Properly, we're at the third circle of Met Hell. But the more I think about it, this should really be the second. It's reserved for those whose Met tenure was damaged above all else by poor exits, which now doesn't seem quite as bad as having a perniciously lousy reputation. (Sorry. But hey — you take a journey through the netherworld and see if you're not a bit discombobulated.)
George Foster: Foster was a key cog in the Big Red Machine who hit 50 home runs when 50 home runs meant something, a feared slugger whose calling cards were his black bats and dagger sideburns. Met fans rejoiced when he arrived in February 1982 — but that soon curdled into discontent. Foster hit .247 with 13 HRs and 70 RBIs in '82, decidedly ordinary numbers that made him a target of boobirds forever after. He did show flashes of his old self, helping lead the Mets into contention in the ressurection summer of 1984, but his bat had clearly gone slow, and his cautious-to-a-fault play in the outfield enraged fans. In July 1986 Foster was benched in favor of the combination of Kevin Mitchell and Mookie Wilson (a platoon created to accommodate the arrival of Lenny Dykstra), then benched himself during the epic July 22 fight with the Reds, remaining in the dugout during the wild brawl sparked by Ray Knight cold-cocking Eric Davis. That lost the clubhouse; he then lost the front office by grousing to the Westchester News that his benching was racially motivated. The Mets released him on August 7. Foster had never been a fan favorite, but he made a dreadful mistake; had he not played a highly questionable race card, it's likely he'd be remembered now as a guy who got old at the wrong time, unfortunate but hardly a hanging sin. Instead, he's remembered above all else for his toxic exit. That's not fair, but Foster has nobody to blame but himself.
Mike Hampton: Look, New York isn't for everybody. New Yorkers can accept this — heck, it's a parlor game for lots of us to fantasize about living somewhere else, somewhere you can drive a car 10 miles in less than 45 minutes and not have to spend every waking hour wired for combat. If you've been here long enough to see the place and wind up saying, “It's just not for me,” we'll understand. We may think you're a rube, but we'll understand. Just don't be a phony — we don't like that. Mike Hampton could have been beloved in New York. A little lefty who pitched like a football player (and even wore a football helmet one day in the dugout), his 2000 season was a nice comeback story: He lost his first three decisions and scuffled along until a long walk in San Francisco and a heart-to-heart chat with none other than Tom Seaver shook him out of his doldrums. And how: He wound up with 15 wins and blitzed the Cardinals twice in the NLCS. And he could field, and he could hit — Hampton was legitimately dangerous with a bat in his hands. A bulldog pitcher who could crack home runs and had been put back on the straight-and-narrow by The Franchise? Sounded like a match made in Heaven — and we threw a celestial amount of money at Hampton after the 2000 season in an effort to get him to stay. But he didn't. For one thing, the Rockies offered him an obscene eight-year, $121 million deal. That was OK — we're New Yorkers, and making money isn't exactly something we decry. For another thing, Hampton and his wife just hadn't liked New York City. That was OK too. What wasn't OK was that Hampton kept coming up with reasons Colorado was better — it had great schools, it had better weather, it was closer to home, it had fantastic feng shui, those big round Os sounded better rolling off the tongue, it was a rectangular state, it had a younger mountain range, blah blah blah. That was not OK, not at all. Tell us you didn't like New York and got handed enough dollar bills to make a pile of George Washingtons that would reach the moon, but don't turn into a real-estate agent for fricking Mork-and-Mindy Land. As it turned out, Hampton discovered good schools and ruler-straight borders weren't much of a comfort when pitching in a stadium that lacked a key ingredient for sinkers to bite, namely air. After two horrid years in Colorado, he wound up as an Atlanta Brave through some spectacularly complicated transaction involving the Florida Marlins and several Swiss banks, and after undergoing Tommy John surgery he'll next pitch in 2007 — which, insanely, will only be the second-to-last year of that ludicrous contract. On the other hand, his departure netted us a draft pick, which we used on a fella named David Wright. If only all rude exits ended so well.
Next up: The fourth circle of Hell, home of minor Mets who committed major offenses.