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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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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 Expo and a National 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 (96 RBIs!) and 1979; 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 wrinkly 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, 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.

19 comments to Beasts of the East

  • The Nats and Expos are separate entities? We just talked about this! Who replaced my blog partner with Ted Lerner?

    • I believe I’ve been flexibly consistent on the matter.

      My bible when it comes to such philosophical questions is the 2005 volume Total Ballclubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, an indispensable history of every single franchise that has ever been tabbed as major league: National and American as well as four defunct circuits: American Association, Union Association, Players League and Federal League. It is Total Ballclubs’ contention that once a team leaves its immediate geography, it’s not the team it used to be.

      “[A]nyone who holds that the Brooklyn Dodgers-Los Angeles Dodgers or Seattle Pilots-Milwaukee Brewers constitute the same club has not talked to a native of Brooklyn or Seattle.”

      I buy that reasoning more than I don’t.

      For the purposes of this retrospective, I think if we’re talking about, say, Jose Vidro, who slid over from the Expos with the Nationals, he gets maybe an asterisk at most. But what Miguel Batista did was different. He was ten years’ removed from the Expos when he became a National. Hernandez did a Vidro, initially, but then returned to Washington later, once the Nationals had established themselves as their own thing. That, to me, makes him an Expo and National more than it makes him simply an Exponential.

      If Bartolo Colon continues his career with the Nationals in 2019, other than the fun inherent in pointing out that he is the last remaining Expo, it strikes me a whole new ballclub for him.

      (Also, since this entire line of thought affects two of fourteen players in the Four-Timers Club context only, I don’t think the Batista and Hernandez cases represent a statement of purpose; it’s just two players.)

      I’m with you on keeping the Expo numbers retired in Washington and generally acknowledging the connection, but I also recognize it’s a substantially different franchise once it’s changed city and name. When they say things like “Ryan Zimmerman has passed Vladimir Guerrero” in some category, it just doesn’t ring authentic to my ears.

      • I was nodding until Zimmerman/Guerrero. If the Mets (God forbid) moved to Vancouver, and in 2053 Brandon Nimmo Jr. passed David Wright on the hits list, we’d sure talk about it, right? And probably sans asterisks.

        Contrast that with the Nats, whose record book would want to bring in Rod Carew and Al Oliver as well. (Or at least that’s the way they did it a few years ago. Perhaps they’ve reformed.)

        Actually, seeing how it’s the At Bat era, if the Mets moving to Vancouver meant new ownership I’d probably help them pack.

        • Cal Ripken and George Sisler share franchise DNA, but it’s never occurred to me to consider Ripken passing Sisler on any Brown/Oriole leaderboards. Juan Soto, should he make mincemeat of the National record book, will evoke no thoughts of Andre Dawson in front of the fans where he displays his talent. I don’t expect 76ers fans to have much more than a passing understanding that they used to be the Syracuse Nationals, and as time marches on, it’s asking a bit much for DMVers who never experienced the Expos as a home team to get misty-eyed over them. Fine print, fine. Practicality, not really. It would be a different story, to some extent, had the team from Montreal christened itself the Washington Expos and simply turned that M upside down. But they didn’t.

          I’ll stress again: 8 and 10 and 10 and 30 should have stayed retired. There was no decent reason to circulate them in Washington. Separate issue.

          Fuck the Vancouver Snowcaps. The Mets were founded to play in New York. I’ll likely be dead by then, but that would kill me.

          Vancouver Mets…maybe. I’d have to think about it. Consistently flexible I hope to be at age 90 still.

  • Bob

    D.C. Expos I call them

  • Shoutout to the spiritual godfather of the Four-Timers Club: Don Cardwell. Before divisional play, he was a Phillie, Cub and Pirate (with a non-pitching layover in St. Louis). In 1970, he finished up as a Brave. In his time his only NL East affiliation was as a Met, but he was clearly a man ahead of his time.

  • JoeyBaguhDonuts

    You fellas should take it as a sign of respect that we stood back for your conversation.

    Moises Alou! “He gets hurt stepping over the foul line.”
    Willie Montañez! “His bat’ll heat up when the weather does.”
    Jeff Francoeur! My memory is Ike Davis not bothering to cover first and give him the 9-3 on your scorecard he always wanted, depriving RA of the first no-no in Mets history. Cole Hamels had the only hit that night and he gawked from the batter’s box at his liner. Frenchy came up ready to throw.

  • eric1973

    The NY Giants/Brooklyn Dodgers most definitely have the connection with their California brethren, I think.

    I feel it, even though they are 3000 miles away. Yes, they kept the same name, and that means a lot on the surface, but that’s just picking nits. The soul of the team cannot be measured by the name OR geographic location.

    Sure, changing names and countries hurts the ‘DC Expos’ more than if they moved from, say,Oakland to Modesto, but it should not.

    Actually, it probably all boils down to the size of the erasers on the pencils the new-location owners use to write the marketing checks. They can either respect the past, or not.

    Sometimes, I think our current owners believe the Mets were born when THEY took ownership, and that guys like Seaver and Kranepool never existed.

    • Not that it’s gotten them anywhere competitively, but I like the reality retrofitted by the Cleveland Browns — the team that began playing in 1999 is treated as a continuation of the team moved after 1995, while the Baltimore Ravens are framed as an expansion team, despite having just been the Cleveland Browns. Short-term logic takes a hit, but ultimately the right legacies are in the hands of the proper fan bases.

      I doubt baseball, when it finally expands again (assuming Montreal is one of its cities, which it damn well oughta be), will treat the Nationals and second Expos this way, but it would be ideal. Add asterisks as needed.

  • Dave

    Not to change the subject, but since it was alluded to, I think it’s cool that the Mets have been home to the last remaining NY Giant, Brooklyn Dodger and Montreal Expo.

    Everybody says Vancouver is a nice city. Maybe a nice place to retire to.

  • Guy Kipp

    Good riddance to Jose Bautista, yet another in a long line of useless, five-years-past-their-prime veterans the Mets have weighed down their roster with over the last decade. Valued for his “positive influence” on the younger players, Bautista showed on about four separate occasions that he wouldn’t run out a strike-three passed ball if his life depended on it. In that sense, he was the perfect replacement for Yoenis Cespedes.

  • eric1973

    Greg, I like your Cleveland/Baltimore thoughts, as it truly means a lot to the fan base that is left in the lurch.

    So if a new Montreal team is ever established, they should fully adopt the history of the Expos, retired numbers and all.

    Hocus Pocus for sure, but it still keeps the Focus.