Rickey Henderson

Al Leiter Should Be a Mets Hall of Famer

In 2000, the New York Mets made the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in their history.  It was a two year run that produced some of the most memorable moments in Mets history.

In the Mets first ever NLDS game, Edgardo Alfonzo hit two home runs, including a grand slam.  The Mets would win that NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 10th inning walk-off home run from Todd Pratt in a moment dubbed Pratt’s All Folks.  The NLCS featured Robin Ventura‘s Grand Slam Single, and Mike Piazza‘s opposite field home run against John Smoltz which capped the Mets rallying from an early 5-0 and 7-3 deficits in what was a heart wrenching game.

In the 2000 NLDS, John Franco froze Barry Bonds to get a 10th inning strikeout to rescue the Mets from an Armando Benitez blown save.  In Game 3, Benny Agbayani would hit a walk-off 13th inning home run giving the Mets a 2-1 lead in the series setting the stage for Bobby Jones‘ brilliant one-hitter to cap the series.  In the NLCS, Timo Perez became a folk hero as the Mets swept the hated Cardinals to return to the World Series for the first time since 1986.

None of this . . . not one single moment would have been possible without Al Leiter.

Starting on September 21st, the Mets lost seven games in a row and eight of nine.  The losing streak saw the Mets four game lead in the Wild Card turn into a two game deficit.  It appeared that for the second season in a row, the Mets were going to blow a fairly sizeable lead in the Wild Card race and miss the postseason all together.  Fortunately, the Mets would win out and force a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds for the Wild Card and the right to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1999 NLDS.

After Rickey Henderson and Alfonzo hit back-to-back home runs to open the game, Leiter would do the rest.  Leiter was simply brilliant in a complete game two-hit seven strikeout shutout.  This start came off the heels of Leiter’s last start of the season where he out-dueled Greg Maddux to snap the the Mets eight game losing streak and put the team back in position to make a run at the Wild Card.

Typically, that was the type of pitcher Leiter was in a Mets uniform.  He rose to the occasion in some when the Mets needed him.  He was the guy who helped pitch the Mets into the 1999 postseason.  He was the guy who helped turn around the 2000 NLDS by shutting down the San Francisco Giants over eight plus innings.  He was the pitcher who gave everything he had in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series.  Much like the Mets in that two year time frame, he was terrific, but time and again, he came up just short.  In seven postseason starts for the Mets, he was 0-2 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.080 WHIP.  Taking out the 1999 NLCS Game 6 start against the Braves he made on three days rest and couldn’t record an out, his Mets postseason ERA and WHIP respectively drops to 2.58 and 1.015.

Leiter’s greatness as a Met extend far beyond the superlatives of his moments in big games and how well he pitched in the postseason.  He was also very good in the regular season.

Leiter first came to the Mets in a February 1998 trade that featured the Mets sending prized prospect A.J. Burnett to a Florida Marlins team that was dismantling their World Series winning club.  The trade was a sign the Mets were interested in moving on from a team that was rebuilding to a team that was ready to start competing.  Adding a pitcher like Leiter, while a risk, certainly paid dividends.

In 1998, Leiter would arguably post the best year of his career going 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.150 WHIP.  That season Leiter was unquestionably the ace for a Mets team that surprised everyone by competing for a Wild Card spot deep into the season.  For much of Leiter’s seven year career he served as either the Mets ace, 1A, or number two starter.

In his entire Mets career, Leiter was 95-67 with a 3.42 ERA, 1,360.0 innings pitched, 1,106 strikeouts, and a 1.300 WHIP.  In that seven year span, Leiter posted a very good 124 ERA+ and a 28.0 WAR.  He would make an All Star team and he would have one Top 10 Cy Young Award finish.  With strong numbers like these, it should be no surprise Leiter’s name is scattered across the Mets record books:

  • Wins (95) – sixth
  • Games Started (213) – sixth
  • Innings Pitched (1,360.0) – seventh
  • Strikeouts (1,106) – seventh
  • WAR (28.0) – 11th

In terms of all-time Mets pitchers, Leiter’s WAR ranks him as the sixth best pitcher in Mets history behind Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Sid Fernandez, and Jon Matlack.  In terms of left-handed starters, Leiter ranks third in wins, seventh in ERA, third in starts, fourth in innings pitched, and third in strikeouts.

In terms of advanced statistics, Leiter’s 1998 season was the seventh best by a Mets pitcher by ERA+.  In fact, his Mets career ERA+ ranks him as the eighth best pitcher in Mets history.  Among pitchers that have thrown more than a thousand innings, his ERA+ is second all-time to just Seaver.  Adjusted pitching runs ranks him as the third best pitcher in Mets history just behind Seaver and Gooden, and adjusted pitching wins ranks him fourth.  In terms of WPA, he ranks fourth all time, third among starters, and second among left-handed pitchers.

Simply put, Leiter had a terrific career in a Mets uniform.  His 1998 season was one of the best by a Mets starter.  By most measures, he’s a top 10 or top 5 pitcher in Mets history.  He has came up big in big moments time and time again.  He was also part of a group of Mets players that welcomed Piazza after the trade with the Marlins and made him feel welcome enough for Piazza to re-sign with the Mets.

More than any of the aforementioned stats, there is another factor.  There is no way you can adequately tell the history of the Mets franchise without discussing Leiter.  Leiter was an important member of two Mets teams that made the postseason.  He is a major part of one of the best eras in Mets baseball, and he’s a part of one of the most beloved teams in Mets history.  Moreover, he is a part of a core group of Mets that have been long overlooked for the Mets Hall of Fame.  Despite 1997 – 2001 being one of the better stretches in Mets history,  Piazza and Franco remain the only Mets from those teams to be represented in the Mets Hall of Fame.  They were not the only contributors to this run.

This era of Mets baseball has been long overlooked by this team.  It is time some of those important Mets get inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  Leiter is one of the Mets that deserve induction.

Why Isn’t Edgardo Alfonzo In the Mets Hall of Fame?

Back in 2012, the New York Mets announced their 50th Anniversary Team.  Reviewing the list none of the players named should come as a surprise.  It should come as even less of a surprise that of all the players named to the team, all the retired players have been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  Well, all but one player has.

The greatest second baseman in Mets history, Edgardo Alfonzo, still has not been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  He has not been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame despite his being retired since 2006 and despite his presence in the Mets organization for the past few seasons.  Put another way, this is not a player who has poor ties with the organization and that would be hard to bring back to honor him.  Looking at it from that perspective, it is shocking to say the least that Alfonzo is not in the Mets Hall of Fame.

Judging by WAR alone, Alfonzo is the best middle infielder in Mets history posting a career 29.5 WAR as a Met.  That 29.5 WAR ranks him as the seventh best Met in history.  That puts him ahead of players like Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, and Bud Harrelson, all of whom have already been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  With that said, WAR only tells part of the story of the impact Alfonzo has had on Mets history.

In eight seasons as a New York Met, Alfonzo hit .292/.367/.445 with 120 homers and 538 RBI.  In those eight years, Alfonzo was one of the best Mets to ever put on a uniform.  It’s why he was named as the best second baseman in Mets history.  Naturally, Alfonzo ranks high in the Top 10 in many offensive categories:

  • Games (1,086) – 10th
  • PA (4,449) – 8th
  • AB (3,897) – 9th
  • Runs (614) – 5th
  • Hits (1,136) – 5th
  • Doubles (212) – 6th
  • Homers (120) – 9th
  • XBH (346) – 8th
  • RBI (538) – 7th
  • Average (.292) – tied 5th
  • OBP (.367) – 7th

The advanced numbers paint a number better picture of Alfonzo.  His WAR is fourth best for a Mets position player, second for a Mets infielder, and the best for a Mets middle infielder.  His 2000 6.4 WAR ranks as the fifth best season by a Mets position player.  His defensive WAR is the sixth best in Mets history, third best by a Mets infielder, and best by a Mets second baseman.  He ranks fifth in runs created, eighth in adjusted batting runs, and eighth in WPA.

Alfonzo led the Mets in runs, hits, and doubles in the 1990s.  In that same decade, he also had the finished second in games played, at bats, total bases, and RBI.  In the decade he was also fourth in triples, seventh in homers, eighth in stolen bases, third in walks, and third in batting average.  Arguably, he was the Mets best player of the decade.

In addition to these numbers, Alfonzo was named to an All Star team (should have been more than the one), won a Silver Slugger, and had three top 15 MVP finishes.  He finished second in Gold Glove voting in 1999 and 2001 as a second baseman.  In 1997, he finished second in Gold Glove voting as a third baseman.  Still, Alfonzo was much more than all of this.

When thinking of Alfonzo it is near impossible to choose just one moment that highlights his career.  You can start with him being part of the greatest defensive infield ever assembled.  In the 1999 Wild Card play-in game, he followed Rickey Henderson‘s leadoff home run with a home run of his own to give Al Leiter all the cushion he needed for the Mets to claim the Wild Card and head to the NLDS.  In Game One of the NLDS, he would homer off Randy Johnson in the first inning to give the Mets a 1-0 lead, and then he would hit a grand slam off of Bobby Chouinard in the ninth to break the 4-4 tie.  In the clinching Game 4, he got the Mets on the board with a fourth inning homer off of Brian Anderson.

Alfonzo would come up similarly big in the 2000 NLDS.  In Game 2, with the Mets already down 1-o in the series, and with Armando Benitez having blown the save, Alfonzo ripped a double down the left field line scoring Lenny Harris.  Lost in the shuffle of that inning was the fact that he had hit a home run in the ninth giving the Mets some much needed insurance runs.  In any event, the RBI double allowed the Mets to tie the series and return to the NLCS for a second consecutive year.  In the 2000 NLCS, Alfonzo was one of a few Mets that probably should have been named the NLCS MVP.  In the five game series, Alfonzo hit an incredible .444/.565/.611 with five runs, a double, a triple, and four RBI.

Unsurprisingly, Alfonzo is the Mets all-time leader in postseason hits, games played, and g0-ahead hits.  In fact, four of those hits were in the 7th inning or later.  That is the second best mark in postseason history – not Mets postseason history – all of baseball history.

Speaking of hits, Alfonzo became the first ever Met to go 6/6 in a game.  In what ranks as the most impressive hitting display in Mets history, Alfonzo hit three home runs and a double while recording five RBI.  There have been no Mets and only one National League player that has posted a higher game score since 1999.

Somehow, some way none of this has garnered Alfonzo enough support to be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.  It’s wrong because Alfonzo is not just the best second baseman in Mets history, he is the best middle infielder in Mets history.  He was a pivotal member of two teams that went to the postseason, and he had huge hits on those postseasons.  He has set a number of Mets records.  Overall, there is absolutely no way you can deny that Alfonzo is one of the best players in Mets history.  Accordingly, he deserves enshrinement into the Mets Hall of Fame.

Bob Nightengale Continues Our Fake News Dilemma

Depending on what your personal politics are, there was a moment or 31 that led you to believe that fake news had become an important issue during the election.  For people that follow politics, it was a new and stunning revelation.  If you are a baseball fan, particularly one who is invested in Hall of Fame voting, you have been well aware of this problem.

Despite having the numbers to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza had been largely kept off of people’s ballots due to the unfounded presumption he had used steroids during his career.  That is unless you believe noted dermatologist Murray Chass and his unsupported position that Piazza having back acne was a sure indicator of steroid use.  Note, there are several causes of back acne in adults that have nothing to do with steroids.  Despite that people have used the back acne, as well as Piazza’s physique as the basis for their mostly unfounded belief he used steroids.

What has been peculiar is the same litmus test has been used as an indication that Jeff Bagwell used steroids, but someone like Rickey Henderson did not.  Ultimately, what we have seen is a guessing game where some writers are presenting opinions as fact without any reprecussions.  And yet, despite the absence of proof on players like Piazza or Bagwell, there are some who continue to insist they used steroids.  Worse yet, they are using Piazza’s induction into the Hall of Fame last year as a basis to justify the induction of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and other players who have been proven to use steroids.  The latest example is Bob Nightengale:

In his column for USA Today, Nightengale would double-down on this claim:

The BBWAA finally recognizes the absurdity of keeping Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame but letting Mike Piazza, Bagwell and soon Ivan Rodriguez into the hallowed halls.

Simply put, this is fake news.  It is fake news because the is absolutely no documentation, test results or otherwise, that establishes Piazza has used illegal PEDs during his entire career.  In the absence of any valid proof, this is fake news not even fit for publications such as The World Weekly News, The Onion, or the National Inquirer.  Yet somehow, some way, this was published in USA Today even though it was presented as fact.

Overall, Piazza’s induction into the Hall of Fame establishes is a player who was the greatest hitter at his position deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.  If you wanted, you could extend Piazza’s induction coupled with Craig Biggio‘s induction into the Hall of Fame to stand for the proposition that innuendo and unfounded rumors are insufficient to prevent a worthy player from being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

However, you cannot state Piazza’s induction into the Hall of Fame stands for the proposition that steroid users should now be inducted into the Hall of Fame because, simply put, there is no incontrovertible evidence Piazza used steroids.  To assert otherwise would be to propagate the issue of fake news in our society.

 

Hall of Fame Ballot – Players Inducted by the IBWAA

If you were to look at the IBWAA ballot, voters are unable to vote for three players which are on the BBWAA ballot.  The reason is those players already garnered the necessary 75% to be considered Hall of Famers according to the IBWAA.  While I cannot vote for those players like I did for these other four players, I do think it is worthwhile to examine their candidacy especially when they are eligible for Hall of Fame induction.

Tim Raines, LF

Stats: 23 seasons, .294/.385/.425, 430 2B, 113 3B, 170 HR, 980 RBI, 808 SB

Advanced: 69.1 WAR, 42.2 WAR7, 55.6 JAWS

Awards: Silver Slugger, 7X All-Star

Over the span of 23 years, Raines had three different careers.  From 1981 – 1987, Raines was the best leadoff hitter in the National League, and perhaps the second greatest leadoff hitter of all time.  The problem was during this time frame Raines was overshadowed by his contemporary, Rickey Henderson, who is widely regarded as the best leadoff hitter of all time.  Another fact to consider was Raines has been overlooked due to his great years being in Montreal.

From 1988 – 1995, Raines was a solid regular who was still an on base machine.  He was still stealing bases, but not at an elite clip like he was earlier in this career.  He was a good player you wanted on your team, but he was no longer an All-Star caliber player; certainly not in an era when players were starting to hit for more and more power.

From 1996 – 2002, Raines was a player holding on.  First, he was looking to get that ring as a veteran leader for a Yankees team about to start its next dynasty.  Next, he was holding on so he could play with his son Tim Raines, Jr. with the Baltimore Orioles.

We can all agree that if Raines career spanned from 1988 – 2002, he would not be a Hall of Famer.  In that time frame, he really only had one truly great year in 1992.  Other than that, he was a solid player to veteran leader.  However, Raines career started much each than that.  In reality, his career as an everyday player started in 1981.

From 1981 – 1987, Raines was as good as anyone in baseball.  In that seven year stretch, his average season was .310/.396/.448 with 103 runs, 31 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, 55 RBI, and 72 stolen bases.  He would accumulate 38.4 WAR while averaging 5.5 WAR per season.  For the sake of comparison, Henderson’s best stretch was arguably from 1982 – 1988.  In those seasons, Rickey averaged .289/.399/.447 with 26 doubles, four triples, 16 home runs, 56 RBI, and 86 stolen bases with a 6.7 WAR.  Looking at these numbers, we can all agree that Rickey was the better player, but was he that much better during this stretch?

Again, remember that Rickey was not a borderline Hall of Famer.  He was a no doubter.  Rickey being slightly better than you means you were still a Hall of Fame talent.  That is evidenced by Raines having a higher WAR, WAR7, and JAWS than the average Hall of Fame left fielder.  Even if you note, Rickey played at a Hall of Fame level much longer than Raines, it does not mean Raines was not a Hall of Famer.  It means Raines was the second best leadoff hitter of all time.  That deserves induction.

If you are not convinced, here are some other interesting facts.  Raines is fifth all-time in stolen bases, and if he was inducted, he would have the best stolen base percentage of anyone inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Raines’ 85% success rate is the best in major league baseball history out of anyone with over 312 stolen bases.  He is the only player to steal 70 bases in seven consecutive seasons.  With that said, you could argue that while he doesn’t have the highest numbers, no one was better at successfully stealing a base than Raines.

Overall, the case is just too strong.  Raines is a Hall of Famer, and he should be inducted in his final year of eligibility.

Jeff Bagwell, 1B

Stats: 15 seasons, .297/.408/.540, 448 2B, 32 3B, 449 HR, 1,529 RBI, 202 SB

Advanced: 79.6 WAR, 48.2 JAWS7, 63.9 JAWS

Awards: Gold Glove, 3X Silver Slugger, 4X All Star, 1991 Rookie of the Year, 1994 NL MVP

Part of me understands Bagwell not having gained induction into the Hall of Fame.  As someone who closely followed baseball during Bagwell’s playing time, he didn’t seem like one of the best players in baseball let alone someone who would be a Hall of Famer.  However, when you look at the numbers, and his career, it is hard to make a case against him.

From 1991 – 2004, Bagwell was an everyday player who averaged 32 homers and 108 RBI with an outstanding 150 OPS+.  To put it in perspective, Willie McCovey, a good example of a slugging first baseman, averaged 32 homers and 88 RBI with a 161 OPS+  during the best 11 year stretch of his career.  McCovey is an interesting comparison as he had to hit in Candlestick, which like the Astrodome, was a difficult place to hit homers.  The difference between the two is McCovey played at a time when it was more difficult to hit homers, and McCovey reached that formerly magic 500 home run threshold.  Still, if Bagwell’s career numbers are comparable to the best of McCovey, certainly Bagwell is a Hall of Famer.

However, Bagwell was more than a slugging first baseman.  He was a threat on the bases.  His 202 stolen bases ranks him 20th among first baseman.  Notably, however, none of the 19 ahead of him hit more than 106 homers in their careers.  Bagwell’s speed was an interesting dynamic for a first baseman who could also hit 30+ homers in a season.  An interesting factoid from Bagwell’s career is that Bagwell actually led the league in scoring on three different occasions.  It is all the more remarkable when you consider he spent most of his career hitting in the middle of the lineup.

Moreover, Bagwell has the advanced statistics to garner induction.  His WAR is sixth all-time at the position.  That puts him ahead of such renown Hall of Famers like the aforementioned McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, and Hank Greenberg.  Overall, the only thing that can be used to justify keeping Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame is steroids.  However, there is no proof or statement Bagwell used steroids.  Absent that, keeping him out of the Hall of Fame is wrong, and therefore, he should be inducted to Cooperstown.

Edgar Martinez, DH

Stats: 18 seasons, .312/.418/.515, 514 2B, 15 3B, 309 HR, 1,261 RBI, 49 SB

Advanced: 68.3 WAR, 43.6 WAR7, 56.0 JAWS

Awards: 5X Silver Slugger, 7X All Star

Let’s start with one common fallacy we are seeing with people who are making cases for Martinez to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Many will argue Martinez deserves induction because he has a higher batting average than Jackie Robinson, a higher on base percentage than Stan Musial, a higher slugging than Ernie Banks, more doubles than Babe Ruth, more homers than Rogers Hornsby, more RBI than Tony Gwynn, more hits than Joe DiMaggio, and a higher WAR than Yogi Berra.  This is a distraction because Edgar Martinez was not a position player like the aforementioned players.  Edgar was a DH.

That is not to suggest a DH can’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  In fact, there are already two that have been inducted.  The first was Paul Molitor in 2004, and the second was Frank Thomas in 2014.  With there being two DHs already in the Hall of Fame, we have a baseline upon which to judge Martinez’s candidacy.  When judging Martinez up against Molitor and Thomas, he falls short.

Thomas accumulated the following advanced stats: 71.0 WAR, 45.2 WAR7, and a 59.5 JAWS.  He also had 500 homers.  Molitor accumulated a 75.4 WAR, 39.6 WAR7, and a 57.5 JAWS.  He also had 3,000 hits, and he was the 1993 World Series MVP.

Looking at Martinez, he falls behind Thomas and Molitor in terms of career WAR and JAWS.  Basically, the only argument Martinez would have based upon the advanced statistics is WAR7.  However, it is hard to justify enshrinement based upon that one statistic, especially when you consider Martinez didn’t have as long a career, and he didn’t have the magic numbers like Thomas and Molitor.

If you want to expand the numbers, you could start building a better case.  You could argue Martinez’s 147 OPS+ and 147 wRC+ was far above Molitor’s 122 OPS+ and 122 wRC+.  However, Martinez’s numbers fall well short of Thomas, who put up a 156 OPS+ and a 154 wRC+.

This is important when you consider one of the justifications provided for Martinez’s enshrinement is the supposition that he was the best DH of all-time.  However, looking over all of the numbers, he wasn’t.  The best DH of all-time was Frank Thomas.

It is hard to say he deserves enshrinement as being somewhere between 2-5 on the all-time list of DH.  First, the DH position has only be around since 1973, and for many years Harold Baines was considered the best DH.  No one was arguing Baines’ case for induction into the Hall of Fame when he was elected.

The other fallacy argument is DH should be treated as closers, which is another specialty position.  It is true that closers are a specialty position, but relievers have been around since there has been baseball.  The first professional team was founded in 1869, and Major League Baseball was founded in 1903.  Since that time, there have been exactly five relief pitchers inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The main reason is the position is seen as a specialist position.  Therefore, only the best of the absolute best should be inducted.

Keep in mind, when Lee Smith was first eligible to be inducted he was the all-time saves leader, and he had a 132 OPS+, which was much higher than pitchers who had already been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  For example, Tom Seaver, a pitcher who is arguably the best right handed pitcher of all time, had a 127 ERA+.  Smith never garnered more than 50.6% of the vote because while he was arguably a great specialist, he did not do enough as a specialist to earn Hall of Fame enshirnement.

That is where I am with Edgar.  He was a very good DH, and he was one of the best ever.  However, he was not the best DH, nor did he do anything as a DH better than anyone in history.  He was just really good at a specialty role.  That makes him an all-time Mariner.  That makes him an all-time DH.  It does not equate to being a Hall of Famer.

Bobby Valentine’s Second Greatest Achievement

Recent reports indicate that President Elect Donald Trump is considering Bobby Valentine as the United States Ambassador to Japan.  If Valentine is indeed selected as the Ambassador to Japan, it would be his second biggest accomplishment.  Naturally, his biggest accomplishment was leading the 2000 Mets not only to the postseason, but to the National League Pennant.

As luck would have it, the New York Mets would begin the season in Japan.  Valentine’s Opening Day outfield was Rickey HendersonDarryl HamiltonDerek Bell.  Of that group, only Bell would play in a postseason game for the Mets, and he would be injured in Game One of the NLDS.  Henderson would prove to be a malcontent that wanted a new contract, and ultimately, he would be released in May.  Hamilton would lose his job in April after suffering a toe injury.  This led to the Mets outfield being Benny AgbayaniJay Payton-Bell for most of the season.

The one thing Agbayani could do was hit.  In 2000, he hit .289/.391/.477 with 15 homers and 60 RBI in 119 games.  However, he was a terrible fielder who did this in the field during a game that season:

 

For his part, Payton was one of the heralded players out of Georgia Tech that included Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra.  While Payton was once considered on par with them, if not better.  As a prospect, Payton’s star would diminish a bit, but he would still become a major league player.  In his 2000 rookie season, Payton relatively struggled at the plate hitting .291/.331/.447 with 17 homers and 62 RBI in 149 games.

There was more than that.  Valentine also had to help make Todd Zeile an effective first baseman after he spent most of his career as a third baseman.  Zeile was of course signed to replace John Olerud, who departed in free agency.  While Zeile had a nice season hitting .268/.356/.467 with 22 homers and 79 RBI, his production fell far short of Olerud’s .298/.427/.463, 19 homer run, 96 RBI season.  When you consider the drop off defensively from the Gold Glover Olerud to the quickly adapting Zeile, the team was noticeably worse at first base.

The team was also worse at shortstop.  While Rey Ordonez never hit for much, he was a Gold Glover at shortstop.  The Mets would miss that defense after he broke his left arm trying to get a tag down in May.  This led to the Mets trying to get by with Melvin Mora at shortstop, who struggled at the plate and in the field.  This led to the ill advised trade for Mike Bordick who would hit .260/.321/.365 in his 56 games as a Met.

In reality, this was all part of a Mets team that was considerably weaker than the 1999 version.  Pat Mahomes was nowhere near as good as he was in 1999.  In place of well established veterans like Orel Hershiser and Kenny Rogers in the rotation, the Mets had Glendon Rusch and the return of Bobby Jones.  However, it should be noted the rotation was one area the Mets were better.

Whereas the 1999 Mets were an offensive juggernaut with a strong bullpen, the 2000 Mets were built on starting pitching.  Al Leiter had an improved season making him 1A behind the ace the Mets acquired in the offseason, Mike Hampton.  With Rusch and Jones outperforming their expectations, and quite possibly what their rotation counterparts did in 1999, the rotation was one area the Mets were improved.

The rotation along with two terrific players in Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo, Valentine was able to lead the Mets to the World Series.  Valentine was able to do that despite a diminished offense, vastly diminished defense, an overall less talented roster, and some drama (which usually follows Valentine wherever he goes).  It was a team that outperformed their Pythagorean win-loss record by six games.  It was a team that outperformed expectations.

Making it to the 2000 World Series should be considered Valentine’s biggest accomplishment.  That Mets team really had no business making it to the postseason let alone the World Series.  It is why that should stand as Valentine’s biggest accomplishment even if he were to be named as President Trump’s choice to be the Ambassador to Japan.

From Todd Hundley to Mike Piazza

The things we are willing to tell ourselves as fans can sometimes be quite outlandish.  Back in 1997, if you polled Mets fans, they would probably tell you they would rather have Todd Hundley than Mike Piazza.  Why not?

The two were the same age.  Both were All Stars in 1996 and 1997.  In those two years, Hundley had hit 71 homers to Piazza’s 76.  Hundley had 198 RBI to Piazza’s 229.  Hundley’s 53 doubles surpassed Piazza’s 48.  In fact, Hundley’s 127 extra base hits were actually two more than Piazza’s 125.  On top of that, Hundley was a switch hitter and a much better defensive catcher.  He was the homegrown Met that was afan favorite with his very own Todd Squad cheering section at Shea Stadium.  Hundley’s career was taking off, and he was seen by Mets fans as a newer version of Gay Carter.  When he returned from his elbow surgery in 1998, he was expected to once again be the slugging defensive minded catcher who was going to lead the Mets to the postseaon for this first time in a decade.  If you took a poll of Mets fans, they may begrudging admit Piazza was the better player, but overall, they would also state their belief that they would rather have Hundley as he was their guy.  It was all a moot point anyway because there was no way the Dodgers would ever get rid of Piazza.

Until they did.  There wasn’t a baseball fan alive in 1998 that was utterly shocked when Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins along with future Met Todd Zeile for a package that included future Met Gary Sheffield and former/future Met Bobby Bonilla.  Once Piazza was a Marlin, the world over knew the team that sold everything except the copper wiring after winning the 1997 World Series was going to trade the impending free agent Piazza.  All of a sudden, the very same Mets fans who loved Hundley, desperately wanted Piazza.  Myself included.

It was certainly possible.  In that offseason, the Mets had acquired Al Leiter and Dennis Cook.  There was a reporte there.  Even with those trades, the Mets still had a good farm system headlined by Mookie Wilson‘s stepson, Preston Wilson, who could justifiable headline a Piazza trade.  Without Hundley, the team was languishing around .500, and they needed a shot in the arm if they were ever going to earn a postseason berth.  You could tell yourself that when Hundley got back he could either play left field in place of the struggling Bernard Gilkey or in right in place of another fan favorite, Butch Huskey.  At least, that is what you told yourself.

Amazing, it actually happened.  On May 22, 1998, the 24-20 Mets actually pulled off a trade to acquire Piazza.  Perhaps just as a amazing, when the Mets activated Hundley from the disabled list on July 22nd, they put him in left field.  Very rarely in life does things happen exactly as you imagined it would.  This did.

Except it didn’t.  While Piazza was originally greeted with a hero’s welcome, he would then become roundly booed by the very same fan base who was desperate to acquire him.  Hundley would be a disaster in left field.  As uncomfortable as he was in the field, he was equally uncomfortable at the plate hitting .162/.248/.252 with only one home run.  He eventually forced Bobby Valentine‘s hand, and he became the backup catcher to Piazza.  In retrospect, how could it have ever worked?  Piazza was a star in Los Angeles, which is nowhere near the hot bed New York was.  Hundley was a catcher out of the womb as he was taught the position by his father Randy Hundley.

But then on a September 16th game in the old Astrodome, it all worked according to plan.  In the top of the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-1, Piazza, who had been 0-3 on the night, stepped in the box against Billy Wagner with two on and two out.  He would launch a go-ahead three run homer.  After Cook blew the save in the ninth, Hundley would be summoned to pinch hit in the top of the 11th.  He would hit a game winning home run.  It would be the first and only time Piazza and Hundley would homer in the same game.  In fact, it was Hundley’s last homer as a Met.  At that point, the Mets seemed to have control of the Wild Card, but they would eventually fall apart, thanks in LARGE part to Mel Rojas, and they would just miss out on the postseason.

Going into that offseason, the Mets had to make a choice.  Do you stick with your guy Hundley behind the plate, or do you bring back Piazza.  To everyone’s delight, the Mets made Piazza the highest paid player in the game giving him a seven year $91 million dollar contract.  When the Mets re-signed him, the Mets seemed assured of returning to the postseason.

And they did with the help of both Piazza and Hundley.  With Piazza back in the fold, the Mets had to move Hundley.  That spurned two shrewd moves by Steve Phillips that helped build a supporting cast around their superstar.  Hundley was traded for Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, the same Johnson who was traded by the Marlins to acquire Piazza.  Cedeno would spend 1999 being tutored by Rickey Henderson, and he would set the then Mets single season record for stolen bases while manning right field.  Phillips would then flip Johnson for Armando Benitez, who would become a dominant closer out of the bullpen.

Piazza was dominant that year.  He hit .301/.361/.575 with 40 homers, a Mets right-handed batter single season record, and 124 RBI, which is the Mets single season record.  He led the Mets throught the play-in game and into the NLCS.  His seventh inning opposite field home run off John Smoltz in Game Six of the NLCS tied the game at 7-7.  In a game they once trailed 5-0 and 7-3 and a series they had trailed three games to none, it seemed like the Mets were on the verge of pulling off the impossible.  With a Kenny Rogers walk, they didn’t.  The Mets came so close to making the World Series, but they fell short.  Even with as much as Piazza gave them, they would need more in order to make it to their first World Series since 1986 and to play in consecutive postseasons in team history.

Amazingly, Piazza had another gear.  He would hit .324/.398/.614 with 38 homers and 113 RBI.  It remains the highest slugging percentage in team history.  The 78 homers and 237 RBI over two years stands as the team records over a two year stretch.  He would tie the Mets single season record with three grand slams.  In 2000, the Mets would go to the World Series, and they would fall agonizingly close as his shot to center field fell just short of tying the game.

It was a start to an amazing Mets career and part of a Hall of Fame career.  Before Piazza left the Mets after the 2005 season, he would hold many records.  He would have the most home runs by any right-handed Mets batter and second most all time to Darryl Strawberry.  He would also be second to Strawberry in team RBI.  He would be passed by David Wright in those catergories.  However, Wright wouldn’t pass Piazza in some other catergories.  Piazza has the third highest team batting average, and he has the highest slugging percentage in Mets history.  He would also hit the most home runs all time by a catcher surpassing Johnny Bench.  It was one of many memorable home runs in Piazza’s time with the Mets, which included the June 30, 2000 home run capping a 10 run eighth inning rally that saw the Mets overcome an 8-1 deficit against the Braves, and the most important home run he would ever hit:

Now, Piazza is going to be a Hall of Famer.  He is going to be a Hall of Famer in a Mets uniform.  It never seemed possible.

Years ago, Mets fans would’ve picked Hundley over Piazza.  Almost twenty years later, Piazza chose us when he chose to enter the Hall of Fame as a New York Met joining Tom Seaver as the only Mets in the Hall of Fame.  It was an incredible ride that has seen Piazza become perhaps the most beloved Met to ever wear the uniform.  He deserves that love and much more.  He deserves every congratulation and accolade the Mets, Mets fans, and all of baseball can throw his way.

Thank you Mike Piazza.

 

It’s Not World Series or Bust

I remember back in 2000, the stories were that Bobby Valentine needed to make the World Series in order to keep his job. The amazing thing is he actually did it. 

Just think about everything that had to happen that year for the Mets to make the World Series. First, the Mets had an overhaul of its outfield during the season.  On Opening Day, the Mets outfield was, from left to right, Rickey HendersonDarryl HamiltonDerek Bell. At the end of the year, it was Benny AgbayaniJay Payton-Derek Bell. Agbayani was only on the Opening Day roster because MLB allowed the team to have expanded rosters for their opening series in Japan. 

On top of that, Todd Zeile was signed to replace John Olerud. Zeile had to become a first baseman after playing third for 10 years. Edgardo Alfonzo had to adapt from moving from the second spot in the lineup to the third spot. The Mets lost Rey Ordonez to injury and first replaced him with Melvin Mora for 96 games before trading him for the light hitting Mike Bordick. More or less, all of these moves worked. Then came the postseason. 
A lot happened in the NLDS. After losing Game One, the Mets faced a quasi must win in Game Two. They were leading before Armando Benitez blew a save. I know. I’m shocked too. The Mets regained the lead, and they won the game when John Franco got a borderline third strike call against Barry Bonds. In Game Three, the Mets won on a Agbayani 13th inning walk off homerun. This was followed by Bobby Jones closing out the series on a one-hitter. 

The Mets were then fortunate that the Braves lost to the Cardinals in the other NLDS series. The Mets tore through the Cardinals with new leadoff hitter Timo Perez. We saw all that luck run out in the World Series. We watched Zeile’s potential homerun land on top of the fence and bounce back. On the same play, Perez was thrown out at home. In the same game, Benitez blew the save. Unfortunately, there were no more heroics. 

We saw this repeated in 2015. The epically bad Mets offense had to have its pitching hold things together until help came. Part of that required the Nationals to underperform while the Mets were fighting tooth and nail just to stay in the race. 

In the NLDS, the Mets were on the verge of elimination. They weren’t eliminated because somehow, some way Jacob deGrom pitched six innings with absolutely nothing. The Mets then needed Daniel Murphy to have a game for the ages. He stole a base while no one was looking, and he hit a big homerun. It was part of an amazing run through the postseason for Murphy. Like in 2000, it came to a crashing halt in the World Series. 

No matter how good your team is, it takes a lot of luck to win the World Series. Look at the 86 Mets. 

In the NLCS, they barely outlasted the Astros. In Game Three, they needed a Lenny Dykstra two run homerun in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5. In Game Five, Gary Carter hit a walk off single in the 12th to send the Mets back to Houston up 3-2. It was important because they didn’t want to face Mike Scott and his newfound abilities. With that pressure, they rallied from three down in the ninth, blew a 14th inning lead, and nearly blew a three run lead in the 16th inning. 

Following this, the Mets quickly fell down 0-2 in the World Series before heading to Boston. After taking 2/3 in Boston, the Mets had to rally in the eighth just to tie Game Six. There are books that can be written not only about the 10th inning, but also Mookie Wilson‘s at bat. 

First, they had to have a none on two out rally with each batter getting two strikes against them.  For Calvin Schiraldi to even be in the position to meltdown, he had to be traded by the Mets to the Red Sox heading into the 1986 season. In return, the Mets got Bobby Ojeda, who won Game Three and started Game Six. John McNamara removed Schiraldi way too late and brought in Bob Stanley. His “wild pitch” in Mookie’s at bat allowed the tying run to score. You know the rest:

By the way, keep in mind Bill Buckner wasn’t pulled for a defensive replacement. Also, the Mets had to rally late from 3-0 deficit just to tie Game Seven. 

We need to keep all of this is mind when setting expectations for the 2016 season. Terry Collins is right when he says World Series title or bust is unfair. We know way too much can happen between now and the World Series. Right now, the only goal should be winning the NL East. If the Mets do that, they have met their reasonable expectations. After that, the Mets are going to need a little luck to win the World Series. 

Fortunately, the Mets are carrying a four leaf clover in the form of Matt HarveyJacob deGromNoah Syndergaard, and Jeurys Familia

Ricky Henderson Used Steroids*

No, no he didn’t. There’s absolutely zero proof in my or anyone else’s possession that Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson used steroids. To make such a claim would require pure speculation of specious or non-existent evidence. That’s the point. I can use the same arguments used against other players to construct a narrative that Henderson used steroids. 

In 1980, Henderson has his first full season in the big leagues. From day one, he had the look of a Hall of Famer. He was an All Star and finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting. Keep in mind, as a young player in the early 80’s , Henderson looked like this:

  

Look at how slender he was. Of course he was. He was a leadoff hitter who started his career with single digit homers and tremendous stolen base numbers. He had a 130 stolen bases in 1982 while hitting just 10 homeruns. At that point, both were career highs. 

Henderson would go to the Yankees and eventually return to the Athletics again. This time, however, he would be teammates with two of the most notorious steroid users in major league history: Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. He had a manager in Tony La Russa who actively looked the other way. It’s no wonder that in 1990, at the age of 31, he had a career high in homers at 28. He went from a 10 homerun guy to a 28 homerun guy. Because we didn’t know then what we know now, he won the MVP award that year.

Henderson would continue to be an effective everyday player until he was 40 years old. In his age 40 season, he played in 121 games hitting .315/.423/.466 with 12 homeruns and 37 stolen bases.  Keep in mind, we know 40 year olds can never, ever be effective baseball players. Of course that season, Henderson looked like this:


Look at the increased muscle definition. He went from a guy who hit 9 homers to a guy who hit 28 homers.  He is a guy that was an everyday player until he was 42. He played until he was 44. There is no other possible explanation for this other than he used steroids. 

Why didn’t that prevent the voters from keeping him out of the Hall of Fame?  Probably because this isn’t evidence. It’s pure speculation.  Unfair speculation at that. Personally, I don’t think Henderson used steroids. I have no proof that he did. Any “proof” I have here is satire instead of evidence. The reason is because none of this prevented voters from electing him to the Hall of Fame. 

However, this is what voters have been using to keep Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza out of the Hall of Fame. Both were contemporaries of Henderson with muscle definition, and yet they reserved the judgment for Piazza and Bagwell. It’s as inconsistent as it is unfair. 

I’m in the school of keeping steroid players out of the Hall of Fame. However, I require proof that someone cheated. I’m not going to play a guessing game because if I did, I just as easily have used the same criteria to keep Rickey Henderson out of the Hall of Fame.  Keep mind Henderson received 94.8% of the vote. That’s a very large percentage of people applying different standards. 

For Hall of Fame voting, all I ask is you have a standard and apply it universally. There may be reasons to keep Bagwell and Piazza out of the Hall of Fame, but perceived steroids use isn’t one of them.  It wasn’t sufficient to keep Henderson out of the Hall of Fame.