Well, Yankees fans hate the Red Sox … if the Cardinals win again at least Carlos Beltran gets a ring … Hmm.
You know what? Never mind that for now. It’s time to welcome the latest budding immortals and dudes you’ve already forgotten who make up the THB Class of 2013.
Background: I have a trio of binders, long ago dubbed The Holy Books (THB) by Greg, that contain a baseball card for every Met on the all-time roster. They’re in order of matriculation: Tom Seaver is Class of ’67, Mike Piazza is Class of ’98, Matt Harvey is Class of ’12, etc. There are extra pages for the rosters of the two World Series winners, including managers, and one for the 1961 Expansion Draft. That page begins with Hobie Landrith and ends with the infamous Lee Walls, the only THB resident who neither played for nor managed the Mets.
If a player gets a Topps card as a Met, I use it unless it’s truly horrible — Topps was here a decade before there were Mets, so they get to be the card of record. No Mets card by Topps? Then I look for a minor-league card, a non-Topps Mets card, a Topps non-Mets card, or anything else. Topps had a baseball-card monopoly until 1981, and minor-league cards only really began in the mid-1970s, so cup-of-coffee guys from before ’75 or so are tough. Companies such as TCMA and Renata Galasso made odd sets with players from the 1960s — the likes of Jim Bethke, Bob Moorhead and Dave Eilers are immortalized through their efforts. And a card dealer named Larry Fritsch put out sets of “One Year Winners” spotlighting blink-and-you-missed-them guys such as Ted Schreiber and Joe Moock.
Then there are the legendary Lost Nine — guys who never got a regulation-sized, acceptable card from anybody. Brian Ostrosser got a 1975 minor-league card that looks like a bad Xerox. Leon Brown has a terrible 1975 minor-league card and an oversized Omaha Royals card put out as a promotional set by the police department. Tommy Moore got a 1990 Senior League card as a 42-year-old with the Bradenton Explorers. Then we have Al Schmelz, Francisco Estrada, Lute Barnes, Bob Rauch, Greg Harts and Rich Puig. They have no cards whatsoever — the oddball 1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz cards are too undersized to work. The Lost Nine are represented in THB by DIY cards I Photoshopped and had printed on cardstock, because I am insane.
During the season I scrutinize new card sets in hopes of finding a) better cards of established Mets; b) cards to stockpile for prospects who might make the Show; and most importantly c) a card for each new big-league Met.
Last winter Greg Prince’s years of patient questions and gentle campaigning culminated in reworking The Holy Books so the players were in order of matriculation instead of alphabetical within the year of their debuts. So shall it be here:
John Buck: Installed behind the plate with Travis d’Arnaud at Triple-A, Buck smashed nine home runs in April, causing us to say mean things about Josh Thole and declare that d’Arnaud could stay in Las Vegas for the year or possibly forever. Buck then hit six home runs the rest of the season while never walking — basically what John Buck had done throughout his career with the exception of April 2013. (And, OK, 2010, but that was in the American League and in Canada, which is two reasons it shouldn’t count.) 2013 Topps 2 card in airbrushed Mets togs.
Collin Cowgill: Cat-eyed outfielder who hit a grand slam on Opening Day, leading to an excess of “More Cowgill” jokes, then played indifferently for the rest of April, leading to an appropriate number of “Less Cowgill” jokes. Returned from the minors in June, which I have no memory of, and was then sent to the Angels. 2013 Topps Update “Chasing History” insert card that’s autographed. This piece of cardboard cost basically nothing but still annoys me, because 1) Cowgill last swung a bat in anger for the Mets around Flag Day; 2) it’s a horizontal, and horizontals hurt America; and 3) it’s the SECOND “Chasing History” insert card Cowgill got in 2013. Which member of Clan Cowgill works for Topps?
Marlon Byrd: Byrd’s 2012 could redefine miserable. He acknowledged that he still worked with BALCO honcho Victor Conte, played horribly with the Cubs and Red Sox, got released, then was suspended after testing positive for the estrogen blocker Tamoxifen. Byrd said he took the drug to treat a recurrence of gynecomastia, for which he’d had surgery a few years back. Gynecomastia is the growth of breast tissue in males, a condition that sometimes arises from steroid use and sometimes doesn’t; either way, it’s not the kind of thing a man wants to stand at his locker getting quizzed about. Byrd became a Met after the team lost out on its half-hearted pursuit of Michael Bourn, a Sandy Alderson pickup greeted with the kind of cheers normally reserved for a jury duty summons. So of course Bourn was merely OK in Cleveland and Byrd had a terrific campaign in New York, emerging as a clubhouse leader and fan favorite before getting flipped to the playoff-bound Pirates in exchange for useful reliever Vic Black and second-base prospect Dilson Herrera. Not bad, Mr. Alderson, not bad at all. 2013 Topps Update card in which he’s sliding home past Miguel Montero. It’s a horizontal, because Topps hates me.
Brandon Lyon: Well-traveled veteran reliever was pretty good for the Astros and Jays in 2012, then awful for the Mets in half a season, leading to his release. Middle relievers, sheesh. Unless you’re the Rays, every one of them is a crapshoot. 2013 Topps card on which Lyon’s a Blue Jay.
Scott Atchison: A 37-year-old reliever who looked 57, Atchison was nicknamed “Dad” by Mets fans, which was funny and better than being nicknamed “Warm Body,” though the latter would have been a perfect description of him. Some really old Upper Deck card that bills him as a Mariners “Star Rookie,” which is the kind of flight of fancy excusable when offered by elderly aunts and writers of copy for the back of baseball cards.
Scott Rice: Gigantic reliever who looked a bit like a thug seen in the background of some frame of “The Princess Bride.” Rice was a nice story in 2013, making the Mets after six organizations, 14 seasons and this itinerary of professional homes: Sarasota, Fla.; Bluefield, West Va.; Aberdeen, Md.; Delmarva, Frederick, Md.; Bowie, Md.; Ottawa; Surprise, Ariz.; Clinton, Iowa; Frisco, Texas; Central Islip, N.Y.; Newark, N.J.; San Antonio; Tulsa; Colorado Springs; York, Pa.; Chattanooga; Albuquerque. You think Rice didn’t consider hanging it up somewhere in there? Proved useful enough, with the rather predictable outcome that Terry Collins rode him into the ground. Had surgery for a hernia in early September; one hopes he’ll be back. 2012 Albuquerque Isotopes card.
Greg Burke: Consistently lousy submariner bounced back and forth between New York and Las Vegas, arousing less enthusiasm each time he reappeared. Unlikely to return as a Met; likely to show up as the last guy on somebody else’s staff and make you go “oh that’s right” during the sixth inning of some ho-hum game in June 2014 or 2015. Las Vegas 51s card, fittingly.
LaTroy Hawkins: Proof that not all of Sandy Alderson’s bullpen signings are disasters. The 40-year-old Hawkins’ arrival marked his ninth organization in as many years, and at first he was notable chiefly for goading the Mets into making a “Harlem Shake” video. But he was solid all year, even taking over closer duties from Bobby Parnell without a hitch. Bringing him back for another campaign might be pushing it, but he’ll be fondly remembered. No 2013 Topps card; last year Topps made cards for Manny Acosta, Miguel Batista, Tim Byrdak, Josh Edgin, Jeremy Hefner and Ramon Ramirez. That makes sense.
Aaron Laffey: Discarded after four horrible April appearances in which he allowed 21 baserunners in 10 innings. Not very funny, Aaron. 2010 Topps card.
Anthony Recker: A lesson in patience — on April 30 Recker had perhaps the worst defensive inning I’ve ever seen from a catcher, capping a month in which he had exactly one hit. It sounds like damning with faint praise to say he got better, because how exactly could he have got worse? But he got better, hitting .317 in August and September and looking much more capable behind the plate. Plus he pitched an inning against the Nats, during which Angel Hernandez squeezed him on pitches and John Buck remarked that he had experience catching position players: “I played for the Royals, man … not my first blowout.” Good times! 2011 Bowman card.
Juan Lagares: Converted infielder surprised everyone by emerging as the best defensive center fielder since Carlos Beltran, making even difficult plays look routine and gunning down runners aplenty. The jury’s still out on his bat, but Lagares showed signs of improving his approach at the plate as he gained big-league experience. One of the year’s most pleasant surprises. 2013 Topps Update card.
Shaun Marcum: Started late, then pitched in what looked like abominable luck but was actually karma. After riding off into the post-surgical sunset with a 1-10 record, Marcum criticized Gary, Keith and Ron on Twitter and was savaged by fans and scribes alike. AND STAY OUT. Got a 2013 Topps Update card despite last being seen on July 6.
Andrew Brown: Prospect-turned-suspect showed flashes of power in part-time outfield role, but struggled for playing time. 51s card.
Rick Ankiel: Ankiel’s rise and fall and reinvention with the Cardinals is a well-known and inspiring story, but that was a long time ago. Picking up Ankiel in mid-May after the Astros no longer wanted him was one of the more mystifying decisions of the Alderson regime, transferring playing time from young guys who needed it to an old guy who all too obviously no longer merited it. Ankiel’s final big-league AB was a strikeout that ended a 20-inning loss against the Marlins in June, a sad end to a final chapter that never should have been written in the first place. 2010 Topps Opening Day card, of all things.
David Aardsma: Bald, buff reliever pitched well enough until overuse took its toll. Bumped Don Aase from his place as the first Met in alphabetical team history, though no one can bump Don Aase from his place as the first Met in our hearts. 2012 Topps card as a Mariner.
Carlos Torres: Arrived unexpectedly in mid-June, the beneficiary of a promote-him-or-lose-him contract clause, and surprised everybody by pitching quite serviceably as a swingman. Will probably be back, and deservedly so. 51s card.
Zack Wheeler: Followed the Matt Harvey route to the big leagues, refining his craft in Triple-A, getting bored and arriving in New York after a predictable delay related to service time. When he arrived he was every bit as much of a treat as Harvey had been, showing off a dazzling repertoire and seeming to get better with every start. If he continues along the Harvey arc, look out National League. (Though let’s skip the tragic lack of run support and Tommy John surgery.) 2013 Topps Update card.
Eric Young Jr.: Not as good a player as people think, but brought the Mets much-needed speed, defense, and energy. And hey, getting him for Collin McHugh was a pretty nice bit of front-office thievery. 2013 Topps Update card.
Gonzalez Germen: Looked destined to become the 10th Met Ghost, sitting on the bench for a long stretch in early July, but got into a game after all and then pitched well enough for the rest of the year. Should be in the mix in 2014. He’s a middle reliever, so who the heck knows. 51s card.
Wilmer Flores: Bad-bodied kid with a quick bat and no obvious position. Seems most valuable as a trade chip to be sent somewhere he can DH in peace. The Mets of the early 1990s would have stuck him at second base. Yipes! 2013 Topps Heritage Minor League card on which he’s a 51.
Travis d’Arnaud: The centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade, d’Arnaud’s brief audition demonstrated a knack for drawing walks but not for getting hits, which is probably just a product of a small sample size. Already winning plaudits for his ability to frame pitches, the current frontier in baseball science. Here’s hoping he can stay on the field, relax, and let the hits come. No Topps Update card; instead he’s represented by a 2013 Topps Pro Debut card on which he’s a Buffalo Bison, a team he’s never played for. Nice job, Topps.
Matt den Dekker: Grapefruit League injury derailed a possible trip north for this sure-gloved center fielder, which opened the door for Collin Cowgill and eventually Juan Lagares. Once he finally arrived, looked superb in both center and right and showed surprising power. Promising, but then we once said similar things about Kirk Nieuwenhuis. 2012 Pro Debut card.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Another lesson in patience. Matsuzaka looked awful in his first three starts after the Mets grabbed him out of the Indians’ Triple-A ranks, but his next four were terrific. It wouldn’t be the craziest idea for the Mets to make him 2014’s Shaun Marcum, hopefully minus being bad and annoying. 2013 Topps card as a Red Sock.
Vic Black: Came over from Pirates in the Marlon Byrd trade and looked decent enough, with a high-90s fastball complemented by a good slider. He’s a reliever, so we’ll see. 2012 Pro Debut card.
Sean Henn: Who? 2011 Las Vegas card.
Aaron Harang: I admit to prejudice against ham-and-egger starters whose sole reason for getting a roster spot seems to be their status as Proven Veterans™ — why on earth would you want to come to the park to watch, say, Livan Hernandez get older? But the September Mets were truly screwed, with injuries and innings limits eliminating all real options within the organization. So enter Harang, to my infinite displeasure. How’d he do? Not badly at all — see Daisuke Matsuzaka above, and shut up Jace. 2012 Topps card.
Juan Centeno: Pint-sized catcher sat on the bench for nine games, then collected two hits in his debut and later gunned down Reds speed merchant Billy Hamilton. Not bad! 51s card.
Wilfredo Tovar: Ruben Tejada’s broken leg forced the Mets to call Tovar, who was sitting at home to Venezuela after an up-and-down season with Binghamton. Pressed into service, Tovar promptly collected a pair of hits in beating the Phillies, which was enough to endear him to any Mets fan. Good glove, iffy bat, zero speed — it’s like the factory ran off an extra Ruben Tejada while no one was looking.
And that’s a wrap! See you next year!