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The Least of the Greatest

Posted By Greg Prince On March 16, 2005 @ 12:05 am In Main Page | Comments Disabled

100. Marv Throneberry: Though he passed on in 1994, I imagine Marv Throneberry still doesn't know why we asked him to be on this list. He's not here for the 16 homers he hit in '62 nor for the 17 errors he made playing first. Well, more for the latter than the former, but c'mon — try to imagine us without him at the heart of our primordial ooze. Second maybe to Casey in forging the identity of this team and buying us some time to become if not respectable, then remotely professional. The fans made him and he made them fans. Without Marvelous Marv and the legend that trails him like so many bags missed en route to a triple (or so many pieces of cake we'd give him but wuz afraid he'd drop), face it: We're the Colt .45s sans mosquitoes. For being Marv Throneberry, he is permanently ensconced at No. 100 for all time.

99. Lenny Harris: We've never had a Met win a 300th game or collect a 3,000th hit. But we did have Lenny Harris breaking Manny Mota's all-time career pinch-hit mark on the final Saturday night of the 2001 season. Maybe it represented a release of tension and disappointment following the short-circuited drive to the NL East title that September. Maybe it was because he really was that thing they call a clubhouse leader. But when he singled off of Carl Pavano and reached first, his teammates — led by Piazza, of all people — rushed out of the dugout to pound him and love him for a good two minutes. Sure it wasn't Ripken passing Gehrig or Rose passing Cobb or Aaron passing Ruth (we get the point), but when Lenny trumped Manny and the scoreboard flashed 151 like it was 2,131, 4,192 or 715, it didn't seem ridiculous.

98. Rico Brogna: A delightful surprise is as surprising as it is delightful. So it was in the summer of 1994 when a little-known minor leaguer obtained in a little-noticed minor league deal came up and shocked the world, or that thin slice of it that was paying attention to the Mets. Rico Brogna came from as close to nowhere as anybody ever has to establish himself as the real deal for Mets fans. For a franchise reeling from the second-strike-and-yer-out drug-test relapse of Doc Gooden, Rico was the breath of fresh air that blew the Mets toward .500 over the final seven weeks of that truncated season. He hit and fielded and behaved like a veteran. Another good season followed before injuries cut his tenure short. While the team improved without him and he was succeeded by somebody (John Olerud) who produced better numbers, Rico never quite stopped being a Met. He consistently received warm ovations after coming back as a Phillie and even a Brave.

97. Duke Snider: Mr. Met has two daddies. One was a Jint from Upper Manhattan, the other a Bum from Brooklyn. Duke Snider was the Dodger uncle who lent a patina of 1950s them-was-the-days luster to the new kids in town when he returned home in 1963. It's said that it was strange (for him and for the fans) seeing him call the Polo Grounds home, yet the Ebbets Field slugger and future Hall of Famer hit his 400th homer there and represented the Mets in the '63 All-Star Game before departing and finishing his career as, of all things, a San Francisco Giant in 1964.

96. Carl Everett: For four months, Carl Everett pulled off a neat trick. As a fourth outfielder, one never permanently handed a starting job, he was the best outfielder on the 1997 Mets and a large reason for that team's renaissance. He was never quite the same after the murky events of early August that took place in the Shea family room (which led to the authorities holding his and wife's children for, allegedly, their own good). It was obvious his days were numbered from there on in. But that September, in an otherwise quiet denouement to his Mets career, Carl Everett blasted maybe the most incredible grand slam in team history. Barely hanging on in their noble if doomed quest for their first Wild Card, the Mets trailed the Expos 6-0 entering the ninth (Dustin Hermanson carried a no-hitter deep into the game). They had trimmed it to 6-2 and had the bases loaded with two out when Everett stood in to face the generally unassailable Uggie Urbina. He hit a foul home run. And then, a pitch or two later, he hit a fair home run. Just like that, it was 6-6. The Mets won in eleven and staved off Wild Card execution a bit longer. It was the signature swing of an underappreciated season.

95. Joe McEwing: A utilityman should be able to do it all. That's Super Joe. When he came to the Mets in 2000, it was a gift (Tony LaRussa loved him so much in St. Louis he kept a pair of his spikes on his desk, as Fran Healy's mentioned one or two thousand times). We got a guy who could play every infield and every outfield position competently. We got a guy who could pinch-hit. We got a guy who could fill in. We got a guy who had his own dance in and around the batter's box and, for a while, his very own batting-practice pitcher named Randy Johnson. During the malaise that was the first half of the 2001 season, a local columnist commented on the Mets' lackadaisical approach to the game, excluding Joe McEwing from that assessment because Joe McEwing gets to the clubhouse at about dawn. In their first 40 years, the Mets had a few other notable utilitymen: Hot Rod Kanehl, Teddy Martinez, Bob Bailor. What separated Joe from those guys was effort that truly didn't show up in the box score. After September 11, when many Mets helped load supplies onto trucks in the Shea parking lot, who volunteered to drive the forklift? Super Joe, that's who. He really did do it all.

94. Jason Isringhausen: The New York Mets, when they won their first two championships, were built on young, internally developed starting pitching. It was thought a third flag was being stitched when word trickled north from Norfolk that not one, not two but three great young arms were on their way to Shea. The second of them was attached to a kid who had nothing left to prove in the minors in 1995, Jason Isringhausen. Izzy. And was he ready? In the second half of that season, Izzy went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA and the Mets rose from last to a second-place tie, sparking every reasonable hope that in 1996 Izzy, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson would pitch the Mets into legitimate contention. Well, we know that Generation K became a symbol of regret more than achievement, but for a few months, Izzy made it reality.

93. Rod Gaspar: Actually, Rod Gaspar doesn't belong on this list. That honor should really go to Ron Gasper, for that's who Frank Robinson called out on the eve of the 1969 World Series. The Orioles were heavy favorites and a little fed up with all the attention being showered on the Miracle Mets, already in progress. No wonder F. Robby dared New York to “bring on Ron Gaspar!” When informed by teammate Merv Rettenmund that “it's Rod, stupid,” the great man replied, “OK, then bring on Rod Stupid!” Ol' Whathisname, Gaspar, was next seen crossing home plate to win the pivotal fourth game of that Series, the one that put the Mets up 3-1 and made the Miracle all but inevitable. Rod Gaspar actually started in right on Opening Day and got two hits. Gil Hodges managed to get him into more than two out of every three games in 1969. In years like that, it's the Rod Gaspars who make the Frank Robinsons seem pretty silly for ever doubting them.

92. Joel Youngblood: One of the surlier Mets in distant memory, particularly when Joe Torre tried to make a third baseman out of him, Joel Youngblood, give or take a few plate appearances, was leading the National League in batting when the players went on strike in 1981. After settling, MLB rushed an All-Star Game into Cleveland and Joel Youngblood was named the Mets' only representative. He pinch-hit for Fernando Valenzuela, popped up and left. Too bad. If he were inserted in right, he might have had a chance to show off his arm and make everybody forget about Dave Parker. The man had the greatest outfield arm in Mets history. Ellis Valentine's was awfully good, too, which wouldn't make Blood happy since Ellis took away a good bit of his playing time, but Joel got to show his off more as a Met. It didn't work as well from third as it did from right, which is something Joe Torre would have figured out if he were, you know, any kind of manager at all.

91. Bernard Gilkey: In the new breed of trades for dollars' sake, Bernard Gilkey was a steal. The Cardinals were cheap and asked only for three go-nowhere prospects in exchange for Gilkey's salary. Bernard gave the Mets, over one year, their only real power-hitting outfielder for a generation (post-Strawberry, pre-Beltran, one hopes). His 1996 numbers were wholly unMetlike: 30 HRs, 117 RBIs, .317 BA. That all of baseball was exploding offensively escaped the front office's attention and Gilkey was rewarded for his single, hellacious, free-agent campaign with a four-year contract worth about $19 mil. Naturally, he tanked thereafter and the Mets couldn't wait to dump him by '98. Still, he did have that one helluva year.


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