One of the themes of this offseason has been Sandy Alderson going out and bringing back some players to help this current team try to win a World Series. We have seen these efforts work in the past with the Mets bringing back Bobby Bonilla in 1999 and Endy Chavez and Pedro Feliciano in 2006. We have also seen these efforts fail miserably like when the Mets brought back Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz in 2002.
Where this season falls on the spectrum is still to be determined. Those results will largely depend on those players the Mets have brought back to the team. Can you name them? Good luck!
With the Mets signing Todd Frazier, the organization has yet again went out and brought home a local boy to play for the hometown team. It is something we have seen from the organization throughout their history starting with Ed Kranepool, and it is a new focus we have seen with this organization with them drafting Long Islanders Steven Matz, Justin Dunn, and Anthony Kay.
With the Mets illustrious, and in the case of Bobby Bonilla, infamous hometown players coming home to play for the Mets, in a new feature on Mets Daddy, Mets bloggers have come together to answer the question about who is their favorite hometown Mets players:
With the Mets signing Todd Frazier, the team has added a third baseman who has averaged 30 homers since the 2013 season. In their history, the Mets have seen third baseman who could hit for that type of power. However, there have not been that many who have been able to do so.
Are you able to name the third baseman in Mets history who have hit the most homers? Good luck!
Yes, that Montero.
The very same Montero who has a career 1-5 record with a 5.15 ERA and a 1.636 WHIP. The same Montero who the Mets gave up on four times last year including a demotion to AA. The same Montero who was 0-1 with an 8.50 ERA and a 2.053 WHIP last year.
Apparently, Montero has more lives than a cat. He gets more chances from the Mets than Bobby Bonilla gets paychecks from the Mets.
One thing that is easy to forget is Montero has real talent. He has a fastball with some movement that he throws in the low 90s but can get up to the mid 90s. He combines that with a terrific change, and he has developed a nice slider. And believe it or not, Montero had terrific control.
Mostly, that control made him a big time prospect for the Mets. He was ranked higher than fellow 2014 call-up Jacob deGrom who would win the Rookie of the Year award that year and do so much more after that. He was ranked higher than Michael Fulmer who won the Rookie of the Year Award last year. Simply put, depending on who you asked, Montero was ranked higher than any Mets pitcher not named Matt Harvey.
But then the control left him. It started during his 2014 call-up. He shied away from contact posting a 4.7 BB/9. In his brief major league career, he has a 5.4 BB/9 including a 7.6 number last year.
That’s been the issue. It’s not that he doesn’t have the talent; its that he doesn’t trust his talent. It’s certainly understandable when you allow two homers in his first ever start. In fact, Montero allowed homers in his first five starts including his allowing three homers to the Washington Nationals.
Whether it was the homers, better umpiring, a shoulder issue [the Mets disputed], or something else all together, Montero never truly trusted his stuff at the major league level, and as a result, he never had the success people thought he would.
This Spring he once again looks like a pitcher who trusts his stuff. In 18.1 Spring innings, he has a 1.96 ERA and a 21:8 K/BB ratio. He’s looking like the guy who was considered a big prospect. He’s looking like a major league pitcher.
And that’s what he is again – a major league pitcher.
There have been glimpses here and there with Montero only for him to shrink from the moment when he makes the majors again. After his AA demotion last year, Montero had a 2.20 ERA, 1.102 WHIP, and an improved 3.5 BB/9 in nine starts. He looked like he put it all together then only to fall apart in the majors.
Maybe, just maybe, Montero sticks this time. Maybe he trusts his stuff so he doesn’t have the same regression. Maybe at 26, he’s finally ready. Maybe he appreciates this could be his last chance.
Hopefully, he succeeds. If he does, the 2017 Mets are that much better. If he succeeds, it gives the Mets more excuses to not give up on talented prospects that struggle. Mostly, it would be great to see a truly talented pitcher pick himself off the mat and fulfill his promise.
Good luck to Montero. He’s going to need it.
One of the discussion points during the championship game of the World Baseball Classic was whether Jim Leyland‘s Hall of Fame case should be boosted by winning the event.
Now, it will be interesting to see in the future whether the World Baseball Classic will have any impact on anyone’s Hall of Fame case. It is doubtful as you are putting weight on a 8 – 10 game sample size. It’s also doubtful because in reality the real prize in baseball is the World Series. With that said, maybe it’ll have some impact with managers as USA keeps selecting retired managers to man their squad. The selection of these managers brings them back to the limelight, and the attention usually serves as an opportunity to wax poetic about a person’s career.
With that caveat, it is possible Leyland may prove to be a test case for the WBC’s impact on bolstering a person’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Then again, it seems strange that’s the case when Leyland is about the only person with any knowledge of baseball that thinks Eric Hosmer is a better player than Paul Goldschmidt. For that matter, Leyland also thinks Hosmer is a better hitter than Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, and Daniel Murphy.
Still, this does seem an opportune time to discuss Leyland’s Hall of Fame case. In a 22 year Hall of Fame career, Leyland amassed a 1,769 – 1,728 record (.506 winning percentage). He won the World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997, and he won American League Pennants with the Detroit Tigers in 2006 and 2012. He won six division titles (Pirates 1990 – 1992; Tigers 2011 – 2013), and his teams captured two Wild Cards (1997 & 2006). Leyland is one of 17 managers all-time to bring two different teams to the World Series.
Leyland has also won three Manager of the Year Awards. The first two were with the 1990 and 1992 Pirates, and the last one came in 2006 with the Tigers. With the award starting in 1983, he is one of seven managers to win in both leagues. He is one of seven managers to win at least three Manager of the Year Awards with Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa having the most awards with four.
Looking at the above information, it is fair to say he was a respected and well decorated manager during his career. The question is whether he has done enough to merit Hall of Fame induction. He hasn’t.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, there have been 23 managers inducted into the Hall of Fame. With Rube Foster being inducted as a Negro League manager, there have been 22 Major League managers inducted in the Hall of Fame. Considering the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, suited up to play 148 years ago, the bar has been set extraordinarily high to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager.
The average Major League Hall of Fame Manager has 1,916 wins with a .540 winning percentage. Again, on average, these managers have won five pennants and two World Series titles. Now, Frank Selee and Ned Hanlon managed a majority of their careeers prior to the inception of the World Series possibly making their stats too remote in time to judge the average Hall of Famer. It should be noted, that their having won no World Series titles are incorporated in the average World Series titles won so that number is inaccurate as well.
Taking Selee and Hanlon out of the equation, the average Hall of Famer has won 1,978 games with a .539 winning percentage. Additionally, these managers have won six pennants and three World Series titles.
Now, if you want to consider Connie Mack an outlier as well because he was an owner who was never going to be fired, the numbers change again. Without Selee, Hanlon, or Mack, the average Hall of Famer won 1,886 games with a .545 winning percentage. These managers have won five pennants and two World Series titles.
Looking at that, Leyland falls well short of the averages again no matter how much you try to manipulate it lower the standards to make him appear to be a Hall of Famer.
Now, it is true that there are managers in the Hall of Fame already who fall short of each of these averages. Still, Leyland would fall short of each of these “lesser” managers as well.
Let’s start with the managers, like Leyland, who have only won one World Series title. There have been four such managers in the proverbial World Series era. They are Bobby Cox, Leo Durocher, Whitey Herzog, and Earl Weaver. Each one of these managers have a winning percentage of .532 and higher. This group has averaged 1,818 wins. Moreover, this group has averaged a .552 winning percentage. Looking at it from that perspective, Leyland falls short.
Now, with 1,769 wins, Leyland does have more wins than 10Hall of Fame managers, eight if you once again eliminate Selee and Hanlon. Eliminating Selee and Hanlon, these managers have an average winning percentage of .546 and, on average, have won four pennants and one World Series. That puts Leyland well short in terms of winning percentage and just short in terms of pennants.
In reality, the only thing you can look at to justify Leyland’s Hall of Fame case is the induction of Wilbert Robinson. Robinson was 1,399 – 1,398 with no pennants or World Series titles. It should be noted Robinson was also a catcher who won three straight titles with the Baltimore Orioles in the dead ball era, and he was the catcher recognized as revolutionizing the position by being the first to play directly behind the batter for an entire at-bat. When he retired from managing, he had the third most wins all-time, and in his day, he was widely respected as manager and pitching coach who could get the most out of his pitching staffs.
Overall, Leyland doesn’t have the numbers for the Hall of Fame. And that is before you consider Leyland quit on his team on three different occasions.
He quit on the Pirates after they lost Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla so he could take the Marlins job and get a chance to win the World Series. After he got his World Series and the subsequent Marlins firesale, Leyland quit on them to join the Rockies. When the Rockies weren’t as good as he expected they would be, he quit on them.
It’s one thing to make a case for a manager who doesn’t have the numbers, it’s a whole other thing to support the candidacy of a manager who quit on three different teams.
Certainly, when you have a managers with a low winning percentage that quits on his teams, it begs the question why anyone would think he was Hall of Fame worthy?
It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game. Bobby V was much more than that.
After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach. In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets. Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired. From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders. He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season.
After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season. Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides. However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season. In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.
The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball. Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team. Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround. There was the acquisition of John Olerud. There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke. However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.
First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green. Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation. Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage. On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally. It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.
One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game. While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.
With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements. The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins. The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan. However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season. Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.
From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race. They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working. They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield. They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen. The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.
The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here). Things do not initially go as planned. After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500. Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.
The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball. From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37. At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days. The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh. Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded. Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.
In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games. The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card. Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury. In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons. Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.
In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker. In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first. While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta. The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6. They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit. Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7. Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.
In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch. However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets. It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.
First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations. Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract. Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player. The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players. In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman. Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season. In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year. It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.
In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years. In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero. The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save. In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter. With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986. While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor. That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.
From there, Phillips lost his magic touch. The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart. After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season. With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.
One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. Every player did their part. So did their manager. After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium. When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games. That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11. Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.
Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437. During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history. His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph. In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.
Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons. His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history. He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons. He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.
Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history. Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office. For some, he is the best manager in Mets history. Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history. For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
When your team is not in the World Series, the one thing you really want is a memorable World Series. Even if a team you hates wins the World Series, you want to be rewarded for the time you invest watching the World Series. In my lifetime, here are some of the World Series I found to be absolutely riveting:
1991 World Series
As for as World Series go, this one could very well be the gold standard. Five of the seven games were decided by one run. Three of the games went into extra innings including Games 6 and 7. With Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Kevin Tapani, and of course Jack Morris, there was great pitching that led to tense innings and rallies. In six of the seven games, both teams scored five runs or less. However, what truly made this series great was two all time games to close out the series.
In Game 6, Kirby Puckett put the Twins on his back. He made that leaping catch snatching Ron Gant‘s home run from clearing that plexiglass, and then he hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning that included a classic call:
Then in Game 7, Morris went the distance in a 1-0 10 inning game that featured rookie Chuck Knoblauch deking 13 year veteran Lonnie Smith from scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning that probably would have been the game winner. Then in the 10th inning Gene Larkin became the unlikeliest of heroes by getting the World Series walk-off single.
1993 World Series
Generally speaking, this would have been an average World Series as most six game World Series are. However, there was a lot in this World Series.
Lenny Dykstra turned into Babe Ruth during the series. Roberto Alomar hit .480 in the series, and he wasn’t even the best hitter. That honor goes to Paul Molitor who hit .500 in the series. Game 4 saw the Blue Jays mount a frantic eighth inning come from behind rally to win by a score of 15-14. And as if this wasn’t enough, in Game 6 Joe Carter did something only Bill Mazeroski had done:
1997 World Series
This series wasn’t particularly memorable despite a couple of slugfests in Games 3 and 5. No, what made this series was an epic Game 7. The Indians were seeking to win their first World Series since 1948. They had their closer Jose Mesa on the mound and a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
The Marlins first scratched in a run in the bottom of the ninth with a Craig Counsell sacrifice fly scoring Moises Alou. The Marlins started the game winning rally in the bottom of the 11th with a Bobby Bonillia single off Charles Nagy. Eventually, the Marlins loaded the bases with one out. Devon White, who won the World Series with the aforementioned Blue Jays, grounded into a force play with Tony Fernandez nailing Bonilla at the plate. Then with two outs, rookie Edgar Renteria singled home Counsell to win the World Series.
Note, this would’ve been rated much higher if not for the MVP mysteriously being given to Livan Hernandez (5.27 ERA) over Alou, and for Bonilla having such a huge Game 7.
2001 World Series
This World Series had it all. Curt Schilling did the old fashioned 1-4-7 you want your ace to do in the biggest series of the year. Randy Johnson was better than that shutting out the Yankees in Game 2, shutting them down in Game 6, and pitching on no days rest to keep the Yankees at bay in Game 7.
Game 7 was an epic back-and-forth matchup. Alfonso Soriano broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the eighth to set the stage for the great Mariano Rivera who is the greatest postseaon closer, if not pitcher, of all time. This would be the one World Series blown save in his career. He was uncharacteristically frazzled making an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Still, he recovered, and the Yankees got the forceout at third on the next bunt attempt. Tony Womack would then shock everyone by hitting a game tying double. After Counsell (him again) was hit by a pitch, Luis Gonzalez would bloop a walk-off World Series winning single over the head of Derek Jeter.
However, that World Series was not memorable for Game 7. It was memorable because those games were played post-9/11, and they were memorable due to what happened at Yankee Stadium. Before Game 3, President Bush threw a curveball for a strike off the mound before a hard fought Yankees win. In Game 4, the Yankees were on the verge of falling behind 3-1 in the series before Tino Martinez hit an improbably two out home run off Byung-hyun Kim to tie the game, and Jeter hit a walk-off home run in the 10th to become “Mr. November.” In Game 5, the Yankees were again down two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. This time it was Scott Brosius who did the impossible hitting a game tying two run home run to send the game into extras with Soriano getting the walk-off hit in the 12th.
Overall, baseball does not get better than that three game set in the Bronx, especially in the backdrop those games were played.
2002 World Series
That Rally Monkey was all the more prevalent in Game 6. In that game, Baker made the fateful decision to lift Russ Ortiz with a 5-0 lead, two on, and one out in the seventh inning. Scott Spiezio greeted Felix Rodriguez with a three run homer. Darin Erstad then led off the seventh inning with a solo shot off Todd Worrell. Worrell made matters worse by allowing back-to-back singles thereby putting closer Robb Nen in a precarious situation. Nen would allow a go-ahead two run double to World Series MVP Troy Glaus giving the Angels a 6-5 win. In Game 7, rookie John Lackey took care of business and shut down a Giants team that should have won the World Series in Game 6.
2011 World Series
For the most part, this was a well played if not memorable World Series through the first five games. In the seventh inning, Adrian Beltre broke a 4-4 tie that sparked a three run inning that seemingly was going to deliver the first ever World Series title to the Rangers franchise. The World Series title was going to be even sweeter for a Rangers team that had their doors blown off in the 2010 World Series.
In the eighth, Allen Craig hit a solo shot to draw the Cardinals within two. There was still a large enough lead for the excellent Rangers closer, Neftali Feliz to put the game to rest. The game was there to win even after a Albert Pujols double and a Lance Berkman walk. Then with two outs, David Freese unleashed a two RBI game tying double to keep the World Series alive. If that wasn’t painful enough, the Rangers were in for more pain.
Josh Hamilton would hit a two run homer in the top of the 10th to give the Rangers the lead. At this point, victory was almost assured. The Cardinals were undeterred putting the first two on against Darren Oliver. After a sacrifice bunt, Ryan Theriot plated a run with an RBI groundout, and Berkman brought home the tying run with an RBI single.
The Rangers would have no response in either Game 6 or Game 7. In the bottom of the 11th, Freese, the World Series MVP, would hit a walk-off home run that not only sealed Game 6, but also demoralized a Rangers team heading into Game 7.
2014 World Series
Of note, five of the first six games were terrible. Absolutely terrible. Through the first six games, the average margin of victory was six runs per game, and that includes a one run game in Game 3. Taking aside Game 3, the average margin of victory was seven runs per game. This is really the type of series you expect with some truly terrible starting pitching on both sides. In fact, the only starter who was actually good was Madison Bumgarner.
That’s an understatement. Bumgarner made Morris look like a Little Leaguer with his World Series performance. In his World Series MVP performance, he appeared in three games going 2-0 with one save, a 0.43 ERA and a 0.476 WHIP. He came out of the bullpen in the fifth inning in Game 7 with the Giants having a 3-2 lead. Watching him pitch on two days rest, you kept waiting for him to falter, and then this happened:
Alex Gordon‘s two out single almost became a Little League home run with Gregor Blanco letting the ball bounce past him and Juan Perez nearly booting the ball away. The debate would rage for days as to whether he should have gone home (he shouldn’t have) with Bumgarner being Bumgarner. Those that believed he should have gone only intensified their arguments when Salvador Perez fouled out to Pablo Sandoval to end the World Series.
2017 World Series
There is enough here for a classic World Series with two great teams, and two great storylines. Honestly, the Indians fans deserve this more as they are far more tortured than the Cubs fan. Ideally, this series goes seven with the Indians pulling it out in classic fashion. Hopefully, a majority of the games are close. No matter what happens, all we need is one or two games or moments to make this a series for the ages. That’s all we can realistically hope to get.
Things are already off to a good start with Dexter Fowler being the first ever black man to play for the Chicago Cubs in a World Series game.
Growing up, my family did not always go to Opening Day. It was sometimes difficult for my Dad to get off of work, and even if he could, we had my mother insisting that my brother and I could not miss a day of school just to go to a Mets game. What eventually happened is that my father, brother, and I usually found ourselves going to the last game of the season, which usually falls on a Sunday.
When you go to Opening Day, there is always hope. Even when your team stinks, you can find some reason for hope. I remember thinking back in 1993 that the 1992 Mets season was just a fluke. Bobby Bonilla was certainly going to be better. Howard Johnson was back in the infield where he belonged. This could be the year Todd Hundley and Jeff Kent break out. The team still had Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, and Bret Saberhagen with John Franco in the bullpen. It turns out the 1993 team was even worse than the 1992 team.
The last game of the season always has an interesting feel to it. When we went to the final game of the season, it was more of a farewell to an awful season. Being ever the optimist, we still had hope for a bright future with Pete Schourek throwing eight brillant innings to cap off a Mets six game winning streak. It seemed like 1994 was going to be a big year in baseball. It was, but that’s a whole other story.
There was the devastating 2007 finale. Heading into that game, most Mets fans believed that despite the epic collapse, the Mets were going to take care of the Marlins. They just snapped a five game losing streak behind a brilliant John Maine performance and the offense coming alive to score 13 runs. Even better, the Phillies seemed to be feeling the pressure a bit with them getting shut down by Matt Chico and a terrible Marlins team. The sense was if the Mets won this game, the Phillies would feel the pressure and lose their game. Even if the Phillies won their game, the Mets would beat the Phillies and return to the postseason like everyone expected.
After Tom Glavine laid an egg, which included out and out throwing a ball into left field trying to get Cody Ross, who was going to third on the original throw to home. At 5-0, the Mets were still in the game. David Wright was having a torrid September. Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran were big game players. I don’t think Moises Alou made an out that entire month. With that in mind, I turned to my father, and I said to him, “If the Mets allow one more run, the game is over . . . .” As the words left my mouth, Jorge Soler allowed a two run double to Dan Uggla. Sure, they would play eight and a half more innings, but the collapse was over right then and there.
That 2007 finale hung over the 2008 finale. Mets fans were probably a bit more optimistic than they had a right to be. The day before Johan Santana took the ball with three days rest, and he pitched a complete game three hitter. The Mets had Oliver Perez going in the finale. Back then, this was considered a good thing. The offense was clicking again. However, that bullpen was just so awful. The Mets were relying on Luis Ayala to close out games, and believe it or not, his 5.05 ERA and 1.389 WHIP was considered a steadying presence to an injury ravaged bullpen. Beltran would hit a huge home run to tie the game, but the joy wouldn’t last. Jerry Manuel, just an awful manager, turned to Scott Schoeneweis to gave up the winning home run to Wes Helms (Mets killer no matter what uniform he wore), and then aforementioned Ayala gave up another one that inning to Uggla to seal the deal at 4-2.
Fittingly, the last out was made by Ryan Church. He was the same Mets player the Mets flew back and forth to the West Coast despite him having a concussion. Remember the days when the Mets didn’t handle injuries well? Nevermind. In any event, I was one of the few that stayed to watch Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza close out Shea Stadium. Many disagree, but I thought it helped.
Last year, was just a celebration. The Mets had already clinched the NL East, and they were off to their first postseason since 2006. The only thing left was the Mets winning one more game to get to 90 wins. The 90 wins was window dressing, but the shift from 89 to 90 is just so satisfying. It means more than 86 to 87 wins or 88 to 89 wins. That 90 win mark is an important threshold for the psyche of teams and fans.
This year was something different altogether. In terms of pure baseball, the Mets entered the day tied with the Giants for the first Wild Card with the Cardinals just a half a game behind (tied in the loss column). The night before the Mets had seen Sean Gilmartin and Rafael Montero combine to put the team in a 10-0 hole that the Las Vegas 51s just couldn’t quite pull them out from under. Still, that rally had created some buzz as did Robert Gsellman starting the game. However, there was the shock of the Jose Fernandez news that muted some of the pregame buzz.
After the moment of silence, there was a game to be played, and it was just pure Mets dominance.
Gsellman would pitch seven shutout innings allowing just three hits and two walks with eight strikeouts. More amazing than that was the fact that he actually got a bunt single. For a player that can only bunt due to an injury to his non-pitching shoulder, the Phillies sure acted surprised by the play. Overall, it was a great day by Gsellman who was helped out by the Mets offense and a little defense along the way:
It was that type of day for the Mets. After Saturday’s pinch hit home run there was a Jay Bruce sighting again on Sunday. On the day, he was 2-4 with two runs and a double. It was easily the best game he had as a Met. His second inning double would start the rally that ended with James Loney hitting an RBI groundout. Then, as Cousin Brucey would say, “the hits just keep on comin’!” No, that was not just an allusion to the Phillies pitchers who hit three batters in the game. It refers to the Mets offense.
Curtis Granderson hit a fourth inning solo shot to make it 2-0. It was his 30th of the year making it the first time the Mets have had a pair of 30 home run outfielders since, really who even knows? In the fifth, T.J. Rivera plated a run with an RBI single. Later in the fifth, Jose Reyes would the first of his two RBI bases loaded walks. Overall, the big blow would come in the seventh off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera:
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 26, 2016
The grand slam put the capper on not just the game, but a pretty remarkable season at home where the Mets were 44-37 on the season. The Mets also hit 193 homers at home, which was the most ever hit at Citi Field, and more than any the Mets ever hit at Shea Stadium in any one season:
The final home game of the season is over, here are the all 193 home runs hit in Citi Field this season. pic.twitter.com/KHfkv3lXFP
— CitiFieldHR (@CitiFieldHR) September 25, 2016
In the eighth, the Mets just poured it on with some of the 51s getting into the game. Gavin Cecchini was hit by a pitch, Brandon Nimmo and Ty Kelly walked, and Eric Campbell got another RBI pinch hit. Throw in a Michael Conforto two RBI double, and the Mets would win 17-0. Exiting Citi Field, you got the sense this was not the last time you would see this team at home. As it stands now, the Mets back to being a game up on the Giants, and the Cardinals fell to 1.5 games back.
There haven’t been many final games to the season like this one, and I’m not sure there ever will be. Overall, it was a great way to close out the regular season at Citi Field. However, for right now, it is not good-bye like it was in 1993, and it certainly isn’t good riddance like it was in 2007. Rather, this game had more of a feeling of, “See you again soon.”
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.
In 1985, Major League Baseball made the Home Run Derby a part of the All Star Game Festivities. Darryl Strawberry would become the first ever Met to participate in a Home Run Derby and the only Met to win one. He shared the title with Wally Joyner, who also hit four home runs. Needless to say, it was a much different back then.
No other Met who followed would ever win a Home Run Derby. In 1989, Howard Johnson‘s two home runs fell short of the three home runs hit by Ruben Sierra and Eric Davis. In 1993, Bobby Bonilla would fall short as well as his five home runs were two short of the seven hit by Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey, Jr. The Mets would not be close to winning until 2006 with David Wright.
It was that night in Pittsburgh that Wright seemed to be emerging from star to superstar. With Paul Lo Duca as hit pitcher, Wright would hit 16 homers in the first round. He made it all the way to the finals before losing to Ryan Howard. In 2013, when the All Star Game was hosted at Citi Field, Wright would acquit himself well hitting five home runs. However, he would not make it out of the first round. Not many would notice as Wright wasn’t the story of that Home Run Derby. It was Yoenis Cespedes flashing La Potencia:
Cespedes wowed the crowd with 17 first round homers en route to winning the 2013 Home Run Derby. It was on that night that Cespedes’ legend began. It was on that night that Mets fans began to become infatuated with him. Three years later, he’s now their best player, and with him goes their hopes of returning to the World Series.