Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this seventh of ten installments, we consider the one player who was there on our first Opening Day and who’s still here on our eleventh…and use the occasion besides to commence covering the new season just begun.
If he plays 148 games at his position in 2005, David Wright will be the No. 11 Met third baseman in terms of service at his position. Ever. He’s 179 games away from being No. 6 on the list. If he stays on track and healthy (and if he doesn’t, we’re all screwed anyway), he will be almost indisputably the greatest third baseman the Mets have ever had by his fourth season.
—“The Great Wright Hope,” February 22, 2005
He was batting seventh that day, a Monday in Cincinnati, April 4. There was talk from his manager during the spring that he’d be dropped to eighth, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he hadn’t yet done enough. His entire major league résumé was 263 at-bats, 77 hits, 40 runs batted in and 41 runs scored. It made for a promising debut in 2004, but it was relatively brief. Willie Randolph, newer to managing at this level than his third baseman was to playing, indicated someone entering his first full year in the bigs should earn a spot in the heart of his batting order. He had finished 2004 as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter, but that was under Art Howe. Randolph penciled him in to hit seventh.
So that’s where David Wright hit on his first Opening Day, in 2005. Lodged between Doug Mientkiewicz and Eric Valent, David doubled in the fourth, grounded into double plays in the second and the sixth and couldn’t do anything to keep Braden Looper from giving up ninth-inning home runs to Adam Dunn and Joe Randa. What appeared to be a glorious debut to the New Mets era of Pedro Martinez (6 IP, 12 K) and Carlos Beltran (3-for-5, HR, 3 RBI) wound up a profane 7-6 loss to the Reds.
When the season ended, David Wright had played in 160 of 162 games, batting fifth almost exclusively by August. He was a .306 hitter, a .912 slasher, the 19th Most Valuable Player in the National League by the reckoning of BBWAA voters for a team that finished over .500 (if just barely) for the first time since 2001. He was converting theoretical promise to actual. He even caught a ball with his bare hand one night in San Diego.
“It was over my right shoulder,” the 22-year-old explained. “I couldn’t reach it with my glove, so I took a stab at it.”
A simple analysis from a player who was making immediate success look easy.
David Wright can’t win the Cy Young Award as a third baseman, but he does hear unrelenting chants of “MVP!” at home, and having watched him turn Rogers Centre into yet another House of David, they don’t seem terribly exaggerated.
—“David Terrific,” June 24, 2006
He was batting fifth, per usual, after the newly acquired Carlos Delgado and ahead of the previous year’s rejuvenation story Cliff Floyd. The biggest bat of David Wright’s second Opening Day belonged to the No. 7 hitter, new Met Xavier Nady, who went 4-for-4. The biggest play of the Shea afternoon came on defense, when another import, Paul Lo Duca, sold a critical tag of Royce Clayton at the plate, even though replays showed Lo Duca dropped the ball somewhere along the way. The call held, though, and the Mets began their 2006 season on April 3 with a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals.
They’d keep winning early and often. Fortified by the trades and signings executed by Omar Minaya and bolstered by the experience Wright and fellow homegrown rising star Jose Reyes had gained, the Mets express turned into a runaway train early. As May was winding down, Wright had his average at .332 and had knocked in the winning walkoff run on four separate occasions. By mid-June, with David excelling on offense and defense, the Mets had buried the rest of the National League East. In July, Wright was announced a starter in the All-Star Game and a participant in the Home Run Derby. He came in second in the latter before homering in the former.
His year-end statistics were a near-replica of 2005’s, another 116 RBIs, a slugging percentage again well over .500. He’d finish ninth in MVP voting for 2006, but his season wasn’t done. The Mets had won a division title, giving Wright ten more games to play. His numbers were solid against Los Angeles in the NLDS, less so versus St. Louis in the seven-game series loss for the pennant. Still, it was hard to imagine David and the Mets wouldn’t have a chance to return to the postseason stage soon. The 23-year-old third baseman could afford to be gracious in defeat.
“Give credit to Molina, give credit to the Cardinals,” he said. “They deserved it.”
“David Wright has now hit in 24 consecutive regular-season games, tying the franchise record set by Hubie Brooks in 1984 and equaled by Mike Piazza in 1999. Wright has done it across two seasons, which makes it a different animal from its predecessors, so even if he hits in a 25th straight tonight in Florida — which would be excellent — Hubie’s notch on the Mets’ statistical bedpost appears safe…for at least a couple of weeks.”
—“Hang On, Hubie,” April 18, 2007
The Mets and Cardinals were ESPN’s featured Opening Night attraction to kick off 2007. Of course they were. They were the two teams that dueled to a standstill the previous October, at least until Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright drew final blood. Despite the disappointment of how 2006 ended, there was no doubt who was favored to make it to the playoffs again.
David Wright was as much of a fixture in the Met lineup as the Mets seemed to be atop the N.L. East. He was batting fifth at Busch Stadium on April 1 — this time in front of Moises Alou — to start the season and contributed a base hit to the Mets’ 6-1 romp over the defending world champs. They’d sweep in St. Louis and threaten to run roughshod over the East all over again as the year unfolded. David hit well out of the gate, stretching his two-season hitting streak to 26, though a few bumps in his and his team’s offense would arise.
Not quite the same power hitter following his Derby appearance in Pittsburgh the summer before, David failed to homer in April. His average dipped to an uncharacteristic .239, but then Wright and just about all his teammates shaved their heads. Was it Samson in reverse? The Mets were a 33-17 club on May 29 and David would be hitting over .290 when he headed to San Francisco to start another All-Star game.
The numbers were typical Wright by season’s end: a .963 OPS, fourth in the MVP voting, his first Silver Slugger and his first Gold Glove. He batted .394 in August, .352 in September, a sensational testament to the old bromide about how it’s not where you start, but where you finish. Alas, that applied to the Mets as a whole as well. They never did build up an impregnable lead in 2007, and even when the one they held in mid-September looked safe, it crumbled. The Mets missed the playoffs by one game. Wright, at 24 the media’s go-to guy, groped for an explanation.
“It’s obviously painful,” he said after the final game eliminated them. “It hurts. But at the same time, we did it to ourselves. It’s not like it blindsides us. We gradually let this thing slip away. In all honesty, we didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.”
Hardhatted David Wright, as unreluctant a Met third baseman as Richie Hebner was reluctant, endorsed world-class Citi Field on DiamondVision with all 32 of his teeth showing and I posited that, if asked, David Wright would endorse a virus.
—“It Comes Down to Reality,” August 8, 2008
When 2008 dawned, David Wright was batting third, between Luis Castillo and Beltran. He contributed two hits and three runs batted in to support Johan Santana’s successful March 31 Mets debut (7 IP, 8 K), a 7-2 win over the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium. Wright enjoyed a typically good start to his fourth full season, but the Mets stumbled as if hung over from the way 2007 ended. On June 17, David found himself playing for his third manager, once Jerry Manuel replaced Randolph. When David found himself slumping a week later, Manuel benched the third baseman who hadn’t taken a day off all year and would never think to ask for one.
Refreshed, David elevated his game enough to earn late replacement selection to his third All-Star Game, a Yankee Stadium affair that went 15 innings. If it had gone 16, manager Clint Hurdle’s pitcher of last resort — since he’d gone through all of his hurlers — was going to be Wright. It never came to that. David returned to his natural position of third and helped lead the Mets out of their June doldrums and into first place before July was over.
As the summer wore on, the Mets began to be plagued by injuries: Fernando Tatis, Damion Easley, John Maine, Billy Wagner were all either out for the year or significant swaths of what was left. Wright kept on leading whoever took their place. By the team’s final homestand at Shea Stadium, ad hoc lineups featuring the likes of Ramon Martinez at second, Robinson Cancel catching and Nick Evans in left field were playing alongside him. The Mets were barely holding on in their quest to topple the Phillies for the division lead or the Brewers for the Wild Card.
One of their best chances came on September 24 when rookie Daniel Murphy led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple in a tie game against the Cubs. Wright was up next with a chance to win it with no more than a fly ball. Instead, he struck out. The Cubs got out of the inning, Luis Ayala surrendered three runs in the tenth and the Mets lost the one game that again proved the margin between their making the playoffs and their going home.
In the final half-inning of baseball Shea would ever see, the very last opportunity these Mets had, Wright led off by popping out to second. For the first time, David heard a torrent of boos at home. At that moment, his career high 33 home runs, his team record-tying 124 runs batted in, his .302 batting average, his ultimate seventh-place finish in the MVP voting and his pending pair of Gold Glove and Silver Slugger prizes, cut no ice with a riled-up crowd. The 25-year-old, considered as clutch a player as could be hoped for for most of his time in the big leagues, had not come through when the Mets needed it.
“We failed,” Wright acknowledged. “We failed as a team.”
Saturday my bête noire was Eric Karros. Can Fox please send him out for coffee for nine or more innings? How inane and generally incommunicative does an ex-ballplayer need to be to become a backup Fox baseball broadcaster? In the production meeting, was Eric instructed to treat every viewer as utterly unfamiliar with the sport and its participants? […] Eric Karros seemed to believe he had a secret discovery in David Wright, as if it was time for America to meet the wonder. “He’s the future of this team,” Karros babbled. “Mike Piazza introduced me to him when he came up and…” David Wright came up five years ago. David Wright was the future of this team in 2004. David Wright is the present of this team in 2009. His present is scheduled to endure for quite a few more seasons, knock wood or whatever substance constitutes Brian Wilson’s glove. David Wright is a three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, et al, et al. Even folks going to the trouble of tuning in a baseball game outside of New York have probably heard of him and know something of what he’s been up to since he shook Eric Karros’ hand a half-decade ago.
—“Nine in the Afternoon,” May 17, 2009
David Wright’s fifth Opening Day represented a return to the scene of the crime, if you will. It was Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where his first Opening Day had gotten away. This year the idea was to start to get back what had slipped from the Mets’ grasp on the Closing Days of the two immediately preceding seasons. Slotted third between Murphy and Delgado, Wright collected a hit and two walks in the Mets’ 2-1 win that was most notable for the great job the revamped bullpen did in holding that lead. Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez combined for 3⅓ scoreless innings on April 6.
It was the Home Opener that Mets fans anticipated most, the first to take place at Citi Field, the park where Wright, Murphy and Evans took a little under-construction batting practice in 2008 to test out its roomy dimensions. According to Jeff Wilpon, his players liked it just fine. “Evans put it halfway up the left field deck,” the COO said. “It’s totally reachable.” The actual proof of how power would play came when the Mets opened the park for real on April 13 and Wright, appropriately enough, lashed the first Mets home run in its history. Discouragingly, it came in a losing Met cause, as the home team fell to the Padres, 6-5.
Met losses at Citi Field would become familiar sights in 2009 as the team got its collapsing out of the way early, finishing a distant fourth under a mountain of injuries and a general sense of malaise. Also infrequent were Wright homers to right. The new field seemed to be playing games with his swing. Though he earned another start at third in the All-Star Game, the 26-year-old’s slugging wasn’t quite what it had been at Shea Stadium. Then, with only eight home runs on his ledger in mid-August, the worst hit of all occurred when Matt Cain of the Giants beaned him. David visited the disabled list for the first time in his career, and when he came back, he didn’t seem to be at ease at the plate. He still hit over .300, he was still getting on base close to 40% of the time, but this season was a lost cause for Wright from start to finish.
“In the back of your mind, it’s there,” he admitted in September regarding the memory of being beaned. “I think it’s only kind of natural, kind of normal. Hopefully the more at-bats you get, the more comfortable you feel. There wasn’t necessarily anything prohibiting me from going in there and doing what I did before I got hit, but of course you see a ball that kind of comes up and in, it makes you flinch a little more than normal.”
Somewhere along the way Washington scored a run. Later, the Mets scored a run. At all other intervals nothing else happened, unless you count Jerry Manuel — the imminently erstwhile Chief Logistics Officer for Bizarre Inc. — pulling his two star players from the game in the top of the ninth while the game’s outcome remained completely in doubt. Neither David Wright nor Jose Reyes was retiring after Sunday, neither had broken a cherished record, neither was the Pope or anything like that. Yet Jerry treated his two best players as if they were Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken at an All-Star Game. Earth to Jerry: The game counted. It was 1-1. We could have used our two best players to theoretically help win it. That would have been nice. Instead, it was six innings of Mike Hessman and Joaquin Arias — fine fellows, no doubt, but not David Wright and Jose Reyes in a 1-1 game. Not even close. Maybe the Mets still would have flailed without success for several more innings and hours with Jose and David remaining active, but I’d prefer watching my team go down with its best as opposed to the pronounced opposite. Which brings us back to Ollie.
—A Product of Bizarre Inc., October 4, 2010
The 70-92 disaster of the year before did not dim David Wright’s enthusiasm when his team gathered in Port St. Lucie to prepare for 2010.
“We’re expecting to go out there and win the National League East and go deep in the playoffs and win the World Series,” he said in February. “That is the expectation I’ve gotten from the guys who are here early, and I [expect] this team to get back to where we are winning the National League East.”
It seemed either admirable enthusiasm or a touch of delusion had overcome Wright in the Florida sun, and his forecast looked no more realistic when Manuel filled out his lineup card for David’s sixth Opening Day, at Citi Field, on April 5. With Reyes slow to recover from a thyroid condition, Alex Cora was the leadoff hitter, the relentlessly disappointing Luis Castillo was batting second and retread Mike Jacobs was the cleanup man. Down the order would be a pile of other people’s castoffs, including Gary Matthews, Jr., Jeff Francouer and Rod Barajas. Yet solidly ensconced in the three-hole was Wright, and he was whole again. In the first inning, David lined a ball over the right field fence to boost Santana to a 2-0 lead en route to a 7-1 win.
The Mets made some personnel adjustments along the way — Angel Pagan went to center, Ike Davis was called up to play first — and they found their collective footing, competing for first place for much of the first half. The biggest reason was 27-year-old Wright, who, for the most part, returned to his pre-2009 groove. His batting average was only .283 and he struck out a career-high 161 times, but his slugging percentage rose back over .500 and he garnered enough votes to start another All-Star game and enough writer support to show up in the MVP rankings. He even began driving around town in Lincoln commercials that aired regularly during SNY telecasts.
Not a bad showing for a player whose prognostication didn’t pan out. The Mets fell apart in the second half and came nowhere near winning the National League East or much of anything else. It ended up costing both GM Minaya and manager Manuel their jobs.
“At the end of the day,” he said when another losing season was over, “it’s tough to really enjoy anything [when] we…don’t make the playoffs again.”
David Wright is one second opinion away from going on the Disabled List. MRI reveals lower back stress fracture. Examination of Mets roster reveals no obvious alternatives for third base or the batting order. True, he was mostly sucking, but just as true, he’s David Wright.
—“Wright Out, Fright In,” May 16, 2011
Playing third, batting third. New manager Terry Collins had much to think about as he took over the Mets for the 2011 season, but David Wright wasn’t an issue. Collins could simply pencil him in after left fielder Willie Harris and let David do his thing on April 1. Unfortunately, his thing was an 0-for-4 on the first night of the season, as Mike Pelfrey and the Mets lost in Miami to the Marlins, 6-2.
The Mets and Wright shared miserable starts, with Collins’s crew scuffling out of the gate to a 5-13 record and Wright plummeting to a .226 average in mid-May, when a back injury sustained in a play at third (the Astros’ Carlos Lee fell on top of him in April) got the best of him and sidelined him for two-plus months.
In his absence, the Mets caught a little bit of fire, led by Wright’s “baseball brother” Reyes, who successfully chased down a batting title, a Mets first. Wright’s return to the lineup on July 22 preceded their fall from the cusp of contention by about a week. It was right around then that Beltran was traded to San Francisco for prospect Zack Wheeler. The season’s end would mark the conclusion of Reyes’s New York tenure, as the free agent shortstop was headed for the free-spending Marlins. David, at 28 the last of the three core members of the team that came so close to making the World Series five years earlier, wound down his quietest season yet, batting an unsightly .254.
David’s most memorable moment of 2011 came when Fred Wilpon saw fit to single him out in an infamous interview with the New Yorker, most of which was devoted to dissecting his relationship to Bernard Madoff. Though the Mets had promoted him as the face of their franchise almost from the time they brought him up in 2004, regularly encouraged comparisons to crosstown shortstop Derek Jeter and had asked him to shake every hand and pose for every picture, Wilpon identified Wright as merely “a really good kid” and “a very good player,” but “not a superstar”. He was also less than effusive about Beltran and Reyes.
“Fred is a good man and is obviously going through some difficult times,” was Wright’s restrained response to his embattled owner. “There is nothing more productive that I can say at this point.”
I took a fantastic pregame nap Saturday afternoon. It was fantastic because I awoke to the sound of David Wright playing, David Wright batting and David Wright going way deeper than I’d been sleeping. No, Howie and Josh assured me, I wasn’t dreaming. David was not on the DL, despite what everybody and his Twitter account was insisting would be a sure and depressing thing as regarded our third baseman’s right pinky. Bison Josh Satin prowled the Met clubhouse, but was not activated. No need for his emergency services. David was able to grip everything he needed, so he grabbed a bat, gripped the hell out of it to homer some 428 feet from where he stood at Citizens Bank Park. He was playing through the pain — he swore he could tolerate it — and he was putting the Mets into an early lead, one which increased as the day progressed. David kept playing and kept batting and kept getting hits. He even gripped the ball and threw it fine.
—“Live from Philadelphia, It’s David Wright!” April 14, 2012
It was one of those days…one of those exquisite Opening Days Mets fans could wrap their hopes around. Following moving ceremonies that honored the recently deceased Gary Carter, Santana returned to the mound for the first time since 2010 and led the Mets to a 1-0 win over the Braves to start 2012 in style. Making a less dramatic but definitely impactful contribution on April 5 was Wright, who recorded two hits from the three-hole, including the single that brought home leadoff hitter Andres Torres in the sixth.
The Mets won their first four games, tying the franchise record, and stayed reasonably hot into early June, a 31-23 bolt whose crowning moment came June 1 when Santana threw the team’s first-ever no-hitter. While Johan and R.A. Dickey drew much of the attention during the Mets’ productive early months, it was Wright who keyed the attack. With no Beltran and no Reyes, David was the undisputed best player on the team, batting over .400 as late as May 24. Though he was jobbed out of a starting spot on the National League All-Star team when the Giants banged the drum resoundingly for Pablo Sandoval, he was named to his sixth squad.
Things turned predictably sour for his team after the All-Star break, as the Mets disappeared again from the Wild Card race, Santana went on the DL and the remaining talent level proved underwhelming. The Mets were headed for another fourth-place finish, but Wright upheld his end of the bargain. On September 26, he beat out the infield single that pushed him past Ed Kranepool on the Mets’ all-time list (1,419) and the next day he struck the three-run homer that propelled Dickey to the first Met 20-win season since 1990. For his troubles, David came in sixth in the N.L. MVP voting. He’d have preferred another trip to the postseason, but that wasn’t coming.
Still, the hit record was nice, especially since it came to him in a moment of collective triumph. “Obviously, it’s humbling, the 29-year-old said, “A little more exciting — we won today. […] To be able to do it here at home was extra special.”
David Wright as Mets captain? Don’t be silly. David Wright’s not a captain. David Wright’s an ambassador. David Wright puts the Mets’ best foot forward. David Wright makes everybody feel good about the Mets, including all those new Mets to whom he shows apartments, restaurants and the ropes. David Wright represents the Mets in other places, even to other countries. Look what he did while wearing a USA uniform versus Italy and Canada. Whatever people in those strange lands thought of the Mets before (if they thought them about them at all), they’re thinking one thing above all now: That’s the team that has David Wright. How bad could a team with David Wright be?
—“Ambassador Wright,” March 12, 2013
Before David Wright ever got anywhere near Opening Day 2013, he was already having a spectacular season. First, he was playing under a new, $138 million contract that was slated to keep him a Met into 2020, thus squashing talk that he’d be the next high-profile Met out the door. Next, he flirted with national icon status, starring for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and gaining the nickname Captain America in the patriotic process. Finally, the role long envisioned for him by fans, teammates and managers alike had come to pass: he was named the fourth captain in Mets history, joining Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco in the annals of anointed leaders.
He took the field on April 1 without a C on his chest (no need, he decided) but to a thunderous ovation in recognition of all the 30-year-old third baseman had meant to a franchise that hadn’t had anything else of lasting value to applaud during his time. David batted third, drove in a run, scored a run and enjoyed the 11-2 romp over the Padres engineered primarily by starter Jon Niese (6.2 IP, 4 H) and heretofore unknown center fielder Collin Cowgill (a grand slam).
The good vibes didn’t last. The Mets slipped under .500 to stay in April and Wright spent the final two months of the season battling hamstring woes. As a result, he was limited to 112 games, though they were pretty good ones when he was healthy. He racked up a .307 average, a .904 OPS, 18 homers and his seventh All-Star selection.
This one was special. The All-Star Game of 2013 was played at Citi Field, where nothing quite so big had ever been scheduled. It was important to the Mets that Wright gain election to start, and he did. Not only was he in the field when the game began — behind pitcher Matt Harvey, no less — he served as captain of the National League’s Home Run Derby contingent. It wasn’t of much concern that he didn’t come close to winning it this time. The point was that in the middle of July, with all of baseball paying attention, Wright was at the sport’s center. The epic applause he received from the Met-leaning crowd was enormous that blazing hot Monday evening. The greeting would be echoed when he was introduced before the main event Tuesday; when he played ceremonial catcher for Tom Seaver’s first pitch; and again when he came to the plate in the second inning against the White Sox’ Chris Sale.
“To have that kind of ovation when your name’s called — that’s every kid’s dream playing Little League,” Wright exulted. “Hearing your name called and the crowd going wild. That’s really special, and I can’t thank these fans enough.”
Missing from the lineup and all lineups for the duration was and will be David Wright, who will do something most people aren’t tempted to do these days: he’s going to take a seat at Citi Field. That shoulder of his that either was or wasn’t bothering him and was or wasn’t hindering him, well, guess what: it bothered him and it hindered him and now he’s going to rest it. One wants to applaud his determination to play through the pain. In a short series of major import, that would be admirable. Down the stretch in a fierce battle for the playoffs, it would be monumental. When your team has been wallowing below .500 and marking time toward next year or whenever, you weren’t helping. Put another way, when does playing in a diminished state make you a better hitter and how does it boost your team’s chances of winning? Gentle admonishment complete. Feel better, David.
—“A Good Hair Day,” September 10, 2014
“Losing,” Wright declared in January of 2014, “is unacceptable.” The Captain was espousing the kind of optimism that five consecutive losing seasons hadn’t beaten out of him. “Although it was a great run in 2006, I think that we’re in store for an even greater run in years to come.”
That was the voice that made David Wright the undisputed leader of the Mets players, and before his tenth Opening Day rolled around, his visage would have a good run of its own, being named “the Face of MLB” in a fan Twitter poll. Wright, who never seemed to want to make much out of anything that wasn’t a Mets win, took the selection in stride, thanking his parents for the good genes that presumably led to the victorious face.
He wouldn’t be able to make one of those when the next season began. On March 31, batting third between Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson, the newly married 31-year-old was close to celebrating another successful season-opener at Citi Field, but a ninth-inning lead got away from Bobby Parnell and extras loomed. Wright homered in the bottom of the tenth, but what sounds heroic turned out meaningless. The Nationals had scored four in the top of the inning and prevailed, 9-7.
Neither the Mets nor Wright could get untracked in 2014. For the team, it was a familiar story. For Wright, it was more disturbing. He was hitting with virtually no power and was nowhere near .300. The Face of MLB admitted to a left shoulder of woe (it was roughed up on a slide at second). Refusing to yield much playing time and not wishing to make excuses, he kept going. But it didn’t get better and he finally shut it down on following the game of September 8. His totals were distressingly ordinary: a .698 OPS and only eight home runs.
“I think that there were times where I should have done better, that I could have done better,” he said. “It’s obvious this season has left a sour taste in my mouth, as far as both the injury side of it and the production side of it. But I’m confident after getting healthy and going through as normal of an off-season as possible that I’ll return doing what I firmly believe that I’m capable of doing on the baseball field.”
There’s a gathering critical mass of position-playing ability in Flushing. It hasn’t fully come together yet, but Cuddyer pushes it toward coalescing. I’d be a bit more excited if our core wasn’t leaning a bit heavily on older guys who you hope haven’t aged too much and younger guys who still need to completely ripen. Those who are approaching their prime (Lagares, d’Arnaud) and those who are drifting past it (Wright, Granderson, Cuddyer) surround a couple of guys (Duda, Murphy) who are as at high a level as they’re probably gonna get. Somewhere amid these demographics, there is a best-case scenario developing, with bases being reached and runs being scored and an offense that isn’t so shaky or shallow anymore.
—“Aiming Higher With Michael Cuddyer,” November 11, 2014
Did it matter to David Wright that on his eleventh Opening Day, at Nationals Park, his manager decided to bat him second, somewhere he’d never been slotted on Opening Day or too often on any other days, certainly not recently?
Does stuff like that ever matter to Wright? Of if it does, would he ever cop to it?
“‘Terry,’” he said he told his manager during Spring Training 2015, “‘I don’t care. Just bat me wherever you think is best to help this team win, whether it’s second, third, sixth, seventh. It doesn’t matter.’ I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.”
Thus, on April 6, 2015, David batted second in a starting lineup for the first time since August 31, 2010. Did it make a difference? Well, the 32-year-old third baseman went 0-4, so you might think something was up, considering how good he’d been through all the Opening Days and Nights of his lives. Prior to Opener No. 11, the Mets tweeted these figures:
• .361 batting average
• 4 home runs
• 11 runs batted in
• And as soon as this game was official, 11 starts, tying him with Tom Seaver and Buddy Harrelson for the most in team history.
Mosts in team history were nothing new to David Wright as 2015 approached. His updated major league résumé through 2014 included 5,707 at-bats, 1,702 hits, 939 runs batted in and 907 runs scored. No Met has totaled more. He is or figures soon enough to be first in just about everything that isn’t intensely speed-related. The non-pitching section of the franchise record book might as well as have his face on cover.
Even if Fred Wilpon still wishes to argue the superstar point, what’s not up for debate is Wright’s status as an institution, both in Flushing and throughout baseball. The “one constant” line from Field Of Dreams surely applies to him. He is the last captain extant on any team. With Jimmy Rollins having moved on to Los Angeles, David has played in more games as a homegrown, one-team player than anybody active. Given that his first game came in July of 2004, when Olympic Stadium was still in use and the Expos were still in Montreal, he may go down as the last player to play a National League game on artificial turf in North America.
Between 2005 and 2014, what I like to think of as the first decade of the Faith and Fear era, 261 different players played as Mets. Some, like Reyes and Beltran and Santana and Dickey, will be long remembered. More seemed to be just passing through. 260 of them can be thought of as teammates of David Wright. After Opening Day in 2015, when Michael Cuddyer (recruited by old chum Wright to join as a free agent from the Rockies, which provides neat symmetry to Wright having been drafted by the Mets via a compensation pick provided them when their free agent, Mike Hampton, signed with Colorado in 2000), John Mayberry, Jr., and Jerry Blevins made their Met debuts, the all-time Met count reached 987. So that’s 263 Mets teammates for Wright since his first Opening Day, plus a couple of handfuls who were here when he arrived in ’04, but didn’t make it to ’05: your John Franco, your Al Leiter, your Joe Hietpas, even.
(Hietpas, famous for catching the final half-inning of the 162nd game of 2004 and doing literally nothing else in the majors is one of 70 players to have made his MLB debut as a Met since Wright broke in.)
However you add it up, more than a quarter of all the players who have ever played for the Mets have played with David Wright, the one who — to paraphrase from Roger Kahn — stayed in Flushing. Many have been led by David Wright, whether formally as captain or by simply taking their cue from the guy who’d been around the longest and accomplished the most and didn’t make “a big deal” out of any of it, save for his desire to win. He still talks about 2006 as the high point of his career. “Now,” he said on the eve of 2015, “you understand just how much it means.” He rarely cares to mention any individual feats.
On his eleventh Opening Day, against the long-ago Montreal Expos who became the Washington Nationals the same day he played his first Opening Day in 2005, Wright didn’t get a hit. But he did hit the ball. In the sixth inning with two out and Granderson on first, Max Scherzer was outdueling Bartolo Colon and no-hitting the Mets for a 1-0 lead. Wright didn’t appear to help Colon’s cause when he popped a ball into shortest right field.
But you learn a few things in your twelfth season and on your eleventh Opening Day.
“I hit it and I was upset that I popped it up,” he said. “But then I made my way down to first. I try to run everything out.”
David’s running was no false hustle. There was miscommunication between the new National second baseman Dan Uggla and the old National shortstop Ian Desmond. Uggla seemed to have the ball. Then Desmond called him off.
Then Desmond dropped it.
“As I hit first going to second, I saw a little confusion,” Wright recounted after the game. “So I wanted to make sure I got to second, at least.”
He did, while Granderson landed on third. Because they got where they were going, Lucas Duda was able to take full advantage when he delivered the first base hit off Scherzer, a line single to right that plated both of them and gave the Mets a 2-1 lead.
“We were fortunate,” Wright said.
Colon went six innings, yielding only a solo home run to Bryce Harper. Travis d’Arnaud tripled in a third run in the seventh. Carlos Torres and Jeurys Familia took care of Washington in the home seventh and eighth. All that remained was for Jenrry Mejia to run in from the visitors’ bullpen and pitch the ninth.
Except Mejia was feeling elbow pain and the Mets’ designated closer was suddenly out of action for nobody knew how long. In this age of specialization, where every reliever desires to know his role and every manager strives to clarify it, Collins was forced to vamp. In came ex-Nat Blevins to retire Harper. Exit Blevins, enter Buddy Carlyle, the incredibly well-traveled vet who was barely in the Mets’ plans until approximately 48 hours earlier. Carlyle had been pitching on and off in the big leagues since 1999 and had never recorded a save. He had never pitched on Opening Day until now.
A Mets game isn’t truly a Mets game until a Mets fan braces for the worst. Here in the bottom of the ninth, we had ourselves an official ballgame.
Carlyle will never rival Wright in the Mets record book — he is more likely to land among the Collin Cowgill curiosities — but he was having a moment in this spotlight. One ground ball from Ryan Zimmerman to shortstop. Another ground ball from Wilson Ramos to shortstop. Wilmer Flores, at one point a budding third baseman in an organization where there’s been no future in that job title since July 21, 2004, handled both of them cleanly, firing them to Duda for the second and third outs.
For the first time in his major league career, Buddy Carlyle was a closer. For the eighth time in his major league career, David Wright was a winner on Opening Day, 3-1. The mighty Nationals were 0-1. The 2015 Mets were 1-0.
It might not be any kind of sign of things to come. Wright’s high-fived at the end of seven other Openers. There was no pot of World Series gold at the end of the rainbows that followed. Most of the seasons that unfurled from those initial happy recaps offered no rainbow at all, just dark clouds of the unpuffy variety. Which is not to say it’s not worth winning on Opening Day. It’s just that you can only do so much in one game.
Except Wright endeavors to do more in every game every day, just like you get the feeling he cares more and acts on his concerns more. He can’t secure a playoff berth by himself, but if he can move to make a person’s life better, he will. Take the way he took it upon himself to host Justin and Jaden Ramos, the sons of Rafael Ramos, one of the NYPD officers brutally murdered in December. It was more than a hello, how do you do that Wright gave them at Spring Training this year. The boys got lockers in the Met clubhouse and a big piece of the third baseman’s time. Wright’s a son of law enforcement himself and doing the, well, Wright thing is just what he does.
“Justin and Jaden are Mets fans,” Governor Cuomo said at their father’s funeral, “which tells us a lot about them. It means they are really tough, and really committed, and really, really, really loyal.” To Wright, it didn’t matter that the kids were Mets fans, but it was true and that made his gesture all the more meaningful. “In fourth grade,” Justin Ramos said, “he was like my biggest idol,” and now he was having dinner with him. Said their mother, “It’s actually brought a smile to my face to see them so happy.”
You know Wright wants to spread more happiness and he wants to do it through the power of winning and he wants smiles on the faces of all who root for him. I used to think there was something robotic about his reflexive proclamations that the Mets were going to win this year or at least be positioned to win. If I could see that was nonsense, how come he couldn’t? I’ve now come to see Wright is a romantic. He talks about growing up a Mets fan in Norfolk. Only a Mets fan could be the kind of believer he’s been this long with so little to show for it.
“I fully expect us to be in the playoffs,” he said in January. He has to say that, not because somebody forces him to, but because he’s gotta believe.
We know how that goes. Especially after beating the Nationals on Opening Day.
I’ll let you in on a little secret about the endless period between baseball seasons:
It does end.
I’m not sorry to see the stretch that commenced with the last out of the last Met season and concludes with the first pitch of the new Met season expire, though since I’ve been doing this stuff here, I’m always amazed at how much I don’t get to across those six barren months. Every year I have all kinds of “offseason posts” lined up in my mind for when the playoffs play out, for when the Hot Stove sizzles, for when the snowy void blankets our field of vision, for when we’re all making the same Rogers Hornsby allusions, for when Pitchers & Catchers report, for when Pitchers & Catchers & their teammates then proceed to jog in place for weeks upon weeks.
Then Opening Day arrives and I realize I got to several of them but never all of them. Some of them will spill into the new season, some of them will keep as evergreens, many of them will become inscrutable notations in my currently 54-page “blog ideas” MS Word document that I’ve been adding onto for the past eight years. (For example, my previously unpublished 2010 concept for a Ben & Jerry’s flavor called Angel Pecan probably goes no further than this parenthetical sentence.)
Oh well. As of 4:05, there’ll be new games to spawn more ideas, some ingenious, some dubious, some that will never be expanded upon but get jotted down in a moment of Metsian passion because I don’t want to forget it.
We all forget things that seem excruciatingly important in the moment. I’m told I have a Marilu Henner-style memory for what the Mets were doing and when, yet I forget things, too. The Mets are about to enter their 54th season (55th, if you count 1981 as two seasons, which is something few ever stop to consider doing). They’re too far along historically to be summed up in detail on the fly, though you can still probably condense their essence down to a bulging paragraph.
The New York Mets were founded in 1962, were very bad in their early stages, shocked the baseball world with an unforeseen championship in 1969, maintained a level of competitiveness for the next several years — which included a surprising pennant in 1973 — and then fell into their old dismal ways for an uncomfortably lengthy spell. They revived by the mid-1980s, capturing another thrilling championship in 1986 and remaining one of the sport’s top clubs (with a 1988 division title to their credit) into the next decade. Most of the 1990s represented another fallow period, though they climbed back to prominence as a new century approached, reaching the postseason in consecutive Octobers and a fourth World Series in 2000. After another dip in fortunes, they returned to the top of their division in 2006. Within a few years they were struggling again, though optimism for a bright future coincided with the coming of the 2015 campaign. However well or poorly they performed in the standings, their most dedicated fans have always embraced them.
It will get harder and harder to tell the Met story in brief given time’s tendency to pile up. It’s also impossible to use indelible ink for how it ends, because — unless you’re plagued by a Walter O’Malley — it thankfully never ends. You can rattle off with certainty everything that you’re reasonably sure is in the past, from “Casey Stengel lit up the Polo Grounds” to “Bernard Madoff cast a shadow over Citi Field,” but you have to allow for provisional penultimate sentences. Previous eras give you concrete results. Eras in progress get by on contemporary mood because you just don’t know what you’ve got on your hands right now. You don’t necessarily precisely understand what you had on your hands a few years ago. Someday you’ll be able to define what it’s all meant, but for now it’s still being processed in service to a bigger, undeveloped picture. 2015 could answer for us what was coming by way of, say, 2013, or it could be another breadcrumb on the way to 2017…or whenever.
Ideally, 2015 will explain itself as 1969 and 1986 still do, and the years prior 2015 will fill in their blanks accordingly, presumably in Prelude To Greatness fashion. The Mets, you may have noticed, rarely traffic in the ideal, but if you can’t be an idealist on Opening Day, then when?
So we won’t know how exactly this new year fits along the great Met timeline for a while, except that it is following 2014 and is scheduled to precede 2016. Nevertheless, we’ll start to get the slightest inkling around 4:05 this afternoon, which was the whole point of those six months between seasons when I never got around to writing all I’d hoped to write. And however well or poorly our Mets perform in the standings, their most dedicated fans will always embrace them.
L’Sheanah tovah. May we be inscribed and sealed for the Happiest of Recaps.
Buddy Carlyle, baseball professional since 1996 yet a veteran of portions of only eight major league seasons to date, knows from whence he speaks when he says, “Baseball goes on. That’s the hardest thing to realize…it goes on without you.” It will go on with Buddy Carlyle on the Mets’ Opening Day roster Monday, just as it will go on without Eric Campbell, the utilityman who earned a spot two springs in a row but got squeezed out of Day One consideration both times.
The man called Soup understands what it all boils down to: “It’s a business.” Matt Harvey c. 2007 couldn’t have said it better to Jeremy Schaap. Campbell’s not a major leaguer on Monday because Carlyle’s and Sean Gilmartin’s contractual statuses got in the way. Mets baseball will almost certainly go on with Campbell before too long, though. In the past ten Opening Weeks, off the top of my head, I can recall Mike Cameron (2005), Andres Torres (2012) and Bobby Parnell (2014) all hitting the DL before the ceremonial bunting had time to be folded up and put away properly.
We wish everybody on the 25-man roster the best of health and all the success in the world. May they, at the very least, make it difficult for Soup to stir. But Campbell will be back. In the interim, however, the whole thing goes on without him.
Carlyle’s quote resonates beyond the current personnel situation for me in light of a book I recently finished reading, Mort Zachter’s ambitious biography called Gil Hodges: A Hall Of Fame Life. If anybody symbolizes how baseball’s irresistible force ultimately plows through any one person’s place in it, sadly it is Hodges. Nobody could have been a bigger presence for the team he managed than Gil was for the Mets. As a kid, I would have found it impossible to imagine anybody but Hodges as manager. Other teams replaced their skippers. Some were fired. Some resigned. But Gil seemed as permanent as Shea Stadium itself.
Forty-three Easter Sundays ago, we learned different. Word filtered north that Gil Hodges suffered a second heart attack and died instantly in West Palm Beach. Just like that, he was gone. A few days later, once some (but hardly all) of the shock cleared away, we learned somebody else was going to manage the Mets.
Because baseball goes on.
That’s the hardest truth to avoid as you read Zachter’s book. You know what’s coming at the end of Gil’s story. You want a different ending. You want something else to happen on April 2, 1972, yet you can’t have it. It can’t help but cast a pall over your reading.
On the other hand, there’s the life Gil Hodges lived, and that’s something that’s wonderful to visit. Zachter is an able tour guide who commits to his self-appointed duty. The author steers us from Hodges’s Indiana youth to his entry to pro ball to the detour dictated by World War II, all of it us giving the foundation to appreciate the rest of the journey during which Hodges becomes Hodges.
Not a symbol, not a saint.
Technically, Hodges was always Hodges, which is the beauty inherent in the story Zachter tells. Though he wasn’t comfortable being portrayed as saint or symbol, Gil was held up in his day as an ideal baseball man in and out of the sport. Long before Spike Lee made Brooklyn the setting for Do The Right Thing, Hodges made that his de facto credo during the years he called the borough home, first as the highly decorated first baseman on the championship Dodgers, then as the miracle-working manager of the championship Mets. His is illustrated as a very Golden Rule life, though one gets the impression he treated others well as a matter of course, not particularly worried about what was coming his way in exchange…unless he was being done explicitly wrong. In those instances, including within a marvelous anecdote Zachter recounts about an M. Donald Grant underling’s attempt to mess with Hodges’s box seats, you can be assured Gil didn’t lightly accept shabby behavior.
What is good to be reminded of, via Zachter’s extensive research of his playing and managing career, is Gil Hodges was very much a human being. He wasn’t a great driver, for example. He had a dry sense of humor. He now and then rubbed a player the wrong way. And 1969 notwithstanding, he didn’t manage every team under his authority to a World Series championship. In fact, he lost a lot more than he won overall — not his fault, given the talent he inherited in Washington and the slow development of what preceded him in Flushing, but a very human outcome.
Even saints and symbols sometimes come in third.
We know about Gil’s legendary 1969 and we understand what Gil did in 1968 to alter for the better the trajectory of the franchise. Less discussed since April 2, 1972, is that in 1970 and 1971 the nominally contending Mets fell disappointingly short. Hodges likely wouldn’t hide the fact that he was the manager then, too, and not everything he did was imbued by a magic touch. He preferred certain American League veterans too much and didn’t necessarily communicate optimally with some of the youngsters on his watch. Most of his players swore by him or came to with experience — Ron Swoboda still kicks himself for not processing his manager’s advice more effectively in real time — yet he who serves as boss is going to have his detractors. Gil had his. Zachter even goes so far as to suggest that with ’72 looming as the final year on his contract, it wasn’t a certainty that Hodges would return to manage in ’73 and beyond if his Mets didn’t start winning again ASAP.
Zachter avoids hagiography, instead delivering a legitimately positive portrait, one rich in details if a little short on literary grandeur. I got the feeling the Hodges he gives us doesn’t measure out to larger-than-life proportions because Gil Hodges was most at ease being a man who was simply trying to do his best in a demanding atmosphere. The author certainly gets that sense across.
(I do wish he and his editor had been more careful about spellings. Mike Jorgensen, Rockville Centre, the Gowanus Canal, Jay Horwitz and one reference to Whitey Lockman were all muffed, plus there was a misstatement about where the first All-Star Game played on Astroturf took place. If Gil had proofread the manuscript, I have to believe he would have issued fines for such avoidable errors.)
As for the phrase regarding the Hall of Fame his publisher emblazoned on the cover, Zachter devotes a final chapter to the topic that burns up the Internet and gets our goat every few winters. Not surprisingly, he makes a convincing case for Gil’s induction into Cooperstown, though it was hardly the point of the book. Those who have declined to vote Hodges in might decide otherwise should they read Zachter’s work, but there’s a more important takeaway to be had from Gil Hodges: A Hall Of Fame Life. There’s a reason we still talk about Gil in reverent terms 43 years after his death.
It’s because he deserves it.
If you’re interested in what a Seder plate might have had to do with home plate — and what any of it has to do with Gil Hodges — I’d recommend this article from the Tablet that was recommended to me by an old friend of Gil’s (and more recently mine), David Kaminer. A version of the story is told in Zachter’s book as well.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we appreciate the best reason to have continued watching game in and game out even when the seasons have pretty much gone to hell.
“[You’re] a great broadcaster. And what I mean by that is you have respect for the audience. You have respect for the audience and you have understood what a responsibility having this show every night for an hour means. And you have been a great caretaker of this time. […] Day to day, day to day, you have been a great broadcaster and I just wanted to say that…”
Al Franken said the above to David Letterman the other night. With no more than a couple of tweaks, any of us could have repeated the exact same sentiment to Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Letterman is ending his show next month. Gary, Keith and Ron aren’t going anywhere as far as we know. As long as they’re not, I won’t be going anywhere, either.
Try to imagine these past six seasons without GKR. Try to imagine these past nine seasons, including the ones that weren’t mostly miserable from start to finish. The SNY booth made the Mets more Amazin’ when they were good and elevated them above intolerability when they were awful.
Gary, Keith and Ron have given us Augusts that shouldn’t have been nearly as august and Septembers that we didn’t want to end no matter the tenor of the seasons barely any longer in progress.
They gave us truth and insight and friendliness and intelligence and hilarity and baseball talk like it oughta be. They’ve been a talking miracle. They narrate the often sad and lame machinations of a franchise struggling to be less sad and less lame and have been encouraged and allowed to shine as if they’re nightly counting us down toward a magic number.
On my cable system, the magic number is 60, the setting for SportsNet New York. It’s not much of a channel when the Mets aren’t on, though it’s an adequate frequency when the Mets are making a little off-field news. You can’t argue with live cutaways for free agent signings, Rookie of the Year announcements and such. You can’t help but peek in on any show that has “Mets” in the title. But the real Mets and potatoes is 7:10 on most weeknights from early April to early October, give or take a week, a matinee or an unwelcome intrusion by Fox or ESPN (Channel 11’s OK, I guess, but the SNY-produced games airing there never feel quite as kosher).
Gary, Keith and Ron start to speak. The Mets play in front of them. The Mets also misplay in front of them. That’s all right. They talk us through the three-two counts that become ball four, the mental errors, the lapses in judgment, the baserunners who take off too soon from first or turn the wrong way around second or are find themselves out at third. They hold our hands when the bullpen gate swings open and we don’t want to see who is coming in next.
They also talk us through base hits to the gap and jams escaped and what do you call those things again, where saves aren’t blown? Wins, that’s it. There are never enough wins since Gary, Keith and Ron have been coming to our psychological aid, but when they do occur, boy do our guys make the most of them.
SNY — and we’ll include the crack production team along with the dear, departed Bobby Ojeda and Kevin Burkhardt under that rubric — manufactures the most satisfying three-plus hours of nightly television this side of my Mad Men DVDs. The Mets may have been letting us down with regularity since late 2007, but the given Mets game we watch never does. Gary, Keith and Ron don’t talk down to us and they don’t oversell unto us what we ain’t in the mood to buy. They are the Mets fans we are even if we were never the players two of them were and few anywhere could be the broadcaster their lead voice is. They avoid the unprofessional “we,” yet we know they’re in this with us. We feel it, which is why we don’t click away and rarely dare to turn them off.
I’ve stayed glued to so many Mets games on television because of them. Yeah, I’d look in anyway, especially since we blog them, but they making watching fun. It’s appointment television, destination television, immersion television. It’s television a relatively sane person talks back to the screen during, not because the person in question has a problem with the broadcast but because he sort of senses he’s welcome in the booth. He’s come to anticipate what Ron will say to Gary and what Keith will say to both of them, yet he maintains the capacity for surprise and delight. He’s sorry some Mets games drag on and on from an aesthetic standpoint, but he’s rarely rooting for the curtain to come down on SNY for the evening.
I love the show these guys put on, probably because they’ve convinced me somehow that it’s not a show. It feels so genuine, so authentic, so real. Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling embody the Mets as we wish them to be. They present them to us in a way that lets us look at our team and see our reflection and fill with elation that we are, from our respective couches, a piece of this action. When you get that much out of one cable channel, how could you not want to lock in on that?
I’ve never run through a brick wall, not even figuratively, but an advance viewing of the E:60 documentary Matt Harvey: The Dark Knight Rises filled me with the impulse to follow the title character through one. Seriously, where he throws, I will follow. The same film also convinced me that Matt probably put his head down and stormed a few brick walls to make his rehabilitation regimen as rigorous as possible.
And I mean that literally.
ESPN may have wanted to track Harvey from Tommy John surgery forward to illustrate “the high-stakes comeback of a pitching phenom,” as the Worldwide Leader’s promotional material puts it, but my interest was purely parochial. Somebody made a movie about a Met and invited me to a screening. Of course I wanna see it.
If this provides you with proper impetus to watch or DVR when ESPN airs its good work Saturday night at 7:00 (or reairs Monday night at 10, after the network’s tripleheader coverage of Opening Day), then you’ll have chosen wisely. This is ace pitcher porn, never mind the callbacks to his Body Issue photo shoot. It’s Harvey being Harvey, reminding us why we fell in love with some combination of him, his performance and his persona. It’s additional reassurance — coupled with what he’s done all spring — that this guy is as seriously ready to go as could be.
Because Harvey’s career to date has totaled only a little more than year and change of playing time, there wasn’t a ton of archival game footage for producer Ben Houser and reporter Jeremy Schaap to rely on. I’m tempted to suggest this E:60, textured as it is, could’ve been E:45 given that some already familiar notes are struck repeatedly. Ultimately, though, that’s OK, because it means you keep seeing Harvey 2013 over and over, and personally, I can’t see Harvey 2013 enough (save for his final game that summer against Detroit, when the sense that something was wrong with his golden arm permeated the Promenade).
There’s Harvey striking out batters from coast to coast.
There’s Harvey at the center of the Citi Field All-Star bonanza.
There’s Harvey putting away White Sox even as blood trickles from his right nostril…as if a little blood can stop such a big talent.
Matt’s path since he exited the stage and emerged from elbow repair has been well documented but never as deeply as in this film. As Dr. James Andrews attests, the hardest part of the Tommy John process, once the patient has put away his middle finger, comes after. Indeed, nothing looks easy, mostly because it is a physical challenge to consistently throw a baseball when your arm is in pristine shape, but partly, I get the feeling, because like the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Matt Harvey never does anything nice and easy.
So we see the rough stuff. We grunt along with Matt. We bundle up and run the vacant ballpark in winter when nobody (save for the cameras) is looking. We also get our backs up against the recurring drizzle of criticism Harvey attracts for being Harvey, the parts where maybe he made being Matt Harvey — out and about and all that — look a little too nice and easy.
To which, in so many words, Harvey still takes out his middle finger. Metaphorically, that digit seems to be in All-Star condition.
The man’s a little defensive about his lifestyle? Listen, pitching is the first line of defense. It would be an exaggeration to glean from The Dark Knight Rises that Harvey doesn’t give a fig what you think of his post-5 o’clock activities. If he didn’t give a fig, he wouldn’t have expended quite as much energy defending them to Schaap, explaining that he was spending his days working his sculpted behind off, so leave the Knight his nights.
One of the themes of the movie is Matt’s potential place in the pantheon of New York Legends of the most glamorous order. In modern terms, that’s interpreted by the filmmakers as Mantle, Namath and Jeter. (I might have thrown in DiMaggio, Gifford and Frazier as well.) The Mets, if you think about it, have been vastly underrepresented in the league where on-field incandescence meets off-field ooh-la-la. Seaver wasn’t a nightlifer. Hernandez was more sophisticate than playboy. Gooden and Strawberry did their worst damage behind closed doors. Piazza was seen at the China Clubs of his time but he brought his star with him from L.A.
Matt About Town is sort of a new breed in our ranks. I doubt most Mets fans would begrudge Harvey his comely companions, his pauses for paparazzi on various red carpets, the great seats he gets at non-baseball sporting events. We’ll take whatever went into making him Matt Harvey, New York Mets ace, and whatever returns him to his rightful station. In the film, we meet a high school kid who considered the offer of a million-dollar signing bonus (Angels, third round, 2007) something of an insult and a college athlete who basically chased his UNC coach off the mound when he tried to preserve his arm for future endeavors. Self-confidence does not appear to have ever been a problem for Matt Harvey. Self-regard, either. That he sort of dismisses the idea that maybe the team’s owners don’t approve of all his activates isn’t gonna lose him any points with us.
Is the Matt we meet via E:60 lovable? Not particularly. Not a “bad guy,” especially considering the high-fashion threads we’re elated to see him wear between the white lines, but not exactly America’s sweetheart, either. Temperamentally, perhaps he can be framed as following in the footsteps of a different set of larger-than-life sportsmen.
• Future Mets attitude coach Bob Gibson is revered for barking Tim McCarver back behind the plate (“the only thing you know about pitching,” Gibby told his catcher, “is you can’t hit it”).
• Early Wynn legendarily reserved the right to knock down his own mother “if she were crowding the plate”.
• Leo Durocher pointedly preferred “ballplayers who come to kill you”.
We’ve had our share of fellas who, in the Durocherian parlance, who when “they lose a ballgame, they go home, they have a nice dinner, they put their heads down on the pillow and go to sleep.” It’s not mentioned in this production, but Matt’s reaction to his first encounter with pitching a solid game but the Mets losing — “In my eyes, if we scored one run, I should have done my part and gotten zeroes, but I didn’t do that tonight. I didn’t do my job.” — told me he takes his pitching as seriously as any Met who’s ever dropped and driven. Take that attitude to the mound, you can take whatever attitude you like to go high-end clothes shopping.
The feelgood payoff of The Dark Knight Rises is when we see Harvey return to action in Port St. Lucie…and do so for our favorite team. The haunting undertone arrives with the realization that Matt Harvey’s favorite team is Matt Harvey. Never mind that he rooted for some other New York ballclub as a kid or that he detoured to the Bronx one infamous evening last September to take advantage of his celebrity access to the hottest tickets going. (No, I didn’t care for his appearance at Jeter’s farewell, but I tried to look at it as him serving as the Mets’ special envoy to a veritable state funeral.) Matt Harvey, so relatively young, seems to have long ago shed his innocence as others might take off the baby weight. He has clearly figured out baseball is a business. When he speaks of his struggle to come all the way back, we relish that he’s a Met and we hope he’ll always be a Met, but you can feel him first and foremost looking out for No. 33.
You can’t blame him, but you wouldn’t mind maintaining a little illusion that when free agency eventually looms, he wouldn’t think of being ready to go.
While you’re waiting to watch Matt Harvey: The Dark Knight Rises, may we suggest a couple of entertaining features to enjoy in the interim.
• Unhittable: Sidd Finch and the Tibetan Fastball is a 30 for 30 Short on Grantland.com that revisits the Siddsteria of right around this time of year in 1985. When we talk about Mets aces, it seems we only recall Finch’s unmatched exploits in early April. This delightful film will explain why.
• Crain’s New York Business Presents New York Stories presents one of the best going via a visit with Jay Goldberg at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse. Watch this interview and you’ll be rounding third and headed to 67 E. 11th St. in Manhattan to partake in Jay’s exquisite slice of our National Pastime. I realized on my last stop at his shop that when you approach his front door from the Broadway side, the awning that greets you says, simply, BASEBALL. Who wouldn’t want to run inside a store like that?
I could have dropped my electronic device from mild shock when I read on it Wednesday the bulletin that the Mets were extending Juan Lagares before they had to. And it would have been fine for me to have dropped it, because of course Lagares would have caught it.
He gets that good a jump on everything.
The Mets are getting a jump on Juan conceivably going to arbitration or mulling free agency and they’re getting a bargain — four years, $23 million — in making sure Juan remains a Met for the next several seasons. He’s a spectacular center fielder. He’ll probably have to be a pretty good left fielder simultaneously given the mobility of Michael Cuddyer.
A two-position wonder under contract for this year, the four years after that and with a $9.5 million option on the first year of the next decade. I’m assuming they’ll still be playing baseball in 2020 and that Juan will still be catching all that are played.
The last time the Mets gave a Met who was already a Met a deal to keep him a Met before they grudgingly had to, it was David Wright just ahead of his walk year. David Wright wasn’t walking anywhere. Really, they had to keep Wright, grudgingly or not. Let go of Wright and you might as well pull in your shingle. Before Wright, it was Jon Niese. Before Niese, it was probably Wright in 2006, back when they were locking up their most valuable youngsters, David and Jose.
It’s probably the memory of the long-term pact between Reyes and the Mets and how it eventually expired despite seeming so endless when it was announced that made my first post-surprise reaction to Lagares sticking around pre-emptive sorrow. Happy to know the Mets and Juan wanted each other, sad that someday they might not. I couldn’t have imagined Reyes not being a Met forever in 2006. I’ve ceased imagining anybody being a Met forever since. Except Wright.
The important thing regarding Lagares is he’s here now. He’s here for a while. They’re not turning their back on him like he turns his back on the infield to make so many routinely sensational grabs in the outfield. They’re not engaging in service-time gamesmanship, unearthing some mysterious Super Three status that would have Juan touring the Eastern League for two weeks this summer in deference to “team control” five years from now. Five years from now, if the Mets want him, Juan’s signed to stay a Met. Six years from now, one hopes, Juan’s working on his eighth Gold Glove and seventh world championship in a Mets uniform. One of those hopes seems quite possible, the other a little optimistic.
Hey, the Grapefruit League season is over and the Mets are looking sharp and Juan Lagares is signed for the long term. It’s as good a time as any to be a little optimistic.
When the Mets and Red Sox appeared on a collision course in 1986, Joe Klein, then of New York magazine, predicted a Fall Classic meeting of the two heretofore simpatico tribes would make for a “Subway Series of the Soul,” given that both we and they indulged a deep-seated antipathy for the same inherently unlikable baseball enterprise, an outfit whose name escapes me at the moment. I’m reminded of that neat phrase now that Rob Manfred has unveiled what we’ll be in for come 2016.
The New York Giants fan who resides in my soul couldn’t be giddier. The New York Mets fan who calls my heart home and defines much of the rest of my being most days isn’t quite sure what to be.
Such is the dilemma posed by the MLB Team In Residence Program the new commissioner was talking up with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on Tuesday. It honors the past, it is cognizant of the present and it might lay some intriguing groundwork for the future. It’s such an uncommonly great idea to come from Major League Baseball that it seems a bit too good to be true.
If you’ve been reading me here long enough, you know how much I love the New York Giants, the team I never saw play yet one I embrace as my own in a pre-1962 sense. The death of those Giants informed the birth of our Mets. That’s how I’ve always seen it. But what if the New York Giants are still alive, and not just in some symbolic sense?
Think about it. With the Giants playing the equivalent of two homestands annually at Citi Field in 2016, 2017 and 2018 (Manfred said “six to twelve games”), how do we dismiss them as merely the N.L. Team In Residence, interlopers from San Francisco who will give us some extra National League baseball to enjoy when the Mets are on the road? Are they even the San Francisco Giants if nearly 15% of their home games are being played in New York in exchange for “remunerative considerations” forwarded Wilpon way?
And will these resurrected New York Giants play the actual New York Mets? Who’s the home team, exactly, if that happens?
It’s bad enough when the San Francisco club comes rolling in like the fog and brings with it everything but 25,000 servings of Rice-A-Roni. Joe Panik, local boy and world champion second baseman, told a supportive crowd in January that he saw a lot more black and orange than blue and orange on his first trip in last summer. Well…yeah. Manfred said one of the many factors contributing to the creation of the MLB Team In Residence Program (besides the chance to sign Residence Inn as official sponsor) is that “the ground is fertile” for the teams participating. Ground as in Polo, he might as well have mentioned. The Giants’ New York roots have stayed strong. They’ve blossomed anew since 2010, sprinkled as they’ve been by success and a touch of good old-fashioned frontrunning. There’s no denying Panik’s powers of observation.
Manfred, meanwhile, has solid business reasons to execute Team In Residence. By ensconcing the Giants in New York for extended stays, it helps the underfunded A’s, who maybe get no satisfaction in their eternal quest to relocate to San Jose but will at least be handed as many as a dozen dates in Phone Company Park every year for three years. It helps the Giants more, probably, because their aspirations to be taken seriously as a “national team” get a big boost. They become, in effect, the majors’ first bicoastal entity, putting down stakes at opposite ends of the country. (That’s a claim the Orioles won’t be able to make when they take up A.L. Team In Residence responsibilities in St. Louis, but hardcore Browns fans won’t mind and MASN executives apparently won’t carp.) Usually when you hear about a team having to schedule home dates in multiple venues, you think about a fly-by-night operation like the ABA and a franchise like the Floridians. The Floridians played in literally five different places by design. They didn’t survive the intrastate travel and disbanded four years before the league melted.
Don’t mistake what Larry Baer and the Giants are doing as anything other than a brand-building exercise a healthy franchise undertakes from a position of strength. The reduced airfares from San Fran to LaGuardia on Virgin America will be a nice sop to the West Coast season ticketholders, but the real story will emanate from our own seaboard. It will be downright fascinating to see what kind of market the Giants tap where they used to live. Will it be mainly my displaced Giants fan friends from the various Nostalgia and Preservation groups of which I proudly call myself a member? Will Yankees fans, turned off by their inevitably torpid rebuilding machinations — $218 million doesn’t seem to buy what it used to — want to make the trip across the RFK to see a team they don’t consider their rival (decadelong shared Polo Grounds tenancy notwithstanding)? What about the Mets?
Yes, what about the Mets? This is still a Mets blog despite my occasional forays into Giant musings. The territorial maneuverings may have conceptually altered the vicinity’s baseball map a bit, but the mission statement here still says we write for Mets fans who like to read.
I, alas, am still reading Bigelow tea leaves. I get why the Giants want a foothold in the New York market. Sadly, I get why the Mets would allow it, especially now that we know the real reason there’s been a spike in 2015 ticket sales just like we know the real reason Fred Wilpon was placed in counterintuitive charge of the MLB Finance Committee. Getting Baer and his board to buy such a large block of season tickets for Mets games (they’ll be distributed to youth groups all year long for free, not including the “convenience and charitable fee” the Wilpons insist on imposing) was an exercise in salesmanship even Leigh Castergine would have to admit was genius. We’ve seen some of this windfall already in action, what with Jerry Blevins’s previously prohibitive salary grafted onto the books without warning. It makes a fella dream that maybe Troy Tulowitzki suddenly won’t be out of a certain New York team’s price range.
By certain New York team, I’m referring to the Mets. They’re still my team, first and foremost. Not that I won’t love the idea of the Giants playing those six to twelve games in the three years following this one as the New York Giants at Citi Field (as long as, I must reiterate, they’re not playing the Mets, something Manfred said “every effort will be made to prevent,” but who knows with this guy?). Not that I don’t swoon at the tentative plans Baer outlined for the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve wanted Willie Mays recognized in Flushing. I suppose the Giants erecting a “bookend statue like the one in California” — except with an “NY” on Willie’s cap makes good on that detail. I’d have preferred the Mets had done it themselves long ago, but I’d have preferred lots of things out of the Mets since Citi Field opened. Maybe if we ask nicely, the Giants will commission a monument to Fresno native Tom Seaver.
The important thing in all of this is that the breadth of National League baseball in New York is finally getting its due where the New York National League entry of record receives its mail. Willie outside by the Apple, pointing the way to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Giants…Dodgers…Mets. Fred and Jeff couldn’t make that happen, but Larry and his crew will. Plaques for Ott and Mathewson adjacent to the Shea Bridge. The new Know The Rules exhibit promised in the Mets museum in which a hologram version of Fred Merkle teaches kids of the 21st century that there aren’t three outs until there are three outs. Baer and the Giants are paying for all of it and leaving it as a gift for “the people of New York” no matter what becomes of the MLB Team In Residence Program after 2018. It’s an appropriate echo of the recently restored John T. Brush Stairway, the lone fragment of the Giants that has remained standing in New York all these years since 1957.
I mean besides the spirit of the Giants that meshed with the spirit of the Dodgers to create the spirit of the Mets. The Dodgers won’t return to Brooklyn (Manfred said Wilpon “begged” Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten to play “even a few innings” at MCU Park, but L.A. passed), yet here are the Giants, on the verge of sharing more than psychic space with the Mets, tugging a little at my soul, even as my heart endeavors to remain pure.
In 1991, as the Cold War had all but disappeared from the global geopolitical radar, Jesus Jones sang of “watching the world wake up from history”. So what’s this that’s going on right here, right now? Heritage rubbing the sleep out of its eyes after almost six decades of hibernation? History coming alive or at least rustling its way out of the cornfield and onto our thus far imperfect field of dreams? Nothing more than money making the world go around?
You gotta believe it could be something else altogether.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we delineate our two primary states of being.
The Monday before the Mets opened their 2015 season would have to go down in pencil as a good day. One, they won another exhibition game. Two, they acquired a lefty reliever. Three, they acquired another lefty reliever. Sandy Alderson did say that if the Mets started selling tickets like hotcakes he’d start trading for players with salaries.
We’ll use pencil for the preliminary marking of what this Monday meant because one, though the frequency of these Grapefruit League victories is growing mildly exhilarating, they still don’t count; and two and three, we don’t know whether we’ll ultimately be thrilled by Alex Torres, acquired with his hat from San Diego for Cory Mazzoni, and Jerry Blevins, who arrives from Washington in exchange for the affable but outnumbered Matt den Dekker. The Spring Training win over the Marlins will be of zero consequence in the short let alone long run, while the two southpaws will have to prove their mettle once they’re playing in games that do count.
Still, kind of a good day for late March.
When you hear the phrase, “Oh, you now, he has good days and bad days,” generally your heart breaks. It’s the kind of answer you get when you ask a well-meaning question of someone taking care of someone else. If you have to ask, there’s probably already trouble. If there’s “good days and bad days,” it means the bad days are so bad that the good days provide little more than respite from their counterparts. Better, one supposes, to have some good days than none at all.
A baseball team has good days and bad days, too, though in a different context from your friend’s loved one. It’s part of the territory when there are two potential outcomes to your day: winning and losing (unless there’s a doubleheader, in which case, there’s splitting). One-hundred sixty-two times a year it’s fairly open and shut.
The Mets won? Hey, that’s good!
The Mets lost? Ooh, that’s bad.
From a fan perspective, I prefer to not know from bad days. Good on top of good would be great. Only Rocky Valentine (the Twilight Zone thug on whom Sebastian Cabot as Pip has the last laugh when Rocky discovers this IS the other place) might argue there’d be something wrong with always winning and never losing. From a blogging perspective, I think it’s fair to say we would not reject a greater imbalance between good days and bad days.
Say, it’s gotta be tough on us, right? I mean, ten years of blogging and the Mets always losing. Just look at their horrible record since we’ve been doing this.
Or don’t, not if you want to pursue the woe-is-FAFIF model. Don’t cry for us, Argenis Reyes. We have no imbalance whatsoever. We are in perfect equilibrium in statistical terms of what the Mets have given us this past decade.
The Mets have played 1,620 regular-season games since we started. We’ve blogged something about every single every one of them.
They’ve won 810.
They’ve lost 810.
Talk about keeping it .500.
I think our die was cast at the very beginning of our adventure, or technically the beginning of our adventure that counted. Our first five regular-season games in 2005 were all losses. Our next five regular-season games were all wins. We were at .500 for the very first time. Then we won again to go over .500. Then we lost and were pulled back to .500.
We were 6-6. And we’ve repeated that 135 times. Thus, 810-810, the equivalent of ten consecutive .500 seasons.
Of course you know it hasn’t played out quite so smoothly (though 2005 was the notorious footsie-with-.500 campaign, when the Mets’ record hit break-even 27 separate times). The Mets frontloaded most of their wins into the first four-plus years of the period in question. On May 31, 2009, after a 3-2 win over the Marlins, the club rose to 73 games above .500 in the FAFIF Era: 385-312.
It’s been pretty much all downhill from there. The detached observer would place the finger on the injuries that destroyed 2009, the onerous contracts that weighed down 2010 and the full effect of the Madoff mess that precluded an uncomplicated climb out from under as the 2010s proceeded. Me, I blame the Citi Field scoreboard quiz of 5/31/09 that asked fans to text in their answers to this seemingly simple trivia question: Where did the Mets originally play their home games?
The choices were Shea Stadium, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. A majority answered Ebbets Field, the only answer that was absurdly wrong, even if you weren’t fully aware Ebbets was torn down two years before the Mets existed Thus, the gods were moved to punish us for our collective ignorance across the next half-decade.
How do we not have an “all-time” winning record when you consider the 73-game head start? When you consider that we rose above .500 “to stay” on September 25, 2005 (78-77) and remained there until May 20, 2014, when a 9-4 loss to the Dodgers lowered the all-time FAFIF record to 751-751. A loss the next night knocked us under .500 for the first time since September 23, 2005 (76-77). There’d be some brief rallying to get back to and slightly above, but from June 6 on in 2014, the Mets’ record spanning the entirety of our blogging tenure to date would never creep over .500 again.
After Bartolo Colon didn’t quite mesmerize the Texas Rangers last July 5 as we are compelled to hope he will mesmerize the Washington Nationals this April 6, the FAFIF Mets fell to 38-49 in-season and an “all-time worst” seven under, or 384-464 since the game that followed 52% of those responding to a dopey trivia quiz responding dopily. It took Lucas Duda’s monster final weekend against Houston — walkoff home run on the final Saturday night, then his 30th on Closing Sunday — to bring us to where we stand now, to .500 on the nose.
A record that hasn’t been good. A record that hasn’t been bad. A record that just is.
The game is the thing, naturally. We care about going 1-0 or 0-1 on a given day or night, all in service to the season, when 162-0 would be preferable if unprecedented. A decade’s worth of seasons is interesting only if you decide it is, though for where we’re coming from, it leaves me wondering of the effect so much not going anywhere has on a fan who sets out to chronicle the process of standing in place.
I can tell you I remember how delighted I was to write up the first win in FAFIF history, April 10, 2005, Pedro Martinez defeating John Smoltz (I seem to reference that game a lot) as well as the win that put us over .500 for the first time (Pedro’s maiden voyage at Shea, versus Al Leiter, of all people). Some of that emotion was a function of pre-blog experience. The Mets had just spent three seasons losing a whole lot more than winning. For 2002, 2003 and 2004, they finished a cumulative 60 games under .500. With those years as direct backstory, getting over .500 and ultimately staying over .500 in 2005 was a particularly big deal.
Then came 2006, when we left those modest standards in the dust. That was a dream season from this seat. Writing from a first-place perch was initially a little scary, then absolutely delightful. Kind of like the way we rooted. Maybe a bit of smugness on behalf of the Mets crept in, but what’s the point of dominating your division if you’re not going to soak it up for all it’s worth?
I explored 2007 here the other day. As noted, it felt like a jaunty continuation of 2006 until the road wound in mostly unforeseen directions, followed by one final turn off a cliff.
This is where the narrative changed for me, or the crafting of the narrative, to be specific. I hate to admit it, but as much as I was disgusted by the Mets losing as they did in 2007 and as much as I found them frustrating as they struggled to find their footing in 2008…as a writer I didn’t totally hate it. (There. I just kept it 100.) This was a plot twist that fell in my proverbial lap. I had to write about a team that was supposed to go one way and didn’t. This was a challenge. This, unlike the Mets in the last days of Randolph, bordered on fun for me.
You know that quote (Dorothy Parker said it, but I first heard it from Oscar Madison) about writers loving having written but hating writing? Not me. I love writing once I get going. I love writing about the Mets. I love writing about the Mets winning. But, I’ve discovered when the results haven’t provided me with a menu of choices, I don’t completely mind writing about the Mets losing, provided it’s not the same story over and over and over. Circa 2008, it wasn’t yet.
I’ve always told myself the main reason I never pursued traditional sportswriting is I never wanted to check my fandom at the press box door. I never wanted to “root for stories” over my team. To this day, when I am granted admittance into the literal press box at Citi Field (where there the “no cheering” rule is understood and enforced under presumed penalty of death), I have to suppress my instinct to “YEAH!” or “FUCK!” when something happens for or to the Mets down on the field. But by myself, in my office, at my computer, I discovered I retain divided loyalties. As much I’ve been rooting for Mets from September 2007 through September 2014 to next week, I’m pretty sure I’ve been rooting for stories as well.
I just didn’t have any of their pennants on my office wall.
Maybe that unintended reordering of priorities, more than the blown Polo Grounds trivia answer, brought me the bad karma that led me to so many shall we say interesting stories since the Mets started tumbling toward and then beneath .500. They’ve lost enough since then that I’d question the identification of covering the losing as anything close to “fun”. A blogger can only craft so many Jason Bay song parodies after a while.
I can’t necessarily say I appreciate the wins more now than I did in the late years of Shea. But boy do I love when my lap is the recipient of an unlikely come-from-behind story treatment. I’ve been in a fairly cynical Mets mood since the Worst Collapse Ever came crumblin’ down, yet when offensively challenged Mike Nickeas doubles and heretofore unknown Jordany Valdespin homers and the allegedly unbeatable Jonathan Papelbon gets his ass handed to him as it was on a blue and orange platter one glorious Citizens Bank Park night in May of 2012, I forget how my team has been making me grumble for the previous few years and can’t conceive they will continue to make me grumble for the next few years. Tonight they made me smile and tonight I want to grin all over these pages.
The flip side of the slide from 73 games over .500 to seven below is how rare those instances have been. While the intermittent individual performances of merit are great boosts to the morale — Beltran channeling his inner Cobb; Reyes running on an elevated track; a surfeit of Dickeys dancing on the head of a pin; all the Harvey that heaven will allow; a 134-pitch wonder whose glow will never dim for me — man, can it get barren in August and September. Sometimes in May and June, too. When I know a season has gone to hell, the mundane wins almost mock me. They get in the way of the narrative more than they hold any genuine possibility of changing it for the happier.
Tonight the Mets, who normally suck, beat somebody. Tonight the Mets, who normally suck, didn’t suck. Tune in tomorrow and see if the Mets won’t suck for two nights in a row. They probably will, but that’s why they play the games.
I don’t want to think like that or write like that, even though since 2009 I’ve definitely thought like that and sometimes written like that. When the Mets actually pull themselves together and win more than they lose for a couple of weeks, it’s such a welcome glint of light. If it’s 2013, for example, I want to celebrate not just the promotion of Zack Wheeler but the acquisition of Eric Young and the emergence of Carlos Torres and Josh Satin and Gonzalez Germen. There may be more cubic zirconia than actual gems in that lot, but if they sparkle enough to airlift the Mets to a 22-14 oasis in the midst of the usual 74-88 desert of dross, then shine on you crazy, non-diamonds. (And screw you still, Bob Costas.)
Well, we’re 500 after ten years, not to mention 0-0 on the precipice of Year Eleven. The next year, like the next game, is always the one that counts heaviest. There hasn’t been a season that’s ended over .500 since 2008. That’s a real sticking point with me. We all have our ideas of what a good Met season will look like. On the Tuesday before the Mets open their 2015 season, I just ask to be delivered to October 4 with an 82nd win in tow. Pending the currently unknowable, I might ask for more in the intervening months, but from here, rising above and staying over .500 shimmers like the gold Keith Hernandez once urged me to bring to Coin Galleries of Oyster Bay.
Yes, I could definitely see trading a winning season in on something even more valuable in the years ahead.
Old Timers Day at Foley’s, as we celebrate 10 years of blogging for and with Mets fans who like to read. (Photo by the versatile Sharon Chapman.)
In the brightest days of 2006, which is what passes for 1986 in our era (at least until 2015 reveals itself to be the One True Successor…if only we could get some of these Spring Training games to count), Jason and I were each moved to dive into the word “we” as it applied to the Mets and our reflexive self-identification with them. You know, we win, we’re gonna play tomorrow, we just got Roberto Hernandez back from the Pirates, that sort of thing. We came to the same conclusion: no, we are technically not part of the team; hell yes, we are “we” even if we don’t personally go get ‘em.
I revisit “we” here because there’s another we on the Met-aphorical diamond to consider. We who are in this together. We who cheer together, care together, commiserate together. We who get together now and then to remind each other how much we like being us.
Saturday afternoon, we gathered at Foley’s, the baseball bar on 33rd Street to commemorate Faith and Fear’s 10th anniversary. We as in Jason and me, but we also as in a marvelous cross-section of Faith and Fear readers, which is to say the Faith and Fear family, which is to say all of us.
It was a very nice time. It was an even nicer feeling, knowing that the first-person plural settles into place so comfortably. We want the Mets to win. We want the season to start. We are going to have another beer now.
It works really well.
Though it was spoken in an entirely different context, I’m reminded of something the President of the United States and White Sox fan-in-chief said a few weeks ago in Selma, Alabama:
“The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.”
Potent stuff that first-person plural. Without it, you wouldn’t have “Let’s Go Mets,” or its more formal construction “Let Us Go Mets.”
Just don’t too hastily throw a comma in there, because if we were congenitally capable of being let go by the Mets, then this blog wouldn’t be in its eleventh record-breaking season. Also, “Let Us Go, Mets” sounds like something a hostage scribbles on a scrap of paper and slips under a door in desperate hopes that some passerby finds it and rescues us from the clutches of circumstances we can’t hope to control.
Don’t bother. It’s too late to save us from our rooting instincts.
Thanks to all who showed up and expressed such nice thoughts about what we’ve been doing this past decade. Much love, too, to those who couldn’t make it but sent beautifully sincere sentiments. Strong shoutout to Sharon Chapman for organizing the affair. Appreciation to Foley’s for providing such fine space and service. Applause to Jacob deGrom for dominating the Nationals and several TV screens. And happy Agbayanieth birthday to Mets 360’s Charlie Hangley, our very own CharlieH from way back. All of us together…we’ve got the teamwork to make the dream work.
Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we attempt to give our era’s most notorious season a Web redemption of sorts.
It’s not that nothing went wrong
Some angry moments, of course
But just a few
And only moments, no more
Because we knew
We had this good thing going
Oh, expectation: pity the year that wears your yoke like a fashion accessory.
Say, a choker.
The 2015 Mets speak here and there of expectation. The 2015 Mets speak out of their callow hats. They won 79 games last year and it is thought that if things go particularly well this year they can win 89…though once that number was bandied about over the winter, it was quickly disavowed by he who publicly suggested it possible. And this was before Spring Training, when everybody’s supposedly an optimist.
The 2015 Mets do not know from expectation. Expectation forms atop achievement. The 2015 Mets are striving to succeed a series of seasons in which nothing has been achieved. The 2015 Mets, should they break the mold, will bequeath the yoke of expectation to 2016.
This is not a year after, not in New York. That’s the deal where better days happened in 2014. That’s the deal in San Francisco, though they probably have a mulligan, given the alternating championship calendar they’ve implemented by the bay. That’s the deal probably a little more in Kansas City, where they got so close to ultimate satisfaction that they can probably slather it in Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque Sauce and taste it.
In late November, when the exhilaration of getting to Game Seven and the disappointment of losing it by one run was all so fresh, MLB.com reposted a video of the Kansas City Symphony making good on its bet with its San Francisco counterparts. Music director Michael Stern conducted a Sousa march while wearing a Giants jersey. The moment was milked for all it was worth, with a “Giant” and a “Royal” bounding downstage with bats in hand, a cheering section appearing upstage wielding appropriate HUNTER PENCE IS TONE DEAF placards and Stern tearing off his black top at the end to reveal a white jersey to honor the home team.
It was lighthearted and sporting as all of it was meant to be, but I also found it a touch sad. Everything in Kansas City had been geared to making the playoffs, advancing to the pennant and then winning the World Series. The first two-thirds of their mission was accomplished. The rest of that symphony is unfinished. The conductor made brave, bold allusions to getting the Giants “next year,” as if the two teams had already signed for a rematch, as if pointing out Pence’s personal shortcoming was still going to be on the municipal agenda. The fact that the Royals shirt Stern dramatically presented himself in said BUTLER 16 indicated how fleeting October heroics can be. Days before the symphony paid off its bet, Billy Butler left KC as a free agent and signed with Oakland.
Maybe there’ll be another Royals-Giants World Series this year. Probably not, though. Consecutive World Series appearances by the same two teams haven’t happened since 1977 and ’78. But maybe the Royals will top what they did last year against some other opponent. Their chances to win another pennant, according to a bookmaker who regularly sends me updated odds, list at 14:1. You can wager they’ll win it all at 28:1. Those are the same odds as the Mets have of winning a respective league and world championship, according to the gambling community.
I’d like to believe the Mets can go all the way in 2015. I’m not sure I’d bet on it. And I know enough not to count on it.
And if I wanted too much
Was that such a mistake
At the time?
You never wanted enough —
All right, tough
I don’t make that a crime
My first full season as a Mets fan wore the yoke of expectation. It was the only way a season ever started in my brief experience, so it didn’t seem unusual. The year was 1970, the year after 1969. I knew what happened in 1969. I lived its final movement, its spectacular culmination (the temptation is to call it a crescendo, but that would be wrong). I knew, as Stephen Sondheim penned it for George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along, we had a good thing going.
We were defending world champions. That meant something in defining the atmosphere surrounding the 1970 Mets, even as I learned that there is no such practical thing as a defending world champion in baseball. There is nothing to defend. Being the most recent champion means you were the champion of last year. This year trumps last year in the present tense. Slip on your rings, raise your flag, thrill a seven-year-old over and over by showing highlights of your triumph during rain delays. It matters for all time and it matters not at all in real time. I loved, in 1970, being a fan of the team that had won the most recent world championship. So did the great many New Yorkers who set a Shea Stadium attendance record that would stand fifteen years. The Mets still had that aura about them.
They just didn’t have quite enough pitching, let alone nearly enough hitting, and aura can only get you so far in the absence of adequate amounts of both. The 1970 Mets finished the year after six games out of first place.
The next year after, 1974, retained a modicum of goodwill from the You Gotta Believe pennant drive of 1973 but none of its competitive juice. Attendance at Shea dropped. Patience wore thin as a muddling summer refused to transform into an electric September. The 1974 Mets thrilled few of their fans, regardless of age.
1987 was the long-awaited sequel to 1970, which is to say 1986 produced a companion to 1969. Once again, Shea Stadium was the place to be in the wake of ultimate victory. Once again, Mets wore rings and a flag flew in honor of what they had previously achieved. 1986 informed 1987’s sense of expectation; some would say entitlement. The attendance record that was set when 1986’s gate bettered 1985’s (which bettered 1970’s) fell in 1987. It was the first season in which more than 3 million fans attended games at Shea, and this was before “tickets sold” was the official measurement. I was 24 that post-championship season. I expected a lot. We all did. The Mets didn’t deliver. I was annoyed. We all were.
I don’t remember 1989 having quite that same “year after” sense to it despite 1988 depositing a divisional championship in our collection. Everything that followed 1986 until, really, 1993 was wrapped up in the same blanket of general letdown. We didn’t much stop to think, at least through 1990 when the equation remained viable, that winning more than losing was a pretty good way to spend 162 games.
The next time the Mets had a year after, it was 2000, which was the only year after that bettered the year before, if only on paper. The 2000 Mets traveled further than their 1999 predecessors, but to those of us who tingled throughout 1999, it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t magical. It wasn’t Melvin Mora coming out of nowhere. It was Melvin Mora going to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. It wasn’t the Best Infield Ever. It was Zeile in for Olerud at first, never mind Bordick taking over for Mora who was no Ordoñez at short, though even Ordoñez at short was no longer precisely Ordoñez at short. The whole vibe just wasn’t as wonderful. But it was, at last, logical. The 1999 Mets almost won the pennant. The 2000 Mets won the pennant. You could complain with how they failed to win their next four of seven games, and you could find stylistic fault with the tenor of the production, but you couldn’t dispute that there was progress.
In 2001, there was regression, dismay, disgust, whatever. Shea was festooned with reminders that the 2000 N.L. CHAMPS played here, but their status cut little ice across a long, dull summer. Whereas attendance climbed from 1999 to 2000, it dropped in 2001. Whereas the Mets chased the Braves’ tail in 1999 and 2000, the 2001 Mets stepped on their own as they went round in circles for most of five months. Then there was a spirited surge as August became September — and a bittersweet lunge at a baseball miracle after September in New York became unthinkable — but the victories wrought by the Mets of ’01 remained spiritual and symbolic. In the weeks they were accomplished, they seemed valuable enough. Years later, though, it’s an 82-80 club that finished six out.
You might say at that juncture the Mets were 1-5 in years after playoff years. If you were to set odds based on such information, they would appear a long shot to make you exceedingly happy in consecutive season.
Yet in 2007, we accepted those odds.
And while it’s going along
You take for granted some love
Will wear away
We took for granted a lot
How much time must pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations? Depends, I suppose, on how long the moment in question lasted.
Nostalgia, according to Don Draper’s Greek mentor Teddy, is “delicate but potent,” literally “‘the pain from an old wound,’ a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” The Mad Men episode in which Don laces that nostalgic definition into his pitch for the angels (a.k.a. the slide-projector men from Kodak), aired on AMC on Thursday, October 18, 2007. It was called “The Wheel,” the finale of the first season of what was swiftly becoming my favorite show ever. Though I might have been distracted in the moment by college football, Mad Men enjoyed a mostly clear field in my viewing priorities that October.
The season finale for what I thought I’d be immersed in for the next month aired on WPIX on Sunday, September 30, 2007. The Mets’ wheel came to a dead halt that afternoon. They were delicate, while the Marlins (and, somewhere to the south, the Phillies) proved potent. We didn’t go forward and it’s not a place where I ache to go again.
We know the climactic scene from 2007. We know the carousel crumbled. We carry with us the numerical particulars — 7 up with 17 to play — and we are saddled with the inability to utter the word “devastated” without reflexively adding a little dig about disappointment. It still stings enough that I subconsciously divide most things in my Mets fan life as B.C. (Before Collapse) and A.D. (After Devastation).
I am not nostalgic for September 30, 2007. I am not nostalgic for seven runs surrendered over one-third of an inning from T#m Gl@v!ne. I am not nostalgic for 8-1, Marlins. I am not nostalgic for the tipping point between the days I rooted for the Mets with abandon without reservation and the nights to come when I found unabashedly rooting for the Mets often impossible. I am not nostalgic for the signal event that separated me from the heart of my passion. I continued to be passionate about my team, but my heart is still waiting to shift fully back into it.
What can I tell ya? After September 30, 2007, I was a mad man. I stayed mad at the Mets into 2008, 2009, 2010…what year is it now? The active anger long ago dissipated, but the faint echo hangs in there. It’s why I remain stubbornly slow to buy into the Mets’ incremental steps upward. It’s why it will take more than a vague hint of 89 wins to stir my soul as it stirred mostly without interruption from 1969 on.
But I can tell ya this: a little while back, I learned that the amount of time that has to pass before a person can mine nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t exactly resonate with positive associations is approximately seven years, three months and one day — and that’s if the moment in question is understood to last long enough to encompass the portion of time directly preceding everything going totally to hell.
It started out like a song
We started quiet and slow
With no surprise
And then one morning I woke
We had a good thing going
My brother-in-law hates baseball like I love Mad Men, but that doesn’t stop him from embracing the fact that I love baseball like I love Mad Men. As he visits tag sales and such, he’s always keeping an eye open for baseball tchotchkes to make part of my annual Chanukah/birthday booty (the two events arrive close together). He usually prefaces the presentation by telling me that “this isn’t the big gift” and that “it’s nothing much” and “you probably already have it.”
On December 31, 2014, he undersold to me perfectly the sale item he wrapped up and handed me as if it was an afterthought. He couldn’t have dreamed that it was the big gift; that it was something much; and that I definitely did not have it.
I didn’t even know I wanted it until I opened it and saw what it was.
It was GourMets. I went nuts with delight.
Do you remember GourMets? You remember The Greatest Collapse Ever and Gl@v!ne and all the indigestion from the fashion in which September 2007 was cleared from Shea’s table. But what about the courses before it all went down the wrong way?
Do you remember the Mets being good enough and aspirational enough that of course you’d want to know what they liked to eat and how they made it?
Do you remember wanting the recipe for Alou’s Chivo Guisado? That’s Spanish for stewed goat. This recipe, “furnished by Moises’ wife, Austria,” is the first player-specific entry to come up in GourMets, an alphabetically ordered designation. But Moises’ goat isn’t the first thing to be got in GourMets because everybody’s contributing something to the “New York Mets Family Cookbook,” produced in conjunction with the good folks at Stop & Shop and released for sale in late June. Just by buying a copy for $12, you were contributing to Food Bank for New York City and Island Harvest.
When we say everybody contributed, we mean everybody.
Page 6: Fred Wilpon’s Lentil Soup.
Page 7: Saul Katz’s Pizza.
Page 8: Jeff Wilpon’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
No, really. The Mets offer you the chance to eat what their owners like to eat. And then their GM (Minaya’s Roast Pork with Garlic Mashed Potatoes), their manager (Randolph’s Linguine with White Clam Sauce) and their coaches (beginning with Sandy Alomar’s Savory Salmon, one of his “favorite recipes,” as opposed to coming from a spouse or, in Katz’s case, a prized pizzeria in Brooklyn).
You could smell what the Mets were cooking.
Off GourMets goes, through every coach, then every player who was on the roster radar in the earliest going of 2007, all the way to Mr. Met and his affection for a Homemade Hamburger. The nomenclature was as exotic as the cuisine. Peterson’s Stuffed Artichokes are “Rick’s favorite pre-game snack”; Castro’s Short Ribs compose “Ramon’s favorite post-game meal”; Chavez’s Venezuelan Carne Mechada is made from “one of Endy’s favorite clubhouse recipes”; Easley’s Roasted Chicken? “Damion is a big fan of this dish.” Though Passover had long passed by the time the cookbook was published, the reader learned Green’s Matzo Ball Soup was “Shawn’ clubhouse favorite!”
Still trying to imagine a steaming shissel of the stuff waiting by Shawn’s locker after he clobbered the Cardinals with a walkoff homer. Still can’t.
Whatever the merits of the recipes, who provided them or what they meant to a given Met (Carlos Delgado “prepares” his signature Grilled Snapper with Avocado Salsa “all the time in the off-season”), the real spice in GourMets was the graphic treatment. Almost everybody donned a chef’s hat. Almost everybody slipped into oven mitts. Almost everybody threw on an apron. Almost everybody played with his food. Green held a rolling pin like he would have a bat. Easley was caught mid-mix (albeit with an empty mixing bowl). Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez worked a two-seamer grip on a red pepper. Billy Wagner messed with a knife.
Guillermo Mota was the only player who didn’t goof around with utensils and ingredients, presumably because Mota was PED-suspended while they shot all the photos during Spring Training. Makes a person wonder what his Dominican Pork Chops might test positive for.
I was vaguely aware that GourMets existed in its heyday (and shared a hearty laugh with my friend Sharon over Shawn sipping matzo ball soup in the Met clubhouse) but encountering it on the eve of 2015 was a revelation. I instantly fell in love with my second-hand copy of GourMets and, on some surprising level, I fell for the 2007 Mets all over again…maybe for the first time.
No, I don’t love how the 2007 Mets allowed their season’s soufflé to take a mighty fall, and even while they were maintaining first place most of the year I found them less than wholly tasteful dinner companions. I was always nagged by the sense that they should be winning by more, leading by more, building on 2006 some more. Yet diving into this seven- going on eight-year-old cookbook made them a delectable bunch to me. It transcended records and games. It was better, somehow, than a warmed-over Mets Classic. Here were the 2007 Mets positioned as winners on and off the field. Look at how willingly they pose in kitchen gear! Look at how they smile and make nice with their props! Look at how they give of themselves for charity while they cruise to another division title!
Within the laminated, spiral bound pages of GourMets, the 2007 Mets are better sports than the Kansas City Symphony conductor.
And still I say
It could have kept on growing
Instead of just kept on
After 2007 spoiled somewhere between the stove and the serving, the Mets and Stop & Shop presented a check for $60,000 to the Food Bank for New York and Island Harvest. All 5,000 copies of GourMets had sold out despite all money from playoff ticket sales having to be refunded or otherwise reallocated. The Mets announced their donation on January 28, 2008, and promised another edition of the cookbook for the coming year. Four days later, they went to the market and picked up Johan Santana, but I don’t recall Mets fans ever being explicitly invited to whip up Johan’s favorite clubhouse dish, which a non-Mets source identifies as Reina Pepiada Arepes, a “zesty mixture of avocado and pulled chicken salad”.
Perhaps charitable- and cooking-minded Mets fans would have gobbled up a sequel to GourMets, but none seems to have been published in 2008 or since. Whether anybody would have wanted a taste of what Luis Castillo was cooking is a question that can never truly be answered.
The 2007 Mets weren’t much of a brand name by season’s end. At the year’s beginning, though, when they loomed as the satisfaction-packed sequel to the 2006 Mets, they could’ve sold anything. This was the team that was going to plow through the previous October’s Game Seven defeat and just keep going. This was the team that had stirred in Alou where there had been Floyd, and substituted a Schoeneweis when they ran out of Bradford, but it was the same basic recipe for success. Stars in the center, role players around the edges, enough pitching to bring to a boil.
Movable feast, one year into the next, or so we thought. Either way, they served 3,853,955, or the most who had ever come to Shea to fill up on baseball to that time.
They broke the 2006 Mets’ attendance mark (which itself smashed the record set in 1988). They took first place for good on May 16. The week GourMets came out, the team was in the midst of asserting itself after a June slump. Swept Oakland; took two of three from St. Louis; grabbed three of four at Philly. They led the division by four games as July dawned. They sent four players — Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Wagner — to the All-Star Game. Merrily they rolled along, expanding their lead to five games on August 3, six games on August 24, seven games on August 25. After a disturbing stumble, they pulled themselves together and rose to 21 games above .500 on September 12.
They could be frustrating, but mostly the 2007 Mets were fun until they weren’t. When you went to Shea Stadium for the first five-and-a-half months, you were surrounded by the excitement of expectation. The grumbling that they should’ve been further ahead of the Braves and Phillies or sitting more games above .500 was drowned out by the cheers. These were the Mets we were rooting for. We knew they were good. They may not have been quite as convincing as they had been in 2006, but they were still in the same ballpark. Nobody thought of merely 89 wins as any kind of a goal.
Which was good, because the Mets finished 88-74, or one game behind the Phillies for the division championship, one game behind the Rockies and Padres for a chance to play for the league’s lone Wild Card.
We had a good thing going…
In the end, 2007 wasn’t the sequel to 2006. It was a reboot of 1987 and 1970 but with less recent cushion to fall back on. The September 1970 Mets were bested by the Pirates, but at least there was still 1969. The September 1987 Mets were fended off by the Cardinals, but at least there was still 1986. The September 2007 Mets had their doors blown off by the Phillies and thus would always have Called Strike Three from October 19, 2006, hanging over their heads — unless they could put both nightmarish episodes definitively behind them in 2008.
Which they couldn’t. But that’s another season’s story.
The 2007 Mets are remembered for surrendering an impenetrable lead. I remember them that way mostly. But before they did that, I remember them providing a brilliant tableau. I remember Shea full of us. I remember me between April and September sitting next to a series of fellow Mets fans who were every bit as taken as me by the scene a pennant favorite produces at the height of its perceived powers. All of us reveled in the sense of expectation that came with being Mets fans in that moment. All of us expected October. None of us could have foreseen what was coming. There was nothing in GourMets, nothing anywhere, that could have prepared us for the final course of 2007.
Some of those folks are still my close friends. Some of them I drifted from but check in occasionally with on matters of baseball. Some I have little idea what they’re up to these days. It’s been eight years. Eight years is a long time, I guess. It’s long enough to make some things look better than you ever thought they could.
But we did want the Mets to repeat. They didn’t. Schoeneweis’ Garbonzo Beans, however, probably would if you ate too many.
I’ll repeat one more time: Join Jason and me and your fellow FAFIF readers at Foley’s NY, Saturday, March 28, between 1 and 4 PM to commemorate your favorite blog’s tenth anniversary — or at least the tenth anniversary of the blog you happen to be reading right now.