But after all, it’s what we’ve done
That makes us what we are
—Jim Croce 
On one hand, the Mets were defeated in embarrassing fashion on Sunday, losing to the Nationals, 15-5 , leaving them at their low-water mark for 2020, eight games below .500 and tied for the worst record in the National League East.
On the other hand, the Mets played, which they won’t be doing tonight or tomorrow or any day again for real until April 1, 2021, and we cite that inadvertently ironic date only because it’s been printed somewhere, not because we any longer take schedules, or much, as certainties.
I prefer the Mets not lose by ten runs, not finish basically last, not show little gumption down what passed for a stretch and not demonstrate a disturbing lack of pitching depth. I prefer the Mets not play in front of essentially nobody except cutouts and camera operators.
But I did like that they played. It struck me as ridiculous, while Covid-19 first spread through America, that they and their counterparts would try, yet whatever I thought I put aside to watch and listen, because, as ever, that’s what I do where the Mets are concerned. I do it as willingly as I do semi-kvetchingly.
It wasn’t a season to cherish. Not at all. Not without you or me invited to pass through big league turnstiles and grab a ballpark seat and turn to somebody else who did the same and ask, whether from a source of pride or surfeit of disgust, “How about those Mets?”
Say, how about those Mets? They weren’t very good in 2020, were they?
In any given five-day stretch, you could count on an average of one-and-three-quarters starting pitchers to position us toward victory. There was deGrom and there was, now and then, somebody who looked pretty solid. For a few spins of the rotation, that was Seth Lugo . Sunday, it wasn’t. Seth got lit up by the Nats Sunday. So did just about every one of the umpteen relievers who followed him to the mound. Those who weren’t lit up set themselves on veritable fire via the base on balls. Some days we thought we had this bullpen thing licked. Other days were Sunday.
That lineup of ours, though. When it wasn’t submitting to attrition in the final days — Conforto went on the IL with a tight hamstring; Giménez went on the IL with a tight oblique; Smith sat after running facefirst into a wall — it was pretty impressive. No National League team compiled a higher batting average…although six teams scored more runs, so maybe the impressions were fleeting. Their most imposing player coming into the season, Pete Alonso, was also their most imposing player heading out, hitting five home runs over the club’s final eleven games, including two on Sunday. Pete finished 2020 with 16 homers. His disappointing sophomore campaign picked up steam just when it had nowhere left to go.
Dom Smith hit .316, slugged .616 and drove in 42 runs. Michael Conforto was a .322/.412/.515 slasher. Jeff McNeil heated up to rates of .311/.383/.454 after an icy start. Robinson Cano was the personification of “the old guy’s still got it,” batting .316, slugging .544 and mentoring his juniors. The youngest among them, Andrés Giménez, impressed everybody in the field and at the plate.
But collectively they still didn’t score enough. They didn’t run brilliantly and, Andrés to the contrary, they didn’t necessarily catch most of what they should have or could have. The hitting that came in waves dried up at inopportune junctures. The pitching was untrustworthy when it wasn’t Jacob deGrom’s turn to throw, only semi-reliable in the hands of Lugo, David Peterson and select relievers. Edwin Diaz’s talent sometimes seemed worth whatever was surrendered to secure it, if hardly always.
So, no, they weren’t very good. They let us down repeatedly, in numerous ways, but they were around to anchor us, at least a little, amid too many public infuriations and perhaps private heartbreaks to enumerate if we wish to resist turning around and going back to bed.
But we watched and listened. I watched and/or listened to all sixty games, rooting for the Mets, cheering for Gary Cohen, Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo mostly. They were the show for me. Baseball in 2020 was improvised as a broadcast-only enterprise, and those fellas (with contributions from Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Steve Gelbs on the TV side) did the heavy lifting. Gary, Howie and Wayne hit it out of the park more consistently than Alonso, Smith and Conforto even though they had the advantage of being in the park where a game was being played only about half the season. Announcers and production crews didn’t go on the road. The game had to come to them via video, then through them, then to us. They brought it winningly. For me, WCBS-AM and SNY went 60-0. Say what you will about the Wilpons, but they never chased away Rose, Randazzo or Cohen and, as far as can be divined, none among Fred, Jeff and Saul ever meaningfully got in their way. The only thing that could ever impede my Mets fandom to the point of abandoning it would be if the next owner stuck one too many cents between himself and those golden microphones.
Putting aside my darkest Metsian fear, I can’t wait to see what the Mets under Steve Cohen, should he be approved (remember: nothing is a certainty), will be like as a going proposition in 2021 and beyond. When I first took up with the Mets in 1969, I didn’t know who the team owner was or what a team owner was. When I discovered it was Joan Payson, it didn’t matter to me. The Mets did what it took to win, from what I could tell. Then Mrs. Payson died and free agency was born. It’s a shame Mrs. Payson couldn’t have lived to have had the opportunity to sanction the pursuit of every desirable player on the open market — or to compensate existing Met players to their satisfaction and thereby convince them to not test the open market en route to leaving us behind.
Let’s not pretend the Mets have never pursued a player or paid him fairly since the advent of free agency in 1976. But have you ever had the prevailing sense, particularly dating back to August 23, 2002 , that somebody who owned the Mets cared to the core of his soul about how the Mets were going to do and made it his priority to have a player in a Mets uniform to help the Mets do as well as they could? Not for business reasons, not because somebody decided the cut of somebody’s jib came across swimmingly over lunch at some country club, but because, dammit, I love the Mets, I own the Mets and I want this guy ON the Mets?
That’s my best-case conception of Steve Cohen, owner of the Mets. He doesn’t have to throw the bucks around willy-nilly (or at Willy Nilly, a strong-armed outfielder who spend most of 2020 at the Tigers’ alternate site in Toledo). He just doesn’t have to rule it out, and then he can act accordingly — act like a well-resourced, well-informed fan. With Sandy Alderson set to be among those informing him, I’m confident the stream of information he’ll be receiving will be valid. One dares to assume (even as making assumptions falls under the heading of there being no such thing as certainties) that Cohen has his systems for figuring things out and making the most of them.
That, MLB approval and good global health willing, is for 2021 and beyond. For 2020, there was 26-34, starting late and ending too soon. The eight-team playoffs in each league will commence with too many teams, yet one shy of the ideal assortment in the NL. It would have been nice for the Mets to have taken part. Then again, as my friend Kevin suggested of the ad hoc alignment when it was announced in July, if we sneak in and get knocked out, that’s a playoff banner I could do without seeing hanging off the Excelsior facade.
Like we wouldn’t have taken it and run with it, but we didn’t get it. But we did get the season. Or seasonette. There is no internal mechanism to deal with a sixty-game season as complete or substantial, yet we just had one and we engaged its substance as circumstances allowed. We didn’t wait around for four months to turn up our noses at something that, in immediate retrospect, now seems so disposable. Why wouldn’t we dispose of it? It barely happened, then it was over; it was blazingly unsuccessful and all we want to do is turn to the next chapter, the one that introduces the new owner to the official narrative.
The 2020 season may have been here and gone and acknowledged as authentic only grudgingly, but it happened. Because it happened, I got to tune into Gary on television, Howie and Wayne on radio and, best of all, the baseball frequencies in my head. For example, when Guillermo Heredia  led off the top of the second inning Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park with a home run off Austin Voth, the center fielder’s second of the season, I made a mental note to take Heredia off a list I keep on my computer. The list encompasses every Met who has hit exactly one home run as a Met. Every player who hits a first home run for us enters the list, and every player who hits a second exits it. Those who stay stuck on one stick on the list, from Gus Bell on April 17, 1962, to Robinson Chirinos on September 24, 2020. There are 84 players listed in all. Until this morning, there were 85.
The modest act of highlighting Heredia and the details of his first homer (against the Rays’ John Curtiss at Citi Field last Tuesday) with my cursor and then pressing the delete key was made possible by the existence of the 2020 season. Hundreds of such notations I think over, jot down and type up — debuts, returns, milestones — were made possible because they happened. Because the 2020 baseball season happened. Every season those exercises constitute my baseball season as much as watching, listening, cheering, kvetching and blogging. All the minute details filling a borderless canvas. It’s numbers and actions and moments just occurred balanced lovingly atop moments ages ago enshrined.
I care about Heredia having more than only one Met home run because ten years ago I grew fascinated that Mike Hessman, a minor league bopper, joined the Mets, hit one home run  and, when it appeared he’d hit a second, had it reversed via replay and ruled a triple , which was absurd because Mike Hessman had no speed and, had the ball he hit been considered in play in the first place, he would have stopped at second with a double.
But Mike Hessman had one home run and one home run only. Hessman would be gone soon after 2010 ended, but who else was like him? I looked it up.
Frank Taveras was like him — just one home run as a Met (though 12 triples between 1979 and 1981).
Alex Cora was like him, though not at all the same style of player. Cora the prototypical heady middle infielder with limited pop and Hessman the corner power guy who struck out too often to avoid Quadruple-A status overlapped on the same Met roster for precisely a week. In the interim, the lucky Louisville Slugger had been passed to a new generation.
Esix Snead was like him, except Snead hit his one homer to win a game in extra innings in September of 2002 and it was the most fulfilling moment of the waning days of a season that felt far worse in its time than this one feels in this, and not only because it was the year the Wilpons bought rather than sold majority interest in the franchise.
Tony Fernandez was like him, in arguably the worst of Met seasons, 1993. One-hundred three losses, countless embarrassments to the cause of humanity, but one home run for Tony Fernandez, same as Sid Fernandez who hit one in 1989, making El Sid one of 22 Met pitchers with exactly one home run hit as a Met. One of the other 21 was Matt Harvey, who hit his one Met home run, in 2015, off the same pitcher, Patrick Corbin, that Robinson Chirinos hit his one Met home run off last week. One of them was Seth Lugo, who started the last Met game of 2020, the one in which Guillermo Heredia doubled Lugo’s Met home run total by hitting his second for us. No matter how good Seth might be as a starter in 2021, it doesn’t appear he’ll ever hit another home run as a Met. But that’s another story (and a downright shame ).
Somewhere post-Hessman, I made my list. There were lists begun before it. There’ve been lists begun since. Every Mets game is an excuse to update at least a couple of them. Some baseball fans referred to the 2020 regular season as a distraction from worrying about the effects of the pandemic or facing up to existential threats to representative democracy. Me, I had the opportunity to note, among myriad other occurrences, that on September 23 — one night after Heredia took Curtiss deep and one night before Chirinos took Corbin deep — the Mets’ record landed at 25-31.
And? And it was the FIRST time the Mets ever sported a record of 25-31 after 56 games…if one can be said to sport a record of 25-31. It’s more something an obsessive type types quickly, clicks close on and keeps mostly to himself.
But then I opened it just now and shared it with you here on the remote chance you might find it interesting. Or that you find finding so much about baseball interesting, which I’m gonna guess with great certainty that you do. Your interest, whatever shape it takes, got you into baseball, got you to stay with baseball, got you to 2020 and through 2020 and will take you to 2021, no matter the onslaught of uncertainties and imperfections surrounding us.
It got you to this space. Thanks, as always, for dropping by. We’ll be here all winter, however long it lasts this time around.