Mets fans, if you think this latest edition of “Must Endure The Suffering” (the way I’ve always identified this franchise) is the most embarrassing time to be a Mets fan, then how soon you’ve forgotten your past.
When you’re a Mets fan, you build up a reservoir of patience. These aren’t the Yankees with their 27 rings, their lofty payrolls and grand tradition. These are the Mets. There’s the potential for greatness and the potential for anguish.
Must I remind you of the latter?
In the beginning …
Congratulate any Mets fan you know who is in their 60s. They lived through the worst of the worst, the “Can’t anybody here play this game?” 1962 expansion team. That’s the 40-120 team — one best remembered for having its players get stuck in a hotel elevator on the way to the first game and whose most remembered player — Marv Throneberry — once hit a triple, but was called out because he didn’t touch first base (he missed second, too).
The Mets were both lovable (because they had former Yankees skipper Casey Stengel managing them) and laughingstock (most of the rest of them, but I say that in the nicest way). The Mets averaged 113 losses those first four seasons.
The Mets of the late 1960s and early 1970s were a memorable bunch. The Amazins won the World Series in 1969 and the Ya Gotta Believe team came within a game of doing so in 1973.
But that doesn’t mean they were perfect. Their management made a few bad trades. OK, really, really bad trades — especially the one that sent Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi and three others. The Mets thought Fregosi, who had played about 1,400 games at shortstop in his career, could be easily converted to third base. Not quite.
But that hasn’t stopped the Mets from trying many such moves since then, such as trying to make catcher Todd Hundley a left fielder, catcher Mike Piazza a first baseman or young shortstop Jose Reyes a second baseman.
Tom Terrific, Mets horrific
Speaking of trades, the punishment to those who grew up during the Seaver years is the spring of 1977 when “The Franchise” got flustered, both by a contract that left him underpaid in the new era of free agency and an ownership that outright refused to dabble in this new form of player acquisition. This led to sniping between Seaver and team president, Donald Grant, the latter of whom used his relationship with newspaper columnist Dick Young to attack Seaver through the media.
On June 15, 1977, the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds, a mistake from which it took years to recover. Other than a few brief weeks of excitement in 1980 and at the end of the 1981 strike-shortened season, being a Mets fan from 1977 to 1983 was miserable. Their winning percentage in that span was that of a 65-win team. They scored the fewest runs and had the lowest OPS of any team. The 1980 team hit 61 home runs … for the season. No wonder they had games in which fewer than 2,000 fans showed up.
Simply put, the Mets were dreadful to watch. They couldn’t even bring Seaver back right. He was reacquired in a trade and returned for the 1983 season … only to be lost to the White Sox in the free-agent compensation draft that offseason.
Bobby B … ugh
If you’ve ridden the wave of Mets fandom, you know that you lived a charmed existence from 1984 to 1990, though you probably rue that the team won only one title, because there was the potential for much more. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were supposed to be Hall of Famers, but Gooden dealt with a drug-abuse problem and being overworked early in his career. Strawberry left for Los Angeles as his career hit its prime years, though he, too, would be taken down by drug and alcohol issues.
After the best of times came the worst of times. The 1991 season was bad, beyond Gregg Jefferies writing to fans to complain about how he was being treated by teammates. The 1992 “Worst team money could buy” season was worse. The 1993 season was horrific, as the Mets went 59-103 and were only that good because they somehow won their last six games.
This era is remembered for bleach spraying (at reporters), firecracker throwing (at fans) and a sexual assault investigation (no charges were filed).
The team’s prized acquisition, Bobby Bonilla, once threatened a reporter with “I’ll show you the Bronx” and called the press box during a game to complain about an error call (and oh by the way, the Mets will be paying him more than a million dollars a year through 2035).
Generation K — Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen — was supposed to be the pitching staff of the future. Instead, it was Generation KO, done in by injuries and other issues.
The best-remembered stat of the time: Anthony Young’s 27-game losing streak.
After a great run in the late 1990s and early 2000s that included back-to-back playoff appearances in 1999 and 2000, the Mets went back down the hill as management went the aging-star route to try to keep the club viable. Hello, Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. Goodbye, winning ways.
Embarrassment came both in on-field performance and off-field incidents. In the final game of Bobby Valentine’s managerial tenure in 2002, the Braves’ players all got a good laugh when Bobby Cox sent up pitcher Jung Bong as a pinch-hitter. That was a way to mock what happened a week earlier when embarrassing photos of a Mets pitcher (Grant Roberts) smoking marijuana surfaced.
Mets management thought Valentine was one of the problems. They replaced him with Art Howe and signed Tom Glavine away from the Braves.
They lost 15-2 on Opening Day the following year. Ownership said Howe lit up a room when he gave interviews, but the light never shined on Howe’s Mets. They were 49 games under .500 in his two seasons.
The 2006 Mets were supposed to be the 1986 Mets. They were the best team in baseball, and the signs were there that they were a team of destiny.
And then Carlos Beltran took strike three with the bases loaded to end the National League Championship Series.
It was a curveball the Mets didn’t expect, both literally and figuratively. They spent the next two seasons chasing that Game 7 loss, blowing a seven-game lead with 17 to play in 2007 and losing to the Marlins on the final day of the season in each of those years.
The next six seasons were one baseball disaster after another. Mets ownership put their money in Bernie Madoff’s hands, and when Madoff’s fraud was exposed, it was the Mets fan who suffered in the form of reduced payroll and a weak on-field product.
Building a ballpark that was a hitter-thwarting cavern weakened the impact of the team’s best player (David Wright) and the team’s top signing the year after it was built (Jason Bay) and showed a lack of awareness in top-level decision-making.
On the field, the signature moment was Luis Castillo dropping a final-out popup against the Yankees to cost the Mets a game. You’ll be seeing that one for the rest of your life.
And then there were the injuries. A lot of them: concussions, knees, backs, elbows, shoulders. Some were handled fine. Many were not.
Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in franchise history in 2012. He made just 10 starts after that with an 8.27 ERA and never pitched in the majors again.
That’s so Mets.
And yet …
Here are the 2017 Mets, two years removed from an appearance in the World Series and entering the season with the promise of a young, healthy pitching staff for years to come. Instead of getting that, though, Mets fans end up enduring massive headaches (and arm aches, back aches and aches you never heard of before) and a mostly unenjoyable watch as the season nears the halfway point.
Mets fans are a loyal bunch. They stick it out. They believe that the suffering is worth it and that living their fandom this way is more realistic than the alternative. They accept the embarrassment, knowing that in time it will pass and that in the end, it will be worth it.