Joan Payson, the original Mets owner, loved Willie Mays so much that not only did she have the Mets trade to get him in 1972, she unofficially retired the number. In fact, since Mays retired after the 1973 World Series, the number has only been worn by Kelvin Torve (who switched his number in-season), Rickey Henderson, and now Robinson Cano.
Beyond that group, there were Mets players who wore the number briefly. Ed Charles wore it for one season before switching to 5. Ken Boswell switched from that number to 12. Jim Beauchamp gave up his 24 to Mays. Then, there was Art Shamsky who wore it throughout his three year Mets career.
Shamsky first came to the Mets in the same offseason as Gil Hodges. Things could not have been worse for Shamsky. He was leaving a good Reds team who already had Tony Perez and Pete Rose, and he was going to what was the worst baseball franchise in the history of baseball.
In his first year with the Mets, he was little more than a league average hitter, but this was an improved Mets team who seemed to pull off the impossible by not losing 90 games for the first time in their history. To that end, things seemed to be improving for Shamsky and the Mets, but that was only momentary.
Shamsky hurt his back entering the 1969 season, and he started late. What he couldn’t have known at the time was he was about to embark on the best season of his life. That 1969 season would prove not only to be his most memorable but also his best individual season.
While being platooned with Ron Swoboda, Shamsky hit .300/.375/.488 with nine doubles, three triples, 14 homers, and 47 RBI in 100 games. Nearly each of those marks were a career best for him including the 139 OPS+. Included in those 47 RBI were game winners.
Where Shamsky would really shine that season was the postseason. In the NLCS against the Braves, he was a difficult out hitting .538 in the series. When he reached base in his final NLCS at-bat, that would be the final time he would reach base in that postseason. Even if he didn’t get another hit, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have an impact.
Never known for his defense, it was a terrific diving play. It was one of the miraculous diving defensive plays from the Mets in that series which helped them pull off the miracle that was the 1969 World Series. Like the rest of his teammates, he would become a World Series champion.
Shamsky would play two more years with the Mets after that 1969 World Series with him having another good year in 1970 before being released in 1971. Through his career, he is the 50th best Mets position player by WAR putting him ahead of any other Mets player who wore the number 24. Overall, even if legends like Mays and Henderson wore the number 24 with the Mets, it was Shamsky who was the best Mets player to wear that number.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
23. Bernard Gilkey
There have only been three people who have worn the number 14 in Mets history – Gil Hodges, Ron Swoboda, and Ken Boyer. Of the three Hodges has the lowest WAR as a member of the Mets, but when you break it all down, Hodges is the only choice for the best Mets player to ever wear the number 14.
Hodges was an original Met after spending the first 16 years of his career with the Dodgers. One of the reasons the Mets selected him in the Expansion Draft was he was a beloved Brooklyn Dodger, and he was a borderline Hall of Famer. In his brief playing career with the Mets, Hodges would hit the first homer in Mets history, and he would retire with the 10th most homers in Major League history.
In 1963, the Mets traded Hodges to the Washington Senators where he would become the team’s manager. Four years later, the Mets were making a trade with the Senators to bring Hodges back to New York so he could manage the Mets. While we talk about Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Noah Syndergaard, and Yoenis Cespedes, this could have been the best trade the Mets ever made.
While many focus on the miracle, and rightfully so, lost in the shuffle was his immediate impact. Prior to Hodges being hired, the Mets had lost 100 games in five of their first six seasons, and they never won more than 66 games in a season. In Hodges first year, the Mets avoided the 90 loss mark. Yes, the Mets were still under .500, but that was a 12 game improvement.
It was during that 1968 season where Hodges put the first touches on what would become the most shocking season in Major League history. In that year, he began platooning players to get the most out of their respective abilities, and he pushed the Mets towards a five man rotation. That certainly helped Jerry Koosman, who was an All-Star and finished second to Johnny Bench in the Rookie of the Year voting.
In that magical 1969 season, the Mets were actually two games under .500 entering June. As far as the Mets went, that meant they were having a great year. Little did everyone know what was going to happen next.
After an 11 game winning streak, the Mets were six games over .500, but still, they were not much of a factor yet as that pulled them up to seven games behind the Cubs. The Mets were still alive but trailing significantly through July. It was on July 30, when Hodges made a move which may have ignited the team again.
In an extra inning game, Hodges not only pulled star Cleon Jones for not hustling, but he would go out to left field to do it. That was emblematic of his leadership and demand for accountability. For what it is worth, years later, Jones showed no bitterness, and he spoke about how great a leader Hodges was.
It would be in that World Series where Hodges would show how great and quick thinking a manager he was. After a Game 1 loss, he took the unusual step of allowing Clendenon to address the team. Then, in Game 5, he would help swing the momentum of the clinching game:
With Dave McNally dealing, and the Mets down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, there was a pitch Jones believed hit him in the foot. As the story goes, Hodges turned to Koosman and had him swipe the ball against his freshly polished shoes to make sure there was a mark on the ball. Seeing the mark on the ball, Home Plate Umpire Lou DiMuro awarded Jones first base.
The Orioles were incensed and lost their cool. Two pitches later, McNally allowed a home run to Clendenon pulling the Mets to within one, and the Mets would eventually pull off the 5-3 and win their first ever World Series.
That season Hodges won the Sporting News Manager of the Year, and the Mets became the first ever team to have a 15 game improvement before winning the World Series. Until the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, the Mets were the fastest expansion team to win a World Series.
The Mets were not able to win the division again under Hodges, but they also would be above .500 in each of the ensuing two years. Hodges was one of the driving forces behind the Mets acquiring Rusty Staub. Finally, he got his wish on the eve of the 1972 season, and Hodges was able to talk with Staub at Easter services. However, with the medicals being reviewed, Hodges was unable to tell Staub about the trade, nor was he going to be able to manage him in 1973 when the Mets won their second pennant.
He never would as Hodges would die of a heart attack. That heart attack devastated Mets fans and Dodgers fans alike. It devastated all of baseball. Jackie Robinson was reported to have said, “Next to my son’s death, this is the worst day of my life.”
With his death, Hodges was easily the best manager in Mets history, a mantle many still believe he should hold to this day. He now ranks third all-time in manager wins and fifth in winning percentage. He was the first ever player to have his number retired by the Mets, but as we all know, his number was retired for his impact as a manager. Ultimately, he was posthumously inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
There are those who believe he should one day be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When you consider his guiding the Miracle Mets and his lasting impact on the game, it is hard to argue with those people. For now, he is the greatest Met to ever wear the number 14.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Met to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Hodges was the 14th best in Mets history, but rather the best Met to wear the number 14.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
(1) Tom Seaver – Seaver is dubbed The Franchise for taking the team from a losing franchise to World Series winners. He holds nearly every pitching record in team history, and he is considered to be, if not the greatest, among the greatest right-handed pitchers in Major League history. He was the first Mets player to have his number retired, and he was the first Mets player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date, he is the starting pitcher with the highest percent of the vote.
(16) Ron Swoboda – Even with his being nicknamed “Rocky” due to his adventures in the outfield, Swoboda arguably has the best defensive play in Mets history with his full out dive robbing Brooks Robinson of a key hit in Game 4 of the World Series.
Results of this poll and the Twitter poll will be combined, and the winner of this contest will be updated here.
The number four has had a number of folk heroes and fan favorites in Mets history. The first was Ron Swoboda with his diving catch catch robbing Brooks Robinson of a hit in the 1969 World Series. There was Rusty Staub who gallantly fought while injured for the 1973 Mets.
Robin Ventura had the Grand Slam single, and Wilmer Flores has more walk-off hits than anyone in Mets history. Even with all of these Mets greats, when it comes to the number four, Lenny Dykstra was the best player to ever wear the number.
While he was first called-up in 1985, Dykstra would first establish that as the case during the 1986 season. In that season, Dykstra was pressed into action as an everyday player when Mookie Wilson suffered a Spring Training injury. We would soon find out that not only was Dykstra up to the task, but he would emerge as the Mets second best position player that season (by WAR).
It was more than his numbers. He presented a fire and grit for this Mets team (not that they needed it), and we would see exactly why he had the nickname Nails. Of all the special things Dykstra had done that year, he would save his best work for the postseason – something that would become the hallmark of his career.
In Game 3 of the NLCS against the Houston Astros, the Mets were facing going down 2-1 in the series with Mike Scott slated to start Game 4 and Nolan Ryan in Game 5, the 108 win Mets team was in real trouble. They could not lose this game. Ultimately, they wouldn’t as Dykstra would become the first ever Mets player to hit a walk-off homer in Mets postseason history:
Overall, Dykstra would hit .304/.360/.565 with a double, triple, homer, and three RBI. In a series where the Mets offense really struggled against the Astros pitching, especially the top of their rotation, it was Dykstra who helped keep the Mets afloat for their late inning miracle rallies. Really, next to the pitchers, Dykstra was unarguably the best player for either team in the series, and to some extent, he deserved the MVP award.
Just like he did in Game 3 against the Astros, Dykstra again game up huge in Game 3 of the World Series. After that emotional NLCS, they found themselves down 2-0 heading to Fenway. The Mets were in deep trouble. However, Dykstra would revitalize that Mets team leading off the game with a home run off Oil Can Boyd:
To some extent, that moment would be somewhat tainted by allegations Ron Darling made towards Dykstra. Overall, the off-the-field stuff during his career (steroids) and after his career, marred Dykstra. However, when he played, he was a terrific player who always came up big in big moments.
Again, in the 1986 World Series, Dykstra was terrific hitting .296/.345/.519. From there, he would find himself splitting time with Wilson with the Mets obtaining Kevin McReynolds in an offseason trade with the San Diego Padres. When Dykstra got to play, he was a very good player on the field.
He would again be great in the postseason. In a losing effort, Dykstra was phenomenal hitting .429/.600/.857 with three doubles, a homer, and three RBI. Just like two years prior, pitchers aside, Dysktra was very clearly the best position player on the field.
Seeing how he played in that series and in his Mets career, it is a wonder to everyone as to exactly why Dykstra would be traded during the ensuing season to the Philadelphia Phillies along with Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel. There are not enough ways to describe just how epic a blunder this was for the Mets. This was a franchise altering decision for the Mets and Phillies.
Ultimately, the one thing you can always say about Dykstra was the Mets were always better with him. He was always prepared for the biggest moments on the biggest stage in the biggest city in the world. While he was far from a perfect person, he was the perfect player to play in New York, and if not for him, it is likely we are talking about the Mets only having won one World Series in their history.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Granderson was the third best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 3.
So far this season, Aaron Altherr is hitting .085/.141/.169 (-20 wRC+) in 47 games this season. Last year, Altherr played 105 games for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he hit .181/.295/.333 (75 wRC+). As on outfielder this year, Altherr has a -1 DRS in 127.1 innings, and he was a 1 DRS in 524.1 innings last year. That followed a -4 DRS in 837.1 innings in 2017.
Taking everything into account, Altherr is a bad baseball player, and he has been one for two years now. Despite that, the Mets have continued to keep him on the roster, and they do little to challenge his roster status.
When Jeff McNeil went down, the Mets had a need for someone who could fill-in in the outfield. Instead of a Dilson Herrera who has some outfield experience, the Mets instead went with Ruben Tejada, who was no threat to taking away his outfield reps. The team also didn’t call-up Rajai Davis, who also could have presented a threat.
On Davis, most fans remember his Uber ride and his hitting a pinch hit homer. What they don’t see is his hitting .287/.334/.410 with Triple-A Syracuse. That’s not as good as the .274/.384/.565 batting line Altherr put up in admittedly far fewer games with Syracuse. On the one hand, that makes the Mets decision to go with Altherr over Davis defensible. However, it is still curious why you would not even challenge Altherr when you needed that extra outfielder.
What’s all the more baffling is how the Mets let Billy Hamilton go to the Braves.
There are many things you can say about Hamilton and his deficiencies as a player. In 93 games with the Royals this year, Hamilton hit .211/.275/.269 (44 wRC+). That’s actually a step backwards for him as he hit .239/.299/.327 (69 wRC+) in 153 games for the Reds last year. No matter how you look at it, Hamilton is a bad hitter. Terrible actually.
That makes the fact he’s been a significantly better hitter than Altherr all the worse. Hamilton is also a much better outfielder. In fact, Hamilton is an elite defensive outfielder. In 716.1 innings this year, Hamilton has a 9 DRS. Since he was called up in 2013, his 60 DRS trails only Lorenzo Cain among qualifying center fielders.
Right there, Hamilton is a significantly better hitter and fielder than Altherr. When you factor in Hamilton’s great speed and base running, you realize Hamilton does EVERYTHING better than Altherr. Everything.
With rosters expanding in September, and the Mets depth depleted to the point where they have to not only carry Altherr on the roster but also play him, there is zero reason to not put in a claim for Hamilton. He was a significant upgrade, and he was someone the Mets were going to be able to carry on the roster into September. If the Mets were lucky enough to make the postseason, Hamilton would have been a huge weapon as a late inning pinch runner and/or defensive replacement.
Go back and ask the 1969 Mets about the Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee catches. Go back and ask the 2004 Red Sox about Dave Roberts stealing a base. The ability or a player to make that one impact can make all the difference in the world. Instead, the Mets just let Hamilton go to the Braves, who were lower in the waiver priority, unchallenged.
The Braves will get the benefit of his base running and defense while the Mets cross their fingers on Brandon Nimmo being able to return from a bulging disc in his neck. They’re also hoping Dominic Smith, who is still in a walking boot and using a knee scooter, can return. They’re hoping J.D. Davis‘ leg won’t continue to be an issue. Same for McNeil, who has gone from being able to immediately come off the 10 day IL to needing a rehab stint. There’s also Jed Lowrie, a player who has fewer pictures of him in a Mets uniform than people have photos of Big Foot or the Lockness Monster.
Going into the season, Brodie Van Wagenen kept telling us the Mets were all-in, and the team would have no ifs. It’s August 20, and the team wouldn’t go all-in on improving their roster, and they are seeing IF one of their injured players could contribute. Mostly, they’ve decided the team is better with Altherr, who has been terrible for over a year now, than any of the better alternatives . . . like Hamilton.
With the Cubs facing the daunting task of heading back home down 0-2 in the World Series, Jake Arrieta stepped up and pitched the most important game of his life. Arrieta pitched 5.1 no-hit innings to help the Cubs even the series at 1-1 and to capture home field advantage. Arrieta was the pitcher to carry a no-hitter that deep into the World Series since Jerry Koosman pitched six no-hit innings against the Baltimore Orioles in Game 2 of the 1969 World Series.
Koosman’s performance was much more dominating and important than Arrieta’s. Whereas the Cubs are favored in this year’s World Series, the 1969 were about as big of underdogs as you get. The Orioles lineup featured two Hall of Famers in Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. They had a rotation featuring Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. This was about as tough a team you could face. This was a team so tough, they beat Tom Seaver 4-1 in Game 1 of the World Series. Going into the World Series, you presumption was the Mets needed Seaver to win each and every single one of his starts to even have a chance, and not even that happened.
With the Game 1 victory, the Orioles appeared as if they were going to steamroll through the Mets much in the same fashion they had done to the Los Angeles Dodgers three years before and would do the following year to the Cincinnati Reds. Koosman’s 8.2 innings two hit masterpiece changed all of that. It completely changed the tone of the World Series and the momentum. Without this performance, the Mets may not have had the same energy and belief in themselves. It’s quite possible we don’t see either of Tommie Agee‘s catches or Ron Swoboda‘s for that matter.
While Koosman was not named the MVP of the series, that honor would go to Donn Clendenon, his performance was the most important factor in the Mets changing the script and winning the World Series in five games. In that World Series, Koosman not only established himself as a great Met, he also established himself as the first big game pitcher in the franchise’s history. Without him the Mets never win the 1969 World Series.
Coincidentally, without Koosman, the Mets also don’t win the 1986 World Series.
On December 8, 1978, the Mets traded Koosman to his hometown Minnesota Twins in exchange for Greg Field and a left-handed pitcher named Jesse Orosco. Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Mets winning their second World Series. The Mets would not have been able to win that World Series without Orosco’s three wins, and his gutsy win in Game 6, of the NLCS. They would not have won without his standing on the mound to close out Game 7.
Neither the 1969 or the 1986 World Series would have been possible without Koosman. With it being the 30th Anniversary of the 1986 World Series victory and with Arrieta’s peformance, we were again reminded of that.
There are two choices for 4. The first is Ron Swoboda, who was a key contributor to the 1969 Mets World Series victory:
However, my choice for Magic Man Number 4 will be Lenny Dykstra:
I chose Dykstra mostly because I got to see him play. I chose him because he was amazing in the 1986 postseason.
In the NLCS, he hit .304/.360/.565. He hit a walk off two run homerun in Game 3 of the NLCS to give the Mets a 6-5 win. He got the Game 6 ninth inning rally started with a leadoff triple. Everyone who watched this NLCS discuss the importance of winning in six with NLCS MVP Mike Scott scheduled to pitch Game 7.
In the World Series, Dykstra hit .296/.345/.519. Strangely enough, Dykstra was so big in big games that this was his worst ever postseason series. Dykstra lead off Game 3 in Boston with a homerun. This was important as the Mets came to Boston after losing the first two at Shea.
When Dykstra did all of this, he was only 23 years old. It shows that it’s not an issue of experience come October. Rather, it’s an issue of who has ice water running through their veins. This is important to keep in mind because the Mets run largely rests with their young pitching.
The young pitching has met every challenge thus far. As Dykstra shows us, they will meet the challenges they face en route to the World Series.