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Barry Larkin and the Alterna-Mets

I enjoyed this post [1] yesterday by The Vertex’s Eric Bienenfeld about this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, which included a Met who almost was — Barry Larkin — as well as Roberto Alomar, a Met we could have done without. (Robby will probably get in next year, which would be fine with me — longtime Alomar hater though I am, I’m happy with a speed bump between him and Cooperstown, and don’t need a barricade. For more on the Splendid Spitter, here’s Greg [2].)

Barry Larkin, you’ll recall, almost became a Met at the trading deadline in 2000, when the team needed a substitute for the sidelined Rey Ordonez. The Mets and Reds worked out a deal, and that weekend Mets games unfolded on TV accompanied by a timer counting down the 72-hour window for the Mets and Larkin to agree on a contract extension, without which he was staying put. The extension never came to pass, Larkin stayed a Red, the Mets traded Melvin Mora to the Orioles for Mike Bordick, and that was that.

If memory serves (and it’s entirely possible it doesn’t), I opposed the trade, because I didn’t want to surrender Alex Escobar. This isn’t surprising — I’ve always overvalued prospects and bought into the hype surrounding ours in particular, which I really ought to get over given ample evidence suggesting one shouldn’t get too excited in theses situations. For the most part, Mets prospects are like Microsoft products were when Microsoft was still relevant — insanely hyped, late to arrive, then painfully buggy.

Nonetheless, I wanted to see Escobar’s bright future blossom in New York, the same way I’d wanted to witness the bright futures of Terrence Long and Jorge Toca and Alex Ochoa and Ricky Otero and Ryan Thompson and other marchers in this mostly sad parade. And when Larkin stayed home, I got my wish. Hooray! Hooray for us all!

Granted, there’s no guarantee Larkin would have been the answer to much of anything: He was pretty much shot after 2000, though it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think he would have topped Bordick’s 4-for-32 performance in the 2000 postseason. Still, yesterday I found myself dreaming about an alternate reality that began with Larkin saying, “Sure, I’d love to play in New York.”

Come away with me, to a very different world….

October 21, 2000: Timo Perez is gazing out at the left-field wall in Yankee Stadium when (as he’ll later tell reporters) he somehow hears a familiar voice through the cacophony of a World Series crowd. It’s Barry Larkin, and what he’s yelling is “Run, stupid!” Larkin later apologizes for the insult, but neither player minds — after all, a chastened Perez scores just ahead of Derek Jeter’s desperate heave, the key play in the Mets’ 4-3 Game 1 win.

October 26, 2000: Larkin, sprawling on his belly behind second base, smothers Luis Sojo’s little bounder up the middle and nips Jorge Posada at the plate, preserving a 2-2 tie in a hard-fought Game 5. In the bottom of the ninth, Mike Piazza’s home run gives the Mets a 3-2 series lead. “I thought it was going to die on the warning track,” Piazza says later, “but something pushed it over the wall. I don’t know, maybe it was me not wanting to let Barry down after all he’s done for us.”

October 28, 2000: Home runs by Larkin, Piazza and a grand slam by Melvin Mora send Roger Clemens to an early exit, chased by boos from a vengeful Yankee Stadium crowd. By the end of the 13-1 assault, the House That Ruth Built has been left to Mets fans exulting in the Amazins’ third World Series title. Buster Olney’s “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty” will later look back at this night as the start of everything else to befall the Yankees in later years.

October 29, 2000: An astonishing day in New York sports history, as a team of Daily News reporters arrive at Clemens’ New York City apartment for an interview the Rocket’s agent has forgotten to remind his client about. Admitted to the apartment by a confused nanny, the reporters discover Clemens being injected in the buttocks with an unknown substance by country singer Mindy McCready. An enraged Clemens rampages across the city before being Tazed by New York City police in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. Five years later, Clemens’ escalating problems will end with his incarceration in the Hague.

December 11, 2001: George Steinbrenner, still livid over the Yankees’ loss to the Mets and subpar 2001 season, orders a megadeal aimed at restoring the luster to his fallen franchise, acquiring All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar from the Cleveland Indians for unhappy former stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.

July 1, 2003: The Yankees trade Alomar to the Chicago White Sox after two brutal seasons that tarnish an apparent Hall of Fame career, accompanied by booing, dugout confrontations with his teammates and an on-air blistering by John Sterling. Shortly before the trade, Sterling’s assault on Alomar’s poor effort wins him plaudits, though the good reviews come with left-handed compliments. In the New York Times, Richard Sandomir writes that “given Sterling’s indifferent track record as an announcer and reputation as a homer, a listener can be forgiven for thinking it was almost as if someone else were speaking that day.”

November 6, 2006: Steve Phillips, who parlayed his success as general manager of the New York Mets into an unlikely political career, is elected governor of New York.

May 28, 2007: Baseball owners approve George Steinbrenner’s request to move the Yankees to New Jersey. The team’s relocation to New Jersey for the 2008 season sparks an exodus of Yankee fans from the city. A link between this exodus and a subsequent rise in New York City standardized test scores and perceptions of civility in the city remains hotly debated by scholars and economists.

May 17, 2008: A shocking day for New York as Gov. Phillips steps down, acknowledging reports of serial infidelities that have disgraced his office. In a statement issued on behalf of the Mets, GM Jack Zduriencik says that “while in no way condoning our former governor’s actions, all of us at the New York Mets will remember Steve’s successes in the early part of his decade, and ask that everybody respect his family’s privacy during this difficult time. Our focus will now return to our ongoing celebration of Shea Stadium and all it has meant to our devoted fans, a year-long celebration we hope to cap with a successful defense of our title as World Series champions.”

Interesting world, isn’t it? But it’s not our world. No, in our world Barry Larkin wanted to stay a Red.

Oh well. We’ll always have the memory of Mike Bordick.