by Jim Baker
One of the byproducts of a great team is the surge in interest it creates in its host city. When a great team emerges, there suddenly springs forth a temporary class of loyal, rabid fans who, upon the first hint of decline, will resort to their previous state of utter disinterest. As you know, this evokes among self-anointed “real” fans a good deal of resentment.
I witnessed this phenomenon firsthand in New York City in 1986. I was working at E.P. Dutton then, and there I was sort of the “baseball answer man” for all of the newfound Mets fans who were trying to quickly fill in their vast knowledge gaps of the sport. I enjoyed this role because it gave me the chance to talk to women — then my favorite topic — about my second-favorite topic, without me having to instigate it (and therefore come off as a mono-topical bore).
As the Mets improved in the 1984-1986 period, more and more people came on board the Happy Train. Although it was nice that everyone suddenly wanted to hear me hold forth on our national game, I began to feel some bitterness too. I considered myself a noble, long-time fan who had “paid his dues” during the hardscrabble years of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Who were all these latecomers now making it impossible to get a decent seat at the stadium? Where were they when four victories in one week were a cause for joy?
My resentment peaked at the obligatory ticker-tape parade held after the ’86 World Series. I, along with one of the women I worked with, snuck out of the office and made our way downtown to see the Mets roll by in open cars. Unfortunately, the throng was so great that we never got within half a block of the parade route, and saw nary a batboy in a Jeepster. (Unfortunately too, my offer to have my co-worker sit on my shoulders to “get a better view” was declined.) There were probably one hundred ranks of people between us and the action, which might have been a good thing at Gettysburg in July, 1863, but not so in New York in October, 1986.
As I watched the backs of people’s heads and heard distant cheers echoing down our side street, my mind raced back to four years previous, when I attended a Mets-Expos doubleheader that started at noon on a Tuesday. It was late September and both teams had long been eliminated from contention. I walked up to the box office and bought a fantastic seat right behind the third-base dugout. I knew the fans that day would be few and far between. (I was contemplating what people would say if they knew I went to this twin bill. I concluded they would think I was crazy. This conclusion was reinforced when I realized that sitting next to me was a group from a mental home on a day trip.)
All told, there were maybe 2,000 people in attendance. Think about that: only 2,000 people in a metropolitan area of some eighteen million wanted to watch two major league baseball games for the price of one.
Thinking about this at the parade, I calculated that there were at least 2,000 people between me and the lamp post. I considered that quintessential New York-crazy activity … screaming at the mob: “Where were you people on September 21st, 1982 when we were in last place and Dave Kingman was our best player??? I was there, and I deserve to be in the front!”
Of course, contemplating doing something like this actually precludes doing it. Either you just cut loose or it will never happen.
The parade ended. The dynasty failed to materialize. Within a few years, good seats were once again available to those of us who “deserved” them.
Thus it shall always be.
Jim Baker is, was, and always be a Mets fan. A long time ago, even before Rob Neyer, he worked for Bill James. Jim currently lives in Austin, Texas.