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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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It Always Comes Back to Goodbye

Melancholy is apparently one of my favorite flavors, and it doesn’t take much for me to dig a pint of it out of the freezer and devour most of it in a single sitting. Take the news of October 4, 1981, announcing that Joe Torre had been fired as manager of the New York Mets. It sounds laughable from many moons down the road to think a Mets fan found that move sad, what with Torre having become our bête noire in different roles in ensuing decades, but by 1981, we’d been living with Joe as our own for a long time, first as a player who’d come home to Brooklyn, then as a manager doing his darnedest to lift Queens out of its morass. Torre’s minions had indeed given us a couple of abbreviated runs at respectability, the second of them only recently truncated during the just-completed split-season demi-pennant race. Joe Torre was fired and I was bummed about what had been snuffed out.

It probably didn’t hurt the framing of my mood that there was a song gaining radio airplay that seemed written to encapsulate the Met moment at hand, “Just Once” by Quincy Jones. Except Quincy Jones didn’t sing it. His vocalist, initially unbilled by disc jockeys but eventually famous in his own right, was James Ingram. Ingram’s baritone communicated perfectly the sadness I was feeling:

Just once
Can we find a way
To finally make it right
To make the magic last
For more than just one night

The magic James sang about translated in my ears as The Magic is Back, the signature Met phrase of the Joe Torre Era. And “just one night”? If we had to boil it down to one, that would have to be the night of June 14, 1980. Steve Henderson hit a game-winning home run to bring the Mets all the way back from a 6-0 deficit, inching us ever closer to .500 and all those teams we were always lagging behind. That “just one night” had a sequel of sorts, the Sunday afternoon of September 20, 1981, two weeks before Torre was canned. Henderson had been traded for Dave Kingman in Spring Training but rookie Mookie Wilson was here to stay and he socked a two-run homer off Bruce Sutter to beat the Cardinals, 7-6, in that ephemeral chimera of a lunge at half a division title. It was the same score by which Henderson had bested Allen Ripley of the Giants, though the Mets had been down a mere 5-0 to St. Louis. Both moments were the essence of that silly Magic marketing campaign the Mets ran after ownership changed hands. It was silly, but I bought into it with all my late-teens heart and soul.

I thought about all that when I learned James Ingram died on January 29, 2019. I thought about those summers when the resolutely crummy Mets of 1977, 1978 and 1979 were determined to be something better in 1980 and 1981. I thought about Tom Hausman, the middle reliever I considered the Most Valuable Met of 1980 while the best part of 1980 was in progress. When Henderson hit that home run, it was Hausman who was warming up in the bullpen. He caught the ball. Four nights earlier versus the Dodgers, same homestand, Tom threw five innings of scoreless relief in another come-from-behind Magic-type victory. Hausman posted an outing of four-and-two-thirds in relief to beat the Pirates four days before that. In the week prior to the Fourth of July, he’d add three innings in Philadelphia for a save and another five from the pen to beat first-place Montreal. I thought about all that when I learned Tom Hausman died on January 16, 2019.

I thought about those 1980 Mets again later in 2019, when I learned that Jose Moreno died on September 6. Moreno was a part of those Magic is Back Mets, same as Hausman…but not exactly. Funny how a fan’s memory can be granular nearly forty years after the fact. Whereas I associate Hausman with the thrilling comebacks of 1980, I associate Moreno mostly with the denouement of a year that proved Torre’s Mets had a long way to go. Jose’s big hit as a Met came on the afternoon of August 26, when he homered as a pinch-hitter for Mark Bomback in the fifth inning at Shea, closing the gap against the Padres to 4-3. Hausman replaced Bomback on the mound, but by this point in the season, the Magic wasn’t as palpable. Tom gave up a couple of runs, though so did the Padre pitchers. The game wound up going eighteen innings. The Mets lost, 8-6. They were now nine games under .500 and freefalling. Still, I was glad Moreno had finally come through. He’d been batting .161 entering the day.

I thought about a bottle cap when I learned Jerry Buchek died on January 2, 2019. I never saw the infielder when he played for the Mets in 1967 and 1968, but somewhere back there in time I saw his face on the liner of a Coca-Cola bottle cap. I think a neighbor gave it to me because that’s what neighbors gave little boys in America. The face of a baseball player was on the liner, part of a promotion to save and collect ’em all. I didn’t know the terms “liner” or “promotion” yet, and I was only beginning to grasp what baseball was. But it said “Mets” above his face, and I understood they were the local team, so I saved and collected this one bottle cap picturing Jerry Buchek. It’s the only one in the series I ever had. I didn’t save it forever, but it stayed with me. Now that I think about it, Jerry Buchek was probably the first baseball player whose picture I ever went out of my way to keep. He may have been the first baseball player I processed as a Met, even if I didn’t see him perform as such.

Jerry Buchek wasn’t the only Met who played before I was paying attention to have died in 2019. This summer, I wrote about the August 19 passing of Original Met lefty and eternal Met family man Al Jackson. I also had the honor of authoring his biography for SABR. One nugget I noticed after those pieces that I think is worth noting now is how often Al Jackson got into games not to pitch, but to run. Fifty-one times Mets managers sent Little Al into games to pinch-run. Considering he pitched in 184 games in two terms as a Met, Jackson had to have been, from an arm & legs standpoint, one of the most versatile players to ever wear the orange and blue.

Jackson played in the majors from 1959 to 1969. My first exposure to him was on a Topps baseball card from 1970. It was a Reds card, but I could tell, once I examined it a little, that his uniform top was that of the Mets. When we next saw him regularly in that kind of jersey, it was as bullpen coach on the 1999 and 2000 teams that went to the playoffs. We tend not to think about coaches too much, but in 2019, I thought about two coaches who left us.

Mel Stottlemyre was the pitching coach for the Mets for ten seasons, between 1984 to 1993, which means Stottlemyre shepherded a world championship staff, most of it coming into its own under his watch. Stottlemyre, who died on January 13, was pitching coach to Dwight Gooden when Dwight Gooden broke in and broke records. He tutored Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, Roger McDowell, every one of them a rookie in 1984 or 1985. He guided Bobby Ojeda and Jesse Orosco, too. Later, he had David Cone under his tutelage as Cone soared to stardom.

Twenty years after the 1986 Mets went all the way, the 2006 Mets seemed headed in the same direction. These guys hit their way to a division title and the seventh game of the NLCS. Their hitting coach was Rick Down, who died January 5. His hitters over two-and-a-half seasons with the Mets included David Wright, Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. Every one of them had a banner season in 2006. I don’t know how much of the great hitting was attributable to Down, just as I don’t know how much of the great pitching c. 1986 was attributable to Stottlemyre — Jim Bouton, who died on July 10, let us know in Ball Four that not every big league coach is necessarily a fount of wisdom — but I do know those guys showed up in the postseason as part of two of the greatest Mets teams I ever saw.

I didn’t see Larry Foss, who died on June 15, 2019, pitch for the Mets at all. There’s a very reasonable explanation for my dereliction of duties where his five games as a Met are concerned. They all occurred more than three months before I was born. The first of Foss’s outings for Casey Stengel came on September 10, 1962, the last of them on September 17. Five days later, Ed Kranepool made his major league debut. Larry was the 44th-ever Met, Eddie the 45th. It’s something to think about somebody being, among other things in his life, the last Met to become a Met before Ed Kranepool became a Met.

Bob Friend, who died on February 3, 2019, was already a celebrated pitcher when he came to the Mets in the middle of 1966. For us, he racked up the final five of his 197 big league victories. Friend’s last appearance came on September 24, thirteen days after the debut of Nolan Ryan, who’d go on to notch 324 wins of his own. So, if you think about it, the 1966 Mets may have won only 66 games (albeit the most in their history to date), yet they got 14 starts out of two righties who overlapped to win, between them, 521 games.

Just as Bob Friend was better known for being a Pittsburgh Pirate, Pumpsie Green, who died on July 17, 2019, was most famous for being the Boston Red Sox player to break that franchise’s color barrier. Elijah Jerry Green first played for Boston on July 21, 1959, almost exactly sixty years before his passing and, mind-bogglingly, more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Dodgers. Pumpsie’s career ended with seventeen games on the 1963 Mets. Jimmy Breslin wrote in Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, “When Pumpsie Green takes the field for the Mets, anybody who does not stand up and root for him and root hard, simply has no taste for the good life.” In his first three games for New York, he went 5-for-7, so let us remember Mr. Green not just as a baseball pioneer but as a .714 hitter.

Ted Lepcio, who died on December 11, 2019, missed his chance to be fully part of the fun immortalized by the likes of Breslin. Fifteen days after the expansion draft, on October 25, 1961, the Mets signed Lepcio, an available infielder of the mostly American League variety since 1952, technically making him their first free agent acquisition. (Tom Hausman, incidentally, became the first free agent the Mets ever signed in the modern Marvin Miller sense of free agency when he voluntarily joined our ranks on November 21, 1977.) Despite coming off a .167 season with the White Sox and Twins, Lepcio had to figure he had a pretty good shot at making this brand new team in the senior circuit. Yet as the legendary worst team expansion could concoct was coalescing, Lepcio was left out. March was over, Opening Day was approaching and Ted had gotten only two innings of exhibition game action in, hardly enough time to make an impression on Casey Stengel.

According to Leonard Shecter in Once Upon the Polo Grounds, Lepcio declined to confront his manager. “The hell with that,” Ted said. “He knows I’m here. I’m not going to go begging him to play me.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, apparently, for Lepcio was released on April 6, four days before the Mets were scheduled to materialize as a real, live ballclub. Ted would never play professional baseball again, but as Shecter wrote in 1970, “by now he must be remembering that terrible spring with fondness. It isn’t everybody who was once almost a Met.”

Gary Kolb, who died on July 3, 2019, was definitely a Met, traded here the Milwaukee Braves middle of the 1965 season. After 40 games for us in ’65 and all of 1966 with Jacksonville (where he played alongside 21-year-old Tom Seaver), the outfielder was dealt in tandem with Dennis Ribant to Pittsburgh for Don Bosch and Don Cardwell. Bosch may not have panned out as the Mets’ center fielder of the future, but Cardwell proved essential to the pitching depth of the 1969 Mets, meaning that on some level, journeyman Kolb did, too.

Joe Grzenda, who died on July 12, 2019, was mostly an interesting spelling on a 1972 Cardinals baseball card to me when I was a kid. In 1967, he pitched in eleven games as a Met and registered a good-looking 2.16 ERA. Sammy Taylor, who died on October 8, 2019, I have to confess I’ve often conflated with Sammy Drake. They were both members of the 1962 Mets. Drake was an infielder who I always think was a catcher because Taylor was a catcher. Sammy Taylor caught 49 games for the ’62 Mets and 13 more for the ’63 Mets. Sammy Taylor is not to be confused with Hawk Taylor, who caught 101 games for the Mets between 1964 and 1967.

You can’t blame a kid for not necessarily keeping straight which Bob Johnson who had once been a Met was which. I saw Bob Johnson the pitcher win the deciding game of the 1971 NLCS for the Pirates, vaulting them toward their world championship. He was a September callup on the 1969 Mets, not to be confused (even if he occasionally was) with the Bob Johnson, who died on October 9, 2019. The latter Johnson was an infielder for the 1967 Mets, a season after earning a World Series ring with the 1966 Orioles. Upon his teammate’s passing, Jim Palmer tweeted that Johnson was “one of the ‘good guys’!”

Jim Palmer is today a teammate of the aforementioned Nolan Ryan in the Hall of Fame. No Mets fan can get very far into Ryan’s story without reciting one name: Jim Fregosi, the All-Star shortstop from California for whom the Mets decided to trade the frustratingly erratic yet tantalizingly talented Ryan. More ambitiously regretful Mets fans mention that Bob Scheffing threw three other players into the Angel-bound jackpot. Two of them, Leroy Stanton and Francisco Estrada, are suddenly and recently gone.

Frank Estrada, who died on December 9, 2019, played in exactly one major league game, catching all of four innings for the Mets — the sixth through the ninth — in the first game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Expos at Shea, September 14, 1971. Ryan had one of his less promising starts, and Ron Taylor wasn’t fooling many batters in relief of the flamethrower, so, with the Mets losing, 12-0, Gil went to his bench. Art Shamsky pinch-hit for Taylor in the bottom of the fifth, and as long as he was bringing in a new pitcher (Charlie Williams), he changed his battery altogether, resting Jerry Grote, and inserting Estrada. The rookie batted for the first time in the seventh and singled off Bill Stoneman. He batted a second time in the ninth and made the last out of a 12-1 blowout. Frank’s batting average stood at .500 and would stand there forever more. In the winter, he’d be going to Anaheim, but never play for them or any other major league team.

Yet Frank was by no means done playing baseball. He’d go on to catch in the Mexican League for twenty years beyond his MLB experience, still active as late as 1994, at the age of 48 (one year after Ryan retired from the Rangers at 47). Estrada was revered as a manager in his native Mexico, winning three championships and gaining election to both the Mexican and Caribbean baseball halls of fame. No less a source than Mike Piazza sang his praises as a catching mentor.

Leroy Stanton, who died March 13, 2019, crafted a longer big league résumé, playing five seasons for the California Angels and two more for the Seattle Mariners, including the M’s first year, 1977, when he launched 27 homers and drove in 90 runs. As a fan of not quite nine, I clearly remember having mixed emotions about letting go of Ryan (who walked too many batters for my taste) and trusting Fregosi (a shortstop who was supposed to play third), but I was truly annoyed that the Mets decided Stanton was expendable (I can’t say I had any opinions about Estrada or the fourth Met we traded, Don Rose). Leroy played in only nine games between 1970 and 1971, but I guess he made an impression. He certainly did something unusual in Met annals. By doubling and tripling as a Met, but never homering, Leroy Stanton founded a club that to this day has admitted only four other members:

• Bob L. Miller (not to be confused with Bob G. Miller), who tripled for the Mets in 1962 but didn’t double for them until 1974. You can’t blame Miller for not getting around to it sooner since he was mostly playing for other teams in the interim.

• Herm Winningham, who was so impressive notching his extra-base hits — he batted .407 in a September 1984 cup of coffee — that he got himself traded for a future Hall of Famer, Gary Carter, as opposed to getting himself traded with a future Hall of Famer as Stanton did.

• Frank Tanana, a teammate of Stanton’s and Ryan’s with California, and, like Miller, a pitcher nearing the end of his line as a Met in 1993, but you wouldn’t know it by his bat. Tanana doubled the day after his 40th birthday and tripled the following month…and this was after wasting his flair for offense in the AL for twenty seasons.

• Shawn Hare, who with that kind of name you’d infer was no tortoise on the basepaths, but in 22 games as a 1994 Met, yet never attempted to steal a bag.

Stanton’s triple, a leadoff job at Shea, was both memorable and unfortunate in that as he arrived at third base in the first inning on September 28, 1970, the relay throw nailed him in the back of the head and he had to leave the game and end his year. Replacing him immediately as a pinch-runner and in center was Rod Gaspar, and pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth for Gaspar was Dave Marshall. The Mets were tied with the Cubs with two out and the potential winning run on third when Hoyt Wilhelm, yet another future Hall of Famer, walked Dave. Wayne Garrett then came up and blasted a three-run homer to win the game for the Mets, 6-3.

Dave Marshall, who died on June 6, 2019, was certainly in the right place that night, but in a broader sense, you had to question the outfielder’s timing. Marshall arrived on the Mets after the 1969 season, obtained from the Giants with Ray Sadecki for Jim Gosger and Bob Heise, and departed the Mets before the 1973 season, traded to San Diego for Al Severinsen (a pitcher who never played for the Mets or anybody else after the transaction). Missing the 1969 and 1973 seasons but being present and accounted for for the ones in between indicates a guy who was, as Dr. John might have put it, in the right place at the wrong time (Dr. John also died on June 6, 2019). But while he was a Met from 1970 to 1972, Marshall had his share of big hits coming off the bench for a team that always finished its seasons with a winning record.

The timing, at least on paper, looked better for John Strohmayer, who died on November 28, 2019. The Mets acquired Strohmayer from the Expos in July of 1973, just as the team was convincing itself it had to Believe. Strohmayer pitched out of the bullpen with Tug McGraw, though not successfully enough to make the postseason roster. Nevertheless, he could say forever more that he was a member of the National League champions. John could also say, as of 2009, that he was quite a winner, for during that year, as an educator in California, he was part of a group of school district employees that shared in a lottery purse of $76 million. Soon thereafter, John Strohmayer opted to become a retired educator.

One of Strohmayer’s teammates with the Expos was Ron Fairly, who died October 30, 2019. In Estrada’s only major league game, Fairly enjoyed a field day, doubling twice for four runs off Ryan and singling off Taylor for a fifth RBI. I saw Fairly play plenty for Montreal and remember it was sort of a big deal that he was named the Toronto Blue Jays’ first All-Star in 1977, given that he’d been in the majors since 1958. Yet when I see Ron Fairly, I will always see Ron Fairly preparing to take a throw in Spring Training. He’s wearing a Dodgers uniform top over a warmup jacket and has his glove in the air, even if he doesn’t appear anywhere near any given position. The lack of context for his defense is understandable. I’m seeing Ron Fairly on his 1967 Topps card, one of the first baseball cards I ever collected, from the cache my sister had gathered and bequeathed to me when it was clear to her that she no longer cared in the least about baseball. Fairly exists for me mostly on that card like Jerry Buchek exists for me mostly on that bottle cap.

One of my other original inherited 1967 cards was that of Bob Clemente. I learned to appreciate him in three-dimensional form a few years later as Roberto Clemente, one of the best players in baseball. I didn’t know why Topps had shortened his first name, but I did know that few outfielders were considered as great as Roberto. Our announcers praised him. National announcers praised him. When he died in a plane crash while coming to the aid of Nicaragua’s earthquake victims on New Year’s Eve 1972 (my tenth birthday), it was stunning. Harry Truman, whose office had sent me a thank you note for remembering what turned out to be his last birthday (his eighty-eighth, for which I impulsively wrote him a somewhat fawning letter), had died five days earlier. Gil Hodges, the only Mets manager I had ever known, died the previous April, two days shy of forty-eight years old. I understood death as a concept, but comprehending it as something that happened to people I admired was difficult.

Roberto Clemente was only 38. His wife, Vera Clemente, was only 31. She lived until 2019, when she died on November 16. Vera’s name became part of the fabric of baseball in the nearly 47 years she survived as Roberto’s widow. She picked up on his good work, heading the foundation that carried his name and made myriad appearances carrying forward the spirit of helping others that both obviously shared. In 1999, I had the great fortune to attend an MLB alumni dinner whose guests of honor were Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson (who died February 7, 2019) and Vera Clemente. The men spoke for themselves. Mrs. Clemente spoke for her husband and did so movingly and eloquently. I came away a great admirer or hers.

I can’t say I was ever an admirer or fan of Eric Cooper, the major league umpire who died on October 20, 2019. I’ve always thought that if you are aware of who an umpire is, he must have done something wrong that sticks with you. On June 12, 2005, Eric Cooper tossed Mike Piazza for griping about a strike call while Piazza was batting in the first inning at Shea. This was the season when every Piazza sighting was precious because we knew we wouldn’t be seeing him around regularly after 2005, and Cooper robbed a Sunday crowd of 43,582 of the chance to revel in the presence of the franchise’s reigning idol. After that, I could never hear Eric Cooper’s name during a game and not snarl publicly or privately at him. As late as the last week of the regular season he worked, I didn’t hesitate to apply epithets to Cooper.

“Kill the ump” and all that is good baseball fun within reason, but after I learned of Cooper’s passing, I felt like what I had called him in September — an idiot. I read all the sincerely nice things his colleagues had to say about him, thought about his family losing him at the age of 53 from a blood clot, and realized there is always going to be more than meets the eye to a guy on the field occasionally ruling incorrectly against your team. It’s tough to calibrate as a fan. We “hate” while knowing hate is a corrosive notion. Umpires probably realize it’s nothing personal against them and everything personal about our allegiances. Still, no reason to not once in a while pause and think amid our snarling and act like a person. I’m sorry to have been a jerk toward Eric Cooper and wish he was still on hand to make his calls. (The Piazza thing remains egregious, but that’s life.)

As a Mets fan who likes to read and lives to write, I take particular notice when somebody who covers the sport dies. The death of Marty Noble, on March 24, was a black armband occasion to me. He wasn’t writing that much for publication any longer, but the knower and stylist of all things Met for nearly fifty years had stayed with me as much as the best Met players he covered had. On November 6, another baseball writer, John Delcos, died. John’s was one of those names I knew for a while from being a consumer of baseball news without having read him. When he came to the Mets beat with the Gannett papers in the northern suburbs, I read his work online, and found him to be a solid reporter and writer.

But that’s not what I remember him for. I remember that he was the first beat writer who interacted with the fans. He’d sit in the press box in the late years of Shea and, between pitches, do Q&A with anybody who reached out to him in the comments section of his blog. Now that we have Twitter, it’s not unusual for reporters to give and take with their readers. Sometimes it doesn’t cast either party in the best light, but overall it’s a healthy trend. Plus, it’s baseball. What do you when you’re watching a baseball game but turn to the person next to you and weigh in on what you’re both looking at?

Before Twitter, what Delcos was doing was an absolute revelation. Even better, he didn’t come off as any kind of high and mighty authority. He took the questions seriously, treated his inquirers with respect and issued information when he had it. I never took part in these sessions, but I was amazed that they existed. Perhaps without realizing it, Delcos was a social media innovator. Later, after newspaper downsizing cost him his job, he showed up at one of the blogger outreach dinners the Mets PR staff used to hold in the offseason. He introduced himself and handed me and others his card. I thought that a BBWAA type of his caliber shouldn’t be down here with the likes of us, but for the time being, he was continuing his coverage of the Mets any way he could and he was approaching what he did as a professional. I respected that immensely.

Just as newspapers reduce sports sections, and sports magazines shave staff and frequency, venues devoted to the act of reading get caught up in the same deleterious trends. I’ve been fortunate enough (and absolutely honored) to have been invited to read my work aloud in several places that value the written word. Two more of them passed into memory in 2019. The death of Turn of the Corkscrew in June hit me hard. It was practically in my backyard, in Rockville Centre here on Long Island. We’d never had many independent bookstores in this neck of the woods, so on that merit alone, Corkscrew was a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

The name, though, should convey that the shop was something more. They were part bookstore, part cafe, accent on wine selection. Aesthetically, it was a joy to walk into the converted house and feel at home. Personally, having been given the chance to talk to what amounted to my hometown audience was a thrill. Co-owners Carol Hoenig and Peggy Ziernan, who had worked in book retailing previously, could not have been more inviting. There wasn’t much of a sports book inventory at their location, but when I walked in cold off the street one day in 2016 and explained that I was a local guy who wrote this book about the Mets having gone to the World Series last year and maybe you’d consider having me in to talk it up one night, they couldn’t have been more quick to whip out their calendar and pencil me in.

May 16, 2016, might have been my favorite night as an author, not counting when I’m alone with my thoughts. The room was packed. My eighth-grade English teacher came. My sister came. Friends from way back and recently came. Total strangers who heard there was going to be something about the Mets came. I talked about Mets fandom, the 2015 Mets and whatever else seemed pertinent. Peggy and Carol sold books and drinks. Any event in which someone asks me to speak means a great deal to me. This one meant the world. It also meant the world to be welcomed back a year with my next book. It meant plenty to have this store a stone’s throw from where I lived.

We don’t have an independent bookstore in the area anymore. It’s a loss.

The least likely venue to have had me as a speaker was the Cornelia Street Cafe, which the New York Times referred to as “a pillar of Greenwich Village experimentation,” one that closed its doors on New Year’s Day 2019. It had been in business since 1977 and “quickly became an heir apparent to the Village’s old coffeehouses, which were people by poets and folk songsters in the 1950s and ’60s,” the Times said. One winter’s night in 2010, they hosted a baseball writer. Two, actually. The main attraction was Frank Messina, whose name you might recognize from his work as the Mets Poet. He’s not only a very talented artist, but a generous one. Frank invited me to join him in a showcase at Cornelia Street. I’m no poet, so I read for a mixed audience — not necessarily baseball fans — about faith, fear, Flushing and so forth. It was a terrific, unusual experience, the sort I imagine many creative people relished taking part in across the more than four decades Corneila Street attracted a crowd.

A few friends showed up to support my efforts in the Village that snowy evening. One of them I invited specifically because I knew he was an aficionado of poetry and I thought that as a Mets fan he’d get a kick out of learning about the Mets Poet. My friend, David Corcoran, seemed to absorb the experience the way he seemed to take in everything, with genuine curiosity and appreciation that it had occurred.

I knew David from the New York Times, which is to say I knew David because Chuck, my best friend from college, wound up working at the Paper of Record through the 1990s and, when the 1999 Mets finally made the playoffs, Chuck alerted me that there was an e-mail chain going around the newsroom made up of hardcore Mets fans and you’ve gotta get in on this. Itchy to talk/write Mets with anybody and everybody in October of ’99 whether I knew them or not, I put together some thoughts and sent them to a bunch of addresses belonging to a bunch of people who’d never heard of me. The guy who appeared to have convened the group seemed wary at first, but a Mets fan is a Mets fan, and Mets content in a city where Mets fans weren’t getting nearly enough of it (this was 1999, when some other team was getting most of the ink) was Mets content. In short order, I became an accepted link in the chain. Writing for this audience is part of what ramped me up toward a larger audience.

Far more importantly, I made several lasting friendships from this e-mail group. One of them was with David, who when not crafting poetry of his own or worrying about what Bobby Valentine would do next, was a top-notch reporter and editor at the Times until his retirement in 2014. If you were a reader of the Science Times section, that was David’s editing to which you were treated. I was treated to his company in three different ballparks: Shea Stadium, Citi Field and Keyspan Park. We had a great discussion about stadium lighting while watching the Cyclones. We had great discussions about any number of things, baseball pre-eminently. He had a fantastic story about Charlie Finley that I’ll keep between us, but I always smile when I think about it.

Because of the Times e-mail group, I received tremendous encouragement from David Corcoran and more of it from Peter Putrimas, the ringleader who was initially wary of my infiltration of his underground network of Mets fans. As with David’s, I got excited during the early 2000s whenever I saw Peter’s e-mail address pop up in my inbox. It was going to be something about the Mets and it was going to be something good. I wasn’t at Game Five of the 2000 World Series, but Peter was, and his account and description virtually put me in the Upper Deck boxes next to him (though maybe not to the very last out; it wasn’t the happiest of endings).

Peter and I never got to a game together, but our correspondence went on for years. Once, he arranged through another member of the group to get the three of us together for lunch at a coffee shop approximately equidistant from our respective offices. He turned out to be an incredibly warm person in person just as he was through the computer. Like David, Peter was kind enough to take up reading the blog when we started it and he didn’t hesitate to share some very thoughtful feedback.

After serving as one of those pros essential to the production of the New York Times for 35 years, Peter retired earlier in this decade, moving out west as David had done. The old e-mail group, which had expanded beyond the virtual walls of their former employer, faded from the ether over time. It was enough to have gotten to know the Mets fans behind the addresses and keep knowing them, keeping in touch here and there, at least until, without noticing it, you realized you weren’t in touch that much anymore. Still, once in a while, there’d be an e-mail wondering about this thing at Citi Field or that move the latest manager had made.

Peter died on January 25, 2019. David died on August 4, 2019. I loved knowing them and I miss writing for them.

5 comments to It Always Comes Back to Goodbye

  • Dave

    Beautiful, Greg. I feel like I know each of those you eulogized better having read this.

  • Wonderful column. I would add a couple of non Met NYC icons to the 2019 list of those we lost.
    Don Newcombe of our spiritual ancestors in Brooklyn and Jim Bouton, with his Yankee hat flying off after throwing “Ball Four”. Plus Frank Robinson, who scored on Ron Swoboda’s classic WS catch in ’69.
    And of course, Bill Buckner. I was working for CBS Radio, standing in the ’86 Mets dugout, when Mookie’s grounder went thru his legs. And then I met him at a spring training game in Arizona, last March and told him I admired how he handled his misfortune. He autographed a photo from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” when he caught the baby thrown out the window of a burning building. And a few weeks later, he was gone. Finally, I love ‘Just Once’ too.

  • I just reread and realized you already mentioned Bouton & Robinson.

  • The first time I saw the Mets live (July 7, 1962) was a doubleheader and Sammy Taylor homered in each game. He hit a total of three all year. They were the last of his career 33 HRs. P.S. When was the last time you heard of a catcher playing both games of a twin-bill? P.P.S. I loved Jerry Buchek … don’t ask me why.

  • open the gates

    Regarding “Bob Clemente” – I remember reading an old baseball column from the ’50’s that refers to him by that name. I had to stop and think for a minute before I realized who it was. Apparently, Clemente was one of the first ballplayers to insist that the media refer to him by his own preferred nomenclature – a stand which was certainly appreciated in later years by players like Mike/Giancarlo Stanton and our own Peter/Pete Alonso. Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, especially given the scope of Roberto Clemente’s other life accomplishments, but it’s not unimportant – after all, a guy’s name is his interface with the world, and he should be able to control it.

    I always appreciate your yearly obituary post. May their memory be a blessing.