The Mets Fan
How You Became a Mets Fan
My entire family consists of Mets fans, so I was always surrounded by the team in some capacity. I remember going to games at Shea and cheering on my first favorite Met, Billy Wagner.
Favorite Mets Player
Brandon Nimmo. I think his attitude and approach toward the game is one that all players should emulate.
Favorite Moment in Mets History
Wilmer Flores’ walkoff home run against the Nationals in 2015. The whole season was something out of a fairytale; I wish I could take that magic and bottle it somehow.
Message to Mets Fans
When the going gets tough, try to put things in perspective. While the Mets have caused me a tremendous amount of sadness over the years, they have introduced me to some of my closest friends and even brought me some wonderful opportunities. I’m very grateful to be a part of this community of fans.
With the Mets 2018 season beginning today, we are all hopeful that this will be the first Mets team since 1986 to win a World Series. If history is any judge, fans will depart Citi Field with that feeling as the New York Mets do have the best winning percentage on Opening Day. Whether the good feelings and warm memories continue from there is anyone’s guess.
As you look to turn on the television or head to the ballpark, we thought we would share some of our Opening Day memories with you in the latest edition of the Mets Blogger Roundtable.
Roger Cormier (Good Fundies & Fangraphs)
Two words: Collin Cowgill (That’s not my actual answer)
I think I’m going to cheat here. The first game that came to mind for favorite Opening Day memory was the Mets’ home opener in 2000. It was their first game played in North America, if that helps? The Mets split a two-game set in Japan the week before and then faced off against the Padres at Shea, and I was there. It was my first time attending a home opener, and I had to bend the rules that day too, seeing as I was, technically speaking, scheduled to continue my high school education that afternoon. A couple of friends and I cut class, took the 2/3, transferred to the 7, sauntered up to the ticket window, bought four tickets, and enjoyed a 2-1 victory. I brazenly put the schedule magnet giveaway on the refrigerator, and as far as I know was never caught. Please do not tell my mother.
My favorite Opening Day memory was Tom Seaver‘s 1983 Opening Day start. It was tremendous.
The details of Seaver’s homecoming were detailed in this Sports Illustrated piece.
This one has me stumped since I have not been to a Mets opening day since the Shea days. One that stands out is the chilly home opener for Tom Glavine. A 15-2 Mets loss I believe. Good times.
I cut school to go to Opening Day in 1980. My mother wrote a note to the teacher saying “sorry my son was absent. He went to Opening Day. P.S. the Mets won 5-2.” The teacher let me off the hook but only because the Mets won. I cut school in 1983 to see Seaver’s return as a Met. I cut school in 1988 to see Darryl Strawberry hit a HR on Opening Day, then left early to get back to theater rehearsal, and I had to platoon style elbow crawl my way under the director so she wouldn’t know I was gone. Luckily they never got to my scene yet so I was out of trouble. Until we left for the day and the director said “How was the game?” As many times as I cut school for Opening Day, it’s a wonder I can put a sentence together.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend 17 Opening Days/Home Openers (18, counting the first home game after the 1981 strike, which was functionally a second Home Opener), my favorite among them the 2001 Home Opener, when the 2000 NL pennant was raised, we were handed replica championship flags on our way in, Tsuyoshi Shinjo introduced himself to us with a homer, Mike Piazza socked two, the Mets obliterated the Braves and, not incidentally, the weather was perfect.
But with all due respect to the thrill of being on hand to, as Howie Rose says, welcome the National League season to New York, my core Opening Day memory is from 1975, when I convinced a friend to skip Hebrew School and watch the rest of the first game of that season.
The game began while we were still in shall we say regular school (sixth grade). Our teacher put the Mets and Phillies on the classroom TV. One wise guy tried to switch to the Yankees. Out of pique, the teacher switched it off.
Fast forward a bit, and my aforementioned friend and I went to my house to catch a little more of the game before we had to get to Hebrew School. This was Seaver versus Steve Carlton, and it was such an occasion that I said to him, “I’m not going to Hebrew School today.” He was convinced to not go, either.
We watched to the end and were rewarded for our truancy. Seaver pitched a complete game. Dave Kingman homered in his first game as a Met, and Joe Torre (also a new Met) drove in the winning run in the ninth, or what we would today call walkoff fashion. The whole winter was about reconstructing a dismal 1974 squad and hoping Seaver would be healthy. For one day, everything clicked as we dreamed.
With Trevor Hoffman being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he now becomes just the sixth reliever ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers were relievers of a far different mold, and Dennis Eckersley had a career as a starting pitcher before becoming a one inning closer, Hoffman becomes a unique Hall of Famer in that he is now the first ever pure closer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
With him being inducted, the question needs to be asked why it was him and not one of the other closers who proceeded him.
The first answer that will probably be injected as a reason is the fact Hoffman accumulated 601 saves. At the time of his retirement in 2010, it was the record for most saves by a relief pitcher. In reality, he had the record beginning in 2006. The question that naturally follows from this is why is this now relevant?
It would seem odd to put 600 saves into a category with 3,000 hits, 500 homers, or 300 wins as those marks evolved over time. The modern one inning reliever is something that arguably has only been around since the 1980s with Tony La Russa‘s use of Eckersley leading the charge. Yes, at the time of his retirement, he had the most all-time, and he was 123 ahead of the highest retired closer.
That closer was Lee Smith. What is interesting about Smith was he battled Jeff Reardon late in Reardon’s career for the most saves of all-time. The year after Reardon retired, Smith passed him and the lapped the field. At the time Smith retired in 1997, he had the all-time record with 478 saves, and he would hold the record for most saves in baseball history for 10 years. Like Reardon, Hoffman would lose the title the year after he retired.
Speaking of Lee Smith, he is an interesting parallel for Hoffman, especially with both pitchers pitching 18 years and making seven All Star teams.
In Smith’s career, he was 71-92 with a 3.03 ERA, 478 saves, 1,251 strikeouts, 1.256 WHIP, and an 8.7 K/9. He led the league in saves four times, led the league in games finished three times, and won three Rolaids Relief Awards. From an advanced metrics standpoint, he had a 132 ERA+, 29.6 WAR, 21.1 WAR7, and a 25.4 JAWS.
In Hoffman’s career, he was 61-75 with a 2.87 ERA, 601 saves, 1,133 strikeouts, 1.058 WHIP, and a 9.4 K/9. He led the league twice in saves, never led the league in games finished, and won two Rolaids Relief Awards. From an advanced metrics standpoint, he had a 141 ERA+, 28.4 WAR, 19.6 WAR7, and a 24.0 JAWS.
In some areas, Smith is better, including WAR, WAR7, JAWS, strikeouts, and relief awards. In others like ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and K/9, Hoffman is better. Generally speaking, Hoffman and Smith are about equally as valuable as one another. We only get to a true separator between the two relievers when we discuss saves.
Hoffman blows Smith out of the water there, but that’s not too dissimilar how Smith blew other contemporaries out of the water during his playing days. He was 1-2 with Reardon much like Hoffman was with Mariano Rivera.
It would seem from a pure value standpoint, if Hoffman is inducted, then so should Smith. However, we really know the end game was the amount of saves.
That’s why we won’t see Billy Wagner follow suit despite his having a much better ERA+ (187), more strikeouts (1,196), a higher K/9 (11.9), WAR7 (19.9), and having made the same JAWS and making the same number of All Star teams.
It’s also why we didn’t see John Franco get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sure, we can mock Franco all you like, but he has had the record for most saves by a left-handed pitcher since 1994, which is a record that has lasted for 23 years and does not appear of being eclipsed any time soon.
It should also be noted Franco led the league in saves three times, games finished two times, made four All Star teams, and won two Rolaids Relief awards. This means Franco led the league in saves and games finished more times than Hoffman, and he won just as many relief awards. His WAR (24.2), WAR7 (15.7), and JAWS (19.9) do trail Hoffman, but then again, we’ve learned this isn’t really about value.
It’s about total saves with the new bench mark apparently being 600 saves. It is good that it’s a high bench mark, but at the end of the day, it seems odd this isn’t about greatness, value, or dominance. Rather, it’s about an arbitrary number decided upon because Hoffman just felt like a Hall of Famer.
If you ask a New York Giants fan about the postseason, they will reminisce about Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. You will hear about the Helmet Catch and Eli hitting Manningham down the sideline for 38 yards. You know what you don’t hear about? Fassell having the Giants ill prepared for Super Bowl XXXV or Trey Junkin.
The reason is simple when you win, you remember it forever. However, when you lose, and you lose and lose, that memory festers and worsens year to year.
For years and even until this day, you will occasionally hear Howie Rose bemoan Yogi Berra‘s decision to go with Tom Seaver on short rest over George Stone in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series. One of the reasons that memory lingers is the Mets where irrelevant from 1974 until 1984.
After 1986, Mets fans were in their glory, and to this day many fans who got to live through 1986 talk about it as fondly today as they probably did when they got to work on October 28, 1986.
Behind them is a group of Mets fans who never really got to live through the 1986 World Series. As a result, they just know Madoff Scandals and hauting postseason failures:
- Davey Johnson botched that series including leaving in Dwight Gooden too long in Game Four. Doc would allow a game tying home run in the top of the ninth to Mike Scioscia.
- It was the last hurrah for Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez who struggled over the final few games of the series, and respectively faced poor and injury plagued 1989 seasons before finding new homes in 1989.
- First and foremost, the one thing that should stick out was how those Braves teams just tortured the Mets, and the Mets could never get past them.
- Both John Franco and Armando Benitez blew leads in Game 6 preventing the Mets from sending the series to a seventh game and letting the Mets be the team to do what the Red Sox did to the Yankees five years later.
- Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the series.
2000 World Series
- Timo Perez should have run out that fly ball off the bat of Todd Zeile
- Roger Clemens should have been ejected for throwing a bat at Mike Piazza
- Piazza’s ball goes out if it was just a few degrees warmer
- Guillermo Mota shook off Paul Lo Duca
- Billy Wagner cannot give up a home run to So Taguchi
- Yadier Molina
- Cliff Floyd just missed his pitch, the Jose Reyes liner didn’t fall, and Carlos Beltran struck out looking on an Adam Wainwright curveball
- The subsequent two seasons followed with epic collapses with Tom Glavine not being devastated and an inept Jerry Manuel going to Scott Schoeneweis who gave up the homer that closed Shea for good.
2015 World Series
- Terry Collins making terrible decision after terrible decision.
- Yoenis Cespedes a no-show from the very first defensive play of the World Series.
- Jeurys Familia blowing three saves even if they weren’t all his fault.
- Daniel Murphy overrunning a ball.
- Lucas Duda‘s throw home.
- Matt Harvey for too long in Game 5.
2016 Wild Card Game
- Connor Gillaspie
The list for the aforementioned series really goes on and on, but those were just some of the highlights. After tonight’s game, that is what Astros and Dodgers fans will be doing. They’ll be asking if Dave Roberts was too aggressive with his pitching changes while A.J. Hinch was not aggressive enough. Why didn’t Chris Taylor try to score, or why could Josh Reddick just put the ball in play. Really, the list goes on and on.
For one fan base, they will focus on the things that went wrong. Considering the Dodgers haven’t won in 29 years and the Astros have never won, the pain of this loss is going to hurt all the more. For the fanbase that gets to win this one, they will have memories to cherish for a lifetime, and they will never again be bothered by the what ifs that could have plagued their team in this epic World Series.
Anytime you enter into a search for a new manager, you are really dealing with the realm of the unknown. For first time managers, you really have no idea if that person is truly ready for the big leagues, he is better suited to the minors, or is a better coach. For every Davey Johnson you hire, there are also the Joe Torres of the world, who were talented managers, but not ready to manage at the time you gave him the job.
Really, in these instances, you have to look at the relevant information available and the recommendations of other baseball people. Mostly, you’re going with your gut.
The Mets gut told them to go out there and hire Mickey Callaway.
The Mets only needed one interview to choose Callaway over former manager and Mets coach Manny Acta. It was sufficient enough for them to bypass current hitting coach Kevin Long.
Callaway had impressed so much during his interview and during his time with the Cleveland Indians, the Mets were not willing to wait. They had Fred Wilpon sit down and sell him on the franchise similar to how the team once did with Billy Wagner and Curtis Granderson.
Give the Mets credit here. They identified their man, and they did all they could do to bring him into the organization. Deservedly so, many complimented the Mets on making a smart hire, including the fans who were skeptical of the direction the Mets would go.
Their man also happened to be a pitching guru, who will now be tasked with the responsibility of fixing Matt Harvey as well as finding a way to keep Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and Jeurys Familia healthy for a full season.
If Mets fans want a reason to be excited for this season, there is no bigger reason than Callaway choosing to manage this pitching staff. By doing so, he’s announced he’s a believer, and he’s put his and the Mets future on this lines.
The team hiring Callaway so early and so aggressively had a domino effect. It looks like the first domino to fall will be hitting coach Kevin Long.
Long has had a positive impact on the players on this Mets roster. He helped turn Yoenis Cespedes from a slugger to a star. By OPS+ and wRC+, Asdrubal Cabrera had two of his best five offensive seasons. Michael Conforto would prove he could hit left-handed pitching at the Major League level.
With Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith being two cornerstones of the franchise, Long was exactly the man you wanted to help them reach their offensive ceilings. Now, that won’t happen because Long is likely gone.
Another person you would want to help lead young players like Rosario and Smith is Joe Girardi. In his one year with the Marlins, and this past season working with young players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the Yankees made a surprising run this season that ended with a Game 7 loss in the ALCS.
What is interesting is the Mets were rumored to want Girardi. As reported by the New York Post, the Mets were looking to possibly “pounce” on Girardi if the Yankees did not bring him back.
That was written during the ALDS when it appeared Girardi’s job was in jeopardy. After the Yankees recovered and upset the Indians and took the Astros to seven games, there weren’t too many people who stuck believed Girardi would be looking for another job.
And yet, he is. This should at least raise some questions whether the Mets should have done their due diligence. Maybe another round of interviews were in order. Conducting that extra round could have left the Mets open to the chance of not making an hire before Girardi became available.
Maybe if there was a second round of interviews, Long feels more appreciated instead of taking his binders to another job. That other job could be as the manager or hitting coach of the Washington Nationals where he would reunite with Daniel Murphy. Maybe with Long at the helm, the Nationals finally get past the NLDS.
If that were to happen, and if Callaway falters, it would be too much for Mets fans to bear. Yet again, the Mets let one of their own go to the Nationals leading them to further success because they were enamored with someone from another organization. Like with Murphy and Justin Turner, Sandy Alderson will have opened himself up to justifiable second guessing.
The team jumped the gun costing themselves a chance to hire a terrific manager in Girardi, and it might have cost them the opportunity to retain a coach they thought highly enough of they almost made him their manager. The Mets were left with a manager who has never managed professionally, and they have to rebuild a coaching staff.
Instead of making the safe choice like they did when they hired Terry Collins, the Mets instead chose to go for the high risk – high reward hire. It worked with Davey, and it failed with Torre.
This is exactly why the Mets need to be right about their decision to hire Callaway.
During the June 24th game between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Hudson Valley Renegades, I was on the field as my father and son threw out the first pitch. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet Cyclones left-handed pitcher Kurt Horne.
The British Columbia native was the Mets 2014 31st round draft pick. The tall left-hander eschewed an opportunity to pitch in college. Instead, at the age of 17, Horne decided to not only sign with the Mets, but to move to the complete opposite end of the continent to fulfill his dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. Horne agreed to do an interview with me to discuss his path to the Mets organization and his development in the minor leagues.
The natural question to start for someone from Canada is why baseball and not hockey?
Ha ha! Of course, I grew up in a baseball family, I followed after my brother, doing everything he did.I also used to play in the backyard with my grandpa hitting Wiffle balls everyday after school when I was younger, so baseballs in my blood.
So at 6’5″ you were the little brother?
Well, my brother is 6 years older then me, so it took a while to catch up.
I take it your brother was a good baseball player in his own right.
In year two of Hall of Fame voting, I was more forgiving, and I found room to vote for players like Fred McGriff and Vladimir Guerrero when I would not have voted for them last year. Even with my finding more reasons to vote for different players, there were still some players who just fell short. Here is a quick synopsis on each:
Jorge Posada, C
Stats: 17 seasons, .273/.374/.474, 1,664 H, 379 2B, 10 3B, 275 HR, 1,065 RBI, 20 SB
Advanced: 42.7 WAR, 32.7 WAR7, 37.7 JAWS
Awards: 5X Silver Slugger, 5X All Star
When you are an important member of the Yankees famed Core Four that won five World Series, you are going to get a long look for the Hall of Fame even if you won only four rings with the group.
While Posada had a good career, it is hard to make a Hall of Fame case for him. With the average catcher having a 52.7 WAR, 34.2 WAR7, and a 43.4 JAWS, Posada doesn’t quite measure up. Posada was a good hitter, but was rarely a great hitter averaging just 19 homers and 74 RBI in the 14 seasons he was a regular player. Behind the plate, he was slightly below average throwing out base runners, but his pitching staff did seem to tout his ability to catch a game.
While he does get some extra credit for all the World Series titles, Posada was rarely great in the postseason. In 29 series, Posada only had two series you would consider great. While he doesn’t get penalized for largely uninspired postseason play, he also doesn’t get extra credit for it.
Ultimately, Posada was a good to very good player for most of his career. Unfortunately, he didn’t compile big counting stats, nor was he an advanced statistic darling. With that, he falls just short.
Stats: 15 seasons, .256/.341/.435, 1,307 H, 306 2B, 14 3B, 193 HR, 757 RBI, 25 SB
Advanced: 24.3 WAR, 18.7 WAR7, 21.5 JAWS
Awards: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, 3X All Star
When you get down to it, the best case for Varitek was he was a member of that 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino. Another factor was he was widely regarded as a leader on that team. However, it is really difficult to make a case for a player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame based upon intangibles when he falls so short with the traditional and advanced statistics.
Billy Wagner, RP
Stats: 16 seasons, 47-40, 2.31 ERA, 422 SV, 0.998 WHIP, 11.9 K/9
Advanced: 28.1 WAR, 19.9 WAR7, 24.0 JAWS
Awards: 7X All Star
While there are relief pitchers and closers in the Hall of Fame, we have yet to see the person who spent their career as a modern closer enter the Hall of Fame. For the most part, the closers in the Hall of Fame were multiple inning fireman (Rich Gossage) or pitchers who split time between starting and relieving (Dennis Eckersley).
Looking up and down the list of the closers that have been inducted, it is hard to make a case that any of them were as dominant as Wagner was. He was a guy that came into the game with a high 90s fastball and struck out the side. It’s why his ERA+ is higher than any reliever in or eligible for the Hall of Fame. He amassed 422 saves which is sixth all-time and second among left-handed relievers. No matter how you analyze it, Wagner was a truly dominant and great closer.
But he’s still short of being a Hall of Famer. The average closer in the Hall of Fame right now has a 40.6 WAR, 28.2 WAR7, and a 34.4 JAWS. Wagner falls short of those numbers. Keep in mind once Mariano Rivera is inducted into the Hall of Fame, those numbers are going to go higher. Wagner is a classic case where you could overlook the numbers if there was some postseason dominance. Unfortunately, Wagner was not a good postseason pitcher with him pitching to a 10.03 ERA and a 1.971 WHIP in 14 postseason games.
If you were building a Hall of Fame for closers and other specialists, Wagner is on the first ballot. However, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is unfortunately just short.
Trevor Hoffman, RP
Stats: 18 seasons, 61-75, 2.87 ERA, 601 SV, 1.058 WHIP, 9.4 K/9
Advanced: 28.4 WAR, 19.6 WAR7, 24.0 JAWS
Awards: 7X All Star
Basically, Wagner and Hoffman have the same Hall of Fame resume. However, there are two stark differences. In his career, Hoffman saved over 600 games, and at one point was the all-time saves leader. Despite the save totals, Hoffman was nowhere near as good a pitcher as Wagner was. Certainly, if Wagner is not a Hall of Famer, Hoffman isn’t either.
This postseason Terry Francona relied heavily on this three best relievers throughout the postseason. One reason why he did it was Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen were all terrific relievers. Another reason why is the Indians starting rotation was decimated by injuries. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out of the rotation due to injury before the postseason, and Trevor Bauer lacerated his hand while fixing a drone. Francona was forced to do what he did in the postseason. It was not unlike Willie Randolph in 2006.
Like Francona, the Mets were running away with the division when disaster struck. Their ace, Pedro Martinez, was ruled out for the postseason due to an injured leg, and then all hope of his return for the postseason was abandoned when it was discovered he had a torn rotator cuff. While Steve Trachsel was purportedly healthy a year removed from a cervical discectomy, he wasn’t the same pitcher anymore finishing the year with a 4.97 ERA. On the eve of the NLDS, Orlando Hernandez (“El Duque”) suffered a torn calf muscle thereby putting John Maine in position to start Game 1.
The surprise starter Maine gave the Mets 4.1 strong innings. Still, with runners on first and second with one out, Randolph wasn’t taking any chances in a 2-1 game. He first went to Pedro Feliciano to get Kenny Lofton, and then he went to Chad Bradford to get Nomar Garciaparra. The bullpen pitched the final 4.2 innings to secure the victory. This would essentially be how Randolph would manage the rest of the 2006 postseason in non-Tom Glavine starts. Overall, here’s a look at when the Mets bullpen entered each game that postseason:
|NLDS Game 1||John Maine||4.1||Chad Bradford|
|NLDS Game 2||Tom Glavine||6.0||Pedro Feliciano|
|NLDS Game 3||Steve Trachsel||3.1||Darren Oliver|
|NLCS Game 1||Tom Glavine||7.0||Guillermo Mota|
|NLCS Game 2||John Maine||4.0||Chad Bradford|
|NLCS Game 3||Steve Trachsel||1.0||Darren Oliver|
|NLCS Game 4||Oliver Perez||5.2||Chad Bradford|
|NLCS Game 5||Tom Glavine||4.0||Chad Bradford|
|NLCS Game 6||John Maine||5.1||Chad Bradford|
|NLCS Game 7||Oliver Perez||6.0||Chad Bradford|
Overall, the Mets starters pitched 47.2 innings that entire postseason meaning they averaged 4.2 innings per start. This year, the Indians starters pitched the very same 4.2 innings per star those 2006 Mets did. Despite Francona and Randolph having the very same approaches to the postseason games, Francona was hailed as a visionary and a genius, whereas many blame Randolph for the Mets failures in the postseason. The difference?
It started in Game 2 of the NLCS. Mota infamously shook off Paul Lo Duca, and Scott Spiezio hit a game tying triple. When Billy Wagner subsequently allowed a So Taguchi lead-off home run, it was a completely different NLCS. Then in Game 7, Aaron Heilman left a change-up up in the zone, and Yadier Molina hit a go-ahead two run home run. If not for those two mistakes, the Mets are in the World Series, and quite possibly, it is Randolph, not Francona that is seen as the visionary.
But the Mets lost because their pitchers did not execute in the two biggest moments of that series. As such, Francona is the genius because to the victor goes the spoils.
For an organization known for its pitching, it should come as no surprise that the Mets have had their fair share of good closers. What may come as a surprise is that Jeurys Familia might just become better than them all.
The Mets first notable closer was Tug McGraw. His contributions extend well past his coining the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe!” Up until the 80’s, in a time when managers began to pitch to the save rule, McGraw was the Mets all-time leader with 86 saves. He is also the only Mets to be a closer to for a team that won a World Series and a Pennant. In 1969, he shared closing duties with Ron Taylor. In 1973, he was not only the man, but in many ways, the vocal leader of the team. The only record McGraw has remaining in the record books is most innings pitched by a Mets reliever with 792.2 innings over his nine year Mets career.
The next Mets closer to appear in multiple postseasons was Jesse Orosco. When discussing Orosco, there are always three things you need to mention: (1) he was part of the return the Mets received when they traded Jerry Koosman to the Twins; (2) Keith Hernandez warned him not to throw a fastball to Kevin Bass (he didn’t); and (3) his glove has still not landed. After his eight year career was over, Orosco was both the Mets all-time leader in saves (107) and the Mets single season saves leader (31 in 1984). To this day, he remains the only Mets closer to save a World series clinching game.
Orosco would eventually be surpassed by John Franco on both the saves list and the Mets all-time saves list. Somewhat ironically, Franco’s entrance song was Johnny B. Goode as his ninth inning appearances were always a high wire act. Still, throughout all of it, Franco has more saves by any left-handed closer in history with 424, and when he retired he was third on the all-time list trailing only Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman. Franco recorded 276 of those saves with the Mets. His 276 saves are the Mets record by a fairly wide margin.
In fact, Franco leads Armando Benitez by 116 saves on the Mets all-time list. Coincidentally, Benitez is the man who replaced Franco as the Mets closer in 1999. With the Mets having made consecutive postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000, Benitez remains the only Mets closer to pitch in consecutive postseasons. While Mets fans loved to hate him, Benitez did show flashes of complete and utter dominance. As of right now, his 43 saves in 2001 still remains the Mets single season record.
However, that record is in jeopardy. Last year, Jeurys Familia, in his first season as the Mets closer, tied Benitez’s single season record. This year, he has tied it again en route to him most likely breaking the tie with Benitez. With Familia having saved 43 games for consecutive seasons, he has already set the mark for most saves by a Mets closer in consecutive seasons. Even with Familia only having been the Mets closer for one plus seasons, he now ranks fifth all-time with 92 saves as a Met. With 16 more saves, he will jump both Orosco and Billy Wagner to put him third all-time.
If the Mets current charge continues, he could join Benitez as the only Mets closer to appear in back-to-back postseasons. If the Mets get into the postseason, anything is possible including seeing Familia join Orosco as the only Mets pitcher to earn a save to close out the World Series.
That’s just the thing with Familia. He’s already a great closer, and he’s already writing his name all over the Mets record books. As long as he is the Mets closer, anything is possible. It’s also possible that we could be watching the best closer in Mets history.
The things we are willing to tell ourselves as fans can sometimes be quite outlandish. Back in 1997, if you polled Mets fans, they would probably tell you they would rather have Todd Hundley than Mike Piazza. Why not?
The two were the same age. Both were All Stars in 1996 and 1997. In those two years, Hundley had hit 71 homers to Piazza’s 76. Hundley had 198 RBI to Piazza’s 229. Hundley’s 53 doubles surpassed Piazza’s 48. In fact, Hundley’s 127 extra base hits were actually two more than Piazza’s 125. On top of that, Hundley was a switch hitter and a much better defensive catcher. He was the homegrown Met that was afan favorite with his very own Todd Squad cheering section at Shea Stadium. Hundley’s career was taking off, and he was seen by Mets fans as a newer version of Gay Carter. When he returned from his elbow surgery in 1998, he was expected to once again be the slugging defensive minded catcher who was going to lead the Mets to the postseaon for this first time in a decade. If you took a poll of Mets fans, they may begrudging admit Piazza was the better player, but overall, they would also state their belief that they would rather have Hundley as he was their guy. It was all a moot point anyway because there was no way the Dodgers would ever get rid of Piazza.
Until they did. There wasn’t a baseball fan alive in 1998 that was utterly shocked when Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins along with future Met Todd Zeile for a package that included future Met Gary Sheffield and former/future Met Bobby Bonilla. Once Piazza was a Marlin, the world over knew the team that sold everything except the copper wiring after winning the 1997 World Series was going to trade the impending free agent Piazza. All of a sudden, the very same Mets fans who loved Hundley, desperately wanted Piazza. Myself included.
It was certainly possible. In that offseason, the Mets had acquired Al Leiter and Dennis Cook. There was a reporte there. Even with those trades, the Mets still had a good farm system headlined by Mookie Wilson‘s stepson, Preston Wilson, who could justifiable headline a Piazza trade. Without Hundley, the team was languishing around .500, and they needed a shot in the arm if they were ever going to earn a postseason berth. You could tell yourself that when Hundley got back he could either play left field in place of the struggling Bernard Gilkey or in right in place of another fan favorite, Butch Huskey. At least, that is what you told yourself.
Amazing, it actually happened. On May 22, 1998, the 24-20 Mets actually pulled off a trade to acquire Piazza. Perhaps just as a amazing, when the Mets activated Hundley from the disabled list on July 22nd, they put him in left field. Very rarely in life does things happen exactly as you imagined it would. This did.
Except it didn’t. While Piazza was originally greeted with a hero’s welcome, he would then become roundly booed by the very same fan base who was desperate to acquire him. Hundley would be a disaster in left field. As uncomfortable as he was in the field, he was equally uncomfortable at the plate hitting .162/.248/.252 with only one home run. He eventually forced Bobby Valentine‘s hand, and he became the backup catcher to Piazza. In retrospect, how could it have ever worked? Piazza was a star in Los Angeles, which is nowhere near the hot bed New York was. Hundley was a catcher out of the womb as he was taught the position by his father Randy Hundley.
But then on a September 16th game in the old Astrodome, it all worked according to plan. In the top of the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-1, Piazza, who had been 0-3 on the night, stepped in the box against Billy Wagner with two on and two out. He would launch a go-ahead three run homer. After Cook blew the save in the ninth, Hundley would be summoned to pinch hit in the top of the 11th. He would hit a game winning home run. It would be the first and only time Piazza and Hundley would homer in the same game. In fact, it was Hundley’s last homer as a Met. At that point, the Mets seemed to have control of the Wild Card, but they would eventually fall apart, thanks in LARGE part to Mel Rojas, and they would just miss out on the postseason.
Going into that offseason, the Mets had to make a choice. Do you stick with your guy Hundley behind the plate, or do you bring back Piazza. To everyone’s delight, the Mets made Piazza the highest paid player in the game giving him a seven year $91 million dollar contract. When the Mets re-signed him, the Mets seemed assured of returning to the postseason.
And they did with the help of both Piazza and Hundley. With Piazza back in the fold, the Mets had to move Hundley. That spurned two shrewd moves by Steve Phillips that helped build a supporting cast around their superstar. Hundley was traded for Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, the same Johnson who was traded by the Marlins to acquire Piazza. Cedeno would spend 1999 being tutored by Rickey Henderson, and he would set the then Mets single season record for stolen bases while manning right field. Phillips would then flip Johnson for Armando Benitez, who would become a dominant closer out of the bullpen.
Piazza was dominant that year. He hit .301/.361/.575 with 40 homers, a Mets right-handed batter single season record, and 124 RBI, which is the Mets single season record. He led the Mets throught the play-in game and into the NLCS. His seventh inning opposite field home run off John Smoltz in Game Six of the NLCS tied the game at 7-7. In a game they once trailed 5-0 and 7-3 and a series they had trailed three games to none, it seemed like the Mets were on the verge of pulling off the impossible. With a Kenny Rogers walk, they didn’t. The Mets came so close to making the World Series, but they fell short. Even with as much as Piazza gave them, they would need more in order to make it to their first World Series since 1986 and to play in consecutive postseasons in team history.
Amazingly, Piazza had another gear. He would hit .324/.398/.614 with 38 homers and 113 RBI. It remains the highest slugging percentage in team history. The 78 homers and 237 RBI over two years stands as the team records over a two year stretch. He would tie the Mets single season record with three grand slams. In 2000, the Mets would go to the World Series, and they would fall agonizingly close as his shot to center field fell just short of tying the game.
It was a start to an amazing Mets career and part of a Hall of Fame career. Before Piazza left the Mets after the 2005 season, he would hold many records. He would have the most home runs by any right-handed Mets batter and second most all time to Darryl Strawberry. He would also be second to Strawberry in team RBI. He would be passed by David Wright in those catergories. However, Wright wouldn’t pass Piazza in some other catergories. Piazza has the third highest team batting average, and he has the highest slugging percentage in Mets history. He would also hit the most home runs all time by a catcher surpassing Johnny Bench. It was one of many memorable home runs in Piazza’s time with the Mets, which included the June 30, 2000 home run capping a 10 run eighth inning rally that saw the Mets overcome an 8-1 deficit against the Braves, and the most important home run he would ever hit:
Now, Piazza is going to be a Hall of Famer. He is going to be a Hall of Famer in a Mets uniform. It never seemed possible.
Years ago, Mets fans would’ve picked Hundley over Piazza. Almost twenty years later, Piazza chose us when he chose to enter the Hall of Fame as a New York Met joining Tom Seaver as the only Mets in the Hall of Fame. It was an incredible ride that has seen Piazza become perhaps the most beloved Met to ever wear the uniform. He deserves that love and much more. He deserves every congratulation and accolade the Mets, Mets fans, and all of baseball can throw his way.
Thank you Mike Piazza.