Old Timer's Day: Why The Yankees Get It & Why The Mets Never Will
I am a Mets fan.
Yet, I am a Met fan who has tremendous respect for the history of the game, and the Mets many rivals including the crosstown Yankees. No team knows how to represent its franchise's history better than the Bronx Bombers; 26 championships would do that I venture to guess.
But that doesn't give the other team in New York any excuse not to honor their own history, which, even though it's not the Yankee history, it is nothing to sneeze at.
Today, the Yankees held their traditional Old Timer's Day festivities in the Bronx. There was Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Mickey Rivers, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, Don Zimmer and even former Mets Lee Mazzili, Doc Gooden, and David Cone, along with many more current, and former Yankee players and coaches sharing the stage to give back to their loyal fan base.
Call it team spirit.
The Yankees are a fraternity of players and coaches and a sorority of their wives, all of whom made appearances today, a special gathering of folks who find ways to stay together long after the games of their youth have ended .
The Steinbrenner family deserves the credit for keeping this group of fine athletes together over the years, honoring them with retired numbers, plaques and annual festivities at both old and new Yankee Stadium.
Yet across town on Roosevelt Avenue, across the street from an eyesore known as Willets Point, sit uncle Scrooge and son, Fred and Jeff Wilpon. By their own admission, the Wilpons are Dodger fans; look at the stadium they built which resembles Ebbet's Field. Look at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda which honors a great man, but one who never wore a Met uniform.
The pennants that the Mets have won over the years are hidden behind the Mets Disneyland-like Shake Shack where nobody can see them. I saw them for the first time while watching the game on TV; even Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling were shocked that the pennants were hidden from the view of the fans.
The retired numbers ... well ... as many know, the Mets have only three retired numbers: Casey Stengel (the great Yankees manager from the 1950's), Gil Hodges, and Tom Seaver. That's it and that's all!
The Mets for some reason, in spite of constant pleading from their fans, refuse to retire Keith Hernandez's 17, Mike Piazza's 31, Tommy Agee's 20, Gary Carter's 8, and Darrell Strawberry's 18. In fact, 17 is still in use on the field at this moment in time. Fernando Tatis is the most current of many players to wear Keith's number since the All-Star first baseman left the team in 1991.
Needless to say, the Mets have not had an Old Timer's Day since the early 1990's. For some reason, the Mets feel that Old Timer's Day is a waste of time and money. Last fall's ceremony at Shea Stadium was the first time in my lifetime that I have seen the Mets welcome back all of their famed players, and, knowing the Wilpons, it probably will be the last. Thank God I recorded it!
It is time for the Mets to break tradition and start honoring their history!
Yes, there were the dark days from 1974-1984, and the wasteful, spendthrift days of the early 1990's and the terrible wasteland of the years of the three-headed monster known as Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Art Howe managements.
In spite of this, the Mets have had some really good years.
The Miracle Mets of 1969; Ya Gotta Believe in 1973; 1985-1988, the best period in Mets history that included two division titles, two trips to NLCS and a World Championship; 1998-2001 when the Mets turned the corner to become one of the NL's most dangerous teams.
The players are as legendary as any group of players on any team in baseball history: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swboda, Tommie Agee, Dave Kingman, Tug McGraw,Rusty Stab, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter, Darrell Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Al Leiter, John Franco, Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud, and Todd Zeile just to name a few.
Are they all Hall of Famers? No; nor was everyone welcomed to Yankee Stadium this weekend possessed of a ticket to Cooperstown either.
The camaraderie on display at Yankee Stadium this weekend is another huge difference between the two New York teams. Anyone who wears the pinstripes has a great respect for those who came before them; whenever you see Derek Jeter posing with Yogi Berra or Whitey Ford for a picture is an example of that.
Is there such a respect for history in the Mets clubhouse? Regrettably, no. Last season, Jose Reyes almost got into a fist fight with Keith Hernandez on a team charter when Reyes got word that Hernandez was critical of the shortstop's lack of hustle.
The point of Old Timer's Day is to give back to fans, to show fans that all the cheers, the boos, that patient waits with the team through tedious rain delays, and even the near capacity park attendance when times were not so bright, are all greatly appreciated.
It is an opportunity for fans from different generations to come together to remember those days that have gone by. It is what makes baseball great because unlike any other sport, baseball is about the games and the events that shape and transfigure our lives.
The Mets don't have to be the "other team" in the city; they can look back and celebrate as well; there is nothing to be ashamed of. But the actions from the front office down through the clubhouse leaves them looking lost, forlorn.
I might speculate, too, that that lack of spirit is what troubles the team the Mets field today. It's about tradition, comradeship, good times, and bad times. It's too bad in a way because it is the Met fan who has to miss out on something of which they are a part of. That spirit is a living thing, as certain as the anticipation of the advent of spring training, when things are fresh and promising, and we are all boys of summer once again.
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