People who think computers play baseball will say the Angels are down 2 games to 1. But computers don’t play baseball. And when you have a teammate like Derek Jeter, and you see the way he goes about his business and how calm he is after a game like that, it’s like you’ve won. So the computers may say the Angels are down just one game, but if you’re in the Yankee clubhouse you feel like you just won two games. That’s the kind of player Derek Jete —
I’m sorry, I came down here and Joe Morgan was futzing around with my computer. (Who even knew he could type?) Joe, you can see yourself out. We’re not here to talk about whatever the heck just happened involving an evil team in a league that doesn’t play real baseball. No, we’re here for the 5th annual admission of a new class of Mets into The Holy Books.
Brief review for newcomers and the similarly obsessive: 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. (Previous annals here, here, here and here.)
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 Bisons card, a non-Topps Met card, a Topps non-Met card, or anything I can get my hands on. 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 I can tell, Al Schmelz never even had a decent color photograph taken while wearing his Met uniform. (I’ve stopped writing to him in search of one for fear that he’ll call the authorities on me.) Anyway, the Lost Nine are represented in THB by fake cards I Photoshopped together.
A 10th Lost Met seems unlikely — today it’s rare to sign a pro contract and not wind up on a card somewhere. (Though next year Topps will be the only company allowed to use team logos on its cards, leaving Upper Deck to produce products that I fear will look something like the “cards” we used to cut off the back of Hostess boxes.) 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.
Anway, time to meet the Class of 2009: the many, the less than proud, the submarines. If we see more than a few of them next year something will have gone badly wrong. Again.
Here they are, in order of matriculation (group photo here):
Sean Green — Green arrived in New York via a trade that sent away the beloved Endy Chavez, and bearing the same name as Shawn Green, the briefly inspiring but mostly dreary rightfielder I nicknamed “One Hop” for his apparent inability to catch anything hit more than three feet in front of him. Neither of these associations was his fault. What was his fault was that he spent long stretches of the year pitching like Aaron Heilman, down to biting his lip with a glum expression that all but shouted, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again.” (And why take that number, Sean? Why?) That said, there’s no particular reason not to bring Green back: Middle relievers tend to yo-yo around a median of competence, and no Met pitcher should be judged without an acknowledgment that they played with stone-handed infielders and a stupid manager. But just thinking about Green uncorking a wild pitch and looking like a kicked dog makes me want to throw something.
J.J. Putz — Arrived with a history of elbow problems, departed with his season cut short due to elbow surgery. Shocking. The Mets will have 10 days after the World Series to either pay Putz $8.6 million for 2010 or to buy out his option for $1 million. This would seem like a no-brainer, but Putz will undoubtedly work super-hard in the offseason, want to prove something to his teammates, bring a veteran presence to the bullpen, and so on. Ow, this stove is hot! Ow, this stove is hot! Ow, this stove is hot! Ow….
Francisco Rodriguez — Lived up to the ignominous history of recent Mets closers by being quietly terrible. Remember when he walked freaking Mariano Rivera with the bases loaded? The first time he gave up a walk-off grand slam to a player who had no business hitting one? How about the second time he did that?
Jeremy Reed — About as close to anonymous as you can possibly be for a player who stayed on a big-league roster for an entire season.
Alex Cora — Cora is one of those guys whose attitude and work habits you wish you could bottle — a smart, wise, tough player who made everyone around him better. Unfortunately, since everyone around him was terrible, the best Cora could do was make them merely bad — an adjective that statistically one would have to apply to Cora himself, however reluctantly. The man played a good chunk of the year with busted ligaments in both thumbs, and that should be applauded. But he’s the kind of guy you desperately wish your team would bring back as a coach, while dreading that a two-year contract is in the offing instead.
Darren O’Day — Vanished around Tax Day after 3 2/3 innings for the Mets as a Rule 5 pick. Wound up in Texas, where he naturally put together a terrific season. Ladies and gentlemen, Omar Minaya!
Gary Sheffield — Sheffield was greeted by the New York press corps and plenty of fans as if he were an Al Qaeda member — clearly he was done as a player and could only bring woe, misfortune and rancor to the idyllic world of the Mets clubhouse. So what happened? He turned out to still have plenty of life in his bat, did a lot better than anyone could have anticipated playing the outfield (meaning he was somewhere below average), and quietly proved a very good teammate. (Jeff Francoeur credited Sheffield for a tip that helped his swing.) Sheffield did eventually blow up and cause a ruckus, but for once in his life he was right to do so: The dead-and-buried Mets put Sheffield on waivers, saw him get claimed by the Giants, and pulled him back instead of getting a prospect or two and rewarding Sheff with the chance to play the final weeks for a team with a heartbeat.
Livan Hernandez — If the old guard of baseball GMs had run prehistoric human society, no one would have ever discovered fire, the wheel or agriculture. Exhibit A is Livan Hernandez, a profoundly terrible pitcher who for years has reliably eaten up innings and vomited forth baserunners, runs and losses. Enter Omar Minaya with a bag of money; exit hope and dreams of a better world organized around something other than superstition and phrenology. Players like Livan Hernandez make me want to cry even when they’re not on my team.
Omir Santos — Omir was the first player to become a bone of contention between stat guys, who looked at his nonexistent minor-league track record, inability to walk and unlikely BABIP and held their noses, and look-and-feel fans who loved Omir for his flurry of big hits and apparent joy in what he was doing. I tend to side with the stat guys on this one, but with the caveat that Omir Santos is the kind of player whose unlikely success makes you want to jump up and down and throw an impromptu parade. His home run off the perennially childish Jonathan Papelbon was the last flicker of life in the 2009 season; if someone actually made a highlight film of this hideous year, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the credits rolled right after that moment.
Casey Fossum — Made his Mets debut on April 21 against the Cardinals with two outs in the fifth, the bases loaded, and the Mets clinging to a 4-3 lead. Walked the first hitter he faced. On four pitches. Yes really.
Ken Takahashi — 40-year-old Japanese rookie lefty pitched competently enough, though he got killed by lefties while handling righties decently. Which made about as much sense as signing a 40-year-old Japanese rookie lefty in the first place.
Tim Redding — A big dude with a silly beard and a cheap-looking shamrock tattoo, Redding began his Mets career by getting his rear end handed to him by the University of Michigan, which most baseball fans will agree augurs poorly for success. He then got pounded for much of the early part of the season, after which the Mets cruelly let him twist in the baseball wind, telling everybody but Redding himself that his release was a done deal. Redding wasn’t released, as it turned out. To Mets fans’ slow-building astonishment, he pitched well again and again in late August and September and ended the year as the Mets’ most-reliable starter. This sounds like a bad joke but actually is meant as honest praise. Redding took a lot of abuse, hung in there, and changed some minds. Kudos to him.
Fernando Martinez — The latest wildly hyped Mets prospect arrived in late May, and turned out to indeed be the Second Coming. Unfortunately, he was the Second Coming of Don Hahn. F-Mart looked hopelessly overmatched at the plate, uncertain in the outfield, made boneheaded mental errors and then was lost for the season due to injury, furthering the suspicion that he’s made of porcelain and nitroglycerine. Martinez only just took his first legal drink, so he still has plenty of time to find himself, but his initial impression suggested he’s not close to doing that.
Wilson Valdez — Actually played pretty well as 2009 Mets replacement shortstops went. This isn’t the same thing as praise, but in 2009 it’s about as close as you can get.
Emil Brown — Had five at-bats in early June, collecting one hit. He would have had another, but he passed Luis Castillo on the basepaths and was called out. It was that kind of year.
Fernando Nieve — Plucked off the waiver wire from the Astros, Nieve proved a nice surprise, actually beating the Yankees and looking like he had some kind of future. So of course he went down as if shot in a July game against the Braves. Torn quadriceps, gone for the year. (Jon Niese, his replacement, had essentially the same progression in miniature: Looked promising, grotesque injury, gone until 2010.)
Jon Switzer — Debuted against the Yankees, got his brains beat in, heroically lowered his ERA to 8.10, vanished.
Elmer Dessens — A pudgy reliever with a goofy name, Dessens seemed like the latest punch line to an increasingly unfunny joke when he arrived in June, but pitched well and proved dependable.
Pat Misch — After pitching tolerably but mostly anonymously for the bulk of the summer, Misch absorbed one of the more-fearful beatings I can remember against the Braves in late September, giving up eight runs on seven hits in an inning and a third. In his next start, he stared down the Marlins to pitch a gutsy complete-game shutout, probably the best performance of the season by a Mets starting pitcher. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.
Jeff Francoeur — The poster boy for sabermetricians inveighing against baseball primitivism, Francoeur is almost comically aggressive at the plate, making you wonder if no one’s ever told him that four balls will gain him first base. After languishing in Atlanta, he came to the Mets and immediately became either lucky or good, lashing balls all over the park, playing with a billion-watt smile and carrying on despite a bad thumb. It’ll be fascinating to see how he fares in 2010, and how he’s received by the fans if the statistical gods are against him. Oh, and he hit into the 15th unassisted triple play in big-league history to end a game against the Phillies. It was that kind of year.
Angel Berroa — Records show he played for the Mets, and Topps gave him a baseball card for some reason. Apparently the morphine had kicked in by the time he arrived, because I either don’t remember him or have blotted his tenure out of my mind.
Cory Sullivan — A hard-nosed journeyman outfielder, he became something of a fan favorite (by the low, ironic standards of 2009) for seeming to retain a pulse in the pitiful days of $5 StubHub tickets and playing for draft picks the Mets will be too cheap to sign. Sullivan seems like he could prove useful as a bench player in a better season.
Andy Green — Oh, I’ll let Greg tell the story.
Lance Broadway — Failed White Sox prospect was thoroughly mediocre as a general dogsbody at garbage time. If it doesn’t work out, at least he can pursue a reasonably lucrative porn career without having to resort to a screen name.
Josh Thole — Interesting catching prospect showed a precocious eye for the strike zone and a nice, compact stroke at the plate, giving us some reason to hope as the season circled the drain. (Why did Jerry give Thole time to learn at the major-league level while seeming to forget Nick Evans existed? Don’t ask me.) Thole probably won’t return until summer, if not 2011, but unlike most of the Class of ’09, we’ll actually look forward to his return.
Tobi Stoner — Former Cyclone could really help the Mets sell more merchandise to snarky college kids. We’ll have to reserve judgment on what he might contribute in actual games.
My goodness, that was depressing. But take heart! Every second brings 2010 closer! And a plague year like this CAN’T POSSIBLY HAPPEN AGAIN! RIGHT? RIGHT?’
Just tell me I’m right.