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The Newest Met (And a Trio of Ghosts)

Sometime in the not-so-distant future Jeff Conine will become the 819th Met, welcomed by me with great enthusiasm. My natural sympathies lie with youth and potential over age and a diminishing track record (Milledge over Green, Gotay over Castillo), but they're put aside when it comes to constructing a bench. There, you want evidence of a good eye, the ability to deliver results in part-time play, a proven track record, and intangibles. Conine, all 41 years of him, would seem to have all of those things, and be an excellent replacement for the felled, mourned Damion Easley as the right-handed bat off the bench.

Comments on the then-rumored trade over at MetsBlog [1] got me curious: Just how many ex-Marlins do we currently employ, anyway?

(Warning: Jace Math ahead. Adjust your expectations accordingly.)

Taking our likely roster should we play ball in October — which I figure will be Pedro, Glavine, El Duque, Maine, Perez, Sosa, Heilman, Schoeneweis, Mota, Feliciano, Smith, Wagner, Lo Duca, Delgado, Castillo, Reyes, Wright, Alou, Beltran, Milledge, Castro, Conine, Anderson, Chavez, Green — here's a look at what teams have served as homes for that collection of Mets:

FLA — 7 (Mota, Lo Duca, Delgado, Castillo, Alou, Conine, Castro)

HOMEGROWN — 6 (Heilman, Feliciano, Smith, Reyes, Wright, Milledge. Hush up about Feliciano's stopoff in Japan.)

LAD — 5 (Pedro, Mota, Lo Duca, Anderson, Green)

WSH/MON — 5 (Pedro, Mota, Alou, Anderson, Endy)

PHI — 4 (Wagner, Conine, Anderson, Endy)

HOU — 3 (Wagner, Alou, Beltran)

TOR — 3 (Schoeneweis, Delgado, Green)

KC — 3 (Beltran, Conine, Endy)

ATL — 2 (Glavine, Sosa)

STL — 2 (Sosa, Anderson)

PIT — 2 (Perez, Alou)

CIN — 2 (Schoeneweis, Conine)

ARZ — 2 (Duque, Green)

BAL — 2 (Maine, Conine)

TB — 2 (Sosa, Anderson)

CHW — 2 (Duque, Schoeneweis)

CHC — 1 (Alou)

SD — 1 (Perez)

SF — 1 (Alou)

BOS — 1 (Pedro)

NYY — 1 (Duque)

CLE — 1 (Mota)

MIN — 1 (Castillo)

ANA — 1 (Schoeneweis)


(If you want to consider other possibilities: Gotay was a Royal; Sele's suited up for Boston, Texas, Seattle, Anaheim and Los Angeles; Newhan's been a Padre, Phillie and Oriole; DiFelice's world tour has included stops in St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago (NL); Alomar's played for San Diego, Cleveland, Chicago (AL), Colorado, Texas and Los Angeles; Burgos was a Royal; Lawrence was a Padre; Vargas was a Marlin; and Pelfrey's homegrown. Oh, and Easley was an Angel, Tiger, Devil Ray, Marlin and Diamondback.)

Raiding the Marlins is nothing new for this team, and the Natspos factor undoubtedly reflects Omar's resume. The Dodger connection surprised me a bit, but at least we're doing well on the Cub factor. And I trust we've forgiven El Duque his time in the service of the Vertical Swastika — refugees can't be choosers, right?

Sticking with roster minutiae on a rainy off-night, I've always been borderline obsessed with roster oddities, whether it's the Lost Mets [2] who never got baseball cards, Mets whose cups of coffee came in the midst of lengthy stints in the minors [3], or guys who earned their orange and blue in life [4] if not on the diamond. Then there are the Almost Mets, the guys who suited up but never got into a Met game [5], a short list whose dean is Terrell Hansen [6]. Hansen was brought up in '92, assigned No. 21, waited around for a couple of days, got sent back down, played for another decade or so — and never made the Show. There are more-compelling reasons to hate Jeff Torborg, but make room for that one — as I once wrote, Terrell Hansen would give his eyeteeth to be Moonlight Graham.

I had always fixed the roster of the Almost Mets at five: Jerry Moses ('75), Terrell Hansen ('92), Mac Suzuki ('99), Justin Speier ('01) and Anderson Garcia ('06), with only Hansen not finding his way into the Baseball Encyclopedia at some other time with some other team. So imagine my surprise when I was goofing around on the sublime Mets By the Numbers and discovered three other Almost Mets [7] — and another Met tragedy.

According to MBTN, the first Almost Met was Jim Bibby, who was called up but not put to work in 1969 and again in 1971. Then came Randy Bobb, in 1970. (Bobb shares a '71 Mets Rookie Stars card [8] with Tim Foli, which makes him part of another list, but lets try and keep our obsessions separate here.) And finally there was a name I'd never heard before — Billy Cotton, recipient of a DNP for 1972.

Bibby made his debut in '72 as a Cardinal, and went on to win 111 games in a perfectly serviceable 12-year career. Bobb's big-league career was over by the time he got to Shea, but had collected 10 at-bats (and one hit) in two short tours of duty with the Cubs. But Billy Cotton never played in the big leagues. In '73 he played for Tidewater, Toledo and Memphis, in '74 he collected five RBIs for Iowa, and that was the end of his professional career. Google him, and you'll be left with the merest scraps of info — he was a No. 1 pick, a Sun Devil, and wore 22 for the Mets in September 1972. And that's it — there's no record of what Yogi Berra didn't see in him, or why he didn't at least give him a moment, as Art Howe did to get Joe Hietpas into the book. Billy Cotton was Terrell Hansen before there was a Terrell Hansen.

For me, the discovery of another phantom Met doesn't make Hansen's story any less poignant. To the contrary — I knew Hansen because I saw him on TV and he got a baseball card. Cotton gave baseball at least a decade of his life, played it at a level 99.99% of human beings couldn't imagine, and yet his near-miss came as a complete surprise to one of the most-rabid fans of the baseball team that so briefly employed him.

If I ever get a time machine, I'll of course do some of the things I've always figured I'd do, like kill Hitler and gawk at dinosaurs and invest in Standard Oil and say certain things to certain girls and not say certain other things to certain other girls and give Jose Reyes's drive in the 9th inning of Game 7 a little boost beyond Jim Edmonds' reach. But if the machine's still working after that, I'm going to go visit Yogi and Torborg and see if things can't be put right.