The Summer Game, for those who haven’t read it, is a wonderful collection of essays written by famed baseball writer Roger Angell. Angell’s rapturous love of baseball, along with his vivid, eloquent prose, elevates the events he recounts such that they are at once tangible and transcendent. I challenge any baseball fan to read Roger Angell’s work and not feel their passion for the game re-ignited.
Much of The Summer Game was written during, and about, the Mets’ early years. Even then, Roger Angell was a seasoned writer (and New Yorker) who had already seen and written about a lot of amazing, historic baseball. Something about the Mets captured Angell’s imagination, though, and he treated the young franchise and its exuberant fans with admiration, respect, and a touch of reverence. One gets the feeling that Angell himself was swept up in Mets fever.
Angell tells an arresting story about the scene in the stands at Shea in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 World Series clincher. Mets fans had loved and cheered for their Mets from the franchise’s bumbling start—and, sweetly and curiously, they had seemed to love the Mets even more because of their bumbling start. But suddenly the tables had turned; not only were the Mets good, they were the very best, and they had a World Series championship to prove it. Angell says many fans didn’t quite know what to make of it all: The Mets taking home the prize didn’t jive with the old identity of the team. The surrealism of it was punctuated, perhaps, by a fan in the stands holding a sign that said, simply, "What now?"
It’s June 2015, and I find myself asking that same question of our Mets, albeit under different circumstances, and with a different tone than that existentially-inclined fan in 1969. My asking has more urgency: What now? Sandy Alderson took charge of baseball operations in 2010 and has slowly ferried the organization to the threshold of serious competitiveness. His tenure is the latest chapter in the now half-century-long story of the Mets, and, like certain chapters before it, it holds the promise of hope. But it is still incomplete. It is still an unrealized hope, and the way forward is uncertain.
Some might take issue there, noting that the Mets are, after all, in first place, and that they have an enviable stock of young, top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers. But it is folly to assume these circumstances mean that Alderson can stand pat and expect to remain atop the NL East, or even to win a Wild Card. The National League may be weak, but the Mets aren’t yet strong enough to win it.
No, this feels like it could be—or should be—a "moment" for the Mets, for this season and beyond. Given where the team is now in terms of both talent and the standings, it feels like the moment has arrived for Alderson to take his shot at bringing in the player or players who will push the needle on the Mets from "promising and decent" to "now we’re going to win."
The aim, Alderson has repeatedly stated, is sustainable year-in, year-out competitiveness, i.e., no one-offs need apply. I, and other fans, have admired and bought into that vision from the start, and mostly satisfied with the evidence of its unfolding progress, have managed to enjoy myself in the interim amidst the Wilpons’ financial follies and mostly bad and mediocre baseball on the field.
If Alderson’s vision is like a mountain climb, the Mets, at present, are waiting at the last camp up the side before the summit push. I have no idea what this "moment" should look like. I’m not convinced it needs to be in the same mould of the defining moments of times gone by. Maybe this moment doesn’t call for a world-stopping trade, like what happened when the Mets traded for Hernandez, or Carter, or Piazza. Then again, maybe it does.
Of course, none of those players would have been seen as a good investment by the risk-averse. Hernandez was on the tail end of his prime, as was Carter. It was Piazza’s last year before free agency, and signing him was no sure thing. Piazza and Carter were catchers, subject to general bruising and battering and all sorts of missed playing time. Landing each of them required a haul of prospects in return. Each of them carried near-equal measures of risk and upside. Each of them transformed the New York Mets into a powerhouse.
One of the great things about Alderson has been his unwillingness to cave to the type of urgent, opinionated sentiment I have expressed in this article. He seems to have a plan that is governed by logic and information, and he seems to have the fortitude to stick to it. Alderson has proven wily at times, though: he holds his cards close to the vest, and he has surprised us all with shrewd, tactical moves. Maybe he has something in mind, then—or maybe he doesn’t. We can't know right now.
What I do know is that "not knowing" has suddenly become very difficult. I recognize that I am entitled to exactly nothing where the Mets are concerned; but I sure do want a lot. I sure do want our moment. The Mets have the potential to be very, very good, but they need more in order to be that. They need to take another step forward. Historically, Mets GMs have taken those steps when the time was right. In my opinion, now is the time for Alderson to follow suit.