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.