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A Little Less Fun

I was going to bemoan that we can never keep a splendid team together, but we kept Howie Rose and Josh Lewin together for seven fun-filled seasons, making them the longest-running Mets radio tandem since the Hall of Fame duo of Bob Murphy (Frick Award, 1994) and Gary Cohen (New York State Baseball HOF, 2018 [1]) held forth from the end of the Eighties to the early Aughts. Be happy for what has been, not sad for what is no longer, or whatever the phrase is, I guess, but Josh leaving us before we migrate from 710 to 880 [2] is a blow to fun-loving Mets fans everywhere.

That’s the word I keep coming back to: fun. Josh was fun. Josh brought fun. Josh made Mets radio more pure fun, perhaps, than it ever was. Tuning into Mets baseball can be fun on its own merit — it’s Mets baseball! — but nobody who preceded Josh (it seems overly stuffy to refer to him by last name) ever seemed to be having such an out-and-out good time keeping us apprised of balls and strikes. That sense of glee…that honest-to-goodness happiness to be here…it transmitted cleanly through the crackling deficiencies of WOR’s signal. Josh didn’t just appreciate or embrace announcing Mets baseball. He got a huge kick out of it.

Before any misguided radio management types, in their nebulous quest for a “fresh” sound or whatever they’ve bizarrely decided is required at a new frequency, dared to possibly [3] kick him out of it, Josh stepped away from the Mets booth on his own steam. The Post’s Andrew Marchand this week reported that Josh is taking his talents to San Diego [4] to anchor the Padres’ pregame and postgame coverage (and doubtlessly do a damn entertaining job of it). Given Josh’s work on behalf of UCLA athletics and his previous connection to the Chargers, it makes sense that the Rochester native’s center of gravity shifts all the way west. As Albert Hammond might have sung [5], seems it’s always Josh in Southern California.

Aside from having all the on-air tools of his trade down pat, Josh was the right Met voice at the right Met time, the first of our play-by-play announcers who understood that much of the sports world before, during and after games now revolved on social media. He wasn’t constantly kibitzing on Twitter, but he was present and certainly didn’t resist the platform’s shall we say charms. There was less of a barrier around him than we were used to from his profession. He intrinsically got the community aspect of fandom, virtual and actual. The kid who grew up rooting for Willie Montañez and Nino Espinosa had been around the majors plenty — four other teams plus nationally on Fox — yet he was clearly ready to let his Met flag fly when he alighted in Flushing in 2012.

Perhaps the online exposure to the way fans can be in this day and age led him to be a little more likely to allow his innate allegiance to the orange and blue reveal itself across the innings. I’m not sure if Josh was severely bummed when his childhood team lost a game, but he understood the vast majority of his listeners were when theirs did. “We” and “us” didn’t infiltrate his patter, thankfully, but there was a palpable difference between how he called a Met’s home run and that struck by an opponent. Consider the emojis you’d click in those respective situations and you can hear his disparate tones. Raised on Murph generally concealing his partisanship and forever admiring the way Howie can elevate [6] an outstanding performance by somebody in another uniform, I have to admit the more obvious pro-Mets tilt didn’t always burrow snugly inside my ears. But I totally dug where the tilt was coming from.

Play-by-play isn’t the only reason you listen to baseball on the radio. You listen for the company, the companionship. If you’re lucky, you feel an announcer is talking to you. With Howie and Josh, we were luckier because we felt we were hanging with them. And why wouldn’t we want to? They were talking about the Mets for three hours a night, finding that sweet spot between taking it as seriously as you did and recognizing there’s a reason a game is referred to as a game. It was more than the idealized image of having the radio on in your backyard so you could keep up with the action. It was being invited over to their backyard for a barbecue, Howie practically asking if we want another burger, Josh graciously passing us another beverage, Conforto sending a ball into the gap and Cabrera chugging home from second. The sun may have set, the darkness may have overtaken the sky, the occasional mosquito may have required swatting, but you never wanted to get up and leave this little party they were throwing.

The deep dives into Seinfeld. The most Yiddish-inflected broadcast since Molly Picon was in high demand. The namechecking of the season ticketholding residents of Section 318, directly beneath their booth. The railing at network stooges (Howie’s trademark Sunday night grudge, but one egged on good-naturedly by his partner). Affection for the franchise. Affection for its followers. You didn’t have to be Sly Stone to recognize Howie and Josh created hot fun in the summertime. Spring and fall, too.

Seven years weren’t enough for this most splendid of teams. But they will have to do.

I don’t know if this merits a “full disclosure” disclaimer, but full disclosure: Josh Lewin has been a genuine friend to this blog, extending a stream of unexpected kindnesses toward this blogger through his seven seasons in the Metsian midst. Like his indelible descriptions of Jordany Valdespin and Ike Davis walkoff grand slams, they won’t soon be forgotten.