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Mike’s Day Will Come

The sound and the fury notwithstanding, nothing much changed from a purely parochial perspective following Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement [1]. Mike Piazza still rocks, T#m Gl@v!ne still galls and Tom Seaver still rules.

Piazza didn’t gain induction. Big deal. He continues to be one of the absolute greatest Mets there ever was, his membership in the Hall of Greg [2] remains valid and his 62.2% from Cooperstown’s high and mighty arbiters of immortality (and morality) represented an improvement from the previous vote, indicating that within a couple of elections, he’ll probably get in, most likely etched under a Mets cap.

He should be in already. But you already knew that.

Gl@v!ne, meanwhile, becomes the twelfth Mets player to make the Hall. Yippee. I thought I might tap into some long-dormant vein of rose-colored viewing and say something generous on T#m’s behalf — perhaps recalling his two outstanding starts in the ’06 playoffs or how he learned to work the inside of the plate at an advanced age when quesTec compelled him to change his careerlong approach — but I don’t have it in me [3], other than to acknowledge he won 305 games, two Cy Youngs and there was no unbiased reason to keep him out. Even with a permanent record encompassing his final three Mets starts (14.81 ERA and zero garments rended as his team surrendered its playoff spot), there’s no arguing against him residing in Cooperstown.

They can have him.

His Braves buddy Greg Maddux goes in, too, which is fine and dandy on merit, especially since Maddux didn’t break Seaver’s vote-percentage record of 98.84. That’s an admittedly petty concern, but it’s been our treasured heirloom since 1992, so I’ll be petty on its behalf. MLB Network got Maddux and Gl@v!ne on the air (with their man Smoltz) for requisite fawning and teasing about how much they’ll love playing golf upstate this summer. If I closed my eyes, it was somewhere between 1993 and 2002 and Braves pitching was the same immovable object all over again. It wasn’t a pretty sight to behold, even in the imagination.

The Big Hurt made it. Good for Frank Thomas, whose three-run homer off Jeff D’Amico in Interleague action in 2002 — the only series in which he ever faced the Mets — failed to leave a scar. Maybe our Frank Thomas will accidentally receive more of his mail as a result. Any excuse to invoke the man who hit 34 home runs for a 120-loss team is a welcome diversion.

Six Mets who weren’t Piazza or Gl@v!ne also rode the 2014 ballot. Only one will return in 2015: Jeff Kent. He stopped being a Met in 1996, which was in another millennium. Then he went on to become one of the most prolific slugging second basemen of all time. Go figure. His 15.2% of the vote indicates he’ll be talked if not to death then perhaps to sniffles for at least a few more elections.

Kent was a helluva Met for one month in particular: April 1994. Remember when John Buck was challenging the franchise record for most RBIs in an April? That was Jeff’s mark he bore down on but  couldn’t top. What an April it was 20 years ago: 26 runs batted in, seven homer and an OPS of 1.160. Kent stopped being such hot orange and blue stuff thereafter, but I’m willing to call it a Hall of Fame month.

Rather than grind too many teeth over the events of September 30, 2007 [4] (which suddenly seems uncomfortably recent), I will choose to harbor selectively fond memories of the unquestionably unpopular or relatively forgotten Mets who won’t be considered for Cooperstown any longer. Like Jeff Kent. Like the other five.

Paul Lo Duca received zero votes, but he seamlessly replaced a legend in 2006 and was a major reason the Mets leapt ahead of the N.L. East pack to stay. We wouldn’t have our sole set of post-Piazza postseason memories if not for Lo Duca. It may not be worth a Hall of Fame vote, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Moises Alou received six votes for a very solid, occasionally stellar career. Boy could he hit. He hit in a Mets-best 30 consecutive games as all else was falling apart around him late in 2007. He was 41 and dead tired, yet he kept playing and kept hitting. Not exactly a bulletproof Cooperstown credential, but I warm to the thought.

Hideo Nomo was between his phenomenon stage and his comeback period as a four-month Met in 1998. His six votes today aren’t for what he did as the Mets fell once game shy of forging a three-way tie for the Wild Card. Nevertheless, a 10-strikeout complete-game gem at San Francisco stands out in my mind from that playoff hunt. He could’ve done more (like take the ball when Bobby Valentine tried to hand it to him for the last start of the season), but he did something. It was better than nothing.

Kenny Rogers…yeah, I know. But I also know this, thanks to Baseball Musings [5]: seven games played at Shea Stadium as a Met — all in 1999 — and the Mets won every time. You know who was a more successful home park player for the Mets in their history? Nobody. No kidding. It may be glory by association, but nobody can touch that 7-0 record. It was Turner Field where he found trouble, but that was a bit later. And given the closeness of regular-season affairs in 1999, there’s no underestimating how important Kenny Rogers was in getting the Mets to October.

I mean, yeah, Kenny Rogers…bases loaded, ball four, I get it. Believe me I get it. But he really did help there for a while. I wouldn’t have cast the one Hall of Fame vote he got, but I’m not going to scream that he accumulated one.

Armando Benitez would be remembered as an outstanding Met reliever if not for the handful of times he managed to be incredibly dreadful, which, given his job description, were always when it mattered most. So I’ll conveniently skip over crucial territory and give Armando and his one inexplicable vote received their due, not for all the saves he piled up (which are usually written off as culled in pressure-free situations, though that’s not an entirely fair characterization), but in honor of one appearance that stays with me because it was so much fun to witness.

At Shea in June of 1999, when every game was already important to the Mets breaking their eleven-year playoff drought, Benitez was brought on to protect a 4-2 lead against the Marlins. He retired the order in the top of the eighth. The Mets then went about tacking on runs in the home half of the inning. Benitez seemed poised to exit in favor of a pinch-hitter and ultimately John Franco, but with the score jacked up to 7-2, two on and nobody out, Bobby V said, essentially, “what the hell?” and let his hard-throwing reliever bat.

Benitez grounded to third, bringing home Roger Cedeño the sixth run of the inning. It was the first RBI of the pitcher’s career [6], and all of us on hand stood and gave him a hearty ovation. Then the usual setup man went out to finish the game, striking out all three Marlins he faced. Soon enough, he’d be the closer and it would never look so easy or feel very cheery, but if there had to be a solitary vote thrown away on Armando Benitez, let it be thrown away against that pleasant memory.

Benitez, Rogers, Nomo and Alou will all be absent from next year’s ballot, but we will have Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado to pick around, along with the great Piazza. Their arguments can wait, though it occurs to me nobody’s candidacy ever looms so promising as when he has yet to be overlooked.

Think about it. A year ago at this time, Kent’s name was included with Maddux’s, Gl@v!ne’s, Thomas’s and Mike Mussina’s as part of the supposed powerhouse class to come. New meat is inevitably framed that way. Yet Kent and Mussina languished toward the rear of the results while the others waltzed in. So I’d advise, in case you’re thinking Pedro is a lock or that Delgado and Sheffield stack up reasonably well, cherish this moment in time when nobody’s seasons of accomplishments are yet reduced to afterthought status, when BBWAA members of various stripe have yet to casually dismiss hundreds of homers or thousands of hits as if attaining them took nothing special.

These elections cue Terry Cashman’s classic in my head, not the “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” refrain of “Talkin’ Baseball” so much as the contemporary verse he included to celebrate how our grand old game keeps rolling along. One line in particular resonates today:

Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt
And Vida Blue
If Cooperstown is calling
It’s no fluke

Seaver and Schmidt were called. Blue and Garvey weren’t. Terry went 2-for-4 in his 1981 forecast for surefire immortality. That’s a batting average of .500. But we’ve all learned in the ensuing decades that batting average isn’t everything.