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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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Hung By the Chimney With Care

I don’t observe Christmas in the ecclesiastical sense, but I’ve watched a lot of Christmas episodes of sitcoms, both live-action and animated, so I understand assisting Santa Claus when asked is necessarily a good thing. Every year around this time, I hear that a reindeer with a nose visible in fog went down in history for lending a hand (or hoof). Thus, when Santa got in touch with me about a week ago and asked me to help right a few historical Met wrongs, of course I listened.

Santa let me know he was going over some old correspondence, and mixed into the letters he’d received from children far and wide was a folder filled with printouts of National League Rookie of the Year balloting results from 1962 to the present. The man in the red suit told me he was astounded at some of the names he didn’t see on those lists, specifically the Met rookies who never got any attention when it came time for the Baseball Writers Association of America to honor a given year’s freshmen. It seems Santa watches a lot of baseball during his summer vacations and figured more Mets would have received more support for ROY awards than they have.

Mind you, Santa isn’t endorsing greed. He’s quite aware that six Mets — Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom and Pete Alonso — have won the Rookie of the Year award, and four others — Ron Hunt, Jerry Koosman, Steve Henderson and Kodai Senga— finished a respectable second. He knows, too, that the balloting has been dotted by Met comers from Cleon Jones in 1966 to Andrés Giménez in 2020 receiving at least token support, which itself represents a nice little reward for a player who’s just made the major league scene. Santa is also hip to the historical reality that the BBWAA has conducted ranked voting for ROY only since 1980. Before that, writers would fill in just one name as their Rookie of the Year choice, reducing the opportunity to dispense a “nice first season there, young feller” consolation point or two to nearly nil.

Yet Santa is all about who’s been nice; naughty, too, but he’s trying to maintain an upbeat attitude in these turbulent times. He hates to think kids who tried their best and did rather well didn’t get a little official recognition for their efforts. That’s when Santa reached out to me via Zoom.

Blogger, with your Stathead
Subscription up to date
Won’t you assign some down-ballot points
Before it’s too late?

“Seriously,” Santa continued, “I’d like to get them distributed by Christmas Eve to ensure that they’ll be hung by the chimney with care. Surely you’ve heard that old chestnut.”

My December 24 looked clear, so I told him OK. Santa was asking simply that I arrange for some stocking stuffers…a point here, a point there for the Met rookies of yore who surely deserved to be mentioned on at least one ballot. I asked if I needed to do deep dives to discern who is most deserving; whether I should relitigate the rookie campaigns of multiple National Leaguers who perhaps shouldn’t have gotten votes Mets rookies could have gotten; might I have to take into account how careers unfolded with decades of hindsight at my disposal; and if this exercise would benefit from calibration of candidacies vis-à-vis other forms of rookie recognition from the likes of Topps, Baseball Digest or the Sporting News, which in their day were kind of a big deal.

“Use your judgment,” Santa replied. “Be as statistical or as anecdotal as you like. I trust you to use your head and your heart and arrive at reasonable conclusions.” Bolstered by the confidence Santa Claus expressed, I was ready to take on the task with so much holiday cheer that you could have spread the excess across the tray of Christmas cookies baked in the getting-to-know-you scene of whichever movie the Hallmark Channel is airing at this very moment. Still, as St. Nick was about to log off Zoom and get back to loading his sleigh to beat the holiday travel rush, I had to throw one more question at him.

“Santa? How come you didn’t deliver Yoshinobu Yamamoto to Flushing? You would have made a whole lot of kids from 1 to 92 happy if you had.”

The connection went dead at that point for some reason. Oh well. I can’t worry about that now. I have to stuff some stockings. A dozen is a good figure, I figure. I seem to recall something about twelve days of this particular holiday, and I can’t imagine too many fireplaces are grand enough to hang more stockings than that.

But into which erstwhile Met rookies’ stockings should I be stuffing the ballot socks, so to speak? To use the modern noun-as-verb parlance, I’m going to “gift” a point to the dozen Mets listed below — six pitchers, six position players. I’m not suggesting they were robbed of the Rookie of the Year award. Rather, I’m giving them the simple shoutout they deserved all along.

Oh, look! Twelve stockings belonging to first-year Mets have indeed been hung by the chimney with care! It’s a Christmas miracle!

Did I mention Santa was particularly mystified that a pitcher for the National League East champions who was trusted by Gil Hodges to start 35 times — including the division-clincher in which the righty shut out the Cardinals — was completely overlooked by the 24 writers who voted for Rookie of the Year? And that from a distance of 54 years, the NL rookie class that did attract votes doesn’t seem to have been all that impressive in their neophyte stage? How do 13 wins for the 1969 Mets not make a dent? These elections have nothing to do with postseason performance, but the Mets won both of Gentry’s starts in the playoffs and World Series.

A 1969 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Gary’s stocking.

We’re shooting straight to the present for this present. Francisco Alvarez belted 25 home runs and began mastering his craft behind the plate almost immediately after he was called up ahead of schedule. The pitchers, including the crusty veterans, praised him to the high heavens. Word even reached the North Pole, where Santa has been appreciating the hard offseason work Alvarez has been putting in to get even better as a sophomore.

A 2023 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Francisco’s stocking.

The 21-year-old Virginian wasn’t summoned to Queens until late July. You know who else wasn’t promoted to the majors until late July? A first baseman named Willie McCovey, in 1959. McCovey whacked 13 homers and drove in 38 runs in 219 plate appearances and was awarded Rookie of the Year unanimously. Operating from the opposite corner of the infield early in the next century, David’s power numbers were as eye-popping as Stretch’s: 14 home runs and 40 ribbies in fewer than 300 PAs. Wright gave every indication a beautiful career was off and running from the get-go, and every moment from 2005 confirmed our initial faith.

A 2004 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in David’s stocking.

A cult hero with credentials! Two walkoff hits! Sacrificed one of his quads to beat out a double play grounder and set up Mike Piazza for one of the longest blasts in latter-day Shea history on a Sunday night in the Subway Series! Inspired the Daily News to splash SHINJOY across the back page! Took the orange in orange and blue to heart by modeling it in his hair! You can’t ignore a major league first year like this one.

A 2001 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Tsuyoshi’s stocking.

Overlooked in his time, this kid knew how to get outs as soon as he came up to the bigs in September of 2010, breaking in with five no-hit innings at Washington. In his first full year, for a team that was lighting nobody’s world on fire, Gee won 13 games, or as many Gentry notched pitching for a much more competitive Met outfit. Proved a stopper at Atlanta in April when he halted the club’s seven-game losing streak. Proved enduring when, in his final September start, he foiled the powerhouse Phillies. The Braves missed the playoffs by one game, while 102-win Philadelphia, shorn of its inevitability, fell in the first round back when that sort of thing rarely happened to an odds-on pennant favorite

A 2011 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Dillon’s stocking.

The surprise rock of a rotation that was an essential part of making Mets fans believe in Magic for a few months. Peaked at 9-3 in August, before the whole team kind of went poof. On a staff ostensibly led by veterans Swan, Zachry and Burris, it was Bomback who led all pitchers in victories, the only Met hurler to reach double-digits in that then critical department.

A 1980 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Mark’s stocking.

An underappreciated component of the most compelling wire-to-wire pennant drive in franchise history. Aguilera came up minus fanfare in the middle of June and was soon constituting a fifth of a youthful rotation headed by Gooden, Darling and Fernandez. Had a knack for shining amid potential Metsian messes. Who won the night after the Mets were steamrolled, 26-7, at the Vet? Who chose the night after the 19-inning game at Fulton County to throw his first career complete game? Whose starting pitching set the stage for five Met victories in September, when every win was crucial?

A 1980 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Rick’s stocking.

As long as they were giving out what amounted to short-season awards in strike-curtailed 1994, BBWAA members should have looked a lot more closely at the first baseman who rose to the majors in June and started lighting the NL on fire: a .351 average highlighted by seven long balls. If writers were hip to OPS+ nearly thirty years ago, they would have been gobsmacked by the kid from Connecticut posting a 158 in that category. It’s not Brogna’s fault baseball ended on August 11.

A 1994 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Rico’s stocking.

Dynamite power-hitting first half, featuring fifteen dingers. He tailed off in the second half, but c’mon. This is 1965, the Mets’ fourth year of heretofore futile existence, and Swoboda is showing the league the Mets can produce somebody productive. This Youth of America talk may really be something more than Casey Stengel prattling on.

A 1965 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Ron’s stocking.

Anybody here want to follow Tom Seaver to the mound on the afternoon Tom Seaver has executed the most emotional homecoming in Shea Stadium history? You there, the reliever we called up for an audition last September — yeah, you. Here, take the ball, maintain Tom’s shutout and keep a lineup crammed with likely future Hall of Famers off the board while we try to make like Hanover and manufacture a run or two. Nice way to start your first full season if you can get it, and Sisk got it, picking up the win over the Pete Rose/Joe Morgan/Tony Perez/Mike Schmidt Phillies in relief of Seaver on Opening Day and going on to form a meaningful third of one of the franchise’s most formidable bullpen trios ever. That was Sisk succeeding the traded Neil Allen as the Mets’ main righty in relief, nailing down 11 saves and operating in sync with frontline closer Jesse Orosco and dependable lefty Carlos Diaz as they protected leads and held forts all season long.

A 1983 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Doug’s stocking.

Lugo was snuck into the bullpen at the outset of July and mopped up intermittently as the Mets slipped and slid on the periphery of contention. With almost every starting pitcher injured and not a lot of alternatives at hand, Terry Collins inserted the righty whose spin rate was off the charts into the rotation in late August, and by some Amazin’ coincidence, the Mets rocketed into the Wild Card race, eventually taking command of it. From August 25 through September 28, Lugo made seven starts, and the Mets won each and every one of those games. The starter’s record in that span: 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA, all compiled amid genuine pennant chase pressure.

A 2016 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Seth’s stocking.

In his first twenty-seven games as a 1999 Met, between May 11 and June 13, Agbayani blasted ten homers and pretty much created the OPS metric. The unheralded outfielder’s on-base average plus slugging percentage measured 1.338 in that first golden month-plus. The Hawaiian Punch graphic that began to grace the Shea scoreboard was quite literal. As the 1999 Mets were morphing into the 1999 Mets — dripping with drama, crammed with charisma and shining with stars — there was a period where you couldn’t help but think of them as Benny and the Mets. And even when the youngster cooled off some, he was still an important part of all that was going on, right through Game Six of the NLCS, when he scored the final Mets run of the millennium.

A 1999 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up vote has been stuffed in Benny’s stocking.

Two more votes are cast here as well: 1) for a wider fireplace mantel that would allow for the hanging of some more stockings into which retroactive Rookie of the Year votes would be stuffed on behalf of other worthy Met kids who took a bit of our breath away right away; 2) and for you, dear reader, to experience true (if Yamamotoless) joy the rest of this holiday season, the rest of this offseason, and all the seasons ahead.

3 comments to Hung By the Chimney With Care

  • open the gates

    All great choices. If I had more stockings, I would have considered Mike Vail, Jae Seo, Jason Isringhausen, Mike Pelfrey and Jeff McNeil, among a host of others. I didn’t look at the numbers, but those names seem to jump out as at least runner-up candidates. Guess we can’t be too greedy. Happy Holidays!

    • Voters agreed with you on Izzy in 1995 and McNeil in 2018, awarding their respective July callups with points — and Vail was my last, heartbreaking cut from this exercise. Big Pelf rounded into form after his rookie eligibility had expired, but for getting it together as he did in 2008, let’s hope his stocking was stuffed. Thanks for reading!

  • eric1973

    Mike Vail, square head and square jaw.

    Should have stayed off the basketball courts, and he might have been a star.

    I remember the brawl he got into with Tito Fuentes at Shea vs SD. Vail was the hitting star of the game, and was on Kiner’s Korner. Ralph said he needed to take some boxing lessons.

    Good Times.