Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “being Irish means knowing that somewhere, somehow, the world is going to break your heart.”
The sports world equivalent of this Irish fatalism is being a Mets fan. I say this with all the authority of someone who has stood with the Mets since their opening day of spring training in 1962. That inaugural Mets team went on to lose a modern-era record 120 games — a record that still stands, and that was immortalized by New York’s classic wordsmith and blue-collar raconteur, Jimmy Breslin, in his masterful work “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”
In fairness to the ’62 Mets, however, there was no reason to expect an expansion team to do well, since its roster comprised players rejected by all the other teams in the major leagues. Just seven years later, the 1969 Mets, under the leadership of manager Gil Hodges, stunned the baseball world by defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. A dynasty was born!
Or so Mets fans thought.
Instead, what we hoped would be a dynasty came undone. Johnny Murphy, the Mets’ general manager and the chief architect of the championship team, died of a heart attack in 1970. Then, in April 1972, Hodges, the team’s heart, soul and unquestioned leader, suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Except for a late-season surge that got the Mets into the 1973 World Series, their fans had to endure more than a decade of mediocre, losing baseball. Nothing personified the fans’ frustration and despair during those uninspiring days and years more than the front-office decision in 1976 to trade away Tom Seaver, perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, for nonentities. That was a white flag of surrender.
Our hopes rose again in the early 1980s, when Frank Cashen took over as general manager, creating an outstanding farm system that produced the likes of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, and making trades for future Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter and MVP first baseman Keith Hernandez. This time Mets fans were convinced that a dynasty had been created, as the squad, under Manager Wally Backman, finished a close second in the National League East in 1985, won a classic World Series over the Red Sox in ’86, finished second again in ’87 and captured a division title in ’88.
But this bubble burst as well, with the precipitous decline of superstars Gooden and Strawberry, brought on by cocaine addiction.
Our hopes soared yet again in 1992, when the Mets gave mega-dollar contracts to stars including Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen and Eddie Murray. Pre-season experts had the Mets winning it all. Instead, the “Best Team Money Could Buy” failed miserably, winning only 72 games and finishing in fifth place in the NL East.
Fast-forward to 2015 and 2016, when the team assembled a young pitching staff of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, which appeared to have unmatched and limitless potential. Once more, we Mets fans were thinking dynasty. Instead, the star hurlers were all beset by arm injuries, and now they are no longer even with the team.
This year it was all going to be different. Building off last season’s 101 wins, owner Steve Cohen added future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander to a staff headed by another future Hall shoo-in, Max Scherzer, and the incomparable reliever Edwin Diaz. Combined with slugger Pete Alonso, batting champion Jeff McNeil and established stars Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte, this seemed to guarantee at least a solid playoff berth, if not a pennant and a World Series title. Expectations were the highest they have been in years.
Instead, Diaz wrecked his knee celebrating a victory by Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and Verlander and Scherzer were sidelined by injuries, and still aren’t pitching near what was expected of them. The team’s hitting has yet to get untracked, and the bullpen has no depth. Bottom line: As of last Friday, the Mets were in next-to-last place in the N.L. East, 17-1/2 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves.
I know the season is barely half over, and miracles happen. But it looks like another disappointing summer ahead of us. How many times can the Mets break their fans’ hearts? Pat Moynihan might as well have been talking about our team. As for me, I’m afraid I’ll never learn. I’m hanging in there.
Let’s go, Mets!
Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.