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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Welcome, THB Class of 2022!

Spring is here … oh wait it totally isn’t, it’s cold and barren and horrible out there. But spring will be here soon enough, believe it or not. Which means we’d better welcome 2022’s matriculating Mets, now proud members of The Holy Books!

(Background: I have three binders, long ago dubbed The Holy Books by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re in order of arrival in a big-league game: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Noah Syndergaard is Class of ’15, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, the managers, ghosts, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That page begins with Hobie Landrith and ends with the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for the Mets, managed the Mets, nor got stuck with the dubious status of Met ghost.)

THB Class of 2022 collection of baseball cards

(If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it unless it’s a truly horrible — Topps was here a decade before there were Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Mets card by Topps? Then I look for a minor-league card, a non-Topps Mets card, a Topps non-Mets card, or anything else. That means I spend the season scrutinizing new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. Eventually that yields this column, previous versions of which can be found herehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere and here.)

The 2021 Mets featured 42 new players, smashing 1967’s de facto club record of 35 and nearly eclipsing 1962’s 45, notable because in ’62 every Met was a new Met. The 2022 team was relatively more exclusive, adding “just” 31 during a long, winding season that was exciting, occasionally thrilling, heartening and ultimately disappointing. (Though they did set a fairly obscure record, quite possibly noted only by me, in adding three ghosts to the roster of not-quite Mets.)

But enough preamble — time for the amble!

Starling Marte: Apparently chiseled out of granite, Marte brought the Mets the kind of swagger they hadn’t seen in some time, with everyone seeming to play at a slightly faster tempo in his presence. Though his numbers weren’t eye-popping, his excision from the lineup in September after taking a pitch to the hand coincided with the team’s descent from excellent to merely good, and his loss was glaring during that last disastrous showdown with the Braves. Wears a bejewelled Mickey Mouse pendant probably worth the GDP of a small country, which prompted some ingenious Met fan to make an oversized display head of Mickey Mouse with a Starling Marte pendant. Honestly that should have counted as the NL East tiebreaker instead of the statistical Manfred fuckery that did instead. 2022 Topps Update card.

Eduardo Escobar: Was hot early and late but either ineffective or injured in between. Still, Escobar won plaudits as a clubhouse mentor and esteemed teammate, something I’ve grown more wary of discounting just because it can’t be quantified, and his attention to the game and delight in it when things went well made him impossible to dislike. Had a very odd offseason as Carlos Correa wasn’t and then was and then wasn’t a Met, something the club will need to address. It seems unlikely to become a problem, though — one of the advantages of employing a player like Escobar is he’s seen it all before. Topps treated him very strangely, giving him an ersatz card in its Mets factory team set, otherwise ignoring him in the flagship line, and issuing the same Topps Heritage card for him in both series. (Monopolies are bad for product quality, kids.) I went with the team-set card.

Mark Canha: A successor to R.A. Dickey in that I wasn’t entirely sure he was a real person and not invented by some urban blue-state blogger who wished there were more players like Mark Canha. (Not that I know any bloggers like that.) But Canha was very real: a foodie who discussed NYC dining destinations over a headset mic while in the outfield and a UC Berkeley grad who went back to school during the pandemic to study public health. Apparently his arguments about politics and life with fellow former Athletic Chris Bassitt were quite something to witness; we didn’t get to eavesdrop on those, but we did get Canha’s horrified astonishment at Jeff McNeil’s dietary preferences (Lunchables were invoked), not to mention some epic celebratory expressions. Canha even arrived in the big leagues with a deadpan postgame interview repurposed from Bull Durham. That was enough to make me a Canha stan from the jump, but he was also a pretty good player, most emphatically when he beat the Phillies with a five RBIs’ worth of homers in August, the exclamation point on the most amazin’ win of a season that had plenty of them. Topps team set card because his non-Photoshopped flagship one was lame.

Adam Ottavino: A well-traveled veteran reliever, Ottavino won me over because his mental adaptation to that role struck me as perfect. Ottavino is paid to do one thing, which is to maneuver hitters into having to try and hit his frisbee slider. Generally they can’t, but it’s a slider, so the ones that don’t do what Ottavino wants them to do typically end up somewhere disastrous, and at the worst possible time. It’s a pitiless formula that will force even the least reflective man to confront profound existential questions, which might be why Ottavino always plied his trade with a mildly weary but mostly blank expression, like a gunfighter in a Sergio Leone film. Ottavino’s slider usually obeyed his commands and he had a great year, leading to another tour of duty with the Mets. But expect no change in demeanor: He’s a middle reliever, so he knows fortune remains fickle and the cosmos fundamentally malign. Topps Update card.

Travis Jankowski: “Late-inning center fielder” is a role the Mets have filled in serial fashion in recent years, and in 2022 they turned to the lank-haired Jankowski, a former Stony Brook star and fleet-footed Padre prospect turned suspect. Jankowski didn’t do much in the early going, broke his hand making a diving catch against San Francisco, missed two months, got claimed on waivers, collected a lone plate appearance as a Seattle Mariner, came back to the Mets on a minor-league deal, and didn’t appear in another big-league game. Even by the standards of a baseball journeyman, that’s a lot. He’ll go to camp with the Texas Rangers; I suppose I wish him the best. Topps Update card.

Max Scherzer: The $43 million man lived up to his billing, posting a 5.2 WAR and keeping the Mets not only alive but also flying high during Jacob deGrom’s inevitable absence. The unquantifiable was a revelation too: We knew about Scherzer’s nail-spitting competitiveness on the mound, having seen it up close so many times when he was in a Nats uniform, but watching it in sequence instead of isolation made it more impressive. I loved the way Scherzer would lead pitching strategy lectures in the dugout, invariably in the company of Bassitt but also with deGrom, the younger starters and the occasional wise catcher alongside him. I also loved what absolute shit he looked like in the dugout on days he pitched: drenched in sweat with his hair a bristly middle-aged guy horror. He looked like that because his brain only had room for thinking about how to get the next brace of enemy hitters out — he probably wouldn’t have noticed if he was on fire. Chronic oblique injuries took some of the luster off his numbers and two year-end misfires against the Braves and Padres made for an unfortunate ending, but I can’t wait to see Scherzer on the mound again next year, aiming his heterochromatic death stare at new unfortunates. Topps Update card in which he’s wearing one of those stupid blue tops.

Chris Bassitt: Bassitt won 15 games in his one-and-done season in New York, and I mourned his departure when he moved on to Toronto. (Did he dislike New York? I always wonder when these things happen.) Anyway, I loved his weird delivery, with the ball seeming to come out of nowhere like an ax getting chucked in a videogame featuring Viking berserkers; I loved his multitude of pitches; and I loved the slightly scary intensity he brought to his profession, as evidenced by the “grind you till you break” voiceover that the Mets played approximately 800,000 times. (Can we now admit the Mets bodega thing was a little weird?) Bassitt wound up as the Mets’ most reliable starter, and if the health of aged Hall of Fame pitchers doesn’t prove as robust as we hope in 2023 he’ll be more fondly remembered than he is now. Terrific Topps Update card showing off that violent motion.

Joely Rodriguez: Generally known around our house as Fuckin’ Joely, which wasn’t particularly fair but sure seemed to fit. Acquired from the Yankees for the equally frustrating Miguel Castro, Rodriguez struck out guys by the bushel and generally kept the ball on the ground, but also walked guys by the bushel. He was the most reliable lefty in the pen, a statement that came without qualifiers during a nice summer run and counted as damning by faint praise other times. (Recidivist Met Chasen Shreve started the year as the other pen southpaw, which I didn’t remember at all.) Rodriguez is now a Red Sock, with his duties to be assumed by Tampa Bay import Brooks Raley; Raley looks like a better bet on paper but he’s also a middle reliever, so light a candle. Rodriguez was a trading-card nightmare, with his 2020 Topps Total card (as a Ranger) proving unobtainable and his various minor-league cards annoyingly expensive. I eventually solved this problem by making a Joely Rodriguez custom card, something I bet no one else has ever done, because why the hell would they? It took me a long time, proving rather convincingly that I’d flunked the whole time=money thing. Fuckin’ Joely indeed.

Nick Plummer: A Cardinals prospect who never ignited, Plummer showed up wearing Darryl Strawberry’s No. 18 and gave us a Strawberry-esque moment at the end of May, collecting his first big-league hit by way of a game-tying ninth-inning homer in a game the Mets stole from the Phillies. Plummer went 3-for-4 against the Nationals the next day, with another homer … and here comes the record scratch, as those were his final hits for the season. I was in California that weekend and missed it all, to my mild resentment, but the person to really feel for is whatever poor schmo at Topps got very excited about the only two notable days of Plummer’s career, leading to year-end products being positively saturated with Nick Plummer Mets cards long after everyone had forgotten that Nick Plummer had been a Met. Anyway, Topps Update card.

Adonis Medina: Secured his first big-league save on June 5 against the Dodgers. That sounds like a random back-of-the-card factoid about a bit player … which isn’t wrong, seeing how Medina was designated for assignment by the Mets in early September and will pitch in Korea next year. But let’s go back to that save: After dropping the first two games in L.A., the Mets won the third game and then looked for a split of the series in the finale. They came from behind to take the lead in the eighth and handed the ball to Edwin Diaz, who got the Dodgers in order. But with Diaz having been used in the eighth, the Mets had to turn to Seth Lugo in the ninth, and Lugo let the Dodgers tie it up. The Mets took a one-run lead in the 10th, but now what? “What” turned out to be Medina, sent out to face Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner with a ghost runner on second. Yipes! Medina got a flyout from Betts, a groundout from Freeman (moving the ghost runner to third) … and Turner went to first on catcher’s interference, bringing up Will Smith. Medina fanned Smith and so secured a save, a split and a place in Mets history. How many times do you think he’ll tell that story in Korea? He’s probably telling it right now. Hell, it’s what I’d be doing. Syracuse Mets card.

Yoan Lopez: A Cuban defector who was put on waivers three times last March, Lopez recorded an ERA near six in 11 innings as a Met, but earned his teammates’ respect in his second inning of work, throwing high and inside to the Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado a half-inning after Genesis Cabrera hit J.D. Davis in the ankle. Exception was taken and there was a lot of pushing and shoving, punctuated by an amusing bit of color commentary from Ron Darling: “I personally wouldn’t have thrown at the head of Arenado … I would’ve hit him, though.” Released in December and signed on with the Yomiuri Giants. Topps Total card as a D’Back.

Colin Holderman: The name suggests he was born to be a middle reliever, and Holderman pitched well in two stints with the Mets after making his debut in mid-May. Well enough, in fact, that he caught the Pirates’ eye and became an acceptable return at the trade deadline for Daniel Vogelbach. Syracuse Mets card.

Ender Inciarte: Back in 2016, Inciarte rewrote the ending of a Citi Field game between the Mets and Braves, reaching over the fence with two outs in the ninth to turn a Yoenis Cespedes homer and a 6-4 Mets walkoff win into a sparkling defensive play and a heartbreaking 4-3 loss. I was in the park, and I remember feeling almost dizzy from a five-second journey in which ecstasy and jubilation turned into disbelief and dismay. Six years later, Inciarte collected one hit in eight ABs for the Mets, and if he made a good catch I don’t remember it. 2021 Topps Heritage card in which he is a Brave and smiling broadly. Is he thinking about that catch? You just know he’s thinking about that catch.

Daniel Vogelbach: The Mets’ big acquisition (ahem) at the trade deadline, Vogelbach did his part, proving a potent bat from the left side and becoming an instant fan and clubhouse favorite, chatting cheerfully with anyone in range in the dugout and showing an odd affinity (for a position player) for the company of pitchers. Though I despise the designated hitter, it at least provides a logical niche for a player like the husky, lead-footed Vogelbach, who’d otherwise be glued to first base with the range of a refrigerator the guys from a cut-rate appliance superstore claim they weren’t paid to actually bring into your apartment. In case you’re wondering, yes, of course Vogelbach was once a Milwaukee Brewer. Topps Heritage card.

Tyler Naquin: Acquired from the Reds to be a fourth outfielder with some pop, Naquin hit a couple of homers early but never really found his place in New York, let alone our hearts. So it goes sometimes. 2022 Topps card as a Red.

Mychal Givens: A favorite of Buck Showalter’s from Baltimore, Givens arrived from the Cubs at the trade deadline with fans complaining that he wasn’t the stud lefty reliever the Mets needed — hell, he wasn’t a lefty at all. It’s hard to blame Givens for that, but it was easy to blame him for other things: His first Mets outing was a disaster and subsequent ones weren’t much better. Givens settled in and acquitted himself tolerably after that, but by then none of us wanted to hear it. Returned to the Orioles for 2023, which was probably wise for all involved. 2022 Topps card as a Cub.

Darin Ruf: Well, that was a disaster. Ruf was bizarrely hapless after coming over for the Giants for a package built around J.D. Davis, hitting (if that’s the word) an anemic .152 with nary a homer and ending the season followed around by a chorus of weary boos. He’s still on the roster and pencilled in to be the other half of the DH platoon with Vogelbach for 2023, a plan that looked good on paper in 2022 but now seems DOA for all the obvious reasons. And yet there Ruf sits in previews and projections, a stubborn reminder that there’s work left to be done. 2022 Topps card as a Giant.

Michael Perez: In 2022, May was the start of Rosterpalooza, a bewildering injury-driven stretch that saw the Mets’ roster filled with callups and waiver-wire claims — Jake Hager! Cameron Maybin! Mason Williams! 2022 saw a mini-Rosterpalooza in August, as the Mets dealt with injuries to the bullpen and infield by importing guys you’d forgotten about or never heard of in the first place. Perez, a Pirates’ castoff, was brought in as a backup catcher and provided one memorable moment, a two-run single against the Phillies that started the Mets’ comeback in their wild 10-9 win on Aug. 21. Perez had no plate appearances the next day or any other but is still sort of around, signed to the kind of minor-league deal catchers can sign until their knees and other abused body parts wave a final white flag. Topps Heritage card as a Pirate.

Deven Marrero: A backup infielder who no longer bothers to unpack his bags when changing organizations, Marrero played briefly in August while the Mets struggled replace Luis Guillorme and Eduardo Escobar, adding six hitless ABs to his nomad’s ledger. One of those guys you’ll miss in a couple of years when playing one of those Sporcle roster quizzes. Hell, I’d probably miss him if I played one right now. A minor-league card on which he’s a (checking) Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

R.J. Alvarez: Not R.A. Dickey and not Francisco Alvarez and not Robert Gsellman, though he kind of looked like him. My first sight of Alvarez was on a restaurant TV while we were vacationing on Long Beach Island, and I thought, “uh-oh, that’s supposed to be Taijuan Walker.” Nope, Walker was hurt and Alvarez proceeded to give up three earned runs in two and a third, the lone appearance he’d make as a Met. Uh-oh indeed. Syracuse Mets card.

Brett Baty: As the summer flew by, Mets fans started clamoring for the club to bring up Baty, who’d torched Double-A and was spanking Triple-A. And why not, since the accursed Braves had resurrected their seemingly flatlined season by summoning Michael Harris II, followed by Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom? (All three are now signed to team-friendly 50-year contracts.) The Mets finally gave the people what they wanted and called up Baty for the finale of a Braves series in which they’d dropped the first two. With his parents watching from the White Flight Stadium stands, Baty connected for a two-run homer on his first-ever big-league swing. Pinch-me moments are only moments, alas: Baty’s first big-league go-round was cut short by a thumb injury and inevitably less successful before that happened, with the game occasionally looking a little fast for him in the field. But it was a beginning to make you dream on what could come next. 2023 Topps Pro Debut card.

Sam Clay: The First Guy I Don’t Remember usually comes way before this point, so I’m not embarrassed. The record indicates Clay pitched the final inning of a blowout Mets win in the first game of a doubleheader, so I’m doubly not embarrassed. By then I was probably asleep on the couch with a book open but face-down on my chest, gently rising and falling. A minor-league card in which Clay is a Pensacola Blue Wahoo, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to be.

Yolmer Sanchez: See Deven Marrero. Minor-league card as a Worcester Red Sock, which at least is a semi-recognizable entity. Does anyone remember that Matt Reynolds was a 2022 Met? That was kinda weird.

Rob Zastryzny: This doesn’t reflect well on me, but I remember him because I was like, “there’s no fucking way I’ll ever spell that right.” Pitched a lone inning for the Mets and was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Godspeed, uhh … Rob. Syracuse Mets card.

Jose Butto: An unfortunate byproduct of how THB Class of XXXX works is that it captures young players for posterity in their first go-rounds, and many of those young players aren’t ready for prime time or are still evolving. Butto was called up from Double-A and thrown to the wolves in Philadelphia, and the kindest thing one can say about his four-inning start and 15.75 ERA is we all thought it would go worse. (That was the 10-9 game the Mets won, so ha!) Butto has a fighting chance to become a mid-rotation starter, but in these annals he’ll always be the deer-in-the-headlights kid who spent a shaky 90 minutes learning tough lessons in the cauldron of Citizens Bank Park. But then baseball has no shortage of ways to teach you that the universe is unfair. Card as a Binghamton Rumble Pony. I know the derivation of that team nickname, but it’s still dopey.

Nate Fisher: There are one-game-and-done guys you forget about, and one-game-and-done guys who become cult heroes. The Mets turned to Fisher, an emergency call-up most of us didn’t realize was on the roster, in the middle of the same wild game against the Phillies that’s woven through so many of these capsule biographies. He held the fort with three scoreless innings, during which the Mets came back to tie the game courtesy of the first of Mark Canha’s homers. And yes, in 2021 he’d been out of baseball, working at the First National Bank of Omaha and coaching Little League. (He was a commercial lending analyst and not a teller or something, but he really was working at a bank.) Fisher was DFA’ed the day after his heroic stand, returned to Syracuse and will be a non-roster invitee for the White Sox in a couple of weeks. Should you spot him in an Arizona bar, he better not pay for his own beer. Binghamton Rumble Ponies card.

Terrance Gore: The Herb Washington of our era, Gore made his debut as a Met sporting one career RBI and three World Series rings. Furthered his unlikely legend with a trio of steals for the Mets; a fourth ring, alas, wasn’t in the cards. Gore is a free agent and an odds-on bet to show up on some contender’s roster next September, maybe even ours. 2020 Topps card as a Dodger. Yep, he’s got a ring with them.

Bryce Montes de Oca: A gigantic reliever with an injury history that would make Rasputin quail, Montes de Oca was a September call-up — which is a victory in itself — and contributed 3 1/3 so-so innings before (wait for it) getting hurt. He could stay healthy, harness his superb stuff and spend the next decade on big-league rosters, or he could never be heard from again. All things are possible, my child. Binghamton Rumble Ponies card.

Alex Claudio: I’m drawing a blank, though I do know he’s not Antonio Santos, a spring-training invitee who never reappeared. While we’re on that subject, pour one out for 2022 ghosts Gosuke Katoh, Kramer Robertson and Connor Grey, with an extra pour-out for Grey, who provisionally joins Billy Cotton and Terrel Hansen as players to appear on a Mets roster and never get into a major-league game. Grey is still in the organization, so keep your fingers crossed. Syracuse Mets card.

Mark Vientos: Another clamored-for prospect, Vientos replaced Starling Marte after his fateful HBP and acquitted himself unremarkably in his first big-league stint, with his first big-league homer as a highlight. His future is uncertain: He has no business playing the field, might be a sell-high trading chip, but the Mets need a righty DH … let me know how it all turned out come April. Syracuse Mets card.

Francisco Alvarez: Only a year ago I was watching Alvarez as a Brooklyn Cyclone and raving about him, telling anyone who’d listen that he played with a confidence bordering on swagger that drew your eye, and oh how the ball exploded off his bat. Alvarez torched Double-A alongside Brett Baty, held his own in Triple-A and was summoned for the end-of-September showdown with the Braves. It was a lot to ask and Alvarez didn’t deliver in that first series, though I was impressed that he gave away few ABs and noted he’d hit in some lousy luck. Back at Citi Field against the Nationals, he got a 12-3 curveball from Carl Edwards Jr.  and sent it 439 feet into the night, striking a very accomplished post-launch pose before starting his trot. The near-term is unclear — occasional catcher, DH, more Triple-A seasoning — but oh boy is the medium-term wonderful to think about. Topps Pro Debut card.

Gary & Howie & A Helluva Hall Haul

It’s an article of faith among people who critique sports media that, ultimately, fans don’t tune into games because of the announcers. That appraisal may track with ratings but it doesn’t reflect enthusiasm. I’ve been tuning into Mets baseball in one form or another with glee in my remote-clicking and button-pushing fingers for more than half of my life because I know I’m going to hear from New York Mets Hall of Famer Gary Cohen or New York Mets Hall of Famer Howie Rose. I’ve considered them each the moral equivalent of New York Mets Hall of Famers going back at least to fairly early this century, probably late in the last one. I’ve just been waiting for somebody to make it official.

On Wednesday, space was specifically reserved in that room off the Jackie Robinson Rotunda for plaques honoring Mr. Cohen and Mr. Rose. I’ve seen their respective likenesses hanging up there with my own two ears. Now everybody can have a literal look at them once they are inducted on June 3, the same day a pair of plaques will go up for a pair of players whose exploits you definitely looked forward to tuning in for as well: Al Leiter and Howard Johnson. Off to the side of the wall where the plaques are hung will go the name Jay Horwitz, to be honored at the same ceremony via the Hall of Fame Achievement Award, the one given for MEriTorious service within the organization. Jay already has the fame and the achievement. Now he’s got the award to go with it.

You can wear out certain letters on your keyboard typing “long overdue” when it comes to the Mets getting around to certifying certain figures as franchise-immortal. This certification for these five fellows was indeed long overdue. Within the executive suites of Shea Stadium and Citi Field “long overdue” was Met history’s unspoken modus operandi. Was. While there’s still some catching up to do in that department, Met history is clearly gaining ground in the names behind column.

Hojo — forgive the use of informality on the occasion of conferring immortality, but c’mon, Hojo is what everybody calls Howard Johnson — was a singular Met of multiple abilities. Three Mets have homered 30 times and stolen 30 bases in one season. Only Hojo did it thrice. And only Hojo did it shifting between third and short when asked. And only Hojo did it trotting out to what amounted to a new position in right when asked. And only Hojo, at the peak of his powers, said “sure” when he was assigned center after so many seasons playing anywhere but. And only Hojo led the league in homers and RBIs along the way to piling up all those bags. And if you wanted an incredibly clutch hit on a night practically aching for victorious resolution, Hojo was memorably your man again and again. He was never the star attraction among the bigger-name Mets from 1985 to 1993. He merely played like it.

Leiter was enough of a headline-grabber in New York between 1998 and 2004 that when I’d see the News or the Post blare something first-namish about Gore or Sharpton or D’Amato on a non-sports page, I’d reflexively think, “Shucks, I was hoping that was gonna be something about Al.” For us, one Al was most prominent, and we always wanted to read or hear more about him. Especially on the days when big games loomed, which was when we’d turn to Al, and Al would usually turn in a performance that put the Mets on the cusp of something bigger. He was the lefty from New Jersey whose goal was to grow up and follow in the footsteps of Koosman and, arm differential notwithstanding, pretty much served as our Seaver. Al was the ace of his time and his team. He wore it well. You could see it in his face. You could hear it in his voice. Better yet, you could watch him on the mound.

Not all that long after Howard Johnson arrived from Detroit, yet well ahead of the trade that brought Al Leiter north from Florida, our collective consciousness welcomed the two announcers who constitute the other half of this delightful 2023 Mets Hall of Fame Class. If they’ve been Mets Hall of Famers to us all these years, it was their skills speaking — and our self-esteem listening.

We are Mets fans. We are millions. We believe, without even stopping to explicitly mull the issue, that we deserve a little acknowledgement for being who and what and how many we are. Two Hall of Fame plaques can surely be parceled out on our behalf. When they carry the names of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose, we’ll see ourselves up there as much as we will hear them speaking for us. They have amplified our thoughts whether they’ve understood it or not. They report the action, they describe the details, they feel us. We feel them in our bones without as much as a seven-second delay.

They’re professional to a tee; no “we,” “us” or “our” in their Met vocabulary. That’s how they learned to deliver the game no matter that they received it in their respective youths with a rooting interest we would surely recognize as our own. Yet those microphones they’ve spoken into since the late 1980s — Howie from the moment he commenced hosting Mets Extra on WHN in 1987, moving into full-time play-by-play on TV in 1996 before switching to radio for good in 2004; Gary when he took the radio booth seat adjacent to Bob Murphy’s in 1989 en route to flourishing as anchor of SNY’s GKR juggernaut from 2006 forward — have been powerful. They always pick up the heartbeats of two lifelong Mets fans who’ve seen it all. If they don’t know it all, they know most of it and share it with us with overriding grace and understated passion. Not unlike Leiter, their childhood Met ambitions came to fruition. À la Hojo, you’re not going to find anybody else on a given roster who can do quite they have done and continue to do. I definitely tune in for Gary Cohen. I definitely tune in for Howie Rose. Nine or more innings of Mets baseball coming bundled with their presence is a bargain. Like Murphy and Kiner and Nelson, they are so essential to telling the story of Mets baseball that you couldn’t rightly maintain a team Hall of Fame without them. Bob, Ralph and Lindsey (Mets Hall class of 1984) taught us to be Mets fans. Gary and Howie keep us company as peers who mentor. The original three announcers might as well have been my uncles. These two will forever be my guys.

Jay Horwitz, if he were still doing PR for the Mets, could sit back and relax if this was the news he had to disseminate on an otherwise dreary January morning. It writes and broadcasts itself. Of course anybody who has been conscious of Jay since he began his Met tenure doesn’t picture him sitting back or relaxing much. The hardest working person in baseball? The hardest working person in public relations? The most beloved person in baseball if you’ve tracked the accolades that have poured in since he glided from everyday communications to handling alumni affairs. The Mets always had former players, but it never really felt like they had alumni until it became Jay’s responsibility to guide them back, physically and spiritually, to the Flushing campus. If putting together last year’s Old Timers Day was all Jay Horwitz had as a Hall of Fame Achievement Award qualification, it would be the stuff of first-ballot acclamation. He’s done so much more for and meant so much more to the Mets since 1980. His day in the sun, the same June Saturday planned on behalf of Johnson and Leiter, Cohen and Rose, can be forecast well in advance as warmth all over.

The Legend of the Original Frank Thomas

“You’ll never get me to downgrade the Mets. They’re not the only last-place team I ever played for. The fans here are hard to beat. When I was in the hospital this season, I got 600 to 700 letters and cards. You can’t beat that.”
—Frank Thomas, 1964

When he debuted as a major leaguer, starting in center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field on August 17, 1951, Ralph Kiner, who would begin to describe his feats over the air eleven years later, flanked him in left field, just another day at the office for the glamorous slugger en route to his fifth of seven straight National League home run crowns. Danny Murtaugh, who would manage him six years later and world champions twice, played second base down the middle in front of him. The Chicago Cubs, the team composing the other half of the 8/17/51 box score, was populated by names that more than 70 years later would make a hardcore baseball fan’s neck hair rise like it was hearing the first notes of the Star-Spangled Banner: next season’s MVP Hank Sauer; erstwhile Dodger World Series goat Mickey Owen; fellow Brooklyn castoff Gene Hermanski; all-time pinch-hitter Smoky Burgess; a then non-existent franchise’s first modern hitting coach Phil Cavaretta; TV’s eventual Rifleman Chuck Connors; a Turk (Lown); a Monk (Dubiel); and Eddie Miskis, of whom it would be written two decades hence that he was “the sort of guy that if you were introduced to him at a party and he told you he was a big league ballplayer, you’d think he was kidding.”

For real, though, they all roamed the earth and the section of Pittsburgh known as Oakland simultaneously, big league baseball players gathered for the entertainment or perhaps exasperation of 10,007 paying customers on a Friday night. The Cubs, in losing by five, fell to 50-62, remaining solidly in seventh place in the National League. The only team looking up at them in the standings was that evening’s 8-3 victor, the cellar-dwelling Buccos. Their record rose to 47-68. Their fortunes rose at least a little with the emergence of their fresh new center fielder, Frank Joseph Thomas.

By the end of the season, the Pirates would climb from eighth place to seventh, passing the Cubs. Thomas, Pittsburgh-raised himself, hit his first career home run on August 30, 1951, at the Polo Grounds in New York. The site of his initial slugging represents an epic piece of foreshadowing. New York and the Polo Grounds explain why we gather today to remember Frank Thomas, who died Monday at the age of 93, the oldest living Met at the time of his passing and, until January 16, 2023, the last surviving Met to have been born in the 1920s. There aren’t many Mets left who can claim substantial careers before the birth of the Mets. Thomas was always one of them.

The 1962 Mets would come later. The 1952 Pirates came first. Well, last. Whatever late-season progress Pittsburgh accomplished on the heels of Thomas’s promise and Kiner’s growing collection of home run crowns faded with the reality that the Pirates of those days were roughly the Mets of their day. Not the Mets we know today, but the Mets as they introduced themselves, which was when our fates intertwined indelibly with Frank’s. Because you might have listened to what Ralph Kiner had to say every year from 1962 through 2013, you know the 1952 Pirates led the league in losing. Losing like crazy: 42-112, 54½ games out of first, 22½ games out of next-to-last. You couldn’t blame Kiner — he was leading the NL in homers once more. You couldn’t blame Thomas, either. He was farmed out to New Orleans for all but a September cameo. Frank, turning 23 that summer, hit 35 home runs in the Southern Association. Kiner drilled into us Pirate GM Branch Rickey’s philosophy of negotiating with his star of stars: We finished last with you, we can finish last without you. Entering 1953, perhaps the Pirates realized to stop finishing last or right near it, they should promote Frank Thomas once and for all. Kiner would be traded in June. Thomas would stick around.

By 1958, Frank Thomas’s Pirates were a second-place ballclub, finishing 84-70. In terms of progression, it was a miracle of sorts. The Bucs hadn’t had a winning record since 1948. They’d had nothing close to a legitimate pennant contender since 1938. They hadn’t won a pennant since 1927. The contours of a champion are obvious in hindsight. The 1958 Pirates included Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Roy Face, Vernon Law and Bob Friend, to name a half-dozen distinguished members of the 1960 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates. But when it came to home runs (35) and RBIs (109), no one Pirate steered the ship in 1958 more than Frank Thomas, making his third NL All-Star team, finishing fourth in MVP voting — directly behind Ernie Banks, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — and living the dream of a hometown boy leading the hometown ballclub toward glory just over the horizon.

Except when the Pirates reached the promised land in ’60, Thomas was, like so many of the balls he socked, long gone. Traded to the Reds ahead of the 1959 season. Traded to the Cubs ahead of the 1960 season. Traded to the Braves in the midst of the 1961 season. Then, to bring it around to where we come in, traded before 1962 began to a team beginning in 1962.

Move over 1952 Pirates. Meet the Original Mets. Meet the Original Frank Thomas. He embraced that nickname in retirement for several reasons:

1) Another Frank Thomas emerged in baseball much later, and it helped to clear up mistaken identity.

2) It was probably better than being called the Big Donkey, the nickname with which Thomas was saddled in his playing days.

3) He was very much an Original Met.

4) He was very much a Met original.

The original Frank Thomas was originally obtained by the Mets for a player to be named later. The most famous of PTBNL situations associated with the 1962 Mets — 2023 Met bullpen coach Dom Chiti’s dad Harry being traded, ultimately, for himself once the Mets sent the catcher back to Cleveland from when he came — overshadows the slightly off-kilter transaction that landed Frank on the Mets. The fledgling club had selected outfielder Gus Bell with their fourth pick in the 1961 expansion draft. Bell had played with Thomas in Pittsburgh in ’51 and ’52 before Pittsburgh traded Gus to the Reds and finished last a whole lot without him. Bell made four NL All-Star teams himself before doing bench duty for Cincinnati’s ’61 league champs. The Mets couldn’t wait to swoop him up and stick him in right field to commence their existence, which is to say on the other side of the outfield from Thomas in left.

A little over a month later, the Mets revealed Gus Bell, with thirty games already in the books, as the player to be named in order to acquire Thomas. Off Gus went as 1962’s revolving door spun without pause. By then, the Original Frank Thomas was a stalwart and staple of the big doings in Upper Manhattan. The Polo Grounds was not only home to the new club in town, it was a comfortable fit down the left field line for Thomas’s righthanded swing, as it had been in 1951. He had power for any park, but it didn’t hurt for a righty pull hitter to play where a homer could tuck around the left field foul pole some 279 feet from home plate. Of course if it was as simple as popping long fly balls just beyond the reach of frustrated left fielders, every Met would have done it.

Among 1962 Mets, only Frank Thomas hit home runs with what you’d call frequency. He hit 34 of them, more than twice as many as any other Met (Marv Throneberry, who is remembered as Marvelous for many reasons before you get to “second on team in homers with 16”). Frank walloped seven dingers in the season’s first three weeks, had thirteen to his credit before Memorial Day and, as August dawned, went on a tear yet to be matched in Met annals: two home runs in the game of August 1; two home runs in the game of August 2; two home runs in the game of August 3. For good measure, another home run in the second game of a doubleheader on August 4. When the season ended, Thomas’s total was sixth-best in the National League, trailing only those of five Hall of Famers (Mays, Aaron, Frank Robinson, Banks and Orlando Cepeda). He outslugged every player in the city of New York, which is to say Thomas’s 34 was better than the 33 posted by Roger Maris and the 30 off the bat of Mickey Mantle. One year after 1961, when the M&M Boys blasted 115 home runs between them for a team that won 109 games, this was no small feat. When you realize Thomas stood virtually all alone in a lineup destined to absorb 120 losses, it looks even bigger.

Truth.

And when you’re a seven-year-old kid eight years later and you turn over Topps Card No. 1 for 1970, the team picture card labeled WORLD CHAMPIONS on the front, and scan the Mets’ various single-season records through 1969, you learn that F. Thomas and his 34 home runs are still the most home runs any Met has ever hit in one year, you can’t imagine any record any bigger within the realm of the team you have chosen as your own. No, you think to yourself, these Mets, defending WORLD CHAMPIONS or not, don’t really hit home runs. They wouldn’t in 1970 or 1971 or for a few more years and you just assumed Frank Thomas’s 34 from 1962 were unassailable. You knew Maris once hit 61 for the Yankees. You knew that a Willie Stargell might pound 48 for the Pirates or Johnny Bench might go deep 45 times for the Big Red Machine. You also knew no Met had ever hit more than 34 and took it on faith no Met might ever hit more than 34. You were OK with this because it was on the back of that baseball card. It was just a fact, and as facts went in a kid’s mind, it was king-size.

Then came Dave Kingman in 1975 and Kingman hit 36 home runs as a Met, and so much for 34 as the ceiling for Met sluggers. Kingman would hit 37 in 1976 and match it during his second Met go-round in 1982; and Darryl Strawberry would eclipse Kingman with 39 twice before the 1980s ended; and Todd Hundley would come along in 1996 and push the record all the way to 41, which Carlos Beltran would match in 2006; and Pete Alonso would shatter everything prior to his Polar Bear prowess when he hit 53 home runs in a Mets uniform in 2019; and through 2022, a Met has hit 34 home runs or more on 22 separate occasions.

Yet Frank Thomas’s 34 home runs is still the Mets record of the heart. A little piece of it, anyway. The rest of the back of that 1970 team card included year-by-year team records. That seven-year-old who pulled it from one of those tri-fold packs you could get at the Woolworth’s in the Green Acres mall learned quickly that his favorite team had never — never — been any good prior to 1969. They’d been particularly gruesome in 1962, yet here was one player, this F. Thomas, having hit more home runs than any Met ever had or presumably ever would. Who knew from Dave Kingman let alone Pete Alonso in 1970?

Funny thing is whenever old Pittsburgh Pirate hero Ralph Kiner or his broadcast partners Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, or any of the writers who had covered the Mets continuously from 1962 into the 1970s, had reason to bring up the Original Frank Thomas (or just “Frank Thomas,” because who knew from The Big Hurt before 1990?), it wasn’t usually to pay homage to his 34 home runs. Maybe that was because the pre-Kingman Mets hit so few home runs, there was little reason to spotlight the record as aspirational. Or maybe because Frank Thomas was more than a longball barrage.

Things I learned about Frank Thomas from paying attention:

1) He helped serve the meals on a team flight, taking on the role of “stewardess,” as it was put back then. Frank would explain he was impatient and wanted to help get the food on his teammates’ trays. This was considered hilarious in 1962.

2) He dared Willie Mays to throw a baseball as hard as he could before a game to him, with the caveat being that if Frank Thomas caught it, Mays would owe him a hundred bucks…and Thomas had to catch it with his bare hand. Which he did. Frank claims Willie never paid up, but the story itself was something to be dined out on, especially when the airplane meals were slow arriving from the galley.

3) He was not among a small cadre of Mets who understood ¡Yo la tengo! was Español for “I got it!” The Mets who apparently knew were Spanish-speaking infielder Elio Chacon, helpful translator/outfielder Joe Christopher and future Hall of Famer and Midwestern rascal Richie Ashburn who wanted to be able to call Chacon off balls before the two of them would collide. ¡Yo la tengo! was to be the code that would let Chacon at short know Ashburn was rushing in from center with a bead on the ball. Only problem, per all the tale-telling that outlasted killjoy fact-checking, was that Christopher (nor anybody else) communicated to Thomas the meaning of what Richie was suddenly yelling. In any language, another ball fell in when Frank came rumbling into the multilingual picture.

Frank Thomas would deny this ever actually happened. A band out of New Jersey a generation later chose to believe the legend, and thus was born Yo La Tengo, whose members not only revered the Mets but perpetuated the legend. It represented an appropriate coda to Thomas’s Mets career, which lasted until he was traded the pennant-contending Phillies in August of 1964. His numbers could be gaudy. His legend is what created an Original.

The man himself would play through 1966. It got messy between the imported veteran Thomas and rising star Dick Allen in Philadelphia, leading to a hasty release in ’65 and a stop in Houston before second acts in Milwaukee and Chicago. His suitcase was covered with stickers from nearly every National League town, though the two places whose fans continued to take the most pride in him were Pittsburgh, where he went about his life after baseball, and New York, where he established a legend. Here, long after Casey Stengel urged him to maybe not pull the ball so much in yet another dialect (“if you wanna be a sailor, go join the Navy,” which was perfectly understandable if you spoke fluent Stengelese), Thomas remained appreciated by fans who never stopped being grateful to have National League baseball back after the Giants and Dodgers vamoosed. Even those of us who never knew a pre-Mets world could process between the lines when Thomas declared when the return of Old Timers Day was announced in 2022, “To be honest with you, New York is strictly a National League town.”

Thomas was good about sharing his experiences with anybody who’d ask, right up to this past August when he graced Old Timers Day festivities at Citi Field. For further enrichment, go listen to his interview with Jay Horwitz from 2019 or Howie Rose’s YouTube sitdown that same season. Order my friend Dave Bagdade’s recently revised edition of A Year in Mudville: The Full Story of Casey Stengel and the Original Mets to which Thomas contributed his recollections. If you can find it, grab a copy of Kiss It Goodbye: The Frank Thomas Story, which the player produced with co-authors Ronnie Joyner and Bill Bozman in 2005. It’s a 507-page memoir detailing practically every twist and turn of a legendary baseball life. You wish every player would write one. You’re thrilled Frank Thomas did.

If you’re at all interested in Mets history beyond a surface level, you’re eventually going to find yourself reading about or writing about Frank Thomas. Alonso’s pursuit of the home run record; Mets who played both third base and the outfield; Mets who endured to serve as longest-running Mets on their particular rosters. It felt like every time I wanted to blog about anything that stretched back a ways these past few years, I’d run into the name Frank Thomas and run into it with open arms.

You don’t build a franchise like this without a legend like him.

Who is Not on Third

Upon further review, the immaculate interception of December 21, 2022, has been overturned.

The Mets swooping in and plucking Carlos Correa out of the air proved too good to be true. Or maybe, if you’re an adherent of The Best Deals Are The Ones You Never Finalized school of thought, it will turn out to be good Carlos Correa never truly became a Met. Whatever it was once he was examined thoroughly that gave first the Giants then the Mets hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pause will be the Twins’ concern for the next six years, maybe more, pending whatever has to happen to prove a high-priced superstar is physically fit to have lucrative vesting options kick in. Good luck, Carlos. We hardly knew ye — or yer right ankle.

While the details of why what almost happened didn’t happen will likely be juicy, the Mets will now look to squeeze out of their current third basemen (or whoever else emerges in the weeks and months ahead) 162 games’ of sound defensive play and solid offensive production. For the moment, that corps projects primarily as incumbent Eduardo Escobar and prospect Brett Baty. You could do worse for pre-Spring depth-charting. A desire to do better was the impetus for going after Correa, but that ship, replete with its allegedly routine physical, has sailed. We’re back to Square One. If this team as it is is what this team will actually be, Square One won’t be so bad.

In the meantime, take a seat, Norihiro Nakamura, the infielder from Japan who was all but signed, sealed and delivered to Flushing twenty winters ago until he backed out of succeeding San Francisco-bound Edgardo Alfonzo at the hot corner. Nakamura represented one of the closest-ever calls within the realm of players who seemed an absolute lock to become a Met yet didn’t. Still, I think we have a new starting third baseman for the all-time Never Mets squad.

National League Town remembers the Carlos Correa Era in all its glory and brevity. You can listen here or on your podcast platform of choice.

The 2022 Oscar’s Cap Awards

There’s Oscar pouring ketchup on his salad. There’s Felix expressing revulsion. There’s Oscar explaining to him ketchup is the culinary equivalent of tomato wine (tomato dressing would have been a more logical retort, but maybe somebody in the writer’s room was thinking wine on salad evoked oil and vinegar). Oscar, of course, is wearing a Mets cap while this exchange takes place. We say “of course” because that’s how we like to picture Oscar always. Sometimes on The Odd Couple he’s not wearing it, and it’s still one of the greatest shows ever, but it’s that much better for the Mets cap.

The plot of this episode, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Pencil,” is about more than Oscar garnishing his greens. It’s the one in which Felix decides he must learn to write so he can accompany his photographs (portraits a specialty) with text, thus he enrolls at the Gerard Ferguson School of Creative Writing. Felix takes his new discipline extremely seriously, much to the dismay of everybody around him, especially Oscar, who is subject to Felix’s masterpiece, “Ode to a Skyscraper”:

Born from the rubble that lies there
Nurtured through snow and through rain
By men whose only companions
Are derrick and shovel and crane

Center for great institutions
Place where conglomerates grow
Yet home for the little cigar shop
With the candies all in a row

Seven! Seven! Seven! they will call you
Towards Heaven! Heaven! Heaven! you will soar
Only God can make a tree, I will grant you
But only man can make a fortieth floor

Oscar is left speechless and promises to put the poem “in an appropriate place,” a room, we the audience notice, seems to be tiled in porcelain.

Felix’s roommate, regardless of his forever threatening violence toward Felix, really does care for him, so Oscar pays a visit to Gerard Ferguson, planning to expose the Creative Writing school as a racket in his next column in the New York Herald. Ferguson, who’s been giving Felix’s work high marks, promises Oscar that he will have Felix’s work sold within 24 hours, and helpfully reminds Oscar — after glancing at his prospective column — that a spelling rule of thumb by which to abide is “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’”. Oscar says never mind that, just make sure you sell one of Felix’s poems, lest the teacher learn that “it’s ‘bail’ before ‘jail,’ so you’d better not ‘fail’.”

That brings us to the dinner with the ketchup and the salad and Felix finding out that Oscar confronted Ferguson, and Felix being insulted that Oscar would doubt his talents were marketable. Oscar tells Felix if somebody actually buys something Felix wrote, “I’ll eat my hat.” Felix produces the $25 check Ferguson secured on behalf of one of Felix’s poems and passes Oscar the ketchup with a hearty “Bon appétit!”

Oscar removes his Mets cap and prepares to dig in. Except we never see the ketchup meet the NY because a) it’s best left to the imagination; and b) Oscar would never do that to his Mets cap, except by accident while eating, which means he’d probably done it plenty, because have you seen how Oscar eats?

The conclusion of this episode of The Odd Couple from October 6, 1972, reveals the sale of the poem was to a woman named Ida Moskowitz, and the poem is to be engraved on the tombstone of her beloved wire terrier Spot Moskowitz — and the tombstone is in the shape of a fire hydrant, which only serves to dampen Felix’s writing ambitions: “After all my lofty ambitions, terrier tombstones […] the embarrassment, Oscar, the humiliation.”

“What humiliation?” Oscar asks by way of cheering up Felix. “Who’s going to visit the grave of Spot Moskowitz? Three little dogs with yarmulkes?”

We’re less concerned with whatever Spot’s canine chums have on their heads than what Oscar has on his head. He didn’t eat it. It would be on many episodes to come. And, for an eleventh consecutive year, we are here to pay homage, with another presentation of the Oscar’s Caps, wherein Faith and Fear reviews the previous twelve months’ worth of sightings and mentions of Metsiana in the popular culture. Somebody’s wearing a Mets cap on a sitcom? Somebody injects a Mets reference into movie dialogue? Maybe the orange and blue shows up in real life far from the ballpark? Our definition of what works as Mets infiltrating pop culture evolves over time, but we know that in 2022, we saw the Mets practically everywhere. Or everywhere that we saw it.

At the outset, we extend our thanks to the many bird dog scouts who have contracted Oscar’s Caps fever. This feature has become the essence of crowdsourced since we first began presenting it at the end of 2012. Faith and Fear continually receives tips of a “I don’t know if you saw this…” nature, which complements our own vigilant watching, listening and reading, and every last one of them is appreciated. Sometimes we’ve seen it, sometimes we haven’t. Sometimes it’s something that just began streaming the night before last. Sometimes it’s something that’s eluded our notice for decade upon decade. But if we didn’t know about it before the year started and we learn about it before the year ended, it winds up here.

Usually we save these up for one big Cap dump — sort of like taking in the majesty of Oscar’s bedroom — but we tipped our hand and Cap for one of the most exciting sightings back in May and will revisit that blast of a Mets find to start us off. The pre-eminent Oscar’s Cap of 2022 goes to Nanette Fluhr, the artist who painted her son in his Mets cap and jersey on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah ten years earlier. Through circumstances explained in detail here, we learned her oil painting — named “Lonny,” after her now grown son — was going to be digitized and shipped to the Moon as part of the Lunar Codex project taking off in 2023. It would be enough to know an example of fine arts that was exhibited in an actual museum involved Mets garb, but to know it’s going to slip the surly bonds of Earth…well, that’s out of this world. (Equally stunning is that the blog post that explored the creation and destination of “Lonny” is getting similar Moonbound treatment.)

When you think of paintings of Mets icons, your mind might race to the most iconic of Mets, Tom Seaver, and you might think of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait from 1977. Then you might groan at the recollection that from Tom’s collar, it is painfully obvious during which side of 1977 Warhol was capturing Seaver. Yeah, he was a Red by then. But on October 26, 2022, if you kept an eye open on Facebook, you ran into this historical nugget from Revolver Gallery, an entity devoted to Warhol’s life and work, that informs you it could have been different had a certain Mr. Grant not meddled with the primal forces of nature:

As part of his Athletes series in 1977, Andy photographed Tom Seaver, professional baseball pitcher who played for various teams over his twenty-year career. In photographing Tom, Andy wrote in his July 20, 1977 diary entry:

“Tom Seaver was adorable. Athletes really do have the fat in the right places and they’re young in the right places. The person taking the photographs was Mr. Johnson, a nice man who did the story on Jamie Wyeth and me once. He wanted Tom to wear a Mets hat, so they went out and bought one, and then he wanted Tom to do a Cincinnati-uniform with-a-Mets-hat picture, half and half, but he refused. Tom’s wife Nancy was calling on the phone. He hates the Mets now. He’d just bought a new house in Connecticut and everything when they traded him.”

Tom was in New York on July 20 because the All-Star Game took place the night before at Yankee Stadium, and Tom Seaver made the All-Star team a month after M. Donald Grant traded him to Cincinnati and made sure Seaver would want nothing to do with wearing a Mets cap even off the field for the next five years, not even for artistic posterity, especially for artistic posterity. Seriously, thanks again, Don.

Back to more agreeable judgments, like that found in the 2021 motion picture adaptation of J.R. Moehringer’s memoir The Tender Bar. The author’s real-life Mets fan inclinations shine through in the film, with a trip to a Mets-Braves game promised young J.R. by his generally delinquent dad; young J.R. wearing a Mets cap; the gift of a Tom Seaver-signed baseball from his Uncle Chuck; and the line, “Uncle Charlie says the Yankees are assholes, but the Mets drink at the Dickens.”

The Dickens, you say! And say, what about what happened on Dick Cavett’s CNBC show in the aftermath of the Mets winning the 1986 World Series? His guests were Sid Fernandez and Roger McDowell. The righty reliever (McDowell) spritzed the erudite host with the champagne that was flowing everywhere that October. Just like at that bar from Moehringer’s youth, you’d like to imagine.

Dick Cavett’s successors on the late night beat noticed the New York Mets all these years later, none more faithfully than the Mets fan who executive produced 2021’s Once Upon a Time in Queens. Two from the wonderful world of Jimmy Kimmel Live:

“Reporter Steve Gelbs, who was in the stands, managed to get hold of a foul ball and got the chance to meet some wandering Mets fans in Pittsburgh.”
—Kimmel on September 8, 2022, sharing a clip from the afternoon game of the previous day’s doubleheader in which SNY’s Gelbs indeed did pick up a foul ball, only to be accosted by fans of both the Mets and Pirates who all but demanded he surrender the ball to them. Kimmel didn’t lavish much attention on “Bob,” the colorful “since 1962” Mets fan who Gelbs wound up interviewing for the remainder of the sixth inning. (Bob also wanted the ball.)

Three weeks later, Jimmy Kimmel Live returned to the host’s native Brooklyn. On September 28, Jimmy K. bemoaned the recent stumbles of his beloved New York Mets:

“They’re torturing us […] breaking hearts is what the Mets do. They’re like the Kardashians of baseball and I’m here all Kanye, y’know?” (Kanye West references were slightly less loaded in September than they’d be by December.)

With that, Kimmel’s sidekick Guillermo began making his way to the stage in a Mets home pinstripe uniform — RODRIGUEZ 7 — complete with glove and ball, accompanied by Timmy Trumpet, in a black Mets jersey, playing “Narco” from the balcony, just as if Guillermo were Edwin Diaz coming in from the bullpen. “I’ve never been more attracted to you than I am right now,” Jimmy told the Mets-clad Guillermo. And to Mr. Trumpet, the host added, “Hi, Timmy, I’m Jimmy.”

The other Jimmy doing a talk show in New York, Jimmy Fallon, injected a little Metsiana into his show not too long before via a guest who was just trying to fit in with the local culture. Or as Emilia Clarke put it as she recited Olivia Rodrigo lyrics in a Noo Yawk accent on July 21, 2021, “Well, good for you, you friggin’ moron. I guessed you moved on real easily. Go Mets!” With that, Clark raised a fist, presumably endearing herself to the true New Yorkers in the Tonight Show audience.

The Mets were sighted or namechecked several times at Fallon’s alma mater, SNL. We can’t guarantee every reference was flattering, but these are the ones we caught:

John Mulaney’s subway newsstand manager wore a tan cardigan with a sizable blue Mets NY (orange outline) emblazoned on its left breast in the signature Mulaney musical number on Saturday Night Live, Season 47, Episode 13, February 26, 2022.

“I’m having a parade, y’all — like when the Yankees win the World Series or the Mets finish a season.”
—Chris Redd as Mayor Eric Adams with a horribly outdated reference (on how he plans to celebrate the arrest of the Sunset Park subway shooter), Saturday Night Live, April 16, 2022; Season 46, Episode 18

Eleven-season veteran Kate McKinnon’s farewell to Saturday Night Live (Season 47, Episode 21; May 21, 2022) came in the opening sketch of the season finale, where she played, for the last time as a cast member, earthy Colleen Rafferty, again being debriefed by Pentagon officials regarding her latest shall we say invasive abduction by aliens. Explaining her return to her home planet, Colleen details that she was “dropped into the middle of a field,” after which “the umpire called time out and the Mets’ security staff took me out of the stadium. Look — not the most embarrassing thing I’ve done on a jumbotron.”

“…[W]hile over in Queens, a porta-potty was set on fire in honor of the Mets blowing the division.”
—Colin Jost, Weekend Update, Saturday Night Live, October 8, 2022, shortly after the Mets won Game Two of the National League Wild Card Series at Citi Field (the setup to the joke was that the Empire State Building had been lit up in Yankee colors to honor Aaron Judge’s 62 home runs)

“‘And now coming to the plate from Santo Domingo, STARRRRRRLING MARRRRRRTÉ!!!.’
—Marcello Hernandez’s Weekend Update desk piece on the differences between American and Latin baseball players, Saturday Night Live, October 8, 2022 (Marte went 0-for-5 in the NLWCS the night his name was invoked)

Not on the show itself, but musical guest Sza wore a black Mets jacket in the promotional spots NBC aired for the December 3, 2022 episode of SNL hosted by Keke Palmer (who was not wearing a Mets jacket).

If you want a classic “live from New York…” Mets moment, however, you are advised to go back a quarter century and relive one of the all-time greats. On December 13, 2022, The Ringer marked the 25th anniversary of the SNL sketch “Baseball Dreams Come True” with a full-blown oral history of how 15 major leaguers — led by Todd Hundley — paraded out of the bedroom closet of a young man played by Chris Kattan. Hundley didn’t participate in the article, but Todd Zeile, Gregg Jefferies and Cliff Floyd each chimed in.

The first host of Saturday Night Live, on October 11, 1975, was the great George Carlin, which provides us a segue to this sumptuous sighting:

“I had tickets to see the Mets, who George loved, to play the Dodgers, who he hated.”
—Jerry Hamza, manager of George Carlin, regarding the game of May 4, 1982 at Dodger Stadium, where Carlin experienced symptoms of what turned out to be a heart attack, from part two of the documentary George Carlin’s American Dream, which premiered on HBO, May 21, 2022, and was directed by Mets fan Judd Apatow.

The segment includes Mets-Dodgers footage from games fairly obviously not from May 4, 1982, even though it’s implied we’re looking at game action from the date in question (for the supporting “fairly obviously” evidence to follow, it’s best to activate the Comic Book Guy voice in your head as you read on). Bob Bailor is seen sliding into second base during a day game that Baseball-Reference confirms took place on Sunday afternoon, May 17, 1981. We see Fernando Valenzuela pitching at night at Dodger Stadium — Hamza makes clear Fernando Valenzuela pitched in the game he and Carlin attended — but Valenzuela did not face the Mets in a day game at Dodger Stadium when Bailor played for the Mets (1981-1983). In the clips with Valenzuela, no Mets are in sight; there are also several shots of the Dodgers wearing their 1981 Los Angeles city centennial patches.

Also in the documentary, a stagehand wearing a Mets cap is seen setting up in advance of Carlin taping his 1992 HBO special Jammin’ in New York at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theatre.

Documenting some other documentary Met sightings…

• A mid-’80s TV commercial for WHTZ-FM (100.3) which finds Morning Zookeeper Scott Shannon wearing a Mets jacket in an effort to associate himself and his radio station with something immensely popular in New York appears in a trailer for the 2022 documentary Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York.

• A person attending a Ralph Nader rally at Madison Square Garden in 2000 wore a black Mets t-shirt, caught on film by The Party’s Over, a documentary narrated by Philip Seymour Hoffman, future portrayer of eventual Met manager Art Howe.

• Cleon Jones is among the Africatown community leaders featured in the 2022 documentary Descendant, a film exploring the historical aftermath of the arrival and subsequent burning of the illegal slave ship the Clotilda off the coast of Mobile, Ala., in 1860. Jones’s 1969 Mets teammate Nolan Ryan was the title character in another 2022 documentary, Facing Nolan, streaming on Netflix. Cleon’s fellow Alabaman and teammate in the 1973 World Series, was given star treatment in Say Hey, Willie Mays!, a 2022 HBO production

Reality shows are theoretically cousins of documentaries, right? Sure. With that in mind, we’ll note Mike Piazza was announced as one of sixteen “celebrity recruits” competing in the Fox reality show Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test in advance of its premiere on January 4, 2023. The granddaddy of all survival-themed reality shows, Survivor, was graced in 2022 by retired firefighter Mike Turner from Hoboken. This Mike liked that Mike from the other show plenty because this Mike is a huge Mets fan, a nugget those who watched the 42nd season of Survivor learned if they were dutiful enough to last through the first 41 seasons and keep surviving as viewers.

In April of 2021, Mercedes “MJ” Javid and husband Tommy Feight of the Shahs of Sunset Bravo reality show hosted, in real life, a Mets-themed birthday party for their two-year-old son Shams. Proud mom MJ posted on Instagram a pic of the orange-and-blue balloons, Mets logo and Mets cake, not to mention the young man outfitted in a Mets jersey. She topped off the accompanying message with a hearty #LGM.

At the forefront of the reality show craze of the early 2000s, spawning a genre going strong more than twenty years later, was a prime time game show called Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Networks still run such programming between 8:00 and 11:00 PM — it’s relatively inexpensive, assuming they’re not giving away a million dollars — but the heart of game show territory continues in syndication, sometime after your local and national news. In New York, the heart beats loudest on Channel 7 at 7 o’clock, when it’s time for Jeopardy. In 2022, it was time for a couple of Mets fans to answer in the form of a question:

On April 7, 2022, Mets Opening Night as it happened, Citi Field in-game host Mike Janela was a contestant on Jeopardy. While he didn’t emerge a winner the way Tylor Megill did that same night in Washington, at least he went out in style. Not knowing what else to write for the Final Jeopardy, clue of, “Patented in 1955, it did not go over well in the high-end fashion world but the then-new aerospace industry found it very useful,” Mike went with, “What is I’m going to lose but the Mets will win it all this year?”

Allie Nudelman, a health care policy professional from Brooklyn lost on Jeopardy!, October 10, 2022, the day after the Mets got knocked out by the Padres in the National League Wild Card Series. Her contestant anecdote was that she was a Mets fan and took all the guests at her wedding to the Mets second no-hitter.

The category is POTPURRI. We have the board:

$200
“Congratulations to the Dodgers on their World Series victory! Congratulations to the Astros on their World Series victory! Congratulations to the Mets…”
“Hey, don’t waste time on the Mets!”
—Summer and Wickie, Girls5Eva (Season 2, Episode 3; released May 5, 2022, with the 2022 Mets securely in first place), as the group attempts to record a year’s worth of possible social media posts in advance

$400
In 1985, Dwight Gooden pitches to Bob Einstein’s legendary Super Dave Osborne character at Dodger Stadium. The pitch Gooden allegedly throws hits daredevil Super Dave in the groin (though it’s fairly obviously not the pitch we see Gooden release). The sketch prominently features Steve Garvey, then a Padre, who introduces Doc as “probably the fastest pitcher in the game”. Osborne was blindfolded while standing at the plate. The blindfold was made of “Saskatchewan seal skin bindings”.

$600
A still image of Willie Mays swinging for his first home run as a Met in 1972 races by in the brainwashing/training film montage in 1974’s paranoia-inducing The Parallax View.

$800
A two-toned Mets jacket recognizable from the Dallas Green era plays a critical role in one issue of Hit Me, the AWA (Artists Writers Artisans) “high-octane crime thriller” comic series written by Christa Faust and illustrated by Priscilla Petraites. The jacket makes temporal sense in that Hit Me is set in early-1990s Atlantic City, a locale AWA describes as “decaying,” which might also describe the Mets as they began wearing that particular model of garment.

$1000
Marie Hershkowitz’s reminiscence of becoming a Mets fan in 1965 and getting to go to the final game of the 1969 World Series, involving her father somehow getting her and her sister tickets and her mother driving them to Shea Stadium, was featured on the November 17, 2022, episode of the storytelling podcast The Moth.

If you can stand a little more reality, here are a few Met sightings from the political wild…

A Mets cap was spotted on the head of a protestor after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022 via a photo published as part of Amee Vanderpool’s SHERO substack.

The Twitter home page picture for Queens Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez features AOC shaking hands with constituents, one of whom is wearing a Mets cap with a 2015 World Series patch.

On October 2, 2022, notable former White House employee Jared Kushner wore a Mets cap at his son’s youth league baseball game in Miami, per photos published by the Daily Mail.

An oldie but a greatie: when President John F. Kennedy landed in West Germany in 1963, he was greeted by a “Let’s Go Mets” sign. (It doesn’t have to be new to rate an Oscar’s Cap — it doesn’t even have to have happened after Neil Simon wrote The Odd Couple.)

It may have been fiction, but its grit was real. We’re talking about New York-based Kojak, off the air in first-run terms for some 45 years now, but still putting Met vibes out there on one of those channels that doesn’t care what year it is. Because getTV cooperates with our curiosity, in 2022 we noticed…

• Manhattan South Det. Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson) knew to keep his head fashionably warm on a cold winter’s day in Washington Square Park by wearing his Mets winter hat in “Kiss It All Goodbye,” Season 4, Episode 22 of Kojak (February 22, 1977). The ski cap will be familiar to aficionados of Mets highlight films (a.k.a. Mets Yearbook) as a Fan Appreciation Day giveaway from earlier in the 1970s. Also appearing in said episode as the heavy: Christopher Walken, though disappointingly not sporting Mets gear.

• Det. Crocker wears a plastic Mets batting helmet as he goes undercover doing surveillance, posing as a painter (he’s also in coveralls) on Kojak, “Caper on a Quiet Street,” Season 5, Episode 6, November 6, 1977.

• In the Kojak two-parter “Summer of ’69” (December 4, 1977 and December 10, 1977; S. 5, E. 9 & 10; we can’t confirm if young Bryan Adams was watching and taking notes), Theo Kojak has to try to piece together a crime from eight years earlier, leading to an exchange in the first part that includes “The Mets won the World Series — who could forget ’69?” from Capt. Frank McNeil after Kojak asks him, “Hey, Frank, remember 1969?” and Kojak’s eventual response that begins, “For you, ’69 meant the Mets going to the World Series…” In the second part, contemporary suspect Ray Blaine, is questioned whether he remembers what he was doing the day before he was originally arrested — which, he is reminded, was October 16, 1969. He tells his interrogators, “Yeah, yeah, that’s when the Mets won the Series. I was watchin’ in the lobby. All day.” The lobby refers to the 23rd St. Y, where, in a flashback, we see Kojak tracking down evidence while Blaine and his 1969 accomplice Fred Toner and others watch Game Five, for which there is shown genuine color footage on a television and absolutely terrible play-by-play (not even a passable “announcer voice” is deployed in lieu of Curt Gowdy and Lindsey Nelson). Somebody in the lobby urges the Mets to “knock McNally out of there,” shortly before Toner — who Kojak will end up shooting in 1969 for what turns out to be Blaine’s string of murders — excitedly informs Blaine — a.k.a. the real Clothesline Killer who Kojak will end up shooting in the present day — that “Clendenon just hit a home run, drove Jones in.”

Just like Kojak hit a home run and drove us to a fit of transcribing.

Who else loves the Mets, baby? In the contemporary world of New York-based cop shows, Blue Bloods.

A framed Mr. Met poster appears in the apartment of Leo Stutz, half-brother of Anthony Abetemarco, the two of whom are later said be “bitchin’ about the Mets,” on Blue Bloods; “Hidden Motive”; Season 12, Episode 17 (April 1, 2022).

“I’m a Mets fan, you know? If I have a son, I’m gonna name him Thor, after Syndergaard.”
—Syrian-born detainee Abel Salem (Azhar Khan) trying to convince arresting officers of his American bona fides, Blue Bloods, “Mob Rules,” Season 7, Episode 4 (October 14, 2016, or nine days after Noah Syndergaard was outdueled by Madison Bumgarner in the NL Wild Card Game)

“What’s your life’s greatest loss?”
“Let’s Go Mets.”
“Still goin’ on about those Mets, huh?”
“We’ll never get over it! You can’t win one-hundred and one games and then get eliminated in the first round.”
—Henry Reagan (Len Cariou), during a family board game, expressing disgust with how the 2022 season ended, on the December 9, 2022 episode of Blue Bloods (“Poetic Justice,” Season 13, Episode 9)

Maybe a little too contemporary, but we feel ya, Harry. We also regret to acknowledge former talk show and current podcast host Conan O’Brien saw this coming:

“Even though they are expanding the baseball playoffs from 10 to 12 teams, I still feel confident saying ‘Sorry, Mets.’”
—O’Brien in a tweet, March 19, 2022

Blue Bloods has been on CBS a long time, but not as long as yet another New York-based cop show that likes a good Mets reference has been on the beat at NBC. In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, “In Loco Parentis,” Season 19, Episode 15 (March 7, 2018), Assistant DA Peter Stone tells Lt. Olivia Benson he can get her ballplaying son “all the Mets tickets he wants”.

For those who can’t get enough NYPD detective action, there continues to be the pulsating Mike Stoneman series of thrillers written by now veteran genre author Kevin Chapman, and it turns out the wonderful world of Mets podcasting has entered the Stoneman Universe’s feed. An interlude of NYPD officer Bill O’Dell listening to (and “yelling at”) the New York Mets podcast National League Town, hosted by Jeff Hysen and yours truly, appears in Chapman’s 2022 Mike Stoneman thriller Dead Winner. Also spotted in this volume: a Mets Tiffany lamp and a framed, autographed R.A. Dickey jersey from his Cy Young season of 2012. (As for National League Town, avail yourself of its glance back at 2022 here — and its interview with author Chapman here.)

Gonna take a quick breather from all this crime-solving and do a little New York Times crossword puzzle-solving. I just hope the clues lead us to the perpetrator…I mean answer.

The February 6, 2022, New York Times crossword puzzle had as its clue for seven-letter 86 across “Regular at Citi Field”.

New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, 1 across, May 15, 2022: “’Meet the ____’ (baseball fight song)”.

September 17, 2022, New York Times crossword puzzle, 10 down: “Mascot whose head is a baseball.”

In the December 20, 2022, New York Times crossword puzzle, 63 across was “M.L.B. team that played its first two seasons at the fabled Polo Grounds.” Four letters.

(METSFAN; METS; MRMET; METS. But you already knew that.)

Known Times crossword aficionado Jon Stewart (eight-letter word for film about the daily obsession enjoyed by celebrities and common folk alike included Stewart’s fondness for WORDPLAY) is better known in Oscar’s Cap circles for his Met fealty. And you don’t have to be a Mets fan to know Jon is one of us. In a Washington Post profile prior to his being awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in April 2022, it was noted Stewart dressed the same every day when he hosted The Daily Show: “a T-shirt, khakis and a Mets cap, like Steve Jobs and his turtlenecks”. In an episode of podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart that had been released around the same time, Stewart snuck a Mets reference into his discussion with Margaret Sullivan, media reporter for The Washington Post (both the media and the Mets unrealistically get his hopes up was his point). During the celebratory Twain ceremony that aired on PBS, Ed Helms led a singalong of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” replete with t-shirt cannons fired off by a party patrol decked out in blue and orange t-shirts (MTP on the front, STEWART 22 on the back), before showing Stewart’s off-target ceremonial first pitch from the 2006 postseason at Shea.

Two performers who took the concert stage at Shea made their Met feelings known in 2022. Billy Joel, who gave us The Last Play at Shea in 2008, donned his Mets cap in a 2022 public service ad to help raise money for Long Island Cares, an anti-hunger organization founded by Harry Chapin. The same cap made a prominent appearance later in 2022 as he sat for an interview with the Australian version of 60 Minutes. Elton John, who shared a Flushing bill with Eric Clapton in 1992, offered his two pence on matters close to our heart in 2022…and proceeded to go breaking it:

“Something that makes me very happy tonight: the Braves swept the Mets.”

That was on Sunday night, October 2, spoken right before the longtime Atlanta resident played “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in Nashville. Elton can say goodbye Seaver Way while he’s at it. If you’re looking for musical titans whose delivery can be high and outside but not overtly offensive when it comes to the Mets, you can always remember 50 Cent’s infamous first pitch from 2014, the one that’s probably still sailing over Queens. It got shouted out on black-ish, Season 8, Episode 2, “The Natural,” January 11, 2022.

The musical act most ancestrally connected to the Mets’ home base remains the Beatles, who played Shea in 1965 and 1966. In 2022, Radio Voice of the Mets Howie Rose played his Beatle favorites and added some personal stories about them as part of the “My Fab Four” segment on SiriusXM’s The Beatles Channel. Meanwhile, the ongoing musical act who may care about the Mets more than any other in the present day, Liz Callaway (I speak from experience), mentioned the 1969 Mets in the liner notes to her 1960s-themed album The Beat Goes On, which was released in 2001. Released in 2022: Liz’s newest album, To Steve With Love, a celebration of her friend Steven Sondheim. Check it out with your own ears.

Going through the back catalogue, a Columbia Records promotional disc from 1984 titled Most Valuable New Players, including tracks from up-and-coming acts like The Outfield and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, has as its cover photo an overhead shot of Shea Stadium, photographed many years earlier, during its classic Rheingold ad phase. Another unexpected sighting greeted visitors to Byrdland Records in Washington, DC — nominally Nationals territory — in 2022 when they encountered a watercolor rendering of Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock wearing his black Mets cap (“Ad Rock – The Kid – Sharp Cheddar”), as interpreted by Maryland artist Andrew Katz.

As long as we’re in a tuneful state of mind, let’s recommend a couple of articles less about Mets in the pop culture than a Met tastemaker who appreciates certain aspects of pop culture. In a meeting inspired by the steady stream of musical references emanating from the SNY booth, Gary Cohen discussed his love of rock and pop with longtime music critic Wayne Robins in the November 26, 2022, edition of Robins’s Substack newsletter Critical Conditions. Cohen described baseball as “often three-and-a-half hours of game with eight minutes of action. It’s a lot of time to fill. It gives us time to talk about other things like music.” and admitted most of his tastes calcified long ago (thus most of his references are many decades old…like many of us who relish his broadcasting). At the end of the Mets’ abbreviated 2022 postseason run, Hope Silverman’s Picking Up Rocks blog offered a chronicle of each song and artist Gary mentioned in the course of the year, noting, among other things, that “the booth is weirdly obsessed with Mountain, [Leslie] West and ‘Mississippi Queen’.”

One person’s weird obsession is another’s perfectly normal pursuit. For those whose popular culture consumption includes a healthy portion of anime, there were popular Met memes making the rounds in the past couple of years, including a dubbed YouTube video of Joey Wheeler of Yu-Gi-Oh! (“No matter what happens, Yu, I want you to remember the most important thing: that’s da Mets, baby! Let’s Go Mets! 1986 can happen again! C’mon, baby, Let’s Go Mets!”) and his friend Yugi Moto overlooking Citi Field in a Photoshopped Twitter illustration (“It’s not always about taking over the world Sonic,” Yugi’s message reads. “It’s about the Mets, baby! Love the Mets. Alright, baby, let’s go get a home run, baby! Love the Mets, let’s go Mets!”).

Any medium that becomes Metsian clearly has potential. Isn’t that right, Robot Chicken?

Freddy Krueger bursts into a bedroom, ostensibly to kill Jonathan, only to find the Michelin Man (who has a German accent) being intimate with Mr. Met (dressed only in boxer shorts and Mets cap). Jonathan, it is explained, is “having a sex dream about the Michelin Man boinking Mr. Met”. Freddy Krueger awkwardly excuses himself (“no judgment”), after which Jonathan emerges from hiding to thank the couple. “You got it, Jonathan,” a pretty buff Mr. Met replies. “Anytime.”
Robot Chicken, “May Cause Indecision…or Not”; Season 11, Episode 13; February 21, 2022; part of Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network

On a more mass-appeal scale, we can report one particular monster sitcom was there for us early on: In the third episode of Friends (“The One with the Thumb”; October 6, 1994), a Mets cap can be seen sitting atop Joey and Chandler’s TV. And to show that true Friends never forget, a baseball with a Mets logo was featured in the accoutrements from the apartment of Joey and Chandler in the touring exhibit “The Friends Experience” making its way across America in 2022.

Well known as a friend of the Mets, NBA guard Donovan Mitchell, whose father works for the Mets in player relations and community engagement, represented his family and favorite baseball team well in an April 2022 ESPN story on the Utah Jazz’s scholarship program, sporting a Mets cap while sharing good news with a scholarship recipient. Mitchell has since moved on to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where perhaps he roots on the side for Andres Giménez and Amed Rosario.

Mets fans can cheer for the Guardians in their spare time if they wish, as long as we still have different leagues and stuff. The historical relationship between the Mets and one of their New York National League predecessors could be more complex (or have you forgotten who used to own the Mets?):

“Whatever you do, don’t mention the Mets. The judge is an old-school Dodgers fan, thinks they’re only in L.A. temporarily and they’re comin’ back to Brooklyn any day now, and the Mets are usurpers. Got it?”
—Defense attorney Todd Spodek’s advice to a client in Inventing Anna, “Too Rich for Her Blood,” Episode 8; Netflix; 2022. The same lawyer wears a Mets t-shirt in Episode 9, “Dangerously Close”.

Or it didn’t have to be complex at all — take it from this feature’s patron saint:

“I’m a Met fan, but I used to be a Dodger fan, you know, when they had Campanella and Snider and Robinson.”
—Oscar Madison to Dodger fan Mark, the son of Anita (Dina Merrill), The Odd Couple, “Oscar in Love”; Season 5, Episode 12 (December 12, 1974) when Oscar tries to relate to his girlfriend’s kids

When romance is in the air, the Mets are sure to follow. In “Jay Street,” the ninth episode of the first season of the 2022 Hulu series How I Met Your Father (March 8, 2022), Sophie learns how the parents of Drew — Sue and Lou — initially found one another. “We met at a Mets game back in ’89, when I spilled an entire Coors Light down his shirt,” Sue explains. “Lou slapped me on the ass. I looked at him, and he said, ‘Sue me. My name is Sue! I laughed so hard that my dress basically flew off.”

On Night Sky, Dear Franklin (Season 1, Episode 6; released May 20, 2022; Amazon Prime), there is this exchange:

NICK: Me and Nina, we were just getting to know each other a little bit. She’s a Mets fan, can you believe it?
NINA: Go Mets.

Elsewhere from the world of streaming, in Season 2, Episode 5 of Netflix’s Russian Doll (2022), Nadia, when using a crowbar to knock down a wall to hide a bag inside a tunnel, marvels that she’s “got an arm like Darryl Strawberry”. Darryl’s always been a reliable Mets pop culture touchstone:

“This is an autographed Darryl Strawberry earring.”
—Shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) trying to sell some of his merchandise, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987

Title character Ramy in the Hulu series Ramy appeared in a Mets cap in the promotional material for Season Three in the fall of 2022 — and he wears it in Episode One. We already know how fashionable Met regalia is — and so does yet another Manhattan-based talk show host:

“I’m attending the Mr. Met Gala. (Rihanna’s wearing a giant baseball head, and Jared Leto’s eating ice cream out of a tiny batting helmet!)
—Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) tweet, May 2, 2022, the night of the Met gala

You want fashion? In December 2022, GQ featured Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Starling Marte in a baseball-themed fashion spread. You want more fashion? Leading celebrity Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld starred in a fall 2022 online ad/image campaign for the Kith clothing line, donning a Mets cap in a couple of the shots, appropriate enough in the year Jerry’s pal K(e)ith had his number retired. Around the same time, a little after Jerry wet-blanketed the triumphant Citi Field performance Timmy Trumpet gave on behalf of Edwin Diaz, Seinfeld released a companion book to his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series, which included this tidbit from fellow Mets fan Matthew Broderick regarding his meeting Ralph Kiner:

“I told him a heartwarming story about how my father when I was little would say, ‘Oh, I don’t like when Bob Murphy takes over, I feel like then the Mets lose. I think they do better when Kiner is talking.’ So I got to tell Ralph Kiner that. And he said, ‘Well, we didn’t really have very much effect on the outcome of the games when we were calling ’em.’”

JERRY: Do you realize how stupid he thinks you are?
MATTHEW: How stupid do you think I am? How stupid do you think my father was?
JERRY: Yeah, and he’s trying to be nice about it.
MATTHEW: Very nice. “No, I’m sorry to break it to you, our calling the game didn’t have much effect on the game outcome.”

Ralph Kiner anecdotes never go out of style. Nor do Seinfeld reruns or Met pop culture sightings. Keep ’em coming in 2023!

60 and All Right, I Guess

I’ve been trying to reconstruct how we got there. I remember we were in the car. I can see the shopping center parking lot where the exchange is taking place, a dreary Monday night as Monday nights are bound to be as January winds down. We’re turning into the lot from Long Beach’s main drag of Park Street. It’s the shopping center anchored by Waldbaum’s since its opening in 1984. It wasn’t there before I went to college. One summer I came home and it existed. It will always gleam in my mind because it gleamed when I first saw it.

Dad is driving, I’m in the passenger seat. Our destination is the Chinese place we’d been taking out from as often as we’d been taking out from our other two Chinese takeout places, good old Wing Loo and around the corner from us Panda Garden. We had a loose rotation rather than a single go-to. We were like that with diners and Italian places as well. “Spread the wealth,” is how my father wryly explained his lack of fealty to a given outlet. The Chinese place in the shopping center had a less evocative name than Wing Loo or Panda Garden, which is to say I can’t quite recall what it was called. Park something, I wanna say. Or something with a wok. I can see the lettering — modern, lower-case, in line with what the rest of the stores in the shopping center featured if they weren’t connected to a national chain — but I can’t remember the precise letters. It doesn’t matter, I suppose.

It matters that I remember the date: January 23, 1989. No way it wasn’t January 23, 1989. Not that the Princes needed an occasion to bring in Chinese food, but there was an occasion. It was my father’s birthday. His 60th birthday, marking 60 years of my father making small talk with me and others. No doubt he had his share of deep conversations with people in his 60 years to that moment, but I also harbor little doubt he sought no more than his share. If he engaged in any deep conversations with me in the 26 years and 23 days I’d been on the scene, it probably meant I was performing in a manner less than up to snuff and he had been urged by my mother to talk to me about raising my standards. Those dialogues could have been covered by an exchange of business cards.

“WE’RE CONCERNED ABOUT/DISAPPOINTED IN YOU”
“I KNOW/I’M SORRY”

After which, he could have advised me to call his office with any further questions so we could each get back to watching TV. In real life, after a polite interval had lapsed from our Mom-mandated deep conversations, we would resume the small talk that felt pleasant enough at the surface level if unsatisfying deep down. As of January 23, 1989, I was 26 years and 23 days old. What did I know from deep down? I was willing to ride pleasant for all it was worth. Between my parents, Dad was the pleasant one for conversational purposes. Talking to Mom should have come with a sign warning that this area may be laden with land mines. The small talk with Dad was unsatisfying? At least it didn’t blow up in my face. Why would I rock the boat — or the car — with anything smacking of seriousness?

Then again, he was 60 on that day, so I’m pretty sure I felt I was on solid sociable ground to ask him about the round number he’d just reached. Pretty sure. I can hear myself not quite 34 years later asking, more or less, “So, Dad, how does it feel to be 60?” Except that doesn’t at all sound like something I would ask him. It’s certainly more invasive than our chatting would get. Besides, whatever age your father was, it generally fell into the category of old. Your parents were old. They were your parents. They’re old compared to you. I think I first figured out my father’s age when he turned 40. Forty seemed old when I was 6. My mother engineered a surprise party when he turned 50. Fifty seemed old when I was 16. These round numbers seemed a pretty big deal, though. He’d just turned 60. He didn’t seem “old” in any sense one might associate with the word except, you know, he was 60 and I was 26. It wasn’t tangibly different from when he’d been 59 and I was 25 as recently as 24 days earlier, but round is round. Maybe 60 seemed like a milestone enough moment to go there.

“So, Dad, how does it feel to be 60?”
“Inside, I don’t feel any different from when I was 22,” he said, as if he’d been doing aging wrong.
Then he paused.
Then he asked me, with all seriousness, “Is that all right?”

You’re asking me? Dad asked me whether the game was going to be on SportsChannel or Channel 9. Dad asked me if I remembered the name of that actor who was on that show. Dad asked me what year it was when we went to such and such attraction on vacation. I was good for TV listings and familial World Almanac-style indexing. He never asked me to render an opinion on anything more substantial that which Chinese place to take out from tonight and whether we should get beef or chicken lo mein. The rest of the questions he’d direct my way would mostly be along the lines of, “Are you going to be ready soon?”

You’re asking me if I think what you’re feeling inside is all right? As if I would hold the definitive judgment on how a 60-year-old man might react to being a 60-year-old man? What could I tell him?

“I guess so.”

That was my tentative response to my father’s 60th birthday quasi-revelation that he wasn’t quite on board with how it felt or what it meant to be 60. After I delivered it, we parked and picked up the Chinese food. Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting these past 33 years and 342 days to find out if 60 would hit me the way it hit him.

It has. I guess.

***
Save for batting practice catchers or anybody coming and going in a less than wholly official for-the-record capacity, reliever Scott Schoeneweis was the first Met to wear 60, in 2007 and 2008. Reliever Mychal Givens was the most recent, in 2022. In between there’ve been reliever Jon Rauch, emergency starter P.J. Conlon, infielder Andres Giménez and outfielder Billy McKinney. Giménez was the only 60 to show genuine promise, and then he was off to Cleveland with Amed Rosario for Francisco Lindor after his 2020 audition from almost out of nowhere in front of absolutely nobody. Had Andres stuck around, I imagine they would have given him a better number. As a Guardian, the kid wears 0. He’s fulfilling his promise but still needs a better number.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a “6” and a “0” next to one another. It just doesn’t look like a baseball number. Giménez did his best to make it look right for 60 games, but it was a tough sell. The rest of that 60-wearing crew not so much. A wider assortment of 60s would allow a more likely candidate to whom to connect on a 60th birthday. When you’re under a certain age, you can link your age to a Mets uniform number and have fun with it for a few minutes. We all do it, right? Every December, my fellow twelfth-month baby and good friend Kevin and I exchange numerical Met birthday greetings. Kevin’s approximately a generation younger than me. He just turned Ron Hodges years old, though when I finally remembered to send him a text to commemorate his big day, I called it his Jackie Robinson birthday. Seemed most appropriate. He went from Tom Seaver to Jackie Robinson, retired number to retired number, Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer, icon to icon. You can do that in your early 40s. Next year he’ll be R.A. Dickey and still have some top-flight choices immediately ahead of him.

I’m over the certain age. In my 50s, it was mostly coaches, with an occasional Hershiser or Santana dropping in to let me know I still had my stuff. The year I was 52, 52 suddenly became synonymous with Cespedes. Who wouldn’t have wanted to have said they were Cespedes years old in 2015? From here on out, it’s obscurities and novelties. At 60, Andres Giménez from a COVID-shortened season is the best of a non-baseball number the Mets can give me as a numerical nod.

Thus, when I think of 60 in the abstract, I think instead of Florida State Road 60, which I drove to get from where I went to college in Tampa to where my parents set up their winter encampment in Hallandale, roughly halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, a drive of 200-some miles. I’d pick up 60 on the eastern edge of Tampa. It was unremarkable through Brandon, more or less near Plant City, home of the annual Strawberry Festival; ho-hum through Bartow, somewhere outside Lakeland and Winter Haven, datelines I’ll forever associate with the Tigers and Red Sox in March; and no biggie on toward Lake Wales, by which point the Tampa radio stations had morphed into Orlando radio stations, which somehow felt exotic to the ear. East of Lake Wales, you’d pass Indian Lake Estates, with a sign that offered an arrow for the turnoff to Frostproof, which you’d think all of Florida would have been. Since I’d left campus, the drive was a veritable walk in the park.

After Indian Lake Estates, it became terrifying for the final 25 or so miles of 60 I’d have ahead of me. Four lanes became two. The lack of lighting overwhelmed all senses at night, and it was always at night. It was just dark and scary. I preferred to have the road to myself. Headlights coming from the other direction were disconcerting. Headlights coming up from behind me unhinged me. I’d never driven anywhere else where somebody behind you would pass you in a lane not meant for them and it was business as usual. But there were only two lanes and I was capable of driving only so fast. Go ahead, pass me if you’re in such a hurry. Make it quick. I just want to get to Yeehaw Junction in one piece. Yeehaw Junction was the turnoff for the Florida Turnpike. The Florida Turnpike was its own kind of daunting, but it had more than one lane per direction. I was OK with highways in those days. The Turnpike and West Palm Beach stations to I-95, I-95 and Miami stations to Hallandale Beach Boulevard, Hallandale Beach Boulevard to Golden Isles Drive. As I parked in my visitor’s spot and clicked off the radio, I’d relish that I’d really accomplished something steering my way from the West Central part of the state to its southeast corner. I was not made for driving long distances, but I had driven this one. That felt good. Then I’d go upstairs to my parents’ condo and start watching what I say for land mines.

That was 60 to me in the years I neared, turned or was 22. Chances are pretty good at least portions of those trips on 60 were devoted to thinking about the Mets. They were generally out of season when I was driving southeast or returning northwest, but I’d be in the car for several hours alone. If I was alone for several hours, I’d think about the Mets sooner or later.

That’s many years ago now. I’m 60 today. I’m still thinking about the Mets. Sometimes to myself. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes in the car. Sometimes in blog form. So, to my dad, who wondered if it was OK to feel the same inside at 60 that he felt at 22 and who I never definitively answered even though he lived to be 87, I’ll reiterate: I guess.

***
Guess is all I can do. I’ve aged but not to some junction where wondering meets enlightenment. Narrow roads or wide lanes, I don’t know what lies ahead.

I didn’t 50 years ago today when I turned 10 and, on December 31, 1972, discovered radio stations counted down the top hits of the year, which pretty much changed how I sliced, diced, categorized and looked at life. Every time I make some kind of list of things that have happened in the year that is ending or choose something as the event of that year, it’s mostly because I sat on the balcony of a room at the Chateau motel in North Miami Beach while my sister was lying down inside because she’d come down with stomach flu and I heard WFUN-AM count down the Top 79 songs of 1972 and wrote down every one of them. I’ve saved the memory if not the list. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” beat out “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack for No. 1 if memory serves.

I didn’t 40 years ago today when I turned 20 and, on December 31, 1982, visited a doctor to be cleared to return to school after contracting mononucleosis in the closing weeks of the fall semester of my sophomore year at USF, which was great news, because the runup to my 20th birthday saw me sitting around in Hallandale dealing with swollen glands and dodging beratings from my mother for having contracted mononucleosis and whatever else she was convinced I was doing wrong, even while she was diligent in aiding my physical recovery, regardless of the mental stress she probably didn’t realize she was inflicting. My prescription for recovery was getting the hell out of Hallandale and back to school for the spring semester. I got over the mono, but my relationship with my mother was fraught thereafter, right up until cancer diminished her fire and took her a month before she turned 61, which is to say when she was 60, but let’s refrain from framing the math that way today.

I didn’t 30 years ago today when I turned 30, and on December 31, 1992, was the guest of honor at a surprise party. I was honestly surprised. I had made some stray remark to my wife that I’d sure like a surprise party someday, but that was mostly a life of watching sitcoms talking. I never knew people actually did that, Dad’s 50th notwithstanding. My family — Stephanie with my sister and her husband and my father — organized it. My friends popped out of the shadows alongside them. I never saw it coming. It was wonderful. The unofficial theme seemed to be that I was now a 30-year-old Mets fan, because everybody kept reminding me that’s what I cared about. I cared about other things, but those were side dishes. I was handed 15 pairs of tickets for the 1993 Mets (15 X 2 = 30) as the entrée. I took the tickets and the cue and maybe leaned into Mets fandom as an identity more than it had occurred to me in the years prior to turning 30 when at least subconsciously I thought it was time to put away or at least slightly deemphasize childish things. This is how you people see me? Good enough. Off to Shea I go. Besides, my dad not quite four years before told me at 60 he still felt like he was 22 or something like that. When I was 22, I thought about Doc Gooden pitching and Gary Carter catching. Carter was retired but Gooden was sure to pitch that Opening Day and I had tickets.

I didn’t 20 years ago today when I turned 40, and on December 31, 2002, was still reveling in the aftermath of the birthday party I’d thrown for myself a couple of weeks prior, the only time I’ve ever done something like that. I wanted to celebrate 40 at Bobby V’s in Corona, across the Grand Central from Shea. I wanted it to be Met-themed. I wanted to be surrounded by Mets fans. I didn’t want anybody who patronized or side-eyed what had intensified at the core of my life since I was 30. I had my wife, my cats, my profession as an editor of a trade magazine and my Mets. I wanted to be in a room with only people who got that and got me. I got my wish. Two-plus years later, this blog began, a Mets party still in progress.

I didn’t 10 years ago today when I turned 50, and on December 31, 2012, was only a couple of weeks removed from something similar to how I marked 40, but different. I wasn’t just that guy who liked the Mets seeking out others who liked the Mets. We now existed as a community and I was one of the town criers. They found me as a writer. A friend who became a friend because she found me writing put together a book/birthday party for me. I blew out candles on a cake my doctor wouldn’t want me going near for any other reason and I signed copies of something I wrote for people who would willingly pay for it. A few of the attendees were with me when I turned 30 and/or 40. Most were people I knew because they read what I wrote. That’s who I became. That’s who I still am when I can be.

The throughline, from 10 to 50, seems to be I didn’t know what was coming in the year or years ahead. The year and years ahead came anyway. It only began to sound unnerving when I got to 50. I just spent ten years in my fifties. I don’t know if I saw or even sensed whatever came coming ten years ago today. I just knew I enjoyed writing about the Mets and I know that continued. I enjoy writing about the Mets not only because they’re the Mets and I’ve rooted for them since I was 6, but because I get to borrow them as my prism for an array of realizations and emotions. They’re never far from top of mind and they make the playoffs once in a while and they rarely fail to tantalize me with the notion that they’ll be better next year or, failing that, one of these years soon, even if I have no idea what the future holds in any year ahead. Here and them I write.

I’m 60. That’s what I’m thinking.

Thanks for Playing a Little Longer

Good news — the Mets made the playoffs in 2022! Less good news — the Mets were bounced from the playoffs very quickly in 2022! Middling news for the 2022 Mets — they get postseason shares!

You go to the postseason, you earn a little extra scratch. It’s how baseball works. You go far in the postseason, the scratch can be significant, even for well-heeled major league baseball players. We saw that in 2015. You go not so far, it’s more a token of esteem. We saw that in 2016. In 2022, the Mets got their foot in the door before the door slammed on them. It was enough for what big leaguers probably consider shoelace money.

As explained by Forbes, each of the four teams eliminated in the first round — the Mets, the Cardinals, the Guardians and the Blue Jays — lost their way to 0.8% of the gate receipts that went into filling MLB’s brimming postseason pot, or $806,331 out of $107,510,840. That’s not $806,331 per player. That’s $806,331 for each of those teams to divide up internally. Your mainstay players do the dividing: full shares, partial shares, cash awards. Team employees, particularly those who work the clubhouse, might be rewarded from this pot as well. It’s a whole thing.

It wasn’t for naught.

More of a thing when you get Win the World Series or at least Get to the World Series money. Probably not that much of a thing when it’s Lost in the First Round Money in an industry where the annual minimum salary is $700,000. But not everybody you saw put on a Mets uniform this year was necessarily living the high life. The Mets dressed 64 players in 2022, 61 of whom played at least once. In some cases, that meant a day or two of service time tacked onto a minor league living. Extra bucks awarded because the team whose dugout they passed through eventually made the National League Wild Card Series aren’t going to be insignificant to the here-and-goners. Every little tangible bit is no doubt appreciated by players on the fringes. I’d guess the concept of getting something for making the playoffs, even if it amounts to a slight bonus that isn’t going to elevate one’s quality of life any higher than it already stands, sits well with all involved, superstars included. It’s the same reason the players can’t wait to put on those commemorative t-shirts they get for clinching. Somebody hands you something not everybody is eligible to receive, you tend to accept it and hopefully remember to say thanks.

The Mets doled out their ’22 postseason shares in real life already. Of course they doled them out in ’15 and ’16, too, but that didn’t stop us from undertaking the exercise as we saw fit. Thus, after circumstances dictated a six-year pause, we now resume our sacred self-imposed responsibility of disbursing Mets Postseason Shares Like They Oughta Be from the pot of $806,331.

Starling Marte — He’s our MVM, he gets the most bountiful scoop: $30,000.

Brandon Nimmo — He’s The Dean, he gets almost as much: $29,500.

Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor — Everyday studs, basically never missing a game: $29,162 each.

Edwin Diaz — The first Met closer since maybe Jesse Orosco, maybe Tug McGraw, maybe ever who a fan could actually look forward to pitching in a game with that game on the line. Not “not worry too much about,” but relish as a weapon to vanquish the enemy. The trumpets were only part of the sensation and the 32 saves barely begin to describe it: $28,532.

Jeff McNeil — He won a batting title with an average of .326, so let’s make his share $28,326.

Seth Lugo — I’m a sucker for seniority: $27,500 and a fond farewell for Seth’s seven years as a Met.

Adam Ottavino — Effectively took over doing what Lugo used to do and did it effectively: $27,000.

Luis Guillorme and Drew Smith — Their first manager was befuddled rookie skipper Mickey Callaway, so they had to forget whatever they learned in 2018 in order to persevere as they have since. That’s gotta be worth something: $26,018 each.

Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha — Solid individuals and players, Escobar producing in clumps, Canha a little steadier if not as spectacular: $25,000 each.

Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt — Super important figures in establishing the frontline pitching strength and tenor of the team, but geez, did both not come through when needed most in Atlanta and against San Diego. Still glad they were here: $22,500 each.

Jacob deGrom — Winner of the only postseason game the 2022 Mets won, loser when it comes to clear-cut legacy by a) bolting and b) making it sound as if the Texas Rangers have cornered the market on “vision”. Oh, and one of the all-time Met greats: $20,048.

Tomás Nido — He’d be pretty good if he could hit as well as he can bunt: $19,500.

Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco — I really wish they had made the postseason rotation decision harder on Buck Showalter. Still, a quality four and five: $19,450 each.

Trevor Williams — He’d go a week or two without pitching and suddenly be out there keeping us in a game, not an easy feat: $19,014.

Tylor Megill and David Peterson — Megill was the Opening Night starter, epitomizing alongside Peterson the security blanket of depth. Would really love to see them get more of a chance before waking up one day in the not too distant future and realizing they’ve been around longer than I’ve realized: $17,500 each.

Joely Rodriguez — To invoke that awful “hill I’ll die on” cliché, the hill I’ll die on, or at least hang out near for a few minutes when it comes to the 2022 Mets, is Joely Rodriguez was a pretty decent lefty to have come out of the pen now and then: $17,000.

Trevor May — Made me more nervous than Rodriguez ever did, came through enough. By all indications, a mensch: $16,500.

Dom Smith and J.D. Davis — We’ll always have 2019, fellas, and you should always have a little piece of 2022: $11,019.

Travis Jankowski and Terrance Gore — Jankowski pinch-ran 13 times before getting squeezed off the roster. Gore is a specialist of the genre and pinch-ran five times during an abbreviated tenure with the club — plus the Mets won all ten games in which he participated in any capacity, which is the most winning games without a loss any Met from any era can claim. Together as the Mets’ primary pinch-runners, they embodied the tactical aggressiveness Buck Showalter brought to bear…which sounds more insightful than admitting I just happen to be fascinated by pinch-running: $11,000 each.

Daniel Vogelbach — Pinch-running is valued here, but designated hitting is still on probation. Still, when the Mets traded for Vogey, they were saying they were taking the half-position more than half-seriously. What he could do he did very well. What he couldn’t do made him and the lineup spot he was acquired to fill less than whole: $10,500.

James McCann — Caught a five-man no-hitter one night, recorded at least five hits the rest of the year: $10,005.

Adonis Medina, Yoan Lopez, Stephen Nogosek and Colin Holderman — Bacon-savers! They saved our bacon! Whether it was getting a few huge outs or soaking up some orphan innings, the members of this bunch took a few for the team and came up big once in a while: $9,500 each.

Mychal Givens — Filled the thankless role of veteran reliever who comes over in a pennant race, gets lit up, garners no goodwill, then pitches pretty OK when available the rest of the way. Also the first Met pitcher to pinch-run since Steven Matz in 2019: $9,000.

Tommy Hunter — One gets the feeling he returned because Buck Showalter liked him in Baltimore. That was probably the reason Givens was here. Didn’t do a ton, but didn’t do much harm: $8,900.

Chasen ShreveSilent Generation Met (whose only year pitching before the home folks was 2020, which is to say he pitched before no home folks) turned Recidivist Met. The curiosity factor alone made his second stint worthwhile: $8,800.

Patrick Mazeika and Michael Perez — Every game Mazeika ever played felt like a novelty; walloped an enormous homer in May. Perez plugged a hole for a few days in August and made me wonder why he couldn’t stick around. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, catchers, baby, catchers: $8,750 each.

Nick Plummer — Hit the Nick Plummer Home Run one night along with another the next night. Plummers, baby, Plummers: $8,700.

Nate Fisher — Of the eight Mets to take part in exactly one game in 2022, Fisher made the most indelible impression, throwing three shutout innings as part of the mind-boggling 10-9 Damn Thing win in Philadelphia. No Fisher, probably no winning the Damn Thing, after which we couldn’t add with absolute certainty, “…and that’s why the Phillies will never win the pennant this year!” Why Nate wasn’t asked to take part in a second game is too much of a mystery to be answered by something as mundane as “numbers crunch,” though that was probably it: $8,600.

Khalil Lee — Homered in a loss at Angel Stadium the second Saturday of June, but I could swear he homered in a win at Dodger Stadium the first Saturday of June. Let him benefit from my foggy recollection: $8,500.

Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez — An investment in tomorrow: $8,400 each.

Tyler Naquin — Tyler Naquin is the first Met since Craig Paquette to have “qu” in the middle of his last name, the fourth overall. Jose Oquendo and Al Pedrique were the others. Tyler Naquin is better off with this nugget as his calling card rather than any of his statistics from down the stretch: $8,004.

Sean Reid-Foley — Pete Crow-Armstrong seemed a good bet to become the first Met with a hyphenated last name upon his being selected by the Mets in the first round of the 2020 draft. But before the Mets could promote PC-A, they elevated SR-F in 2021. And then they traded PC-A to make the matter moot. SR-F pitched seven times this April before sustaining a partially torn UCL. Sean Reid-Foley will have to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, but he maintains his hyphenated distinction: $5,350.

Ender Inciarte — The Mets’ primary pinch-runner when Jankowski and Gore weren’t. Captured by SNY cameras exchanging warm greetings with Keith Hernandez shortly before Keith took the field for his number retirement ceremonies. Trying to remember anything that isn’t connected to his robbing Yoenis Cespedes of a game-winning home run in 2016 is otherwise futile. But if Keith could be nice to him…: $5,317.

Jake Reed — The competition was fierce, but Reed wins the coveted “I all but forgot he was on the team this year” award. Five games, too! How embarrassing for both of us: $4,905.

Travis Blankenhorn — Played one game as a 2022 Met. He was the DH on July 22, a loss to the Padres. Batting eighth, Travis flied out, struck out and grounded out. Maybe the Mets weren’t going to be the National League team to benefit most from implementation of the designated hitter after all: $4,400.

Matt Reynolds — On the NLCS roster in 2015 but Terry Collins couldn’t figure out a way to get him into a game, costing Matt the rare opportunity to make his MLB debut under the bright lights of the postseason. A Met utilityman in 2016 and 2017 for 115 games. Recidivisted for exactly one game in 2022 before the Cincinnati Reds, an organization comprised largely of utilitymen, picked him up and started him a career-high 67 times. Thanks for passing through again: $3,600.

Deven Marrero and Yolmer Sanchez — Six Mets made their third base debut in 2022. These are the two you don’t remember. No worries; they don’t remember you, either: $3,550 each.

Alex Claudio, Sam Clay and R.J. Alvarez: Three contestants ready for a reboot of To Tell the Truth. They’ve already stumped the panel: $3,533 each.

Bryce Montes de Oca — A pitcher who totaled fewer than four innings but features a name that comes in four parts: $3,504.

Jose Butto — Threw the not promising start that dug the hole that set the stage for the stunning performance of Nate Fisher the pitcher, not to be confused with Nate Fisher the fictional funeral director from Six Feet Under. Butto’s career didn’t die from his emergency audition; he’s still considered a prospect: $3,500.

Rob Zastryzny and Thomas SzapuckiYou say Zastryzny, I say Szapucki… Rob’s ERA in one inning of Met relief was 9.00, which appears unsightly until compared to Thomas’s 60.75 compiled in his one Met start. Let’s call the whole thing off: $3,453 each.

Joey Lucchesi — Not one of the 64 Mets who dressed in 2022. On the IL the whole year, which is the epitome of bad timing for a pitcher who introduced us to the word “churve” in 2021. Here’s wishing Lucchesi a full recovery…and a better name for his signature pitch: $3,425.

Gosuke Katoh, Kramer Robertson and the even harder to spot Connor Grey — Suited up as Mets. Never played as Mets. Sent packing as Ghost Mets. Let’s surprise them if we can find them: $650 each.

Darin Ruf — The kindest thing one can say on behalf of Darin Ruf’s two months as a 2022 Met is until rosters expanded, he was only one of 26: $26.

Robinson Cano — He wanted Willie Mays’s number? Fine: $24.

As long as we’re indulging the fantasy of disbursing Met postseason shares, let’s keep the theme going and visit Mets Fantasy Camp via a revealing interview with recent Mets Fantasy Camper Kerby Valladares on National League Town.

Satisfaction of What’s to Come

In 2022, the Mets finally got the past right. It feels so good to rattle off the roll call of their history-acknowledging triumphs; Nancy Seaver offering her benediction at the reveal of the Tom Seaver Statue on April 15; the retirement of Keith Hernandez’s 17 on July 9; the syncing of Gil Hodges Bobblehead Night with Gil’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 24; and the return of Old Timers Day, which would have been enough to mark August 27 as an orange-and-blue red-letter day for the ages, commemorating as it did sixty years of Mets of baseball by inviting home more than sixty Mets from all ages of the franchise’s existence, yet somehow outdid itself when it placed the cherry of a lifetime upon that Saturday’s sundae and broke the news that No. 24 was now retired for Willie Mays.

The baseball gods smiled at the Mets’ acts of cognizance. The club won its games of April 15, July 9, July 24 and August 27, in each case preserving or extending its lead in the National League East. Had the Mets chosen their fiftieth- rather than their sixtieth-anniversary season to have undertaken each of the above mitzvahs — the only item not in their control was Gil’s election to the Hall (yet they could have handed out a Hodges bobblehead long ago) — the historical conscientiousness would have been most welcome, but it probably wouldn’t have landed as sweetly in 2012 as it did in 2022 for a simple reason: the 2012 Mets were dreadful. They had their moments individually and collectively, and didn’t completely fall apart until the second half kicked in and kicked them, but highlighting your sparkling past while your present presents itself as relentlessly grim is a tough sell. It shouldn’t matter that much, but it does.

I’m convinced each of the commemorative events that made 2022 sing at Citi Field hit its high notes because the 2022 Mets were already in full throat and fine voice. I sat at Shea Stadium for the previous Old Timers Day, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Mets’ world championship. Forgive the use of sports talk radio host affectation when I say there was nobody there. Figuratively nobody. Literally, I’d estimate maybe 5,000 seats were filled for the pregame ceremonies commemorating the signature miracle in baseball history, an accomplishment that belonged to every Mets fan. Alas, most every Mets fan wasn’t moved to stop by and pay homage. This was 1994. The year before had been infamous 1993, the year that gave us a team worse than the notorious Worst Team Money Could Buy from 1992, itself assembled upon the ruins of the 1991 dissipation of the dynasty that never quite materialized after 1986. The 1994 Mets weren’t infamous, but they, too, were a tough sell. The residue of the early ’90s wasn’t coming out in the wash until the end of the ’90s, at least not at the box office. The middle ’90s were an attendance desert. Cleon Jones and Jerry Koosman were at Shea to say hi? Good luck convening a minyan to return the greeting.

Twenty-eight years later, there was nothing contemporary keeping Mets fans away from a celebration of past glories. This was a first-place team, a playoffs-bound team, a team that was operated around the idea it was supposed to compete to win. Not every Mets team has worked that way. Not every Major League Baseball team works that way now. The 2022 Mets were Venn Diagramming the sweet spot of which every serious fan dreams: the circle that extolled its accomplishments from decades gone by; the circle that provided nearly nightly thrills nearly every week this very year; the circle that indicated the days ahead would be at least as fruitful and as meaningful as the days we were in at this very moment.

So much intersection.

I sat up in the left field Promenade on Old Timers Day with a prime view of the recently relocated placards marking the postseason berths and achievements of yore over the highest right field seats. Nine banners for nine Octobers, from that 1969 World Championship through the 2016 Wild Card. Two World Series triumphs; three National League pennants besides; four other playoff appearances earned through division championships or any means necessary. “Good stuff,” was my father’s stock response to things he liked. I liked those nine banners. I liked better the certainty that a tenth would be added as a result of the 2022 season in which we’d been reveling for several months and would be reveling on amid for several more weeks. Great stuff.

There will be something affixed in that space following 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, 2015 and 2016. It won’t say WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS or NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS or N.L. EAST DIVSION CHAMPIONS or WILD CARD & DIVISION SERIES WINNERS, which is the all-inclusive if hardly reflective of all they meant descriptor applied to the 1999 Mets. It can replicate 2016’s NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD and be technically accurate, though in 2016 winning the Wild Card was pretty much all that could be asked when that Mets team was two games beneath .500 entering play on August 20, sitting 5½ games from the nearest playoff spot. Six weeks later, we had clinched a foothold in the postseason. Anything else would have been gravy. In that year’s Wild Card Game, Madison Bumgarner chose not to dish out what he was serving even a little au jus. Getting left high and dry by the lefty whose own Venn Diagram brought Unbeatable in the Post Season and Untouchable at Citi Field into a thickly drawn circle wasn’t tasty, but the prize we chowed down on for going 27-12 and simply getting as far as we did sated my soul. You can’t win ’em all, but we’d won something that went down as tangible. We lost the Wild Card Game, but we’d won a Wild Card.

In 2022, we lost the division before losing the series we were assigned to play in because we lost the division. The Wild Card we won? It was an app that mysteriously showed up on our phone for three days and then disappeared with the next update. Or, to put it in hoary old joke about Chinese food territory, we won 101 games and went to the playoffs, yet a half-hour later, we were still hungry.

***
For 2022, Faith and Fear in Flushing chooses as its Nikon Camera Player of the Year — an award presented to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — Something Short of Satisfaction. My god, it was a great Met season. My god, the Mets did great things this season. My god, it’s so much better being a Mets fan coming out of this season than it’s been in so long.

But we’re not quite satisfied with what we experienced, are we?

Satisfaction may be as elusive a concept as it is a destination. If we define satisfaction as our team having won it all, well, we haven’t been satisfied very often ever, have we? Yet I don’t think you have to have your players get measured for World Series rings to claim satisfaction. In the rafters of my mind, I display placards for close second-place finishes, surprise playoff lunges that sputtered with weeks to go, coming kind of close to .500 and merely being not as bad as I thought the Mets were going to be. I value context and calibration. I can get some satisfaction through any number of avenues.

Yet here I am, sorting through the emotional aftermath of a season that soared higher than projected and produced a postseason, and I feel…not nothing, but not enough. In bottom line territory, the explanation is fairly self-evident: we won 101 games and have no more than a prospective NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD CARD banner to show for it. I endorse the historical reminder that the 2016 version represents because once that season unfolded, that was good stuff. In 2022, we appeared on the verge of something more. Winner of a division. Winner of at least one postseason series. Winner of a flag. Winner of the whole enchilada. Better stuff.

I’m happy that there was a 2022 postseason for the New York Mets, and would prefer the tenth banner in the right field row read NATIONAL LEAGUE POSTSEASON and leave it at that. Some of us would nod with a modicum of understanding that that year up there was really something, and absolutely not nothing (until you begin to pick apart just how lame the Mets’ performance was during two-thirds of their 2022 postseason). Others would not be shy about channeling their inner Nelson Muntz and emitting a loud “HAW-HAW!” at the veritable participation ribbon, as if making the playoffs — when eighteen teams still don’t — isn’t enough of an accomplishment to merit as much as a nod.

The Mets did this to themselves by raising our hopes so propitiously that hopes became expectations. I pinpoint the date when being told that going 101-61 and guaranteeing postseason baseball wasn’t going to be enough. It’s the date to which I can retroactively attach the saddest of all possible words in sports: “if I had told you,” as in “If I had told you that the Mets were going to win 101 games and were going to go to the playoffs, yet it wasn’t going to be particularly satisfying, you probably wouldn’t have believed me.”

It was June 5. The Mets were completing a four-game series at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers stood as the platinum standard. Gotta go through L.A. if you wanna get anywhere in this league. The Mets went West and looked flat after flattening most comers for two months. We fly across country and lose on a Thursday night. Lose on Friday. But spring back to life Saturday. Sunday, thus, looms as the proving ground between a team everybody knew was gonna be there at season’s end and a team we wanted to believe would be there to meet them.

Sunday, June 5, was the grit and the grind that set expectations. Sunday, it turned out, was prevailing behind Trevor Williams as our starter and Adonis Medina as our closer and J.D. Davis driving in the run that positioned Medina for the save. We did it. We won in ten, 5-4. We split with the mighty Dodgers. We had a better record than the mighty Dodgers. We led our division by 8½ mighty games.

The 2022 Mets felt mightier than all that. The 2022 Mets felt as mighty as they had in a generation, probably two. All they had to do, in my mind, was not fall apart on the rest of their California swing (they didn’t) and they’d be poised for greatness. Much of the rest of the year would indeed be a thrill ride, pausing only to reflect on the best of the sixty preceding years. Stop by the statue and tip a cap to No. 41. Leap to your feet and cheer for No. 17. Be overcome by the warmth emanating from Irene Hodges accepting Hall of Fame enshrinement on behalf of her father and be overwhelmed by the sight of Michael Mays repping his father as the Mets stopped futzing around with No. 24. The generations were coming together in 2022. We were having a season for the ages. What could possibly stop it?

***
The nominees are…

The Atlanta Braves, who never stopped coming.
The San Diego Padres, who lay in wait.
Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hit the right middle finger of Starling Marte of the New York Mets.
Darin Ruf of the New York Mets, who bore zero resemblance to Darin Ruf of the San Francisco Giants.
This, that and/or the other thing.

The Mets never fell apart. They just stopped coalescing. There really wasn’t that one game with the hair and the tearing of it out from one’s head. Not that one lead that got away in the eighth or ninth. Not that one runner left on third who was the difference between winning and losing. Not that one ball that eluded two gloves and definitively doomed us. The Mets could clinch only so much after two or five months. They seemed so good. They were so good. They just couldn’t keep up all they had to keep up.

Neither could, it should be noted from a postseason perspective, the Atlanta Braves or the San Diego Padres or, for that matter, the mighty Dodgers of Los Angeles. As late as right after Old Timers Day, we took two of three from the Dodgers at Citi Field. That, rather than any regular-season Padres-Phillies series, felt like the NLCS preview. If we couldn’t be as fully convinced about the division title being in hand as we’d been when we’d been to SoCal in early June — the Braves were clinging three back as September dawned — Mets-Dodgers still made sense in our collective gut. On August 31, Jacob deGrom was almost spotless for seven innings, Brandon Nimmo snatched a home run from beyond the center field fence, Adam Ottavino, Edwin Diaz and Timmy Trumpet owned the final innings and the Mets had downed L.A., 2-1, a night after bowing to them, 4-3. In the late-afternoon start of September 1, the Mets continued to not yield. We won, 5-3, behind Chris Bassitt, Trevor May, Diaz and Ottavino. Trumpet had left town, but the melody lingered on. We won the season series. As if we needed more convincing, this more or less convinced us we were set for October.

More or less. We needed more convincing. We always needed more convincing. We won 17 of 20 at one point in high summer and we were likely never 100% convinced that this team that had been in first place nearly nonstop since the first pitch of the season was as absolutely a sure thing as we were convinced it should have been. But it was too late to turn back now. Beating the Dodgers was our leading indicator. Problem was, with thirty games to go and three games separating our tail from the Braves’ fingertips, every series still on the schedule was going to be the moral equivalent of a Dodgers series.

Nobody told the Mets. Having risen to the L.A. challenge so valiantly, they played down to the Nationals and the Pirates and the Cubs and the A’s. Again with the understanding that there is no winning ’em all. Even still. Whether it was not having Starling Marte in right field for a month, or leaning on Darin Ruf at DH, or trying to hot-wire the offense with September callups who weren’t on the immediate radar, or whatever everyday stalwart struck out when you were expecting a base hit, or whatever arm didn’t have quite enough to get the job you expected done, or the cobwebs that gathered on Diaz as save opportunities evaded abundance or some box the meticulous Buck Showalter failed to check, it was a season that was losing rather than gathering steam. The playoffs were still a sure thing. The Mets put a mathematical lock on their postseason reservation on September 19. It was a formality. They chose to sip champagne rather than spray it. The 2022 Mets were the third team in franchise history to spend every single day of its season above .500. The 1985 Mets did that, but missed the playoffs by three games. The 2007 Mets did that, but missed the playoffs by one game. The 2022 Mets did that and ensured they’d be in the playoffs.

Who could ask for more?

We could. How could we not? How could punching a postseason ticket feel like anything more than a pleasant Monday night in Milwaukee when there were greater worlds to conquer, greater stuff to garner, so let’s not toast too heartily lest we be hungover for work on Tuesday? (Hell, we didn’t flinch at Max Scherzer being pulled from a perfect game bid in deference to the greater good.) Thirteen games sat for the taking following the playoff-clinching versus the Brewers. The Mets proceeded to win one, lose one, win one, lose one, win one, lose one, win one, lose three and win three. No, you can’t win ’em all. But you can win more than seven of thirteen.

The “lose three” was Atlanta. That was the division title in a nutshell. Win one game in Atlanta and we don’t lose one National League East. But we didn’t and we did. That’s how Citi Field gained the privilege of hosting the first ever 4-vs-5 National League Wild Card Series. Home field advantage encompassing all three games was the reward for being better than the other Wild Card qualifiers. Little about it felt rewarding.

Whether they’ve won it all or lost before such an outcome became possible, some postseason Mets teams have felt more magnificent than magical. Conversely, some postseason Mets teams have felt more magical than magnificent. Of course every magnificent Mets team contains an element of magic and every magical Mets team is more magnificent than is fully comprehended. By the end of the 2022 season, the New York Mets, for all their 101 wins, felt neither magnificent nor magical in sufficient quantities. By October 7, Opening Night of the NLWCS, we were left hoping for the best and not knowing what to expect. Then again, we didn’t expect we’d have to start playing postseason baseball until the NLDS began on October 11.

History will show that earning a bye and avoiding the 2022 National League Wild Card Series amounted to no particular advantage in the National League Division Series. The mighty 111-win Dodgers didn’t benefit from not having to play in the newly arranged first round. The irritating 101-win Braves — same total as us! — generated no momentum after their mini-vacation. Both the Dodgers and Braves stand as division winners who exited the playoffs after one lousy win.

The Mets stand as not even that. We did have the one lousy win, which wasn’t lousy when it was achieved, but its satisfaction carried a very quick expiration date. We don’t have a division title from the 2022 season and we don’t have a series win from the 2022 postseason. We have a Wild Card, which was never the idea, and we have 101 wins, which included nine versus Atlanta when we needed ten. We had, I swear, that certain something. Just not enough of it.

***
In his diary of the 1978 season, Sparky Lyle, who wasn’t relied on nearly as much as when he won the Cy Young in 1977 and could read the writing on the wall regarding his not being around in 1979, warned George Steinbrenner that if he kept bringing in new Yankees who didn’t have the same intestinal fortitude as old Yankees, he was consigning himself to some frustrating finishes. “He’ll have gotten rid of all his winners,” Lyle wrote with Peter Golenbock in The Bronx Zoo, “and he’ll be left with a team of good ballplayers who have never been on winners. He’ll have a hell of a second-place ballclub. He’ll end up having a club like Boston, a team that wins 99 games but no bananas.”

It was a different world in 1978. You either finished first or called it a day. The Yankees and Red Sox each won 99 games and contested a tiebreaker (a.k.a. the Bucky F’in Dent Game) to determine whose day was done. In 2022, the Mets and Braves decided which 101-61 record was superior by interior math, specifically the 10-9 head-to-head advantage that belonged to Atlanta once Atlanta went 3-0 between September 30 and October 2. I thought of the Lyle passage a lot after that truly abominable Truist Park weekend. The aforementioned Red Sox were the epitome of a team that indeed had good ballplayers yet no bananas to show for it. There’ve been other teams whose high quality resonates as hollow in the collective baseball consciousness since then.

• The post-Sparky Lyle Yankees who were almost always good for posting winning records but stopped winning World Series once he was traded to Texas.

• The Jim Leyland Pirates who lost playoff series, superstars and, eventually, their way.

• The Moneyball A’s whose GM’s bleep doesn’t work in October.

• The Twins in years that include October (eighteen consecutive postseason games lost dating to October 6, 2004).

• The stacked Nationals of the 2010s, their reputation for coming up short as heavy favorites and division-winners not erased until they put a Wild Card to optimal use in 2019.

• The mighty Dodgers of the 2010s, their reputation for coming up short not erased until the shortened pandemic season of 2020 built them the limited runway they needed to shed their baggage.

• The stupid Braves from 1996 through 2020, with sixteen delightful postseason eliminations spanning multiple eras and two millennia.

• The modern-day Yankees who are knocked out postseason after postseason like glorious clockwork (ten postseasons since 2010, zero pennants since 2009).

Seasons spent racking up the wins can be fun. They oughta be fun. Little beats the confidence you gain as a fan from knowing your team is more likely to win than lose on any given day or night. When you’ve sucked up your share of 1993s, you know you should cherish their antitheses. But their endings going awry, particularly if it happens again and again, tends to sap the fun right out of those seasons and diminish the luster of the period in which they are set. The satisfaction, too.

The 2022 Mets really were loads of fun. Surely there’s a formula to be calculated that would show each day this season was as much fun per capita as a Mets fan could have hoped for. Just not as much as we’d grown to expect. That doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. There have been wonderful seasons that didn’t exactly pan out but never shook that sense of wonder. This one did. This one failed to satisfy.

Maybe that’s OK. Live through it, learn from it, onward and upward until Excelsior isn’t just an overprized section of seats. Upon his introduction to us in the fall of 2020, the man who owns the team and bankrolls our expectations spitballed “three to five years” as his timeframe for winning a World Series, more an off-the-cuff mission statement than an analytic projection. Next year will be Year Three of the Steve Cohen epoch. Year One was a shakedown cruise in which we sustained a torrent of splashback. Year Two was so, so good in so, so many ways, if so-so when it was over. Year Three will have so, so many new Mets acquired in the name of guaranteeing satisfaction (some acquisitions pending completion as of this writing). And if that doesn’t satisfy the lot of us, there’s always Years Four and Five and the rest, assuming we as fans aren’t going anywhere.

I’m not. When the 2022 NLWCS ended with a whimper, I couldn’t see myself getting excited about 2023 for a while. A while has passed. I’m excited. Not out of my mind excited, but adequately anticipant. Your team’s owner goes out and secures who he’s secured — let’s continue to pencil in Carlos Correa until notified something’s really wrong with his leg or his negotiations — to go with keeping who he’s kept and you owe it to yourself to look forward to Spring Training. You can’t buy a pennant, but you can certainly shop aggressively for one.

Yes, we have some bananas. We’ve also rocketed ahead of where we were as a franchise and a people from before Steve Cohen. After that 2016 Wild Card, we endured a miserable 2017; a miserable 2018; a miserable first half of 2019; a second-half surge in 2019 that was so satisfying you can be forgiven for forgetting we didn’t actually win anything (you don’t necessarily have to win anything to feel satisfied); and a miserable sixty-game 2020 that pretty much wiped away the 2019 vibe and, in retrospect, lasted sixty games too long. Then along came Cohen and a new general manager every other week and a manager who didn’t yet know what he was doing and a cast with roles yet to be optimally filled.

We’re way beyond those gray days as we pivot from 2022 to 2023. That’s satisfying in its own right. Knowing 2023 has a legitimate chance to be better than plenty good 2022 is also satisfying. It can’t recontextualize 2022 until it plays out. Maybe in a year’s time we’ll be satisfied that 2022 served as the 101-win, Wild Card as consolation prize, early playoff elimination steppingstone to definitive higher ground. But we’ll need 2023 or maybe a year to be named later in order to recalibrate our takeaway. As the final dates on the 2022 calendar are crossed off, maybe the closest thing to satisfaction we can divine from the season that didn’t live up to our expectations is to be mined from what Tony Soprano told his family by candlelight at Artie Bucco’s restaurant in the middle of the intense storm that closed Season One of The Sopranos: “If you’re lucky, you’ll remember the little moments — like this — that were good.”

Season Sixty-One of the Mets had more than a few of those.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1980: The Magic*
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016: The Home Run
2017: The Disabled List
2018: The Last Days of David Wright
2019: Our Kids
2020: Distance (Nikon Mini)
2021: Trajectories

*Manufacturers Hanover Trust Player of the Year

National League Town is revisiting its extensive 2022 wish list for the Mets Hall of Fame. Listen here or on the podcast platform of your choice.

Happy Holidays, James McCann

A former major leaguer who I watched pitch against the Mets once but who I can’t say I remember doing so tweeted something eye-opening this week: “In the entire history of baseball, only 22,860 have made it to the major leagues. That total easily fits into any MLB stadium.” An actor who portrays a former major leaguer on stage and on social media shared that nugget with the comment, “Remember this the next time you call an underperforming player on your team a bum.” In the chill of late December, when nobody’s grounding into a double play to kill a rally, I can see the wisdom of what Bob FIle (Toronto Blue Jays pitcher in the early 2000s) and Ken Webster/John Bateman (the former the man paying continual homage to the latter’s career and persona from when the actor grew up admiring the catcher who broke through with the 1966 Astros). Maybe not in the heat of summer, but why not in the spirit of the offseason?

Hence, I’m here to say James McCann, the other night traded to the Baltimore Orioles for the ever popular Player to Be Named Later, was not a bum. Far from it. He is among the 22,860 I’ve tuned into see or hear. Not a few times I ponied up for the privilege of cheering for James McCann to come through as a New York Met. The right to grumble when he didn’t come through, too, but that’s the passion talking trash. I tried to keep it to a whisper. Either way, I didn’t see him filling one of Citi Field’s seats. He was down there, a part of the action, deploying his skills, however they manifested themselves on a given day or night.

Can it be only two years ago that we welcomed James McCann to the New York Mets with something approaching high hopes? Middling hopes? McCann was the next best thing to J.T. Realmuto as catchers on that winter’s free agent market went. Budding prospect Francisco Alvarez was way off on the horizon at the time and Tomás Nido was considered strictly backup material. We were coming off Wilson Ramos’s second year, which was less robust than his first year. Ramos was going for sure. The franchise’s new owner may not have had quite the front office he needed in place to direct his natural instinct to secure the best possible player at a given position. The Mets didn’t pounce on Realmuto. Once J.T. shipped his gear from Miami to Philadelphia, we scooped up McCann instead. If you squinted real hard and perhaps covered both eyes, you could see the two available catchers as somewhat comparable.

It’s two years later. They weren’t. Realmuto is still the best all-around receiver in the National League. McCann has been moved along to the American League, with Steve Cohen shrugging off most of the money he’s still owed. For three days at the beginning of August, the Mets will be paying McCann to play against them. The rest of the year they’ll be paying McCann to play against everybody else for Baltimore. Unless the catcher experiences a crab-fueled renaissance, we’ll likely have to remember to shrug.

James McCann had the good sense to crest in 2019, the final full year before he hit free agency, making the AL All-Star team for the White Sox. He followed up by posting gaudy numbers inside the short sample size of 2020. He wasn’t top of mind outside Detroit prior to ’19. We could believe he’d found himself in Chicago and he’d stay found once he ensconced himself in New York.

There were a few moments here and there, but mostly James got lost as a Met. Or was told by the lot of us to get lost. His defensive flourishes were obscured by a hollow bat. We’d hear pitchers liked throwing to him. We saw five pitchers throw to him one night at the end of April and see none of the hitters they faced recorded hits. The last of the batters to go down in the only combined no-hitter the Mets ever pitched was J.T. Realmuto. McCann caught the Edwin Diaz strike Realmuto couldn’t touch.

If only that was the allegory for the one we got/the one who got away. No, Realmuto recovered from his footnote in Met history, went to the World Series with the team that got no-hit and collected his second Gold Glove and third Silver Slugger. The Phillies have him for three more years and don’t seem to mind.

The Mets, in the midst of collecting one star after another, couldn’t shed McCann soon enough. They needed the roster space. They needed clarity. Maybe James did, too. Everybody concerned had seen enough, two years remaining on his contract notwithstanding. Those of us in the seating bowl or on the couch may not have seen all McCann did to be a well-regarded major league catcher. The value of a catcher has to be the hardest for even the most observant of laymen to discern. He’s got to wear so much more equipment than everybody else. He has to think alongside another player on his team and hope he’s completely in sync with that pitcher. He doesn’t get to stand up while positioned. And then we expect some hitting.

Nobody committing himself to that particular vocation can be dismissed by an epithet. But no fan can ignore an OPS+ of 76 one year and 55 the next. No fan can not notice that Nido, never atop any pecking order since his initial promotion in 2017, was the starting catcher in all three postseason games the Mets played in 2022, with none among Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom or Chris Bassitt apparently expressing any problem throwing to him rather than McCann. The same fans who welcomed James ahead of 2021 and cheered the throw to second that ended a game in Colorado on a caught stealing and appreciated the unforeseen start at first base when injuries depleted the ranks and got a huge kick out of that five-armed no-hitter can be forgiven for acting unforgiving toward somebody who came to the plate about 600 times in two years and batted .220. James McCann was the Mets’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, reflecting the support he and his wife Jessica lent newborn intensive care units and the nurses who make them run. A normal person would stand and applaud that sort of recognition. A fan gives it a golf clap at most because, well…look! He just grounded into another double play! What a bum!

Not a bum. Just someone who didn’t perform up to the standards we thought he was capable of maintaining. It happens. Sometimes we’re convinced it only happens to us. I won’t pretend I didn’t deliver a high-five in my head to the news that McCann wouldn’t be a Met anymore, but I swear I hope he’s successful as an Oriole, give or take three days in August.

From 1968 through 2006, the Mets sent a catcher to the All-Star Game in 20 of 39 seasons. Since 2007, Met catchers have had a nice midseason break. We’re due to get somebody behind the plate at the front of the line where catching is concerned. We have Nido some more, and he’s got playoff experience now. We have Alvarez still on the rise, still determining by his progress whether his future will encompass as much crouching as slugging, as if the slugging is guaranteed. And we have Omar Narvaez — “All-Star catcher” Omar Narvaez as the Mets were careful to headline their press release (he backed up Realmuto in the 2021 game) detailing the 30-year-old having signed for one year. Omar may be better defensively than McCann. He can’t be worse offensively, you’d think before not saying it out loud, as his OPS+ the past two years haven’t exactly jumped off the page. He’s a lefty swinger, which implies a Nido-Narvaez platoon is nigh. He also happens to be from Venezuela, same as Alvarez. The veteran-rookie mentorship storyline writes itself. Chances are we’ll hear somebody likes throwing to Omar Narvaez. Chances are he’ll do something positive early on and those of us inclined to zip to social media when a Met succeeds will sing his praises until the next grounder to short or wild pitch that could have been corralled.

That will be later. For now, let us sing the praises of catchers who are doing their best, of hitters who are trying to hit, of our fellow persons who put on Met uniforms and don’t mean to underperform. ’Tis the season and all that.

***

Speaking of goodwill toward Mets who are no longer Mets, best of luck to Michael Conforto, newly announced San Francisco Giant. True, not every newly announced San Francisco Giant actually becomes a San Francisco Giant, but we’ll guess Giant ownership is wearing warm enough socks to not contract another case of cold feet. Conforto leaving behind the only professional home he ever knew would hit harder on this side of the railing had it happened last year. But Michael’s physical well-being conflicted with his desired market value, so there was a year in limbo while our outfielder of seven usually productive seasons healed.

There had been some talk that the Mets were interested in resuming their professional relationship with the rookie who added a spark to the 2015 pennant drive, but it was just talk. Conforto’s a Giant, another in the queue of heretofore lifetime Mets definitively making his way to the exit this offseason, after Jacob deGrom left for Texas, after Seth Lugo found open arms in San Diego, before the non-tendered Dom Smith finds his next stop. Brandon Nimmo is a lifetime Met for the foreseeable future, having signed a deal to keep him true to the orange and blue through 2030. Next on the chart of Mets And Only Mets in terms of active longevity behind Nimmo is Nido, who you wouldn’t have guessed was heading in such an exclusive direction when he came up with zero fanfare more than five years ago, a month after former No. 1 pick Smith broke through with something of a bang. Dom hit nine homers after his August recall in ’17. He also batted below .200. He didn’t really seem to have it made on the major league level until he, like Conforto, ate up East Coast pitching amid the compressed regional schedule 2020 gave us.

Turned out neither Dom nor Michael had secured their places on the Mets beyond 2021. Smith did not get a tight grip on a share of DH or a share of first base and was not encouraged to pursue left field before his midseason injury erased him from the 2022 picture. At some point he came off the IL but was consigned to Syracuse for the duration. Two years can go quickly in the big leagues. We saw it with McCann. Sometimes your fortunes rise. Nido was a Gold Glove finalist in 2022. He supplanted a somewhat big deal free agent. He’s still here, still projected as half of the receiving end of a pitching staff that includes two surefire Hall of Famers and the best closer in baseball. Never mind 2017 — you wouldn’t have necessarily seen that coming in 2020.

Sometimes, particularly when a James McCann situation goes awry, you can’t wait for time to fly and take the underperformer with it. Sometimes, when you’ve grown fond of those who you consider a few of your own, you wish time could conspire to keep the deGroms and Lugos and Confortos and Smiths together, at their best and their brightest, even as you inevitably welcome the seeking of highly sought free agents manifesting itself in their becoming Mets, whether for a year or a dozen. (Emotionally, we could all use more roster space.) I’ll miss the Mets I couldn’t imagine not being Mets. I’ll miss them a little less as time goes by. That’s our arrangement with baseball the business. But somewhere deep down I’ll remember them fondly even as this year becomes next year.

Officially, by the way, that will be on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, at 7:11:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. That will be the precise moment of the Baseball Equinox, that dot on the baseball calendar when we are equidistant between the last play of last year (Starling Marte’s groundout to end our toe-dip into postseason waters at 10:13 PM on October 9) and the first pitch of next year (scheduled for March 30, 4:10 PM at Marlins Park, presumably out of the right hand of Sandy Alcantra, but you never know). When you haven’t won everything you’ve wanted to win, it’s never too soon for next year. But let’s enjoy the remainder of this year and the ringing in of the new year as long as they await us. Let’s think good thoughts of the Mets who are going, the Mets who are coming and the Mets who are, before we’re informed otherwise, perennial.

Happy Baseball Equinox, everyone, including Baltimore Orioles catcher James McCann.

The Immaculate Interception

It’s one thing to proceed through an offseason confident that the Mets aren’t “out” on any free agent in whom they have legitimate interest. It’s a different thing from the days of “we signed a hitter, so we probably have to scrounge for a pitcher,” and it’s a welcome departure from those days. It’s another thing altogether to wake up one morning and learn the Mets have gotten a free agent who you and the whole world concluded last week had agreed to terms with another team, pending a physical.

Ah, but in the Steve Cohen Metropolitan Universe, you can’t rule out that there might be means in what pends — and perhaps a conclusion to append via Cohen’s means.

I started thinking about Carlos Correa within the same thought bubble as the Mets late in the evening of December 13 when Ken Rosenthal reported the Mets were “showing interest” in the All-Star shortstop as their potential third baseman of the future. Correa, word had it, was being lured with whatever enormous sum Cohen would offer him to shift from his established position to play alongside his buddy Francisco Lindor, a setup akin to what was envisioned when we thought Javy Baez might stick around and play second next to Lindor. There’d be plenty of money, there’d be a chance to win, there’d be enough sense in the world to this emerging equation that you could almost begin to believe this could really happen.

Until slightly later in the evening when Jeff Passan threw cold water on Rosenthal’s steamy rumor by scooping the field on Correa’s destination of choice: San Francisco. It wasn’t midnight December 14 when we learned the Giants consented to commit $350 million over 13 years to the erstwhile Astro and Twin, and Correa consented to accept it. The money has no meaning to regular people. It’s all beyond our fathoming. The years we can try to understand as fans. That’s a lot of years. That’s a player who signed in 2010 completing his contract in 2022. Seen a whole lot of that in your life as a Mets fan?

The details were San Francisco’s business and the Giants fans’ worry once news spread that Correa would play for them. The thought bubble in these parts popped. On to ruminating over smaller if still meaningful moves like signing catcher Omar Narvaez and bringing back Adam Ottavino to fortify the late innings and clicking on the links for Kodai Senga’s and Justin Verlander’s introductory press conferences. Those filled pretty compelling thought bubbles, too.

Then one morning, about a week after you put Carlos Correa out of your mind, you wake up and hear the Mets are signing Carlos Correa. One fewer year, ‘x’ million dollars lopped off the total, but still plenty of seasons and plenty on the payroll. You heard something about a West Coast presser being put off yesterday because of an issue related to that formality of physical but you didn’t think anything of it. You had Verlander. You had Senga. You had a revamped starting rotation and another catcher and enough reliable relievers to imagine leads wouldn’t get blown on the road to Diaz. You were reasonably content in winter.

Next thing you know, you’re ecstatic. Mostly ecstatic. Twelve years? From 2023 through 2034? How old will Correa be in 2034? How old will I be in 2034? A highly regarded shortstop moving to third base…wasn’t that the Jim Fregosi playbook? Others have done it more successfully more recently, yet certain events maintain a stubborn permanence in a fan’s consciousness. Fregosi was 51 years ago, and nobody gave up Nolan Ryan to get Carlos Correa. Nevertheless. Oh, and hold up: what happened with the physical or its aftermath in San Fran exactly?

Things that don’t worry me: the state of baseball if one owner happens to outspend the competition; the state of my favorite baseball team with its owner spending at a prodigious rate; what will become of the players who were considered likely to play what will now become Correa’s position. In order, there’s likely more money in baseball than we are capable of comprehending; Cohen seems able to juggle his obligations just fine, “luxury tax” included, thank you very much; and I liked what little I saw of Brett Baty after growing fond of Eduardo Escobar’s winning personality and occasional bursts of production, but we just got Carlos Correa. I’d see Carlos Correa in the postseason every year with Houston (even the notorious one) and would be informed continually that Carlos Correa was the bee’s knees. We now have his knees and the rest of him.

We have Correa and Lindor and McNeil and Alonso, and that’s just the infield. I’ve recently gone on at some length on behalf of both Nimmo and Marte, and they’re still here. A lotta pitching, as mentioned. The team that won in triple-digits last year, even allowing for individual ups and downs — and the inevitable pressing an everyday superstar does when he puts on a new uniform at a high price and consciously or otherwise wants to prove he’s worth every penny — certainly projects as no worse in 2023 than it was in 2022. It’s probably better. What that will mean when the Mets begin to play baseball games in the season ahead is to be determined. That’s always an accurate forecast. What that will mean from 2024 to infinity and beyond is completely unknown. Also a safe answer.

We didn’t have Carlos Correa when we shut our eyes last night. When we opened them in the light of day, we were informed we are about to have him. That happens when Steve Cohen owns the New York Mets. That’s as good a reason as any to get out of bed on December 21.

National League Town convened to discuss what happens when the owner of the New York Mets swoops in and intercepts a free agent who’s suddenly there for the taking and paying. You can listen to that lively discussion here or just about any podcast platform.