With one bold move, the Mets completely transformed their team with the acquistion of Mike Piazza. While he was not immediately adored (he was replacing the injured fan favorite Todd Hundley), he became a beloved Met.
To understand the Piazza adoration, you first have to understand what was happening. Honestly, I think things were worse in 1998 than they were now. The Mets were in year 10 of a rebuild from the glorious 80’s teams. That involved every player Mets fans loved leaving the team. The first step in the rebuild was The Worst Team Money Could Buy. This started some depressing baseball.
After that was the Vince Coleman firecracker incident. There was also the Bret Saberhagen bleach incident. The fans took everything out on Bobby Bonilla, who would wear earplugs to drown out the booing. It’s hard to see a team lose without trying. It’s worse to see a team try and be incompetent in doing so.This all set the Mets back years. Throw in the 1994 season ending strike, and you had the nadir of Mets baseball in my lifetime.
Nope, it wasn’t quite the nadir yet. The rebuild for the 90’s Mets was based on the same theory as the current Mets. It was based upon pitching. The problem is it didn’t work in the 90’s. The Mets entrusted Generation K to Dallas Green. All of the arms burned out. They were all injured under his watch. The Mets switched to Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine, and things started getting better. It’s hard to imagine it, but 88 wins felt like the Mets had actually won something.
Part of the reason is the Mets acquired Mike Piazza. He came to the Mets in 1998 and he hit .348/.417/.607 with 23 homers and 76 RBI in 109 games. He did what Mets fans thought Yoenis Cespedes did in 2015. He carried the team for almost a whole season. He transformed the team. The Mets had no choice but to bring him back.
In 1999, he became the second Met to hit 40 home runs in a season. He led the team to the playoffs (even if they needed a play-in game to get there). He hit a homerun in the 1999 NLCS that I seriously thought was going to help propel the Mets to win Game 6 and complete the then impossible:
In 2000, he again led the Mets to the postseason. For much of that year, he was considered an MVP candidate. Unfortunately, the Mets lost as Piazza’s ball didn’t carry far enough. It was a shame because Piazza was the reason Mets fans had pride. He was the reason the Mets fans believed they could win it all. He was the reason the Mets could step toe to toe with the Yankees.
They did. There were some epic games between the two teams back when the Subway Series mattered. Everyone remembers the Matt Franco single, but they forget the two Piazza bombs in that game:
Did you see where that ball went? How epic was that bat flip? He was a dangerous and feared hitter. It’s why Roger Clemens went after him not once but twice. But getting back to the home runs, it was one of several huge home runs he hit for the Mets. Do you remember the homerun he hit against the Braves capping off a huge comeback:
I remember being there that night. It was insane. That homerun sums up his tenure with the Mets perfectly. Even against teams like the seemingly unbeatable Braves and Yankees, the Mets always had a chance no matter how bleak the odds were. Seeing those highlights made me a little emotional. That reminds me of this moment:
To me, that’s still the greatest homerun ever hit. If you didn’t forever love and respect Piazza before that night, you did now. It’s part of the reason why after he left Mets fans still cheered him. I know I returned in 2006 for his first game back. It was important for me to cheer the man that meant so much to Mets fans:
I remember the constant standing ovations and cheering his name. I just wish I was there for the next night when he got a curtain call:
Seriously, how many visiting players get a curtain call? This moment shows how much Piazza means to Mets fans. We loved him. It seems he loved us back. He came back to close out Shea and open up Citi Field. He is now the guy who throws out the first pitch at World Series games.
Whether it’s today or in the future, Mike Piazza will be a Hall of Famer. He deserves it. Mets fans deserve it. It’s important to a of us. We want to see him recognized for all he did for the Mets and all Mets fans. My favorite Mets teams were the ones with Mike Piazza. He’s my favorite Met. He’s my favorite player.
It’s important to me and all Mets fans he gets elected to the Hall of Fame.
One of the biggest punchlines about Steve Phillips tenure as the Mets GM has been this:
December 27, 2001: Mets acquire 1B Mo Vaughn for pitcher Kevin Appier. pic.twitter.com/Vvo9v8zlRO
— Mets Rewind (@metsrewind) December 27, 2015
Not his personal conduct. No, he’s routinely mocked for the Mo Vaughn trade. To this day, I do not understand the vitriol over the deal. I guess it’s because Mets fans do not realize the Mets won that trade. Seriously.
First, keep in mind the Mets gave up Kevin Appier. That’s it. Yes, the same Kevin Appier the Mets signed after they lost the World Series instead of making big moves to improve the team. Yes, I’m talking about the 2000 offseason, not this one. Appier signed a four year $42 million contract with the Mets.
In his only year with the Mets, Appier was decent going 11-10 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP. He would then be traded for Mo Vaughn. Appier was good again in 2002. He has a ring despite having a historically bad World Series start. Appier was bad, really bad, in 2003. Despite being owed over $15 million on his deal, he was released. Appier would go back to Kansas City, where he would pitch only 23 innings more between 2003 and 2004 before retiring and putting an end to a very good big league career.
In exchange, the Mets got the impressive batting practice hitter Mo Vaughn (the last Met to wear 42). Say what you will about Mo Vaughn. You’re probably right. His 2002 wasn’t as bad as people remember with Vaughn hitting .259/.349/.456 with 26 homers and 72 RBI. It was good for an OPS+ of 115. It’s more impressive when you consider he missed the 2001 season due to injury. Like Appier, his 2003 was a nightmare. Like Appier, his career was effectively over after the 2003 season.
So why did the Mets win the trade? No, it was not because of this homer:
I was at that game. It was awesome. However, this was Vaughn’s line highlight. In reality, Vaughn’s play had nothing to do with the Mets winning this trade.
No, the Mets won the trade due to Vaughn’s insurance policy. Vaughn’s arthritic knee prevented him from playing again. Like Appier, Vaughn was terrible in 2003, and his career was effectively over. The Angels paid Appier $12 million in 2004 alone to go away. The Mets only owed Vaughn $4.25 million over the next two years. The remainder of the $17 million owed was paid by insurance.
The Mets didn’t do anything with the money found that offseason, but they would invest it the next offseason when they signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. So overall, the Mo Vaughn deal was really beneficial to the Mets regardless of whether or not anyone wants to recognize it.
There are still reasons to mock Steve Phillips, but this trade wasn’t one them.
Admittedly, I have been apoplectic over the Tyler Clippard trade. The reason is because the last time the Mets made a trade like this it ended very badly. Faith and Fear in Flushing invoked the infamous John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell trades. For me, it reminded me of Billy Taylor.
In 1999, the Mets were in competition for the playoffs for really the second time in my life (and second year in a row). I was too young to truly remember this (although my first baseball memory is the Buckner game) or this. After the previous season’s collapse, I was desperate to see the Nets make the playoffs. I was appreciative when Steve Phillips was aggressive at the trade deadline. Notably, he added Kenny Rogers (I still don’t want to talk about it), Shawn Dunston, and Darryl Hamilton (RIP). He also traded for Billy Taylor.
To acquire Billy Taylor, the Mets sent Billy Beane’s A’s Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. At the time, I loved the move. Over a three year stretch, he had 73 saves on mediocre Athletics teams. In 1999, on an A’s team on the rise, he had 26 saves (his peripherals were awful but I didn’t follow such things back then). I was giddy at the prospect of the Mets having a 7-8-9 of Billy Taylor-John Franco-Armando Benitez (this is before we knew he was terrible in October). I didn’t care about the cost. All I wanted was a playoff berth, let alone a World Series.
Boy, was I wrong. In 18 appearances, Taylor had an 8.10 ERA. He was terrible. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. He was gone at the end of the year. He was out of baseball after the 2001 season.
The real cost of Taylor’s 18 innings? Jason Isringhausen’s career. He was once part of the fabled Generation K. In 1999, he was only given five starts. Mostly, he was a seldom used reliever who bounced between Norfolk and New York. He was coming off an elbow injury. At the time of the trade, he had a 6.41 ERA. His star had fallen. While he wasn’t good, Bobby V didn’t want to put him in the bullpen because that was “akin to using an Indy car as a taxi.”
I love Bobby V, but he was proven wrong. In 1999, he would save eight games for the A’s with a 2.13 ERA. That might’ve been helpful as Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Since the trade, Izzy accumulated 299 saves (one for the Mets in 1999 and seven for them in 2011). That was a lot to give up for 18 appearances.
Now, I don’t think Tyler Clippard will be as bad as Billy Taylor. He’s a much better pitcher. In actuality, through all of my hand wringing, I have noted Clippard is a quality addition that will help a back of a bullpen that needs it. I think the 7-8-9 of Bobby Parnell-Tyler Clippard-Jeurys Familia could be very good, or at least better than the 1999 version. If the Mets win the World Series, I’ll be thrilled and I won’t care how good Casey Meisner becomes.
However, I shudder at another Mets trade with Billy Beane for a reliever. While I hope one day I’m regaling my son of the 2015 championship season, I’m afraid that I will be explaining how Casey Meisner could have been a Met.
Did you ever hear of the saying, the more things change the more they stay the same? The saying drives me absolutely nuts. Inherently, something that is static cannot also be idle at the same time. However, for the first time I am starting to understand this saying.
I believe this season is starting to resemble 2005. Sure there was some optimism before that season with the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. This was also going to be the first full season David Wright and Jose Reyes were going to play together. That team also had some holes: Doug Mientkiewicz had a great glove but not the bat to play 1B, Kaz Matsui was being shifted to play 2B after he showed he couldn’t play SS the prior year, and let’s not forget the closer was Braden Looper in a largely ineffective bullpen. However, I don’t know of anyone that expected the Mets to realistically make the playoffs that year.
At that point, the Mets fans were suffering. In 2001, the Mets rallied around the city, but they fell short of making the playoffs in an otherwise disappointing season. In 2002, we watched Steve Phillips attempt to recreate the team as an offensive juggernaut with the likes of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, and Roger Cedeno. This lead to three years of just bad baseball. Now, the Mets fans were clamoring for a move to be made. We wanted to see Piazza go out on his last year with the Mets with a winner. At the Trading Deadline, the Mets found themselves only 4 games out of the Wild Card.
However, Omar Minaya stayed the course. The Mets made no trades. He kept his bullets for the offseason. If you recall, that was a magical offseason with the additions of Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, Xavier Nady, Endy Chavez, Julio Franco, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Jorge Julio (was was then traded in season for El Duque), Darren Oliver, and Billy Wagner. Omar showing restraint permitted the Mets to build that great 2006 team the fans loved.
Now, Mets fans have been suffering longer than they were in 2005, and they are begging for just one bat (which I don’t think will do the trick). While Mets fans were disappointed in 2005, I don’t remember them being a distraught as they are now. I think the difference is trust. We trusted that ownership and Omar would spend the money to get the players that were needed. In fact, they just come off of a spending spree that netted Pedro and Beltran. Now, fans don’t trust that ownership will spend the money. I believe this is the trust gap that is the biggest sense of frustration with this team.
It’s a shame too because I remember 2005 being a fun season. So far, I think 2015 has been gut-wrenching with all the tight, low-scoring games. My only hope is that if the Mets don’t make a move now, they have a plan for what can be realistically accomplished this summer. There will be LF available who can really help the team in the short term, but the market is scarce on middle infielders. My fingers are crossed. I want to be able to go to a playoff game with my father and son.