The champagne has stopped spraying by now, one would guess. The victorious Houston Astros and disappointed Los Angeles Dodgers are probably just heading to bed as this is written in the wee hours of November 2. A thrilling, twisting seven-game World Series is barely concluded and the Astros – the Mets’ NL expansion brethren of 55 years past, opponents in that restaging of War and Peace known as the 1986 NLCS – have won their very first world championship. Good news for baseball in general, not only because this is the second consecutive seven-gamer, but the uncertainty of the ultimate outcome drew fresh sets of eyes back to the sport: Sunday night’s game five of this Series out-rated its NFL competition by a significant margin, the first time that’s happened in a very long time. That’s really the idea of the World Series, of course, to draw in the proverbial “casual fan.” Well, if this Series didn’t do that, then that casual fan will stay casual. And as exciting and satisfying as the Series was in general, it was also heartwarming to more than a few Met fans I know.
There’s a phenomenon in sports – and it seems acutely so in New York – in that some players are only be appreciated once they’ve left. A famous example is Roger Maris, who only hit 61 home runs for the Yankees in 1961. The fans raked him over the coals for the rest of his career for A) not hitting 62 home runs in 1962 and B) not being Mickey Mantle. Only in his dotage was he welcomed back to the Bronx as one of their ubiquitous Old-Timers. A looming example in that other sport will be New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, who is having a miserable year, as is the rest of his team. The most memorable recent example, though, was on display in this World Series. Carlos Beltran made it back to the Series, his first such appearance since 2013, when he was a member of the Cardinals and his second overall. As outstanding a regular season player he’s been throughout his career, he always seemed to be able to ramp up his play in the post-season. This year, as a 40-year-old part-timer, he didn’t get a chance to shine, but he contributed. In three games against Boston in the ALDS, he hit .400 with a double. He was eclipsed in the ALCS against the Yankees, and saw limited duty against the Dodgers. His career is close to being done. But in his twentieth big-league season, he finally accomplished something he strove his whole life for.
He got his ring.
On the other side of the field, there are opposing players to whom fans take an instant dislike. Either their constant beating of your own boys, a singular event or simply the uniform they wear can cause an opponent to be despised. Chase Utley managed to combine all three for Mets fans. As a member of that “Team to Beat” in Philadelphia which took full advantage of the Mets’ collapse in 2007, Utley was the living embodiment of the short-lived Turnpike Rivalry. He took utter delight in dropping homer after homer over the right-centerfield wall at both Shea Stadium and Citi Field, causing some New York broadcasters to name that area “Utleyville.” The Phillies were on a roll from 2007 through 2011, winning the NL East every year, taking the World Series in 2008 and the NL Pennant in 2009. The Phillies were as insufferable as the Mets were miserable in that time frame, such that when the ’09 World Series – Phillies vs. Yankees — came around, Met fans were rooting for the apocalypse. Once it was clear the Phillies’ run was over they traded Utley to the Dodgers for the stretch drive in 2015 – just in time to face the Mets in the NLDS. Few of us will quickly forget his rolling block into Ruben Tejada in game two, a move which has effectively ended Tejada’s career.
Utley now has as many rings as Beltran. Ain’t that sweet?
(A tip of the hat to my friend Sam Marcosson for being the inspiration for this piece.)
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.