The first Subway Series was 1997, and it had all of New York enthralled. There was the upstart New York Mets led by Lance Johnson, Bernard Gilkey, and Todd Hundley, against the defending World Series champion New York Yankees.
The first Subway Series did something rare in sports. It exceeded the hype. Dave Mlicki is still a Mets legend for the complete game shutout to open the series culminated with striking out Derek Jeter to end the game.
The Mets would spoil a David Cone no-hit bid in the series finale and almost pull out a win. While the concept of the Mets and Yankees being rivals was a bit forced at the outset, we did see the beginnings of a rivalry.
The rivalry reached its apex in the 2000 World Series and with all the drama surrounding Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens. There was a lot more to it like former Mets greats like Cone, Dwight Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry returning to Shea.
Mostly, it was Bobby Valentine who knew the Mets underdog status. He embraced it, and he treated those games like they were must win. Typically, they were for him as it was usually a marker for how the Mets were performing that season.
Since 2000, we have seen the series go through ebbs and flows. There have been moments like the Luis Castillo dropped fly ball or Carlos Delgado‘s power display. Of course, there was the Shawn Estes/Clemens drama.
All that said, this series has never been the same since 2000. In reality, this series has never been at a lower point than it is right now.
The Yankees are in third place and nine games back of the Tampa Bay Rays, but they do have a half-game lead in the Wild Card race. The Mets are in fourth place, are four games under .500, and they trail by three games in the Wild Card race.
The Yankees are without Aaron Judge. The Mets are without Pete Alonso. The ticket prices are through the roof, and Citi Field still has not sold out the game. It’s also a two game set making the possibility of the teams walking away with a somewhat uninteresting split.
On the bright side, we are going to see Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander. The Baby Mets of Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos will get their first taste of this series, and more importantly, put their stamp on this series.
We may very well see competitive games with a number of storylines emerge. However, in the past, the storylines were already written because of all the intrigue surrounding the series. That intrigue is seemingly gone for now.
It’s been a beef with Mets fans for a while. The Mets now have a rich history, and we want to see that honored. One way we want to see it is Old Timer’s Day.
It’s something the Mets used to have in the early years, but they haven’t had it in the time the Wilpons owned the Mets. Now, according to Steve Cohen himself, that’s going to change.
Darell, No brainer to have Old Times Day , done
— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) November 1, 2020
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the prospective lineups could look like. This is a completely unscientific sampling utilizing just my opinion on who is popular, who Mets fans want to see back, and who can still play a bit. There are two for each position as there are two teams playing against one another:
Of course, this is holding a little too true to the positions these players played in their careers. Due to age and the like, they may move around the diamond. That’s more than alright as we just want to see them again.
Of course, some will understandably opt out of have other commitments. To that end, there are plenty of unnamed options like Al Leiter, Todd Pratt, Carlos Delgado, Jeff Kent, Kevin Elster, Robin Ventura, Kevin Elster, Bernard Gilkey, Lance Johnson, and Benny Agbayani.
For that matter, why not bring Bobby Bonilla. The Mets can have fun with it and hold the game on July 1. Before the game, the Mets could have fun with it and give Bonilla a giant check.
If you think about it, that will finally give Bonilla some of the applause he should’ve gotten as a player, and it will finally put to rest the negative narrative around the day.
The game can also feature the racing stripe jerseys and the black jerseys fans seem to love so much. We can also have cameos from Mets greats from the past like Jerry Koosman who may not be able to play.
Overall, that’s exactly what the Cohen Era is presenting. It’s allowing the Mets and their fans to move forward, enjoy the past, and have some fun.
(5) John Olerud – Had the Keith Hernandez like effect where is acquisition was what helped turned the franchise around. His .354 batting average in 1998 is the Mets single season record, and his .315 career average is the best in Mets history. That 1998 season stands as the best season a Mets first baseman has ever had. Holds the Mets first and second best single season records for OBP and is Mets all-time OBP leader. By OPS+ second best hitter in Mets history. Name littered all over single season and career top 10 lists. Hit RBI single off John Rocker in Game 4 of NLCS. First baseman for greatest defensive infield in team history.
(13) Lance Johnson – Had the single greatest season a Mets lead-off hitter has ever had. In 1996, he posted what was then the second highest single-season WAR in Mets history. Now, it is fifth best, and it is still the best any Mets lead-off hitter has ever had. In that season, he set team single-season records for at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, triples, and singles. His hits, triples, and singles records still stand. Was having a similarly impressive 1997 season before being traded to the Cubs in a trade which netted the Mets, among others, Turk Wendell.
With 34 different Mets players wearing the number 23, it is one of the more popular player numbers in Mets team history. When you think of the number, you are reminded of how great Pat Mahomes was out of the Mets bullpen in 1999, Mike Baxter‘s catch saving Johan Santana‘s no-hitter, and Bernard Gilkey.
Entering the 1996 season, the St. Louis Cardinals no longer had room on their roster for Gilkey, the hometown kid. He was squeezed out by other outfielders making Gilkey an expensive back-up for a team looking to free up money to address other needs. He was a player entering his prime, which made him all the more enticing for a Mets team looking to turn their franchise around.
While Gilkey could be expected to be an improvement over Joe Orsulak, and a significant one at that, no one could be really prepared for the absolutely great season Gilkey had in store for the Mets in 1996.
That 1996 season was marked by a number of offensive records compiled by the trio of Gilkey, Todd Hundley, and Lance Johnson. Believe it or not, there were eight separate single-season records set that year, and even to this date, the feats accomplished in that season remain in the Mets single-season top 10 lists.
We would get a sense of how special a year it would be from the Mets new lineup when Hundley and Gilkey homered on Opening Day against Gilkey’s former team. That was the first RBI in 117 total for the season. That would tie Howard Johnson for the Mets then single-season record.
Overall, he would hit .317/.393/.562 with 44 doubles, three triples, 30 homers, and 117 RBI. Those were great numbers which were part of his season long onslaught of the Mets record books.
In addition to the RBI title, he would have the second highest SLG and OPS. He finished just behind his teammate Johnson for the most total bases in a season. His OPS+ was fourth best. His 44 doubles still remains a team record, and his extra base hits were then second only to HoJo.
When all was said and done, Gilkey’s 8.1 WAR would be the best season a Mets position player ever had. Really, it obliterated the record with Cleon Jones‘ 7.0 in 1969 being second. That mark would only be passed in future years by David Wright and Carlos Beltran.
For some reason, Gilkey didn’t make the All-Star team that year even though he was the second best player in the National League that year. Despite that, Gilkey still received some notoriety not just for his hitting prowess, but also for how wide his eyes opened when he saw a pitch he could drive somewhere. That would actually lead to him getting a memorable cameo in the summer blockbuster Men in Black.
Gilkey would not be able to replicate his 1996 success, but then again, there are very people in Major League history who could. Still, Gilkey was an important player for the Mets who did help take them from their last 90+ loss season in the aftermath of the great 1980s Mets teams to the next era of winning Mets baseball.
Even though he never replicated that success. Gilkey had some real big moments during the 1997 season. One of the big moments came in the first ever Subway Series. With his first inning double off of Andy Pettitte, Gilkey became the first ever player to record a hit in a regular season game between the Mets and Yankees. When John Olerud doubled, he scored the first ever run. Thanks to Dave Mlicki, it would prove to be the game winning run.
On the following day, even though the Mets lost, his homer off of David Wells would be the first homer in the Subway Series.
This was part of a fun and surprising year where the Mets won 88 games. They would be in the pennant race late in the season. Late in that season, Gilkey would hit a pinch hit three run homer to give the Mets a late season win to keep them alive in the Wild Card race:
While the Mets fell short that season, Gilkey did all he could do to power the Mets into that 1997 postseason. In fact, he would hit .329/.404/.600. Still, the Mets could not catch the Braves or the eventual World Series Champion Marlins that year.
Unfortunately for Gilkey, he struggled in 1998. Those struggles were partially related to a vision issue, and those issues eventually led to the Mets trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Gilkey’s Mets career lasted just short of three full seasons. Still, in that timeframe, he was an impactful player. He had an all-time great season in 1996. He forever etched his name in the Subway Series record books. Finally, he helped turn the Mets from a 90 loss team to a postseason contender. For his efforts, he is actually the Mets fourth best LF by WAR, and he is the best Mets player to ever wear the number 23.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones
22. Al Leiter
When it comes to the number 9, there are some fan favorites and good baseball players who have worn the number in Mets history. There was J.C. Martin who paired with Jerry Grote to backstop the 1969 World Series champions. Gregg Jefferies accomplished the rare feat of twice finishing in the top six in Rookie of the Year voting.
Todd Zeile probably came an inch and Timo Perez hustle to claim this honor himself, especially with his spearheading the Mets players wearing the caps in the wake of 9/11. Brandon Nimmo is an on-base machine who already has the Mets single-season HBP record. Ultimately, this honor may one day belong to him, but for today, the best Mets player to wear the number 9 is Todd Hundley.
The son of former Cubs catcher Randy Hundley was born to play catcher. While there were questions about his bat, Hundley was known as a good defensive catcher. After Gary Carter was released, and Mackey Sasser struggled with the yips, he was rushed to the majors as a 20 year old.
While he got his first call-up in 1990, it took him a few seasons to stick on as the Mets starting catcher. Even with him being a good backstop, it was not until the 1995 season where Hundley truly established himself as a real everyday Major League catcher. That began from the first game of the 1995 season where he hit the first ever grand slam in the first game ever at Coors Field:
In that 1995 season, Hundley would deal with some injury issues, but he would put together his first real year as a player who could catch and hold his own at the plate. That 1995 season was an important year for him, but it was the following season which would define him.
The 1996 Mets were not a very good team, but they were a team with some of the best seasons in team history. In that year, Lance Johnson set the Mets single season record for triples. Bernard Gilkey set the Mets single season mark for doubles. Finally, Hundley would set the Mets single season mark for homers. It was actually much more than that.
Hundley’s 41 homers in 1996 would not only have him break Darryl Strawberry‘s single-season record for homers by a Met. It would also break Roy Campanella‘s single-season mark for homers by a catcher. Hundley would set the record with a homer off future teammate Greg McMichael:
For a Mets team with so much losing and with so many low points since that stretch in the 1980s, it was an important moment. It was so important to the team, they had a hologram picture of Hundley breaking the record on the 1997 year book.
That was an important moment for the Mets not only because of the record, but also because it was their first real sign of hope in years. With Hundley, they had a homegrown budding star to build a team around. In that year, he would make his first All Star team.
While Hundley didn’t set any records in 1997, he did something possibly even more important. He backed up what he did in 1996 by hitting 30 home runs the following year. He would once again be an All Star. More than that, he was a key part of a Mets team who was suddenly good. In fact, that team won a surprising 88 games, and they looked like an up and coming team.
More than that, Hundley and the Mets delivered the first blow in the first ever Subway Series game when baseball introduced Interleague Play. In the first inning of that game, Hundley would actually steal home. More important than that, he would catch every pitch of Dave Mlicki‘s complete game shutout which culminating in his framing a Mlicki curve to strike out Derek Jeter to end the game.
The Mets would take another step the following season emerging as real postseason contenders. Unfortunately, Hundley was not much a part of that. He missed the beginning of the year with reconstructive elbow surgery. That team got off to a slow start without him, and in an effort to save the season, the Mets obtained the shockingly available Mike Piazza, who was moved earlier in the season to the Florida Marlins.
That meant when Hundley came back there was nowhere for him to play. He tried left field, but he struggled out there, and for the good of the team, he told Bobby Valentine the team needed to reduce his role. That request did not come with a trade demand. Still, even though he was relegated as a back-up and pinch hitter, it did not mean he would not contribute.
Hundley’s last hurrah as a member of the Mets came in Houston. The Mets were a game out in the loss column for the Wild Card, and they needed every win they could get. In the top of the 12th, Hundley would hit a go-ahead homer helping the Mets keep pace. Unfortunately, it would not be in the cards for the Mets that year, and it was time from the team to move on from their homegrown star.
The Mets re-signed Piazza necessitating they trade Hundley. They did so moving him to the Dodgers in a deal which netted them Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson, who was flipped to the Orioles for Armando Benitez. With that, even Hundley gone, he again helped make the Mets a postseason team.
In the ensuing years, he’d be one of the players named in the Mitchell Report putting an asterisk on some of his accomplishments. He’d also be long forgotten with the rise of Piazza, and he would see his record fall to Javy Lopez. Still, when he was with the Mets, in terms of the numbers, he was the best Mets player to ever wear the number 9.
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 Hundley was the ninth best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 9.
Well, the Mets postseason hopes are officially over leaving them to play out the string and for them to set some personal accomplishments. In between, there were some real good things both in this series and the season:
1. The end of the season was put off a game because Michael Conforto came up huge. He once again showed himself a cornerstone player and one who the Mets should be working to keep around for his entire career.
2. The Mets should also be working to keep Zack Wheeler a Met past this season. He had another great outing in an extremely strong finish to the season. He wants to remain a Met, and the Mets need him in the rotation to win next year.
3. That said, it was possible yesterday was a good-bye to both Wheeler and Curtis Granderson. There was a sense of melancholy with Granderson’s homer possibly being his last at-bat in Citi Field and it putting the loss on Wheeler in his last start as a Met.
4. On the topic of good-byes, Jeff McNeil‘s year is done after he broke his wrist when getting hit with a pitch. Fortunately, he has time to heal up and get ready to be the player he has been this year. The Mets need him to be that player next year because when he is he is the more indispensable position player on this roster.
5. One pitcher who the Mets did extend was Jacob deGrom, who cemented his case for the Cy Young by running his scoreless inning streak to 23 innings. He will become the first Mets pitcher to win consecutive Cy Youngs putting him on the pantheon of Mets great pitchers.
6. That list includes Jerry Koosman who is getting his number retired by the team. If the Mets are going to lower their standards for retiring numbers, Koosman was the right place to start.
7. As noted in an earlier article, if Koosman is going to get his number retired, the door is now open for the Mets to retire the numbers of David Wright, Gary Carter, Carlos Beltran, Keith Hernandez, and John Franco.
8. It has been great to see the Mets move forward with honoring their history. That should also be coupled by paying more attention to their Hall of Fame. That is not just improving upon it. It is also putting more players in that Hall of Fame including Edgardo Alfonzo, Al Leiter, and Bobby Valentine.
9. It should also include Gary Cohen and Howie Rose. On that note with Marty Brennaman retiring from the Reds, we are reminded of how lucky we are as Mets fans to have them call games. We are also lucky on the radio side, it has gone from Bob Murphy to Gary Cohen to Howie Rose.
10. On the subject of lucky, we have been lucky to see Pete Alonso this season. He has been a great player for the Mets setting records. It’s more than just the rookie home run records. He is also his tying Johnny Mize and Willie Mays for the most homers by a New York National League player.
11. He also joins a group including Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, and Ralph Kiner in having 51 homers and 118 RBI in a season before the age of 25. That puts Alonso in a group of Hall of Fame players. It will fun to see what he has in store for next year.
13. With respect to Callaway, he has done enough to stick around another year. We’ve seen him get everything out of this team he could. Young players like Alonso and Amed Rosario have improved. We’ve seen deGrom get to a new level, and the starters be healthy for two years running. That is really no small task.
14. That said, there is enough to get rid of him. At the end of the day, if he is going to be replaced, we need to see him be replaced with an Alex Cora type. The Mets need a manager who is going to push the front office and help implement things needed to win. If they’re not going to do that firing Callaway does little more than change the narrative.
15. Speaking of narratives, the Mets don’t spend. They don’t. People need to stop insisting they do. The payroll is inflated by over $36 million owed to Yoenis Cespedes and Wright which has not been reinvested in this team.
16. The Mets have a number of holes to fill between the bullpen and the rotation. That’s before we even consider the Mets even contemplating trading Noah Syndergaard. They’re also not going to be bailed out by the insurance for Cespedes. That’s a lot of holes to fill without the money or prospects. That’s a tall task for even a competent GM. For Brodie Van Wagenen, it’s impossible.
17. One idea is to put Seth Lugo back in the rotation. Doing that would only leave a gaping hole in the bullpen. That’s a hole all the bigger when you consider Edwin Diaz has allowed as many homers this year as Armando Benitez did in his worst two seasons combined. Keep in mind those two seasons were records for the Mets.
18. There were some bright spots this season which perhaps none of them being bigger than Paul Sewald finally getting his first Major League win.
19. With Sewald getting the win and other highlights, this has been an entertaining season. It is not too dissimilar from the 1996 season where we saw Bernard Gilkey, Todd Hundley, and Lance Johnson having great personal years in a year where the Mets would fall short.
20. And that’s what happened, the Mets fell short, and as Brodie Van Wagenen said himself on WFAN falling short like this would be a disappointment. Just remember those words as everyone, including the Mets themselves, try to spin this season and the future.
The New York Mets have had a number of down seasons with 2018 being one of them. There were some bright spots this past season with Jacob deGrom emerging as the best pitcher in baseball being one of them. This is reminiscent of how many times we have seen different Mets players have great seasons in what has been an otherwise lost season for the franchise.
The last time we saw anything like deGrom’s season happen was R.A. Dickey‘s 2012 season. While the knuckleballer had been better than expected for a few years, no one could see him winning 20 games let alone beating out Clayton Kershaw, who was still in his prime, for the Cy Young Award.
While it was Dickey who won the Cy Young Award, it was Johan Santana who captured the hearts of Mets fans by pitching the first no-hitter in Mets history. Special mention needs to go here for Mike Baxter‘s catch.
In 2004, Mike Piazza passed a significant career milestone by hitting his 352nd career homer as a catcher. With the home run, he passed Carlton Fisk, and he all but cemented his Hall of Fame case by hitting the most home runs as a catcher.
Another Mets catcher who set a home run record was Todd Hundley. In 1996, his 41 homers would not just match a Mets single season record, but it would also pass Roy Campanella‘s single season record for most homers by a catcher. That season saw a number of feats including Bernard Gilkey setting the Mets single-season record for doubles and Lance Johnson setting the record for most triples in a season. Remarkably, all three of these Mets records stand to this day.
On the final game of the 1991 season, which was the Mets first losing season since 1983, David Cone tied the then National League record with 19 strikeouts in a game. It was a feat which had only been previously met by Mets legend Tom Seaver.
Speaking of that 1983 season, Darryl Strawberry would become the first and to this date only Mets position player to ever win the Rookie of the Year Award. The 1983 season was also notable because after the Midnight Massacre, Seaver would finally come home to the Mets.
Really, it was that 1983 season which was the beginning of something special with the Mets. In addition to Strawberry and Seaver, the Mets called-up rookie starter Ron Darling. Much like how he is joined in the SNY booth now by Keith Hernandez, he was teammates with Hernandez that season because the Mets would make a franchise altering trade to acquire the former MVP.
Really, when you look at 1983, you can see how even a bad year is the building block towards a team building a World Series winning club. Hopefully, that is what the 2018 season was for the Mets.
You can argue it was the case with deGrom emerging as the best pitcher in baseball, and Zack Wheeler matching him big start for big start in the second half. Brandon Nimmo had the second highest wRC+ among National League outfielders, and Michael Conforto returned to being Michael Conforto in the second half. More than that, Amed Rosario seemed to turn the corner while his new double play partner, Jeff McNeil, burst onto the scene.
In the end, when you look at losing seasons like 2018, you can see great things. More than that, you can see how great things will soon be in store for the Mets.
The Mets Fan
How You Became a Mets Fan
I’ve asked myself this question many times. How DID I become a Mets fan??? Well, the answer is . . . I don’t flipping know. To me, it feels like one of those things that just is. Like time. When did time become time? It is man made after all. For me, that’s the Mets. It just feels like it’s always been. My first Met memories though are of being 4/5 years old and me and my brother rubbing this little sculpture in our living room to give Darryl Strawberry “Homerun Power!”
Favorite Mets Player
To pick just one would be crazy. But, ugh Jesus… I have the weirdest players I connect with. Jose Vizcaino was def one, Lance Johnson was my fav player, while with the Mets, certainly John Olerud…. if I had to pick ONE Met that resides above all other Mets . . . Fonzie… Piazza…. it’s tough to pick ONE. All of the above! And Al Leiter. Leiter and Bobby Jones and Rick Reed… haha I could go on forever.
Favorite Moment in Mets HistoryBefore 2015 is have to say Pratt’s HR in the post season. Maybe the 99 play in game vs the reds. That ’99 team was my fav Mets team. Ever. But 2015 was magical. It was a shame we couldn’t guide it home all the way. But that year, we should all be thankful for that magic year.
Message to Mets Fans
Don’t Jump. All things ebb and flow and things will get better. Or worse. Idk. We are in this together though.
It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game. Bobby V was much more than that.
After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach. In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets. Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired. From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders. He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season.
After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season. Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides. However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season. In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.
The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball. Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team. Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround. There was the acquisition of John Olerud. There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke. However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.
First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green. Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation. Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage. On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally. It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.
One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game. While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.
With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements. The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins. The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan. However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season. Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.
From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race. They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working. They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield. They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen. The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.
The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here). Things do not initially go as planned. After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500. Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.
The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball. From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37. At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days. The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh. Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded. Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.
In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games. The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card. Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury. In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons. Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.
In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker. In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first. While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta. The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6. They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit. Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7. Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.
In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch. However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets. It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.
First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations. Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract. Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player. The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players. In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman. Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season. In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year. It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.
In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years. In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero. The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save. In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter. With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986. While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor. That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.
From there, Phillips lost his magic touch. The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart. After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season. With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.
One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. Every player did their part. So did their manager. After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium. When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games. That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11. Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.
Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437. During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history. His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph. In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.
Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons. His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history. He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons. He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.
Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history. Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office. For some, he is the best manager in Mets history. Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history. For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
“Look at me, I can be Centerfield.” That is about as fun as the baseball songs get. Another one of my favorites is “Talkin’ Baseball” with it’s famous refrain of “Willie, Mickey, the Duke.” As you can see, Centerfield is an important position with much history in New York City. You always hear about those good old days of Willie, Mickey, and the Duke playing CF in New York City at the same time. That doesn’t seem fair or possible. The Yankees have had an absurd tradition with their centerfielders with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The Mets tradition hasn’t been as good, but then again whose has? However, we’ve had some fun names and good players come through and man centerfield in Flushing.
In 1969, the Mets had Tommie Agee, who for at least the 1969 World Series, was the best defensive CF to ever play the game:
Unfortunately, the Mets did try Willie Mays out in CF in the last two years of his career. From what I’ve been told, it did not end well. Then there was fan favorite Lee Mazzilli, who played for some truly awful Mets teams. However, he was the star, if not the MVP, of of the 1979 All Star Game (back when the ASG meant something). Lee Mazzilli then gave way to Ron Darling. They would both win a World Series together with the Mets in 1986.
Speaking of 1986, the Mets had two other fan favorites who played CF: Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra. Both contributed to the 1986 World Series victory immensely between Dykstra’s leadoff homerun against Oil Can Boyd, and well, we know about Wilson:
After that, we saw a bit of a dry spell with highlights like Lance Johnson, the late Darryl Hamilton, Jay Payton, and Mike Cameron. Then, we were blessed with Carlos Beltran. Say what you will about the Wainwright strikeout, in my opinion, he’s even money on making it into the Hall of Fame, and there’s a significant chance he goes in as a New York Met. Although with the way he was treated here by the fans, and mostly by the Wilpons, he’s probably going in as a Royal.
Now after Juan Lagares’ 2014 Gold Glove season and reasonable contract extension, we’re back to who should play CF. This is important because Lagares has a triple slash line of .254/.280/.333. Even if he was what he was defensively last year, this is unacceptable. Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with his injured elbow. Regardless, CF is now a problem.
It should be noted his splits against LHP are .279/.338/.412. That is much better especially when you consider his defense. Add to the fact that Kirk Nieuwenhuis has hit .333/.400/.444 over the past two weeks (mostly against RHP), there is a real platoon here. Niewenhuis is a very capable CF, but he’s not in Lagares’ league defensively . . . then again who is?
With the Yoenis Cespedes acquisition, there have been some overtures that Curtis Granderson move to CF, a position he hasn’t played since 2012. This is dangerous because the Mets starting pitchers get more outs in the air than on the ground this year. Here are their respective ground ball percentages:
Matt Harvey 44.4%
Jacob deGrom 43.2%
Noah Syndergaard 45.9%
Jon Niese 54.6%
Bartolo Colon 39.9%
According, with the exception of maybe Niese, the Mets need their best defensive outfield out there are all times. This means Lagares must play as much as possible. Granderson and his good OF defense should stay in a corner OF spot where it will remain good defense. While Lagares isn’t hitting and Nieuwenhuis is, the platoon should remain in place.
While we all agree the Mets need to ride their pitching to the postseason, we should also agree that they need to put their best defense out there to help the pitching. Remember helping a pitcher is more than just scoring runs . . . it’s also about preventing runs with good defense. The only effect the Cespedes acquisition should have on the outfield configuration is to demote Michael Conforto to AAA and put Cespedes in LF, where he has played all year. I think that outfield alignment is the best there is that is ready to go out there and play.