In a phrase, “Hey, you never know.”
And as time goes on, and we go deeper into another strange season, the theme continues to ring true. In fact, it sums up baseball for us.
You never know.
Which is partly why, I guess, as much as I enjoy stats, there’s a part of me that grows bored and restless. Like Walt Whitman, I want to wander outdoors to stare up in mute silence at the stars. Oh, hell, here’s the last few lines, one of the first poems I ever really understood with my heart:
Anyway and in other words, crazy shit happens every year. Players’ performance levels fall off cliffs, while others emerge seemingly from nowhere, and every season a team takes the baseball world by surprise.
I am talking about the Milwaukee Brewers.
No, I mean . . . the New York Mets!
Could this be their year? Even after this rugged stretch?
As a fan my thought is that as long as your team hangs around, well, surprises can happen. What makes the game so great is that no matter how hard people try to predict the future, they cannot. That is why we watch.
Even though they’ve been fairly unwatchable lately. I mean I’ve watched, but I’ve felt bad about myself afterwards.
My first pennant race was 1969, and I still remember how I felt about that year. It was the first season that baseball had multiple Divisions, and the prevailing joke was that this would benefit the Mets because now the worst they could finish was sixth. But that Mets team had a solid start, including a great May, and settled into second place behind the Cubs. Knowing how crazy I was about the Mets I kept getting questioned by friends, did I really think they could win? Now, I was not a wide-eyed optimist kid, I have always been firmly rooted in reality. But when asked about that team, I started using those very words to my friends, you never know. The team I feared in 1969 was the Cardinals, who had been NL champs in 1967 and 1968. Every day when I looked at the standings the Mets were ahead of them. By mid-July, as the Mets were still very much alive, and still ahead of those Cardinals, I started really thinking something special could happen. By October I had not only experienced great thrills, but learned a fun lesson. The game can shock you, teams come out of nowhere, and it might be your team. My love for baseball, which was already deep, grew much deeper from that knowledge.
There was so much about that ’69 season that I vividly recall. Certainly Bill Gallo’s cartoons documenting it all in the NY Daily News. He became one of the patron saints of this blog, in fact, from Gallo we borrowed our core conceit of 2 guys talking it over, elbows on the bar, over a glass of suds.
There is one particular cartoon from 1969 that I remember to this day. I looked but cannot find a copy. There is that old baseball saying, “Whoever is in first place on July 4 will win the pennant.” On July 4, 1969, Gallo had a cartoon of Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra holding a document with the saying, only the word “first” was crossed out, and “second” was scribbled over it. That cartoon, for me, captured the entire, “Why the hell not?” feeling that was the 1969 Mets.
Overall, Gallo had a ball with that team, and his cartoons added an extra element of fun to the proceedings.
Gallo was fantastic. The Mets won 11 in a row in May and to me, as a third-grade kid, I found that unbelievably surreal and exciting. It was, yes . . . amazing.
Now it’s easy to say that these current NY Mets don’t have Seaver and Koosman.
But here’s the deal:
1) It’s never been easier to make the playoffs;
2) Once you go to a short series, it’s no longer about the best team. It’s the team that comes together at the right time. Maybe even the team that’s luckiest.
3) Lastly, if you can make the playoffs, the team with dominant starters has a great chance to run the table.
Exactly. The 1969 Mets won 100 games. You don’t need to do that these days, if you are over 85 wins you can be in the conversation. It’s never been easier to make the playoffs, and there might not be a killer team in our Division. Washington has now lost Harper for two months. Hang around, and well . . . .
. . . ya never know!
The key here is that we need management to recognize that fact. It’s where doubt creeps into the equation — doubt in Sandy Alderson. He comes off as so cold, controlled, and analytical. As passionate as a cod. I want to see his inner competitive fire take over, if he’s got any embers left. We honestly haven’t seen it yet, so it’s fair to wonder: Does this guy want to win? I want to see him try, even if that means going outside his personal comfort zone. Beyond standard operating procedures, beyond the lazy and unsatisfactory internal options. We live in the Here & Now. If there’s a chance to make a run, I just hope he goes for it. Of course, pennants can be won and lost in May and June, too. These games count. The time is now. When opportunity knocks, he’s got to answer the door. Which is why keeping the talent on the farm feels so wrong. But, sigh, we have beaten that drum many times in the past. At least lately, even some of Sandy’s legion of True Believers are beginning to wonder what’s up.
Why not now? Why not us?
Why not give it our best shot? What’s the harm in trying?