It’s that time of the year when we get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a time when you feel even closer to what you love. I am of course referring to Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Spring Training this week.
As the Mets report, they are trying to do something that only Bobby Valentine’s Mets have ever done. They are trying to go to the postseason for consecutive years. It’s still amazing to think that in the 54 year history of the Mets, they have only e been in consecutive postseasons only once. Gil Hodges couldn’t do it. Davey Johnson couldn’t. Willie Randolph came agonizingly close.
No, the only one to do it was Bobby V. He did it with a core of Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, and Al Leiter. He had a terrific bullpen of Armando Benitez, John Franco, Turk Wendell, and Dennis Cook. Each year, he had drastically different outfields and rotations. Yet, he was still able to make it work. He got the most out of these teams. The Mets made consecutive NLCS appearances, and they were close to winning a World Series.
This now is the task set forth for Terry Collins. For the first time in 16 years and the second time in Mets history, he is tasked with leading a Mets team to consecutive postseason berths. Like Bobby V, he has a strong core of players. Unlike Bobby V, he has not had much turnover in the roster.
Overall, the one thing uniting Bobby V’s Mets and Terry Collins’ Mets is hope. Mets fans hope and believe in this team. We all believe this is our year even after a heartbreaking loss. And yes, as this is Valentine’s Day, Mets fans love their team.
So remember on this the coldest of Bobby Valentine’s Day, Spring is in the air, and we will soon be reunited with the team we love.
The question that naturally follows is if he’s a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, what happens next is some idiot starts minimizing what each player had accomplished, and/or questioning why the player appears on the ballot. There’s no need for that. To be eligible, a player has to be in the big leagues for 10 years, which is no small feat considering most of us never made it out of Little League. These players have earned the right to have their name there. Instead of telling us why they’re not Hall of Famers, their stories should be shared.
Personally, I always marvel at Billy Wagner. Did you know he’s not even a lefty? He’s a natural righty, but as a kid he learned to throw lefty because he broke his right arm twice. It’s a good thing too because inside that left arm was a fastball that could occasionally hit triple digits. He would make it to the Astros to become an elite All Star closer.
For his career, Wagner amassed 422 saves. That ranks as sixth all time and second amongst left handed closers trailing only fellow former Met (and Astro) John Franco. He had a 2.31 ERA with a 0.998 WHIP and a 11.9 K/9. He was what you wanted with a closer. He came in and struck people out en route to wrapping up the game. He made it an eight inning game for his team. You can make a case for him going into the Hall of Fame with those numbers.
As a Mets fan, I’m more interested in two things about Billy Wagner: 2006 and 2009. In 2006, Wagner came to the Mets and became part of an incredible bullpen. He saved 40 games. His year was so good he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. He was a vital member of a team that won 97 games and won the NL East for the first time in 28 years. Unfortunately, it was his only fully healthy year with the Mets. He was unavailable due to injury in 2007 and 2008. We watched as a damaged bullpen and flawed team collapsed in those seasons.
The worst of Wagner’s injuries would come in 2008. He would need Tommy John surgery. Most, myself included, thought this was the end of his Mets career. Instead, Wagner come back astonishingly fast from the surgery. After 11 months, he came back to a Mets team going nowhere. No one would’ve blamed him for easing off the throttle a bit. There wasn’t a need to rush back. However, it wasn’t the way Billy Wagner is wired. He came back to a well deserved standing ovation and recorded a 1-2-3 inning.
He would be traded to Boston to finish out 2009. He would play one more year with the Braves before hanging them up. He left behind a career in which he was dominant. He can honestly say he gave it all on the field. He was a fierce competitor that brought integrity to the game.
I’m not sure if he’s a Hall of Famer. What I do know is that he was a great player, and I’m glad he was a Met. Instead of taking time to denigrate his career, people should be writing his story. It’s a remarkable story about resiliency and competitiveness. He should be shown as an inspiration to children that you can overcome anything to be a big leaguer . . . even twice breaking your throwing arm.
For all that, congratulations on a terrific career Billy Wagner.
After the horrors of 9/11, it was time for baseball to return. We were all shaken and needed a return to some normalcy. As the National Pasttime, baseball was set to return.
When it came time to return, the Mets, lead by Todd Zeile made a statement. They tossed their Mets caps aside, and wore the First Responders caps. They wore caps honoring the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, and Port Authority Police Department. It was a memorial to the heroes who lost their lives trying to save the lives of others.
Zeile wouldn’t let MLB rip the hat off his head. On September 17, 2001, the Mets took the field wearing these caps. It was emotional watching John Franco earning the win wearing an FDNY cap knowing he lost someone close to him on 9/11, who was a firefighter. When baseball returned to New York, the Mets took to the field wearing these first responder caps. It was the second most moving thing that happened that night:
After the 2001 season, it was time to move on. However, we would never forget. By we, I’m not including MLB. They have allowed the Mets to wear the caps since. Even when David Wright tried to wear it in the dugout, MLB took it away from him.
Four years ago, in honor of the tenth anniversary, the Mets petitioned MLB to wear the caps again. They were denied by MLB. Worse yet, they threatened to heavily fine players who elected to wear them. While Wright was once strong enough to wear a cap in the dugout, he became callow when it came to wearing the cap on the field stating he had to follow the rules. Bud Selig was the only one angry over the issue, and that is because the issue became public.
I don’t spend other people’s money. However, Wright is a leader. He needs to lead on the issue. He can’t go halfway like he did in the past. I’m assuming MLB will once again allow the Mets to wear the cap pregame only, you know, when no one can see it on TV. Instead when you turn on the TV tonight, you’ll see this:
Guess what? You can buy it at Lids for $37.99. It’s the same price on MLB.com. Note, there are no notations anywhere as to whether there will be any donations made to any charities. It’s a money grab.
The Mets had a strong locker room in 2001, and they stood up and did what was right. Wearing the First Responder caps is the right thing to do. People are still getting sick. Families continue to suffer. I know wearing the caps doesn’t change that.
However, it would be nice to know MLB and the Mets still remember. The slogan after 9/11 was never forget. If the Mets don’t wear the caps, it’s a sign they forgot.
UPDATE: they have forgotten and it’s embarrassing:
You know sometimes we forget about the impact Keith Hernandez had upon his teammates.
After Hernandez left the Mets, David Cone switched his number from 44 to 17 to honor his former teammate. He would wear it again with the Royals. His fellow color commentator, Ron Darling, wore 17 while a member of the Athletics. Bob Ojeda and Roger McDowell did the same with their future teams. In fact, they occupied the number during Mike Piazza‘s early tenure with the Dodgers. This is interesting because Piazza wanted number 17:
Mets connection with 31, I grabbed it as a rookie b/c Roger McDowell took 17 after Bob Ojeda left LA, hmm?
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) August 27, 2015
When Piazza joined the Mets, John Franco gave him his number 31. It was a terrific gesture that was part of a full court press to make Piazza comfortable and to get him to resign with the Mets. Piazza’s chosen number,17, was taken by Luis Lopez. He’s one of the many who have had the number that drives Hernandez nuts. I’m assuming Piazza never asked for the number.
With Piazza on the verge of being elected to the Hall of Fame, I presume the Mets would retire his number during the following season. We know that number will be 31. While Franco was a fine Met and a good closer, I’m sure there will be no groundswell to retire the number in his honor as well.
Now if Piazza wore 17, I’m assuming the Mets would’ve told Luis Lopez to find another number. If Piazza’s number 17 was retired, there would’ve been a major groundswell to retire the number in Hernandez’s honor as well. We know there is one already amongst the fan base. Retiring Piazza’s number might’ve created an avenue to retire the number of a popular player and broadcaster. However, Piazza never got to wear 17, and it’s Hernandez’s fault.
He left a tremendous impact with the fans and his teammates. The fans and his teammates wanted to honor him. It’s ironic this impact is what is preventing him from having his number retired.
Admittedly, I have been apoplectic over the Tyler Clippard trade. The reason is because the last time the Mets made a trade like this it ended very badly. Faith and Fear in Flushing invoked the infamous John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell trades. For me, it reminded me of Billy Taylor.
In 1999, the Mets were in competition for the playoffs for really the second time in my life (and second year in a row). I was too young to truly remember this (although my first baseball memory is the Buckner game) or this. After the previous season’s collapse, I was desperate to see the Nets make the playoffs. I was appreciative when Steve Phillips was aggressive at the trade deadline. Notably, he added Kenny Rogers (I still don’t want to talk about it), Shawn Dunston, and Darryl Hamilton (RIP). He also traded for Billy Taylor.
To acquire Billy Taylor, the Mets sent Billy Beane’s A’s Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. At the time, I loved the move. Over a three year stretch, he had 73 saves on mediocre Athletics teams. In 1999, on an A’s team on the rise, he had 26 saves (his peripherals were awful but I didn’t follow such things back then). I was giddy at the prospect of the Mets having a 7-8-9 of Billy Taylor-John Franco-Armando Benitez (this is before we knew he was terrible in October). I didn’t care about the cost. All I wanted was a playoff berth, let alone a World Series.
Boy, was I wrong. In 18 appearances, Taylor had an 8.10 ERA. He was terrible. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. He was gone at the end of the year. He was out of baseball after the 2001 season.
The real cost of Taylor’s 18 innings? Jason Isringhausen’s career. He was once part of the fabled Generation K. In 1999, he was only given five starts. Mostly, he was a seldom used reliever who bounced between Norfolk and New York. He was coming off an elbow injury. At the time of the trade, he had a 6.41 ERA. His star had fallen. While he wasn’t good, Bobby V didn’t want to put him in the bullpen because that was “akin to using an Indy car as a taxi.”
I love Bobby V, but he was proven wrong. In 1999, he would save eight games for the A’s with a 2.13 ERA. That might’ve been helpful as Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Since the trade, Izzy accumulated 299 saves (one for the Mets in 1999 and seven for them in 2011). That was a lot to give up for 18 appearances.
Now, I don’t think Tyler Clippard will be as bad as Billy Taylor. He’s a much better pitcher. In actuality, through all of my hand wringing, I have noted Clippard is a quality addition that will help a back of a bullpen that needs it. I think the 7-8-9 of Bobby Parnell-Tyler Clippard-Jeurys Familia could be very good, or at least better than the 1999 version. If the Mets win the World Series, I’ll be thrilled and I won’t care how good Casey Meisner becomes.
However, I shudder at another Mets trade with Billy Beane for a reliever. While I hope one day I’m regaling my son of the 2015 championship season, I’m afraid that I will be explaining how Casey Meisner could have been a Met.