Archive for August, 2008

No Representative Samples

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

There is a tendency we have, when we look at something big and complex, to think that we can scoop up a little bit of it and say that it represents the whole.  If you look at sports writing, you find that one of the most common things sportswriters will say is:  this game stands for the whole season.  And sure, whenever you get good but sporadic offense, decent starting pitching and lousy relief pitching in a game, you could be forgiven for saying that the game represented the Mets problems in this particular season.  I’m not denying that the Mets problems show up in many of their games.  That’s why we consider these things to be the Mets problems.  What I want to suggest is that the way the Mets are playing this year, it is particularly difficult to call any particular game representative. 

But maybe a series can be representative.  I think this last one with Philadelphia was.  You could have said that the first game represented a weakness of the Mets.  But you know it wasn’t representative because you didn’t lose hope after they lost it.  You have seen plenty of examples this season of the Mets playing a horrible, disheartening game and then coming right back and playing a beautiful one.  And you’ve seen the reverse.  Often, during a baseball season, you see a particular game and you feel you have some sense of what the next game will be like, and the next, and the next.  Not this season.  This season is more like a series of coin tosses.  Each individual event doesn’t seem to be influenced by previous events.   This season, there’s just no reason why, after you give up a seven-run lead in one game, you wouldn’t come from behind with two outs to win the next one.

I think this may account for the emotional weirdness I referred to in my blog post of two days ago.  I don’t get as depressed by each loss because I don’t think it signifies much about the next game or about the future.  I don’t get as happy with each win for the same reason.  The games don’t tell me where the team is going.  I don’t have any idea where the team is going.  Last year, I thought I had a sense, but I was wrong, so I’m certainly not going to try to anticipate anything now.  And anyway, even if we were seven games ahead with seventeen to go, I wouldn’t feel confident.

But I don’t feel particularly frightened.  Do you?  If the Mets win this year, they will have won it.  They will not have avoided losing it.  The inconsistency and the events of last year have lowered my expectations in what may even be a good way.  What will happen will happen. 

Still, it is interesting that even though the Mets are on track to win exactly as many games this year as they won last year and even though a real photo-finish with the Phillies is very likely, this year feels so much better.  Part of the reason, obviously, is that we’re not ahead.  Part of the reason is that the good part of this season came after the bad part, unlike last year, so good stuff is more vivid in our collective memory.  Part of the reason is that this season we are playing better at home than on the road, which is as it should be, and probably indicates a better relationship between the team and the fans.  Part of the reason is that we have Jerry rather than Willie.  I don’t know if he’s a better manager or not and I did like Willie Randolph.  But the canny, involved way in which Jerry Manuel responds to problems just makes me feel better than Willie made me feel from last fall to this spring.  Willie set his jaw and his lips and determined to ride things out.  Jerry looks out at that field with a questioning gaze and a what-the-$**&? sense of irony and bemusement.  Jerry makes me feel better.  This isn’t scientific.

People say they’re more of a team this year, that they want it more, and blah, blah, blah.  Maybe they do.  I don’t know.  I thought they wanted it last year too.  Something feels good about this team.  I feel good.  Because I have no specific expectations and I have run out of assumptions.  And since there are no representative samples this year, I’ll try to look at my team the way Jerry does and not the way Willie did last year.  I’m amused and curious and questioning.  I’m not just holding on. 

 

Could you have made that one up?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

A dominant Mets start.  Phillies floundering.

SEVEN run lead.

The Mets go quiet.  Phillies make up the seven run deficit and in the final moment, surge into first.

I said this season was being experienced in a fog.  This is more like a dream.  Please let the Mets not be as spooked as their fans are.

A Pennant Race

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Okay, so just as I get all ready to focus on the final month of Shea stadium, just as I get ready to chronicle my emotions, recount my memories, describe everything about the arena from the bathrooms to the edges of the parking lot, just as I get ready to share all of my hopes and fears for baseball fandom in the future … what happens?

A pennant race breaks out.

I mean, you could see it coming, I guess.  Here you have two teams a game apart at the end of last season.  Going into this season, they seemed fairly evenly matched.  And then they’ve had similar streaky, stumbling seasons.  And so now there are thirty games left and they’re one half game apart.  We have a right to expect a tremendously exciting and perhaps historic September. 

Why am I surprised?  How exactly has this crept up on me?  Why does this feel so weird? 

I’m talking about something real here, something I’ve experienced, that you may have experienced too.  I realize, as we enter the last month of the season, that however much I’ve been paying attention, I’ve been experiencing this season from a kind of distance.   It’s even a kind of blur.  When the Mets have gone up, I’ve been expecting the downturn, when they’ve gone down, I’ve expected the upswing.  As a result I haven’t actually felt a hell of a lot.  Last year, I sweated every pitch, I felt the vertigo you feel when you bounce too violently and too frequently between horror and happiness.  And then I got conked on the head at the very end.  The neurons that hadn’t already blown out got switched around.  And so I stumbled into this season and now that it’s almost over I realize that I’ve experienced it through a fog of numbness.  I couldn’t lament or celebrate anything because last season gave me a sense that nothing meant anything.  All season long, I have had the sense that whatever happened, the opposite was waiting right around the corner. 

When you get to the last month, though, everything does mean something.  The little flukes that will decide this season one way or another are just about to happen.  And they will echo through your memories like all of the concluding flukes that decided other close seasons.  I have to be ready to experience this.  I can’t just think about the death of the stadium, and perhaps the end of a warm, inclusive century-old era of New York National League fandom.   The pennant is now at stake.  Meaningful games are about to be played in September.   And they don’t just have meaning for this season. 

This is the last season at Shea.  This is the end of a particular story.  It is very important that the story end with dignity.  And it would be un-fucking-believable if it were to end with glory.

September 27

Monday, August 25th, 2008

If you haven’t already done so, head over to the garykeithandron.com website and get tickets for the second-to-last game at Shea.  The Mets have given Lynn Cohen 800 (!) tickets in the picnic area for that game and 600 have already been snapped up.  For $80, all profit of which will go to the GKR foundation, you will get a seat and all the food and drink you can consume.  You also get to walk out onto the warning track during the National Anthem with everybody else.  (Like, how cool is that?  It will be my first time on the sacred soil).  All you have to make sure to do is wear a GKR item of apparel.  I’ll be there, along with my wife Sheila (the former Red Sox fan) and my daughter Sonia (very sentimental because this is our last game together at Shea).  I hope to see and meet a lot of you there.  I will be selling and signing books and donating all profits plus a personal contribution to the Gary, Keith, and Ron charities.  So, I hope to see you then and please remember to bring a lot of Kleenex.

There Was Something Here

Monday, August 18th, 2008

 100_2367 by you.

There was something here, where the parking lot is, to the west of Citifield.  I’m looking at it as I’m writing these words.  It really is there.  I see it.  But if you read these words at any time in the future that begins three months from now, it is no longer there.  You know what it was.  You may remember it, and you will hear about it for a long time.  The last people to remember Shea stadium will live into the twenty-second century. 

This is what happens.  Everyone knows this.  But the reason Citifield looks like a stadium that was demolished in 1960 shows you that people can’t accept this.  I can’t accept this, which is a main reason I’m writing a book about it.  You know what I’m talking about.  Stuff is there and then it isn’t.  And no, it doesn’t live on in your memory.  Your memories may be your most prized possessions, but nothing lives in them. 

Really big things that get torn down have a particular grandeur.  If they can be gone, everything can be gone.  Being gone is no big deal.  Shea was very big, much bigger than Citifield.  Trust me.  I am looking at them both, standing side by side.   Shea is immense and Citifield looks little beside it.  I’m looking at living proof that the world was bigger in the past.  I remember how big everything used to be.  I remember a parade on Fifth Avenue in the Fifties and how immense the buildings were.  I remember the original Penn station and the great ocean liners lined up at the docks on the West Side.  I remember dirigibles in the sky.  Penn Station and the ocean liners and the dirigibles are gone too.  The big buildings are still there but they don’t seem as big.  Everything was bigger in the past.  This is a very old human sentiment, and to some degree, it is literally true.  I’m looking at proof.

Why was Shea so big?  Because the people who built it thought that that many people might want to come to it.  The people who are building Citifield know that that many people will want to come to Citifield, but they won’t always come and so they don’t feel a need to be ready and hopeful that everyone will arrive.  More money will be made from selling seats in the smaller stadium because there won’t be seats for everyone who will want to come. 

I am beginning to feel more and more angry about this.  I am not just sentimentally loyal to my old friend.  I am making a real effort to separate my anger from my sentiment.  They are separate issues.  I accept the death of Shea.  I know why it is being torn down.  For all that it contains my beautiful memories, it is old and poorly designed.  Still, to build something that has 13,000 fewer seats is a cynical calculation.  I’m sorry.  I think that the purpose of baseball, and of all of human culture, is to enrich everyone’s life.  It is not to make a small number of rich people richer than they already are.  There are so many of us and so few of them.  Why do they get to call the shots about something that affects us all?   Why couldn’t we have had a vote about the capacity of the new stadium?  Who set things up in this way and why does everyone just shrug now and call it rational?  

I do and I don’t want to sound like an old lefty.  When I make my existential choice to love baseball, I resolve to forgive it many things from the start.  But if I am to forgive, I don’t want people taunting me as if they’ve gotten away with something because I’m a stupid fool who just wants to have his pleasures. 

When I go to the Citifield site, and read about the Citifield price structure and season ticket policies, I feel taunted.  I feel taunted and offended by all the Excelsior, Empire, Sterling, climate-controlled sports and entertainment destination crap (I can only afford to sit in the Promenade Level.  Why do they call it that?  Promenade means to walk around.  They are going to have seats up there, aren’t they?).  I feel taunted and offended by the prices.  Who gave these people the right to charge that much for something that now sells for half that amount?  Who determined that they could limit the supply of seats to increase demand, to increase the price and their profits?   Why should they have that profit?  Why can’t 55,000 people enjoy the sublimity of a playoff game any more?  Is there really no more room for them?  Who determined this?  Who allowed this to happen? 

There are plenty of moments now when I feel that I am at a breaking point.  I want to mourn the dear old stadium in a decorous way.  I want to get all lyrical about the passing of time and the disappearance of big and beloved things.  I don’t want the destruction of Shea to symbolize something meaner than that.  I don’t want to have to be angry.

 

Listening to Mike and the Mad Dog As a Mets Fan

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

 105591 by you.

Let me say first that I like to listen to Mike and the Mad Dog.  I enjoy the predictability and unpredictability of their show.  There is always something new in sports and they talk about it and their callers call in about it and no one ever says anything that really surprises you.  People play roles and fall into groups:  those who think we ought to bench this player or trade for that player or sign this free agent, those who disagree, those who are in between, those who used to think one thing and now think another.  There are the regular callers, obscure people who relish their stardom.  There are the first-time (callers) long-time (listeners), obscure people with whom you identify, giddy with their long-anticipated moment.  And in the middle of it all, there are Mike and Chris, like brothers, the bratty brother and the one who is supposed to be more responsible, with their half-real, half-cartoon personalities; half-adult, half-kid; talking with managers, players, and fans, living the fantasy of a million listeners driving home from jobs that are nowhere near as compelling as theirs.  As in most families and groups of friends, the fun is just in the talk, in sharing the experience of following something you can’t control.  When you get into the rhythm of a radio show like this, you marvel at the waste of your time, but you enjoy the relaxing sense of being locked into something that is lively and familiar.  I like this.  I know where I am when I listen to Mike and the Mad Dog.

But however much I like listening to their program, I do not enjoy it as a Mets fan.  Mike and Chris broadcast on WFAN, the Mets station, and millions of Mets fans listen to them and hundreds of Mets fans call them.  But they get this wise-ass pleasure out of hating the Mets and rooting against them.  I know it’s part of the show, but I don’t like it.  Mike Francesa is a Yankee fan, all cocksure and pompous, and Chris Russo (called the Mad Dog because he talks funny and often pretends to be out of control with excitement or anger) is a Giants fan.  San Francisco Giants.  This is one of the great irrelevancies of life for sports fans in New York.  We have to deal with and think about some guy rooting for a team that none of us care about.  And we have to put up with it because they are Mike and the Mad Dog and people listen to them and I suppose they think they have some kind of rapport and can’t be broken up.  They couldn’t find a Mets fan who could do that job?

Mike and Chris know a great deal about sports and they have amazing memories for what happened in individual games.  But they have this absurd belief that their knowledge and perspicacity entitle them to make judgments about what is likely to happen in a baseball game or in a baseball season.  They tell you that there is no way a team is going to win the three games that they need to win in a series in order to get into first place and then the team will win the three games.  They will tell you that a trade is a bad trade in a tone of voice, and with an insistence, that suggests that they know that it is a bad trade and then it will turn out to be a good trade.  Sure they’re right more often than not, but they’re not right that much more often than not.

Baseball is like this.  Studying it is like studying political elections.   It is not like studying physics.  Sober, objective analysis will not pick you a winner much more often than flipping a coin.  The whole point of being a fan is rooting for unlikely but perfectly possible outcomes.  But you’d never know this if you listened to Mike and Chris who love to explain to Mets fans why there is no rational or legitimate basis for their hope and faith.   Do they think that we don’t know that Bennie Agbayani or Mike Jacobs are almost certainly not going to be Babe Ruths?  Do they think that we don’t know that the adrenalin boost after 9/11 is unlikely to lift the team above the mighty Braves?  When it comes to Mets fans, Mike and Chris act like unhinged priests who have become the most cynical rationalists and are trampling on the simple piety of their parishioners.  They don’t understand Mets fans.  They don’t understand how what we want to do, on late summer afternoons in the middle of a winning streak, is gather our wild fantasies, bringing them together to ignite in a big ecstatic conflagration.  We want the pleasure and the power of our improbable dreams.  We don’t want two guys with funny voices pissing on our bonfire. 

We could live with it, perhaps, if they made their points just once.  But this is a radio show, after all, and people are turning them on all through the show.  So, if you are listening for more than an hour, you have to endure the familiar wavelike rhythm of a Mike and the Mad Dog schtick.  An assertion stirs, gathers force, builds in intensity and then pounds the shore, only to recede, gather and build and strike again a short time later.  Then it happens again, and again, and again, because all the callers waiting on the line are responding to the same goddamn thing.  Normally a topic holds through an entire afternoon and nothing can dislodge it, until at some point, Mike and Chris just let it go without ever saying that they are letting it go.

As a Mets fan, I have the capacity to listen to endless repetition when what is being repeated has to do with the Mets and is interesting to me.  But Mike and the Mad Dog have a knack for finding Mets topics in which I am not at all interested.  For example, on Opening Day in 2006, they devoted their entire program to what they felt was the travesty of the Mets new reliever, Billy Wagner, using the same song to announce his entrance as Mariano Rivera has used for years with the Yankees.  Oh my God!  Over and over, we get told that you just don’t do that (why?).  Mariano is the greatest reliever ever (so what?).  Everybody knows what song Mariano uses (they do?).  The Mets and Yankees play in the same city (they do?).  You can’t use the same song if they play in the same city (you can’t?).  There is something really numbing about listening to this kind of thing over and over.

To prevent things from getting boring, Mike and Chris will sometimes take opposing sides of an issue.  You can tell that at least one of them is just pretending.  Usually it is the job of the Mad Dog to take what will be designated as the “crazy” position, so that Francesa can do his rational, authoritative, if only intermittently grammatical bit.  It’s funny, though, how I find myself agreeing with the Mad Dog more often than I agree with Mike.  I think it’s because his holy fool thing, his respect for his intuition, is more appealing to me as an approach to baseball than Mike’s effort to come across as a wise man. 

I don’t know.  I will keep listening to them.  And I will keep getting annoyed.  And I will just hope that the Mets will do something that Mike and Chris have said was impossible.  And then I will listen to them give the Mets a lot of credit for doing it.   I will hear them having to hand it to them.  But they won’t admit that they were wrong in a way that really means anything.  They’ll just admit that they were wrong in that “have to hand it to them” way.

[As those who have read my book already know, this is in Mets Fan.  But I know that there are readers of this blog who haven't had a chance to read the book yet, and so I've taken advantage of the resignation of Mad Dog to reprint it here.  I have to figure out what I think about the breakup of Mike and the Mad Dog.  I mean, I don't like them.  I actually think they're pretty good interviewers but horrendously bad analysts.  They don't seem even to be aware that there could be such a thing as poets or philosophers of the game so I can't evaluate them in those categories.  The thing is that I've kind of gotten used to them.  You know what I mean?  I have to think this through.]

 

Are You Going to Buy a Seat from Shea?

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

seats by you.

As everyone knows by now, the Mets, beginning August 25, are going to start selling 16,000 pairs of seats from Shea to the general public at the cost of $869 a pair.  This number is designed to remind Mets fans of the two world championships the Mets won, in 1986 and 1969.  This pricing will be a handy mnemonic device for fans who have difficulty remembering in which seasons the Mets won the World Series.  If we win this year, perhaps they’ll add .08 cents to the total.  That would be extremely helpful.

Am I going to buy a pair of seats?  Are you?  No, I’m not.  Here are my reasons.  They are not the original seats.  The original seats were the wooden ones that got replaced in 1980.  I have never accepted the plastic seats as real, just as I have never accepted the fact that when I sit in the Loge, the seats are blue and not orange.  The upper deck is green, the mezzanine is blue, and the field boxes are yellow.  I know this as I know my own name.  I have to stop and think before I can tell you what the colors of these seats have actually been for the past 28 years.

Another reason I’m not buying them is that $869 is a lot of money.  For that amount of money, you could bring your family to a game, park your car, and have a couple of hot dogs and beers.   Also, with 16,000 sold at $869, I wouldn’t bet on any appreciation anytime soon.  This is a collectible sale for the kind of person who stocked up on Billy Beer.

Another reason I’m not buying is that my wife would kill me.  That’s a legitimate concern.  Stadium seats aren’t really cut out to be garden ornaments.  They’re more like garage ornaments.

But the main reason I am not buying seats is that I don’t do relics.  It may be cussed of me, but I think of memories as these things that are behind my eyes:  dim, watery, imprecise, and absolutely authentic.  They are in and of my soul.  They do not have substance, location, or weight.  They certainly don’t have a price.  I can put them in a book and the book can be bought, I guess, but if you buy the book, you don’t have my memories.  You have your own and that is all you will ever have.  You cannot own a part of the Mets except by living through them.    

When Shea comes down, I want my memories and my tears.  I don’t want two orphaned and homeless seats in my garage. 
 

The Way It’s Supposed to Be

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

In the popular imagination, you’re supposed to win pennants, not by a calculus of the pros and cons of your secondary players (see post below), but by means of big booming walk-off home runs by your star players.  Well, we just got one, and it salvaged what could have been a horrible loss.  Wright’s home run felt the way something like this should feel.  Wright will save us.  This is how we will win the pennant this year.  He will do it for us.  He will lead us. 

Then I heard Howie Rose say that this was David Wright’s home run first-ever walk-off home run.  Would you have thought that?  Wright hits plenty of home runs.  He has a reputation as a clutch hitter.  You probably had a sense that you had seen Wright hit one before.  But you didn’t.  It never happened.  In fact, a few minutes of web research will tell you that walk-off home runs do not happen very often at all.  Here’s a list I found, whose accuracy I can’t vouch for, of the all-time leaders in career walk-offs:

Jimmie Foxx……..12
Mickey Mantle……12
Stan Musial……..12
Frank Robinson…..12
Babe Ruth……….12
Tony Perez………11
Dick Allen………10
Harold Baines……10
Reggie Jackson…..10
Mike Schmidt…….10
 

Three is the record for a season, held by many.   

You can do it David. 

Tatis-Pelfrey-Heilman

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Listening to my first game in a long time, as I unpacked and organized, I couldn’t help but feel that this first game represented a lot about this season.  People have a tendency to think this way when they just come back from vacation.  You’re still in a tourist mode, looking for representative details.  But last night’s game works as a representative detail.  It really does.

Here’s my argument.  If looked at as an aggregate of individual performances, this season has gone pretty much as you might have expected.  Wright has performed just slightly below what you’d expect and Reyes has performed just slightly better.  Beltran has performed below but not disastrously below what you would have expected and Delgado has performed above but not spectacularly above what you would have expected.  So the main engines of the offense have given us roughly what we would have had a right to expect.  Schneider has performed offensively as expected, as has the second base position.  Alou and Church are serious injury losses, but they, along with Pedro Martinez, do not represent a more significant injury deficit than an average team suffers, certainly not an average team with this average age.

The pitching has also been as expected.  Santana (I’m fine with a 2.86 ERA over 154 innings), Maine, Perez, Wagner, Schoenweis, Feliciano, and even Sanchez have all performed within the reasonable limits of expectation.  In fact, it is almost eerie how close so many players on this team have been to what you might have predicted when the season started. 

So here we are on track to win 86 games, two below what we won last year.  That’s pretty close to last year and I think that’s okay given that there really was a certain malady of the spirit in the first half that kept this individually-performing-as-expected team from winning quite as many ballgames as you would expect. 

What the remainder of the season will come down to will be the sum total of the surprises.  Wright could go on a final tear and that would do it, or some reliever could get really hot.  Who knows?  But last night’s game illustrated the degree to which seasons often come down to the unexpected play of relatively minor players. 

Tatis, Pelfrey, and Heilman have not performed as you would have expected this year.  And they were the whole game last night.  One used-up veteran and one almost given-up-on prospect show us that they’re not dead yet, that they’re everything we’d ever wanted from them and so much more.  And then there’s one vital component of our bullpen who is having a Steve Blass what-am-I-doing-out-here season.  The sum of the first two was enough to compensate for the last factor.  But just barely. 

This year’s team has a way of making you feel bad as you feel good and good as you feel bad.  Last night, we were just ahead of the curve.  This season is going to come down to things like this.  It will be won or lost by a hair, by the edge balance of minor players.  It’s not going to be pretty.  But winning pretty is not a Mets tradition.  Winning isn’t really a Mets tradition, though it is an occasional Mets event.  What is a Mets tradition is that winning or losing will come down to the performance of players who were never supposed to carry the team, but do so anyway, because something gets into them and the moment carries them forward (Al Weis, Eddie Kranepool, Ray Knight, Wayne Garrett, Mookie Wilson, Bennie Agbayani. Todd Pratt, etc.)

 

I’m Back

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

So when I went away on my vacation, during the All-Star break, the Mets were 51-44.  Shortly after I left, they poked their heads into first.  They’re now 58-53, three games behind the first place Phillies and a half game behind the second place Marlins.  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Mets while I was away, because when I’m traveling, I’m doing something else.  I checked in to see how they did each day, but that was pretty much it.  I’m reading old articles now and blog posts, trying to get a sense of what happened during the last two and a half weeks.  I see the ups and downs, the excitement and the disappointment that people must have experienced day in and day out.  So now I’m back, and all this happened, and the Mets are still pretty much where they were:  in a tight race between three flawed teams.  They were 7-9 while I was gone, but they’re still 16-9 over their last 25.  There are reasons to feel bad and reasons to feel good.  And you know there’s no right or logical way to feel.

I’ll bet you know the feeling I have right now.  Maybe you’ve gone away too, this summer, last summer, any summer, and taken a little vacation from your ordinary life and from the Mets.  You come back, and things are pretty much the same as when you left.  But you missed the day-to-day roller coaster and you can’t help but ask yourself if you actually missed anything.  There were good games and bad games, but with this team in this era, there are always good games and bad games.  So what would you have now if you had been around, by having paid day-to-day attention?  And if I’m not sure if I would have anything, does it really make sense to start paying close attention to every game now that I’m back?   Is there an argument for not paying attention until the end?  Each individual game you watch tells you almost nothing about how a season will turn out.  Stuff only makes sense over a long run and even then it doesn’t really make sense.  In fact, if you go away for two and a half weeks, you can get caught up about everything that happened in an hour or two.  And yet if I hadn’t gone away, how many hours would I have spent watching games and going to them, reading articles and blogs, or listening to radio?   Would that really have been worth it?  Coming back home, and getting caught up, I can’t help but feel real doubt about the value of being a baseball fan.

I know that the reason I am a baseball fan is somehow contained in the answers I would give to the questions I’ve asked above if I knew what they were.  I don’t know what the answers are, but I don’t think it matters, because I don’t think they would make any sense.  I’m back.  I will pay attention.  I will let the wins get my hopes up and the losses depress me, and maybe this year will be one of the great ones, and maybe it won’t be and it will just be filed away in the books as a series of details and numbers that will be absorbed in about fifteen minutes by people in the future who did not experience it.