Jason Bay once was Lost. But now he’s Found. A four-year contract has saved a wretch like him.
No offense to JB (does he have a nickname yet?). I just can’t help but notice that unless he falls victim to Prevention & Recovery between now and April 5, he will become the 13th verifiable member of the Lost Boys Found Society: Met minor leaguers who had to leave home to make the majors, yet somehow discovered the Amazin’ grace to make it all the way back home to become real, live New York Mets.
You probably know that in the summer of 2002, as general manager Steve Phillips struggled with his twin addictions (sex and the mindless dispatching of useful outfielders), Jason Bay was traded by the Mets to the San Diego Padres. The Mets’ big prize in that deal was middle reliever Steve Reed, who Phillips just had to have to shore up the ’02 Wild Card drive…you know, the one that ended in a ditch filled with bong water and regret. Bay’s big prize was the Rookie of the Year award he earned with the Pirates in 2004. Yes, San Diego was dopey enough to let him go, same as us, same as Omar Minaya’s Montreal Expos before us. The Mets were not alone in misunderestimating Jason Bay.
But that doesn’t make Steve Phillips a visionary for telling a future three-time All-Star to get Lost.
Steve Reed’s unforgettable contributions to a non-playoff hunt notwithstanding (to be fair, Reed was pretty decent in his 24 Met appearances, no matter that the last 20 or so came after the Mets fell out of contention), how must have Jason Bay felt? There he was, a Binghamton Met, batting .290, walking teenaged Jose Reyes from the hotel to the ballpark, close enough to Shea to dream…and then?
Boom — he’s a Padre.
We’re Mets fans. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of becoming a Met at some point in our lives? Imagine if it was you. You’re a Met minor leaguer, your lifelong goal of playing for the Mets appears within reach, and then it’s snatched away because Steve Phillips was presumably too busy indulging his extramarital libido to dissect scouting reports. Granted, Jason Bay may not have grown up a Mets fan in British Columbia, but we don’t take that into account. In our lives, being a Met is the highest calling there is. When he was sent to San Diego, then Pittsburgh, then Boston, Bay’s call seemed forever put on hold.
Now he’s been called back. An expensive call, but one for which we’ve accepted the charges. Come April 5, Jason Bay’s destiny gets back on track. He was a Lost Boy in those other uniforms. He’s Found himself a Met.
It’s happened before. It’s happened, as far as I can reckon, a dozen times. A Met minor leaguer has to leave the Met organization to become a major leaguer but then, somehow, he receives a reprieve and becomes a Met. With the help of my friends at the Crane Pool Forum, I’ve counted twelve different Lost Boys Who Found Themselves. Like Jason Bay, they appeared consigned to the wilderness of playing only for opposition. But circumstances led them, at last, to Queens and earned them the fruits of true Metdom:
Surely they are thrilled.
Let’s get to know those Mets who blazed the path Jason Bay will follow when he becomes the first Lost Boy to Find himself at Citi Field.
The earliest known example of a Lost Boy Found is Jerry Morales, a 1966 signee who was Metnapped by the pesky Padres in the 1968 expansion draft. Poor kid didn’t even have time to rise beyond Single-A when he was taken. Alas, Morales became a big leaguer in San Diego in ’69, gave the Cubs several solid seasons in the mid-’70s (earning a 1977 All-Star berth) and made his way back to where it should have all started, Shea Stadium, in 1980. He came “home” from Detroit, in the company of the severely mortal Phil Mankowski, in a trade that was a winner for the Mets, because they pawned off on the Tigers one Richie Hebner. If the Mets couldn’t have sent their Sixth-Circle Mets Hellion to Motown, they would have had to have shipped him to Love Canal. That was where toxic waste went back then. Morales did essentially nothing in his one-year Met tenure. Mankowski was actually harmful to ground balls. And I still say it was a great trade. Anything that rids the environment of Richie Hebner is a good thing.
The ’80s progressed with no more Lost Boy action until Lou Thornton came around to score at the end of the decade. Thornton was a 19th-round choice in the same 1981 draft that saw the Mets select Terry Blocker in the first round, Lenny Dykstra in the thirteenth, Roger Clemens (yup) in the twelfth and Steve Phillips (double yup) in the fifth. Lou’s future career as a Met pinch-runner was derailed when the Blue Jays plucked him in the 1984 Rule 5 draft. That meant they had to keep him on the big club, which wasn’t so bad for Lou, because he got to pinch-run his way onto Toronto’s playoff roster. Lou pinch-ran twice in the ’85 ALCS, which the Jays lost. Serving again as a pinch-runner, he scored the winning run in a huge Toronto victory over Detroit down the stretch in ’87, right before the Blue Jays reverted to Blow Jays form and blew the A.L. East to the Tigers. The Mets picked him up from the Pirates in the middle of 1989, and he was on the roster in September, scoring another winning pinch-run in a pennant race showdown, at Shea against the Cubs. Once again, however, Thornton’s speed was for naught as the Mets, like the Jays, did not win on the wings of Sweet Lou’s wheels. He’d be lost to the Met mists of time by 1990.
Bill Murray used to do a very funny bit on Weekend Update in which, as film critic in residence, he’d go through the Oscar nominees and dismiss several Best Picture candidates because “I didn’t see it.” Bill Murray meet Mickey Weston, a righthanded hurler Mets fans saw only four times. Better yet, Dave Murray, meet Mickey Weston. Our Mets Guy In Michigan blolleague has a nice story about meeting the pitcher and becoming his “personal biographer”. I have no story about Flint-native Weston, a Mets’ draft choice in 1982 who wrapped in the same bounty that yielded us Dwight Gooden, Roger McDowell, Steve Springer (Dave and I share him) and — had we signed him — Rafael Palmeiro. Seven years beating the Met bushes got Weston no further than Tidewater. He left as a minor league free agent and ultimately made the show with the ’89 Orioles. He rematerialized as a Met in 1993, which made him a 1993 Met, which is guilt by association, but Dave seems to think he’s all right, so we’ll give him a pass.
There was Leon “Goose” Goslin. There was Rich “Goose” Gossage. It was inevitable, then, that Mauro Gozzo‘s nickname would be avian in nature even if he wouldn’t make it three Geese in the Hall of Fame. This Goose’s professional career took flight as a Met draft pick in 1984. The righty’s tour from Little Falls to Columbia to Lynchburg was rerouted in the spring of ’87 when he was a throw-in (and have you ever tried to throw a goose?) in what the Royals hoped would be the Ed Hearn trade but turned out, thankfully, to be the David Cone trade. Goose flocked to the Blue Jays for his 1989 big league debut and later landed briefly in Cleveland and Minnesota. By ’93, he was a Norfolk Tide and, as was often the case with the Tides of ’93, a full-fledged Met. After 1994, however, Gozzo was gonzo.
Fernando Viña was another Rule 5 (or is that Rule V?) loss by the Mets. The Mets signed him in 1990, lost him in 1992, watched from afar as he made his debut as a Mariner in 1993…but got him back before that benighted campaign completed. While Seattle built the foundation of the Refuse to Lose A.L. West champs, Fernando continued to attempt to get his Met on in Norfolk. He impressed in camp in ’94 and at last answered his Met calling, primarily backing up Jeff Kent and Bobby Bonilla, two of the most popular Flushingites of the era. While players and owners engaged in mutually assured labor-management destruction that December, the Mets shipped Viña to Milwaukee for Doug Henry. Doug Henry, like Jeff Kent, had two first names. Fernando Viña, like Jeff Kent, went on to greater things as an ex-Met, including two Gold Gloves, one All-Star appearance, a gig on Baseball Tonight and a supporting role in the Mitchell Report.
How good were the 2000 Mets? They were so good that they made the World Series despite misguidedly deploying Rich Rodriguez in 32 separate games. It was likely the stopping of using Rich Rodriguez that catapulted them to the pennant. Rodriguez’s route to Metdom began as a 1984 ninth-round draft pick. His left arm got as far as Double-A Jackson in ’88 before it was dealt to the Padres for the proverbial bag of balls. Next thing you know, ol’ Rich is a lefthanded specialist for four different major league clubs across the ’90s. His specialty turned not so special when he returned to the Mets in 2000 and allowed as many batters to become baserunners as humanly possible. The fans took note. Before Game Three of the NLDS, the Mets did the classy thing and introduced their non-roster players, the guys who came up or back in September but wouldn’t be used in the postseason. Only one of them was booed by the discerning Shea faithful. That was Rich Rodriguez and his 7.78 ERA. Yes, the Mets did the classy thing, but also the smart thing by not letting him do anything more that October than glumly tip his cap. Steve Phillips let him go after 2000, clearing much-needed space for his next lefty specialist find, Tom Martin (2001 ERA: 10.06).
In seven minor league seasons from 1990 through 1996 — encompassing stints with Gulf Coast, Kingsport, Pittsfield, Capital City, St Lucie, Binghamton and Norfolk — the closest first baseman Brian Daubach got to New York was 1995, when the Mets were featuring at Thomas J. White Stadium anybody who didn’t mind being labeled a replacement player. Future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made that particularly embarrassing baseball spring moot when she told the clubs to cut that stuff out, and Daubach’s first chance to be a Met of any kind went by the wayside. He emerged as a 1998 Marlin, then as a pretty solid Red Sock for a few years after that. In a 2000 Interleague series, Daubach overcame Todd Pratt’s calling him a “scab” and homered off Mike Hampton to beat the Mets at Fenway. Five years later, Daubach wasn’t quite as solid and found himself again in Norfolk. That June, he was called up to replace a disabled Miguel Cairo. Fifteen mushy games later, he’d find himself replaced by a reinstated Doug Mientkiewicz.
Perhaps we’ll one day think of Jason Bay as an all-time Met. The first seven Lost Boys Found don’t really strike us that way, do they? But the eighth man to leave the Met minors, make the majors as something less desirable and the finally become a Met in toto…he’s pretty damn all-time. He’s Endy Chavez. We know who he became as a Met. Why was he allowed to become a major leaguer somewhere else? He spent four years in our minor leagues, cresting in high A (batting .298, stealing 38 bases) in 2000 and attracting the attention of the Royals’ front office, if not genius Steve Phillips. Kansas City took him as Rule V (or 5) selection. They tried to give him back to the Mets at the end of Spring Training, but Phillips brilliantly said, no, that’s all right, you keep him, why would the Mets ever need an Endy Chavez? Endy would be a nondescript Royal, then a promising Expo — torching the Mets a lot — before GM Omar Minaya grabbed him in advance of 2006. Endy did the grabbing from there, as we all know.
An ordinary infield prospect for the Mets became an effective relief pitcher for the Expos and, a couple of years after that, a villain to Mets fans. Such was the sojourn of Guillermo Mota, an early ’90s Met minor league shortstop/third baseman who had to find a whole other position to make it relatively big. Mota’s mistake as a pitcher was throwing too close to Mike Piazza in consecutive Spring Trainings, 2002 and 2003 incurring the big man’s — and our — wrath. The feud culminated when Piazza entered the Dodger clubhouse looking to settle the score. Wow, did we ever hate Guillermo Mota. Then, in the summer of 2006, as Omar Minaya groped around to fill the gap left behind by the Midnight Ride of Duaner Sanchez, he picked up a struggling Guillermo Mota. Given no choice, we reluctantly cheered on our new and not so bad righty reliever, until he contributed to our losing the NLCS, tested positive for a banned substance and sucked out loud through 2007. He was little good for us in the long run, but at least Mota left us feeling validated about despising him in the first place.
Being an Original Cyclone didn’t help Angel Pagan make the majors as a Met. The onetime Brooklynite (as well as Kingsporter, Capital Citizen and so on) climbed the Met minor league ladder for six seasons, only to be knocked off short of the big leagues. He landed as a part-time Cub in 2006, but then alit at Shea at last in early 2008. Pagan was greeted warmly — anybody remember the flapping Angel wings that April? — if briefly. A torn labrum grounded Angel in May, and he battled bad health luck as almost every Met would in 2009. Finally, he mended while so many of his teammates’ seasons ended. Pagan would run the wrong way a lot when given the chance, but he also hit pretty well at times. He now gets another opportunity to impress…alongside his Lost Boy soulmate, Jason Bay.
If anyone seemed destined to become a Met, it was Nelson Figueroa. He grew up rooting for them in Brooklyn, he was drafted by them out of Brandeis, he had pitched his way to Binghamton…and then, in 1998, it was off to Arizona in what was either the Bernard Gilkey deal or the Willie Blair deal. The deal for Figueroa was a lot more traveling by the time he got to Phoenix in 2000. He went to Philly (for Curt Schilling) and then three more organizations. Figgy missed an entire season due to rotator cuff surgery and wandered his way from town to town, up and down the dial. Eventually, the town that welcomed the righty home was New York, New York. He made his long-delayed debut as a Met starter in April 2008, on a foggy night when his entire family and everybody they ever knew packed a Shea DiamondView suite to cheer him to victory. There have been ups and downs since — sniping at the Nationals for acting like “softball girls” when he couldn’t get them out was rather inane — but when you scan the practice fields of Port St. Lucie, you’ll see Nelson Figueroa, still working to make his destiny permanent.
Raul Casanova…talk about a Lost Boy. Drafted by the Mets in 1990 (same June as Viña — and Daubach). Traded to the Padres for Tony Fernandez in 1992. A major league catcher for the first time as a Tiger in 1996. Professional relationships between 1999 and 2007 with the Rockies, the Brewers, the Orioles, the Devil Rays, the Orioles again, the Red Sox, the Royals, the White Sox, the Athletics, the Devil Rays again. Then, in April 2008, directly on the heels of Pagan and Figueroa, he became a Met at last. It only took him 18 years. And he only lasted 20 games. Still, better Found late than to remain Lost forever.
And now, it is time for Jason Bay to Find himself with the Mets.