Perceptions are tough to shake. For example, last month in San Diego it was noted that Jose Reyes and David Wright had paired to become the Mets' all-time leaders in starting together at short and third with 395 such games in the lineup since 2004. My first thought was “somebody keeps track of that?” My second thought was “nah, no way!” I grew up watching Buddy Harrelson and Wayne Garrett start practically every game at short and third for like eight years. No way they didn't play like a thousand games together!
Of course the Mets were always acquiring somebody to take Wayne's place: Foy, Aspromonte, Fregosi, Torre. And Buddy always did seem to be on the disabled list. But still, c'mon! Buddy at short. Wayne at third. They formed a combination that was as much a staple of my childhood as canned ravioli and Chinese noodles.
Buddy and Wayne, fewer than 400 games together? Impossible. And even more impossible? Learning that Jose and David weren't breaking their record, but that of Kevin Elster and Howard Johnson. Elster and Johnson? For some reason, they wouldn't have even occurred to me as being in the top three — what about Rey-Rey and Fonzie? They were broken up on the left side by the arrival of Ventura, but they had to be second, right? Reyes and Wright have a long way to go. I'm sure of it.
Don't be so sure. I did a little digging and discovered that Ordoñez and Alfonzo played only 350 games together as shortstop and third baseman. Elster and HoJo outpaced them by 44 games for the then-record 394. And my boys of every summer I could remember between 1969 and 1976, Bud Harrelson and Red Garrett?
Only 387 games started as shortstop and third base in tandem. Only 44 games in 1969. Only 77 games in the nearly as magical season of 1973. Only six games together in 1975. Never as many as half the games in any one season. Buddy Harrelson and Wayne Garrett, for all my perceptions of them as the eternal left side of the infield of my youth, did not play side by side at their trademark positions all that much.
So some perceptions crumble in the face of statistics. Others, like last night's twin reminder that Guillermo Mota and Armando Benitez always blow games, are probably immune to numbers. I could show you boxscores from 2006 wherein Mota was a positive difference-maker for the Mets and I could easily point to stretches from 1999 to 2003 when Benitez was as effective as any reliever in the sport. You, like I, wouldn't care at this point. We know they suck. We don't need confirmation that they don't. It's not going to change our minds.
Which brings me to one of the bête noires of my life as a fan: Jerry Martin.
Not J.C. Martin whose magical wrist stuck out from the baseline just enough to clinch Game Four against the Orioles. Not Billy Martin who looked so sad despite have just won the 1977 World Series (though maybe that was an actor with fake ears). This was Jerry Martin, a player for whom the term “nondescript” was conceived.
Jerry Martin played the outfield in the major leagues between 1974 and 1984 for five different clubs, including the Phillies' perennial division champs of the late '70s. He was a fourth outfielder for them, a starter with decent power on some bad Cubs clubs thereafter. He was of no interest to me whatsoever until his surfaced surprisingly on the Mets in the middle of May 1984.
It was a surprise to me, anyway. That was the year things were going so well while I was so far away from the Mets. I was at school in Tampa until mid-July. Not nearly as on top of the Tidewater Shuttle as I would have liked to have been, I didn't notice we had brought Martin in during Spring Training (even though I was close to Spring Training by being in Tampa). I must have missed his signing in the Transactions agate of The Sporting News the week in March that it happened. But I've generally given the benefit of the doubt to fringe players I've at least heard of, so if Jerry Martin was going to come to the Mets and help us continue our surprise run at first place, well, good luck to him, good luck to us.
'Cause we'd need it.
In short order, Jerry Martin would become my bane. You know the way you see Mota or saw Benitez and you groan or groaned a thousand groans? That was me and Martin — at least that's how I remember it. If Jerry Martin was batting, a popup was sure to follow. Jerry Martin plate appearances were where rallies went to die.
Having emerged from the dark ages of 1977-1983, you'd think there must have been dozens of Mets like that. I suppose there were, but how were you going to tell them apart? When you suck en masse, you don't stand out. When you suck alone, you're sucking for everyone to see.
Jerry Martin really sucked. Amid the promise of Strawberry and the incandescence of Hernandez and the otherworldliness of Gooden and all the spit and vinegar provided by Darling and Backman and Wilson and Orosco and pre-deterioration Doug Sisk, Jerry Martin was the sorest of thumbs on the glorious hand of the 1984 Mets. When we were holding first place, it didn't matter all that much. When it was slipping from our grip, I decided it was all Jerry Martin's fault.
Ryne Sandberg's, too, a little, but mostly Jerry Martin.
Jerry Martin wasn't Bob Bailor, my favorite post-Teddy Martinez, pre-Joe McEwing utilityman. Bailor went with Carlos Diaz to the Dodgers for El Sid and Ross Jones. People will tell you the Mets stole Sid Fernandez. I say it was equal value. Had Bailor remained on the '84 Mets, there would have been no Jerry Martin, there would have been no devastation by the Cubs, there would have been Miracle on 126th St., Part II. I can't prove it, I just know it.
Jerry Martin was Davey Johnson's old teammate. His old drinking buddy, I assumed. If Jerry and Davey hadn't been pals in Philly, why would have we signed him, why would have we given so many opportunities to screw us over? I can't prove it, I just know it as well.
I can prove this, however: Jerry Martin was completely unproductive. Completely. Well, not completely completely, because the record indicates Jerry Martin hit three home runs as a 1984 Met and in those three games, the Mets were 3-0.
The rest of the time? In the wake of last night's Mota show (we used to call such things horror shows but that was deemed redundant), I was drawn into a discussion of which Mets have driven you crazy just by their mere sight. The easy answer to such an exercise is always Mel Rojas, which seems both accurate and just a little cruel given that Rojas' awfulness has been cited so frequently that it's practically in tatters; I think Mota is here just so we'll have a different setup man to instantly put down. Somebody else then brought up Jerry Martin and I got rallykilling chills up and down my spine all over again.
But, y'know, I was so sure that Buddy Harrelson and Wayne Garrett played together at short and third so much, it seemed only fair to look up whether Jerry Martin was as bad as I remembered.
So I did. And he was.
According to the indispensable Baseball-Reference.com, Jerry Martin in 1984:
• went 3 for 24 with two walks, 13 strikeouts and two double plays grounded into as a pinch-hitter;
• went 2 for 23 with two walks, seven strikeouts and three double plays grounded into with runners in scoring position;
• and went 1 for 19 in “late & close” situations, walking twice, striking out eight times and grounding into three double plays in the seventh inning later with the Mets tied, up by one or the tying run at least on deck.
Presumably some of these plate appearances came as a pinch-hitter with runners on base in late & close situations, so there's bound to be some repetition in the futility, but that's all right. With Jerry Martin in 1984, I was pretty sure there was nothing but repetition and futility. And now I'm certain.
I've also been reminded that Jerry Martin was part of the group of Kansas City Royals who went through the ignominy of being outed as drug users in 1983, actually doing time for trying to buy coke. I'd completely forgotten that, and perhaps there is something to be said for an old friend, in this case Davey Johnson, giving another old friend a break (his last chance in the bigs, it would turn out). And I'm by no means suggesting that Jerry Martin was a bad person or is a bad person. I don't know what kind of person he is in 2007. I do know he was an immensely ineffective New York Met in 1984 — 3-5-.154 — right at the moment when we needed optimal effectiveness to succeed to our fullest blossoming potential. Amid a franchise whose history is chock full of immense ineffectiveness, he really stands out for that.
That said, he could probably hit Mota's fastball.