David Wright should put us in a good mood. He's Xanax in a big blue and orange bottle. He makes it fun to look back on the sordid history of Mets' third basemen (as I did at Gotham Baseball this week) and think, my, we've come a long way from the days when Richie Hebner lurked like a surefire hot corner upgrade.
I've felt for some time that the reality of the Mets' third base situation, historically, has been swallowed by myth, at least going back to the days of Hubie Brooks. Hubie wasn't bad at all. Nor were Knight or HoJo or Fonzie or Robin. It's just that there continued to be so darn many of them.
After reviewing the whole Zimmerian line of succession that led us through the desert until we reached our apparent 3B pinnacle, the Star of David, something dreadful did occur to me…proving that on some days — especially those when Kirby Puckett is gone, Barry Bonds grows ever smaller and I couldn't find a single store in these parts selling a single pack of 2006 Topps baseball cards (no wonder kids' bicycle spokes look so bare around here) — I am capable of finding a cloudy lining in anything.
Best Mets' third base seasons:
1969: Ed Charles
I'm not even going to bother backing this with numbers. He's Ed Charles, they were the 1969 Mets. What else do you need to know?
Ed Charles was retired/released 11 days after the 1969 World Series.
1973: Wayne Garrett
It wasn't much to look at statistically (16-58-.256), but Red got red hot down the stretch and was as good a reason as any to Believe we would get as far as we did.
Wayne Garrett leveled off in 1974, a nice way of saying he didn't stay hot.
1977: Lenny Randle
What a revelation! An average over .300 and all those steals. The brightest spot of a most dismal season.
Lenny Randle's average dropped 71 points in 1978, while he stole 19 fewer bases.
1981: Hubie Brooks
In a year when two to-be perennial All-Stars broke in with a bang, Hubie held his own with Fernando Valenzuela and Tim Raines, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of batting .307.
Hubie Brooks batted .249 in 1982 while his power numbers barely nudged despite receiving the benefit of about a hundred more at-bats in a non-strike season. Hubie didn't manage another very good campaign until 1984 by which time he was being groomed for a trade to Montreal. Good trade for us, good trade for Hubie. But no more Hubie for us.
1986: Ray Knight
An awesome April, an awesome October and some wicked punches in between. Ray Knight was The Man on The Team.
Ray Knight was a Baltimore Oriole in 1987.
1987, 1989, 1991: Howard Johnson
HoJo combined power and speed as no corner infielder ever had, certainly no Met corner infielder, barely any Met. Three times he slugged over .500; three times he cracked at least 34 home runs; three times he swiped at least 30 bags. Average RBI accumulation in those seasons: 106.
Howard Johnson suffered hangovers in 1988, 1990 and 1992 that tended to make everybody forget how good he was in the preceding seasons. His BA — never his strong suit to begin with — dropped 35, 33 and 36 points, respectively. No more than 24 homers, no more than 90 RBIs (not even close to that the other two times). He'd get hurt, he'd get down on himself, he'd get scapegoated. It wasn't easy being Howard Johnson in even years.
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
This was the breakout Fonzie season. This was the year we told anybody who'd listen that this guy is a star whether you've heard of him or not or whether or not you take our team seriously yet. Hit .315. Drove in every run that required plating. Gold Glove defense without the hardware.
Edgardo Alfonzo wasn't bad in 1998. He just wasn't as good (.278, not enough pop to justify the drop) as he'd been in 1997. Fortunately, he'd get better in 1999. By then he'd be a second baseman because of the arrival of…
1999: Robin Ventura
It pays to pay attention a little to the American League where Robin was creating quite a career for himself. Forgive those of us who weren't particularly excited when he signed up to be our 3B. We just weren't, you know, paying attention. The guy could hit, the guy could field, the guy could lead, the guy could traffic in the dramatic. The guy could do it all.
Robin Ventura did a little less in 2000. A lot less, actually. Batting average plummeted from .301 to .232. RBIs from 120 to 84. No Gold Glove. No Mr. Mojo Risin'. No Grand Slam Single. Ventura wasn't terrible. He just wasn't Robin.
2005: David Wright
Home runs? 27. Runs batted in? 102. Batting average? .306. Age? 22. Future? Limitless.
David Wright in 2006 will attempt to do what none of his competent-or-better predecessors has ever done. He will attempt to follow an excellent season playing third base for the New York Mets with a second consecutive excellent season playing third base for the New York Mets.
Pedro's toe and Carlos D's elbow and Carlos B's psyche and so forth are all important to our forthcoming fortunes, but we assume David as a given and I imagine we've all inked in David Wright for a year at least as magnificent as the one we just witnessed. The great thing about his '05 was it just kept getting better. Remember that he was goofing up all kinds of grounders in June and seemed sapped of power in September. What made him wonderful, wonderful was the way he fought his way out of his various predicaments. David was the first Met we had seen tangibly improve on our watch at least since Fonzie. And we all believe, even those of who still can't look at No. 13 without dying a little inside, that David Wright's upside will make Fonzie's look fairly ordinary.
How could he, and as a result we, not keep getting better every day in every way in 2006?
Perhaps it's just coincidence, but Mets third base precedent suggests he might take a step back this year.
Then again, precedents are capable of being shattered.
Somebody hand this kid a bat. He's got some shatterin' to do.