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.
Throughout their history, the Mets have have had some bold uniform designs which have elicited strong reactions. For the most part, the bold designs are met with near universal disdain or mockery.
The underscore jerseys were tainted not just because of the poor sense of fashion, but also because it was the jersey of Anthony Young‘s losing streak. There was the ill conceived white cap dubbed the “Ice Cream Man” cap. Certainly, these stand out as the most despised, but they’re not the most controversial.
No, that honor belongs to the black jerseys.
The black jerseys were a shock to the system and a complete departure from Mets tradition. Beloved announcer Howie Rose repeatedly voiced his displeasure for them. Noted Mets fan and uniform guru Paul Lukas of Uniwatch launched a campaign against them. Eventually, they and the many detractors won the day when the black uniforms were disposed of after the 2011 season.
However, for all those who despised them, there were a legion of Mets fans who loved them. As previously noted, one of the main reasons why is those jerseys are so closely tied to beloved Met Mike Piazza and a whole era of Mets baseball.
Piazza wore the black jersey when he capped off the 10 run inning against the Braves with a home run. Robin Ventura was wearing the black jersey when he hit the Grand Slam single. Mike Hampton was wearing the black jersey when he pitched a complete game shutout to win the fourth pennant in Mets history. Overall, they were plenty of great moments in those jerseys.
Going back, you have to question why those jerseys elicited such a visceral reaction. The answer is multilayered, and it’s more than just the traditionalist point of view.
One aspect was it got to be too big, and the Mets were a bit of a laughingstock. It wasn’t just the black jerseys. There was also the snow white jerseys along with the pinstripes. There was also a gray and black road jersey. In addition to five different types of jerseys, the team had three different caps.
Personally, the caps were an issue as the black caps were not aesthetically pleasing. The blue bill on the black hat with the two toned interlocking NY was too busy. That was at least better than the three toned interlocking NY on the all black cap. It should be noted those caps were worn predominantly even with fans arguably preferring the traditional blue and orange caps, which did match all five of the jerseys well enough.
More than the caps, the jerseys were probably just overdone. The traditional blue pinstripes were all but forgotten, and they were awkward looking with the completely unnecessary drop shadow.
Really, when you ruin the pinstripes and push them by the wayside, you give traditionalists more ammunition. Between them not giving up the cause, and with the Mets collapses and the team falling apart when they moved to Citi Field, it was time for a change.
The change has been good with the blue jerseys looking sharp. Mostly, it’s been great to see the Mets wear the pinstripes with the traditional caps again.
Still, with Piazza going to the Hall of Fame and the 20th anniversary of the 1999 team, you do wonder if there’s room for the return of the black jerseys. Under the right circumstances, there should be.
As we delve more into the numbers and become more knowledgeable about the stats which truly indicate what makes a pitcher good or bad, we have begun to dismiss win-loss record. It has gotten to the point where many want to disregard it all together. Reflecting back on the life of Anthony Young, it is hard to say that wins and losses don’t matter anymore.
Starting on May 6, 1992, Young would begin his MLB record setting 27 game losing streak. He lost games in all ways possible. He was the hard luck loser losing games when he had a good start. He lost games getting his doors knocked off. He came out of the bullpen, and he lost a game on a big hit. He would leave with runners on base and another pitcher would let them score. In the stretch, Young was 0-14 as a starter, and 0-13 as a reliever.
Something odd happened during this time. Initially, Young was booed and booed mercilessly. On an under-performing 90 loss Mets team who once had designs on winning the World Series, Young had become symbolic of all that was wrong with the Mets – talented people who were just not performing. Eventually, those boos came to cheers; cheers that were almost willing Young to a victory.
Young was admirable in the stretch. You didn’t see the quote in the paper ripping the team. There was no Jon Niese moment of blaming his catcher, his defense, or anyone else. He took it like a man, and he kept going out there doing his job.
He also got to lose all of those games because he was a talented pitcher. Too often, that gets lost in everything. Young was talented. It is why when John Franco went down to injury, Jeff Torborg instilled Young as the team’s closer. It was at that time, we learned a save does not in fact interrupt a losing streak. For those that forget, Young was able to record 15 saves during that 1992 season. One thing he wasn’t able to do was vulture a win.
No, that elusive win would not come until July 28, 1993. On that day, his team would finally pick him up. After giving up the lead in the top of the ninth, the Mets would rally against the Florida Marlins. The rally would begin with Jeff McNeil. There is an odd symmetry there as McNeil was another player from those teams who died too young. A few years ago, McNeil would die of leukemia at the age of 52.
After an Eddie Murray RBI double, Young would finally get his win, and the Shea faithful couldn’t have been happier for him:
Without that losing streak? Young is just a footnote in major league history. With that losing streak, Young mattered. He will forever be remembered, and it turns out he was a person worth remembering.
He left behind a family and former teammates that were devastated by his passing away. He leaves behind a fan base who can now actually reminisce about those terrible 1992-1993 Mets.
As we know, Young fought and fought bravely. Recently, there had been reports his inoperable brain tumor had taken a turn for the better. There were reports the tumor was shrinking. At that point, there was hope Young could beat a cancer more daunting than a 27 game losing streak. Unfortunately, Young wasn’t getting better. It was just a short lived victory.
At the age of 51, Anthony Young has passed. With him passing, people have lost a family member and a friend. Fans lost a player they once cheered. Everyone lost a person who handled one of the toughest situations a professional can face with grace and humility. When someone like Young passes, we all lose.
Looking back at the life of Anthony Young, it is hard to tell anyone that losses no longer matter in baseball. In fact, losses matter more now than they ever have.
While my father first introduced me to baseball with those 1980s team with Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter, I have relatively few memories of those teams due to my young age. No, as luck would have it, my real fandom began just after those players departed the Mets. That left me with an era of Bobby Bonilla being the best player on a team that went from World Series champions to refusing to rebuild.
As a result, I have an attachment to a group of moments and Mets players that were part of a largely forgettable era in Mets history. I can spin tales of watching Mackey Sasser diving against the wall in right field. I can tell you about Pete Schourek‘s dazzling one hitter against the Montreal Expos. To me, Rico Brogna was a perennial All Star, and Todd Hundley was going to be one if they Mets would just stop playing Kelly Stinnett and Charlie O’Brien and his hockey mask over him.
Another important figure at that time was Anthony Young.
Here is what is lost in AY’s history. He was a pretty good pitcher. In fact, back in 1991, AY was regarded by Baseball America as the Mets top prospect. When AY made it to the the majors, he showed he was a major league caliber pitcher. He was never expected to be an ace, and there was some question whether he belonged in the rotation or in the bullpen, but overall, he belonged.
Taking a cursory look at his stats, he was largely forgettable. As a Mets pitcher, AY had a 3.82 ERA and a 1.367 WHIP. His ERA+ was 98 suggesting he was only slightly below average. However, we know that wasn’t the full story. It never is. Missing here is the fact that AY lost a record 27 decisions in a row.
The losing streak started with AY struggling. In three early May starts, he allowed five, four, and five earned runs. He escaped his next start without a loss despite allowing four runs over 5.1 innings. Fans started to get frustrated with him and boo. AY would be shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen.
The losing streak became a “thing” in June when he made four starts and one relief appearance taking a loss in all of the games. Now, he was at eight straight losses. When John Franco went down with an elbow injury, AY became the closer. When he saved a game against the Cubs in an extra-inning game, we all learned that recording a save did not interrupt a consecutive loss streak.
While in the bullpen, he blew five saves, and he would accumulate six more losses putting the streak at 14. Things didn’t improve to start the 1993 season. First in the bullpen and then the rotation, he lost game after game after game. There were rumors of players griping. At times, fans were frustrated as AY had become emblematic of the Mets of this era. While the talent was there, the team just wasn’t winning. It was getting hard to watch, and you wondered why the Mets kept throwing the same people out there expecting different results.
Somewhere during this stretch, AY moved from scapegoat to folk hero. Fans began to cheer for him almost willing him to break this streak. To a certain extent, AY deserved those cheers because he was not one to publicly complain about either his run support or the defense. He was not complaining about being shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen. He went out there and did his job.
Finally,on July 28th, an Eddie Murray walk-off double snapped AY’s 27 game losing streak putting his 1993 record at 1-13. Both AY and Shea Stadium was jubilant. The win put an end to an infamous streak that made a relatively pedestrian pitcher newsworthy.
Well, AY is back in the news again, and once again, it is for something beyond his control. AY was recently diagnosed an inoperable brain tumor that doctors, and in reality everybody, hopes is benign. At 51 years of age, AY, a man most known for his losing, cannot afford to take another loss. He’s too young. He’s a husband, father, grandfather, and a coach. At this moment, now more than ever, he needs a save or a win. At this stage, he’ll probably take whatever he can get.
At this point, Mets fans can only offer thoughts and prayers, to cheer him on like we all did when he was losing game after game. Now more than ever, AY needs you. I know I will be cheering for him just like I did him all those years ago.
He could break Anthony Young‘s consecutive games lost streak. He could lose more games than Roger Craig and Jack Fisher. He could allow more earned runs than Craig. He can walk more batters than Nolan Ryan. He can become a bad pitcher overnight and seem like he doesn’t care like Oliver Perez. None of this matters.
Jacob deGrom is off limits in 2016.
It’s tough enough to be a new father. It’s tougher to be on the road all of the time. It’s impossible when your child is sick. Even though he may never need it, deGrom gets each and every benefit of the doubt. He’s Teflon this year. No groaning. No booing. Nothing but cheers and appreciation.
Jacob deGrom has already earned this right for being a terrific Met. Fans should never doubt he’s giving it their all even if his personal life may be preventing him from doing so. Mets fans are only permitted to cheer for deGrom this year.
This cheers can start now with his son hopefully being discharged today.