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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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When Johan Was Hall That

For the sixth consecutive Thanksgiving, Mets fans’ thankfulness index implicitly included “Johan Santana was ours.” SNY put the holiday to good use and aired what must be its most-aired Mets Classic, the game of June 1, 2012. It served as an after dinner reminder of who Johan Santana was and what he did for us. We shouldn’t require a reminder, but it’s always handy to receive one.

Through May 31, 2012, the Mets had played 8,019 regular-season games and achieved zero no-hitters. It kind of bugged us. You might not remember how much anymore because on June 1, 2012, in the 8,020th regular-season game the Mets played, Johan Santana went the full nine innings and gave up absolutely no hits. From there on out, giving thanks for Johan (along with Mike Baxter’s sacrificial instincts and Adrian Johnson’s aversion to chalked lines) became the decent thing to do. Secondarily, SNY could give thanks that it had the one Mets Classic no fan in his Wright mind ever tires of getting sucked into watching for the umpteenth time.

Welcome Regional Sports Network programming decisions aside, Johan Santana is on the fringes of top of baseball mind at the moment, as he has this month made his Hall of Fame ballot debut. Can you believe how quickly that happened? Five-and-a-half minutes ago he was pitching us a no-hitter and you turn around and learn, no, that was five-and-a-half years ago. There’s always a little of that reaction when you start seeing in the context of Cooperstown names of players you assumed were about to finish their St. Lucie rehab assignment. Johan hasn’t made the link between him and retirement any easier by never technically retiring. After the injury that ended his active Met tenure in March of 2013, he said he’d be coming back. He still hasn’t said he won’t be. For all we know, he’ll be in Spring Training on a minor league deal with the Orioles or Blue Jays. He did that, you know — signed with Baltimore in 2014 and Toronto in 2015. I guess it didn’t take. I say “I guess,” because I know too much to put anything past Mr. Santana.

Given that he hasn’t pitched in the major leagues for five seasons, Johan is indeed Hall-eligible, which explains why he is appearing on a ballot near you, a first-timer, same as presumed certainties Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. Holdovers Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman were darn close last year, so they seem likely to jump the 75% threshold and also find their way upstate come late July.

Santana? Probably not, judging by the lack of buzz surrounding his candidacy in the spate of articles that declare who’s an immortal lock, who’s a righteous cause and who’s necessarily a pariah. That’s strange, considering no buzz ever made the swarm of noise the rumors that we were gonna get Johan Santana made almost ten years ago. Oh my goodness, it was loud and pervasive and hopeful and, eventually, real. We got Johan Santana. It was one of the biggest deals the Mets ever pulled off. Johan Santana was, in the six or so seasons before he donned 57 and smiled for the cameras in Flushing, the best pitcher in baseball. That’s why it was a literal big deal that the Mets would get him. I’m still surprised it happened.

Johan had a Johan year for us his first season as a Met and Johannish follow-ups the next two years. Then he was out for a year. Then he returned and threw that no-hitter among several excellent starts. Then he was out for another year. And that was it, save for those minor league contracts elsewhere and his intermittently reported determination to work again from atop a major league mound. In the mind’s eye, that’s where he belongs. He was the king of the hill in his time, time that lasted long enough to spellbind the sport, if not long enough to stake a claim to eternity.

The balloting has just begun. So has the nattering nabobism of who should get a check mark and who shouldn’t. Perhaps there’s momentum in Johan Santana’s immediate future where this Hall of Fame vote is concerned, but to date I sense he is being practically universally overlooked. Once your 2018 locks are certified and your 2017 near-misses are waved in, you’ve got the tired arguments to relitigate. Should the PED suspects who overwhelmed the game get a fair shake or the brushoff? Can a full-time DH be justly enshrined? What about a dynamite hitter aided by swinging a mile high in the air? Say, what do you make of a pitcher who can’t shut his post-career trap but who couldn’t be touched in October? Is defense as important as offense? Is relieving on the same plane as starting? Does quiet excellence speak volumes?

Then there’s the guy who took a back seat to nobody for a while, but probably not an extended enough period. That’s Johan Santana, Koufaxian for the Minnesota Twins, close enough for the New York Mets. A helluva competitor. A helluvan accomplisher. Kept our team going when nobody else could or would. Rewatching the action of June 2012 from the vantage point of November 2017 diminished not a whit how impressive he was almost always.

With Mike Piazza safely inducted, I’m not hanging on every Hall of Fame pronouncement these days. I’d like certain legends to be ratified for ages. I’d be fine if a few others weren’t. There’s a lot of taking or leaving in between. We each immortalize of our volition, and neither my head nor heart takes its cue from the BBWAA’s blessing. Yet I understand what it signifies. Thus, out of respect for what he did for the Twins and out of appreciation for what he did for the Mets, I sincerely hope Johan Santana garners some semblance of his share of check marks. Memories can’t be so short that he fades from the ballot in a blink.

Five minutes. Five years. Five percent. What’s the rush?

13 comments to When Johan Was Hall That

  • DCisweep

    Vladimir is the best of the crop this year, Chipper next (regardless of Ortiz’ rants), Vizquel, THome likely, McGriff, Mussina/Schilling, then chatter.

  • Bill Slocum

    Thome is the one clear pick for next year. I can’t see anyone else having a lock, though Vlad is close.

  • I was amazed by how well Vlad did last year and I think Carlos Beltran and Andruw Jones will do better than recently expected based on that.

    Carlos may well get in his first year on the ballot (keep in mind there were doubters a year ago) and I think Jones will hang around a while and may make it in time.

  • Dave

    While Johan doesn’t check off enough boxes to make it to Cooperstown, he should definitely be enshrined in the Hall of Fame located off the RH side of the Jackie Robinson rotunda. Chronologically others are ahead of him in the queue, but you have to put Johan in there soon enough. How I wish we could have seen him pitch for the Mets in the postseason, because the man knew how to step up when it mattered.

    • If they start inducting more Mets into the Mets Hall of Fame, there’s the chance they’ll disturb the dust that’s settled on all the plaques since the last induction in 2013…and heaven forbid that.

  • Seth

    I still can’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a real no-hitter…

  • Hey, Greg, thanks for the link! Glad you enjoyed the article enough to share with others.

    I actually, like Santana for the Hall, but I’m in about the smallest minority around on that one.

  • Dave

    Seth – my thinking is that the definition of a hit is what the umpire says is a hit…ump says a guy is out, or that a ball was hit foul, it isn’t a hit.

  • DAK442

    When I think about Johan, as often as the no-hitter comes to mind, so does the penultimate game of 2008. That might have been the most clutch pitching performance I ever saw live. He knew he had to go 9, so he did. What a beast. Too bad it didn’t rub off on the next guy.

    Offensive ineptitude probably cost him at least 20 wins during his Met tenure. How many 1-0 or 2-1 games did he lose?!

    Such a shame he fell apart. He was great for us for a while.

  • Bill

    I hadn’t really been thinking about Johan’s body of work in terms of the Hall until I read this article. I had forgotten (or never really processed) his numbers on the Twins. I’m not sure if he has the resume for Cooperstown because of the relatively short length of his peak period (though his two AL Cy Youngs do suggest that he was very good indeed while it lasted) but I think he definitely deserves a spot in the Mets HoF.

  • Penacious H

    Greg: You’re not serious about the ownership not wanting to add to the Mets HOF? Aren’t there any rules for entering that? Or is it just fiat or marketing moves? Another thing about Mets ownership to rue!

    But I don’t care what anyone says… my son and I trudged out to Shea that Saturday, 9/8/08, that last weekend at our eyesore, when the NL East lead was slipping away (again!) and watched him pitch a MAGNIFICENT game, in 2008 that forestalled what Ollie Perez locked up the next day. I mean, I have never seen anyone, in person, pitch a better game. On what we later learned was a bum knee, he threw a complete game 3 hitter, and put that Mets team on his back! 4-0 that month, ERA under 1.9, 9k, 2 unintentional walks, he did it all! A year that Seaver, Ryan, Koufax would’ve been proud of. Like all of us were of him… He deserves far better from a Mets tribute than he’s gotten so far (as does Beltran, but that’s for another day). While I eagerly watched the no-no later on, on TV, this was a wonderful game by a talented man whose career was cut short by injuries. Thank you, Johan!

    • The Mets announced the formation of a new committee in 2010, consisting of Howie Rose, Gary Cohen, Marty Noble, Al Jackson, then business head Dave Howard and then marketing exec Tina Mannix. The latter two are no longer with the organization (Howard definitely isn’t; Mannix disappeared from the media guide in the last few years, so I assume she’s gone). Jackson suffered a stroke a couple of years ago. Noble hasn’t written for in quite a while. The last induction was of Piazza, in 2013.

      Let’s just say things don’t appear active.