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Don't Stick Around Much Anymore

Ripken in. Gwynn in. Gossage close. McGwire nowhere in sight.

Those are the headlines from the 2007 Hall of Fame election [1]. The parochial nuggets are neither Ripken at 98.5% of the vote nor Gwynn at 97.6% matched Tom Seaver’s 98.84% from 1992 (yay!) and that Bobby Bonilla, due presumably to a shaking hand and a pair of misplaced specs, was accidentally checked off on two ballots (wha…?). He trailed former Mets Bret Saberhagen (7) and

Tony Fernandez (4) to say nothing of good sense. None of our new representatives will be on next year’s list, but Bobby Bo will continue to get paid by the Mets into perpetuity [2], so he can commission his own plaque.

The subtext of the big story is where Ripken and Gwynn played their entire careers: one place. It’s rare enough a situation that no report of their election today, tonight or tomorrow or their induction this summer will go three paragraphs without mentioning each man played for one team and one team only. By implication, this makes them morally superior to cretins like Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Bruce Sutter.

I’m as big a sucker for a consistent baseball-card back as anyone. It’s aesthetically pleasing to eyeball one long column of Baltimore (A.L.) or San Diego (N.L.), and it sure cuts down on hours of inane “which cap?” debate. One’s an Oriole. One’s a Padre. That’s that.

But also, so what? Ripken and Gwynn played in an era when they could have moved around had they chosen. They chose not to and/or their teams chose to make it worth their while to stay put. Who’s to say Stan Musial or Joe DiMaggio would have remained with their one and only club had the reserve clause not tethered them to the Cardinals and Yankees? For the right price, DiMaggio could have been the Cleveland Clipper had he been granted the opportunity. Likewise, the winding professional paths of Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, even Babe Ruth demonstrate no immortal is necessarily immune from a management hissyfit.

Or have you forgotten June 15, 1977?

Ripken and Gwynn were one-teamers because it worked for them. Rickey Henderson played for everybody because that’s where the market took Rickey. Before he was deemed damaged goods [3], Mark McGwire was an Athletic icon. In the midst of his first potentially history-changing season, 1997 (58 homers), he was swapped to St. Louis for T.J. Mathews, Blake Stein and ex-Met farmhand Eric Ludwick. Nobody ever talks about it as one of the world’s worst trades because everybody understood it wasn’t a baseball trade. The A’s couldn’t or wouldn’t afford him in 1998 and beyond, so nobody blinked all that much when a guy who was chasing Roger Maris was dispatched at the end of July.

Player movement works for the players. It’s always worked for the owners. Does it work for the fans?
Didn’t work for us amid the Wednesday Night Massacre when we watched the Franchise get traded for four non-Franchise players. Wasn’t terrific when the best position player the Mets ever produced split for L.A. in November 1990. Never feels right to lose a Seaver or a Strawberry when they’ve always been yours.

On the other hand, was anybody here worried about uniformity of uniform when Pedro Martinez or Carlos Beltran or Billy Wagner took the money to fulfill their lifetime dreams of becoming Mets? As 2006 demonstrated, player movement can add up to very helpful action for any given fan base. It was our turn to benefit last year.

But romanticism for free agentry and its accompanying financial maneuvers will never amount to a hill of Beane. Ripken the Bird and Gwynn the Friar are comforting notions, not just for the Baltimoreans and San Diegans out there. We could count on Gwynn lacerating the Mets (.356) as many as 13 times a year from 1982 through 2001. Because we knew he was dependable, we could rely on Ripken showing up for work all seven games the Mets faced the Orioles in 1997 and 1998, including a spectacularly annoying [4] Friday night result at Camden Yards the first time the two tangled in regular-season play. That feeling was a throwback to the way my New York Giants pals [5] can recite the 65-year-old starting rotations that alighted at the Polo Grounds season after season. I couldn’t tell you who pitched for the Padres in 2003 without really thinking about it.

There hasn’t been a lot of that sort of thing below the superstar level of late. Bagwell just retired, but Biggio’s still an Astro. Smoltz and two guys named Jones are Braves. Elsewhere in the National League? It gets thin from there if you’re looking for diehards, especially within the N.L. East.

How about Marcus Giles? It only seems like he’s been tormenting us from Atlanta forever. He actually came up in April 2001 and had only one disgustingly good season (1.059 OPS in ’04) against us. This offseason he became a Padre. I’m not sorry.

How about Mike Lieberthal? He joined the defending National League champion Phillies in 1994 and was positively Burrellesque versus the Mets in 2000 (1.302 OPS). This offseason he became a Dodger. I’m not sorry.

How about Jose Vidro? He first grazed the Mets fan consciousness his rookie year of 1997 when he and Vladimir Guerrero represented the next wave of Expo rookies who were going to drive us nuts. From Montreal to San Juan to Washington, he has made like a thorn and stuck it to the Mets repeatedly, particularly in 2003 (1.010 OPS). He wasn’t the last National who played home games at the Big O, but there was a decidedly Exponential air about his continued presence with the only organization he ever knew. He knows a new team now. This offseason he became a Mariner. I’m not sorry.

Giles, Lieberthal and Vidro were not Gwynn, Ripken or Musial. You didn’t tip your cap to them. You didn’t give them an appreciative hand upon their first at-bats. But they were intrinsic to the Met fabric — the underside of the quilt, to be sure, but they were here, too. They were staples of the Braves, the Phillies and the Expos/Nationals. For whatever reason, the forces of baseball nature have acted as staple removers where they’re concerned.

Meanwhile, what of us? What of our Gwynns, our Ripkens? Not talking about a Hall of Famer like Tom Seaver or a what-have-might-have-beener like Darryl Strawberry. Rather, who wore the blue and orange from Day One to Day Last?

Not many.

I don’t think I’m breaking any exclusives here when I tell you the Met who was only a Met longer than anybody else was Ed Kranepool. Ed Kranepool came up a Met in September 1962 and retired — not particularly willingly — a Met in September 1979. That’s 18 seasons or season fragments as nothin’ but Met. It will take uncommon durability and supernatural mutual loyalty for us to see that aspect of the record breached in 2021 or ’22 by the only living Mets we can imagine doing that. (More on them in a sec.)

Ed Kranepool played 1,853 games as a Met and zero as anything else. He’s first forever until further notice. Who’s second? It shouldn’t come as a galloping shock that it’s Ron Hodges, the Woody Allen (“Eighty percent of success is showing up”) of the Mets from 1973 through 1984. Hodges put in 14 seasons and played in 666 games as a careerlong Met. Only once, in 1982, did he make it into more than half his team’s contests. Ron Hodges may not have come to play, but he sure as shootin’ showed up.

Among those deemed the One Hundred Greatest Mets of the First Forty Years [6], Kranepool (No. 10) and Hodges (No. 79) are the only entries to have avoided the lure of enemy logos. That means 98% of our elite corps were something else altogether for at least a while. Seaver was three other things, Hernandez two; Piazza’s working on his fourth this spring. Even the most emblematic Met of them all, spiritually speaking, Marvelous Marv Throneberry, earned hashmarks as an Oriole, an Athletic and, gasp!, a Yankee.

All told, an even 100 Mets have been only Mets, accounting for 12.5% of the all-time roster. That’s a bit misleading because it includes active Mets who have yet to play for other teams. It includes Heath Bell who has been dealt to San Diego since the end of 2006. It includes Victor Diaz who was sent to Texas last August and finished the year in the minors. It includes Aaron Heilman who is continually mentioned as trade bait.

But Aaron Heilman, who debuted in 2003, has already pitched in more games as a Met than anybody whose career excluded the other 29 other franchises save for two arms: Jeff Innis and Bob Apodaca.

Jeff Innis? Bob Apodaca? Aaron Heilman? No offense to any of them, particularly Heilman given his solid seventh- and eighth-inning work last year, but really? For all the pitching greats cultivated on the mounds of Jacksonville and Tidewater, these have been the most enduring? Jeff Innis’ 288 games between 1987 and 1993 positively dwarf Apodaca’s total of 184 (curtailed by an injury in March of ’78). Heilman at 146 is ahead of — and you’re not going to believe this — Pedro Feliciano in fourth place.

PEDRO FELICIANO IN FOURTH PLACE?

Again, no disrespect. This Pedro was absolutely enduring in 2006. But we traded him to Cincinnati once and he came back. He bounced to Detroit and he came back. He was in Japan and he came back. Somehow Feliciano has missed pitching a single inning at the Major League level for anybody except the Mets.

Go figure.

In case you’re wondering, Heilman’s and Feliciano’s workhorse loads last year vaulted them each past the pitcher who had been in third place among all only-Mets pitchers through 2005, Rick Baldwin [7].

RICK BALDWIN?

What to make of this? We who grew Seaver, Koosman, Ryan and McGraw in time for 1969 held onto none of them but managed a death grip on Jeff Innis, Bob Apodaca, Rick Baldwin and, for that matter, Bob Myrick. Those are the four leading retired pitchers who were Mets and nothing else…the four horsemen who stared in the face of the apocalypse of unfettered player movement and remained forever unmoved.

Who knew?

As for position players, we’ve already mentioned Kranepool and Hodges. Who trails them? Jose Reyes is third with 436 games. David Wright is fifth with 383 games. Let’s hope they are still on this list in 15 or 20 years and that they have left the esteemed Mr. Kranepool and Mr. Hodges in the dust.

The odds aren’t promising, but let’s try to imagine their current long-term contracts merit renewal and renewal and renewal again.

Meanwhile, who’s in fourth? Who is wedged between Mr. Reyes and Mr. Wright as a Met to the core?

Go ahead. Guess.

Nope.

Not him either.

Give it another shot.

Sorry. The answer…the player who played more games in his definitively completed career as only a Met than any other player in Met history besides Ed Kranepool and Ron Hodges is…

Bruce Boisclair [8].

After Rick Baldwin and Bob Myrick, this isn’t a stunner. But still. Bruce Boisclair?

Sure. Why not? As Mets By The Numbers [9] nailed it, “For some reason, Bruce Boisclair is one of those bit players whom Met fans remember vividly.” Indeed, Ultimate Mets Database has elicited nearly 70 Bruce Boisclair remembrances — nearly as many recollections of him as career RBI by him. That’s a lot of recall for someone who was never more than a fourth outfielder on a series of lousy teams. Bruce Boisclair apparently stayed with us in more ways than one.

I can envision Bruce in the mind’s eye, too. The hair is flowing. The frame is lean. The number is 4 (drilled into memory by the Mets being so cheap on Old Timers Day 1979 that they lent their ’69 returnees current players’ tops and Swoboda ripped the tape off the back of the one he was issued and wore a uniform that said BOISCLAIR). I remember being a little carried away by Bruce Boisclair flirting with .300 in 1976. I could even summon in my head the walkoff hit I stumbled across on Retrosheet last week when I was looking for an episode of Mets-Gerald Ford synergy [10]. I also remember slowly settling into a morass of disappointment that Bruce Boisclair never blossomed into Al Oliver. But in an era of deep disappointment, who would blame Bruce Boisclair for more than a fraction of the prevailing malaise?

Nevertheless, within a franchise that promoted Darryl Strawberry, Edgardo Alfonzo and Cleon Jones from its minor league ranks, what does it say that the homegrown Mets who stuck around forever the longest for certain are Ed Kranepool, Ron Hodges and Bruce Boisclair?

I’m not sure I want to know.

The entire list of exclusive Mets is available via Baseball Reference [11]‘s Frivolities feature.

And a worthy alternative countdown of the “Top 50 Mets of All-Time” is underway at Eric Simon’s Amazin’ Avenue [12]. He’s up to his No. 44 [13], someone who was No. 22 [14] on our 2005 countdown and, like Boisclair and Swoboda, will always own a piece of No. 4 in Met numerical lore.