Ironic Jersey Omnibus: New York Mets

the greatest

The Omnibus takes its wagons eastward to New York City to consider the Amazin’ Mets. Since this feature seems to grow increasingly intermittent, a reminder of its purpose: to examine the culture of a baseball team, distill the essence of its fandom, and then to establish which jerseys, as worn by a fan, make the most self-aware and challenging statements to his or her comrades.

The Mets are not an easy team to evaluate. I’m actually more familiar with the brand of Mets that existed before I was born, thanks to Roger Angell’s sublime book The Summer Game, than I am with the franchise’s modern incarnations. I do not know what a Quintanilla is or how many of them equal a gallon.

I discussed the matter with FanGraphs’ own Eno Sarris. Mets’ fans are continually disappointed and long-suffering, but this probably describes the fanbase of all but a handful of baseball cities. And while many franchises can be divided into distinct eras, the history of the post-86 Mets is a nebulous thing. All teams have their ups and downs, but rarely do they seem to have them at the same time. The following, then, are one person’s attempt to greet the Mets.

ed_kranepool_mets2Among the early years there’s only one choice: 1979 Ed Kranepool. The Mets put names on their jerseys in this year, and it’s a damn good thing they did, because it was Ed’s final season. Not only does Kranepool’s tenure with the team stretch from that original 40-120 season, he covers Mays, Seaver, Koosman, the Miracle Mets, the less miraculous seventies, everything. He was the guy who stuck around, who was always there, who chipped in where he could. If you want to encapsulate those early years, with all of its romantic mythos, you can’t do better.

After Ed, there’s a gap. The Mets had a rough patch in the pre-Gooden eighties, going from lovable losers to unlovable losers. The jersey of choice from their era would be Dave Kingman, but he doesn’t work because, somehow, there are people who still idolize the guy. Those 442 solo home runs still hold some luster, somehow. A better choice, if you insist on memorializing this fairly forgettable era: a 1980 Doug Flynn. Flynn wasn’t really anybody, except the worst post-war baseball player, according to WAR.

I feel like the late-80s Mets are too garish to be ironic, and its iconic figures (Carter, Gooden, Hernandez) continue to loom so large that it’s impossible to wink at them. Those who want to make an effort, and show off their sabermetric inclinations, can dig up a 1985 Billy Beane shirt if they’re so inclined. So we move on to 1993. It was only a single hundred-loss season, and yet it marked so many changes: the return of the team to second-tier status in its own town, the rise of self-loathing and disappointment that never really washed off.

bonillaThe obvious jersey for this era would be a 1993 Bobby Bonilla, seeing that it’s still basically a 2013 Bobby Bonilla at the same time. But that’s a little too obvious, frankly. I prefer the (slightly) more subtle 1993 Anthony Young, he of the consecutive loss streak that’s as famous as it is objectively unimportant. Or, if broken dreams is more your thing, a 1995 Bill Pulsipher is right up your alley.

For a more current declaration of misery, you can look at the team’s next effort at buying happiness, with a 2003 Mo Vaughn or a 2004 Kaz Matsui, celebrating the Steve Phillips and Dan Duquette chapters in the team almanac.  Even better: the TRAID to end all TRAIDS, a 2004 Victor Zambrano. Now that Scott Kazmir is back in the league and looking competent, there’s never a better time to commemorate the ultimate in foolish buying, trading a prospect probably already better than the veteran he brought back.

The player that Eno and I spent the most time considering, however, was Carlos Beltran. Viewederroneously  as a disappointment during his tenure, much like Adrian Beltre in Seattle, Beltran is forever connecte with the bases-loaded strikeout to end the 2006 NLCS. It may be a little too late, however, as the All-Star game this season gave the fans a chance to reconsider their relationship with the underrated star, and appreciate his merits. Wearing a Beltre jersey now makes no more or less a statement than appreciating a great player: fine for him, useless for our purposes.

perfectly wrinkledLastly, we touch on the subject of one Colin Cowgill. Intrepid reader Evan Muthig reported the sighting and purchase of a shirsey of the AAA journeyman, on sale after he had both a) hit a grand slam on Opening Day and b) been demoted to the PCL. He owns and wears what is likely the only such torso covering in the public domain.

Is it commendable? Certainly. Is it ironic? Probably not. The trouble with Cowgills is that there are just so many of them; they are the cannon fodder of jokes. In order to be truly ironic, a player’s name must make an indelible mark on his team. Perhaps the 3,000 miles between myself and the city of New York have disguised this secret love affair. I am happy to be wrong.

As always , the Omnibus concludes by cajoling you, the reader, to make your feelings manifest. What is the most ironic Mets jersey? I lean towards Kranepool, myself, but I am a feckless optimist. Search your soul. Are you more of a Jason Bay? Or perhaps, a quietly moderate Robert Person?

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Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

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Sir Thopas
Sir Thopas

No love for Mr. Koo?