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Once a Met, Usually a Met
Posted By Greg Prince On March 17, 2005 @ 9:22 pm In Main Page | Comments Disabled
There was a time when the news of Steve Trachsel's unavailability to take his starts would have been greeted around here with hip-hoorays and ballyhoos. But then his torpor morphed into competence and his absence equals bad news. Being down one dependable starting pitcher is a pretty big matzoh ball hanging out there.
Pending a trade (Cameron and somebody for Oswalt who's presumably going to be making too much money for Drayton McLane soon? Diaz steps into right and wins ROTY? Just thinking out loud…), we'll get stuck with whoever doesn't pitch too badly over the next couple of weeks and then we'll be spun into believing, “Y'know what? Matt Ginter is just as good as Steve Trachsel.”
If it sounds familiar, that was the Ricky Gutierrez/Jose Reyes dynamic of a year ago when our second baseman (aarrgghh) crumbled in pain. Trust us, we were told, you'll hardly notice the difference between the two. Gutierrez followed in the footsteps of the dreaded Rey Sanchez in terms of a low-rent replacement who can quietly and mindlessly pick up ground balls so well that you won't even miss the mouthy guy who used to be here, even if Rey Ordoñez was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Matt Lawton wasn't exactly in that category. He was more a desperation mid-season move who didn't play too badly but was part of a bad trade nonetheless. (Rick Reed was in the midst of an All-Star season and loved being a Met; Lawton was, like so many American Leaguers we deal for, in the middle of a slump and didn't want to come here.) I wouldn't expect the world at large to recall Matt Lawton as a Met. But I found it jarring when John Discepolo, the empty suit who does sports on Channel 5, showed highlights of the Pirates playing the Yankees Wednesday and referred to the very same Lawton as a “former Twin”.
Huh? You're in New York, pal. If somebody was a Met, he's an ex-Met. Shoot, Lawton was an All-Star last season with the Indians. He hasn't been a Twin since 2001. Stuff like that bugs me no end.
As we wind into the 80th through 71st Greatest Mets Of The First Forty Years, we have primarily guys who will be remembered, when they are remembered, as Mets. Except for the first guy.
80. Bret Saberhagen: The harbinger of Junior Circuiteers to come, a star who was just beginning to inch off the wrong side of the cliff five minutes before we got him, Bret Saberhagen still unfurled one breathtaking season for us in the four years he was here. In 1994, before the strike, Sabes was at his Royal best, going 14-4 and walking only 13 batters across 177-1/3 innings. Bret finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Greg Maddux and Ken Hill. It's probably the most-obscure tremendous season any Mets pitcher has ever filed, fitting in that it took place in the most obscure season the Mets have ever played. 1994 represented a tremendous bounceback from the disaster of '93, improving from 59-103 to 55-58, which works out on a pro-rated basis to 79-83. Given the strike, that relative, quiet success, like the rest of Saberhagen's Mets career, is moot.
79. Ron Hodges: Ron Hodges needed one inning to validate his place in the Mets pantheon. That inning was the thirteenth on the night of September 20, 1973. The details are familiar enough to be told in shorthand: Tie game, two out, Zisk on first, Augustine up, Augustine swings, ball off the top of the wall, ball into Jones' glove, relay to Harrelson, relay to Hodges, Hodges tags Zisk, three out, Hodges then drives in the winning run, Mets go on to win the division. If he had won the game against the Pirates for us, the Haggadah suggests that would have been enough. But instead of leaving on a high note, Ron Hodges, only a rookie in 1973, decided to stick around. And stick around some more. Ron Hodges stuck around, save for a single refresher in Tidewater, clear through to 1984, by which time Davey had replaced Yogi, Doc had succeeded Tom and Jesse, not Tug, was saving games. In between, the Mets played a lot of bad baseball, and Ron Hodges had watched a ton of it from the bench. Whatever percent of life is showing up, Ron Hodges grabbed every last decimal point of it.
78. Bobby Bonilla: Two-time All-Star. Hit 34 home runs in '93. His tenth-inning shot beat the Cardinals on Opening Night 1992, his second dinger of the game. Took Rob Dibble deep in the bottom of the ninth at Shea that August on Turn Back The Clock Night, causing the Nasty Boy to tear off his retro Reds vest and fling it to the ground as he stalked away in defeat. Appeared as himself on an episode of Living Single and was referred to as “Bobby Billionaire”. When he was traded to the Orioles, he ran out to the bullpen during the game to shake hands with his now ex-teammates. That was classy. Um…what else? An All-Star twice…uh…34 homers one year…er…that shot off Dibble…
77. Roger Cedeño: Stealing 66 bases in an era when that level was rarely reached by anyone in the game is noteworthy. Doing so for a traditionally lead-footed franchise makes it all the more remarkable. For shattering Mookie Wilson's 17-year-old team stolen base mark, for batting .313, for making a sensational catch during a scintillating duel between Orel Hershiser and Kevin Brown in September and for his all-around contributions to a playoff team, Roger Cedeño should be remembered for what he accomplished as a Met in 1999. He won't be.
76. Frank Thomas: What a shadow this man cast over the Mets' record book. He hit 34 home runs in 1962 and nobody challenged him for the next dozen seasons. Nobody came remotely close; Tommie Agee was next with 26 in '69. Frank Thomas was a Colossus among power-starved Lilliputians. How weird were the Polo Grounds' dimensions anyway? The first Mets, for all their 120 losses, hit 139 home runs, a plateau that stood as the organization's pinnacle until 1986. It took the best team in franchise history to wipe away a mark set by the worst team in baseball history. Alas, for the Big Donkey, it was all over eleven years before that when Dave Kingman swatted 36 homers in 1975. Overall, Thomas' total has been equaled or surpassed by Met sluggers 14 times. But nobody else got to 34 sooner.
75. Gregg Jefferies: Who was the only player to receive Rookie of the Year votes in two separate seasons? Gregg Jefferies was the perpetual freshman of baseball, the child prodigy who never grew up, at least not on our watch. His promotion to the '88 Mets represented one of the most electric moments in team history. After 13 games, he was hitting .429 with 5 HR, 10 RBI and 13 runs scored while the Mets pulled away from the Pirates once and for all. Based almost entirely on those two weeks, he finished sixth in the ROTY voting. With eligibility remaining, he finished third in the same balloting a year later, but it was a much harder struggle to get that far. He couldn't play second or third, wouldn't be coached and tended to sulk when he didn't hit, which was surprisingly often. Jefferies' veteran teammates, not enjoying their finest hour, resented the hell out of Gregg's golden-child status. The 1989 home season ended with Roger McDowell, by then a Phillie, taking off after him, and the older Mets not looking terribly interested in defending their boy's honor. The kid blossomed later as the Cardinals' first baseman under (sigh) Joe Torre.
74. Terry Leach: With the institution of the five-man rotation throughout baseball, one of the more delightful terms, swingman, has gone away. The best swingman the Mets ever had was Terry Leach, particularly in 1987. He could pitch anytime and he usually did. Penciled in as a long reliever, Terry Leach kept the Mets afloat as a starter when injuries and/or rehab took down every glam pitcher the Mets had at one point or another. In a six-start stretch between June 1 and July 7, Leach pitched to the tune of a 1.67 ERA. He went uncomplainingly back to the bullpen once everybody got healthy and wound up compiling an 11-1 record for the year. Too bad for any number of reasons we couldn't repeat in '87, but particularly for Terry Leach. On Opening Day, after the Mets handed out rings to their remaining '86ers, Terry, who'd made only a cameo the year before, wandered over to the table where the rings had been displayed. He said later he was hoping there might be an extra one.
73. Tim Teufel: By not being Kelvin Chapman, Tim Teufel achieved his purpose. Chapman was the righty half of the second-base platoon in 1985, and when his usefulness expired, the Mets got desperate. Nominally a switcher, Wally Backman just couldn't hit from the right side. With Ron Gardenhire and Larry Bowa not providing short-term solutions, it was as much the inability to effectively pinch-hit for and replace Backman versus lefties that cost the '85 team the division. Teufel, brought over from the Twins in exchange for future genius Billy Beane, filled a specific need and filled it competently. He had one big moment in '86, winning an extra-inning game with a grand slam against Philly, and one huge blunder, the grounder that rolled under his glove in the World Series to cost the Mets the first game. Teufel gracefully fielded every question about it afterwards and by the time the Series was over, nobody much brought up that particular error or that particular ground ball.
72. Steve Henderson: It's one of those World War II movie scenarios, but thankfully we're not at war. The time is the mid-1980s. Everybody wants to pass as a Mets fan. But like in those pictures, the only way to determine who's on the up and up and who's an interloper is to ask a baseball question. And the only question that can prove one's legitimacy and thus allow one to gain entry to field-level seats is this one: Who is Steve Henderson and what did he do? The only applicable answer is: “On Saturday night, June 14, 1980, Steve Henderson stepped up in the bottom of the ninth with two out and two on and the Mets trailing six to four. They had been down six-one entering the ninth after falling behind six-nothing in the fifth. With Allen Ripley pitching, Steve Henderson — also known as Hendu — hit a three-run homer, winning the game, seven to six. It was Hendu's first home run of the year. He was mobbed at the plate by all his teammates, including the newly acquired Claudell Washington, who was so new his name wasn't yet sewn on the back of his jersey. This was no ordinary walk-off home run. It came in the midst of the Magic Is Back run in which the Mets were pulling out miracle wins regularly and creeping ever closer to .500 and maybe even a pennant race. On this night, we believed more than ever that, indeed, the Magic was Back and the Mets would no longer be laughingstocks. It was the unquestioned high point of an otherwise dismal era of Mets baseball and made me proud to be a Mets fan in a way that would carry me forward for several years until the Mets would actually be good again. Even though nobody who played for the Mets on June 14, 1980 was on the team when it took off in 1986, I will always remember it lovingly.” Any other answer and you're a fraud.
71. Roger Craig: Hardly anybody gets the opportunity anymore to test the “you've gotta be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games” theory. In 1962, Mets' ace Roger Craig lost 24 games. In 1963, Roger Craig lost 22 games. His ERAs were, respectively, 4.18 and 3.49. He went to St. Louis in 1964 and won the fourth game of the World Series by throwing 4-2/3 innings of scoreless relief at Yankee Stadium. Conclusion: Roger Craig was a pretty good pitcher.
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