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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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Valuable by His Presence and His Absence

Starling Marte needed five pitches to start the Mets’ season. On the fifth pitch he saw from Patrick Corbin, the leadoff hitter singled to right off at Nationals Park. It was April 7, 2022, Opening Night. The Mets had yet to accomplish anything, but they were revved and running. They’d win that night and win a hundred times more. The first win wasn’t necessarily Marte’s doing — he’d be caught stealing shortly after singling and collect no more hits — but there he was, getting these Mets going.

Starling Marte needed six pitches to end the Mets’ season. On the sixth pitch he saw from Josh Hader, the last hope grounded out to third at Citi Field. It was October 9, 2022, the deciding game of the National League Wild Card Series. The Mets were not to accomplish anything more, but they had come very far since Marte had led off in Washington, since Marte was signed the November before. Their collective accomplishments weren’t necessarily Marte’s doing — they had lots of contributors — but there he’d been, keeping these Mets going.

Except for about a month when he wasn’t there, and they stalled without him, and that’s hard to overlook. Just as Starling Marte’s essential nature to the success of the New York Mets is something a Mets fan can’t and wouldn’t want to unsee.

Much as Mets fans soar over the moon when the Mets qualify for the postseason, Faith and Fear in Flushing Awards Committee (FAFIFAC) is inevitably chuffed when it has a bounty, a windfall, a plethora of choices from which to select its Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met, and that tends to happen mostly when the Mets qualify for the postseason. Other years it’s basically a matter of choosing between Column A or not having any alternatives, because good luck getting two columns of MVM possibilities together in seasons defined by losing.

In 2022, as in 2006, 2015 and 2016, the Mets were defined (until the very end) by their winning, and, as that implies, there were a number of valuable, you might even say most valuable, contributors to their success. The Committee could have gone a number of ways in handing out its hardware.

We’re here to tell you it’s going to right.

Faith and Fear’s Richie Ashburn Most Valuable Met of 2022 is Starling Marte, right fielder and indispensable cog in the latest make and model of the Big Met Machine. We tip our caps to several Mets who would have fit the bill had we called them our MVM. One Met does not make a 101-win juggernaut. But one Met seemed to make all the difference between a team for which we harbored highest expectations and a team we came to think needed him back ASAP if it was going to go any further whatsoever.

Starling Marte was very valuable when he was present. Good lord did we miss him when he was absent.

In FAFIFAC history, being gone from the field of play can work decisively against a player. Nine years ago, we eased away from bestowing the 2013 MVM upon five-month obvious choice Matt Harvey — National League All-Star starter and undisputed Met ace — and went in another direction once an injured Harvey had to excuse himself from action in late August. The underlying theme of that season’s misfortunes morphed into attrition, and Harvey succumbing to the need for Tommy John surgery said something profound about the bigger picture of Met baseball in that moment, namely that the team was falling apart, piece by piece, until it landed with a thud at 74-88. We wound up saluting instead the three Mets we judged as having kept as much of the Mets together as best they could by being the only three Mets to last from beginning to end that season: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins. In the aftermath of 2013, their sharing the MVM made all the sense in the world to the Committee (and we found another avenue by which to pay tribute to the Harvey Day phenomenon).

Will ya look at all these valuable Mets?

That was 2013, a sub-.500 year in which value was in the squinting eye of the beholder. This year, 2022, rolled on a different plane. It rolled because of the day-in, day-out excellence of Francisco Lindor; the team-record runs batted in (131!) of Pete Alonso; the sneak-attack batting championship of multifaceted Jeff McNeil; the Trevor Hoffman Award-winning, Timmy Trumpet-soundtracked saving of Edwin Diaz; the personified intensity of Max Scherzer; the platinum infield versatility of Luis Guillorme; the clutch production (and fresh-breeze personality) of Mark Canha; the intermittent sizzle of beloved Eduardo Escobar; the grinding doggedness of Chris Bassitt; the late-inning bridgework of Adam Ottavino; the jack-of-all-tradesmanship of Trevor Williams; the uncanny bunting and Gold Glove-nominated defense of bulk-of-the-catching usurper Tomás Nido; the golden cameos of Nick Plummer, Adonis Medina and Nate Fisher; and the earning power of Brandon Nimmo. If National League Manager of the Year Buck Showalter had any more horses, he’d be reporting for work at Belmont. Value in various quantities was palpable up and down the roster.

And yet, it’s Starling Marte who felt most like the measurable difference between the 2021 Mets who evaporated by August and the 2022 Mets who couldn’t quite bring it home in September and October but had absolutely reached the plateau where we knew they could make our dreams come true. Starling Marte had or was that certain something. When the Mets had it, they had you convinced they were the best team from coast to coast. When the Mets didn’t have it, they drifted off course.

Perhaps you remember the name Cecil Wiggins. He was a driver charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol one Miami night at the end of July 2006 while a relief pitcher from out of town rode in a cab on I-95. The relief pitcher’s name you more likely remember: Duaner Sanchez. Wiggins’s unsteady driving took out Sanchez’s taxi. Sanchez got hurt and was out for the season. The thus far nearly perfect Mets team that had taken command of the National League East was collateral damage.

The Met bullpen’s foundation was shaken. With Sanchez on the DL for the rest of the season, the Mets’ front office had to scramble. Right fielder Xavier Nady, one of those pieces that makes a division leader a division leader, was plucked from the starting lineup and sent to Pittsburgh to bring Roberto Hernandez back to Shea Stadium (along with eventual starting rotation staple Oliver Perez). Hernandez had a substantial workhorse kind of year for the Mets in 2005 before departing via free agency. He wasn’t what Duaner Sanchez had become in 2006, though, and he wouldn’t replace the glue Duaner Sanchez brought to the Mets’ pen. Neither would another pickup, Guillermo Mota, a former Met farmhand who’d earned notoriety as a Dodger for throwing at Mike Piazza in Spring Training a few years earlier. Mota had some good moments in 2006, but he wasn’t nearly the consistent force Sanchez had been.

While the road from any given evening’s starting pitcher to Billy Wagner grew rockier, right field wasn’t what it had been with Nady. The Mets made yet another deal in August, nabbing Shawn Green from Arizona. Green, once one of the more fearsome bats in the game, had noticeably less left in the tank than Nady had shown in the first four months of the current season. One role after another was diminished because Cecil Wiggins slammed into Duaner Sanchez’s cab. The 2006 Mets were too far ahead of the pack in the NL East to allow a race to develop in Sanchez’s absence — they were still a very good team — but that sense that this is the bunch that’s sure to get it done, and the accompanying sense that this is the year that’s sure to become the year we’ve been waiting so long for dissipated from the day we discovered we no longer had Duaner Sanchez and Xavier Nady.

Sixteen years later, Mitch Keller emerged as a latter-day Cecil Wiggins. Not as destructive in the real-world sense. No DUI or anything like that, but the Pirate pitcher came up and in on Starling Marte at PNC Park in the first inning on September 6, the night after Labor Day and…ouch. Keller dinged Marte on the right middle finger. Nobody quite grasped at that instant how much of a middle finger that would be to the Mets’ fate. Mets were hit by pitches 112 times in 2022, most in the majors, most in team history. Six Mets were hit at least ten times. Canha was hit a franchise-record 28 times. It occasionally raised Showalter’s hackles, and the team would flock like feisty ducklings out of the dugout as their mama manager bird would squawk in the face of the home plate umpire or other team’s skipper. Tempers would flare, little would come of it.

This HBP, the 89th of the Mets’ season and Marte’s thirteenth, became a bigger and bigger deal as time went on. Starling shook his hand in pain, stood while his manager and trainer and examined it, and trotted to first base as most Mets had the 88 incidents before. Marte even took his position to start the bottom of the first in Pittsburgh, catching the final out of the frame. But that was it for Starling in that game. He’d need a little rest. Day-to-day. Then he’d need a little more rest. Ten days, backdated. He’d go on the IL with what was pronounced as a fracture. Partial. Better than entire, right? Non-displaced. Better than displaced? Amateur orthopedists across Metsopotamia thought so. Overall, it didn’t sound like the worst thing that could happen to a Met who’d gotten plunked.

It may not have been the worst that could happen to the Mets, but it appeared to have that effect. Until early September, the 2022 Mets were whole. Not immune to aches, pains or sags (the game when Marte got hit turned into their third consecutive loss to an NL also-ran), but as tight a unit as we’d seen since that portion of 2006 when Xavier Nady would chip in a couple of key hits and Duaner Sanchez would throw a shutdown eighth. The 2006 Mets clinched their division on September 18 with Green in right, Mota pitching the seventh and Hernandez presumably ready to go if Willie Randolph needed him. The cab accident and Omar Minaya’s reaction to it were not, together, the card removed from a house of them that kept the Mets from having a different deck of Cards tumble all over them in October. They still had so many offensive weapons and a reasonably reliable arsenal of pitchers.

But they were never the same whole, the same tight unit without Sanchez and Nady as 2006 deepened, and without an active Starling Marte, the 2022 Mets simply weren’t as deep as they were when Showalter could count on Marte practically every day.

You could really count on Starling Marte when he was available. Opening Night in Washington was the harbinger of good things to come, just as the shock and awe of Billy Eppler’s free agent shopping spree on behalf of Steve Cohen the previous Black Friday had been. We’ve seen a lot of purchasing in a short period this offseason, but after Eppler rolled his cart to the checkout counter on November 26, 2021, stocked with an accomplished third baseman in Escobar, a useful corner outfielder in Canha and, most glittering, an all-around stud in Marte, you knew as a Mets fan that offseason expectations were to be recalibrated for the foreseeable future. We couldn’t foresee what would happen that Monday — suddenly we were signing Scherzer — but we couldn’t be surprised that this was how the Steve Cohen Mets shopped.

Marte was truly one of the prizes of the 2021-22 offseason, a span whose front end was truncated by the impending Lockout. The Oakland refugee was talked up as a desirable target for the Mets, a team in need of an outfield makeover, yet how many would-be perfect Mets landed elsewhere once negotiations got hot and heavy in the offseason prior to that one? Such thinking was consigned to ancient history. We were now living in the age of Steve Cohen, the age of Starling Marte.

Before Starling Marte was a Met, he’d been an All-Star a couple of times, a Gold Glove a couple of times, a top-tenner in stolen bases in each league in the same season (22 for the 2021 Marlins, 25 for the 2021 Athletics after the Fish traded him — an MLB-leading 47 in all) and always good for above-average production, especially from a speedy center fielder you could picture batting leadoff for the Mets.

So what did the Mets get? Somebody who wasn’t what he looked like in the offseason, yet somebody who, in the broad scope of the baseball season to follow, likely exceeded expectations. If he wasn’t consistently dazzling, he was dazzlingly consistent. Buck was thinking along with those of us who figured Starling would be a plus batting leadoff, witness Opening Night. Witness it, then forget it, because once the Mets were past facing Corbin, a lefty, Showalter placed the lefty-swinging Nimmo atop his order in Game No. 2 and left him there essentially the rest of the year, with righthanded Marte usually batting directly behind him. He also took to heart the defensive preferences of his pair of potential starting center fielders. Brandon had worked hard to establish himself in center. Starling had earned his four-year, $78-million Met contract after almost exclusively playing center since 2018. Marte made no demands about positioning except for asking his manager not to yank him back and forth. If you want me in right — despite zero games played in right in a major league career that began in 2012 — put me in right…but please leave me in right.

Showalter listened. Buck’s ear gave him a leg up on winning that Manager of the Year trophy. Nimmo dug in his heels in center and became that much more valuable when he briefly hit the open market. Brandon the center fielder, with solid but not extraordinary power numbers, loomed as a more enticing get than Brandon in one corner or the other. It might be a stretch to credit No. 6 in right for making No. 9 in center wealthy (they’re veteran baseball players; they’re all what you’d call comfortable), but Nimmo sending a percentage of his payday to Marte as he does Scott Boras wouldn’t be totally out of line.

Meanwhile, Starling the right fielder was a star right fielder. He had the All-Star invite in July to prove it, but it was more than semantics. You never would have guessed Marte’s experience was only in left when he was breaking in as a major leaguer and in right when he was enhancing his reputation. He had a real feel for right field. He knew how to play the angles. He was rarely flummoxed getting to a ball. He instinctively understood backing up plays. He recorded nine assists as a de facto neophyte on this particular side of up the middle. He and Brandon enhanced each other’s play. No Mookie-and-Lenny or Beltran-and-Cameron situations of two natural center fielders going for a ball and instead crashing into one another.

At bat, Starling fit even better. We are past the era of the automatic assignment of the second slot in the order being made so it’s a scrappy second baseman taking pitches for the burner at the top of the order’s benefit. Marte wasn’t batting second to “handle the bat” and bunt anybody over. He might have thrived anywhere in the lineup. Buck batted him second. The lineup thrived as a result.

When 2006 was revealing itself as “2006,” it started with a top five of Reyes, Lo Duca, Beltran, Delgado and Wright — wow! even now! — and then supported by the likes of Jose Valentin, Cliff Floyd and the esteemed Mr. Nady. A Met lineup has rarely proceeded with such depth or efficiency since then, but you needed to call a bakery this past year because 2022’s lineup would take the cake. The top four generated heat, with Nimmo passing the torch to Marte, Marte handing it off to Lindor, Lindor passing its flame to Alonso and, if Alonso didn’t light a sparkler on contact, there was McNeil waiting in the wings. Or Escobar. Or Canha. Or a little mixing and matching. The first four, though, were the thing of beauty as 2022 was revealing itself as “2022,” and no Met was as beautiful or perhaps as resounding in a vital moment as Starling Marte.

• It’s April 8, the second game of the year. The second batter of the game is Starling Marte. Marte is not even the second story of this get-together between the Mets and Nats. It’s Max Scherzer’s first start as a Met. It’s Apple TV+’s first interruption of the SNY routine. It’s the first time Buck and the Mets audibly snarl when one of their own — Lindor — gets hit (though it’s already the third HBP the Mets have absorbed). There’s even a fritzing of the lights and a subsequent delay at Nationals Park to make things more interesting. Most interesting, though, is the emergence of Starling Marte as the difference-maker. Starling doubles home Nimmo in the fifth to break a 3-3 tie in the fifth. Starling singles in Canha and McNeil in the sixth to make the score 6-3. Marte and the Mets make winning look routine.

• It’s April 15, the first home game of the year. Tom Seaver’s statue stands tall for all to see out on Mets Plaza. Nancy Seaver offers her benediction. Their grandsons throw out first pitches. Starling Marte, new to Citi Field, but already feeling like kin, blasts a three-run homer to put away the Diamondbacks. The next day the Mets shower similar affection on the children of recently elected Hall of Famer Gil Hodges. They don’t win, but Starling draws them closer with a late home run. What can he say? It’s a family affair.

• The perennially dreaded trip to St. Louis seems less dreadful this year. One night it’s a late rally to upset the Redbirds’ apple cart. The next, April 26, it’s Marte making momentum real, knocking in James McCann from second to extend a lead that becomes a win (it’s true — James McCann once reached second base in 2022). Marte also takes a bases-loaded pitch off the ribs for insurance purposes. The Mets would let the Cardinals know what they thought of their lack of control the following afternoon. For now, Marte’s Mets are the ones in control.

• Is it too soon to identify the pièce de résistance of a regular season that, when it occurs, has five months to go? Oh, let’s treat ourselves to going to the ninth inning trailing the Phillies, 7-1, on May 5, cognizant that the only reason we have even 1 on the board is Starling’s sixth-inning homer off Aaron Nola in the sixth. It’s hopeless, right? So it seems when Marte hustles down the line and beats out a leadoff grounder to short for an infield single. It’s a lot more hopeful when Marte is up again in the very same ninth, scored tied at seven, Nimmo on first, and Starling unleashes what would have to be described as a BOOMING double off the base of the left field wall to put the Mets ahead, 8-7. It is the signature swing of the signature inning of the signature game of 2022. It’s Starling Marte getting the Mets going and over the hump. When Diaz nails down the save, the Mets are 19-9, 5½ ahead of second-place Miami and you know for sure this much: this here in progress is a most special season.

• Still, you can’t let down against the lesser teams. That’s your cue, Nationals. We’re back in Washington on May 12, where Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the best players the Nats have, at least until they trade them, run into a de facto double play facilitated greatly when Marte, the right fielder, you’ll remember, knows enough to keep an eye out for errant throws from the infield. Taijuan Walker, who’d been covering third to make the first putout (it was quite a festival of baserunning) overshot second base with his relay. Ah, but Marte alertly picked up the stray ball and shot it right back to third, where this time Lindor was on point. In your scorecard, the farcical sequence was to be marked 5-6-1, then 9-6; in your heart, you knew the “9” made it magical.

May ended with Marte making the Nats regret their life choices some more, this time with his bat, slugging home runs in consecutive games at Citi, driving in six runs in all and powering the Mets to the wins that would catapult them toward their unsustainable double-digit lead in the East. It would get closer in the division in a blink, but it’s not as if the Mets took the summer off. When they went west to California in early June, one of their biggest gut-check wins of the year happened in large part because the Mets didn’t blink at the odds facing them in a Julio Urias-Trevor Williams matchup. Trea Turner struck soonest with a two-run shot off Williams in the first, but Marte assured Mets fans that there’d be no packing it in on this road tip when he led off the third with a bolt somewhere over Dodger Stadium’s right field fence. This is the game that wound up in the hands of Medina, and it was breath-holding before it was breath-taking, but it was the game that proved the Mets could hold their own with anybody (a.k.a. the Dodgers) in the National League. Once again, it was Starling Marte pushing them forward.

On the same trip, Starling suffered a tightening of his left quad. More breath-holding. The calendar read June 7. Close enough to June 3, which had been the 50th anniversary of when Rusty Staub was hit in the right wrist by George Stone of the Atlanta Braves. Staub, like Marte, came to the Mets in the midst of an already decorated career to take over right in Flushing and remake a lineup that desperately needed an injection of character. That’s the word Frank Cashen once used to describe Rusty’s brand of lefthanded hitting. Starling bats from the right side, but brought a similar impact to the Mets lineup. The Mets scurried ahead of their division rivals in 1972, thanks in great part to Rusty taking over the cleanup slot and making everybody around him better. What Starling was doing for the first couple of months of 2022 felt very similar. It didn’t hurt that each man evinced a certain elegance at his craft. You loved to watch Rusty Staub in his prime. You loved to watch Starling Marte at a comparable stage.

Staub tried to play through the pain, but ultimately had to miss enormous swaths of time. The Mets’ fantastic start evaporated. Rusty and New York would have their day, but it wouldn’t be in ’72. Marte’s quad required careful management by Starling and Showalter — he’d save his sprints to first for when a base hit was clearly in sight — but he was back in the lineup before long in June. The Braves were catching up, but the Mets weren’t falling into them. This year’s fantastic start continued until it transcended the first ‘x’ games of the year. It was a fantastic Mets season.

Starling Marte continued to help make it so. From the middle of June to the middle of July, he got particularly hot, batting .326 in span of 30 games, reaching base at a near .400 clip and slugging close to .500. His ninth-inning double at Cincinnati on July 6 sent the Mets surging toward a resounding victory in extras. Although he sat it out, Starling joined Alonso, McNeil and Diaz at the All-Star Game (he could be seen chatting up Soto during the Home Run Derby, recruiting him to accept a trade to the Mets, we wished to believe). On the other side of the break, Marte made himself a walkoff and intracity hero all at once, beating the Yankees on July 27 with a ninth-inning ribbie that sealed a Citi Field Subway Series sweep.

A five-month celebration.

Even with one leg not 100%, Starling stole purposefully and led the team with 18 bags taken. Perhaps the most important of them was swiped in the first inning off Nola and the Phillies on August 13. Starling singled, stole second, took third on J.T. Realmuto’s throw and came home on Pete Alonso’s single. That made it Mets 1 Phillies 0, the score it would remain until that game’s end. It was part of another highly effective homestand. The Mets went 9-2 versus Atlanta, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, their NL East lead expanded anew to 5½. A trip to Truist Park awaited them. They were in good enough shape to withstand the worst imaginable in that four-game series. They lost three there — not good, but not as damaging as it could’ve been had they been swept. The one they won will be remembered for Brett Baty going deep in his first major league at-bat. Also worth remembering: Marte’s homer in the first to put the Mets ahead and Marte’s homer leading off the seventh to help ensure a big lead wouldn’t get away (final: Mets 9 Braves 7).

When the Dodgers visited Queens for what one was entitled to imagine was an NLCS preview, Starling showed he was ready to place his deposit on playoff tickets. He drove in at least one run in each segment of the three-game set, homering in two of them. The Mets took two out of three from L.A. and followed up with a win over Washington on Friday night, September 2. The Braves were relentless, but kept at arm’s length. We led them by three games. We could deal with a couple of wan efforts versus the Nats to close out the weekend. We could shrug off a rainout on Labor Day in Pittsburgh. We had 27 games to go. We were in first place. No matter what happened next, we knew we were postseason-bound.

What happened next was Mitch Keller being the Cecil Wiggins of 2022. Or the George Stone of 2022. Every baseball season is a puzzle. When the pieces click into place, it produces a magnificent vista. Take one essential piece out, you begin to wonder what you’ve been futzing around with all these months. Throughout September, we’d hear Starling Marte was working toward coming back. Even with the leg problems, maybe he could come back and pinch-run. He was trying to rejoin his mates for a stretch run that had grown plodding, but gripping was a problem. Starling Marte couldn’t grip a bat and he couldn’t grip a ball. It’s kind of hard to contribute when your core competencies physically elude you.

September 6 at PNC Park turned out to be Marte’s final regular-season game. The Mets’ offense now operated in the part of the house where the Wi-Fi tends to be spotty. Sometimes everything hums along. Too often, it’s difficult to connect. From the moment Marte came out of that Tuesday night game, replaced by Tyler Naquin, the Mets went 16-11. The ninth, tenth and eleven of those losses were to the Braves in Atlanta, the games that effectively ceded the division lead that the Mets had gripped almost ceaselessly all season long. While the Mets were making due with benchman Naquin, failed DH Darin Ruf and indefatigably versatile McNeil in right, the Braves stayed scalding. Or scalding enough. The Mets led the Braves by one game prior to Marte’s HBP at the hands of Keller. They finished the season tied, losing the title on a newly legislated tiebreaker. It only felt like the Braves ran and hid from the Marteless Mets.

Yet we hadn’t seen the last of either the Mets or Marte in 2022. For goodness sake, the leagues now come equipped with three Wild Cards, and the 101-61 Mets didn’t see their puzzle altogether come disjointed in September. There would be playoffs, if not a playoff bye. And, hallelujah, there would be Starling Marte to participate in them. The man kept working and was declared fit enough to start all three games against the Padres of Juan Soto, Josh Bell and two-dozen other interlopers from San Diego. Maybe Marte wasn’t fully healed, but it was October. It was time to go. Starling knew that. He’d played in the postseason for both the Pirates and the Marlins. There aren’t too many active players who can say that.

“In a situation like this you kind of have to suck up the pain, because it’s a significant situation,” the much-missed right fielder said prior to the Wild Card round series. “You kind of have to fight through it. They asked me how I felt and they trusted me to given them an honest answer. At this point in the season, every player is playing with pain and right now it’s really about going out there and going to play.”

Showing up was half the battle.

It would be swell to recall that Starling Marte reappeared as the baseball incarnation of Willis Reed from the 1970 NBA Finals or pulled some version of Rusty Staub gritting his teeth after slamming his shoulder into Shea’s right field wall in the 1973 NLCS and going on to carry the Mets’ load in the World Series. Not so much. Marte, placed in the six-hole in the batting order as a Showalterian precaution, did deliver two singles and steal two bases in Game One of the NLWCS, a 7-1 loss marked mostly by Max Scherzer’s sudden bout of gopheritis, and he handled his position without obvious detriment to the Met cause, but his presence alone, a little more rusty than Rusty, wasn’t enough to stem the brown and yellow tide. Starling came up against Josh Hader with two out in the home ninth at a noticeably not packed Citi Field, nobody on, the Mets trailing the Padres, 6-0. The batter grounded to Manny Machado at third. Machado threw to Wil Myers at first.

Starling Marte had begun the Mets’ season in Washington, and now he ended it in New York. It had been a helluva season until it wasn’t. It had been a reflection of Starling Marte’s presence until it was a reflection of Starling Marte’s absence. The Mets played very well for the most part. Many Mets played very well for the most part. Only one could be said to have made an indelible impact whether he was there or not.

Two notes from after the Mets’ fade from the postseason itself faded from uppermost consciousness:

1) On November 3, the club announced Starling Marte had undergone surgery to repair a core muscle injury, and that he was expected to be mended in time for Spring Training. The injury was said to have affected him throughout the second half. We knew about the leg difficulties that sidelined him here and there but didn’t throw him off track until the fractured finger overshadowed everything else. The “core” had never been mentioned, although one figures the core bone connects to the quad bone and so forth and so on and what have you (I was never much of a science student). For Starling, a situation in which “you kind of have to suck up the pain” likely describes how he goes after it on a daily basis, certainly in 2022.

2) On November 17, the National League Most Valuable Player was awarded to Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals, an absolutely worthy choice. My interest in the voting is inevitably downballot, given that a Met has never won the MVP. Pete Alonso came in eighth, with one voter picking him second and 23 others filling in his name somewhere between fifth and tenth. Finishing directly behind Pete was Francisco Lindor, with roughly the same level of support, save for the second-place nod. All of Lindor’s votes ranged from fifth to tenth. Jeff McNeil was named on four ballots, Edwin Diaz on two. And Starling Marte received exactly one tenth-place vote, from longtime writer and columnist Tracy Ringolsby. Ringolsby’s sharp observational skills are likely on a par with whichever BBWAA member in 1967 saw enough out of Mets left fielder Tommy Davis to give Tommy an eighth-place vote. Davis’s excellence may not have jumped off the statistical page — 16 homers, 73 runs batted in, a .302 batting average back when those were the categories that most guided voting — but somebody regularly inhabiting an NL press box had a keen eye. Davis, once one of the best players in the circuit, came to Shea that season, his only season as a Met, and put his nagging leg miseries behind him. He’d go on to continue a productive career and trace it all to his revival in New York, never mind that his Mets lost 101 games.

Starling Marte’s Mets won 101 games. His traditional numbers, compiled in 46 fewer games than Davis played, were comparable to his long-ago corner outfield counterpart: 16 homers, 61 runs batted in, a .292 batting average (Davis placed tenth in the 1967 batting race, Marte placed seventh 55 seasons later). I wasn’t front and center for Tommy Davis’s one Met campaign, but I’ve read up enough on it to understand its inherent excellence, whatever the stats. I was on the scene for all that Starling Marte did in his first Met campaign. It, too, was excellent. There was a lot of excellence on his team. Had this essay been devoted to any among an array of his teammates, it wouldn’t have been the wrong avenue to pursue. The Mets couldn’t have accomplished as much as they did without them.

But the Mets didn’t accomplish as much as they and we wanted once they and we were without Starling Marte. That’s the biggest difference. There’s the most value.

2005: Pedro Martinez (original recording)
2005: Pedro Martinez (deluxe reissue)
2006: Carlos Beltran
2007: David Wright
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Pedro Feliciano
2010: R.A. Dickey
2011: Jose Reyes
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee and LaTroy Hawkins
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Yoenis Cespedes
2016: Asdrubal Cabrera
2017: Jacob deGrom
2018: Jacob deGrom
2019: Pete Alonso
2020: Michael Conforto and Dom Smith (the RichAshes)
2021: Aaron Loup and the One-Third Troupe

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2022.

7 comments to Valuable by His Presence and His Absence

  • Dave

    Well I’m not a betting man at all, but I’m guessing that you could’ve checked in all over the Atlantic City Boardwalk and Marina District and easily gotten 25-1 odds that Starling Marte would wrap up 2022 as the Richie Ashburn MVM. Even more of a long shot than Pete Alonso’s Car Shield commercial, Francisco Lindor’s hair colorist or the much heralded but (imo) extremely overrated porchetta sandwich at the place in the RF corner at Citi.

    But you make a strong and persuasive case for his candidacy, Greg. It wasn’t the same lineup Marte-less, and not just because bench strength was a 2022 Mets non-strength. He does lots of things all over the field quite well. I continue to worry about OF depth and hope it’s addressed soon, and I suspect that at some point in 2024 or so, we might see Mr. Marte as past his prime, but in the meantime, he makes a fine RAMVM.

  • Seth

    If the loss of Marte made the Mets un-wholey, then the HBP situation should not be ignored. Perhaps we need to look at 2022 and figure out why they got plunked 89 times, and how to avoid it in the future. If it continues, next year might not be as lucky as 2022 (discounting the Marte incident).

  • eric1973

    Guess who WE just got.

    We are going to buy this WS if it kills us!

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  • Kevin from Flushing

    Excellent. As you said, there were many to choose from this year. These are good problems to have. Marte is a very very very good choice, though part of me wonders if the Nikon award will have something to do with trumpets…

    This column has also reminded me of when Cespedes got drilled in the hip in September 2015, after which he never really recovered (save for one epic blast/bat-flip against the Dodgers).

  • […] A’s. Again with the understanding that there is no winning ’em all. Even still. Whether it was not having Starling Marte in right field for a month, or leaning on Darin Ruf at DH, or trying to hot-wire the offense with September […]