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Beasts of the East

Jose Bautista will make history when he enters a game for his new team, becoming the first player to play for three separate NL East franchises in the same season. He hooked on with the Braves early in 2018, brought his talents to the Mets in May and is now going to try to be the classic veteran added to a contender. We wish him luck as a Phillie.

We also retroactively wish he could have gotten a few of his Joey At-Bats for the Marlins or Nationals along the way, for then he could be a member of the Four-Timers Club, National League East edition. The Four-Timers Club consists of players who have played for at least four different NL East teams during their careers, one of them being the Mets. It’s possible there are players who’ve been with four NL East teams that aren’t the Mets, but that’s some other blog’s problem.

To qualify, a player had to have played for franchises that were in the National League East at the time of his activity.

• That means if we’re considering Cardinals, Cubs or Pirates, we’re talking about the years 1969 through 1993. Before 1969, there were no divisions; after 1993, there was a Central Division for the likes of them.

• Likewise, Braves are NL East creatures from 1994 forward only; before that, they were either in the NL West or the National League as a whole or Milwaukee or Boston.

• The Expos were never anything but an NL East component, starting in 1969, stopping operating under that name in 2004. The Nationals picked up their erstwhile Canadian torch in 2005. Contiguous Exponentials (as we used to call them) will be considered as players for one franchise. Anybody who left the Expos prior to 2005 and realighted as a National later on will get extra credit.

• A Marlin has by definition been a National League Easterner since that outfit’s birth in 1993.

• And, of course, those Phillies and our Mets have been division staples since 1969.

Things are much more fun with rules, aren’t they?

The commissioner of our club is someone who’s surely gotten his mail mixed up with Jose Bautista’s: Miguel Batista. Miguel Batista seems to have played with more NL East clubs than anybody. I say “seems,” because I won’t swear my research has been exhaustive. Mostly I scanned the opponents section of Ultimate Mets Database and did some quick cross-referencing. Still, I think that’s enough to tell us Miguel Batista got around in our midst pretty deftly.

Batista, who pitched professionally for us in 2011 and less assuringly in 2012, began his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1992. That’s chronological NL East territory right there. His next time in the majors was 1996, as a Florida Marlin. Two years later, he was a Montreal Expo across three seasons. Other pastures in other divisions awaited, but Miguel could always come home again, to the relatively new Washington Nationals in 2010. Given that his service as an Expos and a Nationals were well separated, we’re gonna call that two different teams in his case. A couple of stops later, he became a New York Met. Then, at age 41, his final iteration, an Atlanta Brave.

I count six distinct National League East identities for Miguel Batista. What makes it more intriguing is Miguel, is better known for his time as a world champion Arizona Diamondback than he is for how he pitched for the Pirates, Marlins, Expos, Nationals, Mets or Braves — and in his homeland of the Dominican Republic he is best known as El Poeta, the poet. When it came to traveling the National League East, he was certainly the unprecedented beast.

One wonders how he missed the Phillies. Same could be said for Livàn Hernandez, who sprang to prominence as a Cuban defector who landed with the Florida Marlins in 1996 and won World Series MVP honors for them in 1997. What do you do for an encore? You tour most of the rest of the division between other engagements. Livàn joined the Expos in 2003, remained on the roster as they morphed into the Nationals in 2005, threw the first pitch in any kind of major league game at Citi Field in 2009 — then stuck around past that exhibition versus the Red Sox for most of the Mets’ first post-Shea season — before journeying back to Washington. A stint in Atlanta made him a fiveish-timer, depending on how you want to score his Natspos experience.

The Phillies get involved in these narratives when we turn to an early ’70s hotshot, some would say hot dog. Stylish first baseman Willie Montañez took the division by storm in 1971, homering thirty times, driving in nearly a hundred runs and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. The Phillies were dreadful then, but behind young players like Montañez, they’d start growing into contenders…but not finish the job until they traded Willie to San Francisco. The Phillies got all-world center fielder Garry Maddox. Montañez went on to cover a pretty fair amount of ground across division lines, but he always came trotting back around to the NL East. A Met in 1978 and 1979 (96 RBIs!); an Expo in 1980 and 1981; a Pirate in 1981 and 1982; and, before 1982 and his career were out, a Phillie again. No wonder the San Diego Chicken was so anxious to mimic him.

From the same era and sharing some of the same pedigree is old friend Richie Hebner. Richie began digging a place for himself as the third baseman on the perennial division champion Pirates of the early 1970s. He later picked up where Montañez left off, playing first in Philadelphia. How could the Mets resist him when he became available via trade in 1979? Richie took the Turnpike north but resisted the charms of being a deRoulet-era Met. Some resistances are more worthwhile than others. Being a Met famously didn’t suit Hebner, but being an NL Easterner clearly was his bag, baby, because after a Pittsburgh homecoming in 1982, he caught on with the NLCS-bound Cubs of 1984 and retired in the shadow of the ivy a year later. Yup, wherever Richie went in the division, he saw October. Except in Flushing, where he saw only red. His loss.

Ray Burris didn’t get a lot of postseason action, but what smidgen he did was unique. Ray pitched for the 1981 Expos, and the 1981 Expos were it as far as National League playoffs went in Canada. Prior to Montreal Ray was a Cub (1973-1979) and Met. (1979-1980) Before he hung ’em up, he was a Cardinal in 1986.

Jose Cardenal was already a veteran of some standing, dating back to 1963, when his National League East career commenced as a Cardinal in 1970. Baseball card collectors will remember his hair being quite photogenic in the mid-’70s when he was a Cub. After a brief stopover in Philadelphia, his ’fro and other qualities became our concern in 1979 and 1980. His final swing was of the World Series variety, taken for the Royals.

Late in the 1985 season, one of the more nettlesome last-place Pirates I recall from one of those series you’d love to have back was a young outfielder named Joe Orsulak. Who the hell was Joe Orsulak and what the hell was he doing getting in the way of the Mets’ march to the division title? Orsulak, it turned out, was a pretty good hitter and, come 1993, a New York Met whose presence I would enjoy immensely in some otherwise not so enjoyable seasons. By the time Orsulak was done as a Met, he wasn’t so young, but he still had enough hits left in his bat to attract the interest of the Marlins in 1996 and the Expos in 1997.

You know who was around forever? Of course you do: Todd Zeile. He was a Cardinal catcher in 1989 when the Cardinals were our archrivals or record. Todd stayed in St. Louis long enough to change divisions without changing uniforms, but his laundry ticket would begin getting awfully wrinkling shortly after realignment. Among many other things, he’d be a first baseman, a third baseman, a Phillie, a Marlin, an Expos and twice a New York Met of some early 21st-century renown. Today you can find him filling in on SNY pregame and postgame duty. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been traded to Fox Sports Southwest.

Crossing paths with Zeile on many a diamond, even if they weren’t necessarily teammates on any of them, was consummate hitter Moises Alou. Young Alou began his career with the Pirates in 1990, built his reputation with the Expos, won a World Series ring with the Marlins and went on the disabled list for the last time as a Met. He also set our hitting streak record (30) in 2007 while all around him was collapsing. If I met him, I’d think about shaking his hand [1], though might just settle for a friendly nod.

Would you mind giving Bruce Chen a hand with his luggage? You might want to hesitate before agreeing. Bruce got around, from the Braves in 1998 to the Phillies in 2000 to us in 2001 to the Expos in 2002 and then a whole lot of non-NL East outposts clear through to 2015. Another southpaw who you might have seen traipsing through airports in his prime was Keith Hernandez’s childhood chum Bob McClure. We knew him as our lefty specialist for the pennant drive of 1988. He was also known in cities like Montreal, St. Louis and Miami, where he concluded a nineteen-season career as an expansion Marlin in 1993.

Relief pitchers have a way of making themselves at home anywhere. Consider Luis Ayala of relatively recent vintage (Met desperation closer in 2008, Marlin, Brave, Expo/National), Yorkis Perez from the generation before (implosive Met, Phillie, pre-realignment Cub, Marlin) and spot starter Jorge Sosa. Sosa got to the Braves just as their divisional dynasty party was ending, in 2005. He became a Met just as ours wasn’t getting started, in 2007. Jorge kept pitching as an NL Easterner after our various devastations and disappointments, giving it goes with the Nationals in 2009 and Marlins in 2010.

That very same year was when we were giving up on former Brave Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy was a splashy rookie in Atlanta as their habit for winning titles was being shaken off. He joined our ranks in 2009, served as low-level lightning rod over the span of about thirteen months — making his most indelible mark as the victim of an unassisted triple play — before being sent packing to the Texas Rangers who were on their way to the 2010 World Series. Frenchy’s heart was always in the NL East, though. He was roadkill for the 2015 Mets as a Phillie, then a Recidivist Brave in 2016 and, finally, a Marlin. Jeff’s not yet 35, but he has retired.

And it’s not yet August 31. Stay tuned to your waiver wire for more potential four-timers.