The Mets were meandering through their most arid major award season since 1993 — the last time no Met scored a single vote for MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year or Rookie of the Year nor nabbed a Silver Slugger or Gold Glove — when it appeared we’d have nothing more to sate our perilously low self-esteem than Luis Castillo’s fantastic seventh-place finish in voting for mlb.com’s National League Comeback Player of the Year  balloting (six points behind the decreasingly heartwarming return of Philadelphia Phillie Pedro Martinez). Presumably impartial observers observed the Mets and decided they were as undistinguished individually as they were collectively.
But then, at last acknowledgement: Omir Santos snuck onto the 2009 Topps All-Rookie Team  last week as its catcher, ahead of the Orioles’ Matt Wieters (who hit his first home run off Tim Redding in June). I’d all but forgotten the Topps All-Rookie Team existed, yet suddenly, it was like we existed again. A Met’s name appeared on something other than a DECLARED FREE AGENCY list.
It isn’t much. It really isn’t. You’d have to be staring at a baseball card in 2010 to remember it happened. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’d seen evidence of the Topps All-Rookie Team other than by staring at one of its members’ cards. And the last time I can remember noticing a Met earning a little trophy next to his picture is Jon Matlack’s 1973 edition.
Santos, in a light year for freshman catchers, became the nineteenth Met* ever so honored; the first since Ty Wigginton made the squad as the 2003 third baseman; and only the third Met catcher so named. Todd Hundley in 1992 and Jesse Gonder in 1963 were the other receivers in what were also, one can quickly infer, light years for freshman catchers (Hundley was designated by Topps despite generating less offense than Dwight Gooden that season).
Making the Topps team, which covers both leagues, sounds sweet, but it doesn’t necessarily portend a damn thing for Omir or anybody. Hundley built on his fledgling credentials (.207 BA/.256 OBP/.316 SLG) and eventually became a record-setting home run hitter of sorts. Gonder eventually became a Milwaukee Brave. Wiggy was ousted from his position in ’04 by rookie David Wright, whose sparkling half-season at third was passed over by Topps in favor of a full year of Chad Tracy, yet David Wright was soon en route to blossoming while Ty Wigginton was clearly never going to be more than Ty Wigginton.
Several Mets Rookie of the Year candidates — guys who actually earned votes from the Baseball Writers when they were pups — were stiffed by Topps, including Ron Hunt (second place in ’63), John Milner (third in ’72), Steve Henderson (second in ’77) and Kevin Mitchell (third in ’86). Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui each secured a single BBWAA third-place vote in ’03 and ’04, respectively, but won no love from Topps. Ron Hunt had the bad Topps luck to emerge the same year as another then-second baseman, Pete Rose. Reyes’s limited duty in 2003 didn’t stack up to the one standout year ever produced by recent Met Angel Berroa. With Topps, timing and competition are everything.
Congratulations to our very own Papel-popper for winning us something, anything. And best of luck to Omir Santos on building on his sorely adequate 2009. But to tell you the truth, I want more out of life than a default Topps All-Rookie catcher. I want more out of a Met rookie than hindsight and a pat on the back. I want to look forward to a Met rookie in the way I haven’t since the days of Reyes and Wright, maybe since the days of Strawberry and Gooden.
I’ve decided want to look forward to Ike Davis.
Oh, Mets prospects. You never seem to arrive, do you? The Mets used to send a few up here now and then. I don’t mean the stopgaps and the might-bes. I mean the can’t-miss and didn’t-miss. I mean the kind we sat around truly anticipating for a couple of years. We monitored his progress, we anticipated his arrival and we contacted one another immediately when his time came. They called up Darryl! They brought up Jefferies! Reyes is up!
Notice the word “up” in all that? That was what it felt like to have delivered unto us our can’t-miss kid. He raised our hopes, he heightened our confidence, he got us peeking above the horizon.
I miss can’t-miss. We haven’t had that since Wright. We’ve had the well-regarded and the promising, but they’re not the same. They didn’t burst onto the scene. They weren’t meant to stay…or they didn’t force the issue. In the five seasons since we’ve been doing Faith and Fear, we’ve been modestly to seriously tantalized by the promotions of:
• Lastings Milledge
• Mike Pelfrey
• Philip Humber
• Carlos Gomez
• Eddie Kunz
• Jonathon Niese
• Fernando Martinez
These aren’t all the rookies the Mets have recalled since 2005, but they’re the ones who were particularly hyped in advance. Not nice players, but potentially very nice players. Prospects all the way. Some came up and showed flashes. Some flickered more than flashed. Some stalled. Others were packaged and sent away to address immediate needs. The last couple, natch, have gotten hurt.
But none of them — not even Martinez, on whom the jury has to be considered out given his youth — carried that glittering seal of advance approval. Nobody was a sure thing, not the way we’d been all but guaranteed in the cases of Reyes and Wright and, long before them, Strawberry and Gooden. Sure, there’s folly in banking on anybody as a certainty — Gregg Jefferies required lots of maturing after his initial blast onto the scene faded…and let’s not get into Alex Ochoa — but you could have faith. More faith than fear, y’know? You read the reports on Reyes going into 2003 and you couldn’t wait. You heard the talk surrounding Strawberry twenty years before that and you drooled. Barring injuries (goodbye Payton, goodbye Pulsipher, goodbye Paul Wilson), you kept the faith.
I haven’t done that in ages where a Met prospect is concerned. I’ve kept marginal faith in guys I sensed were medium prospects. I don’t expect much out of Mike Pelfrey, so I avert disappointment that way. I was let down some by Lastings Milledge, but save for a little lightning his first couple of dizzying weeks , I didn’t expect a ton either. The others…if they were promoted by the Mets, I took them in stride.
I want to expect. I want to have a Met on the way up whom I look forward to penciling in a) to the everyday lineup and b) for substantial amounts of easily interpreted positive statistics. I want somebody to come up here and, after nearly a half-century of waiting, be a Met approximation of Albert Pujols.
A Met approximation of Albert Pujols (did you know we drafted a dozen players before the Cardinals picked Pujols in 1999? So did 28 other teams, I suppose, but still…) would be Darryl Strawberry or David Wright. Not the best player in the game, but still up there most years. I’d take another Straw, another David if I can’t have the best player in the game. I’d take expecting that and not being disappointed by what happens. It would beat expecting modestly and being let down gently.
Ike Davis is…how the hell would I know what he is? I didn’t spend a lot of time watching the St. Lucie or Binghamton Mets last season and I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the ol’ farm system. I don’t believe in the ol’ farm system. The ol’ farm system produces very few Mets as a rule. The ones they produce…they get here when they get here. Or they don’t get here. I can’t get attached to anybody when they’re not yet a Met, unless someone’s giving me sensational motivation.
That’s where 22-year-old Ike Davis is suddenly coming in. I knew his father was a Yankee I particularly disliked (some quote in the paper circa 1981 honked me off, though I couldn’t tell you what it was anymore). I knew he was a first baseman. I knew he was a first-round draft pick in ’08, but so what? Ryan Jaroncyk was a first-round draft pick in ’95. Robert Stratton was a first-round draft pick in ’96. Geoff Goetz was a first-round draft pick in ’97. I’ve grown immune to the charms of Mets first-round draft picks. I’m experienced at doubting their lack of experience let alone development. But then, for some reason, Ike Davis’s name kept getting repeated as if he were a serious prospect. In 2009, he hit twenty homers and drove in 71 runs in 114 games. His OPS was .906. That was in Single-A and Double-A combined. Maybe this wasn’t just the Mets hyping and touting per usual. Maybe we had a genuine prospect on our hands worth the trouble of anticipating.
Next thing I know, he’s batting .341 in the Arizona Fall League. Again, Arizona Fall League is one of those things that doesn’t penetrate my see-it/believe-it ethos for youngsters. But more talk, more buzz. Ike Davis seems to be elevating into that prospect realm where few Mets get…where I’m anticipating their arrival.
Would Marty Noble be seeking Darryl Strawberry’s wisdom  for Ike Davis if Ike Davis were not worth the trouble? Did they do this for Fernando Martinez? Or Jay Payton?
Mind you, I’m vulnerable. I’m vulnerable to suggestion these days, specifically the suggestion that a minor league Met could become a major league star…as a Met. I may have blithely dismissed the likelihood of the most recent spate of Milledges and Gomezes because we appeared to have a good ballclub whether they made it or not. It would have been nice to have had reinforcements, but we were contending without them contributing, so it was no biggie when they flamed out or fell short. But now we need something to believe in. We need to have faith. There’s not much that we know about that gives us that rock-solid feeling of “It’s gonna be fine.” There’s mostly nothing in that category.
Just like there wasn’t when Strawberry was about to blossom. Just like there wasn’t when Reyes was lacing up his spikes. It’s times like these that demand an Ike Davis. It’s times like these that have me casting away my doubt and craving an Ike Davis. It’s times like these when I can imagine a 2012 Topps Mets card with a little gold trophy signifying the best 2011 rookie first baseman in the game was — not by default but on merit — Ike Davis.
These times cry out for an Ike Davis. Whoever he is.
*Your Topps All-Rookie Mets: Al Jackson (LHP, 1962); Jesse Gonder (C, 1963); Ron Swoboda (OF, 1965); Cleon Jones (OF, 1966); Tom Seaver (RHP, 1967); Jerry Koosman (LHP, 1968); Ken Boswell (2B, 1968); Jon Matlack (LHP, 1972); Hubie Brooks (3B, 1981); Mookie Wilson (OF, 1981); Darryl Strawberry (OF, 1983); Dwight Gooden (RHP, 1984); Roger McDowell (RHP, 1985); Gregg Jefferies (2B, 1989); Todd Hundley (C, 1992); Jeff Kent (2B, 1992…though most of that, presumably, was based on his work with the Blue Jays); Jay Payton (OF, 2000); Ty Wigginton (3B, 2003); Omir Santos (C, 2009).