You’ve thought it. I’ve thought it. We’ve all thought it if we’ve gone to our share of games at Shea Stadium between 2001 and 2006:
Trachsel’s pitching? I always see Trachsel!
It was rarely thought with enthusiasm.
Now that going to Mets games will presumably no longer carry any threat of Trachselization, at least not in the sense we came to understand it, I felt compelled to explore whether there was any truth to the perception that Steve Trachsel started every time I showed up at Shea.
To be fair I knew the answer was no. I know who has started for the Mets in every single game I’ve ever been to. I write it down. It’s the only player-specific notation I make in The Log, the steno pad I’ve had since high school. In it is page after page detailing the bare-bones essentials of each trip I’ve made to Shea since my first one in 1973: Date, Opponent, Starting Pitcher and Result (W or L and score) in ink; day of week, all-time record vs. opponent, number of starts per pitcher, all-time regular-season record at Shea in lead.
There are other pages devoted to games “elsewhere” and even a page that has managed to fill up with “postseason” info, but they, like the heart of The Log, contain no data pertaining to who might have hit three homers, stolen three bases or racked up his 151st career pinch-hit. That’s for memory and the Internet. But the starting pitcher is inscribed for history’s sake.
Knowing who started a dispiriting Friday night loss to the Padres in 1979 and who started a dispiriting Friday night loss to the Padres in 1996 is certainly one way of distinguishing one dispiriting loss to the Padres from another. (Falcone and Isringhausen, if you were wondering.) Plus, the starting pitcher is the only thing we’re told days in advance. We may assume Jose Reyes will be leading off and playing short when we’re making plans to buy tickets for Wednesday, but nobody lists the probable shortstops. The identity of the centerfielder is never fodder for surefire small talk either. Who’s going tomorrow? Beltran? Cool. But it sticks with me going on three decades that the first time I ever attended a Mets game without adult supervision, the LIRR conductor asked “who’s starting?” and I told him, “Craig Swan,” and I felt very on top of things (even if Swannie wasn’t, losing 3-1 to the Cards).
The only entities that win or lose are the team and a pitcher. Sometimes it’s a reliever, but his identity doesn’t emerge until after the fact and it’s almost never considered flattering. If you’re Billy Wagner, you’re not supposed to lose and you’re rarely permitted to win. If you did, you probably did something wrong. Come to think of it, I have absolutely no idea what Billy Wagner’s won-lost record was last year.
I can tell you with a flip of The Log who I’ve seen start for the Mets more often than anybody else in my 323 regular-season home games. I can tell you who I saw start once and only once. I can give you all the in-betweens as well.
But I wanted to learn a little more than I already knew I had at my fingertips. I wanted to figure out whether my starting-pitching experience has been utterly random or quirkily aberrational or perfectly normal. So in conjunction with The Log, I did a little research and discovered a few fascinating (for the middle of December) facts.
First of all, thanks to Ultimate Mets Database, I now know 217 different pitchers have started Mets games since 1962. I have attended games started by 83 of them, or 38.2% of all Mets starters. Conversely, I didn’t see 134 Mets pitchers throw a game’s first pitch. As my first Mets game came in the franchise’s twelfth season, obviously I missed a lot of pitchers.
The men who started the 13th, 14th and 16th most games in Mets history — Al Jackson, Jack Fisher and Gary Gentry — were all gone by July 11, 1973, my first appearance. Couldn’t do anything about them. This led me to wonder who I didn’t see start, particularly who didn’t start for me when, by all rights, he should have. Was there somebody who was always on his throw day when I had a ticket?
Yes. The Met who started the most games since I’ve been going to games but never started in my presence was somebody I would have preferred had never become a Met, at least via the route he traveled to get here. That would be Pat Zachry. He is No. 17 on the all-time Mets starts list with 113, a somewhat meaningless stat for my purposes since we’re talking only about starts at Shea. Zachry’s key data is the 55 times he started for the Mets at home between 1977 and 1982. In the years he was in the rotation, I went to 20 Mets games. So how is it possible that he and I missed each other every single time?
Zachry was hurt more than I remembered. The most starts he had in any one season as a Met was 26 in 1980, but that was my year to collect my one-and-done markers from Roy Lee Jackson and Mark Bomback. Two years later, I went to games on August 12 and 14, Swan and Mike Scott sandwiching Zachry. Just luck of the draw that I missed him. I did watch him record a win in 1982, but that was in long relief of my sole Charlie Puleo sighting. Only now am I realizing that a pitcher traded to the Mets for Tom Seaver picked up for a pitcher traded from the Mets for Tom Seaver.
No wonder I hold no ill will for Puleo and a ton of it for Pat Zachry.
Whatever the factors, what are the odds I wouldn’t get a single Pat Zachry Mets start? Between 1977 and 1982, I saw Puleo start. I saw Bomback start. I saw Ray Burris start. I saw a prehistoric Terry Leach start. I saw a posteffective Randy Jones start. I saw Dave Roberts and Wayne Twitchell, for crissake. Not that I was really angling for a piece of Pat, but still. I mean, how much luck of the draw is there?
Probability is measured as total number of occurrences of an event divided by total number of trials. Zachry’s Met tenure covered a period when the Mets played 430 home games (accounting for his midseason 1977 arrival — for Seaver — and a 1979 fog-enshrouded tie with Pittsburgh). Given his 55 starts, there was a 12.79% probability that if you went to Shea Stadium between the Seaver trade and the end of ’82, you’d see Zachry start. Hence, I should have seen him start 2.558 of the 20 games I attended.
But I didn’t. Go figure.
Who else escaped The Log? Frank Viola’s shorter if more successful Met term, which included a 20-win season in 1990, ran its course without my bearing witness. He started 41 of the 193 home games the Mets played while he was a Met, or just over 21% (Sweet Music was also durable). I only made it to Shea 8 times between August 1989 and September 1991, the whole of the Viola era. I should have seen him make 1.7 starts. Instead, I got Sid Fernandez thrice, David Cone twice and Bobby Ojeda, Ron Darling and Doc Gooden once each. I’m not complaining.
Likewise, Jason Jacome, Kevin Kobel and Wally Whitehurst slipped through my cracks, even if I had nothing against alliterative initials. I never went out of my way to avoid them but I never made an extra effort to see them. That could describe just about any starting assignment. Sometimes there’s a bit of extra juice in choosing a date — hey, Bill Pulsipher is being called up this Saturday! — but mostly it’s the game first, rotation spinning where it may. When I wasn’t going to that many games in a given year and a pitcher was here only a couple of years, it would figure the occasional Walt Terrell would come and go without me cheering him on in person.
My attendance was quite scattered until the past decade when it picked up dramatically. Since 1997, I’ve been good for an average of 22 games a season, which makes my missing any starters since the late ’90s a little suspicious…especially since there has been such a plethora of starters in the last ten years. I inked most of them in The Log, but not all. Tyler Yates, for example, made four home starts in April and May 2004, months when I was preoccupied enough by non-Mets matters to keep me from Shea (it happens). I went to 29 regular-season home games in 1999, but none of them was the pair that Allen Watson started. To Jeremy Griffiths: It was nothing personal, I swear, that I managed to have other engagements on August 3 and September 1, 2003.
In 2006, as every schoolchild knows, 13 different Met pitchers were entrusted to get things going. Interestingly, nobody was a classic emergency starter — every one of them got at least three shots at starting, with at least two home starts included. The Log tells me I nailed 11 of the 13, with only Jeremi Gonzalez and Brian Bannister eluding my grasp. Barring trades or disasters (or in the case of Gonzalez, a disastrous trade), out of my grasp they shall stay.
That’s mostly who I didn’t see. But who did I see? Like I said, 83 Mets starters. None more than Al Leiter. The Senator leads the list by far with 37 starts between 1998 and 2004 (not counting two starts in the ’99 playoffs, because it’s the playoffs, and his return with the Marlins in 2005, because he was the enemy). Al Leiter and I got to know each other very well. We should have. I was on hand for 36.5% of his Shea starts, nearly two of every five. Since he was in a five-man rotation and missed some starts due to injury here and there, it’s phenomenal how twinned we were.
How phenomenal? The probability of seeing Al Leiter start at Shea from ’98 through ’04 was a tad over 18%. I shouldn’t have seen him start more than 29.37 times. Perhaps he grabbed Watson’s, Griffiths’ and Yates’ turns when I wasn’t paying attention.
Following Leiter are six double-digit stalwarts.
Rick Reed 24
Steve Trachsel 20
Bobby Jones 19
Dwight Gooden 11 (6 in 1993 when the K Korner was kwiet)
Tom Glavine 10
Masato Yoshii 10 (fits right in, eh?)
As alluded to at the top, into every Log a little Trachsel must fall. I don’t think I was inhaling more than my fair share until 2006 when my life became a veritable Trachselpalooza. I saw Steve Trachsel start 6 times in my 22 dates at Shea. Seeing as how 10 other pitchers divided 16 other starts, I don’t understand what that was all about.
In terms of anomalies, Trachsel and 2006 is hardly the sore thumb of The Log. Six starts for one pitcher isn’t even a record, though it is excessive. The most I ever saw one pitcher start in one year was one-year wonder Kevin Appier. Got 9 helpings of Appier in 2001, the only season any was available. I attended a never-to-be-approached-again 38 contests at Shea in ’01, so if somebody was going to pitch, I was going to see him. That included the brief yet ubiquitous tenure of one Bruce Chen. Chen came in late July for Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook. He made 6 starts at Shea. I was there for 5 of them. Apparently, we both signed up for the Tuesday/Friday plan.
Being an integral part of Kevin Appier’s and Bruce Chen’s Mets careers (on hand for 56.3 and 83.3 percent of their respective Shea starts, all in 2001) is, uh, nice, but I’m happier to know I caught 1.5% of Tom Seaver’s lifetime Mets home starts, 0.6% of Jerry Koosman’s (my first game) and 2.2% of Jon Matlack’s (including my first win). I don’t know what to think of making only one of Anthony Young’s 18 Shea starts and that one being the one in which he set the record for consecutive losses by a pitcher starting and/or relieving.
My real badge of honor comes from being a hundred-percenter a half-dozen times. Of the 83 starters in The Log, there are 6 whose every single home start as a Met I observed in the flesh. One of them, Juan Acevedo, made two Mets starts, both at Shea, both in 1997, both with me looking in. Don’t tell Juan the first time I was there was mostly to see the other team’s starter, rarely a motivating factor, but in this case the visitors were the Blue Jays and their pitcher had last pitched against the Mets in 1986 and…oh, all right, it was Roger Clemens. Jeering the Rocket, cheering the Avocado, it was all good; we won.
Of the other five for whom I was 100% behind, three — Twitchell in ’79, Jason Roach in ’03 and the late Cory Lidle in ’97 — made two Mets starts total, but just one each at home. The remaining two hurlers received one lone Mets start apiece. One was recurringly ridiculed 1986 lefty specialist Randy Niemann, pressed into duty by a backlog of August doubleheaders. Niemann made other starts for other teams, so while he was a novelty in ’86, his unusual appearance (he started and won) was not quite akin to that which I was party seven years later.
There was only one New York Mets pitcher who made only one start in his entire Major League career who made it at Shea Stadium in front of me. Talk about probability.
Since 1962, the Mets have played 3,572 regular-season home games. But in only one of them (.0002799%) did this fellow start. Since 1962, the Mets have announced paid regular-season home attendance of 88,836,858. But only 27,904 (.0003141%) can say they held a ticket for the Saturday afternoon makeup doubleheader of August 7, 1993 and, take it from me, only a fraction of them can say they a) showed up and b) stuck around for the nightcap. Those of us who did can say they witnessed the only start by one Michael Anthony Draper.
Yes, I saw normally neglected Rule V middleman Mike Draper’s only Major League start. Filling in for a bleached-out, bum-kneed Bret Saberhagen, Draper lasted three innings, gave up three runs, all earned, on five hits and three walks. Down 3-0 with one out in the bottom of the third, Dallas Green sent up Tim Bogar to pinch-hit for him. The Mets would take him off the hook with three that inning and eventually win the game 10-8, another Michael (Maddux) grabbing his first Met win and another Anthony (Young) notching his last Met save. It was Draper’s final Major League appearance. He was DL’d August 13 with a bad elbow and elbowed out of the organization at the end of September, unconditionally released and likely forgotten by everybody but me and Boogie.
Almost exactly a year after his one and only Major League start, Stephanie and I were in a faux Fifties diner, Boogie’s, in Chicago (it couldn’t be real Fifties — it was 1994). On the wall above the cash register, there were maybe a dozen plates signed by local and national celebrities. Many were sports stars or at least participants. One toward the end of the row required a double-, triple-, quadruple-take to confirm it didn’t say Mike Ditka. It didn’t. It was autographed by 1993 Met Mike Draper. It probably said best of luck.
Which was quite generous of Mike, given that his luck of the draw had yielded him just the one start.