I'm all for the myths and carrots that keep us going as fans in discouraging years. We deserve ideals and distractions after giving our all to a team that has given us far less than planned, projected or promised. We're the ones who invest our hopes and dreams and keep investing despite no sight of tangible payoff. Give us at least the spare change of change, right?
When the Mets have a 2009, and it's overstocked with Everyone Must Go veterans, the inclination is to approach September by calling for kids. Bring up who isn't here, bring 'em up so we can have something to anticipate. Let's at least give them a look so we can see what they can do!
Sure, why not? I'm as tired as anybody of seeing everybody we've already seen, almost none of whom has accomplished anything but get run over by stiffer, healthier competition in other uniforms. As evidenced by my five-pitch love affair with Andy Green, I'm all for testing the untested.
But let's not kid ourselves about kids. We're almost assuredly not going to see or learn anything that indicates anything about the future. It's a myth to believe someone's gonna come up here and give a clear indication about a potential role for 2010, that someone will distinguish himself and help management make clearheaded decisions about the roster realignment that lies ahead.
Nothing of a sort has happened here in ages.
Two current Mets put this reality into perspective for me, one by way of a sizzling Diamondback. When the Mets visited Arizona, we were dazzled by Trent Oeltjen, the Aussie who lashed every pitch he saw from Phoenix to Sydney. On the night he went 4-for-4 and landed on first next to a sullen, slumping Daniel Murphy, Gary and Ron noted the difference in their demeanors. Here was a kid who couldn't stop hitting or smiling standing next to a kid who could do neither.
One year earlier, I realized, that was Daniel Murphy standing on first, barely containing his glee. Jerry Manuel stuck him in the lineup and he hit. Then he hit some more. He was a sensation along the lines of Michael Phelps, except Daniel Murphy was going to win a gold medal every day for the rest of his life. After thirty big league at-bats, he was hitting .467, and we could pencil him into play…what was his position again? Didn't matter. He was Daniel Murphy. He had arrived.
Some modestly encouraging momentary sightings notwithstanding, he's been pretty much lost ever since.
We can't blame Daniel Murphy for not maintaining that .467 average (even golden boy Phelps has slumped in 2009), but Murph looms primarily as a cautionary tale against taking seriously what you see from youngsters who debut and impress in August and September. He wasn't the first, he won't be the last. The Mets, however, tend to put a lot of stock into what little good news they get out of callups this time of year. They saw a few dozen great at-bats out of Daniel Murphy, a few dozen more pretty good ones and he was on his way to being their regular leftfielder. How did that work out?
The Grand Central Parkway's jammed with broken heroes on a first-chance power drive: Mike Vail, Gregg Jefferies, Victor Diaz. They showed up late one season and they were penciled in as sure things early for next season. How did those work out? This is not to pick on phenoms for picking on phenoms' sake. If baseball were so easy, you could just dump a satchel of rookie cards on the field and watch them increase in value (if they did that anymore). But that's the point: It's not that easy. We saw spectacular things out of Vail in 1975 and Jefferies in 1988 and Diaz in 2004 and, for that matter, Murphy in 2008. Their respective 1976s, 1989s, 2005s and 2009s reminds us this time of year can be a mirage.
One of Murphy's current teammates, meanwhile, reminds us that the youngsters we're dying to see weren't being hidden away in Triple-A just to deprive us of their talents. Four Septembers ago, this blog was hankering for a sneak preview of Anderson Hernandez. Second base was a particularly black hole in 2005 — Kaz Matsui to Miguel Cairo to Marlon Anderson with a dash of Jose Offerman. What would be the harm of bringing up the kid Hernandez?
None. None at all. He came up. He flashed some leather. He didn't hit until his very last at-bat, the last hit the Mets collected as a team in 2005. Their second-to-last hit was recorded by Mike Jacobs, the Mets' late-season installation at first base, which had long since gone abandoned by the likes of Doug Mientkiewicz. I recall getting a little tingle in mid-September when we sent out our first all-1980s-born infield: Jacobs, Hernandez, Reyes, Wright. We were seeing the future develop right before our eyes.
Then we weren't. For better or worse (I'd say better), Mike Jacobs was traded for Carlos Delgado. Anderson Hernandez inherited second base in 2006 when Kaz made himself characteristically unavailable, but then Anderson — still fielding beautifully, still barely hitting — went out with a bad back and his starting days were over. Jose Valentin, the last great good surprise to happen to the Mets, took over second and Hernandez's best days were behind him. He was yo-yo'd a bit between New York and New Orleans in '07, he became a National in '08 and now he's a stopgap Met.
Could we know that in September 2005? No. Should we have worried about that? Not really. But can we suspect that every time we holler that we need to see fresh meat on the Shea/Citi grill that it's probably not going to come out well done? We can, but why ruin the surprise?
Who was the last Met to come up this time of year, make a positive impression and follow it up with a quality full first year and contribute to the Met cause over a tangible stretch of time? Maybe it's Murphy, though you could debate how much quality can be inferred from an OPS under .700 and seven homers at a so-called power position.
If we don't say it's Murphy, then we're at a loss. In the last few seasons there haven't been many opportunities for youngsters to break through on a contending team, but there's been no hint of help besides Murphy, Jacobs and Hernandez, at least among position players.
Pitchingwise, we got a taste of Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell last September, but not enough to definitively whet many appetites, though you have to credit Parnell for being a survivor to this point. In 2007, there were Willie Collazo and Carlos Muñiz, whom I still confuse for Carlos Muñiz and Willie Collazo. In 2006, there was Philip Humber, before he was thrown to the wolves (or at least the Nationals). In 2005, there was Tim Hamulack, not really a youngster, but not much of a pitcher either, as it would turn out.
Joe Hietpas had one legendary half-inning at the tailest end of 2004 (if you're not picky about what becomes a semi-legend most). Craig Brazell had his moment in the sun, finishing what Victor Diaz started in spoiling the Cubs' Wild Card run, but nothing more. Jeff Keppinger got an injury-assisted audition but had to go elsewhere to become a successful journeyman. And Heath Bell had yet to pitch his way into anybody's heart.
Earlier in this decade, there were Prentice Redman and Jason Anderson and Danny Garcia and Orber Moreno and Matt Watson, all of whom failed to last into later this decade. There was Mike Glavine, too, but not really. If the Class of August/September 2003 didn't do it for you, it wasn't because their predecessors from latter 2002 set the bar impossibly high: Raul Gonzalez, Esix Snead (his Brazellian moment as a walkoff wonder notwithstanding), Jason Middlebrook, Pat Strange and the first incarnation of Pedro Feliciano failed to change the paradigm. A whisper of Jason Phillips in 2001 was notable mostly for the Shea scoreboard operator celebrating his first major league hit by crediting it to Vance Wilson. Phillips would keep it on the down low for a while from there.
The last September Met to make an impression and stick for something resembling the long term before Murphy was Timo Perez. Perez had his stops and starts in the fall of 2000 (ahem) but he revved up long enough not only to star in two postseason series but to more or less secure an unassailable roster spot in 2001 — through mid-July anyway. It's more than could be said for Jerrod Riggan or Jorge Velandia.
No, the 2000s haven't been distinguished by their late-season callups. I don't know how different that makes these past ten years from any other period in Mets history. Occasionally you see something and it's not a mirage. Hubie Brooks hit .309 in September 1980 and, despite Joe Torre's recalcitrance, won the third base job in 1981 and registered a .307 average. Mookie Wilson struggled a bit alongside Hubie (.248), but he showed enough to stick from the day he came up. Dave Magadan's heroic cameo in 1986 (.444 in ten games, most notably three hits in the division clincher) earned him face time in 1987 — .318 behind Keith Hernandez and Howard Johnson. So there are some success stories where calling up young Mets late in the year is concerned.
It's just that they're very old.
Should that stop us from clamoring for new blood? Not at all. Clamor away. Scan the Buffalo and Binghamton rosters and choose your cause. Declare the Mets are not making the most of September unless they give some kid you've never seen but have heard good things about a shot. It's not like he can let you down any more than anybody who's already here has.
AMAZIN' TUESDAY returns to Two Boots Tavern August 25 at 7:00 PM. Join Jason Fry, Dana Brand, Caryn Rose and me for a fun night of reading, eating, drinking and all things Mets baseball (Mets baseball optional). Full details here.