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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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As Bad As They Look When They’re Losing

When the Mets’ 5-0 loss at Cincinnati completed its appointed rounds on SNY Thursday afternoon, the postgame show came on, with Todd Zeile seated as the designated authority on all things disappointing. He was a good choice for the job, seeing as how Zeile was right in the middle of disappointment aplenty as the 2001 Mets steadily ran themselves into the ground. Thirty-eight games into the 2001 season, the Mets were 15-23, which, for reference purposes, is three games worse than where the 2023 Mets sit at the same juncture of what appears to be their voyage to nowhere.

Twenty-two years ago, Zeile wasn’t off to a good start. Twenty-two years ago, no Met was off to a good start. The Mets had been to the World Series the year before. When the season began, you could imagine them making another such run. As the season neared the one-quarter mark, your imagination had been overtaken by the prevailing reality. May 2001 ended with the Mets ten games under .500, thirteen games out of first place and not close to the one Wild Card spot that existed then.

Long season short, the Mets made a run before 2001 ended. Their horrid first quarter, which extended to a horrid first half, then a horrid first three quarters, didn’t preclude them from turning everything around. It wasn’t enough to vault them all the way from nowhere to the playoffs, but it was invigorating, at the very least. Come the final weeks of their unlikely chase of a division title, you weren’t thinking about how bad they looked in May. May, along with everything from early April to late August, still counted toward explaining why they hadn’t climbed higher in the standings, but there were games left and games won, and as long as the Mets looked alive, they represented a suitable object of support for a Mets fan who himself was turning around attitudinally. I was disgusted by the Mets in May of 2001. It didn’t stop me from sincerely applauding every good thing they did come that September.

What kind of year is this being? Not one that stays crunchy in milk, despite what this attractive cereal box is meant to imply.

All of which is to say should the 2023 Mets, 18-20 at the moment following five consecutive series losses — four to teams allegedly unfit to shine their fluorescent shoes — find whatever made them a postseason qualifier in 2022 or simply shed whatever has made them sink in quicksand through the opening weeks of the year after, I will mostly forget how frigging lifeless and incapable they have appeared almost every inning of almost every week thus far. I won’t be a hypocrite when I chant “Let’s Go Mets” as if it’s 1969 or 1999. I will be a fan.

I’m a fan right now. I’m a fan who is having a hard time feeling supportive of a group of players I’d generally describe as guys I like. I don’t like the way they are playing. Fans love teams but can disapprove everything about those teams’ actions and results. There is not a lot to love, let alone like, at present.

Lousy Mets teams in May aren’t necessarily destined to be lousy Mets teams in September. I gave you one example. Others are scattered through franchise history. None among the front office, the coaching staff and the players gives up on improving. Improvement is always possible. I won’t say likely in this case because, despite the ample opportunities SNY provides me to wager, I wouldn’t have bet on an 18-20 start in 2023. Or a 15-23 start in 2001.

We commit unconscionable portions of our lives to staring at rosters and wondering how they’re not producing as we believed they would. “You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing” is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a bit when a team projected to win does otherwise. When Tim McCarver repeated it often during rough Met patches, it seemed sensible, even compassionate. Ooh-oo child, Timmy seemed to be trying to tell us, things are gonna get easier/brighter.

These days, “You’re never as…” lands like a cudgel to the part of your brain that processes sucking and tries to come to grips with an evolving reality. It’s the baseball version of a line I heard once that advised the two worst words you can tell somebody you wish to be calmer are “calm down.” “You’re never as…” is rarely invoked when a team is exceeding expectations. You’re winning? You look good? Carry on. At worst, you get a “don’t go crazy” barked at you in a Mad Dog Russo-style voice, the spoilsport wet-blanket types telling fans of the perennially downtrodden to know our place should we dare to be excited at, say, not losing five series in a row. There’s nothing better than ignoring those scoldings, nothing better than exceeding expectations, nothing better than being surprised for the positive.

Conversely, not stepping right up to meet expectations makes a so-so season so much worse than the record indicates. There are fans of teams in this league and the other one that probably think 18-20 looks pretty good right about now. We’ve helped a few of those teams pull to within that charmed circle of a little less mediocre than they were resigned to being in 2023. Our team can’t take series from Cincinnati or Colorado or Detroit. We have a chance to take a series from Washington next, but we already had one chance and didn’t take advantage. To be fair, we didn’t beat Atlanta more than one out of three, either.

It’s an indisputably not great situation. It might get better. It could get worse. It could stay approximately the same, which would stand in for worse just fine.

9 comments to As Bad As They Look When They’re Losing

  • eric1973

    And lest we forget:
    “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,”
    from our old friends from 1973.

    BTW, someone (Greg, this means YOU!) needs to let us know if there will be any Tribute Days to this beloved team’s 50th Anniversary.

    Please say it IS so!

  • Seth

    Whether or not a team is good is a subjective call, but their W-L record is a hard fact.

    It’s the same game every night – Mets go meekly in the 1st, other team slams Mets starter in the bottom frame (or vice versa).

  • Bob

    I recall late September, 2001 when Mets made a charge and if I also recall those NYPD, NYFD…. Caps in Pittsburg (before MLB Made a stink over them)
    About 2 weeks ago, I thought my TV went bonkers when some of the Met games I saw were from last September–or so it felt.
    Not looking foward to seeing the NL East standings next Monday right now.

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • eric1973

    Hey folks, all’s good. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of Tim Harkness.

    Just need to find a way to get out of this current malaise. Maybe Manfred can eliminate the first inning, which will help the Mets and serve to even further shorten the games.

    I hear the Zephyrs are doing that out west, and if its good enough for Jack Warden, it’s good enough for me.

    And Ya Gotta Believe More in ’64!

    • Seth

      That’s it! We need a 1st inning ghost runner. Hey, it will probably make the games even shorter, Manfred…