Sunday, November 1, 2015

Winning In Spite Of Things

A real baseball historian will need to tell me if other pennant winning teams (there's 2 of these per season) are able to win in spite of the things that the Mets won the 2015 NL Pennant in spite of.

They won the Pennant in spite of their owners. Their owners who mismanaged their money outside of giving money to an enormous ponzi scheme, have enormous debt against the team, the ballpark, and their team-majority-owned television network. Debt so big that they need to spend a MLB payroll paying off that debt each season before they can spend a dime on payroll. In spite of their owners who don't get that the only way for the team to be successful (or maybe I'm now wrong) is for them to sell and move aside.

They won the Pennant in spite of their manager. Their manager, who despite being in consideration for Manager of the Year, has made some truly bonehead decisions. To be fair, he's also rolled the dice and had critical decisions pay off. But I wouldn't trust him to manage a bullpen and an OF platoon to win a championship. Playing the players who got you there doesn't work when they're not playing well at all. Or sometimes it does. He flips a coin.

They won the Pennant in spite of having no consistent offense. Offense that was so dead at times that they got no-hit twice (including once in the same calendar month as most of the postseason), and there were many other times during the season, including Game 2 of the World Series, where it almost happened again. I get that a good pitcher, or even an average one, can be dominant in any single game, but the No Hitter is still such a rare feat because even a dominant pitcher will give up one or two hits per game. There were so many games, and even stretches of games, where so much of the lineup had an 0-fer. Most of these players are the players that a team would upgrade to make themselves a Pennant winning or Championship winning team.

They won the Pennant in spite of having no bench. Really, no bench or no backup plans. So much so that trading for 2 non-starters and calling up a kid from AA a week before the trade deadline were considered to be "a catalyst" for this club because it meant they wouldn't have to ride with never-should-be players filling in on a makeshift infield and outfield. There was no protection, players moving around, and just no coverage for injured players for almost 4 months of the season. Looking at what the team looks like on the first of November, I'm not sure if it's much better than it was in late July, or if it just seems that way.

They won the Pennant in spite of having a highly inconsistent bullpen. Outside of the closer (who, remember, was never supposed to be the closer and probably should be regular season team MVP for what he did), was there anyone the Mets could rely on? There were some injuries early in the season that set the path, along with the Mejia suspension, but look at who they're riding now and remember that these guys weren't Mets for most of the season. And one of them, the 8th inning guy (who remember got skipped over in favor of Familia so many times recently), was one of the goats in the game that turned the World Series. I don't even remember who was in the bullpen (which I think was considered a strength early on, but that's such a long time ago) for most of the season besides Familia.

They won the Pennant in spite of big injuries. I don't mean Murphy being on the DL for a couple of weeks. A young, highly regarded starting pitcher, a returning (and maybe even proven) lefty reliever both went down in the same week in Spring Training for Tommy John surgery. The veteran leader in the lineup and on the field was out for most of the season for, basically, a new chronic and debilitating ailment. Other injuries along the way, including an early-season ultimately season-ending injury for a new lefty reliever, arm issues for the former Gold Glove CF, the catcher going down twice during the season. I get that every team has injuries, and that usually makes every Pennant winner look even more impressive because there are a lot of teams who faced similar (in at least some cases) issues that didn't win the Pennant.

It's truly amazin' that they won the NL Pennant in spite of all of these things. This was a team that had 3 hot stretches - a homestand in April, the month of August, and about 2 weeks of October, where it might be fair to say they had good matchups in most of theses games - and basically played like a .500 team for the rest of the season. They had so many problems that they had no business winning 90 games, the division, and the NL Pennant. But somehow, they did. They have the starting pitching to give them 100 wins. Maybe even more. And knowing all of their faults, I predicted 81 wins based on what I saw in Spring Training (and that was with Wheeler and Edgin as factors).

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A Tough Series

Right now I'm a bit numb. A few minutes ago, the Mets blew an 8th inning lead in a game they had lead throughout that would have tied the World Series at 2 games apiece. Now, they're down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination at home in Game 5 tomorrow night. I'm going tomorrow night.

The Mets also blew Game 1 in the 9th inning and again in the 14th inning. They had that one in their grasp. Familia gave up a tying HR in the 9th, and Wright committed an error in the 14th leading to hits and the winning run for the Royals. They had at least a split in KC in their grasp and they blew it. The ending of that game, from the 9th inning on, goes on the list of Mets playoff failures.

Tonight, another bad loss on this list. Maybe this is enough to be a Greek tragedy. They held just enough of a lead until Terry Collins (somehow candidate for manager of the year) decided to go with his unreliable 8th inning guy for the 8th inning, and after back-to-back 1 out walks, decided it was time to pull him. Familia again (who should be the team MVP, and Game 1 was his first blown save since the turnaround started July 30) blows the save, this time, with an error by Murphy at 2B and then another hit through Murphy opens the door for a 3 run inning before Familia got a double play ball (to Murphy) to get out of the inning.

Now, there were other reasons why the Mets ultimate (and now expected) loss in this World Series is considered a failure. They had trouble hitting all season, and a better offense would have bailed them out in each of these cases. But it didn't. That's not quite the point of this post.

What scares me is that these 2 blown games absolutely have the potential of fitting into a franchise pattern that, in 2009, I called "A pattern of bad behavior" (revisited here after the 2009 season had ended. Basically to summarize, there were Mets teams in the playoffs, they failed on the playoffs, one or two moments in that final series was responsible for not only not winning the World Series that year, but having the franchise fall down and not be able to sustain the level of success that got them there. There was one exception to that, and that was 1999, because the team returned and moved upward in 2000. They just weren't the better team in 1999, and there wasn't a chance that they had and blew. It didn't hurt them then, and they did better the following year.

So the question, which probably can't be answered until at least next summer or September, is, where does the 2015 Mets fit in to this pattern?
Do they fit into this pattern, and the 2015 World Series becomes the chance that got away, with 2016 and beyond coming up short until most of these guys are long gone? Or do they break this pattern (or at least go against it) by returning next year (Any playoff appearance is still considered successful because in this narrative, they would basically fall apart because of these blown chances)?

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Mets Win the Pennant

Holy shit!

I'll have more to say after the season ultimately ends. Now isn't the time to reflect on the season and that was my only thought on the NLCS.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Playoff Preview

First ever Mets playoff preview for Remembering Shea! It's a milestone day indeed.

Mets-Dodgers in the NLDS, best of 5, with the Dodgers getting home field advantage for the series.

Here's my prediction. They split the 2 games at Dodger Stadium in two pitching duels for the ages. Each game is ultimately won by a pitcher making a mistake at the wrong time. The Mets take the series at home in 4 games because their starting pitching is deeper (though the game 1 starters could come back in game 4 on short rest if needed). Obviously any new injuries would turn the table, Matz will be okay, and the Mets are able to overcome the Uribe injury in this round.

Citi Field will be rocking on Monday and Tuesday nights.

But I wouldn't lay money down on this. Just look at how many no decisions the young Mets starters had this season. Anything can happen in a 5 game series. But my non-monetary prediction is Mets in 4.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Welcome Back to Meaningful September Baseball

Some of us were around in the very beginning, watching Casey Stengel's Amazin' Mets lose 120 games and 7 consecutive losing seasons.

Some of us didn't come around until the Miracle happened in 1969.

Some grew up only knowing the 1973 Mets team among successful Mets teams.

A whole new generation came up with the rising promise of 1984 and 1985.

Some only came up for the Ultimate Reward of 1986.

I only remember how that post-season ended, and grew up with the aftermath.

Some remember 1988 but not 1986.

The next generation didn't experience a Mets playoff run until 1999 or maybe not until 2000.

Another generation got their first taste of success in 2006.

Some might only know the failures of 2007 and 2008.

This youngest generation of Mets fans doesn't even know that.

Whichever group you're in, enjoy the return to meaningful September baseball for the New York Mets!

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

It's the little things

It's the little things that count. Last night (Saturday night) I was at Citi Field. It was a big game, with lots of subtext. Enough that it was a sellout and near record crowd (a few people shy of 43,000). Citi Field has been around nearly 7 full seasons and there just haven't been many big games or even large crowds. But last night, there was an energy that I noticed (and several other people also felt) for the first time since Shea Stadium. Having 43,000 people should bring about an energy unlike what you'd see at a typical mid-week school night game. I think it was more than that.

On a personal level, last night was a little different from many other games I've attended at Citi Field. I usually go, and whether it's planned or not, I wind up running in to or meeting up with friends, and I don't always sit in my seat for the entire game. That's just how it's been at Social Citi Field. Kind of like watching a baseball game with Attention Deficit Disorder, where you can't simply focus on the game. Citi Field was built for that. It never used to be that way at Shea. At Shea, I would just sit in my seat and watch the game, keeping score along the way. That's what Shea was built for. Last night, despite 43,000 other Mets fans in the building (actually, quite a few Nationals fans were there), I couldn't find any friends to either go with or meet up with, but I still wanted to go because it was such a big game. So I went by myself, sat in my seat, and kept score. I attend about 10 games a year and get to do that maybe twice each season. I did that at almost every game I attended at Shea Stadium as well as at other ballparks. It's something I miss doing (and it actually forces you to watch the game, even from your seat). Since I don't get to do it often, I feel somewhat nostalgic of the old days at Shea when I do get to keep score at a ballgame.

The energy generated by spontaneous and loud "Let's Go Mets" chants also makes me feel nostalgic from the good old days at Shea. You hear it a bit at Citi Field, but nothing with the energy that I felt last night. It felt good to hear and take part in.

And there was a little scoreboard thing that I always liked at Shea which seemed to have been abandoned at Citi Field. They would take the scene from the movie "Network" where Howard Beale urged his TV viewers "I want you to go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell:" with the last part replaced by the "Let's Go Mets" chant. I don't know when it started at Shea, but it feels like it was there for a long time. This is the scene from "Network" to help job your memory. Greg Prince referenced it earlier this year in a different context (and he writes better than I).

Anyway, the Mets brought it back last night...sort of. Branden, of Citi Field in-game hosting and Mets game promotions fame, tried to recreate it. He didn't do well, but I'll say that it's the thought that counts. It felt like Shea. They need to get the old video back.

These little things helped make Citi Field feel a lot like Shea last night. I could feel it. Not any single game, but just a flood of memories from various points, both in the winning days (there weren't many in my 22 years there) and all the others.

Do you feel it too?

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Blame it on the Rain

I need to rant a little bit about tonight's Mets game. June 27, 2015. Mets hosting the Reds in the 2nd game of a 3 game weekend series, with a post-game concert featuring the Steve Miller Band. And it rained.

And it rained. And that's where the day went to hell. I went to the game, taking the trains in from New Jersey, because it was in my ticket plan (a flex plan, and I selected the game because of the post-game concert). I did want to see the Steve Miller Band. I had a lot of fun at the Huey Lewis and the News and Boyz II Men post-game concerts last season. And it rained. They played 6 innings, in the rain, and stopped tied 1-1. After about an hour in a rain delay, the decision was made to suspend the game, making it up the next day (tomorrow). And the post-game concert would be moved to tomorrow, taking place after the regularly scheduled game (I had joked that they should have done after the completion of tonight's game, which would be between the two games).

And it rained. You can't help mother nature. But you can certainly plan around it. Of course, the Mets didn't, for whatever reason (which we can speculate). The forecast was for rain starting mid-afternoon and getting heavier into the evening. Translation...if they tried to play, it wouldn't be pretty, and if they stopped, there really wouldn't be any way to start back up until tomorrow. And if they didn't try to play, they would have to reschedule the entire game either for tomorrow or on a mutual off day (I didn't look to see if there even was one). As the home team, the Mets own the decision whether or not to even start playing. And once they did start, the decision stop and continue playing belongs to the umpires.

And it rained. They knew it was going to rain. They never should have tried to play the game. It wasn't fair to the fans to start playing in the rain knowing they wouldn't be able to finish, and it was technically a hazard to the players. By all accounts, the game never should have been started. But, I guess for the teams, it was better to play 5 or 6 innings tonight and the last 3 or 4 tomorrow (plus the regularly scheduled 9 innings, plus any potential extra innings) than to try to play 18 (plus potential extra innings) tomorrow. But there was one additional thing. A heavily promoted post-game concert. And there were fans coming out either specifically for the concert or at least because of the concert (like me). So they played the game.

And it rained. They played 6 innings. The infield conditions got worse and worse (no puddles, but more and more drying agent every half inning as the game went on). And went into a rain delay before starting the 7th. We all knew that this game wouldn't resume. I was joking about the Mets having the concert inside the Caesars Club after the game would be called. The Mets finally announced, after about an hour of a rain delay, that the game had been suspended, and would resume tomorrow before the regularly scheduled game, and that the concert would take place after baseball was complete tomorrow. There were some groans. Fans with tonight's ticket were welcome to come back tomorrow and exchange it for a ticket to Sunday's games and then get to see the concert.

I think it was both the right thing to do (better than not being able to have the concert at all) and an empty gesture to the fans who were in attendance on Saturday. I'm leaving the game on Saturday feeling completely empty inside. Not only did I not get to attend the post-game concert, but I didn't even get to see a complete (or decided) baseball game. I could come back tomorrow, and spend the extra travel expenses and ballpark concessions to use a free ticket. But I don't have the time to commit to going to the game (for me, with travel, it really could be a 10 hour day), and I also have other plans late in the afternoon, so I couldn't go even if the time and money were in a vaccuum. So the Mets are, for lack of a better term, gifting me with a ticket exchange for tomorrow's game, but I can't use it, so I get nothing (and less than nothing if you count tonight). At least if the game was rained out, I would have a rain check ticket free to exchange for any other game I wanted. And for that matter, with my flex ticket plan, had I NOT gone to the game (which I kind of regret, even thought I got to see some people), I would be able to exchange it for another game. But I went, saw 6 innings of baseball, and won't get to see the other 3 innings or the concert, which was why I bought the ticket in the first place.

And it rained. Mother nature caused the last 3 innings of the game not to be played tonight, and mother nature caused the post-game concert not to take place tonight. But somehow, I feel like this is the Mets fault.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Banner Day 2015

Banner Day 2015 is here!

In honor of Casey Stengel, who was born 125 years ago this summer, this is the "Stengelese Dictionary". If you don't know who Casey Stengel was look him up, or if you don't know what "Stengelese" is, look it up in a dictionary. {laughs}

So basically, "Stengelese" was its own language, and that warrants it having its own dictionary to define these weird words that Casey Stengel would use. My first thought was "placard", a word he used to describe the banners at the old Polo Grounds, which became the genesis of Banner Day over 50 years ago. So define "placard" in the context of Casey Stengel. Then in the design, I saw that I needed to fill out some more room on the banner, so I added a few more words.

I tried to keep it true to a dictionary in that the words are alphabetically close to one another and listed in alphabetical order, and it worked out when the other words I came up with were directly related to Casey Stengel - "Perfesser" (the Ol' Perfesser) and "Stengelese" - and close to "placard". I also tried to keep the design true to what a dictionary looked like (I used a layout similar to because it didn't try to compact many words on a single page, which I didn't want to try to do). That layout looked better when trying to view the words from a distance. The cover was modeled after a Merriam-Webster Dictionary cover that I found online. It worked better than some of the others I found since I realized that I had to have the cover take up as much space as the dictionary page itself.

Sizing of everything was a challenge. I was somewhat constrained by the physical sizes of the posterboards I could find at Staples, and I knew there wouldn't be a lot of content. I went with a 20x30 foam posterboard where the 30 inch side was split into the dictionary cover and the dictionary page. Any larger size would just make it seem too big and/or require more content. But I wanted a size where the judges could judge from a distance of several feet away. I also didn't want to put too much on there for them to have to look at in such a short time.

Now, I did have dreams for something more elaborate using this design and content, but was advised that it would be too much for the judges to judge. I wanted to have a folding cover with an open/close mechanism, which would essentially double the amount of space to fill (there was a front cover and there would have been a back cover; there was a single page of defined words and there would have been a second). I also wanted to have the page(es) look like the pages of an open book where it would look like this was one page of many that the book was open to. I didn't do these things beause they would have been doing too much.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

How Oliver Perez ruined my 30th Birthday at Shea

April 30, 2008, Flushing, NY.

I've spent several birthdays at Shea Stadium between 1987 (my first season) and 2008 (Shea's last). And I'd sat in almost every part of the ballpark. For my 30th birthday, I wanted to check off one of the elusive ones. I wanted dugout seats. It was a Wednesday afternoon game, getaway day, which was a perfect excuse for me to take off work, and my dad who was my faithful companion at games in the pre-social media days (heck, he did that in the pre-driving days for me too) also had the day off. The script couldn't have been written any better.

Oliver Perez wasn't quite the bad player we all think of him as. Yet. He was about 18 months removed from pitching well in Game 7 of the NLCS. He was still a couple of years away from his last pitch in a Mets uniform (hint, it was in Spring Training). But he was getting there. And he had the start on this beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Shea.

It was setting up to be a great birthday at Shea. We came in early for batting practice in my usual spot by the Mets dugout (no BP for a day game after a night game). Dad and I ate at the Diamond Club (very overrated if you ask me). There was something new behind the LF wall to see (Citi Field). And then, maybe 30 minutes before the game, there was a water main break in the area. I didn't quite get the reasoning, but it delayed the start of the game by about an hour. In hindsight, maybe we should have left at that point. There wasn't much to watch during this delay, other than an extra hour of being at Shea where the clock was ticking and an extra hour of being in really good seats 5 rows behind the Mets dugout.

I'm not really sure what prompted this next thing, but seemingly out of nowhere, popping out of the Mets dugout and basically offering to sign autographs was Nelson Figueroa, a Brooklyn-born player drafted by the Mets many years earlier and now part of the Mets ballclub for the first time after being away from the big leagues for 4 years and having 5 teams already on his resume. It's definitely not out of character for Nelson to come out of the dugout and sign autographs. This was definitely an unusual circumstance though, with a non-weather delay at the start of the game. I think he signed for anyone by the dugout who wanted an autograph, and probably more than that. Okay, NOW was probably the time to leave and cut our losses.

The game finally gets started, and Ollie being Ollie, he gives up 7 runs in the 2nd and doesn't make out of the inning (to be fair, only 2 runs were earned). It put the Mets in a really big hole, one they had absolutely no shot of digging themselves out of. Now pitching for the Mets, number 27, Nelson Figueroa. Figueroa had been a starting pitcher for the past 4 times through the early season rotation, but was coming in for long relief on short rest (he had started just 3 days earlier). Nelson comes in puts out the fire in the 2nd and ultimately gets through the 5th inning just giving up one run of his own. 3.1 inning total for Figueroa. Jorge Sosa comes in and gives up 5 runs (only 1 earned, so it's not all on the pitchers) in 1 inning. 2 other pitchers came in to finish the last 3 innings, giving up a total of 1 hit. The Mets only had 2 hits over the entire 9 innings. Mets lose the game 13-1.

I definitely give the player of the game for my 30th birthday game to Nelson Figueroa.

Dad and I sat in some real bad rush hour traffic getting back to NJ after the game. It certainly wasn't what I wanted for a game result, but I was certainly happy to spend my 30th birthday (and the last one I could possibly spend there) at Shea.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Happy Opening Day

Editor's Note: this is a re-post from Opening Day 2012. Opening Day wouldn't be right without the voice of Bob Murphy.

I remember cutting class during my sophomore year in college to watch Opening Day 1998 (like 2003, also a March 31 opener, and like 2007, against the Phillies) when Bobby Jones started for the Mets.

Here's how the game started.

And this is how that game ended.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

A new beginning

A while back, I wrote about a pattern of bad behavior in Mets history, where they were on the brink of true greatness, failed, and fell down so far that it took many years to recover, and then to do it again and again. In that piece, I wrote that they did that in 2006, in Game 7 against the Cardinals, pointing to the half inning after the Chavez catch, when they didn't get the clutch hit that would have put them ahead and probably would have put them in the World Series, as the point where they fell down. I think I see the light at the other end of that tunnel. I feel an optimism building around the 2015 Mets that makes me think that within two or three years, the Mets will be right back at that point.

I wrote after I returned from Spring Training that the Mets would be a .500 team (81-81). Even after losing Wheeler for the season, I stand by that prediction. 81 wins is an improvement, but it's not quite there. A little improvement here, and fixup there, and they can be a 90 win team and in the playoffs, maybe even destined for great things.

Happy (almost) Opening Day.
Let's Go Mets!

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Predictions for 2015

I've spent most of the first 11 games this spring watching the Mets play. I'm back from my trip, and that's usually the time for me to make my season prediction.

I think they break even. 81-81. It's only a 2 game improvement from the 2014 season. The starting rotation will have a ton of no decisions. And there will be a lot of nights that we're excited to watch the club based on the starting pitcher.

I think the difference from having a really bad season will be Harvey and deGrom pitching to expectations. The bullpen seems shaky, especially if Terry Collins expects to use them for 3 innings on most nights. I'm already worried about Wheeler. And I just don't think the offence is there. There's still too many holes. I also think we'll get a good look at Matt Reynolds at some point this season. On paper, it should look better, but I don't think it will play out that way.

81-81 will have the team mentioned in the playoff race, but it won't be enough. But 81-81 is better than we've seen in a long time.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Retired Numbers

There was one panel from yesterday's Queens Baseball Convention that really struck me. There were a lot of great panels to listen to, some of which I even got to see, but the retired numbers panel is worth its own blog post.

There's been a great debate among Mets fans, at least in the social media age, about what numbers the Mets should retire and why they haven't had a new one since Tom Seaver in 1988. I don't remember if I've written about this before, but I had some new thoughts about this. I should mention that I walked in about 15 minutes late to the hour-long panel.

I have 2 paths of thought on retired numbers. This is aside from the largely ceremonial numbers 37, 14, 42 and Shea.

One is that nothing should change with the retired numbers they have, and that the Mets Hall of Fame is considered the honor (though I think the Mets Hall of Fame should honor accomplishments as much as individual players - imagine Johan Santana No Hitter Day). Maybe if a player comes up through the Mets system, as Tom Seaver did, and has a Hall of Fame career, as Seaver did, even if they didn't finish their career as a Met, as Seaver, they should get their number retired. I don't think David Wright is destined for the Hall of Fame, but if he was, he'd be the candidate for this.

The other is that the Mets should open the floodgates and retire the numbers of several players. Then where do you start? Piazza when he gets into the Hall of Fame (he just had his Mets HOF day at the end of the 2013 season)? But what about Gary Carter, a Hall of Famer who spent a few years with the Mets including being a leader of the 1986 World Champions? As as noted in the panel yesterday, Keith Hernandez might be paired with Carter and might even go first, based on his tenure as a Met. Then what about Doc and Darryl? And why stop at the 1986 Mets when Buddy Harrelson and Jerry Koosman of the 1969 team might be even more deserving (longer tenures as Mets for sure). And if we're looking at long tenures, what about Eddie Kranepool and John Franco? Can you retire a number symbolically for multiple players (31 for Franco & Piazza...45 for Franco & McGraw)?

Where do you draw the line for this honor? What is the qualification for it? Every franchise has different qualifications. Every franchise has a different history too. That's why I lean towards the 1st train of thought that the earned retired numbers (only Seaver) is the highest honor for "The Franchise" and nobody else, and the Mets HOF is the honor equivalent to what we think retired numbers should be. That's the debate. And it wouldn't be any fun to have if we didn't have the debate.

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