What on earth do you have against Bruce Chen of all lapsed Mets? He's like three teams from being Todd Zeile.
I first read about Rotisserie Baseball in Inside Sports circa 1981. It sounded delightful for the first couple of pages until it was explained that you could have guys on “your” team who might face Mets who weren't. That's the moment I decided Roto/Fantasy wasn't for me. (I know there are all-AL leagues, but that would require validating the existence of the junior circuit.)
Let's Go D'Etres, everybody except Kazmir. I can't stand the idea that he's going to be lighting up the American League while Zambrano goes on the DL after throwing 16 consecutive balls in his first start, which will give every know-nothing writer and analyst yet another touchstone with which to bash us. That's what they live for, you know.
For today only, I will offer up my own ten-man fantasy team, the Soaring Twenties. We're not gonna overpower anybody, but we will dirty our uniforms, flap our gums and set your feet on fire. We're also gonna play a lot of third.
30. Ray Knight: The morning after the Mets won the 1986 World Series, New York radio was wall to wall with Mets talk. On WABC, sports guy Steve Malzberg got a big laugh by suggesting that if you ask Ray Knight what time it is, he'll tell you how to make a watch. The night before, after Knight hit the seventh-inning home run that put the Mets ahead once and for all and accepted the MVP, it was a three-sheets Keith Hernandez who wouldn't shut up, telling an interviewer, “people call me the leader of this team. Ray Knight's the leader of this team.” Malzberg and Mex were both right. Ray talked a lot which helped set the tone for a Mets team that knew it was good and wasn't shy about letting you in on it. Ray backed up his talk, as Eric Davis and Tom Niedenfuer could tell you. His whole season was about fight, starting with his spunky comeback from the .218 disaster of '85, running through his shockingly successful April (six home runs), his honor-defending fisticuffs of summer and that glorious moment he jumped full-force on home plate with the winning run of World Series Game Six. Said his excitement got the best of him and he twisted his back by jumping for joy. Of course he did — even Ray Knight's body language spoke volumes.
29. Wayne Garrett: The Mets went to and won a World Series with Wayne Garrett playing most of their games at third base. He drove in the decisive runs in the final game of the '69 NLCS. Then the team he helped as a rookie couldn't wait to demote him. Joe Foy came. Bob Aspromonte came. Jim Fregosi came. Three years in a row, the Mets got themselves a third base messiah. Wayne Garrett hung around while all three imploded. By 1973, there was nobody but Wayne to play third. And he did, at the highest level of his career. During the stretch of all stretches, September '73, Wayne Garrett was at least the second-best reason to Believe in the Mets. From September 4 through the October 1 clinching, Wayne hit safely in 19 of 23 games, including the last nine in a row. He batted. 333, hit six homers, drove in seventeen runs and scored twenty. In the World Series, he hit two more homers. Wayne Garrett not only brought the Mets within one game of ultimate victory, he secured himself another year as third baseman. Natch, the Mets went out after that and got themselves an old Joe Torre to take it away from him. Garrett continued to persevere, though, winning back his job before '75 was done, eventually putting in 709 games at the position, about a million more than any Met third baseman before him. He was finally ousted from the hot corner by Roy Staiger. Yes, that Roy Staiger.
28. Al Leiter: Al Leiter was the face of the Mets. He was their arched brows, their wide eyes, their open mouth, their aching cheek bones. He was the expressive one. Al Leiter did not hide his emotions on the mound. While there, he invented new ones. He could pitch some, too, particularly when it counted — with one notable exception. Between 1998 and 2001, he had what could be considered 38 “money starts”: September, October plus all games against the Braves and the Yankees. In those pressure situations, Al's ERA was 3.07. Subtract the inexcusable 0 IP, 5 ER in Game Six of the '99 NLCS, and it drops to 2.89. Al was never more facial and never more wonderful than in the ninth inning of the final game of the 2000 World Series, when his pitch count reached 142. It may have been a few pitches too many, the last one accounting for a universal grimace, but oh that face.
27. Dave Kingman: For the longest time, the Mets were an acoustic act. Then they bought Dave Kingman from the Giants in 1975 and all at once they were plugged into a massive power source. The sound was electric. In Kingman I, he was a revelation. Said he didn't worry about home runs but he hit them in numbers and to distances that no Met had ever reached. A franchise that never featured a slugger now cultivated one. “Dave Kingman” became synonymous with home run hitter, albeit the one-dimensional kind, as a Met. The first glimpse we had of him as our own was in a spring training game televised back to New York. Mets vs. Yanks from Fort Lauderdale. Catfish Hunter pitching. Kingman walloping one into the Everglades. Mickey Mantle swearing he never hit anything nearly as far. Don't call me Kong, Dave asked, so Sky King became his nickname. Pleasant. Did commercials for United Airlines bragging on their legroom. Never found a position to call his own and struck out a lot but broke Frank Thomas' team record for dingers in '75. Broke his own record in '76. Elected to the All-Star Team. Threatened Hack Wilson's 56 until he decided to try to catch a ball in left and tore up his thumb. The next year he wanted to be paid like a star and he was gone. Kingman II was a warier affair. Brought back in the spring of '81 for Steve Henderson, he had honed his reputation as a proto-Bonds, a Carlton without portfolio, someone who didn't really care for the media. He handed out pens inscribed with his initials, D.A.K., and handed them to reporters. Told them to write nice things with them. The Mets put up signs in the Shea parking lot warning that this was a KINGMAN FALLOUT ZONE, management not responsible for windshields broken by flying baseballs. Still could hit 'em. They soared. Among the league leaders in '81. Led the NL in '82 with 37 HRs, but batted .204. Grew surlier and surlier. After being replaced by Keith Hernandez, finished '83 on a 5-for-43 skid, no HRs after July 2. Mets ate his salary and released him. Dave Kingman left town a jerk. His work here? Majestic.
26. Roger McDowell: The flake act seemed kind of forced — more a practical joker than a poignant Tugger. Roger McDowell's personality on the mound was dead serious. Nothing wrong with the masks and the upside-down uniforms and the hotfoots (hotfeet?), but it was the sinker that was the real crowd-pleaser. As Orosco waxed and waned in '85 and '86, McDowell pitched steadily. Roger's sense of whimsy stayed undercover for the duration of NLCS Game Six. He entered in the ninth, scored tied at three. He left after thirteen, score tied at three. Roger McDowell threw five shutout innings of baseball inside the Astrodome pressure cooker, giving up just a single hit. After the pennant was won, few celebrated as heartily. It was the sensible thing to do.
25. Lenny Dykstra: Where did Lenny Dykstra come from? He says he's from Garden Grove, California, but that's likely his cover. One theory has it that Lenny was a Midget Met, the pre-PC youth program the team ran in the '60s and '70s. Lenny got separated from his group and missed the bus home. He decided he liked baseball so much that he set up camp inside the bowels of Shea Stadium, a building that doesn't lack for bowels. Secretly subsisting on Harry M. Stevens fare and teaching himself reading and math with old press guides, Lenny watched every game from the old Jets locker room. He learned his lessons well. Soon, using the traveling secretary's credit card number that he'd overheard so often, he began booking himself on road trips. Thus, Lenny was available to take over for Mookie Wilson when the incumbent centerfielder got hurt early in '85. Davey Johnson didn't ask many questions when the runtish kid wearing No. 4 appeared in his office in Riverfront Stadium, spitting tobacco and demanding, “put me in coach, I'm ready to play.” He needed a player and Lenny was there. In his second Major League at-bat, Lenny hit a home run off Mario Soto. After the game, the writers wanted to know who he was. Davey didn't know but wouldn't let on. Stalling for an answer, he nervously thumbed through the visiting manager's desk and stuck a finger on something sharp. “Nails!” he yelled. The reporters took that to be the rookie's nickname, so they wrote about Nails, that new sparkplug in center. One thing led to another and Lenny Dykstra grew up quickly as a Met, running, stealing, cursing, tripling, homering, winning, carrying the team on his diminutive back against Houston and Boston all the way to a world championship. That's just one theory, though.
24. David Cone: John Schuerholz, certified genius for how he built the Braves, was once an idiot. As GM of the Royals, he traded David Cone for Ed Hearn. He even threw in Chris Jelic for good measure. Ed Hearn was a swell guy. David Cone won 75 games between 1988 and 1992. He went 20-3 in '88. Struck out nineteen on the last day of '91 with the threat of arrest hanging over his head. Led the league in strikeouts that year. Made up for the transgression of dissing the Dodgers in a ghosted NLCS column by shutting them down in his next start. Threw from all kinds of interesting angles. Said all kinds of interesting things. The Mets getting David Cone was a case of Grand Theft Pitcher.
23. Felix Millan: There is a sense among Mets fans that any time their team acquires a highly regarded veteran, he will disintegrate upon arrival. Felix Millan was a three-time All-Star for the Atlanta Braves before joining the Mets in 1973 and replacing Ken Boswell as starting second baseman. In his first year, he played 153 games and batted .290. Whereas all Mets second basemen made 79 double plays in '72, Felix alone turned 99 in '73. Instead of finishing third, the Mets won their division. In the playoffs against the Reds, he batted .316. Two years later, Felix, forever choking up, set what would be a longstanding club record by collecting 191 hits. He played in all 162 games, the only Met to ever play every time the Mets took the field. Bottom line: Five very solid, very impactful seasons, including one in which he made, perhaps, the difference in the before-and-after fortunes of the Mets.
22. Robin Ventura: Mike Piazza is generally credited as the player who turned the Mets around. No mean addition, Piazza joined a team that had previously won 88 games. With him on board, they won…88 games. You want somebody who transformed a team, look to Mike's buddy Robin Ventura in 1999. After signing as a free agent, the Mets installed Robin at third, shifting Edgardo Alfonzo to second, a spectacular upgrade over Carlos Baerga. The lineup no longer hinged on the likes of Brian McRae because Robin could be penciled into the 5-hole daily. The defense was better — the infield made play after play and set record after record — as Ventura earned a Gold Glove. The offense was phenomenal, with almost everybody hitting around or above .300. Robin himself, playing in all but two games, put up MVP numbers: .301, 32 HRs, 120 RBIs. Following the distressing 88-win season of 1998 (five losses at the end, no Wild Card), the '99 Mets of Robin Ventura won 97, made the playoffs then made them amazing. Ventura slipped instantly and easily into the role of team leader, taking heat off a reticent Piazza. His implementation of Mojo Risin' created, somehow, the perfect theme for a pennant run. And then there was the matter of the most unique single in the annals of baseball history, the one that sailed through the raindrops and cleared the centerfield fence in the fifteenth inning with the bases loaded. From every angle that can be measured and a few that defy quantification, Robin Ventura's 1999 was the best season any Met ever had.
21. Wally Backman: A thorough examination of the anatomy of the 1986 Mets will find Wally Backman was the team's most vital organ. Heart? Spine? Guts? Cojones? Filth-covered epidermis? Wally was all of it.
What on earth do you have against Bruce Chen of all lapsed Mets? He's like three teams from being Todd Zeile.