John Franco

That’s How You Finish Out the Regular Season at Home

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:

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:

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.”

  
  

 

Jeurys Familia Is Becoming the Mets Best Closer Ever

For an organization known for its pitching, it should come as no surprise that the Mets have had their fair share of good closers.  What may come as a surprise is that Jeurys Familia might just become better than them all.

The Mets first notable closer was Tug McGraw.  His contributions extend well past his coining the phrase “Ya Gotta Believe!”  Up until the 80’s, in a time when managers began to pitch to the save rule, McGraw was the Mets all-time leader with 86 saves.  He is also the only Mets to be a closer to for a team that won a World Series and a Pennant.  In 1969, he shared closing duties with Ron Taylor.  In 1973, he was not only the man, but in many ways, the vocal leader of the team.  The only record McGraw has remaining in the record books is most innings pitched by a Mets reliever  with 792.2 innings over his nine year Mets career.

The next Mets closer to appear in multiple postseasons was Jesse Orosco.  When discussing Orosco, there are always three things you need to mention: (1) he was part of the return the Mets received when they traded Jerry Koosman to the Twins; (2) Keith Hernandez warned him not to throw a fastball to Kevin Bass (he didn’t); and (3) his glove has still not landed.  After his eight year career was over, Orosco was both the Mets all-time leader in saves (107) and the Mets single season saves leader (31 in 1984).  To this day, he remains the only Mets closer to save a World series clinching game.

Orosco would eventually be surpassed by John Franco on both the saves list and the Mets all-time saves list.  Somewhat ironically, Franco’s entrance song was Johnny B. Goode as his ninth inning appearances were always a high wire act.  Still, throughout all of it, Franco has more saves by any left-handed closer in history with 424, and when he retired he was third on the all-time list trailing only Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman.  Franco recorded 276 of those saves with the Mets.  His 276 saves are the Mets record by a fairly wide margin.

In fact, Franco leads Armando Benitez by 116 saves on the Mets all-time list.  Coincidentally, Benitez is the man who replaced Franco as the Mets closer in 1999.  With the Mets having made consecutive postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000, Benitez remains the only Mets closer to pitch in consecutive postseasons.  While Mets fans loved to hate him, Benitez did show flashes of complete and utter dominance.  As of right now, his 43 saves in 2001 still remains the Mets single season record.

However, that record is in jeopardy.  Last year, Jeurys Familia, in his first season as the Mets closer, tied Benitez’s single season record.  This year, he has tied it again en route to him most likely breaking the tie with Benitez.  With Familia having saved 43 games for consecutive seasons, he has already set the mark for most saves by a Mets closer in consecutive seasons.  Even with Familia only having been the Mets closer for one plus seasons, he now ranks fifth all-time with 92 saves as a Met.  With 16 more saves, he will jump both Orosco and Billy Wagner to put him third all-time.

If the Mets current charge continues, he could join Benitez as the only Mets closer to appear in back-to-back postseasons.  If the Mets get into the postseason, anything is possible including seeing Familia join Orosco as the only Mets pitcher to earn a save to close out the World Series.

That’s just the thing with Familia.  He’s already a great closer, and he’s already writing his name all over the Mets record books.  As long as he is the Mets closer, anything is possible.  It’s also possible that we could be watching the best closer in Mets history.

Mike Piazza’s Number 31 Officially Retired

It was a muggy and rainy day that might’ve lead to the game being called on any other night. 

  
But they weren’t going to call this game as it was the night the Mets were retiring Mike Piazza‘s number 31. With the 31 inside a home plate mowed into centerfield, the Mets were ready, and nothing was going to stop the night. 

  
The ceremony was just about perfect with a video featuring Piazza standing at the spot home plate once stood at Shea Stadium 

  
We had to visit it after the game. 

Then Piazza would come through the Mets dugout that seemed to have most of the players there, and the crowd erupted. 

  
Every little touch was perfect from the aforementioned 31 in centerfield to his 31 prominently featured on the Home Run Apple. 

  

The video introducing him was spot on making sure to put an emphasis on his post 9/11 home run 

The only thing missing from the tribute was Mets fans giving him a curtain call after he homered off former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez

Speaking of former teammates, there was some surprise that there weren’t more of his old Mets teammates there. Frankly, I was shocked there was no John Franco, but you don’t know the scheduling issues that would prevent people from coming. For example, you know White Sox manager Robin Ventura would never be able to make it. 

You still didn’t notice it too much with who was there. There was old fan favorite Cliff Floyd. The best Mets second baseman of all time Edgardo Alfonzo.  The last player there was the first Mets pitcher Piazza ever caught, Al Leiter. Since leaving the Mets, Leiter was never treated properly by Mets fans for how great a Met he was, but on this day, he would be with a loud standing ovation. Then we finally saw the number unveiled:

  
 Piazza then had to speak. Many times, he seemed speechless at the outpouring of affection he received. Other times, Mets fans would not even let him speak during his speech:

Piazza honored everyone including the fans. He took in the moment as Mets fans did as well. His induction to Cooperstown was a coronation, but this was a celebration with 42,207 of his closest friends. There would be no roomfor booing as Piazza would remind the fans when he brought up the Wilpons. That’s the power of Piazza – he can get the fans to stop booing the Wilpons. 

He gave a poignant speech letting the fans know that for as long as his 31 hangs in Citi Field, he will be with all of us. As he parted, he tried to inspire everyone saying that whenever the team needs inspiration, they need only look up to left field and remember that old Mikey is with them. 

After he threw out the first pitch from home plate to Leiter, it was game time 

  
Yes, there were some jokes about Piazza not doing it to Alfonzo at second. The real joke was what followed. The team either didn’t listen or was too undermanned to draw from these inspirational words. 

The game itself. It was never going to match the beauty of that ceremony, but it didn’t need to be that ugly. The team never heeded his parting advice. 

Given how the Mets have been playing, and the lineup that was put out there, the loss was no surprise. The Mets starter AAA cast-off Justin Ruggiano in center, a reall defensively challenged Kelly Johnson at first, a 43 year old Bartolo Colon on three days rest, and of course Neil Walker.  Not even facing the worst starter in baseball Jorge De La Rosa could revive this offense. 

It was just a brutal game that saw Terry Collins get tossed in the fourth, and frankly, most Mets fans didn’t stay for much longer than that it a 7-2 loss. 

Overall, the only thing worse than the loss was knowing that Tom Seaver was physically unable to attend the ceremony. It was still a great night, and years from now, I will always remember seeing this for the first time. 

  
 Game Notes: Jose Reyes was put on the DL before the game. 

Great Day to Be a Mets Fan

On a typical Sunday, I’ll catch the first few innings on the car radio. Not today. We got out of the house earlier than usual to ensure we’d be home in time for my son and I to watch not only the Mets game, but also Mike Piazza‘s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Everywhere we went, Mets were talking about how excited they were for both an important game against the Marlins, but also to see Piazza join Tom Seaver as the only Mets players in the Hall of Fame. My son got caught up in the excitement as well singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Meet the Mets.”  However, he was most excited when he got his lemonade. Check that, he took my peach jalapeño sticking me with the Strawberry one. 

  
It’s a big Mets day, I’ll call it my Darryl Strawberry one. 

Naturally, we started with the Mets game as Piazza wasn’t at the podium. By the way, God bless whoever created picture-in-picture. The Mets game got off to a great start with Michael Conforto showing that he just might be able to play well in center field:

Then, in the third, Jose Reyes would hit a two out RBI triple scoring Conforto, who was actually in scoring position. The Mets had a 1-0 lead, and soon it would be time to tune in to watch Piazza officially become a Hall of Famer:

  
His speech was perfect. 

He touched on everything you would want him to touch upon.  He spoke glowingly about his boyhood idol Mike Schmidt and how Johnny Bench was the standard bearer at the position.  He thanked everyone on the Dodgers including Tommy LaSordaEric Karros, and Tom Candiotti. He talks about how great it was growing up as a Dodger before talking poignantly about what it meant to him to be a Met. 

He talked about how John Franco welcomed him into his home and gave him his #31. He talked about his on and off the field relationship with Al Leiter. He spoke about how clutch Edgardo Alfonzo was making it easier for him to do what he did, which was hit big homers including the post 9/11 home run. 

But like the most of the speech, Piazza deflected the attention away from himself. Instead, he talked about the real heroes were those that gave their lives on 9/11. Much like the moment he hit that home run, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – Cooperstown, yours, and mine. 

His acknowledgment of Mets fans was also touching. It’s something that’s not always seen in Hall of Fame speeches. It was touching to hear he loved us as we loved him.

All while this was happening, Steven Matz was back in form, and he was mowing down the Marlins. I barely noticed him pitching six innings allowing four runs, none earned, and two walks with six strikeouts. By the time, I was fully re-engaged in the game I mostly ignored in the picture-in-picture, Hansel Robles was on the mound. 

Robles did what he has done for most of the year and shut down the opposition. He seems to have been given the seventh inning job, and he has it locked down. 

In the top of the eighth, the Mets finally got some insurance. Yoenis Cespedes singled home Alejandro De Aza, who had reached base on a wild pitch by Kyle Barraclough after striking out. Seriously, how else would De Aza reach base?  James Loney singled home Curtis Granderson. The Mets seemed poised for more after a Kelly Johnson walk. However, Asdrubal Cabrera hit into a force out with Cespedes out at home (initially ruled safe, but it was overturned on replay) making him 0-32 in his last 32 at bats with runners in scoring position. Juan Lagares then lined out to end the rally. 

Lagares had come on for defense in place of Conforto in the seventh. Conforto has played well before the seventh showing he could be a viable option going forward. He also had a nice day at the plate going 2-2 with a run scored. 

After eight, it was 3-0 Mets which was a lot more support than Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia needed. Reed and Familia shut the door giving the Mets a 3-0 win putting them a half-game behind the Marlins. It was Familia’s 34th straight save this year and 51 straight dating back to last year. 

It put the end to what was a great day to be a Mets fan. 

Mets Do Not Need Bullpen Help

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.

You Can Trust Jeurys Familia Is Getting the Save

Normally, I’m much more in tune with a Mets game than I was last night. Generally speaking, no matter where I am, I’m getting play-by-play someway, somehow. I didn’t last night because I was at the Brooklyn Cyclones game with my family, and courtesy of Nicco Blank, we had great seats:

  
Being that close, especially with an active toddler, we had to be on high alert foul balls  in the stands:

  
Courtesy of Blake Tiberi

In any event, by the time we got to the car, I knew little about the game. I knew Bartolo Colon started the game. I knew Neil Walker hit a two run homer. I knew the Mets were up 4-3. I was just fuzzy on the rest of the who, what, where, when, or why about the other five runs that scored. 

There was another thing I knew. Jeurys Familia was going to close it out. 

So far this year, Familia is a perfect 28 for 28 in save chances. He has a career 2.49 ERA, 1.182 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. He has a career 149 ERA+. He’s consistent. He’s durable. He’s the best closer in the National League, and he’s amongst the best in baseball. As a fan, he’s a closer that gives you confidence. That’s a rare feeling for Mets fans. 

Sure, John Franco usually got the job done as evidenced by his 424 career saves. That’s the most for a lefty closer. That’s also 424 times he gave some poor Mets fan a heart attack for his Houdini acts. 

He was supplanted by Armando Benitez. Benitez was as dominant as they come unless he was facing Pat BurrellPaul O’Neill, the Braves, or any team in the Month of September or October. 

Billy Wagner was tremendous until he faced the immortal So TaguchiJesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were a bit before my time. 

About the only closer I can come up with during my time I had any confidence in was Randy Myers. Back in 1988 and 1989, he was great as the Mets closer. You had confidence when he took the mound. It was the opposite feeling when the Mets brought in Franco to start the 1990 season as the closer. It began a 14 year high wire act that was followed with the Benitez’s and the Braden Looper‘s of the world. 

It’s been 18 years since the Mets had a closer they can trust not to give everyone a minor stroke when they take the mound. Familia is different than his predecessors. When Familia enters the game in a save situation, he’s getting the save.  He typically does it without giving you a heart attack. When he enters the game, you know he’s converting the save. 

It’s about the one thing I knew for certain about the Mets game yesterday. 

Happy Bobby Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of the year when we get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a time when you feel even closer to what you love. I am of course referring to Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Spring Training this week. 

As the Mets report, they are trying to do something that only Bobby Valentine’s Mets have ever done. They are trying to go to the postseason for consecutive years. It’s still amazing to think that in the 54 year history of the Mets, they have only e been in consecutive postseasons only once. Gil Hodges couldn’t do it. Davey Johnson couldn’t. Willie Randolph came agonizingly close. 

No, the only one to do it was Bobby V. He did it with a core of Mike PiazzaEdgardo AlfonzoRobin Ventura, and Al Leiter. He had a terrific bullpen of Armando BenitezJohn FrancoTurk Wendell, and Dennis Cook. Each year, he had drastically different outfields and rotations. Yet, he was still able to make it work. He got the most out of these teams.  The Mets made consecutive NLCS appearances, and they were close to winning a World Series. 

This now is the task set forth for Terry Collins. For the first time in 16 years and the second time in Mets history, he is tasked with leading a Mets team to consecutive postseason berths. Like Bobby V, he has a strong core of players. Unlike Bobby V, he has not had much turnover in the roster. 

Overall, the one thing uniting Bobby V’s Mets and Terry Collins’ Mets is hope. Mets fans hope and believe in this team. We all believe this is our year even after a heartbreaking loss. And yes, as this is Valentine’s Day, Mets fans love their team. 

So remember on this the coldest of Bobby Valentine’s Day, Spring is in the air, and we will soon be reunited with the team we love. 

Billy Wagner Was Awesome

Recently, the players eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame were announced. On that list is former Met, Billy Wagner, who is eligible for the first time. 

The question that naturally follows is if he’s a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, what happens next is some idiot starts minimizing what each player had accomplished, and/or questioning why the player appears on the ballot. There’s no need for that. To be eligible, a player has to be in the big leagues for 10 years, which is no small feat considering most of us never made it out of Little League. These players have earned the right to have their name there. Instead of telling us why they’re not Hall of Famers, their stories should be shared. 

Personally, I always marvel at Billy Wagner. Did you know he’s not even a lefty?  He’s a natural righty, but as a kid he learned to throw lefty because he broke his right arm twice. It’s a good thing too because inside that left arm was a fastball that could occasionally hit triple digits. He would make it to the Astros to become an elite All Star closer. 

For his career, Wagner amassed 422 saves. That ranks as sixth all time and second amongst left handed closers trailing only fellow former Met (and Astro) John Franco. He had a 2.31 ERA with a 0.998 WHIP and a 11.9 K/9. He was what you wanted with a closer. He came in and struck people out en route to wrapping up the game. He made it an eight inning game for his team. You can make a case for him going into the Hall of Fame with those numbers. 

As a Mets fan, I’m more interested in two things about Billy Wagner: 2006 and 2009. In 2006, Wagner came to the Mets and became part of an incredible bullpen. He saved 40 games. His year was so good he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. He was a vital member of a team that won 97 games and won the NL East for the first time in 28 years. Unfortunately, it was his only fully healthy year with the Mets. He was unavailable due to injury in 2007 and 2008. We watched as a damaged bullpen and flawed team collapsed in those seasons. 

The worst of Wagner’s injuries would come in 2008. He would need Tommy John surgery. Most, myself included, thought this was the end of his Mets career. Instead, Wagner come back astonishingly fast from the surgery. After 11 months, he came back to a Mets team going nowhere. No one would’ve blamed him for easing off the throttle a bit. There wasn’t a need to rush back. However, it wasn’t the way Billy Wagner is wired. He came back to a well deserved standing ovation and recorded a 1-2-3 inning. 

He would be traded to Boston to finish out 2009. He would play one more year with the Braves before hanging them up. He left behind a career in which he was dominant. He can honestly say he gave it all on the field. He was a fierce competitor that brought integrity to the game. 

I’m not sure if he’s a Hall of Famer. What I do know is that he was a great player, and I’m glad he was a Met. Instead of taking time to denigrate his career, people should be writing his story. It’s a remarkable story about resiliency and competitiveness. He should be shown as an inspiration to children that you can overcome anything to be a big leaguer . . . even twice breaking your throwing arm. 

For all that, congratulations on a terrific career Billy Wagner. 

Wear the First Responder Caps!

After the horrors of 9/11, it was time for baseball to return. We were all shaken and needed a return to some normalcy. As the National Pasttime, baseball was set to return. 

When it came time to return, the Mets, lead by Todd Zeile made a statement. They tossed their Mets caps aside, and wore the First Responders caps. They wore caps honoring the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, and Port Authority Police Department. It was a memorial to the heroes who lost their lives trying to save the lives of others. 

Zeile wouldn’t let MLB rip the hat off his head. On September 17, 2001, the Mets took the field wearing these caps. It was emotional watching John Franco earning the win wearing an FDNY cap knowing he lost someone close to him on 9/11, who was a firefighter. When baseball returned to New York, the Mets took to the field wearing these first responder caps. It was the second most moving thing that happened that night:

After the 2001 season, it was time to move on. However, we would never forget. By we, I’m not including MLB. They have allowed the Mets to wear the caps since. Even when David Wright tried to wear it in the dugout, MLB took it away from him. 

Four years ago, in honor of the tenth anniversary, the Mets petitioned MLB to wear the caps again. They were denied by MLB. Worse yet, they threatened to heavily fine players who elected to wear them. While Wright was once strong enough to wear a cap in the dugout, he became callow when it came to wearing the cap on the field stating he had to follow the rules. Bud Selig was the only one angry over the issue, and that is because the issue became public

I don’t spend other people’s money. However, Wright is a leader. He needs to lead on the issue. He can’t go halfway like he did in the past. I’m assuming MLB will once again allow the Mets to wear the cap pregame only, you know, when no one can see it on TV. Instead when you turn on the TV tonight, you’ll see this:

 

Guess what?  You can buy it at Lids for $37.99. It’s the same price on MLB.com. Note, there are no notations anywhere as to whether there will be any donations made to any charities. It’s a money grab. 
The Mets had a strong locker room in 2001, and they stood up and did what was right. Wearing the First Responder caps is the right thing to do. People are still getting sick. Families continue to suffer. I know wearing the caps doesn’t change that. 

However, it would be nice to know MLB and the Mets still remember. The slogan after 9/11 was never forget. If the Mets don’t wear the caps, it’s a sign they forgot. 

UPDATE: they have forgotten and it’s embarrassing:

https://twitter.com/jareddiamond/status/642428830393737216

Retire 17?

You know sometimes we forget about the impact Keith Hernandez had upon his teammates. 

After Hernandez left the Mets, David Cone switched his number from 44 to 17 to honor his former teammate. He would wear it again with the Royals. His fellow color commentator, Ron Darling, wore 17 while a member of the Athletics. Bob Ojeda and Roger McDowell did the same with their future teams. In fact, they occupied the number during Mike Piazza‘s early tenure with the Dodgers. This is interesting because Piazza wanted number 17:

When Piazza joined the Mets, John Franco gave him his number 31. It was a terrific gesture that was part of a full court press to make Piazza comfortable and to get him to resign with the Mets. Piazza’s chosen number,17, was taken by Luis Lopez. He’s one of the many who have had the number that drives Hernandez nuts. I’m assuming Piazza never asked for the number. 

With Piazza on the verge of being elected to the Hall of Fame, I presume the Mets would retire his number during the following season. We know that number will be 31. While Franco was a fine Met and a good closer, I’m sure there will be no groundswell to retire the number in his honor as well. 

Now if Piazza wore 17, I’m assuming the Mets would’ve told Luis Lopez to find another number. If Piazza’s number 17 was retired, there would’ve been a major groundswell to retire the number in Hernandez’s honor as well. We know there is one already amongst the fan base. Retiring Piazza’s number might’ve created an avenue to retire the number of a popular player and broadcaster. However, Piazza never got to wear 17, and it’s Hernandez’s fault. 

He left a tremendous impact with the fans and his teammates. The fans and his teammates wanted to honor him. It’s ironic this impact is what is preventing him from having his number retired.