There is an uncommon lot of malarkey spilled by the sporting authors about the new breed, the cult of the loser, the Metnik and such. That the club is hotter than a blowtorch goes without saying. Look at those 20,000 free tickets the Yankee organization handed to hackies recently in a wild attempt to jack up attendance. At the time of this startling display of largess the Mets had drawn 637,000 through the gates of Chez Shea, while the Yanks had suckered only 388,000.
The Metnik, a biological sport first thrown up on Coogan's Bluff in Harlem, is the loser who knows it. The object of his affections is the worst team that ever played major league baseball, if that's what it is. The Metnik glories in the fact that he will never score, nohow, at nothing. He's the one who says, "You can't win 'em all," when others say, "How do you do?"
The Metnik loves his Mets like the cat loves his liver. He feels for his Tracy Stallards and Joe Christophers the same deep, extravagant affection the English Prime Minister Mr. Gladstone used to expend on the streetwalkers of Piccadilly when he tried to move their hearts toward God.
"I've been a Met fan all my life," is the splendid phrase that continues to ring the length and breadth of the five boroughs. It was minted when the Mets were not yet a year old. It is a stirring tribute to the world's losingest ball club that the phrase seems to have been a round forever. The Mets fill a need, a need that some of us had not known existed before. But that is the kind of need New York is always filling. A lot of losers never knew it until the Mets arrived. This is a considerable achievement in therapeutic insight. Dr. Stengel, it might be said, has done more good for America than the late Dr. Freud has done harm.
Only a few months ago it was the Mets, not the Yanks, who were hotly merchandising. They announced they were giving away King Korn Stamps to hype the gate. Supermarket customers in the New York area got 2.5 million trading stamps in a big drawing in connection with the opening of Chez Shea in April. Another 5,000 customers got free tickets for the opener. This economic breakthrough could only have been thought up by a team that in 1962 lost 120 games and last year lost 22 straight on the road.
The idea that watching a Mets game is somehow a reward is perfectly splendid insouciance. It's like offering a fifth of Old Popskull to a temperance worker as a reward for activity above and beyond the call of duty. Yet there is no doubt the Met magnates know their man. By brassily pretending that a ticket to a Mets game is some sort of prize, they will doubtless make it some sort of prize. In the days of Mr. Hitler this used to be called the technique of the Gross Fib. In ad circles it's called savvy.
The Met fans have muchly been talked about. Most of what has been written is bunk. If you wanted to see the epitome of the real article you could have walked around the Polo Grounds any night after a Met game there and immediately sensed the secret of their fabled �lan. Strong drink. Among them are the kind of worthies who sit in bars on Tenth Avenue, on Fordham Road, on Bergen Street in Brooklyn and gaze at their images in the mirrors as they toss down their shots with beer chasers and feel sorry for themselves. There was a time they had no place to go. Now they feel sorry for themselves, and they think of the Mets, who are worse off than they are, and springs of spurious love and affection are loosed. The next thing you know, they are out in the ball park with their friendly bottles, feeling sorry for everybody on the field. Great.
None of this has anything to do with baseball, much less big league baseball. The secret of the Mets' success is that they are freaks. Simply this; and we must not allow those mystical fellas who write for the sports pages to let us forget it.
The team and its manager, the ineffable Mr. Stengel, are in the tradition of such motley minions as Muckle John, the jester of Charles I, or the Duke of Suffolk's Dickey Pearce. The business orientation of the outfit brings back Mr. Barnum, who had the fields of his winter circus quarters in Bridgeport, Conn. plowed by elephant power that was rapidly hitched up when the fast train from New York was passing, and only then.
Chief among these eccentric policies was to choose, and keep, baseball's leading clown as manager. Mr. Stengel is pretty much an ancient fraud. I've never been among those who subscribed to the view that he was a genius at the child's game called baseball. He has been in the game all his life, over half a century. He was a good player; but as a manager, whether of the Dodgers or the Braves, he was a nothing.