Craig Calcaterra

Mets fan

Are the Mets truly a “tortured” team?

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Being a “long-suffering” fan or the fan of a “tortured” team is a relative thing. It’s inherently subjective, of course, because no one talking about such things ever takes other teams or other fan bases into account. Who cares about them? You rooted for your guys, your guys let you down and you suffered for it. QED.

It’s certainly the case that not all suffering is the same. There are teams who have never won a pennant or a championship. Teams which haven’t won it all in the lifetime of most of their current fan base. Teams which lost in heart-wrenching ways. Teams who lost because of fate and teams who lave lost because their ownership is dunderheaded and cold-hearted. Teams who have won a lot but then lost and that loss still hurt despite all the winning that came before. Heck, as the Giants of the past few years showed, you can claim to have undergone “torture” even while en route to three dang championships in five years. If that doesn’t render the entire concept of “torture” in baseball somewhat meaningless I don’t know what does.

The upshot here, though, is not that such torture doesn’t exist. It’s that the story of baseball suffering must be told in 30 different ways because it has experienced by 30 different fan bases in 30 different flavors.

Which brings us to the Mets. With the exception of the Cubs they just dispatched, I think it’s fair to say that the Mets have had more ink spilled about torture, agony and suffering than any baseball team in recent memory. Whether they’re playing well or playing poorly, you don’t have to go long before hearing about those futile teams of the early 60s, the unfulfilled promise of the aborted Strawberry-Gooden dynasty, playing second fiddle to the Yankees for the 1990s and 2000s, the late season collapses of recent years and the ignominy of the Wilpon-Madoff-era scandal and mismanagement. There is a widespread sense that the Mets are somehow a doomed franchise.

But, historically speaking, the Mets’ lot hasn’t been all that bad. They’ve been in existence for 54 seasons. They just won their fifth pennant. Not a bad ratio. Indeed, it’s the best seasons/pennants ratio of any expansion team. In the divisional era (1969-present) only the Cardinals have more NL pennants. The Mets have the same number of titles and pennants as the White Sox, who have been around since 1901. They have more titles than 11 teams in total and more pennants than 13.

That’s pretty good for a team that didn’t even exist when Kennedy got elected. And it’s a track record that a lot of teams would envy. Ask a Mariners fan how the last 39 years have gone and whether they’d want to trade places. A lot of Indians fans have grandparents who weren’t born the last time their club won a title. Many Cubs fans’ great-grandparents weren’t born when they hoisted a flag. We can talk about whether one can truly mourn the absence of something that is in no way part of one’s living memory, but you gotta admit, those fans are WAY more hosed than Mets fans are.

Yet I don’t offer this to discount the feeling of Mets fans, many of whom have suffered for their local nine. I take that suffering at face value because, as I said above, this is subjective stuff and every team’s fans have their own story. But it is clear that there is a certain disconnect between the Mets’ objective success and the level of suffering experienced and expressed. Why?

Part of it is the peaks and valley nature of it, I suppose. When the Mets are good it feels great, but when the Mets are bad there’s a certain, more extreme depth to it. Not in terms of actual losing — since they broke through in 1969 they’ve only lost 100 games once — but in the manner in which they have lost. The Mets tend to lose ugly, with acrimony in the clubhouse and more a feeling that potential has gone woefully unfulfilled as opposed to a feeling that there is a simple dearth of talent to begin with. There are notable late season collapses. No small amount of scandal. How much of this is a function of their actual teams and how much of it is a function of the New York press making a bigger deal out of those depths than most press corps would is unclear, but it’s undeniable that there have been some supremely hard-to-watch Mets teams over the course of their history. And no small number of hard-to-root-for players on those teams.

Another part of it, which is undeniable, is the Yankees factor. They share a city with the most successful franchise in U.S. professional sports and no one ever lets Mets fans forget it. Least of all Mets fans themselves. While Yankees fans and the media often rub their faces in the Yankees’ success and alleged class, Mets fans engage in no small amount of self-flagellation over it. Other two-team cities are on roughly even par. Chicago’s teams have one title in just under a century between them. The Giants and A’s have each had periods of sustained success. The Los Angeles teams aren’t even, really, but they rarely acknowledge each others’ existences to begin with. In New York the comparisons are constant and don’t flatter the Mets in any way. That has to be galling.

But is it torture? Maybe not in any sort of objective sense. There has been a lot of success in Queens since 1962 and here they are, once again, on baseball’s biggest stage, armed with baseball’s best young pitchers and poised to be crowned baseball’s champions.

But don’t tell Mets fans that. They’re the ones over there waiting for that other shoe to drop.

Bronson Arroyo talks about death, “feel” and winning at roulette

Bronson Arroyo
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Normally, when linking an interview of a player, I’ll say “[Reporter] sat down and talked with [Player] of [Team] and . . .” In this case, however, I can’t really do that because I imagine most of us have forgotten who Bronson Arroyo even plays for.

When last we saw him he was with the Diamondbacks. But then he was traded the Braves. Then he was traded to the Dodgers. And, either way, he hasn’t pitched since June of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Now he’s in Arizona, nominally with the Dodgers, rehabbing and thinking about life.

And death. A LOT about death, actually, as the intro to Tom Ley of Deadspin’s wonderful interview with Arroyo makes clear. He’s 38 and is sensing mortality. But not despairing. More observing it in himself and others and wanting to be sure to capture and preserve as much of his youth that he has left. It’s rather unusual to hear an athlete talk like this. Most of the time they’re ignoring aging and proceeding as if they’ll never get old. Not because they necessarily believe that, but because they are in a profession that requires them to have the utmost confidence and adopt a mindset that accords with that. Not Arroyo. He knows we’re all dying and that no one can negotiate with entropy. He’s just trying to contend with it as best he can.

In some ways it may be easier for him. The most compelling part of the interview is when he talks about “feel.” He knows he doesn’t have the same physical gifts as most elite pitchers. He never threw  97 m.p.h. and has never had perfect or even consistent mechanics. But he has “feel,” he says. An innate idea of how to pitch. What to throw when and how to throw it that he knows when, well, he feels it. While he may never have been a physical specimen and may be broken down and near the end now, he still has feel and wants to see if he can make it work one last time. Until he’s able to pitch again, he’s testing out his “feel” at roulette too. And he says he’s winning at that too.

Everyone has some thing they do, and likely do well, where they simply don’t think. They just feel their way through it and it clicks somehow. It could be cooking or painting or auto maintenance or playing video games. That thing where someone asks you “how did you do that?” And you say “Um, I dunno. I just sort of did it.” That’s how Arroyo describes pitching. I bet most pitchers do that on some level. The work and the talent matter, obviously, but for the good ones . . . something just clicks as well. Since Arroyo doesn’t rely on his height, strength, crazy velocity or, is seems anyway, some professorial approach to pitching philosophy, it sounds like he relies on that more than most.

Anyway, a great trip inside the mind of an interesting pitcher. Well worth your time if you’re interested in what makes ballplayers tick.

Mets fans don’t want Yankees fans on their bandwagon

Mets Fans
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The New York Times has a piece up today in which some Mets fans — interviewed at a sports bar following Tuesday night’s Game 3 win, so you can imagine their state of lucidity — were asked whether it’s cool for Yankees fans to temporarily adopt the Mets as their rooting interest.

One would think that it’d be nice to welcome people on to your bandwagon. The more the merrier, made all the merrier still by the fact that you know they’re just bandwagoners and that you’ve been living and dying with the Mets your whole life. But nah:

At Union Grounds in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where the Mets’ march to victory blared from three walls of TVs, Jamie Meyer, 31, a film editor, used a drastic metaphor to make his point.

“It’s like postwar Germany,” he said. “ ‘Yes, I was a member of the Nazi Party during the war. But sure, I’ll come over to your house.’ No, you can’t. Some really horrible things have happened.”

That’s certainly a well-reasoned and perspective-laden bit of opinion there from Mr. Meyer. Indeed, it’s exactly like former Nazis wanting to come to your house in 1946. Really, no different at all.