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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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Hall Pass

The Mets really could have used another run Saturday. They crossed the plate once in nine innings. Unless their pitchers were crafting a shutout, that wasn’t going to be enough to win their game against the Blue Jays. Collectively, their pitchers held as much fort as they could, giving up only two runs to a highly capable lineup, but the numbers did them in. Two runs allowed versus one run scored equals a 2-1 loss. We’re still waiting on discovering a 2-1 Met loss that can’t be categorized as frustrating. Oh yeah, this game was frustrating as hell.

Yet Saturday as a whole at Citi Field was anything but. Saturday at Citi Field was Hall of Fame Day. The Mets have held 20 of them since 1981. The Mets’ record is 13-8 on those occasions when they’ve paused from their daily machinations to honor those who’ve exemplified them at their best; the 1986 ceremony took place between games of a doubleheader sweep, which is why there are more Hall of Fame Day results than Hall of Fame Days. I’d argue the Mets are undefeated on any day they celebrate themselves.

When the Mets celebrate themselves, they celebrate us, too. They celebrate us for caring and paying attention and making their brand our identity. They can’t necessarily honor us with a win. There’s another team on the field competing for that win, and there’s also the whole issue of human unpredictability. But they can, even while limiting their run production to a bare minimum, score. This Hall of Fame Day scored like crazy.

Your New York Mets Hall of Fame Class of 2023 was comprised of two outstanding players and two transcendent broadcasters. Outstanding players are usually who get inducted into Halls of Fame. The Mets have made too many outstanding players wait for induction. The Mets have made their fans wait too long between Hall of Fame Days, too. No ceremonies between 2002 and 2010. No ceremonies between 2013 and 2021 (though we’ll excuse them for 2020, which was scheduled but postponed by a pandemic). It feels a little chintzy to bring up the institutional blind spots of past ownership when it came to the Mets Hall, but the new regime is still playing catchup, thanks to the old one falling so far behind.

Why did Howard Johnson, whose last Met at-bat came in 1993, and Al Leiter, whose last Met pitch occurred in 2004, have to wait until 2023 to be recognized as two of the Met greats? At this point, we’ll defer to the Bud Dry advertising campaign from Hojo’s latter Met seasons and shrug, why ask why? On Hall of Fame Day, recriminations melt away. On Hall of Fame Day, the greats are recognized. On this Hall of Fame Day, we recognized the three-time 30/30 man, the player whose combination of speed and power, coming as it did from a perennially underestimated infielder, fueled the Mets in a trio of seasons when, frankly, they needed all the help they could get. The 1987 Mets, the 1989 Mets and the 1991 Mets came up different degrees of short of making the playoffs. Hojo did all he could, slugging homers and stealing bases and stepping up. He could have used a little help, y’know? Hojo, already a two-time world champion, kept those Mets viable for as long as he could. And if he wasn’t at the core of the 1986 club, he was more than incidental to its rousing success. Ask Todd Worrell.

On this Hall of Fame Day, we recognized the lefty who was born to pitch big Met games. Listen to Leiter and he will convince you roving bands of baseball executives kidnapped him at age 18, then age 22, then age 30, all to prevent him from fulfilling his familial destiny. His was a Mets fan family. He spoke our language. He felt our feels. Then, to be a professional, he put up with being a Yankee, a Blue Jay and a Marlin. The first time he pitched at Shea Stadium, in 1996, wasn’t the first time he sat in Shea Stadium. Al, four, was on hand for the raising of the 1969 world championship flag at the Home Opener in 1970. But the seat he talked about taking on Saturday, during the Hall of Fame press conference, was in the visitors’ dugout during Florida’s trip to New York. After his first game pitching against what had always been his team, he returned to that third base dugout to soak in the surroundings, seeing not the ballpark where he’d just triumphed, but the diamond populated by the Mets of his youth. The only thing wrong with that image was the perspective. Al Leiter belonged in the first base dugout at Shea. Two years later, he arrived. The year after that, Al literally pitched his Mets into the postseason. Had a lot to do with returning them there the year after that.

Great players, Hojo and Al, but as noted, that’s who Halls of Fames house as a rule. Leiter himself knows enough about Mets history to understand anybody who didn’t work in the first base dugout at Shea had to have been extraordinarily instrumental to our collective story to merit a plaque. One owner, Joan Payson; three front office operators, George Weiss, Johnny Murphy and Frank Cashen; and one mover/shaker Bill Shea are so honored. So, until Saturday, were a total of three broadcasters: Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson. As Leiter noted in his acceptance speech, the original three were ushered into the Mets Hall in 1984, the year Al graduated high school in New Jersey. No other announcers were ushered in for nearly four decades. Ushering at Shea could lead some to dicey interactions, particularly if you wished to graduate to a better seat. Maybe that was the problem with the Mets Hall from 1984 to 2023. No palms were greased.

Ah, but Howie Rose and Gary Cohen made it to the Hall the old-fashioned way. They earned it. They sat upstairs, in the Upper Deck. They rooted for the Mets as you and I root for the Mets. They talked about the Mets as you and I talk about the Mets, except at some stage of their young lives, they chose to talk into tape recorders and turn their passion into a skill, and by the end of the 1980s, these kids from the 1960s, were voices of the Mets. Rose hosted the pregame and postgame shows that forever ruined us for any other pregame and postgame shows, Mets Extra. Howie wasn’t a state of the art Mets radio host. He was the art. He created our expectations and upended them pretty much every night over WHN and WFAN. Believe it or not, that wasn’t his goal in life. He wanted to do what Ralph and Bob and Lindsey did. It took a little while to reach their section of Shea Stadium. Ralph and Bob were still pretty well ensconced when he moved down from the Upper Deck and over from whatever ancillary booth he’d occupied. Howie did Mets cable TV for eight seasons, beginning in 1996. He’s done Mets radio exclusively since 2004. In the ensuing 20 years, he’s become Mets radio.

In the ways that count most, Gary Cohen is Howie Rose’s doppelgänger. Mind you, they’re distinct individuals, as we all are, but the ways that count most is their embodiment of Mets fandom and their absorption of Mets experience, which makes you and me their doppelgängers, I suppose, except for the part where they talk about it for a rapt audience that can never get enough of what they have to say. In the realm of individuals who meet that description, I’d say there are two people, and both just went into the Mets Hall of Fame. As with Hojo and Al, they could have been inducted ages ago and it would have been a call as correct as any pair of “OUTTA HERE!s” that emphasize the end of extra innings. The implication that Mets broadcasting was never going to surpass a specific level of excellence after 1984 denied the possibilities that two kids from Queens could take what they had learned from their “uncles” (Howie’s apt word on Saturday for their fellow Mets Hall of Fame broadcasters) and build on it. To me, Howie Rose has been more than a Mets broadcaster. He’s been our spokesman of the soul since Mets Extra in 1987. That’s been Hallworthy from the moment it hit the air and the ear. Honestly, everything since then has been gravy. Or Bigelow Tea.

To me, Gary Cohen doesn’t have to be more than a Mets broadcaster, even if I have the sense he could have thrown himself completely into his basketball sideline and become another Marv Albert (or national affairs and succeeded Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America). Seventeen seasons on radio, eighteen seasons on television, thirty-five seasons I swear we’ve shared a baseball brain. I can feel him thinking my Met thoughts nanoseconds before he articulates them. On radio, I needed him to tell me every pertinent detail, and he did, always keeping pleasant company in the process. On television, he’s calibrated his approach to conducting a symphony of analysts and video and whimsy, but man, do I love his company on a given evening more than ever via SNY. In his pregame comments Saturday, when asked about his favorite calls, he explained he believes the brief clips that live on accompanying momentous highlights never concerned him as much as perfecting the hundreds of hours he knows fans commit to listening to him across a season.

Gary’s got some amazing calls in his portfolio, but yes, that’s it. The hundreds, now thousands of hours. TV now. Radio then. As I told him the very first time I met him, at a symposium on baseball broadcasting when I rustled up the nerve to approach him, I really and truly fell in love with what he did during a seventeen-inning game at the end of a dreadful Met year when he and Murph kept me tuned in and riveted, never mind that this was a game with nothing close to a playoff implication.

“You mean the Kenny Greer Game?”

That’s when I knew he was me, or as much me as legally permissible. Gary knows it as well. In his speech, he told the Shea Stadium crowd at Citi Field on Saturday, “I’m one of you.” Far be it from me to edit a Hall of Famer, but no, Gary. You are not one of us. You are us. You and Howie. We’re in this together. Now we’re in the Hall together. Talk about pleasant company.

Al and Hojo were baseball players long enough to know regardless of ability, effort and desire, you can’t win them all. Gary and Howie have witnessed and transmitted that fact of baseball-loving life to us enough that you wouldn’t think we’d require reminding. Jay Horwitz, who received the Mets Hall of Fame Achievement Award as part of the same celebration, surely pitched to reporters his share of stories whose angles averted on-field outcomes following days when the Mets didn’t score enough. On Saturday, the Mets scored enough by inducting their Hall of Famers. For one day, particularly because the bottom line of the box score isn’t about to be tangibly altered, I’ll put that in the books.

5 comments to Hall Pass

  • Seth

    As fans, maybe not everything has worked out with the team on the field. But honestly, you could not ask for better successors to Lindsey Bob and Ralph than Gary and Howie. Two kids with awesome skills and steel trap memories that grew up Mets fans? Yesterday Gary said he got lucky, but really it’s we who got lucky.

  • ljcmets

    My husband to me after hearing Howie and Gary ( and to a certain extent, Al Leiter, who he remembers as a Yankee): “I think I get it now….all of you Mets fans loved those bad teams as children and that’s why it’s so important to you when they win and why you watch every game.” ( Female Mets fan confession: I rescheduled a once-every-six-weeks, very hard to get hair appointment to watch that ceremony, LOL).

    Only Howie and Gary could articulate that to him so viscerally. And yes, they are true-to-the-orange-and-blue Mets fans but they are also, very importantly, New Yorkers down to the bone; born and bred, NY-educated, guys from Queens who rode the 7 Line to Shea and the rest of the lines everywhere else, who appreciate a good bagel and ethnic food, and who can turn a Yiddish phrase with the best of them. The faces on those plaques are those of New Yorkers -faces we recognize and see every day on the streets, the subways, and in the grocery stores and movie theaters and shopping malls. They Are Us, but also, They Are New York.

    Slowly but surely, watching the Mets with me is turning my husband into the New Yorker he never thought he was.* It’s very much upstate New York to identify with the Midwest rather than the City- and once you get west of Utica on the Thruway it looks like the Midwest- and my husband’s favorite team growing up outside of the Yankees was the Reds. But he loves the irony, the culture and the emotion of Howie and Gary and recently paid them the ultimate compliment: “My father would have loved listening to these guys – they make it so much FUN!” ( Other things he loves about the Mets include Pete Alonso, the programming on SNY, CitiField, the food at CitiField and the 7 Line Army. How I wish I could take him to Shea Stadium for a double-header, with BannerDay during the intermission.). Ya Gotta Believe it’s fun, and all of us who grew up rooting for the Mets know that. It’s also sometimes boring or worse, but then again sometimes it’s wild, crazy fun, defying logic and predictability. In the meantime, the broadcasts are still so much fun.

    Gary and Howie know everything there is to know about the Mets, and I too have made references to Mets lore just seconds before they have, to which my incredulous husband will say, “ How did you know he was going to say that?” The answer is not that I knew either one was going to say that, but that my Mets memories, although nowhere close to their encyclopedic knowledge, are theirs as well, all stemming from the same common experience.

    Gary and Howie are the very first generation of Mets broadcasters who grew up with the Mets, who can’t remember the Giants or the Dodgers or even the Yankees before the 1960’s, and those of us in the last cohorts of the Baby Boom (in our late fifties to early seventies) are the very first Mets fans in that demographic as well. Younger, newer Mets fans will soon have their say, but for now, like Howie said, we ( and Howie and Gary as well) are hanging on for One Last Ride to a World Series title, and enjoying the stops along the way.

    *Ironically enough, no one in my family has strong ties to NYC, but his family has centuries-old, cultural and professional ties to the Bronx, which explains the Yankees, I suppose. (My late father-in-law literally played pickup games on the fields where the new Yankee Stadium now stands). All my grandparents got off the boat at Ellis Island and headed straight Upstate for Albany and Utica. His parents were both born in the Bronx but moved to Buffalo. My favorite Howie iteration was when he teamed up with Josh Lewin, another upstate kid from Rochester who grew up a Mets fan. We are out there!

  • eric1973

    The Mets really did this ceremony right.

    Though all the honorees may not have deserved to be there (and Jay Horwitz deserved better than to get the Bob Mandt treatment), all the speeches were excellent, and showed how much each of them felt honored by this honor.

    Al Leiter was a trip.

    And Gary Cohen’s love of Shea Stadium should earn him a lifetime of immunity from this Shea-loving Gary-basher (hint: it won’t). That Lee Mazzilli line was just so perfect for the occasion.

    It was super-great seeing Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool, and Krane is looking well, after all his recent health issues.

    However, one great ommission that Uncle Stevie needs to rectify, and soon:
    Retire Lindsey Nelson’s microphone!
    EVERYBODY ALWAYS mentions Lindsey, Bob, and Ralph in the same breath, and to not see his name up there with the other two is one major oversight. The 3 of them, together, for the first 17 years, went a great deal in making the Mets the loveable franchise they remain today.

    And instead of building a casino to take more of the people’s money, he should demolish this eyesore and build a real stadium that resembles Shea rather than the Kings Plaza parking garage.

  • Seth

    I’ll bet Gary appreciates that they gave him hair on his HOF plaque.