At one point, Major League Baseball moved itself away from the sport of Cap Anson to the sport of Jackie Robinson. With that breaking of the color barrier, MLB would see some of the greatest and most exciting players join the league to bring the game to an even higher level.
Despite MLB being the league to break the color barrier, the numbers of black players in the majors continue to dwindle. According to Forbes, only 7.7% of MLB players were black, and there were 11 teams without a black player.
MLB is not ignorant of the issue. Rather, the league of Jackie Robinson seems upset by these dwindling numbers, and they’ve sought to institute programs like the RBI program to help get more black players to play the game.
At this point, it seems like MLB is paying lip service to this. One reason why is no matter how much they say they want more black players, the numbers keep dwindling. This just shows what they’re doing isn’t working, and we’re not seeing them pivot to other plans which may work better.
Another reason why is the current state of this country after George Floyd’s death. There have been several actions and statements about it from both people and businesses. That includes the NFL and NBA:
— NFL (@NFL) May 30, 2020
Tonight at 7:00 PM ET on @NBA – #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson (@TurnerSportsEJ) continues as Lloyd Pierce, @SwinCash, David Griffin (@dg_riff), and Alvin Gentry discuss racism, police brutality, and our shared responsibility to drive change. #NBAVoices pic.twitter.com/PejW2HF2XT
— NBA (@NBA) June 1, 2020
Somehow, those statements have not included MLB.
Yes, there are players like Marcus Stroman and Pete Alonso who have offered statements. There have been individual teams who have released statements. But, MLB as an organization, led by Commissioner Rob Manfred, has been silent.
Perhaps, next time MLB publicly wrings their hands on why they can’t get black people interested in baseball, we can all point to this moment. We can say MLB was absent and silent at a pivotal time, and that silence delivers a very real message. It should also make you wonder just how much MLB really cares about black participation rates in the sport.
This past week, the New York Mets released 39 minor league players. They were far from the only team who took that action. Every MLB undertook the same process with the COVID19 shutdown, the ever increasingly likely cancellation of the minor league season, and the contraction of 42 minor league teams.
Make no mistake, every minor leaguer who was released was a talented baseball player. They had enough talent to get a contract to play professional baseball. The issue at the moment was teams like the Mets thought better to get rid of them so they wouldn’t have to pay them $400/week.
When you look at the players who were released, you really have to question whether the Mets would’ve released Jacob deGrom under similar circumstances. Don’t be so sure they wouldn’t have.
Going back a decade, deGrom was a ninth round draft pick out of Stetson University. While much has been made about his being a collegiate SS, truth be told deGrom had converted to a pitcher Junior year. That year, he pitched and played short. It was his pitching which caught the Mets attention.
Just because he caught the Mets attention, it doesn’t mean he was good right away.
As a 22 year old, deGrom was assigned to a Kingsport franchise which is in line to be contracted. Despite being over a full year older than the competition, he did not pitch well.
In the six starts deGrom made, he was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA, 1.577 WHIP, and a 7.6 K/9. Batters hit .324/.360/.472 off of him. At the end of the year, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL.
At that time, there was nothing which could give you any indication he was about to become a pitcher who would have a dominant 2015 postseason in addition to consecutive Cy Youngs.
No, he looked like an older prospect for his level who couldn’t beat younger batters, and worse yet, he had a busted elbow. If you’re looking to not pay players, and you’re looking to cut down the amount of people in your system to prepare for a loss of affiliates, deGrom was going to be in real danger of getting released.
If that happened, deGrom doesn’t get the chance to get healthy, learn a change-up from Johan Santana, and start on a path towards being a potential Hall of Famer. No, in all likelihood, his career would’ve been over.
Now, it’s very possible none of the 39 players released by the Mets could’ve done what deGrom did. Most and maybe all don’t even make it to the majors. However, that’s not the point.
The point is unless you give prospects real time to learn and develop you’re never going to find the next deGrom. The same can be said for Mike Piazza, Jeff McNeil, of Seth Lugo. For that matter, the Mets miss the 2016 postseason without undrafted free agent T.J. Rivera.
In the end, MLB franchises opted to end the dreams of minor leaguers over $400/week. In the process, they’re going to potentially miss out on the next diamond in the rough, or even that key player who gets them to the postseason thereby making the franchise millions of dollars.
(1) Tom Seaver – Seaver is dubbed The Franchise for taking the team from a losing franchise to World Series winners. He holds nearly every pitching record in team history, and he is considered to be, if not the greatest, among the greatest right-handed pitchers in Major League history. He was the first Mets player to have his number retired, and he was the first Mets player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date, he is the starting pitcher with the highest percent of the vote.
(8) Rusty Staub – Staub was a superstar caliber player the Mets acquired who helped the 1973 Ya Gotta Believe! Mets make an incredible run. During that time, he suffered a number of injuries, including a separated shoulder. Despite that, he hit .423 in the series. He was the first ever Mets player to reach 100 RBI, and he held the single season record for well over a decade. He returned to the Mets at the end of his career, and he would effectively be a player/coach for those young Mets teams. He would tie a record with eight consecutive pinch hits and 25 RBI by a pinch hitter. After his career, Staub had extensive charitable work helping first responders.
If you ask people about Bobby Bonilla‘s time with the Mets, there is nothing but negativity associated with his tenure. There is the annual consternation over his deferred payments. His last ever act as a member of the team was playing cards in the clubhouse with Rickey Henderson as Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones. He wore earplugs to drown out the booing, and generally speaking, he was cantankerous.
Truth be told, Bonilla was not well suited to playing in New York either when he was a 29 year old or when he was a 36 year old. However, sometimes we over-focus on negatives like this to overlook the positives.
Bonilla signing with the Mets was supposed to usher in a new era of Mets baseball. A team who never truly forayed into free agency made the highly coveted Bonilla the highest paid player in the game. Bonilla, who grew up a Mets fan, was coming home to play for his favorite team. At least on the first day he wore a Mets uniform, it seemed like this marriage was going to go great.
On Opening Day, Bonilla hit two homers against the hated Cardinals helping the Mets win 4-2. It was exactly what fans expected from him and that team. However, things quickly unraveled for that Mets team who would be dubbed The Worst Team Money Could Buy. From there things went bad, and they went bad quickly.
Bonilla slumped mightly in May while the Mets. Even when he picked it back up in June, a Mets team who was well in contention fell completely apart. With Bonilla having an awful May and his being the highest paid player in the game, he faced the brunt of the criticism. Unlike Carlos Beltran who went from maligned in 2005 to superstar in 2006, Bonilla never quite recovered.
Part of the reason is the Mets were plain bad. To that end, it’s not his fault the Mets plan was ill conceived. Howard Johnson was not an outfielder. Other players like Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph were over 35. Bret Saberhagen and John Franco were injured. Anthony Young was in the middle of his MLB record losing streak. The bigger issue is Bonilla handled it poorly, and then he was terrible at the end of the year hitting just .196 over the final two months of the season.
While stats like this weren’t used regularly in 1992, the 1.2 WAR was the worst he had since his rookie year. The 121 wRC+ was his worst since his second year in the league. Bonilla and that 1992 Mets team was a huge disappointment, and Bonilla’s image never quite recovered.
What gets lost in the criticism is Bonilla did rebound. From 1993 – 1995, he averaged a 3.1 WAR, and he was a 138 OPS+ hitter. He hit .296/.371/.537 while averaging 27 homers and 84 RBI over that stretch. He would make two All-Star teams, and Bonilla proved to be a bit of a team player willingly moving to third base for stretches when Johnson was injured.
Bonilla’s true breakout season with the Mets came in 1995. He was mashing the ball hitting .325/.385/.599 (151 OPS+) when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Really, this is what the Mets envisioned they were going to get with him. It just took a longer period of adjustment for him to get there.
Overall, in the first stint of his Mets career, Bonilla hit .277/.361/.505 with a 130 wRC+ amassing a 9.7 WAR. That was not that bad, and to a certain extent, on the field, you could say he lived up to the contract. No, he did not live up to expectations, but to be fair, he was never surrounded with the talent to help him do that.
When you look at his entire Mets career, he ranks as the fifth best Mets RF by WAR. The four players ahead of him played more games with the Mets. Among players with at least 500 games played, he is the Mets second best hitting right fielder, and he is tied for sixth as the best Mets hitter of all-time.
At least on the field, that is not a player worth as much derision as he receives. No, on the field he was good but not great Mets player. On the field, he did nothing to deserve scorn.
Off the field is a whole other matter. His adversarial nature with the press did nothing to help him. Mets fans are never going to forgive him playing poker while they were crushed by the ending of Game 6. No one is saying you should.
Rather, the suggestion here is Bonilla be remembered for being the good player he actually was. If you want, you can also opt to remember him a little more warmly as his accepting the buyout led to the Mets having the money to obtain Mike Hampton in a trade. That helped the Mets get a pennant, and when Hampton left for Colorado, the Mets used that compensatory pick to draft David Wright.
All told, the Mets were far better off having Bonilla as a part of the Mets organization as you may have realized.
When talking about New York Mets history, Tom Seaver is the best player in team history. After that, it is accepted and largely unchallenged fact David Wright is the best position player in team history. This is far from just sentiment. After all, Wright is second all-time in Mets history with a 49.2 WAR.
Wright’s name is all over the record books too. He is the Mets all-time leader in offensive WAR, at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, walks, singles, sacrifice flies, and WPA. For those categories he is not atop, and there aren’t many, he is in the top five or 10.
Wright’s standing in Mets history and the record books is a function of both how long he played with the Mets and how great a player he was. It should be noted he was not just a compiler. As an example, his 8.3 WAR in 2007 still stands as the best season a Mets player ever had. When digging deeper, he is the only Mets player with three of his seasons to appear in that top 10.
Even with that, you could argue Wright was not the best position player in team history.
When Wright was first called up to the Mets he was chasing Darryl Strawberry. As Wright was winding down his career and trying to set every record in Mets history, he would fall 10 homers behind Strawberry for the team all-time home run record. You could also argue he failed to catch Strawberry as the team’s best position player.
In his Mets career, Strawberry hit .263/.359/.520 with 187 doubles, 30 triples, 252 homers, and 733 RBI. Over those nine years, he amassed a 36.6 WAR which is fifth best in Mets team history and the second best among position players.
What is interesting is he’s not commonly accepted as the second best position player in team history. There have also been credible arguments made for players like Carlos Beltran, Keith Hernandez, and Mike Piazza. When you delve into the numbers, Strawberry stands above the rest and may even be above Wright. To that, here is a side-by-side comparison of their career Mets stats (Mets all-time rank in parenthesis):
|David Wright||Darryl Strawberry|
|49.2 (1)||WAR||36.6 (2)|
|.296 (3)||BA||.263 (22)|
|.376 (4)||OBP||.359 (10)|
|.491 (7)||SLG||.520 (2)|
|.867 (4)||OPS||.878 (3)|
|949 (1)||R||662 (3)|
|1777 (1)||H||1025 (9)|
|390 (1)||2B||187 (9)|
|26 (7)||3B||30 (6)|
|242 (2)||HR||252 (1)|
|970 (1)||RBI||733 (2)|
|762 (1)||BB||580 (2)|
|1292 (1)||K||960 (2)|
|196 (4)||SB||191 (5)|
|133 (4)||OPS+||145 (1)|
|133 (4)||wRC+||143 (2)|
|30.2 (1)||WPA||25.2 (2)|
Looking at this, we again see Wright being the top player overall with most of the team records. However, when you dig into the numbers deeper, especially the advanced ones, an argument for Strawberry begins to emerge.
As we see with OPS+, Strawberry was the best hitter in team history. When you go into wRC+, John Olerud is ahead of him, but when you make the qualifier 2500 PA, Strawberry is again on top. Overall, in terms of Mets history, the top hitter is a three way race between Olerud, Piazza, and Strawberry. Ultimately, Strawberry comes out on top with Wright a step below that group.
However, this wasn’t about who was the best hitter. It was about who was the best player. Keep in mind, Wright has a 13.4 lead over Strawberry on that front. It should also be noted Wright spent an additional six more seasons in a Mets uniform than Strawberry.
When we look at it from a WAR/year perspective, Wright averaged a 3.5 WAR per season. That actually trails Strawberry who had a 4.6 WAR/year average. That’s more than a full win better than Wright.
Of course, with Wright’s career was cut short by spinal stenosis, and on that front some of his final years were far from complete seasons. For example, his 14th year was just three plate appearances. It makes little to no sense to make that as part of the equation here.
Still, when you drop the 14th year, Wright averages a 3.8 WAR, which is still lower than Strawberry. When you eliminate the 2015 and 2016 partial seasons, Wright has a 48.6 WAR over 11 seasons. That’s a 4.4 WAR per season, which is STILL lower than Strawberry.
Even with Wright having three of the top 10 seasons in Mets history, he still averaged a lower WAR than Strawberry. Part of the reason for that it, for of Wright’s first 11 seasons were below a 3.0 WAR, and Strawberry had just two such seasons. Also, Strawberry never had a WAR below 2.7 whereas Wright had three such seasons.
In addition to the average WAR argument, there are some other factors which should be considered. Strawberry was the first Mets position player to win Rookie of the Year. Strawberry was an All-Star in seven of his eight seasons as opposed to Wright who did it in seven of 14 (or 11). Of course, it should be noted All-Star selections are far from perfect.
What may ultimately tip the scales in Strawberry’s favor is the postseason.
In Strawberry’s postseason career with the Mets, he hit .250/.326/.461 with four doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI in 20 postseason games. Those four home runs were very noteworthy as well. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he hit a game tying three run homer off Bob Knepper. In Game 5 of that series, his homer off Nolan Ryan was not only just one of two Mets hits that day, but it also allowed the Mets to send the game into extras. His third postseason homer was a monster shot in Game 7 of the World Series.
In Wright’s postseason career, he was a .198/.311/.319 with five doubles, two homers, and 13 RBI in 24 games. Wright did have his big moments like the game winning hit in Game 1 of the 2015 NLDS and the first ever World Series homer hit in Citi Field. That said, Wright’s postseasons have mostly been disappointing.
When looking at the careers of both players, Strawberry was the best hitter in team history, and he had much bigger moments in the postseason. That is one of the reasons why he has a World Series ring with the Mets. Overall, he had a higher average WAR than Wright or any other Mets position player ever did.
On, Wright had the longer career amassing more records than Strawberry, and he was the better defender winning two Gold Gloves. He also had a much better Mets peak than Strawberry. Also, unlike Strawberry, he carried the burden and honor of being the Captain.
Ultimately, whichever Mets player you consider to be the best in team history is going to depend on a number of factors. It is about whether you prefer a higher peak or more consistent production. It is a matter of how much value you put on compiled stats against advanced stats. It is also a factor of how much you want to incorporate postseason success and leadership.
After taking this all into account, it is still very possible Wright is the best player in team history. However, it is far from a settled matter. Strawberry was better on a year-to-year basis, and he helped the Mets win a World Series. Regardless of which player you choose, it’s a much closer and tougher decision than previously believed.
Larry Brooks of the NY Post reported the NHL is starting to formulate their plans to return to play in 2020. When you look at the plans, it should be the model for what every sports league tries to do this season. That is for leagues like the NBA who are also trying to to restart their games, and for MLB and the NFL who are trying to begin their seasons in 2020.
The NHL plan first looked at locations where they could play, and they ulimately determined remote locations do not work as they lack sufficient infrastructure to host one, let alone, several NHL teams and games. Overall, they are looking for a location(s) which make sense, playing without fans, and setting up a system for testing and other protocols for a safe return to play.
The return to play is where things get interesting.
With the COVID19 shut down, there are many issues which need to be addressed by the NHL and other leagues. Those issues include how many games you can actually play, being fair to teams who still had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and the draft. The plan which was reported on by Brooks does that very well.
That plan is a 24 team playoff.
This is an expansion of the current 16 team playoff format which already exists. The addition of four teams per conference creates fairness to teams like the New York Rangers who had a chance at the playoffs but are now in a murky area due to the shutdown. There is the matter of whether they will still make it based upon how exactly the NHL chooses the 12 teams.
By narrowing down the field, the NHL also has a group of teams to faciliate their draft lottery. It also prevents teams who are completely out of it from having to go through a lengthy camp to get back in shape only to needlessly play out the string. There is little to no reason to take teams out of the picture and have those players risk injury.
The 24 playoff team format does what the NHL does best – the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Arguably, there are no more intense games in all of pro sports. Somewhat akin to March Madness, the NHL attracts more fans than during a lengthy regular season during this time. In setting up the format this way, the NHL is going to attract more fans.
It is also going to make fans of teams who were in the race happy. Fans of teams like the Rangers will potentially get to see their team in the playoffs instead of being cheated out of a chance by the COVID19 shutdown. As a league, it is very important to keep your fans happy and not have anyone feel cheated.
This plan, if it goes forward, is the best possible plan. It is also a model for what other leagues should pursue. For example, MLB needs to look at getting the most games possible without dramatically altering the rules of their sport. That is something which could be accomplished with a Major League Baseball Classic. Such a plan does what the NHL is doing – heightening rivalries and intensity while finding a way to get the most games within any window provided.
In the end, what we see is Gary Bettman improbably becoming the best commissioner in sports and realizing what is best for his sport, players, and fans. He should be commended for that, and hopefully, we will see his model be followed by other sports.
Because of the regular season, we normally overlook what happens on a particular day in the history of any franchise. For example, if it wasn’t for everyone wearing the number 42, it is very likely Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April 15 would be little more than a footnote year-in and year-out.
However, with there no baseball going on, we get to appreciate just how much significant events happen on the same day. For the Mets, on May 7th, there were two fairly significant events which happened.
The first was Matt Harvey‘s near no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. This was back when Harvey was drawing Tom Seaver comparisons, and this game was a perfect example why. He was not just dominant, but he was pitching smart and effective. Really, none of the White Sox batters had a chance against him.
If not for Ruben Tejada, he would have had a perfect game. That’s how great he was on this day. If not for the Mets offense, he would have had a complete game shut out. Instead, he would have to settle for one of the most incredible no decisions you will ever see.
It is easy to forget but in 2013, Harvey is what gave Mets fans hope as they hoped the team would eventually turn the corner to become World Series contenders again. He started the All-Star Game in Citi Field, and he was neck-in-neck with Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young chase until he succumbed to Tommy John. Remember, this was Kershaw at his peak, which was back when Kershaw might’ve been the best pitcher anyone has ever seen. Harvey was that great.
Three years later, May 7 would be the day Bartolo Colon did the seemingly impossible. Someone who was just about the worst hitter you will ever see, and a player who obviously had little to no interest in hitting, would hit a homer. What made it all the more incredulous was it happened in Petco Park, one of the most difficult ballparks to homer:
Colon made Major League history that day by becoming the oldest player to hit his first homer. Arguably, he also made history by becoming the worst ever hitter to homer in a game.
Harvey’s near perfect game and Colon’s homer were significant events which both happened on the same day. Especially given the fact there is no baseball being played, those are two events which should be denoted and remembered. The Mets did do that with Colon:
A day we will never forget. Four years ago, Big Sexy belted his first career home run and it was magical.
— New York Mets (@Mets) May 7, 2020
The Mets did not do the same with Harvey. There was no tweet commemorating one of the best pitching performances in team history. It’s also very likely you will not see it on SNY anytime soon.
This is part of the strange odyssey of Harvey, and it is part of the way over-the-top adoration of Colon during his time with the Mets.
There is no doubt Harvey had his missteps with the Mets. Many did not appreciate Scott Boras trying to protect Harvey’s career the way he once did with Stephen Strasburg, who was last year’s World Series MVP. There was the missed workout on the eve of the 2015 postseason, and then there was that one day he was a flat out no show at the ballpark.
Eventually, Harvey pushed back against a demotion to the bullpen, and he wouldn’t accept a demotion to the minors. This led to his eventual DFA and trade to the Reds.
Lost in all of that was Harvey’s great 2013 season. Also lost was how he returned to form in 2015. In those seasons, Harvey was synonymous with hope. He gave you hope the Mets could turn it around, and then he gave you hope the Mets could win it all. With that 2015 postseason, if not for some serious managerial missteps by Terry Collins, he would have pulled it off.
Keep in mind, in doing that, Harvey had to ignore the advice of his agent and doctors. He would pitch more innings than anyone has post Tommy John surgery. It would not be his fault his career was forever altered by TOS. In the end, he did everything he could do to help the Mets, and he gave us some moments we truly cherised.
As for Colon, well, he was a below average pitcher during his time with the Mets (96 ERA+), and he was just not good in the 2015 postseason.
Still, he had his moments, especially in the field. There are many defensive plays no one will forget like his behind the back flip against the Marlins. Overall, Colon was a good fielding pitcher, and he was frankly robbed of the Gold Glove in 2016. It should also be noted he was very good in 2016, and he was one of the main reasons why that team went on the great run they did to get back to the postseason.
Ultimately, fans are entitled to love who they love for whatever reason. After all, there is a certain irrational element in being a fan of any team or sport. You have to stick by when people give you every reason there is not to stick with them. That goes double, triple, and much much higher for a Wilpon run franchise.
That said, Harvey was great with the Mets, and he gave everything he could give them. As such, it is flat out wrong to see his great moments go completely overlooked by the team. When you boil it down, he should also get more respect and love from the fans, the same fans who once chanted his name and cheered him vociferously during the 2013 and 2015 seasons.
Since the COVID19 shutdown began, Major League Baseball has floated a number of scenarios where teams can return to action. First was the abandoned Arizona plan. Then there was the Grapefruit/Cactus League plan where teams played in their Spring Training sites. Now, we are at the three state plan. Under that plan, we will have a one year radical realignment plan, which is as follows:
|MLB East||MLB Central||MLB West|
There is some excitement over this plan for a myriad of reasons. One reason is there is some level of excitement in seeing local rivalries, which really only exist for one Interleague Series per year, play out over the course of a season. The larger reason for the excitement is there is a plan being formulated where we may actually get baseball.
When you peel back the excitement, this plan, as it pertains to baseball, stinks.
Let’s start with what should be obvious but isn’t in any of the reporting and analysis thus far. Baseball can set-up the leagues however they want to see fit. They can set it up geographically, alphabetically, or completely random. The overriding point is that MLB can establish their alignment in any way they want.
The question is why this three division plan? Well, in Bob Nightengale’s article for USA Today, it is a plan which allows teams to stay at home, restrict travel, and not require players to be in isolation. It is also partially predicated upon “pending approval of medical experts and providing that COVID-19 testing is available to the public.”
If you read this another way, MLB is saying baseball cannot resume until there is widely available testing and players are no longer needed to be in isolation. At this point, the question needs to be asked why exactly does there need to be a radical alignment to accompany this?
Think about it for a second, if a team needs to travel, why does it matter where they travel? Is there any science behind it being safer to go to JFK or Laguardia for a short flight to Florida than there is in a flight to Los Angeles? Is there any science behind it being safer to take an Amtrack ride to Baltimore than it is a flight to Milwaukee?
Also, is there any more harm in the Mets using a hotel in Arizona than there is the Mariners? Keep in mind, if even one player gets COVID19 after baseball returns, it is very likely the sport will have to shut down very similar to what the NBA had to do when Rudy Gobert tested positive. If that is a Mets player testing positive in New York, Miami, or San Francisco, does it really matter?
Really, when you break this down, this isn’t about safety and fitting in as many games as possible. Remember, teams routinely will play a day game on the East Coast and fly out to the West Coast for a game the next evening. This is 2020 and not 1958. On that note, they were able to figure out the travel in 1958.
Ultimately, we can make some arguments here and there that the three division plan may be a little safer, and it might permit them to play more games, when you focus on it, those are not the driving forces for this three division plan. This begs the question – what is?
Like almost everything in life and sports, the answer is money. Traveling locally is far more cheaper than cross country flights.
We see money being a significant issue for Major League teams right now when it comes to returning to play. When speaking with Governor Cuomo, Jeff Wilpon made it a point to say players are going to have to cut their salaries if they play games without fans. Nightengale’s article noted owners will refuse to return to baseball unless players cut their salaries. We also have seen the very disparate refund policies from money teams, including the Mets who buried the refund language in their release and came just short of guaranteeing a refund.
It should also be noted this plan helps Commissioner Rob Manfred in his quest to implement a Universal DH. This should not be a surprise as Manfred is using the pandemic to push his agenda.
Overall, this three division plan is not about getting back to baseball as soon as possible. That’s simply not true, especially when the plan is predicated on testing measures being in place that will not be in place for a while. No, this is about the owners saving money – money from player salaries and money from the cost of travel.
The Mets have won two World Series with Donn Clendenon and Ray Knight being the MVPs of those series. Aside from being Mets, one thing that links them is they both wore the number 22. However, while each have their own special place in Mets history, the best Mets player to ever wear the number was Al Leiter.
After being the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Leiter was shipped out as Wayne Huizenga ordered a firesale of the team. Leiter, who grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey, would get to live out his childhood dream of pitching for the Mets. On that note, before there was Todd Frazier, Leiter was the Mets player from Toms River, NJ.
The Leiter trade was a significant step for the franchise. Not only did it come at a steep cost which included AJ Burnett, but it was an indication the Mets were looking to take the next step forward after a surprising 88 win season in 1997. Leiter went from a star studded rotation in Florida to the Mets ace.
In that 1998 season, he was 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, and an 8.1 K/9. Using the stat ERA+, Leiter’s 1998 season was the best by any Mets pitcher not named Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom, or Tom Seaver. Put another way, it was the best season by any Mets left-handed pitcher, a group which includes Tom Glavine, Jerry Koosman, and Johan Santana.
While Mike Piazza got much of the publicity for that season, and deservedly so, by WAR, Leiter was the second best player on that Mets team. It should be noted he was the pitcher who was on the mound when Piazza first came to the Mets. The two of them became friends, and Leiter was one of the reasons Piazza stayed.
Leiter would not be able to replicate his 1998 success in a Mets uniform, but he would go on to put together a great Mets career. While it may not have been his best season, Leiter would come up big time and again.
After the May firings of Bobby Valentine‘s coaching staff, Leiter won six of his next seven starts to help get the Mets from one game under .500 at the beginning of June to 11 games over just one month later. That helped turn the 1999 season from a forgettable one to one of the most special ones in team history.
When the Mets were staring down a late season collapse for the second straight year, Leiter helped right the ship by beating the Braves to allow the team to tie the Reds atop the Wild Card standings to force a play-in game. Leiter would get the ball, and he would turn in what was arguably the greatest regular season pitching performance in team history:
In a game the Mets absolutely had to have, Leiter put his best performance in a Mets uniform pitching a two hit shut-out on the road against the Reds to send the Mets to the NLDS. One interesting note is that while this is classified as a one-game playoff, it is considered a regular season game.
One of the reasons this is interesting is because despite some truly great performances in the postseason, Leiter never won a postseason game with the Mets. Mostly, it was due to some bad luck like when he lost Game 3 of the NLCS when the greatest infield of all-time allowed an unearned run in the Mets 1-0 loss. To be fair, his teammates picked him up in Game 6.
In 2000, for the first time in his Mets career, he was not the designated ace. That didn’t matter all that much as Leiter had a great season making the All Star team while going 16-8 with a 3.20 ERA. Things would not be as difficult for the Mets this year as they easily made the postseason.
In typical Leiter hard luck fashion, his gem in Game 2 of the NLDS went by the wayside when Armando Benitez blew the save. Still, Leiter’s performance was important as it helped right the ship after an opening game loss, and it helped propel the Mets to the NLCS. In the NLCS, Turk Wendell vultured a win.
In that World Series, Benitez yet again blew the save in Game 1 costing Leiter a win. That series did not go the Mets way, and they were forced to win a Game 5 to send the series back to Yankee Stadium. In that Game 5, Leiter gave everything he had to try to will the Mets to victory. Being a terrible hitter, he would even try to bunt his way on to drive home a run. Sadly, he was out of gas after 142 pitches, and his defense just couldn’t get to that one ground ball.
The Mets never reached those heights again during Leiter’s tenure. However, he had one more big moment left in the tank.
Many forget this now, but after the 9/11 attacks, it was Leiter, the local kid from Toms River, NJ, who was handed the baseball when the Mets returned to action in Pittsburgh. He received a no decision after limiting the Pirates to one run over seven innings.
One really important note here is Leiter is the last Mets player to ever wear a First Responder’s cap. On the one year anniversary, Leiter cycled through the caps for each of the first responder agencies pitching a complete game shutout against the Braves.
In Leiter’s final few years with the Mets, they never got back to the postseason, but Leiter still remained a very good pitcher for the team. Notably, he never had a losing record for the Mets, and he won 10+ in his seven years with the Mets with a 3.42 ERA. He would also accomplish some truly astonishing feats.
In 2000, he won the Roberto Clemente Award. In 2002, he became the first Major League pitcher to defeat all 30 teams. In one he probably wants to have back, he was the last ever pitcher to lose a game to the Montreal Expos. Overall, he became of the best pitchers in Mets history.
In fact, he could make the claim as the best ever left-handed pitcher. On that note, among Mets pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 innings, only Jacob deGrom and Seaver have a better ERA+. Overall, Leiter is in the Mets top 1o in wins, GS, IP, strikeouts, WAR, and ERA+. He should be in the Mets Hall of Fame, but for now, he is going to have to settle for being the best Mets player to ever wear the number 22.
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
In their history, the Mets have had six players win the Rookie of the Year Award – Tom Seaver (1967), Jon Matlack (1972), Darryl Strawberry (1983), Dwight Gooden, (1984), Jacob deGrom (2014), and Pete Alonso (2019). Out of those six, two stand above the rest as they were record breaking seasons:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 21, 2020
When the Mets posted a poll on Twitter, fans were split as to who had the better rookie season. They shouldn’t have been.
With respect to Alonso, there is no denying how great a year he had. During the year, Alonso would break Aaron Judge‘s rookie home run record, and like Judge, he would win the Home Run Derby. He would also be an All-Star. Alonso proved to be a great power hitter setting a number of Mets single season records.
In 2019, Alonso set not just the Mets rookie records, but also the team single season records for homers, total bases, extra base hits, and HR/AB. He was also in the top 10 in a number of other categories including SLG and RBI. What is interesting, and noteworthy for reasons detailed below, Alonso was not in the Mets single-season top 25 in WAR or the top 15 in OPS+.
Gooden had every bit the record breaking season Alonso had. In fact, Gooden not just broke, but he obliterated Herb Score‘s rookie strikeout record. Ultimately, Gooden would strike out 276 batters that year, a mark which would lead the majors. His K/9 would not just lead the majors, but it would also be the Mets single-season record.
In that season, Gooden would also lead the league in FIP, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, and WAR. If we are being completely honest, he was absolutely robbed of the Cy Young Award which went to Rick Sutcliffe because writers were obviously most interested in narrative and story than facts.
Like Alonso, Gooden’s season wasn’t just a great rookie year, it was also a great single season year in Mets history. In fact, Gooden’s 1984 season would be the Mets single season records for K/9 and FIP. His strikeouts were the most by any Mets pitcher not named Seaver. Remember, this is a franchise with Seaver, deGrom, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana, and other greats.
With all due respect to players like Carlos Beltran, Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, and David Wright, they just don’t have the same cache as those pitchers. In terms of the pitching, the Mets have had some of the best pitchers of all-time playing at their peak. Please keep in mind, that is in no way meant to disparage those hitters. After all, Piazza and Beltran played like Hall of Famers while with the Mets. It’s just that Seaver and Martinez are on a completely different plateau.
When you are a Mets pitcher who breaks a team record, it is truly noteworthy. It really is of historical significance as you have done something not even Seaver did. Remember, not only is Seaver the greatest player who ever wore a Mets uniform, but he is also arguably the greatest right-handed pitcher in baseball history. In his rookie year, Gooden surpassed Seaver in K/9 and FIP.
Going back to the FIP, Gooden’s season was the 14th best of all-time. In fact, only Martinez had a better FIP in the post World War II era. Looking back, Gooden’s 1984 season is completely overshadowed for how great it was. Part of the reason for that is Gooden had an even better season in 1985.
Going deeper, you can make a good case Gooden’s rookie season was the greatest rookie season a pitcher ever had. While Alonso’s season was great, you can’t make that same claim for him among the ranks of position players.
If the historical significance of both seasons is not enough to convince you, consider their respective WAR. In 1984, Gooden had a 5.5 bWAR and 8.3 fWAR surpasses Alonso’s 5.2 bWAR and 4.8 fWAR.
Overall, while there is no denying Alonso had a great rookie year, the best a Mets position player ever had, it just pales in comparison to Gooden’s 1984 rookie season. Simply put, Gooden probably had the greatest rookie season a pitcher ever had, and he had the best rookie season of any Mets player.