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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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360 Degrees of Bob Moorhead

“It was a start. I believe in starts. Once you have the start, the rest is inevitable.”
—Joey “The Lips” Fagan, The Commitments

Presumably somebody somewhere waited breathlessly for Bob Moorhead to make his major league debut, but it seems safe to say he didn’t carry quite the cachet to his impending initiation that Noah Syndergaard did going into Tuesday night. Besides, whatever Moorhead’s qualities as a pitcher, his big moment was bound to be obscured by a much bigger one.

Moorhead, you see, stepped up to the big leagues on April 11, 1962, and if that date looks familiar, you’ve been paying attention. That was the day 14 players made their Mets debut. That was the day the Mets made their debut. It was Game One for the franchise, Game One for all of us, really. But it couldn’t have been a bigger deal for anybody whose spikes were on the ground than it was for Bob.

Bob Moorhead was the only one of the extremely Original Mets — those who participated in Loss One (11-4 at St. Louis) — who had never played in a major league game before. Remember the historical rap on the 1962 Mets: they valued veteran familiarity over youthful promise, believing the best way to distract fans and buy time was to serve up recognizable names to our fair city’s disenfranchised National League diehards. That goes a long way toward explaining the presence of Hodges and Zimmer and Ashburn and so on. Still, expansion begets a widening of the job market. There was a net of 50 new positions to be filled in New York and Houston; the Mets were bound to break in somebody who’d never been a major leaguer before.

Their first somebody was Bob Moorhead, righthanded relief pitcher from Chambersburg, Penn., selected out of the Cincinnati system in the 1961 Rule 5 draft, which (in the spirit of Sean Gilmartin) heavily implies the Mets were compelled to keep him on their roster throughout 1962 if they wanted to keep him at all.

So they did. Moorhead made the Mets in Spring Training and was put to work as soon as possible. In that inaugural game, he became Casey Stengel’s first relief pitcher. Roger Craig, another of those veterans with a presumably marketable pedigree, had given up five runs in the Mets’ first three innings. Stengel pinch-hit for his starter in the top of the fourth and inserted the rookie reliever in the bottom of the frame.

The game was 5-3 when Bob entered in the fourth, 10-4 when he left after the sixth. No, it wasn’t a storybook big league debut for Moorhead, but his foot was in the door. The late Bob Moorhead didn’t help the Mets win on April 11, 1962 — or win very often in general — but he served a valuable purpose in the greater scheme of things. He nudged that door open for other neophytes to get their shot as Mets.

After Moorhead came Ray Daviault, Jim Hickman and Rod Kanehl in the April days ahead, Rick Herrscher that August and, representing the first marker toward the Met long haul, Ed Kranepool in September. Ron Hunt and Cleon Jones headlined another class of new big leaguers in 1963. Within a couple of years, Mets fans would begin to anticipate and welcome youngsters who’d make their impressions stick: Ron Swoboda, Tug McGraw and Bud Harrelson in 1965; Nolan Ryan in 1966; Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Ken Boswell in 1967…and before you knew it, it was 1969.

In between were a lot of Mets who made it in the sense that they reached the big leagues for the first time as Mets, which is surely an accomplishment unto itself, but the record would indicate they weren’t exactly avatars of longevity. In later decades, the shall we say Moorhead-to-Seaver ratio wouldn’t be any more overwhelming in the Mets’ favor. Now and then, a Matlack, a Milner, maybe a Mazzilli would shine; more often, you’d be saying a nearly simultaneous “hi” and “bye” to Brian Ostrosser or Brock Pemberton or Butch Benton. Even during the span when the Mets were busily producing and promoting another round of future champions — 14 members of the 1986 postseason roster rose to the majors as Mets — they had their fair share of discards. Some turned into trade bait. Some went basically nowhere. But there was always another one coming. And if you were human, you got a little extra excited to see each of them show up, show his stuff and show enough to keep you excited for the next show.

From Bob Moorhead on that first day in 1962 to Noah Syndergaard last night in 2015, there have been 360 Mets who made their major league debuts as Mets. That includes the Rule 5 guys acquired from other organizations; the Japanese imports who were rookies more on a technicality than in practice; the kids who were signed by somebody else who didn’t mind swapping them early for players they deemed necessary to obtain right away; and, most alluringly, the homegrown super prospects the Mets nurtured from first professional contract onward. Like Strawberry and Gooden way back when. Like Harvey not all that long ago. Like that.

Syndergaard isn’t like that because he was traded to the Mets from Toronto when the Blue Jays decided they had to have R.A. Dickey, a pretty desirable commodity in the wake of his 2012 Cy Young season. Dickey was how the Mets got Travis d’Arnaud, too. That kind of deal netted us the likes of Ron Darling long ago: top draft pick for Texas in 1981, Met minor leaguer by 1982, a Met taking on and setting down Rose, Morgan and Schmidt in order as of September 1983. Once you’re literally and figuratively in our system, we want you up with us; once you’re up, you’re ours. When we talked about all our young pitchers thirty-plus years ago, we didn’t hold Ronnie’s Rangers birth certificate against him.

In that same vein, we haven’t much thought of Noah as erstwhile Blue Jay property. Instead, we circled his name in the media guides of our mind as a future Met of the best kind, the kind we were looking forward to seeing ASAP, the kind whose advancement we grew impatient over. It wasn’t that Noah, 22 on his most recent birthday, was rudely keeping us waiting. He was just developing. That’s the word they use in baseball. “The Mets are developing young talent.” All teams do it. Some teams do it to great effect. Since the 2012 season began, the Mets can be said to have developed 31 players en route to MLB debuts as Mets. Some have already washed out. Some are struggling to get back. Some are momentarily on the mend.

Some are becoming the core of this team in 2015 and figure to be the core of this team clear to 2020 at the very least. This series at Wrigley Field features the cream of that crop, even if they haven’t necessarily been at their best. Noah Syndergaard is the latest in that line, the line that stretches back through Plawecki and Herrera and deGrom and d’Arnaud and Flores and Wheeler and Lagares and Familia and Harvey…clear back to Bob Moorhead.

The first appearance by the 360th Met to make a first major league appearance as a Met was as scintillating as it had to be. Syndergaard — who arrived with his very own widely disseminated nickname in tow — has stuff, all right, and he seems to know how to use it. He kept the Cubs, no pikers in the young talent department themselves, from scoring for five innings; the hand-operated scoreboard might as well have renamed the Thorboard. The kid worked himself out of trouble (some self-imposed, some inflicted on him by his defense) a couple of times. A couple of times he dominated. Eventually, he proved himself indisputably a rookie pitching for the first time against top-level competition. The Cubs couldn’t be contained in the sixth and Noah had to leave trailing, 3-0. Jake Arrieta wasn’t giving the Mets anything, so even a polymorphic reincarnation of Seaver, Gooden and Harvey would have been challenged to prevail.

The Mets went on to lose Noah Syndergaard’s big league debut, 6-1. In the present, it’s more discouraging for the hitless-wonder offense than it is for the pitcher who kept the team viable as long as he could. In the bigger picture still in the process of being sketched, we are reminded what is beautiful about rooting for a team that keeps bringing up players we’ve never seen, particularly the ones who are said to be potentially very good, even if we are initially permitted only a glimpse of their most outstanding qualities.

The beauty part is they’re probably gonna keep getting better and, until further notice, they’re gonna keep being Mets.

Coincidentally debuting the same week as Syndergaard is a podcast called I’d Just As Soon Kiss A Mookiee, the hybrid brainchild of Shannon Shark and Jason Fry. It’s half Mets, half Star Wars. I listened to half of it (you can guess which half) and I adored what I heard. You might like all of it. Listen here.

12 comments to 360 Degrees of Bob Moorhead

  • Ken K. in NJ

    A smooth transition from Gee to Syndergaard. Looking at the pitching line, it’s as if Gee was still in there…

    PS: Great trivia point about Moorhead. I never knew he was the only Met who made his MLB debut in that first game. In fact if you had asked me 15 minutes ago or 53 years ago I would have said, “didn’t he come from the Red Sox?”.

  • Michael G.

    So Koos came up in ’67; I always associated his debut with ’68, when he should have been Rookie of the Year instead of Bench.

  • open the gates

    The Mets have always hyped their home-grown talent. The difference is that now, more of the kids seem to be living up to the hype. The Mike Pelfreys, Lastings Milledges and Bill Pulsiphers seem to be a thing of the past. Or so it is to be hoped.

  • BlondiesJake

    Count me as one of those that loves to see the newest Major League Mets make their debuts. And considering the recent call-ups, especially this year, have been considered top or at least serious prospects, it’s been that much more fun.

    A real, healthy offense probably gets Syndergaard a W in his debut, but then he has nowhere to go but down. This way, he has room to grow.

    Btw, the time to trade for Tulowitzki is NOW!

  • Daniel Hall

    Best thing about this Tuesday in MLB: *all* NL East teams lost. After the Mets had finally put the defeat they conceded in inning #1 in the books, I switched over to WAS@ARI just in time to see the latter half of Nosferatu Strasburg getting bombed for eight runs in three and a third. Gotta love Mark Trumbo. Can we trade Granderson, Flores, Cuddyer, and a few other chronic under-achievers for him?

    I can’t even pick which of the three I want to see gone the most. Granderson walks a lot. Fine. He also runs into downright stupid outs at third base. Cuddyer is an automatic out at this point (frighteningly often accounting for two), and Flores is just blech. Flores’ got the charm of a can of tuna that expired in 2012.

    And I almost cried in despair when they announced that Lagares was DTD with some ailment or other. About the only position player accounting for any excitement on the team – out.

    The Mets, according to the injury reports on mlb.com, yesterday tied the Rangers for the most players on the various DL’s or otherwise ailing with 13 (including also Buddy Carlyle). Add to that Juicy Mejia, and we have well over half a roster unavailable. It was doubtful from the start whether the team’s first suit would fit a playoff berth, but the second clearly doesn’t.

    As to the assumed Savior of the Day, I found Syndergaard to be constantly missing outside, and it got worse whenever a runner was on base. Somehow, it was like he was afraid of giving up a home run that would count for a lot, especially with this offense, that doesn’t (ac)count for a lot. The Bigs ain’t for the scared, however.

    Today is Harvey Day, and I couldn’t be less hysterical about it. My stomach says there are more bad things to happen.

    • Rob E

      Chronic underachievers?!?!? Wow, man. They are still in first place on May 13 despite all the injuries you cite. Of the guys you want to trade, one is a leadoff man with a .362 OBP, one has been a Met for six weeks, and the guy with all the charm of old tuna is a 23-year-old playing a new position who has had the starting gig for all of six weeks. The injuries suck and happen to every team, but there is absolutely NOTHING here pointing to bad things happening. If you can’t enjoy this run after the last few years we’ve had, what’s the point of even watching?!?!?

  • Dave

    Rob – if only shortstop was actually was a new position for Flores. It’s what he played for the majority of his time in the minors, not to mention the time he spent there last year as a Met. For years we heard he didn’t project as a shortstop, and now we’re seeing where that assessment came from. As for leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson, he had (not that long ago) 40/100 seasons, was signed for lots of money and originally planted in the cleanup spot. His ability to draw walks is about as important as his ability to punt a ball inside the 20 yard line or play the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata…not what he’s being paid to do.

    Lots of baseball left to play, but it remains to be seen which team this really is, the one that won 11 straight or the one that can’t hit any better than last year’s team. Seaver, Koosman and Matlack were a great 1-2-3 in the rotation, but those teams were usually .500 3rd place teams because they couldn’t score runs.

    • Rob E

      The thing with Flores is that he was a really good minor leaguer, and they kind of screwed around with him when they brought him up. He played, he sat, he got sent down, he played different positions. He may very well NOT pan out to be a major league SS…I am concerned more by the lack of offensive growth than by his defense at this point.

      But you can’t judge him until you give him a fair half-season to see what he can do. Not to mention he got ripped all off-season, and he’s gotten ripped all this year. The media AND the fans are willing this guy to fail….for what reason I don’t understand. One day this guy’s going to get out of NY and turn into Melvin Mora.

      • Daniel Hall

        He’s getting ripped *because* he fails. And if memory serves, for years Ruben Tejada has gotten all the ugly love. But Ruben’s actually a good defensive shortstop, and the more anemic the offense is (Mets offense: VERY anemic), the less you can afford to give up runs up the middle. The problem with Murph’s wonky field work has been adressed by shifting him to third to temporarily(1) fill in for The Franchise. Why Flores is allowed to keep on butchering I don’t understand.

        He leads the team in home runs you say? I’d say that’s an issue with the chronic under-achievers. Granderson, Cuddyer, and Duda combine for some $30M in salary this year. They are on pace for something like 25 combined home runs. And like Dave said, Granderson has not been signed as a leadoff batter. Those 4-yr, $60M would have netted a pretty awesome, actual leadoff hitter, and then we’d still have half the money to adress other sores on the roster.

        (1) Temporarily was supposed to last three weeks, but recent news suggest he’s out well into June…

  • Dick Mitchell

    Thanks for a nice article and mention of Bob Moorhead. I became a Mets fan in 1962 in spite of, or because of, their inadequacy. How could you not be a fan? They truly defined “lovable losers”. I also liked the Berra article.

    Thanks again.

  • Will in Central NJ

    When it was announced Syndergaard would debut in Wrigley Field, I began wringing my hands.

    The memory of another right-handed uber-pitching prospect making his debut in Wrigley Field, one Tim Leary, did not end well back in April 1981. I hope Noah has a much longer, more successful and injury-free career unlike Leary.

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