For me, it was Amos Otis. When I was coming to full baseball consciousness in 1970, I was aware the Kansas City Royals had a promising young centerfielder named Amos Otis. He was an American League All-Star with speed, very highly regarded. That much I knew. What I didn’t pick up on immediately was that he was once a New York Met.
Amos Otis was on the Mets? We had Amos Otis? What the hell? Why don’t we have him anymore?
I was seven years old when Amos Otis became prominent. I was six years old when Amos Otis didn’t captivate Gil Hodges in brief tryouts in center, left and at third. I wasn’t yet tuned into the Hot Stove frequency in the winter of ’69-’70, so though I remember learning we had traded for Joe Foy (an easy to recognize name from his baseball card), I didn’t know we gave up somebody to get him.
We gave up somebody. We gave up Amos Otis (and Bob Johnson). We gave up a future five-time All-Star, a future three-time Gold Glove winner, a future stolen bases champ, a future stalwart for a team that blossomed into a divisional dynasty and pennant winner.
We gained Joe Foy, who spent one troubled season as a Met and was out of baseball by 1971. In the greater narrative of Metsdom, we gained Exhibit B for one of our longest running storylines. You know how it goes. You may have even helped spread its word yourself:
“The Mets suck at trades! They traded Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi! [Pause] They traded Amos Otis for Joe Foy!”
Ryan for Fregosi elbowed aside Otis for Foy, but it’s always there, the second example of the Mets sucking at trades for all time, at least among those of us old enough to remember how good Otis turned out. In more recent years, other examples of the Mets being taken have developed Otis-for-Foy if not quite Ryan-for-Fregosi currency. Kazmir for Zambrano, for example, came up in this site’s comments section only three days ago. That’s probably pre-empted Otis for Foy, which is understandable since Amos Otis hasn’t played since 1984 and Scott Kazmir helped pitch the Rays into the World Series last October.
The segment of Mets fans who came of age with Kazmir lurking in their subconscious may never drop that example as Exhibit B, just as my generation will always have Otis. (We’ll all always have Ryan as Exhibit A; that trade transcends demographics in its Amazin’ awfulness.) And, I suppose, some Mets fans will always point to the Jeff Kent trade in the same context.
Jeff Kent has retired. Jeff Kent used to be a Met. Did you need a reminder? I kind of do.
It’s not that I don’t remember Jeff Kent being a Met. He was here for parts of five seasons, arriving in controversy — with Ryan Thompson for David Cone — and leaving amid hosannas — with Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. The hosannas were for ridding Shea Stadium of Jeff Kent.
There was a stretch there, roughly from the middle of the ’93 season to the middle of the ’94 season, when Jeff Kent was probably the hardest-hitting second baseman in the National League, Craig Biggio included. He won Player of the Week honors a couple of times. He drove in more runs in a season than any keystone sacker in Met history pre-Alfonzo. I remember a “KENT’S KIDS” banner appearing regularly in the bleachers, evidence that Jeff was buying seats for those who couldn’t buy their own. Jeff Kent did some good stuff as a Met.
Yet he was not popular. Maybe it was giving up Cone, which was a surprise and an affront. Kent didn’t roar from the gate, but he did roar at his teammates, particularly when they pulled the insipid rookie hazing bit on him late in 1992. There was nothing warm or fuzzy about him. As Marty Noble recalls in his singular Marty Noble institutional memory way…
Kent always stood out. Sometimes, he stood alone; he wasn’t the most popular figure in the Mets’ clubhouse. He always stood straight — as in rigid. Of all the adjectives that applied to him, then — and since — unyielding is the most apropos.
Noble compares Kent to John Stearns (who managed Kent in the Blue Jay system, which I never knew ’til Marty mentioned it), neither of them suffering losing gladly, both of them unfazed by confrontation. Yet Stearns was relatively beloved by Mets fans and Kent was regularly booed. Stearns was invited back on Closing Day. Kent was busy being a Dodger, but I feel fairly certain the Mets are never inviting Jeff Kent back for as much as a cocktail. It’s as if Jeff Kent, as good a Met as the Mets had for a while, left no footprints as a Met.
That’s why I bring up Amos Otis. As I said, I had no idea Amos Otis had been a Met when I first learned who he was, even if it had been less than a year since that’s exactly what Otis was. Jeff Kent hasn’t been a Met since 1996. Though the record and my memory know better, it almost seems like he never was.
Jeff Kent was on the Mets? We had Jeff Kent? What the hell? Why don’t we have him anymore?
When Kent went to Cleveland and struggled while Baerga — then only recently and we hoped just temporarily fallen from All-Star grace — became a Met and struggled, the trade didn’t seem so bad. Baerga became moderately useful in 1997 and 1998. Jeff Kent became a Giant, then a star. The trade got worse. Baerga left the Mets after ’98. Kent kept getting better, producing a ton of runs in the company of his buddy Barry Bonds, peaking with the MVP in 2000 and garnering very real Cooperstown credentials. For a spell, Jeff Kent was the West Coast office of Chipper Jones whenever he showed up at Shea. Then the reaction grew fainter. Eventually there were others (usually in home togs) at whom to spew venom. By 2008, Jeff Kent wasn’t noticed much more at Shea than any other Dodger and he wasn’t vilified with any great fury.
Was Jeff Kent ever a Met? Sure, five seasons’ worth. But he has otherwise dropped from the narrative. Kent played for the Mets when being one of the best Mets or, for that matter, being one of the least liked Mets didn’t add up to much. When the Mets gathered their alumni on September 28, the early Mets were represented; the ’69/’73 Mets were out in full force; the Stearnsish Mets took a bow; the ’86 Mets were everywhere; the near-great Millennium Mets looked ready to go. The only period, besides the current one, that went almost completely unintroduced after the final game at Shea was that which followed the Davey Johnson era and preceded the Bobby Valentine era. Except for some who overlapped one era or the other, the only player on hand with deep roots in the dark days in between Johnson and Valentine was John Franco, and Franco was surely there for being a teammate of Piazza, Ventura and Leiter.
Jeff Kent was a teammate of Kelly Stinnett, Bobby Bonilla and Jason Jacome. Jeff Kent played for Jeff Torborg and Dallas Green. Jeff Kent made his Met bones during an era for which few pine. Well, nobody pines for the results of 1977-1983 or, I would guess, 1962-1968, but those are days that have acquired a hazy halo of nostalgia. I can’t speak for younger fans who came of age with Jeff Kent’s Mets, but his teams were probably the most unlikable of the Met epoch. They made too much money to be cute. They let down too many people to be forgiven. Too many of them were too hateful to be let off as lovable losers.
Maybe that’s why Jeff Kent, despite parts of five seasons spent honing a Hall of Fame future, doesn’t resonate as a Met. That, his itinerant post-Met wanderings (four clubs) and it’s been a while.
Which leaves us with Jeff Kent’s sole Met legacy, which has now expired.
Jeff Kent, as documented here, was the reigning LAMSA. Starting on July 1, 2005, once John Franco tossed his last bit of slop, Jeff Kent became the Longest Ago Met Still Active. For better than three seasons, Kent was the sole remaining 1992 Met and 1993 Met. Once Stinnett failed to suit up in the bigs in 2008, he became the only extant 1994 Met. Now, with Kent retired, who gets the honor?
Good question. It is not yet clear.
If you’ve become as addicted to the MLB Network as I have, you watch the Baseline, MLBN’s constant crawl of baseball news, which includes a list of free agents who remain unsigned. The LAMSA answer may lie on the Baseline. One of those many veterans without a job thus far is Jason Isringhausen. Izzy — whose Generation K pedigree preserves his spot in club history, or at least trivia — came up to the big club on July 17, 1995. It was actually a huge deal when he did. Izzy, in conjunction with Pulse (surely you remember Pulse!), was going to lead the Jeff Kent Mets out of the desert. It looked good for a while, Izzy going 9-2 in ’95. It never looked that good again. Isringhausen was injured, struggled quite a bit and was packed off to Oakland with Greg McMichael in the heat of the 1999 pennant race for Billy Taylor, a.k.a. the Joe Foy of relievers.
Anyway, Izzy (almost assuredly Last Met Standing from 1997, FYI) becomes the LAMSA once he’s signed and takes the ball in a major league game in 2009…unless he doesn’t sign and take a ball. And then?
Well, maybe there’s Paul Byrd — he, Kent and Isringhausen were also the only ’96 Mets in the majors in ’08. He’s a voluntary maybe, however. Byrd, acquired in the not altogether awful Jeromy Burnitz deal with Dave Mlicki and Jerry DiPoto, followed Isringhausen to the Mets by eleven days. He didn’t stay a Met long, sent to Atlanta after 1996 for McMichael. Not a good deal, if not exactly the stuff of Amos Otis. Greg McMichael was an unremarkable Met and hasn’t pitched since 2000. Byrd is semi-active. He hasn’t retired, but he isn’t planning to play until mid-season, announcing a desire to sit it out for a few months and then see if he can hook on with a contender. It’s a little Clemensish (which these days may be a little too much for anybody), but good luck, Paul, if you can pull it off.
And if you can’t? If Byrd sits for good and Izzy’s still out? Our Japan-based friend Al from New Zealand recently brought to my attention that the Ninth-Greatest Met of the First Forty Years is trying out with the Yomuiri Giants. Edgardo Alfonzo is still, somehow, listed as 35 years old. Granted, players don’t seem to come back from Japan to get another shot in America late in their careers — and being a Long Island Duck didn’t seem to do much for his salability — but it’s worth noting that Edgardo Alfonzo made his major league debut on April 26, 1995 and he’ll be swinging a bat in somebody’s camp somewhere in this world pretty soon. (No, I never do give up the dream.)
Let’s say the 1995 Mets, who finished a respectable 69-75 after a miserable 35-57 start, are truly done. Then who gets the nod? Who’s the LAMSA? According to my calculations, we’d be up to 1998, and the only 1998 Met still on the scene is Jay Payton. But Payton is in the same soft-market free agent boat as Isringhuasen, flitting across MLBN’s Baseline without a reported nibble. If it ain’t Payton, we move then to that most fabled of seasons, 1999.
The only two freshman ’99 Mets who seem assured of roster spots in ’09 are Melvin Mora of the Orioles and Octavio Dotel of the White Sox, though Vance Wilson signed a minor league contract with the Royals. Vance hasn’t played in the bigs since 2006, but let’s not forget that catchers are only as obsolete as they and their health choose to be. Stinnett kept extending his career. Alberto Castillo kept extending his career. Stearns could still be catching if he really wanted to. Keep an eye on Vance, injury-plagued as he’s been; he became a Met for the first time on April 24, 1999, ahead of the sainted Mora (5/30/99) and Dotel (6/26/99).
Two others among destiny’s almost darlings are also floating around out there. Kenny Rogers is one of the Baseline crowd, but at 44, it’s probably over for him; Jim Leyland isn’t expecting him back in Detroit, and if he’s not a Tiger, Rogers probably won’t be anything. Besides, with a July 28, 1999 start date, Wilson, Mora and Dotel would have Kenny beat.
The same, however, can’t be said of an even more infamous ’99 Met…if you take long-term reputation into account. Armando Benitez made his Metropolitan debut on April 7, 1999, seventeen days before Vance Wilson. His last pitch for anybody major, the Blue Jays, came on June 6, 2008. Though designated for assignment immediately thereafter, he may very well be out there somewhere, lurking in a bush, prepared to wreak havoc on any team that would have him. Never let your guard down where Armando Benitez is concerned.
That said, with Kent retired, Byrd sort of retired, Alfonzo half a world away and implausible to everybody but me, Wilson forever rehabbing in the minors, Benitez moved to an undisclosed location and Isringhausen and Payton doing free agent limbo, Melvin Mora looms as the surest thing to be Longest Ago Met Still Active once 2009 gets underway.
Which is insane since I’m pretty sure Melvin Mora just got here. Then again, it was only a few minutes ago that Jeff Kent did. And it was only an hour before that when I was watching Amos Otis in the 1970 All-Star Game, the winning run of which was driven home by the Cubs’ Jim Hickman, who used to be a Met.
Which, as with Otis, I didn’t know at the time.
If this wasn’t enough backwards-glancing for you, be patient. Flashback Friday is likely to return to this space in one week.