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What a Load of Shirt

I was thinking about t-shirts before Jeff Wilpon hung one in every Met’s locker today. On Friday I finally got around to enhancing my t-shirt drawers with Super Bowl XLVI wear. Meant to run right out after the Giants won and stock up…but I didn’t. That was all right for two reasons:

1) When I finally got around to going to Mo’s, the prices were reduced dramatically. Modell’s over-order? Perhaps they need the space for Linsanity merchandise (still full-priced)? Whatever, I got my bargains.

2) As I expected, my glow from the Giants’ victory had dimmed over the three weeks since it occurred. It was bound to happen since football tends to fall from my radar as soon as the last one is put away. The Giants had their parade, and suddenly (for the first time in about ten years) I was watching the Knicks. Then I was mourning Gary Carter. Then it was Spring. Yet once in the store, being assaulted by shirt after shirt declaring my favorite team in a given sport — even if it’s not my favorite sport — reignited my spirits all over again. “Hey, that’s right! I root for a world champion in something! Ooh, only ten bucks!”

I love my Giants Super Bowl shirts and am wearing one proudly right now. But I’d rather be able to buy a “Champions” shirt that says Mets…and I’m not looking for another throwback model.

As it happened, I plucked out of my drawer over the weekend one of my 2006 N.L. East Champion shirts, the only one that remains in rotation. It still fits and the Mets are still 2006 N.L. East Champions, so despite some misgivings about it having become an unintentional throwback, I keep it among the active and put it on a few times a year. It’s less and less current and taunts me a little more with every wearing, but I can’t consign it to the shelf of history. Even if it’s a reminder of the 2006 followup shirts that were never commercially distributed. Even if it almost inexplicably lists Dave Williams on the back.

Now the Mets have one new shirt apiece. You may have read or heard the Mets COO, in a motivational moment, gave every one of his athlete-employees a tee with a “U” on the front [1]. No, not to indicate the shirt is pareve, but to invoke Underdog.

Or as probably all of the players wondered, “Who?”

The sentiment is supposed to be the Mets are underdogs, like that eminently rootable cartoon pup from the 1960s who only appears to be humble and lovable Shoeshine Boy, but in reality is a superhero bent on saving Sweet Polly Purebred from Riff Raff and Simon Bar Sinister and whatever vile villainy they prepare to pull. I found Underdog quite the hoot when I was five or six. The Simpsons got a big laugh out of how ancient and obscure the character and the series were in 1990.

So anyway, the Mets of 2012 are almost universally picked to finish last, which makes them, in the sporting sense, underdogs. And Jeff Wilpon, who is nothing if not a man of the people, arranged for these shirts to…well, now I’m lost. They’re underdogs, as Mets teams often have been over their half-century of existence, and Underdog would wind up the winner in his adventures…

I’m still lost.

It wasn’t that the villains doubted Underdog’s ability to fight them when he showed up with his speed of lightning and roar of thunder (both of which the Mets lineup could use). When Underdog appeared, it was more or less all over for his rivals. The Mets, on the other hand/paw, won’t step into a phone booth and put on their superhero costumes. They’re not humble and lovable Shoeshine Boys, no matter how affable and disregarded they may be. They’re the Mets. They’re underdogs because they’re undermanned.

Which makes J. Wilpon’s message what exactly? That everybody doubts them? That nobody knows their true identity? That if we can just channel that doubt into can-do spirit, boy won’t those bastards from Philadelphia to Miami be surprised?

Knute Rockne can rest easy. His motivational mantle is not about to be usurped.

Thirty-three years ago, in a spring much bleaker than this one, the Mets sought inspiration from a t-shirt. John Stearns ordered garments emblazoned with a slogan he (and maybe only he) fervently believed:


Every Met got one. Then, to raise the stakes, Stearns, who did not take losing well, made a revision. He taped over “CAN” and replaced it with “WILL”.


The 1979 Mets, as always seems to be the upshot of these recollections, didn’t win much. But for the few days “WE CAN WIN” and “WE WILL WIN” made the papers, gosh, what a boost to the morale of the fan base. It was thrilling knowing one of our own took it upon himself to personally attempt to raise the sights of everybody in his clubhouse (oh how the newly acquired Richie Hebner must have rolled his eyes into a migraine that first week).

Jeff’s shirt seems more like the wearable equivalent of the morale-boosting memo everybody in the office is supposed to pin prominently in his or her cube. It’s inane, but it’s the boss’s…or boss’s heir’s prerogative to do inane things. If it weren’t for saturation coverage of Spring Training and instantly transmitted backlash to anything Wilponian — much of the backlash richly deserved — these shirts would probably meet the same fate another set of shirts once met in a Met clubhouse.

It was the end of 1998 and Turk Wendell helped himself to a stack of tees the Mets wouldn’t be using. They declared the Mets the Wild Card winner in the National League. Don’t look for confirmation on the left field wall should you dynamically price yourself into Citi Field this season. The Mets lost their last five games and blew the playoff spot the shirts were meant to celebrate. Nobody was going to be spraying champagne on these babies. Nobody was going anywhere with them, save for Turk, who must have figured a shirt is a shirt.

“I’ll take one,” John Franco was witnessed to have said as he grabbed a shirt from Wendell’s pile. “I could use something to clean my house.”