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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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The Gones of April

It seems Kiko Calero and I shared a stadium twice last season, two games in late May when he pitched and I watched, yet I must confess I have zero recollection of him. It was too late in the action to be up and cruising for Daruma, hence all I can think is I was engrossed in conversation or so focused on the Met hitters he was facing (10 in 2 IP, none managing to score) that the presence of Kiko Calero simply escaped my notion.

I apologize to Kiko Calero. I apologize that he made zero impression on me even though he pitched for Florida against the Mets in six different games last season, and I watched all or part of every one of them. I apologize that he’s been in the majors since 2003, yet when the Mets signed him at the outset of Spring Training, my first thought was “who the hell is this?” I apologize for asking the same question in my head whenever his name crosses my mind, namely, “Isn’t Kiko Calero the tropical drink mix that sponsored those extraordinarily festive variety shows on Channel 47?” Finally, I apologize for thinking that all Kiko Calero has done this March is give up game-winning hits to marginal utility infielders…though to be fair, that’s exactly what he’s done the two times I’ve noticed him.

Kiko Calero, 35 years old, seven-season veteran, 67-game righthanded workhorse for the second-place Marlins, may make the Mets despite coming aboard late and wearing No. 94. When not surrendering home runs in the ninth to Ruben Gotay or Alberto Gonzalez in the tenth, he’s apparently been not bad. He is reportedly in the mix to make the Mets’ pen. Usually I hate that phrase, “in the mix,” but since I chronically confuse Kiko Calero with Coco López, it seems apropos.

Seasons have been known to turn on relief pitchers to whom I was paying scant attention in Spring Training, from Harry Parker in 1973 to Pedro Feliciano in 2006. Maybe Kiko Calero is that guy in 2010.

Or maybe not. A lot of relief pitchers parade in and out of our lives, some sooner than others (and some not nearly soon enough). This is why I get less caught up than the average fan in penciling in the roster that will start the season. I develop opinions in the course of a spring like anyone else, but my attitude is mostly get 25 guys into Met uniforms and we’ll take it from there. I don’t have that much confidence in Jerry Manuel’s observations on who belongs, but I have even less in mine and surely he has more of a vote on the matter than I do.

What saves us all is trial and error, even if some of that error takes place when games count. You don’t go from April to October with the same 25 guys. You don’t go from April to the end of April with the same 25 guys. Flux is the state of things in roster construction, now more than ever it seems.

Kiko Calero could be here to start the season. He could stay a while. He could stay a full year. Or he could be gone and not return before we know it. It wouldn’t be unprecedented. April may signify the fresh beginning for us as Mets beginnings, but in 39 episodes, it’s marked the end of a Met career. That is, 39 different players have made their final Met appearances in April, the month when everything is supposed to commence anew.

What a kick in their head.

This doesn’t count those who were cut in the waning days of Spring Training in those years when the grapefruit league extended into April (which is more years than not). It also doesn’t count the curious case of Pete Schourek who made the team out of St. Lucie in 1994, was carried north by perpetually besnarled manager Dallas Green, didn’t pitch in the opening series in Chicago and was then waived after three to make room for Doug Linton. Schourek would compile a 25-7 record with Cincinnati over the next two strike-shortened seasons. Linton seemed like a nice fellow, too.

Gotta be a bummer. You work all spring, you get the green light (or don’t get the red tag à la Major League), you’re a Met…and then, just like that, you’re not. You can play your last Mets game at any point, one supposes, but to do so in April must be what T.S. Eliot was talking about. Or was that the Elias Sports Bureau?

There are, in general, two kinds of April And Out Mets. There are the 16 who have been Mets before and their demise waited an entire winter to step right up and meet them; and there are the 23 for whom one April was it. Either way, there’s no denying the truism declared by the Buckinghams: to be exiled from the Mets in April is kind of a drag.

Unless it works out for you the way it did for Schourek. You could say the same for shortstop Tim Foli, who never got along particularly well with Met Aprils (or many other people, which helps explain the nickname Crazy Horse). In April 1972, Foli was part of the three-youngster package — Ken Singleton and Mike Jorgensen were the others — that brought Rusty Staub to New York. The season started late that year because of a players’ strike. Foli came back in 1978 but didn’t impress Joe Torre enough to ward off the onrushing Kelvin Chapman experiment in 1979. Chapman, who won a job in camp, was installed at second on Opening Day, moving superb defensive second baseman Doug Flynn to short, moving Foli to the bench.

If you can’t start for the impending 1979 Mets, maybe your days are inexorably numbered. Foli was traded to the Pirates for speedy Frank Taveras after a couple of weeks and clearly made the best of things. He solidified the Buc infield and was next seen holding down short for the world champions, Howard Cosell declaring Foli as “the glue” of the Fam-a-lee. Kelvin Chapman was next seen at Shea in 1984. Frank Taveras was seen in the interim waving at everything, including ground balls.

Crazy Horse is part of a subgenre of April And Out Mets: recidivist Mets who apparently overstayed their second welcome. Pitcher Ray Sadecki came home in 1977 only to leave home a little more than two weeks later. Pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson‘s first successful go-round as a Met was a fading memory in the first week of 2009, and he was let go in short order. Outfielder Brady Clark wandered through the non-Met desert for five seasons before his 2008 return; his fare thee well came April 22 two years ago. Reliever Pete Walker had two walk-ons as a Met, the second cameo coming to a close on April 20, 2002.

Pinch-runner Lou Thornton was a Lost Boy Found in 1989, but the Mets told him to get permanently lost on April 24, 1990, which was particularly hasty given that that season got off to a late start thanks to a Spring Training player lockout. Particularly horrible timing belonged to erstwhile starter Ed Lynch, who got to be a 1986 Met for exactly one April game after steadily hanging in there as the Mets eleveated from the depths of September 1980 to the precipice of glory. He was injured, then traded, then a Cub the night the Mets clinched against Chicago in September. He was not a happy ex-Met, telling Jeff Pearlman in The Bad Guys Won, “It was like living with a family the whole year and getting throw out of the house on Christmas Eve.” GM Frank Cashen went out of his way to favor Lynch with a World Series ring, which may be like getting your stocking stuffer around January 18, but at least it’s something.

The 1986 World Champion Met with the least claim on the title also said goodbye in April, albeit April 1992. Shortstop Kevin Elster was plagued by a bad right shoulder that wouldn’t get appreciably better without surgery. There went the last man to be added to the ’86 postseason roster. Another Met with ties to legendary times — quite different legendary times — who hit the road in April was catcher Choo Choo Coleman, Negro League veteran and one of the avatars of the absurdity of the ’62 Mets. Coleman kept catching even when Casey Stengel had seen enough, hanging around AAA long enough to bubble back up to the bigs in April ’66. After six games, he was sent down to Jacksonville where he caught a young pitcher named Tom Seaver. Choo Choo was still donning the tools of the Bubmeister for Tidewater while Tom Terrific was leading the Mets to the Promised Land in 1969.

Among other Mets for whom April wasn’t their only month but it was their last were:

• the relentlessly peripatetic pitcher Bruce Chen, ending his Met tenure in April ’02 (third team down, seven teams to go…and still counting);

• the reluctantly historic Ralph Terry, throwing his final pitch in April ’67, 6½ years after Bill Mazeroski took him deep, but 4½ years after Willie McCovey, much to Charlie Brown’s consternation, took him not quite high enough;

Grant Roberts, out in April ’04 a while after it was revealed he had been plenty high, and not necessarily in the strike zone;

• mini-Manny Victor Diaz, whose truncated Mets outfield career was permanently condensed in April ’06;

• infielder Larry Burright, who got to play in the first two games ever at Shea but was sent out before the Mets’ first win there in April ’64;

• and outfielder Andy Tomberlin, whose Met tenure ended while on the season-opening West Coast road trip in April ’97, meaning he missed the Jackie Robinson retirement ceremony, but also never had to wear the unlamented ice cream caps that debuted that very same night.

One other April And Out Met, “been here before” division, deserves most special mention, as he is a cult figure among those who know about him. On the day Tom Seaver returned to the Mets, April 5, 1983, he faced a Phillies lineup that included Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt and his opposite number, Steve Carlton. That’s five Hall of Famers in one ballgame. But for a penchant to bet, we’re pretty sure Pete Rose would have made it six. Immortals were the order of that magical Shea Opener.

Tom’s supporting cast included one former MVP (George Foster), one defending home run champ (Dave Kingman), one fellow 1973 National League pennant winner (Ron Hodges), three world champions to be (Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and — through no fault of his own — Doug Sisk) and, arguably, the most trivial Met who ever lived.

Q: Who was in the Opening Day lineup for the Mets in 1983, drove in the winning run and never played for the Mets again?

A: Mike Howard.

Yes, good old…that guy. Howard, starting right fielder a month and a day before Darryl Strawberry came up, went 1-for-3, stroking a run-scoring single in the home seventh in support of Doug Sisk (Tom having exited after six). Mike not only never played for the Mets again, he didn’t bat in that game again. He was sent out to Tidewater, replaced in the lineup by Danny Heep, on the roster by Mark Bradley and in the annals of Metsdom by no one. Nobody else owned a piece of Opening Day the way Mike Howard did and was less rewarded for it.

April was the end of Mike Howard as a Met, but it wasn’t the whole of him. He was called up on September 12, 1981, doubled in his first plate appearance and reached on catcher’s interference in his last. Fourteen games in 1981 and 33 in ’82 couldn’t keep Mike Howard from an April exit, but it gave him other Met months on which to look back and reflect.

The same could not be said for the 23 Mets for whom it was all about April. Their first games, last games and, in some cases, only games came as they were just shaking the rust off. Maybe if they’d been allowed to stay until May, they may have met a kinder fate.

Maybe not.

When you’re starting a brand new team, it’s a shakedown cruise all the first month. Casey Stengel shook down his 1962 Mets and had every reason to not like what he saw. Four Mets in the vicinity of Originality made way for new members of the cast almost at once. The first to come and go was catcher Joe Ginsberg: two games, five at-bats, no hits, but only an 0-4 record for his team when he forever departed. Perhaps Joe — carrying the designation First Met To Play A Last Game — took perverse pride in thinking, “Big deal, they went 40-116 without me.”

Three later Met catchers — Rick Sweet in 1982, Mike Bishop in 1983 and Gustavo Molina in 2008 (of whom it must always be said, “no relation”) — would follow Joe Ginsberg’s early example and find themselves out at the plate in the Aprils of their disconnect.

Meanwhile, two other Original Mets who couldn’t be held responsible for too much of the mess they left behind, ex-Bum Clem Labine and journeyman Herb Moford, also were done in the bigs once they were done pitching for the 1962 Mets. Outfielder Bobby Gene Smith, on the other hand, found his way to the Cubs and Cardinals before the season was out and played in the majors as late as 1965 with the California Angels, where his peers included Jimmy Piersall, who ran out his hundredth homer as a backward Met (Casey didn’t care for that, either), and three men who’d be Mets much later to no positive effect whatsoever: Dean Chance, Jose Cardenal and, most notoriously, Jim Fregosi.

Fregosi, eternally recalled in Met lore as what you get when you give up on talent, played on the same Met team in 1973 with Rich Chiles, who is what you get — or got — when you give up your soul. It wasn’t as resonant in 1969 abandonment as Nolan Ryan (+3) for Jim Fregosi, but Tommie Agee for Rich Chiles (and Buddy Harris) wins Bob Scheffing no blue and orange brownie points. Chiles, a lefty-swinging outfielder, went 3-for-25 in April ’73. Then he went to the minors, disappearing from major leagues for three full seasons. By comparison, Jim Fregosi’s .233 in 146 games over two seasons was stalwart…but only by comparison.

Rule 5 infielder Bart Shirley may not have lasted all of April 1967, but he kept interesting company. He debuted one day after Tom Seaver and three innings after Jerry Koosman. Shirley bowed as a pinch-hitter for Kooz; alas, like Fear in the movie they made about Piersall, Bart struck out. Also, unlike Kooz and Seaver, he had no staying power. Wes Westrum gave Bart only a half-dozen April looksees before Bing Devine cut his losses and returned Shirley to the Dodgers.

April was no less cruel to the Met aspirations of Mac Scarce, who arrived as partial payment for yet another 1969 Met, Tug McGraw, and probably never believed his name would describe his Met experience: one game on April 11, 1975, one batter faced in relief, two pitches (to eventual ray of Shea sunshine Richie Hebner), one walkoff hit, one adios. Mac, thus, became the first of the April sect of Moonlight Graham Mets, but not the last. On April 13, 1977, Luis Alvarado would give the Mets an 0-for-2 in a 7-3 loss to the Cardinals. The Mets would then give Alvarado an airline ticket to Detroit. Others for whom the April Band-Aid approach (just rip it off in one game’s time) was deemed appropriate were two emergency starters who created full-scale disasters:

Brett Hinchliffe, 2 innings pitched, 9 hits, 8 earned runs — but only one walk — against the Brewers, April 26, 2001.

Chan Ho Park, 4 innings pitched, 6 hits, 7 earned runs — and two walks — against the Marlins, April 30, 2007.

Milwaukee fans weren’t done tailgating before Hinchliffe’s Met and major league careers were over. Park, somehow, righted himself, contributed to the division-winning Dodgers and pennant-winning Phillies the last two seasons and has since joined the defending champion Yankees. Only some good deeds go unpunished.

High hopes were a hallmark of the career of Ken Henderson. In 1965, as a 19-year-old Giant outfielder, he was tabbed (we are reminded by James Hirsch’s monumental current work) “the next Willie Mays,” which is always the kind of tag with which you want to saddle a kid. Henderson never turned into Mays, but he turned out all right, serving as a solid outfielder in San Francisco and a few other teams. In 1978, as a 32-year-old newly minted Met, Henderson was off to a reasonably promising start: not Willie Mays, but certainly a decent complement to Willie Montañez, who came over in the same four-way trade the previous December. The promise was never fulfilled, however. In Henderson’s seventh game, April 12, he crashed into Shea’s right field fence, did a number on his left ankle and that was that for K-K-Kenny and the Mets. He’d go on the DL and then to Cincinnati for Dale Murray, a reliever who made a lot of opposing hitters look like the next Willie Mays.

The rest of the April And Outs can be divided essentially two ways: Guys who didn’t get much of a chance to show they didn’t belong; and Guys who didn’t get much of a chance but proved they didn’t belong. The kinder category includes a man who stands to break from this pack any day now, Gary Matthews, Jr. An April pinch-hitter and an April pinch-runner, he was an April pinch-packer in 2002, but he stands ready to rectify his record should he stick with the Mets and stay ’til May. The same can’t be said for the Met who replaced Matthews, McKay Christensen. McKay didn’t stay ’til May, but last we heard, he expressed no regrets.

Three relatively recent righthanded relievers — Calero precursors, perhaps — got the heave-ho mysteriously quickly. Brian Rose put in three relief appearances in April 2001 and was in no way worse than the comparatively enduring Donne Wall; Mike Matthews‘ four decent turns out of the bullpen in April 2005 were overshadowed by one that was dismal and another that was dreadful and, ultimately, Mike’s coffin-nailer; and Darren O’Day, who was given the ball four times in April 2009, was victimized by a numbers situation and was soon off to Texas where he pitched quite brilliantly the rest of the year.

Then again, we saw enough off the bat, literally, from righty retread Jonathan Hurst in April 1994 (7 games, 12.60 ERA); novelty knuckler Dennis Springer in April 2000 (2 starts, 8.74 ERA); and sagging southpaw Casey Fossum in April 2009 (whose 2.00 WHIP and 3 of 8 inherited runners scored can be traced directly to being the first Met to wear No. 47 since another Met portsider thoughtfully left it steaming on the mound at Shea at the conclusion of the 2007 season).

One other lefty began and ended his Met career in the same April, though I’m not sure how to characterize him. Make no mistake: nobody except Willie Randolph wanted Felix Heredia on the 2005 Mets. King Felix I was what we had to take from the Yankees so we could get rid of crusty Mike Stanton…sort of a scaled-down unwanted lefty-for-unwanted lefty version of Mel Rojas for Bobby Bonilla. Heredia had had his moments as a Marlin, particularly on the ’97 champs, but was Bomber non grata by 2004. This didn’t make him the least bit attractive as a Met proposition in the spring of ’05, but Randolph put him on the team to start the season. The Metsosphere, then encompassing far fewer blogs, collectively groaned. WFAN grew staticky with calls to GET RID OF HEREDIA! After three appearances, he was shut down with an aneurysm in his left shoulder. Nobody except maybe the feral felines at Shea missed Felix Heredia.

Funny thing, though, is I can’t for the life of me figure out what Felix Heredia did wrong as a Met. Oh, he had sucked for the Yankees, which wasn’t what you’d call a résumé-grabber for Mets fans. And he tested positive for steroids after rehabbing in St. Lucie — the fault of supplements, his agent said. But those were before and after situations. While a Met in April 2005, Felix Heredia faced 10 batters and retired 8 of them. He gave up a hit in one appearance, a walk in another and allowed no runs in any of his outings. He inherited no runners, so that didn’t become a problem either. As best as I can recall, we expected the worst out of Felix Heredia and were collectively relieved to see him DL’d before it could actually occur.

In other words, we got all worked up over nothing. As 39 April And Out Mets could have told you, it’s been known to happen.

Special thanks to FAFIF reader ToBeDetermined for bringing up the Opening Day heroics of Mike Howard a couple of weeks ago and unwittingly spurring the research that became this article.

Appreciation as well to Justin Sabich of the New York Times Bats blog for soliciting the 2010 thoughts of Jason and me, along with Sam Page of Amazin’ Avenue and Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog. Part Two runs today; Part One was posted yesterday.

9 comments to The Gones of April

  • 5w30

    “Recidivist Mets”
    “Moonlight Graham Mets”
    “Backward Mets”
    “April and Out Mets”

    You can’t make this stuff up … so funny …
    but when I see “Recidivist Mets” I unfortunately think of Doc.

  • Jon

    Now that’s a list. It would make for more members if they returned to the old-school rules of carrying extra players until a designated cut-down day about a month into the season, as they did in the 60s. I think the rule was 28 until say, May 10, then 25. Bobby Valentine used to argue for the return of this rule (which would provide an additional proving ground for those last few slots and generate some early excitement) and against the expansion to 40 in September (which he said interfered with the honest pursuit of the pennant). That said I would guess April is the second-most Metly month to September.

    • Good point on the old rule. I believe it was in effect in 1990 because of the shortened Spring Training, which makes Lou Thornton’s farewell that much quicker.

      There’s probably also an asterisk out there for Brook Fordyce and Kevin Lomon considering they were out of here less than a month from the start of the 1995 season, which began April 26. But a few days of April is more than a lot of these guys got, so Fordyce and Lomon will just have to deal with their dismissals being underappreciated.

  • Actually, I think you — as did I — were confusing Kiko Calero with Tito Gallegas, “The Pig Latin Lover” and host of the fictitious “Ariety-vay Ectacular-spay” (variety show) sketch on the short-lived but memorable “Ben Stiller Show”.

    Methinks Senor Calero gets that all the time…

  • Bluenatic

    Has anyone ever put together a complete list of all the ballplayers who, at one time or another, were dubbed “the next Willie Mays”?

  • Re “You don’t go from April to October with the same 25 guys” — the great 1907 Chicago Cubs used only 24 players during the entire season (and four of them played in five games or less).

  • Emily and I went to see the April 30, 2007 game. Joshua was still up in Connecticut with his grandparents. Nice evening, we got beers and dogs, we were thrilled to be there as parents with a night off.

    Not coincidentally, I fucking hate Chan Ho Park.

  • ToBeDetermined

    Thanks for the credit. Any time I can inspire output from either one of you, it’s a wonderful thing.

    I attended the Mike Howard game — it was the first of what is about to be 28 straight openers my father and I have attended. Though I must admit I really went to see Seaver, not Howard.