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.
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.
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 Henderson–Darryl Hamilton–Derek Bell. At the end of the year, it was Benny Agbayani–Jay 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.
It’s funny to think in the year Yogi Berra died, the feeling I walked away with from last night was “its déjà vu all over again.”
Fifteen years ago, I watched the Mets lose the World Series in five games. I remember believing that the better team didn’t win. The bounces went the wrong way. The Mets failed to execute in the late innings. They just couldn’t get that big hit when needed. I remember thinking of the Mets could just win Game 5, they could still win the World Series.
Al Leiter started Game 5 and gave the gutsiest performance I’ve ever seen from a Met. He went 8.2 innings throwing 143 pitches. He was just in there too long. After getting the first two outs via strikeout, he let up three successive hits giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead. I still thought the Mets had a chance. I thought Mike Piazza tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. Cruelly, it fell just short.
Last night, Matt Harvey was every bit of Al Leiter’s equal. He too put the Mets on his back and had eight incredible innings. Truth be told, Harvey had a game for the ages. If he doesn’t come out for the ninth, his final line is 8.0 innings, four hits, no earned, one walk, and nine strikeouts. It should’ve been a game that was talked about for years to come.
Instead, Harvey came out for the ninth. He allowed a walk and a double. The talk will forever be about how Terry Collins left him in instead of how great he was. It’s just like 1999. No one talks about how great Leiter was. They talk about Timo Perez and Roger Clemens. I fear this World Series will be talked about over Collins’ use of Jeurys Familia and the late inning defense.
However, I’ll always remember Leiter’s Game 5 performance. If I ever had the chance to meet him, I’d shake his hand and thank him for it. Sure, the Mets lost, but I respected that performance. He wanted in that game every bit as Harvey did last night. If I met Harvey, I’d shake his hand and thank him for last night too.
They both fell just short, but they gave it their all. Last night was just as painful as it was 15 years ago. In some ways, it hurts even more so. I may not have seen a World Series in either year, but I saw something special from two extraordinary local guys. They did themselves and their teams proud. They made me proud to be a Mets fan.
They deserved a better fate. Instead, they have my profound respect. Thank you.
My favorite Mets team was the 1999 team. I loved everything about that team from Bobby V to Mike Piazza to Edgardo Alfonzo to Robin Ventura to John Olerud. It was my first real taste of a pennant race and the playoffs. I was lucky to be there for Pratt’s All Folks and the Grand Slam Single. I look back on the year with melancoly because of this:
In 2000, the Mets got Mike Hampton. The season became World Series or bust. A strange feeling for a Mets fan. Hampton would deliver. He was the NLCS MVP. The Mets then had to face the Yankees in the World Series. It was a cruel series with Todd Zeile‘s ball landing on the wall and falling back into play. Timo Perez didn’t run and didn’t score. Roger Clemens threw a bat at Piazza and wasn’t ejected. The series then ended in the most heartbreaking way possible:
The Mets would be terrible for the next few years, but everything came together in 2006. Our homegrown stars, Jose Reyes and David Wright, we’re becoming superstars. They were joined by the two Carloses: Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. It was a team that ran roughshod over the National League. Beltran was the best baseball player on the planet that year (who somehow didn’t win the MVP). The Mets had momentum in Game Seven with Endy Chavez’s catch. Here’s how that season ended:
In 2007, the Mets reloaded and were primed to go back to the World Series. They were up 7 with 17 to play. On the final game of the season, they sent future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to the mound with his 300 wins. He wouldn’t be devastated when he got out of the first, but we would:
In 2008, the Mets diagnosed their problem, and much like 2000, they went out to get it. The Mets brought in Johan Santana, and he delivered. they needed him in a strange year that saw Wille Randolph fired after a win on the first game of a west coast trip. The interim manager threatened to cut Reyes if he didn’t come off the field after pulling up lame, and people acted like it was a good thing. Through all of that, the Mets were collapsing again, and yet an injured Santana took the ball on three days rest. He saved the season, but only for a day:
The last three were the most difficult for me because I was there. It got more difficult because Citi Field was initially a disappointment. It got worse because the product on the field was bad.
Then Matt Harvey came up and was an All Star. Jacob deGrom came from seemingly nowhere to become a Rookie of the Year and an All Star. They were joined by Noah Syndergaard. The Mets made a flurry of trades including one for Yoenis Cespedes. Daniel Murphy had an out of body experience. Then this happened:
All that pain. All that suffering. We know what it’s like to be Mets fans. There’s pain and suffering. However, there are moments of pure joy. It’s all the losing that makes nights like last night all the more special.
We’re Mets fans. We were there for all of this. There are older fans who experienced more pain, but also more joy. There are younger fans who only know losing. Now, we’re all Pennant Winners. It’s like the 80’s again when the Mets are the best team of baseball. We’re “Back in the New York groove!”
There was Roberto Alomar‘s disappointing tenure. I’m sure there are Mets fans that would’ve picked Willie Randolph, but he was decent with the Mets in the last year of a good career. Furthermore, I was higher on him as a manager than most people. I remember that Jeff Kent was hated by Mets fans, except the ones in my household.
When fans booed Kent, my Dad was baffled. When he saw Kent, he saw a terrific player. My Dad was right. Kent played well in his five years as a Met. Kent would win the 2000 NL MVP and finish his career with the most homeruns by a second baseman. However, all of that happened elsewhere. Why elsewhere? Well, the Mets made an idiotic trade including him and Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and today’s selection, Alvaro Espinoza:
Espinoza was not a great major league player, but truth be told, he was at his best in those 48 games with the Mets. So, why pick him? He was part of a trade that ditched a possible Hall of Fame second baseman for a player fading fast in Baerga. Neither player was of much help, especially in a 1996 season when the Mets finished 71-91.
Baerga’s numbers dropped steadily his three years in New York, and he couldn’t stay on second base. He would be gone before the glory years of 1999 and 2000, but you know who would reappear in 2000? Vizcaino. The man who put an end to Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. He was in that position due to Timo Perez‘s lack of hustle and Armando Benitez once again caving in from the pressure.
So I picked Esponiza more as a symbolic gesture as a reminder that the trade for the star usually doesn’t work in the Mets history. I think that reminder is quite aprospros this season.
With that in mind, please join me in offering a hat tip to Magic Number 12, Alvaro Espinoza.