Best Mets Of All Time: No. 12 John Stearns
The Mets have a potential future Hall of Famer in Jeff Kent (who would likely wear a Giants cap), and a pair of Gold Glove winners in Juan Lagares and Ron Darling who have worn the number 12. With respect to Darling, he also won 99 games, a great broadcaster, and a member of those great Mets teams. However, when you look at the play on the field, John Stearns is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
This may come as a bit of a surprise because Stearns is one of the most overshadowed Mets greats. He played a position best known for Gary Carter, Jerry Grote, and Mike Piazza. His heyday was after the 1973 team, and he departed just as Keith Hernandez got there to help turn the Mets into winners.
It is somewhat surprising he is so overshadowed because he was as tough as they come. Stearns was ready, willing, and able whenever there was a play at the plate, and he gave as good as he got in those collisions. In a collision with Dave Parker, he kept his mask on resulting in a broken cheekbone for the slugger. The following year, he fought Carter, then of the Expos, when he thought Carter went in too hard.
That was what defined him throughout his Mets career – his feistiness and toughness. In these encounters and his battles at the plate, it was a tremendous assets. When it came to his health and his playing through some bad injuries, it was a hindrance. Still, even as he dealt with a number of injuries, he would still prove himself to be both a good hitter and good catcher.
In fact, Stearns is the Mets second best catcher in terms of WAR. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but according to defensive WAR, his 1978 season was the best defensive season a Mets catcher ever had. That 1978 season was the third best season a Mets catcher ever had. In Mets history, he was one of the toughest batters to strike out.
Overall, when times were at their toughest, when Shea Stadium was known as Grant’s Tomb, Mets fans had Stearns. He was a four time All-Star, and according to WAR, he is the 18th best Mets player to ever play for the team. Of the people in the Top 20, the Stearns is the only one who never made the postseason. That makes it strange that Stearns may be best remembered for a postseason moment.
It was Stearns who was screaming, “The Monster is out of the cage!” when Piazza doubled in his first at-bat of the 2000 NLCS. Stearns was the bench coach for that pennant winning team, and he would serve as a Mets minor league instructor and manager for a few seasons.
Overall, he lived up at time to his self inflicted nickname of “Bad Dude,” but he was much more than that. He was a tough player who gave the Mets organization everything he had. He gave the Mets something to appreciate and enjoy at a time when things were at their worst. He has been over-shadowed, but in the end, he is still the best Mets player to ever wear the number 12.
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 Garrett was the 11th best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 11.