The Mets conflict The Observer. We want to love them, but they are forever out of reach, the real provenance of the beaten-down souls in blue and orange we joined Sunday night at the 92nd Street Y to unveil the Mets’ all-time team, position by position, for their 50th anniversary.
Mets fans do not radiate positivity, so our guard was up . These weren’t just fans. They were distinguished members of a social club from Flushing’s ash heaps, who aren’t going to smile for just anything. This team had two no-hitters in a week and sat a surprising three games above .500, yet were clearly on down-low gloom alert. They had gotten swept that very afternoon. But they still believe, and that is why they were here, to watch the presentation that will also air Thursday on SNY.
The format went like this: emcee Kevin Burkhardt would cue a video introducing the four “nominees” before TV man Gary Cohen and radio king Howie Rose would clumsily give away who they chose. The honoree would then be announced and slide onto the stage to answer some questions. The things that came up most in their answers: former manager Gil Hodges, the late Gary Carter and the Mets’ amazing fans, without whom we couldn’t have done it, no we couldn’t have, not at all.
The Cardinals came up quite often, too. All-time right fielder Darryl Strawberry said that before the Mets got all-time first baseman Keith Hernandez, “The Cardinals fans thought we were a bunch of pond scum, which we probably were at the time. But we were the good kind of pond scum.” (Kombucha, then?)
All-time left fielder Cleon Jones kneeled when he came to the stage, an homage to his impromptu kneeldown after catching the last out of the 1969 World Series. He escaped the ensuing sixties madness by hopping the Baltimore bullpen fence, then scurrying off to take his wife to a birthday party.
Tom Seaver’s wife told him not to cry on stage, but it didn’t work. “If there’s any person that should be right here, it’s Gil Hodges,” Seaver said, wet-eyed. Jones noted that Mets baseball in the pre-Hodges, pre-talent era was grim business. “I hated coming to the ballpark,” he said. “All we did was say, who’s gonna be the goat? Who’s going to lose the game today?”
For David Wright, that wasn’t rhetorical. Fresh off a 1-4 performance in an afternoon loss to the Cincinnati Reds, Wright showed up with his .355 batting average and perfect dimply smile and said pleasant things, until he revealed that he washed John Franco’s back as a rookie, which was less pleasant.
Hank and Mark McGraw, respectively the brother and not-Tim son of the late all-time left-handed reliever Tug McGraw, spoke for Tug, and we did not not choke up when Mark talked about how special this was, on Father’s Day. We also leaked tears of hilarity when goats Armando Benitez and Bobby Bonilla were announced as all-time finalists, and so did the hosts.
Then there was the surreal. Mets owner Fred Wilpon was there, and got a warm reception from the crowd, which hates him. That wasn’t even the strangest thing. All-time center fielder Carlos Beltran, who batted .280 in seven seasons for the Mets and is currently batting .301 for the St. Louis Cardinals, apologized to the fans for getting hurt so often, via video.
“I wish all those years I was there I could have stayed healthy,” he said, and the crowd finally had what they were waiting for: explicit remorse for their pain, by the ones that caused it. “I could have done a better job,” he continued.
Next time, kombucha.
The full list of players named to the all-time team:
C: Mike Piazza
1B: Keith Hernandez
2B: Edgardo Alfonzo
SS: Jose Reyes
3B: David Wright
LF: Cleon Jones
CF: Carlos Beltran
RF: Darryl Strawberry
RHP: Tom Seaver
LHP: Jerry Koosman
LHRP: Tug McGraw
RHRP: Roger McDowell
Manager: Davey Johnson