Archive for March, 2007

The Season Begins

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

What I’m trying to figure out is whether this was a particularly boring offseason or whether all offseasons are this boring and you just forget about it from year to year. 

Do you remember any of it?  I remember wondering if there was any free agent pitching, realizing that there wasn’t much besides Matsuzaka and Zito, wondering if the Mets were going to bid for them, watching the Mets bid for them but not enough but it was no big deal because they went for too much anyway.  Then there was wondering who the fifth starter was going to be and was Milledge going to make the actual roster and was Wright really going to bat second.  Duaner Sanchez made some trouble and then he got hurt.  Jimmy Rollins said “nyah, nyah.”  We said “nyah, nyah” back.  Help me.  Is there anything I’m forgetting?  Was there anything else?  Was this worth the amount of time you’ve spent thinking about it over the last five months?    

Now that the season is ready to start, just about everybody is saying exactly the same thing.  The Mets are favored but they’re not going to run away with it like they did last year.  The Mets may even be better, but the division is going to be tougher.  It’s all going to depend on how good the pitching is.  Like, duh.  People get paid to say this?  I’d say it for free.  Hey, wait, I am saying it for free.

So what do I have to say at the start of the season?  Thank God.  I couldn’t have stood another month of this.  I don’t know what is going to happen this season.  I know that I have my sense of it right now, but I know that in only one week, just one week, there will be some major fundamental changes in my sense of it.  Is there a point in making a prediction based on a careful study of scouting reports and statistics?  Have careful studies of scouting reports and statistics yielded reliable predictions in the past?  There’s your answer. 

I predict an interesting season.  I predict that baseball will be as unpredictable as ever.  I’m really going to enjoy watching to see if Wright and Reyes have actually reached their cruising altitude or if they have even higher to climb.  I’m so excited about Mike Pelfrey.  Nothing is more fun than hoping for the emergence of a pitching superstar.  Will Oliver Perez become one of the great comeback stories?  Inconsistently, I am praying for the return of Green’s power swing and I want Lastings Milledge to become everything I could dream for him.  Please let him stay.  In my gut, I feel that there is something truly amazing and surprising in this young man.  Will the Mets have all the fun that they had last year plus more?  Will the fans have all the fun they had last year plus more?  If there’s a disaster, how will we all react?  There’s a big story here that unfolds over many years.  We are smack in the middle of it.  We are in the moment, in a particularly promising sweet and gorgeous moment, in a story that has had a lot of bare patches.  

I look at the roster.  There it is.  My team.  I like the way it looks.  I feel like a baby duck just hatched from its egg.  I am going to follow it. 

Outside it is sunny and warm and grey.  There are pine cones all over my lawn.  Here are the first crocuses.  Tomorrow, on a cold night in the heart of the country, the big beast will begin to wake up.  We’ll climb onto its back and we won’t come back down until the last cold evening in October.  It could be a rough ride.  It could be a beautiful ride.  It’ll be interesting.  I’m ready.  Everybody get up onto its back.  Hold on tight.  Let’s go.

My Radio Debut

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

 

 

This Monday evening, April 2, I will be a call-in guest on the “New York Baseball Online” radio show which broadcasts from 11 p.m. to mdnight on WGBB-AM 1240 (Long Island).  If you live outside the area that can get WGBB, you can listen live to the show on the Web by going to this site:  http://www.am1240wgbb.com/ and clicking on the button that says “Listen Live.”  Alternatively, you can hear the show anytime in the next week by going to the http://nybaseballonline.com/ site and clicking to hear the show.

New York Baseball Online, hosted by Mike Silva, had a great debut last week and you can hear the debut show by visiting the site.  There were genuinely interesting and informative interviews with Adam Rubin of the Daily News, who is the writer of the excellent Pedro, Carlos, and Omar, and Matt Cerrone of metsblog.com who is the undisputed dean of Mets bloggers.  I wish all talk radio in New York was as good as this.  Mike Silva hosted a sports talk radio program in which there was actual conversation and in which no one point was hit over the head a million times until long after it was dead.

So, tune in and enjoy!

Mets Fan Demographics, Part II

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

[This piece was first published on the Flushing University website on March 22, 2007.  To see my latest column on that site, please click on the Flushing University Banner to the right.] 

 Obviously, if you want to get a sense of the extent of the popularity of the Mets and the Yankees, you have to look beyond New York City to the entire metropolitan area. A study commissioned by the Independent Budget Office of the city of New York in 1998 found that of fans attending games in Queens and the Bronx, only 33% of those at Yankee Stadium, and 39% of those at Shea were actually residents of New York City. The breakdown is quite interesting. In this 1998 survey, people at a game at Shea break down like this: Nassau/Suffolk 26%, Queens 15%, New Jersey 13%, Brooklyn 11%, Manhattan 8%, rest of the US 8%, Westchester/Rockland 5%, Connecticut 4%, Bronx 3%, Staten Island 2%, rest of New York State 2%, outside of the US 2%. The Yankee Stadium analysis produced this result: New Jersey 22%, Manhattan 13%, Westchester/Rockland 11%, Nassau/Suffolk 9%, rest of the US 9%, Connecticut 7%, rest of New York State 6%, Bronx 6%, Brooklyn 6%, Queens 6%, outside of the US 3%, Staten Island 1%. As someone who was born in Manhattan, grew up in NJ, has lived in Queens and Manhattan, now lives in Connecticut, and teaches on Long Island, I have to say that these statistics sound completely correct to me. The Mets homeland is the great coastal island; it extends from Astoria to Montauk. Yankee land is west and north of there. I think that everyone who lives in these places is fully aware of this, but there are a couple of interesting things in this survey result that I’d like to take particular note of. One is that although the Yankees are more popular than the Mets in New Jersey, a lot of Mets fans come from New Jersey. 

I would explain this by looking at my own family’s history; although people from Brooklyn were more likely to move to Long Island than New Jersey, an awful lot of people from Brooklyn did end up in New Jersey. Another thing I find interesting is that a much greater portion of the Shea stadium crowd is from either Brooklyn or Staten Island than the Yankee stadium crowd. What I think this means is that even though the Yankees beat the Mets in the latest polls of baseball popularity in Brooklyn and Staten Island, people who are actually dedicated baseball fans in Brooklyn and Staten Island are somewhat more likely to be Mets fans. I would bet that this reflects the lingering anti-Yankee culture of old Brooklyn. But income demographics may also be a factor here too. The most surprising statistic in the New York City study is that only 6% of fans attending a game at Yankee stadium are from the Bronx! I take this to mean that an awful lot of diehard Yankee fans in the Bronx (and I would guess in Brooklyn as well) simply can’t afford to get to very many games. I should also mention that the average 1990 household income of the zip codes reported by the 1998 survey respondents (they didn’t actually ask people how much money they made) was $56,397 for people at Shea and $58,627 for people at Yankee stadium, per the 1990 census. These numbers were far in excess of the national average of the period. This would suggest that the median household income of people attending Mets and Yankee games in 2007 would be around $100,000, perhaps even higher for the Yankees because it has become so hard to get Yankees tickets. I’m sure the average income of fans at Shea, already very high, will fully catch up to the Yankees once they replace big and comparatively democratic Shea with the new, smallish designer stadium. These facts aren’t new and baseball teams must all be well aware of them. A detailed study conducted by Lieberman Research for Sports Illustrated in 1996 found that baseball fans between the ages of 25-49 are 62-73% more likely to be affluent, 85-90% more likely to be college-educated, and 79-91% more likely to be in professional and managerial occupations than the general population. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC and ESPN found that the more money you made, and the more education you had, the more likely you were to follow baseball. 

All of this makes the lack of Mets books particularly hard to understand since, as I pointed out in my proposal, if there are so many people able to afford the hundreds of dollars it takes to take a family to a baseball game, there must be a lot of people who would pay $25 for a good new book about being a Mets fan. Still, I don’t find these facts to be comforting. One of the nicest things about baseball is the sense that it is something that all kinds of people share and enjoy. As time goes by, though, it is becoming something different. My parents developed their love of baseball as bleacher bums in Ebbets Field. They were from struggling immigrant families and were of modest means. I wonder if their equivalents in contemporary New York will develop the same love of baseball if they don’t ever have a chance to actually attend a game. I don’t blame the players and their high salaries for what has happened; I think the players as a group (rather than as individuals) are paid an appropriate amount of money for the income they generate. I don’t entirely blame the owners either; the situation we find ourselves in was created by the forces of the market, and this is what the market has wrought.

All I would ask of the owners and is that they build stadiums big enough to accommodate larger numbers of people, so that you will not have to shell out for a season ticket in order to go to an important game, or even to go to any game at all. If the stadiums are bigger, I believe that the teams will still make enough money. In conclusion, I think that we have a right to expect the owners of Major League Baseball to find ways to make baseball accessible to people who don’t have a lot of disposable income. They should build reasonably sized stadiums and they should become more creative in an attempt to make our pastime more accessible to all fans.

Baseball is one of our most important national symbols, and it would be wonderful if it could represent the best of our nation, and not just the power of the wealth within it.   

 

 

Mets Fan Demographics, Part I

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

[This piece first appeared on Flushing University on March 15, 2007.  You can read the continuation of this article on Flushing University by clicking on the banner to the right.] 

When I was writing the proposal for my book, I had to do some demographic research for the section of the proposal that identifies the potential market for the book.  While doing this research I ran across several surveys taken over the years that had information I found fascinating.  As we wait for the season to begin, I thought I’d share some of this stuff with you, since I think that many of you will find this stuff interesting too.

Apparently the Harris organization takes a poll every year of American baseball preferences.  In the latest poll, taken between June 12 and June 18, 2006, 2351 adults, 884 of whom follow Major League baseball, were asked the question “What Is Your Favorite Baseball Team?”  The Yankees were found to be the most popular baseball team in the United States, a position they’ve held for the last five years the poll was taken.  This is what I would have guessed.  But do you know who was second?  The Mets!  The Braves, the Cubs, the Red Sox, and the Cardinals rounded out the top 6.  In the 2005 poll, the rankings were:  Yankees, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Cardinals.  Now, to be honest, I don’t really know what this means.  Since they don’t separate the statistics for those who follow baseball and those who don’t, there is a decent chance that the results reflect which baseball teams are the most famous, rather than which ones are really the most popular with fans.  If you look at the results of this survey over the years, you will also see that there are suspiciously wide swings from year to year.  The Mets ranked 14th in 2004 and you could say they deserved it, but they ranked 3rd in 2003.  I suppose that the only thing you can fairly conclude from the Harris Poll is that the Mets are one of the most popular teams in baseball.  Which should be obvious, given that they play in the largest and most influential metropolitan area in the United States.  They also have some degree of nationwide popularity.  Because the New York-based media likes to hype them when they do well and because there are so many transplanted New Yorkers, the Mets draw more fans on the road than any other National League team except the Dodgers.

The Mets are certainly popular.  But one place where their popularity isn’t very evident is on the shelves of bookstores.  Writing my proposal, I had to make the point that there weren’t enough Mets books for the ten million or so Mets fans.  To make my point, I counted the total number of actual books about individual baseball teams available for sale on Amazon.com.  I excluded calendars, yearbooks, media guides, childrens’ books, and collections of dates and quotations.  There are a lot of books of dates and quotations because a book like that can be written in an afternoon.  Anyway, you can buy 90 books about the New York Yankees on Amazon, of which 50 have been printed or reprinted since 2000.  There are 77 books about the Red Sox, of which 57 have been printed or reprinted since 2000.  There are only 24 books about the New York Mets available for sale on Amazon, of which 13 have been printed or reprinted since 2000.  This is crazy.

After the last twelve years, I don’t question the idea that the Mets are less popular than they Yankees.  But I don’t think the popularity gap is big enough to justify this enormous book gap.  I will argue that the Mets have been more popular than the Yankees for much of their history, more popular overall during the period from their beginnings in 1962 up to the early to mid-1990s.  Before your jaw drops open in disbelief, go look at the attendance statistics.  In the first 31 years of the Mets’ existence, the Mets drew more fans than the Yankees to their ballpark in 19 of the 31 years.  The Yankees outdrew the Mets in only 12 years.  The Mets began their existence by combining the fan base of the Dodgers and the Giants and there were more Dodgers and Giants fans combined than there were Yankees fans.  The Mets were also a very exciting baseball team for about half of those first 31 years.  The Yankees were a pretty lousy team for about half of those 31 years.
 

Anyway, no one doubts that the Yankees are more popular than the Mets are now.  The question is by how much.  The question is also whether the two teams are close enough in popularity so that the Mets could actually surpass the Yankees in the next few years. 

Well, apparently Quinnipiac University has taken a poll every year for seven years to see whether the Mets or the Yankees are more popular among New York City registered voters.  Two questions they ask are “Are you a Yankee fan?” and “Are you a Mets fan?”   In the latest poll of 1,041 NYC registered voters, taken between July 5 and July 10, 2006, 49% said they were Yankees fans and 48% said they were not.  42% of NYC registered voters identified themselves as Mets fans and 56% said they were not.  Over the seven-year period in which Quinnipiac has taken this poll, the percentage identifying themselves as Mets fans has ranged from a high of 46 % in 2000 to 35% in 2002.  Quinnipiac also asks who you would root for if there was another Subway Series.  In the 2006 poll 46% said they’d root for the Yankees and 37% said they’d root for the Mets.  I think the vote would actually have been a lot closer if the Mets and Yankees had both made it to the World Series in 2006 since the media hype machine in 2006 was, in my view, clearly favoring the Mets, not as better but as “more fun.”  The breakdown by boroughs for this question was pretty much what you’d expect.  The Mets are much more popular than the Yankees in Queens (52-30), and the Yankees are much more popular than the Mets in the Bronx (62-28).  Queens has a lot more people than the Bronx, but the Yankees have an edge of varying size in each of the other boroughs: 45-34 in Brooklyn, 52-30 in Manhattan, and 53-39 in Staten Island. 
 
Obviously, though, if you want to get a sense of the extent of the comparative popularity of the Mets and the Yankees, you have to look beyond New York City to the entire metropolitan area.  Next Thursday, in the second part of my column, I’ll talk about what I learned in my research about the demographics of the people who actually fill the stands at Shea and in Yankee stadium.


 

Blondie?

Monday, March 19th, 2007

 

So I’m listening to “Mike and the Mad Dog” and I hear Kelly Ripa urging people to buy Mets tickets on mets.com.  Now, I know who Kelly Ripa is because I’ve seen the front covers of magazines like Good Housekeeping in the supermarket.  I’ve never actually seen her in action.  I know that at some point when I wasn’t paying attention, she replaced Kathi Lee Gifford as Regis Philbin’s “goofy” female sidekick on whatever show all of those people are on. 

I never saw the point of Kathi Lee Gifford and, if truth be told, I’ve never actually seen the point of Regis Philbin.  Something tells me that if I were to watch Kelly Ripa on her show, I wouldn’t see the point to her either.  This is no big deal, of course, since I assume that I’m not part of that show’s demographic.  I assume, from the magazines she’s on the cover of, that her show is pitched to women who are at home in the daytime.

As a 52-year old man, I am part of “Mike and the Mad Dog’s” demographic.    I’m not sure how many watchers of “Regis and Kelly” would want to listen to “Mike and the Mad Dog.”  Most men find it hard to listen to “Mike and the Mad Dog.”  I’m just guessing that the few women who can bring themselves to listen to Mike and Chris aren’t big fans of Kelly Ripa.

So what is she doing selling tickets on “Mike and the Mad Dog?”  Who at the Mets did the market and media research to determine that she would be the right person to sell Mets tickets on a radio show that has an audience with zero overlap with the TV show she’s on?   What is somebody thinking?

Kelly says, on the commercial, that she’s been looking at the blogs on mets.com.  Where are they?  I’ve been all over that site and I can’t find any blogs.  She gives the names of some bloggers and they have “Somebody from Somewhere” names like people who call  into sports talk shows.  Bloggers don’t have names like that.  Does Kelly know what a blog is?  Does the writer of the commercial know what a blog is?   This Kelly, right here, is a blog.  Not whatever it is you’ve been looking at.  I hope she hasn’t been looking at the fan forum.  She doesn’t want to go there.  What people might say about her there is a lot worse than that she’s not a real Mets fan because she doesn’t know that David Wright’s favorite color is acquamarine.  David, is that really your favorite color? 

The main thing you learn from Kelly’s commercial is that if you buy a season ticket, you get to call her “Blondie.”  This is quite an incentive, but I still can’t afford a season ticket.  Does this mean I can only call her by nicknames that refer to her original hair color?  Will the Mets be having a lottery so that 5000 fans who don’t have season tickets will be allowed to call this woman “Blondie?”  What do you get to call her if you get a Saturday pack?  What happens if you buy a luxury box?

 

Honoring Ralph Kiner

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

[This piece first appeared on the Flushing University site on March 8, 2007.  To read my latest Thursday column, about what I learned about the popularity of the Mets when researching my book proposal, please check on the Flushing University banner in the column to the right.]

The Mets have announced that they’re going to hold an on-field tribute to Ralph Kiner before the July 14 game against Cincinnati.  I’m glad and I’m looking forward to it.  Ralph has been an important part of the lives of every Mets fan and as the last surviving member of the broadcast team of Nelson, Kiner, and Murphy he’s particularly precious to those of us who have rooted for the team since the 1960s.   Ralph was one of the background voices of my childhood.  I remember how cool it was when I was eight or nine and Ralph, in black-and-white, on our old ‘50s TV, introduced Homer, a Mets cap-wearing beagle, as our team’s first animal mascot. 

“Kiner’s Corner” was a hoot.  It would begin with a piece of music that would get into your head and stay there forever.  It was a march and it sounded partly like something that would be played at a college football game in the 1920s and partly like what the oompah band would play at an Oktoberfest.  It was totally Ralph.  It came from a fascinating and distant past and although it wasn’t like anything else you were familiar with, it was right at home in your living room. When the music faded, you’d see Ralph sitting in a chair.  A ballplayer would be in the other chair and Ralph would proceed to describe something that had happened to the ballplayer in the game.  Once the ballplayer understood that Ralph’s statement was supposed to be treated as if it was some sort of question, the ballplayer would then offer his own version of what Ralph had just said.  Ralph would wait until the ballplayer was finished and then he’d “ask” another question and the ballplayer would “answer” it in the same way.  After they went around like this three or four more times, the show would end and you’d hear that haunting German college music again. 

There was something mesmerizing about this show.  If they had had DVR in the past, I would have been able to watch it over and over again.  It was the earliest example, perhaps, of reality TV.  It didn’t look as if anything was happening on purpose.  It just happened.  It was amazingly authentic and sweet. 
Ralph was famous for doing things like wishing all fathers a Happy Birthday on Father’s Day.  Or saying that all of a pitcher’s saves came in relief appearances.  But when Ralph did this kind of thing, he would remind you of Yogi Berra or Casey Stengel.  None of these men were fools.  They were geniuses.  And one of the things that geniuses understand is that there are advantages to seeming as if you’re a little eccentric.  It throws off your rivals and it mystifies and charms your fans. 

As everyone who’s listened to Ralph Kiner for the past 45 years knows, Ralph knew everyone who ever played, and he has a deep, inner knowledge of the workings of the game.  As an announcer, he was so humble that it was always a bit of a surprise to realize how much you were learning from him as you listened to one of his stories.  What many fans don’t know about Ralph is the fact that, in the chaste lingo of the Associated Press, Ralph, the handsome home run king, “squired” Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Janet Leigh.  Imagining that “squiring” is a challenge.  What are you supposed to make of this man?  How could someone hit all those home runs, know so much about baseball, “squire” so many of the most exciting actresses of the 1950’s and still be as calm, straightforward, and unpretentious as Ralph Kiner?  This is what makes Ralph so wonderful and so unique.  This apparently awkward man is not only brilliant, he’s glamorous!  He’s sexy!  Wouldn’t you have loved to have seen Ava Gardner on Kiner’s Korner?   

Ralph is somebody you couldn’t have made up and you’ve come to love.  To me, he is the soul of old baseball.  He comes from what’s good about baseball’s past.  There was plenty that was bad in the old days.  There was the racism and there were decades when the players were paid a pittance to enrich the selfish owners.   But Ralph gives me a sense that the past was also a time when everyone was a character and everyone, as he told a reporter, “had more fun.”  Maybe they just had fun in a different way.  But Ralph helps me to imagine that lost baseball past.  When he finally retires, I will have lost a great deal.  Ralph helps me to imagine that lost world, and he lets me know that it really existed.  I’ll be there when they honor him.  I’ll clap and I’ll cheer until they make me sit down. 

I Just Broke Down

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

I just broke down.  I bought a ticket to Opening Day on Stub Hub.  I wasn’t planning to do this.  I didn’t want to do this.  I did it.  It’s a really lousy seat.  Upper Deck Reserved.  Row Q.  Makes me think of Avenue Q (you know, “it sucks to be me.”)  Seventy five bucks.  How did it happen?

Well, I was checking to see if there were any new comments on my blog.  There was a new comment by Shelley on the post “Your Season Has Come.”  Shelley, like hundreds of thousands of us, is an outraged fan who has gone to opening days in the past and lost the lottery and has been scrounging around trying to get a ticket ever since.  She says she wasn’t going to spend $200 for a ticket on StubHub.  She even sent me an e-mail asking if I knew of any way she could get a ticket.  This is a loyal fan.  I couldn’t help her.  I didn’t even have a ticket myself. 

So I was all prepared to write a post about how the real fan’s Opening Day would be the second game of the season on Wednesday, April 11.  I already had tickets for that game, for myself and my daughter.  Reasonably priced good seats, Loge Reserved, thirty bucks each.  They were no problem to get.  If the lottery was going to freeze out the Mets fans who had filled the stands for Opening Days in the past, then we could make our own Opening Day, couldn’t we?  The poor person’s opening day.  The Opening Day for those of us whose seats for the really big games were left out of the plans for CitiField. 

I was at Opening Day in 1983 when Seaver came back, when they drove him in from the outfield to the “Welcome Back Kotter” song.  Any fan that can show up for Opening Day in 1983 after the 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982 Mets seasons, who can stay loyal to a franchise that gives Tom Seaver away TWICE, deserves Opening Day tickets.  He or she deserves sainthood.  But, he says, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, he or she doesn’t even get consideration when they design the little, new, lucrative stadium.   

I should have stuck with my principles, and with my resentment.  I should have been happy to go to the second game of the season and call it whatever I wanted to.  But before I put up a post to try to rally other Mets fans to think the same way, I decided to check out StubHub to see what Opening Day tickets were actually selling for.  I’d never been to StubHub before.  The tickets were expensive.  All of them over $100.  But there was one forlorn little ticket for $75 way the hell up in the Upper Deck, probably being sold by someone who simply had an extra ticket.  I bit my lip.  I cursed the way they had us over a barrel.  I felt the depths and the degradation of my total humiliation.

And I bought the frigging ticket.  I’m going to Opening Day.

 

 

World Series or Bust …. Really?

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

[This column of mine was first posted on “Flushing University” on Thursday, February 22, 2007.  To see my latest Thursday column, entitled "The First Exhibition Game," please click on the “Flushing University” link to the right.]

DO WE HAVE TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES?

Fred Wilpon has announced that “Our goal is to win the World Series.” Fans are clamoring for it. Nobody wants to come up short again. Willie Randolph is even wearing his 1977 World Championship ring, hoping that the players will see it and think “gee, maybe I’ll try to win one of those things too.” Yeah. Yeah.

Everybody wants to win the World Series. Why?

I know the answer to this question as well as you do. I understand how baseball is structured and how, given that structure, winning the World Series is the biggest and best thing a team can do in any baseball season. But I want to take just a couple of minutes of your time to go through the reasons why this is stupid.

Nobody needs to be reminded of the fact that the best team, according to whatever standards you wish to apply, doesn’t normally win the World Series. Is there anyone in the world, is there anyone even in Missouri, who thinks that the St. Louis Cardinals were the best team in baseball last year? I’d be hard-pressed to put them in the top 10.

If winning the World Series doesn’t tell you that the 83-79 Cardinals were the best team in baseball, what does it tell you? It tells you that they won the World Series. That isn’t nothing, but I don’t think that it’s as much as it’s made out to be. What it tells you is that however hard it was over six months for the Cardinals to win just a few more games than they lost, they did get hot at just the right moment.

Now you’re probably thinking, well maybe we shouldn’t make too much of it, but people do. That’s what people remember, that’s what people care about, who wins the World Series. But you know what? This isn’t even true.

Look at your own baseball memories. Think about National League baseball and great National League teams in the past two decades. What do you think about? What do you remember? I remember Atlanta’s astounding and unprecedented decade and a half of dominance. I remember the great Astros teams of the late ‘90’s built around Bagwell, Biggio, and Alou, the great Cardinals teams with and without McGwire, the great Giants teams around Bonds and Kent (yeah, I know, I know). I remember Arizona’s few years in the spotlight with their one-two pitching punch of Johnson and Schilling. I remember, of course, the four exciting years the Mets had from 1997-2000. So what National League team has won more World Series than any other in the 1990s and 2000s? You know? The Florida Marlins. What does this tell you? What does this mean? Do you remember more about the Marlins and their glory than you remember about these other teams? Are you likely to tell your grandchildren about the turn of the millennium being the era of the Marlins?

I started following baseball in 1962. When I think back on National League baseball in the period between the first year of the Mets and their first World Championship, I cherish my memories of all the great teams: the Giants with Mays and McCovey, the Braves with Aaron and Matthews, the Pirates with Clemente, Stargell, and Clendenon, the Reds with Robinson, Rose, and Pinson. Quick, old timers! How many World Series did the Giants, Braves, Pirates, and Reds combine to win between 1962 and 1969? You know the answer. Zero. Zip. Does that make those legendary teams any less legendary? The Dodgers and the Cardinals did win World Series in this period because of their overpowering pitching, but when I remember that era, the Dodgers and the Cardinals are just part of the mix. Their World Series victories don’t erase, they don’t even dim my memories of these other great teams that didn’t win the Series.

Look, making a big deal of winning the World Series is a necessary fiction. You need goals. You have to have something to aim for, and winning the Series has been defined as the ultimate baseball accomplishment for a team in a given year. But we all know that it is not as big a deal as we make it out to be. The Mets have, I think, a 90% chance of having an exciting and satisfying season of baseball. But even the most optimistic projection can’t give them more than a 10% chance of winning the 2007 World Championship. I think it will be fun to aim for that 10% and to hope for it. I want the players to play as if it’s absolutely necessary. But if I ever really reach the point where I need it, and crave it, and think I deserve it, and am not going to be happy unless I get it, then I will have become no better than a heroin addict.

So maybe this will be the year in which we go all the way. But this may also be the year when we will have the best Mets lineup ever, when Jose Reyes reaches the outer limit of what an infielder can accomplish, when David Wright reaches the level of Musial, when Oliver Perez gets it back for good and becomes a latter-day Koufax, when Pelfrey and Humber pull a Gooden and Darling, when Pedro Martinez returns resurrected, when Lastings Milledge puts it all together the way Jose did last year. We have so many possible miracles to hope for. We’ll only get one or two of them, if we’re lucky. And the Series may or may not be in the cards. But as the curtain rises, I’m not going to spend all my time thinking about winning the World Series. I can’t wait to see what this season brings me, to remember all my life.