Certain historic impasses defy explanation through the usual cold metrics of the hard “sciences.” These events are too mystifying, too terrifying and too tragic to metabolize through strictly rational means. At instances like this we turn to the gypsy, the oracle, the soothsayer—one who can perceive time in a sweeping existential context, and bring comfort by reminding us of the suffering endured throughout the ages. Certainly, it is fair to say that the New York Mets 2009 season is the single worst confluence of circumstances in the history of the planet Earth. The deprivations and Promethean punishments are endlessly cruel. Madness and evil irony lurks at every turn—it’s as if “Moneyball” had been set in Dante’s Hell.
And so, we turn to a wise man—the celebrated novelist Rick Moody, who has lived as a Mets fan for a long time and understands many things. The better that we might find courage from his calming insights, rather then losing control completely and tying Omar Minaya to a grizzly bear.
The L Magazine: What is the pre-history and derivation of your Mets fandom? Were you shanghaied or willfully indoctrinated? Did you have childhood favorites? Any reflections on Ed Kranepool?
Rick Moody: My grandfather happened to be the publisher of a newspaper, The New York Daily News, that was, during my childhood, America’s bestselling daily. It was also extremely popular in Queens. Thus, when the Mets appeared in Queens, in the early 60s, the News was very partisan. Even more so during the pennant run of 1969. I was eight then. My grandfather always sent us whatever promotional stuff they were giving away, and that year they were giving away a lot of Mets stuff. I therefore went with the winners because it was easy. Fair-weather child! Little did I know how much losing would follow that summer of improbable victory. Anyway, I remember Seaver and Nolan Ryan from that year, and Cleon Jones, et al. But I was more into it in 1972, when the “Amazin’s” ground to a halt against the Oakland A’s—as I recall it. Then I liked Tug McGraw a lot. I liked pitchers, I guess. But I did like Ed Kranepool, because how could you not like a guy named Kranepool. And Dave Kingman. And Rusty Staub. Oh, and later I really liked George Foster. What an elegant guy. And Al Leiter, even though he’s a Republican.
The L: Most Mets seasons are trying, but this one has been a Russian Novel. The unassisted triple play, the Tony Bernazard imbroglio. Twenty men on the DL and counting. They could scarcely have suffered greater casualties had they invaded Petersburg in Winter. As a Mets fan, are you temperamentally disposed to accept this kind of outcome as a cruel fact of nature, or do you feel that there is actual agency in man to change the fate of this franchise?
RM: All Mets fans, I suspect, know and cherish failure. I once wrote a piece about the theology of the Mets, in which I argued that the Mets were truly like Christianity, because you have to WORK to believe in them. Yankee fans secretly know that their own love is indefensible, because it’s too easy. There’s nothing complex about it. It’s like evangelical belief. Or Calvinism. But Mets fans know that they have to believe in the darkest of dark hours, against all hope, and this season is just such a time. This part of why the Davey Johnson-era Mets were so transcendent, because they snatched victory from the gaping maw of failure. With much bravado. They were failures as human beings, but as a team they were awesome. Whether this propensity to failure in the Mets clubhouse is FATED is a deep question, but I perhaps prefer to think that it is historically bound, owing to the failure of the city to really be able to back a second team effectively—what with the Yankees around.
The Mets in this formulation are like the White Sox, or like Tampa Bay. They are one team too many. Once the New York teams went off to California in the expansion (the Dodgers, the Giants), New York was too ashamed to believe in a second team. It tries. But its attempts are enfeebled.
Moody is not a true Mets fan. Anyone who has a “second favorite
team” and can go to a back-up once the Mets as per usual fall flat on
their faces isn’t a true Mets fan. And anyone who believes New Yorkers
are too ashamed to believe in a “second team” either doesn’t know
their history (the Mets outsold the Yankees throughout the 80s and
into the 90s, dry evidence of the necessary spiritual counter-balance
to the Yankees the Mets represent for much of the City’s populace) or
is projecting onto the world his own personal, pathetic shame. While I
agree with his Christianity analogy (even if I’m Jewish), Moody’s
obviously a Christmas Catholic for whom fandom is a matter of
convenience and not devotion.
You seem willing to judge this man after reading four short comments he made about the Mets for an online magazine. Apparently he’s been a fan for forty years. He could easily have given up on them when they traded Tom Seaver, as so many fans did. He stuck it out. That counts as a fan for me. And you put “second favorite team” in quotes as if he actually said that, which he didn’t, he simply said he pays attention to the Sox when the Mets don’t make it (I do too since I always want the Sox to beat the odious Yankees). And what’s wrong with the suggestion that Mets fans might feel some sense of shame about their team? It doesn’t have anything to do with attendance figures, it has to do with the fact that instead of the Pride of the Yankees, we have Ed Kranepool (the Mets leader in career hits). I love Ed, but he doesn’t exactly compare to Lou Gehrig, and I bet Ed would agree with that. Maybe the problem with shame is that you actually don’t have any. Finally, you should do some research before spouting your nonsense. Moody clearly takes his religion seriously —
I have high standards. There’s a difference between rooting for another team to beat an enemy team (the “friend of my friend” phenomenon), but rooting for another particular team in the playoffs no matter who they happen to be playing (and year after year, no less) is akin to having a “second favorite team” (I use quotation marks because of the dubious validity of this sadly common fall-back) and is downright unacceptable in my book.
As for shame, I do often feel ashamed of the Mets — when they fail (the fact that they do so in the most excruciating manner makes that shame mingle with utter agony, a dangerous combination). But I could never, ever, not in a million fucking years feel ashamed of the Mets for supposedly playing second banana to the Yankees. That Moody does so makes him unqualified to be a true Mets fan, at least in my book. I never said he doesn’t take religion seriously, but I don’t think he takes the Mets to heart in the way others devotedly do.
My bad, I meant the “enemy of my enemy” phenomenon. — mjr
I know no one who is ashamed of the Mets.