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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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What a Bunch of Homers

We now join a traditionally accurate version of “Meet The Mets,” already in progress.

’Cause the Mets are really
Recording those outs
Putting up zeroes
Leaving no doubts

That’s not how it goes, but it is a reflection of Mets baseball like it oughta be, right? This is the pitching-rich organization, the franchise defined by the Franchise, whose most delicate operations were once assigned to the Doctor, whose annual offseason talking point is how good its rotation is. That’s what one of our aces is talking about as 2017 looms, it’s what got us giddy going into 2016.

The starting pitching was real good last year, if not as great as we cracked it up to be. On paper and occasionally in practice, we had a Fab Four, several Fifth Beatles and a couple of crucial Wings for when almost everybody else fell through. There’s no way the Mets would have hung on as they did without their starting pitching.

But there would have been nothing to hang onto had it not been for their slugging. More than at any point in their 55-year-history, the Mets we met lived up to the real lyrics in their Metropolitan anthem. The Mets were really socking that ball, hitting those home runs over an array of walls 218 times, more than they ever had before. The previous team mark was 200, set in 2006, so this year truly represented a decisive blow for striking decisive blows.

Met home run records are not easily surpassed as a rule. The 1962 total of 139 stood as the impregnable house standard all the way until 148 were launched in 1986 (68 more wins, just nine more homers; go figure). On the lone batsman front, we’re about to enter the third decade of Todd Hundley’s 41 proving difficult to tie—only Carlos Beltran has done so— and impossible to top. Hell, it took thirteen years for Dave Kingman’s 36 to unseat the Original Frank Thomas’s 34.

I’m guessing you didn’t know 200 had been the Met record or that it was set in 2006. I didn’t know it, and I’ve been accused of knowing lots of stuff like this. It’s quite likely your garden-variety knowledgeable Mets fan would have been quicker to tell you about the 1980 Mets and their notoriously low 61 homers than any edition that cranked out more than three times as many. Your New York Mets simply tend not to hit a lot of home runs, so when they reverse form in record-rewriting style, it deserves to grab our attention.

It has. In recognition of the record that provided the backbeat of a playoff season, Faith and Fear in Flushing presents its Nikon Camera Player of the Year honor — the award bestowed upon the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — to The Home Run. Without it, we surely would have been…OUTTA HERE!

Home run production rose as a rule in 2016, with 5,610 rounding the bases throughout the majors, second-most ever, a veritable tick behind the 5,693 clobbered in 2000. That was at the height of the something’s-up…and we don’t just mean baseballs flying through the air…era. Nobody tested for anything back then and we were a few years from genuinely wondering how everybody had gotten so darn powerful at once over the course of the previous decade. PED testing and improved pitching were supposed to have taken care of that unnatural spike. In 2014, all of baseball got all of the baseball, so to speak, 4,186 times, making for the lowest full-season (non-strike) home run total since 1993. Normality had returned. Then another new normal took hold. The number jumped to 4,909 in 2015 and practically broke the windows across Waveland Avenue this past season.

Was pitching not all it was cracked up to be? Were the balls wrapped tighter that specifications dictated? Did somebody miss a test? Without anybody pushing 60 or even 50 home runs (Mark Trumbo, with 47, was the only major leaguer who topped 45), it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary was going on. Let’s shrug our shoulders and admit we have no concrete idea.

The strangest thing, relative to our parochial concerns, was the Mets finished second in the National League in home runs, seven behind St. Louis. The Mets are almost never one of the top two home run-hitting teams in the league. They placed first every year from 1988 through 1990 — Strawberry, McReynolds, HoJo — but have otherwise historically found other ways to score.

In 2016, the Mets found almost no way other to score. When they weren’t homering, they were abstaining (courteously), finishing eleventh out of sixteen in runs sans home. They had the fourteenth-most doubles, fourteenth-most triples, fourteenth-most steals, eighth-most walks…but, oh my goodness, as a unit, boy they could homer.

As individuals, they did OK, too, though not to an eye-popping extent. You’d guess the team with the second-most home runs in the National League would be represented among the most sluggingest of sluggers. Good intuition, bad result. No Met was among the five top home run hitters in the N.L. Jay Bruce finished tied for sixth, but 25 of his 33 were swatted for Cincinnati. You don’t find a Met among the league leaders until you get to the ninth-highest position, for which Yoenis Cespedes tied Yasmany Tomas with 31, a total that is robust enough, but not that impressive in the annals of Met single-season homering.

Thirty-one, certainly a pleasant number in the realm of Metsopotamian association, has been exceeded twenty-five times in Met home run history. No. 31, Mike Piazza, did it four times, Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson and Dave Kingman three times. Ike Davis and Bobby Bonilla — to name two no more than semi-legendary Met mashers — each blasted more than 31 in given years. It’s a damn fine total (no Met before Cespedes had ever hit exactly that many, and Yo reached it in only 132 games played), but it’s nothing overtly landmark, not even for a traditionally power-averse outfit like the Mets.

Where the club bulked up was with several very good if not great totals; call it strength in numbers. Behind Cespedes lurked Curtis Granderson with 30 (and, seemingly, 15 RBIs, but he really drove in 59), Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker with 23 apiece (a middle-infield power combo for the Met ages), part-timer Wilmer Flores with 16 and the Gun of April, Michael Conforto, with 12. It could have been a double-digit festival to behold had a few more balls carried or stayed fair off the bats of James Loney (9), Kelly Johnson (9), Jose Reyes (8), Bruce (8), Lucas Duda (7) and David Wright (7). You’ll notice a thread running through everybody who missed 10 by just a little: none of them was on the active Met roster for close to a full season. The Mets stitched together a lot of partial individual seasons to get where they got, but each of them charged with an ample power supply.

Four Met rookies — Ty Kelly (1), Matt Reynolds (3), Brandon Nimmo (1) and T.J. Rivera (3) — hit their first career home runs as 2016 Mets. One Met due in Japan — Eric Campbell — hit what looms as his last North American homer, at least for a while. Journeymen like Justin Ruggiano (2), René Rivera (6) and Alejandro De Aza (6) chipped in their share. Travis d’Arnaud (4), Juan Lagares (3) and Kevin Plawecki (1) you figured might have been good for a few more. Lest we forget about how important Met pitchers were to 2016, Noah Syndergaard tied Walt Terrell with two home runs in a game and Tom Seaver with three in a season.

And, as if it’s escaped your short-term memory, erstwhile New York Mets and current Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Bartolo Colon hit one…one home run, that is.

According to Baseball Reference’s essential Play Index tool, you get to 218 with 10 lidlifting leadoff homers (seven from Grandy, three by Jose); back-to-backers to start a game for only the second time in franchise history (Jose and Asdrubal replicating what Jose and Ruben Gotay did in 2007); 13 of the pinch-hit variety; 7 grand slams; 32 spanked on the first pitch of an at-bat; 21 on a full count; 7 apiece off Jeremy Hellickson and Tom Koehler; 17 that tied games; 62 that untied games; 2 from designated hitters (though we won’t hold that against them); 45 in August, spanning the month that went to hell and came back on the verge of heavenly; 112 at previously daunting Citi Field; 18 at Citizens Bank Park, including 6 in one game there; 10 to the opposite field, 2 that were part of an overall six-for-six afternoon (Wilmer’s), 6 in extra innings; and 4 that definitively ended games.

Walker started the fun with a line drive to right off alleged “old friend” Chris Young in Kansas City on April 3 (help beat us a World Series, you’re not much of a friend). Ces gave the home folks one to grow on at Citi Field on April 10. It was a quiet first week or so: eight games, two home runs. Then it was off to Cleveland, future site of epic cursebreaking, and, to borrow from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Explosions! The Earth Was Moving! Was That An Earthquake? No, it was the Mets with seven home runs in a weekend visit to Progressive Field, just ahead of the dozen that left Philly across three more games. At that point, it was off to the races, a.k.a. Home Run Derby.

How about that freezing April night a hobbled Yo came off the bench or out from behind the scenes or wherever he was and proffered a three-run pinch-bomb to tie the Reds in the seventh? And how three nights later when he cherried the bleep out of an offensive sundae by blasting a grand slam to top off a record-setting twelve-run inning? Of Cespedes’s 31 homers, approximately a thousand of them were Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’. Even the requisite great home run launched in a losing cause was a truly great home run: a nine-pitch battle versus Adam Wainwright ending with a wallop deep to left, putting the Mets up 4-3 in a game that got itself lost 5-4. But Yo — the first batter to visit Citi Field’s promenade during the course of play (versus the Cubs on June 30) — did much in winning causes, particularly those three homers in two games in his first series back at San Francisco.

Cespedes hit one of the stretch drive walkoffs, too, but drama was present in nearly every swing from nearly every Met during late August and throughout September. Granderson, who posted 10 of his 30 from August 30 onward, saved two for the same set of extra innings, tying Minnesota in the eleventh on September 17 at Citi Field and beating them in twelfth. Rivera earned his first curtain call (road game notwithstanding) by breaking a 3-3 deadlock in Washington in the top of the tenth on September 13. Reyes never hit a bigger Met homer than the one that tied the Phillies at six in the ninth on September 22, and no Met hit a bigger homer in 2016 than Cabrera’s game-winner two innings later.

When Cabrera badly needed a day off in early September, Reynolds picked up any hint of slack by belting one out of Great American Ball Park. Bruce didn’t do nearly enough, but when he got around to slugging, his four homers in the last week of the season reminded you why he was always such a trade target. Wright couldn’t move around very much, but he got around on three pitches for four bags apiece in his last week of action way back in May. Walker missed a little more time than desired, but his bat kept the dam from bursting when his three-run job salvaged the last game of the Rockies series at the end of July and a two-run ditty did the same trick a week later at Detroit. Johnson’s well-timed clout was the “1” in a 1-0 thriller that went eleven at Turner Field. And, finally, Loney did a convincing Crash Davis impression when he reacted with authentically earned WOW, ME, HUH? glee as his sixth-inning round-tripper, the last Met shot of 2016, more or less clinched the Wild Card on October 1.

Did we mention Bartolo? Even if we did, it bears repeating: Bartolo Colon hit his first major league home run, for the Mets, on May 7 in San Diego. Rob Manfred immediately disqualified himself from future Hall of Fame consideration by not immediately abolishing the DH.

You can close your eyes and see them all if you try. Or, as our friends at Amazin’ Avenue recommended, you can go to YouTube and watch them all in a row. Two-hundred eighteen home runs take about 44 minutes to witness in a montage, about six months to properly enjoy, and about 55 years to compile. Indeed, it required more than a half-century, but at last, we Mets fans could say everything was coming up Apples.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

2005: The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006: Shea Stadium
2007: Uncertainty
2008: The 162-Game Schedule
2009: Two Hands
2010: Realization
2011: Commitment
2012: No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013: Harvey Days
2014: The Dudafly Effect
2015: Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof

10 comments to What a Bunch of Homers

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Hooray for Nikon time!

    Nice choice for the season’s theme. I bought the play index tool but have yet to put it to good use (I want to say I bought it on 11/7, my mind has been occupied since), though I would love to dig deep and find out if we hit more back-to-back home runs this season than in any Mets season previous. Certainly early in the season it felt like we might be heading there. Seems like a good old lazy Christmas Day exercise.

    I was tickled when Curtis went deep on Closing Day as it signified the first time ever that the Mets had three 30-homer men in the lineup. Between them, Walker & Cabby, and the kind of season Reyes projected to have over 162 games, this Mets lineup is going to be pretty fun in strat-o-matic.

    And thanks for giving mention to the home run that Loney hit in Game 161. Such a big, BIG moment that I hope doesn’t get lost in the annals of Mets history.

    Sadly though, this season proved the old baseball principle: waiting for the 3-run homer is great in the regular season, but gets you nowhere in October.

  • This hit the spot on a cold day. I’m tempted to watch that YouTube of all of ’em….Could be a CitiField version of the Yule log. Would warm the heart.

  • Paul Schwartz

    Great article for those cool considerate men whose homers went to the right but not only to the right!
    happy holidays to you and everyone here.

  • Paul Schwartz

    Kevin . just read your comment. it worked for the Giants. Sadly.

  • argman

    I like Curtis Granderson, but only 59 RBI on 30 HR’s is mind-boggling. Even Kingman managed to average more than 2 RBI per HR. Home runs are great, but I think the Mets could benefit from a more balanced attack. The make up of current team doesn’t seem to lend itself to that though.

  • Dave

    Oh, being overly reliant on the homer sucks unless you’re hitting them. Then they don’t suck at all. But that what felt all season like an offense-challenged team playing half its games in what nobody has ever thought of as a hitters paradise finished 2nd in the league in homers is indicative of what I see as a bigger trend in baseball, the all-or-nothing style of play. Nobody wants nuance. If a pitcher can’t touch 98 on the radar, scouts pay him no mind. Now not only do we get instant measurements of home runs – as if there are extra runs in it for you if the ball travels farther – we have to know the exit speed, or “just how big a dent would that ball have made in someone’s skull if it wasn’t hit as high?” Power, power, power, and more power.

    But Yo stands alongside the likes of Piazza in that it’s not so much the quantity of homers, it’s the quality. As Greg said, of his 31, a thousand of them were spectacular. If we’re going to rely on them so much, might as well do it with panache.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Great writeup! Thanks. I felt sort of clueless during the first few paragraphs, somehow missed the fact they set a team record and wound up with 218 Home Runs. Then I got to the part where you weren’t aware that the team record was 200 set in 2006. Made me feel better, I knew that.

    The most interesting stat you came up with was that only 10 of the 218 were to the opposite field. I feel that is somehow related to the overall Home Run explosion…batters are saying “F*ck the Shift” and going for broke. I think Ted Williams coined that term.

    Finally, thanks for the link to all 218 Home Runs. I like the suggestion in the comments that it should replace the Yule Log. I certainly plan to stream it during Christmas Day. No one in my extended family will object, I’m proud to say.

    Finally, part two: Thanks to both of you for a great BlogYear. It should be fun again in 2017.

    PS: So, I guess we now will refer to Eric Campbell as “Miso”.

  • Ed

    Greg, Nice Beatles/Wings reference. What is the reason for naming the award “Nikon Camera”? Any particular backstory you can share? Are you an enthusiast of the brand? Always makes me think of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” song.

    • Great question. I guess it’s been a long time since Nikon stopped being readily identified with Mets broadcasts.

      When our blog debuted, the immediate postgame wrap on WFAN ended with the awarding of the Nikon Camera Player of the Game, and at season’s end, the Nikon Camera Player of the Year. Since the last game of 2005 was still fresh in my mind when I wrote up the tribute to Howie and Gary (for their radio work, as SNY did not yet exist), I called them the Nikon Camera Player of the Year, and I stuck with it thereafter — in what was then the modern era, it seemed as tied into the Mets as Rheingold did in another age. I don’t know when they stopped doing Player of the Game, actually.