018. Hello baseball for 2019. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.