You know who I think about when I see Mike White now?
I think of Mike Vail.
There was a minute in time when Vail was going to be the singular most important figure in the young lives of Mets fans. In 1975, Vail hit .342 for Tidewater and was called up to the Mets in August. He kept hitting. In fact, he put together a 23-game hitting streak that not only was a Mets team record, but also set the record for rookies, all-time.
Mike Vail was going to be a star. In the late summer of 1975, we were sure of it.
Mike Vail hit .217 in 1976. He did go on to a nice, long baseball life — including stops in Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Montreal and Los Angeles — and he hit a respectable .279 in 1,604 big league at-bats. That’s a damn fine career, better than most who play professional baseball. It was different, however, than what we envisioned in August and September 1975.
For that brief, shining moment … my gosh, it was wonderful investing every ounce of your soul believing that Vail was going to be a generational star. Early speed does that. Early speed gets the juices flowing, gets the imagination working overdrive. Vail, like White, was a fine player before he got hot early in his career, but there were no hints of stardom.
That’s what made Vail’s story so irresistible in 1975.
It’s what makes White’s story so irresistible in 2021.
We love nothing more than the guy who shows up out of nowhere, Roy Hobbs-style, and allows us to hope, allows us to believe, allows us to dream. We got a little taste of that in 1998, when Shane Spencer joined the Yankees midway through their 114-win dream ride of a season and started hitting home runs every day. We got a bigger taste of that when Jeremy Lin became a phenomenon for the Knicks in February 2012.
Now, none of these examples is exactly a great harbinger for Mike White, who exploded into our consciousness two weeks ago with that 405-yard, three-touchdown debut against the Bengals, followed that up with an awfully impressive touchdown drive against the Colts, then took a step up in the folklore department because he hurt his hand on that pass.
So, he will get the ball for the Jets against the Bills on Sunday, with the Jets an almost two-touchdown underdog. And for at least this one game he has an awful lot of Jets fans hoping, fervently and furiously, that there is truly a “there” there, that he isn’t another sporting version of Dexys Midnight Runners, a one-hit wonder destined only to have “Come On Eileen” play on an endless loop.
It’s hard not to like the kid’s moxie.
“If you ask me, I should’ve been a first-overall pick,” White said this week, though in fact he went 170 slots after the overall No. 1 (Baker Mayfield) in 2018. “But that’s neither here nor there. That’s four years ago.”
The others were confident, too.
“This doesn’t surprise me, honestly,” Lin said back in 2012, after dropping 38 on the Lakers at the Garden during the peak of Linsanity. “I always believed I could play in this league.”
“I try to take it all in stride,” Spencer said after hitting two homers against Cleveland on Sept. 22, 1998, his second multi-homer game of that 10-homers-in-67-at-bats rookie cameo.
There are happier storylines, of course. Kurt Warner went from stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for $5.50 an hour to a Hall of Fame jacket in Canton, Ohio, maybe the greatest undrafted professional in sports history. Mike Piazza was a 62nd-round draft pick. Don Mattingly went in the 19th round.
That’s all possible, too, for Mike White. It’s all there for him, starting Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
One last postmortem about Mike Vail? A few years ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a “Mike Vail.” I accepted, and much to my delight realized it was that Mike Vail. And not long after that, I got a message from him: “Thanks for accepting my friend request, Mike.”
Eight-year-old me just about passed out. Fifty-year-old-me just smiled. It’s fun to believe.
Steve Somers wasn’t just a unique voice to keep you company late at night. I’ve done hundreds of talk-radio interviews through the years, and his were always among the most enjoyable — and challenging. I never once walked away from a spot with him on WFAN without a smile on my face. A Vac’s Whacks toast to a true original.
For the hardcore local hoops fan in your life: You can now purchase pieces of the original basketball floor at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym at CollectibleExchange.com (CC: Mrs. Vaccaro).
You know how some college and high school sports teams don’t have full-time captains but go with game-day captains instead? Maybe the Mets can use the same idea with their GM and president of baseball ops jobs.
We’re really going to start having these Giants-miracle-run-to-the-playoffs stories appearing with more regularity again this week, aren’t we?
Whack Back at Vac
Charles Costello: Don’t ever stop writing about the Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball School in The Bronx. With Julius Randle donating $500 for every 3-pointer he makes, you don’t have to be a Knicks fan to say a little prayer every time he launches one from beyond the arc. That’s a 3-point shot even Phil Mushnick can root for.
Vac: Amen, Charles.
Jerry Sobel: Tom Thibodeau is a great coach. It’s time he starts coaching again.
Vac: The smart money says that Thibs will figure out sooner rather than later what’s ailing the Knicks, and fix it. Now that just has to happen.
@toms2sense: Your column on Gil Hodges is absolutely on the money. Gil may be borderline for the Hall of Fame as a player but, when you add in his success as Mets manager, he unquestionably should be inducted. Fingers crossed this year it happens.
@MikeVacc: There are many, many fingers being crossed the next few weeks that enough folks with ballots in their hands agree with us.
Mark Dantonio: Why do I have the impression the Mets interviews for a GM and president of baseball operations sound like Mr. Haney selling something to Mr. Douglas off the back of his truck?
Vac: A hard-and-fast rule for this column: If you can link the Mets and “Green Acres” in an analogy, you’re in.
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