The Mets won a truncated game in Philadelphia Saturday night. Though earlier this year we were subject to a plethora of unnecessarily lengthened contests, this version of baseball aberration — six innings and change before the rain made itself unstoppably intrusive — seems more fitting for the 2013 Mets, given that almost every 2013 Met has played a shortened season.
Wilfredo Tovar is set to become the 53rd Met to see action this year, a year on the verge of finishing behind only 1967 (54) for most Mets used. That’ll happen when your players don’t make it from one end of the season to another.
As was first divined and reported here and widely disseminated without attribution since, the only Mets to start 2013 and (presumably) end 2013 without wandering off to other organizations, lesser leagues or disabled lists have been Saturday night’s winner Dillon Gee, dependable Daniel Murphy and officially ageless LaTroy Hawkins. Everybody else has been a comer, a goer or, when things went reasonably well, a returnee.
Things went reasonably well for August hamstring victim David Wright. He’s returned. During the seven weeks he was out…
• the Met seasons of Matt Harvey, Ike Davis, Jeremy Hefner, Jenrry Mejia, Robert Carson, Scott Rice, Ruben Tejada and Zack Wheeler came to a definitive end;
• the Met careers of John Buck and Marlon Byrd definitively concluded.
• the Met careers of Wilmer Flores, Travis d’Arnaud, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt den Dekker, Vic Black, Sean Henn, Aaron Harang and Juan Centeno definitively began;
• the dormant Met careers of Tim Byrdak, Frank Francisco, Mike Baxter and Zach Lutz each resumed;
• and somewhere in there, Jon Niese was routinely reactivated, Lucas Duda was reluctantly recalled and Bobby Parnell subjected himself to surgery.
With so many Mets who have been lost or perhaps just misplaced, it has been reassuring to rediscover David Wright in the middle of the Met lineup these past two nights. He produced a homer Friday and another homer Saturday. He’s provided a pedigreed major league presence that had been missing since he came up lame against the Royals on August 2. And he’s manned third base like he was born there.
Which he wasn’t, though that fact was hard to remember until we were forced to by circumstance.
In the 45 games Wright missed, four different Mets started at third base and a fifth filled in for a couple of innings. The ol’ notorious Mets Third Base Count had to be dusted off to accommodate the additions of Wilmer Flores (No. 151) on August 6 and Omar Quintanilla (No. 152) on September 15. True, Wright’s injury triggered a boom for obsessive Met listmakers, but it wasn’t worth the shortfall it created on offense, defense or special teams. Mind you, it’s not that anybody who played in the Captain’s absence — including Zach Lutz (No. 150), Josh Satin (No. 147) and Justin Turner (No. 141) — was irredemably bad from August 3 through September 19.
It’s just that they weren’t David Wright (No. 129).
David Wright has played 1,359 games at third base for the New York Mets. Is that a lot? It really is. Never mind that he now outdistances his mentor and runner-up Howard Johnson (No. 78) by more than 500 games. Never mind that Wright’s 1,359 is more games at third than the combination of the third basemen in third and fourth place — Wayne Garrett (No. 40) and Hubie Brooks (No. 68). Instead, keep in mind Wright’s grip on third relative to other Mets in other spots.
MOST METS GAMES PLAYED BY DEFENSIVE POSITION
3B David Wright 1,359
1B Ed Kranepool 1,302
SS Bud Harrelson 1,280
C Jerry Grote 1,176
RF Darryl Strawberry 1,062
CF Mookie Wilson 907
LF Cleon Jones 800
2B Wally Backman 680
Source: Ultimate Mets Database
Wally Backman (No. 69), incidentally, played 8 games at third base between 1981 and 1983, while Jerry Grote (No. 28) logged 18 games at third, with 2 as early as 1966 and 11 as late as 1977. One of the hallmarks of Mets third base when the counting was frequent and furious, you see, was the out-of-position planting of players you wouldn’t normally associate with third base at third base.
Backman? He wasn’t yet established as a starting second baseman, so in a utility role it wasn’t crazy to see what he could do at third. But Grote? The greatest defensive catcher the Mets ever had shuffled off to third?
Why not? It was the Metropolitan way to take fellas better known for playing other positions and trying them at third when all else failed or the bench was disturbingly bare. It explains, to various extents, how outfielders Frank Thomas (No. 6), Jim Hickman (No. 15), Amos Otis (No. 36) and Elliott Maddox (No. 59) were trotted over to third and put through some less than ideal paces. Alleged “versatility” is what made Dave Kingman (No. 51) a third baseman for a dozen games in 1975. A marathon punctuated by a brawl is responsible for Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter (No. 80) landing on third. Talents better suited to DH indicate why Gregg Jefferies (No. 84) was given ample opportunity where he was decidedly unsuited.
The tradition of anybody and everybody being given a whirl on the far left side began early and often in Mets lore. Don Zimmer (No. 1) was given less than a month to prove he couldn’t hack it. Zim’s ostensible replacement, Cliff Cook (No. 5), stopped being a Met after two months. During a two-day period in 1963, the Mets tried four new third basemen: Chico Fernandez (No. 11), Larry Burright (No. 12), Al Moran (No. 13) and Ron Hunt (No. 14). Hunt retained a bright future at second — presaging by three decades the career trajectory of Jeff Kent (No. 94). The rest would be gone from the Mets before 1964 was over…by which time Sammy Samuel (No. 19), Wayne Graham (No. 20) and Bobby Klaus (No. 21) would solidify third base’s reputation as hard to solve.
Once the Mets had put six seasons in the books — in that Grand Central Terminal year of 1967 — they had tried 38 different third basemen, or more than six wholly new faces per year. The sole survivor from that band of hot cornerers, at least from a still-at-third standpoint, was Ed Charles (No. 32). The Glider glided into 1969 where he shared primary tertiary-base responsibilities with Garrett and Bobby Pfeil (No. 41). It was good enough to add up to a world championship.
Alas, Charles and Pfeil didn’t see 1970, Metwise, while Joe Foy (No. 42), Bob Aspromonte (No. 44), Jim Fregosi (No. 46) and Joe Torre (No. 48) were all hailed as veteran answers as the decade proceeded. Inevitably, though the question reverted to “why not Garrett?” At this momentous moment in 1973, Wayne was all the third baseman the Mets would ever need. Yet within two years, the reliable redhead was being shunted aside in favor of prospective wunderkind Roy Staiger (No. 50).
But Staiger didn’t last. Nor did one-year whiz Lenny Randle (No. 54) or bright-eyed utility guy Bobby Valentine (No. 57), never mind sourpuss extraordinaire Richie Hebner (No. 62). You could be a catcher like John Stearns (No. 60) or Alex Treviño (No. 61) or Mackey Sasser (No. 82) and get a shot at third. You could be iron-gloved like Phil Mankowski (No. 64) or easing to the end of the line like Mike Cubbage (No. 70) or potentially able but obstinately unwilling like Joel Youngblood (No. 56).
Or you could simply be Rich Puig (No. 47), no discernible relation to Yasiel.
You could go on like this, but you get the idea. A lot of Mets dross at third base for seasons on end. A little gold here and there, but with luster of a limited nature or tenure. There’d be a Hubie or a HoJo getting the job done admirably until another assignment beckoned. There’d be a Ray Knight (No. 76) winning a World Series MVP award (but then being shown the door), an Edgardo Alfonzo (No. 100) establishing himself as a pro’s pro (but then accepting a request to focus on second) and a Robin Ventura (No. 114) doing everything you could ask for a while (but then rapidly aging).
Yet across a maturing franchise’s middle age of sifting through what was left of Garry Templeton (No. 89) and Carlos Baerga (No. 103) and John Valentin (No. 123) and Jay Bell (No. 126) while deciphering if there was anything at all to Craig Shipley (No. 86) and Junior Noboa (No. 91) and Aaron Ledesma (No. 101) and Alvaro Espinoza (No. 104) and Kevin Morgan (No. 106) and Shawn Gilbert (No. 110) and Jim Tatum (No. 112) and David Lamb (No. 120), all the way up to whatever it was the Mets saw in Ricky Gutierrez (No. 128), we waited for the count to slow not just chronologically but conceptually. We waited for the third baseman who would so impress for so long that after many a summer we would have to explain that believe it or not, third base wasn’t always a Met strength.
We waited 42½ seasons for No. 129 to arrive and endure. An unfortunate seven-week hiatus that separated us from him just reminded us why.