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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 Only Flag Available

Of all the key offseason hires approved by Steve Cohen, I haven’t seen the name Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong appointed as Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning, or whatever title would imply a person has been brought in to help the Mets figure out what to do next. No wonder she’s not in Flushing, given the personal mission statement this individual issued twenty years ago and how it clashes with the way the Mets went about their baseball business this year.

The would-be Met executive in question is a British singer better known by her stage name Dido, the same Dido who had a decent-sized hit in 2003 called “White Flag,” an anthem dedicated to not giving up.

I will go down with this ship
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door

Dido was singing about a romance, but her message can apply to any difficult situation. The song — which went to No. 1 in several countries and reached the Top Five on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in America — isn’t thematically unusual in pop annals. “Don’t Give Up On Us” by David Soul topped the Hot 100 in 1977; “Hang On In There Baby” by Johnny Bristol went Top Ten in 1974 and happens to rank as my nineteenth-favorite song of “All-Time”. The 1985 Mets’ highlight video (film was passé in the MTV era) aired by SportsChannel during nearly every rain delay in 1986 was titled “No Surrender,” with Bruce Springsteen’s track off the Born in the U.S.A. album one of many apt tunes licensed for inclusion (if not into perpetuity, as the video’s soundtrack was hacked beyond aural recognition when revived by SNY as Mets Yearbook: 1985). Those Mets whose exploits Springsteen serenaded dueled the Cardinals down to the final weekend. No retreat, baby. No surrender.

Yet it is Dido’s ditty that comes to mind in the wake of 2023 because of the phrase inserted in the chorus. The white flag is an ancient, enduring and potent symbol of giving up, and giving up is such an odious notion within the human condition. There are more nuanced meanings available, however. In recent centuries, according to the History Channel website, “the white flag has become an internationally recognized symbol not only for surrender but also for the wish to initiate ceasefires and conduct battlefield negotiations. Medieval heralds carried white wands and standards to distinguish themselves from combatants, and Civil War soldiers waved white flags of truce before collecting their wounded.” When you look at the white flag less as a communiqué of capitulation and more in the realm of saying, à la Eric Cartman, “screw you guys, we’re going home,” then you can rationalize the value of a white flag once you’ve concluded you don’t have the wherewithal to even pretend to compete any longer.

For 2023, Faith and Fear in Flushing chooses as its Nikon Camera Player of the Year — an award presented to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — The White Flag. By the middle of a campaign that was going nowhere, the Mets arrived at the realization that the most sensible way to play out their season was to find the first door leading to the future and give up on any pretense of contention.

In the words of Quick Draw McGraw Snagglepuss, exit stage 2024.

Between just before midnight on July 27 and just before 6 PM on Deadline Day, August 1, the New York Mets traded from their roster six veteran players. Five were exactly the kinds of players any team would want on their roster if that team was serious about making a run for a playoff spot, which is, in theory, the idea at the heart of any baseball season. Offed in the 112-hour selling period were a quality closer, two professional hitters and two starting pitchers universally described as future Hall of Famers. Each of those players the Mets no longer saw any need to keep around was placed in a good home, which is to say on a team with its eyes on October. Indeed, each of the teams acquiring one of these Mets played beyond the regular season.

The Miami Marlins traded for David Robertson, the quality closer. They made it to the Wild Card round.

The Milwaukee Brewers traded for Mark Canha, one of the professional hitters. They won their division.

The Arizona Diamondbacks traded for Tommy Pham, the other professional hitter. They won the National League pennant.

The Houston Astros traded for Justin Verlander, owner of three Cy Young Awards. They went to the League Championship Series.

The Texas Rangers traded for Max Scherzer, whose trophy case also houses a trio of Cy Youngs. They won the World Series.

Imagine having all these postseason pieces alongside a passel of other capable and accomplished players, including a few very much in their prime, all on one team. Then imagine looking at that team as a whole.

It looks better in the anticipatory imagination than it did on the field for the first four months of the 2023 season. The New York Mets already tried that cast. Scherzer and Verlander and Pham and Canha and Robertson and Alonso and Lindor and McNeil and Senga and Nimmo and Ottavino and Raley and an injection of youth from Alvarez and Baty and Vientos. A person planning to watch that collection of talent every day as of Opening Day couldn’t wait to see what they’d do together.

A person who actually watched that collection of talent every day from Opening Day until July 27 couldn’t stand to look at them any longer. A lot of people, actually — a lot of people who were Mets fans with high hopes at the outset of 2023 and a lot of people who had virtually no hope by the second half of the season.

Myself I’d count as no longer one of the truly hopeful by the night of June 8, once the Mets had been swept by the Braves in Atlanta. “Swept” doesn’t really do what the Braves did to the Mets justice. In each of three games at Truist Park, the Mets took a lead. In each of those three games, the Braves overcame the Mets’ lead. The series finale served as the most stark example of the chasm that had developed between these two franchises in the eight months since they each finished with 101 wins in 2022. The Mets hit three home runs; scored in five separate innings; and took or held a lead during every inning between the second and the ninth.

The Braves won in ten, 13-10.

A result of this nature in another season would have launched me into a rage or sent me spiraling into despair. This result in this season liberated me. As of June 8, when the Mets fell 8½ games behind the Braves, I was freed of the expectations that hadn’t matched the reality of the Mets for 63 games. This was no longer 2022. This was no longer Mets vs. Braves for the duration. The 2023 Mets had played with lethargy rather than urgency in April and May. June was starting no better. The Braves were still the Braves. Huzzah, I decided on June 8, I no longer have to take this team seriously as a National League East contender. After the way the Mets let the division title slip from their grasp in 2022, it was a perverse relief not to validate their presumed powerhouse status. Presumption evaporated on June 8. The Mets’ chance to catch the Braves evaporated with it.

But I didn’t think they would altogether disappear from the Wild Card race. And I don’t know if they ever did altogether disappear from the Wild Card race, even as June maintained its rancid pace — they’d ended June 1 at 30-27 and awoke July 1 at 36-46. That June swoon sure resembles a disappearing act. Yet the world in which fans of my vintage learned baseball, wherein your team was either fighting for first place or was languishing no place, had evolved into one dripping with consolation prizes. One Wild Card became two. Two Wild Cards became three. With three Wild Cards up for grabs, you have to be absolutely awful to be prohibitively out of it at the dawn of July. When the Mets completed compiling their nineteenth loss in their previous twenty-five contests, they sat ten games from the nearest Wild Card. Not a promising position from which to launch a highly improbable comeback, but not an absolutely impossible scenario, certainly not when you considered…

a) Roughly half a season remained.
b) The Wild Card scramble encompassed a slew of flawed entrants.
c) It was the fiftieth anniversary of 1973.

From July 1 through July 7, the Mets won six in a row. Verlander won a game and looked great doing it (7 IP, 0 ER). Scherzer won a game, regardless of how he looked (6 IP, 4 ER). Senga and Robertson teamed up on a four-hitter, striking out thirteen between them, winning and saving the Mets to victory once Alvarez (homer) and Canha (triple) provided some ninth-inning firepower. The 42-46 Mets were now 6½ games from the Wild Card. Fluidity was the fuel of conditional optimism. So many teams were fewer than double-digits from the final playoff berth. So many weeks were still on the schedule. So many Mets seemed to be coming alive. So, why couldn’t the Mets transform lethargy into energy?

I don’t know. But they didn’t. They lost their final two games before the All-Star break, their first two after the All-Star break, traded off some wins and losses for the better part of the next two weeks and entered the night of July 27 seven games under .500 and 7½ from a Wild Card. With a little over two months to go, they were running in place.

Steve Cohen saw the same team every Mets fan had in 2023, the one that looked imposing in March, the one that had marched into a miasma by late July, less the fog of war than a fog of bore. At the same stage in 1973, the Met record was worse (44-57 then vs. 47-54 now) and the distance from a playoff spot was three games farther away, and if you wished to hang your hat on You Gotta Believe, you were welcome to. But there’s a reason a season like 1973 lives on in legend: because it doesn’t happen every year.

Cohen discerned 1973 wasn’t going to happen in 2023, so he signed off on the trading of Robertson on the 27th; Scherzer on the 29th; Canha on the 31st; and Verlander and Pham and, for good measure, journeyman reliever Dominic Leone (to the then still aspirational Angels) on the First of August. Leone was the Mike Phillips-for-Joel Youngblood transaction of this Deadline Day. Robertson, Canha and Pham felt like standard-issue selloffs, veterans going somewhere else as a towel was being thrown in. A team that planned to contend over the final 61 games wouldn’t let go of its closer, even if he was a contingency closer, and wouldn’t have dispatched two bats that had been through the wars unless there was an obvious replacement in the wings (there wasn’t). But at the risk of diminishing the significance of the trades of Robertson, Canha and Pham, it was Scherzer on a Saturday night and Verlander on the succeeding Tuesday afternoon that made the deadline experience a full-blown Anti-Dido.

The White Flag was soaring above Citi Field, roughly where a 2023 pennant might have flown. Not only were Verlander, who had found his footing after an injury, and Scherzer, whose season hadn’t been quite so encouraging but he still carried that “knows how to win” cachet to the mound, were big names. They were tethered to big contracts. Not long, but hefty. How are you going to trade superstars of their caliber without picking up a ton of the ton they were owed?

You are going to be Steve Cohen is how. You are going to display a healthy impatience for how things are going, pick up the contractual tab in order to pry loose the best available prospects and determine that the preferable course of action is to lean into next season and the seasons after that, no matter how discouraging these half-dozen trades could have been interpreted in the context of this season. You interpret the trades instead as a necessary reset and bring back minor leaguers labeled legitimate prospects, executing what one self-styled wag referred to as the Steve Cohen Supplemental Draft. Suddenly, your farm system is restocked. Suddenly, a longshot playoff bid that has vanished is forgotten. Suddenly, you’ve heard of Luisangel Acuña and Drew Gilbert and Ryan Clifford and a bunch of other fresh faces nowhere near ready in the moment, but the hell with the moment. There are moments to come.

With their white flag, the Mets initiated a competitive ceasefire and conducted what amounted to battlefield negotiations with the general managers of organizations that were still out there fighting. They distinguished themselves from combatants by playing whoever they had handy and collected more than their share of wounds amid some grisly box scores. Mostly, they got through the season. They never effectively replaced Verlander and Scherzer (they are future Hall of Famers), but it’s not like we had really gotten attached to them as Mets. The starting pitching without them, led skillfully by Senga, performed with consistent competence down what in other seasons we would have labeled the stretch. Robertson wasn’t missed that much because there weren’t many save opportunities. DJ Stewart in right was enough of a revelation to erase cornermen Canha and Pham from our collective consciousness until perhaps we noticed them participating in the playoffs. Ronny Mauricio came up, flashed some of the ability we’d been told he’d been honing, and reminded us what fun it is to welcome genuine comers to the big leagues.

The Mets finished a little more below .500 (75-87) than they were when they began to make their trades, nine games from the third Wild Card slot, which is to say that for all their temporary tanking, they didn’t plunge significantly deeper into the abyss than they already had. Seven-and-a-half out when they commenced dealing. Nine out long after the dealing was done. They were a reflection of the squishy blob that represented the middle tier of their league. The postseason made room for a pair of 84-78 clubs in Miami and Arizona; Arizona made its way to the World Series. The 1973 Mets qualified at 82-79, albeit by capturing first place. Different times.

Still, one is permitted to squint in the rearview back to late July and make out a scenario in which those five players who helped five different contenders confirm their playoff reservations stayed with the Mets and were of similar use to our team, which wasn’t really in it, but not totally out of it, and played better than .500 ball — 22-21 — over their final 43 games despite the white flag having been definitively waved. Maybe 22-21 becomes 27-16 if we still have those guys we traded… and certain other teams don’t have some of those guys we traded…and because we didn’t wave the white flag, we don’t display post-deadline symptoms of shell shock (like that 0-6 road trip before we more or less straightened ourselves out)…and a few other things happen…and luck is finally on our side…and You Gotta Believe! But then you remember what everything looked like when we landed in late July and how you likely weren’t saying to yourself, “I just know we’re going to ride Verlander, Scherzer, Robertson, Canha and Pham in conjunction with everybody else here to a pennant.”

Whether the Mets of the fairly near future, elevated by the prospects received in exchange for raising the white flag in 2023, are in for a tangibly better ride is a component of the remains-to-be-scenery. It’s almost as if we can’t know what will happen until it actually happens. Or know what might have happened when it didn’t happen.


1980: The Magic*
2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016: The Home Run
2017: The Disabled List
2018: The Last Days of David Wright
2019: Our Kids
2020: Distance (Nikon Mini)
2021: Trajectories
2022: Something Short of Satisfaction

*Manufacturers Hanover Trust Player of the Year

National League Town is the Mets podcast that takes controversial stands like “David Wright oughta get a bunch of Hall of Fame votes!” Listen for elaboration here.

9 comments to The Only Flag Available

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Accurate, well said. Let’s get ’em next year.

  • Seth

    I might beg to disagree with “c) It was the fiftieth anniversary of 1973” — this was a different team with different players, as were all the other teams in the league. The only similarity to 1973 was a ‘3’ in the year. 1973 was as unique as game 6, 13 years later.

    “couldn’t stand to look at them any longer” reminds me of Jason’s post from that dark time, “I hate this team.” :-)

    2024 will be here before you know it!

  • eric1973

    Loved that Dido song, and actually have that CD.

    To bad you could not fit in Bertie Higgins’ ‘Key Largo.’

    Next time…

  • Gary Cohen

    Snagglepuss, not Quick Draw

  • eric1973

    After signing a bunch of scrubs over the past 2 weeks, the Mets have now signed a guy actually named Scrubb, who has not pitched in MLB in 2 years.

    The stuff writes itself.

  • open the gates

    To quote Kenny Rogers (the singer, not the execrable Mets pitcher), you got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. Steve Cohen clearly folded ‘em this year. Hopefully his Mets will live to play another day. And hopefully Kodai Senga turns out to be (going back to Mr. Rogers) an ace that he could keep.

  • eric1973

    Since Kenny Rogers’ name has been invoked, a bit of a song parody written near the end of Todd Hundley’s career, sung to the tune of “Through the Years.”

    Through the Years
    You always let us down
    Couldn’t get the bat around
    The wildest swings I saw
    I saw from you…

    Through the Years
    When hitting in the clutch
    You struck out oh so much
    You never had the touch
    Hey where’s your crutch
    Through the Years…

  • Lou Bruns

    I; for one, was NOT surprised by how the Mets performed in 2023. I saw them in Spring Training (last two games), and was not impressed. Only Lindor seemed to take the games in a serious and professional manner. After seeing how they slept walked during Sept. of 2022, I predicted (in Mets360), that this team would NOT win 90 games, but more importantly; would NOT get to the playoffs.

    Sigh. I was right. Although the lethargy of the team by not even reaching a .500 record, even astounded me. I think the 2023 squad had believed all the preseason hype about them.