The Last Word: Guaranteed to Have the Angst of Your Life
by Mark Herrmann (Newsday, November 11, 2007)
As a literature professor at Hofstra with a PhD from Yale, Dana Brand has spent
his career studying the great authors who have shaped American thought and
culture. Now he has taken on a much deeper, thornier topic:
Why on Earth would anyone be a Mets fan?
So far, he has no rational explanation.
In fact, the first essay in his book, "Mets Fan," begins with "There is no good
reason why I should care about the New York Mets."
He has a point there, this man who has been loyal from Al Luplow to Al Leiter, from
Duke Carmel to El Duque. The angst and inferiority levels are high, the rewards
aren't all that great. The team is not a perennial powerhouse, but it isn't a lovable
loser or classic underdog, either.
Consider the past two months alone. A Mets fan watched the most epic
September collapse in baseball history and suffered through the realization that
the fans took it harder than the players did. At least that was a distinction. But
even that didn't last more than a week. The Mets' smoldering aftermath was blown
out of the water by the Yankees' saga.
"I'm afraid that what happened this year illustrates what the book is about," said
the author, 53, whose work was in print, mercifully, before the Mets hit bottom.
"You want a happy book; it's not going to be about 45 years of being a Mets fan."
But in fact it is a happy book. It was a labor of love. Like millions of others, he
loves the Mets, as much as he might hate himself for it. You could look it up, in an
essay toward the end titled "Why Do We Do This to Ourselves?"
He puts it this way: Yankees fans see their team as invincible and consider a bad
season an anomaly (he writes, "The Yankees, as they may have told you, have
something like 26 World Series rings"). A Mets fan's myth is just the opposite: The
team is fundamentally flawed, but every now and then it rises up to do something
magical. Usually, that involves great help from the fans.
Thus, to understand the Mets, you have to understand the appeal of Ed
Kranepool. "He was a beloved disappointment," Brand said. "He wasn't Mantle, he
wasn't Maris, but he was ours. It's a sentimentality that's very New Yorkish, and
So that is a hint why Brand and so many others do this to themselves for a club
that has never issued a no-hitter or an MVP. They love the hope and the flaws. In
his essay on Mookie Wilson, the author gives the ultimate compliment, saying the
former centerfielder had the enthusiasm of a fan wrapped in a ballplayer's body.
"Anybody knows that they can't speak for everybody in their group," he said. "I
don't speak for all Mets fans."
He speaks for enough of them, though. Brand struck a chord in August 2005, when
an essay on being a Mets fan ran in Newsday. He received such a flood of
feedback that he decided to write the book. ("People still do read newspapers,"
It is plausible that other people agree with Brand's broad view: "We're interested
in scrappy vigor, we're not interested in domination. I love rooting for guys who
are starting their careers. I love the indeterminacy."
This all is worth exploring, especially now, when there are real questions about
just who the Mets are. Does this team have an identity, other than epic loser?
With their big-money roster, are the Mets merely Yankees Lite?
Can the Mets afford to be anything else? There is a network to program, there is a
new park to fill, there is a team in the Bronx to compete with. Do the Mets have
the luxury of building a young, hungry club?
Brand worries, a condition he accepts as part of the deed he signed in 1962. He
worries that 2007 was so un-Metlike. The club was favored and first and didn't
have the usual spunk. Fans never had their usual optimism.
"In that last week, many fans were saying, 'Oh, they blew it' when they hadn't
blown it yet," he said, cringing at the thought that Mets followers might turn
sourness into an institution the way Red Sox fans used to (he married one).
He worries about how Citi Field will hold 12,000 fewer people than Shea does. He
worries that the middle and working classes will be shut out. "I'm concerned that
they're going to lose whatever scruffiness the Mets have left," he said.
Which is not to say the club will have to go on without him. He is hooked. "I love
the fact that this has been a certain way for me since I was 7," he said, "and
probably will when I'm 70."
If you're a Mets fan, you know what he's talking about. No matter what happened in
September and didn't happen in October, you and Brand - unlike Tom Glavine,
Shawn Green, Guillermo Mota and (one would hope) many others - will be back.
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