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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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Oh Boy, A Met in the Hall

That eleventh Met in the Hall of Fame we didn’t order has arrived anyway. What the hell, congratulations Roberto Alomar, second baseman in these parts for a year-and-a-half when the team wasn’t very good and he didn’t appear to try very hard. Cases can be made for his wearing a Blue Jays cap, an Orioles cap or an Indians cap on his plaque, but as a Mets fan, I’m obviously biased: I think he should wear a ski mask over his face to represent how adroitly he stole money for 219 games in 2002 and 2003.

We got to revel in our unanticipated Sheadenfreude last year when Robber Alomar was surprisingly passed over on the first ballot. Most of that was probably from his briefly giving a spit in the direction of umpire John Hirschbeck, but I’d like to think that just enough writers who watched him fax it in as a Met were offended by the ample lack of professionalism the man demonstrated day in and day out. Alomar may have been spiraling into the downside of his career when he arrived at Shea, but that didn’t mean he had to accelerate the process by voluntarily slowing down and being a less than ideal teammate while doing so.

But as bygones do what bygones will do, Roberto’s a Hall of Famer now, and not without merit when the full panorama is taken in. Alomar was a spectacular second baseman and a terrific hitter from 1988 to 2001, a single day of great expectorations in 1996 notwithstanding. He may have been one of the biggest letdowns in Met history (him or George Foster, take your sorry pick) but there was more to his career than Flushing the last part of it away. The spirit of congratulations demands we remember the good times, which were, quite frankly, after we acquired him and before he played for us. Let’s leave Roberto Alomar, New York Met and son of a New York Met (Sandy sipped a cup of iced coffee with us in 1967), with this achingly hopeful quote from the opening of Spring Training in 2002, courtesy of the New York Times:

“Finally I get a chance to wear this uniform. I’m excited. It’s like being a little kid again.”

From there, so as not to be a Met blanket about it, let’s pretend that everything had turned out fine.

If Robbie Alomar had landed as a Met and then become the performance equivalent of Carlos Baerga — not very good but still hustling, still mentoring, still apparently giving a damn — I’d feel a lot sunnier that the newest Hall of Famer will have a NEW YORK (N.L.) notation inscribed into his hardware. As for the actual Baerga, ours from 1996 to 1998, he trotted onto the ballot this year and has been trotted right off it. Not a single vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America: 0-for-581. For a handful of years in Cleveland, Baerga was hot stuff. Then he joined the Mets.

Funny how that works.

Also shut out completely was Lenny Harris, a Met in 1998 and again in 2000-2001. I read more than few snarks and snorts about his presence on the ballot not being worth the ink used to print it, yet I was happy to see him there. Eighteen seasons and a major league record 212 pinch-hits (setting the mark in his last moments as a Met), plus a lot of that Great Teammate stuff. I think it’s worth one line if no check marks.

Al Leiter received four votes in what will be his only time considered for what they call immortality. Surely he got them from four writers who enjoyed his quotes and his company. If a pitcher could talk his way into Cooperstown, I’m convinced Leiter would be on the podium this summer. It’s enough that he threw a few dozen Hall of Fame-caliber games as a Met from 1998 through 2004. There’s a plaque with his name on it waiting to be bronzed, but its destination is just off the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Nothing wrong with that.

I was surprised John Olerud collected only four votes. If I had a ballot, I would have marked off Olerud on mine — it’s a reflex reaction. Just as the thought of Roberto Alomar turns me sour, I become surprisingly sweet and not a little gooey when I conjure an image of John Olerud in a Met uniform topped by a Met hard hat. As recently stated, I’d check every box available if John Olerud was the name next to it. With a high OBP that traveled with him from Toronto to Queens to Seattle, I thought Oly would break through a little more with the sabermetric-minded, but without mammoth first base power, I guess something was lost in translation. Sorry Johnny O, but we’ll always have 1997 to 1999.

Not exactly cruel but kind of unusual was the fate of the final Met on the ballot in 2011, John Franco. A player needed 29 votes to remain in contention for 2012. Franco received 27: more than I expected, not enough to keep on jogging in from this particular bullpen. Tough to come so close, but all it was going to buy John was time. He wasn’t getting in or getting near Cooperstown. From 1990 to 2001 and, following Tommy John surgery, 2003 to 2004, there was nibbling (his) and there was squirming (ours), yet ultimately it could not be denied John Franco did all he could do as a Met reliever. He was asked to close games most of his career, and he generally sealed them — not always tight as a drum, but generally enough to keep the air out.

John Franco finished up with the most saves compiled by any lefthander and remains two ahead of the supposedly retired Billy Wagner. He’s fourth overall, behind Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith. Smith stays balloted year after year but probably won’t make it. Hoffman’s a who-knows candidate when he’s ready and Rivera, of course, would be inducted right now if the rules allowed it. The voting writers don’t seem impressed by saves but they know a “great” reliever when they see one. As the long, hard and finally successful slog of Bert Blyleven perhaps proves, the “he doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer” argument is running out of steam for starting pitchers, but the snap judgment call where relievers are concerned is still OK. John Franco didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer, except he did what he was supposed to do pretty darn well for a very long time and did it better than most.

Though I welcome this January baseball diversion, I’m still down on the Hall of Fame as an institution and figure to remain so until Mike Piazza is up for election in two years, at which point I will hypocritically obsess on his chances. Why so down? Same old complaint: Too much Walter O’Malley and Bowie Kuhn; not enough Gil Hodges and Buck O’Neil and, for that matter, Keith Hernandez. Plus a newer complaint: For weeks leading up to the announcement of new members, I’ve noticed almost everybody who writes or talks about the Hall of Fame morphs into an intolerant jerk when faced with any kind of opposing opinion.

I find almost every argument for or against a given player compelling on some level. I enjoy learning advanced statistical calculations that prove a player more or less worthy than I might have otherwise thought. At the same time, I can relate to instinctual choices based on educated observation and recall of particular “clutch” moments in a given career. I think there’s something to be said for feeling like you were watching an all-time great. I think there’s also something to be said for brushing aside the cobwebs and discovering a more nuanced perspective through which to make a decision if indeed you are entrusted with a vote.

But inevitably columns and comments demand we choose sides as if the fate of the free world hangs in the balance alongside Jack Morris’s Cooperstown credentials. I love baseball, but I just can’t get that worked up over this stuff. I’ll get worked up over Piazza, I’m sure, but if he’s made to wait a year or three, or somebody mistakenly portrays him for eternity in an L.A. cap, well, he’ll still be Mike Piazza, New York Mets legend to me. Gil Hodges is that. So is Keith Hernandez. So is John Olerud. I’m going to continue to think Lee Smith was a ferocious reliever I didn’t want any Met facing no matter what the BBWAA deems. I’m not letting go of my conviction that Dale Murphy at his peak was one of the best players I ever saw or that Tim Raines could beat my team in more ways than I care to count. And however he bulked up, I won’t forget the summer of Mark McGwire as an awe-inspiring spectacle.

Put them in the Hall. Don’t put them in the Hall. But don’t call each other names while making your points. It doesn’t help your cause, unless your cause is coming off as an ass and/or running for Congress.

Thanks to all who let me know they received and enjoyed a copy of Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets over the holidays. Joe Janish of Mets Today offers up a nice review here.

39 comments to Oh Boy, A Met in the Hall

  • Inside Pitcher

    When my youngest son was small, Roberto Alomar was his favorite Met. So for the memories of my current teenager when he was rooting for the Mets with the pure enthusiasm that only a child can possess, I’m pleased.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: Which cap for Robbie? To honor how much money he stole from the #Mets, Alomar should go into the Hall in a ski mask. http://wp.me/pKvXu-1ZP [...]

  • Andee

    Cases can be made for his wearing a Blue Jays cap, an Orioles cap or an Indians cap on his plaque, but as a Mets fan, I’m obviously biased: I think he should wear a ski mask over his face to represent how adroitly he stole money for 219 games in 2002 and 2003.

    I am going to be giggling about this for hours. My impending hiccups are totally your fault.

  • Ken K.

    The “ski mask” idea obviously won’t fly with the HOF, but how about an all Met “Ski Mask” Hall of Fame? Foster and Alomar can be the Charter Members, of course.

    Then: Baerga, Fregosi, Bonilla, (soon to be eligible…Bay). And so on.

  • Shea80

    Don’t forget Tony Fernandez (although I’d like to) sleepwalking through the first couple of months here in’93 then after being traded going on a tear and helping Toronto win the World Series the same year.

  • March'62

    This was a great read Greg. Thanks.

    I remember Blyleven as having one of the best curveballs in the game, and his career stats are terrific. I mean he threw 60 shutouts. I just find it strange that he only played in 2 all-star games. I mean there are like 12 pitchers on each team. So for his like 20 year career, he was in the top 12 in his league only twice? Like you Greg, I really don’t care one way or the other anymore, but I just thought that the HOF was for the best. But I wouldn’t close my eyes while walking past his plaque when next I visit Cooperstown.

    When filling out your all-letdown Mets lineup, we need to include Randy Jones, Mickey Lolich, Vince Coleman, K-Rod, Ellis Valentine, and Juan Samuel.

    • I don’t want to throw the hindsight around, but I can’t say I was let down by Randy Jones. I was pretty sure he was going to be exactly what he turned out to be. If anything, he was a little better for a little while. Not good, but a little better than I projected.

      Wasn’t getting my hopes up there.

  • boldib

    Every year at voting time I’m reminded of the scene in “I Claudius”, where Livia, on her death bed, makes Claudius promise to make her a god so she will remain immortal in the Roman Pantheon.

    This is not the Roman Pantheon. It’s an elite men’s club with nice perks.

    That said, any club that would have Alomar is no place for a Roman god.

  • Dak442

    With the inductions of guys like Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven, it’s more like the Hall of Pretty Good.

    I figured he’d fall short, but it’s been disappointing that Keith Hernandez never received any serious consideration.

  • Joe D.

    The highlight of Roberto Alomar’s tenure with the Mets was the head breaking off his bobblehead that Howie Rose got during a Met give away.

  • It’s a shame that all those acquisitions prior to the 2002 season didn’t work out for the Mets. We should have seen it coming, though. After all, Robbie Alomar and Mo Vaughn never saw eye to eye when they were teammates, mainly because Mr. Mo-Licious kept mistakenly calling his infield mate Robbie Mallomar after his favorite chocolate cookie.

  • March'62

    Okay, so here we go:
    The all-time Mets letdown-lineup:
    1B: Mo Vaughn
    2B: Robbie Alomar
    SS: Tony Fernandez
    3B: Jim Fregosi
    LF: George Foster
    CF: Vince Coleman
    RF: Ellis Valentine
    C: actually have had pretty decent success here
    SP: Mickey Lolich
    RP: K-Rod
    Bench: Bonilla, Samuel, Baerga

    • This demands further scrutiny and comment, except I’m too depressed to go on. But I will nominate as catcher Brian Schneider. True, he had no particular credentials en route to the Mets, but he was sold to us as a defensive whiz. Still chasing those passed balls as far as I know.

    • Dak442

      Would Steve Chilcott count? Setting aside that we passed on Reggie Jackson, an overall number one pick that never made the majors is a pretty severe letdown.

      Or is that a different team, the All-Draft-Bust squad? Steve, meet Alexes Escobar and Ochoa, Shawn Abner, LMillz, Tim Leary…

    • Will in Central NJ

      For catcher, I nominate our #1 draft pick (6th in the nation) in 1975, Butch Benton. His Met career was a breathtaking 3 for 25 in cups of coffee during 1978 and 1980. His MLB career petered out in Wrigley Field, then Cleveland.

      For the outfield, I suggest OF Don Bosch, who once had that label of “the next Mickey Mantle” (from who, I don’t recall.) He was before my time (1967-68), but from what I’ve read about Bosch, the back of his baseball card certainly qualifies him for the All-Time Met Bust team.

      • Benton’s an inspired candidate. I spent more minutes than I care to total wondering how we were going to fit Stearns and Benton into the same great lineup. One was already an All-Star and the other…well, the yearbook swore he was coming, and the Mets yearbook wouldn’t lie to us, would it?

        • Will in Central NJ

          John Stearns? Greg, I must disagree. In addition to being an All-Star, ‘The Dude’ deserves parole from this roster of no-stars on the basis of his tackling of that drunken intruder by Shea’s third base circa 1980. Stearns was fully dressed in catching gear, running full speed toward that lout. I remember being shocked that WOR-TV even showed a replay of it immediately after it happened.

          For the All-Bust rotation, I’d also nominate RHP Steve Trachsel, who, in Game 3 of the 2006 NLCS in St Louis, asked out of a crucial postseason game because he took a liner off the leg, forcing Willie Randolph to go to an spent Met bullpen in the 2nd inning or so. You might say his inability to suck it up for a chance at the World Series makes Trachsel one of the bigger busts ever to wear our beloved Mets uniform.

          • Clarification, Will: I was referring to the actual Mets lineup of the late ’70s/early ’80s. We already had Stearns and they said Benton was coming and I was convinced — I mean convinced — both were going to be stars once Benton came up and lived up to his hype. I’m still convinced Stearns was a star.

            Trachsel an excellent choice to take the ball should our all-bust team ever get into a playoff series against another all-bust team.

  • Despite his offensive abilities, Ramon Castro had all the fight of a dog that doesn’t want to go outside when it’s colder than 50 degrees. And that team has to find a place for Luis Castillo and Richie Hebner. Baerga tried–he’d just turned into a pumpkin and had the shape to prove it.

    And well said, Greg, regarding those who would tar and feather anyone who holds opinions like “Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame and Jeff Bagwell shouldn’t.” One World Series game was the difference in getting Carlton Fisk in the Hall of Fame. I think one day it’ll get Jack in there as well. In the meantime, we should think of Cooperstown as a beautiful place in upstate New York with lots of cool stuff on the walls of an old building. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon, not a moral battlefield to the death.

  • Lenny65

    That list is great, have to agree with Schneider at C, he’s the only one I can think of that really fits the criteria. SP is a tough one too. Randy Jones, LOL, agreed, not much expected and even less delivered. Pete Harnisch was pretty bad, maybe he’d merit some consideration. Pat Zachary? I remember Lolich being bad and disagreeable too (not to mention he cost us Rusty Staub), he’s as good a choice as any.

    Speaking strictly about his Met tenure, Alomar definitely rates below Baerga on my list of Met 2nd basemen. Baerga was bad, no argument there, but Alomar was infuriating. Actually he probably rates below Castillo too; contribution-wise it’s a push and Castillo was never supposed to be a future HOF’er like Alomar. Doug Flynn could barely hit water if he fell out of a canoe but he was a far better Met 2nd baseman that Alomar for sure. Hard to believe a HOF’er compares unfavorably to those guys at any point in his career. But I never really followed the other league too much so I was never fortunate enough to see him play back when he still cared.

  • LarryDC

    So it seems the Mets organization, among its other shortcomings, has ZERO awareness of sarcasm:

    “Mets thrilled for Alomar after Hall election”
    http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110105&content_id=16393412&vkey=news_nym&c_id=nym

  • My favorite memory of Alomar was the next game after he was traded (released? Can’t remember) and Gary Cohen ranting about how horrible he was. Not that Gary was one bit unprofessional, but you could definitely hear the Met fan in him being absolutely appalled. I truly believe he would have kept going for 20 minutes if he didn’t have commercial breaks to deal with. I loved it.

    Love the all Met letdown list, totally agree with Schneider as catcher – hated watching him handle pitchers, try to throw out baserunners and his stupid hockey helmet. (Oh and not hit one little bit). Might add Claudell Washington for the bench, and have Art Howe manage with George Bamberger as pitching coach. YAY!

    • March'62

      Actually was more let down by Mackey Sasser. He could hit the cover off the ball but he just couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. And that is, after all, an important aspect of catching. It’s a different type of letdown though from the other players as this was mental. Well, Bonilla was also mental. But I digress.

  • Joe D.

    Surprised nobody mentioned Jim Fregosi’s predecessor at third, the equally disappointing Joe Foy.

    Following up on Don Bosch, on his first major league at bat on opening day in 1967 he led off the bottom of the first by legging out an infield hit, stealing second and scoring the Mets first run. It was all downhill for poor Don after that.

  • Well-Meaning Phils Troll

    Not going to venture into the let-downs, as you all have a much more intimate knowledge of Mets-fan expectation vs. eventual result than I would.

    But regarding the “Hall of Very Good,” isn’t that simply the result of the expansion era and the fact that we have 30 teams worth of players eligible?

    Prior to the 60s, there were far fewer big league spots, so your crop of players are likely to be a more rarified bunch.

    Sure, I’m being overly-simplistic here, not taking into account the quadrupuling of population size, the introduction of Latin & Japanese players, etc…

    But as time goes on, we’re just not as likely to see guys single-handedly dominating the sport and putting up the numbers to the extent that used to qualify a hall of famer, at least not in the same superstar/team ratio.

    Similarly, things like longevity, the era in which a guy played, the lineup/staff they were a part of, etc. will end up being considered moreso than simply looking for some statistical Shiboleth that used to rule the discussion, no?

    • Dak442

      That’s open to two interpretations… you could also make the case that a truly spectacular player today will destroy the expansion-diluted competition even more so than did their predecessors. In 1956, there were probably 32 starting pitchers in the NL. In 2010, close to triple that. Willie Mays faced a better grade of pitcher than does Albert Pujols.

      I think you’re right, players need to be measured against their contemporaries. And that’s why to me, guys like Blyleven fall short. Granted, I didn’t see him pitch that many games, but I don’t put him in the same rarified air as Seaver and Carlton and those guys.

      Conversely, I’m also surprised Dale Murphy seems to have no chance. As well as Lee Smith, who for a couple of years in the mid-80s was as scary as Mariano Rivera.

  • Alomar was coming off an MVP-quality season when he arrived at Shea — his second in the previous three years. He wasn’t spiraling into anything until he put on the togs.

    I can only guess why.

    • Musta been something he ate at the Diamond Club.

      • Andee

        For a guy who had just had an MVP-type season, though, we sure got him cheap (in terms of trade value). Even up for Alex Escobar, right? That would be a little like trading F-Mart even up for Chase Utley. So the Indians knew something we didn’t, let’s just put it that way.

  • [...] of Edgardo Alfonzo’s ill-advised shift to third base in 2002 (to make room for an alleged future Hall of Famer), the GM granted Castillo a lifetime services contract; fortunately, Commissioner Bud Selig voided [...]