Heading into the 1999 season, the Mets desperately needed another infielder. After debating names like B.J. Surhoff, the Mets went with 30 year old Robin Ventura, who was arguably coming off his worst season at the plate since his first full season in the majors.
While Ventura’s bat may have been a bit of a question mark, his glove wasn’t. At the time he was signed, Ventura was widely regarded as one of the best defensive third baseman in the game – if not THE best. With him alongside Rey Ordonez, the Mets knew from a defensive perspective they were going to have the best left side of the infield in all of baseball.
As it turns out, it was much more than that. With John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo, the Mets assembled what many regard as the best defensive infield. Both Ventura and Ordonez would win Gold Gloves giving that infield the metal it needed to prove the point.
More than that, Ventura was rejuvenated as a Met. In 1999, he had his best every year hitting an astounding .301/.379/.529 with 32 homers and 120 RBI. He would amass the third most WAR among NL position players, and he would finish sixth in the MVP voting. As we know, he still had some magic left, as with this help of Todd Pratt, he would launch the Grand Slam Single in Game 5 of the NLCS.
After his Mets career, Ventura would eventually find himself as a manger of the Chicago White Sox, and he would manage Todd Frazier, the player who is now looking to pick up his mantle from the 1999 season.
Frazier has built himself a reputation as a good defensive third baseman. In 2017, among players with over a thousand innings at third base, he had the third highest DRS trailing just Nolan Arenado and Evan Longoria. With Frazier now joining Amed Rosario on the left side of the infield, the Mets promise to have the best defensive left side of the infield they have had in decades. Along with the San Francisco Giants, they are on the short list of teams that can argue they have the best defensive left side of the infield in baseball.
At the plate, Frazier is a good hitter. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged a .243/.322/.464 batting line with 33 homers and 86 RBI. That equates to a 113 OPS+ and wRC+. Many will knock him for his declining batting average, but it should be noted last year, he had a career best .344 OBP and 14.4% walk rate. In sum, his batting average is going down, but he’s getting on base more frequently.
Like Ventura, there’s optimism for a much improved season at the plate. We have already seen him become a more patient hitter at the plate. We have also seen him post an absurdly low .236 and .226 BABIP in succeeding years. Part of that is Ventura is a dead pull hitter making it easier to shift against him. Seeing how low those marks are and how hard he hits the ball, there’s some bad luck involved.
All of this makes him a prime candidate for a turnaround similar to what we saw with Jay Bruce last year. The Mets will give him the information and will have him work with Pat Roessler. This should allow Frazier to have a much improved year at the plate.
If that is the case, Frazier is going to have a great year with the Mets. And while he’s admittedly not as good a player as Ventura was, he can have a similar impact. Frazier can be the guy in the clubhouse blasting “Mo Jo Rising,” helps create a great left side infield defense, and deepen the Mets lineup.
And if all that happens, this could be a postseason team, which should give us excitement over what heroics we are about to see next.
This past week my Dad turned 70 years old. It is because of him that my brother and I have been lifelong Mets fans. For that, I’m not sure to thank him or to curse him. All joking aside, some of my fondest memories with my Dad have involved baseball.
There were the Mets games through the years. We were there for Robin Ventura‘s Grand Slam single. We saw Todd Pratt‘s homer ending the 1999 NLDS. We were there a year later as Bobby Jones propelled the Mets to the 2000 NLCS. There was the last game at Shea Stadium, and the first game at Citi Field.
We saw Matt Harvey come so close to pitching a no-hitter against the White Sox. We loved see Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero have their first ever start at Citi Field in the 2013 Future’s Game. Our favorite moment at a Mets game hands down was Game 3 of the 2015 World Series.
But it was more than the Mets games. There were the catches he used to have with my brother and I in the backyard. There was him throwing pitches to help try me to become a catcher. There were the times, he would throw batting practice to my brother and I.
When it came time to give him a gift, my family wanted to give him more than a present. We wanted to give him a memory that would at least rival the fond memories we had of him. With us not having 499 friends to invite to a Mets game, or the money to purchase those tickets, that left us with the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Brooklyn in and of itself was fitting. It was the place he would commute over an hour each way in order for him to support our family, to put my brother and I through school.
After speaking with the Cyclones, Joe Senis specifically, we were able to arrange for my father to throw out the first pitch before Saturday’s Cyclones game. Not just that, but at my Dad’s request, they allowed his grandson to take the mound with him (and throw out a pitch of his own):
Personally, I think they both did a great job:
Also, great job by Kurt Horne catching both of those pitches and for taking a brief moment to shake my Dad’s and my son’s hands. It was also great Edgardo Alfonzo, one of my Dad’s favorite Mets, gave us his autograph.
That’s not all the Cyclones did for us. They also sent the mascot up to where we were sitting for some family photos . . .
and they put on a great postgame fireworks show:
In what is masked as an attempt to make games move at a faster pace, MLB with approval of MLBPA has agreed that pitchers will no longer have to throw four balls to issue a walk. Rather, now, the manager in the dugout will simply make a signal, and the batter at the plate will take first base.
While the rule seems benign, it does go against one of the basic tenents of what baseball great. It it the idea that at any moment, no matter how seemingly insignificant it is, you can see something special, something bizarre, or something you have never seen before:
As you can see, you never now what is going to happen. Except now, you do. Each one of those players will automatically be awarded first taking away the potential that something will happen. Baseball is doing this despite the fact that your average intentional walk lasts less than a minute. Baseball is doing this despite teams not issuing many intentional walks.
As reported by Newsday, there were only 932 intentional walks last year. Considering there are 2,430 games in a baseball season, baseball is looking for a resolution for something that happens less than once per game. It happens less than every other game. In essence, baseball, issued a rule change that eliminates the possibility of anything happening on a play that doesn’t even happen every game. This is like the NFL issuing a rule change with regards to the kick-off after a safety, the NBA issuing a rule change on what to do when a ball gets stuck between the backboard and the rim, or the NHL changing what type of shots are permitted on an in-game penalty shot.
Essentially, it is a rule change that affects something that rarely happens. It is a rule change that will have little to no impact on the casual fan. It will have no impact on fans that dislike the sport. More importantly, it only serves to anger your most ardent fans. At the end of the day, you have to ask why this was done?
For expediency? Pace of play? Make games go quicker?
In reality, it has no impact on that.
If Manfred really wants to make an impact might as well eliminate the home run trot. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, there were 5,610 homers hit in the major leagues last year. This means that on average there are two home runs hit in an average baseball game. If you were to eliminate, the home run trot, you could really shave some time off of games, especially with some of the slower home run trots:
If everyone is being intellectually honest, removing the home run trot from games will make games move along much swifter. Given the fact that there are many more home runs hit than intentional walks, removing the home run trot would have a far greater impact than removing the intentional walk.
Also, if we’re being honest, no fan really cares about the home run trot except when they are looking for the celebration at home plate after a walk-off. However, that celebration could be heightened without the home run trot. Imagine a player hitting a home run and then immediately getting mobbed by his teammates on the field. It would look something like this:
Pure jubilation. Except, here is the strange thing. This celebration turned a home run that probably would have been a highlight of a six game series to an all time baseball moment. It was the Grand Slam Single. With that Robin Ventura will be forever immortalized because of Todd Pratt and the rest of the Mets tackling him on the field.
That’s what we lose when we eliminate throwing four balls or home run trots. You lose the impossible. You lose the potential or chance for the next great moment. Ultimately, this is why the rule is dumb. You’re changing what makes baseball great.
No, intentional walks do not make baseball great. Rather, it is that something amazing could happen during those four pitches. For most fans, you may not feel like you are missing anything when in reality you are missing everything.
During this offseason, the Mets were put in a somewhat peculiar position. Longtime Mets announcer and play-by-play man, Gary Cohen, was a finalist for the Ford C. Frick Award. This would have meant that Cohen would have found himself enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame before he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
Now, it should be noted the Ford C. Frick Award is not technically being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As the Baseball Hall of Fame notes, “The Ford C. Frick Award is presented annually during Hall of Fame Weekend. Each award recipient (not to be confused with an inductee) is presented with a calligraphy of the award and is recognized in the “Scribes & Mikemen” exhibit in the Library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” With that caveat, for many receiving the award is commensurate with an announcer being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While Cohen ultimately did not received the award, you know it is only a matter of time before he receives it. As any Mets fan that listened to him on the radio from 1989 – 2005, or on SNY from 2006 until the present, Cohen is the best in the business. For those unaware, he is a compilation of some of his best calls in a number of the best moments in Mets history:
The Todd Pratt Home Run:
I particularly like this one due to the comparison to Chris Berman
The Robin Ventura Grand Slam Single:
The Endy Chavez Catch:
The Mike Piazza home-run capping off the 10 run inning against the Braves:
The Johan Santana n0-hitter:
The Wilmer Flores walk-off home-run:
And while, it was not the greatest moment in Mets history, his call on the Bartolo Colon home run is as good a call as you are going to hear anywhere:
There are several calls that you can choose from him because Cohen is just that good a broadcaster. It’s a testament to him that he made the transition from being quite possibly the best play-by-play announcer in all of baseball to being great as a television announcer on SNY. They are different mediums, and he seemingly made the seamless switch to describing each and every part of the action to sitting back and let the moment speak for itself. He has also given room for both Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez to shine in their roles as color commentators.
Whether, it is his screaming “IT’S OUTTA HERE!” or “THE BALLGAME IS OVER!” Cohen has a way of not only capturing the emotion of the big moment, he also has a way of making them seem bigger. With that said, there is another big moment in Mets history he should not be there to call. That would be the day he is 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.
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!”
Fifteen years ago today, I went to my first Mets playoff game. Somehow, even with Mike Piazza injured, the Mets lead the NLDS 2-1. They found themselves in a extra innings looking for just one big hit:
I don’t think there was anyone on the planet who thought Todd Pratt was going to hit a walkoff, series-clinching homerun.
The next year, the NLDS heroes would be Benny Agbayani . . .
. . . and Bobby Jones
Who’s it going to be this year? Could it be Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who’s already had a huge pinch hit homerun this year:
How about Wilmer Flores:
Whoever it is, that player is about to forever become a part of Mets lore.
LETS GO METS!
Say what you want, but I’m the biggest Mets fan there is. Some may have been fans longer. Some may have gone to more games. Some may spend more money on paraphernalia, but there is no bigger Mets fan than me.
You know what’s great though? I just wrote that, and there are people legitimately angry at my statement. There are about a million other Mets fans who legitimately feel the same way. Despite what a garbage analysis says, Mets fans are incredible.
Just look at the way we treated Wilmer Flores after the Carlos Gomez trade disintegrated. We gave Mike Piazza a curtain call when he was a visiting player. The fans gave Carlos Beltran a standing ovation at the 2013 AllStar Game, and he was wearing a Cardinals uniform. If you don’t think the Mets’ fans register with the players, you’re wrong.
Back in the old message board days, Todd Pratt would interact with Mets fans under the user name “Tank.” If you’re a Mets fan on Twitter, Paul Lo Duca will follow you. Mike Piazza himself acknowledged the fans yesterday during the Mets game:
Excited and hope @Mets finish strong, like the energy. Do it for the Fans! Play smart, bring it home!
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) August 2, 2015
Last night, the fans were great. You could feel the excitement through the television. It was apparent to everyone. Curt Schilling, who pitched in the NL East when the Mets were very good and very bad, summed it up best when he said, “[s]peaking from experience, this is a not a fan base you want to wake up.”
That’s the thing with those of us who miss Shea. There were memories there. The baseball at Citi Field has not been good. Aside from the Johan Santana no-hitter, there have been no signature moments. But Shea? That’s where we saw our first game. That’s where 1969 and 1986 happened. That’s where Piazza seemingly healed New York for one night:
Look at those fans. The whole country was hurting. At that time, we questioned if it was too soon to come back to New York. We questioned if it would be safe to play a game in New York. They played, and the fans came. They roared as Mike Piazza may have hit the most important homerun ever hit.
Guess what? These Mets fans are back. Like me, we’re bringing our kids with us. I know my son has been getting swept up in the excitement of these games. When I ask him if he wants to watch, he now runs so we can watch it together. He cheers the homeruns. I could not get him to sleep after the three third inning homerun innings last night. He was that excited.
I’m more excited. I’m dreaming of an NL East title. I’m dreaming of a pennant. I’m dreaming of being able to see a World Series game with my Dad and son. That would be a dream come true.
This season and team has momentum. I know Mets fans want to and will ride it into October. David Wright, and to a lesser extent Daniel Murphy, knows how Mets fans can get. I’m excited to show how great we are to a whole new generation of Mets players and fans. If Matt Harvey thought the fans were good during his breakout year, he’s seen nothing yet.
I can’t wait to see the stands as we begin to get some signature moments at Citi Field. We can finally make this place feel like home. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Lets Go Mets!