By Taryn “The Coop” Cooper
We often hear the term “True Yankee” for that team in the Bronx to define a guy who made his mark with the pinstriped brigade. The Mets fan, in typical response, roll their eyes. Thank goodness, we often say, we don’t have that type of legacy, we don’t have that “stuck-up” type of thinking surrounding our history.
The Mets are different. What the Mets may lack in the department of defining Mets, we make up for in defining moments…or defining Mo-Mets.
Just follow me here.
When CitiField first opened in 2009, the lack of Mets-focused “anything” besides the team stores was astounding. Some of the harsher critics found that the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, while good in theory, was ass-backwards in celebrating more of Brooklyn Dodger accomplishments rather than the New York Mets. A team that left over 50 years prior, to the team that was with us here and now. Combine that with the “Ebbets Club” (now the “Champions Club”) on the field level of CitiField, and it seemed like it was a shrine to Fred Wilpon’s fascination with a time gone past.
To answer the criticism, the Mets marketing and fan relations folks opened the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum focused on great moments in Mets history, along with the great players celebrated who once wore a Mets uniform. Yet, the joke of it was, if the Mets ever won another championship, they’d have to redesign the whole stadium since everything was focused on the 1969 and 1986 teams. And the quintessential Mr. Met himself, the “Franchise” player, Tom Seaver. The so-called Ring of Honor that showcases Mets in the Mets HOF was highlighted again in 2010, when they celebrated four members of the 1986 team: GM Frank Cashen, manager Davey Johnson, players Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. While the museum does a fantastic job of celebrating the past players and the championship teams, I started to think recently…what else do the Mets have? It’s 50 years of Mets history in 2012, and it’s pretty sad that there’s only *one* player whose number is retired, and two managers…one of whom is well-deserved (Gil Hodges, inaugural Met and first Mets manager to lead the team to a championship), the other not-so-much (a crotchety old man who presided over some of the worst teams in Mets history).
This isn’t a rant about retired numbers though. It’s more of a retrospective of what makes the Mets the Mets. I would argue that to be a Mets fan, and to root for the Mets, has more to do with stories of the team and times/places of these stories, rather than loving a certain player. Granted, there are people who gravitate towards the team for one certain player (my husband was always a huge Mookie Wilson fan, and I know a young lady who started to become a Mets fan because of Carlos Beltran). For me, though, why am I a Mets fan and what makes the Mets more palatable than another team?
The Defining Moments, or rather the Defining Mo-METS, in the team’s history.
Take for example, 1973. That season wasn’t about the Mets coming from behind in an unprecedented fashion to win the NL East or go to Game Seven of the 1973 World Series. It was about Tug McGraw, in the middle of a team meeting with M. Donald Grant, shouting, “YA GOTTA BELIEVE!!!” The tag line that would give every single Mets fan hope and the ability to believe, even in moments when they probably didn’t have a damn good reason to do so.
What about 1980? This was the season that ownership had transferred over to the Doubleday consortium, and a rebranding of the team took place. The team sucked, but the “Hendu Cando” walk-off home run gave all Mets fans reason to hope and believe that even after the darkest of years, the light could certainly be shining at the end of the tunnel.
Who here remembers Cubs Busters in 1984 or fights with Cardinals fans over who was exactly “Pond Scum?”
The biggest championship year was 1986. The Mets were so good that everyone hated them. At the same time, there was a ton of dramatics that made that team not just a champion, but a force to be reckoned. What about the Cincinnati Reds game where Ray Knight and Eric Davis got into fisticuffs? What about Game Six…not the World Series one, but the NLCS against the Houston Astros?
The 1988 team also fell short of expectations, but who here remembers the Tar-Ball game against the Dodgers?
In 1999, the Mets won the Wild Card and forced a Game Six situation in the NLCS that year. They may not have won a NL Championship, and may have lost to the hated Braves. What made that team so special? The stories. Todd Pratt’s “tank” of a walk-off in Game Four of the NLDS. Robin Ventura’s grand-slam single, which as a visual is even as fantastic as any story behind it. It had rained and rained that entire game, and as he rounded first base, after the “go-ahead” run technically scored, he waved off his teammates so he could circle the bases. The team was so energized and fun and quirky, they didn’t care…they won the game already.
Forget about playing in the World Series in 2000. The come-from-behind win against the Atlanta Braves on June 30, 2000, remains one of the best people stories that I have ever witnessed. It was only a foregone conclusion that when Mike Piazza came up to bat in the bottom of the 8th, that he would hit the go-ahead three-run home run to solidify overcoming the seven-run deficit in the 8th inning.
I am a Mets fan. I love the history of this team. Yet, there’s something that the museum can’t give us that makes the celebration of Mets history fall just short. It’s the people stories, it’s the moments that make us all fans, that can make us nod our heads emphatically, as if to say, “Hey buddy, I’ve been there too.” Like when Metstradamus was at the Terry Pendleton game in 1987. When Paul LoDuca tagged out two men at home plate during the NLDS in 2006, my dad told me, “I didn’t know how to score that one!” My dad also made it a point to go to the 1977 game when the Cincinnati Reds visited after the Midnight Massacre (guess who started that game that day?).
During the 1999 playoffs, I was watching those games at my aunt and uncle’s house in Keansburg, NJ. This house was the place of good memories when the Mets played in 1986, and my dad was over there watching most of the games. I was over there with all of them, eating dinner most nights, doing Zorba-the-Greek dances after each win. We watched Pratt’s walk off together, and Ventura’s too.
I guess my point is that the Mets are a lot more than just defining players or defining teams. Even the teams that didn’t win much have a fantastic story to tell, or stories that may help define those team. In fact, the night of the Hendu Cando walk off, there was a “Magic Moment” time in the stands. Everyone there that night was astounded that the Mets, this team that was so horrible could come from behind and make it seem like it was Mardi Gras and the Fourth of July rolled into one.
What makes the Mets so unique and makes them ours are the defining moments that bring fans and teams together in one shot. Forget championships, forget players. The moments and stories behind them are what makes them the Mets.