Our friend Greg Prince, the grand guru of Faith And Fear In Flushing — and the nearest thing the Mets’ blogging community can get to its own Roger Angell or Red Smith, for my money — had a terrific post today, recapping Old Timers’ Day at Shea Stadium in 1977, complete with video. This was the sixteenth such celebration in Mets’ history. Think about that for a minute. The ballclub itself was playing its sixteenth season in 1977, which means that an OT Day bash was thrown by the Mets in 1962, before it was ever possible to have had any Old Timers of their own. Now, the joke could be made that that 1962 team could have Old Timers’ Day every day, but still…
Fast-forward to modern times and there is no Old Timers’ Day to be found. It’s not any schedule, pocket-sized, magnetized or otherwise. It hasn’t been since 1994. There was a lot that went wrong in 1994, baseball-wise. There was the small matter of the strike/lockout which took away the World Series for the first time in 90 years – heck, even World War II couldn’t manage that one. In any case, 1994 was the last Old Timers’ Day in Queens and reading Greg’s article today triggered a voice in the grey matter of your intrepid columnist. Sounding suspiciously like Jeff Wilpon, this voice said, repeatedly, “OK, we’ll take being thought of as ‘tone deaf,’ as long as we save a few bucks on airfare, hotel and souvenir uniforms.” In the aftermath of the 20th Anniversary celebration of the 1986 World Champions and the subsequent ceremony preceding shuttering of Shea, these were some of the reasons cited for the noticeable absence of nostalgic events at Citi Field. We know the Mets’ ownership is short of funds. One need look no further than that blurry spot between second and third base, or than the empty spot on the bullpen bench. Money — more specifically, lack thereof — is always a consideration when talking about the Mets, whether it’s about the product on the field or the amenities in the ballpark and its environs. But it goes deeper than that.
It’s been well noted that any nod to the past has been shunned by the Wilpons, despite the basic design of Citi Field evoking Ebbetts Field, papa Fred Wilpon’s particular Garden of Eden. The interior walls started out bereft of any sign of the team that played there and when one of its own legends – Dwight Gooden – light-heartedly put his signature on one of them, it was quickly denounced and painted over. The outfield walls were black. For a team born in Technicolor, this seemed an extraordinary attempt to render it drab. It took a good two-and-a-half years’ worth of moaning from the fans and harping from the MSM to get some semblance of the Mets’ history into the Mets’ building. Granted, they recovered nicely, with the installation of the Mets Museum on the ground floor, and the banners bearing former players’ likenesses along the exterior walkways, but there’s still something off-tasting about the effort. The acknowledgement of history still appears grudging. As counterintuitive as it may sound, it seems like the attitude among the higher-ups is a crass disregard for the paying customer, one that would put a rictus-like grin on the wrinkled face of M. Donald Grant.
The Mets organization should honor its past. The Mets organization should be run like a team in the biggest market of all – which it is. The Mets organization should be striving to provide a first-class product, on the field and off, because that’s what we fans deserve. That this isn’t happening is not lost on those of us who pay attention. As long as the Wilpons remain in charge, this disconnect between the owners and the fans will remain a gaping chasm.
And it’ll always be that much harder to reconcile what is with what should be.
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