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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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Not Sticking to Sports

The Mets and Marlins didn’t play Thursday night.

After some milling around in front of both dugouts, the Mets ran out to their positions, led by Dominic Smith and Billy Hamilton. Miami’s Lewis Brinson stepped to the plate. Caps came off. The other players on both teams came out of the dugouts to stand in a line. After 42 seconds of silence, both teams left the field, leaving behind a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate.

It was a powerful moment, covered with care and, yes, grace by SNY. Afterwards, Michael Conforto, Smith, Robinson Cano and Dellin Betances addressed the media, masks on as per COVID necessity. SNY threw it to Gary Apple and Todd Zeile, who spoke from the heart. Brodie Van Wagenen talked to the media — more on that in a moment — and then Steve Gelbs conducted a poignant, sometimes raw interview with Smith. It was surreal and confusing and moving all at the same time.

The Mets being the Mets, there had to be a sideshow. Last night, people started sniping at each other on Twitter over Smith’s decision to take a knee Wednesday night and the Mets’ having tweeted the message UNITED FOR CHANGE. That’s the tagline that’s been handed down by Major League Baseball, but it made for an awkward show of support: How united could the Mets be if Smith had acted alone?

Then, a couple of hours before the game that wasn’t, video somehow went out to the world of Van Wagenen having a private conversation with two people off-camera in which he said Rob Manfred, citing scheduling concerns, was pushing Jeff Wilpon to have the teams to walk off the field at 7:10 but return at 8:10. Van Wagenen reacted with a mix of incredulity and exasperation, saying that Manfred doesn’t get it “at that leadership level.” I was simultaneously embarrassed that someone with Van Wagenen’s CV would get tripped up by a hot-mic moment and struck that it was most honest and genuine that the Mets’ general manager had ever sounded. After the game was postponed, Van Wagenen issued a statement saying the idea for an hour’s delay was Wilpon’s and not Manfred’s, and apologizing to the commissioner. I don’t believe for a second that’s what actually happened (though Wilpon-Manfred isn’t exactly the Thrilla in Manila of credibility bouts), but I also thought it was an adept way to save face.

As for the Mets, they seem to have been caught off guard by Smith’s gesture on Wednesday, but more than made up for it a day later, supporting him and his efforts to call attention to the racial injustices he’s spoken about with candor and vulnerability and passion. Wednesday’s tweet may not have matched what we saw before the game, but a day later it was a perfect fit. The Mets also reached out to the Marlins to create a shared moment, with the 42-second hold an idea that came from Miguel Rojas. And all involved — from the players in the press conference to Van Wagenen — spoke eloquently about the need for change in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed possible from baseball just a couple of years ago. The execution might have been both messy and Metsy, but in the end I was proud of my team.

After the game, because I can’t stop myself from touching hot stoves, I waded into the dumpster fire of replies on Twitter. While cathartically blocking people I wish weren’t Mets fans, I kept seeing the same complaint — that the teams had created a spectacle.

Well, that was the point. Not a tweet or a press release that you might wave away, but a moment where you had to pay attention because you were expecting a first pitch and instead got something you had to engage with. That’s how protest works — it disrupts routines so the gesture can’t be ignored. This is what those still complaining about Colin Kaepernick and those he’s inspired either don’t see or refuse to see — that a protest is ineffective and frankly means a lot less if it’s done when no one’s watching. The goal isn’t disrespect — Kaepernick started taking a knee after talking with a former Green Beret who’d objected to his initial decision to sit during the anthem — but discomfort, as a means of generating awareness, sparking conversation and driving change. However strangely the Mets and Marlins arrived there, they certainly reached that goal.

I was also reminded that while there’s a segment of fans who reliably bray for athletes to stick to sports, sports have always been arenas in which we’re forced to confront questions about race relations, fair labor practices, freedom of association, safety standards, gender attitudes and a whole lot else besides. Sure, part of sports’ lure is that they let us put aside the cares of the day and watch a simple morality play — I want this team of obvious gentlemen to beat that team of thorough evildoers. But to treat sports only as that morality play is to be willfully blind to so much around us, and to denigrate the athletes we just got done exalting. Telling athletes to “shut up and dribble” or to “stick to sports” is to dismiss them as hired help. (For the last couple of generations they’ve been extravagantly well-paid hired help, which adds a queasy note to the proceedings without changing the underlying issue.)

Whether we like it or not, the larger world is always present — and sometimes it comes smashing through the frame. The biggest story of baseball’s 20th century was Jackie Robinson‘s bravery in breaking racial barriers that had impoverished the game, and what that lonely effort cost him. The second biggest story of the century was the players’ long battle to be treated as something other than chattel and paid accordingly, a struggle that cost Curt Flood dearly as its pioneer. And we haven’t seen the last such story — there are gay players on big-league rosters today, but you don’t know who any of them are, because they know stepping forward would cost them dearly. One of these days one of those players will decide they’ve had enough and speak up while still in uniform, and you better believe it will be intensely political. One of these days a female amateur athlete will show off a hellacious knuckleball or some other monetizable talent and get signed, and the furor will be both exhilarating and exhausting.

The Mets have been a part of this, because how couldn’t they be? There’s a plausible case to be made that Reggie Jackson was never a Met because he dated outside his race, which was most certainly and shamefully political in the mid-1960s. In 1968, the Mets refused to play after the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, with the latter decision causing a showdown with Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who wanted the big gate that came with Bat Day. Tom Seaver caught hell for having an opinion about Vietnam, and I guarantee someone told him to shut up and pitch. Rusty Staub and Seaver were traded away for being union activists, with M. Donald Grant demanding to know where Seaver got the temerity to think he could join the Greenwich Country Club. That’s a small sample — hot-button political issues, charged assumptions, unfortunate prejudices and societal fears have shaped our team’s history just like it has every other team’s.

This morning, before so much happened, I read the terrific SABR biography of Donn Clendenon. (Whose A Met For All Seasons entry is here — and will be joined by a salute to a teammate on Friday.) If you don’t know much about Clendenon besides his having been a Pirate and homering after the shoe-polish play, you should read it. A few of many highlights:

  • Clendenon’s mentor at Morehouse College was Martin Luther King Jr.
  • He was tutored as a ballplayer by the likes of Satchel Paige, Nish Williams (his stepfather), Roy Campanella, Robinson and Joe Black
  • Clendenon was interested in playing football for the Cleveland Browns, but steered back to baseball by his stepfather, who arranged to seat him between Robinson and Branch Rickey at an Atlanta awards banquet.
  • The general manager for Pittsburgh’s Grand Forks, N.D., affiliate set Clendenon up with the daughter of the only black family within miles so he’d stay away from white women; Clendenon turned the tables when he agreed to take on the clubhouse duty of shining shoes and doing laundry, tasks he promptly subcontracted to high-school kids for a profit.
  • The next season, Clendenon was demoted from the Pirates’ Wilson, N.C., affiliate because it was their second year as an integrated team and they were seen as having too many Black stars. He quit, threatened to jump to a Canadian league, and had to be coaxed into returning.
  • Determined to have a career after baseball, Clendenon attended Duquesne University’s law school while playing for the Pirates, winning a senatorial scholarship and clerking for a judge. He recalled that there were two other Blacks at the law school: his con-law professor and the janitor.
  • One offseason, Clendenon worked for the Scripto Pen Company, where he led a union drive and brought in Dr. King and Stokely Carmichael to stiffen the workers’ resolve.
  • Clendenon has two 1969 baseball cards — one as an Expo, the other with “Houston.” That happened because he was traded to the Astros but refused to be reunited with his old manager Harry “The Hat” Walker, viewed by many Black players as an incorrigible racist. Clendenon insisted he’d retire, and the teams worked out a deal to keep him an Expo — at least until he was traded to the Mets.
  • One I’d never heard before — according to his SABR biography, Clendenon was given 22 as a Met (he’d worn 17 for his two earlier teams) because the equipment manager told him he was a “double deuce,” derived from “number two” being slang for a Black person. With the Mets Tommie Agee wore 20 while Cleon Jones wore 21. Hmm.

Clendenon played before free agency and taking a knee, but his baseball career and his life were shaped by both racial attitudes and hot-button politics. And you don’t have to be a fiery progressive to guess how many indignities and injustices his capsule biography must leave out. He died of leukemia in 2005, when Dom Smith was just 10 years old. I wish they could have had a conversation about the issues of both their careers — and that we might have been allowed to listen in. I think we would have been illuminated and challenged and inspired, as Mets fans and as people. Even if that conversation didn’t stick to sports.

25 comments to Not Sticking to Sports

  • ToBeDetermined

    Just imagine how these Twitter Trolls would react if someone were to tell them to “Stick To Plumbing” or whatever.

    Add to the list of Coronavirus complaints the fact that we can’t all be there any time in the near future to give Dom Smith repeated standing ovations for the way he’s been speaking out. I can’t imagine going through any of what he’s had to endure, and as far as I’m concerned he’s put himself on the list of all-time Mets heroes.

    (Also, I’m inclined to believe Manfred originally made the suggestion simply because Mike Francesa apparently tweeted that it “can’t possibly be true”. )

  • Daniel Hall

    The kneeling outrage is something I never understood. Some people act like kneeling players are having a pizza during the anthem and wipe their mouths with the flag…

    I haven’t seen much of anything of last night in the five minutes I had with my morning coffee … but my baseline attitude is that, yes, by and large, athletes should stick to sports. That is their profession after all. Baseball players are multi-millionaires that play a kids’ game in a controlled environment for profit. I don’t expect them to solve systemic, nationwide injustice, just as much as I don’t expect travelling salesmen to put a man on Mars. You can solve social injustices by redefining the legal frameworks from the top down; or from the bottom up, by revolution. Some guy in the middle doing some thing solves nothing on the scale where it matters. It’s like if a coffee place chain announced they’ll hire 1,000 unemployed female minority baristas. Good. Only 20 Million more without health insurance left over.

    No police commissioners around the country will replace their officers’ guns with carnations after last night, because it’s impossible. And I am sure most sane people are aware that the real problem in the US is gun laws, specifically the lack thereof, which is the thing that makes cops expect somebody reaching into a compartment in their car will produce a gun to fire at them. That does not happen over here, because over here it’s legally forbidden for 99.99% of the population to drive around with guns loose in their cars, and guess what, we’re still pretty free over here… It’s funny how I count as rather conservative in the political spectrum over here, but when the talk is about “radical leftist libtards” in the US I realize that they mean people like me….

    But I digress. What I am really looking for is a) gay players coming out, because that’s gonna be actually fun :D … and b) Brodie Dynamite, Jeffy, and Rob Numbfred saying enough dumb shit about each other that all three have to get The Thom Brennaman Treatment.

    • Dave

      Daniel – Always like to hear the perspective on these things from those who aren’t my fellow countrymen (I believe you’re English? My daughter now lives there, married to a lad from Buckinghamshire). Yes, the fact that Americans can all be one-man armies is the root of many of the problems we face. But the more specific problem here is that there are some cops who are violent racists, and they very rarely pay the price for violent racist crimes they commit. A gaggle of spitting-mad white guys stormed the Michigan state capital building armed with AR-15’s, and the cops on hand calmly stood by and somehow did not feel threatened. That’s, as many with more at stake than I have said, why we kneel.

      • Daniel Hall

        I am from and in Germany, but the perspective is very much the same, I guess. We’re not so different, the English and us. For both, the greatest pleasure is to hiss at somebody and tell them to wait in line, orderly, like a person!

  • chuck

    Thank you, Jason.

    One annoying little nitpick: Unless you were referring to a different shoe-polish play, Clendenon wasn’t in the lead role. Cleon Jones was. Clendenon merely followed it with a home run that got the Mets back into the game. But you and everybody else knew that.

    And I second ToBeDetermined’s comments above.

  • Bunker

    Speaking of Cleon Jones, wasn’t he a victim of M. Donald Grant’s virulent elitism and racism?

  • Dave

    There have been few if any FAFIF pieces I’ve anticipated more than this one, and Jason, you didn’t disappoint. Of course some who muck about in the bottom-most dregs of anti-social media will say that this was all overshadowed by whatever the f that live mic episode with Brodie was or wasn’t, and then beneath that you have the Proud Boy Mets fans (I also wish they weren’t Mets fans) who can’t decide what they hate more, silent protests proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, or not at all silent ones, but suffice to say they hate them all.

    I am allowing neither to sully this for me. That was A Moment. It transcended the Mets and it transcended baseball, but I’m damn glad that it was by the Mets prior to a scheduled baseball game (and hats off to the usually despised Marlins too). It is sad that we can’t be giving Dominic Smith the full-throated standing ovation he deserves in person, but I know lots of us are cheering for him remotely.

    Most likely the 3 biggest moments for the 2020 Mets will wind up taking place off the field and/or not during an actual game: firing the manager before he managed them, for something he did while not associated with the team; the (I’m guessing) eventual sale of the team; and history being made last night. Last night alone has made an upside-down season that I kind of wished they didn’t bother with a lot more meaningful. Very proud to be a Mets fan today.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I’ll admit my reaction was something along the lines of “Why isn’t it Greg’s night?” followed by, “I better not screw this up,” so it’s nice to read this.

  • open the gates

    I was thinking about sitting this one out. You know, waiting around until we can admire deGrom or complain about letting Zack Wheeler go or something else that may be very important in the Metsiverse but doesn’t really affect one’s life in the “real world”. But I’ve always had a problem about not knowing when to shut up, so here I go again.

    Jason, folks, I will have to respectfully disagree.

    In short (or as short as I can manage): I think that the rioting and looting and killing that has been going on in the streets is out of any proportion to whatever police brutality exists in this country. Most police officers in this country were horrified by the Floyd killing, and the officers involved have been charged with murder, so the justice system is working (so far, at least). And I also believe that the organization calling itself Black Lives Matter cares more about Marxism and anarchy than it does about black lives. Ask people in poor black neighborhoods if they really want to defund the police, and you may get different answers than you would expect. Believe me, when someone is holding a gun to your head and destroying your business, who are you going to call? The Girl Scouts?

    I could go on, but you get the idea. And what troubles me more is that everyone goes on as if their way of seeing things is the only possible way, and that anyone who disagrees is a troll or a “deplorable”, and probably a racist as well. One can be of good will and want what is best for people of all races, and still disagree about how to go about it. The Mets basically just wrote off a good portion of their fans. I would say, “Yeah, typical Mets,” if not for the fact that so many others are acting the same way.

    And as far as telling athletes to “shut up and dribble”… look, Dom Smith is as entitled to his opinion as I am. I don’t like what he’s doing, but he has provided one of the best Met moments in the last ten years, so I’m willing to give him a lot of leeway. But there is something to the contention that spectator sports is an escape, and that some people want at least one corner of their lives where people aren’t banging them on the head and demanding that they support their cause. Baseball should be about baseball, period. Ballplayers can espouse their opinions and causes on their own time, and more power to them.

    But I hear people saying, “What about Jackie Robinson? What about Curt Flood?” There’s no comparison. Robinson and Flood were heroically facing down inequities that existed within baseball itself. Baseball was fixing its own house, and by so doing, transcended the sport itself. What the Mets and Marlins did was nothing like that. It didn’t actually fix any problems, within or without the sport. It was simply an exercise in virtue signaling, and in true Mets fashion, it was done as awkwardly as possible.

    What I’m really yearning for is a time when fans can leave their politics at home, come back to the ballpark – in person – and root, root, root for the home team, because if they don’t win it’s a shame. And I won’t ask you your opinion about the current political situation, and you won’t ask me mine, and we’ll just enjoy the ballgame together. And hopefully Rojas won’t put in Edwin Diaz in the ninth.


    • I suspect if we’d had a Mets blog in 1968, you would have written a comment very similar to this one, with the only difference being the names of the relevant people and organizations you thought were going too far.

      • Mackie W

        Jason, with all due respect, and as someone who really enjoys your writing, I think you owe “open the gates” an apology. Absolutely nothing that this person wrote indicates that he or she would be the kind of person who would have opposed the civil rights movement in 1968. To have misgivings about BLM, its methods and its ultimate goals does not make one a racist and/or an apologist for police brutality. By tarring someone with such a broad brush, you are simply increasing the polarization and division, of which there is already way too much at this moment.

  • Richard Porricelli

    If I want politics and social opinions I know where to go..Worked hard all day in the heat. Wanted to watch a ballgame at the end of it and got nothing..

  • Joeybaguhdonuts

    Two things of peripheral interest?
    1. Brodie Van Wagontrain said sorry when he found out that wasn’t the commissioner’s idea that he condemned so strongly. But it was his owner’s idea that he condemned so strongly! By his own explanation! Did anyone else notice he didn’t back away from the substance of the criticism, just apologized for blaming the wrong wealthy man? No way a baseball writer will touch that one.
    2. If that rotten, misbegotten M. Donald Grant were running things now, Dom Smith would have suffered consequences that even Seaver didn’t get. So the Wilpons are redeemed a few inches there.

    • 1) Yeah, I noticed that too. Makes me even more convinced the idea came from Manfred. I suspect the press corps saw what I saw and concluded there was no point trying to get BVW to fess up. In fairness, I should note that all involved were right that the postponement raised a host of problems, particularly when you consider that MLB will almost certainly lose more games to COVID. The hour delay was a bad, tone-deaf idea, but if not for a hot mic it would have been discarded without us hearing about it. As long as folks get to the right answer….

      2) Lord, let’s hope we never fall below the M. Donald Grant line of decency again.

  • Thank you for this article Jason – excellent job of discussing the events of the last few days in an intelligent, thoughtful way.

  • Lou

    Excellent, excellent post. You eloquintly hit every point that needed to be made. I am so proud of the Mets. If you tuned into the game and didn’t have tears in your eyes ten minutes later, there is something wrong in your heart. The Mets more that often frustrate us on the field but as part of our community, they are the best of citizens. This year our country faces problems the likes we have not seen in decades. Stress levels are through the roof. More than ever, the games have become an escape, a 3 hour hiatus from worrying about a loved one or friend who might have Covid-19, the pain of our black brothers and sisters being disproportionally targeted and attacked by police, and whether our democracy is about to die forever. Sports is the toy store of life and hopefully the Mets with their protest helped many to have more perspective.

  • […] this night was different from most other nights. This night was the night after the Mets took their stand, standing with Smith and Hamilton and a whole lot of people who wish everybody can simply live a […]

  • open the gates

    Mackie, thanks for the support and kind words. And Jason, for what it’s worth, you’re probably not wrong about me. I’m not a big fan of burning cities and violence to achieve one’s ends when there are other means available. There are plenty of Malcolm X’s in today’s world – I would love to see a few more Martin Luther Kings. And with that, why don’t we just agree to disagree and get back to sports. At least on this particular blog.

    • On this particular blog, Jason and I will address whatever topic we see fit, inevitably flowing from our passion for Mets baseball. No guarantees where that will flow.

      We appreciate that you read and that you care.

  • open the gates

    Thank you. And I do enjoy your blog and will continue to read and care.