If there were a game today, I'd like to trot out the best team in Mets history. It's right here.
This is not an all-time team in the usual sense of the word, but the best team that could be pieced together based on the best individual seasons at every position and in every role in Mets history.
Let's start with the batting order:
1. Lance Johnson, 1996 CF
Perhaps the most aberrational season a Met has ever had. That is to say, nobody, centerfielder or otherwise, has had a season like this: .333 BA, 50 SBs, 21 triples, 227 hits, 682 ABs. The last three led the NL. He couldn't be gotten out through September. Shattered the team hits, runs and triples records. Didn't walk much, didn't have to. Slugged .479 batting leadoff. Defense improved in second half as he got used to Shea.
RUNNER-UP CF: Tommie Agee, 1970
2. Edgardo Alfonzo, 1999 2B
Best season from best all-around player Mets ever developed: 27 HRs, 108 RBIs, .304, team-record 123 runs, OPS nearly .900. Five errors all year, none on a ground ball. Transitioned from third to second for team's sake and nearly (should've) won a gold glove. Hit 3 HRs in Division Series.
RUNNER-UP 2B: Wally Backman, 1986
3. Keith Hernandez, 1984 1B
Keith put three consecutive years together from '84 to '86 that were similar, but it was in '84 that his impact on the lineup (no Carter, very young Strawberry) was at its peak. Led Mets to surprise second place finish, even more surprising battle for first. That was when he became Mex, running the game from first base. Batted .311. Walked almost a hundred times. Magnificent in clutch. More magnificent in field.
RUNNER-UP 1B: John Olerud, 1998
4. Mike Piazza, 2000 C
Though a late-season slump (probably from wear and tear) curtailed his numbers, and even though his stats were a shade better the previous year, Mike was at his NY best in 2000. Could've been MVP. 38-113-.324 as a catcher, for goodness sake. Signature moment: Three-run homer to cap ten-run inning in breathtaking comeback win over Braves. Shook off postseason blues with “monster out of the cage” shot versus St. Louis. Two homers in World Series. Maybe most feared hitter in NL that year.
RUNNER-UP C: Gary Carter, 1985
5. Darryl Strawberry, 1990 RF
Darryl's 1987, 1988 and 1990 were similar, high-impact seasons. 1990 gets the nod because he was never hotter than in June and July when he carried the team from the dumps to a nose-to-nose duel with the Pirates for first; team (26-5) was never hotter either. 37 HRs, 108 RBIs, the latter a team record at the time. Three-run homer against Pittsburgh in September his signature swing: huge game, huge moment, huge result. Stole 15 bags.
RUNNER-UP RF: Rusty Staub, 1975
6. Robin Ventura, 1999 3B
When one adds it all up, the best season any position player has ever had in Mets history. Transformed the lineup from the fifth spot: two through five was Fonzie, Olerud, Piazza, Ventura, R-L-R-L, all having banner years. 32 HRs, 120 RBIs (second to Mike in team history). .908 OPS. Nagging injury led to horrible late-season slump, but it was forever redeemed by Grand Slam Single. Gold Glove, best defense in team history at third. Launched Mojo Risin' as the team's rallying cry. By all indications, instant team leader.
RUNNER-UP 3B: Howard Johnson, 1991
7. Kevin McReynolds, 1988 LF
The most solid season from a player who was generally sound. 27 HRs, 99 RBIs, very good for the time. Provided support for Strawberry from fifth spot in lineup. Immaculate defense. 21 steals in 21 attempts, which may have been a record. Finished third in MVP voting. Hit two homers versus Dodgers in NLCS.
RUNNER-UP LF: Cleon Jones, 1969
8. Rey Ordoñez, 1999 SS
No shortstop has put up great offensive numbers for the Mets. None. But Rey managed to drive in 60 runs from the eighth slot. Batted a respectable .258 after flirting with .300 around the All-Star break. Defensively, he was at his peak, which is likely the peak for any shortstop. Finished the year with a record 99 consecutive errorless games. Only four errors all year. Most spectacular fielder Mets ever had.
RUNNER-UP SS: Bud Harrelson, 1971
With a lineup like this, we're not gonna be too terribly reliant on our bench, but you never know what a game situation will call for. So let's look at our subs. I didn't pick simply the player with the second-best season at any one position but guys who could actually fill roles. Unlike the starters, I went with guys who demonstrated their skills over their entire tenure as Mets.
UTILITY MAN: Joe McEwing, 2000
Super Joe played every position competently, infield and outfield. Could hit, could run. If he didn't own Randy Johnson, he sure rented him in 2000. Contributed to pennant winner which is why he gets the nod over Bob Bailor, circa 1982.
FOURTH OUTFIELDER: Carl Everett, 1997
This is a wild card choice, I grant you, but when I thought about it, here was a guy who never started consistently, certainly wasn't handed a job, but when he filled in, he was terrific. He was also a nut and probably dangerous, but when his talents were harnessed, he was a force. The only other fourth OF type who sprung to mind was Danny Heep, 1985, but I never liked him as much as others did.
PINCH HITTER DELUXE: Ed Kranepool, 1974
Who else but Eddie? Well, maybe Rusty ('83) or Mazzilli ('87) or Matt Franco ('99) or Lenny Harris ('01) or Marlon Anderson ('05), but how can we have an all-time Mets anything team without Ed Kranepool?
SUPERSUB: Melvin Mora, 1999
Could play anywhere and have an instant impact on both sides of the ball as he showed during his unfortunately limited Mets tenure.
DEPENDABLE VETERAN PRESENCE: Joe Orsulak, 1995
Competent at everything and one of my favorite Mets of all time. It's my roster.
BACKUP CATCHER: Todd Pratt, 2000
Already experienced as Piazza's caddy. Will keep everybody honest. And can catch day games after night games.
That gives us 14 position players: eight starters and six reserves. The question is do we want a 10- or 11-man pitching staff? Let's see where that goes.
Here's our rotation. They're all pretty much aces but with the exception of our No. 2 pitcher, they were each slotted into the role they've been assigned to here at some point during the season in question.
1. Dwight Gooden, 1985
2. Tom Seaver, 1971
20-10, 1.76, 289 Ks. Sabotaged by popgun attack and still won 20 games. Led league in everything else. Granted, Tom was never the No. 2 starter on the Mets, so let's just say we have a pair of aces and deal with that pleasantness.
3. Jerry Koosman, 1976
If they split the Cy Young, he would've won second half (Randy Jones was best in first half). Could've won it anyway. Wonderful climax (21 wins) to a wonderful Mets career.
4. David Cone, 1988
20-3. Most confounding range of motions of any Mets pitcher. Redeemed idiotic ghost-written column that fired up Dodgers with dynamite Game 6 in NLCS.
5. Bobby Ojeda, 1986
Most wins, most consistent pitcher on great staff in team's greatest season.
Our bullpen is…
CLOSER: Jesse Orosco, 1983
As hot a closer as the Mets ever had during season's second half. Won 13 games as a fireman. 31 saves remained team record for quite a while. Saved both ends of a doubleheader.
RIGHTY SET-UP MAN: Roger McDowell, 1985
Although he did close from time to time (and split the duties with Orosco in '86), he'd come in anytime, anywhere and do the job his rookie year.
LEFTY SET-UP MAN: Dennis Cook, 1998
Stabilized bullpen as no lefty had in a generation.
LONG MAN: Pat Mahomes, 1999
The unsung hero of a great bullpen. Kept the Mets in games every time they needed him desperately, right through the post-season.
SWING MAN: Terry Leach, 1987
Spot starting and middle relieving, Terry kept the Mets afloat during the chewy middle of their ill-fated championship defense. It wasn't his fault they didn't repeat.
That gives us ten pitchers (three righties, two lefties starting and relieving, respectively) and a 24-man roster. That would be good enough for the late '80s, but we should have 25. We are entitled. Something tells me we don't really need an eleventh pitcher, but the only position player we could possibly use would be a third catcher and that's almost always superfluous (especially with Super Joe around). So let's agree to have John Gibbons, 1986, on call at Tidewater in case something happens to Mike.
We are the Mets. We are about pitching. Let's have another pitcher. Heck, let's make him a lefty.
ELEVENTH PITCHER: Ken MacKenzie, 1962
He had the only winning record for the worst baseball team of modern times. That's gotta be worth something.