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.