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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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The Best That You Can Do

I learned two things from watching Brodie Van Wagenen’s official introduction of Dellin Betances on Thursday, as streamed by SNY:

1) Brodie Van Wagenen believes we are more interested in negotiation protocols and processes than we actually are. Stop telling us what miracles you and your compatriots have worked by hammering out a contract offer to a player who you’re convincing us out the other side of your mouth wanted nothing more than to play for us or at least our geography. I don’t expect Betances to pull an Andre Dawson c. 1987 and let the Mets fill in however small a collusive number they feel can masquerade as fair, but why is the GM describing for us the horrible stress there was in getting a New York-based pitcher into a New York-based uniform? Just cut straight to, “It’s great that Dellin’s a Met.”

2) It’s great that Dellin’s a Met.

The second part of my BVW-generated education is a best-case scenario. Everything about the Mets’ bullpen — which was mostly a living, breathing, cringe-inducing worst-case scenario in 2019 — asks that we see the best in all involved. Edwin Diaz will get his head and slider together and revert to 2018 greatness. Jeurys Familia, lighter physically, will be solid mentally and throw sinkers with requisite heaviness. Seth Lugo won’t be unhappy to be in relief and remain just as good as he was when he was the exception to the drool. Michael Wacha will be delighted with his role once he discovers he’s the sixth starter in a five-man rotation.

And Dellin Betances will overcome a year of injury-laden inactivity and return to being the monster that made him a four-time All-Star and an anchor within the bullpen on the other side of the Triborough. It’s a big if (he’s a big pitcher), but if we get that, and we get all the other ifs to break our way…well, let’s just say the Mets bullpen hasn’t blown a lead yet in 2020.

Don Larsen was the best that he could be on October 8, 1956. Throw a perfect game in the World Series and you’ll never have to pick a day when you’re any better. Of course that was Larsen’s calling card for the rest of his life, and naturally it’s what we all recalled about the former major league pitcher who died on New Year’s Day at the age of 90.

Thing is, Larsen didn’t just touch down from thin air in Yankee Stadium that Monday afternoon more than 63 years ago. He’d been pitching in the bigs since 1953 — commencing with the St. Louis Browns of all things — and he’d keep pitching professionally until 1968. His last MLB action came in 1967 with the Cubs, but he stayed at his craft another season beyond that in the minors.

Few think of Larsen as anything but the Yankee starter and winner in Game Five of the 1956 Fall Classic, throwing 97 pitches that never resulted in a baserunner and catching a jubilant Yogi Berra after the last of them was called strike three on Brooklyn Dodgers pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell. Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down. Why would you think of Don Larsen in any other context?

Except I have. When Larsen died, I thought of how I ran across his name repeatedly during some research I was doing of Met box scores from their early years. It felt anachronistic seeing Larsen appear in anything but World Series kinescopes, but he didn’t ascend to the heavens after the last out. There were other games for him to pitch, none of them perfect; and other hitters for him to challenge, not all of them helpless against his stuff.

Take the Mets of 1964, for example. The Mets of 1964 were helpless a lot, but against Don Larsen, they found their groove, defeating him four times, once when he was with the Giants, three times after he’d been sold to the Colt 45s. The Mets had never before beaten any pitcher as many as four times in a single season, and they’ve done it only thirteen times since — and never while en route to a tenth-place finish. Larsen lost to the 1964 Mets twice as a starter, twice as a reliever. One of the starts was a classic hard-luck defeat, as Don scattered eight hits over seven innings but was outdueled by Frank Lary, who tossed a two-hit shutout for the Mets. The game could also be termed a Ron Hunt special, as the National League’s starting All-Star second baseman gladly accepted a Larsen pitch to his person with the bases loaded to push the first run of the game across the plate. (Larsen’s catcher at that moment? None other than Houston’s 21-year-old rookie receiver Jerry Grote.)

Losses were more prevalent than wins in Larsen’s career. Not that we take Ws and Ls all that seriously anymore in this age of deGrominant enlightenment, but Don was an 81-91 pitcher overall — yet a 4-2 pitcher in five World Series, and 1-0 with zeros across the board on 10/8/56. How can you not love baseball knowing that the imperfect man who threw a perfect game at the perfect instant was also the first pitcher to lose four games in a season to any Mets team, especially a Mets team that went 53-109 overall? Nevertheless, we shall remember the man at his best.

Andy Hassler at his best was pretty decent. That was mostly in the American League, where the lefty began pitching out of view of Mets fans in 1971. His won-lost mark didn’t exactly shine, but he kept finding his way to teams aspiring to postseason. Hassler helped the Royals make the playoffs in 1976 and 1977 and then joined the Red Sox as they attempted to not let a large AL East lead get away in 1978. That didn’t go as well, but it should be noted that in the eighth inning on October 2, 1978, directly after Bob Stanley gave up a leadoff home run to Reggie Jackson that allowed the Yankees open a three-run lead at Fenway Park, Hassler entered the one-game playoff to decide the division and shut the door, retiring Nettles, Chambliss and White in order, and then coming back for two more outs in the top of the ninth, by which time the Red Sox had closed the gap to 5-4. The Bucky Dent Game ultimately wound up one run out of Boston’s grasp, but it wasn’t Andy Hassler’s fault.

In the middle of the following season, at the June 15 trading deadline, the Red Sox sold Hassler to the Mets, the same day the Mets traded Mike Bruhert and Bob Myrick to Texas for Dock Ellis. If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume the Mets were making a big move in their division, bringing in a pair of veteran starters with October pedigrees. But, no, this was 1979, and the Mets were just trying to get through the season.

Still, Hassler — who died on Christmas Day in Arizona at 68 — gave the Mets some quality pitching during the balance of that benighted year. Like Larsen against Lary in 1964, Andy unfortunately saved his 1979 best for somebody else’s even better. On the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, Hassler pitched a complete game: eight innings, five hits, one lousy third-inning earned run allowed on back-to-back doubles to two lefthanded batters: Steve Carlton and Bake McBride. Carlton, who is one of those thirteen pitchers after Larsen to lose at least four times in a season to the Mets (amid his 27-10 1972 campaign, no less), chose this Independence Night to flirt with his own brand of perfection. The bid for regular-season Larseny, so to speak, was foiled when Elliott Maddox reached Silent Steve for a one-out double in the seventh. Carlton would create a little more trouble for himself by committing an error on a grounder hit to him by Richie Hebner. But he’d escape the mini-jam, and that would be the extent of Met baserunning for the evening. The game wound up Phillies 1 Mets 0, with a one-hitter going in Carlton’s column and another among 71 career losses (versus 44 wins) the best Hassler could collect.

Andy may not have thrown any more gems of that caliber in 1979, but he did give Joe Torre a touch of flexibility, racking up four saves, three of them in September. The combination of eight starts and four saves is unusual in Metsian annals. Hassler’s season in Flushing — a partial season, at that — is one of only seven meeting those versatile parameters in Mets history. In fact, something like it has been achieved only twice since Hassler did it. Anthony Young started 13 times in 1992 while saving 15 games, and Hisanori Takahashi saved eight in 2010 on top of making twelve starts.

Hassler, who would leave as a free agent, couldn’t prevent the Mets from settling deep into the basement in 1979. Nor could Ellis, who New York would sell to Pittsburgh down the stretch of their spurt toward the World Series. Wayne Twitchell was another veteran pitcher the Mets hoped could eat up some innings that season. Twitchell did for a while, until he was sold to Seattle. Only a Mets fan of a certain vintage and intensity would think of this trio as Mets rather than members of the teams where they made their more indelible (or Dellinable) marks. Yet at least one Mets fan moved to linger over the 1979 Mets’ game log page on Baseball-Reference can’t help but notice that the pitchers of record on the losing side three consecutive nights in early July in foul, fetid, fuming, foggy filthy Philadelphia were Dock Ellis, Wayne Twitchell and Andy Hassler. They were all Mets in passing, yet this Mets fan looks at those names; remembers them as Mets; and is certain each man did his best while a Met.

They weren’t perfect, but hardly anybody is while on a major league mound.

10 comments to The Best That You Can Do

  • open the gates

    I’ve noticed that Brodie seems to be an awful lot about Brodie. They say that the story of the game should be about the players, not the ump. Similarly, the story about a baseball deal should be about the players, not the dealers. This is a lesson that Brodie should have learned as an agent. (Not that Betances was not a good move…)

  • Harvey

    Last year was a tough one for Mets alumni, with 16 former Mets passing away. Andy Hassler joined his 1979 Mets pitching partner, Tom Hausman, who passed away last January. Tom was also flexible, with 10 starts and 9 relief appearances in 1979. He was only 2-6 with 2 saves, but had a terrific 2.75 ERA and one complete game over 79 innings. He pitched for the Mets for 5 seasons. Oh, in addition to the 16 Mets, Mel Stottlemyre also passed away last year.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Well Ok, then. Revised headline:

    Don Larsen 1929-2020. Lost to Mets Four Times in ’64.

  • Lenny65

    I think that Mets fans who remember those names from 1979 do so because back then just being a Mets fan meant you were sort of part of a very small and exclusive club. It’s like a secret code, I could say “Tom Hausman” or “Andy Hassler” and you’d just nod knowingly.

  • I was pretty sure Andy Hassler had something to do with staving off 100 losses during the season-ending six-game winning streak of 1979. (A very minor Mets Miracle, to be sure.) Thanks to, I see that he saved not one but two extra-inning, doubleheader nightcaps after the 99-loss Mets took the lead on the road. (And this coming just a week after the demoralizing, even for ’79, loss of four straight doubleheaders–all at home, scoring no more than three runs in any game–and dropping a single game against St. Louis on Fan Appreciation Day for nine straight losses to round out the miserable home portion of the schedule.) Whenever I feel like I don’t need to double check some arcane Mets fact, I envision those 4,000 souls sitting through those godawful doubleheaders, or sitting behind me during the worst attended full season in Mets history, and I think, “Those people care.” And the work becomes a pleasure. God rest ye, Mr. Hassler.

  • eric1973

    1979 was sure a brutal season, and I hoped like heck they would win their last 6 games to avoid 100 losses, and thank goodness they did. And Hassler, Twitchell, Dock Ellis, and Hausmann sure died too young.

    That season, being 14 years old, I put together a scrapbook of all the Mets pictures from the Daily News, which I still of course have to this day.

    And Richie Hebner should have dug his own grave that year, as he did not want to be here from Day One.

  • open the gates

    I was already following the Mets in ’79 (also turned 14 that summer), but I don’t remember Hassler from then, although I do remember Housman. I think the first Met teams that I was following down to the 25th player were the teams that involved Mookie, Hubie Brooks, George Foster, and the second comings of Kong and Rusty. The Mets were still losing, but they were a little more fun somehow.

  • JerseyJack

    I’m kinda hoping to see Drew Smith come back at some point & be effective, in the pen. He had a decent (not great) 2018…..