When it comes to the number 9, there are some fan favorites and good baseball players who have worn the number in Mets history. There was J.C. Martin who paired with Jerry Grote to backstop the 1969 World Series champions. Gregg Jefferies accomplished the rare feat of twice finishing in the top six in Rookie of the Year voting.
Todd Zeile probably came an inch and Timo Perez hustle to claim this honor himself, especially with his spearheading the Mets players wearing the caps in the wake of 9/11. Brandon Nimmo is an on-base machine who already has the Mets single-season HBP record. Ultimately, this honor may one day belong to him, but for today, the best Mets player to wear the number 9 is Todd Hundley.
The son of former Cubs catcher Randy Hundley was born to play catcher. While there were questions about his bat, Hundley was known as a good defensive catcher. After Gary Carter was released, and Mackey Sasser struggled with the yips, he was rushed to the majors as a 20 year old.
While he got his first call-up in 1990, it took him a few seasons to stick on as the Mets starting catcher. Even with him being a good backstop, it was not until the 1995 season where Hundley truly established himself as a real everyday Major League catcher. That began from the first game of the 1995 season where he hit the first ever grand slam in the first game ever at Coors Field:
In that 1995 season, Hundley would deal with some injury issues, but he would put together his first real year as a player who could catch and hold his own at the plate. That 1995 season was an important year for him, but it was the following season which would define him.
The 1996 Mets were not a very good team, but they were a team with some of the best seasons in team history. In that year, Lance Johnson set the Mets single season record for triples. Bernard Gilkey set the Mets single season mark for doubles. Finally, Hundley would set the Mets single season mark for homers. It was actually much more than that.
Hundley’s 41 homers in 1996 would not only have him break Darryl Strawberry‘s single-season record for homers by a Met. It would also break Roy Campanella‘s single-season mark for homers by a catcher. Hundley would set the record with a homer off future teammate Greg McMichael:
For a Mets team with so much losing and with so many low points since that stretch in the 1980s, it was an important moment. It was so important to the team, they had a hologram picture of Hundley breaking the record on the 1997 year book.
That was an important moment for the Mets not only because of the record, but also because it was their first real sign of hope in years. With Hundley, they had a homegrown budding star to build a team around. In that year, he would make his first All Star team.
While Hundley didn’t set any records in 1997, he did something possibly even more important. He backed up what he did in 1996 by hitting 30 home runs the following year. He would once again be an All Star. More than that, he was a key part of a Mets team who was suddenly good. In fact, that team won a surprising 88 games, and they looked like an up and coming team.
More than that, Hundley and the Mets delivered the first blow in the first ever Subway Series game when baseball introduced Interleague Play. In the first inning of that game, Hundley would actually steal home. More important than that, he would catch every pitch of Dave Mlicki‘s complete game shutout which culminating in his framing a Mlicki curve to strike out Derek Jeter to end the game.
The Mets would take another step the following season emerging as real postseason contenders. Unfortunately, Hundley was not much a part of that. He missed the beginning of the year with reconstructive elbow surgery. That team got off to a slow start without him, and in an effort to save the season, the Mets obtained the shockingly available Mike Piazza, who was moved earlier in the season to the Florida Marlins.
That meant when Hundley came back there was nowhere for him to play. He tried left field, but he struggled out there, and for the good of the team, he told Bobby Valentine the team needed to reduce his role. That request did not come with a trade demand. Still, even though he was relegated as a back-up and pinch hitter, it did not mean he would not contribute.
Hundley’s last hurrah as a member of the Mets came in Houston. The Mets were a game out in the loss column for the Wild Card, and they needed every win they could get. In the top of the 12th, Hundley would hit a go-ahead homer helping the Mets keep pace. Unfortunately, it would not be in the cards for the Mets that year, and it was time from the team to move on from their homegrown star.
The Mets re-signed Piazza necessitating they trade Hundley. They did so moving him to the Dodgers in a deal which netted them Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, who was flipped to the Orioles for Armando Benitez. With that, even Hundley gone, he again helped make the Mets a postseason team.
In the ensuing years, he’d be one of the players named in the Mitchell Report putting an asterisk on some of his accomplishments. He’d also be long forgotten with the rise of Piazza, and he would see his record fall to Javy Lopez. Still, when he was with the Mets, in terms of the numbers, he was the best Mets player to ever wear the number 9.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Hundley was the ninth best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 9.
There have been a few times in the Mets history where they have surprised or even shocked the World in making their run to the postseason. The biggest example is 1969, which occurred 50 years ago. The Mets would make their Miracle run in 1973, and they would emerge in 1999, 2006, and 2015.
When you look at those rosters, there are players who are comparable to the players on this year’s Mets roster. Here’s a look at how it breaks down:
Wilson Ramos (Paul Lo Duca) – Ramos may not have been the catcher the Mets may have originally expected to bring in during the offseason, but like Lo Duca, he could be the perfect fit for this team and surprisingly be a very important piece to this club.
Juan Lagares (Endy Chavez) – Chavez was the defensive oriented player who was pressed into more action than anticipated, and his play on the field was a big reason the 2006 Mets came withing a game of the World Series.
Corey Oswalt (Logan Verrett) – The Mets need a low round drafted prospect to put together a string of great starts to help put this team over the top. With his increased velocity, this could be Oswalt.
And finally, there is Mickey Callaway, who we are hoping will be able to accomplish what Willie Randolph accomplished by proving himself a good manager in his second year and by leading the Mets to being the best team in the National League.
As the trade deadline approaches, every team usually states that they need bullpen help, and those that are true contenders usually add an extra arm or two to the bullpen. For example, back in 1999, one of the biggest strengths for a Mets team fighting for the NL East and the Wild Card was their bullpen. Armando Benitez had taken over the closer role much earlier than anticipated. Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook were having excellent seasons. Pat Mahomes was a revelation as the long man in the bullpen. Ex-closer John Franco was expected to return form injury to help with the playoff push. Greg McMichael was having an off year, but he had previously been a valuable bullpen arm in a pennant race from his days with the Atlanta Braves. On top of that, the Mets had some young promising arms to go to down the stretch with Jason Isringhausen and Octavio Dotel (even if Bobby Valentine thought they were better suited and belonged in the rotation). Overall, the point being is the Mets did not need bullpen help.
Even with that being the case, a Mets team that was very active during the trade deadline made sure to acquire another arm for the bullpen by sending McMichael and Isringhausen for Billy Taylor. It turns out Billy Taylor was washed up, and he would not even be on the postseason roster thereby forcing the Mets to make do with the already good bullpen pieces they had. The Mets find themselves in a similar position than the 1999 Mets did.
The Mets bullpen is led to Jeurys Familia who is the best closer in the game. When needed, Familia can pitch two innings to get the big save that the Mets need. The primary eighth inning set-up man has been Addison Reed, who is only sporting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP. This duo has only lost one lead that has been given to them this year in 32 attempts. Behind them is Hansel Robles who has done everything the Mets have needed in the bullpen. He can come out and bail the Mets out of a bases loaded no out jam or pitch 3.2 terrific innings to save a Mets bullpen from a first inning injury to a starting pitcher. Jerry Blevins has been an extremely effective LOOGY allowing lefties to hit .210/.269/.310. By the way, he has been even better against righties limiting them to a .107/.188/.214 batting line.
Behind these pitchers are some very solid options. There is Jim Henderson, who was great before Terry Collins abused his arm. Henderson is currently in AAA on a rehab assignment. Seth Lugo has been absolutely terrific out of the bullpen in his two appearances. However, it is only two appearances, and there still remains a (remote) chance that he may wind up in the starting rotation with the Matt Harvey injury. There is Erik Goeddel, who even despite one poor performance this season, still has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP. There is still Sean Gilmartin, who was an essential part of the Mets bullpen last year. He is a starter in AAA, but if the Mets are that desperate for major league relief help that they will swing a trade, they should pull up a known quantity to help the team where he is needed.
If the Mets will consider calling up players from the minors, there are some good options in AAA. Josh Edgin has a 2.45 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Paul Sewald has taken over as the closer, and he has recorded nine saves. There is always the alluring Josh Smoker, who is having a down year but still sports a mid-nineties fastball.
Finally, in addition to all of these players, there is still Antonio Bastardo, who is going nowhere. It is doubtful a rebuilding team will want to add him into the mix with his high salary and poor production. The Mets are stuck with him, and they are going to be stuck with him for the full season, regardless of whether they make another move to add a reliever or not. In essence, Bastardo is the reason why people mistakenly believe the Mets need bullpen help. With that in mind, the best thing the Mets can do is to find a way to get Bastardo back on track. That will help the Mets bullpen more than them adding another reliever.
Overall, the Mets bullpen is in fine shape with four outstanding relievers and plenty of good options behind them. The Mets do not need a reliever. They need to fix Bastardo since he’s going to be here whether or not the Mets make a trade. With that in mind, the Mets should leave the bullpen as is and turn their attention to the teams other needs at the trade deadline.
Admittedly, I have been apoplectic over the Tyler Clippard trade. The reason is because the last time the Mets made a trade like this it ended very badly. Faith and Fear in Flushing invoked the infamous John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell trades. For me, it reminded me of Billy Taylor.
In 1999, the Mets were in competition for the playoffs for really the second time in my life (and second year in a row). I was too young to truly remember this (although my first baseball memory is the Buckner game) or this. After the previous season’s collapse, I was desperate to see the Nets make the playoffs. I was appreciative when Steve Phillips was aggressive at the trade deadline. Notably, he added Kenny Rogers (I still don’t want to talk about it), Shawn Dunston, and Darryl Hamilton (RIP). He also traded for Billy Taylor.
To acquire Billy Taylor, the Mets sent Billy Beane’s A’s Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. At the time, I loved the move. Over a three year stretch, he had 73 saves on mediocre Athletics teams. In 1999, on an A’s team on the rise, he had 26 saves (his peripherals were awful but I didn’t follow such things back then). I was giddy at the prospect of the Mets having a 7-8-9 of Billy Taylor-John Franco-Armando Benitez (this is before we knew he was terrible in October). I didn’t care about the cost. All I wanted was a playoff berth, let alone a World Series.
Boy, was I wrong. In 18 appearances, Taylor had an 8.10 ERA. He was terrible. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. He was gone at the end of the year. He was out of baseball after the 2001 season.
The real cost of Taylor’s 18 innings? Jason Isringhausen’s career. He was once part of the fabled Generation K. In 1999, he was only given five starts. Mostly, he was a seldom used reliever who bounced between Norfolk and New York. He was coming off an elbow injury. At the time of the trade, he had a 6.41 ERA. His star had fallen. While he wasn’t good, Bobby V didn’t want to put him in the bullpen because that was “akin to using an Indy car as a taxi.”
I love Bobby V, but he was proven wrong. In 1999, he would save eight games for the A’s with a 2.13 ERA. That might’ve been helpful as Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Since the trade, Izzy accumulated 299 saves (one for the Mets in 1999 and seven for them in 2011). That was a lot to give up for 18 appearances.
Now, I don’t think Tyler Clippard will be as bad as Billy Taylor. He’s a much better pitcher. In actuality, through all of my hand wringing, I have noted Clippard is a quality addition that will help a back of a bullpen that needs it. I think the 7-8-9 of Bobby Parnell-Tyler Clippard-Jeurys Familia could be very good, or at least better than the 1999 version. If the Mets win the World Series, I’ll be thrilled and I won’t care how good Casey Meisner becomes.
However, I shudder at another Mets trade with Billy Beane for a reliever. While I hope one day I’m regaling my son of the 2015 championship season, I’m afraid that I will be explaining how Casey Meisner could have been a Met.