I have to tell you that this wasn’t easy. Quite frankly, it was a task. You’d think selecting the Ten Greatest Mets of the First Forty Years would be fairly simple. Certain names come to mind immediately and their stories seem familiar enough. Immerse yourself into the proud history of this franchise, though, and what was supposed to be a lark becomes a job. But if I say so myself, the job is done — and in a timely manner. Now I can relax, peer out the window and watch for my favorite songbirds. Personally, I’m partial to the finch.
In any event, I’m just glad I completed it by April 1.
It’s up to you and all of our readers to decide if I made the right choices. I hope the lot of you will keep one thing in mind:
Here are primary picks, yet absolute portions really inspired legendary fact observation, outlining lengthy stats delved across years.
I think you get my drift.
10. Kenny Greer: Perfection has eluded many a Met, but Kenny Greer can claim utter infallibility. In a late-September scoreless duel in 1993, Kenny came out of the bullpen and retired three consecutive St. Louis Cardinals. It was the top of the seventeenth. In the bottom of that very inning, the Mets pushed across the one run required for victory. A team effort? Perhaps, but it was Kenny Greer, in his Met debut, who truly emerged victorious: one game, one inning, one win, no baserunners. His heroic effort raised the Mets’ win total to a nice, round 55. Greer returned to the minor leagues for 1994, never pitching again for the Mets. That one inning pitched on September 29, 1993 speaks for itself in the annals of Mets baseball. Kenny Greer remains the essence and the ideal of perfection.
9. Doug Saunders: Every time at bat is an opportunity for a ballplayer. The popular thing to do with that opportunity is to cash it in, make something of it. Doug Saunders was not interested in pursuing what was popular, what would’ve been the easy thing to do to retain a long-term Major League job. Called up to the Mets in 1993, Doug Saunders came to bat 67 times. While collecting fourteen hits, he drove in no runs. What’s more, none of his three walks came with the bases loaded. In his one and only big league campaign, there were zero runs batted in for Doug Saunders, a man unafraid to live by the courage of his convictions.
8. Chico Walker: September 17, 1986 was literally a magical night in the history of Shea Stadium. The Mets’ magic number to clinch their first division title in thirteen years was one. One solitary win would vault this juggernaut into the playoffs. All that stood between Doc Gooden and a complete game to seal the deal was the bat of Chicago rightfielder Chico Walker. Some 48,000 fans waited to erupt. Chico did not leave them hanging. He grounded to Wally Backman who threw to Keith Hernandez, thereby unleashing untold amounts of joy inside the ballpark and everywhere within the sound of Steve Zabriskie’s voice. Few had done so much to engage the Shea faithful. Destiny would have to bring Chico Walker and the Mets together again. Sure enough, the visionary architect of that cosmic pairing would be Al Harazin. The GM plucked Walker off waivers from the Cubs in 1992, and Chico stayed a Met all the way through the 1993 season. He started the final six games of his second Met year at third base (each game a Met triumph) and collected five hits in 28 at-bats. That .179 pace would tease only a final, faint echo of Chico Walker-derived joy from Mets fans. Those five hits were collected in what wound up being his last six games in the bigs.
7. Mike Draper: “Stay ready” is something ballplayers are told by their coaches from Little League on. Nobody ever heeded the advice quite as well as Mike Draper. Between July 10 and August 5, 1993, Mike Draper sat in the Mets bullpen. And waited. And waited some more. Except for one cameo amid those nearly four idol weeks, Mike Draper waited in ways only one so prepared to wait could wait. His patience and his preparation thrust to the fore on August 7 when, with Bret Saberhagen a late scratch, manager Dallas Green took the “wait” off Mike Draper’s shoulders. Green handed Draper the ball for the second game of a doubleheader against the Pirates. This is Mike Draper in his first start as a New York Met: three earned runs, five hits, three walks. All that was accomplished in just three innings, or one-third of a regulation game. Mike Draper was ready that Saturday, so ready that he pushed the Mets toward a 10-8 victory in the nightcap. He translated readiness into results. But at what cost? Days later, he was placed on the Disabled List — the same Disabled List where Bret Saberhagen now sat and waited, too. Mike Draper’s final Major League innings were pitched that August 7. Players of all ages still stay ready.
6. Mickey Weston: It’s the large numbers that impress in baseball. Hank Aaron’s 755…Cy Young’s 511…Cal Ripken’s 2,632. Huge as those numbers loom, they are nothing compared to the stature of the men who stacked them high. Mickey Weston needed all of four appearances — 6-2/3 innings — to join these Hall of Famers in pursuit and achievement of large numbers. As a Met in 1993, Mickey posted an ERA of 7.94. That’s nearly eight runs per nine innings. In compiling the final numbers of his career in 1993, Mickey Weston endures forever big.
5. Darrin Jackson: Most Americans were unaware of a malady called Graves’ Disease before Barbara Bush, well into her sixties, revealed she was a sufferer. The First Lady of the United States fit the profile of the Graves’ Disease patient. According to the National Graves’ Disease Foundation, the affliction “most frequently occurs in women in the middle decades (8:1 more than men),” but “also occurs in children and in the elderly”. Overall, it shows up in less than one-quarter of one percent of the population. In the same year that Mrs. Bush left the White House, 1993, 29-year-old Darrin Jackson broke the mold and flouted the statistical odds. Acquired by the Mets at mid-season for what would turn out to be just that one season, Jackson wasn’t a child, wasn’t a woman, wasn’t elderly and wasn’t a .200 hitter (.195 in ’93). But like Barbara Bush, he was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. Unlike Mrs. Bush, his GD was discovered after joining his new team. Many baseball organizations could find players with torn rotator cuffs, elbow chips or a pulled groin. Only the New York Mets found a baseball player with an illness associated with the sextegenerian wife of a recently retired president. It’s a linkage to a great nation’s history that few can claim.
4. Ced Landrum: “I’m Too Sexy,” said Right Said Fred in 1992, and America said we’re glad you are, sending the Brits’ single all the way to No. 1. Said Fever was everywhere, seeping into the 1993 calendar year, when the New York Mets filled a longstanding Said void on their roster with the homophonically pleasing Ced Landrum. Ced said put me in coach, I’m ready to play, and Dallas Green listened 22 separate times. The results: One RBI, two runs scored, no putouts, assists or errors. Ced said goodbye to Major League Baseball following the completion of the 1993 season. Maybe he was just too sexy for his team.
3. Tito Navarro: The sweep of history includes those who fill niches without fault. Somewhere between the reigns of Kevin Elster and Rey Ordoñez, the key position of shortstop was manned for the New York Mets by Tito Navarro. That somewhere was a span encompassing September 6, 1993 and September 11, 1993. Nary a grounder was mishandled on Tito’s glove’s watch. Seventeen full innings of defense in two games produced no errors. His offensive production during his Mets tenure was nearly as consistent: Seventeen at-bats and only one hit — or one hit more than the Mets gathered as a collective against Darryl Kile on September 8, 1993. Tito contributed to the sweep of history there as well, making the penultimate out of a game that etched Kile’s name into the record books. No Met team has been no-hit since 1993, a season whose final month accounted for the breadth, width and scope of the niche that was the career of Tito Navarro.
2. Terrel Hansen: A handful of players have worn a Mets uniform with every intention of getting it dirty but no chance to do so. Their names were printed as one among 25 on a Mets roster during a regular season but they themselves never saw action as Mets. They were the likes of Jerry Moses in 1975, Mac Suzuki in 1999, Justin Speier in 2001. Unlike Moses, unlike Mac, unlike anybody else in that situation, Terrel Hansen holds a unique distinction. See, those guys played elsewhere. Moses was even an American League All-Star once. Terrel Hansen was called up to the Mets in the middle of 1993*. He was sent down to the Mets slightly thereafter without having entered a single game. He not only never came back, he never reached the Majors with anybody, before or after. By his actions, it can be inferred that Terrell Hansen decided “if I can’t be a Met, I don’t wanna be anything else”. In an era when it has been assumed that loyalty was long ago designated for assignment, the example that is Terrel Hansen gives the concept a whole new and loving texture.
1. Frank Tanana: A distinguished American League career of nearly two decades preceded the Mets’ acquisition of Frank Tanana prior to the 1993 season. On the cusp of an era that would be defined by hitting, Frank provided a glimpse into the epoch of prolific scoring that lay just around the corner. As the harbinger of a new and exciting age, Frank Tanana surrendered 198 hits in 183 innings. Twenty-six of those hits were home runs — twenty-six times Mets fans were privy to the kind of shock-and-awe explosiveness that fans in other cities wouldn’t know until at least 1994. Having teamed with Nolan Ryan to create a formidable, hard-throwing duo on the California Angels of the 1970s, Frank put all that behind him by 1993, soft-tossing almost exclusively slow stuff to National League batters. Baseball is admired for its adherence to its languid, pastoral beginnings and the Frank Tanana of 1993 kept that spirit alive. Tanana’s lifetime ERA in the AL? 3.62. As a Met? 4.48. It can be said Frank kicked it up a notch for us. Evidence you ask? He posted fifteen losses in 1993, or more than twice his amount of wins that year. Alas, 1993 would represent the 40-year-old’s final days in the Show, though he didn’t finish his time as a Met. Frank Tanana was traded to the Yankees with two weeks remaining in the season for Kenny Greer. In the end, Frank Tanana was a portal to the perfection that was the 1993 New York Mets. Only a fool couldn’t figure that out.
*Years later, it came to our attention that Mr. Hansen had his brush with Metness in 1992, not 1993. We regret the error, and that Terrell never got his chance.