On August 21, 2001, Mike Piazza hit an RBI single in the first inning, and Shea Stadium went crazy. They went crazy again when he homered in the second extending the Mets lead to 4-0 in a game they would eventually win 5-2. To be fair, Mets fans always went crazy whenever Piazza did anything, but this was heightened over what is usually was.
The reason for that was the hits came off of Mike Hampton, who had become public enemy number one among Mets fans. That’s an impressive feat when you consider at that time the Atlanta Braves had players like Chipper Jones and John Rocker.
With it being 20 years later, perhaps we should revisit exactly why Mets fans hate Hampton.
Things weren’t always this way with Hampton. Mets fans rejoiced when he was obtained from the Houston Astros. Even with the high price of Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel, Mets fans were envisioning a World Series with a pitching staff headed by Hampton and Al Leiter.
Hampton delivered on that promise. In 2000, he was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.346 WHIP. Overall, he was a top 10 pitcher in the National League with his having the fifth best ERA+, seventh best FIP, and the 10th best WAR. When you combine how good a hitter the 2000 Silver Slugger was, Hampton was everything the Mets hoped he would be.
He would then pitch the Mets to the World Series being the NLCS MVP after going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 0.813 WHIP in his two starts. It was Hampton who was on the mound when Rick Wilkins flew out to Timo Perez.
No, Hampton wasn’t particularly good in the World Series, but he wasn’t bad either. In his lone start, he took the loss in Game 2 after allowing four earned over six innings in the game forever known for Roger Clemens throwing a bat at Piazza.
In the offseason, Hampton was a free agent, and he did what almost every player did. He took the best offer given to him. In the end, it was a huge eight year $121 million deal from the Colorado Rockies. Hampton tried to spin it as being for family reasons, but it was a bit much to take for everyone. For example, Sandy Alderson, who was then a executive vice president for Major League Baseball said, “He’s an outstanding pitcher. It’s a lot of money. Case closed. I don’t want to hear about the Wheat Ridge (Colo.) school system.” (ESPN).
Hampton going to Colorado proved to be bad for him and the Mets. Hampton predictably struggled pitching in Coors Field, and the Mets never could quite assemble a roster which could take the Mets over the top. In fact, that offseason was one of the more disappointing in Mets history.
What began with visions of Alex Rodriguez and/or Hampton ended with Kevin Appier, Steve Trachsel, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Sadly, that is not an exaggeration. To hear the Mets tell it, A-Rod was a 24+1 player, and Hampton chose the Rockies not because they didn’t offer enough, but rather, for lifestyle reasons.
As Mets fans, knowing all we know now, should we continue to hate Hampton?
By now, we know better about how the Mets spend money. After all, it was prior offseason where Bobby Valentine called into question about the real reason John Olerud left. We also can’t begrudge Hampton for taking the most money, and when we look at his brief tenure with the Mets, he did everything we could have expected him to do.
Looking back, it does go back to that World Series game.
After the game, Hampton questioned Piazza’s reaction to Clemens saying, “I think we should’ve fought, to be honest with you. But that’s not my call. You can’t make something happen if guys aren’t going to defend themselves. Different people react differently. Mike’s a little calmer. I’m more hot-tempered. I would’ve reacted a little different.” (NY Post).
He wasn’t the only Met to feel that way with Lenny Harris also questioning Piazza’s reaction or lack thereof. What made it harder to take from Hampton is he didn’t exactly pitch lights out in that game, and he also didn’t exactly respond by going head hunting in the ensuing inning.
Since that game, Hampton has gone from beloved to hated. The switch flipped that fast. Aside from games he has appeared as a visitor, especially with the hated Braves, Hampton was stayed away.
That is until now. With this being the 20th anniversary of that pennant, Hampton has appeared at Spring Training with fellow members of that team like Turk Wendell and Glendon Rusch. By all accounts, the once detested Hampton has been welcome back at Port St. Lucie.
Perhaps, now, it is time to move on from out hatred of him. After all, the Mets not doing what was needed to keep him and replace him wasn’t his fault. That’s on the Mets. More to the point, no fan should be ever upset at a player for taking the best contract and situation for his family.
As for the World Series, well, it was massively disappointing for us all. Hampton and Piazza included. For any comments between the two, Piazza more than got his revenge hitting .294/.357/.569 off of him with two doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI.In the end, Hampton got it, and Piazza went to the Hall of Fame.
It’s been 20 years, and when you think about it, Hampton has a special place in Mets history. It’s now time to remember, honor, and celebrate it. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to cheer Hampton this year and welcome him with open arms.
It doesn’t matter who is the General Manager or the manager. The Mets always want to tell everyone else they are wrong, and they are smarter than you. There is plenty of history on this front during the Wilpon Era.
Steve Phillips told us Alex Rodriguez was a 24 and 1 player. So, instead of pursuing A-Rod, he signed Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kevin Appier, and Steve Trachsel to try to improve the team. When that didn’t work, he made a series of questionable moves over the ensuing two years which somehow led to Roger Cedeno being a center fielder. Ultimately, Bobby Valentine was fired, and he was not too far behind.
There were plenty of decisions past that point. The most recent example was Terry Collins‘ insistence that Michael Conforto was a platoon bat because he was a young left-handed hitter the team had no time to develop because they were trying to win. Somehow this led to Matt Reynolds making a start in left field despite never having played the position in his life.
Now, we are in the era of Brodie Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway, and things remain the same way.
With Dominic Smith jumping out of the gate hitting well, Pete Alonso showing no signs of being overwhelmed as a rookie, and the team’s questionable outfield depth, everyone said it was time for Smith to get reps in the outfield again. Everyone included Mets hitting coach Chili Davis. The Mets scoffed at the idea and instead insisted it was better for Smith to be a younger version of Julio Franco or Lenny Harris.
The Mets gave up Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn in a deal which helped bring them Edwin Diaz. There were big games early in the season where the team needed their closer to go more than four outs. That was all the more the case with Jeurys Familia‘s struggles. But no, we were told Diaz is just a three out pitcher who was to be saved for save chances only.
To begin the season, Jacob deGrom had no consistency with the catchers behind the plate. That became more of an issue with Wilson Ramos not hitting or framing. Given how deGrom has reached Greg Maddux like status with this team, the strong suggestion was to make Tomas Nido his personal catcher as deGrom was the one pitcher who could easily overcome his lack of offense, especially with Nido’s pitch framing. Instead, the Mets said deGrom was not pitching well enough to warrant a personal catcher.
J.D. Davis was atrocious at third base. In fact, by DRS, he was the worst third baseman in the Majors. With him clearly not suited to the position, everyone said to the Mets they should at least try Davis in left field. It wasn’t until the Mets literally had no other choice that it would happen.
And that’s where we are now. The Mets are under .500 and in third place. Callaway’s job has seemingly become tenuous. Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are on the IL while Jeff McNeil is dealing with an abdominal issue. Justin Wilson is on the IL, and Familia just had another poor performance. Suddenly, the Mets, who knew better than everyone, suddenly don’t anymore.
Now, Smith will get reps in left field, and Davis can start playing out there more. Diaz can pitch more than three outs when the situation merits. Nido will now be deGrom’s personal catcher. Of course, the Mets waited a long time to finally admit they actually don’t know better than everyone. The question now is whether they waited too long.
Fortuantely, the Mets finally listened to everyone. Now, the goal is to finally get through to them that everyone else is indeed smarter than they are and that the Yankees financial model is sustainable. In fact, it could be sustainable for the Mets as well if they were willing to try.
With the Mets 2018 season beginning today, we are all hopeful that this will be the first Mets team since 1986 to win a World Series. If history is any judge, fans will depart Citi Field with that feeling as the New York Mets do have the best winning percentage on Opening Day. Whether the good feelings and warm memories continue from there is anyone’s guess.
As you look to turn on the television or head to the ballpark, we thought we would share some of our Opening Day memories with you in the latest edition of the Mets Blogger Roundtable.
Roger Cormier (Good Fundies & Fangraphs)
Two words: Collin Cowgill (That’s not my actual answer)
I think I’m going to cheat here. The first game that came to mind for favorite Opening Day memory was the Mets’ home opener in 2000. It was their first game played in North America, if that helps? The Mets split a two-game set in Japan the week before and then faced off against the Padres at Shea, and I was there. It was my first time attending a home opener, and I had to bend the rules that day too, seeing as I was, technically speaking, scheduled to continue my high school education that afternoon. A couple of friends and I cut class, took the 2/3, transferred to the 7, sauntered up to the ticket window, bought four tickets, and enjoyed a 2-1 victory. I brazenly put the schedule magnet giveaway on the refrigerator, and as far as I know was never caught. Please do not tell my mother.
My favorite Opening Day memory was Tom Seaver‘s 1983 Opening Day start. It was tremendous.
The details of Seaver’s homecoming were detailed in this Sports Illustrated piece.
This one has me stumped since I have not been to a Mets opening day since the Shea days. One that stands out is the chilly home opener for Tom Glavine. A 15-2 Mets loss I believe. Good times.
I cut school to go to Opening Day in 1980. My mother wrote a note to the teacher saying “sorry my son was absent. He went to Opening Day. P.S. the Mets won 5-2.” The teacher let me off the hook but only because the Mets won. I cut school in 1983 to see Seaver’s return as a Met. I cut school in 1988 to see Darryl Strawberry hit a HR on Opening Day, then left early to get back to theater rehearsal, and I had to platoon style elbow crawl my way under the director so she wouldn’t know I was gone. Luckily they never got to my scene yet so I was out of trouble. Until we left for the day and the director said “How was the game?” As many times as I cut school for Opening Day, it’s a wonder I can put a sentence together.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend 17 Opening Days/Home Openers (18, counting the first home game after the 1981 strike, which was functionally a second Home Opener), my favorite among them the 2001 Home Opener, when the 2000 NL pennant was raised, we were handed replica championship flags on our way in, Tsuyoshi Shinjo introduced himself to us with a homer, Mike Piazza socked two, the Mets obliterated the Braves and, not incidentally, the weather was perfect.
But with all due respect to the thrill of being on hand to, as Howie Rose says, welcome the National League season to New York, my core Opening Day memory is from 1975, when I convinced a friend to skip Hebrew School and watch the rest of the first game of that season.
The game began while we were still in shall we say regular school (sixth grade). Our teacher put the Mets and Phillies on the classroom TV. One wise guy tried to switch to the Yankees. Out of pique, the teacher switched it off.
Fast forward a bit, and my aforementioned friend and I went to my house to catch a little more of the game before we had to get to Hebrew School. This was Seaver versus Steve Carlton, and it was such an occasion that I said to him, “I’m not going to Hebrew School today.” He was convinced to not go, either.
We watched to the end and were rewarded for our truancy. Seaver pitched a complete game. Dave Kingman homered in his first game as a Met, and Joe Torre (also a new Met) drove in the winning run in the ninth, or what we would today call walkoff fashion. The whole winter was about reconstructing a dismal 1974 squad and hoping Seaver would be healthy. For one day, everything clicked as we dreamed.
Unless you walked by a newstand on your way to work or you saw their Tweet, chances are you missed the front page of the New York Daily News:
STAGE FRIGHT: Shohei Otani too scared to play for the @Yankees…
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) December 4, 2017
Judging from their steep decline in circulation, you probably did.
Make no mistake about it, the front page was an unnecessary shot at Shohei Ohtanti, and it was for the “crime” of spurning the Yankees.
As is typical with the New York Daily News, facts have not relevance here. The front page claims he “fears big city,” which is completely absurd when you consider his final list includes Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Arlington, with is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. But sure, he’s really afraid of the big city or big market teams.
Speaking of fear, are we really sure a 23 year who is eschewing tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars just to compete at the highest level is afraid? Do we really want to say someone who wants to do the unprecedented in both pitching and being a position player is scared of anything? Seems like Ohtani loves a challenge.
That’s actually backed up by the seven contenders he has selected. In a few of these locations, he’s going to have the follow in the footsteps of some terrific Japanese players:
As we have seen with the Mariners and the Dodgers, the list goes well beyond those two legends. Throw in the Giants, who had Masanori Murakami (first ever Japanese MLB player) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (first Japanese player to play in a World Series), and you have someone who is not intimidated by anything.
Still, none of these facts prevented the New York Daily News from publishing something just plain wrong.
Really, it should come as no surprise. The New York Daily News has been known by push beyond the lines of common decency for its front pages, including but not limited to, showing a blow-by-blow of how a woman was murdered.
It’s also a newspaper that once had the gall to publish an Andy Martino gem saying one of the reasons Mets fans hated Luis Castillo was because he was Hispanic. Put another way, he was calling Mets fans racist for not liking a player who turned in this gem:
Overall, the New York Daily News published yet something salacious, incendiary, and just plain wrong for reasons they only know. Only this time, they did it because someone had the temerity to select the baseball destination that was best for him. If we followed their standards, we could go as far to call them racist.
However, I won’t. I have actually standards.
The Mets never seem to get it right sometimes. The Yankees got Hideki Matsui, and the Mets got Kaz Matsui. The Mariners get Ichiro, and the Mets get Tsuyoshi Shinjo. The Royals have two sport superstar Bo Jackson, and the Mets get Magic Man Number 7 D. J. Dozier:
Dozier was a football player. He was a first round draft NFL pick by the Vikings and an 18th round draft pick by the Tigers. In the NFL, he’d get stuck behind Barry Sanders and Hershel Walker. He theoretically signed (as a minor league free agent) with the Mets for that reason. Basically, he was John Elway, but he stuck with baseball.
While in the Mets’ organization, he began to rise. He was ranked as the #44 Best prospect in all of baseball. He stayed with the Mets due to his unhappiness with the Vikings. The trouble is he never really panned out. He finally made the Mets in 1992 on the “Worst Team Money Can Buy.” He hit .191/.264/.498 in only 25 games.
This is a cold reminder that typically the Mets are reactive instead of progressive. It’s a time when moves didn’t pan out. This move seemed more of the same like when Michael Cuddyer struggled right out of the gate. It looked like another lost year at times with the struggling offense. As we know, it didn’t happen that way.
This year the moves and call-ups have panned out. Michael Conforto has been great. We know about Yoenis Cespedes and his incredible hot streak after coming over to the Mets. This isn’t 1992 anymore. The Mets can win this year. This is why I like remembering players like Dozier. I want to see the progress of the team, and I like people are seeing how things are different now.
So with that said, let’s offer a hat tip to magic man number seven D. J. Dozier.