As I’ve probably mentioned before, sometimes I write a column and am very pleased with the concept. Other times, not so much. The concepts I like get repeated, whereas the ones I don’t are banished down the memory hole. The only problem with this is that the concepts I like tend to be difficult to execute.
All of which is to say that I very much liked the “Throwback Thursday” concept I did on the 1991 New York Yankees yearbook, and wished to repeat it. But I actually had to put some real thought (I know, the horror of having to invest real thought) into a suitable replacement.
It would be easy, of course, to find a yearbook for a franchise whose fortunes are different now than they were then. Baseball teams are always rising and falling in America, as Nathaniel Hawthorne nearly said. A yearbook for the San Diego Padres for this season—in advance of an 86-loss season and after 177 losses the two years prior—would no doubt look very different than one for the 2006 season, when the team was in the midst of a three-year run that saw two playoff appearances.
|Jose Reyes and David Wright, perhaps remembering the good old days (US Presswire)|
I was reluctant to pick such a thing, however, because it doesn’t tell you anything especially interesting. The Padres used to be good. Now they are bad. Someday in the future they will be good. The concept works best when discussing a franchise that is substantially different from it was the time the yearbook was written, in more ways than just team quality.
This is not to say there aren’t some obvious contenders. The Washington Nationals have moved to a new city, and turned themselves into a contender. The Florida Marlins were born into existence and have built themselves up and torn themselves down three times in their short history. Nonetheless, while pondering this question I realized the choice was right in front of my face. Or rather, about five and a half miles, as the crow files, southeast of my face: CitiField, home of the New York Mets.
A few minutes of time on Google, and one helpful eBay seller later, I had in my possession a copy of the 2007 Official New York Mets Yearbook. As you might expect from a team coming off a near-miss for a trip to the World Series, it is brimming with confidence. This is embodied in a lot of different ways, and we’ll cover many of them, but perhaps none is more obvious than the slogan: “your season has come.”
These days, coming off five losing seasons—CitiField has hosted more All-Star games, soccer matches and Paul McCartney concerts than it has playoff games—and mired in the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff scandal, it seems hard to believe that slogan could ever apply to the Mets. But in 2007 it really did seem like their season had come. After bottoming out with a 95-loss season in 2003 the team improved year-by-year and won 97 games in 2006. They became the team that dethroned the Braves from a seemingly perpetual position atop the NL East. The Mets came within a hairs-breadth of the World Series.
If all that success was not enough, the team appeared ready to take the next step with a mix of young players (five of their starters in Game 7 of the NLCS were 30 or younger) and veterans (They could boast four men with relatively strong Hall of Fame cases even then: Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner).
The yearbook reflects all this with what can only be described as a breezy self-assurance. Rather than bother with traditional player biographies, it features instead only quick “fun fact” style tidbits. Hence we learn that Paul LoDuca’s first job was busing tables, Jose Reyes’ favorite New York City restaurant is Tao and that the famous person Scott Schoeneweis would like to meet is Jim Morrison. (Bad news there, Scott.)
In fact, the only substantial section of the book about baseball in the present is a section which functions as both a year in review of 2006, and look forward to 2007. The essay states clearly that the Mets are established “as a team that WILL contend for championships in the near-term and long-term.” The caps, incidentally, are in the original. Just in case you missed it, a few sentences later the whole concept is reaffirmed, telling the Flushing faithful that the team “has the unique ability to win now and into the future.”
The overwhelming optimism continues when describing CitiField, a park whose construction was just beginning as the 2007 season took place. By the time the park opened, its namesake financial institution had faced collapse and required government intervention to save it. This led to headlines like “CitiField or Bailout Ballpark,” and angry bipartisan letters demanding the government undo the deal.
|Fred Wilpon (US Presswire)|
The park has also faced criticism for what many saw as giving the Brooklyn Dodgers and their history a more important place in the park than that of its actual tenant. Owner Fred Wilpon would later characterize the Dodger-centric nature of CitiField as “an error of judgment on [his] part.”
Of course, you’d never know any of this to read the yearbook’s description of CitiField. While one can hardly criticize the team for its failure to see a global financial meltdown coming, the sentence promising to connect “the Mets’ National League heritage to the future,” seems telling. Even more so is the fact that Ebbets Field is referenced three times in the description of the stadium, while Shea Stadium gets nary a mention.
It is true that yearbooks are ultimately promotional arms for a team. As one commenter noted on my (gentle) mocking of the ’91 Yankee yearbook, “you expected the PR department to say something negative?” This is a fair point. But the yearbook is just so bright and so optimistic, it is almost unnerving.
Baseball yearbooks are not famous for their dramatic irony, but this one ought to be. We know this Mets team was doomed to suffer one of, if not the, worst collapses in baseball history, ending with a blowout loss on the last day of the season. We know that the next season would feature the team again missing the playoffs by losing on the season’s last day, and doing so in the last game at Shea Stadium, no less. And finally, we know that by 2009 the team would be reduced to farce: they couldn’t catch a game-ending pop-up but could hit into a game-ending unassisted triple play. Their owner couldn’t avoid being caught up in not one but two Ponzi schemes, but could find time to characterize the face of his franchise as “not a superstar.”
But the 2007 yearbook doesn’t even hint that the future is anything but wine and roses. (Or champagne and pennants, I suppose.) More than anything, reading the 2007 Mets’ yearbook feels like watching this scene in Titanic, as the ship pulls away from the dock. Everyone is jubilant, waving hats and cheering, sure that success and glory is ahead of them. Instead, literally for most of the ship’s passengers (and figuratively for the Mets and their fans) all that lies ahead are icy depths.