Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What was it like?

Examining recent history, I feel as if I ought to have turned this blog into some kind of anatomy of despair a week or so ago, and the posts in that time should paint a grim portrait of futility and desperation climaxing in the Sunday’s fiasco. Indeed, the progression of recent games seemed almost exquisitely calculated for baseball fan torture: the ray of hope that lasted with the lead, finally replaced with resignation, and then despair following Perez on Sunday, only to be suddenly re-kindled with Maine’s no hit-bid, followed by the perfectly disastrous game on Sunday.

The termination of the Met’s seasons raises ‘important’ questions that I would like to think Sam’s Mets blog’ had been in a unique position to answer: what does it feel like to be on the bad end of the worst collapse ever, in sports? What does it say about you when your team fails so miserably? What can be learned from the absolute depths of baseball misery?

First off, and one of the reasons that these questions are not readily answered, I have to say that denial and selective perceptions of reality play a significant role. On some level, I think everyone who closely followed the Mets saw the seeds of futility all along, but chose not to pay them too much attention. There were problems with the team, the inability of the offense to pick up the pitching, the occasional ineffectiveness of the bullpen, the perceived lack of spirit on the squad, that were there all along. Everyone remembered the 2006 Mets, the energy, the rallies, and the excitement. We knew that we weren’t getting that this year, but chose to emphasize the fact that the team was in first—the extent to which that might have also been true of the players is impossible to determine. Indeed, the coverage, both among blogers and print journalists, always hinted at a need for the team to pick things up—but felt that the failure to do so would hurt the team in the playoffs and not the regular season. Much of the difference between ’06 and ’07 was chalked up to an improved NL east, yet at the same time the other contenders, the Braves and the Phillies, were both demonstrably flawed teams, and nothing really made the notion of either of them surpassing the Mets seem like a certainty. Indeed, up until the final game, the possibility of success had never been completely removed, and it was always easiest to focus on that possibility, rather then the unpleasant options.

On a personal level, the 2007 baseball season was when I began to develop a minor interest in advanced baseball statistics, particularly the ones relating to the debate about the existence of clutch hitting. At some point, it became reasonably clear that I was looking for some sort of excuse for the Mets players, for a model of the baseball world that would attribute their shortcomings to bad luck rather than a deficiency of character or ability. In other fans, I think a similar anxiety expressed itself in the debate about Willie Randolph’s competence.

Perhaps, for me, a final moment of despair happened last week when I realized that I was on the Knicks website, looking up the date of the first game of the season; when I saw what I was doing, I somehow finally understood that things with the poor Metropolitans had gotten very, very, bad indeed.

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