Ode to a Met

Visiting with Mackey Sasser in Lynn Haven, Florida. Circa ’89.

The latest album from the Strokes ends with a song called “Ode to the Mets,” an affecting closer that has me thinking about one of Shea Stadium’s forgotten sons.

That son would be Mackey Sasser, a Georgia country boy who, after replacing Gary Carter behind the plate in 1990, became the first Mets catcher to hit over .300. Sasser, who played for Pittsburgh before finding his home in New York, had a loping, old-timey sort of swing, with the ability to hit for power as well as average. He had a cannon for an arm and was the first Met to throw out speedster Cardinal Vince Coleman on the base path.

Mackey married my first cousin’s childhood best friend, and my brothers and I got to visit him at his home in Lynn Haven, Florida, just outside of Panama City. His dog was named “Mookie,” after Mets centerfielder Mookie Wilson. We hung out, tossed the ball, and hoped some of that big-league pixie dust would settle on us.

Not long after our summit, Mackey’s career took a dark turn. Midway through the ’90 season, Sasser began to have trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher from home plate. Without fail, he would double-clutch the ball in his mitt – a malady that would come to be known as “Mackey Sasser Disease” – allowing opposing runners to execute delayed steals. Sasser eventually lost his starting gig and became the subject of much ridicule. Daryl Strawberry, no stranger to confrontation and the ringleader of the team’s wild boys faction, taunted Sasser about it one night and the two came to bloody blows.

Today, Sasser says the problem began during AAA ball when he injured his right shoulder after getting hit with a foul tip. To make matters worse, his coach would fine him every time he double-clutched, adding insult to injury. Mackey overcame the problem, but the demon returned after a home-plate collision with the Braves’ Jim Presley during the ’90 season.

Today, Sasser coaches baseball at his alma mater, Wallace Community College, in Dothan, Alabama. Whenever I hear “Ode to the Mets,” I’ll forever think of the Georgia boy who wore the cursed No. 2., a former boy-prince of Queens who gave Met fans some real fireworks for a time.

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