The short burst of excitement seems to hold the edge on long-term commitment today as we slide headfirst into the next ten of our Met immortals (or imMetrals). But before we do, there is the matter of Tom Seaver, who may or may not show up somewhere along the way here, coming out against the New Mets hype in Newsday Wednesday, warning one and all that:
“They’re definitely improved. Let’s see. I think they shot themselves in the foot doing that once already.”
He was referring to getting everybody’s hopes up in 2002, a most un-Terrific season. I appreciate Tom’s perspective and honesty. It gives lie to the idea unfairly espoused six years ago when he replaced Tim McCarver that he was being brought in to be a Wilpon shill, or a Shillpon. Then again, I wonder how much of his unimpressedness stems from his wondering why they didn’t turn to The Franchise to turn the franchise around.
There was a time Tom Seaver would stand on the mound, turn around and find the man who starts today’s segment of The One Hundred Greatest Mets of the First Forty Years.
90. Ken Boswell: On a team that didn’t score many runs, the early ’70s Mets were famously about pitching and defense. Their second baseman, Ken Boswell, set a record for going 85 straight games without an error in 1970. One would think his glove was his stock-in-trade, though contemporary accounts indicate defense was not his strong suit. In Joy in Mudville, George Vecsey characterized him as “heavy-handed,” at least in 1969. Ken did hit two homers in the inaugural National League Championship Series, so he could have been termed heavy-hitting at times.
89. Jay Payton: His prospects were once sky-high. Then like all Mets prospects of his generation, he got hurt. And Jay Payton wasn’t even a pitcher. But for the one year that he got it together, 2000, he was an integral part of a pennant-winning club. Gave the club its best center field defense since Pat Howell (speaking of short-timers). Got the key hit in Game 2 of the NLDS to rescue Benitez and the whole team, post-J.T. Snow, singling in the unlikely Darryl Hamilton in the top of 10th. As Mets centerfielders who were going to be the real deal, Jay Payton was no Don Bosch.
88. Timo Perez: Imagine Mike Vail. Now imagine Mike Vail coming on like gangbusters the way he did in 1975 except now imagine that happening when it really, really counted. The reality would be Timo Perez and his immense role in securing two playoff series for the 2000 Mets. For two weeks, the former Timoniel was staggering. The Mets might not have beaten the Giants without him (or with Derek Bell keeping his balance on the Pac Bell sod). The Mets would not have beaten the Cardinals without him. Less than two months into his big-league career, Timo set a record for most runs scored in an NLCS (in just five games) and should have been awarded its MVP. Timo put us in the 2000 World Series. It’s a shame he took us out of it so quickly.
87. Shawon Dunston: Do you think anything of the Butterfly Effect? If you do, think about Shawon Dunston’s third at-bat in the fifth game of the 1999 National League Championship Series versus the Braves. It’s the bottom of the fifteenth inning. Atlanta has just taken a 4-3 lead and needs three outs to secure the pennant. Shawon Dunston stands at the plate representing the first out. On any one of twelve pitches, he could have registered that out. Instead, Shawon Dunston takes or fouls off everything Kevin McGlinchy dishes out. He won’t walk — he literally never walks in 51 games in a Mets uniform — but he won’t cooperate with McGlinchy. On the twelfth pitch, he singles to center. Shawon Dunston keeps hope alive. If Shawon Dunston never becomes a Met, he’s not up in that situation, he’s not on first, he doesn’t steal second, he doesn’t get sacrificed to third by Alfonzo, he doesn’t score on a bases-loaded walk to Pratt, he doesn’t watch in stunned disbelief as Ventura singles over the fence for the winning run. Neither do we. We have no Grand Slam Single. We lose in five. We have no Game Six. We have nothing to hold against Al Leiter because he never pitches that awful no thirds of a first inning in which he gives up five runs. We have no stirring comeback from 0-5 to 8-7. We have no recollection of Mike Piazza’s Cobra shot (“you’re the disease, and I’m the cure”) off cocky John Smoltz. We have no heartbreaking cough-up of an 8-7 lead. We have no life-affirming ninth run with Benny Agbayani rumbling across the plate to beat a throw from the supposedly flawless Andruw Jones. We have no second heartbreaking cough-up of a lead, this one 9-8. We may very well have Kenny Rogers as a lefty starter on the 2000 Mets because we have no wild streak in the bottom of eleventh of Game Six haunting him, in which case we have no Mike Hampton, but maybe we do have Ken Griffey because we redouble our efforts to get him after he turns us down since we still have Cedeño and Dotel as chits along with Benitez, who, it’s possible, never sticks around to face Paul O’Neill in the 2000 World Series, which we might not make if we still have Kenny Rogers but not Mike Hampton. If you don’t think anything of the Butterfly Effect, then never mind.
86. Dave Mlicki: That Dave Mlicki could go out on any given night and throw a complete game, 9-hit, 8-K shutout shouldn’t have been news. He had the talent if not the ability to harness it more often than he did. That he did align all his stars in one place on the evening of June 16, 1997 when the opponent was the New York Yankees and the venue was Yankee Stadium and the occasion was the first-ever regular season encounter between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees is to his everlasting credit.
85. Matt Franco: “He’ll never have to pay for a drink in this town ever again” is one of those sayings that I wouldn’t think has much modern-day resonance. It’s hard to imagine ballplayers really frequent bars with the common folk who adore them. On the afternoon of July 10, 1999, Matt Franco pinch-hit a 3-2 pitch off the impenetrable Mariano Rivera. With that single, Rickey Henderson and Edgardo Alfonzo crossed home plate, turning an 8-7 loss to the Yankees into a 9-8 win over the Yankees. From an eternally grateful witness whose total being turned to jelly in Section 46, Row T of the Shea upper deck, comes this hoarse-throated promise: Every vodka gimlet Matt Franco ever craves, his money’s no good here, pal.
84. Melvin Mora: Melvin Mora rode the Norfolk shuttle for the better part of 1999. There was virtually nothing he did in the 64 games he appeared in prior to October 3 to indicate what he was about to produce. Then, at the best possible time, leading off the bottom of the ninth in a must-have tie game against the Pirates, he singled. Moments later he scored the winning run on Brad Clontz’s wild pitch to extend the Mets’ season to a 163rd game. In the playoffs against Arizona and Atlanta, he did everything. He played each outfield position and threw a runner out from left, center and right. He was in the middle of rallies. He hit his first Major League home run in a championship series. Melvin Mora proved himself under the stormiest of circumstances and earned a place on the Opening Day roster for 2000 after which he continued to produce. The only thing he couldn’t do was play shortstop every day, which was too bad, since it was this one drawback that got him traded for someone who allegedly could.
83. Eddie Murray: As unhappy as he appeared and as bad as the team was, future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray drove in 193 runs in 1992 and 1993. The players swore by him as their sage and counsel. Did he lead by example? If his advice to them was “act like a sullen jerk if you like, but be sure to pick up the man from third with less than two out,” it’s apparent that his voice trailed off in dispensing the second half of his cherished wisdom.
82. J.C. Martin: If a Brave or a Yankee or, back then, an Oriole bunted and ran inside the baseline, leaving his wrist free to obstruct the pitcher’s throw to first and that throw glanced off that wrist and away from the first baseman allowing a runner to score from second and win a World Series game, we’d scream bloody murder. But since the wrist belonged to J.C. Martin and the errant toss was made by Pete Richert and the Mets won Game Four and it was 1969, we’re cool with that.
81. Kevin Elster: No shortstop in the history of Major League Baseball had played more games in a row, 88, without committing an error than Kevin Elster did in 1988-89. His record would later be broken and even while it stood, Elster’s achievement would be viewed by some with an asterisk since a number of those games were late-inning appearances for defense. But they were appearances and there were no errors. Elster also hit nine homers as a rookie shortstop on the last division champion in Mets history. By comparison, Bud Harrelson hit none in ’69 or ’73 and Rafael Santana hit one in ’86.