Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s a Numbers Game

As my hockey buddies know, I have worn the number 7 on my sweater for the past 7 seasons, but not everyone knows why.  I wear that number out of respect for two athletes from my youth.  One deserves respect for his class, his talent and his on-ice results.  The second deserves respect for no other reason than his ability to stick around.

The first Number 7 was Rod Gilbert, right wing for the NY Rangers from 1962 to 1978, and his number 7 hangs in the rafters at MSG.  Working with Jean Ratelle at center, and Vic Hadfield on the left wing, all 3 were on pace in 1972 to each score 50 goals, a feat never achieved by any linemates in NHL history.  Hadfield did reach the plateau, while Ratelle and Gilbert fell short, 46 goals and 43 goals respectively, primarily because they each missed games due to injury that season.  They were known as the GAG Line (goal-a game pace), and I passionately pleaded their case for immortality in a letter to the editors of Hockey News, circa 1977.  They printed my letter, and I still have that issue.

The second Number 7 is an obscure baseball player that only loyal Mets fans will remember.  Ed Kranepool spent his entire career with the NY Mets from the team’s inception in 1962 (I was also founded in 1962).  There are few teams where a player could be called a legend with a .261 career batting average, a single All-Star game appearance, no Gold Gloves, 1400 hits in an 18 year career and a whopping 118 home runs out of a power hitting position (first base), but that is the Mets.

I read this recent quote from Kranepool, and after the feeling of relief that he was still alive dissipated, I smiled in agreement.  Speaking about the Mets today:
 “I only watch a good product,” Kranepool said. “If they are winning, I will watch, and if not, I turn the station and root for someone else."

“I am a Met true and true. I am the only guy who played his whole career with the Mets, I’ve got the longest time, longevity-wise … but I still want to see a good ball club.”

Craig Calcaterra said it best in Hardball Talk online:  “If anyone on the planet has a right to feel this way about their ballclub, it’s Ed Kranepool and the Mets.  And to be honest, I know a lot of Mets fans who feel much the same way.  Really, I don’t think there’s a fan base of its size in all of sports that has a more balanced take on things.  Mets fans love ‘em when they win. When they don’t, well, they’re not gonna cry about it and make their lives miserable.  Don’t get ‘em wrong — they’ll be there for the team through thick and thin — but you rarely find a Mets fans who lets his team’s misfortunes truly upset him any more than a few minutes after the game is over. Life goes on. There’s another game tomorrow.

Some folks may think that’s not cool, and that you should almost literally live and die with your team.  Personally, I find it kind of healthy.”

Gotta love us Met fans.  We’ve been up and we’ve been down, but we never forget where we’ve been.  We enjoyed 1986, but we carry the scars of 1962 and 1977 (along with some recent late season collapses).  Kranepool’s quote embodies that pragmatism and survivor mentality for me.

So I’d like to think I wear #7 because of my class, talent and on-rink results, just like Gilbert.  I fear it is probably more accurate to say that I wear #7 for no other reason than my ability to stick around, just like Kranepool.  I can live with that, hopefully for a few more seasons.

Editor’s Note:  Please don’t tell my son that I wear #7 for any other reason than that he was born on the 7th.  That will have to remain in the vault until he is old enough and mature enough to handle the blow.

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