Now we’re cooking with evil gas.
The first three (or 2.2) circles of hell were a little lukey to my touch but now you’ve got us some distasteful, disgraceful souls truly worthy of our sincere and everlasting condemnation. There are no Greatest Mets here, not by a long run, not by a short run, not by a runner left on base or one too many allowed at a crucial juncture.
Their misdeeds mostly speak for themselves, but if I may testify against a couple…
LOLICH: Something aside from deStaubinization always bugged me about Mickey Lolich as a Met, even if he did make for a fine Answer No. 8 earlier this month. It wasn’t a Hellish infraction, but it’s what I most remember about him with us. Back in the day, each Channel 9 telecast opened with a filmed montage of various Mets in action. They did that in 1975 and they did that in 1976. The two versions were nearly identical save for one alteration. In the spot in which Rusty was swinging in ’75, was Lolich going into his windup in April ’76…on videotape. It was never updated and its cheapness and cheesiness ruined the whole presentation for me. If the Mets couldn’t be bothered to fit the Mick into their intro package, it’s no wonder he never seemed to belong. Don’t know if that slots him into the fourth circle of Met Hell, but let’s just say nothing about his presence or performance or posthaste departure suggests he reserved himself a spot in Met Heaven.
If December 1975 had been December 2005, taking a flyer on an experienced lefthander in a change-of-league situation would seem like a perfectly reasonable risk. That’s definitely the sort of thing that happens in the free agent era. But M. Donald Grant, the permanent chairman of the board of Met Hell, so feared and disdained the bull rush of modern times that he made as Eff You a trade as he could. It’s not so much that he swapped the first Met to drive in more than a hundred runs in a season (two months after this feat was accomplished) for a 35-year-old (when that was old), out-of-shape (unless the shape in question was blob), shopworn pitcher whose last indisputably good season was 1972. Yes, Rusty Staub was on top of his game and Mickey Lolich was in free fall and the Mets still could claim a propensity to produce pitchers of their own (all right, so Hank Webb never blossomed, but we couldn’t have known that then), but that’s only part of why this deal was so deleterious.
It wasn’t so much a matter of trading Staub and Laxton for Lolich and Baldwin that was brutal. It was the putting in a waiver claim on discredited old methods in exchange for an era to be named later.
Rusty Staub, in the bigs since 1963, was on the verge of becoming a 10-and-5 man. 1976 would have been his fifth season as a Met and he could’ve vetoed any trade thereafter. Weeks before the reserve clause blew up, players had already earned that right. And Grant hated any right the players earned. He was still checking the basic agreement to see if he really had to dispense meal money and pick up the tab for dry cleaning of uniforms. Rusty Staub represented a threat to the crumbling old order, so Rusty Staub was disappeared. That’ll teach him to have a mind of his own. That’ll teach ‘em all. Grant applied that lesson with even harsher repercussions a year-and-half later when he traded Tom Seaver when Seaver was laboring under the true impression that star players now had leverage. Everywhere but at Shea, Franchise. (Which reminds me: Upon hearing Jack Lang referring to Tom Terrific by his alternate nickname, M. Donald is said to have lashed out, “Mrs. Payson and I are the franchise!”)
Jesus Christ, the Mets traded Tom Seaver. I still can’t believe it.
To be fair, it was pointed out by “schuey” at Baseball Think Factory yesterday that Rusty was ostensibly moved to clear room for Mike Vail, the August-September 1975 phenom who hit in 23 straight games as a left fielder. In 162 at-bats, he hit .302 with 3 home runs and 17 runs batted in. Space had to be provided for Vail, Met superstar of the foreseeable future, he who would be not denied. With Kingman rotating back to left from his infield audition in late ’75 (get yourself a ’76 yearbook and marvel at the Mets celebrating Sky King’s “versatility” with photos of him not necessarily collapsing into an embarrassing heap at first and third) and Unser in center, the juggernaut Met outfield wasn’t going to give way easily. That’s why the Mets had to ship Staub and his 105 ribbies to Detroit. Mike Vail was so happy to be handed a starting baseball job that he tried his hand at basketball that winter, damaging his right Achilles tendon in the process of screwing around on the court. Vail didn’t make his 1976 debut until June 17. He batted .217 in 143 at-bats; no homers, nine ribbies. So much for the Mets and planning. Rusty, by the way, averaged 106 RBIs over the next three seasons for the Tigers, staying on the exact pace he had set with the Mets in ’75.
That’s not Lolich’s fault, but when you get this deep into Met Hell, nuance is not required.
SANCHEZ: I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I imagine that if the Mets ever acquired Derek Jeter, I’d plain and simple throw up. I’m almost certain it will never happen, but if the Mets signed John Rocker, I’d boycott Shea until he was released. I know it will never happen, but Roger Clemens in Mets garb would guarantee that you wouldn’t see me in mine for a very long time. Rey Sanchez’s brief tenure as a New York Met stuck me in the same moral corner. I hated the Mets while Rey Sanchez was the starting shortstop. I hated being a Mets fan. I hated Rey Sanchez with a fiery passion seldom summoned for a theretofore innocuous middle infielder. He wasn’t the equivalent of Jeter or Rocker or Clemens on the Met radar before 2003, yet the moment he arrived, he represented a bundle as obnoxious as any two of those three stalwarts of Satan (let’s not kid ourselves: Met Opponent Hell is a far more gruesome place than Met Hell, but let’s stay on track).
I’d reckon that a goodly number of our readers have already forgotten Rey Sanchez if they even noticed him in the first place. Be careful, short-term memorians. Those who ignore Rey Sanchez are condemned to repeat him.
Everything you already said about him is dossier enough to bring him down to the Fourth Circle. What makes me froth that much more is Rey Sanchez was indisputable proof that the Mets were being operated fraudulently in 2003. We’ve already been over Rey Ordoñez, his miscreant nature and his glittery glove. By the end of ’02, even I couldn’t argue to keep Rey-Rey around. Concurrently, word was getting around that Jose Reyes was en route. If Ordoñez was out and Reyes was not quite in, we’d need a shortstop to fill in for a stretch. Why not Sanchez?
Because Rey Sanchez was a useless Major League shortstop by 2003 and Steve Phillips (if Grant has an assistant Down Below, it’s Press Conference Boy) knew it. But Phillips perpetrated the falsehood that Rey Sanchez is a fine shortstop. A wonderful shortstop. He’ll get to everything. Really, he’s better than Ordoñez. Phillips, in the best tradition of more than one presidential administration, told The Big Lie over and over again in the spring of 2003 and the Met media, like its cousins in the political sector, mindlessly went with it. Yeah, Rey Sanchez is a great get for the Mets. Rey Sanchez is a professional. Rey Sanchez is an upgrade over that malcontent Ordoñez. The Mets may have problems, but they’re covered at short.
IT WAS A FRAUD!
A decent shortstop for a team with numerous shortcomings? Noo, it’s not Sanchez.
Sanchez was a rotten shortstop and, as you laid out, a despicable human being. But it was his role as the subject of The Big Lie that pissed me off to extremes, specifically the way the Mets were allowed to pretend that they could plug in a weak link at the most important defensive position and refer to him as a “third-out” shortstop and act as if all their problems were not only solved but obliterated. The fingerpointing and the haircutting, to say nothing of the .207 batting average and the non-existent range, exposed him until he could no longer be covered up. But it was so freaking obvious ahead of time that Rey Sanchez was a desperation signing who had no business starting for a Major League team or even the 2003 Mets. And it was barely reported.
A year later, Sanchez was gone but Ricky Gutierrez was accorded the same mindless benefit of the doubt as the starting second baseman. Gutierrez was a placeholder while Reyes, criminally moved off short to make room for (I think I’m going to cry) Kaz Matsui, rehabbed, but he was treated as a perfectly viable option. Gutierrez didn’t dismay anybody by his off-field actions or on-field demeanor but he was not a “third-out” second baseman. Ricky Gutierrez was a benign Sanchez. Yet he was allowed to roam the Met infield as a starter for a solid month under the guise of adequacy. As with Sanchez, it was crystal clear that Gutierrez was not middling-caliber but also with Sanchez, the Mets were given a pass as in “they’ll be fine at second with this guy.” They weren’t. Ricky’s .175 adventure at the plate and unremarkable work with the glove were history by mid-May.
It’s not quite in the same realm, but we were fed a third consecutive set of talking points regarding Doug Mientkiewicz in 2005 as if a) we were way better off with Minky’s glove than we were Delgado’s bat and b) y’know, with Doug at first and Matsui at second, this could challenge the ’99 Mets in terms of infield defense (excuse me while I stand out in the rain sans umbrella).
Back to Sanchez. There were lots of reasons to dislike the 2003 Mets, one of whom I have a hunch will pop up later in this uplifting tour of hell (and pop up with two outs and the bases loaded, at that) but this guy right here topped my own lengthy list. He was the surest sign, the 666 if you will, that, at long last, everything I loved about the Mets in the heart of the Valentine era — including Valentine — was long gone.
ZIMMER: Creep. Cretin. Crud.
Enough said? I suppose, but let’s not lose sight of his Mets connection. 1962, 52 at-bats, 4 hits, .077 average, lowlighted by a team record 0-for-34 that wasn’t surpassed, as it were, until Ordoñez went 0-for-36 in 1997. That’s not the crime (not on the ’62 Mets it’s not). It’s that Don Zimmer’s affiliation with one of the most legendary teams of them all gives the crud cred that he doesn’t deserve.
Dopey manager? Sure. Poison bench coach? Uh-huh. Unhinged from reality? Ask Pedro. Yet none of that would be our worry per se if he didn’t have the 1962 Mets on his CV. Because he does, Zimmer gets to be lovable. How could anyone dislike a 1962 Met, particularly anyone who didn’t have to sit through 120 losses? That gilt by association makes him seem the sweetheart. It also gave him the overused title of the guy who’s been around the block so many times that he’s the Forrest Gump of baseball.
Everybody’s the Forrest Gump of baseball. Anybody who’s worn a fistful of uniforms and been on hand for a couple of memorable moments is Forrest Gump. Reggie Sanders is Forrest Gump. Jeff Huson is Forrest Gump. Craig Counsell is Forrest Gump. Seriously, I Googled “the Forrest Gump of baseball” and all those examples appeared. So did Zimmer.
Like Forrest ran through one baby boomer touchstone after another, Zimmer was a part of the ’55 Dodgers, the ’78 Red Sox, the ’89 Cubs, the ’95 Rockies, the ’96 Skanks, the ’04 Devil Rays. He’s been in the game a long time so it would figure he and history might collide once or twice, which is fine. But it’s his being a ’62 Met that launches him into the Gumposphere. “Why this guy played for Casey Stengel!” He didn’t last the season — ohfer snapped, he was traded three days hence to Cincy — but he was a Met long enough to bat .077. Isn’t that adorable?
This pinstriped porcupine accused Mike Piazza of not being a “man” (not everybody likes getting hit in the head, Donny). He made an annual event out of his “that’s it, I’m quitting!” threatdowns as if he just discovered that the owner of the organization that employed him was a lunatic. He set back the cause of 72-year-olds everywhere in the 2003 ALCS by physically assaulting a Hall of Fame pitcher. Yet at the end of the day, he was good ol’ Zim, the beloved gerbil who was a ’62 Met, so how bad could he be?
Hell, we shouldn’t have to take any responsibility for Don Zimmer.
They’re the team from Heck and who knows where the heck they’re going next? Meet your Florida/Las Vegas/Wherever Marlins at Gotham Baseball.