If my parents had only waited and had me 8 years later, I would be an insufferable Yankees fan instead of a suffering Mets fan. Alas, there is nothing to be done despite the unrelenting misery over the last six or seven years. Who am I kidding, with rare exceptions, over the last 45-plus years.
By the time the Mets miraculously won the World Series in 1969, I was already hooked (thanks to my father, who adopted the Mets after being abandoned by the Brooklyn Dodgers) and was inured to their lovable losing ways. But, as David Searles wrote a while back, "the miracle year of 1969 changed everything." Indeed.
I will always cherish that 1969 team -- Tom Seaver, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson, Tug McGraw, Jerry Koosman, Jerry Grote and the rest. And, only a few years later, with many of the same players, minus a few (like Agee) and some key additions (like John Milner, Jon Matlack, Rusty Staub, Felix Millan and even Willie Mays), they pulled off another miracle, winning their division after being in fifth place at the end of August, and then beating the mighty Reds in the playoffs before losing in seven games to the A's in the World Series.
But that was it for a decade. Things got so bad that in 1979, the 10th Anniversary of The Miracle Mets, my friend Michael and I went to Old Timers' Day at Shea Stadium and after watching our beloved 1969 stalwarts play a couple of ceremonial innings we left prior to the start of the "real" game. We simply couldn't bear the stark contrast with the then-current team, led by the likes of Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner and the detritus from the catastrophic Tom Seaver trade two years earlier.
Finally, in 1983, despite another last place finish, there were some hopeful signs. Darryl Strawberry, with his great name and incredible talent made his debut, and in mid-season the Mets acquired a star from the Cardinals, Keith Hernandez. Then in 1984, after seven straight losing seasons, the Mets became a fun team to watch. With a full year from Keith, and a youth movement led by Strawberry and phenomenal rookie sensation Dwight Gooden, the Mets won 90 games and finished in second place. And then, before the 1985 season, the Mets acquired the great Gary Carter, who had succeeded Johnny Bench as the dominant National League catcher.
Dwight Gooden in drug rehab and 1988 ended with an excruciating loss to the Dodgers in the playoffs. After that, the Mets began dismantling the 1986 team, replacing iconic players like Len Dykstra, Strawberry and Mookie Wilson with spectacular underachievers like Juan Samuel, Bobby Bonilla and Vince Coleman (see Mets or Bust), resulting in six losing seasons in a row.
Even after signing Mike Piazza in 1998, the team would consistently cause heartburn and heartbreak. The Mets lost their last five games Piazza's first year to miss the playoffs by one game, followed in 1999 with a defeat by the Braves in the playoffs after Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run of the deciding game. The 2000s were not much better, starting with the crushing loss to the Yankees in the World Series (Armando Benitez, anyone?) followed by several mediocre seasons.
An exciting 2006 team reached the playoffs but lost a devastating final seventh game to the Cardinals. Two searing images from that game form the perfect Met microcosm: Endy Chavez makes one of the most incredible catches ever in the post season in the 6th inning only to have Carlos Beltran strike out looking with the bases loaded three innings later to end the game.
And since then, historic collapses to miss the playoffs, baffling player moves, an unprecedented number of injuries to star and potential star players, culminating in the entanglement with Bernie Madoff, which has caused ownership to shrink payroll and behave like they own a small-market team.
So, to paraphrase legendary announcer Bob Murphy, here's the "(un)happy recap": The Mets were laughably bad until they won in 1969. By the mid-1970s they were awful again, and it wasn't so cute. They peaked again in 1986, but couldn't sustain their greatness, and in the 28 years since, if anything could go wrong it invariably did.
After Matt Harvey, the Mets' dynamic young phenom, went down with an elbow injury last year at the height of his remarkable rookie season, I penned the Seven Stages of Being A Met Fan, which starts with hope, works its way through anger and despair, and invariably reaches acceptance.
Despite the Mets better play of late, and the excitement surrounding the bevy of young arms in the system, I, along with many Met fans, am currently somewhere between anger and despair. The owners, general manager and field manager have lost what little trust they had left. They hire PR men instead of HR men. They blame the fans for not showing up to support their lousy product. They make bad choices when they finally ease the tightening of purse strings (e.g., Chris Young), they dither interminably when it comes to choosing among the players they do have (e.g., the Lucas Duda-Ike Davis drama), they confuse promising youngsters by bringing them up only to bench them in favor of players they previously disparaged (e.g., Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada) or play mediocre veterans (e.g., Eric Young, Chris Young) instead of their very few exciting young players (e.g., Juan Lagares).
Confronting yet another season of misery and frustration, I need to somehow move past anger and despair and get to acceptance. I need to remind myself that while there have been only two miraculous championship years, smaller miracles happen all the time -- even now: a Lagares catch, a Flores grand slam, a Mejia save, an Abreu double, a deGrom anything. Being a Met fan is about expecting the worst, which will probably happen, although in ways that are unexpected; but it is also about reveling in these spectacular surprises and moments of beauty that make it all worthwhile. Om shanti.