We’ll be running into Jeff Kent in Los Angeles this weekend, something you might not have bet on 15 years ago next month. Jeff Kent was not wanted by Mets fans, not for David Cone. The 1992 Mets had already reached base camp at the bottom of their mountain after having careened steadily downhill through the summer. They had exactly one All-Star that nonstellar season, Cone. Now he was being dispatched for some seemingly random Blue Jay.
Ahead of Kent was a nightmarish four-year stay in New York during which he rubbed just about every Mets teammate the wrong way and secured the loyalty of few Mets fans. Beyond that, however, waited a brilliant offensive career that has earned him the title of greatest power-hitting second baseman ever and probably a ticket to Cooperstown.
On the other hand, he still rubs just about every teammate the wrong way and he has yet to secure the loyalty of many fans. One senses Kent doesn’t care. He has his records, he gets paid well and, as long as Barry Bonds is in the news, he’ll never come off as the biggest a-hole in the ol’ ballgame.
“Jeff doesn’t talk to anybody,” Dodgers third base coach Rich Donnelly told the Times‘ Jack Curry in a story about Bonds’ and Kent’s history of mutual contempt and general frostiness last Sunday. “Jeff says hello to his kids once in a while, when he brings them in the clubhouse.”
When the Mets arrive at Dodger Stadium tonight, they will see Jeff Kent in uniform, rarin’ to go at second base. They will not see — at Dodger Stadium or any other ballpark in the Majors — any of the following on an active roster:
Vince Coleman, Dick Schofield, Chico Walker, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Bass, Todd Hundley, Pete Schourek, Jeff Innis, Mackey Sasser, Barry Jones, Daryl Boston, Anthony Young, Bill Pecota or Dave Gallagher.
None of that motley crew — 15 of the 16 Mets who comprised the Mets’ half of the boxscore in their 4-3 win in the opening game of a twinight doubleheader against Cincinnati at Shea on August 28, 1992 — is playing anymore. The sixteenth Met was Jeff Kent. The occasion was his Met debut. He went 0-for-4. But in the nightcap, Kent’s 2-for-5, 3-RBI performance keyed a 12-1 romp and twinbill sweep for the Mets. Their cast in that second contest included Jeff McKnight, Chris Donnels, Lee Guetterman, Charlie O’Brien and Wally Whitehurst.
Those Kent teammates aren’t playing anymore either. In fact, of the 44 men who can call themselves 1992 New York Mets, 43 are retired. Only Jeff Kent survives to tell the tale to 2007 big leaguers, as a peer, of what it was like to give Todd Kalas a Mets Extra interview; to abide by Jeff Torborg’s no-alcohol policy on planes; to be immortalized in The Worst Team Money Could Buy.
Jeff Kent remains, as initially uncovered the spring before this one, the reigning LAMSA champion. LAMSA, of course, stands for Longest Ago Met Still Active. Nobody else from the Metropolitan Class of ’92 or any time before then plays in the Major Leagues today. Kent has been all alone in the ’92 distinction since July 1, 2005, the day John Franco threw his last pitch for the Houston Astros. Jeff became 1993’s only refugee when Jeromy Burnitz retired in March.
Kent also is tightening his grip as sole survivor from 1994, though we might need to wait a tad before officially declaring him the last of those particular Methicans. Kelly Stinnett joined Kent in carrying the ’94 banner for eleven games with the Cardinals in June. But with the recovery of Yadier Molina (for which we all prayed so hard), Stinnett was outrighted to Triple-A Memphis, an honor the ex-Met backstop refused. At the moment, Kelly doesn’t appear to be playing for anybody, but catchers have a funny way of reappearing when you’re not looking for them. Hell, Kelly Stinnett emerged a Met from out of nowhere last September. The same could be said currently for Sandy Alomar, Jr., whom I would guess fans of most other teams have no idea is a Met.
But back to Kent. He is the LAMSA by at least two, probably three seasons — likewise, for each of those campaigns, he is Last Met Standing. Next in line, if we are prepared to discount the marginal-at-best Stinnett, are the only other indisputably active 1995 Mets, both of whom, like Jeff, still play pretty vital roles in the bigs: Jason Isringhausen of the Cards and Paul Byrd of the Tribe. Each pitcher debuted with the Mets a dozen seasons ago, Izzy eleven days before Byrd. In Stinnettian limbo is Alberto Castillo, who beat both of them to the bigs by several weeks in ’95. Injuries made Bambi a Baltimore backup earlier this year. Recuperation makes him, of all things, a Norfolk Tide. (FYI, they don’t think kindly of us in Virginia anymore.)
Regional pride and unyielding fealty to certain infielders compels me to note two other 1995 neophyte Mets, Edgardo Alfonzo and Carl Everett, are slogging away in Central Islip as Long Island Ducks. But if it doesn’t quack like a Major League affiliate, it’s a gray area. Fonzie, for the record, has collected 39 ribbies in 60 games as Duck third baseman; Everett’s got 14 homers in 212 at-bats.
And David Newhan continues to be David Newhan (though, praise be, in New Orleans starting tonight).
Kent, Izzy, Byrd, Castillo…they are the final Mets from 1996, Kent’s last year in New York, to be Major Leaguers in 2007. Rey Ordoñez, rookie shortstop sensation that spring, was cut by Seattle this spring. He receded into retirement and the Mariners went on to become surprise contenders. Draw your own conclusion.
Mets don’t seem to last long anymore, do they? I don’t mean just as Mets, but as a rule. With so many players who bowed in the 1980s having crossed our path of late — Glavine, Alomar, Alou (still in baseball, rumor has it), Clemens, Ju. Franco, Griffey, Moyer, Wells, Maddux — you’d think somebody who was a Met back in the day might have survived on a roster somewhere, that Kevin Tapani would have guzzled from the fountain of youth or Craig Shipley would have taken up catching or Blaine Beatty would have caught on with the Royals. But nope. Jeff Kent, first a Met in 1992, is totally The Man in this category.
Even if he only talks to his kids. Sometimes.
How does Kent’s longevity compare to others in that position? For fun, or my idea of it, I have compiled a year-by-year list of who has been Last Met Standing from each season in club history. Some of them you’d guess right off; a few knocked me for a loop.
LAST MET STANDING/1962-1991
1962: Ed Kranepool. He’s one you would have guessed. Eddie played until the end of 1979, outlasting by five years and two days Bob L. Miller and Chris Cannizzaro, each of whom played his final big league game on the same day in September of ’74.
1963: Ed Kranepool. Runner-up: Cleon Jones, who stopped by just in time to say hello and goodbye to the Polo Grounds. He was a White Sock in 1976.
1964: Ed Kranepool. With Jones back in the minors, Cannizzaro is tied for second from Shea’s first year with Ron Hunt. Hunt, like Cannizzaro and Miller, ended his career on September 28, 1974, a couple of months after Jim Hickman wound down his. While all those early ’60s Met stalwarts were finally retiring, Ed Kranepool wouldn’t turn 30 until November.
1965: Tug McGraw. Hey, not Ed Kranepool! The Tugger finished as a Phil in 1984, making him the final Stengelphile in captivity. Fellow ’65 rook Bud Harrelson also greeted the 1980s on a roster, as a Ranger.
1966: Nolan Ryan. This name will soon look very familiar in our discussion. Ryan pitched until 1993.
1967: Tom Seaver. Ryan spent none of ’67 with the big club, so Tom’s MLB tenure, which extended clear to 1986, is the longest-running from Wes Westrum’s last Mets team. Jerry Koosman, retired in ’85, wins honorable mention.
1968-1971: Nolan Ryan. A certain sameness to Last Met Standing takes hold here, with Nolan and Tom running one-two. Suffice it to say this Ryan kid defied a certain organization’s assessment of him as someone who would never last. It’s been said by different sources that Gil Hodges signed off on the Fregosi trade and that Gil Hodges was against the Fregosi trade. Either way, Ryan was the last Gil Hodges Met to remain in the majors. Given his ’66 cameo, he’s the last Wes Westrum Met, too. (But by missing ’67, Ryan cedes the championship of the Salty Parker Division to Seaver.)
1972-1975: Tom Seaver. And the runner-up from each of these four seasons? Rusty Staub, who stayed just a little longer at the fair (10/6/85) than did Koosman (8/21/85). Seaver was the last Yogi Berra and Roy McMillan Met.
1976-77: Lee Mazzilli. Mazz was the final Joe Frazierite active, contributing to the Blue Jays’ division title drive in 1989. Seaver was second in longevity from the ’76 Mets but, somewhat appropriately, fellow Wednesday Night Massacre participant Joel Youngblood came in second to Lee among the ’77 set, finishing his career just a couple of days earlier (plus Mazzilli had eight at-bats in the ’89 ALCS).
1978: Alex Treviño. This was the shocker for me (in addition to the shocker that I bothered to look any of this up). Alex was a fairly obscure backup catcher during the prime of his career, but as Kelly Stinnett and Alberto Castillo recently taught us, obscure backup catchers can keep playing almost as long as they like. By coming up in ’78 and lasting parts of a dozen more years, Treviño would become the second Met ever who would eventually play in the 1990s, after Nolan Ryan. (Ryan and Treviño were Astros teammates in 1988, but you don’t think of them as contemporaries exactly.) He even managed the shortest of stints with the 1990 Mets themselves when they were — yup — strapped by injuries for a catcher, any catcher.
1979: Jesse Orosco. Before he ruins all the fun by playing until 2003, we can take solace that Jesse was demoted to Tidewater for the entirety of 1980, giving us one more year to absorb a mild surprise in this category.
1980: Hubie Brooks. I missed this one in my guesswork, but Hubie hung in there until July of ’94, nosing out the equally unlikely (by my reckoning) runner-up, Jeff Reardon, who retired that pre-strike May. Reardon was also second to Orosco among ’79ers and second-to-last Joe Torre Met in the majors…to Orosco.
1981-1987: Jesse Orosco. Yeah, he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Jesse flourished under George Bamberger and Frank Howard, so it’s fitting he was the last of their Mets to collect a player-size paycheck.
1988-89: David Cone. It was actually a pretty spirited race or perhaps war of attrition to the checkered flag among late-’80s Mets once Orosco kindly vacated the premises to make room for newer blood. Between 1999 and 2001, a whole crop of post-’86 Mets played their last, including Randy Myers, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Gregg Jefferies, Kevin Elster, Rick Aguilera, Dave Magadan and David Cone. But Cone had the good sense to give baseball one more shot in 2003, making the not particularly well-stocked Mets out of Spring Training. His comeback, even though it ended in May of ’03, ensured him this particular crown. Meanwhile, Jesse Orosco spent sixteen years pitching after the Mets first sent him away in 1987 (they would reacquire him for 2000 but dispatch him before that season started) and endured four months beyond Cone’s retirement.
1990-91: John Franco. He outlasted Jesse and Coney for the distinction of final Met managed by Davey Johnson, Buddy Harrelson and Mike Cubbage.
Jeff Kent and 1992-96 is where we came in.
Looking ahead to looking back? Here’s who is still more or less Major League active from the most recent suddenly distant past.
1997: Jason Isringhausen, Alberto Castillo.
1998: Alberto Castillo, Mike Piazza, Preston Wilson, Jay Payton.
1999: Jason Isringhausen (injured throughout ’98), Mike Piazza, Jay Payton, Melvin Mora, Armando Benitez, Kenny Rogers, Octavio Dotel. (Vance Wilson is on Detroit’s DL for the year).
2000: Mike Piazza, Jay Payton, Melvin Mora, Armando Benitez, Jason Tyner.
Among other Mets from our last National League championship season, Rick White was released by the Astros after pitching 23 games for them this year; Mike Hampton, like Vance Wilson, is out all of ’07 with an injury; Joe McEwing and Timo Perez are playing for the AAA affiliates of the Red Sox and Tigers, respectively; and 2000 seems like a good place to stop for now.
Tip of the cap to Ultimate Mets Database for being so damn ultimate about the Mets.