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Looking for the Fourth Piece of the Puzzle (Part One of Two)

posted by Dave on 4/26/02

He’s back. The writer the female readers crave. The one who has been gone for a while but hasn’t been living in a cave. Oh yes, I am indeed talking about Dave. The guy who’s last name most people like to pronounce Match-ee-a.. but if you mis-pronounce it again and he’s gonna Smack-ee-ya.. Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to… PLANET MACCHIA!!!

* that meets my quota of one lame wrestling reference required for a W-D post.

One topic, that I’m surprised I’ve never really written about at Whatever-Dude, is that of professional sports. Ever since I was a kid, sports have always been an integral part of my life. Sure, as the years went on, actually playing organized sports, kind of got replaced by drinking and watching the big boys play on television… but that’s just the way the ball bounces. (pun completely intended and yet still not comical on any level)

I guess the fact that my Dad’s brokerage company has season tickets to all of the major sports played at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey has helped facilitate my love of sports. Now these tickets are usually given away as perks to clients… but my Dad would always set aside a few tickets for us to go to a couple of games to each of the major sports every year. Now as the years have gone on and banks have merged left and right… these tickets have become an even hotter commodity to try and attract the almighty dollar. So basically, since there’s only eight Giants home games each year… those tickets have become basically untouchable. Never will the situation arise where I can call my Dad and say, “So did any customers take the Giants/Eagles tickets for next Sunday?”, cause I already know the response will be, “Yeah, Dave. A client put in a request for those tickets… back in 1999!!!1 ROFL.”

Now sure, he has Jets season tickets as well… but who the hell would want to go see those second class citizens play? I mean, their most famous fan is a guy with a firefighter helmet on, who sits on top of his brother’s shoulders and screams, “J-E-T-S!! Jets! Jets! Jets!”. I’m sorry.. but how did that get started? Did he just one day decide, “Hey dude, hoist me up. I wanna sit with my ballbag against the back of your neck and lead the charge!! Yeah!!”

Up! Up! Hoist her up!… Hi Armento. ;)

Now to get to the meat and potatoes of this article. My favorite four teams are respectively:

Baseball: New York Mets
Football: New York Giants
Hockey: New Jersey Devils
Basketball: New Jersey Nets

Now, I only know one other person my age who shares all four of my favorite teams and not so coincidentally, he was also just recently the best man at my wedding. Did the fact that we share the same favorite sports teams influence my decision of making him my best man? Hell no. It was actually the fact that he’s graduating from dental school next month.. and nothing says FREE DENTAL WORK 4 LIFE, quite like, “C’mon dude. You were my best man for Christ’s sake. Now I’m gonna open up my mouth and you’re going to stick an instrument in there! No wait.. that didn’t sound too good. Okay, I’ll leave now.”

“Just gimme the nitrous tank! No one in your office will even notice it’s missing.”

The whole reason people watch sports.. (minus the fact that like bowling, they’re just a couple of those “activities” in life that are made ten times as fun with accompanying alcoholic beverages).. is the thrill and excitement of finally seeing your favorite team advance to their respective championship... Now I consider myself pretty lucky in that regard. So far, in my lifetime, I’ve seen three out of four of my favorite major sports teams win it all…

Let’s go through all four.. shall we? Now to gain a true perspective on just how I feel about the Mets, let’s take a look back at an article I wrote for a site called back in October of 2000, right before the start of the Subway Series..

…keep in mind that B-D was owned by Whatever-Dude’s own Eric Fields.. and I was just merely a humble horsey in his stable of writers. My how the tides have turned, young Fieldswalker.

I respect the New York Yankees for their storied history... honestly I do. What I can’t respect, however, are most of the people around my age who call themselves Yankees fans.

Growing up I was originally a Yankees fan. I couldn’t help it... they got all of the media attention and I was young and impressionable. My favorite player was Thurman Munson; I think because I liked that he always had the dirtiest uniform on the field by the end of every game…. and Reggie Jackson... well, Reggie Jackson was almost God-like. Throw in Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner’s wacky love/hate relationship... and it all adds up to a team that was all over the news, all of the time.

Eventually, Thurman Munson died tragically in a plane crash... and the Yankees without their fiery leader, just became a lot less fun for me to root for. By 1981 I was starting to watch the other New York team a lot more. The second class citizens of New York baseball... the Mets. Don’t get me wrong, this team was horrible.. but they were scrappy and entertaining. Another bonus was that they had a player named “Mookie”... I mean, how can you not love a grown man that answers to the name, “Mookie”?

The Mets were a blast to watch in the early-mid eighties. Every year they would gradually improve and pick up additional pieces of the puzzle that would culminate with the 1986 World Series Championship.

I still rooted for the Yankees too.. but mostly because I wanted to see the holy grail of NYC sports... A Subway Series. Another reason I still rooted for the Yankees was I loved Don Mattingly. He was an amazing player and a true class act. Through the 80’s it was painful to watch Mattingly try and carry a team that every year had been decimated by bad front office decisions. In my grade, Mets and Yankees fans didn’t seem to mind eachother.

After the Mets won in 1986 though, the kids who were Yankees fans became real bitter. They were all of a sudden resorting to using the great Yankee tradition as an arguing point, as to which was the better NY team. The Mets were clearly the better team at the time, yet Yankee fans would never admit it. It was at this point, I began to realize something... most Yankee fans from my generation were Yankees fans... not BASEBALL fans.

Mets fans never flaunted our team’s success. We only put the Yankees down when provoked by their bitter supporters. As the 90’s rolled around, the Mets grew progressively worse, while the Yankees improved gradually. When the Yankees made the playoffs in 1995, I was happy... not for their fans, not for the team, but for Don Mattingly…

When they lost to Seattle, I was disappointed for Donnie Baseball... This would be one of the last moments of compassion I would ever feel for the boys in pinstripes and their fans. In the offseason, the Yankees got Tino Martinez, which effectively sent Mattingly the message that his days as a starter were over. Now Mattingly probably had another season or two in him. His chronically injured back, that carried the Yankees through the lean years, was never going to be 100% again… but he could have fit a team’s need for a DH or backup 1st baseman somewhere…

Did Mattingly leave the Yanks for another team? Nope... in the era of free agency, where loyalty is as rare as a Romanian gymnast with breasts... Mattingly retired as a Yankee, securing his place among the other Yankee greats.

When the Yanks made it to the Series in 1996, I rooted for them, cause I hated the Braves.. and I had a lot of friends who were Bronx Bomber fans, that I would be happy for, if they had won.

Then it happened... The moment I lost all respect for the organization and it’s fans... What happened, you ask?

Wade Boggs riding the police horse as Yankee fans cheered for him. Here was a guy who was a Yankee nemesis for so many years... playing for their arch-rival Boston Red Sox. Not only does a Boston player now have a World Series ring... but he’s making a complete spectacle of himself. Yet, here were the fans loving every second of it. Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Don Mattingly couldn’t even bear to watch, because the pain was, well, unbearable.

Yankee fans cheering for a Boston player? This is the same stadium where fans booed Roger Maris as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record... because he was not a “true” Yankee in their eyes... He had played for another team… and as he hit home runs to help the Yankees... the fans booed him. They wanted Mantle to break the record, not Maris.

The new generation of Yankee fans cheered Boggs as he showed no class and acted childish. Don Mattingly would have been over shaking hands with the other team... not riding a police horse.

Next up was the David Wells for Roger Clemens trade. Wells was a guy who had become the heart and soul of the Yankees. He was colorful, genuine, and even wore a baseball cap he had bought, that Babe Ruth once had worn. He was the closest thing the Yankees have had to a Thurman Munson type of player.. since Munson died.

Roger Clemens was coming off back to back Cy Young seasons with Toronto... and the Yankees were coming off of their 2nd World Series Championship in 3 years...

They trade Wells for Clemens (who basically screwed over Toronto who knew they couldn’t re-sign him)..

How do Yankees fans react??

“Oh well.. if you have the chance to get a Roger Clemens.. you gotta take it.”

It’s been about an even trade stat-wise... but when the Yankees won last year... it wasn’t as fun to watch as when Wells was in pinstripes. Hell, it wasn’t fun to watch at all. There you have Roger Clemens, touching the monuments of all the Yankee legends.. claiming that he finally knows what it feels like to be a Yankee.

Roger Clemens has a Yankee World Series ring. Don Mattingly doesn’t.

Another thing Yankee fans refused to admit last year was that the Mets wore down Atlanta in the NLCS. The fact that the Mets took Atlanta to the physical and mental limit in their six game series... didn’t have any bearing on the shell of a team that showed up to get swept in the World Series. Nope, even though the Mets-Braves series was one of the most exciting baseball playoff series in recent memory... what did Yankee fans think about it? Did the scrappy Mets earn any respect? Nope... all Yankee fans thought was... the Mets still suck.

Then it happened. The absolute epitome of what modern day Yankee fans are all about. Mike Piazza, who owns Roger Clemens, gets hit right on his helmet’s NY logo, by a fastball. A somewhat friendly, fun rivalry is destroyed with one pitch. Was the pitch intentional? Was Clemens trying to bean Piazza or simply brushing him back?

Think about this. How many times have you seen a batter take one right on the team logo of his helmet? Almost never. Now take into account that it was the opposing team’s best player who just happens to hit very well off of the pitcher. Then add in the fact that the pitcher showed no concern or remorse, after hitting a guy in the head with a fastball... When you take all of these factors into account, it becomes pretty clear:

“Clemens didn’t mean to hit him. It was just a pitch that got away from him.”

Wait.. that conclusion doesn’t make sense based on the factors involved?

Considering the Yankee fans conveniently forget that when Clemens was on Toronto, he threw one dangerously high and tight at Jeter, causing the media to villify him as a headhunter... it’s safe to say, that as long as you’re in pinstripes... you can do no wrong... even if you used to be a Boston Red Sox player.

If the Mets traded for Chipper Jones, the fans would still taunt him with “Larry” chants…

If the Mets signed Bobby Bonilla away from the archrival Pirates.. the fans would still hate him, even if he is a native New Yorker.. This actually happened not once, but twice.

If John Rocker came to the Mets, I would love it. Why? Cause I like Rocker already... even though he plays for our bitter rival. He’s a character. He’s emotional. He’s fun to watch.

I also like Derek Jeter... He’s a great player and I respect his ability. I don’t think he’s a team leader though. A team leader doesn’t play patty-cake with Alex Rodriguez while their teams brawl.

Would Yankee fans be as honest in an assessment of Piazza? I doubt it. When it comes down to it, Piazza is the second coming of Thurman Munson in this city... Clemens is a notoriously selfish, dirty player. A Yankee fan who is a true baseball fan would take Piazza’s side, regardless of the fact that Clemens is a Yankee.. Hell, a Yankee fan who is a true baseball fan would still consider Clemens as a Beantown carpetbagger who got what he came to NY for... a ring. He doesn’t care about the Yankees... Yet, if he throws a one hit, fifteen strikout playoff shut out, the headlines read the “New Mr. October”... Disgraceful.

Yankee fans need to remember that tradition that they had to resort to when debating Mets fans in the mid-80’s. They seem to have forgotten it. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Munson are probably rolling over in their graves watching the tradition of the hallowed New York Yankees going by the wayside.

Thirty years from now when today’s Yankee fans bring their children to Old Timer’s Day.. will the dynasty of the late 90’s mean anything? Are kids going to get excited to see Cecil Fielder who played on the ’96 team.. or Ruben Sierra from the ’98 and ’99 teams.. or David Justice who played a few months for the ’00 team?

Maybe this Subway Series will be the wake up call. If the Mets win, Yankee fans will have to shut up... and maybe they’ll be forced to see the scrappy, never say die, Mets for what they actually are.. an entertaining baseball team. Something their team simply isn’t. The Yankees are boring to watch.

If Clemens takes a start at Shea and steps into that batter’s box, he’ll earn a lot of respect in my eyes. If he doesn’t and only pitches at Yankee Stadium, will he lose respect in Yankee fans’ eyes? I hope so.

If the Yankees win, will anybody even think of poor Don Mattingly... as Jose Canseco gets a Yankees World Series ring?

I’ve been waiting for a Subway Series all of my life. Maybe if Wells was still here.. and the Clemens/Piazza incident never happened.. I could be excited as a baseball fan to see players I like, such as Cone and Gooden on the opposition. Maybe, I would just be satisfied to see a competitive series, regardless of who wins…

The reality however is that the Yankees and their fans have treated the Mets and their fans with no respect for a long time now. Well the time has come to put up or shut up... Clemens called down the thunder... well now they’ve got it. Strap yourselves in because it’s gonna be a war.

Well, we all know how that World Series turned out. Those Damn Yankees sang “Can You Take Me High Enough?” and beat the Mets four games to one.

So for now, my sole memory of seeing the Mets win it all, still remains the magical 1986 season. The Mookie Wilson/Lenny Dykstra platoon in centerfield. The Timmy Teufel/Wally Backman platoon at second base. A pre-Seinfeld Keith Hernandez. Gary Carter with the greatest afro ever seen on a white man. Roger McDowell pulling those “hot foots” in the dugout. Ahhh.. I can see it all like it was just yesterday.

Two-eyed Lenny… The original Whatever-Dude.

Never has the simple utterance of.. “Word.”..seemed more appropriate.

Not only was the first piece of my four team championship puzzle achieved in a most amazing fashion. (I still smile anytime I see Ray Knight with his hands on his helmet in disbelief as he runs towards home)… but it was also done at the expense of the Boston Red Sox. Now I know that Boston fans have hated the Yankees for almost a century with the whole Curse of the Bambino and Bucky Dent home run in the one game playoff in 1978… but it was the “other” New York team that handed the BoSox their most disheartening defeat of all time. As much joy as was felt as Mets fans as the ball rolled between Buckner’s legs in Game 6… anguish that was tenfold was being felt by the Beantown faithful at that exact same moment. Simply glorious. I’ll never forget running around the house repeatedly screaming, “Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy shit!” as every Met fan just knew that Game 7 and the World Series was good as ours after the magic of Game 6.

Hey Mr. Buckner… Can I have your autograph?

Like a bunch of crazed dawgs out there!!!!!!

Only a few months later… the New York Football Giants were appearing in their first ever Super Bowl against a young John Elway and the Denver Broncos. While the Mets were ripping shit up all summer long in ’86… the Giants pretty much did the same thing that Fall. With one of the most ridiculously savage defenses of all-time led by a cocaine fueled Lawrence Taylor and a hard working, grind it out, blue collar offense that included Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro, and Phil McConkey… the 1986 New York Giants were nothing but a whole helluva lot of fun to watch. I remember that season, I went to go see the Giants play the Redskins with my Dad, Grandfather and cousin… and we were smack dab in the middle of a row of Redskin fans… and a row of Giant fans… and by the third quarter they started throwing beers at each other. As the beer streamed down my face… I realized going to a football game is one of the coolest things ever.

Bruce Springsteen + Tight End = Mark Bavaro

The Super Bowl in January of 1987 was one of those games where no doubt ever entered anybody’s mind that the Giants would do anything but win. I remember sitting at my Uncle’s house watching it with family and friends.. and even though the Broncos took an early lead… nobody panicked.. and by the second half, when the Giants started to dominate… I may have been enjoying it… but every adult in the room enjoyed it twice as much because they had lived through two and a half decades of total New York Giant football futility to get to that point.

Fast forward four years… and there you had Jeff Hostetler and company doing the unthinkable (well, I guess with Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick coming up with the gameplan…in retrospect, it wasn’t that unthinkable).. and beating the pretty heavily favored Buffalo Bills. Of course, once again my favorite team was the beneficiary of one of the more famous miscues in sports history with Scott Norwood going wide right with his game winning field goal attempt. I think by that time, I had graduated in my vocabulary from “Holy Shit!”… to “Fuck yeah!”. As I bounced around the house…

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve always had a bad case of “potty mouth”, pretty much since birth. My uncle still loves to tell the story of how when I was eight years old and he was at our house building a shed for us.. when it was time for my piano lesson, he told me to come in the house.. and I politely replied, “I don’t have to do anything you tell me to do. Ya fuckin douchebag.”. Of course, whenever he recalls this story, I always remind him of the nice drunken beating he gave me for saying that. Thanks Uncle Dom… *whispers*… ya fuckin douchebag. ;)

Laces out!!! Norwood is Einhorn! Einhorn is Norwood! *cue the Crying Game music*

Now fast forward to the beginning of the 2000 NFL playoffs. My Dad had admitted to me that the first two times the Giants made it to the Super Bowl, he had deep down wanted to get us tickets and fly out to Pasadena and New Orleans respectively. So we made a deal… if the Giants made it to the Super Bowl… we were going. The weekend of the NFC championship game, I was out visiting my friend Tom at grad school out at Penn State, with my best man Mike and his wife Julie. Well, the whole weekend we were out there, it was just nothing but a great time. This was topped off by waking up early on Sunday morning and securing prime seats at the local sports bar. Now Mike and Tom are the two other biggest Giants fans out of my circle of friends… and the fact that we were all there watching this game together, out in western Pennsylvania, made it all the more fun. I can honestly say that the Giants 41-0 trouncing of the Vikings was the most unadulterated fun I’ve ever had watching a sporting event. From the opening kickoff… the Giants played the best all around game in the history of the franchise… I remember calling my Dad up at halftime, drunk off my ass, screaming, “We’re going to the Super Bowl!!”… and my father did indeed make good on his promise and got us two tickets to Tampa to go see the Giants play against the Baltimore Ravens.

It was a beautiful January Florida day… and as we took our seats in a section of the stadium that was predominantly Giants fans, there was no doubt that we were about to bear witness to the Giants third Super bowl championship. Of course, the fact that I probably had like ten beers in my system by the opening kickoff, probably had something to do with my unfettered confidence. Unfortunately, the Giants just came out flat.. and the Ravens defense set the tone early by playing a little smashmouth football… causing Kerry Collins and Co. to back down like little bitches. The only highlight of that day, was when Britney Spears came on during the halftime show in football pants with a sweatsock inexplicably on one arm. From fifty yards away… she still looked awful purdy. =)

My Dad and I left that day, able to say that we saw the first and hopefully only Super Bowl loss in Giants history…

In Part 2… I get into the Devils and Nets and make this whole thing come full circle. Oh, I bet you can’t wait. ;)

Dave – If you do this for me, you’ll be a made man. Anything you want.

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