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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Home Runs are Powerful Statements

When Dillon Gee pitches, the Mets maintain an excellent chance to win even though he doesn’t overpower hitters. And when multiple Mets hit home runs when a pitcher of Gee’s caliber pitches…well, look for yourself in case you forgot there was a game Wednesday afternoon.

I didn’t, because I generally don’t, and I enjoyed the resulting 5-2 Met triumph. Between you and me, I enjoy most midweek afternoon baseball games, regardless of outcome. No such thing as a bad day to keep tabs on a ballgame, as a sticker adorning some bumper somewhere must suggest. But if you get effective pitching intertwined with a burst of power hitting, then the enjoyment transcends the conceptual. It’s Kool, it’s the Gang, it’s celebrate good times, come on!

What, you’re not celebrating a 63rd win achieved on the cusp of Erev Rosh Hashanah? Don’t be a stick in the Turner Field mud, bud, and leave that lame “at least football is here” mentality on the bus, Gus. The Mets won today! It was a meaningful game in September!

It means they won’t lose 100 games in 2013!

It’s not quite up there in fashionable statistical marveling alongside the Pirates not losing 81 games, but the Mets, so often assumed inordinately inept, have in fact been ept enough to steer clear of triple digits in their right-hand column 20 consecutive seasons now…and 45 of the last 46!

So we’ve got that going for us. We’ve got 63-75. We’ve got Gee, who reportedly possesses the fifth-lowest ERA in the National League since May 30 (there’s some finely sliced categorization for ya). And in Atlanta, Andrew Brown launched a two-run home run in the very first inning and Lucas Duda blasted a solo homer run in the very third inning. Two swings, three runs!

(Wow! I must’ve picked up an exclamation point bug from @Mets!!)

Now and then when you root for a mostly power-free team, it pays to be reminded how helpful home runs can be to your cause. Gee doesn’t fire with Cholula but that doesn’t mean he can’t get batters out. The Mets’ batters, on the other hand, shy away from hoisin and horseradish alike and don’t put all that much on the ball. That’s not necessarily deathly detrimental, for you can score by not taking pitchers who aren’t Kameron Loe deep, but it’s simply more difficult to pile up runs if you can’t send a ball screaming over an outfield wall more than once in a while.

The Mets temporarily don’t have David Wright available to them. They contractually don’t have Marlon Byrd available to them. Ike Davis, whatever value we place on his core competency versus his ability to unleash it, has taken his bat and gone home for the season. Eric Young can zip around the bases and Daniel Murphy is expert at half-homering, which is to say doubling, but unless you can guarantee optimal alignment of Young’s and Murphy’s intermittent hotnesses in immediate succession, your chances of registering on the scoreboard are immediately reduced.

Hence, you’re happy when Duda feels comfortable enough to swing and connect. You’re gratified that Brown can deliver downtown. And if anybody else wants to chip in more than once in a while, why, we could be in for quite the efficient onslaught.

If not, we’re counting our blessings that we’re not counting to 100 losses.

Remember Monday? Good for you if you can’t, ’cause that was the day Daisuke Matsuzaka helped Freddie Freeman demonstrate the efficacy of the home run (though who in a Mets uniform doesn’t?). It’s hard to look past Dice-K’s deleterious effect on a given game of baseball’s aesthetic appeal, but peer past his most recent effort to stop time in its tracks and try to recall the batting order to which Terry Collins applied his finest penmanship on Labor Day. It went a little something like this:

Young 7
Murphy 36
Satin 2
Brown 10
Lagares 4
Turner 6
Flores 1
Recker 7
Matsuzaka 0

You recognize the names. Do you get the numbers, though? Those were the respective career home run totals chalked up by each batter the Mets started at the moment Collins handed home plate umpire Tim McClelland his lineup card. Go ahead and add ’em up. What do you get?

If your arithmetic is anything like mine, you come up with 73. On Monday, Collins fielded a lineup that had 73 home runs in its collective major league past.

Daniel Murphy had almost half of them. Brown was a distant second. The rest were the rest.

The Mets lost Monday, 13-5 mostly because they didn’t get any starting pitching. Any starting pitching at all, to borrow from that prescient fan Leonard Shecter tracked down in the Polo Grounds toward the end of a 15-5 defeat during the Mets’ first homestand of 1962, and “you could say they woulda won.” Eternally perfect quote notwithstanding, the Mets have gotten plenty of pitching more years than not since 1962. It’s usually the lack of hitting that keeps them from claiming victory.

Perhaps it’s the ability to create lineups out of hitters who haven’t among them pooled their resources to have come up with more than 73 home runs.

Seventy-three home runs on the résumé of a big league lineup. Even if we allow for Matsuzaka’s zero in that department — essentially the only one he’s put up since he got here — that’s eight position players averaging a lifetime total of nine home runs apiece. That’ll happen when you don’t have access to Wright’s 220 and you’ve traded away Byrd’s 103 (now 104) and Davis’s 67 require a cortisone shot and you’re sitting Duda’s 40 (now 41) against lefty Paul Maholm. It’ll also happen when you’re more interested in finding out what you’ve got in a Satin or Lagares and Flores as opposed to relying on what’s left of a well-credentialed Gary Sheffield type…assuming we have one of those on hand…which we don’t.

Nevertheless, 73 home runs. From one batting order. In 2013. How bad is that?

It’s bad, but in Met annals, it’s not the worst. It doesn’t appear to be close to the worst. I can’t tell you definitively because I haven’t combed every starting lineup across 52 seasons to be able to definitively declare a specific one-through-nine an absolute zilch when it comes to power, but I definitely found worse than 73.

I found 1963. The dim stars were aligned late that summer to produce lineups that didn’t contain enough juice to fry an egg. As the Mets’ second season wound down, they were edging away from their inaugural-year philosophy of luring fans to the Polo Grounds with established names. Established names usually meant established numbers. In 1962 and most of 1963 that meant you’d see at least one hitter who’d hit enough home runs to fill a bushel basket or two in his career: Frank Thomas; Gil Hodges; Duke Snider; Charlie Neal; even Casey Stengel’s stylistic nemesis Jimmy Piersall. Piersall raised Ol’ Case’s ire by circling the bases backwards when he belted the 100th home run of his career on June 23, 1963. Lost in the historical fuss over Jimmy’s alleged clown act was he had a hundred home runs in his career — or 27 more than the nine Met men of 9/2/2013 had through 9/1/2013.

But age and injuries and the seedlings of an ultimately necessary youth movement systematically deleted these kinds of sluggers from the Mets’ plans as August was becoming September and the Shea future began bearing down on the 111-loss Polo Grounds present. Suddenly Stengel wasn’t penciling in old favorites but unknown quantities. What was known was that the quantity of home runs they had produced to date were minimal.

August 31, 1963
Joe Christopher 8
Rod Kanehl 5
Ron Hunt 8
Jesse Gonder 7
Jim Hickman 26
Tim Harkness 9
Duke Carmel 3
Al Moran 0
Carl Willey 2

There — a lineup less powerful than Monday’s, one that fell to the Braves under Coogan’s Bluff, 4-3. That’s five home runs fewer than Murph & the Miniatures could claim almost exactly a half-century later.

Yet that’s not the worst I found as I continued combing Baseball-Reference. The Mets would hit a few home runs between taking on Milwaukee on Saturday the 31st (which was the occasion of Moran’s only major league dinger) and challenging the Cardinals in St. Louis the following Thursday, yet the resulting net was not kind to that night’s nonet.

September 5, 1963
Ed Kranepool 2
Tim Harkness 12
Ron Hunt 8
Jim Hickman 27
Pumpsie Green 12
Dick Smith 0
Chris Cannizzaro 0
Al Moran 1
Grover Powell 0

Look at that: 62 lousy home runs. No wonder those Mets succumbed to the Cards, 9-0. It couldn’t have gotten any worse from a power resource standpoint.

Could it have?

Yes. It could have. It did. Two days later, in Cincinnati.

September 7, 1963
Ed Kranepool 2
Ron Hunt 8
Pumpsie Green 12
Tim Harkness 12
Duke Carmel 4
Joe Hicks 11
Choo Choo Coleman 8
Al Moran 1
Tracy Stallard 0

Well, then. There ya go. Casey cobbled together a lineup that in its entirety hit no more home runs to that point than Hank Greenberg had in one season a quarter-century earlier, yet somehow lost to the Reds anyway, 4-2. The key to plunging beneath 60 seemed to be playing Hicks instead of Hickman. Maybe our intrepid manager meant to go with Hickman and his 16 more lifetime home runs, assessed the overall state of his 45-96 Mets heading into this not-so-crucial matchup at Crosley Field and figured, “Close enough.”

For what it’s worth, when the careers of those nine men were over, they totaled 210 home runs in the major leagues, or ten fewer than David Wright has hit since 2004. Kranepool would turn out to be the Murphy of the group, socking 118, a Met record from 1979 until Dave Kingman surpassed it in 1982. Hunt wound up his career in 1974 with 39. Nobody else would accumulate more than 14, which is to say the seven other members of that lineup that didn’t beat Jim Maloney on a long-ago Saturday night in Cincy homered a cumulative five more times…ever. Alas, some youth movements take as much time to blossom as Daisuke Matsuzaka does to throw a single pitch.

Is that 58 home run total that turns 50 this Saturday the least the Mets have sent into battle in any one game in their offensively challenged history? I couldn’t say. I scoured a few scattered lineups from some years when I thought 58 could be taken down from below, but no nine proved nearly as unslugging as that which swung for the fences and completely missed them on 9/7/1963. Honestly, I don’t think I want to know. It’s bad enough that a Mets lineup from just the other day got me this curious.

Benny Ayala didn’t wait long to add a home run to his lifetime stats. Read the powerful story of his first at-bat, as told to David Jordan of Instream Sports here.

13 comments to Home Runs are Powerful Statements

  • Andy Chapo

    Wow, some of those names are so familiar, although I didn’t start watching the games until ’64. By then, COleman and Hicks were gone, replaced by the likes of George Altman, Roy McMillan, and Charlie Smith. Stallard had his moments, notably a 19-1 stomping of the Braves that year. even then, fans could tell that pitching was going to be more important than power. How many more games do you suppose Al Jackson would have wine with a better defense and some offense behind him?

    • That business about having to be a good pitcher to lose 20 games means Al Jackson likely would have been, if not outstanding, a lot luckier on teams that didn’t leave him a 20-game loser twice. Winning 13 for the 1963 Mets remains one of the great accomplishments in lesser franchise history.

  • Andee

    What I want to know is, how many home runs did the Mets’ 1993 opening day lineup have in its history to that point? Fat lot of good it did them, right?

    Most of that lineup for the game you reference was rookies or close to it, and late-season callups at that. Andrew Brown, as of today, has a total of 267 career plate appearances, Josh Satin 204, Juan Lagares a whopping 329, Wilmer Flores 76, Anthony Recker 206 (Travis D’Arnaud has 52). Daniel Murphy has 2336. He’d better have a lot more homers than any of ’em. But check back in two years, probably most of those guys will surpass him.

    So then I took a peek to see how many David Wright has so far. 220. Good gods, this organization has to get a lot less top heavy when it comes to position players! I think after the last few years, we should just automatically pencil in our best hitters for at least 6 weeks apiece on the DL, most of it simultaneously, and plan accordingly.

    • I recognize that 1993 bit as a pointed rhetorical question, but I looked it up and learned the Opening Day lineup combined for 880 home runs entering play on April 5, 1993.

      Coleman 18
      Fernandez 48
      Murray 414
      Bonilla 135
      HoJo 204
      Orsulak 37
      Young Jeff Kent 11
      Younger Todd Hundley 8
      Doc (Doc!) 5

      Kent had 366 HR ahead of him. Hundley had 194. Old Eddie Murray had 90. Individually, it can’t be said that lineup had no future to it.

      Those power-laden Mets crushed the Colorado Rockies — who had hit zero home runs as a franchise to that point — 3-0. It was a beautiful day, one that needed to be repeated another 100 or so times to ensure a division title.

      Clearly Sandy Alderson is at fault for failing to keep that team together.

  • Steve D

    The 1963 Mets hit .219 (pitchers included), the worst average in club history. Baseball has changed a lot since then, so it is hard to compare to today. The current Mets though are hitting .242, which will be their worst team average since 1992. Greg, try the 1968 Mets to find a lower HR total than 58…that team slugged .315 in the year of the pitcher.

    • Steve D

      The 1968 team probably won’t have a lower lineup…unless Agee, Swoboda and Shamsky all sat, which is unlikely. You need a very young team.

      • All it takes is one semi-accomplished veteran powerwise to DQ a given lineup in this little exercise. Agee entered 1968 with 40 HR, Swoboda 36, Shamsky 26, Kranepool 48, Charles a whopping 68 (whopping for ’68, at any rate). As the year goes on (the good lord willing, the numbers rise).

        Septembers are a good place to look. 9/14/77, for example, totaled 67 — the night Epsinosa shut out the Phillies and drove in the only run. I messed around with infamously light 1980, particularly once Wilson, Backman and Brooks were fresh out of Tidewater, but Lee Mazzilli already had 53 home runs by then and Claudell Washington and his 56 were also around.

        You really have to draw an inside straight to find 58 home runs.

  • Dave

    Not that I’m going to let myself lose any sleep over it, but Casey had Kranepool lead off? Huh?

    • 13 times! Maybe those lineups were arranged by age.

      • Dave

        Egads. And people complain that since Reyes walked we haven’t had a prototype leadoff hitter. I mean, I love Krane as all Mets fans should, but he was an old tired looking player by the time he was about 24.

    • Ken K. in NJ

      Well, you know what Earl Weaver thought about Team Speed. Then again he always had those 3 Run Homers in his lineup.

      PS: Krane apparently took that that leadoff thing seriously. Got on base twice that game, and even tried to steal a base, unsuccessfully of course.

  • vin

    I would scour the 1978 to 82 teams! very weak …Tavares,Giles,Flynn,Youngblood,Maz,Randle,Ron Hodges etc/ to fina a lineup with less HRs

    • The problem, if such a thing could be said to be a problem, was those teams had, among others, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Jerry Morales, Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, Ellis Valentine and George Foster. They showed up with too many HR in their past (regardless of how many they had in their future) to land south of 58.