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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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#2 In N.L. East!

Nice jersey, Dave.

Nice jersey, Dave.

David Letterman built an impressive ratings lead once he moved from 12:35 AM on NBC and took over the 11:35 PM time slot on CBS in late August of 1993. All felt right with the comedic if not baseball world as that particular summer turned to fall. The guy who deserved to host The Tonight Show was kicking the ass of the pretender who wound up with the job. What Dave was doing on The Late Show was better, and I don’t just mean comedically. He took himself, his crew, his sensibility, his “brand” and built something from scratch that made Tonight irrelevant both critically and competitively.

Half of that equation didn’t last. The Jay Leno version of The Tonight Show never much improved, but the ratings flipped and eventually Letterman fell behind in the Nielsen standings. Dave couldn’t keep up with Jay and he also trailed Ted Koppel on Nightline. When NBC erected a billboard in Times Square to brag that their man was “#1 In Late Night!” CBS (at Dave’s urging) responded that theirs was “#3 In Late Night!

Even Dave’s billboard was funnier.

The fleeting baseball point, if you haven’t inferred it coming down Broadway, is that the 2015 Mets are no longer #1 in the N.L. East. They topped the division for more than a month, but it didn’t last. Maybe it couldn’t last. The Washington Nationals have a powerhouse lineup, almost as strong as the one NBC fielded in prime time by the mid-1990s. Their ratings were bound to surge.

The Mets? They’re still the Mets. They’re still first in our hearts, despite nights like Wednesday, when it was obvious they were so looking forward to watching Letterman’s finale that they were distracted from the business at hand, a game they lost to St. Louis by the official score of a forfeit. When Bartolo Colon a) can’t parlay a ten-foot E-2 and advancement to second and third into a run because he doesn’t know from tagging up and b) finally walks a batter, you know it’s not their night.

By August 30, 1993, when Dave debuted on CBS, few nights of the season joined already in progress had belonged to the Mets. A victory over the Astros that Monday evening at Shea lifted their record to 46-85. They pulled to within 35 games of first place with the win.

Yes, that kind of year, one that had drawn decreasing amounts of attention, until a familiar voice spoke up. David Letterman, who’d been off the air for the two months when the Mets were definitively crashing through the floor of ineptitude and plunging into obscurity, had an instant, easy New York-based target for his nightly monologues and so forth. The 1993 Mets would no longer be allowed to fade into the offseason in private. In the last weeks of their conscious life, they were repositioned as a national joke.

Thus, Top 10 New York Mets Excuses, as broadcast by the host who was still very much #1 IN LATE NIGHT! on September 23, 1993.

10. All those empty seats are distracting
9. Part of a grand plan to make Florida Marlins overconfident next year
8. Pitchers on other teams throw the ball really fast!
7. Two words: Guaranteed contracts
6. Mistake to let Don Knotts bat cleanup
5. Play so much golf during season thought lowest score wins
4. Baseballs harder to throw than explosives
3. Drank Slurpee too fast; got a “brain-freeze”
2. Didn’t scratch themselves enough
1. No one named “Mookie”

In spirit if not fact, you couldn’t say any of this wasn’t accurate. The Mets’ record was 52-100 by then — were you really going to feel compelled to argue that Joe Orsulak and not Don Knotts was their previous game’s cleanup hitter?

I was a little miffed that Dave kept batting at the Mets piñata in the years to come, considering that no Mets team in what remained of his brilliant tenure was ever as awful as the one from 1993. Besides, I still remembered Dave winning a bet with the testy mayor of Houston in October of 1986 (an enormous photo of Mookie Wilson was supposed to be displayed at their city hall). I still remembered being giddily exhausted from having witnessed a tickertape parade on 10/28/86, listening to Bill Wendell introduce that night’s show as coming from “New York, home of the World Champion New York Mets,” and thinking that was the first time I’d heard a “straight” identification of Late Night’s hometown in the opening credits. I still remembered Dave, for no particular reason, setting up a projection screen in the Shea Stadium parking lot and beaming his show live to Flushing at 5:30 one summer afternoon when the Mets were out of town.

C’mon Dave, I thought as he took whack after whack at the perennially unsuccessful Mets, go easy on us. It wasn’t that long ago we were sort of there for each other.

But I couldn’t stay mad. He was Dave. He was the best. Besides, he had me on his show.

Albeit as a prop.

This was also in 1993, the first half of the year, when he was still the host of Late Night, though it was known that would be ending soon. This unfolded amidst the storm of coverage regarding the possibility Dave might replace Jay. Jay had succeeded Johnny Carson the previous May and it had been a debacle. Dave’s contract was running out. NBC wanted to keep him in literally the worst way — first by convincing him he should stay at 12:35, then by having him cover up their initial mistake for them.

Because the Late Night mind was always working, even under extraordinary stress, somebody there had an idea. Dave wasn’t doing traditional press…but what if he made his own kind of media tour?

With the conceit that he just wasn’t getting enough publicity, Dave’s people arranged for him to be on the cover of five aficionado/trade magazines you never would have heard of unless you had a very good reason to. One of them was the one I worked for.

We were contacted. Dave’s producer asked our editor-in-chief if he’d be interested in appearing. To our editor-in-chief’s everlasting credit, he asked if we could bring two editors: him and me. The producer said yes. We were also asked to bring a photographer or at least a camera to shoot him for our cover.

The bit was postponed once, what with Dave’s contractual limbo obscuring everything else at that moment, but we were rebooked once the dust settled. We were given a new date. I groaned when I realized I was scheduled to report for jury duty that day. I wrote a pleading letter to the judicial jurisdiction in question and asked for my own postponement in light of this singular opportunity. Bureaucracy had a heart and let me come later in the month.

Having been legally cleared to attend, I engaged the services of a legitimate fashion photographer, the husband of my wife’s co-worker. We were going to shoot David Letterman for the cover of Beverage World and were taking no chances on quality. Then we gathered four items: a curly straw (the photographer’s idea); a clear glass (from a set Stephanie and I had been given when we were married a little more than a year before); a can of a leading national brand of cola (we couldn’t show favoritism, which is why we needed the glass) and a custom-made BEVERAGE WORLD softball jersey. It had nothing to do with our company softball team. One of our advertisers made promotional items and the salesman whose account it was asked, in essence, “pretty please…?”

Come the big day, we gathered up our gear, ourselves and an offering for Dave (an assortment of oddball beverages they should feel free to use in Supermarket Finds, including a Lawrence Taylor sports drink which featured LT’s face on the label, which I was always disappointed didn’t come in a 56-pack) and alighted to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Security signed us in and directed us to a dimly lit room that reminded me of the basement we had in our house when I was growing up. The segment producer met us there, allowed us to set up and, all of a sudden, we had our brush with greatness.

Dave walked in.

Dave. David Letterman. David Letterman whom I’d been watching since 1982. David Letterman who warmed my heart every time he made non sequitur reference to a “lovely beverage”. It was a natural that he and his staff chose us as one of the five magazines whose cover he’d grace. (The others, in case you’re interested, were Heavy Duty Trucking, Convenience Store News, Dog World and Cats.)

A few things I noticed right away: Dave was incredibly tall; Dave was incredibly tan in winter, having just returned from a post-CBS announcement vacation in sunny Bermuda; Dave hadn’t shaved; Dave was cordial; Dave introduced himself by name because how would have we known who he was otherwise?

From there, Dave put himself in our hands. We gave him the softball jersey. He threw it on over his shirt and tie and buttoned it up. We asked him to hold the glass with the unidentified cola and sip it through the curly straw. He immediately identified which leading brand it was. Whatever our photographer asked for in the way of posing, he went with. Our photographer shot Dave. Dave’s crew shot our photographer shooting Dave.

When the photo session was over, it was Late Night’s turn to use my colleague and me as props. We stood on either side of Dave and Dave riffed on beverages for several minutes. He wanted to know if 7UP was planning on “going brown” (which only true BevHeads by then recalled had happened in 1988 with 7UP Gold). He looked at me and told me it appeared I enjoyed a few beverages. I laughed. I knew enough not to attempt to match wits. Dave had enough wits for the three of us.

The segment producer decided they had enough and that was that. Dave shook each of our hands again, and was off, probably to prepare to knock out the next wacky magazine interaction. This was Monday, when they taped their bits. Everybody was on a schedule. We thanked Dave profusely. We thanked his crew profusely. We packed up our stuff. We left behind our Lawrence Taylor sports drink.

Not quite three months later, we were alerted we should watch the episode of April 30. It was our episode. We were part of a montage. Our names were on the screen. Dave was shown saying something funny to us. My colleague and I laughed. Dave’s BEVERAGE WORLD softball jersey was on television for the regular world to see. All the photo shoots were excerpted. At the end, each of the magazine covers came spiraling onto the screen. Ours was saved for last and landed in the middle, perhaps a testament to the value of hiring a fashion photographer, deploying an expert art director and putting some thought into context.

The other magazines were like, “Uh, here’s David Letterman on our cover for some reason.” We had serendipity on our side and decided to run with it. See, Dave was on the cover of our March issue, and the March issue of Beverage World was annually our Top Ten issue, the one where we published our rankings of the best-selling beverages in the U.S.A. I had written a Top 10 Reasons David Letterman is on the cover of this month’s Beverage World list to accompany the statistical feature. I’d share some of it with you, but little of it is funny 22 years later unless you were in the beverage business 22 years ago.

On the night of April 30, 1993, when I was a mostly silent and utterly cheerful component of David Letterman’s trademark “found comedy,” the New York Mets were 8-13. We didn’t yet know just how comical they were going to be by the time our host arrived at CBS. Dave, meanwhile, just kept getting better at what he did until he finally decided to stop in 2015, the night the Mets could no longer brag they were #1.

11 comments to #2 In N.L. East!

  • Michael G.

    Wow, what a story, Greg. You’re lucky you had a chance to interact with Dave. Last night’s final episode was bittersweet. This guy is incredibly special in so many ways. As he pointed out, though, it’s not his funeral. We can maybe hope that he’ll reappear in some way at some point on the public scene. But his singular role as an utterly engaging, intelligent and hilarious nightly presence will be sorely missed. As for that top 10 list, the ’93 Mets deserved to be roasted.

  • dmg

    fantastic story!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Ron Darling, ex-pitcher/athlete and fierce competitor, was clearly disgusted with Colon’s Do-si-do on and off third base, costing the Mets a run. “It’s funny until it’s not funny”, said Ron. Of course by the 5th inning it would have had to have happened nine more times for it to matter.

    Fortunately David Letterman was hardly ever Not Funny. Thanks for the story.

  • Paul Leone

    No mention of the creative soul who tirelessly tried to tone down Dave’s “Rock Lobster” sunburn in PhotoShop. I am not going to mention any names but someone is having a hissy fit.

    • Y’know what? When the hissy fit is justified, it’s justified. The record has been revised above.

      Besides, it was worth it just to make you read a baseball blog.

  • Dave

    I have a good Letterman/Mets story. In early 86, we got tickets to see a future show…taping was 5pm on 9/17/86. As the date approaches, so too was the Mets clinching the NL East. We drove to Philly 2 days earlier with a magic number of 2, but Sid got shelled and we drove back home with no clincher.

    Phils lose the next day while the Mets were off, magic number down to 1. We say screw it, take the day off. Drive out to Shea and buy 2 of the last tickets left, leave the car in the Shea lot, take the 7 into midtown, watch Dave tape his show (having tickets was not a guarantee of getting in, but we lucked out). Get back on the train, go watch the Mets clinch. Good day.

    And get married 10 days later. Good year.

  • Tim H

    Greg, your mention of Don Knotts woke me up to the fact that that “Late Show” on September 23, 1993 was the very first one I attended. I did some quick online sleuthing and came up with this recap from a book entitled The Definitive Andy Griffith Show Reference:

    During the taping of the September 23, 1993, edition of Late Show with David Letterman, Don was sitting in the audience. Dave began reading “The Top 10 New York Mets Excuses for Losing Over 100 Games This Season.” During excuse #3, Don was shown drinking a Slurpee and getting a “brain freeze.” After Dave read excuse #6, “Mistake to let Don Knotts Bat Clean-up,” Don pretended to be offended and left the studio.

    Yeah, Dave was the best. I stopped by the area the last two nights and got some great photos. In fact, last evening — the LAST evening — I got to shake Jim Carrey’s hand while he was mixing it up with the crowd.

    Great fun! But I will miss Dave.

  • Matthew

    Skip ahead to about the 4:50 mark for a taste of the vocal talents of the 1969 Mets on “Dave’s record collection”

  • Guy K.

    The Mets and David Letterman: Both far better in the 1980s than they have ever been since.

  • SkillSetsMets

    Loved the Letterman “Dave’s Record Collection” bit for the Amazins’ and the old-time NBC Applause Meter!

  • Todd Cooper

    I still remember our love of David Letterman in high school and the stories of you hanging out at nbc. Good you got to meet the comic genius although he unecessarily ripped the Mets. Did not know you are also a beverage aficionado.