In the spirit of woodchucks and how much wood they can chuck, the 2006 Mets were the best Mets to use as many Mets as a Mets team used.
They used 49. As a frame of reference, the 1962 Mets used four fewer. There was a whatever-it-takes quality to these particular Mets, so if it meant shuttling starters in and out as injuries necessitated, inserting relievers for day here and there, resuscitating third and fourth catchers or giving last shots to outfielders you'd all but forgotten about, they did whatever it took to win. And they won.
On Tuesday, a senator who famously invoked the wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child won resounding re-election from a constituency that couldn't help but notice it took all of Flushing to win a division. Coincidence? Perhaps.
In any event, if the 2006 Mets represented a team effort, it's fair to recognize every member of the team, 49 to 1.
49. Bartolome Fortunato Has never been seen with Juan Padilla and Jose Parra at Shea Stadium at the same time.
48. Victor Diaz Long may he run, and when he gets there, long may he find himself facing LaTroy Hawkins.
47. Jose Lima Only a few pitchers become landmarks for those who follow. Every fierce competitor is compared to Bob Gibson. Every unbeatable lefty can only hope to be mentioned with Sandy Koufax. For the rest of time, every rundown, over-the-hill, slightly absurd though nonetheless endearing starter the Mets conjure up despite his showing nothing anywhere of late will be the next Jose Lima.
46. Ricky Ledee When he was a rookie, I read he grew up watching the Mets on superstation WOR in Puerto Rico, so I always had the slightest of soft spots for him. It's not that soft anymore.
45. Jeremi Gonzalez Started the first Subway Series game of 2006 and the Mets won it dramatically. Scratch no further beneath the surface and it sounds pretty good.
44. Eli Marrero One great catch versus Baltimore. One necessary trade from Colorado.
43. Kelly Stinnett Threw out a runner in his first Mets start in 11 years. Can't wait to see what he's got in the tank come 2017.
42. Philip Humber Wasn't expecting a first glance this year. Got two of them, both encouraging.
41. Henry Owens Threw very hard. Then hardly at all.
40. Heath Bell The flights from New Orleans will be longer than from Norfolk, so I hope he finds a closer AAA-MLB route to travel next year.
39. Royce Ring Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Ring. It's a lefthander!
38. Victor Zambrano The really sad part is he was awesome for those final four batters against Atlanta.
37. Jorge Julio Came along very nicely. Then went away even better.
36. Mike Pelfrey The future's so bright, it's gonna be tall.
35. Roberto Hernandez Didja miss me? Turns out, not as much as we thought.
34. Mike DiFelice 2005: Dead weight. 2006: Good guy to have around.
33. Ramon Castro 2005: Good guy to have around. 2006: Wasn't around enough.
32. Kaz Matsui Big hits, nice plays for a few weeks. Those counted, too.
31. Michael Tucker Not the only ex-enemy who made himself useful.
30. Chris Woodward From Super Joe upgrade to latter-day Super Joe. Next time get the labrum fixed sooner.
29. Alay Soler The pan was flashed by several Mets pitchers in 2006. This guy did it enough to make you think it was more than that.
28. Dave Williams Someone adjusted his mechanics. Or time on the DL gave him a chance to reconsider his motion. Or obscure southpaws are still southpaws. However it happened, he was just short of extremely reliable.
27. Brian Bannister Always pitched well enough not to lose. Hit far too well for his own good. Didn't see him coming, so it was all gravy.
26. Anderson Hernandez His batting average and fielding percentage combined probably barely topped a thousand, and if you saw him hit, you know that's a compliment to his glove. Made the best play of the year that didn't involve a fence or a plate.
25. Oliver Perez Threw the six innings heard 'round the world. All previous question marks irrelevant in hindsight if not going forward.
24. Lastings Milledge On a team that wasn't exactly sucking wind, he was a breath of fresh air. Alas, things grew rather stale rather quickly in his wake.
23. Shawn Green Contenders have a history of picking up scuffling vets who rejuvenate themselves in time for October. Shawn Green was almost that vet. A few key hits are inked to his account but so are too many awkward swings and two tough noncatches in right. Not his fault the ride ended where it did but he didn't do anything in particular to keep it going.
22. Xavier Nady The f-word here is fate. It was not Xavier Nady's fate to stick around for August and September and October, which was too bad for him and probably us. A very good supporting-cast member whose departure weakened little by little every other link in the chain.
21. Darren Oliver He was going to retire? Nobody else wanted him? More proof that the people running baseball teams don't actually know anything. Most of them, anyway. Omar Minaya knew Darren Oliver could eat a few innings, occasionally at critical junctures. Nice work, both of you.
20. Cliff Floyd 53 fewer games played. 23 fewer home runs. 54 fewer RBI. 29 points lower on his batting average. It was easy to forget Cliff Floyd was a part of the 2006 Mets who as a whole improved by 14 games and two playoff rounds over 2005, when Cliff was his Monsta self. His brief return to health in the NLDS reminded us what this team really could have been if Cliff Floyd had been well from start to finish. Unfortunately, the finish (his and everybody's) was rather grim. Sooner or later, it was going to catch up with us.
19. Pedro Feliciano Some years calling on a lefty to get out a lefty is a chore. Other years Pedro Feliciano is on the team.
18. Chad Bradford The reason his right arm comes down so low? To demonstrate how deep this bullpen's depth was with him as a specialist-plus. Runners on base when Chad came into games wound up doing most of their reading at The Strand.
17. Julio Franco Somewhere in his remarkable Met tenure to date was a pinch-hitter and occasional first baseman who did a respectable if eventually unsatisfactory job with the bat. But we all know Julio Franco wasn't here for his bat or his glove or anything else that had to do with playing. What he was here for, by all accounts, he did very well. The results didn't show up in the boxscore — not next to his name, anyway.
16. Steve Trachsel Waited his whole career to pitch in the postseason. He's still waiting. If the Mets have ever had a less impressive 15-game winner, he's not springing to mind. But 15 wins are 15 wins…or were 15 wins. His ineffectiveness in the NLDS was glossable but his absolute meltdown in the NLCS sealed his Met fate. Observed Emma Span of the Village Voice after Game Three, “To say that Steve Trachsel had nothing tonight is to insult the void.” The only thing unsurprising about his 45.00 ERA against the Cardinals is it wasn't all that surprising.
15. Guillermo Mota We can assume Guillermo Mota's revival was not a result of clean living. The revival, however, did occur and the Mets benefited from it when they needed a shot in the, uh, arm.
14. John Maine I have to check, but I don't recall many caveats making the rounds last January to the tune of “sure we got rid of a decent mid-rotation guy in Benson and we're saddled with a real unsettling proposition in Julio, but you watch Maine, he's bound to pitch some big games for the Mets in the second half and probably the playoffs.”
13. Duaner Sanchez Tom Parsons for Jerry Grote. Robert Person for John Olerud. Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez. Yeah, it was that good.
12. Orlando Hernandez In the Ageless Wonder Department, a crowded unit of Mets Inc., El Duque takes the cake. It's not a birthday cake because this guy really is ageless (unless you think he's the 37 he claims to be). And he was totally a wonder in 2006 in that you had to wonder how he was doing it, wonder how he could look so bad every five or so starts and then be so captivating for the other four. Ultimately we had to wonder when he was going to pitch again. If it had been in the World Series, it's tempting to wonder what would have happened.
11. Pedro Martinez Does it matter that he went 9-8? That his ERA careened past 4? That he didn't pitch for almost all of July, half of August and half of September? That he collected no wins in May? Not so much. Pedro Martinez may have posted the greatest presence-to-performance ratio in Mets history in 2006. What he did achieve when he was reasonably healthy was inspiring. What he didn't achieve…who cared? He was still Pedro. Better he's on our mound or on our bench than anybody else's. Every glance at MARTINEZ 45 always made everything just about OK. You tended to figure that sooner or later he'd get back out there and that he'd beat somebody. The later it got, the wronger you figured. Still, somehow, it doesn't matter. He's Pedro. He's a Met. He'll be back.
10. Endy Chavez Talk about a catch! What a play! What instincts! What ability! We're referring, of course, to Omar Minaya's world-class signing of a bargain-basement free agent, a light-hitting, fourth/fifth outfielder who was shipped out of Washington and let go by Philadelphia with no regrets by either team. Omar Minaya made Endy Chavez a Met. Endy took it from there. Endy took it from everywhere, Scott Rolen's bat only the last and most spectacular example.
9. Aaron Heilman Heilman rhymes with Smileman and I wish he would once in a while. Is it that bad having been the block of granite upon which a division winner built its biggest asset? Don't wallow, be happy. You were the eighth inning and the seventh inning at various stretches of 2006. You made many recaps happy, so show a little sanguinity already yet. Smile man.
8. Jose Valentin This is where Bob Newhart does one of his classic, one-sided telephone conversations. Hello, New York Mets…This is who?…Jose who?…We already have a Jose, a couple of 'em, actually…What's that?…You're a different Jose?…No, Valentine doesn't work here anymore…Oh, Valentin without the 'e'…You're Jose Valentin…Yeah, now that you mention it I think I've heard of you. What can I do for you, Jose Valentin?…You want to be the starting what?…I see. But we already have a second baseman. A bunch of 'em…What?…Not for long, you say?…Him either?…Oh. Well, what are your qualifications?…Nineteen games? You've played 19 games in the Majors at second?…That doesn't sound like a lot. How are you as a hitter?…Wow, Jose, that's a lot of strikeouts…What?…You plan to cut down?…And you're going to work on your defense at a position you've barely played in a career that dates to 1992?…And you're going to be 37 at the end of the season?…And you're going to start the season by not doing much of anything?…Not hitting and not playing. I see…Listen, Jose, you sound like quite a deal, but I really think we're going to have to go in another direction…What's that?…You won't take 'no' for answer? Well, if you've got a guaranteed contract, I guess we can't stop you from trying.
7. Billy Wagner Confession: I didn't know “Enter Sandman” was Billy Wagner's song when the Mets signed him. I was only vaguely aware it was Mariano Rivera's. And I wasn't really terribly familiar with it at all. I now know it and like it most nights and love it some nights. Once in a while, it's a little off-key, but it's been a long time since I heard anything in the ninth inning that sounds as good.
6. Tom Glavine If there's any baseball justice at all, Tom Glavine will win his 300th game as a New York Met. That I won't be washing my fingertips after typing that sentence tells you all you need to know about what he meant to this team in 2006.
That's 44 of 49. The remaining players deserve a little extra consideration, so please check back directly for The Five Greatest Mets of 2006.