The saddest sight I have seen in a ball park in a long time was the Cub fans in Wrigley Wednesday night.
They know the team lore; their hopes were raised a year ahead of schedule; and the Mets just crushed the home team. They took it with civility and grief, not with anger.
The Cubs had run into a team from nowhere, with all the changes in late July and early August. Now Cubs’ fans, all National League fans, better face the reality that the four starting pitchers are just coming into their own, barring more injuries, with Zach Wheeler due back next year.
For the present, there was a constant in the Mets’ coup de grace in Wrigley – David Wright, the captain.
Mendel, the thoughtful writer who regularly graces these Comments, watched Wright conducting interviews on the field, eloquent and positive, and asked me if team captains were always that verbal.
My answer is, Wright, the son of a police officer,is an unusual blend of positive attitude and belief in process. He has remained youthful in his way. He is a leader. It was a thrill to see Wright come back from injury and the diagnosis of spinal stenosis to make plays like the one Wednesday when he swooped in, picked up a roller and beat the batter by half a step – the split-second play that helps win games, and pennants.
Afterward, Wright spoke of teamwork, and fulfilling nearly a decade of hopes of fans and players. He has been special since he arrived in 2006. I remember Cliff Floyd, just passing through the Mets, raving about Wright as the future of the franchise, making it easy for the kid to fit in.
We've had some great captains in New York. I still call Willis Reed "Cap'n" when I see him; he was the heart of the Knicks. (The Yankees had a triumvirate of Jeter and Rivera and Posada – the unsung sergeant at arms, the dean of discipline.) They didn’t talk as much about the dynamics.
Wright is his own blend of verbal attention to teamwork and activist monitoring of the clubhouse. The night Wilmer Flores cried, Wright and Michael Cuddyer followed Flores into the clubhouse to sort out the rumors. Leadership.
When I was a kid in the late 40's and 50's, ball players were not nearly as media savvy. Also, they were not pressed for interviews long before the current era of twitters and sound bites. Two great captains in baseball were Terry Moore of the Cardinals and Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers -- teams that hated each other in ways we cannot imagine today.
On a train ride in the last hectic week of 1941, Moore sidled up to a kid just up from the minors who was winning games as the Cardinals tried (in vain) to catch the Dodgers. Who are you? Moore asked in a parlor car. (Nobody in the St. Louis press bothered to write about the kid.)
The kid said he was the bad-arm lefty who had given up a homer to Moore in a spring workout that March. Moore learned his name: Stan Musial. They became fast friends.
The Dodgers of the same era had Harold (Pee Wee) Reese from Louisville, Ky. He (and a few others) set the right tone for Jackie Robinson's debut and Reese had a light but serious presence in the clubhouse.
In the mid-1950's, The Cap’n spotted young Gino Cimoli dressed and heading for the door shortly after a game.
"Gino, if you're in a rush to get out of the clubhouse, you're in a rush to get out of baseball,” Reese said. Cimoli sat down, and talked baseball.
Wright is in that mold. Remember last March when he saw young Noah Syndegaard chowing down lunch in the clubhouse during an exhibition. Wright told him to get out there on the bench. To make the point, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndegaard’s lunch and deposited it in the trash barrel. That would be the same Syndegaard leading the league in 98-mph pitches as the Mets rush into the Series.
Here’s Tim Rohan’s article from last March:
Terry Moore and Pee Wee Reese would appreciate this modern verbal captain at work.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)