Friend of FAFIF Matt Silverman reminds us it’s the time of the offseason to solicit entries for the Greg Spira Baseball Research Award. The award recognizes the “best published article or paper containing original baseball research by a person 30 years old or younger,” which represents an outstanding tribute to Spira, who dedicated much of his all too short life to discovery and dissemination within the sport he loved.
First prize is $1,000, with cash prizes awarded for second and third place as well. Full details on how to submit are here. The deadline for entry is February 15. Please look into it and tell anybody you might think would be interested about it. Thank you.
Major League Baseball has been running a promotion called “Face of the Franchise,” which crossed my mind Saturday night after returning home from the first Queens Baseball Convention. In MLB’s Twitter-based contest, fans are being asked to choose a current player to visually represent each team and, ultimately, the entire sport.
Due respect to whomever this exercise eventually glorifies, this is silly where the Mets are concerned. The face of this franchise is that of its fans. And the face appeared to be enjoying itself at QBC. It smiled. It focused. It pondered. It moved up and down in a nodding fashion (which might be more of a head trait, but the face is in there somewhere). It was surely engaged by all that transpired around it.
Two of many happy faces found at QBC 14. (Photo by Sharon Chapman.)
We’d make for an ideal Mets visage, except for one logistical obstacle: you can’t really fit us all onto one face. Blame it on the individuality that pokes out from underneath our common-interest umbrella. We’re snowflaky that way. Even within the realm of our respective Mets fan identities, we are each a variation of the species.
Y’know what we’re not? A “fan base”. I’ve really come to dislike that term.
Never mind that it evokes political strategy, as in “playing to the base,” which always sounds very cynical. My distaste for the phrase comes from the implication that you can blob us together until you don’t have to bother distinguishing among us. It’s easier to dismiss prevailing concerns by pretending a mob is howling. “Sign a player? Lower a price? Convene a wintertime baseball event? Oh sure, that’s what the fan base wants.”
Send out all the surveys you can generate, cherry pick your feedback mechanisms or just draw your prefab conclusions. You won’t know what your so-called base of fans is about unless you’re fully among them. There may be majorities or pluralities in favor of this or that, but there’s rarely anything close to unanimity, save maybe for winning being considered preferable to losing…and I wouldn’t swear to that one, either.
Our distinctions are good things. They make us multifaceted instead of monolithic. That’s probably why the first QBC succeeded so absolutely completely. There was a little bit of everything for everybody. A lot of everything, actually. It was glorious not just for the triumph of choice, but for watching the choices being made. Not everybody wanted the same thing out of the day, or at least they didn’t behave as if they did.
Y’know the one thing I’m pretty sure we all wanted? To be at a gathering like this. Not every Mets fan might have chosen to spend one winter Saturday with hundreds of other Mets fans, but hundreds did. Once we were there, it seemed the overriding point was to revel in the existence of this unprecedented opportunity. Again, there was a lot of everything for everybody, yet the one item that didn’t formally appear in the QBC program but managed to emerge as Saturday’s common denominator was unfettered access to each other.
We were Mets fans embracing not just the chance to listen to former players, current broadcasters, dedicated historians and garrulous bloggers. We were confirming we’re still in this thing together; that January notwithstanding, we each maintain our unique place within our franchise’s face.
Consider confirmation achieved.
Sincere thanks to all who made Queens Baseball Convention 14 possible and equally sincere thanks to all who made Queens Baseball Convention 15 necessary.
Over the past few days, arbitration has been avoided between the Mets and Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis and Eric Young, Jr., while instant replay rules have been expanded and adopted.
None of that is exactly insignificant, yet none of it is quite baseball in January, the month when winter drags on without apology. But fear not, faithful followers of the orange and blue: this Saturday comes The Winterlude.
The Queens Baseball Convention is going to break up your winter. It is designed to break up your winter. It is a full day of baseball talk, baseball thought, baseball camaraderie, baseball color, baseball fun, baseball games…
Well, not “baseball games” in the sense of the 162 Alex Rodriguez will be ineligible to play this season, but you know what I mean. There will be, as promised, baseball activities galore, all of them Metsian, all of them enhanced by your presence. And while you’re making QBC 14 even better by being on hand, your January will gain a necessary taste of June and July when it is fortified by QBC 14.
So for goodness sake, come on down this Saturday at noon!
Within the packed schedule of events (detailed here), Faith and Fear is proud to grab a few at-bats:
• You can catch Jason and me on the New Media panel convened by Gotham Baseball’s Mark Healey at 12:10.
• At 1:00, Jason shifts into moderator mode as he hosts Ron Darling of Ron Darling fame in a Q&A session.
• I’ll be delving into Mets history at 2:00, offering a sneak preview of The Happiest Recap: Second Base (1974-1986) along the way. (Copies of First Base: 1962-1973 will be available, too.)
• It will be my distinct honor to host the presentation of the first Gil Hodges Unforgettable Fire Award at 6:15. We’ll be joined for the event by Gil Hodges, Jr., son of our beloved World Champion manager.
Plus, being Mets fans, Jason and I will be around all day taking in as much QBC as we can — and there is going to be a lot of QBC. We look forward to seeing you at McFadden’s this Saturday, when the calendar claims it’s January 18, but it figures to feel much warmer.
Pitchers & Catchers won’t be reporting to Port St. Lucie for more than a month, but you can look forward to reporting to McFadden’s Citi Field on Saturday, January 18, for the first annual Queens Baseball Convention. When you do, you’ll be joined by a pitcher, a first baseman, your favorite pair of bloggers, their esteemed colleagues and a whole lot of Mets fans like yourself.
So bring your offspring, bring your spouse, c’mon down to QBC and get yourself out of the house.
As outlined in this space previously, QBC is the wintertime fanfest-style event you’ve been waiting for all your Met life, and now it’s about to exist. Conceived by those who love the Mets for those who love the Mets, it shapes up as a full and memorable day of baseball activities, which is saying something when the calendar remains stubbornly ensconced in January.
Come to QBC, you’ll meet Ron Darling. You’ll meet Ed Kranepool. You’ll meet Gil Hodges, Jr., I’m pleased to report. You’ll meet Mr. Met and Sandy the Seagull (and actual non-mascot representatives of the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York). You’ll hear from some stone-cold authorities on Mets uniforms and Mets pop culture and Mets fantastic finishes. You’ll encounter Mets trivia (with a chance to win prizes) and, speaking of trivial, Jason and I will be taking part in various panels and presentations. There’ll be fun and games for the kids, fun and games for the adults, baseball filling your eyes and coming out of your ears. Consider it total seamhead sensory immersion.
If that doesn’t sound like the best January day for a Mets fan since the Mets signed Carlos Beltran in 2005, I don’t know what does. Carlos required $119 million over seven years to come to Flushing. For you, fellow Mets fan, QBC tickets are a mere $35, which includes access to all sessions and autographs (Darling’s, Kranepool’s and those of anybody else who can grip a pen…which, full disclosure, might be a dealbreaker for Mr. Met’s signature). Children 12 and under get in for just 10 bucks. There’s also a pretty sweet 7 Line-designed t-shirt + ticket deal on queensbaseballconvention.com.
Order your QBC tickets now, pull your jersey of choice out of storage next and then start stretching and long-tossing so you’re ready. No matter what position you play, I’m sure you’ll agree baseball activities can’t resume soon enough.
If you haven’t been to Cooperstown, you should go. It’s a lovely town. And you’ll be surprised in a way that’s unfortunately all too rare these days — the Hall of Fame isn’t a glitzy monstrosity but the kind of place that gets unlocked a minute after it’s supposed to open by a friendly guy with a mop.
You know what else is fun? Arguing about the Hall of Fame. By which I mean the fruitless but endlessly entertaining debates you can have about players from wildly different eras of baseball. The Hall of Fame includes guys who got to tell the pitcher where to throw it and guys who never wore helmets and routinely got beaned and guys who played with armored limbs. It includes white players who never played a game that counted against black opponents and black players who could say the same about white opponents, not that the black players had a choice in the matter. It includes pitchers who threw spitballs and pitchers who threw atop mounds so high they changed the rules. It includes speedsters, sluggers, guys who threw gobs of complete games, guys who rarely if ever saw an inning before the seventh, skinny shortstops, enormous first basemen, and an excess of New York Giants with friends on the right committees. It includes war heroes and gentlemen and pioneers and hypocrites and racists and drunks. It’s a crazy stew of baseball history, chronicling an ever-changing game.
You know what’s not fun? Arguing about PEDs and the Hall of Fame.
The confirmed PED users, for now, are left out of Cooperstown. So are the guys who everyone assumes used PEDs. And the guys who are rumored to have used PEDs. And the guys who aren’t rumored to have used PEDs, but were big guys when other big guys did bad things.
That’s ridiculous. But what’s the way to escape it?
Whenever I think about PEDs (which, admittedly, is less and less these days), I remember Buck O’Neil in Joe Posnanski’s superlative The Soul of Baseball. As Posnanski tells it, people were always approaching O’Neil to vent about steroids, expecting him to agree and play the role of kindly emblem of a better time. O’Neil wouldn’t do it. He said, politely but pointedly, that every player he’d ever known had looked for an edge. The beauty of baseball obscures how ruthless the men who play it are. They have to be — to get where they are they’ve disposed of hundreds of opponents, teammates seeking the same job and (perhaps most importantly of all) their own self-doubt.
I don’t say that to condone cheating — just to say I have no interest in the high-horse scolds who use columns and Hall of Fame votes to defend some baseball paradise that never existed. If I had a magic wand that could identify the cheaters, I’d happily wave it. If I had some magic thingamajig that would make whole the minor-leaguers who didn’t juice and so became civilians instead of big-leaguers, I’d thingamajig it.
But no one does, and no one ever will. And so we’re left with a handful of options:
1. We (by which I don’t actually mean “we,” unless you’re a Deadspin reader) can squish through goat entrails and sift through tea leaves and decide that we’re voting for this player from the era of bad things who we don’t think took PEDs but not this player who we think did take PEDs, because reasons. This involves being mad all the time and knowing that none of this anger is leading to any semblance of justice. This is the situation we have now, and everybody hates it.
2. We can decide that no players from the era of bad things can get into the Hall of Fame. This seems pretty obviously unfair to me. Just for openers, are we sure we know when the bad things began?
3. We can insist that baseball maintain tough rules and penalties to make taking PEDs risky, and then decide that players from the era of bad things can get into the Hall of Fame just like players from eras of previous bad things did. We can stop talking about PEDs and decide which players get in by comparing them against their peers, talking about their stature in their era, and using a generous helping of numerical literary to weigh their candidacies against players from other eras. And we can turn over the arguments about who was better or best to history.
Personally, I’d vote for 3. It’s not perfect, but it’s the injustice that offends me least. And it’s the path back to Hall of Fame arguments that don’t make me want to throttle the other guy or go lie down in the road.
The good news, such as it exists, is that Mike Piazza might be one of the players who gets Door Number 3 to open.
Do I think Mike Piazza did steroids? How the hell would I know? Watch a Mets classic from ’99 or ’00 and player after player looks like the love child of Paul Bunyan and the 50-Foot Woman. If that doesn’t make you raise an eyebrow, you’re a sucker. But if it makes you certain whom to declare guilty, you’re a sociopath. Since the list of confirmed PED users includes both Jose Canseco and Jorge Velandia, you tell me what to look for. In my opinion, the only sane way to think about PEDs is to make up your mind that nothing will ever surprise you again and leave it at that.
By being big and playing when he did, Piazza will always have to deal with suspicions. But what he’s never had to deal with is evidence, or anything close to it — no text messages to Kurt Radomski, no weird stories about needles and someone’s booty, no pattern of chronic injuries or sudden decline. (Unless you think Murray Chass is a qualified dermatologist.) By any fair standard, Piazza should have gotten a Hall of Fame hearing without whispers about PEDs. The fact that he hasn’t — that he’s been denied twice — is ridiculous. But it’s not ridiculous because it’s former Met Mike Piazza. It’s ridiculous because it’s ridiculous.
Let Piazza in — and Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. They’re not guilty of anything you’d present to a jury with a straight face. And then let those three be the ones who begin to put this whole thing to rest. Let Barry Bonds in, because he’s the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen. Let Roger Clemens in, because much as I loathe him he’s one of the greatest pitchers I’ve ever seen. And then let’s debate the merits of Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire based on their performance against pitchers, not Congressmen.
And then let’s get back to arguments we actually want to have.
The sound and the fury notwithstanding, nothing much changed from a purely parochial perspective following Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement. Mike Piazza still rocks, T#m Gl@v!ne still galls and Tom Seaver still rules.
Piazza didn’t gain induction. Big deal. He continues to be one of the absolute greatest Mets there ever was, his membership in the Hall of Greg remains valid and his 62.2% from Cooperstown’s high and mighty arbiters of immortality (and morality) represented an improvement from the previous vote, indicating that within a couple of elections, he’ll probably get in, most likely etched under a Mets cap.
He should be in already. But you already knew that.
Gl@v!ne, meanwhile, becomes the twelfth Mets player to make the Hall. Yippee. I thought I might tap into some long-dormant vein of rose-colored viewing and say something generous on T#m’s behalf — perhaps recalling his two outstanding starts in the ’06 playoffs or how he learned to work the inside of the plate at an advanced age when quesTec compelled him to change his careerlong approach — but I don’t have it in me, other than to acknowledge he won 305 games, two Cy Youngs and there was no unbiased reason to keep him out. Even with a permanent record encompassing his final three Mets starts (14.81 ERA and zero garments rended as his team surrendered its playoff spot), there’s no arguing against him residing in Cooperstown.
They can have him.
His Braves buddy Greg Maddux goes in, too, which is fine and dandy on merit, especially since Maddux didn’t break Seaver’s vote-percentage record of 98.84. That’s an admittedly petty concern, but it’s been our treasured heirloom since 1992, so I’ll be petty on its behalf. MLB Network got Maddux and Gl@v!ne on the air (with their man Smoltz) for requisite fawning and teasing about how much they’ll love playing golf upstate this summer. If I closed my eyes, it was somewhere between 1993 and 2002 and Braves pitching was the same immovable object all over again. It wasn’t a pretty sight to behold, even in the imagination.
The Big Hurt made it. Good for Frank Thomas, whose three-run homer off Jeff D’Amico in Interleague action in 2002 — the only series in which he ever faced the Mets — failed to leave a scar. Maybe our Frank Thomas will accidentally receive more of his mail as a result. Any excuse to invoke the man who hit 34 home runs for a 120-loss team is a welcome diversion.
Six Mets who weren’t Piazza or Gl@v!ne also rode the 2014 ballot. Only one will return in 2015: Jeff Kent. He stopped being a Met in 1996, which was in another millennium. Then he went on to become one of the most prolific slugging second basemen of all time. Go figure. His 15.2% of the vote indicates he’ll be talked if not to death then perhaps to sniffles for at least a few more elections.
Kent was a helluva Met for one month in particular: April 1994. Remember when John Buck was challenging the franchise record for most RBIs in an April? That was Jeff’s mark he bore down on but couldn’t top. What an April it was 20 years ago: 26 runs batted in, seven homer and an OPS of 1.160. Kent stopped being such hot orange and blue stuff thereafter, but I’m willing to call it a Hall of Fame month.
Rather than grind too many teeth over the events of September 30, 2007 (which suddenly seems uncomfortably recent), I will choose to harbor selectively fond memories of the unquestionably unpopular or relatively forgotten Mets who won’t be considered for Cooperstown any longer. Like Jeff Kent. Like the other five.
Paul Lo Duca received zero votes, but he seamlessly replaced a legend in 2006 and was a major reason the Mets leapt ahead of the N.L. East pack to stay. We wouldn’t have our sole set of post-Piazza postseason memories if not for Lo Duca. It may not be worth a Hall of Fame vote, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Moises Alou received six votes for a very solid, occasionally stellar career. Boy could he hit. He hit in a Mets-best 30 consecutive games as all else was falling apart around him late in 2007. He was 41 and dead tired, yet he kept playing and kept hitting. Not exactly a bulletproof Cooperstown credential, but I warm to the thought.
Hideo Nomo was between his phenomenon stage and his comeback period as a four-month Met in 1998. His six votes today aren’t for what he did as the Mets fell once game shy of forging a three-way tie for the Wild Card. Nevertheless, a 10-strikeout complete-game gem at San Francisco stands out in my mind from that playoff hunt. He could’ve done more (like take the ball when Bobby Valentine tried to hand it to him for the last start of the season), but he did something. It was better than nothing.
Kenny Rogers…yeah, I know. But I also know this, thanks to Baseball Musings: seven games played at Shea Stadium as a Met — all in 1999 — and the Mets won every time. You know who was a more successful home park player for the Mets in their history? Nobody. No kidding. It may be glory by association, but nobody can touch that 7-0 record. It was Turner Field where he found trouble, but that was a bit later. And given the closeness of regular-season affairs in 1999, there’s no underestimating how important Kenny Rogers was in getting the Mets to October.
I mean, yeah, Kenny Rogers…bases loaded, ball four, I get it. Believe me I get it. But he really did help there for a while. I wouldn’t have cast the one Hall of Fame vote he got, but I’m not going to scream that he accumulated one.
Armando Benitez would be remembered as an outstanding Met reliever if not for the handful of times he managed to be incredibly dreadful, which, given his job description, were always when it mattered most. So I’ll conveniently skip over crucial territory and give Armando and his one inexplicable vote received their due, not for all the saves he piled up (which are usually written off as culled in pressure-free situations, though that’s not an entirely fair characterization), but in honor of one appearance that stays with me because it was so much fun to witness.
At Shea in June of 1999, when every game was already important to the Mets breaking their eleven-year playoff drought, Benitez was brought on to protect a 4-2 lead against the Marlins. He retired the order in the top of the eighth. The Mets then went about tacking on runs in the home half of the inning. Benitez seemed poised to exit in favor of a pinch-hitter and ultimately John Franco, but with the score jacked up to 7-2, two on and nobody out, Bobby V said, essentially, “what the hell?” and let his hard-throwing reliever bat.
Benitez grounded to third, bringing home Roger Cedeño the sixth run of the inning. It was the first RBI of the pitcher’s career, and all of us on hand stood and gave him a hearty ovation. Then the usual setup man went out to finish the game, striking out all three Marlins he faced. Soon enough, he’d be the closer and it would never look so easy or feel very cheery, but if there had to be a solitary vote thrown away on Armando Benitez, let it be thrown away against that pleasant memory.
Benitez, Rogers, Nomo and Alou will all be absent from next year’s ballot, but we will have Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado to pick around, along with the great Piazza. Their arguments can wait, though it occurs to me nobody’s candidacy ever looms so promising as when he has yet to be overlooked.
Think about it. A year ago at this time, Kent’s name was included with Maddux’s, Gl@v!ne’s, Thomas’s and Mike Mussina’s as part of the supposed powerhouse class to come. New meat is inevitably framed that way. Yet Kent and Mussina languished toward the rear of the results while the others waltzed in. So I’d advise, in case you’re thinking Pedro is a lock or that Delgado and Sheffield stack up reasonably well, cherish this moment in time when nobody’s seasons of accomplishments are yet reduced to afterthought status, when BBWAA members of various stripe have yet to casually dismiss hundreds of homers or thousands of hits as if attaining them took nothing special.
These elections cue Terry Cashman’s classic in my head, not the “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” refrain of “Talkin’ Baseball” so much as the contemporary verse he included to celebrate how our grand old game keeps rolling along. One line in particular resonates today:
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt
And Vida Blue
If Cooperstown is calling
It’s no fluke
Seaver and Schmidt were called. Blue and Garvey weren’t. Terry went 2-for-4 in his 1981 forecast for surefire immortality. That’s a batting average of .500. But we’ve all learned in the ensuing decades that batting average isn’t everything.
A warm if non-baseball observation to pass along in the midst of a brutal cold snap: the Nets belong in Brooklyn. I confirmed it Saturday night.
It was my second trip to Barclays Center. Last season’s was for novelty’s sake. This one was more for basketball. I’m pleased to report that no matter the cynical aspects attached to relocating a professional sports franchise in the midst of a planned real estate development, the Nets being plopped onto the O’Malley-lusted intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic feels right from a sports fandom perspective. I don’t know that it will work ultimately for the citizenry of the neighborhood or provide a platform to make the Nets legitimate title contenders, but I decided I like having them there.
I especially like my romantic notion that the Nets sort of came home to me when they moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey. I grew up with them in Uniondale until they vamoosed. I’d vaguely missed them all these years being in some inconvenient state, never mind the altogether wrong Basketball Association. Now they’re a train ride away.
When I told my sister of our plans to catch the Nets and Cavaliers in Brooklyn, she asked, very seriously, if it was safe. I wasn’t surprised. For a generation of Long Islanders raised on tales of how lucky they were to have been moved out of their ancestral borough, it was a reflexive response. My parents loved Brooklyn in the rearview mirror, but except for visits to relatives or doctors, they wanted no part of it in real time when we were kids.
In certain precincts of my family, it will always be 1957 when it comes to broaching Brooklyn. The Dodgers will always be going one way and we’ll always be going the other way, neither party having any desire to stick around. For me, “the Brooklyn train” was always the one you didn’t want to be on out of Long Beach, because it meant changing at Jamaica if I was going to Manhattan…and where else would I be going? Now, with the Nets at the other end of the ride, I embrace the Brooklyn train. It takes me to my basketball team. The hop across the platform, coming and going, is a small logistical surcharge to pay.
Barclays Center is wonderfully gleamy in that simultaneously gorgeous yet offputting way contemporary sports palaces insist on greeting you. You can’t escalate to the not-so-cheap seats without passing the amenity-laden levels. I didn’t come for amenities, but I don’t care for having them fill my peripheral vision, reminding me that tonight they’re not accessible to me. More importantly, the sightlines are swell. I have no problem following the bouncing ball.
Like Citi Field, Barclays has plenty to sell you to eat, and based on my first visit last February, the grub is just as good (and just as expensive). But Barclays, unlike Citi, is in the middle of somewhere, so Saturday night, Stephanie and I braved the slush as well as our unfamiliarity with the area to enjoy dinner as people who aren’t necessarily sports fans do an hour-and-a-half before a game — in a restaurant.
I liked that a great deal. I’ve done it in other cities before baseball games. We used to do it that way en route to seeing the Liberty at the Garden during our passionate WNBA phase, though we’d usually settled for the Ranch 1 on 28th Street. Saturday night we walked 10 or so minutes into Park Slope for miso soup, sushi and sashimi. Then we walked 10 minutes back to Barclays. It reminded me of Bob Hartley and Cliff Murdock reminiscing about that place they used to go for burgers and beers before Loyola games on The Bob Newhart Show. It put me in mind, too, of the stories old-timers told about meeting at the Nedick’s by the old Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th. It made me think of G.O. Cards getting a high school kid like Long Beach’s own Larry Brown into Knicks games before anybody knew what the NBA was exactly. It made me think of my dad going there for college doubleheaders when he was at NYU and the Violets played big-time basketball.
The Nets and Cavs were 45 minutes or more from tipping off and I was thinking great basketball thoughts, maybe even some that actually happened.
Basketball and I used to be real close. I mean we were like best friends when we were kids. Then basketball and I went our separate ways. It’s a little awkward when we cross paths nowadays. We usually act as if we’re strangers with no shared history whatsoever. Once in a great while, though, I can get together with basketball and find we’re still capable of hitting it off as if the intervening decades hadn’t changed a thing.
That was me and basketball Saturday night, the only Saturday night home game all year on the Nets’ schedule. Too bad. To my mind, so informed at the age of six, basketball games should be played at home on Saturday night. First game of any kind I ever went to was the Knicks on a Saturday night late in 1969 when my parents had season tickets and the Knicks were owning the league. I loved the Knicks like I loved the Mets in 1969. I loved the Knicks of that era so much that I could never keep loving them once that era was over. I know people who’ve treated post-glory Mets teams that way, failing to embrace those who came after Carter and Hernandez and Strawberry and so on. I could never drift from the Mets just because they weren’t populated by great players anymore, but in a nutshell, that’s how I was with the Knicks once Willis Reed began the inevitable parade of championship retirements. There’ve been attempts at rapprochement between us over the decades, but relations between the Knicks and me are best described as estranged.
Yet I will always cherish what Saturday night at the Garden meant when I was six and seven. Saturday night at the Garden in 1969-70 was the epitome of sports and class. I got it immediately. I learned to applaud passes and appreciate picks and shout “CHARGE!” and chant “DEE-FENSE!” I can still hear John Condon’s voice announce who just scored and who was just fouled.
Saturday night at Barclays Center in 2013-14 — when the canned music never lets up and everything is a sponsorship opportunity — offered no more than a shadow of those formative evenings when I figured out how much fun it was being an informed fan, but a shadow is better than a void, just as Brooklyn is better than Newark, East Rutherford or Piscataway for my Nets needs.
It wasn’t an amazing game (the Nets won) and it wasn’t an amazing crowd (our section’s loudmouth bemoaned the failure of his “DEE-FENSE” to catch fire), but it felt right, just as getting off a train in Brooklyn did, just as dining casually near the arena did, just as sensing a fast break coalesce did. When you watch the NBA on TV, you get the idea that the only fans who exist are the amenity-catered VIPs on celebrity row. Up in the balcony, as it were, you’re reassured to know you’re among people who care enough to shout when your team doesn’t have the ball.
Y’know what else felt good? The train back to Jamaica. Most of us boarding at Atlantic Terminal had been to the game. We were couples on dates; families of four; a mother chaperoning a handful of children; a father and a son; bunches of buddies. Especially buddies. Buddies going to a basketball game in Brooklyn, now buddies coming home from a basketball game in Brooklyn…going home to Long Island. Basketball talk. Barclays Center talk. Talk about what’s out the window or what’s planned for tomorrow. The Nets aren’t good enough to be fashionable, but many of us had bought in. There were expensive Nets jackets and Nets caps purchased at Modell’s and underneath my parka I was wearing a Nets hoodie I ordered from Nets.com when it was discounted for Black Friday. The text certified the team that had relentlessly branded itself Brooklyn in 2012 was founded in 1967, which was absolutely true if you followed the ABA trail clear back to the Teaneck Armory before it wound through an array of stations you could imagine called out by an LIRR conductor near you: Commack Arena, the Island Garden, the Nassau Coliseum, the Rutgers Athletic Center, the Brendan Byrne Arena, the Prudential Center and Barclays Center.
Last stop, Barclays Center.
I wanted that hoodie because it commemorated my idealized good old Nets days, no matter that red, white and blue had turned black and white. I wear it as much as I do because I’m hoping to see some reasonably good new Nets days. Or just a few more Saturday night games over the next few winters.
Maybe there was a soul in the Long Island-bound crowd who was such an enormous Nets fan that he would have sought out the action in New Jersey on a Saturday night like this, but I’m guessing no. Or conceivably a Nets franchise that had stuck it out off Hempstead Turnpike post-1977 could’ve cultivated a rabid basketball following in Nassau and Suffolk, yet if two beautiful ABA championships won on the wings of Dr. J didn’t tangibly raise the roundball temperature on the Island, then probably not, either. Professional basketball, at least in these parts, seems to require being surrounded by something other than parking lots and parkways.
This, I determined Saturday night, was the way to go. The Brooklyn train. The Brooklyn Nets. Our team. My team for those occasions when I would decide to reacquaint myself with my long, lost childhood buddy. Maybe this team with whom I intermittently get into pickup games is never going to be the team around here, but when has that ever stopped a fan like me?
Watching MLB Network the other night, I heard several Hall of Fame candidates referred to as “slam dunks” for election. No, I thought, absolutely not…and I don’t say that to diminish anybody’s chance for Murray Chass-approved immortality.
There are no slam dunks in baseball. I mean that literally and figuratively. Let us not use phrases from other sports for our sport. If other people in other places want to co-opt slam dunks, they can go ahead and go for a theatrical two. The most famous instance of slam-dunkage taken off the basketball court and injected into another facet of life was when CIA director George Tenet told George W. Bush there was a “slam dunk case” to be made for the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They never found any WMDs in the long war that followed, so it could be the lesson is if you go up for what you think will be an easy slam dunk, next thing you know shattered glass could come raining down on everybody, literally and figuratively.
Is two-time A.L. MVP Frank Thomas a “slam dunk” for the Hall of Fame? Is 3,000-hit collector Craig Biggio? Is, ahem, 300-game winner T#m Gl@v!ne? The answer is no. They can’t be, for baseball doesn’t have anything like a slam dunk. But if we play along and exchange “slam dunk” for what it’s intended to imply, we’d ask if those guys are a “sure thing”.
Well, there are no sure things in baseball, either. I mean that literally, figuratively, spiritually and conceptually. I mean it any way I can.
What is a sure thing in baseball, exactly?
• A seven-game lead with 17 to play? Check with your local 300-game winner to see how that turned out.
• A seven-run lead with six outs to go? Check with that same local 300-game winner and ask how that went from the visitors’ dugout — better yet, check with the home team catcher who capped the ten-run, eighth-inning rally that fully erased the theoretically impenetrable seven-run lead.
• A 100-MPH fastball down the middle? Sounds impressively hurled, but we don’t know what will happen to the ball after it’s released or even how it might be called by the umpire if it gets by the batter.
• A sizzling liner back through the box? A properly positioned defender could spear it by skill or by luck.
• A deep drive toward a short porch? Wind has been known to weigh in with its two cents.
How about a good old can of corn? You know, an easy fly right into the center fielder’s glove…no surer thing than a thing they have a name for, right?
Consult with Brant Brown from 1998 or Dave Parker from 1986 and get back to me. Besides, a can of corn isn’t proactive. A basketball player attempts to slam dunk. A can of corn is the end result of a pitcher trying to get an out by any means necessary and a batter failing to succeed at his immediate goal of recording a base hit — and he still might be rewarded if the can of corn isn’t so jolly green cooperative after all.
Baseball’s beauty is that you don’t know, you can’t know, you won’t know, certainly not until there’s something definitive to know. Perhaps you’d prefer that pitcher or this catcher (especially this catcher) gain induction into the Hall of Fame, but you’ll only find out on a need-to-know basis. And who knows right now?
As long as we’re attempting to cut down brainless phrases at the plate, let’s force out “no-brainer”. Baseball makes us think. It’s the thinking fan’s game. Our brain should be in the lineup so often that it makes Cal Ripken appear more sluggard than slugger. Don’t diminish our collective thought process by benching our individual brains. Even if thoughts seem obvious to you, they may not present themselves similarly to everybody. That’s why nobody to date has made the Hall of Fame with more than 98.84% of the vote. That Terrific number was reached 22 years ago when 425 BBWAA voters deployed their various noodles and noggins and of course voted for Tom Seaver, while five writers processed their ballots out some other part of their respective anatomies and somehow forgot to cast a “yea” for the Franchise.
You’d have to be out of your mind to have not voted for Greg Maddux this time around, I suppose (just as could have been said for startlingly non-unanimous choices like Cobb, Mays and Aaron), yet I’d be sorry to see anybody top Seaver’s almost-perfect percentage, no matter how deserving that player is of election by acclimation. But that’s my heart and not my head speaking.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t discount the heart wanting what the heart wants in baseball. Benny Van Buren, manager of the Washington Senators, advised Joe Hardy’s teammates that you gotta have heart, and he led his team to the American League pennant somewhere in the middle of the 1950s when you might have sworn those damn Yankees won it just about every year. I can’t look it up Hardy’s WAR on Baseball-Reference, but sometimes in this game you gotta have faith, too.
When I turned 41
It seemed a very good year
To say I was “Seaver”
When I turned 45
It seemed a very good year
To’ve been a lifetime Believer
When I turned 47
It seemed a very good year
To be an upward glove-heaver
Today I turn 51
Is it a very good year?
Or a take-it-or-leaver?
51 they give coaches — none who’s fixed Ike
51 they gave Maddux — untalented Mike
51 they gave Rick — you don’t remember Rick White?
It was once worn by One Dog (that might ring a bell)
Then landed on Rojas (whose saves went to hell)
And it means I’ve passed 50 (well, isn’t that swell?)
It’s only a number
It’s only an age
Perhaps I’ve found wisdom
That will make me sound sage
So I will try my hand
At some coachly advice:
Never bring in Mel Rojas
Don’t even think twice
This just in, from the press box at Shea Stadium, where a 5-4-3 triple play hit into by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski just went unnoticed for the umpteenth time: the Oscar’s Cap Awards for 2013, recognizing the ongoing presence of the Mets in popular culture, both lately and eternally, have been announced.
The Oscar’s Caps, or OCs, were inaugurated last December in loving memory of Jack Klugman and the Mets cap he wore in so many scenes of the classic ABC sitcom The Odd Couple, on which he portrayed tidiness-challenged New York Herald sportswriter Oscar Madison for five glorious seasons. Oscar’s Caps are placed atop every example we notice of the Mets infiltrating the popular culture in the preceding year, the kinds of moments destined to join the pantheon occupied by Oscar (Klugman’s and Walter Matthau’s), Chico Escuela and the slightly fictional version of Keith Hernandez among many, many others.
Oscar himself probably would have preferred a hot tip on a fast horse or a hot date with Crazy Rhoda Zimmerman, but we’d like to think he’d appreciate this homage, too.
Some of what we present here is brand new, materializing within the popular-culture Metgeist of 2013. Some of it is from a little before or courtesy of the wayback machine. That’s the stuff we simply hadn’t taken note of until it was brought to our attention over the past 12 months, whether organically or through the kindness of friends and well-meaning strangers.
Maybe we knew about it in the distant past but only remembered it this year. Or maybe we didn’t know about it at all until now. If we missed it the first time around, it’s probably because we were busy watching a Mets game.
Good thing for repeats, huh?
With that loose-limbed explanation of what we’re up to, we proudly present our Oscar’s Caps for the year just concluding.
• Marnie Stern’s ode to “Shea Stadium” captured the essence of the place in 2008: “Bigger than big/That’s how you start it.”
• Shea Stadium was fully animated in the late-1990s Fox program Godzilla: The Series. In the episode “What Dreams May Come,” a monster named Crackler ran amok in New York City, destroying everything in its way, including otherwise indefatigable Shea.
• Alice In The Cities (1974) has scenes filmed at Shea Stadium, including game action and Jane Jarvis on the organ.
• Hot Times (1974) includes an adult scene in Shea Stadium’s parking lot.
• “Take me out to the ball game/I want to sit in the stands and scream/I wanna root for the losing team/Like that day/The stadium was Shea/And I lived in a rally cap/And the underdog would say…”
—The So So Glos, “Son Of An American,” Blowout (2012)
• “Shea Stadium, the radium, EMD squared/Kicked out of the Palladium, you think that I cared?”
—Beastie Boys, “Sounds of Science,” Paul’s Boutique (1989)
• Hang A Crooked Number, a novel by Matthew Callan (2013), includes tangential (thus essential) Mets content. It takes place primarily in a fictional minor league affiliate, namechecks Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and keeps Shea Stadium alive.
• In 2012’s indie flick Gimme The Loot, graffiti artists want to tag the Home Run Apple at Citi Field, just as was done to its predecessor at Shea in the ’80s.
• Action Bronson’s “Rolling Thunder” 2013 lyric: “I stay in Flushing like I’m Dillon Gee.”
• In The Simpsons’ “Love is a Many Splintered Thing,” February 10, 2013, Mary Spuckler has a picture of herself in a carriage ride in New York with a Mr. Met-like figure.
• Jon Stewart was reacclimated to The Daily Show after his summer hiatus, 9/3/2013, with the help of Mr. Met (blocking John Oliver from Stewart’s dressing room as Stephen Colbert performed some sort of exorcism/intervention).
• Spotted in the audience at The Colbert Report on 9/24/2013 as the Emmy-winning host thanked his staff (filling all the seats for the occasion): Mr. Met.
NOT SUCH A BIG HEAD
• As detailed in our thorough examination of the Harvey Day phenomenon, on the eve of his start in the 2013 All-Star Game, Matt Harvey served as correspondent for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, asking New Yorkers their opinion of Matt Harvey, and going largely unrecognized in the process.
Y’KNOW WHAT WOULD LOOK GOOD ON THOSE HEADS?
• Nas, seen performing postgame at Citi Field over the summer, included this homage in his theme song to the 2012 film Tower Heist: “I’m straight up NYC/Like a Mets fitted”.
• Vincent Irizarry as Corporal Fragetti sported a Mets cap in Heartbreak Ridge (1986).
• Some kid wore a Mets cap on the Nickelodeon show Hey Dude (1989-1991).
• Minority Mets owner Bill Maher offered guest Jay-Z a blinged-up black Mets cap on HBO’s Real Time, August 2, 2013. Jay-Z declined not, he claimed, because it was the Mets, but because it was too sparkly. The show biz mogul added that when his uncle took him to his first baseball game as a kid, it was a Mets game…but that he was lured to dark side anyway.
• No cap, but Eddie Murphy wore Mets varsity-style jacket in Coming to America (1988).
• No jacket, but Vince Vaughn wore a Mets t-shirt in the commercial for Delivery Man (2013).
I READ/HEARD/SAW THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY
• “The restroom attendant greeted us with a nod. His job, as far as I could see, entailed sitting on a stool and listening to the Mets game on a transistor radio.” So wrote Tom Perotta in Bad Haircut: Stories From The Seventies (2012).
• High schoolers Neil and Jon watch the Mets’ 1980 season opener on Channel 9 in Let Me Wear Your Coat by John Basil (2012).
• Girls, “On All Fours,” 3/10/2013: Bartender at party to Adam: “Did ya hear that? The Mets are up, 3-2.” (Adam says, “No.”)
• The back cover of 1982’s The Nylon Curtain features Billy Joel reading a newspaper (the Times) in which the headline, “Expos Top Punchless Mets,” is clearly visible.
• A newspaper headline spotted on How I Met Your Mother in 2013 blares “Mets Mathematically Eliminated”.
• Loudon Wainwright III’s song “Hometeam Crowd” from 1972: “When the Mets don’t win/I get upset/I got a bullet hole in my TV set.”
• From Lobo’s “Happy Days in New York City” (1969): “Now it took eight years to do it/And they don’t know what they’ve done/For the city’s beginning to smile again/The Mets have finally won”.
WHAT WOULD YOU RATHER DO?
• A Flintstones episode of yore reportedly had Barney and Fred cutting work to attend the “Metrocks” game.
• “I get baseball tickets,” neighbor Dr. Arnold Rosen told Don Draper in the Mad Men episode “Favors” on June 9, 2013 (set in 1968), “mostly the Mets.” Don, for some strange reason, isn’t impressed.
• On The Odd Couple, Season 1, Episode 6, “Oscar’s Ulcer,” first aired October 29, 1970: Felix enters a restaurant and approaches Oscar, who’s not supposed to be out enjoying himself. “You said you wanted your freedom,” Felix scolds his roommate. “Freedom to you means either a hot tamale or a night baseball game. The Mets are out of town.”
• “Do you know how many seven-year-old opera fans there are in this world?” Floyd Unger asked good ol’ Oscar after Floyd regretted hiring Felix at Unger Gum and Felix’s big initiative was producing bubble gum cards for opera fans. “These kids will be trading in 50 Beverly Sills for one Ron Swoboda.” (“Shuffling Off to Buffalo,” The Odd Couple, Season 4, Episode 18, first aired February 8, 1974.)
• Bobby Bonilla appeared on New York Undercover in 1994.
• Kirk Nieuwenhuis appeared on the Fox reality cooking show Hell’s Kitchen on July 18, 2013.
• In 2012’s otherwise abysmal Parental Guidance, Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) is a minor league baseball announcer who channels Bob Murphy when he says, “Back with the happy recap after these words.”
• Coolio featuring 40 Thevz “Dial A Jam” lyric: “a pitcher like Catfish Hunter, Nolan Ryan and Doc Gooden rolled into one, son” (1995).
• Go To Hell, Mike Piazza was a movie script written in 2001 that emerged in 2013. It was intended as a vehicle for Ben Stiller, whose protagonist character blamed all of his life’s woes on Piazza.
• Jimmy Chance of Raising Hope, in the episode titled “Hi-Def” (11/22/2013), needs to come up with a baseball player whose name he can turn into a “Strawberry” pun…and arrives upon “Strawberry Bonds”.
HANG ON, HELP IS ON THE WAY
• On Nurse Jackie — starring Mets fan Edie Falco — the May 19, 2013, episode entitled “Walk Of Shame,” a drunk and ranting Mets fan was brought into the Emergency Room after smashing his face against the side of a bus. He was enraged by the sight of a Yankees logo on the bus, so (naturally) he bashed the logo with his face. He was wearing blue and orange, sort of a Mets jacket without any licensed MLB logos or insignia. At one point he shouted to an EMT, “Girardi is your mother’s bitch!”
• The Arkansas Connection by David Evans is promoted to potential readers as such: “Frank Munro, manager of the New York Mets, leads a turbulent life trying to win with a team of dysfunctional underachievers. [...] Meanwhile, Bobby Sherward, a doctor-turned-right fielder who sustained a concussion from the fly ball and lost the Mets’ final season game, decides that his future is in medicine, not baseball.”
• Sometimes You See It Coming by Kevin Baker (2003): “John Barr is the kind of player who isn’t supposed to exist anymore. An all-around superstar, he plays the game with a single-minded ferocity that makes his New York Mets team all but invincible. [...] Barr leads the Mets to one championship after another. Then chaos arrives in the person of new manager Charli Stanzi, well-known psychopath. Under Stanzi’s tutelage, the team simply falls apart.”
• In the pilot for the 1965 series My Mother The Car, Ann Sothern, reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile, tells a disbelieving Jerry Van Dyke, “I’ve heard of something called the New York Mets. If they’re possible, I’m possible.”
• In 2012’s Heft by Liz Moore, one of the characters is a high school senior being scouted by the Mets.
FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT
• RLTV’s Second Act profile of comedian Jeff Hysen — who regularly and thoughtfully provides Oscar’s Cap tips to FAFIF — shows the star at home with his Mets coffee mug. (Learn more about how a comic who’s played clubs from coast to coast gets some of his punchlines in order here.)
A big tip of our cap to all Faith and Fear readers who contributed Mets popular culture sightings from 2013 and before. If in 2014 you see something of a Metsian nature on TV, hear something Amazin’ in a song or see something trimmed in orange and blue in a movie, a play or a book, say something to us! We’ll add it to our bulging file of pop culture Metsiana and recognize it in this space around this time next year, if not sooner.