When you’ve been a Mets fan for a certain length of time and are of a certain age, individual seasons take on a personality. Some are simply dreadful, like the first fitful years of the team’s existence – save the inaugural 1962 season, which was historically bad, record-wise, of course, but too much fun for anybody to really care about that: folks were just glad to have them around. Some years are that deadly combination of bad and dull, like 1979, 1993 or 2010. Some are mediocre, but hopeful; seasons where you can glimpse a good time over the horizon. 1983, 1997 and 2005 spring to mind.
Of course, then, there were the Gold Standard years, the seasons of the two Mets’ championships, each unique in its own way. 1969 came out of nowhere, a bolt from the blue, gifted by the baseball gods to a hungry fanbase in a city soon to be beset by many economic and societal woes. It was a year of pure joy and countless surprises, culminating in the least surprising outcome, a victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. 1986 on the other hand, was more like a coronation. Coming on the heels of 2 outstanding run-up seasons – more on them in a bit – it was all very matter-of-fact. On the first day of spring training, manager Davey Johnson told the team that they were going to dominate that year, and damned if they didn’t. They steamrolled to 108 wins and never felt any pressure until they were deep into both the League Championship Series and World Series, where any type of failure to seal the deal would have been nothing less than catastrophic. That season was great, it was glorious, but it wasn’t particularly fun.
Now, if you want to talk fun, you’re talking about 1984 and – especially, in my opinion – 1985. ’84 had an element of the “bolt-from-the-blue” to it, yeah, but the ’83 team had finished strong and had some personnel in place that gave us hope – the emergences of Darryl Strawberry and Jesse Orosco, the acquisition of Keith Hernandez – so it wasn’t quite as unexpected as the ’69 Miracle. The additions of rookie pitcher Dwight Gooden and manager Johnson propelled this squad into immediate contention and oh, what a ride we had! They went stride-for-stride with the Chicago Cubs, then in the National League East, and were eliminated with five games to go on September 24. A 5-14 stretch from July 29 through August 13, coupled with a distinct lack of power proved their undoing. General Manager Frank Cashen addressed that second issue when he acquired All-Star catcher Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos. Carter was widely regarded as the best in the game at his position and it was thought that he would be the final component of a World Series champ. This time, the Mets took it all the way to October 5 before losing out to the St. Louis Cardinals on the next-to-last day. Carter lived up to his billing and Gooden had a season for the ages, but Strawberry injured his thumb in mid-May. He sat on the shelf for six weeks, putting the Mets in a hole out of which they could never really climb. But a pennant race, right up to the last day? A lot of us had never seen one of those up close before. The whole city was enthralled with this team and it was because of this performance that Johnson could make his famous proclamation the following spring.
So, now, here we find ourselves in October 2019, as the playoffs occur around us. The Mets won 86 games, not quite good enough to make the NL postseason field of five, but a nine-game improvement over their dismal 2018 campaign and a 16-game bettering of the even-worse 2017. This year just past was loads of fun and full of anguish. This team was faced with much adversity, most of it of their own doing. Their prized off-season acquisition – closer Edwin Diaz – severely underperformed, to put it mildly. Their reunion with relief pitcher Jeurys Familia was also not a happy one. They had terrible shortcomings on defense, especially at catcher and in center field. They found themselves saddled with the albatross contracts of Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes. And yet… They got transcendent seasons from rookie first baseman Pete Alonso and all-around talent Jeff McNeil – Alonso broke records. They got another Cy Young caliber performance out of Jacob deGrom and the pitching staff’s overall health was surprisingly robust. With Diaz and Familia repeatedly failing, Seth Lugo emerged as the bullpen’s most valuable arm. They were eliminated on September 26, with four games to go. There are some large elements of the fan base that are as anxious to get on to the 2020 season as they were to move forward from ‘85 to ’86.
Speaking personally, I’m one of them.