A dozen years ago on this date, Faith and Fear in Flushing debuted, buoyed by the notion that there was nothing inconsequential about the Mets or being a Mets fan. No triviality was too trivial if you decided you cared about it. Certainly your choice of baseball team wasn’t trivial. It wasn’t a necessarily accepted fact of life in the early months of 2005 that the Mets mattered truly, madly, deeply to people at large. But we knew it and you knew it. Others may have condescended to our interests or flat-out ignored them, but we — you and us — kept on deciding to care about the Mets without apology. It wouldn’t have occurred to us not to, so we were all in for writing and reading about the Mets and being Mets fans.
We are all of consequence: as human beings, as baseball fans, as Mets fans…as Mets even, a qualifier that applies to the 1,026 gentlemen who have played in the major leagues as Mets. Don’t let anybody tell you any different. We all shine on. And, no doubt, we reserve a little extra sheen for genuine New York Mets baseball players, present and past.
But, let’s face it, some Mets are less consequential than others, and I say that knowing full well that every Met will always, by dint of having been a Met, be enormously consequential in the scheme of things we have chosen to construct. It’s not like a single Met will ever spend a second mulling how inconsequential I am — and there’s plenty of inconsequentiality to go around where my existence is concerned.
Anyway, how do you measure a Met’s lack of consequence?
It is not enough to have not been great, because greatness is, by definition, confined to a small subpopulation of any group.
It is not enough to have not been a champion, because the Mets have only been champions twice and neared the pinnacle of their sport only a few other times.
It is not enough to not be particularly well-known, because if you’re known even a little, you’ve broken through. Maybe you’re known for having created a fleeting impression or leaving a terrible taste or, oxymoronically enough, being incredibly obscure. Obscurity in the eyes of the hardcore fan is its own kind of fame. If it wasn’t, some of you wouldn’t be tempted right now to blurt out “Joe Hietpas!” or “Shaun Fitzmaurice!”
It may be enough, however, to be Jose Santiago.
Jose Santiago is, I am prepared to declare, the Least Consequential Met of the first 55 years of the franchise. Not the worst Met nor the most reviled Met nor the absolutely least accomplished Met per se. Jose Santiago is the least consequential of Mets mostly because he existed as a Met during the lifetime of this blog and I swear I don’t remember a damn thing about him.
Neither, I’m close to convinced, does any other Mets fan.
Mind you, I’m not the default barometer for determining the consequentiality of every Met, but Jose Santiago pitched among us for four games in 2005, the first season of FAFIF. I was hyperaware of all Met matters that year. I committed myself to not missing a trick or a beat, or so I thought I did, because I seem to have missed the entirety of the Jose Santiago Met experience. Never mind that I know I watched each of the four games in which he appeared. I know I did, because 2005 was the first season in which I witnessed the entire Met schedule, which that year ranged from April 4 to October 2. The Mets were priority viewing and listening for me that season as they had never been before.
Jose Santiago pitched on July 25, July 29, August 2 and August 9 of 2005. I saw all those games. August 2 was a home game. Jason and I were at Shea for it. I remember it feeling incredibly shvitzy (90 degrees at first pitch), getting extraordinarily late (11:38 at last pitch) and being eventually victorious (9-8 on Mike Piazza’s bases-loaded pinch-walk in the eleventh inning). I remember a surprising amount from that long-ago Tuesday night.
But I don’t remember Jose Santiago from August 9. I don’t remember him making his Met debut on July 25 amid the malaise of Coors Field. I don’t remember him standing out on July 29 as Minute Maid Park booed erstwhile playoff hero Carlos Beltran upon his Houston return. I don’t remember his August 9 role at Petco Park, which is to say 1 IP, 1 ER, on the night made otherwise noteworthy when his successor on the mound, Dae-Sung Koo, threw a pitch looped to short left field by Brian Giles and caught barehanded by David Wright. I remember Heath Bell, but I don’t specifically remember Jose Santiago replacing Heath Bell on the roster on July 25. I remember Mike Jacobs, but I don’t remember Mike Jacobs specifically replacing Jose Santiago on the roster on August 18. Jose flew under the radar, then burrowed underground until only Elias could trace his footprints.
Further, I have never had an organic conversation about Jose Santiago with anybody but Jason, and that conversation consisted of him guessing I was trying to remember the name “Jose Santiago” when in fact it was Juan Padilla who was on the tip of the part of my tongue that wasn’t explaining, “…no, not Jose Parra…” We may have had the conversation twice, and neither time was I searching for Jose Santiago — yet both times I found myself thinking, “Jose Santiago…I don’t remember a Met named Jose Santiago.” I remember Juan Padilla (very decent 2005, did card tricks in the clubhouse). I remember Jose Parra (wore the wrong alternate uniform in a Sunday night game at Yankee Stadium in 2004). I not only don’t remember Jose Santiago now, I’m willing to admit I wouldn’t have remembered him the four times he was pitching right in front of my eyes.
As for the rest of Met-loving humanity’s contact with me, direct or incidental, his name has never come up. He is nobody’s go-to, nobody’s stand-in, nobody’s bête noire. To have been a Met relief pitcher in modern times and not live on as a shudder-inducing flashback-trigger is its own talent. From what I can tell, nobody blames Jose Santiago for anything.
On Ultimate Mets Database, for eighteen years the love-laden/hate-laced repository of recollections and anecdotes, here is what the “Fan Memories” section of Jose Santiago’s page has to offer: nothing. Nobody has left a word, good or bad, obvious or revelatory, regarding Jose Santiago. Nobody said he was a really nice guy who gave their kid an autograph. Nobody said he snubbed them on a back field during Spring Training. Nobody recalls running into him on a street or in a parking lot or at Arby’s. Nobody who went to high school with him vouches for his character. Nobody references his delivery or repertoire or that time Ralph called him Santiago Chile Con Carne. Nobody expresses anger over that hit he gave up in that game the Mets really needed. On a site where somebody remembers something about everybody, Jose Santiago is a ghost.
Can a ghost sign his name? Maybe not. The Amazing Shea Stadium Autograph Project, a site devoted to the collection and display of the signature of every Met who played at Shea between 1964 and 2008, 712 of 791 Mets are listed as present and accounted for. Among the missing 89? Jose Santiago. Furthermore, both editions of the indispensable Mets By The Numbers consign Santiago’s use of ol’ No. 33 — borrowed between Mike DiFelice’s callups from Norfolk — to “all other” treatment. Deep in the MBTN.com archives, all that the preternaturally intrepid Jon Springer has had to add to the Jose Santiago dossier is dismay that during Spring Training of 2006, the Mets never revealed a new pair of digits for him once his previously tenuously held digits were transferred onto the front and back of John Maine.
Which is OK, one supposes, since there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that Jose Santiago actually materialized during Spring Training of 2006. He was first preoccupied helping Puerto Rico compete in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, then moved on to pitch for Olmecas de Tabasco of the Mexican League. He realighted on the New Orleans Zephyrs — remember them? — in 2007 and 2008, but during seasons when the Mets were spinning a revolving relief door, there was no mention of recalling the unrecallable Jose Santiago from their Triple-A affiliate…at least not that I recall.
Much of what one discovers upon Googling Jose Santiago Mets is possibility. He’s been invited to camp. He might make the team. He might be called up. He was designated for assignment but he’s signed a minor league deal and he’s been invited to camp once more, albeit the far end where the corn grows high and the players retreat never to be seen again.
If Jose Santiago can be said to have been known for anything as a Met, it was the time he wasn’t really a Met, perceptions to the contrary.
Early in 2005, after he didn’t make the team, the Mets found themselves short a starting pitcher when Kris Benson strained a muscle. Santiago was considered a candidate, bumped up to favorite when he was reported as sitting behind the Mets dugout at Great American Ball Park during the first series of the season. He wasn’t on the roster yet, but obviously the Mets had told him to haul ass to Cincinnati and be ready to take the ball over the subsequent weekend in Atlanta.
Good powers of deduction there, save for the little detail that the fellow who MSG Network cameras spotlighted as Jose Santiago and other outlets described as Jose Santiago was not Jose Santiago. Rather, it was an acquaintance of Pedro Martinez’s. According to the ever diligent (and lately missed) Adam Rubin, in his book, Pedro, Carlos and Omar, the guy on TV didn’t really bear much resemblance to the pitcher.
The Mets made do sans Santiago and didn’t call Jose to the majors until late July, more in deference to Willie Randolph’s impatience with Bell than any great desire to deploy their not precisely hidden in plain sight secret weapon. The manager did allow, “Santiago’s been throwing the ball well this year. We want to keep guys in the mix, see how they look and see what they can do.”
If that strikes you as the most generic quote a manager ever offered in advance of a pitcher’s first game with his team, consider what Willie said afterward: “He just kept the ball down for the most part. He had good movement, he threw the ball well. Just his first outing. I don’t take a lot from first outings like that. He threw OK. I liked what I saw. Pretty much what I remember seeing in Spring Training. He’s part of our bullpen and I don’t get too giddy over just one little outing.”
I get the sense Willie Randolph, like me, must have subconsciously tuned out Jose Santiago, for there is almost nothing specific to his assessment. Makes sense, as there was little to distinguish Santiago’s overall performance in his four 2005 Met appearances. The Mets lost three of those games by more runs than Jose gave up. The one they won, the sweatfest versus Milwaukee, theoretically wouldn’t have gone to extra innings had he not permitted a run in the sixth, but the Mets made up for it, so no harm, no foul, no overarching impact. Twelve of the twenty-seven batters he faced as a Met reached base via hit (10) or walk (2). Three struck out. Four stroked doubles. One grounded into a double play. His earned run average, accumulated across five-and-two-thirds innings, was 3.18, which doesn’t tell you much.
You know what else doesn’t tell you much? The Faith and Fear in Flushing stacks from 2005. If our goal was to cover the Mets from soup to nuts, we simply forgot to heat up the Jose Santiago course. We wrote about everything that first year. We wrote about imported superstars Beltran and Martinez, homegrown wunderkinder Reyes and Wright, the robust run production of Cliff Floyd, the rumors swirling around a trade for Manny Ramirez (Mike Cameron and Lastings Milledge allegedly going to Boston), the sporadic successes of Benson and the generally dismissed Victor Zambrano, the sparkplug contributions from Marlon Anderson and Chris Woodward, the delightful punch provided by Ramon Castro, our grudging if tentative acceptance of T#m Gl@v!ne, the twilight of Mike Piazza and, good lord, yes, the bullpen. We kvetched plenty about Braden Looper and Roberto Hernandez and Mike DeJean and sneered as appropriate at the shuttle that deposited or disposed of interchangeable arms that couldn’t attain every crucial out while the Mets tiptoed around the Wild Card fringe through spring and summer.
Yet we said almost nothing of Jose Santiago. If you can’t say something nice, discretion is the better part of valor, or something like that.
During the first week of the season, Jason speculated that Santiago might appear in Atlanta (though it was mostly an excuse to invoke badly miscast pennant race callup of yore Julio Valera).
When the season was over, I perhaps presciently suggested Jose would rank fifth on a list of five “2005 Mets pitchers who will elicit a ‘they were?’ in all but the savviest quarters by 2010” (behind Felix Heredia, Mike Matthews, Tim Hamulack and Manny Aybar, each of them 2005 Mets pitchers I have no problem recalling).
In his first edition of The Holy Books annual, Jason processed Santiago’s budding inconsequentiality with deft efficiency (“Tides card. Completely unrecognizable because he’s Jose Santiago. Deserves nothing.”)
And the following February, when erstwhile No. 33 was on the cusp of reporting (or not) to Port St. Lucie, I imagined what he’d be told by whoever checked in Pitchers & Catchers…though not until I’d done the same drill for twenty-two other pitchers.
“You heard what I told Parra…next!”
I’m pretty sure that was the last time I’d given a single thought to Jose Santiago, relief pitcher, 2005 New York Mets, until 2014 when I began discussing the topic of Least Consequential Met with Jason. Actually, I told him I wanted to craft a Top 1,000 Mets list when the all-time roster reached the magic number (which it did in 2015, but I still haven’t). I knew Tom Seaver would be No. 1, but who would be No. 1,000? The guy didn’t have to be dismal, just incredibly vague.
“You mean like Lou Klimchock?” he asked. Yes, exactly like Lou Klimchock, I blurted, but not Lou Klimchock because we’ve just now instinctively made him the avatar of incredibly vague Mets, meaning we automatically know him for that, ergo he is too well-known, if only to us.
It isn’t easy being vague.
Shortly after that evening, I set out on a highly disciplined quest to identify whose consequentiality among Mets was most minute. But the journey didn’t last very long, because I just knew it was Jose Santiago. At the dawn of FAFIF, an extended 162-game moment when I was laser-focused on everything every Met was doing, I allowed this guy to all but completely escape my notice. It’s not so much that I don’t remember Jose Santiago. I have a strong sense that I was never aware of Jose Santiago, give or take something in the paper about MSG showing somebody at a game in Cincinnati. To be honest, I have no idea how I managed to toss Jose Santiago’s name into those two roundup pieces I did after 2005 and before 2006. There’s almost no way I knew who he was.
And — how can I say this? — I’m me. I remember at least a little something about every Met since I started rooting in 1969, certainly since I started blogging in 2005.
Every Met but one, apparently.
Here’s the kicker, though. Jose Santiago enjoyed a respectable baseball career. After a couple of cups of coffee, he stuck with the Royals in 1999 and, by 2000, working exclusively out of the bullpen, he was piling up decisions, going 8-6 for 77-85 Kansas City. The next year, the Phillies, contending for the NL East lead, traded ex-Met Paul Byrd for his services in June and trotted him out to the mound 53 times over four months. He was pitching to Robin Ventura in the ninth at the Vet on Labor Day 2001 when he helpfully failed to catch Todd Pratt’s return throw to the mound, allowing Todd Zeile to ultimately advance two bases and score, tying an already nutty game that the Mets would go on to win, 10-7.
That I remember.
From 1999 through 2003, Santiago never pitched in fewer than 25 games, peaking at 73 combined between KC and Philly in ’01. After spending a season with Cleveland, he signed with the White Sox for 2004, but was assigned to Triple-A Charlotte and never pitched in Chicago. New York — Norfolk, mostly — was next on his travel manifest. Working as a starter most of the time for the first time in his career, Jose posted an unimpressive ERA and WHIP for our old Virginia cousins, but, what with the throwing the ball well and all, maintained his knack for Ws, going 7-6. It was enough to make him a rising Tide that summer. In the spring of 2006, after recording a win in the WBC, he opted for Mexico. He told the Royals podcast Clubhouse Conversation that “the Mets approached me” after the Classic, but he preferred, regardless of previous minor league contractual commitments, to go south of the border. A few years in a few countries later, he was done pitching. August 9, 2005, the night of Wright’s barehanded grab, was his final game in the majors.
Jose Santiago finished as a Met and nobody noticed. I’m not sure Jose Santiago noticed. As alluded to in the above paragraph, Jose was interviewed at length about his career, generously and affably dwelling on every stop he dropped his bags, but both host and guest glossed over his Mets days, all four of them, very quickly. We don’t remember him? Maybe he doesn’t remember us. The Jose Santiago Pitching Academy (sixteen professional seasons gives a man wisdom to impart) makes mention of his stint in New York, but, à la MBTN, he essentially consigns us to the “all other” category. What’s fair is fair.
Is it fair to bestow the title of Least Consequential Met on Jose Santiago based mostly on feel? There is, after all, worthy competition for the, uh, crown. So let’s look beyond my ample gut and take some Baseball Reference-generated criteria into account.
• Seventy Mets played more than one and fewer than five games as Mets. One is too few, because then you’re ironically famous for playing just one game as a Met. Five, while not too many, is half a round number. Two to four won’t draw anybody’s attention if you’re careful not to attract it.
• Twenty-two Mets who played in between two and four games did so as relief pitchers, relief pitchers being the most fungible of personnel. Any given game you’ve got like eight of them sitting around.
• Of those twenty-two, sixteen threw with their right hand, making them even more disposable (know a lot of ROOGYs?).
• Within this inconsequential universe, several names jump out as too famous to qualify regardless of their Met bullpen context.
Dallas Green managed the Phillies to a world championship and the Mets deeper into the hole Jeff Torborg fracked and drilled.
Clem Labine was both a Boy of Summer and an Original Met.
Bob Johnson, if nothing else, is a brother in good standing within Beta Lambda Gamma, the sacred fraternity of Mets who shared first and last names, founded in 1962 when Bob L. Miller roomed with Bob G. Miller and Casey Stengel called one of them Nelson (Jose Santiago shares his name with one of the starters from the 1967 Red Sox, but that cuts no ice here). Besides, there is something else to Bob Johnson the Met pitcher besides the fact that there was Bob Johnson the Met infielder. Bob Johnson pitched for the Mets in 1969, and inclusion on the 1969 Mets by definition precludes inconsequentiality.
Kevin Tapani went on to a quality career (143 wins) after being packed off to Minnesota with Rick Aguilera, David West, Jack Savage and Tim Drummond for Frank Viola. Viola was supposed to help bring another championship to Shea. Instead, Tapani helped bring another championship to the Metrodome.
Darren O’Day is the guy Omar Minaya blithely DFAed in 2009 to ease a momentary roster jam. He’s still pitching in 2017.
Dean Chance won a Cy Young before landing on the Mets to furnish pennant race depth. Dean furnished no such thing, but he is always going to appear on lists of Mets who won Cy Youngs elsewhere. He brought his consequentiality with him and it won’t shed easily.
Lino Urdaneta came to the Mets with a lifetime earned run average of infinity. You don’t forget a fact like that.
Brad Clontz threw the wild pitch that kindly nudged ajar the Mets’ postseason door in 1999. His Met consequentiality is transcendent, even if it came in a Pirate uniform.
Eddie Kunz was a first-round flameout. The Mets chose him with their first pick in 2007. He was done for all intents and purposes by 2008. Infamy beats inconsequentiality.
With those fellas excused, we are left with seven righthanded relief pitchers who pitched more than once but less than five times as a Mets. One of them is Al Schmelz, and Al Schmelz is a Klimchockian cult figure in these parts; it may be more accurate to consider Lou Klimchock Schmelzian. I never saw Al Schmelz pitch, but oh the lore that is attached to his name.
The other six I experienced. I can tell you something about them. I can tell you Henry Owens was a converted catcher who threw real hard if not noticeably effectively, but give him a break, he was a converted catcher. I can tell you Mickey Weston is a big man in Michigan and is complicit in crimes against baseball by association with the 1993 Mets. I can tell you Mike Fyhrie showed up at Shea in tandem with Rick Trlicek and I knew instantly that the Annual Met Spelling Bee would never be the same. I can tell you Brian Rose was called up in early 2001 when the Mets were desperate (a condition not ameliorated by the presence of Brian Rose) and that in 2000 I came to recognize Jim Mann as the just-passing-through reliever who wasn’t Eric Cammack (also, Cammack tripled).
That eliminates everybody but Jose Santiago. May his elevation to Least Consequential Met raise his profile marginally. Or infinitesimally.