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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 Grip of ‘Ball Four’

“The New York Post has asked me to cover the World Series for them if the Mets get into it. They said they couldn’t pay me for the articles, but might, just might, be able to pay some, only some of my expenses — like, maybe hotel, but not travel. That’s very similar to the arrangements that Tom Sawyer had with his friends on painting the fence. The more they painted, the more it cost them. I guess they figured I’d enjoy it because I’d get to watch some baseball games for free.

“I said no, thanks.”
—October 2

For nearly fifty years we’ve spent a good piece of our lives gripping copies of Ball Four and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Actually, we didn’t need to get to the end of a knuckleballing reliever’s diary of his 1969 campaign to come to that realization. Readers securely in the grip of the charms of Ball Four and its protagonist, Jim Bouton, may constitute the least secret society in baseball. Everybody who’s read it is quick to quote from it with a chuckle. Nobody doesn’t acknowledge they get it, because they have also read it, confirming their familiarity with a knowing nod, a louder laugh and, inevitably, another quote.

That Bouton broke ground is indisputable. Through his eyes, baseball was all of a sudden a modern pursuit brought to us in living color. Real people. Real lives. Real thoughts expressed real well. Home games in the Astrodome in the final chapter notwithstanding, Bouton treads no artificial turf in these pages. When the greatest author to ever toe a rubber passed away Wednesday at the age of 80, we mourned the writer/pitcher of course but we also welcomed the opportunity to celebrate his lastingest legacy all over again.

Ball Four was and is honest, unsparing and, most of all, hilarious. Its blend of unvarnished confessional and martini-dry asides created a rarity for its time: a sporting tale whose emotional complexity exceeded that of the cartoon on the back of your average 1960s baseball card. How long and sharp was the stick up the rear end of Bowie Kuhn that the eternally overmatched Commissioner framed as a scandal the publication of a book that allowed fans to understand baseball intimately and have fun while doing so? Bouton not only brought us inside a big league clubhouse but pointed out the idiosyncrasies of every character in the room so we, too, considered them our teammates. He made the Seattle Pilots immortal — and they died after one season.

Ball Four wasn’t exactly a 162-game joyride. We learned what a tough business baseball is for its prime practitioners. The dollar sums that players had to fight over would become chump change in the decade that followed the book’s 1970 release, but the basic parameters of labor scrapping with management for every inch of respect haven’t changed, not in sports, not anywhere. Bouton — with guidance, yet not ghosting, from Leonard Shecter — portrayed a kid’s game that takes a toll on a man as he gets older, and wears on the man’s family as well. You don’t always love who you’re thrown in with for six months, but you find a way to get along, get by and, when they’re done with you, get traded to Houston.

And yes, pound that old Budweiser. You can only go so long in writing about Ball Four without quoting from Ball Four.

Best Six Ever?

Ol’ No. 48 had been there before, so he knew how it goes. He’d pitch well, his team wouldn’t score for him and they’d go on to lose. Jacob deGrom practices the whole season ’round for All-Star Games. He seemed happy to have been there nonetheless.

Ol’ No. 20 was no longer new to the spotlight, not after the night before. Home runs didn’t come easy on Tuesday (they didn’t seem to come that easy on Monday even if he created them efficiently enough to earn a million bucks), but Pete Alonso fit into the All-Star constellation plenty naturally. He fielded like a star, drove in runs like a star, even stole a base like a star. He was definitely very happy to have been there.

Ol’ No. 6 was totally new to this in more ways that one. Unlike deGrom, Jeff McNeil hadn’t been an All-Star previously — which might explain why the Progressive Field scoreboard operator matched deGrom’s familiar face to McNeil’s strange new name . Unlike Alonso, he hadn’t drawn a night of attention for his signature exploits, though I’d be up for a Spray the Ball to All Fields Derby next year. And unlike No. 48 and No. 20, McNeil was bringing something to an All-Star Game no Met had before.

No. 6.

Should Jeff McNeil continue to lead the National League in hitting, he won’t be the first Met to win a batting title. Jose Reyes got there first, in 2011. Should Jeff McNeil continue to bat at a rate of .349, he won’t be the first Met to finish a season with an average that high. John Olerud established the team standard of .354, in 1998. But Jeff McNeil indeed etched for himself a first Tuesday night in Cleveland. He was the first Met chosen to wear No. 6 in an All-Star Game.

Technically, he was the second to wear it, though the initial six situation wasn’t terribly sexy. Pat Roessler wore No. 6 at the 2016 All-Star Game, but did so as support staff. Support is important, but it’s not quite All-Star material in the way we think of it. Roessler was the Mets’ assistant hitting coach and, as such, joined the rest of the Met coaching staff when Terry Collins managed the National League All-Stars after winning the pennant in 2015 (managing them so fairly he didn’t play a single Met that night, grrr). At the risk of diminishing Roessler’s behind-the-scenes contributions, the assistant hitting coach wearing No. 6 doesn’t break more than the most technical of numerical barriers.

A player who was chosen for his MLB-best batting average and could have been inserted at any of several positions does. So congratulations not only to Jeff McNeil the infielder, outfielder and Squirrel for making his first All-Star team (a couple of putouts in left, 0-for-1 at the plate), but congratulations to McNeil as the first Met to make No. 6 glitter in a Midsummer Classic.

The first Mets numbers to see All-Star light made all the sense in 1962’s world: No. 1 and No. 37. Of course No. 1 — it’s first in any list of numbers, Rey Ordoñez’s early uniform assignment of zero notwithstanding. The first Mets 1 belonged to Richie Ashburn, the only player chosen from their first team to represent the Mets at that first season’s two All-Star Games (which was the custom at the time) and he was the only 1962 Met bound for the Hall of Fame. He should have been first. No. 37 was Casey Stengel’s calling card. Stengel was managing a tenth-place team, but NL manager Fred Hutchinson, leading the Senior Circuit squad after winning the 1961 flag with the Reds, knew there was nobody more senior nor stellar than Stengel and thus took him as a high-profile coach (transcending what was just said above about the Roesslers and other assistants who toil in the All-Star shadows). Casey’s profile was high enough that at the first of the two ’62 games, in Washington, the Ol’ Perfesser schmoozed the young President, John F. Kennedy.

“The President,” Leonard Koppett wrote, “seemed particularly delighted to see Stengel, who had been managing the Boston Braves most of the time Kennedy was at Harvard. He, and probably all the other politicians, undoubtedly envied Stengel’s gift for filibustering double-talk.” No. 37 in orange and blue, however, had to inform No. 35 from the White House that he wasn’t free to chat the D.C. day away: “Mr. President, I’d love to stay but I gotta go ’cause I’m not working for myself today but for the other fella,” Hutchinson. In a flash, it was “back to business” for Stengel. No. 37 would have one more chance to twinkle in 1964, when Walter Alston wisely chose Casey to coach at Shea Stadium’s first and only All-Star Game.

Once No. 37 was retired, like the manager who wore it, that was it for seeing it on a Met in prime time in July. Likewise, No. 14 got its only Met All-Star exposure in Cincinnati in 1970, on the back of NL manager Gil Hodges (who coached for the American League as Senators skipper in ’64 for the same reason Stengel did, because the game was in New York). Gil guided the Mets to the World Series in 1969, so he was the man at the helm of the Stars in ’70. The league champion tradition is what vaulted Yogi Berra in No. 8 to Pittsburgh in 1974; Davey Johnson in No. 5 to Oakland in 1987; Bobby Valentine in No. 2 to Seattle in 2001; and Mr. Collins in No. 10 to San Diego in 2016. Terry also coached twice, for Tony La Russa in 2012 in Kansas City and Bruce Bochy in 2013 at Citi Field. You’d figure with all that Kaufman Stadium and All-Star Game experience, Terry would have been better prepared for his biggest moments, but I digress.

Most of your standard-issue uniform numbers have made it with Mets players to All-Star Games. You know 41 was a staple from 1967 through 1976, save for 1974. You know 31 was a staple from 1998 through 2005, save for 2003. Get picked for as many All-Star Games as Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza did as Mets, there’s a decent chance you’ll be staring at those numbers high above Citi Field, where you can also find 37 and 14. You know Davey Johnson wasn’t the only 5 to sparkle, not once David Wright came along (seven All-Star appearances). You probably remember that when Wright was taking 5 to the national stage, he was more than once accompanied by a 7 (Reyes), a 15 (Beltran) and a 13 (Wagner). You are also likely to recognize that 7 (Kranepool), 15 (Grote) and 13 (Alfonzo) had been there before.

Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem likely to take 36 to next year’s All-Star Game, but we understand it was on hand 50 years ago in Washington and 51 years ago in Houston thanks to Jerry Koosman. Robbie Cano is giving his affinity for 24 its allotted time off during the break, but Willie Mays already gave 24 a Star turn for us twice, in ’72 and ’73, back when we were mostly happy to welcome back to New York players somewhat past their prime. Rajai Davis would have been welcomed warmly in Cleveland, but the most recent player to wear No. 18 as a Met is summering in Syracuse. That’s fine in the context we’re exploring because three different Mets have already taken 18 to All-Star Games: Joel Youngblood, Darryl Strawberry and Bret Saberhagen (Strawberry mostly). The only other tri-Star number in Mets history? No. 16: Lee Mazzilli, Dwight Gooden and Paul Lo Duca (Gooden mostly, but Mazzilli most memorably).

Those are the only triplicates, but here are a bunch more Met All-Star duplicates on record. No. 45 for Tug and Pedro. No. 47 for Orosco and Gl@v!ne. No. 28 for Jones (Bobby) and Murphy (Daniel). Piazza was preceded in 31 by John Franco. Only one among Pat Zachry and Bartolo Colon was in his forties as a Met All-Star, but each was in 40 when selected. The Mets as hosts both saw a 33 start for the NL: Ron Hunt in 1964, Matt Harvey in 2013. David Cone changed from 44 to 17 in honor of his former teammate and multitime All-Star Keith Hernandez and wound up a Met All-Star in both.

Ron Darling wasn’t an All-Star when he wore 44, but he made it once as 12, which is how John Stearns made it on four separate occasions. No. 8 not only looked good when Hall of Fame catcher Berra managed, it looked perfect when future Hall of Fame catcher Carter caught. Lance Johnson brought Ashburn’s 1 back to shine in ’96. Another Johnson, Howard, debuted 20 thirty years ago. Alonso just produced a sequel.

If you have a coach-free Mets All-Star Uniform Number Bingo Card, you were relieved in 2017 when you were finally able to check off 30 (Conforto) and in 2016 when you could take care of 27 (Familia), 34 (Syndergaard) and 52 (Cespedes). Although Jake has made 48 old hat after three appearances, it went without Met All-Star modeling until 2015. You’ve no doubt noticed how empty it gets once the numbers get high. There’s a 57 (Santana), a 75 (Rodriguez) and nothing in between them. You covered 4 for Duke Snider in 1963, 3 for Bud Harrelson twice in the early ’70s and marked the likes of 21 (Cleon Jones), 22 (Leiter), 25 (Bonilla), 26 (Kingman), 29 (Viola), 32 (Matlack), 35 (Reed), 43 (Dickey), 49 (Benitez) and 50 (Fernandez) along the way.

Until the 2019 All-Star Game, however, No. 6 was the unreachable Star, Pat Roessler notwithstanding. So were and are a few others south of El Sid. Still haven’t had an 11, except when Tim Teufel wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 23, except when Dick Scott wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 38, except when Dan Warthen wore it as a coach in ’16. Perhaps the reason Terry Collins couldn’t get a single Met player into the 2016 All-Star Game is because they kept getting stuck behind his many, many coaches.

No. 6 might not be the only number to have waited forever for its closeup, but it’s the one that’s theoretically had the most chances. According to the source of sources for all Mets uniform digit fetishes, Mets By the Numbers by Jon Springer and Matt Silverman (based on Springer’s seminal site of the same name, for which I am honored to have recently contributed a list on this topic), 6 is the number most frequently issued by the Mets, with McNeil its 45th bearer. Hence, you’d think by handing it out as often as possible to as many players as possible — Roessler was the first coach to grab it, in 2015 — that one single, solitary 6 would have landed on a Met in an All-Star Game between 1962 and 2014.

You’d think wrong, no matter who you were thinking of. Your best thought would have been Wally Backman, who wore 6 the longest, switching to it from his September 1980 callup designation of 28 in 1981 and sticking with it through the NLCS in 1988. Wally wore it with distinction even as he caked it in dirt. When the All-Star teams were being chosen for 1986, Wally was batting about as high as Jeff is today, peaking at .354 on July 2 in St. Louis. But that — and Backman’s platoon status — wasn’t enough to impress Whitey Herzog, who somehow thought a mere five Mets were enough for one All-Star team. No wonder the NL lost every game the White Rat managed.

Wally was one of two Mets who wore No. 6 en route to a world championship. The first was Al Weis. Al Weis was an award-winner, recipient of the coveted Babe Ruth Award, handed out by the New York chapter of the BBWAA for best performance in the World Series (later the entire postseason). Weis batted .455 in the 1969 World Series and blasted the highly unlikely homer that tied decisive Game Five. But Al, like Wally, was never a fully fledged regular, and he wasn’t a threat to hit like Jeff McNeil most months, despite what he accomplished in October fifty years ago, so no All-Star berths awaited Al. Winning a World Series ring and that Babe Ruth hardware would have to suffice for Weis.

Melvin Mora and Timo Perez wore No. 6 in consecutive Met postseasons. They were both enormous factors in the Mets advancing as far as they did. One of them was an enormous factor in preventing the Mets’ ultimate advancement. Mora eventually wore No. 6 in an All-Star Game, but only for the Orioles. Perez eventually reached home plate, but not safely in Game One of the 2000 World Series.

Despite the plethora of hexa-uni action in the clubhouse, there are not a lot of No. 6 highlights to billboard across 57 seasons of Mets baseball. Marlon Byrd hit 21 home runs in 2013 before being traded to Pittsburgh that August. Rich Becker and Tony Phillips each ignited the offense for respective spells in 1998. Nick Evans came up from Double-A in 2008 and doubled thrice in his debut. Jose Cardenal wore No. 6 in 1980 and proceeded to play in that year’s World Series, but that was after the Mets released him and the Royals picked him up. I was personally fond of Joe Orsulak, No. 6 from 1993 to 1995, but those constructing NL rosters in those years weren’t nearly as impressed.

We had Jim Hickman in 6 for a little while in 1966, after he had done his best Met work in 9 and before he was an All-Star as a Cub. We had Carlos Baerga in 6 for a little while in 1996, before he would do his best Met work in 8 and after was an All-Star as an Indian. Mike Vail switched to 6 after setting a rookie hitting streak record in 31; no records of any kind were forthcoming for Vail thereafter. We had two Marshalls who wore 6: first baseman Jim in 1962 and first baseman Mike in 1990. Jim’s distinction is he was the first Met booed by Mets fans (his crime was starting in place of a balky-kneed Gil Hodges in the first Polo Grounds Home Opener). Mike, not to be confused with the other past-his-prime ex-Dodger Mike Marshall who played for the Mets, wasn’t particularly popular, either, and gave way to immediate batting title contender Dave Magadan.

We have an immediate batting title contender in No. 6 right now, though he wasn’t immediately in No. 6 when he came up a year ago. Jeff McNeil was introduced to Mets fans as No. 68. He surely tuned into National League hitting more clearly than Uncle Floyd viewers of yore tuned into their favorite UHF station, batting .329 over the final two months of 2018. Jeff switched way down the dial for 2019, all the way to No. 6. I was a little worried he shouldn’t attempt to fiddle with the bowtie antenna attached to the rabbit ears. If he wasn’t encountering static at 68, why mess with a good thing.

Silly me. Sixty-Eight is for rabbit ears. Six is for Squirrels. This one took a good thing and made it better, so much better that it couldn’t be ignored. Jeff McNeil is the first Met to have worn No. 6 in an All-Star Game and, really, the first Met to go to an All-Star game regardless of position. I saw one roster list him as an outfielder, another identify him as a second baseman. Had Tuesday night’s affair gone deep into extras, Dave Roberts could have switched Jeff from left to right, then right to third, then third to second. This Squirrel can play anywhere and hit all night.

But Roberts, like Herzog, didn’t take nearly enough Mets. No wonder the NL has lost every game he’s managed, too.

Pete Are The Champions

Should I be alive and sentient when the Mets win their third world championship, I shall enjoy it greatly. I mean really enjoy it greatly. I shall buzz around all night, perhaps for weeks, just soaking in the reality that we have topped everybody and therefore cannot be topped. I will flip to every channel, click on every link, amplify every celebratory instinct that pulsates through me. I suppose I knew that before Monday night, but now I am sure, for Pete Alonso has reminded me what winning a championship feels like.

A championship — a title definitively captured immediately and viscerally. Nothing that needs to be judged and awarded later. Nothing dependent any longer on what anybody else does. Nothing provisional or partial. That instant when the most that can be won is won and there is nothing left to win because we, the Mets, have won it.

That’s what we got a simulation of on Monday night when Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby, a demonstration in microcosm (or Alonsocosm) of how it might be if/when we witness the real thing. Pete wore a Mets uniform, hit more home runs than his opponent in each of three rounds and exulted as we wish a Met to do. Only as humble as he needs to be, the Polar Bear roared. Or growled. Or whatever it is Polar Bears do after hitting home runs.

It didn’t count in the sense that home runs hit in an exhibition devoted solely to home runs for the sake of home runs aren’t reflected in official player statistics and the team for whom the player plays isn’t moved an iota in the standings of record. But that Mets uniform. And that exultation. And the fact that it was a competition with all of baseball’s eyes on it. And the fact that Pete knocked off three fine sluggers — including North America’s newest slugging darling, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — en route to raising arms, flipping bats and being as delighted over a feat that doesn’t count as anybody could be…

It counted enough for one night. It counted enough so that I wanted to multiply Alonso in his moment of glory by 25 and revel in a team of champions. We take Pete and Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom, each of them together on that field in Cleveland, and we add to them, we cultivate them, we dream on them and then, some night in weather likely more suited to actual polar bears, we thrill to a group Mets achievement that dwarfs a silly television contrivance that there’s little chance I’d have paid much attention to had a Met not been as involved as he was.

This was great. I long for greatest.

The Downside of Prophecy

When the Mets finish up with the Cardinals they will play their next 19 games against the Braves, Cubs, Phillies and Yankees, bringing them to the All-Star break. Those four clubs have a collective winning percentage of .572. You never know in baseball, but those 19 games may provide a decisive verdict about who, exactly, the 2019 Mets are and what’s possible for them.

That was me back on June 15, after the Mets dropped both the completion of a suspended game and a regularly scheduled one against the Cardinals, and oh, how I wish I could write that the Mets made a fool out of me, as well as the Braves, Phillies, Yankees and Cubs. Baseball is refreshing in that you want to be proved wrong in your pessimism, hoping and perhaps even praying that you will be mockingly reminded of your lack of faith and derided for seeing little black clouds everywhere.

But I wasn’t wrong.

In those 19 games, the Mets went 6-13, which I would indeed call a pretty decisive verdict. The Mets began that day of baseball with a chance to go over .500; they never got there and now that less than lofty goal appears far out of reach.

Which means we’ve moved on to all-too-familiar Mets territory for the summer, asking not, “Can we make the playoffs?” but “How quickly will the Mets admit they aren’t going anywhere and start thinking about the future?” In past lost summers they’ve been depressingly slow to work through the psychological stages of that, stalling somewhere between denial and bargaining. Maybe it will be different this year under Brodie Van Wagenan, but so far nothing much has been different about his tenure. (Not really a surprise, since all Met roads lead to the BRIDGE OUT AHEAD signs and hazard blinkers that mark the dead end of Wilpon Gulch.)

The Mets won’t see the Phils again until June, at which point if Rhame’s logged more than a couple of weeks away from Syracuse, something’s probably gone pretty seriously wrong. Maybe in that series Hoskins can get mad at Drew Gagnon.

The final game before the All-Star break proved me a prophet once again, also to my dismay. Jacob Rhame has indeed proved a threat only to minor-league batters since his tete-a-tete with Rhys Hoskins back in April, but the Mets and Phils remain PO’ed at each other, with hit batters a-plenty, spates of warnings issued and all-too-much chest-thumping clubhouse bravado. (Which is all the bravado the Mets can muster, having just dropped six out of seven to their neighbors down 95.)

The final game was another disaster, marked by Jay Bruce firing more thunderbolts at his hapless former mates, the Mets not collecting a hit until the sixth, and the usual non-relief and inept defense. The only flaw with my prediction was that the target of Hoskins’ (perfectly justified) ire was Wilmer Font, not Gagnon, but does it particularly matter? The Phils won by five, and the game never seemed that close.

It’s another lost season, but somehow not one without its pleasures. The Mets’ first hit off Aaron Nola was a home run from Pete Alonso, struck off an 0-2 curve that was a little higher than Nola wanted it. It was Alonso’s 30th homer of the season, leaving him standing alongside Dave Kingman as the only Met to hit 30 before the break. (Happily, Alonso stands apart from Kingman in being a far better hitter, fielder and human being.)

The story of the second half is clear: We’ll watch Alonso try to outpace Kingman’s twice-achieved 37 (back in ’76 he landed on his thumb and missed five weeks) and take aim at Howard Johnson, Mike Piazza and Carlos Delgado (38), Darry Strawberry (39), Piazza again (40) and finally the unlikely duo of Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran, the Met co-record-holders with 41 homers.

Polar Bear Pete is somehow one of three Mets All-Stars, alongside Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom, who has a permanent berth on the All-Star-Crossed roster. You’d think a team with three All-Stars would be better than 10 games under .500, but here we are. I’m going to cheer for Alonso in the Home Run Derby, for all three of them in the midsummer showcase, and then we’ll see if the season can bring us something heartening beyond a home-run chase.

Maybe Alonso can top not just Hundley and Beltran but also Christian Yelich, sitting atop the NL ranks with 31 homers. Maybe McNeil can top John Olerud‘s .354 club mark, win a batting title while playing the entire last game, or both. Maybe deGrom can actually get a win now and then. Maybe Amed Rosario and Tomas Nido can make progress, Michael Conforto can get healthy, and Noah Syndergaard can shake off the cobwebs of a weird season. Maybe we get a Brandon Nimmo sighting — or even a glimpse of Jed Lowrie! Maybe the bullpen can be something other than a raging inferno. (Dare to dream!) Maybe the likes of Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier and other tradeables can yield more inspiring than interchangeably crummy right-handed relievers.

I’m not making any predictions, particularly not ones that might be viewed as optimistic. But there’s baseball left to watch and maybe even enjoy, within our once-again reduced horizons. And despite it all, that’s good enough for me.

Whatever They’re Doin’, It’s Workin’

Hey Brodie, whatcha doin’?
Throwing a chair in a meeting with Mickey and his coaches.

Awesome! Hey Brodie, why ya throwin’ a chair?
I won’t be taking any further questions at this time.

Cool! Hey Mickey, whatcha doin’?
Getting ejected after Frazier did, but otherwise trying to act like everything is perfectly normal around here.

Outta sight! Hey Todd, whatcha doin’?
Getting ejected before Mickey did and maybe being a little too feisty for my and the team’s own good.

Freaky! Hey Dom, whatcha doin’?
Lashing a couple of big two-baggers — and trying to keep Frazier from getting his skull dented by Arrieta.

Neato! Hey Tomás, whatcha doin’?
Doubling in three runs to put us ahead and sticking my tongue out like Gene Simmons.

Rock on! Hey Squirrel, whatcha doin’?
Adding four more base hits to my historically impressive collection.

Sweet! Hey Steven, whatcha doin’?
Working out of the pen again.

Crazy! Hey Adeiny, whatcha doin’?
Making game-saving catches after Frazier got ejected.

Nifty! Hey Noah, whatcha doin’?
Giving up too many runs, but somehow lasting five as the pitcher of record on the winning side.

Wild! Hey Justin, Robert and Seth, whatcha doin’?
Not being the collective unmitigated disaster you’ve become conditioned to believe we are.

Radical! Hey Edwin, whatcha doin’?
Surviving some hard-hit balls and giving Ken Rosenthal an interview in surprisingly fluent English after I nailed down a save.

Amazin’! Hey Mets, whatcha doin’?
Winning for a change.

No kidding! That’s great! Hey, anybody know what the deal was with Brodie throwing that chair?
Sorry, Mr. Van Wagenen isn’t taking any further questions at this time.

Over By Any Measure

Repeatedly as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Mets, I get slightly irked. Not by the celebration or the feat celebrated but by a tiny detail that is continually reported inaccurately. Those Mets, it keep getting said, fell ten games behind the Cubs in the National League East in mid-August before turning their season around and forging the miracle we all adore.

No, that didn’t happen. The turning around happened, the miracle happened and the Mets happened, but they never fell ten games behind the Cubs. Not really. Growing up on the legend of ’69, I’d read and heard constantly that the Mets trailed Chicago by 9½ games shortly before the weekend that twinned Woodstock with consecutive doubleheader sweeps of the Padres. Nine-and-a-half was the touchstone. Baseball with its half-game tic makes a figure like that very memorable.

So where did this “ten-game” deficit come from? Simple. The mostly infallible Baseball Reference, which isn’t technically wrong but doesn’t tell the full story. If you (as many producers of commemorative films and such apparently have) scan through the 1969 daily standings on BB-Ref, you see the Mets 10 GB on August 13. That total takes into account the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Reds in the second game of a doubleheader at Crosley Field on June 15. Thing is, as Retrosheet carefully delineates in a section devoted to precisely these happenstances, that nightcap was suspended after seven innings by predetermined agreement (the Reds had to fly to San Francisco for an afternoon game the next day) and thus wasn’t completed until September 2. With Chicago not putting that win in the books, a.k.a. the standings, for another 79 days, it was never part of the equation during August of 1969.

This means you never would have picked up the LATE CITY FINAL edition of any paper as the Mets stumbled in and out of Houston between August 11 and 13 and seen them as many as ten back. The real-time margin was 9½, as told by Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy forever after. Retroactively, yes, you can plug in the June 15 result, same as once in a great while a player can be said to have made his major league debut in a game in June despite not being called up until two months later because he enters the completion of a suspended game (this is Jeff Reardon’s story), yet you can’t alter history from when it was becoming history. If the Mets didn’t know they were ten behind the Cubs, and the Cubs didn’t know they were ten ahead of the Mets, then there’s no way the difference between them was ever ten games, except after the fact.

During the fact, the extra half-game becoming official when it did represented a godsend to the Cubs. Their momentum was curdling through summer, but on the second day of September, author Rick Talley wrote in The Cubs of ’69, “they rejoiced, winning twice, first successfully completing two innings of a game suspended from June,” then capturing their regularly scheduled contest versus the Reds. “I got the save in the suspended game,” reliever Ken Johnson recalled for Talley, “and after the sweep, I remember the reporters coming up and saying, ‘Well, you’ve just wrapped up the pennant.’” The Cubbies indeed appeared to have their bearings back. As of August 27, Chicago’s 9½-game lead from August 13 had been reduced to two. Now, on September 2, thanks in part to that little Crosley Field time-lapse bonus, they were on a five-game winning streak — six, if you looped in the June 15 result — and had extended their lead over the Mets to five games.

“Then I don’t know what happened,” Johnson said. “Nobody does.”

Perhaps the Cubs were still bewildered by the September that awaited them in 1969 when Talley came around to interview them individually in the late ’80s, but the rest of us know what happened. A five-game lead on September 2 was whittled down to 2½ by September 7. The next night, the Cubs visited Shea Stadium and only disbelief was suspended. First, Koosman stood up to Hands and Santo; then Agee slid past Hundley. Mets 3 Cubs 2, Chicago’s lead down to a game-and-a-half. One night later, two indefatigable icons of Metsiana did the Cubs in: a black cat and Tom Seaver. Mets 7 Cubs 1, Chicago’s lead down to a half-game.

After which, the Cubs, like Marty McFly’s family, began to disappear altogether from the snapshot. Chicago loses in Philadelphia, the Mets sweep the Expos at Shea, we could LOOK WHO’S NO. 1 and never have to look back. We do, of course. We look back a lot. We look back at big pictures and overarching themes, but we also look back at those tiny details. The Mets would go on to overtake the Cubs so decisively — by eight games after 162 were played — that the Cubs eventually winning that June 15 game on September 2 and its misfiling by posterity would get glossed over by everybody save for the occasional blogging obsessive.

But the Mets were never ten back in 1969. It just needs to be said.

Also needing to be said: the Mets, 39-49 after losing to the Phillies Friday night, are ten under in 2019. They’re not yet ten back in the Wild Card race, though they are in tenth place for a playoff spot, or one place lower than they finished 1968, when ninth place was considered a monumental achievement. It is not considered anything like that today. They are fourth in the National League East, 13½ behind the Braves. Fewer teams to climb over than in the Wild Card derby, a tangibly taller ladder necessary. I don’t know if anybody still keeps Bobby Thomson-sized ladders in stock.

Not that it should be news to you that the Mets are basically done for 2019. “Basically,” as in they’re not any more than the leastest bit likely to win enough to advance from their present state to just beyond the vicinity of the periphery of the outskirts of possibility of contention. They are seven games away from a Wild Card berth, which is the only thread that doesn’t sound unreasonable to farfetchedly imagine trimming with 74 games remaining, except even if there were a Mets roll about to unspool — and you’d love to believe they are due one — they would also need the following teams to cooperate by not playing adequately for the next two months and three weeks:

The Giants.
The Reds.
The Pirates.
The Padres.
The Diamondbacks.
The Rockies.
The Cardinals.
The Nationals.
At least one among the Brewers, the Cubs and the Phillies.

Not a very sturdy thread, especially when you consider the failure of the Mets to sew up a single victory versus those Phillies in the five contests they’ve conducted against them within the past two weeks. The Mets have led the Phillies in five games and lost all five. I can’t say the fifth, Friday night at Citi Field, was the worst of the lot, because they’ve all been miserable, but I found it the most convincing. It convinced me that the slightest ember of competitive aspirations I maintained for this team is as out as out can be sans mathematical elimination.

I’m down to caveats. You never know. Stranger things have happened. Remember 1969 and 1973. Those caveats are our groundhogs in summers like this one. They poke their heads out, see their shadows and we are consigned to approximately three more months of spiritual winter. Not that the Mets theoretically beating the Phillies to raise their record to 40-48 was gonna cue the confetti cannons exactly, but I could have tended that slightest ember for at least one more game. One more win this weekend, and it could have carried me through the break.

Sometimes, though, you just know. It was slightly over two years ago that I just knew — July 3, 2017, in a season that I rationally understood was going nowhere, yet we were in Washington, Steven Matz was dueling Stephen Strasburg, the Mets had looked pretty good in the previous three series, they were still somewhat the same team that had been to the playoffs two consecutive years…I was 98% certain they were done, but those last two percent die hard.

About 1.99% expired that July 3. I’d still attempt to infer pathways to potentialities for a few more weeks, looking for soft spots in the schedule here, scrounging to pick up half-games there, but I just knew it was over even if it famously ain’t over until it’s over.

On July 5, 2019, it was over. It didn’t appear it was gonna be. Really. The Mets built a 2-1 lead behind Jacob deGrom. Pete Alonso blasted his 29th homer and later doubled in Jeff McNeil. Your three All-Stars were being a part of some beautiful goings-on. Jerry Seinfeld was on the air cracking up the best booth in baseball. The thread was inching incrementally longer, just long enough to grab onto with our fingernails. Maybe we’re not dead. Maybe we’re not sellers. Maybe we’re gonna need Wheeler not to exchange for prospects but to start Game Two of the NLDS (deGrom would have to pitch and win the Wild Card game; Syndergaard then probably starts Game One).

Ah, but details got in the way. Small details. Big details. There was, most irritatingly, a play at the plate in top of the seventh that was called dead wrong in the Phillies’ favor; it couldn’t be challenged when there were no challenges left, it couldn’t be crew chief-reviewed because it wasn’t a late enough inning, it couldn’t be reversed no way, no how. There went the lead into a 2-2 tie. Somewhere in the darker recesses of his award-winning mind, deGrom must have fancied himself Rocky III, flinging his motorcycle helmet in disgust at that statue depicting his 2018 Cy Young form. Jacob 2019 is Tom Seaver 1970, Dwight Gooden 1986. Still very good, certainly good enough, but not quite last year’s model. As if it matters. The Mets are 16-30 in deGrom’s past 46 starts, few of them dreadful, most of them marvelous. The 1983 Mets commenced their season 16-30 and their manager, George Bamberger, was so distraught he quit to go fishing.

Our ace is made of sterner stuff than whatever Bambi had left by June of ’83. Jakey Balboa regained his eye of the tiger and completed the top of the seventh inning by striking out a tenth Phillie and snuffing out the rest of the opposition’s rally to keep the scored tied at two. Of course he did. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have kept some infinitesimal semblance of hope alive.

The game continued tied until the ninth, but it was sticking its tongue out at us from the instant nobody’s personal catcher Wilson Ramos tagged Rhys Hoskins and Brian Gorman ruled him safe anyway. Diaz came on to begin the ninth. Of course he did. Snuffing out some semblance of hope is his job. Given the recent save opportunities he’s kicked to the curb, we forgot Edwin can’t be depended on to pitch with a tie either. Surprise, surprise, the tie disappeared. The tension of a tight game and the last caveat-free wisp of the season’s possibilities went with it. Familia soon entered in relief of the closer who has developed a phobia of doors left ajar. Jeurys was part of those Met playoff teams in 2015 and 2016. He won’t be part of one here in 2019. All kinds of Phillies scored all kinds of runs. I’m pretty sure I saw Jay Bruce knock in the one that put them ahead, but I must have been hallucinating. I mean Jay Bruce…didn’t we trade him to Seattle?

When it was over, the score was Phillies 7 Mets 2. And trust me, whether measured by big pictures, overarching themes or details of any size, it was over.

Bored on the Fourth of July

It’s bad enough that Major League Baseball’s schedulemakers have left the Mets idle on this most iconic of summertime dates, but you’d figure they could have at least let them play the eve of our nation’s 243rd birthday.

What’s that? The Mets did play on July 3? Yesterday? Wednesday? Funny, I have no recollection of it. It was just last night, so I’d think I’d remember. Are you sure? Hold on a sec, I’ll check with my wife.

She says I turned on the television at 7:10 PM, as I do most weeknights from April through September, that I stared at it for approximately three hours and seventeen minutes, occasionally muttering the kind of language I don’t usually use in front of her except between 7:10 PM and three or so hours later, and, at about 10:27 PM, I seemed incrementally unhappier than I’d been before.

OK, now I remember. The Mets did play a game last night. Or they were at a game the Yankees played.

Ah, fudge.

Jeff McNeil made an indelible enough impression on the Third of July, leading off the home first with a home run, but even at that early interval, the Mets were trailing, thanks to Jason Vargas giving up two in the top of the inning, making him seem incrementally unhappier. Apparently Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres not only each drove in runs but had the nerve to tell Vargas they’d see Mickey Callaway tomorrow.

Little did they know nobody would see the Mets “tomorrow,” which has since become today. Nobody saw much of the Mets at Citi Field last night after McNeil’s homer. Vargas gave them five-and-a-third serviceable innings after which he didn’t threaten anybody; Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia surprisingly indicated they could each function as relievers; and Pete Alonso did some splendid fielding, a core competency for which there is no derby, but otherwise the Mets vanished before our eyes, losing, 62,000-1…oh sorry, that was the name of the documentary SNY kept hyping, though the Mets might as well have been outscored by that much. Technically, they lost, 5-1, to that team we’d prefer they not play at all.

And now, today, they are literally not going to play at all. Any random Thursday out of six months without a Mets game is ordinary baseball fan deprivation. We know how to go about our lives on a standard-issue off day; we can find our own incremental unhappiness if we have to. But no Mets game on the Fourth of July?

Why, it’s un-American! Seriously, by definition it’s un-American because as long as the Mets have existed in America, there has been a Mets game, sometimes two (sometimes until until four the next morning), on the Fourth of July, even if four times, including last year, they had to play in Canada. The only exception until now has been July 4, 1981, when there was no Mets game because all of big league baseball was on strike. There was no Mets game on any day in July that year, no big league game of any kind. I later purchased a t-shirt that said I SURVIVED THE BASEBALL STRIKE OF 1981, yet I’m still not sure how I did

I’ll survive today. Stephanie and I have our annual viewing of 1776 ahead of us, a Prince family tradition established via VHS on the afternoon of July 4, 1991 (the Mets were in Montreal that evening), and transferred to DVD — director’s cut! — on July 4, 2002, in advance of the Mets playing in Miami. We secured copies of the movie in their most contemporary formats because, pre-TCM, you couldn’t necessarily always count on some channel showing 1776 on the Fourth of July. Like the Mets playing on the Fourth of July, it used to be a given. That year when baseball was on strike, when I should have been tuning to Channel 9 for the Mets in Pittsburgh, WOR-TV was showing 1776. I was thankful for the substitute programming, but I’d rather have had restored the game that was rightfully ours.

Attention: The 7 Train is Running on the 4 Track

The lazy interpretation of a Mets win over the Yankees is that the Mets looked like the Yankees and vice-versa, ha-ha; you can almost hear it coming out of the generic local anchor throwing it to sports. Excuse me while I step outside and punch that narrative in the face.

Yet now that I’ve gone there, Tuesday night’s game felt actually did kind of feel like that in form, never mind function. Everything that went particularly right for the Mets is what usually goes wrong in these Subway Series games. Can’t you picture…

• The Mets scoring two in the second inning, getting our hopes up that we’re gonna blow this thing open early;

• The Yankees’ starter settling in after that shaky second, not surrendering anything else and lasting into the seventh;

• A Met leading off the top of an inning landing a sure triple beyond the reach of the Yankee center fielder, but the Yankee right fielder — who you keep hearing isn’t really a right fielder at all but he sure can hit — scurrying into the picture from out of nowhere to cut the carom off and keeping the Met from advancing beyond second…and that same leadoff Met baserunner ending the inning stranded on third;

• A Yankee who is quietly having a very fine offensive year abruptly breaking up the Met starter’s shutout with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the same inning that the Met’s prospective triple was reduced to a double;

• The Yankee bullpen springing into action, with their just-activated veteran lefty specialist getting two key outs and their most dependable reliever — who you keep hearing has grown eminently hittable — putting up a crucial zero;

• A Yankee ground ball becoming a Met error to begin the eighth and that Yankee baserunner scoring all the way from first when the next Yankee hitter — the guy who homered his last time up — booms a double that has the Met center fielder — the guy whose sure triple was limited to a double — diving futilely in pursuit, suddenly dissolving the longstanding Met lead into a tie, with the Yankees are threatening to burst in front;

• The Mets opting, with one out, for an intentional walk to put two on ahead of the next Yankee hitter, their slowest baserunner, but instead of the slow Yankee grounding into a double play, he lines a ball hard into left to load the bases;

• The next Yankee batter, whose stellar credentials have been buried in a slump (including two inning-ending DP grounders in this game), shaking off whatever’s ailing him and lines a two-run double to left to bring in two Yankee runs and give them a 4-2 lead;

• The Yankee closer opening the door to a potential ninth-inning Met comeback with a little careless fielding;

• The Met who reaches first inexplicably taking off for second down two with two out and almost getting himself thrown out to end the game with the potential tying run at the plate;

• Replay review showing he is safe, but what reckless chance for the Mets runner to take;

• And the Met batter, who you’re sure you remember coming through in the past, keeping you believing something good will happen as he works the count to three-and-two, fouling off pitch after pitch;

• Finally, his last foul landing in the Yankee catcher’s mitt…and then popping out of it into his bare hand…then out of his bare hand and into his mitt…while it rains?

What a rotten way to end another miserable Subway Series game.

EXCEPT IT WAS THE OPPOSITE OF THAT! All the Yankee stuff was Met stuff and all the Met stuff was Yankee stuff! Maybe Chipper Jones was right — maybe that stuff is interchangeable!

Just to be clear…

It was Zack Wheeler, not James Paxton, who bent early but didn’t break thereafter.

It was Jeff McNeil (he of the world-leading .351 average), not Aaron Judge, making the heady play from right to help out Michael Conforto, and Aaron Hicks rather than, say, Amed Rosario being held to a double when you were sure he was destined for a triple.

It was J.D. Davis putting the Mets on the board with a homer, not Gio Urshela doing the same for the Yankees.

It was Met relievers Justin Wilson — remember him? — and Seth Lugo — remember him? — who held the fort tightly, no matter that Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton are generally the local relievers credited as impeccable cogs in a smoothly operating shutdown machine.

And the bottom of the eighth featured Pete Alonso reaching on an E-5; Alonso hustling home on Davis’s second huge extra-base hit of the evening; Wilson Ramos crossing up a sound GIDP strategy with a hard-hit single; and Conforto busting out at last with that game-changing double. It was also DJ Lamahieu committing the E-5; Hicks diving to no avail as J.D.’s double flew past him; Ottavino failing to lasso our Buffalo; and Britton succumbing to Conforto, Conforto’s uncharacteristic 1-for-24 slump notwithstanding.

Oh, and Gardner, as opposed to a neophyte like Dominic Smith, was the left fielder who couldn’t hope to track down Conforto’s two-run double, which made Michael’s tiebreaker all the more cathartic. Gardner has been tracking down everything every Met has hit for a decade.

Gardner also couldn’t benefit from Didi Gregorius taking second on Ramos’s non-defensive indifference two outs after Gregorius reached first when Edwin Diaz didn’t properly cover first to start the top of the ninth. The Mets tried challenging via video replay, but Gregorius was safe and, with Gardner up, it didn’t necessarily feel like the Mets’ lead was. The presence of Diaz in ninth innings hasn’t exactly paralleled that of Aroldis Chapman, and the rain that began to fall could have been taken for an omen.

Finally, Ramos, the catcher Noah Syndergaard has let it be known he prefers not to throw to, because it’s what all the big-time Mets pitchers are avoiding…did Ramos really not hold on to a foul tip strike three twice.

Really. But he held it a third time for the third out and the Mets held on, 4-2, and held off the Yankees the way the Yankees too often hold on and hold off the Mets. That’s when the Yankees aren’t simply homering every three swings and beating the Mets by a lot. That happens too often, too.

But not Tuesday night. The Yankees didn’t homer at all (snapping a 31-game streak that spanned an ocean), the Yankees didn’t score after the second inning (which I wasn’t sure was legal) and the Mets wore the smiles of winners when it was over. Ramos smiled despite losing the grip on the baseball twice and the confidence of a second frontline starter. Diaz, whom I’ve mostly seen dourly explain what went wrong through an interpreter, was grinning at the juggling act his batterymate perfected. He even re-enacted it. Why shouldn’t Sugar smile sweetly? He’d pitched in his second game in a row and recorded his second save in two games. Diaz did that on Opening Day and in Game Two, and hadn’t done it since.

The Mets know the feeling. They hadn’t won two games in a row since before that very recent seven-game nosedive we were certain would never end. Yet it has. We beat the first-place Braves and the first-place Yankees in successive contests at Citi Field. We last pulled that particular trick in 2013. If you need a refresher from six years ago, first Ike Davis — no relation to J.D. — sprung briefly to life on a Sunday night to wake the Mets from a five-game coma versus Atlanta, then a team effort that featured Jon Niese (7 IP, 1 ER), David Wright (HR) and Daniel Murphy (go-ahead single in the bottom of the eighth) overcame a Gardner triple to take the first of what became a four-game Subway Series sweep.

The Mets do occasionally win these matchups. They are occasionally immune to the dark arts of Brett Gardner. It only seems like only the opposite happens.

Magic Eighth Ball

Newsradio 88, flagship station for New York Mets baseball, must be pleased the New York Mets decided to make the 8th inning their flagship inning Sunday night. “Hits and runs on the eighth.” “You give us the eighth inning, we won’t give up a lead.” The latter evokes the other news station in New York, but WCBS and WINS each have their lead non-basketball sports story for the morning rush:

Mets win.

Did I say non-basketball? I’m stoked that the Nets are making genuine baller moves, but by the time a fully healed Kevin Durant is on fire in Brooklyn, Jeff McNeil could be deciding which batting crown looks best on the left side of his mantel and which looks best on the right.

Did I say sports? I shudder to think what could be a bigger deal in the world, the nation or the city than the Mets breaking their seven-game losing streak. Give me that eighth inning. You can keep the world.

If you were at Citi Field Sunday night as I was — accepting a replica 1969 World Series ring; avoiding ESPN; singing happy birthday greetings to Ron Swoboda at Colin Cosell’s suggestion; nodding appreciatively that the Mets acknowledged they mistakenly killed two of their alumni; and literally holding on to my hat from the vigorous summer breeze — you could hear what I heard. It was less the roar of the crowd than the exhale of deliverance, first from the five runs the Mets plastered on the glorious faux Shea scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth inning, then because Edwin Diaz wasn’t Edwin Diaz in the top of the ninth. Or he was Edwin Diaz like he was supposed to be, not Edwin Diaz at whom we’ve come to shudder.

Will the real Edwin Diaz please stand up and stay warm, assuming he’s the one who easily nailed down a seventeenth save at the expense of the Atlanta Braves? Earlier in June, the St. Louis Blues won a Stanley Cup to the strains of “Gloria”. Meanwhile, the New York Mets were going down the tubes to the tune of a lesser-known Laura Branigan ditty that’s circulated through my head every time Diaz has encountered trouble:

The night
Spanish Eddie fell from grace
There was amazement on his face
On the night that Eddie failed
Sanity prevailed

Had sanity prevailed, Jarred Kelenic’s advancement would be our heartfelt cause rather than our bête noire. But that’s another story we’ll revisit only three or four times a week for the next couple of decades. In the shorter term, Spanish Eddie…I mean Edwin Diaz didn’t fail Sunday night when entrusted with a ninth-inning save opportunity. No need to pick exclusively on Diaz when it comes to failing and opportunity and trust. Every reliever in the Met-Tone galaxy of stars had dimmed through the seven-game losing streak. One of them was Wilmer Font, just last Tuesday (which in Met time feels like months ago). Somewhat surprisingly, Wilmer Font was our non-Diaz pitching salvation Sunday night, cleaning up a mess left behind by Chris Flexen, who’s mostly avoiding salvation still, though Flexen did have a good moment cleaning up for Noah Syndergaard. His moments starting his own inning were less pristine.

The work of Mets pitchers, none of them wholly hopeless, wasn’t what was ringing the bells off the AP machine Sunday night. It was our offense…our All-Star eighth-inning offense. To lead off the inning that forever changed the course of franchise history — or just went well for a change — former All-Star Todd Frazier whacked a Sean Newcomb fastball like it was ordering onion rings for the table at Holsten’s in Bloomfield (best in the state). I have to confess that while I’ve been happy to have been in receipt of all of Todd Frazier’s home runs this season, I haven’t found them much to look at. If there’s proof to be mined that power numbers are askew in 2019, it’s embedded in every pop fly Frazier lofts lazily over the left field fence. More than any slugger, he’s made home runs unimpressive.

But not this one. This one could have worn a Members Only jacket on his 418-foot trip to the Sponsorship Landing in left. Powerful. Breathtaking. Yet the Mets were still losing. The Toddfather’s blast pulled the Mets to within a run of the Braves at 5-4. It was encouraging for a normal team’s fans. As Mets fans, we were left to discern whether our guys would leave the bases loaded en route to the ninth or eke ahead just enough so their advantage could be fairly easily overcome.

Good thing we had more All-Stars coming up. Like former All-Star Robinson Cano who took one in the wrist for the team (Cano’s been finding holes lately, so we dutifully booed Newcomb for hitting Our Robbie). Like former future All-Star Amed Rosario, who singled Cano to second. Like certifiably perennial All-Star Jacob deGrom’s personal catcher Tomás Nido — an All-Star by transference — laying down the bunt that snuffed out Cano at third but at least pushed Rosario to second while placing Jacob’s Tomás on first. Former All-Star Wilson Ramos pinch-hit for Font and lined out to right, but at least pushed Rosario to third. With everybody pushing Rosario, you think he’d be an All-Star already.

The Braves switched pitchers, bringing in A.J. Minter. Was I scared? Hell no! I was distracted. Up in Promenade, Joe and I, at our first Citi Field game together this year, were deep into a tangent on game shows we strongly or vaguely remembered from our respective childhoods. Font had pitched competently when the subject first arose, so we divined we were onto a winning formula. Ergo, while you might have been worried about former All-Star Michael Conforto taking on Minter, Joe and I were discussing Pay Cards!, Musical Chairs and Celebrity Sweepstakes.

Conforto drew a full-count walk. You can thank us later.

All-Star Announcement Sunday started to shine in earnest with the next batter, All-Star Jeff McNeil. Say it again: All-Star Jeff McNeil. A year ago he barely existed in the Metsian consciousness. In winter, the Mets general manager, new to the job, thought he’d make a splash by dealing for an erstwhile client and didn’t care if one of the ripples was throwing in the second baseman who batted .329 for two months. Or have you forgotten that Brodie Van Wagenen was reportedly considering tossing McNeil’s ass into the jackpot to get Cano and Diaz because, gosh, we really have to convince you to let us pay rapidly aging Cano exorbitantly for another half-decade.

Postmodern Ryan-for-Fregosi aside, McNeil stayed a Met. He couldn’t stay a full-time second baseman because Cano took precedence in Brodie’s eyes. Had Jed Lowrie actually existed, that would make two American League veterans blocking Jeff from playing somewhere. Or trying to block him, because something tells me Squirrel would have burrowed into the lineup somewhere. “Something” is the .348 average McNeil brandishes at present. It is the highest in Major League Baseball.

No wonder he’s an All-Star. No wonder he served the first pitch he saw from Minter into right field, where it fell in front of Nick Markakis. In from third came Rosario. In from second came Adeiny Hechavarria, who had pinch-run for Nido and stolen second before Conforto walked and while Joe and I were debating the merits of the daytime vs. nighttime editions of Let’s Make A Deal. The best deal of all, besides McNeil not going to the Mariners for Joe Foy, was the Mets surged ahead on McNeil’s single.

Hey Minter — deal with All-Star Pete Alonso, the rookie who will form one third of our stellar Cleveland contingent. Better yet, succumb to the Polar Bear’s charisma and swing. Pete doubled down the left field line to bring home Conforto and McNeil and put the Mets up, 8-5. Joe and I ceased game show ruminations just long enough to join in a chorus of FUCK YEAH!!!!!

The five exclamation points were for the five runs.

Jim Gosger Lives

When I first started identifying as a Mets fan, fifty years ago late this summer, you couldn’t have convinced me the Mets could do wrong. There was no evidence to support the assertion. The Mets mostly won. The rare defeat, such as that experienced by the Mets in Baltimore to open the World Series, was compensated for immediately and lavishly. They were perfect to me.

Soon I’d learn every Met year hadn’t been 1969 and that perfection was hardly the Metsian rule. I would read about a banner that appeared at Shea Stadium somewhere along the road to ’69: “To err is human; to forgive, a Mets fan.” I got it. The Mets that existed before I found them lost a lot. A whole lot. Imperfect though they might have been, the people who were “we” before I was one of us loved them just the same.

It didn’t take long for me to grasp that every year after 1969 wasn’t going to be 1969. I’d have preferred world championship upon world championship, but I got that sports didn’t work that way. Not that I needed more persuading, but the lack of readily repeatable success served to reinforce how special 1969 had been. In that sense, as the Mets drifted further and further from the standard they set in ’69, their championship season grew only more special for its singularity.

Nineteen Sixty-Nine made me a Mets fan. Nothing that followed could pry me from them, yet everything that followed recalibrated my expectations. The Mets would err. And I’d forgive them. They weren’t perfect, but what did that have to do with anything? I loved them. At times I couldn’t stand them, but I loved them.

The construct holds true to this day. That’s Mets fandom. My Mets fandom, at any rate. You are welcome to yours. Mine allows me to fully comprehend what they are doing wrong yet not let it detract from my appreciation when they get things right. It’s a skill that comes in handy on days like Saturday.

Saturday the Mets got right the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 Mets…with a pair of facepalming exceptions that were impossible to ignore if you noticed them. But if you did notice them, you had to have noticed everything else, all of which was magnificent.

The magnificence was everywhere at Citi Field, extending out to Seaver Way, where the Mets re-created, in miniature, the ticker tape parade the champions received upon their conquest of the world. There was no ticker tape, and the adoring throngs was basically a thronglet, but the passion for the players who had grounded the Orioles in five was no less tangible.

Doing right by the 1969 Mets — and the fans who cherish them — has been an organizational preoccupation in 2019. From the moment in February that Art Shamsky, Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool were welcomed to Port St. Lucie as revered village elders, the Mets showed they were treating this fiftieth anniversary as a milestone that transcends chronological convenience. In case you didn’t realize how remarkable a perennial doormat of a franchise raising the roof of Major League Baseball was, the Mets have enthusiastically filled in the blanks. For those of us who’ve never forgotten who and what the 1969 Mets were and are, the Mets were more than happy to amplify our collective memory.

The good work showed Saturday afternoon inside the ballpark. With Howie Rose (who else?) conducting, the Mets gave us a 1969 overture to the regularly scheduled ballgame for the ages, and, perhaps, the final fully orchestrated 1969 coda for the men who made that year a year we continue to marvel at a half-century later.

Up in Promenade, alongside my friend Jeff, who ran home from the bus stop on October 16, 1969, to catch the final few innings of Game Five, I watched and listened as Howie crafted context, rekindled emotions and introduced everybody the Mets were conscientious enough to invite. Living 1969 Mets players, of course. Family members of 1969 Mets figures no longer with us, as has become custom, to a certain extent, too. The Mets extended the custom this year. For example, we are accustomed to seeing Joan Hodges and Gil Hodges, Jr., represent the manager at these events (and we are honored by their presence and commitment), but the Mets decided a day like this also called for the families of Gil’s coaches to be on hand. Yogi Berra, Eddie Yost and Rube Walker are no longer with us, but somebody was there for each of them. Joe Pignatano couldn’t travel to join the players, but his son was on hand.

Likewise, we met the wives and children of 1969 Mets we’ve lost too soon and Mets who, for whatever reason, were not able to attend, an incredibly thoughtful touch. Cleon Jones has said more than once that long before the 1979 Pirates discovered Sister Sledge, those Mets were family. You could really feel it on Saturday. We in the stands felt it because we saw it on the field and we felt it because we are this family, too. We were the youngest brothers and sisters of the 1969 Mets. Like the players and their immediate kin, we’ve grown older as well; I noticed far more gray than usual among the orange and blue as I waited for my Woodside connection at Jamaica. We took this family reunion just as seriously as the players. Fifty years on, we also don’t know how many more there might be.

The Mets strove to acknowledge everybody who was a tile in the 1969 mosaic, paying an extra helping of homage to Seaver Way’s inspiration. It was tough to gather this brood, glance toward its table’s head and not see Tom Seaver pouring the wine, but his presence was undeniable, from the signs on the street where the Mets live, to his grandsons who threw out four first pitches, to his name coming up in the 1969 retelling again and again.

Of course everybody’s name comes up when you talk 1969. That’s what it made special then and keeps it special now: the definitive team effort. Nobody knew who among that bunch might be a Hall of Famer. Everybody figured out that as a unit they were all achieving immortality. Gil Hodges figured it out first, the rest of us caught on eventually. As Howie began to introduce the players who returned to Flushing on Saturday, we dug all over again how it worked.

Two by two they emerged on golf carts from center field. Pitcher DiLauro and pitcher/doctor Taylor. Rookies Pfeil and Gaspar. McAndrew of Lost Nation, Ia., and backup catcher Dyer. Backup catcher Martin (who, Howie reminded us, could “lay down a bunt”) and kid third baseman Garrett. Swoboda of the improbable catch and Jones of the final catch. “Tough as nails shortstop” Buddy Harrelson, waving to a crowd that by Rose’s reckoning returned his greeting with a group hug 40,000-strong, and Art Shamsky who slugged the bejesus out of Braves pitching in the first NLCS. Jerrys Koosman and Grote, the battery charged with definitively unplugging the Oriole machine. And, to put a period at the end of the sentence, “Ladies and gentlemen, your 1969 world champion New York Mets,” the Met who arrived on the page first.

Ed Kranepool was the ideal choice to be appointed Met of Mets in this procession of memory. You couldn’t have Seaver, confined to California by his battle with dementia. Nobody else who wasn’t the Franchise was an obvious choice. Had Nolan Ryan chosen to visit, he had the career credentials to draw focus, but the supporting-role reliever from 1969 did not join his teammates Saturday. Based on all we know, Gil Hodges wouldn’t have been presumptuous enough to accept a shred of spotlight from his players (or coaches), but nobody — nobody — connected with the 1969 Mets believes the 1969 Mets would reconvene to popular acclaim if not for their manager. Gil’s been gone since 1972. His legacy grows larger all the time. The only place that hasn’t quite heard enough is located in Cooperstown.

Thus, Eddie. Ideal Eddie. Not only because Kranepool arrived on the Mets in 1962, the year whose exploits created the type the Mets of 1969 would play so emphatically against; and not only because Kranepool stayed longer continuously than anybody else from 1969, all the way to 1979; but because he’s Eddie Kranepool. From James Monroe High School in the Bronx. The bonus baby. The great Met hope. The hope stagnated. “Is Ed Kranepool over the hill?” another Shea banner asked concerning a man in his early twenties. Gil Hodges had played with Ed Kranepool, but he wasn’t married to him when he managed him. The onetime All-Star receded from the forefront of the Mets’ strategy by 1968, yet Gil didn’t stick any of his players all that far to the rear.

Eddie was as important as any 1969 Met. He was as important as DiLauro and Taylor, Pfeil and Gaspar, Martin and Garrett, who were as important as Swoboda and Jones, Harrelson and Shamsky, Koosman and Grote. Kranepool was as important as Donn Clendenon. They both started at first base, one primarily against righties, one mostly against lefties. Hodges called on Clendenon to pinch-hit against ace Chicago righty Ferguson Jenkins on July 8, 1969, with Ken Boswell on second and one out at Shea, the Mets trailing the Cubs by five in the National League East and two in the bottom of the ninth. Clendenon doubled. Jones doubled after him to tie the game. Three batters later, Kranepool singled home the winning run. It was the first Huge Game the Mets ever played and won. In the last set of them the Mets played in 1969, a.k.a. the World Series, Clendenon started four times and socked three homers. In the one start Kranepool received, Eddie homered.

Together, everybody was as important as anybody else. Seaver may have been the best of them, but Tom would likely affirm the team effort. It sufficed on June 29, 2019, to think of the 1969 Mets as Team Kranepool. As Howie noted, the “miracle” theme with which we associate 1969 fits Ed’s story now as then. Eighteen months ago, we learned Eddie badly needed a kidney and that he considered himself utterly estranged from the team to whom he gave eighteens seasons of his life. Fast-forward just a bit, and here’s Eddie Kranepool, with a kidney, inside the adoring confines of 41 Seaver Way, the Met rolling in royally on his own golf cart.

Like I said, ideal.

It was moving enough simply to realize how far Ed Kranepool had come without ever going anywhere. It got more emotional in Promenade once he addressed us (on the heels of a vivid video presentation in which the ’69 Mets reflected on the perfectly logical miracle they created). Ed Kranepool’s playing career disappeared without fanfare after 1979. There was no David Wright-style “kiss today goodbye and point me toward tomorrow” ending to it. What Ed Kranepool did for love and money just ended. The Mets, transitioning from the deRoulets to Doubleday/Wilpon, let him get lost in the shuffle. They eventually made amends, inducting him into the team Hall of Fame in 1990, a decade beyond his baseball retirement. Things ran warm and lukey thereafter. There was always a lingering sense that Ed Kranepool, Ur Met, wasn’t quite accorded the reverence Ed Kranepool rated. Not so much for his statistics or even his longevity. Just for being Ed Kranepool.

Nobody else might understand what that means, but Mets fans do. Surely we did on Saturday when we were all thrilled to hear Eddie tell us one more time how amazing 1969 was and is, how amazing his teammates were and are, how much we, the kid siblings, figured into the family portrait. Let’s just say that behind selected pairs of glasses in Promenade, a rain delay erupted early.

The perfection that didn’t elude the 1969 Mets on October 16 was inaccessible this June 29. Perfect would have been Gil Hodges surviving long enough to have enjoyed at least a couple of these reunions, maybe long enough to have built up a managerial ledger Hall of Fame committees couldn’t miss. Perfect would have had golf carts ferrying Charles and McGraw, Agee and Cardwell, Koonce and Clendenon to an expanded podium. Perfect would have been Weis, Boswell, Gentry and Ryan able and/or willing to attend Saturday’s festivities. Seaver was already so close to perfect on July 9, 1969, that it would be hard to imagine asking more out of him fifty years later, but gosh, how perfect would have Tom’s being there been?

But it was as perfect as it had to be for a Mets fan who started in the late summer of 1969 and has never stopped. And it was ever so slightly Mets enough to underscore that perfection and the Mets, unlike black cats and Leo Durocher, infrequently cross paths.

As part of the program, the Mets asked for a moment of silence to remember the 1969 Mets players, coaches and manager who were no longer with us. Their names and faces streamed across the video board. That their respective appearances weren’t surprising didn’t make their absences any less sad. Agee. Berra. Cardwell. Charles. Clendenon.

Then Kevin Collins, which was a surprise, not for his mortality (he died in 2016), but for his inclusion here. Kevin was first a Met in 1965, but played only sixteen games for them in ’69. He is best remembered as being part of the four-player package that brought Clendenon to New York. I don’t remember him ever having been brought back to Shea in 1979, 1989, 1994 or 1999 to take a bow for his sixteen games’ worth of 1969, nor was he spotlighted in 2009 at Citi Field. This was a nice little surprise.

Same could be said for the next name invoked among the dearly departed, Danny Frisella. Frisella was the first 1969 Mets player to pass, in a dune buggy accident on New Year’s Day 1977. He was only thirty years old, still playing ball. Most of Frisella’s big Met moments came after 1969, particularly as Tug McGraw’s righty relief complement in 1971 (his ERA was 1.99 over 90.2 innings), but he was indeed a 1969 Met. It was for three appearances in July, just as the world was waking up to these Mets being contenders. Pam Frisella, Danny’s wife, was a special guest at the 1969 Mets’ tenth-anniversary reunion in ’79, but otherwise I really couldn’t recall his name coming up at one of these commemorations since. Another nice little surprise.

The next name on the In Memoriam reel belonged to Jim Gosger. Jim Gosger is still alive.

The name after Gosger’s was that of Jesse Hudson. Like Jim Gosger, Jesse Hudson is still alive.

These were surprises that weren’t so nice and the missteps couldn’t be written off as little. These were the cause for the pair of facepalms. Or as I said to Jeff as the presentation continued accurately, “The Mets just killed two guys.”

Our smartphones make it possible to confirm or correct our instincts instantly. A touch of Google informed us that, unless something terrible had occurred in the preceding minutes, Messrs. Gosger and Hudson were alive and hopefully well.

Ah, but maybe the good offices of the Mets, in the course of due diligence, had learned something the rest of us didn’t know and were using this occasion to inform us. But no, that wasn’t the case, either. Definitely not where Jim Gosger — outfielder for the Mets in 1969 for ten games and sixty-four more in 1973 and 1974 — was concerned, because when we looked him up on Facebook, we saw that he had just a couple of hours before posted something about how he was feeling mellow.

Not so mellow that he needed to be checked for vital signs, though his blood pressure might have risen a point when word filtered to him through social media that the Mets pronounced him dead at the present time despite his status to the contrary. He alerted his followers that the Mets got in touch as Saturday unfolded and apologized. Hudson has maintained a lower profile since his lone appearance as a major leaguer, September 19, 1969, for the Mets versus the Pirates. If he heard the Mets erred in prematurely reporting his demise on June 29, 2019, one fervently hopes he has received a similar acknowledgement of inaccuracy from his former employer. All the 1969 Mets live on in our hearts — and all the 1969 Mets get to live as long as they can.

As someone whose curiosity about the team he started rooting for in 1969, also never stopped, I couldn’t help but be elbowed briefly out of my championship reverie when I took note of Jim Gosger and Jesse Hudson being declared dead. To the vast majority at Citi Field, these were two names and photographs from the distant past. Even the shall we say diehards may not be up to date on which reserves and September callups from fifty years ago are still with us. But I am. I keep track of many Met things. Mets being alive or not alive is one of my topics. No wonder, then, that when the ceremonies were over, concluded smartly to the strains of “Heart,” as performed by your 1969 world champions on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was left with two impressions:

1) Almost all of it was perfect.

2) The Gosger and Hudson errors were the diametric opposite. To err is human; to forgive, a Mets fan, absolutely.

But c’mon. You just killed two guys.

Both impressions led to me tweeting to anybody might find it of interest the following at 4:21 PM Saturday:

“The Mets included two apparently living players in their Dear Departed reel, but otherwise a beautiful 1969 ceremony. #LGM”

As I write this article, we are more than twenty hours removed from that moment. My tweet has been retweeted 181 times and “liked” 703 times. For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, this level of response, as measured by volume, is insane. Measured by sentiment…let’s just say nobody really paid much attention to the part where I said I thought the ceremony was beautiful, which was mostly what I thought.

Let’s also say there is a widespread inference among baseball fans — Mets fans especially — that this organization has yet to master the challenge of walking and chewing gum simultaneously, and learning from an an array of sources that the Mets reported as dead two people who are still alive didn’t reverse that reputation.

Putting aside nuance being as elusive a commodity on Twitter as perfection is in general, it probably doesn’t help that most of the Mets’ past fifty years have not been not been mistaken for perfect. It really doesn’t help that the most recent sampling of Mets baseball has proven oodles less than ideal. The game that came attached to the beautiful 1969 tribute was horrific. It rained enough to halt play for ninety minutes. Later, an umpire got hurt and had to exit. The Mets blew a lead and didn’t get it back. In the end, it added up to a 5-4 loss, their seventh consecutive defeat, this one very much like the ones before it.

Chris Mazza debuted by throwing four hardy innings in relief of soggy Steven Matz. Dominic Smith homered. Jeff McNeil as usual and Robinson Cano for a change delivered big hits. But, ultimately, Seth Lugo surrendered consecutive eighth-inning home runs to Nick Markakis and Austin Riley, transforming Mets 4 Braves 3 into Braves 5 Mets 4, unfortunately taking the edge off the symbolism inherent in a 1969 NLCS rematch.

Different relievers, different weather patterns, different final scores, same essential result. You can honor the greatest New York sports story ever told. You can hand out pretty pennants. You can never forget 1969. Nor should you. But you can’t look past how bad the present can get. Even my friend Jeff who dashed home from the bus stop fifty years ago appeared ready to run in the other direction from the Mets when this seventh straight setback was complete (though some of that had to do with catching a train). Jeff went to the Mets loss in Philadelphia Thursday afternoon and the Mets loss Friday night at Citi Field before meeting up with me for the Mets loss Saturday afternoon/evening. He’s still with us, though. As am I. As are you, I’m guessing.

We’re fans of the Mets. Who among us — Mets and Mets fans, living or dead — is perfectly divine all the time?