In 1997, the team had a surprising 88 win season with young players like Edgardo Alfonzo beginning to make his mark, accomplished players like John Olerud rejuvenating their careers, and players like Rick Reed seemingly coming out of nowhere to be good Major League players. With a brash Bobby Valentine at the helm, many expected the Mets to make the leap in 1998.
As the 1998 season unfolded, it wasn’t to be, and that was mainly because their star catcher Todd Hundley had offseason elbow surgery which was going to keep him out for a while.
The Mets did start well. On May 13th, the Mets were 19-15, albeit seven games back in the division. Then, the following day, shockwaves went through Major League Baseball, and not just because the Mets were swept in a doubleheader by the Padres. No, out of nowhere Mike Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins.
It was an absolute blockbuster with Piazza and Todd Zeile going to the Marlins, who just dismantled the 1997 World Series winning team, for Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield.
Everyone in baseball knew the Marlins were looking to flip Piazza for prospects, and a talented Mets farm system seemed to make them one of the favorites if they were interested. Problem was, they weren’t interested.
After this trade happened, the Mets would fall to nine games out in the division. While this was happening, Mike and the Mad Dog would take to the air day-in and day-out clamoring for the Mets to go out and get Piazza. Their assault was relentless.
While a noted blowhard, you can never discount how public pressure forces teams to act. After all if we look back to 2015, with all that happened, we did see the Mets swing a trade to obtain Yoenis Cespedes. The public pressure continued in the ensuring offseason with the team, who had already moved on from Cespedes by signing Alejandro De Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center, acquiescing and signing Cespedes to what was essentially a one year deal.
The team didn’t let things play out after the 2016 season. They jumped fairly quickly, and they signed Cespedes to a four year deal even with full knowledge of his heel issues. Certainly, much of this was the result of the public pressure, which was given a voice on New York airwaves by people like Francesca.
Now? Well, Francesca has gone from being an important voice to being a mouthpiece for the Wilpons.
He is now defending the Wilpons saying they are spending money. He notes how the team has the seventh highest payroll in the majors. That is patently false. Cots, Spotrac and Steve the Ump ranks the Mets payroll 12th. Really, everyone ranks the Mets payroll 12th.
The AP ranked the Yankees, not the Mets as having the seventh highest payroll. Maybe, Francesca read New York and was confused.
Putting the ranking aside, lost in that is the Mets recover 75% of David Wright‘s salary, which, according to Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Jeff Wilpon has admitted does not get reinvested into baseball operations. That means the Mets payroll is actually $15 million less than advertised.
Dropping the Mets payroll by $15 million, the Mets payroll drops to 15th in the majors. With the $3 million saved in the Jeurys Familia trade, the payroll drops to 16th. Yes, a New York market team, who is currently refusing to give Jacob deGrom, currently the best starter in baseball, a contract extension, is in the bottom half of the league in spending.
For his part, Francesca defends this. He will say the Mets spend, but they don’t spend well. Nothing backs this up remotely. Nothing.
Instead of pointing the finger where it belongs, the Wilpons, he will continue to bash Mickey Callaway as if he is the scourge of the Mets organization. He will look at all the surrounds the Mets and mock them while failing to even consider pointing the blame at ownership.
And for all that, I’ve stopped listening to him. After over 30 years of listening to him, I’m done. And I suspect I will not be the only Mets fan who feels this way.
The Mets Fan
How You Became a Mets Fan
I’ve asked myself this question many times. How DID I become a Mets fan??? Well, the answer is . . . I don’t flipping know. To me, it feels like one of those things that just is. Like time. When did time become time? It is man made after all. For me, that’s the Mets. It just feels like it’s always been. My first Met memories though are of being 4/5 years old and me and my brother rubbing this little sculpture in our living room to give Darryl Strawberry “Homerun Power!”
Favorite Mets Player
To pick just one would be crazy. But, ugh Jesus… I have the weirdest players I connect with. Jose Vizcaino was def one, Lance Johnson was my fav player, while with the Mets, certainly John Olerud…. if I had to pick ONE Met that resides above all other Mets . . . Fonzie… Piazza…. it’s tough to pick ONE. All of the above! And Al Leiter. Leiter and Bobby Jones and Rick Reed… haha I could go on forever.
Favorite Moment in Mets HistoryBefore 2015 is have to say Pratt’s HR in the post season. Maybe the 99 play in game vs the reds. That ’99 team was my fav Mets team. Ever. But 2015 was magical. It was a shame we couldn’t guide it home all the way. But that year, we should all be thankful for that magic year.
Message to Mets Fans
Don’t Jump. All things ebb and flow and things will get better. Or worse. Idk. We are in this together though.
It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game. Bobby V was much more than that.
After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach. In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets. Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired. From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders. He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season.
After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season. Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides. However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season. In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.
The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball. Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team. Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround. There was the acquisition of John Olerud. There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke. However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.
First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green. Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation. Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage. On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally. It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.
One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game. While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.
With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements. The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins. The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan. However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season. Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.
From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race. They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working. They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield. They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen. The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.
The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here). Things do not initially go as planned. After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500. Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.
The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball. From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37. At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days. The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh. Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded. Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.
In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games. The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card. Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury. In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons. Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.
In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker. In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first. While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta. The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6. They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit. Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7. Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.
In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch. However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets. It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.
First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations. Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract. Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player. The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players. In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman. Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season. In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year. It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.
In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years. In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero. The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save. In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter. With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986. While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor. That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.
From there, Phillips lost his magic touch. The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart. After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season. With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.
One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. Every player did their part. So did their manager. After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium. When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games. That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11. Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.
Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437. During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history. His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph. In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.
Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons. His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history. He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons. He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.
Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history. Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office. For some, he is the best manager in Mets history. Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history. For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
With the addition of John Olerud and the emergence of Rick Reed, the 1997 Mets made a tremendous leap forward going 88-74 to be a factor in the Wild Card race. However, they would eventually lose out to a Florida Marlins team that was literally built to win the World Series that one season.
After that season, the Marlins disbanded because, as we were first learning out, that’s what the Marlins do when they win. The Mets were one of the main beneficiaries of the the offseason sell-off with them obtaining Al Leiter and Dennis Cook. Then the real boon came when the Marlins had swung a deal with the Dodgers to obtain Mike Piazza to unload a bunch of big contracts. With the Mets struggling, due in large part to Todd Hundley‘s elbow injury, the Mets moved quickly and added Piazza. With a week left in the season, the Mets won to go to 88-68. All the Mets needed to do in the final week of the season was to win one more game to at least force a playoff with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs for the Wild Card. They didn’t. Once again, finishing the year 88-74 was not good enough for the Wild Card.
Entering the final game of the 2016 season, with the Mets having already clinched the Wild Card, the Mets needed just one more win to finish the year at 88-74.
There was a version of me 20 years younger that wanted to see the Mets get that win to erase some of the bad feelings that an 88-74 record created. It was going to be a difficult task because the Mets objective wasn’t to win this game. The sole objective was to just get through it with everybody healthy so as not to compromise the team for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game this Wednesday at Citi Field.
For starters, it was Gabriel Ynoa who took the mound instead of Noah Syndergaard. Terry Collins would also give an at-bat a piece to Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes. Jay Bruce would get two. T.J. Rivera, Jose Reyes, Rene Rivera, and Travis d’Arnaud would not play. This was a full-on keep people fresh and don’t get anyone injured operation.
Ynoa would acquit himself well even if he couldn’t go five. He would only throw 52 pitches in 4.2 innings allowing five hits, one run, one earned, and one walk with two strikeouts. Collins would lift him for Jerry Blevins, who is probably the one Mets reliever who could’ve used some work, to get out of the fifth. At that point, the Phillies were only up 1-0 on a third inning Maikel Franco RBI single.
The Mets would eventually go ahead in this game making the 88-74 season a reality. In the sixth, Matt Reynolds doubled, and he would score on an Alejandro De Aza RBI singles. In the seventh, Kelly Johnson hit a leadoff single, and he would score on a Kevin Plawecki two out RBI double.
The lead would not last long as the Phillies went to work against Erik Goeddel in the bottom of the seventh. After an Andres Blanco single, an Aaron Altherr walk, and a Lucas Duda throwing error, the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs. Cesar Hernandez brought home the first two runs on an RBI single, and then Jimmy Paredes knocked in the third run of the inning with a sacrifice fly. That Paerdes sacrifice fly was an extra base hit if anyone other than Juan Lagares was manning center field. Lagares once again reminded everyone that he is the best fielding center fielder in baseball, and that if he can at least manage one at-bat per game, he needs to be on the postseason roster.
The Phillies then added a run in the eighth off Jim Henderson to make the game 5-2. That would be the final score of a game where both teams reached their primary objective. The Phillies were able to provide a fitting send-off for Ryan Howard removing him from the game in the eighth so he could leave to a standing ovation. The Mets just got through the game without suffering any injuries, and also got much needed reps for Duda and Lagares.
The Mets weren’t able to get that final win to erase the angst of the past when 88 wins just wasn’t good enough for the postseason. Ironically, 87 was good enough this year. With those 87 wins, the Mets put the capper on a mostly frustrating season. However, in the end, they were able to go to make consecutive postseason appearances for only the second time in their history. When viewed through that prism, this was a successful and enjoyable season.
With Mike Piazza finally getting elected to the Hall of Fame and this current Mets offseason, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities in Mets history. For me, the 2000 offseason and 2001 season might’ve been the biggest missed opportunity in Mets history (or at least my lifetime).
Coming off a disappointing loss in the World Series, the Mets had a ton of important decisions to make. The most intriguing one was Alex Rodriguez. The Mets passed calling him a 24 and 1 type of player. The biggest free agent in baseball history, a 25 year old shortstop with 40/40 capability, and the Mets weren’t interested. They weren’t interested despite A-Rod wanting to be a Met. The Mets wouldn’t sign a big bat in lieu of him.
The next big decision was NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. The Mets have up a lot to get him, namely Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel. However, Hampton delivered. He was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA. He won a Silver Slugger. He was an ace. He and Al Leiter were terrific that year during the regular season, and they helped pitch the Mets to the World Series. The Mets wouldn’t outbid the Rockies, who offered him the biggest contract in baseball history (until A-Rod signed with the Rangers) and the benefits of the Denver school system.
With the Mets missing out with these two players (and Mike Mussina), the Mets decided to build a deep, cost effective starting rotation. By the way, where have we heard of a World Series losing team choosing depth over high-end expensive players? In any event, the Mets re-signed Rick Reed and added Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. The last two moves were about as popular now as they were then.
The end result? The Mets got a compensatory pick for Mike Hampton (more on that in a minute) and an 82-80 record. It would be the last year the Mrts finished above .500 until 2005, which was Piazza’s last year with the Mets. The end of Piazza’s prime was wasted by the Mets. He would never return to the postseason with them. He would never play in another World Series. Was it worth it? Well, it depends on your point-of-view.
For me, the pivotal figure in this inquiry is Hampton. For startees, I say Hampton because I believe the Mets were never truly enamored with A-Rod. The Wilpons and Nelson Doubleday were fighting over the valuation of the Mets. The Wilpons were buying out Doubleday, and they didn’t want the value of the franchise to increase any further. A-Rod would’ve done that. Furthermore, it’s likely they would’ve had a hard time signing A-Rod, building a pitching staff, and buying out Mr. Doubleday. Hence, it was Hampton and not A-Rod as the pivotal figure.
We know Hampton was terrible in Colorado, but then again most pitchers are. It’s fair to assume, he would’ve continued pitching as well as he did in 2000 for the next year or two with the Mets. That’s about a pitcher with a 4.7 – 6.6 WAR. Would that have been sufficient to keep the Mets afloat in 2001? Would he have been enough to rescue an offense with the least runs scored in all of baseball that year?
We don’t the the corresponding moves. We also don’t know if the lack of moves created a negative vibe over a Mets team that sputtered out of the gate in 2001. This was a team that was Jekyll and Hyde. It was 38-51 in the first half and 44-29 in the second half. In reality, their second half push came too late leaving them no margin of error, as we know all too well with yet another huge Armando Benitez blown save.
Maybe with Hampton the season starts off different. It’s possible the Mets don’t make the flurry of moves they did in 2002 that proved disasterous. Maybe with Hampton the Mets make the postseason in 2001 and/or 2002. Maybe Piazza gets his ring. Maybe Mets fans are not waiting 30 years for a World Series. We don’t know. All we know is two things: (1) the Mets missed Hampton; and (2) Hampton leaving might’ve been the best case scenario.
The second reason Hampton is the pivotal figure is the player the Mets got in his stead. When Hampton left, the Mets received a compensatory pick. With that pick the Mets selected one of the best high school bats. The Mets got a third base prospect by the name of David Wright. Wright has been a big part of Mets history. He’s the Mets All-Time leader in games played, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and walks. He’s second in homers. He’s hit the first a Mets homerun at Citi Field and the first World Series homerun at Citi Field. He was a big part of two postseason teams, which is no small feat in Mets history.
Essentially, you cannot tell the story of the Mets without David Wright. It’s unfathomable to imagine Wright in another uniform. However, I ask you has he been worth it? Was he worth wasting away the last years of Piazza’s prime? Was he worth losing all momentum from the 1999 and 2000 seasons? Would you rather have had a shot for another World Series run back then in exchange for Wright’s entire career?
Before answering, I ask that you keep some thoughts in mind. The first is if Hampton returns, you don’t hate him the way you do now. In fact, you may not hate him at all. Next, I’m not asking you to assume the Mets win the World Series Hampton re-signs. I’m only requesting you think about how he would’ve impacted the 2001 Mets and/or his impact in subsequent years. With that in mind, what do you do?
Now, if you asked me this question in 2000, I’m taking Hampton. No doubt about it. Hampton was a much better option than Appier. If the Mets got Hampton and Appier without signing Trachsel, even better. However, I’ll be honest, while I can separate myself from my hatred of Hampton, I can’t separate myself from my love of David Wright.
Sure, Piazza is my favorite player, but Wright has also been a terrific Met. He’s a homegrown Met. He has a contract that may make him a lifetime Met. Generally speaking, Wright has been everything good about the sport of baseball since he was called up. He’s created some great memories for Mets fans. His name is all over the record books. I’m not sure I could part with that, perhaps not even at a chance at a World Series.
So begrudgingly, I believe I’d pick the entire career of David Wright over the possibility of another World Series title. Sure, World Series titles are rare, but so are the David Wrights of the world. I’m hoping in 2016 Mets fans can celebrate both Wright and a World Series title. It’s a lot more fun than playing the what if game.