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Second's The New Third

It went unremarked upon as far as I could tell that when David Wright had to sit out a game in Florida, Jose Valentin filled in at third and became the Mets' 132nd third baseman. With The David firmly ensconced there, it seems likely (barring everything) that the hot corner will be warm and snuggly for a good, long while.

But second base is a mess. Second base is usually a mess. Nobody counts all the second basemen we've gone through (it's 113). Nobody's written a song, as far as I know, to acknowledge that second base can't be satisfactory filled. One was written about the then-79 third basemen in Mets history. It showed up on An Amazin' Era, the 25th anniversary videocassette celebration. Third base was a lingering Mets joke then. Mr. Wright has at last made it the feelgood finale to an overlong romantic comedy.

But second base gets no love when it comes to earning angst. Second base has almost always been a problem child among Met positions. Well, a problem child whose misbehavior is more “maybe we should get him some help” rather than “YOU GO TO YOUR ROOM NOW!” After all, we won two world championships with four second basemen. Boswell and Weis platooned. Backman and Teufel platooned. Gregg Jefferies manhandled the position for a little while. Jeff Kent stood there for a time. Both would hit a ton, but not for us. We imported some very credentialed talent to play second. Roberto Alomar couldn't be bothered. Carlos Baerga was going through a phase. Second base has never been easily tamed.

There were a few individual success stories. Fonzie, of course, though only after he was yanked off third for Ventura. Ron Hunt early. Doug Flynn primarily with the glove. Felix the Cat could spray hits around and turn the pivot. But while second base hasn't exactly been the sack of shame, it hasn't been the sack of honor either.

Now it's a sack of…

The Mets are proving 50 games into the season that you can build and maintain a first-place lead without a regular second baseman. Conclusion: It's just not that important a position.

My logic professor warned against such inductive reasoning. But honestly, who's on second? And does it really matter?

2006 in brief has brought us this:

• Anderson Hernandez wins the job by default. Everybody's thrilled because he sure can field. Everybody gets a little less thrilled when it becomes apparent he sure can't hit. Then he gets hurt. Everybody takes a deep breath because…

• Kaz Matsui wins the job by default. Everybody's thrilled because he sure did hit an inside-the-park homer his first at-bat (that first AB bit proving most charming once again) and he gets to balls and hangs in on double plays like he never did before, like Willie was working with him behind Petco Park as soon as he returned. He got a few timely hits and the folks got off his back but then he stopped getting timely hits and the equation that worked pretty well for Hernandez — good glove, little bat — began to work against Matsui [1] in popular and practical terms. He's benched and nobody minds because…

• Jose Valentin wins the job by default. He's part of a mix & match, actually, but we haven't seen Kaz anywhere near second and Chris Woodward continues to anchor the bench. Jose Valentin, it will be recalled, was perhaps the most reviled Met since Gerald Williams. But that was all the way back in April. The 99.9% of Mets fans who assumed he was utterly worthless (I'll count myself among the vocal majority) were delightfully surprised by his offensive surge in his outfield cameos and decided they couldn't get enough of him. What's that? He can play second, TOO? Who knew? Put him in! Put him in! He doesn't look particularly comfortable out there and we're bound to pay for it, but he is hitting, so no complaints.

Until the ball that goes under his glove leads to the run that dooms Pedro when Brandonmania [2] kicks into high gear, if in fact Valentin is starting tonight, and I'll assume he is. Pedro deserves [3] every hot Met bat he can get.

None of these fellows is the 2006 answer. Randolph has already ruled out the return of Anderson Hernandez any time soon (though rules are made to be broken). Kaz seems lost. He's seemed lost before only to surge to the brink of being found [4], so maybe there's a tiny bit of hope there. Jose Valentin has proved himself the moral equivalent of Chase Utley for May; we'll see about June. I think Chris Woodward's still on the team.

Yes, it's a stew. But so were Backman and Teufel. So were Boswell and Weis. Those stews weren't as ingredient-heavy as these, but maybe we can get by. Maybe Jeff Keppinger will eventually be judged to have paid his debt to society and be released from a Virginia prison. Maybe, as suggested somewhere downblog, Mark Grudzielanek [5], a name-brand second baseman and the assumed December answer to our second base spelling test, will finally get his geography straight and head to New York. Maybe Edgardo Alfonzo, released by the Angels, will come home and…damn, he's already signed with Toronto. And he's batting .089.

Maybe Keith Miller's not busy.

I don't have a solution. I don't have a strong preference, other than for routine competence on both sides of the ball. It's second base on the Mets — I don't think I can expect much more.