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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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Herbie Harbinger’s Home Run Hindsight

What do we want out of Opening Day?

1) For it to arrive.
2) For the Mets to win.
3) For the Mets to homer.

The first is essential, whether we’re talking wishing for the season to start sooner than possible (when Spring Training inevitably drags) or start at all (see 2020…or just the other day). The second speaks for itself. The third? It’s just better when a Met hits a home run in the first baseball game of the year. It’s not necessary to win, and it doesn’t completely redeem the day if we lose, but how can you not love an Opening Day home run? The Opening Day home run is the loudest of home runs. It announces Mets baseball’s presence with authority. If it’s launched at the home of the Mets, the volume is deafening. If it’s launched on the road, as it will have to be tonight in Philadelphia, it hollers over a crowd we wish to quiet down.

Plus, it’s a home run. Home runs are highlights that don’t have to be explained. Boom, as Warner Wolf liked to say.

The Mets are famous for their Opening Day record of success since 1970, going like a million and four. “Like” a million and four translates literally to 40-12, which includes the Second Season Opener of 1981 (clarifying that asterisky point is truly my OCD). In those 40 wins, sometimes the Mets didn’t homer. No longballs in 2015, 2017 or 2018, to cite three recent examples of happy Opening Day recaps. Was our ebullience detracted from because we didn’t blaze a path to victory four bags at a time? Not really. But “Yoenis Cespedes homered and the Mets won!” (2020) or “Robinson Cano homered and the Mets won!” (2019) is so simple, satisfying and powerful. And on a chilly Opening Day like that of March 31, 2014, losing certainly sucked, but the three Mets hit homers and that loudly if briefly raised spirits right out of the box.

You’d rather win and not homer than lose and homer a lot. You’d rather it take fourteen innings — without a runner on second to start every extra half-inning — to win on Opening Day, 1-0, with the one run poked through the infield with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourteenth. That’s how the Mets won on March 31, 1998, a.k.a. the Alberto Castillo Game, so named for the backup catcher who did the fourteenth-inning poking. No homers, no problems. The recap couldn’t help but be happier than in 2014. It was also a whole helluva lot warmer.

No two March 31s are alike (except that March 31 is too early for baseball) just as no two Opening Days are alike, save for the part that Tom Boswell said about time beginning, however delayed time might find itself. This here 2021 Opening Day/Night is the ninth Mets opener that is taking place later than initially scheduled.

• In 1962, it rained in St. Louis, which was OK, because it gave the Mets extra time to emerge from their stalled hotel elevator; the Mets started existing a day later.

• In 1966, cats and dogs came down on Cincinnati, catapulting the Mets from the honor of contesting the traditional opener at Crosley field on a Monday to starting their season at Shea on a Friday.

• Two years later, in 1968, the funeral of Martin Luther King compelled baseball to push back its openers, including the Mets’ at San Francisco, by a day (though the process was hardly smooth).

• The first modern in-season players’ strike lopped the first week of the season off the schedule in 1972.

• Snow got the best of the Mets and Phillies at the Vet in 1982 (somehow the last time the Mets opened in Philadelphia until tonight), but the carpet got cleared off within a couple of days.

• A lockout forced the sport to scramble a bit in 1990, with openers everywhere coming almost a week late; unlike in ’72, the missing April games were made up rather than simply cancelled.

• The dreaded strike of 1994 had morphed into the dreaded strike of 1995, meaning a late-April start to baseball in the latter year, touching off a shortened schedule of 144 games.

• You likely haven’t forgotten that baseball in 2020 didn’t begin until the end of July…or that the Mets of 2021 cooled their heels this past weekend in D.C.

So yes, start a season. And win the game. And homer! It’s fun!

The Mets have hit 59 homers in their 60 openers to date (or 58 in their 59 openers to date if you insisting on being a Second Season 1981 killjoy). The Mets are 23-14 in openers when they opener and 17-6 when they don’t. The presence of a home run doesn’t always portend a win, and the absence of a home run certainly doesn’t guarantee a loss. But as long as we’re on the subject, what might an Opening Day home run mean in the long term once that first burst of fun evaporates?

For that, I turned to my friend Herbert Hindsight Harbinger to fill me in. Herbie Harbinger has splendid hindsight and can explain in great detail what something means after the fact. When not breaking down decades-old Opening Days for me, he appears regularly on several cable news channel panel shows.

Here’s some of what Herbie Harbinger told me vis-à-vis Opening Day home runs as harbingers of Mets developments to come.

1) The first Mets Opening Day home run qualifies as a hellacious harbinger. It — obviously the first homer in Mets history — was hit by Gil Hodges. Gil Hodges would go on to become one of a handful of the most important figures in New York Mets history. Was managing the 1969 Mets to their world championship and winning universal acclaim for his role in molding heretofore hopeless sad sacks into kings of the baseball universe directly traceable to Gil’s fourth-inning home run from seven-and-a-half years earlier? Let’s say that in the telling of the Hodges Mets story, it’s a fun tidbit. And we did say that home runs on Opening Day are fun.

The Mets lost their first Opening Day, 11-4, despite the homer from Hodges and one an inning later from Charlie Neal. The loss itself was more the harbinger of things to come in 1962.

2) Ron Swoboda homered on Opening Day in 1968 at Candlestick. The Mets lost. The Mets always lost on Opening Day back then. No exaggeration. Swoboda would go on to hit 11 homers in all in The Year of the Pitcher. By the title of the campaign in question, Rocky’s clout clearly wasn’t a harbinger of a Met power surge in general. The Mets hit 81 as a team in ’68, or five fewer than the 2020 Mets hit in sixty games.

3) Duffy Dyer delivered a pinch-home run on Opening Day 1969. It couldn’t have been more dramatic. There were two outs, there were two on, it was the bottom of the ninth inning, and Duffy’s blast put the Mets…one behind the newborn Expos. All right, so it could have been more dramatic. Dyer’s homer ramped up the Mets’ attack impressively, but they went from losing, 11-7, to losing, 11-10, which is what they lost by. Ol’ Duff would hit two more homers all year and the Mets would lose only 61 more times, so you might say this shot, no matter how exhilarating in the moment, was as unharbingery as imaginable.

Yet exhilarating just the same.

4) Ed Kranpeool’s home run in the strike-delayed 1972 opener represented a milestone, marking the first time a Met ever homered in a Mets Opening Day win. It only took eleven Opening Days for the two events to coincide. As with chocolate and peanut butter, you didn’t ask the Reese’s folks what took so long to put them together. You just enjoyed that they had combined forces and you asked for more.

5) On Opening Day 1973, Cleon Jones went deep not once but twice, the first time a Met had homered more than once on Opening Day. Four Mets would do the same on later Opening Days, also sparking wins. And Cleon would do it again on September 19, homering twice to help pulverize Pittsburgh en route to the Mets swiping first place out from under the Buccos. Herbie Harbinger casts Cleon’s moves as excellent foreshadowing.

6) It’s 1975! Dave Kingman has arrived! And homered on Opening Day! He’s going to hit 36 this season! He’s going to set the franchise record! Herbie Harbinger — having brought his kiddies, brought his wife — is hollerin’ and cheerin’ and jumpin’ in his seat because there was, at last, a Met really sockin’ the ball.

7) It’s 1979. Richie Hebner has homered on Opening Day. And we all remember both the season and the player’s production therein as sexy. Or the farthest thing from it. But on Opening Day 1979, as Rod Stewart had been noting on the radio in the weeks prior, who right here was complaining?

8) The Mets didn’t homer on Opening Day 1980. The Mets homered hardly at all in 1980, knocking those home runs over the wall 61 measly times. Who right here was complaining about this, either? It was still fun to win on Opening Day and it was definitely fun to change ownership before Opening Day.

9) The first Mets Opening Day of 1981 featured home runs from two different Mets on Opening Day for the first time since the first Mets Opening Day at all in 1962. Filling the shoes of Messrs. Hodges and Neal nineteen years later were Lee Mazzilli and Rusty Staub. The Mets would win the game in Chicago, then lose a lot of games for a couple of months, then go on strike with their colleagues. Herbie isn’t impressed.

10) The second Mets Opening Day of 1981, introducing the split season concept to a grateful nation (well, me), featured a home run from Kingman, who, like Staub, was a Recidivist Met that year(s). Sky had fourteen before the strike, eight after. Herbie Harbinger wishes he’d hit a few more following the split.

11) Snow week in Philadelphia in 1982 culminated in something the Mets had never done in the City of Brotherly Love and surfeit of live shots of cheesesteaks sizzling in Philadelphia on SNY (though those would air later). Joe Christopher had homered at Connie Mack Stadium on Opening Day 1964, but the Mets lost. No Met homered on Opening Day at Veterans Stadium 1974, and the Mets lost. Here in the ballpark with the jail and the recently revealed secret apartment, the Mets did everything we wanted them to do. They won an opener in Philadelphia and one of them homered. Even better, the homerer of the day was George Foster, who was acquired that February exactly for this purpose.

It wasn’t much of a harbinger. Even still.

By the by, how odd is it that the Mets haven’t opened a season in nearby Philadelphia in 39 years and are doing so this year only because the Nationals couldn’t control their COVID tests? We play the Phillies nineteen times annually most seasons. We’ve played in the same division since 1969. How have we not been scheduled to start our year there since 1982?

As potential near-term harbingers go, the Mets set a franchise record for most home runs in one game at Citizens Bank Park with seven in 2005, and broke that record with eight home runs in one game in 2015 in the same red-bricked facility. In the past two seasons, the Mets have homered at least once in fourteen of their past sixteen visits to CBP covering 2019 and 2020. So?

So maybe bet the homer over tonight.

12) Tom Seaver returned to the Mets in 1983. The Mets won without homering — and, as every Mets triviot knows, with Mike Howard singling in the winning run on what turned out to be his final swing in the major leagues.

But you had us at Tom Seaver returned to the Mets.

13) The Mets got blown out of Riverfront Stadium on Opening Day 1984, finally getting that honor they were rained out of at Crosley in 1966. They lost, 8-1. Some honor. Ah, but in the second inning, in his first Opening Day plate appearance, reigning National League Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry homered to right. It was the 27th of a career that would see 252 launched in Met threads and 335 in all. Herbie says that’s pretty Harbingeriffic.

14) Gary Carter won Opening Day 1985 with his first Met home run, struck in the tenth inning off former Met Neil Allen. Gary Carter would hit 32 home runs in 1985, 24 more in 1986 and a couple in the World Series, which the Mets won. Herbie’s still kvelling from Gary Carter.

15) No homers for the 1986 Mets on Opening Night in Pittsburgh. A win, but no homer. In 1969, you’ll recall, they had a homer, but no win. Therefore, we can safely say that the Mets have never managed to homer in their opener; win their opener; and win the World Series in the same season. This season would be a fine season to change that fact. Or just win the World Series.

16) What’s that Darryl’s doing on Opening Day 1987? Swatting a three-run homer in the first inning, leading the Mets to a 3-2 win on a day that would have otherwise been a monumental drag given Dwight Gooden’s drug suspension? And what was that Darryl would do before the season was over? Hit 39 home runs for a new Mets record? Herbie Harbinger approves.


18) Howard Johnson quietly hits a home run as part of a 1989 Opening Day win at Shea. Howard Johnson quietly goes on to hit 36 home runs that season. Howard Johnson quietly made a lot of noise as a New York Met. Herbie heard him.

19) Hojo would do it again on Opening Day 1990, and he’d be joined by starting catcher Barry Lyons. We’re going to be quiet about Hojo because Lyons is the anti-harbinger here because the Mets would demote Barry in the middle of the year and release him in September. Guy hits a homer on Opening Day and he doesn’t last the season. In a sense Barry became a harbinger, because he became the first of three Mets to homer on Opening Day yet be sent packing before long. Oh, and the Mets lost, so all in all not the most unblemished of memories for Barry Lyons.

20) Bobby Bonilla homered twice on Opening Night in St. Louis in 1992, including mashing the game-winner in the tenth, validating the enormous contract the Mets gave him as a free agent the previous winter. Obviously everything’s going to work out great between the Mets and Bobby Bo.

21) Bobby Bo homers in the Mets’ win over the inaugural Rockies at Shea in 1993. See? Told you it was all going swimmingly.

22) The wind’s blowing out at Wrigley on Opening Day 1994. It’s certainly at the back of Jose Vizcaino, Todd Hundley and Jeff Kent, each of whom homer and contribute to a rousing Mets win. The season would be truncated in August by that nasty strike, but all three players had many years in front of them, with Hundley and Kent having many home runs in front of them. Herbie votes yea that this game was a Harbinger, even if Kent would be powerful mostly for other teams.

23) On Opening Day 1995, Rico Brogna hits the first homer ever to ever exit Coors Field. You know, I do believe other homers have flown out of that park since.

24) Hundley, who homered at Wrigley on Opening Day 1994 and Coors on Opening Day 1995, homers at Shea on Opening Day 1996 to commence an epic comeback over the Cardinals. Todd is the OD OG, eh? Not only that, but he winds up breaking Strawman’s single-season franchise mark in 1996. And not only that, but Bernard Gilkey homers for the first of thirty times this season and Rey Ordoñez makes that breathtaking throw home from his knees, hinting at what kind of shortstop he’s going to be.

The Mets win, which is not a harbinger for 71-91 1996, however.

25) Todd is back at it in 1997, homering on Opening Day for the fourth season in a row, this time at San Diego. He’s gonna hit 30 this year, which is great. And the Mets are going to win 88 games and compete for the Wild Card, which is even better.

Never mind that Pete Harnisch and a hundred relievers give up eleven Padre runs in the sixth (only one of those numbers is an exaggeration). A new era is at hand. Sadly, it will have little to do with Todd Hundley, but you can’t have everything.

26) No Hundley on Opening Day 1998, which is why we had Tim Spehr starting and Bambi Castillo heroing if not homering in the aforementioned 1-0 thriller. Maybe the Mets will have another catcher who can homer soon.

27) Beautiful John Olerud homers on Opening Day 1999 in Miami. The Mets lose. But John Olerud is always beautiful. So will be 1999.

28) Say, the Mets got that power-hitting catcher, Mike Piazza. He homers in a Met loss on Opening Day 2000, but it’s in Japan, so that must count for something extra.

29) Piazza homers on Opening Night 2001 in Atlanta, which you’d figure would be the big story considering the era we’re in where we hate the Braves (kicking off a bandwagon that’s gathering steam of late), but it would be Robin Ventura who’d steal the home run thunder by blasting a pair. One of them is off John Rocker to take a lead in the eighth, the other is off Kerry Ligtenberg to win the game in the tenth. As for it being a harbinger, I had to admit to Herbie that I walked around the next day convinced 2001 was going to be another 1986.

Herbie chuckled at my youthful naïveté of twenty years ago.

30) Jay Payton homered as part of a balanced Met attack that vanquished Pittsburgh on Opening Day 2002. The Mets spun that 1-0 start into Wild Card contention gold (gold, Jerry!) by the end of July. So shimmering were the Mets’ chances in the eyes of Steve Phillips that the GM pulled a Barry Lyons and dispatched Payton off the team. Jay was sent to Colorado where he discovered players could still hit home runs out of Coors Field and hence thrived. The Mets got in exchange for Payton John Thomson, a pitcher who was not part of a fierce Wild Card charge. Actually, the Mets stormed off in the other direction. I mean really in the other direction. Like not winning a single game at Shea Stadium in August. And Thomson, who didn’t help, left as a free agent and said some grouchy things about not wanting to pitch here. Herbie couldn’t bear to track down exact quotes.

31) Kaz Matsui homered on the very first pitch he saw in North American in 2004, an Opening Night win at thoroughly unmourned Turner Field. It wasn’t a harbinger of a very good Met career, but it was a harbinger of what Kaz Matsui would do on first pitches he saw during the next couple of seasons to come.

32) Matsui homered. Carlos Beltran homered. Cliff Floyd homered. Pedro Martinez was dynamite. The Mets lost Opening Day 2005 at Cincinnati anyway. It wasn’t a harbinger and, despite the fireworks, it wasn’t that much fun.

33) In 2006, David Wright hits his first Opening Day home run in his second Opening Day. David Wright participates in his first Opening Day win. Herbie hasn’t checked the archives, but I assume David Wright said something to the effect of the home run is nice and all, but the important thing is we won…which is why we loved, love and will always love David Wright.

34) One Met homers on Opening Day 2009 after all Mets skip the Opening Day four-base course for a couple of years. The Met who homers is Daniel Murphy. He’ll hit twelve all year. He’ll lead the Mets. Get a sense of what kind of year 2009 is going to be?

35) David contributes another homer to another victory on Opening Day 2010. He’s going to hit 29 this year, a very nice change of pace after plunging to 10 in 2009. The year won’t be very good for the Mets, but Wright is back! Herbie hasn’t checked the archives, but I assume David said something to the effect of home runs still being nice, but winning…and so on. Still love ya, Captain!

36) Collin Cowgill ices Opening Day 2013 with a grand slam that everybody at Citi Field, no matter how raucously we greet its materialization, understands is a harbinger of absolutely nothing. He’s Collin Cowgill. We know he’s another Tim Spehr, except in the outfield. We’re shocked that he isn’t released by the time we climb the steps to the 7. We can be knocked over with a feather when he’s shipped off to Lyons-Payton territory, traded to the Angels in June.

37) Andrew Brown takes Stephen Strasburg over the wall in the first inning on Opening Day 2014. Strasburg makes it safely back. Brown disappears soon enough. Herbie says he saw it coming.

38) The Mets don’t homer for four consecutive Opening Days from 2015 through 2018, winning three of them. On Opening Day 2019, new Met Robinson Cano homers at Nationals Park, where the Mets really need to stop scheduling openers. Cano convinces nobody that this is a harbinger of a superb season ahead.

Cano, despite a decade or two remaining on his contract, will not be available tonight in Philadelphia. Or anytime this year.

39) Yo! He’s back! For a minute, anyway, appropriate enough for a season that barely lasts half an hour, even if every games runs about 4:23. Mr. Cespedes missed all of 2019 but he was on hand to DH at Citi Field on Opening Day 2020, July 24, in front of no fans (tell me you saw those specs coming a year-and-a-half or so ago). Everything was weird during the last Opener we played, except for Jacob deGrom dealing and Yoenis Cespedes slugging. Then Yo, like the 2021 All-Star Game, hoofed it out of Atlanta and, before somebody could Barry Lyons him, opted out of 2020. Herbie insists the whole thing was a bizarre dream.

40) “Whatever you think is going to happen during the season is definitely not going to happen. Or at least not in the exact way you think. Opening Day is fun and exciting and might be a sign of things to come. Or it might just be a snapshot of how people play in April when it’s mostly too cold to function.”

That’s not from Herbie Harbinger. That’s from ex-Met Ty Kelly, writing for the Metropolitan newsletter. It’s a pretty good take and from a real person. Ty made one Opening Day roster as a Met, in 2017, the same season another real person, Stephanie Pianto, wouldn’t miss Opening Day for anything.

Ty Kelly can continue to lay claim to the most recent base hit in Met postseason history, one of very few the Mets garnered versus Madison Bumgarner in the 2016 Wild Card Game. I’m sure Ty won’t mind if he knows we’re rooting for somebody to take that distinction away from him in about six months.

41) Let’s end the way we’ve begun so many Mets Opening Days, with 41. Tom Seaver never hit a home run on Opening Day. He didn’t have to. But maybe tonight somebody wearing a patch commemorating Tom’s unparalleled impact as a Met will homer and we’ll win and we’ll be on our way to genuinely Terrific things.

Or, as Ty suggests, it might just be a snapshot. Write down the stats, though. It’ll last longer.

2 comments to Herbie Harbinger’s Home Run Hindsight

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I was at #25, the horror in San Diego. After Harnisch melted down, he was followed by the Mets debut of the Flammable Four, Yorkis Perez, Toby Borland, Barry Manuel and Ricardo Jordan. Yeesh!! I just hope the debuts tonight by Trevor May and Aaron Loup doesn’t become a pattern and make them the Torchable Two.