Ain't the Mets Amazin'?

by Jeff Siegel

Ron Swoboda was the New York Mets' right fielder in 1969, when the Mets won the World Series and the Chicago Cubs staged one of the greatest collapses in baseball history. Swoboda, who had a very ordinary major league career, was one of the team's heroes, hitting two home runs to beat St. Louis in a key game in September even though the Cardinals' Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets.

I met Swoboda when he did the sports on a New Orleans television station in the early 1980s. I introduced myself at a media function, and said that I was a Chicago Cubs fan who would never get over 1969. His reply – and he wasn't joking: "Well, you'd better learn how." And then he walked off.

Well, Ron, I just got over it. The Mets staged one of the great choke jobs in baseball history this season, missing the playoffs after leading Philadelphia by 7 games with 17 to play. One baseball stats guru estimated that New York was 500-to-1 to miss the playoffs, a 99.8 percent lock. It was a worse performance than the 1969 Cubs. It was a worse performance than all but one other team in baseball history. Hee hee, Ron.

And yes, I take pleasure in the Mets' agony. Lots of pleasure. As all real Cubs fans do (as opposed to the bandwagon jumpers, everyone who thought the White Sox were neat in 2005, and people who view the Cardinals as friendly rivals). As Mike Royko, the high priest of Cubdom, wrote 20 years after the horrors of 1969: "Why, in the past two years, I don't think I've watched my video of the movie Fail Safe, in which New York City gets nuked, more than 30 or 40 times." For 38 years, every Mets fan I have met, from Swoboda to my bartender to strangers on planes, felt compelled to remind me of what happened in 1969. Being New Yorkers, they did this with the subtlety of a taxi careening around Manhattan. All I could do was smile weakly, nod, and say, yes the Mets certainly were amazin'.

But not any more. In fact, I am taking more pleasure from the Mets' disintegration than I am from the current version of the Cubs crawfishing into this year's playoffs, losing four of their final six. These Cubs are not a good team, with just the sixth best record in the National League and the 12th best in the majors. They are more likely to get swept in the first round than to win the World Series. What's the fun in that?

But there is fun in walking into my bar, ordering a beer, and asking, oh so innocently, "Say, how did the Mets do this year?" How much better can beer taste than that?

(Photo of the Mets' third baseman David Wright by alpineinc via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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