(3) Cleon Jones – He caught a fly ball off the bat of Davey Johnson, fell to a knee, and the 1969 Mets were World Series champions. In that series, it was his foot which was hit which led to Gil Hodges bringing the shoe polished ball from the dugout. Was the best position player on that 1969 team, and his 7.0 WAR that season lasted as the team single-season record for nearly 30 years. During 1973 run to the division title, starting the key relay in the famous “Ball on the Wall” Play. Hit .284/.356/.444 in postseason play.
(6) Jerry Grote – Great defensive catcher and receiver who helped pitching staff lead Mets to 1969 World Series and 1973 pennant. Second all-time in Mets history in defensive WAR. Johnny Bench famously said if he and Grote were teammates, Bench would have played third base. Two time All-Star.
The first round of the Miracle Bracket is complete, and for the most part it went chalk. The first round winners were Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub, Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Grote, Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, and Jerry Koosman.
If you want to call Agee over a Jon Matlack you could, but that could have also been the case of seeding issues with this part of the tournament.
The next round has some interesting match-ups. In particular, the Kranepool/Harrelson and the Grote/Jones ones should be close. With the other two, it is expected for Seaver and Koosman to continue through to their Elite Eight clash between Mets pitchers who have had their uniform retired.
The Mets have a potential future Hall of Famer in Jeff Kent (who would likely wear a Giants cap), and a pair of Gold Glove winners in Juan Lagares and Ron Darling who have worn the number 12. With respect to Darling, he also won 99 games, a great broadcaster, and a member of those great Mets teams. However, when you look at the play on the field, John Stearns is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
This may come as a bit of a surprise because Stearns is one of the most overshadowed Mets greats. He played a position best known for Gary Carter, Jerry Grote, and Mike Piazza. His heyday was after the 1973 team, and he departed just as Keith Hernandez got there to help turn the Mets into winners.
It is somewhat surprising he is so overshadowed because he was as tough as they come. Stearns was ready, willing, and able whenever there was a play at the plate, and he gave as good as he got in those collisions. In a collision with Dave Parker, he kept his mask on resulting in a broken cheekbone for the slugger. The following year, he fought Carter, then of the Expos, when he thought Carter went in too hard.
That was what defined him throughout his Mets career – his feistiness and toughness. In these encounters and his battles at the plate, it was a tremendous assets. When it came to his health and his playing through some bad injuries, it was a hindrance. Still, even as he dealt with a number of injuries, he would still prove himself to be both a good hitter and good catcher.
In fact, Stearns is the Mets second best catcher in terms of WAR. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but according to defensive WAR, his 1978 season was the best defensive season a Mets catcher ever had. That 1978 season was the third best season a Mets catcher ever had. In Mets history, he was one of the toughest batters to strike out.
Overall, when times were at their toughest, when Shea Stadium was known as Grant’s Tomb, Mets fans had Stearns. He was a four time All-Star, and according to WAR, he is the 18th best Mets player to ever play for the team. Of the people in the Top 20, the Stearns is the only one who never made the postseason. That makes it strange that Stearns may be best remembered for a postseason moment.
It was Stearns who was screaming, “The Monster is out of the cage!” when Piazza doubled in his first at-bat of the 2000 NLCS. Stearns was the bench coach for that pennant winning team, and he would serve as a Mets minor league instructor and manager for a few seasons.
Overall, he lived up at time to his self inflicted nickname of “Bad Dude,” but he was much more than that. He was a tough player who gave the Mets organization everything he had. He gave the Mets something to appreciate and enjoy at a time when things were at their worst. He has been over-shadowed, but in the end, he is still the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
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 Garrett was the 11th best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 11.
(6) Jerry Grote – Great defensive catcher and receiver who helped pitching staff lead Mets to 1969 World Series and 1973 pennant. Second all-time in Mets history in defensive WAR. Johnny Bench famously said if he and Grote were teammates, Bench would have played third base. Two time All-Star
(11) Ron Hunt – First Mets player to ever start an All-Star Game. Held record for single-season HBP for 52 years and team record for 48 years. Joked that while some people gave their bodies to science, he had given his body to baseball.
If we were to take the totality of Rusty Staub‘s Mets career, he would be here, but he doesn’t get the nod here because he did most of his damage when he wore the number 4. While having a very good year in 1975, he wore 10 primarily as a pinch hitter extraordinaire for the Mets in the early 1980s.
Looking past Staub, when you look at the number 10, you may think of Endy Chavez robbing Scott Rolen of a homer in what was the greatest catch made in NLCS history. While Chavez isn’t the best Mets player to ever wear the number 10, the number is defined by defense.
Rey Ordonez defected out of Cuba when he was in the United States as part of the 1993 Summer Universiade tournament held in Buffalo, NY. He’d sign on with the Saint Paul Saints before the Mets signed him to a deal. Three years later, he would be at Shea Stadium showing himself to be the best defensive shortstop in team history.
Ordonez was great defensively literally from day one. On Opening Day, Ordonez fielded a throw from Bernard Gilkey, and from his knees, he would throw out Royce Clayton at home plate. It was the first of many unbelievable defensive plays in his career:
Orodonez was never a hitter, but really, he never needed to be. First off, his defensive greatness more than offset his bat. Second, the Mets were smart in building teams which focused on allowing him to do what he does great. That started a stretch from 1997 to 1999 where he won three straight Gold Gloves.
In Major League history, there are only five National League shortstops to accomplish that feat. Ordonez was the fourth to do so following Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin. If nothing else, Ordonez’s defense was Hall of Fame caliber. Really, it was the stuff of legends. As noted by SABR, Bill Pulsipher once said Ordonez’s Mets teammates called him “SEGA” due to all the video game plays he would make in the field.
Really, good luck trying to find his greatest defensive play. Out in the field, Ordonez was a human highlight reel who could make even sure base hits into outs.
There are so, so many more plays than this. If he played during the age of YouTube, his defense would have been an absolute sensation.
The best season for Ordonez came in 1999 when he was the best defender on the best infield in Major League history. On that team, he and Robin Ventura both won Gold Gloves with John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo deserving them as well. That year, Ordonez would set the Major League record for errorless games/innings at shortstop.
That 1999 season, he would also have some personal offensive highlights with his hitting his first career grand slam. In Game 1 of the NLDS, he would get the bunt down against Randy Johnson to score Ventura from third. In the ninth, with the game tied, he hit a one out single moving Ventura to second in advance of Alfonzo’s grand slam off Bobby Chouinard. Due to a Rickey Henderson fielder’s choice, Ordonez would actually score the winning run of that game.
In Game 3, Ordonez actually delivered the Mets first run of the game in what would prove to be a Mets 9-2 win which put them on the precipice of the NLCS.
The 1999 season would be the last of Ordonez’s Gold Glove seasons. In the following year, Ordonez would suffer a season ending broken forearm. In typical Ordonez fashion, he broke his arm on a truly spectacular play. Al Leiter picked F.P. Santangelo off first, and Todd Zeile made an offline throw to Ordonez. Ordonez leaped and spun himself to put the tag down on Santangelo, but he broke his arm in the process. With his arm not healing, he was not a part of the run 2000 pennant run.
It was a play only he could make, and it was the reason his season ended. To a certain extent, that was the end of Ordonez’s Mets career. In Mets history, Ordonez has the third highest defensive WAR. To put that into perspective, Ordonez accumulated his 10.2 over seven years. The two players ahead of him, Bud Harrelson (13 years) and Jerry Grote (12 years) had much longer Mets careers.
As such, it is very fair to say Ordonez is the best defensive player in Mets history, and ultimately, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 10.
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 Ordonez was the tenth best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 10.
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.
All the time we talk about key trades or signings which take teams over the top. While it was Keith Hernandez which helped the Mets realize their potential, it was Gary Carter which took this team from a very good team to a World Series winner, and as a result, he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 8.
The Mets obtained Carter in a bold move to help take this team over the top. The team traded away their starting third baseman (Hubie Brooks) and starting catcher (Mike Fitzgerald) along with two well regarded prospects to get Carter. One of those prospects was Floyd Youmans, who was a high school teammate of Dwight Gooden.
In retrospect, even with Brooks having a long career, this was an absolute steal. It wasn’t even in retrospect. In fact, Carter would immediately show Mets fans the type of Hall of Fame player the team acquired:
In the Mets history, they have had Mike Piazza, and they had Todd Hundley setting home run records. Despite all of that, to this date, Carter’s 6.9 WAR during the 1985 season still stands as the best ever produced by a Mets catcher. In fact, at the time, it trailed just Cleon Jones‘ 7.0 mark in 1969 as the best a Mets position player has ever had.
It was during that season Carter began to sow the seeds of the 1986 World Series. He mentored a young staff that included Rick Aguilera, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Gooden, Roger McDowell, and others. Darling would tell the Baseball Hall of Fame, “And the thing about Gary was that before computers, before Sabermetrics, he had it in his brain. The entire National League, he could pull up that knowledge at any time and direct it on a very talented, young pitching staff to heights they probably wouldn’t have reached without him.”
Those Mets had a chance late in the season. In the penultimate series of the season, the Mets took the first two games in St. Louis, and if they completed the sweep, they’d tie atop the division with one series remaining. Unfortunately, their eighth inning rally came up short, and the 98 win team would miss the postseason. As we know, that is something that would never happen in the Wild Card Era.
The 1986 Mets would not be denied, and that team established themselves as one of the great teams in Major League history. Once again, Carter was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and he finished in the top six in MVP voting. However, when we talk about that postseason.
Looking at his stats that postseason, it is hard to conclude anything but Carter struggled. Still, when he was absolutely needed, he came through for the team. The first time we saw that happen was when he hit a walk-off single in the 12th off Charlie Kerfeld to help the Mets get a 3-2 series lead and achieve their goal of not seeing Mike Scott again in that series.
Carter’s biggest moments came in the World Series. After looking fatigued and getting beat by the Red Sox in the first two games at Shea Stadium, Lenny Dykstra ignited the Mets with a lead-off homer. Carter would take it from there hitting an RBI double in that game and then having a two home run game in the Mets Game 4 win.
While the Mets absolutely needed both of those homers, and they needed Carter’s performance in both of those games, Carter will always be remembered for just one single. In Game 6, the Mets were down 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th. After Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez flew out, Carter strode to the plate against Calvin Schiraldi. He was the last man standing between the Red Sox winning their first World Series since 1918:
As written in Jeff Pearlman’s book, The Bad Guys Won, Carter would say, “I wasn’t going to make the last out of the World Series.” Carter accomplished much more than that. He would spark the greatest rally in World Series history. In sparking that rally, he accomplished exactly what the Mets intended to do when they obtained him – win a World Series.
We didn’t realize it at that time, but 1986 was the last truly great year from Carter. Still, he was an All Star in each of the ensuing two seasons, and he would be named just the second captain in team history joining his teammate Hernandez as co-captains.
While people realize how great Carter was and how important he was to those Mets teams, they may not realize his impact on the Mets record books. By the time he left the Mets, he had the second highest single-season WAR for a position player. He had the third highest single season offensive WAR. In fact, it was the highest when he accomplished the feat in 1985.
In that 1985 season, he was just a hair behind John Stearns and Jerry Grote for the best defensive WAR from a Mets catcher. His 105 RBI in 1986 tied Rusty Staub for the Mets single-season record. He still holds the single season record for RBI. He is all over the single season record lists.
Mostly, he was the only Hall of Fame caliber player on those Mets teams. Aside from Willie Mays, he is arguably the best position player to ever wear a Mets uniform. Yes, even better than Piazza. On that note, Carter and Piazza are currently the only two position players in Mets history who were Hall of Famers who played like it on the Mets.
If not for the Hall of Fame frankly selectively enforcing a rule they did not enforce for players like Reggie Jackson, he would wear a Mets hat on his Hall of Fame plaque, and he would have had his number retired by now. Despite that decision, nothing can take away from the impact he had on the Mets and the World Series he brought to the team. No one can change his being the best Mets player who ever wore the number 8.
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 Carter was the eighth best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 8.
With COVID19, we don’t get baseball. Instead, we have memories of baseball. Our favorite games, moments, and players. Each team has their own legends who are mostly remembered for their own contributions. In an effort to recognize that, we are going to run down the greatest players in Mets history by going through the uniform numbers.
We begin at number 1, which in Mets history has become synonymous with Mookie Wilson.
The best stretch in Mets history began with him because on September 2, 1980, he batted lead-off and played center field for the Mets. In that game, Wally Backman was also in the line-up, and with that the first two members of the 1986 World Series champion roster were in place.
Much like the Mets as a franchise, Mookie had to fight for everything he got as he was constantly being challenged for playing time. In 1986, that came in the form of Lenny Dykstra, who had a great rookie season. Mookie would eventually force his way into the lineup taking over left from the released George Foster.
That situation became all the more complicated in the subsequent offseason when the Mets obtained Kevin McReynolds from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Kevin Mitchell and prospects. Through this time, he would have to platoon, and he would be frustrated by the process seeking a trade at one point. Still, through it all, he remained a Met.
In fact, Mookie was one of the longest tenured Mets in history. When he was finally traded in 1989 to the Toronto Blue Jays, he was the longest tenured Met on the team. He was also the longest tenured Met when they won the World Series in 1986. In fact, when he departed, only Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Grote, and Cleon Jones had played more games than him.
Over his 10 years with the Mets, he was the team’s all-time leader in triples and stolen bases. He was also third in runs and doubles. Really, at that point in Mets history, he was top 5-10 in most offensive categories. This shows how much of an impactful player he was for the franchise. That was perhaps best exhibited in his having the single greatest at-bat in team history:
In that at-bat, Mookie battled like few others we have seen in baseball history. Despite falling down 0-2 against Bob Stanley with the next strike ending the World Series, Wilson would take two pitches evening up the count at 2-2 before fouling off two pitches. The next pitch was the wild pitch.
Looking back at it, it was incredible he got out of the way of the pitch. His getting out of the way of the pitch allowed Mitchell to score from third and to permit Ray Knight to get into scoring position. He then fouled off another pitch before hitting the ball between Bill Buckner‘s legs. In that moment, the Mets made one of the greatest comebacks not just in baseball but sports history.
Mookie’s Mets contribution did not end there. He’d return to the franchise as a first base coach working on Bobby Valentine‘s staffs. On that note, he’d be standing in the first base coaches’ box during Robin Ventura‘s Grand Slam single. That means Wilson was there up the first base line for two of the most improbable postseason comebacks with the Mets facing elimination.
Mookie is also the father of Preston Wilson, the former Mets prospect who was one of the headliners headed to the Miami Marlins for Mike Piazza. This only speaks to everything Mookie was. He was much more than the baseball player who got married at home plate in the minor leagues. He has been a good man and eventually became an ordained minister.
Through and through, Mookie is Mets baseball. He is an important figure in team history, and he is certainly the best ever player to wear the No. 1 in team history.
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.
The Mets Fan
My name is Rudy Sheptock, and I am on Twitter as @RudyOrangeAndBlue. I am a full time Minister and a part-time DJ! My daily midday Radio Show is called Rudy On The Radio and it’s heard Monday-Friday from Noon until 2PM on LIFT FM here in Cape May County, NJ. I have been married 36 years and have four kids and four grandkids. I love social media and enjoy the many friendships I have made via Twitter and Facebook.
How You Became a Mets Fan
I became a die hard Mets Fan in the mid 1960s because of my Dad. He grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers Fan, and when they and the Giants left for California, there was no way my Father was going to root for the Yankees. So when the Mets came along, he began to root for them and passed his love of the Orange and Blue on to me! Because I never do anything halfway – I was in for life!
Favorite Mets Player
My first Mets Autograph was Gil Hodges, but my first hero was Tom Seaver. I patterned everything I did after Tom. I would listen to the Mets on the Radio and would be perfectly in-sync with Seaver even though I could not see the game. I wore either 14 or 41 all thru my playing days. I also taught both my sons the drop and drive style of Seaver’s pitching. I have tons of Seaver memorabilia all over my house! I cried the day they traded him to the Reds! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Favorite Moment in Mets History
While my oldest Son was born in 1986 and that magical season, nothing will ever compare to the Summer of 1969! After so much losing, the Mets were finally winning! And I loved Gil Hodges and the innocence of that era for me cause I was 10 years old! Seaver’s almost perfect game! I was at Banner Day that August when the Mets swept the Padres 3-2 in both games. The double-header that the Mets won against the Pirates where both games were 1-0 with Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell driving in the runs! Ken Boswell singling in Cleon Jones against the Expos to put us in first place! And the day we won the World Series! I was in Baseball Heaven! I am so glad I was alive and well because that Team was my Team! Cleon and Tommie Agee! Jerry Grote and Donn Clendenon! I remember riding my bike thru the old neighborhood screaming We Won The World Series! Childhood at it’s best! Even the Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show!
Message to Mets Fans
Real Mets Fans are a unique breed! We are never confident. We always expect the worst and are pleasantly pleased when our Team comes through. We despise the Yankees! We love Bob Murphy. We miss Shea Stadium! The chant of Let’s Go Mets still gives us Goosebumps and we can still hear Jane Jarvis play the organ in our souls! We love Wilmer Flores and can’t understand why the Wilpons are still around! We can call our Mets Bums but will defend them to the death! We bleed blue and orange! Love to hear Put it in the Books and will always stick around for the Happy Recap! I was a Mets Fan at 7 years old and now at almost 60- I still love them!