When Major League Baseball retired the number 42 across all of baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson, at the time it meant Butch Huskey was going to be the last Mets player to wear that number. That was until the Mets acquired Mo Vaughn who had been grandfathered in as he was wearing the number in honor of Robinson.
Neither Huskey or Vaughn are the best Mets players to ever wear that number. That honor goes to Ron Taylor.
While we look back at those Mets teams who went from laughingstocks to a World Series winner, oft times, Tug McGraw was seen as the closer for those teams. After all, he was the larger than life personality who had the swagger you have come to expect to see from closers. However, truth be told, back in those days, it was Taylor.
From 1967 – 1970, it was Taylor who would lead the Mets in saves. When it came down to it, more times than not, it was Taylor who was the reliever the Mets trusted most. That was the most evident in 1969.
In Game 1 of the NLCS, the Mets first ever postseason game, Taylor entered the game in the eighth inning after Tom Seaver departed with the Mets leading 9-5. After pitching two scoreless innings, Taylor was credited with the first ever postseason save in Mets history.
One humorous anecdote from that game was in the ninth, as detailed in Tales from the Mets Dugout, was after Felix Millan had hit a lead-off single, Gil Hodges had instructed Taylor to walk Hank Aaron to face Orlando Cepeda. Hodges knowing he had difficulty against Cepeda demanded to face Aaron. An angry and incredulous Hodges let Taylor have his druthers leaving him with a faint warning.
Taylor would retire Aaron, and when he came back to the dugout, Hodges remarked to him, “You know, you’re crazier than I thought!”
After Taylor picked up the save in the Mets first ever postseason game, he would become the first reliever in Mets history to pick up a win in the postseason. The day after pitching two scoreless, he relieved Jerry Koosman in the fifth. He got Koosman out of that jam, and with the Mets leading 9-6 after five, he was the pitcher of record.
Again, in the World Series, it was Taylor who got the call when the Mets were in trouble. After another scoreless appearance in a losing Game 1, Taylor was called upon to relieve Koosman in Game 2.
Taylor entered Game 2 with runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth of a 2-1 game, and Brooks Robinson due up. Taylor got Robinson to ground out to Ed Charles to end the game. With that, Taylor became the first Mets pitcher to earn a save in a World Series game:
In that 1969 postseason, Taylor made four appearances pitching 5.2 scoreless innings. In those appearances, he allowed just three hits and walked one while striking out seven. When you look through Mets history, you can actually argue Taylor is the Mets best ever postseason reliever.
When Taylor departed the Mets organization, he was the Mets all-time leader in saves. Now, he ranks 12th all-time. In essence, he was the first big time reliever in Mets history, and his performance in the 1969 postseason was an all-time great one. As such, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 42.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
24. Art Shamsky
25. Pedro Feliciano
26. Terry Leach
27. Jeurys Familia
28. Daniel Murphy
29. Frank Viola
30. Michael Conforto
31. Mike Piazza
32. Jon Matlack
33. Matt Harvey
34. Noah Syndergaard
35. Rick Reed
36. Jerry Koosman
37. Casey Stengel
38. Skip Lockwood
39. Gary Gentry
40. Bartolo Colon
41. Tom Seaver
Seemingly each and every year there is one player who takes advantage of his opportunity to impress his club in Spring Training. The classic examples for Mets fans are Butch Huskey and Benny Agbayani. This year it seems as if that honor is going to Phillip Evans, who has looked like Mike Schmidt during Spring Training.
So far this Spring, he has made a number of highlight plays at third base. In five games this Spring, he has hit two home runs. This is causing fans to take notice of Evans and wonder who he is.
Evans was the Mets 2011 15th Round Draft Pick out of La Costa Canyone High School in Carlsbad, CA. While the round he was drafted would suggest Evans wasn’t a highly thought of prospect, the signing bonus would differ. Evans received a $650,000 signing bonus which was the equivalent of either supplemental first round or second round money. Evans draft stock had dropped mostly because Evans had committed to play for San Diego State, which was in the backyard of his hometown.
This is now Evans’ seventh year in the Mets organization. For much of the first five, it was an uneasy development process. Up until last season, Evans was just a .236/.304/.310 hitter. While he was drafted as a shortstop, the 5’9″ Evans would no longer be a shortstop in the Mets farm system by 2015. Certainly, entering the 2016 season, you could argue his star had diminished.
Evans turned things around in 2016. In 96 games for the Binghamton Mets, he hit .335/.374/.485 en route to winning the Eastern League batting title. He did that while playing well defensively at both second and third base. He also managed to play a respectable shortstop in his limited opportunities there as well.
Typically, when you are coming off a promising season like that, you get protected in the Rule 5 Draft. Unfortunately for Evans, he is in a Mets farm system stacked with middle infield prospects, and some of those prospects, like Amed Rosario, needed to be added to the 40 man roster. This caused many to speculate Evans would be taken by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.
Somewhat surprisingly, Evans wasn’t.
According to Mets Minors, Evans is the 31st best prospect in the Mets farm system. While some believe in his bat, others point to his extraordinarily high .384 BABIP, his low 4.9% walk rate, his general lack of power, and his propensity to pull the ball. However, if Evans is able to replicate his 2016 season, and he continues to build off his success from Spring Training, he will start turning some of those doubters into believers. Time will tell.
For now, Evans is getting noticed in Spring Training, and that can only help his prospects of making it to the major leagues.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online
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.
All you need to know about tonight’s game is the Mets scored a franchise record 12 runs in the third inning. Here’s how it happened:
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) April 30, 2016
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 30, 2016
As Ron Darling would later say, “You got the feeling that the inning might not ever end.” This inning was a far cry from the 2015 Mets June/July offense. The Mets sent 15 batters to the plate. The only Mets batter that didn’t reach base or score at least once was pitcher Steven Matz. With his grand slam and six RBI, Yoenis Cespedes broke Butch Huskey‘s team record of five RBI in one inning. Who knew?
The inning was so impressive Jake Peavy‘s ERA went from 6.86 to 8.61. The Mets scored half their runs off Peavy and the other half off of sacrificial lamb Mike Broadway. His ERA went from 3.86 to 11.81.
Matz lasted six innings allowing seven hits, zero earned, three walks, and four strikeouts. It wasn’t a dominating performance. He only had one 1-2-3 inning. With that said, he more than got the job done. The only run scored by the Giants was a leadoff homerun on the seventh inning by Angel Pagan off of Jerry Blevins. It was a good decision by Terry Collins to give Blevins a full inning of work in a blowout. Blevins has been the least used member of the bullpen.
As if they were irritated by Pagan’s homer, the Mets rallied again in the seventh to score a run. The 13th run of the game was scored on a Juan Lagares RBI single. Logan Verrett pitched a scoreless eighth, and Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the 13-1 victory. I’m assuming Verrett, the long man in the pen, didn’t pitch two innings because Terry Collins’ Magic 8 Ball told him to do it.
This was the Mets first game this season against a National League team that was expected to be a contender for not only the postseason, but also the World Series.
Game Notes: Kevin Plawecki threw out Brandon Belt in the second. He’s now 5-9 in throwing out would be basestealers. Since taking over for the injured Travis d’Arnaud, he’s gone 2-13. David Wright, who for some reason wasn’t pulled, continued his throwing issues with a throwing error in the eighth. Eric Campbell entered the game to play LF in the eighth. Michael Fulmer made his debut for the Tigers against the Twins. He went five innings allowing two earned, one walk, and four strikeouts.
One of the fun things about Spring Training is the guy who plays so well, he forces his way onto the Opening Day roster.
In 1996, Butch Huskey hit nine homeruns in the Spring forcing the Mets to make him the Opening Day rightfielder even though he never previously played the position. In 2004, Tyler Yates had a 0.64 Spring Training ERA to get the fifth starter’s job. Yates beat out bigger Mets prospects like Aaron Heilman and Grant Roberts.
These players weren’t even darkhorse candidates to win the positions they ultimately attained on the Opening Day roster. Yet, they were able to win their jobs because they were that good in the Spring. More importantly, the Mets had a spot for these players. The Mets were held competitors for these positions, and these players performed so well that the Mets had no choice but to give them the job.
Looking over the 2016 Mets, there’s only one spot up for competition, and that’s in the bullpen. Right now with Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Antonio Bastardo, Jerry Blevins, and Hansel Robles, there are two spots up for grab. The names you’re apt to hear are Sean Gilmartin, Logan Verrett, and Erik Goeddel. Each pitched well out of the bullpen last year and deserve consideration.
Another name that deserves consideration is Jim Henderson.
If you don’t recognize the name, it’s understandable. He’s only pitched in 14 games in the majors the last two years due to a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery. Those 14 games were two years ago when he registered a 7.15 ERA. With all that said, Henderson should not be disregarded. He has a legitimate shot at making the Mets Opening Day roster.
Prior to the shoulder injury, Henderson was a very good reliever. Between 2012 and 2013, he made 97 appearances. He had a 2.98 ERA, 1.180 WHIP, 3.03 FIP, 133 ERA+, and 11.9 K/9. He only allowed 0.9 HR/9. In 2013, when the Brewers made him the closer, he recorded 28 saves.
He can help the Mets. Now that he has completed his rehab, he has a fastball that can touch 95 MPH. He knows how to strike guys out. For his career, he has just dominated righties. He has limited them to .183/.241/.284. At a minimum, he can be a specialist to get out tough right handed batters. Ideally, he can be the Chad Bradford to Blevins’ Pedro Feliciano. In order for that to happen, he just needs to get an opportunity.
Fortunately for him, Terry Collins seems like he is going to give Henderson a legitimate shot. As he told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com:
His history is very intriguing. I know he’s a couple of years out of sugery now, which we’re hoping makes a big difference. I saw him inMilwaukee, and he was very, very good. I’m just hoping we can catch lightening in a bottle.
It’s fair to say, Henderson has impressed Collins. It’s half the battle. All Henderson has to do now is go out there and perform this Spring Training. Like Huskey and Yates, he has to dominate in the Spring. He has to give the Mets no choice but to put him on the roster.
Editor’s Note: this article also appeared on metsmerizedonline.com