Best Mets Of All Time: No. 36 Jerry Koosman
If there was going to be a 2020 season, we would have seen Jerry Koosman become the first ever Mets player who did not need to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to have his number retired. That makes him arguably a Mets Mt. Rushmore player. Certainly, it properly denotes how important he was to the franchise.
Koosman gave a glimpse into the type of big pitcher he would become in his rookie year. Despite having a better year. he narrowly finished behind Johnny Bench in Rookie of the Year voting, and he would be named an All-Star. In that All-Star Game, he’d strike out Carl Yastrzemski to earn a save in the 1968 All-Star Game. That was nothing compared to what Koosman had in store the following year.
After having a great rookie year, Koosman established himself not just as the Mets number two starter behind Tom Seaver, but he would also establish himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Koosman always rose to the challenge and to the big moment.
In that 1969 season, people talk about different moments. For example, there was the black cat game. What was not talked about as often is Koosman’s complete game victory beginning that series which led to the sweep and the Mets pulling within a half game. All told, he was an All-Star again, and he had another great year leading the Mets to their first ever postseason.
Before that postseason, Koosman was already doing great things. His 1968 ERA of 2.08 was the best ever in team history, a record which stands to this day among left-handed pitchers. His 19 wins that year was then the most ever by a Mets starter. It’s still the 10th most in team history. His 17 complete games is still the most by anyone not named Seaver. His seven shut outs were only eclipsed by Dwight Gooden‘s famed 1985 season.
If you look towards the WPA stat, Koosman’s 1969 season was then the second best in team history just trailing Seaver and his 1969 season. His 1969 season also ranks up among the Mets best ever seasons for a starting pitcher. That was before you take into account his work in the World Series.
Heading into that 1969 World Series, no one expected the Mets to win. No one. When Seaver dropped Game 1, there was concern the Mets could get swept. After all, with the talk about the Mets vaunted rotation, the 109 win Baltimore Orioles had Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar.Things forever changed in Game 2.
Koosman out-pitched McNally. He picked up the win after allowing just one run on two hits. With that start, Koosman showed the Mets pitching made that team just as good as the Orioles perhaps better. He started the momentum which led to the Mets going back to Shea Stadium tied. He would get the ball again in Game 5.
Koosman would help the Mets win that Game 5 in two ways. First and foremost, Koosman again pitched a big game. In his complete game victory, he allowed three earned on just five hits. There was also his role in the shoe polish incident. When the ball came off Cleon Jones foot and came rolling into the dugout, Gil Hodges had Koosman swipe the ball against his cleat. Jones was awarded first, and then Donn Clendenon homered to get the Mets back into the game. The Mets would take a 5-3 lead, and when Davey Johnson flew out, the Mets were World Series Champions:
Koosman was never as good again as he was in his first two years, but he was still a well above average pitcher. Part of the reason for his taking a step back was getting a liner to the mouth during batting practice knocking teeth out of his mouth and needing his mouth to be wired shut. He would also start to deal with a sore arm. Perhaps in another era, he would have had his arm treated, but back then, pitchers pitched through those issues.
Still, he would show his mettle as a big game pitcher. In 1973, after his struggles sent him to the bullpen for a stint, he would re-emerge to be a top of the rotation pitcher. Over the final two months of that season as the Mets charged to take over the NL East, Koosman was 6-4 with a 2.03 ERA. During that stretch, he set a then team record of 31.2 consecutive scoreless innings.
Koosman got the ball in a pivotal Game 3. In his complete game victory, he dominated the 99 win Cincinnati Reds allowing two earned on eight hits while striking out nine. He was also 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. In that game, the Reds tried to intimidate and bully the Mets with Pete Rose barrelling over Bud Harrelson at second. Instead, it was Koosman and the Mets sending the message with their 9-2 victory. Once again, Koosman and the Mets shocked the world in winning the pennant.
Even though the Mets won Game 2, he was not his characteristic big game self. We did see that pitcher return in Game 5. Koosman picked up the win after holding the Athletics to no runs on just three hits over 6.1 innings. That sent the series back to Oakland with the Mets up 3-2. Unfortunately, there would be no second ring.
Even with no second ring, Koosman had one last big year left in him in a Mets uniform. In 1976, the last year the Mets would have a winning record before the team got rid of M. Donald Grant, Koosman was 20-10 with a 2.69 ERA. Somehow, this was the first time he received votes for the Cy Young. He finished second in the voting behind the winner Randy Jones.
That was it for the joy in Metsville. While Koosman survived the Midnight Massacre, he would be the last Mets pitcher to lose 20 games. That was proof positive of the axiom you have to be a good pitcher to lose 20 games as Koosman had a 107 ERA+ and led the league in K/9.
While Koosman survived the Midnight Massacre, he was traded after the following season. That was partially the result of a trade demand. In that trade, Koosman would prove to be a bridge to the next Mets World Series as the Mets received Jesse Orosco from the Minnesota Twins as part of the trade.
As noted above, Koosman is going to have his number retired by the Mets. By WAR, he is the third best pitcher in Mets history and the fourth best overall. He has the third most wins, and he is ranked all over the Mets top 10 pitching categories. Overall, he is easily the best Met to wear the number 36.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
27. Jeurys Familia
28. Daniel Murphy
29. Frank Viola
30. Michael Conforto
31. Mike Piazza
32. Jon Matlack
33. Matt Harvey
34. Noah Syndergaard
35. Rick Reed