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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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The Pace of Pete

When you play in a bandbox, strike up the band nice and loud. The Mets hit only one home run on Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium and lost by seven. The Mets hit three home runs on Tuesday night in the same selectively diminutive venue — brothers from another slugger Alonso, Davis and Gomez starred as the plugged-in power trio — and won by six.

Ipso facto, et al, hit more home runs and win. Also, don’t give up home runs like Zack Wheeler did in the matinee. Come nightfall, Jason Vargas, who went from doing no wrong in his previous start to doing just fine this time, gave up three runs in six innings, but none constructed from a single stroke of the bat. Clever veteran, that Vargy.

The analysis here is simple to the point of simplistic, but what the hell, home runs are simply fun when your side uses them to pulverize their side, and East Side, West Side, all around the town, we are the reigning sultans of the Subway Series based on the most recent sample size available. The Mets are 1-0 versus the Yankees in their last one. Not much else to analyze therein.

Ah, but home runs. Let’s think about them for a spell. They’re both exceedingly popular these days and not a little suspect. They must be popular because so many players in so many parks seem to be hitting them, creating a traffic jam of the skies that seems to have deflated their aesthetic value in the eyes of some. I suppose they are less events than molecules of late, though I still find the Met variety gratifying. You can’t go to a game at Citi Field, which used to swallow up flyballs like Bobby Riggs popped vitamins, and not see a Met hit a home run. That is not an exaggeration, for over the Mets’ past sixteen home games, contests in which the Mets have sent 34 balls out of the yard, or as many Frank Thomas launched in 1962.

Speaking of the Original Met masher, Frank, who visited Citi this past weekend, turned 90 on Tuesday, becoming the third former Met player to have made it to a tenth decade; his predecessors were Yogi Berra in 2015 and Dave Hillman in 2017, a pitcher whose 92nd birthday is three months away. It was appropriate to have celebrated Thomas the day the Mets played the Yankees given that Frank carried one of the few positive placards on our behalf in ’62 and did so in every one of the five boroughs.

It wasn’t just that he set a single-season franchise mark so lofty that it took thirteen years and Dave Kingman to top it. Emerging from the wreckage of 120 losses and associated atrocities, Frank Thomas crowned himself the home run champion of New York. Those 34 he catapulted out of the Polo Grounds and other stadia of blessed memory topped the totals wrought by Roger Maris, who was coming off his season of 61, and Mickey Mantle, he of the 54 in ’61. In 1962, Maris and Mantle went deep a mere 33 and 30 times, respectively. True, they were part of a World Series winner come fall and, with Yogi, appeared in That Touch of Mink alongside Doris Day and Cary Grant at a theater near you that summer, but the most home runs in New York is the most home runs in New York, and it was our guy Frank who had that goin’ on.

In 2019, our guy Pete has that goin’ on, too. Pete Alonso compacted the dimensions of Yankee Stadium even more Tuesday night with his 22nd homer of the season, placing him ahead of all local comers, including Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Oriole-feaster Gleyber Torres, to name three players I will now return to devoting no thought to. The Polar Bear is chilling as champ in every city ’cept Milwaukee. The Brewers have Christian Yelich, and Yelich has 25 homers at the moment. Alonso thus has the most unChristian home runs in the majors presently.

It’s a long season, yada cubed, yet let’s continue to revel in how easy Pete is making hitting home runs look, even in an era when they are maybe not that hard to crush, but especially for an outfit for whom dingers have never been donged like it’s a natural inclination. Consider, if you will, the progression of that aforementioned single-season franchise record.

Frank Thomas hit those 34 home runs in 1962.

Dave Kingman hit 36 in 1975, then 37 in 1976 and 37 again in 1982.

Darryl Strawberry hit 39 in 1987 and once more in 1988.

Todd Hundley hit 41 in 1996, a figure matched by Carlos Beltran in 2006.

Over the years, the numerical spaces between Thomas and Hundley/Beltran have been filled in on occasion. Howard Johnson topped out at 38 in 1991, as did Carlos Delgado twice. Mike Piazza made it to 40 in 1999 while continually crouching every other half-inning, the baseball equivalent of building a Hall of Fame résumé backwards and in heels. In all, there’ve been nineteen seasons in which a Met has slugged 34 or more home runs.

Those aren’t annals that will necessarily frighten any but the most gopher-prone of pitchers, but that’s OK, we’re used to it. We’re humble when it comes to homers. It took Hundley, also burdened by catcher’s gear, all he had to squeak past 40 and we were grateful for the effort and result. Beltran’s 41 were a welcome accumulation, but Beltran was so busy being Beltran as he led us to a division title deploying every tool in the hardware store that we didn’t get too carried away by his tying Todd. As mammoth and majestic as the output of Strawberry, Johnson, Delgado and Piazza could be, really the only home run craftsman who totally Metsmerized us as a matter of course because he could hit ’em far and hit ’em often was Kingman. It helped that there wasn’t much else to Dave’s repertoire, but that doesn’t diminish the sheer power Sky King brought to the plate day after day when got into a groove.

And there was one season when the groove appeared endless. It was 1976, recalled widely as the year of the Bicentennial, so dubbed because Dave Kingman was on pace for 200 home runs. No, not really, but it sure felt that way. We weren’t counting down to Thomas’s 34 anymore, given that Dave had passed Frank’s surprisingly stubborn milestone the prior September. We had our sights set on Hack Wilson, the Cubs outfielder who established the National League standard of 56 home runs in 1930. No Met had ever been seriously mentioned in the context of a home run record held by anybody else before, but Dave was on his way. At this very stage of 1976, Kingman had blasted (and I mean blasted) 23 home runs, with No. 23 coming in the Mets’ 65th game. For the first time, the phrase “at this pace” entered our vocabulary. At that pace, Kingman was gonna hit 57, one more than Wilson.

In the Mets’ 90th game, Dave put No. 32 on the board, maintaining his Hack-hacking pace. He also put himself on the disabled list by attempting to field, which wasn’t the best use of his talents, and there went the Mets’ only flirtation with the home run stratosphere.

Until now. Maybe. Nobody wants to put too much pressure on Pete. For one thing, he’s a rookie, so you have the caveat that the league might all at once figure him out…though if there’s ever a season that seems unlikely to encompass pitchers outfoxing hitters to the point where they won’t leave the yard so much, it wouldn’t seem to be this one. Plus, rookie status notwithstanding, does Pete Alonso strike you as a callow youth capable of suddenly being flummoxed? You can’t speak for slumps and you can’t account for dives after flyballs that do unspeakable things to thumbs, so any downturn is possible.

But so is this pace. At this pace, Hundley and Beltran, bless their Met hearts, are going to be joining Thomas, Kingman and Strawberry in the Former Home Run Record Holder club. The Mets have played 67 games to date. When the 1996 Mets played 67 games, Hundley was up to 18 home runs. When the 2006 Mets played 67 games, Beltran was also up to 18 home runs. So Pete’s got a four-homer jump on each of them with more than half a season to go. Todd whacked his No. 22 in the 1996 Mets’ 86th game. Carlos got there in the 2006 Mets’ 78th.

Hack Wilson no longer holds the National League record, and Barry Bonds’s 73 is probably out of Alonso’s range (probably). But let’s relish a few other marks Pete’s puttering around with.

• The Mets’ rookie record of 26, held by Darryl Strawberry since 1983, is an all-but-goner. To be fair, Darryl was promoted from Tidewater until early May, but Pete is on course to surpass Straw before July.

• The Mets’ record for most home runs hit by a player whose entire Met career took place in one season belongs to…why, it belongs to Pete Alonso already! With his 22nd longball (or ’Lonsball), he blew by Marlon Byrd, who hit 21 in his lone Met season of 2013. To be fair, Byrd was traded in late August, but, again, it’s not yet the middle of June and here Pete is.

• Alonso has already staked out a spot on this decade’s Top 20 Met home run list. It wasn’t a tough plateau to reach, but he’s already arrived, currently tied for No. 18 with Beltran and Juan Lagares. Lucas Duda is No. 1 from 2010 to 2019 with 125, followed by David Wright at 102. Nobody else is in triple-digits.

• As if making a splash in the rapidly concluding 2010s before they’re history isn’t enough, Pete is already in the Top 100 all-time where Met career home runs are concerned — and boy, is he climbing. Those 22 home runs are good for No. 77, a position he shares until further notice with Lagares and Willie Montañez. If you are willing to play “at this pace” with Pete, you can envision him cracking the Metropolitan Top 40 with 53 before this season is over. If he gets there, he’d pass, by one, extremely recent birthday boy Frank Thomas, who totaled 52 homers as a Met before the Mets traded him to the contending Phillies in 1964.

Honestly, I don’t love playing “at this pace” because it’s like filing a formal request for trouble with the baseball gods. Maybe that’s the 13-year-old Dave Kingman/Hack Wilson tracker in me speaking. But, gosh, can you imagine a Met not only hitting 42 home runs, but then hitting at least eight more? In one season? And then coming back the next season, and still being a Met and only being 25 with a 50-home run season under his belt and having much more Met career in front of him?

I would, but then I’d start to float, and if I start to float, I’ll surely carry out to the right field seats at Yankee Stadium, ’cause it doesn’t take much to count as a home run there.

10 comments to The Pace of Pete

  • Flynn23

    Tough Game One for McNeil. Gardner robs him in his first at bat, and now he loses his third-inning homer.

    (Sorry.)

    As for the endless dingers, count me as one who is not enjoying all of these balls flying out of MLB parks. Four-baggers are just not special anymore. It’s become borderline boring, actually.

    As for Pete, I hope he always hustles down the line. Always smiles. Always hits. As Bob Dylan once wrote, I hope Pete always stays . . . forever young.

  • John kelly

    McNeill had a HR in the afternoon.

  • Damn, Squirrel, sorry about that. Gonna fix.

    Funny, I cheered McNeil’s homer and everything. The rest of the afternoon apparently snuffed out every good vibe it created.

  • eric1973

    No matter. Too many HRs nowadays anyway.

  • open the gates

    This kid is just so much fun to watch. Love those stats – all I’ll say is, Marlon Byrd is welcome to take his Mets record back next year.

  • Pat

    “The baseball equivalent of building a Hall of Fame résumé backwards and in heels” — Ginger would be delighted with that nice hat-tip, and so would Frank and Ernest.

  • Lenny65

    Yeah, I remember when Kingman got hurt. I think he was actually playing in the outfield for some unfathomable reason. Kingman wasn’t just a bad fielder, he was a downright liability but man, those home runs. It’s sometimes overlooked but when the Mets traded Seaver in ’77 they traded Kong too and even back then you didn’t see many teams trading away their two most popular players in one day. All they got for Kingman was the legendary Paul Seibert and a broken Bobby Valentine, who at that point made Kingman look fleet-footed in comparison. I mean they’re the Mets and they’ve dome countless Metsian things since then but when you look at it in hindsight it still boggles the mind.

  • Daniel Hall

    Man, Marlon Byrd was fun. What did we turn him into after all? Was that the Vic Black trade? Man, Vic Black must come off the DL any minute now…

  • Flynn23

    Here you go, Lenny65. Kong diving after a ball hit by Phil Niekro. That play ruined this 9-year-old’s summer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzJzqYNDTLs

  • Gil

    I hope you guys got to hear Pete on with Mike yesterday. By all accounts, he is an incredible young man. I was bursting listening to him talk. Such a sound, good dude.

    “I’m still the same person. I’m just Pete. I take out the trash. I take the dog out for walks.”

    And you hit like a polar bear, Pete!

    Lets go get the Cards!