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The Psychology of the Slump

Dana BrandFriday, June 22, 2007
By Dana Brand


I remember when the Mets lost seventeen games in a row in 1962. Losing seventeen games in a row is a pretty awful experience under any circumstances, but for the 1962 Mets there was little but dignity at stake. And there wasn't much dignity left when that slump happened. The hopeful new 1962 Mets were simply in the process of becoming the symbols of comical failure they have been for the past 45 years, and will be for all time.

We know what the 1962 Mets are. Truth be told, we knew what the 1962 Mets were in 1962. But we have no idea what the 2007 Mets are, and we won't for a while. Is this slump a dark night of the soul that we will remember with a thrill because we will come out of it alive, swinging, and triumphant? We've had slumps like that in our history, in July and August of 1969, or throughout the whole summer of 1973. This might be a slump like that.

Or it might be a slump like the slump in September of 2005. We were charging to the top of the standings just when Katrina hit New Orleans. And we blew over and flooded out, just like the beautiful, doomed city. We went on a road trip and lost 14 of our next 17 games. Our great season of revival, the magnificent season of Pedro, Cliff, Willie, and Omar, slipped out of our grasp and took its place in that Limbo of disappointing Mets seasons, those seasons that were full of hope and excitement at one point or other, but fizzled and are now hardly even remembered (you know, 1970, 1987, 1989, 1990, 2001, 2005).

Will this season become like those? Will 2006 have been a bright, brief flash? Will we feel the pain of what we are feeling right now for the rest of our lives? Does it feel, right now, as if they will ever play again the beautiful, controlled, well-oiled, errorless, astonishing baseball they played through April and May?

Desperate people are demanding that we trade our future for what we dream might be left of someone else's past. Radio hosts are trying to see if they can get fights started. It's a dark, fevered, unpleasant time right now. I was in the stands the other night, high up in a stadium that was almost empty at the end, wondering if the Mets would break some kind of record by having more errors in a game than hits.

I'd like to be able to say that we'll be all right, we'll come out of it, but I don't know if that's true. I haven't lost hope. With the Mets, I never lose hope. But I remember plenty of times when all my hoping made no difference at all.

It's when we're in a slump that baseball fans encounter the real absurdity of what we're doing. We're not doing anything. We have no impact. We have the illusion that we help by cheering real loud, but that's an illusion. It's a nice illusion and it is part of the myth of being a Mets fan, but if we could cheer them out of funks, we would have done it long ago. To be a baseball fan is to experience the pleasures and pains of being helpless. We are helpless when they win, and we are helpless when they lose. We don't notice how helpless we are when we win because the world is behaving in the way we want it to. So we think we are doing something right. But we aren't. We are always doing the same thing: experiencing emotions about something that other people are doing. Does this make sense? Does it need to?

What will happen will happen. And we'll always remember it. We are at a crucial moment in either a really great story or a really lousy one. I know you already know this, but it is all I have to tell you. It is all you would be able to say to me. We care about what is going to happen but we have no idea what will happen. This is why baseball is so wonderful. And this is why we all feel like crap.

About Dana Brand: Dana Brand's book, which has the working title of Mets Fan, will be published by McFarland this fall. To read about it, read samples, and read the table of contents, please visit metsfanbook.com. You can also check out Dana's blog at metsfanbook.com/blog/.

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