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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Reinstate Melvin Mora

In February 1998, Al Leiter became a Met. He couldn’t have been happier to join the team he said he rooted hard for during his childhood, which he once referred to as “the Mike Vail years”.

This is really exciting for me. I feel like a little kid.

All it took was Wayne Huizenga dismantling the World Champion Florida Marlins before they could defend their title. Steve Phillips gladly handed over three prospects in exchange for a durable lefty who threw hard and competed like crazy. One Met minor league who went to Miami was Jesus Sanchez, who went on to a Nelson Figueroa-like career in the majors (23-34, 5.32 ERA over seven seasons with four clubs). One was Robert Stratton, a Met first-round pick who would never make it to the big leagues.

And one was 21-year-old A.J. Burnett, described by The New York Times in the wake of Leiter’s acquisition as simply “a righthanded pitcher who has not advanced beyond Class A.”

Al Leiter spent seven seasons as a Met, designated more often than not as our ace, and pitching quite a bit like one. He chalked up 95 wins from 1998 through 2004, sixth-most in team history. When there was a big game to hunt down during the Bobby Valentine era, Al usually seemed to be the man in the middle.

He started the first-ever regular-season Subway Series game at Shea in ’98; the game that halted the seven-game losing streak down the stretch in ’99; the one-game playoff that clinched the Wild Card four days later; the Todd Pratt Game in that year’s NLDS five days after that. He may have never been better or more valiant than he was while pitching into the ninth inning of the final Subway World Series game in 2000. He gave 142 pitches and, I swear, every bit of himself to our lost cause.

There were some noticeable bumps along the way (Game Six in Atlanta on short rest, in particular), but it was mostly good times with Al Leiter on the Mets, at least until all Met times went bad somewhere in 2002. Even accounting for the presence of Mike Piazza, nobody quite fit the description “face of the franchise” in those halcyon Met days like Al Leiter.

In December 2004, Al became an ex-Met. He couldn’t have been less happy and not a whole lot more bitter about it as he returned to the Florida Marlins as a free agent.

I did not want to leave the Mets and I did not want to leave New York. The reason I am leaving is that Omar Minaya did not want me.

Minaya was new as GM and his charge was to make over the Mets, who had steadily fallen from competitive sight since that night in October ’00 when Leiter threw his 142nd pitch at Shea. Out with the old, in with anything that could conceivably distract Mets fans and potential Met customers from the waste case the franchise had become. It was goodbye Leiter one week…

…and hello Pedro Martinez the next week. Pedro would be the new ace on the Mets, effectively replacing Al Leiter as the pitching face of the franchise.

Thursday night, in Game Two of the 2009 World Series, it was a guy traded for Leiter outdueling the guy who essentially took Leiter’s place.

I’ll bet Al noticed. He was always good at that.

No regrets at either end of the Leiter trail. Scooping him up in the post-’97 Marlin fire sale, even if it cost the Mets a live right arm that is now 1-0 in World Series play, was the right move. It took Burnett until this year, his eleventh in the majors, to win as many games in his entire career as Leiter did as a Met. Lefty Al was the right man at the right time. In that same vein, however, his time was up by 2004, and Martinez — no matter the unfortunate twists his Met journey eventually took — was the right man for 2005.

Good to see ex-Mets keeping busy. There was Burnett, making with his silly pies and getting out Phillies. There was Pedro, elevating his stature (particularly in his own mind) and getting out Yankees. There’s Leiter, too, talking a mile a minute on various media outlets in a suit and tie the way he used to in his well-worn Mets uniform after games. Hell, we’ve even had cause to hear from the generally unmissed 1962 Met Don Zimmer in the last week.

Hey, you know which ex-Met will soon be busy looking for a new team? One I’d love to have back.

Melvin Mora is going to be a free agent. For Melvin Mora and the Mets, there is nothing but regret. Melvin Mora was the most super of supersubs in 2000 when he was deployed as our everyday shortstop once Rey Ordoñez went down to injury. Mora was a lousy shortstop. But he was Melvin Mora, hero of the 1999 stretch drive and postseason and darn good-looking player — shortstop shakiness notwithstanding — through the first two-thirds of 2000. Might have he improved in his new full-time position if given two months to straighten out? Might have he been deployed elsewhere as Steve Phillips searched for a better shortstop option?

Did he have to be traded? For Mike Bordick?

I was on the fence when the word came down on July 28, 2000. I loved Mora for everything had done from the moment he singled off Greg Hansell on October 3, 1999 to ignite the rally that won us a Wild Card tie, but I tensed up terribly every time a ground ball came his way at short. I had an idea at the time for what could be a hot new children’s toy: the Bobble Me MelMo. That said, I just assumed he was miscast at short. We could find somewhere else for him in the long-term, couldn’t we?

On the other hand, on the day he was traded, we were deep inside a playoff dogfight with no guarantee we’d make it back in ’00. We needed serenity now at short. My American League avoidance had left me almost completely unaware of Mike Bordick’s tenure, but he was said to have been quite sound. That was good enough for me. The next day, I’m at the Mets game against the Cardinals and Mike Bordick leads off with a homer.

Man, what a great trade!

You know the rest, probably. Bordick, whether he wasn’t physically right or simply didn’t have much left, sucked up his share of ground balls but was an offensive nonentity after that first home run. The Mets would go to the World Series, but Bordick was not well. Some thug Cardinal named Mike James hit him pretty intentionally on his right thumb during the NLCS. It affected Bordick enough so that by Leiter’s valiant Game Five in the World Series, it was Mike Bordick (.125) sitting and Kurt Abbott starting…and not closing the gap between himself and Edgardo Alfonzo when Leiter’s 142nd pitch — barely stroked by Luis Sojo — bounced into centerfield for the two lethal runs that effectively ended our most recent World Series participation.

Bordick never played for the Mets again. Mora just kept on playing for the Orioles. Turns out he was a darn good-looking player and then some. The Orioles moved him off shortstop, eventually making him their everyday third baseman. I had no idea until I read it the other day that he’s played more games than any Oriole at third base besides Brooks Robinson. He drove in more than a hundred runs twice — 104 the year before last — and made the American League All-Star team twice. He ranks in the all-time Top Ten for Baltimore in eight different offensive categories

I knew he had done well for himself, yet I wasn’t aware until checking what an intricate thread he become in the black and orange fabric. In what loomed as his last game as a Bird at the beginning of this October, he came out of the game and was given a standing ovation at Camden Yards. Though amiable about the club not picking up his $8 million option for 2010, he just told the Baltimore Sun, “I wanted to die an Oriole.”

Mora was more an Oriole than Leiter was a Met, probably. Yet to me Melvin Mora’s a Met. He’s been on loan to the O’s all this time in my mind. We gave him away in a somewhat understandable move but one that turned out to be ultimately pointless. I’d love to erase that mistake. I’d love for one of the two 1999 Mets who remain active (Octavio Dotel is the other) to come home. We don’t need him to play third base, obviously, but we could definitely use him somewhere. How could you not use Melvin Mora on the Mets? He could play left field sometimes. He could fill in here and there. He could be the supersub he was in 2000, but older and wiser.

Less mobile? On the downside? An example of sentimentality trumping practicality? Oh, probably. I don’t know. I don’t watch the Orioles. They’re rarely on anywhere. Melvin Mora left a Mets team in the midst of a two-season playoff run and endured for nearly a decade on a team that never made the postseason, never contended, never had as much a winning record. Melvin Mora is not a talisman, exactly. He’s not a franchise player. He’s not going to reverse a 70-92 disaster. He dropped off dramatically in 2009. For all I know, at 38, he’d be the wrong guy at the wrong time in the wrong place.

But, no, I’m not thinking like that at this moment, late October 2009. I hear Melvin Mora’s going to be available and my eyes light up. My heart melts around the edges. I read “Melvin Mora” and I see him scoring on a wild pitch. I see him throwing out Diamondbacks and Braves left, right and center. I remember a walkoff home run against the Brewers. I remember him square in the middle of that ten-running that beat Atlanta. I see Melvin Mora and drift off into 1999 reverie — more than usual, I mean. I crave a position for him in 2010. Emeritus Met, something like that.

A real, live 1999 Met is still playing baseball. How could I not want him?

12 comments to Reinstate Melvin Mora

  • Anonymous

    Melvin was a fantastic outfielder for the Mets, an absolute joy to watch.
    He also always bore a permanent facial expression whereby he always looked like he was about to cry, or that he had just stopped crying.

  • Anonymous

    2nd base!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Steve Phillips has had a busy and interesting post-season, too.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least you're not advocating a return engagement for Edgardo Alfonzo.
    Then again, there's a lot of off season left to go.

  • Anonymous

    I knew this would be brought up to me and I knew who would bring it up to me. Some things are reassuring that way.
    FYI, Fonzie's 2009 for the Yomiuri Giants: 21 games, 2 home runs, 4 runs batted in, a .146 batting average.
    The dream may be over.

  • Anonymous

    While I don't practice American League avoidance like the Mr. Prince, I always confused Mike's Bordick and Gallego (in fact they were the A's double play combo back in 1991). Living around Baltimore for the last year or so, and attending a few O's engagements, whenever I see Mora and his exploits I just shake my head and think what could have been.

  • Anonymous

    The dream may be over.
    I remain skeptical.

  • Anonymous

    So I'm hedging my bets just a little with the conditional language.

  • Anonymous

    I'm no Richard Grossinger claiming Mora's trade was the karmic disaster that presaged the Subway Series loss and all further disasters. But I don't think that trade gets its due as one of the all-time worst deals for the Mets. Mora went on to be an All-Star. Bordick flat-out sucked in the postseason. I'd love to see Melvin back. If he can play short at all, this is a must.

  • Anonymous

    Only 2 '99 Mets still active in the game at all? The f'ing Yankees have at least four of their own '96ers still on their team.
    Will our organization ever figure it out?

  • Anonymous

    Then again, I am convinced that one of the main reasons–if not the No. 1 reason–the Mets did win the pennant in 2000 was because Rey Ordonez was out of the lineup the last four months of the season and that both Mora and Bordick (if not Kurt Abbott) were vast additions by the very subtraction of the execrable Ordonez.

  • Anonymous

    I remember being mildly excited by that trade, Bordick was supposedly a rock-solid SS who could hit a little. Turns out, he hit little. Rey Ordonez-like “little”. Then, insult to injury, Mora goes on to have a rather excellent little career for himself while Mr. Bordick back to the orioles to complete the circle of humiliation. Melvin would have looked pretty damn good patrolling the outfield at Shea for all those years. He was Mr. October in 1999, that throw in Game 5 was an all-time Met moment in my personal book.