Six years to the day that it was learned he was leaving the Mets to sign a week later with the Seattle Mariners, John Olerud has announced his retirement from baseball.
Baseball is diminished.
Baseball fans are diminished.
The Mets, long detached from him, are diminished.
We are all diminished.
John Olerud played all of three seasons for the New York Mets and yet ranks, according to Faith and Fear in Flushing, as the No. 20 Greatest Met of the First Forty Years. We reprint here what it says on his virtual plaque.
Catch the breeze and the winter chills in colors on the snowy linen land.
On December 20, 1996, the Mets traded Robert Person to the Toronto Blue Jays for John Olerud, allegedly on the downside of his career, supposedly too fragile of psyche for New York.
Look out on a summer’s day with eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
In three seasons that didn’t last nearly long enough, Oly batted .315, including the eternally untoppable .354 of 1998.
While almost every other Met froze down that pitiful stretch, John sizzled. Fourteen plate appearances, fourteen straight trips to first or beyond.
Spent virtually all of the late ’90s on base.
Caught everything everybody threw him or hit toward him. Started a triple play against the Giants in ’98 — got two assists and a putout.
Entered the final week of 1997 with 88 RBIs and finished with 102.
Hit for the cycle against Montreal earlier that September, a cycle that, like every other cycle, required a triple. It was the only triple he hit that entire season because John Olerud ran with two packs of freshly chewed Bazooka stuck to the bottom of each spike.
Weathered faces lined in pain are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.
His one Mets post-season went like this:
• First homer by a lefty off of Randy Johnson in two years
• Deep fly that Tony Womack couldn’t catch
• Homer off Smoltz
Then, when no hope was left in sight on that starry, starry night…
• The perfectly placed bouncer between Ozzie Guillen and Bret Boone to win Game Four
• Homer off Greg Maddux to start Game Five, providing the entirety of the Mets’ offense for fourteen innings.
Colors changing hue, morning fields of amber grain.
In a game that is all but forgotten because both the protagonists and the antagonist went on to do so many more interesting things, John Olerud lifted the 1999 Mets to perhaps the most thrilling May victory in franchise history, driving home the tying and winning runs off a stubborn, faltering, previously infallible Curt Schilling in the ninth at Shea.
It was a sign of good things to come.
Swirling clouds in violet haze reflect in Vincent’s eyes of China blue.
Unlike, say, Kevin McReynolds, Olerud’s quietude actually enhanced his personality. His muteness along with his omnipresent hard hat were shown off as signatures in those hilarious Nike Subway Series stickball commercials. The other players swore by him.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze.
Cataloguing all the good baseball John Olerud committed in three short seasons should have been enough to earn him at least five more as a Met.
They would not listen, they’re not list’ning still, perhaps they never will.
Instead, Steve Phillips turned his back on him. John didn’t go on the open market, though. He and his wife headed home for Seattle, where his parents and in-laws could regularly babysit the Oleruds’ infant son.
I could’ve told you, Oly. This team was never meant for one as beautiful as you.