- Faith and Fear in Flushing - https://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Why I Was Asking

There are four teams in Mets history that are instantly iconic, teams that don’t require an introduction to the world at large. The years they represent are de facto brands when you’re talking baseball with those who know baseball.

The 1962 Mets.
The 1969 Mets.
The 1973 Mets.
The 1986 Mets.

Bring any of those up to somebody who isn’t a Mets fan and chances are very good they’ll have at least an idea of who and what you’re talking about.

The Mets celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Mets’ Miracle world championship in 2009 and the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Mets’ Dominant world championship in 2006 by gathering most of the players from those teams and honoring them at Citi Field and Shea Stadium, respectively. The Mets didn’t invite the living members of the 1962 Original Mets back in 2012 (perhaps for fear of eliciting unflattering comparisons) but they did wear a patch commemorating their 50th anniversary as a franchise and used the occasion to update their uniforms to better reflect their classic look.

For the 40th anniversary of the 1973 You Gotta Believe Mets, the team that roared from last place on August 30, to a division title on October 1 and a pennant on October 10, the Mets in 2013 handed out a deck of playing cards on August 3.

Mine was missing the 5 of diamonds.

I’ve been over the recent lack of organizational appreciation for 1973 before [1], but it still bothers me. It got me wondering if the 1973 Mets had gone just a wee bit further four decades earlier, would have they been given their historical due last year? There had been celebrations of the 1973 Mets in 1983, 1993 and 2003. It had been established that despite losing the World Series they were secure within the canon of Metsiana; that when you sat down to tell or listen to stories about the most famous of Mets teams — the iconic ones — they would always be in the conversation. The 1973 Mets, like those of 1962, 1969 and 1986 were long ago chiseled onto the face of Mount RushMora.

Yet the Mets in 2013 all but ignored 1973.

And the Mets in 2010 paid the shortest of shrift [2] to the 2000 National League champions, the only National League champions the Mets have produced in the past quarter-century.

And the Mets in 2009 paid no homage to the 1999 Wild Card & National League Division Series winners, whose bulkily described feats by no means detract from their status as the most beloved Met ensemble since 1986.

And the Mets in 1998 and 2008 didn’t as much as tip a cap to the 1988 National League Eastern Division champions, the club that finished the regular season with a 15-game bulge over their closest opponents and the second-highest winning percentage in team history.

And, if form holds, the Mets will never lift a finger to officially recall the 2006 National League East champions, the team that broke an 18-year first-place drought and energized Shea Stadium like crazy across the spring, the summer and the early fall.

What, I wondered, does a team have to do to be taken to heart by a franchise that isn’t exactly dripping in postseason experiences? Is it really no longer enough to have given millions of New Yorkers an indelible thrill ride? Is making the playoffs that slight an accomplishment in the new historical math? Are the rare teams that made you open your gates beyond the first week of October truly not worthy of a “thank you” every ten or so years? Are the fans who adored those teams not worth indulging for roughly one home date out of every 810?

Is it really as simple as we only care about the big prize? That if all you could bring us is a silver or bronze from the final rounds of autumnal competition, that lesser medal should be shoved in a drawer forever more?

In case you were wondering, that’s why I asked the question the other day [3] that apparently struck some sort of chord in the Mets fan soul, because we haven’t had anything on Faith and Fear generate this much response since Johan Santana struck out David Freese [4]. Usually the Mets have to blow an enormous September lead [5], fire a manager in the dead of night [6], stand by innocently as their two most despised rivals engage each other’s skills [7] or play ball while an international terrorist is hunted down and killed [8] to get people really going around here.

This was something else altogether. This was you, like me, not forgetting that we are the sum of all the seasons that have come before the one that’s coming together at present…especially the ones that came oh so close to paying off in spades that it didn’t seem silly to ask which one you most deeply wished had hit the historical jackpot.

Thanks again to all who offered a choice for the New York Mets’ retroactive third world championship [3] or, for that matter, their multiple choices. Yesterday we published a de facto oral history of the five postseasons when the Mets didn’t win the World Series [9]. Today, before tossing in my nickel’s worth, I’ll share a few sentiments that didn’t quite answer the question that was posed but I enjoyed reading nonetheless.

Like those belonging to the less decisive:

• “This is a beautiful thing to think about. Although, what Met-respecting fan could pick anything other than ’99 or ’00?”

• “Gotta go with 2006. Was at Game 7. 20-year anniversary synergy would have been sweet. Or 2000…ultimate trump card…argh.”

• “Split between ’99 and ’06: 2 authentically great teams (nothing against other 3 yrs) + history (back from 3-0 down vs Braves, Endy). It’s so easy, too! Benitez gets 2 more outs in the 10th, Valentin brings home the run from 3rd with 1 out in the 6th, etc.”

• “(2000 pitching + 1999 offense) ^ (1999 defense) = juggernaut.”

• “’99 is the best team, ’06 was better than its opponents, ’73 = 2 rings for Seaver in 2 CY years, 2000 means Yankees lose. Tough…”

• “I wonder if you’d be surprised if I told you it’s a tie, ’73 & ’88. Both years we thought it was it beginning. It was really the end.”

• “I’d have to take either ’99 or 2000…loved that team…the greatest IF, Olerud and Robin and of course the Monster outta the cage…”

• “’88 for nostalgia, ’06 for pain relief.”

• “2006 for my 13 year-old-son. 1988 for my brother. 1999 for the Bellerose Boys who I watched every game with. 2000 for all that’s right with the world. 1973 for me.”

In addition, as I read the FAFIF comments section as well as the responses on Facebook, Twitter, the Crane Pool Forum [10], a very fine blog [11] and in my own e-mail, I found a boomlet on behalf of non-nominated squads, particularly 1985. Those 98-win wonders were supported by the sense that one of the best Mets teams ever was robbed by being born too soon to take advantage of the Wild Card. As someone who, at 22, considered 1985 the season to which my entire life was leading [12], I sympathized. But I didn’t include it in the article because it seemed catapulting a non-playoff team from three games back in the division standings to a world championship required too much cosmic grace from the baseball gods.

I also found a write-in vote for 1962 that imagined “a ragtag team winning games right out of the box, brilliantly managed by an Old Perfesser seeking vengeance on the Yankees for blithely tossing him on his ear for the crime of reaching 70, vanquishing those self-same Yankees in October,” and concluded, “Oh, to have had that!”

Oh, indeed, to have had that. Despite having spent the Mets’ first season in utero, I wouldn’t mind having that in our backstory. A younger, newer fan, however, wasn’t quite as selfless and asked the third world championship be achieved “this year” — which would make it not at all retroactive — because then “I would get a chance to witness it first-hand.”

Nice sentiment for going-forward purposes, but that — as more than one English teacher liked to tell me — was not the assignment. Still, hats off to anybody who became a Mets fan after 2006 and hasn’t had as much as a spoonful of postseason to tide him over.

One reader agonized more than most of his fellow fans because he was worried about disrupting the Mets’ time-space continuum. He wrote, “I’m still torn on which team to choose. Every one except for the 1999 team saw the franchise move toward rock bottom after losing in the playoffs.” Eventually, citing the havoc wrought in Back To The Future 2, he decided that the potential ripple effects of tinkering with the past were too daunting and took a pass on the whole idea.

Somebody else drove a bullpen cart through my loophole that you were welcome to speculate about how succeeding Met fortunes might be affected by the historical do-over, but you had to leave 1969 and 1986 alone. I figured I was safe with that caveat since 1969 preceded all five seasons in question and a thirteen-year gap separated 1973 and 1986. But, this thought-provoking reader countered, if the Mets win in ’73 and consequently have their act together just a little more in the late ’70s, then maybe they don’t finish with the worst record in the National League in 1979 and then they don’t get to draft Darryl Strawberry in 1980…and where’s your undisturbed 1986 then? “I feel,” he admitted, “as if I’m now in one of those ‘who would win a fight between Aquaman and Wonder Woman?’ discussions.”

Point taken. (And if it’s 1974 Lynda Carter [13] vs. 2006 Vincent Chase [14], Wonder Woman, I sure hope.)

A few of you worried Mike Hampton being persuaded to stay at Shea by a 2000 world championship would mean no compensation pick in 2001, thus meaning no David Wright selected with that pick. On the other hand, someone was willing to ponder an “unscrambling of the eggs” to such an extent that “maybe at the private owner’s party” following the 1999 world championship, “Bernie Madoff gets drunk and comes clean.”

Somebody else preferred to know if we could instead pick a season to “toss in the wastebasket  forever” and then nominated two from the ’90s and three from the ’00s. Another reader suggested that if I really wanted to do over history, “How about the Mets don’t trade Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi [15]?” One fellow, while being very civil about it, copped to “this entire topic” making him “sick to my stomach”. And not surprisingly, someone played the old standard, “I’d say this guy has too much time on his hands,” though he was nice enough to leaven his dismissal with, “except he really does make inspiring use of it, doesn’t he?”

Hey, I couldn’t have done it without all of you. We don’t have too much time on our hands. We just don’t have enough Mets. Or enough Mets champions, apparently.

Yet we’re still here. We’re still rooting for the Mets, we’re still reading blogs about the Mets and Jason and I are still writing a blog about the Mets exactly nine years [16] after we started this one [17]. When we began, we had six postseason appearances and two world champions in our shared memory. Since February 16, 2005, we’ve upped the former number by one and the latter by none.

Yet we’re still here.

How great it would have been to have blogged a world championship on Faith and Fear in Flushing. It’s been great to have blogged the pair we have in Flashback form. It’s been great to revisit the near-misses as events and impulse have warranted. I wasn’t ten posts into my FAFIF life before I was pivoting from the present of February 25, 2005, and dwelling on what went wrong on October 9, 1988 [18]. Before that first year of blogging was over, I’d gone back over 1973, 1999 and 2000 with all manner of fine-toothed combs, too, making sure to leave each file open for further inspection.

But the playoff year I got the biggest kick writing about was the one I got to do while it was in progress — which is why 2006 has my vote in this non-binding celestial primary.

I thought there'd be more to this little display. [19]

I thought there’d be more to this little display.

I have some of the same reasons you who chose 2006 did. The most recent span of Mets baseball would have been more palatable, even delectable. Endy’s catch would have occurred in service to a transcendent cause. Called Strike Three and its lingering fallout [20] would have never occurred. New York would’ve been a better place to cheer. It was the perfect 20-year bookend to 1986. We’d remember a team that owned April through September more lovingly and frequently. El Duque would’ve come back from his calf injury and stymied the Tigers. Delgado would’ve gone deep. Chris Woodward or Julio Franco would’ve come off the bench and done something significant. Endy would’ve made another catch. Wagner would’ve gotten the last out and embraced Lo Duca. Wright would have a ring. Reyes would have a ring. Every Mets fan sentient that October would have the moral equivalent of a ring let alone a winter spent plucking ticker-tape out of our clothes.

On some level the same could be said for all the prematurely truncated playoff years preceding 2006. Undesirable results could’ve been reversed. The Yankees could’ve been overshadowed (a not insignificant factor for the 2000 crowd, I noticed). The one play or pitch or move that’s haunted the premises for too long could’ve been dispatched into the cornfield. Players with whom you empathize would’ve been rewarded. And the current Mets management would be forced to fully acknowledge something spectacular happened. If we could do over 1973 or 1988 or 1999 or 2000 (or 1985 or 1962), hell yes, let’s do it over.

But if I can only do over one that came so close, give me the one I could’ve blogged about on Faith and Fear in Flushing. Give me the one Jason could’ve blogged about on Faith and Fear in Flushing. Give me the one the best damn readers in all of Metsopotamia could’ve shared with us while it was happening. Give me one that would’ve stayed stuck in the collective consciousness for seasons to come, whether or not it kickstarted 2007 and 2008 toward greater heights (it certainly wouldn’t have made the subsequent seasons substantially worse).

Give us one in the general vicinity of now while I’m doing this. That would edge all other factors. I’m a Mets fan and blogger since this date in 2005. The two are hopelessly (or should that be hopefully?) intertwined.

I truly loved the 2006 Mets, though not necessarily more than the other seasons in question. Nothing could top 1999 for My Favorite Met Year [21] consideration, which may be why I’m willing to deny it a theoretical world championship. How could something I love more than any other thing get any better? With two more NLCS wins over the Braves and a World Series won against the Yankees, of course, but you know what I mean. It’s not that I’m at peace with how those playoffs ended, exactly. Yesterday, in a bit of correspondence with someone who’d just read the Do-Over post, I found myself right back on the razor’s edge of the early morning hours of October 20, 1999:

“I would’ve started Reed in Game Six — two days’ rest would not have bothered him after throwing 77 pitches in Game Four, three nights earlier — and reserved Leiter for Game Seven; that’s not hindsight, that was my plan right after Ventura’s ball went deep enough to score Cedeño from third. Then I would’ve opened the World Series with Rogers, who was unbeatable at Shea.”

So no, I have not found inner peace 14 years and four months later, even if 1999 is the non-championship team whose journey (if not destination) strikes me as the most satisfying. I learned to live with how 1999 turned out. Though its ghosts would come out of the woodwork 32 years after the fact [22], I learned to live with 1973’s one-game shortfall, which seems a pittance compared to the un-Believable bounty of happiness that preceded it. Though I hate that we didn’t win the only Subway Series in which we ever played…let’s just say that although I always thought losing the World Series to the Yankees would be the end of the world, it wasn’t. It only felt like it. [23] The sun came up on consecutive mornings, somehow, and the earth continued its spinning unabated. 1988 is still a disgusting outcome, but at least it taught me something about hubris and expectations. I guess.

There are valuable lessons embedded into my faith not being fully rewarded in 1973, 1988, 1999 and 2000 and I can still appreciate the successes they let me revel in en route to the edge of the cliff from whence the Mets and I plunged together. I appreciate the 97 wins and NLDS sweep from eight years ago as well, yet other than “don’t let your setup man get into a cab late at night in Miami” and “have more starting pitching in case two of your projected starters go down with injuries at the last minute,” I don’t know what the lesson was from 2006’s unfinished symphony [24]. I was ready for another world championship. I was ready from April onward. I was ready to skip upstairs to this very spot and write about what it meant to have secured the third world championship in New York Mets history.

I’m still ready. I hope you’ll be here when I get that opportunity.