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Putting Buckner in Its Place in Mets History

Little roller up along first...


Here comes Knight and THE METS WIN IT!

It always seemed fitting that Vin Scully had that call. In the moment, his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers brought an impartial view to a critical broadcast in baseball history. In hindsight, he remains above criticism about losing his commentating fastball and can't be compared to how he called Buckner.

Of course, no self-respecting Mets fan on the planet needs any additional help in appreciating what is arguably the greatest moment in team history. Even more than just the endless debates still raging on regarding Boston Red Sox manager John McNamara's decisions that led to such an unlikely comeback, it's just a relief to see the Mets come up on the right side of baseball history in the best possible way.

When baseball historians and fans talk about Buckner, they'll favorably talk about the Mets of 25 years ago, but then follow it with the 25 years since that fateful evening at Shea Stadium. Defining great moments after Buckner always comes with a qualifier that puts it in a perspective designed to remind you that said moment didn't result in a World Series trophy.

Todd Hundley prying away the team HR title from Darryl Strawberry, and Carlos Beltran later tying it. The Grand Slam Single. Piazza claiming the all-time HR title for catchers. Jose Reyes's batting title. No World Series rings to show for any of it, nor any of it summarized for all to understand in a single world like "Buckner."

"It breaks your heart," instructed former MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti about the failure inherent in baseball that plagues all but one Major League team every season. "It is designed to break your heart."

What Giamatti left out his oft-quoted disclaimer was how even the highest of highs can add to the heart's fragility.

I was five years old when the 1986 World Champion New York Mets cemented the second World Series title in team history. My memories are hazy; I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch the game nor can I recall exactly how I found out the next day.

And for a growing segment of younger-generation Mets fans, I'm considered the lucky one. I can at least say I was alive to see the Mets win a championship. I sometimes say the same thing about Mets starting pitcher Jon Niese, who was born on the day of the decisive Game Seven that the Red Sox still had to play and lose after Buckner. 

Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about Mets catcher of the present Josh Thole, who was born one day too late on October 28, 1986, or first baseman Ike Davis, who was born in March of 1987, or Ruben Tejada, who was born three years to the day of Game 7. I won't likely be able to say it about the next great Met to emerge from the minor league system, or any that follow. And I imagine it ranks low on the list of priorities for Sandy Alderson's evaluation of player personnel.

For those of you old enough to remember where you were when Mookie Wilson hit that ball through Buckner's legs, I along with my fellow young'ns are so insanely jealous of you that there are no words to accurately describe it. We accept this as part of our fan heritage and celebrate it with all of the pomp and circumstance such a miraculous, amazin' moment deserves. It was pretty freakin' incredible in its own right, and doubly so that it helped the Mets reached the promised land.

But to those of you who waved your fist at a Mets marketing department that didn't do enough to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion Mets or plead for the team to recognize it as often as possible (even if that means hiring every available ex-1986 Mets contributor to steer the current team on), I need to make sure you're aware of something us kids have coped with on a day-to-day basis from Anthony Young to Oliver Perez and everything in between.

Every time I see the replay of that ball roll through Buckner's legs, my heart breaks a little, too. The moment was great and stupendous and fabulous and worthy of all the hyperbole that's fit to print, but it represents something that a growing populating of Mets fans do not know: what it's like to root for the last team standing in October. What it's like to cut work or school to attend the parade. What it's like to call Dad or a friend and say, "Those sons of bitches... THEY DID IT!"

With every day that passes from Buckner until the Mets get back to the top, the 1986 World Champion Mets become more of a cross to bear than a champ to cherish. No one's disputing the significance of Buckner's place in Mets history, but it is history. It's history in the same way as seeing Satchel Paige become the first black pitcher to ever toe the rubber for a World Series team as he did for the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians, or for Chicago fans who witnessed the 1906 World Champion Cubs win the first intra-city World Series in baseball history.

All great moments, and all need to be prefaced with the infamous "A Long Time Ago..." introduction to younger fans asking what it was like when their team last won the Fall Classic.

Since the 1986 World Champion Mets realized their destiny, 18 teams have won the World Series including two -- the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks -- that didn't exist when Jesse Orosco threw his glove in the air. Five of those teams won multiple times. The Yankees created and dismantled a dynasty in that time.

And I'm left celebrating a moment that I was too young to recall happening in real time. That in no way belittles what transpired, but leaves little for me to keep warm in this, my 24th-consecutive winter of discontent.

Buckner and the 1986 World Champion Mets are and always will be a great story. I'll remember that as I watch the clips airing throughout Metsopotamia on this day and as I'm perpetually reminded of how good it used to be. But please forgive me and my inexperienced ilk if we ask what comes next while Knight's coming home.