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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
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.

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Chenless Wonders

The Royals’ 7-2 victory in Wednesday night’s Game Two provided a healthy reminder that there are two league champions vying in this World Series. Or, more cynically, the Giants’ 7-2 defeat in Wednesday night’s Game Two provided a pointed reminder that an 89-win team is playing an 88-win team for the championship of the world. Either way — and despite Major League Baseball yet again ignoring my annual plea that it grant television rights to C-Span so we can be spared their godawful announcers and analysts — we know two things.

1) Baseball in 2014 goes on at least through Sunday night.

2) No Met from 2001 will be in uniform for any of it.

We were well into Kansas City’s dismantling of the American League elite when it occurred to me we hadn’t seen Bruce Chen, who, last I had noticed, had been pitching in the Royals’ rotation since the days of Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff. Or maybe it just felt that way. In fact, Chen had been a K.C. mainstay since 2009, when after nine major league stops since 1998 and a year spent recovering from Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Royals and pitched for them when nobody was bothering to count how many years they had gone without a World Series. Like Chen’s total of previous teams, it was understood to be a lot.

In Kansas City, Chen posted winning records for perennially losing teams. He relieved. He spot-started. In 2012, he led the American League in starts with 34. In 2013, he went 9-4 for a club that won more than it lost for the first time in a decade. Most importantly, for my tracking purposes, I knew where to find him, for as long as Bruce Chen pitched, I could identify the Longest Ago Met Still Active (LAMSA), not to mention the Last Met Standing from 2001.

Once his absence drifted into my mental airspace, I investigated the Kansas City postseason roster and discovered Bruce Chen wasn’t on it. Not only was he left off for October, he was released in September. Who releases a veteran lefty from a pennant contender in September? A veteran lefty who had appeared in 156 games for you over the past six years? Even if the veteran lefty in question is 37, had spent two months between April and June on the DL with a bad back and was saddled with an ERA of 7.45?

C’mon! He’s Bruce Chen! He was a 2001 Met!

That probably doesn’t cut a modicum of ice in Kansas City, but it meant something here, as Chen had succeeded Octavio Dotel as the reigning LAMSA of MLB. Dotel, who recently announced his retirement as official, hadn’t pitched since April 19, 2013. With Dotel — the final active player to have been a Met in the 20th century — stepping off the rubber for good, the honor of being the active player who had been a Met before any other active player had been a Met fell to Chen.

Chen, it might be recalled, made his major league debut as a hot-shot Brave prospect on September 7, 1998, at Shea Stadium. On the same day the world stood and applauded the feelgood sight of Mark McGwire tying Roger Maris’s single-season home run record of 61, the 21-year-old Panamanian southpaw threw three shaky innings in a Labor Day matinee that was interrupted by a monsoon so violent that manager Bobby Valentine and first base coach Mookie Wilson had to assist the grounds crew in keeping the tarp in place. The Wild Card-pursuing Mets teed off against Chen before and after the rains came, with homers from noted sluggers Luis Lopez and Tony Phillips and an RBI single via the bat of Brian McRae.

Need more names to convince you this was a long time ago? Masato Yoshii started for the Mets; Willie Blair came on for Yoshii after the nearly two-hour storm delay; Rigo Beltran replaced Blair when Willie found trouble; Dennis Martinez, who was a 1976 Baltimore Oriole alongside Brooks Robinson and Reggie Jackson, replaced Chen; and after blowing a 4-0 lead, the Mets prevailed, 8-7, when Edgardo Alfonzo blasted a two-run, eighth-inning homer off another lefthanded Brave rookie, John Rocker.

Out of all those players, Chen proved the ultimate big league survivor, making it all the way to August 28, 2014, when he gave up six runs in the tenth inning of the Royals’ 11-5 loss to the Twins. On September 5, two days shy of the 16th anniversary of his MLB debut, he was released, with no hard feelings apparent. Under similar circumstances in 1986, Ed Lynch, who had persevered as a Met from 1980 onward only to be traded away slightly before things got really good, came to view his involuntary departure as “living with a family the whole year and getting thrown out of the house on Christmas Eve”. No such tidings from Bruce. The last tweet sent forth by @ChenMusic, after they swept the Birds, extended “Congrats to the @Royals. The team, organization and most importantly the fans deserve this.”

No mention made by Chen of Chen perhaps deserving his only postseason action after such a long career without a shred of it. He never made a playoff appearance as a Brave, and once Atlanta traded him to Philadelphia for Andy Ashby in 2000, he would find himself pitching mostly for also-rans across a staggeringly itinerant major league journey.

He wasn’t yet “Bruce Chen” in the Suitcase Simpson (or Octavio Dotel) sense when he returned to Shea in July 2001 not as a visitor but as a Met. With his club buried far under .500 and the Wild Card deemed out of reach, Steve Phillips was selling off the defending 2000 N.L. champs for parts. Two pieces he was willing to detach from the Mets were erstwhile bullpen stalwarts Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook, sent to the Phillies in exchange for Chen and minor leaguer Adam Walker. Given that two-time All-Star Rick Reed had been shipped off days earlier as well, a spot was open in Valentine’s rotation and it was given to Chen for the duration of the season.

Bruce took it and mostly ran with it, keeping the Mets in every game he started. His modest success was no more than something to keep tabs on with an eye toward 2002 until something unexpected happened. The Mets began to win almost every game they played. Neither of Chen’s former teams could quite pull away from them. The Mets were making up ground like crazy on the Braves and Phillies. By early September, Bruce and the Mets had charged into an honest-to-goodness divisional race.

Then September 11 happened, which rendered the whole effort as irrelevant as could possibly be. But baseball did return. The Mets swept three in Pittsburgh. They closed to within 5½ of Atlanta with 18 to play, including six versus the Braves. They came home to Shea on September 21 to face Atlanta amid circumstances unlike any that had ever surrounded a home team in New York or baseball history.

And their starting pitcher was Bruce Chen.

The story of 9/21/01 at Shea was at first about everything but baseball and, nine innings later, about how baseball still meant something in the scheme of everything. In baseball terms, it instantly became all about Mike Piazza and the home run he hit in the eighth inning to put the Mets ahead, 3-2, the score by which the Mets would go on to win. Implicit in Piazza’s starring role that Friday night was he caught as well as hit. He caught Chen for seven innings when Bruce didn’t give up a single earned run to his original team. The only Brave to score scored when Mike committed an error.

Chen was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh of a 1-1 game. He’d be no-decisioned and his contribution to an unforgettable event would be mostly forgotten. Eleven years later, when asked about his part in it, Bruce deflected any sense of self. What he remembered was “people were cheering for us when we got a base hit, and people were laughing and clapping. That was the first time since September 11 that I saw a bunch of people from New York laughing and having a good time — cheering for something and having their minds distracted from what happened.”

The Mets couldn’t ride their momentum much further beyond September 21. Chen made two more starts in 2001, one relief appearance early in 2002 and was sent to yet another N.L. East club, the Expos, in exchange for Scott Strickland (who was no great shakes as a Met but probably would have been a better bet than Hunter Strickland last night for the Giants). The tour was off and running in earnest for Chen, a lefty who would always get at least a look from somebody. Montreal; Cincinnati; Houston; Boston; Baltimore by way of Ottawa before Toronto gave up on him; Texas; then 2008 lost to Tommy John; then, at long last, a relatively permanent landing spot in Kansas City.

Then, barring the unforeseen, done. The Last Met Standing from 2001 — and perhaps 2002 — stands active no longer.

Let’s slot him in his place in the pantheon.

LONGEST AGO MET STILL ACTIVE: Chronology

Felix Mantilla, debuted as a Met, 4/11/1962; last game in the major leagues, 10/2/1966
Al Jackson, 4/14/1962; 9/26/1969
Chris Cannizzaro, 4/14/1962*; 9/28/1974
Ed Kranepool, 9/22/1962; 9/30/1979
Tug McGraw, 4/18/1965; 9/25/1984
Nolan Ryan, 9/11/1966; 9/22/1993
Jesse Orosco, 4/5/1979; 9/27/2003
John Franco, 4/11/1990; 7/1/2005
Jeff Kent, 8/28/1992; 9/27/2008
Jason Isringhausen**, 7/17/1995; 9/19/2012
Octavio Dotel, 6/26/1999; 4/19/2013
Bruce Chen, 8/1/2001; 8/28/2014
Jose Reyes, 6/10/2003; still active***

*Cannizzaro was Jackson’s catcher on April 14, 1962, at the Polo Grounds, so for LAMSA purposes, he debuted as a Met after his pitcher.
**During Isringhausen’s extensive injury rehabilitation period, Paul Byrd (debuted as a Met on 7/28/1995); Jay Payton (9/1/1998); and Melvin Mora (5/30/1999) could each temporarily lay claim to LAMSA status, but Izzy ultimately outlasted them all.
***Marco Scutaro (debuted as a Met on 7/21/2002) is on the Giants’ 60-day DL, having last played on 7/24/2014.

LAST MET STANDING: 1962-2003

1962-1964: Ed Kranepool (final MLB game: 9/30/1979)
1965: Tug McGraw (9/25/1984)
1966: Nolan Ryan (9/22/1993)
1967: Tom Seaver (9/19/1986)
1968-1971: Nolan Ryan (9/22/1993)
1972-1974: Tom Seaver (9/19/1986)
1975: Dave Kingman (10/5/1986)
1976-1977: Lee Mazzilli (10/7/1989)
1978: Alex Treviño (9/30/1990)
1979: Jesse Orosco (9/27/2003)
1980: Hubie Brooks (7/2/1994)
1981-1987: Jesse Orosco (9/27/2003)
1988-1989: David Cone (5/28/2003)
1990-1991: John Franco (7/1/2005)
1992-1994: Jeff Kent (9/27/2008)
1995-1997: Jason Isringhausen (9/19/2012)
1998: Jay Payton (10/3/2010)
1999: Octavio Dotel (4/19/2013)
2000: Melvin Mora (6/29/2011)
2001-2002: Bruce Chen (8/28/2014)
2003: Jose Reyes (still active)

Though we can put a seal on 2001, 2002 is a little less certain. When last we scoured the Mets’ back catalogue for active players from the end of the Bobby Valentine era (though 2002 was more like pre-Art Howe), three former Mets were still suiting up in big league clubhouses: Chen, Marco Scutaro and Ty Wigginton — with Pedro Feliciano getting loose in the minors. Since then, before noticing Chen was no longer a Royal, we’ve seen the last of Wiggy (47 games a Cardinal in 2013, released by the Marlins this past spring) and probably the end of Perpetual Pedro, who gave Terry Collins the last of his 484 Met and nothing but Met major league appearances on September 28, 2013. Feliciano signed with St. Louis in 2014, but flew no further north than Memphis before being let go.

That leaves Scutaro, who remains a San Francisco Giant on paper. Marco currently sits on the Giants’ 60-day disabled list following a five-game 2014 stint that ended on July 24. On one hand, Scutaro is signed through 2015 and is owed a third of the three-year, $20 million deal he signed after helping San Francisco to the 2012 world championship. On the other hand, he’ll be 39 at month’s end and is out because of a bulging disc, giving him the kind of chronic pain that back surgery could ease, except such surgery would likely end any hopes of resuming a baseball-playing career. Sidelined teammate and fellow ex-Met Angel Pagan relayed word in September that Scutaro plans to “give this another try and see what happens,” but that might be asking a lot out of somebody who played on the same minor league team as Mike Glavine in 1996, never mind doing the same on the Mets of 2003.

If we set aside Scutaro, then the reigning LAMSA — the Longest Ago Met who is Still Active for sure as 2015 approaches — is Jose Reyes.

Yes, that’s how old we’ve all gotten. Jose Reyes, who was called up from the minors to replace Rey Sanchez on June 10, 2003, has been around longer than any other active player who has played for the New York Mets. Jose was 19 when he debuted. He turned 20 the next day. Mathematical sources indicate he is currently 31, though that figure should probably be vetted more thoroughly because how the hell is Jose Reyes any older than maybe 23?

We knew this day was coming. Even if Scutaro fights his way back, Jose has always loomed as the 2003 firewall in LAMSA Land. For all the folderol about his own injury-proneness, Reyes — the only player remaining who was a Met when Bob Murphy was calling games — isn’t going anywhere…except maybe from Toronto to Flushing in my dreams.

One more list to tide us over before we get back to aging. Here are the Mets — some current, some former, one who’s slated to start Game Four of the present World Series for the Royals — still active in the majors who played as Mets at dear, departed Shea Stadium:

Jose Reyes
David Wright
Carlos Beltran
Endy Chavez
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
Joe Smith
Carlos Gomez
Jason Vargas
Angel Pagan
Daniel Murphy
Jon Niese
Bobby Parnell

This baker’s dozen doesn’t include Chen, Scutaro, Feliciano, Heath Bell, Mike Jacobs, Xavier Nady, Phil Humber or Luis Ayala, each of whom played affiliated professional baseball in 2014, but none of whom concluded the season as definitively active major leaguers. It also doesn’t include Anderson Hernandez, a Chunichi Dragon in the Japan Central League as recently as August, or ageless Julio Franco, who spent seven days in May as a United Baseball League Fort Worth Cat before his not-so-ageless 55-year-old right knee needed to stop. You can count ’em all if you want, though. There’s no game until Friday night, no Mets game until late February at the earliest and no real Mets game until April 6.

Time may fly as a rule, but you’ll be amazed by how much it’s about to drag.

7 comments to Chenless Wonders

  • Dave

    This may be the type of stuff that makes my wife roll her eyes and say, “oh yeah, that’s important,” but I love this type of stuff.

    You mention Perpetual Pedro as a member of the Mets And Only Mets club. He’s way up the longevity list there. Kranepool obviously remains at the top, and while David is getting there, Ron Hodges, a Met and nothing else from 73 to 84, still has him beat for now. Pedro might be 4th thanks to 2 years on the DL in the Bronx. Love to see the rest of that list. Might include some people we don’t give much brain space to…like Jeff Innis?

  • Explored the Innis factor back when Pedro just perpetuating his way into this conversation.

    • Dave

      Wow, the “Innis Factor” link is – and you understand that I mean this as an extreme compliment – savant level stuff. Brilliant.

      And yes, high-ranking Met and Only a Met Bruce Boisclair is a completely forgettable player who we never forget. Thing I remember about him the most is that the PA announcer in Montreal always pronounced his name in the native tongue, “bwa-clair” instead of “bo-clair.” And Lindsey Nelson always pointed that out as though he was hearing it for the first time.

      • open the gates

        I had a buddy in grade school whose favorite Met was Bruce Boisclair. I never got that. Of course, my fave was Joel Youngblood, so who was I to judge?

  • Kevin From Flushing

    So, what, Mike Glavine doesn’t get the Gl@v!n# treatment?

    Believe it or not (though I imagine you’ll believe it), I’m still bitter that Mike Glavine got to start at 1B on Closing Day (at Shea) 2003 over Jason Phillips. Yeah, I get it, Tom Horrific was starting too (making Art Howe the only manager in baseball history to pen two Gl@v!n#s into his starting lineup–in case you needed any more reasons why Art Howe sucked), but come on now, if the Mets had ONE feel-good story of 2003, it was Phillips.

    Sorry to go off an a Glav tangent when we should be talking about Chen and LAMSAs and Jose Jose Jose Jose, Jose Jose.

    • Mike Glavine’s presence may have mystified me but he never pissed me off.

      Tangents beget tangents around here. Occupational hazard.

    • Dennis

      Really? Art Howe sucked? Because he inherited a shitty team? He was also talented enough to have played in MLB for over 10 years and managed over another 12 or so. By all accounts he sounds like a good man. Have you ever played or managed in MLB before?