Friday, October 23, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Mets Won a Pennant

So, the Mets have won a Pennant, and their fans have come out of the closet, where they've been keeping their little blue & orange hats, jerseys, T-shirts, jackets, and for all I know their Mets Underoos.

Yes, Met fans have come out of the closet. Being a Met fan is not something you're born with, a genetic predisposition. It is a choice. And it is a deviant, unnatural, repulsive lifestyle.

Their 5th Pennant in 54 years of play.

Granted, that's not bad at all when you consider that there's 15 teams in the National League. And, compared to Major League Baseball's other teams, it's actually a touch inspiring:

1. New York Yankees, averaging a Pennant every 2.9 years
2. St. Louis Cardinals, 5.8
3. New York/San Francisco Giants, 6.0
4. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, 6.0
5. Philadelphia/Oakland Athletics, 7.7
6. Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Baves, 8.2
7. Boston Red Sox, 8.8
8. Chicago Cubs, 8.8 (even with their 70-year drought)
9. Detroit Tigers, 10.5
10. New York Mets, 10.8
11. Miami Marlins, 11.5
12. Cincinnati Reds, 13.4
13. Pittsburgh Pirates, 14.3 (even with their 36-year drought)
14. Kansas City Royals, 15.7 (11.8 if they win this one)
15. St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles, 16.4
16. Tampa Bay Rays, 18.0
17. Arizona Diamondbacks, 18.0
18. Philadelphia Phillies, 19.0
19. Chicago White Sox, 19.2
20. Washington Senators/Minnsota Twins, 19.2
21. Toronto Blue Jays, 19.5 (13.0 if they win this one)
22. Colorado Rockies, 23.0
23. Cleveland Indians, 23.0
24. San Diego Padres, 23.5
25. Texas Rangers, 27.5
26. Milwaukee Brewers, 47.0
27. Houston Astros, 54.0
28. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 55.0
29. Seattle Mariners, 39 years, no Pennants
30. Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, 47 years, no Pennants

Ties broken in favor of the more recent Pennant.

So, by that measure, the Mets are in baseball's Top 10, the top 1/3rd, and would remain so regardless of whether Kansas City or Toronto wins the American League Pennant. They're 6th among NL teams.

Of course, there is an elephant in the room, and I don't mean Keith Hernandez, considerably fatter than he was in 1986. Look at the team on top.

Met fans have claimed rivalries with several teams over the years. The ones with the Phils and Nats are relatively recent. The one with the Cardinals goes back to the Reagan years; with the Cubs and the Pirates, the Nixon years. The one with the Braves was much-hyped, but never really a rivalry.

It is the Yankees they hate the most, and it is to Yankee Fans that they've been bragging.

Really? Five Pennants? Twice, the Yankees won 5 Pennants in a row. The Mets' last 5 Pennants go back to 1969, while the Yankees' last 5 Pennants go back to 1999.

And included in that is the one and only World Series between the teams, which happened the last time the Mets won a Pennant. And the Yankees not only won it, but it was a 5-game blowout, clinched at Shea Stadium.

The Mets won the Pennant 2 nights ago, on October 21, 2015 -- ruining "Back to the Future Day" for the Cubs, who were "supposed to win the World Series" this year.

It was the Mets' 1st Pennant since they beat the Cardinals at Shea, taking the NLCS in 5 games, on October 16, 2000. That's 15 years and 5 days.

How long has that been? Not really that long, right? The world couldn't have changed that much, could it?

*

When the official 2000 World Series highlight film was made, it featured shots of the New York skyline, including the World Trade Center. Many Americans had heard of Osama bin Laden, but it may not have been a majority. Certainly, hardly any had heard of his organization, al-Qaeda, even after they attacked the USS Cole during the NLCS.

The only Kardashian most people had heard of was Robert, who was still alive. The eldest of his children, Kourtney, was 21 and not yet famous. Beyonce was known as "the lead singer of Destiny's Child, the one with the nice booty and the weird name." Lady Gaga was 14, the oldest of the Jonas Brothers was 13, Rihanna was 12, the oldest member of One Direction was 8, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were also 8; Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande were 7, and Justin Bieber was 6.

There was the Internet, but there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Pinterest, no Skype. Mobile phones were still of the flip-open variety, and you couldn't access the Internet on them. If you wanted to watch a movie at home, you used a VCR, as hardly anybody had a DVD player yet.

The Mets, of course, were led by Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and manager Bobby Valentine. But they would be defined by the baserunning mistakes of Piazza, Timo Perez, Todd Zeile, the inability of Armando Benitez to hold the lead in Game 1, Piazza completely unwarranted freakout at Roger Clemens in Game 2 (yes, completely: Any honest person would say that the bat was not thrown at Piazza), Bobby Jones' gopher ball to Derek Jeter on the 1st pitch of Game 4, and Valentine leaving Leiter in too long in Game 5.

The Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in 82 years, the White Sox in 83. The Diamondbacks and Angels had never won a Series. The Diamondbacks, Angels, Astros, Rockies, Rays and Rangers had never won a Pennant. The Astros were in the National League. The Nationals were the Expos. Those facts are no longer true.

The Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Brewers, Reds, Padres, Cardinals, Nationals, Twins and Marlins have all moved into new ballparks. That's 10 out of 30. Fully 1/3rd of all MLB teams have opened new ballparks since the Mets last won a Pennant -- including the Mets themselves. And, except for the Knicks and Rangers, all the major league sports teams in the New York Tri-State Area have moved into new buildings. Indeed, Shea, the old Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium have been demolished; the Meadowlands Arena will probably be gone in the next 3 years; and the fate of the Nassau Coliseum is still up in the air.

There were, at the time, 61 living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But 23 of them have since died. From a Met perspective, the most important are Yogi Berra, Ralph Kiner, and briefly-Mets Warren Spahn and Duke Snider. In addition to Yogi, the Yankees have lost Phil Rizzuto and Enos Slaughter. Also dying in the meantime have been Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Boudreau, Robin Roberts, Ernie Banks, Al Lopez, Eddie Mathews, George Kell, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Willie Stargell, Hal Newhouser, Earl Weaver, Larry Doby, Lee MacPhail and Sparky Anderson.

The defining players of today? David Ortiz was a lightly-regarded one-dimensional slugger for the Minnesota Twins. Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista were in the minor leagues. David Wright, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes were in high school. Felix Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Clayton Kershaw were in junior high. Matt Harvey and Madison Bumgarner were 11 years old, Mike Trout and Kris Bryant were 9, and, on the day the Mets won their last Pennant before this week, Bryce Harper celebrated his 8th birthday.

The ideas of Rutgers University playing in a bowl game, joining the Big Ten, and expanding their stadium from 41,000 to 52,000 seats were ridiculous. Tom Brady was at the University of Michigan. LeBron James was in high school. Sidney Crosby was 13.

The top soccer players in the world were Zinedine Zidane of Juventus, Thierry Henry of Arsenal, Ronaldo of Internazionale Milano, and Luis Figo, who had controversially just been transferred from Barcelona to their arch-rivals, Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo was 15, and playing in the youth system of Sporting Clube de Portugal in Lisbon. Lionel Messi was 13, and playing in the youth system of Newell's Old Boys in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. And the idea of Americans gathering in bars early in the morning to watch European soccer games on TV was crazy -- even if the coverage were possible and desired by the networks that now carry those games.

Terry Collins was managing in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' system. Joe Girardi was catching for the Cubs. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Nets coach Lionel Hollins was the head coach of the Vancouver Grizzlies. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Todd Bowles was on the Jet coaching staff, but as defensive backs coach. Islanders coach Jack Capuano was head coach of a minor-league team in South Carolina, the Pee Dee Pride. Knicks coach Derek Fisher was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Devils coach John Hynes had just been named an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Did I say the Vancouver Grizzlies? They have since moved to Memphis, the old Charlotte Hornets have become the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Seattle SuperSonics have become the Oklahoma City Thunder. As I said, the Montreal Expos have become the Washington Nationals. Surprisingly, no NFL teams have moved (though a few have expressed interest in moving to Los Angeles), but the Atlanta Thrashers have become the new Winnipeg Jets. Also, since the Mets' last Pennant, the NFL's Houston Texans, the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats (now the new Charlotte Hornets), and the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild have begun play.

The Yankees, of course, were the defending World Champions, as were the Devils, the St. Louis Rams and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heavyweight Championship of the World was already fractured: Wladimir Klitschko had just taken the WBO title from Chris Byrd, while the preceding April, Lennox Lewis had relinquished the WBA title, which had been re-awarded to Evander Holyfield. Lewis still held the WBC and IBF titles.

The Olympics had just been held in Australia. They've since been held in America, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush of Texas were days away from deciding who would replace him -- or so we thought. The Governor of the State of New York was George Pataki, and New York has had 3 Governors since. The Mayor of the City of New York was Rudy Giuliani, and New York has had 2 Mayors since. The Governor of New Jersey was Christine Todd Whitman, and New Jersey has elected 3 Governors since. (Actually, due to her resignation and the setup of the State Constitution, there's been 8 changes of Governor since.) 

Barack Obama was then a State Senator. Andrew Cuomo was U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. Bill de Blasio was a member of the New York City Board of Education, and was running Hillary Clinton's campaign for the U.S. Senate. Chris Christie was a failed Morris County Freeholder, and was a lobbyist for the deregulation of New Jersey's energy industry (which shouldn't surprise anyone who's observed his Governorship).

The Pope was John Paul II. The Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien, and of Britain Tony Blair. The monarch, of course, was Queen Elizabeth II. Manchester United was the defending champion of England's Premier League, and Chelsea the holders of the FA Cup.

Major novels of 2000 included The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, and A Storm of Swords, the 3rd novel in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series that inspired the TV series Game of Thrones. David Auburn debuted his play Proof.

Films premiering in October 2000 included Get Carter, Meet the Parents, the Contender, Pay It Forward and the remake of Bedazzled. Remember the Titans was still in theaters. The TV series Girlfriends, Yes, Dear, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Dark Angel, Gilmore Girls, MTV Cribs, Queen of Swords, Sheena, Trading Spaces, Curb Your Enthusiasm, the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and the children's series Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues and Little Bill had all recently premiered. Boston Public and Queer as Folk soon would.

Mark Harmon had recently starred in Chicago Hope. Nathan Fillion had just played a priest in the film Dracula 2000. Charlie Sheen had just taken over for Michael J. Fox on Spin City. Jim Parsons was starring in Off-Broadway plays. There was no American Idol, X Factor or The Voice.

The Number 1 song in America was "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)" by Christina Aguilera, who had yet to "get dirrty" (at least, not in public). Major musical events of the month (plus one month in each direction). Limp Bizkit released their debut album. George Harrison and Michael Jackson were still alive and recording.

In early Autumn of 2000, the Olympics closed in Sydney, and Australian band Midnight Oil performed at the closing ceremony, dressed in outfits clearly displaying the word "Sorry," in reference to Prime Minister John Howard's refusal to apologize to the Stolen GenerationSlobodan Milošević, the Butcher of Belgrade, was overthrown as dictator of Serbia, after which the base country of the former Yugoslavia is finally admitted to the United Nations. Steve Jobs introduced the public beta of Mac OS X. A Greek ferry crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, killing 80 people. Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri, running for the U.S. Senate, was killed in a plane crash, along with his son Randy -- and wins anyway, enabling his wife, Jean Carnahan, to be appointed in his place. Bill Clinton, who had famously protested the Vietnam War and suspiciously (but legally) avoided serving in it, became the 1st U.S. President to visit Vietnam since Richard Nixon in 1969. And Andújar Cedeño, a former major leaguer playing in his native Dominican Republic, was killed in a car crash at age 31.

Pierre Trudeau, and Ring Lardner Jr., and Gold Glove-winning 3rd baseman Aurelio Rodriguez died. Willow Smith, and Frankie Jonas, and Jasmine Thompson were born.

October 16, 2000. The Mets won a Pennant. And, as you can see, the world has changed quite a bit in the 15 years since. Now, they have won another.

Whatever happens in the 2015 World Series, whether they play Kansas City and Toronto, one thing is for sure.

They may lose, they may get absolutely humiliated, but they absolutely will not experience the greatest humiliation of all: Losing the World Series to the Yankees, and watching the Yankees and their fans celebrate on their Flushing field.

Been there. Done that. Let the commemorative T-shirts, prematurely proclaiming them to be World Champions, be shipped to poor countries.

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