With the second Field of Dreams game, we get to revisit all the things and the people who made that movie special. At least this year, chief among them was the late, great Ray Liotta.
It was Liotta who brought Shoeless Joe Jackson to life. Of course, the story revolves around Shoeless Joe, but he wasn’t the only player key to the plot.
The other famous player was Moonlight Graham.
Graham was the player JD Salinger, sorry Terence Mann, saw on the scoreboard at Fenway Park. He got his one wish to get a plate appearance, but then he had to abandon the dream to save the girl choking.
Ray Kinsella did a masterful job learning who the real Moonlight Graham was and incorporating him into the tale. Sadly, the real Moonlight Graham wasn’t really rewarded did the great post-baseball life he led by getting that plate appearance.
Moonlight Graham’s special or unique. Rather, it just happened to be the one highlighted in a novel and a major motion picture. Really, every franchise has their own Moonlight Graham.
For the New York Mets, that’s Joe Heitpas.
Hietpas made his Major League debut on October 3. 2004. He replaced Todd Zeile, who was playing in his last ever game, and he caught one inning. He’s never bat in that game or any subsequent game.
Of course, that season, the Mets finished 20 games under .500 nowhere near the pennant race. They let Zeile catch but couldn’t get Hietpas even one at-bat or start. Part of the reason was an abdominal muscle strain, but still, the Mets were terrible.
After the season, the Mets hired Omar Minaya and revamped the roster. Between his minor league hitting and there now being more depth, Hietpas never would get a chance to be called up as a catcher again.
The Mets did want to try him at pitcher. Initially, he wanted to make it as a catcher and demurred. He eventually relented, but he had no control, and he would finally be released ending his professional baseball career.
According to SABR, as of September 2018, Hietpas was the last position player to make his Major League debut in the field and never get a plate appearance. Per Hietpas, he doesn’t regret not getting that at-bat.
He’s put together a good life since raising a family. Still, to this day, you have to wonder just how much he really wanted to just wink at the pitcher as he went into his windup.
With Jacob deGrom receiving his contract extension, it appears he is going to be a Mets pitcher during his prime, and it sets the stage for him to join David Wright and Ed Kranepool as Mets for life. With that being the bulk of the list, there is a host of Mets players who got away. The most famous of which was Tom Seaver who headlined the Midnight Massacre. Putting Seaver aside, the Mets bloggers discussed those players who got away:
Michael Ganci (Daily Stache)
Honestly in recent memory John Olerud comes to mind. He had one of the best pure swings I can remember. Other than that I guess you have to bring up Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, but who saw those coming?
Daniel Murphy is the most recent Met to have gotten away. And, I’ve heard there are people in the front office who would like a mulligan on that one as well. Having him in 2016 and 2017 would’ve been huge, and not having him kill the Mets in DC would have been huge too.
Allison McCague (Amazin’ Avenue)
To me the most egregious example of a Met getting away is Justin Turner, simply by virtue of how little it would have cost to keep him. Of course, it was impossible to know that he would put up the numbers he did after leaving the Mets, but unlike the Murphy situation where it was a choice not to sign the player as a free agent, they non-tendered a perfectly serviceable utility man just because they didn’t want to pay him and trashed his character on the way out for good measure. I think a dark horse candidate in this conversation, however, would be Collin McHugh, who changed his approach after joining the Astros by throwing his fastball less often and his off-speed pitches more often to much greater success than he ever had as a Met. And now he remains a key piece in the Astros bullpen as they head into another season where they will likely make a push for the postseason.
I’ll give you Justin Turner for sure. What irks me is he’s a good guy and even in the form he was in when he was here, was a valuable piece for the solution. That he evolved thanks to the tutelage of Marlon Byrd while he was here makes it even worse, since this version of Justin Turner would‘ve unquestionably transformed the Mets.
Metstradamus (Metstradamus Blog)
James Schapiro (Shea Bridge Report)
Mark Healey (Gotham Baseball)
Olerud; he was a far superior player to Todd Zeile. Just look at his seasons 2000-02; think he would have helped? In my opinion, if Mets have Olerud, they win 2000 World Series. My God, remember the Zeile farewell tour? Infamnia!
Tim Ryder (MMO)
I’m gonna hesitantly go with Melvin Mora. The guy he got traded away for, Mike Bordick, was a fine pickup and helped that 2000 team get over the hump, no doubt. But Mora went on to have a solid little career and Bordick was back in Baltimore via free agency the following season.
Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)
The Mets let 18-year-old Paul Blair go to the Orioles in the minor league draft of 1962. Blair played 18 seasons in the majors, winning eight Gold Gloves as the premier AL center fielder of his generation.
Then again, had the Mets kept Blair, they wouldn’t have needed to trade for Tommie Agee prior to 1968, and Agee robbed Blair in the 1969 Series, so all’s well that ended well, perhaps.
Pete McCarthy (OABT)
I thought Nolan Ryan was the only answer to this question, but there are some fun ones in here. Yay Mets!
Far be it from me to disagree with you Pete but Ryan wanted out as much as the Mets were frustrated with him. It wasn’t so much that they traded Ryan and he became a Hall of Famer after it’s what they traded him for.
Scott Kazmir would like a word.
There is always going to be a part of me who wonders what would have happened if the Mets kept Darryl Strawberry. He would have one good year in Los Angeles before everything fell apart for both him and the Mets. For those who forget, the Mets opted to replace him with Vince Coleman, who was detestable as a Met, and it lead to a series of poor decisions which built as bad and unlikable a Mets team as we have ever seen. For Strawberry, his personal problems were far worse than anything the Mets encountered.
Looking at everything, there are a number of mistakes like trading Jeff Kent for Carlos Baerga, but that at least indirectly led to the team signing Robin Ventura. Murphy leaving transferred the balance of power back to the Nationals.
But overall, the one which comes to mind right now is Matt Harvey. For Harvey, it was more than trading him for Devin Mesoraco. It was everything. The 2013 version looked like future Hall of Fame. The 2015 version looked like a staff ace. The ramifications of that 2015 season were far reaching, and we never saw Harvey return, literally and figuratively.
Before you go away from this piece, please sure you click on the links and visit the sites of those who have taken their time to contribute to this roundtable.
Also, a very special congratulations to Pete McCarthy and his wife on the birth of their baby girl!