Mediocrity, and a Mets Fan’s Life
Mediocrity is nothing to brag about. We don’t normally start out as kids seeking the truest, straightest path towards mediocrity. We are proud and happy when, as my older son just experienced, we come home from school with straight A’s on a report card. We enjoy it very much when our boss gives us a glowing annual review. And when our spouse is happy, we understand that it’s a good idea to be happy, too.
Yet, if one was to measure one’s life in retrospect in any objective way, it might become all too apparent to many of us that we’ve lived thoroughly mediocre lives. Surely, we’ve had our high points. The birth of our first child. The one time we dated that really hot girl at work. (Note that the first example is not often a direct result of the second example.) The moment when we received our high school, or college diploma. The time when we didn’t forget our boss’s wife’s name at a dinner party.
The failures are there, too, ready to sabotage our happier moments with their dreadful memories. Dropping what would have been the winning touchdown pass in a high school football game. Nervously stuttering through a presentation among colleagues at work. Drafting Bip Roberts instead of Robin Roberts in your all-time fantasy baseball draft. Mistaking her harmless friendliness for something more personal and intimate. I’ve got a truckload of those types of memories.
Which brings me to the Mets.
As far as I can tell, (and I wasted nearly fifteen minutes researching this on Baseball-Reference.com), I became a Mets fan on or about August 12, 1974. Since that date, the Mets have won exactly 3,012 regular season games, and have lost 3,065. That works out to a .496 win-loss percentage. That’s just 53 more losses than wins, spread over 38 seasons. I will be rooting for the Mets to win their first 53 consecutive games this year just so I can say that they’ve been the most perfectly mediocre team in baseball since I’ve been following the Great Game.
Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity. What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history. I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.
1974: I am eleven years old, and make a baseball card of myself and my brother. Apparently I hit .725 that year in sandlot ball. I sit behind Joanne Beaudry in Math class. She spends the entire year turning around flirting with me. Her fingernails are often dirty. I am terrified of Joanne, and of girls in general. I’m also terrified of the snarling, frothing dog that is barely contained behind a short metal fence I pass on my way to and from school. The Mets finish the year with a record of 71-91, in fifth place. Tom Seaver has a rare off-year, posting a record of 11-11. John Milner leads the team in runs scored with 70.
1975: My friends Scott and Johnny have an argument over which member of the Rock band Kiss is the coolest. Johnny, nearly four years younger than Scott, and a foot shorter, grabs Scott by the mid-section, wrestles him to the ground and pummels him. Apparently, it turns out that Ace Frehley really was the coolest member of the band. Tom Seaver rebounds to win his third and final Cy Young award. The Mets tantalize on a daily basis, finishing the year 82-80, holding out tenuous promise for better things ahead. Rusty Staub sets a Mets record with 105 RBI, and owns a restaurant in Manhattan.
1976: My body begins to change in several different embarrassing ways. I discuss this with no one. My Catholicism convinces me that everything that I might do, think, or say about this topic would be a mortal sin. Anna Corrales, three rows and several romantic light-years away from me, never looked so good. My family and I vacation in Quebec, and I witness an elderly woman getting hit by a car. Also on that vacation, a small boy at a table next to ours in a restaurant falls and hits his head on the table’s edge, blood all over the place. Meanwhile, the Mets perform unexpectedly well, posting a record of 86-76. They wouldn’t have a season that successful again for seven years. Waive goodbye to Rusty Staub, and hello to 35-year old pitcher Mickey Lolich, who manages to win eight games.
1977: I graduate second in my class from junior high school, winning numerous academic awards, then receive the first “D” and the first “F” of my life in my first semester of my first year in a Catholic high school. I tryout for the school baseball team. My job is to run a mile or two in the cold March mud, then drag a huge duffel bag full of bats down several flights of stairs to the supply room after each practice. I decide I hate organized baseball, and quit the lousy team after three weeks. David Johnson, a kid who sits and draws comics almost all day throughout all of his classes, becomes my best friend through high school. The bottom absolutely drops out at Shea Stadium. The Mets trade Tom Seaver for a clutch of Romanian strippers, four Mars Bars, and a case of orange Fanta. The Fanta is flat. The Mets fall to last place, posting a 64-98 record. Lenny Randle, who hits .304 and steals 33 bases, is the sole reason to watch this miserable team.
1978: Almost every kid in my high school is hooked on disco (except for one girl who dresses like David Bowie.) My mom gets a job downtown as a secretary, and I visit her sometimes on my way home from school, just four blocks away. We have two major snowstorms that year, and miss around two weeks of school, which is fine with me because I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholic school sucks. Unfortunately, the public high schools in my town are more famous for their crime reports than their academic records, so I keep my mouth shut and tolerate the experience as one would tolerate a novocaine-free root-canal. The Mets are completely hopeless as well, finishing 30 games under .500 under manager Joe (It’s All About the Eyebrows) Torre. 23-year old center-fielder Lee Mazzilli becomes the heart throb of Queens.
1979: My dad comes home early one summer day from his job at Remington Arms. He surprises me by not saying anything at all, going into his room, pulling the shades down, and going to sleep. It wasn’t until later that I learned that a friend of his had accidentally blown himself in half at Remington Arms where they both worked. Apparently, some gunpowder had ignited in the heat. They had given dad a tranquilizer and sent him on his way, half a day off with pay. See you bright and early tomorrow morning. I got my first, considerably safer job slinging ice cream at Carvel’s on Park Ave. At $2.25 an hour, I would now be able to hang out with my friends in style. The Mets slog through a 63-99-1 season (yes, an official tie, like in hockey.) Craig Swan is by far and away their best pitcher, going 14-13. Their roster is littered with the sorry remains of Elliot Maddox, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Kevin Kobel and Dock Ellis.
1980: I am now straddling the line between my junior and senior years of high school. A kid named Mike, apparently a refugee from Central High School, introduces me to marijuana in the school bathroom. Well, it was either that or Ms. Ligouri’s English class. I also attend my first high school dance, and spend most of the evening discovering that while I like slow-dancing, and the physical sensations it creates, I generally dislike my dance partner, creating an awkward, alternating series of dance-couplings followed by strict and severe avoidance of said date. Her dad picks us up from the dance at 10:30, and neither she nor I ever speak of this event again. The Mets successfully avoid 70 wins for the fourth straight season. Their starting rotation of Ray Burris, Pat Zachry, Mark Bomback, Pete Falcone and Craig Swan might just be the worst in the history of the franchise. And with youngsters, Roy Lee Jackson, Juan Berenguer and John Pacella in the ‘pen, help is decidedly not on the way.
And that’s all for this installment. Join me next time, if you can stand it, when I survive the 1980’s with my dignity mostly intact.
- Hall of Fame of the Heart (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- Bats: Who’s No. 1? Tom Seaver (bats.blogs.nytimes.com)
enjoyable writing Bill. season after season of life’s whatevers followed by a squeeze bunt later that night. it reads so damn well when the jump goes from like coolest member of kiss to tom seaver won his third and final cy young, each and every year it’s own story, your story. amazing recollection you have of what is not mediocre at all because you remember.
Thanks for that, man. I really appreciate it.
As someone whose primary outlet for watching baseball was WOR, I share many of these memories; as a Pirate fan, I was able to watch these Mets teams with a healthy detachment, so I didn’t feel your pain. Of course, as a Pirate fan, I have plenty of that now, thank you very much.
I certainly remember those “We Are Fa-Mi-Lee” days of the Pirates as well. Pops Stargell, Dave Parker, Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver, Mike “Hit Man” Easler (who I always thought of as their secret weapon.) Even Mets fans like myself have to respect your loyalty as a Pirates fan over these past 15 years.
Let’s hope for better days ahead for both our teams.
Bill, this is one of your best posts ever. It seems we had parallel baseball/Catholic school adolescences. I have yet to bring myself to the point where I can write publicly about much of it, but this post is inspiring!
Thanks, Dan. I suppose it’s a bit of a cathartic experience (or perhaps just self-indulgent) to write about this stuff. Glad you enjoy it!
As a guy who was a Mets nut throughout the 1970s (the ’70s were my Mets years!), this brought back a flood of memories. Of course, the snow we had in the ’77-78 school year! That was the coldest winter I can remember! And municipalities all over the country were donating snow plows to Buffalo, which was, I guess, designated as a disaster area that winter.
I am PARTICULARLY an aficionado (and the unofficial historian) on the post-Seaver years of 1977, 1978, and 1979.
A few things. How can you mention the 1975 season without mentioning the REAL story of the Mets year, and that was Mike Vail???
How could you have forgotten the REAL highlight of the Mets’ 1979 season, and that was the naming of the dying mule that they kept in the Mets bullpen. (The winning entry was “Mettle”, and, no, I didn’t submit that name.)
The day that Pat Zachry kicked the dugout step after a bad outing and broke his foot???
The RAW HATRED that we Mets fans had with Richie Hebner, who was, literally, the Gravedigger of Grant’s Tomb (which Shea Stadium was known as in the late 70s after M. Donald Grant (the “M” stood for “Miser”) got rid of Tom Terrific. Hebner, a gravedigger in the off-season, expressed his dread of being a member of the Mets to newspaper reporters early in the ’79 season, which didn’t win him any fans. When he gave the fans the middle finger during a game early in the season, this just dug his hole deeper with Mets fans. OH! How we DESPISED Richie Hebner! And how Richie Hebner despised US! (Hebner and Lee Mazzilli ended up the season in a tie for the Mets’ RBI leaders with a whopping 79, to commemorate the season- ’79.
Stevie Wonder, which was what Mets fans nicknamed Steve Henderson, who came from Cincy in the Seaver deal, his strange stance, and his great hitting in 1977 that almost (ALMOST) made us forget Seaver for a while.
Steve Albert’s ridiculous and inane comments, including one on the radio during spring training in 1978 (his first year as a Mets announcer), when he told the radio audience, “Allright, let’s go over the New York Mets’ Canine Corps for the 1978 season! Joel Younglood has a Labrador retriever names “Sam”, Doug Flynn has a mixed breed German Shepherd named…” and on and on he went. At that point, I knew it was going to be a long season.
The way that Bob Murphy, as well as the P.A. announcer started to attempt to put a positive spin on an awful team in the late 70s. Every time the Mets turned a double-play, Murphy would remind the fans listening at home that “that was the 1,758,493rd double-play of the season turned by the Mets infield; THEY LEAD THE LEAGUE in that department!” (Of course, what Murphy DIDN’T mention was that the reason the Mets led the league in turning double-plays was because the opposing team always had a runner on first base!!!!
And the P.A. announcer had another way of putting a positive spin on a dreadful product: “Instead of the customary “Now batting, the first baseman, Lee Mazilli!”, he would excitedly say “and NOW…. COMING AROUND TO HOME PLATE….. HE’S the center fielder! HE’S number sixteen! HE’S MAZZILLI!!!!!!” He did the same with some other players, as well.
Of course, the way that Bob Murphy told how Joel Youngblood would be coming up to bat. “That’ll bring up JOOOOOOO-EL YOUNG-blood!”, accentuating his own Oklahoma accent.
How the FEW (VERY few), the PROUD (well, KIND of proud), the METS fans would argue (in vain, of course) against the elitist Yankee fans would rank us Mets fans out in the high school cafeteria during the Yankee dynasty of the late 70s that coincided with the Mets awfullness. (The only Mets fans that I can remember in the cafeteria were Mike Kaplan, Greg Kaleda, Keith White, and myself. Randy Fellows, in particular, used to give us Mets fans hell, and always rub it in, bragging about Nettles, Chambliss, Reggie, and Thurman, and laughing at Joel, Lee, John Stearns, and Doug Flynn.
Finally, who could forget John Stearns’ hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, deadpan, almost “Bill Murray-esque ” apearances on Kiner’s Korner, wearing that home-made T-shirt that he made for all the players that said, “WE CAN WIN.”
Glen Russell Slater
Wow, Glen, That’s a lot of stuff! I remember pretty much all of it. Thing is, I like to keep my posts under 2,000 words. If I’d added all that, I’d probably be pushing 4,000 🙂 Those were fun years, even if the Mets were mostly terrible. I thought Mike Vail was going to be the next big thing, too. He ended up being just another average player. I also remember when John Stearns set the N.L. record for steals by a catcher in one season. Also, I was one of only two Mets fans in my high school that I know of, and the other guys was smart enough not to tell anyone he was a Mets fan. I still give him crap about that. We’re still best friends all these years later.
Well, thanks for reading, and for sharing those awesome memories.
And I enjoyed sharing those memories! In fact, I might write a post about those nutty late-70s Mets years on my “new, improved blog”! (Well, it has a new NAME, at least!) I haven’t written anything on it since New Years Eve day. I can’t seem to get my ass in gear.
I enjoyed your post. Keep it up, Bill!
Thanks, Glen. Let me know if you write anything, and I’ll come have a look.
I was a Mets fan too. Luckily I was able to leave the U.S. of A , wound up years later in L.A. –all to escape the Mets. Sounds great, but I wound up becoming a Dodger fan. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. By the way Vin Scully (enough reason to love the Dodgers and all of baseball) occasionally notes franchise won-lost records. For instance: After 1,000 something games with the Cubs, Giants, Pirates too I believe, over 100+ years, the Dogers have won something like 501 and lost 499. The numbers seem to even out. Law of averages. Except for the Mets of course….
Funny how if you take a long enough period of time, things always seem to even out in the end. I’m sure someone has won a Nobel Prize for Mathematics on that point sometime in the past. I actually liked the Dodgers back then as well. In fact, I was ready to become a Dodgers fan until I started going to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets. Vin Scully is an icon. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. We Mets fans were stuck with Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy, though I did generally like Lindsay Nelson.
Thanks for the comment,
I feel so lonely. I must be the only person in the world who doesn’t like Vin Scully. He always got on my nerves! I’m sure that as a person, he’s a great guy, but I never liked his broadcasting.
My father grew up in the Bronx as a Yankee fan. Even so, he’ll tell you that Red Barber was his favorite, and Mel Allen was his second favorite. I don’t know what he thought of Scully with the Brooklyn Dodgers; he graduated high school in 1949, and more or less lost interest in following baseball after that. I’ll ask him if he liked Scully when he was a Brooklyn broadcaster or not, but I doubt that he remembers him, at least not to the degree that he remembers Barber and Allen.
I grew up enjoying Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner. Nelson was my favorite, but after Nelson left in 1978, I came to appreciate Bob Murphy, as well.
I think it was Bob Murphy that drove me from New York City!
A fascinating look back and insight into your formative years. I am looking forward to the ’80s.
Thanks, Allan. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to reliving the ’80’s, but I’ll do my best.
I too attended Catholic school in the 70’s and lived my life scared shitless of the mortal sin that would send me to hell. Luckily I figured out it was all just a bunch of nonsense, and the Yankees started winning again, so things got better.
Another excellent post Bill. You’re starting to annoy me.
Thanks, Kevin. If the I had gone to public schools through 8th grade, so I wasn’t at all prepared for the Catholic school experience, despite having been raised a Catholic. The experience didn’t exactly put me on the path towards the priesthood.
I appreciate the complement,
Outstanding post! I look forward to the rest of this series. In the 70’s I went from lamenting an empty RFK Stadium in DC to watching in awe as Reggie homered and homered and homered again in the Bronx. BTW, I also noticed and appreciated the last two words in the fifth paragraph!
Very well done,
Thank you, Mike. That’s the way to take lemons and turn them into lemonade. 🙂
The ’80’s still fill me with anxiety, though I’ve noticed a great deal of pop culture nostalgia lately for that decade.
“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” –Thoreau
Know the feeling, so, apparently, do you. “-)
I imagine, with a few exceptions, it is universal. I read that even Winston Churchill, arguably the greatest man of the 20th century, was often depressed and dissatisfied with his life. Actually, for the most part, I’m quite happy, now that I’ve accepted my general mediocrity.
I don’t know how you think of these great posts. Sorry for the accident with your dad’s friend. And baseball things could have be worse. You could have grown up as a Cubs fan!
Thank you. I never knew the man that got killed. My dad never spoke of him. And you’re right, at least the Mets have won a World Series in the past half century. 🙂