Rod Barajas is getting the treatment a Wise Veteran Catcher usually gets in Spring Training when he’s new on the team. He’s leading by example and changing the tone and offering guidance, which is exactly what we want to read this time of year after having just experience that type of year last year. He’s the “adjunct professor of catching,” according to David Waldstein of the Times, leading daily tutorials for the benefit of his brothers in shinguards. Mets take a bus across the state only to get rained out? It wasn’t for naught, Barajas told Waldstein:
“We got to talk and have fun and get to know each other. We watched The Hangover and laughed together.”
We fans love stuff like that. If the Mets get off to a fast start in 2010, we’ll be falling all over ourselves praising The New Togetherness and how Rod Barajas, all head and heart (if not, by the looks of him, wheels), played a major role in eradicating the isolation of 2009, by teaching, by talking and by DVD selection.
Though if the Mets suck, nobody will remember any of that.
Thing about Barajas is whatever he does, he’s probably going to have do it right away. He signed a one-year contract as an obvious stopgap measure. Nobody else (and there were plenty of bodies around when camp started) was deemed suitable for starting behind the plate more than now and then or, in Josh Thole’s case, now. Rod Barajas could ingratiate himself to the organization and stick around, but he seems destined, if he and we are lucky, for six-month rental. Thus, this is shaping up as the Year of Rod Barajas.
Barajas is the most obvious candidate to join an unintentionally exclusive club, that of the New York Mets who have been One-Year Wonders. They are Mets players who meet the following criteria:
• On the active roster for exactly one calendar season and, if applicable, postseason
• Never off the active roster while the Mets are playing baseball
• No Disabled List trips
• No being sent down to the minors
• No military reserve duty (for when that was an issue)
• No being a Met in any prior year
• No being a Met in any succeeding year
For Barajas to join the club, he’d have to hold steady as a Met from April 5 through October 3 through, theoretically, whenever the Mets finish their playoff and World Series run (from our mouth to Rod’s ear). He gets put on the shelf, it doesn’t count. He gets released or traded, it doesn’t count. He sticks around in 2011, it doesn’t count.
If Barajas fulfills the terms of his contract to a tee and never signs another one, then he’s a member of a most eclectic order in Met history. Only 41 Mets have qualified as One-Year Wonders in 48 Met years. Some of them distinguished themselves quite memorably. A few of them veer more to notoriety than notable accomplishment. Unless you were around in their particular years, a few more you’ll probably be familiarizing yourself with here for the first time. Some you’ll surely remember. Some you’ve completely forgotten.
The first One-Year Wonder dates to Year One, 1962, and he was a most legendary Original Met: Richie Ashburn. He was the first Met to come to bat; the first Met to hit .300; the first Met to make an All-Star team; the first Met voted team MVP (most valuable player on the worst club imaginable); the first teammate to convince Marv Throneberry to be Marvelous rather than morose; and the first Met to understand the notion of quitting while ahead. Whitey retired after 1962 and became the sixth Met to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But he wasn’t the only One-Year Wonder to gain that honor. Ashburn was preceded into Cooperstown by a second-year One-Year Wonder, Duke Snider, the Mets second-ever All-Star. Duke’s single-season stay as a Met, however, wasn’t quite as stellar as Richie’s, or at least not as relatively rosy. True, Duke came back to New York (albeit one borough over from where he made his mark), launched the 400th home run of his career as a Met as well as a walkoff blast for his 399th — and, as all viewers of Mets Yearbook: 1963 know by now, he was given a night at the Polo Grounds. But Snider’s Met tenure wasn’t what he wants to be remembered for. He finished the season 38, gray, out of shape and, the Duke would likely agree, out of sorts. Visiting the SNY booth in advance of one of Shea’s Jackie Robinson tributes a few years ago, Snider was happy to recall his Brooklyn teammate but took a pass on remembering his one year as a Met. It wasn’t even the end of the line for Snider, as the classic Brooklyn Dodger hooked on with the (gasp!) San Francisco Giants for one more go-round in ’64.
There were loads of Brooklyn Dodgers on those early Mets, yet, until Willie Mays was brought home in 1972, former New York Giants shareholder and original Met owner Joan Payson employed only one pre-1962 Polo Grounds denizen as an active player. He was Eddie Bressoud (rhymes with “et tu?”), a One-Year Wonder from 1966. Unlike Snider and Gil Hodges or, to a lesser extent, Clem Labine and Don Zimmer, the lone New York Giant to play as a New York Met in the 1960s arrived with no nostalgic overtones. But that didn’t stop him from making a little history for his new New York club. Eddie’s 10 home runs in his one year as a Met were the most by an Amazin’ shortstop until Jose Reyes slugged 19 in 2006.
1966 was quite a year for One-Year Wonders, as Bressoud had company behind him and in front of him on the diamond. Billy Murphy played 41 games in center, 84 games in all for manager Wes Westrum. Lefty Bill Hepler pitched in with 37 appearances (34 in relief). Both Bills came due in ’66 because they were each Rule 5 draftees in December ’65, Murphy from the Yankees, Hepler from the Senators. Rule 5 means you stay even if you don’t play — and if you don’t stay on the drafting team’s major league roster, you are obligated to be offered back to your old team for a pittance. Whatever talent the Bills had, each was young and each wasn’t ready, not even for the 95-loss 1966 Mets (who were, by far, the best team in Mets history to that point). Neither would be back in ’67 on the Mets’ or any other Major League roster.
Rule 5 explains the presence of several One-Year Wonders, including 1967 catcher John Sullivan, 1967 outfielder (and emergency catcher) Tommie Reynolds and 1991 southpaw fire hazard Doug Simons. Their lack of production presumably explains why there was no second Met year for any of them, though they each resurfaced in other venues.
Hard to explain, however, why neither Bill Wakefield nor Randy Tate ever got a second big league look from anybody else. Righty Wakefield was a One-Year Wonder and workhorse for Casey Stengel in 1964. His 62 appearances (58 out of the pen) established a Met pitching record that stood for 13 seasons. They’re also the most by any pitcher who spent no more than a single year in the majors. Tate, also a righthander — and nearly the first Met to throw a no-hitter — was the fourth starter behind three pretty fair arms in 1975: Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman. Wakefield pitched two more years in the Met system before leaving the game. Tate gave pitching three more years, hanging ‘em up in 1978. For his trouble, Wakefield, along with 1964 teammate Steve Dillon, was tabbed to throw out a first ball at Citi Field last July (once the Daily News nudged the Mets enough). Tate, meanwhile, remains an object of fascination for obsessive Mets bloggers of a certain age.
It’s hard to think of Tommy Davis, the outfielder who was the embodiment of the phrase “well-traveled ballplayer,” as a One-Year Wonder. Davis’s distinguished career encompassed parts of 18 seasons and stops with 10 different clubs. One of his postings, however, was all of 1967 with the Mets. Davis made the most of his season in the sun, leading the Mets in almost every offensive category and earning, as a tenth-place Met, an eighth-place National League MVP vote.
The Brooklyn native was the kind of guy you’d have wanted the Mets to have kept a little longer, but he went away in a good cause, traded to the White Sox with Jack Fisher for a couple of Miracle workers to be, Tommie Agee and Al Weis. As Agee and Weis acclimated themselves to New York, they played alongside lefty reliever and One-Year Wonder Billy Short, one of the handful of mainstay 1968 Mets (34 appearances) manager Gil Hodges and GM Johnny Murphy decided they could do without as they set their strategy for 1969.
While it seems that the lesser-accomplished Mets teams are the squads that generally harbor One-Year Wonders — infielder Felix Mantilla of the 40-120 1962 Mets; catcher Norm Sherry of the 51-111 1963 Mets; and outfielder George Altman of the 53-109 1964 Mets, to name three — OYWs have dotted a few Met postseasons. None did so with more impact than the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 National League Championship Series, Mike Hampton. Mike was money in clinching the pennant on a three-hit shutout of the Cardinals, which is appropriate, since it was money that made him a Met in the first place. He had one year left on his Houston contract, and the Astros’ thrifty owner, Drayton McLane, had no intention of re-signing him.
The Mets attempted to secure Hampton’s services beyond 2000, but the lefty’s legendary fealty to excellence in education led him to Denver…and Steve Phillips to take a break from his sex addiction to sign Kevin Appier to a bloated four-year, $42 million contract. That Appier pitched for the Mets only in 2001 hints at how that worked out.
Hampton was preceded as a postseason One-Year Wonder by Orel Hershiser in 1999. Anybody with any memory of 1988 knows Orel’s gutty innings against Atlanta in the NLCS led the league in irony. In 2006, two relievers who solidified a reliable bullpen were One-Year Wonders clear through to third week in October: righty submariner Chad Bradford and lefty long man Darren Oliver. Oliver’s six innings in relief of the ultimately useless Steve Trachsel in Game Three of the ’06 NLCS was a particular lifesaver. Both men were unsung components of a division champion. One wonders what might have happened after 2006 had GM Omar Minaya whistled Oliver’s and Bradford’s tune a little longer.
Instead, Minaya hummed a few bars of righty journeyman Aaron Sele, a One-Year Wonder whose fault the collapse of 2007 wasn’t — but who didn’t contribute any answers across 34 mostly uninspiring relief appearances. His blueprint for inconsequential Metdom was perfected four years earlier by Jay Bell. Bell, like Sele, had been a two-time All-Star but was far removed from that stature when he incongruously finished up as a Met. Bell’s One-Year Wonder year was 2003, a 66-95 debacle that while not defined by Jay’s .181 average in 72 games wasn’t exactly enhanced by it either.
Three other One-Year Wonders made their One Year their last year as well: third baseman Bob Aspromonte, 1971 — the last Brooklyn Dodger in the majors; pinch-hitter Mike Cubbage, 1981 — seven-game manager at the end of 1991; and infielder John Valentin, 2002 — of whom I have to confess I didn’t fully realize wasn’t the same guy as Jose Valentin until we got one and then the other.
At the conclusion of 1976, it appeared Mickey Lolich would fall into the retirement subcategory of One-Year Wonders, but Lolich fooled us. Instead of leaving baseball, he just left the Mets. After sitting his doughnut-making ass out in 1977, Lolich resurfaced as a Padre for two bonus seasons. And to think, all he cost us was Rusty Staub.
Some One-Year Wonders were conceived as solutions for long-running problems. Instead they became short-term headaches. Aspromonte, for example, was supposed to solve third base. He didn’t. Nor did the third baseman before him, Joe Foy, who throughout 1970 gave the Mets every reason to regret trading Amos Otis to land him. At the other end of the decade, third base was still a problem, so the Mets acquired the eager-to-please Richie Hebner in 1979. Foy and Hebner were more One-Year Poxes than Wonders, but we don’t have a separate category for those.
We do have a separate category for Lost Boys Found — Met minor leaguers who had to leave the organization to become major leaguers but then got a second chance to be real, live Mets. Two LBFs became OYWs: outfielder Jerry Morales in 1980 and infielder Fernando Viña in 1994. They both played in seasons when One-Year Wonders were on the prowl at Shea.
No Met pitcher won more games in 1980 than righty Mark Bomback, though Bomback’s total was 10, which takes the edge off win leadership, and his 191 hits allowed in 162.2 innings didn’t exactly represent a hallmark of triumph. In 1994, utility infielder Luis Rivera spent one full season as a Met, though he might deserve an asterisk, since 1994 ended abruptly when the players struck on August 12. Rivera was used so infrequently (7 appearances in 52 games from June 21 to August 10), that it’s wholly plausible he might not have lasted as a Met into September. Then again, grudge-holding manager Dallas Green could bury a player pretty deeply without ever removing him from the roster, so we’ll consider Rivera legit.
Several One-Year Wonders did a pretty nice job and, in hindsight, were just as well on their way before a second year could besmirch the our vague positive impressions of them. Desi Relaford was an all-around valuable utilityman in 2001 and managed to throw a beautiful inning of relief against the Padres in an otherwise dispiriting twelve-run loss; Mark Guthrie ran counter to two nettlesome Met trends by getting lefthanded batters out as a Met lefty specialist and by being any good at all as a 2002 Met; Tony Clark popped 16 homers in 2003 as a part-time first baseman but truly connected when he gallantly ripped the 00 off his uniform in deference to Mr. Met; and Brent Mayne forever became a Prince household name when the Daily News ran a Sunday piece detailing how the backup catcher of 1996 regularly rode the 7 train to Shea and other trains elsewhere around the city. To this day, I say “Brent Mayne” to my wife, she says, “The guy who took the subway.”
And, nowadays, the guy who writes a pretty good blog.
Dwight Eisenhower famously said of his vice president in 1960, when asked what major policy idea GOP presidential nominee Richard Nixon had contributed to his administration, “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” Well, I’ve had 32 years, and I’m stumped when it comes to telling you anything Tom Grieve did as a spare Met outfielder in 1978 other than endure as a One-Year Wonder. But I can tell you that he spent quality time on the bench next to another of Joe Torre’s generally untapped reserves and they became fast friends. Seven years later, Grieve was general manager in Texas and gave his old buddy his first managing job. So on some level, we have Tom Grieve to thank for the best parts of the late ’90s and early ’00s…a.k.a. the Bobby Valentine era.
On the other hand, we have nothing for which to thank 1975 One-Year Wonder Gene Clines as far as I can tell. Clines was going to bring the Met outfield and offense much-needed speed. After one season (4 stolen bases, 4 times caught), he sped out of town. And we owe even less gratitude to 1989 One-Year Wonder righty reliever Don Aase, who gave up the killing blow of his year, a top-of-the-ninth, season-altering home run to the Dodgers’ Willie Randolph on August 20. If it’s not as remembered or reviled as Terry Pendleton in 1987 or Mike Scioscia in 1988, it’s because even Mets fans can only remember and revile so much.
We’ve penciled in Rod Barajas as our best bet to be our next One-Year Wonder — or the first One-Year Wonder since the already exceedingly forgettable Jeremy Reed in 2009. He’s the guy who, while attempting to man an unfamiliar position, made one of the worst plays of last year, yet it wasn’t even the worst play of the game in question. Barajas will not want to have a season like Reed’s, specifically as it pertains to his manager’s deployment of him. Reed played in 126 games in ’09 but started in only 24 of them, or about 19%. From what I can tell, no Met who has ever played in that many games in a season has been a starter so rarely. Considering how few consistently healthy outfielders Jerry Manuel had at his disposal, it’s very strange that Reed was almost strictly limited to second-line duty. He wasn’t a pinch-hitter deluxe and there was no immobile slugger in front of him who regularly merited a spot in the lineup, complete with his own defensive caddy. The more I think about it, the less it says about Reed’s 2009 (which was fairly indifferent) and the more it hints at how Manuel tends to write off his personnel.
The template Barajas is most likely to follow was that crafted by Rick Cerone during his One-Year Wonder-ful stay as catcher in 1991. Cerone was, à la Barajas, the grizzled backstop who would instill the Mets with that certain something. Truth be told, Cerone, who turned 37 that May, didn’t instill a whole helluva lot during his 90 games receiving and pinch-hitting, but he did have one shining moment.
It was August 21, a twinight doubleheader against the Cardinals at Shea. In the preceding months, the Mets had altogether stopped being the Mets as we had known them, falling from contention with a thud. They spiraled from 53-38 to 57-60 and looked worse than their 4-22 record indicated. They made it 4-23 by dropping the opener of that twinbill. At last, in the nightcap, the Mets poured on six runs in the seventh and took an 8-0 lead on St. Louis. Pitcher Willie Fraser, who had just surrendered in succession an intentional walk; an RBI single; a three-run homer; and a solo homer, took out his frustrations on the next Met batter, Howard Johnson. HoJo was hit and made a move toward the mound. But that’s all it was: a move — a feint. Just like the 1991 Mets, it appeared HoJo might do something but, in reality, was content to settle for nothing.
Not Rick Cerone. As captured by Bob Klapisch and John Harper in The Worst Team Money Could Buy:
Rick Cerone…sprinted out of the dugout. [...] Now here he came, racing toward the mound, with both teams in pursuit. Cerone wasn’t particularly big or strong, but he was so angry that when Pedro Guerrero stepped in front of him, Cerone bowled him over. He reached Fraser and connected with at least one good punch before disappearing in a sea of players. “Had to do it,” Cerone would say later. Sometimes you just have to do it. We’ve just lost eleven games, we’re finally winning one, and some guy is going to throw at our best player? You can’t let that happen.”
One good and purposeful punch…a pretty decent metaphor for a One-Year Wonder.
In case some names have occurred to you with the thought that surely they should be included in this categorization…
• Derek Bell, who came to the Mets in the same Astro-nomical salary dump as Mike Hampton, was on the roster all of 2000 but suffered an injury during the NLDS and was removed for the NLCS and World Series. By having a longer year than most Mets, he missed out on One-Year Wonder status.
• What do Mark Bradley (1983), Dick Schofield (1992) and Doug Linton (1994) have in common? They were added to the roster very early in their Met seasons and persevered the rest of the way, but were not here on Opening Day. No One Year Wonder-ing for them.
• There are Mets who make it out of Spring Training but at some point are redirected to the minors before bouncing back up, and alas, away once their season ends. A few examples of this phenomenon: Mike Bruhert (1978), Paul Wilson (1996), Satoru Komiyama (2002) and David Newhan (2007).
• Kevin Mitchell’s seven games as a September 1984 callup disqualified him from becoming the only World Champion One-Year Wonder after he was traded for our own good in the wake of his helping us win the 1986 World Series. (He is, however, a Comma Met in good standing — a Met whose years played cannot be properly punctuated with only an en dash…but that’s another category for another time.)
• As we learned in 2009, the Disabled List can be a killer, not just of Met seasons but of One-Year Wonder status. J.J. Putz, Gary Sheffield and Tim Redding will each forever be associated with the 2009 Mets (until you forget them completely), but none is a One-Year Wonder because all were removed from the active roster at some point. Others whom you may associate with a given year but spent time on the DL: Miguel Cairo (2005); Doug Mientkiewicz (2005); Kurt Abbott (2000); Bill Spiers (1995); Pete Smith (1994); Mike Draper (1993); Bill Pecota (1992) and the not quite One-Year Wonder granddaddy of them all, Elio Chacon (1962).
• To learn about Mets who make One-Year Wonders look like Ed Kranepool in terms of Met longevity, I recommend a visit to Moonlight Graham Mets, which is devoted to profiling Mets who played in only one game as Mets.
Yes, there is somebody else out there who thinks a lot about this type of stuff.