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Comma Chameleons

Posted By Greg Prince On March 27, 2011 @ 2:04 pm In 1 | Comments Disabled

I believe there’s a reason above all others that Ed Kranepool resonates like no one else in the Met mythology: He was here from the first year through the eighteenth year of the franchise uninterrupted. Ed Kranepool’s entire Mets career (his entire major league career, for that matter) can be expressed via a simple en-dash.

Ed Kranepool 1962–1979

Ed began with the Mets in a particular season, ended in another season and that was that. Put aside the spiritual notion that Ed Kranepool’s Mets tenure is eternal, and what strikes you is not just the length — longest in Mets history — but the continuity. No interruptions. Ed Kranepool put eighteen consecutive Met seasons on the board. Oh, he occasionally had to dip down to the minors to hone his craft (as late as 1970, when he was still a veritable lad of 25), but he was never gone for the duration of an entire major league campaign. There was no chronological break in his action.

If there were, then Ed Kranepool would be something else altogether. He’d be a Comma Met.

There is no shame in being a Comma Met. Some of the greatest Mets who have ever been are Comma Mets. Should there ever be a revival of the House Un-Metropolitan Activities Committee and witnesses are asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Comma Met party?” there should be no shame in answering, “Yes…yes I have.”

There are three ways you can become a Comma Met:

FIRST WAY YOU GET A COMMA

You become a Met, you’re traded away (or are released or leave as a free agent; whatever) and then you come back some other season. This, in FAFIF terms, makes you a Recidivist Met, and it earns you a not altogether uncommon Comma.

Tom Seaver 1967–1977, 1983

See how that works? Tom Seaver shouldn’t have had to have punctuated his Mets career with anything but an en-dash (and an exclamation point) but the horrid fates [1] intervened and a Comma became necessary. Of course his retrieval — the luster of which was diminished by some hare-brained scheme [2] that makes 1983 look awfully lonely — should have earned him a double en-dash on either side of his Comma. That’s what you get when Recidivism among Mets works for the best.

Rusty Staub 1972–1975, 1981-1985

Rusty is the very model of a modern Recidivist Met, a starting stalwart in his first go-round, a wise role player of continuing service in his second. Staub’s Comma Met path is one rarely replicated as neatly.

Lee Mazzilli 1976–1981, 1986–1989

Alas, Second Acts of Metdom don’t always work out for the best. Some Comma Mets, hot starts notwithstanding, just seem destined to flame out a second time as they did the first.

Dave Kingman 1975–1977, 1981–1983

And those that were clearly ill-advised, such as the cases in which the first act had no one clamoring for an encore [3], should have been avoided at all costs [4].

Bobby Bonilla 1992–1995, 1999

The homecomings don’t always have to be so Bobby Bo traumatic. Sometimes they don’t do any great harm, but they don’t provide much in the way of help.

Hubie Brooks 1980–1984, 1991

Sometimes the Comma is just the mark of mundane journeymen not being all they were cracked up to be the first time around.

Mike Jacobs 2005, 2010

Once in a while, though, you get a Met who earns his Comma status in unorthodox style, such as by bouncing out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes they bounce to Japan and you don’t even notice they were gone. But they were for a year, and they are apparently better off for it in the surprisingly long run.

Pedro Feliciano 2002–2004, 2006–2010

Until they sign with the devil [5] and then that’s their problem.

SECOND WAY YOU GET A COMMA

You are brought up from the minors and become a Met, probably in September. You are young and you have great things forecast for you. You are sipping your very first cup of coffee. Thing is, you may not be old enough for coffee (or whiskey or whatever). So you’re back down where you came from the next April and you’re not seen again for the course of an entire season. You may have not done anything wrong, it may just be that your time has not yet fully arrived.

But it will.

Cleon Jones 1963, 1965-1975

Cleon was 21 when he got his first shot at the Polo Grounds in September of ’63. Technically it was his last shot at the Polo Grounds because there’d be no more Polo Grounds to shoot at come 1964. It wasn’t a stellar audition (2-for-15) and Buffalo beckoned…and then rebeckoned. Jones spent most of two seasons growing strong as a Bison. Thus, when he returned to stay in September ’65, en route to winning the starting center field job in April ’66, he wasn’t going away for the longest time.

It seems almost cruel to give a prospect a first taste and then withhold the whole plate for another season, but sometimes the plate is hard to find.

Nolan Ryan 1966, 1968–1971

Sometimes the Comma can represent a career-reset for a Met who thought he had made it but found himself on the verge of unmaking it.

Tug McGraw 1965–1967, 1969–1974

Tug was part of Casey Stengel’s Youth of America (by pitching until 1984, he survived as the last Stengelite active in the bigs) and etched his name into Met lore his rookie year by becoming the first in our colors to paint an “L” on current Mets Spring Training gadfly Sandy Koufax [6]. It wasn’t a nonstop upward trajectory from there, however. McGraw’s stint in the Marines was a factor as was his own callowness. His unreadiness for prime time as a 21-year-old sophomore and 22-year-old junior in 1966 and 1967, respectively, eventually showed. By March 1968, he was trying to impress new manager Gil Hodges and he was failing.

So it was back to Jacksonville for the flaky lefty, but not off to obscurity by any means. Tug earned another chance the following spring, reinvented himself as a reliever by May and recarved his niche in Mets history from the bullpen (to say nothing of the heart).

It’s become less common to see a minor leaguer brought up to the majors in September and then disappear until two Aprils later, but as with McGraw, the results can contribute to the stuff of legend [7].

Kevin Mitchell 1984, 1986

Though not always.

Bartolome Fortunato 2004, 2006

THIRD WAY YOU GET A COMMA

The least desirable way to earn Comma Met status is not by transaction or demotion but by injury. You’re sailing along in your Mets career, everything’s relatively swell and then…ouch.

John Franco 1990–2001, 2003–2004

Franco’s Met career came to a screeching halt at age 41 for Tommy John surgery. The old lefty stood in front of a press conference and broke down emotionally [8] over his physical breakdown, talking about how his then ten-year-old son wondered whether it was a game of catch between them that left his elbow injured.

You might have thought John Franco was through, but they make ’em tough in Brooklyn, and on May 30, 2003, Franco trotted in from the bullpen for the first time since the Brian Jordan horror s [9]how of September 29, 2001 (the second one, that is [10]). Johnny received a huge Shea ovation for his perseverance when he returned and hung in there for the remainder of two seasons.

And that son from the sad story? Drafted by the Mets in the 42nd round of the 2010 amateur draft.

Indeed, injuries can be transformed into Commas. But it’s not easy.

Bill Pulsipher 1995, 1998, 2000

The first member of Generation K to make the majors saw his future curtailed in Spring Training 1996 and it didn’t get any better any time soon. Ligaments send Bill’s left elbow to the sidelines and depression kept him moored in the minors [11] until June of ’98. The return was a feelgood story but the results weren’t spectacular and the second stay was short-lived. Come the 1998 trading deadline, Pulse was shipped to Milwaukee.

And then, in 2000, Pulsipher earned a second Comma — not unheard of, but also not indicative that a career is going all that well. Sure enough, Pulse’s hybrid Comma Met status — once from injury, once from reacquisition — came to fruition on May 1, 2000 when he started in San Francisco for his once and future team. Alas, the Met future for Bill Pulsipher didn’t last a week. He got wracked by the Giants and then, five days later, cuffed around by the Marlins. That was it for Bill Pulsipher and the Mets. He’d be traded again, this time to the Diamondbacks, within the month.

And this month, Pulse, 37, is in camp with the Somerset Patriots [12] of the Atlantic League.

Pulsipher’s resolve may be touch to match, but his Double Comma Met status isn’t unprecedented.

Mike Jorgensen 1968, 1970–1971, 1980–1983

Jorgy, as he was known, had some bad timing from a Met perspective. Earned a glimpse as a twenty-year-old phenom at the tail end of 1968, but was handed a Comma the following season, ensuring he couldn’t claim even a little piece of 1969. He got a long look in the two years that followed. Mike (a Queens native, no less) loomed as a potential first baseman of the Met future but, along with Ken Singleton and Tim Foli, was sent to Montreal on the eve of the 1972 season for future Comma Met Rusty Staub. Staub helped lead the Mets to their 1973 pennant. Could have Jorgensen and the other youngsters have done something similar and maybe more?

That’s not a matter for Commas. That’s for question marks and, maybe, ellipses to discern.

Mike Jorgensen would return to the Mets for the 1980 season (as Tim Foli did in 1978–1979) and contribute to the Magic Is Back revival of June with a game-winning grand slam against the Dodgers. His glove was as golden as ever but as he hung on as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement — which first baseman/Comma Met Dave Kingman definitely required — the Mets didn’t tangibly improve. In fact, the move that pushed the Mets toward legitimate contention is the one that pushed Mike Jorgensen out of Flushing for good. The Mets acquired first baseman Keith Hernandez on June 15, 1983. Keith Hernandez rendered obsolete the concept of a defensive replacement at first base. Thus, on the same day Mex became a Met, Jorgensen was sold to Atlanta, meaning he again missed the chance to participate in some of the best Met years ever.

Jim Gosger 1969, 1973–1974

But the key, from our perspective, is to participate as a Met, period. Two Commas are on the verge of being issued as this spring winds down. If the Met record books are adorned by them, it will represent a triumph of the human spirit as much as punctuation.

Daniel Murphy 2008–2009

Murph seems assured of earning his Comma. He was never supposed to be straining for one so soon. The kid will be 26 on Opening Night and he’ll be very happy to celebrate it on the Met bench at Sun Life Stadium if he can’t do so in the field. The field hasn’t been Murphy’s best friend since he proved inadequate in left, superfluous at first and unsuited for second. And the basepaths that have eaten him alive. He suffered a season-delaying injury just about a year ago between third and home, and then another that took him out completely when a baserunner’s unsportsmanlike slide (to put it kindly) ended his year at Buffalo.

When Murphy makes the Mets this week and gets his first at-bat over the weekend, he earns his Comma. There’ll be no 2010 on his Met line, which no doubt hurt while he was missing it, but in the long run, he didn’t really miss anything.

Jason Isringhausen 1995–1997, 1999

A Comma wouldn’t be anything new to Izzy, having endured a route similar to Pulsipher’s when he was young and his future was limitless. He missed most of 1997 and then all of 1998 before a truncated return to his original team in ’99.

A dozen years later, Isringhausen’s almost pitched his way back in. If he makes it — elbow troubles and contract conflicts might prevent a happy ending — he’ll go to the front of the Comma Met class in one sense. By potentially appearing as a Met twelve season since last appearing as a Met, Izzy would break the record set by Original Met Bob L. Miller in 1973 and tied by Kelly Stinnett in 2006. Stinnett was a backup catcher in 1994–1995 and then went on his merry journeyman way until just enough things went awry to reinsert him behind the plate as the Mets were about to clinch their most recent division title. Kelly’s homecoming flew under radar in plain sight. Izzy’s, on the other hand, has been a very sweet story [13]. It would be nice if it could continue.

Even if, eventually, the en-dash closes on every Met’s career.


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URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/03/27/comma-chameleons/

URLs in this post:

[1] horrid fates: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2007/06/15/june-15-1977/

[2] hare-brained scheme: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2007/11/18/saving-ron-gardenhire-instead-of-tom-seaver/

[3] no one clamoring for an encore: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2005/12/20/the-middle-seat-to-hell/

[4] all costs: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/02/02/the-unholy-trinity/

[5] sign with the devil: http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2011/03/yankees_reliever_pedro_felicia.html

[6] gadfly Sandy Koufax: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/17711/view-from-st-lucie-koufax-teaching

[7] legend: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2006/10/18/all-i-need-is-a-miracle/

[8] broke down emotionally: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/10/sports/baseball-an-injured-and-emotional-franco-shows-there-is-crying-in-baseball.html

[9] Brian Jordan horror s: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2001-09-30/sports/18359252_1_armando-benitez-braves-magic-number-john-franco

[10] that is: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=210923121&amp%3Bteams=atlanta-braves-vs-new-york-mets

[11] moored in the minors: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1010102/index.htm

[12] in camp with the Somerset Patriots: http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/patriots/2011/03/16/bill-pulsipher-bringing-veteran-mindset-back-to-pats/

[13] sweet story: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/sports/baseball/13mets.html

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