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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.

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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Jerry's Kids Grow Up

Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that have defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this installment, we notice how Met turnover subtly became Met stability.

There was an article in the Washington Post the other day that fascinated me. It informed me that you can express the entire history of the United States in the lifetimes of four presidents.

• You have the second president, John Adams, born 1735, lived to 1826, long enough to encompass the birth of…

• Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president, born 1808, lived to 1875, long enough to encompass the birth of…

• Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first president, born 1874, lived to 1964, long enough to encompass the birth of…

• Barack Obama, the forty-fourth and current president, born 1961.

That’s almost as astounding as learning not long ago that two grandsons of the tenth president, John Tyler — who served from 1841 to 1845 — are alive in 2015. One of Tyler’s sons, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853. He, in turn, sired a son in 1924 and another in 1928. They’re both still going.

Longevity is one of my favorite threads. I love to pick it up at one end and follow it back as far as it will go. It’s why one of my favorite recurring FAFIF themes is Longest Ago Met Still Active (LAMSA) and its companion designation Last Met Standing. It’s why one of my Most Valuable Profiles in the first years of Faith and Fear belonged to Julio Franco, pinch-hitter and occasional sage for the 2006 and 2007 Mets. Julio Franco was longevity on a stick. Julio Franco was the teammate of Tug McGraw, who was a player under Casey Stengel, who was a player under John McGraw. If that century-spanning tour of National League baseball in New York wasn’t quite Adams to Johnson to Hoover to Obama — or Kranepool to Orosco to all points west — it was close enough.

Well-traveled, finely aged, not unskilled craftsmen like Julio Franco, Moises Alou, LaTroy Hawkins, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Abreu, along with the occasional guest spot from a Jamie Moyer, can make life worth blogging. They give you license to invoke a dozen names spread out over a hundred years. They open passageways to the past and allow you to imagine who among them in the present Met tense will extend the thread most effectively and efficiently. Who down the road, will it be said, played with the guy who played with the guy who played with Colon who — according to my proprietary research — practically pitched to Henry Aaron?

I love stuff like that, with my affection honed ever greater during the FAFIF Age, because during our time here, it’s felt relatively unusual to find someone with staying power. There were no more Kranepools in our midst. Nobody stuck for 18 seasons in one uniform, let alone our uniform. David Wright has been the highly paid anomaly. While David’s in his prime, it seems a shame to tie his constancy thread to the overall longevity thread, to note too terribly often that he played in 2004 with John Franco, who played from 1990 to 1994 with Dwight Gooden, who played from 1984 to 1987 with Jesse Orosco, who played on the 1979 Mets with Ed Kranepool, who played with almost everyone from September 22, 1962 until September 30, 1979. When Jimmy Rollins dresses for keeps in Dodger blue, it will be David Wright who leads all active players in most games played for one team and one team only.

But let’s leave David out of this Wright now, for he is the highly paid anomaly; he transcends the curiosity factor. And let’s never mind the Bartolos and Julios, the veterans’ veterans who have served us well after serving so many others. Let’s instead bring some others into this.

Actually, we don’t have to. They’re been here all along.

Let me take you back to the Jerry Manuel administration, a period that overlapped two American presidencies not to mention a pair of antithetical competitive states (one a little short of swell, one indisputably lousy). Stability was not a hallmark of the Manuel Era, which, to be fair, hardly differentiated it from the entrances that ushered active uniformed personnel inside Shea Stadium in immediately preceding eras. You and I used Gates E through A. The doors the players used at Shea — and its successor facility — tended to revolve at a dizzying clip.

Between the Mets’ 6-1 loss at Anaheim of Los Angeles of wherever they call it on June 17, 2008, and the 14-inning 2-1 loss to Washington at Citi Field October 3, 2010 (which climate scientists warn is actually still going on), 59 different players played their first games as Mets. Manuel lasted 417 games as manager, meaning just about every week, we were meeting a Met for the first time.

Forty of those players had broken into the majors elsewhere. A couple — Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay — were considered catches. A couple more — Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco — were considered catchers. A few — like Gary Sheffield and Livàn Hernandez — came with distinguished backstories if not a whole lot of future to them. Most weren’t of that ilk. They came. They went. They didn’t stay. Emil Brown became Andy Green became the not so bright neon lights of Lance Broadway. Possible keepers, like Darren O’Day, slipped away. Inevitable discards, like Wilson Valdez, lingered. Andy Phillips spent the equivalent of a holiday weekend. Jon Switzer was Swiffered from the premises after ten days. Angel Berroa was touched by an unconditional release inside of three weeks.

To be fair, that’ll happen, especially in the pre-Prevention & Recovery Epoch of Enlightenment that swallowed 2009. There’s a reason you hear the term “journeyman” more than “craftsman” in baseball. A baseball career is usually a literal as well as figurative odyssey. It’s pretty impressive to just make it to this level and it’s just as impressive when a player finds a way to keep staying at this level. It’s probably wrong that we smirk or roll our eyes or express disgust that the gleaming Mets we signed up for in March can become, by September, the province of the Pat Misches and the Cory Sullivans and whoever else is healthy enough to suit up in a Mets uniform.

But we do. Sometimes we’re less swell than we are lousy. Sometimes we just wanna win more than we lose.

Anyway, 40 of 59 Mets who became Mets for the first time on Jerry Manuel’s watch were veterans of other ballclubs. That leaves 19 first-time Mets who were truly newbies. They were debuting as major leaguers and as Mets between the night Manuel took over for Willie Randolph (though not the middle of that night) and the Sunday Manuel was about to leave the Flushing stage to absolutely no applause. Three of those players weren’t exactly raw rookies. Ken Takahashi, Hisanori Takahashi and Ryota Igarashi were new to MLB but they’d all pitched for a long time in the Japan Central League. Maybe not “the majors” as we know them, but close enough for where they hailed from.

If we exempt those fellows from pure “debut” status (or at least consider them as special cases), that brings our total to 16 MLB neophytes in the Manuel years. And this, to me, is where it gets interesting.

It’s 2015, or at least it will be as of April 6. The Mets broke in 16 fresh-faced major leaguers when Jerry Manuel managed them, which will be no more than four-and-a-half years ago when Opening Day rolls around. Among those 16, to whom we shall refer as Jerry’s Kids, do you realize how many will still be, give or take a DL stint, on the Mets when the upcoming season commences?

Seven. Nearly half. You’ve seen ’em or at least read about ’em just this month.

Daniel Murphy, date of debut: 8/2/2008.
Jon Niese, 9/2/2008.
Bobby Parnell, 9/15/2008.
Jenrry Mejia, 4/7/2010 (6th inning).
Ruben Tejada, 4/7/2010 (9th inning).
Lucas Duda, 9/1/2010.
Dillon Gee, 9/7/2010.

No longer in the team picture from their cohort: Argenis Reyes, Eddie Kunz, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Tobi Stoner, Raul Valdes, Ike Davis, Jesus Feliciano and Mike Nickeas. Valdes and Flores had surpassed 30 when they finally reached the big time in 2010 and Nickeas was on the verge of pushing it that same year, so “fresh-faced” doesn’t really apply to everybody who broke in when Manuel managed. Of the other six, Davis and Thole had their moments in what amounted to extended auditions; Reyes was worth a look considering his unusual first and evocative last name; Kunz and Martinez were colossal disappointments; and no nation was ever going to turn its lonely eyes to Tobi Stoner.

Let’s get back to the survivors. Seven guys who debuted as Mets under Manuel are still Mets. Plus there’s Wright, who debuted under Art Howe and survived the resulting bout with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (Art lit up a room, you may have heard). But David’s the highly paid anomaly. David’s the star, if not — according to Fred Wilpon — a superstar. David’s case is more special than Ryota Igarashi’s. Let’s keep the focus on the Boys of Manuel.

Manuel hasn’t been manager since October 3, 2010. Nobody’s much brought up Manuel since maybe October 5, 2010, the day he was officially not renewed for 2011. Nobody thought much of Manuel once his “gangsta” rap lost its ability to charm. He was the manager who kinda chuckled, kinda cackled in whaddayawantfromme? fashion after losses. He was the manager who batted leadoff man extraordinaire Jose Reyes third for a spell. He was the manager who thought the electric-armed Mejia more suitable for late-inning bullpen work than starting.

All right, so not everything Jerry Manuel came up with or stood for was nuts, but didn’t leave behind a legion of mourners when he chuckled/cackled for the final time.

Turns out he may have left the Mets something better. He left them a legacy. He left them something close to a third of a roster for use a half-decade down the line. The team that is positioned to perhaps win more than it loses for the first time since Jerry Manuel took over from Willie Randolph has as its foundation Jerry’s Kids — now appearing in Port St. Lucie as Jerry’s Adults.

Did the Manuel Seven grow big and strong because of some sweet somethings their manager whispered into their various ears? Does his advice from when they were rookies resonate to this very day? Or are Manuel’s former charges lucky they didn’t have to deal with him one second longer than they did? (Given another spring, would have he ordered Duda to trot across the diamond and take some grounders at short?) It could just be a coincidence that they’ve all kept rolling as Mets from 2008 or 2010 to 2015. Maybe the succeeding administration got tired or just got lazy.

Hard to peg exactly how this happened. Wright, the franchise player, was an überprospect whose rise to the majors in 2004 was a happening. Not even Art Howe could slow his inevitable progress. None of the Manuel Seven who have formed David’s supporting cast carried his kind of hype or hopes. One morning in August of 2008 the Mets needed a left fielder, and Murphy materialized. They were short of starting pitching in September and they reached down for Niese with no particular fanfare. It kept going like that. Only Mejia was any kind of a cause when he opened eyes five springs ago, but most of the commotion around Jenrry centered on fretting that he was being rushed.

The team David Wright came to in ’04 didn’t have a clutch of comparable players who’d been around since the late ’90s; there was John Franco and Al Leiter, both from other organizations (though it doesn’t feel that way in retrospect) and they were on their way out. The late ’90s Mets, in turn, didn’t have a whole bunch of longtimers together from the mid-’90s. By 1994, there was almost nobody left from the last of the contending Mets of 1990. You have to go back to 1990 to find a team with an array of familiar faces firmly in place — Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez, HoJo and Straw were all ensconced from 1986 — though you also would identify those former world champions as clearly having already accomplished a lot (even if you couldn’t see clearly they wouldn’t accomplish all that much more).

It’s almost anachronistic to have so many players make the majors in such a compressed time frame and remain a de facto unit while waiting for them to fully gel. You should need the reserve clause to make this happen. Yet here they remain, the core of a team on the come, modestly decorated veterans who have done all their journeying in one place, all of them with miles to go before they peak.

When the door’s revolutions become less frequent, it seems more than service time can accrue.

• Murphy is No. 14 among all Mets ever in base hits, No. 8 in doubles.

• Duda is 23rd (with a bullet) in home runs.

• Gee is 26th in innings pitched.

• Only six Mets have played more games at shortstop than Tejada.

• Only five lefty starters have accumulated more wins as Mets than Niese, whose collection of W’s piles higher than those belonging to, among other Met celebrities, Frank Viola, Al Jackson, Bobby Ojeda and the great Johan Santana.

• Only McGraw, McDowell, Allen and Myers have saved more games among homegrown Met closers than Parnell.

• Mejia has cracked the franchise’s Top Ten list for lifetime saves by a righty reliever.

How did this happen? I guess we already asked that, but seriously, how did the Manuel Seven — none of whom blossomed so much as grew in fits and spurts — become stalwarts within the Met record books never mind staples at Citi Field? How is they weren’t tossed overboard as the entire enterprise remained under .500? Is this how a foundation is built, with patience and nurturing? Was it more a matter that the Mets, unwilling or unable to pay for more established talent, simply ceased to search for it elsewhere? Maybe it was determined in 2011 and 2012 and 2013 that the upgrades out there weren’t worth the investment. Maybe the appeal of Jerry’s Kids was they were young and thus worked relatively cheap.

These guys didn’t go anywhere, except occasionally back to Triple-A or extended sessions of physical rehab. Their journeys have not been presented without commercial interruption. Murphy and Mejia are Comma Mets, players who missed an entire season of big league action due to injury; Parnell came within one inning of joining them in that punctuation distinction. The others got hurt or didn’t get good as fast as might have been preferred. None of them was Wright, who missed basically no time between his callup in July of 2004 and his taking a fastball to the head in August of 2009.

And let’s not kid ourselves that they all grew up together and coalesced into a winner together. No such thing has happened yet and it may not happen. It would be undeniably swell if it did. I forget where I saw it, but last October somebody mentioned how particularly excited the Royals seemed as they fought their way to the seventh game of the World Series and somebody else said it was the sign of players who’d come along together, lost a lot together and were, finally, winning together.

That would be an ideal outcome here, too. But even after 2008 and 2010 have become 2015, we can’t strut quite so confidently to that conclusion. Just as none of Jerry’s Kids exactly burned up the prospect charts, none has really taken the league by storm during their lengthening tenures. Murphy, the painstakingly converted second baseman, has the only All-Star selection among them (and that was more a Stearns than a Strawberry pick). Niese tries patience every tenth or fifteenth day. Tejada’s still earning his spot. Gee went from teetering on the brink of extinction to the epitome of dependability to Opening Day starter to sidelined to struggling all over again to trade bait to eliciting no takers to long man rescued by unfortunate circumstances. Mejia, who might have celebrated his saves a tad excessively last year, may find his stay in the closer role proves temporary pending Parnell’s recovery…which itself is still very much pending. And Duda, presumably settled in at first at last, has yet to consistently find lefty pitching to his liking.

But they’re all still here. They’re all intensely familiar to us beyond their numbers. We know who’s the jovial Texan, who’s quietly from Carolina, who’s allegedly from California but really seems to have been conceived in a laboratory. We’ve learned what some of them perceive as “lifestyles” and which of them has to be early to be considered “on time”. We’ve watched their hair puff out, we’ve noticed their noses taken in. We’ve witnessed the maturation process play out right in front of us until these guys have come to fit us like seven pairs of reasonably comfortable old shoes.

It could be organizational torpor masquerading as reassuring status quo, but I gotta tell ya: when I received my 2015 Mets calendar in December for Chanukah — you know, the one that’s printed approximately an eon ahead of the gift-giving season — it was kind of nice to notice that, for the first time in memory, every player pictured as a Met was actually still a Met. Based on precedent, I fully expected Jeff Francoeur to be this year’s Mr. April.

The Manuel Seven are practically known quantities elsewhere, too. They must be after all this time. The reasonably informed fan of another team, if one of these guys was rumored to be coming their way, wouldn’t have to ask “who?” They’d recognize the lot of them as having been Mets for quite a while now. If Old Timers Days ever come back in style — the kind where “opponents” are rounded up and introduced to polite applause — you could invite these guys, once retired, to any major league ballpark and they’d elicit polite applause.

“Oh yeah, Duda, I remember him. He hit thirty homers for the Mets once. Or was it more than once?”

There are others by whom we will come to define our own team, but right at the heart of the operation are Jerry’s Kids. We haven’t used a word like “the core” without rancor since names like Santana and Beltran and Delgado and Reyes (Jose, not Argenis) were attached to Wright’s. Big names, big dreams, a reality whose size wound up a little out of proportion to its aspirations. These days, there’s Harvey and deGrom, to be sure; there’ll be Wheeler again; there’s always Wright; plus there’s Cuddyer and Granderson as this year’s hopefully more effective version of Bay and Francoeur; and let’s not forget Terry’s Kids, encompassing the youngsters who we can envision forging the most promising spur of this ballclub’s post-Manuel (and probably post-Collins) path.

The core of the core, though, for better or for worse, can’t help but consist of the Mets who’ve lost together the longest, who’ve struggled individually forever, who’ve managed to redefine Met longevity and perhaps the legacy of their first Met manager. Was it supposed to work this way? Were these seven supposed to become the Mets?

Not likely. But you know they say: Niese is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Don’t make any other plans for Saturday, March 28, 1-4 PM. Join your Faith and Fear compadres at Foley’s NY to help us mark our tenth anniversary in spoken rather than written form. Food, drink and baseball figure to be in ample supply.

14 comments to Jerry’s Kids Grow Up

  • Rob

    Wow, great piece as always Greg

  • SkillSets

    A result of Manuel labor. Great work, as always. And remember, Mike Lupica entered not through the “Midget Mets” gate next to Gate E, but the humble press gate near Gate C.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    Gates E through A: spoken like a true mass transit rider (or Roosevelt Ave Lot parker).

    Thanks for bringing this back to the forefront of my attention. I remember around 92 or 93 being shocked–SHOCKED–of what little remained of the 86 team, until only Doc was left waving the flag. These days I often think about who’s left from the Shea era, numbers that dwindled far too quickly. I always find myself double-checking that Parnell is indeed somehow a member of the club alongside Wright and Murphy.

    And the look on Michael McKean’s face when exposed to electromagnetism is very similar to what mine looked like when watching the Art Howe Mets, so that’s an astute comparison.

  • Dave

    While longevity has its place, it’s a bit disheartening when you compare the Mets keeping guys around for the sake of saving money to other teams having a core of long-term players who help them, I don’t know, win. Hard to picture Murphy, Parnell, Duda and Tejada being referred to as the Core Four.

  • argonbunnies

    Good stuff! Personally, I see a similar nucleus a bit more recently than 1990. The entirely homegrown group of Alfonzo, Ordonez, Bobby J. Jones, Todd Hundley and Matt Franco shared significant overlap with mostly-Mets Dave Mlicki and Rick Reed.

    After those guys, though, the next long-lasting group was definitely mercenary — Piazza, Leiter, Trachsel, McEwing, Benitez and even John Franco all established themselves as big leaguers elsewhere.

    Aside from Wright and Reyes, few homegrown kids have turned into 5-year Mets since Rey and Fonzie left: I count Aaron Heilman and Mike Pelfrey as the only Mets draftees, and Pedro Feliciano as the only minor-league acquisition. Then we’re up to Jerry’s Kids.

    • Thought about that late ’90s team, mainly in terms of Jones and Alfonzo as survivors. Ordonez was home-grown but more akin to the Japanese players in terms of development (except, of course, for hitting). However they came together — which always seemed part Bobby V, part luck — they were a beautiful thing.

      • argonbunnies

        Thinking about the fallow period that followed, I looked over the drafts from the McIlvaine-Phillips-Duquette years (1994-2004), and man, there’s not a lot of talent there.

        One star in Wright, one key piece for the Piazza trade in Burnett, a guy we traded for two good months and a nightmare relief appearance from Kenny Rogers (Terrence Long), a guy we traded for a mediocre year and a half of Kris Benson (Ty Wigginton), and a bunch of players we traded for virtually nothing (Scott Kazmir, Matt Lindstrom, Brian Bannister, Jay Payton, Angel Pagan before the Cubs let him go).

        That leaves first-rounder Aaron Heilman (3 good years in the ‘pen) and 38th-rounder Mike Jacobs (who brought back Delgado) as the remaining cream of the crop. Not a stellar 11 years on the drafting front.

        Omar may have frustratingly blown some top picks on relievers like Eddie Kunz, but he did at least hit on a number of big leaguers in rounds 3-13, unlike the GMs who preceded him. Murphy and Parnell may not be stars, but they’re a lot better than Jeff Duncan and Lenny DiNardo.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    What’s the over/under on how many of he 7 Jerry’s kids will be in the Mets organization a year from now? Maybe 3?

    I loved your description of Duda being conceived in a laboratory, but I always felt that honor belonged to a former Met whose Mets tenure spanned the Manuel era. My laboratory creation is none other than Mike Pelfrey. All that’s missing are the bolts on either side of his neck. Can you see Pelfrey and his manager (choose from Randolph, Manuel or Collins) on stage singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz?”

  • Love, love the 90s Mets!