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The Last-Picked Mets

Adam Greenberg gets his second chance for a first impression tonight in Miami. The Marlins responded to his (and his filmmaker advocates’) “position wanted” campaign [1] by saying, in essence, what the hell, it’s a great story [2], you’ve got a good cause, go put on a uniform, we’ll pinch-hit you in a game that doesn’t much matter otherwise.

Of course tonight’s game matters, not only in the sense that every game matters when there are hardly any left but because someone else who required the benefit of the doubt at a crucial juncture of his career will be going for his 21st win. Hopefully R.A. Dickey will still be on the mound when Ozzie Guillen inserts Adam Greenberg, mostly because it will mean Dickey’s dealing but also because how can you not love the fringe veteran who had to remake himself in the minors as the toughest knuckleballer ever versus the guy who spent seven years picking himself up, dusting himself off and starting all over again?

We’ve got a Cy Young to win here, so business is business, but otherwise, I hope Greenberg has the major league at-bat of his life against the Mets…and since it will technically be his first, I guess he will.

You couldn’t do this so easily at another time of year. Only because baseball expands its rosters from September 1 onward can we dream that a story like this might come true. A few weeks ago there were grumblings [3] about how the addition of players on every team represents a logistical and philosophical pain in the ass, but I don’t see it. Every September [4], whether our team is contending or, more likely, playing out the string, we look forward to a few new faces brightening our outlook or at least distracting us with their novelty. Sometimes the exercise begins to point your team in the right direction, sometimes it’s just more bookkeeping. Monday night in Miami, when September callup Jeurys Familia threw four shutout innings while walking six as a first-time starter, the results were inconclusive. But it was a new guy and there were new results and, in essence, what the hell?

Adam Greenberg is, in a way, carrying on a great tradition, one whose avatar was a New York Giant whose name lives on in history — but it’s not really the one whose name keeps coming up in the context of Greenberg. “Moonlight Graham” is the easy answer because Graham was portrayed in Field of Dreams, but Graham played his single game in June 1905 and didn’t (at least as the legend goes) try desperately to get on the field again as the season wore on. The Giant I’m thinking of came along six years later. Charles Victor “Victory” Faust [5] was — as strange as this sounds a century hence — John McGraw’s good-luck charm.

Victory Faust was the Giants’ mascot. Not a Mr. Met licensed character kind of mascot, mind you, but a guy who wore a uniform, sat on the bench, was by universal acclimation kind of nuts and wanted to pitch. He wasn’t officially a player but he was determined to be. McGraw wanted him around because when Faust was with the Giants, they won. When he wasn’t, they lost. (Subject that kind of strategy to analytics.) As the 1911 season wound down, and the Giants had their pennant secured, McGraw relented to popular sentiment and used Faust on the mound — twice. The record shows Victory Faust recorded an ERA of 4.50 and no won-lost record.

No harm was done, though the Giants lost the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s because, well, Connie Mack employed a luckier mascot, a hunchback named Louis Van Zeldt. (That may not have been the sole reason, but try and convince the greatest managers of their day it wasn’t.)

None of this is to imply Greenberg is kind of nuts nor little more than a curiosity. The man made it to the majors in 2005, encountered horrifying adversity and plugged away until this moment was in sight. Kudos to the Marlins for seeing the beauty in his quest. Kudos to Dickey for pitching to him as if he’s just another Marlin [6] when he gets his second chance.

And let’s hear it for lasts as we reach the final innings of the Mets’ 51st season. Fifty-one different players have been, shall we say, the Last Met Picked in a given year. In all but two of them, that meant they didn’t get here until September/October and they waited longer than any of their teammates to enter a game as a Met for the very first time. Some pretty good Mets have come out of their ranks.


C — Joe Hietpas, October 3, 2004
Hietpas’s one Moonlight moment — catching the last half of the last inning of the last game against the about-to-be extinct Montreal Expos — is too good to pass up [7] for this squad.

1B — Ed Kranepool, September 22, 1962
He’s not the all-time Mets hit leader anymore, but he’ll always have mind-boggling longevity [8] and six times to the plate in the Polo Grounds besides.

2B — Anderson Hernandez, September 18, 2005
Great defensively. Offensively…what a glove. When ’05 wore down, we took much pleasure [9] in our infield of the future coalescing as a unit: Mike Jacobs, Anderson Hernandez, Jose Reyes, David Wright. Where did that future go anyway?

SS — Jeff Gardner, September 10, 1991
Buddy Harrelson’s Mets had lost 34 of 46 entering this Tuesday night against Montreal. Gardner had been stuck at Tidewater since 1988. Yet the alchemy was downright Faustian: Gardner went 1-for-3, the Mets won, 9-0, and Pete Schourek tossed a one-hitter.

3B — Roy Staiger, September 7, 1975
My Sporting News crush the summer I was 12. “Why won’t the Mets bring up Roy Staiger?” So they did. My crush didn’t last. Neither did Staiger. Oh well.

LF — Cleon Jones, September 14, 1963
Making his major league debut on the same field where Victory Faust made his (and becoming the last New York player to do so), Jones replaced Duke Carmel in center for Casey Stengel at the Polo Grounds against the Colt .45s in the top of the ninth. He’d start the next day. He’d start a lot of days thereafter, including October 16, 1969, when he caught the final out of the World Series at Shea Stadium.

CF — Lee Mazzilli, September 7, 1976
Mazz would enjoy a couple of big September moments for a team that was playing its last weeks as a winning club for years to come. Homered in his second game against the Cubs. Homered later to all but knock the Pirates out of the division race. Joined a team that featured Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Harrelson, Kranepool, Millan and Grote. Stuck around to become associated with a team that featured mostly Mazzilli. Came back to win a championship alongside Hernandez, Carter, Strawberry and Gooden.

RF — Fred Lewis, September 4, 2012
Lewis hasn’t done anything these past few weeks worth noting. But it’s either him or John Christensen in this slot, and there are two games left in Lewis’s 2012 if not his Met career, so we can always hope he has his moment before the lights go out tomorrow.

SP — Nolan Ryan, September 11, 1966
Pitched with the Mets until 1971. Remind me to check to see if anything happened with him afterwards.

RP — Randy Myers, October 6, 1985
John Franco’s in the Mets Hall of Fame. Randy Myers could have been.

And the rest…

Tom Parsons, 1964: Traded for Jerry Grote, so thank you for that.

Greg Goossen, 1965: Eternally [10] ten years and change from having a chance to turn 30.

Les Rohr, 1967: Last Met of the busiest personnel year ever — 54 players in all — and the first No. 1 draft choice the Mets ever selected.

Duffy Dyer, 1968: Caught honorably [11] through 1974.

Jessie Hudson, 1969: The quietest and briefest of Miracle Mets.

Dean Chance, 1970: Pennant insurance not cashed in.

Don Rose, 1971: Traded to California with Ryan, whose post-Met career I really promise to check on at some point.

Joe Nolan, 1972: Pinch-hit and caught in the same game Robert Clemente got his 3,000th and final hit.

Bob Apodaca, 1973: Yogi Berra was desperate and sent the rookie to face the Pirates in the ninth inning of a must-have game — Apodaca threw eight balls but the Mets held on. ’Dack became a dependable reliever until injuries cut his career short. Was a successful pitching coach, too, but was purged back when the Mets used to do that sort of thing [12].

Randy Sterling, 1974: Mets’ top draft pick of 1969, proving the magic of that season didn’t extend everywhere.

Doc Medich, 1977: Ex-Yankee signed off the scrap heap at the season’s tail end for reasons unapparent then and now. Pitched for three teams that year — A’s, Mariners and Mets — that each lost 98 games. Went into medicine presumably to find a cure for terminal lousiness.

Butch Benton, 1978: I’m fairly certain a quarter-page photo of Butch still runs annually in the back of the Mets’ official yearbook, right next to fellow “Future Star” Luis Rosado’s.

Ray Burris, 1979: The Mets were so cheap that they didn’t bring up anybody new in September, but the de Roulets did spring for the grizzled Cub in August.

Scott Holman, 1980: Didn’t turn into Mike Scott, didn’t turn into Ron Darling, didn’t turn into Tim Leary, didn’t even turn into Rick Ownbey, who turned into Keith Hernandez. But he was one of those guys.

Charlie Puleo, 1981: Destined to become the inverse of Pat Zachry in the “traded for Tom Seaver” sense.

Ronn Reynolds, 1982: Had more n’s in his name than he did H’s on his ledger during his first callup.

Mike Fitzgerald, 1983: Announced presence with authority by homering in first at-bat; departure announced something greater when he became part of the package that snagged the Mets Gary Carter.

John Christensen, 1984: Between you and me, he’s probably got nothing to worry about from Fred Lewis.

John Mitchell, 1986: The Mets didn’t need any help the September Mitchell came up. They needed quite a bit when he came back in 1987. He gave them about as much as could be reasonably expected.

John Candelaria, 1987: Another Chance taken on pennant insurance. Another policy invalidated.

David West, 1988: The Jeurys Familia of his first go-round. Shares the name of my late father-in-law whom I never met.

Blaine Beatty, 1989: The good times were ending.

Chris Jelic, 1990: Homered in his final at-bat, left on a high note [13].

Joe Vitko, 1992: First Met born in the 1970s.

Kenny Greer, 1993: Traded to the Mets for Frank Tanana in September, so he missed most of the carnage of 1993. Didn’t pitch until the 17th inning of a 0-0 game the last week of the season. Kept the score tied. Mets won in the bottom of the 17th. Greer went to 1-0, never pitched again as a Met. Historically perfect timing.

Juan Castillo, 1994: His debut was July 26. The strike was August 11. I’m sure it was nothing personal.

Robert Person, 1995: I saw the Mets sweep a twinight doubleheader started by Person and Reid Cornelius on rainchecks descended from a postponement in early 1994. Those tickets were exchanged at least three times between weather and labor stoppage. An advertisement for patience, one supposes.

Charlie Greene, 1996: I think I’ll just leave this blank.

Carlos Mendoza, 1997: Broke up Dustin Hermanson’s no-hitter on September 13 on a disputed fly ball, disputed in the sense that Fran Healy kept lobbying on air for it be to changed to an error. The Mets would trail, 6-0, in the ninth and score six runs, the last four on Carl Everett’s grand slam off Uggie Urbina. They’d win on Bernard Gilkey’s three-run blast in the eleventh. It stands as one of my favorite games ever. Which is why Carlos Mendoza is no Charlie Greene.

Todd Haney, 1998: The Mets fought for a Wild Card with Todd Hundley, Todd Pratt and Todd Haney. They lost their last five games of the season and became the Todd man out.

Glendon Rusch, 1999: Snuck into action during a lull in one of the most dramatic Met months that’s ever been. Pitched competently for a couple of years thereafter.

Jorge Velandia, 2000: Is leaning over the dugout railing in the mind’s eye.

Mark Corey, 2001: Mets were high on him. Or was it that he was high on the Mets [14]?

Pat Strange, 2002: First Met born in the 1980s. By the way, we’re still waiting for a Met born in the 1990s.

Mike Glavine, 2003: Nepotistic first baseman whose family name remains intact as what would happen on September 30, 2007, wasn’t his sin.

Phil Humber, 2006: Traded for Johan Santana, pitched a no-hitter before Johan Santana — pitched a more perfect no-hitter than Johan Santana. But Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter, so, yeah, it was worth it.

Carlos Muñiz, 2007: Had the tilde on his uniform but his name was pronounced without it, if I recall correctly.

Bobby Parnell, 2008: Cripes, he’s still here, isn’t he?

Tobi Stoner, 2009: Too easy.

Dillon Gee, 2010: If he’s not exactly missed, I do look forward to welcoming him back.

Valentino Pascucci, 2011: A Buffalo Bison in 2012, he was Tweeting a couple of Mondays ago about whatever football game was going on while the Mets were playing. Doesn’t strike me as feeling particularly attached to the organization.

Good luck, Adam. Good luck, Fred. Good luck, R.A. Good night, Victory Faust, wherever you are.