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Welcome, THB Class of 2007

Welcome to the third annual [1] rundown [2] of players who made their Met debuts in the now-completed season, brought to you by baseball cards and obsessiveness.

A brief review, that the initiated can skip (provided they haven’t skedaddled already): I have a pair of binders, dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re ordered by year, with a card for each player who made his Met debut that year: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Jose Reyes is Class of ’03, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, including managers, and for the 1961 Expansion Draft, with the latter including the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for nor managed the Mets.

When a player has a Topps card as a Met, I use that unless it’s truly horrible — Topps has been around a decade longer than the Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Met Topps card? Then I look for a Tides card, a non-Topps Met card (Upper Deck has a soft spot for roster-fillers, which is good for THB), a Topps non-Met card, or anything.

Topps had a baseball-card monopoly until 1981, and minor-league cards only really began in the mid-1970s, so cup-of-coffee guys from before ’75 or so are a problem. Companies like TCMA and Renata Galasso made odd sets with players from the 1960s — the likes of Jim Bethke, Bob Moorhead and Dave Eilers are immortalized through their efforts. And a card dealer named Larry Fritsch put out sets of “One Year Winners” spotlighting blink-and-you-missed-them guys such as Ted Schreiber and Joe Moock.

Then there are the legendary Lost Nine — guys who never got a regulation-sized, acceptable card from anybody. (Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card that looks like a bad Xerox. Leon Brown has a terrible 1975 minor-league card and an oversized Omaha Royals card put out as a promotional set by the police department. Tommy Moore got a 1990 Senior League card as a 42-year-old with the Bradenton Explorers.Then there are Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig, who have no cards whatsoever — the oddball 1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz set is too undersized to work. Best as I can tell, Al Schmelz never even had a decent color photograph taken while wearing his Met uniform. (I’ve stopped writing him to ask about it, for fear he’ll have a restraining order slapped on me.) Anyway, the Lost Nine are represented in THB by fake cards Photoshopped together out of scrounged yearbook photos.

I’m not too worried about a 10th Lost Met — today it’s rare to sign a pro contract and not wind up on a card somewhere. In fact, the THB Class of 2007 has only one player not pictured in the uniform of the Mets or a minor-league affiliate. During the season I scrutinize new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met. At season’s end, the new guys get added to the binders, to be studied now and then until February. When it’s time to pull old Topps cards of the spring-training invitees and start the cycle again.

The Topps Updates and Highlights set arrived today, so it’s time to unveil the Class of 2007, in order of matriculation (follow along with the giant photo [3] if you wish)….

Moises Alou — With Alou a free-agent signee, Topps had plenty of time to Photoshop him into Met togs. The Topps 2007 cards are black, resembling upside-down 1986s, which in turn looked like 1971s, which led me to recall just how horrific cards of new acquisitions were before desktop publishing. A 1971 Felipe Alou Met card would have either featured a hatless head shot or an A’s cap painted over in semi-Met colors, vaguely atop Felipe’s head. Moises’ 2007 card has his Giants uniform transformed into a very good likeness of a Mets away uni, with convincing angles and color tweaks and everything. I’d predict Moises’ 2008 Topps card will feature a real shot of him in a Met uniform, but that presupposes Topps’ photography schedule coincided with one of Moises’ escapes from the DL. (No, I’m not optimistic about Moises staying on the field in ’08. Why do you ask?)

Joe Smith — At various points in the year Smith looked determined, cocky, coolly reliable, frightened and exhausted. His ’07 card — a Port St. Lucie shot where he’s wearing No. 70 — captures him in one of his cocky phases. Here’s hoping for more of those.

David Newhan — When the Mets shaved their heads in San Francisco Newhan protested mightily, wailing that “I’ve got the best hair in the National League.” He might have been right — and his Upper Deck card shows off some stylish eyeblack application as well. Let the record show that I waited all year for Newhan to have a moment where he was mobbed at one base or another for being the hero. Shucks.

Scott Schoeneweis — Annoyingly, his lone card is a horizontal from Upper Deck. Horizontal cards suck, and they really suck when they’re the best-available THB option. (See also: Pat Mahomes, Tony Phillips, Manny Alexander and too many others.) You could argue this makes a twisted kind of sense, since Willie didn’t deploy Schoeneweis correctly either. The good news is that since Schoeneweis is signed until the sun goes dark, he might get a better card. The bad news is that Schoeneweis is signed until the sun goes dark.

Ambiorix Burgos — Got a good Mets card out of a 55-card “gift set” Topps released last month. (A Met Gift Set! Everyone will want this come October! I mean, what could go wrong?) He looks heavy and like he’d rather be somewhere else, though that somewhere else probably didn’t include recovering from Tommy John surgery. I feel compelled to state at this juncture that I never thought Brian Bannister would amount to anything.

Aaron Sele — Anonymous Met gets anonymous Upper Deck card in spring-training motley. Those orange armpit accents have really got to go.

Damion Easley — A Topps card for a Met who was a nice surprise until he broke an ankle. The Jose Valentin of 2007. Glad to know he’ll be back; hope he’ll be platooning at second with Ruben Gotay.

Chan Ho Park — Somehow got a Series 2 Topps card. Emily and I had the distinct pleasure of seeing all four innings of Chan Ho’s lone game for the 2007 Mets. Emily and I also recently had the pleasure of cleaning up broken glass from our kitchen floor. At least there isn’t a baseball card that will remind me of cleaning up broken glass for the rest of my life. (Except now that I’ve written this, there is such a card. This is also Chan Ho Park’s fault.)

Ruben Gotay — Brought admirable energy, impressive pop and better-than-expected defense to second base before getting shoved aside by Luis Castillo, who has negligible power and whose defense is overrated. A not-bad card from Topps Updates. Hope he gets a shot at another one, but I’m not optimistic.

Jorge Sosa — Showed enough to keep you hoping. Wore No. 29 and removed some of the stink of Trachselness from it with an up-and-down campaign. Pretty good Topps Gift Set card showing him in full stretch on the mound, about to release the ball. Stupid Trachsel.

Lino Urdaneta — Famously recorded an ERA of infinity with the 2004 Tigers. Less famously recorded an ERA of 9.00 with the 2007 Mets. Progress can depend on one’s baseline, I suppose. Represented by a Zephyr card.

Carlos Gomez — Plucky young outfielder was a Rorschach test for Met fans in 2007, with your opinion of Gomez clearly indicating where you stand on the Youthful Potential vs. Veteran Experience meter. Missed a good chunk of the season with a broken hamate bone [4], a badly designed part of the hand whose sole purpose is to sideline athletes. Offers a million-watt smile in the Topps Gift Set.

Jason Vargas — Pitched indifferently in brief audition, but might still be worth a look. Zephyr card.

Ben Johnson — Injured for big chunks of the year at New Orleans, did next to nothing at Shea except be muttered about by Met fans claiming they had too seen something in Royce Ring and Heath Bell. Poorly lit Zephyr card, not that that’s much of an injustice.

Sandy Alomar Jr. — Not a vile, excuse-making quitter, which is how you can tell him apart from his brother. Retired after a sometimes spectacular, ultimately admirable career. Zephyr card on which he looks old, a bit perturbed but ultimately philosophical.

Chip Ambres — One magic moment against the Dodgers. Doubtful he’ll see another, but years from now his name will make Met fans furrow their brows before saying “Oh yeah!” and smile. And you know what? That’s pretty cool. Zephyr card.

Jon Adkins — I have no idea who this is. Pitched one inning for the Mets, which I guess I missed. Needless to say, a Zephyr.

Luis Castillo — Punchless hitter with diminishing range and bad knees. The epitome of a No. 2 hitter — if it were still 1975. Probably returning to a falling-apart stadium near you to do the same. Nothing personal, Luis, but no, I do not approve. Topps Update card.

Brian Lawrence — Shouldn’t have been out there in September, so not really fair to blame him for it. Represented in THB by a Zephyr card in which he is hatless and quizzical during the national anthem. (So make that hatless, quizzical and patriotic.) By the way, at the beginning of last year I took Mike Pelfrey for my fantasy team. I knew he was raw but figured what the heck, he was the No. 5 starter on the best team in the National League, so he’d get some wins just by showing up. He didn’t. Soon after that I picked up Brian Lawrence, because … well, you know. Ow, this stove is hot! Ow, this stove is hot! Ow, this stove is hot!

Jeff Conine — He sure looked like the final piece, what with his leathery-gunslinger aspect, the pinch-hitting resume and all those rings. Hit .195 as a Met and retired. 2007 Topps card in which he’s a Phillie Photoshopped into a Red.

Willie Collazo — Vaguely heralded reliever got the call-up when it became apparent the bullpen was suffering a collective nervous breakdown. He’s 28, but he’s also a lefty who strikes people out. Might escape his Zephyr card yet. Might also never be heard from again.

Carlos Muniz — Surprise call-up from Double-A in the last week of the season, forcing me to go out and buy a Binghamton Mets team set. (Price of being OCD: $8 plus shipping. In this case.)