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The Transitional Mets

Posted By Howard Megdal On April 27, 2011 @ 6:33 am In Shea Stadium,Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

Kudos to the Mets for winning yet again. Even with their slow start, if the Mets continue not to lose a game for the rest of the season, their 149-13 season mark should make them a playoff team for sure. For comparison, the vaunted 1986 team finished 108-54, or 41 games off of that pace.

Naturally, the Mets are likely to lose again. But what I pondered last night was this: just who are the most popular Mets? Sure, Jose Reyes and David Wright are the most common jerseys in the Citi Field crowd, but what has always marked Mets fans is the love of flawed players.

For every Seaver, Mets fans loved Wayne Garrett, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda. Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman became the symbols of the 1986 Mets, even with Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry on the roster. Mike Piazza is a Hall of Famer, but Joe McEwing and Benny Agbayani jerseys are work at Citi Field to this day.

And I have to think such relationships are forged in these good times, and survive the next losing streak, which will undoubtedly happen. Hopefully, this recent five game streak has reassured fans that the 2011 roster may not be the equal of 1986’s, but is far better than 1993’s or 1962’s.

So who will be the beneficiary of that success? If the Mets all ran in an election for the title “Most Popular Met”, here’s how I think the balloting would go right now:

1. David Wright

2. Jose Reyes

3. RA Dickey

4. Johan Santana

5. Ike Davis

6. Carlos Beltran

7. Mike Pelfrey

8. Angel Pagan

9. Josh Thole

10. Daniel Murphy

There’s a steep dropoff after the top two of Wright and Reyes, with Dickey holding the traditional role of cult Mets figure (the Tug McGraw/Roger McDowell, in essence), and Davis’ strong start making him a likely ascendant figure in the casual fan recognition category (think Dave Kingman, though that grossly underrates his potential).

But it is easy to see things go in a very different direction. Dickey, unlike McGraw and McDowell, didn’t come to the Mets young, and his tenure could be more limited (though his knuckleballing ways could help ameliorate age-related decline). Josh Thole, whose hit was the difference last night, is precisely the kind of player Mets fans have historically embraced: home-grown, useful without starring, consistent. Daniel Murphy fits this definition as well.

And with Beltran, whose salary likely kept a certain contingent of Mets fans from appreciating him as they should have, on his way out, whoever his replacement is will be well-positioned to earn fan love. Perhaps it will be Kirk Nieuwenhuis, off to a strong start at Triple-A.

in the meantime, much of 2011 will be spent by the fan base trying to figure out exactly where its sympathies reside. So much energy had been diverted into hating Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez-my favorite player, incidentally. I am in the market for a new one.*

But the scapegoats are gone. There will likely be new ones, the holders of the Doug Sisk Chair in Anger Inducement. But my guess is the next great emotion for Mets fans to feel will be love. And it will be fascinating to see who they, and I, latch onto for popular support. My daughter’s next jersey hangs in the balance.

*One of my favorite recurring conversations on my last book tour went like this:

Child Mets Fan: My favorite player is David Wright. Who’s yours?

Me: Oliver Perez.

Child: (Incredulous look)

Child’s Father: He’s kidding, son. No one likes Oliver Perez.

Me: Actually, I’m not.

Child: (Starts crying)

Child’s Father: Um, can we return your book?

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