The Mets were off Monday, and as such, SNY aired a classic from 2006, their division-clinching win over the Marlins on Sept. 18.
Like any thorough columnist, I wanted to take the pulse of the fans and bloggers that night, so naturally I poked through Twitter, where I clicked on the trusty #Mets hashtag. I discovered that I wasn’t alone in feeling all nostalgic and whatnot. Most were yearning for The Good Old Days™, which is perfectly understandable in light of the team’s subsequent travails.
That 2006 is recalled fondly by Mets fans is not much of surprise, despite that season’s horrific conclusion, because that team was good and entertaining, which was the first time that could have been said since the 1999-2000 playoff teams, and frankly, there’s now a substantial portion of Mets fans who weren’t alive or were too young to recall the 1986 World Series-winning team, so this is the next best thing.
But I want to take it back a year further, to 2005, mostly for personal reasons, but also for the sake of some symmetry, and we scribes are known to love nothing else if not symmetry, and also because five years is a rounder number than four years. It even has a non-numerical abstraction — a half-decade.
Mets fans will recall 2005 as the stepping stone to ’06. It was the first season under Omar Minaya’s stewardship after he had been appointed general manager the preceding offseason, and he made an impact immediately, at least on the back pages. It was as if relevance — more so than winning — were the objective, but that was almost forgivable after the organization had gone comatose from 2002-04.
Accordingly, Minaya made his mark by signing a big-name, albeit aging, former ace in Pedro Martinez and new team cornerstone Carlos Beltran. The latter struggled in his first season in New York, but Pedro was better than advertised, posting a 5.9 WAR, good for a share of sixth-best among big league pitchers. Led by Pedro and the rapidly emerging David Wright, the Mets went 83-79, which was a 12-game improvement over the previous year. In fact, the Mets’ pythagorean won-loss record, which is calculated by run differential, was 89-73, indicating that they were a fair measure better than their final record. Wright, in particular, was a revelation as their best everyday player with a 139 OPS+ and a 5.8 WAR in his first full season in the Majors at just 22 years old.
On a personal note, I don’t mind saying that this was an important time in my life. I was finally beginning to find happiness and stability a couple years after the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and the sale of my childhood home. I think it’s a natural tendency for baseball fans to relate a good team’s wares to their own. If the team is good and life is going well, it’s a tidy parallel. If the team is good and life hits a snag, it’s a welcomed distraction from the daily travails. That’s one of the beauties of the game.
For me, things were looking up. And for the Mets, there was a palpable sense of forward progress, that the team had a bright future.
Finishing my bachelor’s in North Carolina then, I travelled to Washington D.C. for a mostly meaningless September series at RFK because I wanted to see the budding talent like Jose Reyes and Wright, as well as to get a last look at Mike Piazza, who was going to be a free agent at season’s end and was unlikely to re-sign. Sure enough, I witnessed Wright crush a grand slam, and Piazza went deep twice in the final game I saw him play live as a Met.
But there were warning signs then that, despite Beltran suffering through a mid-career red herring, a confluence of good luck had a hand in the Mets’ reversal of fortunes in 2005, as it would again in ‘06. Chiefly, 2005 was the final productive season in the Majors for a pair of aging veterans in Pedro and Cliff Floyd, the latter of which had a fine 4.7 WAR, 10th-best in the NL. Piazza, too, was serviceable with a 104 OPS+ as a catcher, and 39-year-old Tom Glavine had a 2.9 WAR, which even the most optimistic prognosticators would be hard-pressed to sell as expected of an ancient, soft-tossing lefty.
The Mets again were the beneficiaries of best-case-scenario performances from some unlikely sources in 2006, most notably — you guessed it — a few aging types. Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado and Jose Valentin had well-above-average campaigns to complement career years by Beltran, who had arguably the best year in franchise history with a 7.5 WAR, Reyes (5.7) and, to a lesser extent, Wright (4.9). Kick in Endy Chavez’s surprisingly competent offensive performance and ridiculous outfield defense (along with Beltran’s), and the Mets had all the makings of a team that finished 97-65, six games better than its pythagorean.
We all know what happened from there, which is why, with the 2010 Mets constructed similarly to their ’05 counterparts and run by the same front-office regime, I wasn’t so much smitten with my nostalgia as I was feeling a little wiser for the wear. The current Mets’ pythagorean pegs them as being just two games better than they are, which would project to an 84-win season should they maintain their current level of play.
This is a period of my life I hope to someday recall fondly, what with some exciting career prospects on the horizon, my family tribulations long in the rearview and a beautiful woman whom I’m fortunate enough to call my girlfriend. But if I should be so fortunate, it likely will not have been on account of the Mets, for whom an upward swing and dream season don’t appear imminent.