I attended three recent games at Citi Field, including the doubleheader last Thursday. And I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what the Mets are missing this year as they stumble through the early part of their season. It’s not timely hitting or clutch pitching. It has nothing to do with what happens on the basepaths or in the clubhouse. It’s pretty clear that Manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson don’t see it. Or, more importantly, hear it. It’s the song “Meet the Mets.”
“Meet the Mets,” the great battle song of the New York Metropolitans, may be played outside the stadium in instrumental form as Mets’ fans stream into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, but it no longer is played between one of the early innings in sing-a-long form. Presumably none of the players enter the stadium through the front door. How are they supposed to be inspired by the simple message of the song if they never get to be serenaded to it?
“Meet the Mets,” in my humble opinion, is the greatest of all Baseball Fight Songs. I only know of one other, “Tessie,” and that Red Sox Fight Song is a convoluted mess. The best thing about the lyrics of the Mets song is how well it fits the team. Written before the Mets even existed, it was the perfect introduction to a team that was both new at the time and an extension of National League Baseball in New York City. The Yankees are always the Yankees. You cannot “Meet the Yankees” unless you go to Cooperstown. They’re all there, including all their old batboys and beer salespeople. The Yankees at some point will either have to venture into triple digits or start putting minus signs in front of their uniform numbers, because all of their other jersey numbers will be retired. And then there are the Mets.
The Mets represent the hard-scrabble, tough-luck Anti-Yankees. The Yankees win the World Series twice a year. Once in the offseason, once in the regular season. When the Mets win the World Series, it’s Miraculous. The Run to the 1969 World Series was unthinkable after their early years of putrid helplessness. Born out of the twin abandonments of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, The Mets took their Halloween orange from the Giants and the powder blue from the Dodgers (never mind their recent forays into Giant and Oakland Raider black, we all think black can make us look better than it can. Black may be the new black, but it can only do so much to hide our unattractive pieces. In my case, my gut; in the Mets’ case, former second baseman Kaz Matsui). And out of the roller-coaster history of both those Yankees rivals was born a team that could combine their glory and their folly. Sometimes in the same inning.
I once wrote that I liked watching the Mets because I like feeling sad and alone. I also once wrote that being a Mets’ fan should appear in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under BDSM. Growing up a Red Sox fan in the bucolic New England suburbs of Boston, I found that I needed to follow a baseball team that put its fans through ritual torture as part of their 162-game schedule. And when I moved out of the Boston area the day after they won the World Series in 2004 (in a fugue), I naturally gravitated to the Brooklyn roots of my grandfather, a man who left that borough when the Dodgers cruelly jilted him for Los Angeles.
One of the things that first drew me to the team was the song “Meet the Mets.” Beyond being kind of a jolly ditty, it perfectly represented the type of team I was hoping to cheer for. Scrappy, accessible. It’s a song of Welcome. If the voice of the late, great Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard welcomed you to that park, “Meet the Mets” welcomes you to a Mets’ game perfectly. Because it’s a song about attending Mets’ games. It’s unfortunate that “Meet the Mets” can sometimes sound suspiciously like “Beat the Mets.” Which explains Troy Tulowitzki’s recent N.L. MVP Audition during the games I was at.
“Step right up and greet the Mets.” Come on down to the game, this is your team. The song’s whimsicality belies the reality of the Mets frequently playing losing baseball. “Bring your kiddies, bring your wife / Guaranteed to have the time of your life.” I think it should be changed to “Bring your kiddies, bring a date / Guaranteed to have a time that’s great.” Because not everyone has a wife (or gets to have a wife in New York State. Get with it, people!). And maybe Lady Mets’ fans want to bring their husbands. Or their husbands’ best friend. Or someone they met on craigslist. The Mets shouldn’t judge.
“Because the Mets are really socking the ball / Knocking those homeruns over the wall.” Who says “sock” anymore? It reminds me of Charlie Brown getting his clothes knocked off by a bullet hit right back to the mound. Who wouldn’t want to see that happen in real life? And it could, any night the door to the Mets’ bullpen opens and cannot be shut. Like Pandora’s Box.
The second verse is maybe even more telling about who the Mets are looking for at their games.
Oh, the butcher and the baker and the people on the streets,
Where did they go? To MEET THE METS!
Oh, they’re hollerin’ and cheerin’ and they’re jumpin’ in their seats,
Where did they go? To MEET THE METS!
All the fans are true to the orange and blue,
So hurry up and come on down –
’cause we’ve got ourselves a ball club,
The Mets of New York town!
This isn’t the team of fat cats, spoiled by winning. These fans go nuts when something good happens for their team. True enough. My experience at Shea Stadium and Citi Field suggest that these fans are among the best that Major League Baseball has to offer. It would have been easier for them to switch to the Yankees at any point of their lives. And yet they soldier on, this butcher and this baker and these street people. Beyond all sense, all evidence to the contrary, they come each night to the park thinking the Mets have a shot to win.
There have been attempts to update the song a few times, but the song as recorded all the way back when the club was just a whisper of a hope that National League Baseball would return to New York. It was a promise paid for in heartbreak and hope. And in getting away from the group performances of it at Citi Field, perhaps this group of current baseball players inhabiting those uniforms have forgotten their connection to the fans. The butchers, the bakers, the people on the street. I sat through almost eight hours of baseball on Thursday. And at no point in the practically empty Citi Field did Mets’ management make an announcement like this “Everyone from the upper decks please move down closer to the game, you’ve earned it. Everyone just come on down and cheer for these Mets.” Maybe that kind of goodwill would have inspired the team to win a game that Thursday. Seeing the Butchers, the Bakers, The People on the Street cheering for the Mets. Instead the game ended with chants of “Sell This Team!”
If you cheer for underdogs you cheer for the Mets, even with their bloated payroll and, at times, terrifying history. But most of all you cheer for Mets’ fans, who get it coming and going from the haughty Yankees’ fans that dominate this town. And what better way to cheer for them than to break out into a jolly song that welcomes them, beyond all reason, to the less-than-lovable bumbling of this team? “East Side / West Side / Everybody’s Coming Down.” In fact, there are plenty of good seats available. If only there was a catchy song to let people know.
Jim Behrle tweets at @behrle for your possible amusement.