The Mets have won two World Series with Donn Clendenon and Ray Knight being the MVPs of those series. Aside from being Mets, one thing that links them is they both wore the number 22. However, while each have their own special place in Mets history, the best Mets player to ever wear the number was Al Leiter.
After being the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Leiter was shipped out as Wayne Huizenga ordered a firesale of the team. Leiter, who grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey, would get to live out his childhood dream of pitching for the Mets. On that note, before there was Todd Frazier, Leiter was the Mets player from Toms River, NJ.
The Leiter trade was a significant step for the franchise. Not only did it come at a steep cost which included AJ Burnett, but it was an indication the Mets were looking to take the next step forward after a surprising 88 win season in 1997. Leiter went from a star studded rotation in Florida to the Mets ace.
In that 1998 season, he was 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, and an 8.1 K/9. Using the stat ERA+, Leiter’s 1998 season was the best by any Mets pitcher not named Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom, or Tom Seaver. Put another way, it was the best season by any Mets left-handed pitcher, a group which includes Tom Glavine, Jerry Koosman, and Johan Santana.
While Mike Piazza got much of the publicity for that season, and deservedly so, by WAR, Leiter was the second best player on that Mets team. It should be noted he was the pitcher who was on the mound when Piazza first came to the Mets. The two of them became friends, and Leiter was one of the reasons Piazza stayed.
Leiter would not be able to replicate his 1998 success in a Mets uniform, but he would go on to put together a great Mets career. While it may not have been his best season, Leiter would come up big time and again.
After the May firings of Bobby Valentine‘s coaching staff, Leiter won six of his next seven starts to help get the Mets from one game under .500 at the beginning of June to 11 games over just one month later. That helped turn the 1999 season from a forgettable one to one of the most special ones in team history.
When the Mets were staring down a late season collapse for the second straight year, Leiter helped right the ship by beating the Braves to allow the team to tie the Reds atop the Wild Card standings to force a play-in game. Leiter would get the ball, and he would turn in what was arguably the greatest regular season pitching performance in team history:
In a game the Mets absolutely had to have, Leiter put his best performance in a Mets uniform pitching a two hit shut-out on the road against the Reds to send the Mets to the NLDS. One interesting note is that while this is classified as a one-game playoff, it is considered a regular season game.
One of the reasons this is interesting is because despite some truly great performances in the postseason, Leiter never won a postseason game with the Mets. Mostly, it was due to some bad luck like when he lost Game 3 of the NLCS when the greatest infield of all-time allowed an unearned run in the Mets 1-0 loss. To be fair, his teammates picked him up in Game 6.
In 2000, for the first time in his Mets career, he was not the designated ace. That didn’t matter all that much as Leiter had a great season making the All Star team while going 16-8 with a 3.20 ERA. Things would not be as difficult for the Mets this year as they easily made the postseason.
In typical Leiter hard luck fashion, his gem in Game 2 of the NLDS went by the wayside when Armando Benitez blew the save. Still, Leiter’s performance was important as it helped right the ship after an opening game loss, and it helped propel the Mets to the NLCS. In the NLCS, Turk Wendell vultured a win.
In that World Series, Benitez yet again blew the save in Game 1 costing Leiter a win. That series did not go the Mets way, and they were forced to win a Game 5 to send the series back to Yankee Stadium. In that Game 5, Leiter gave everything he had to try to will the Mets to victory. Being a terrible hitter, he would even try to bunt his way on to drive home a run. Sadly, he was out of gas after 142 pitches, and his defense just couldn’t get to that one ground ball.
The Mets never reached those heights again during Leiter’s tenure. However, he had one more big moment left in the tank.
Many forget this now, but after the 9/11 attacks, it was Leiter, the local kid from Toms River, NJ, who was handed the baseball when the Mets returned to action in Pittsburgh. He received a no decision after limiting the Pirates to one run over seven innings.
One really important note here is Leiter is the last Mets player to ever wear a First Responder’s cap. On the one year anniversary, Leiter cycled through the caps for each of the first responder agencies pitching a complete game shutout against the Braves.
In Leiter’s final few years with the Mets, they never got back to the postseason, but Leiter still remained a very good pitcher for the team. Notably, he never had a losing record for the Mets, and he won 10+ in his seven years with the Mets with a 3.42 ERA. He would also accomplish some truly astonishing feats.
In 2000, he won the Roberto Clemente Award. In 2002, he became the first Major League pitcher to defeat all 30 teams. In one he probably wants to have back, he was the last ever pitcher to lose a game to the Montreal Expos. Overall, he became of the best pitchers in Mets history.
In fact, he could make the claim as the best ever left-handed pitcher. On that note, among Mets pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 innings, only Jacob deGrom and Seaver have a better ERA+. Overall, Leiter is in the Mets top 1o in wins, GS, IP, strikeouts, WAR, and ERA+. He should be in the Mets Hall of Fame, but for now, he is going to have to settle for being the best Mets player to ever wear the number 22.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
The Mets organization is worse off today because it traded away Curtis Granderson. Simply put, you do not lose a human being the caliber of Granderson and are better off for it.
There’s a reason why he won the Roberto Clemente Award last year. He’s dedicated himself to helping others.
His Grand Kids Foundation has helped educate children in New York and Chicago and get them interested in baseball. To that end, he donated $5 million of his money to his alma mater, the University of Illinois, to build a ballpark where both the college and city kids could play baseball.
In addition to this, he’s an International Ambassador of Major League Baseball, a former ambassador for the Let’s Move! campaign, and is a spokesperson for the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Drink Up water initiative.
Long story short, Granderson is a great human being. Perhaps the only thing that could challenge Granderson the man was Granderson the ball player.
During Granderson’s three plus year tenure, Granderson established himself as one of the best free agent signings in Mets history. He was certainly one of the most important.
While Yoenis Cespedes got all the glory, Granderson was the most important player on that 2015 team.
For much of that season, Granderson was the only credible bat in that lineup. Between his offense, defense, and leadership, he helped keep the Mets afloat until the team for healthy and could make trades to make that run to the World Series possible.
When the Mets got there, Granderson was the best player in that series. In that series, he tied Don Clendenon, the 1969 World Series MVP, with the most World Series homers in Mets history. Each one of those homers by Granderson either tied the game or gave the Mets a lead.
On a personal note, Granderson’s home run is one of my favorite memories. It’s not just because I got to see it at Citi Field, it with my father and brother, it’s because of how my son reacted at home:
The 2016 season didn’t go as smoothly for Granderson, but there he was again when the Mets needed him most.
As the Mets were scratching and clawing to get back to the postseason, Granderson hit .302/.414/.615 with four doubles, a triple, eight homers, and 21 RBI over the final month of the season.
Behind Granderson’s play and leadership, the Mets did return to the postseason. In the Wild Card Game, his amazing diving catch robbed Brandon Belt of a go-ahead sixth inning RBI extra-base hit. That catch kept hope alive.
Hope was something Mets fans were allowed to have once Granderson came to the Mets as a free agent in 2014.
The Mets had a plan to build around all this pitching with only Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler being the only ones to make their debut. The question was really who was going to play behind all this pitching.
As it turns out, Granderson was the first one to sign on to be a part of all of this. He was going to be the guy to join forces with the pitching and David Wright to win that World Series. And the Mets were so close too.
They were close because Granderson did whatever was asked of him. One minute he was a clean-up hitter, and the next, he was a lead-off hitter. He would play all three outfield positions. This year, he willingly moved into more of a fourth outfielder, which allowed the Mets to give Michael Conforto more playing time.
To that end, Conforto seemed moved by the trade. He spoke highly of Granderson, and he made specific mention about how Granderson helped all the young guys on the team. What Conforto was describing was a true leader.
That’s the same leader Lucas Duda talked about in his Player’s Tribune article. Specifically, he stated, “Then when Curtis came over, that just made everything even better.” Duda went on to say, “I owe so much to Curtis and the other guys because they really helped me to grow up.”
The sheer mention of Duda should also elicit memories of the We Follow Lucas Duda Instagram account. The account was hilarious, and it always left fans smiling. That’s another area where the Mets will miss Granderson.
From the very minute he signed with the Mets, he endeared himself to the fans saying, ““A lot of the people that I have met in New York have always said that true New Yorkers are Mets fans, so I’m excited to get a chance to see them all.” (New York Post).
And Granderson really was excited to see Mets fans. If you’ve attended games, you see him doing more than any other player in baseball to interact with the fans. He took time to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Occasionally, while in the on deck circle, he’d greet a fan or two.
Even before he packed his bags to head to LA to join the current World Series favorites, he took time to send a message to Mets fans:
— New York Mets (@Mets) August 19, 2017
In every sense of the word, Curtis Granderson is a class act. If anyone deserves the opportunity to win a World Series ring, it’s him. Here’s hoping he gets it.
Thank you for all that you were and for the ride. The entire Mets organization was better for you being here, and you will be sorely missed by the fans. Hopefully with you being a free agent, you find your way back to the Mets.
If not, hitting a grand slam in your final at-bat is quite a way to end your Mets career:
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) August 18, 2017
Good luck and thanks for the ride Curtis Granderson.
On Saturday, September 27, 2003, my father, brother, and I sat down to watch what was seemingly a meaningless baseball game. The Minnesota Twins had already locked up the AL Central, and the Detroit Tigers had already locked up the worst record in baseball. At that time, the only matter at issue was whether the Tigers would finish with a worse record than the 1962 Mets.
As each and every Mets fan knows, the worst team in baseball history was the 1962 Mets. They were bad from the beginning. The 1962 Mets lost their first nine games. That wouldn’t even be the lowpoint of the season. From May 21st until June 6th, the Mets would lost 17 straight games. That wasn’t even their only 10 plus game losing streak. There was an eleven game losing streak in late July, and there was a 13 game losing streak that spanned most of August. The 1962 Mets didn’t really do anything well except maybe lose. They inspired manager Casey Stengel to utter the phrase, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” It was a phrase so utterly perfect that Jimmy Breslin used it as the title for his book about the 1962 Mets.
The funny part about that team is that they are somewhat beloved. There were colorful characters Mets fans know to this day regardless of whether or not they were around to see it. There were old heroes like former Brooklyn Dodgers like Gil Hodges and Don Zimmer. There was future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. There were colorful characters as well. There was Marvelous Marv Throneberry who missed not just first but second base when running out a triple. There was speedy catcher Choo-Choo Coleman who best utilized his speed chasing down balls that went to the backstop. About the only players who didn’t belong was Frank Thomas with his 34 homers and 17 year old Ed Kranepool who actually had a bright future ahead of him in the majors.
That 1962 season was the first season in Mets history, and it was an important one at that. This record is quintessentially the Mets. It is a terrific reference point for each and every time the Mets have success. Whenever a 1969 or 1986 happens, it’s a reminder of how the Mets really did come from nothing to achieve great heights. Having this record was important, and it should be important to Mets fans.
It is why my family was rooting for the Tigers that day. At that point it wasn’t looking good. The Tigers had to take three of four from the Twins to avoid loss 120. They lost the prior game, and they were down 7-1 going into the bottom of the seventh. Somehow, someway, the Tigers pulled it off. They scored three in the seventh and then four in the eighth to somehow time the game. Then in the ninth, old friend Jesse Orosco threw a wild pitch allowing Alex Sanchez to score the winning run. At that point, Orosco was probably throwing things in disgust. However, to Mets fans, it looked like Orosco was throwing his glove into the heavens like he had done in 1986. The Tigers snatched a win from the jaws of defeat number 120. The 1962 Mets would be safe.
Now, this year, the 1962 Mets are being challenged once again. The Atlanta Braves come to Flushing sporting a 19-46 record. With their .292 win percentage, the Braves are on pace for a 47-115 season. If the Mets sweep the Braves like they should, the Braves will be all the closer to loss number 120. If the Braves are able to move the few major league quality bats from their line-up like Freddie Freeman, who knows how much worse things will get in Atlanta. Towards the end of the season, there will most likely be a race to see if the Braves could actually surpass the 1962 Mets loss total.
While it has been ingrained in me from the days of Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo to never root for the Braves, I will root for the Braves to win some games to avoid losing 120 or more games. Preferably, those wins will come at the expense of the Washington Nationals. Hopefully, at the end of the season, the 1962 Mets place in history will be secure.
You cannot tell the story of the New York Mets franchise without the Montreal Expos.
The Expos first ever game was against the Mets on April 8, 1969 at Shea Stadium. It was not only the first game in Expos’ history, it was also the first game in what was the Mets path to winning the 1969 World Series. On October 3, 2004, the Expos would play their final game in their history at Shea Stadium. Between those two days on time so much had transpired.
The first major trade between the two franchises was the Don Clendenon trade. Clendenon would become the power hitting first baseman the ’69 Mets needed to put them over the top. More importantly, Clendenon would go on to become the 1969 World Series MVP.
After a few disappointing years, the Mets made a trade with the Expos again. The time the Mets obtained Le Grande Orange, Rusty Staub. Staub was a part of the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets. Staub had an incredible postseason that year. He hit three homers in the NLCS when the Mets upset the Big Red Machine. He hit .423/.464/.615 in the World Series. Bum shoulder and all, he had a great World Series for a Mets team that came so close to upsetting the Athletics in the World Series.
The Mets would not make the playoffs again until 1986. The missing piece to that team was Gary Carter, who the Mets obtained in a trade with the Expos. Carter was everything the Mets thought they were getting and more. He continued putting up Hall of Fame numbers while nurturing a young Mets pitching staff. However, what Mets fans will remember him most for was getting the two out rally started in Game Six.
The Mets would not acquire anything of value from the Expos until right after the Expos were no more. The Mets hired Expos GM Omar Minaya. Minaya would assemble the 2006 team that nearly went to the World Series. He also built a strong farm system that would eventually help the Mets return to the World Series.
It’s funny to think that Minaya’s big move with the Expos was trading for Bartolo Colon. With Macier Izturis announcing his retirement, Colon is now the last player to ever wear a Montreal Expos uniform to be active in the Major Leagues. Colon, who was a key member of last year’s pennant winning team, returned to the Mets. With Colon turning 43 this year, it’s possible he can end his career with the Mets. It would be fitting that the Mets once again close the door on the Expos franchise.
When that door is finally closed, both fan bases will have shared memories of players like Staub and Carter. Both players were beloved by both franchises. It was players like this that will forever link both franchises. Unfortunately, the Expos are gone to the detriment of Expos fans, Mets fans, and all of baseball.