Happy Mo Vaughn Day!

Tonight, ballplayers from Seattle to Miami and everywhere between will reflect upon the corpulent legacy that Mo Vaughn exhibited during his stint with the New York Mets in 2002 and 2003.

Mo Vaughn taught the Mets–and all of baseball really — what it meant to be a big acquisition, and how to face the dying days of one’s career without exerting too much energy. In his honor, ballplayers throughout MLB will don No. 42 — the same digits found on the back of Vaughn’s 3XL jersey.

Maurice Samuel Vaughn was born on Dec. 15, 1967 in Norwalk, Conn. and was drafted in the first round out of Seton Hall University by the Boston Red Sox in 1989. In time, Vaughn became a star first baseman for the Red Sox, winning AL MVP honors in 1995 behind a .300-39-126 season. After two additional top-5 MVP seasons in Boston, the hefty lefty signed a six-year, $80 million contract with the Angels.

In Anaheim, Vaughn piled up the home runs, RBIs and strikeouts like the Carnegie Deli sandwich artists would stack up sliced pastrami, corned beef, turkey and cheese on the Mo-Licious sandwich. But an injury to his his massive biceps requiring surgery cost Vaughn the entire 2001 season, and combined with a deteriorating relationship with the Angels front office, became just the sort of deeply discounted damaged goods the Mets under Steve Phillips could not resist shopping for.

The strenuous offseason remake only require the Mets involve themselves in a three-team 11-player trade shedding Todd Zeile, Benny Agbayani, Glendon Rusch and Lenny Harris (gaining back a poor-man’s Vaughn type in Jeromy Burnitz and the unforgettable Jeff D’Amico); trading another 5 guys to the Cleveland Indians for a past-his-prime Roberto Alomar; sign reserve-level outfielder Roger Cedeno to a 4-year contract; and ship overpaid Kevin Appier to Anaheim for Vaughn.

Led by Big Mo, the totally new and yet older and fatter 2002 Mets were the kind of massive disappointment legends are made of. Two years after making the World Series the club slid to a 75-86, 5th-place finish (for which the club blamed the manager. Of course!). And with a 35-year-old Vaughn back in 2003 (at least until his knees gave way in May) the club crashed through the 90-loss barrier.

On May 2 in Milwaukee, Vaughn started at first base, drew a walk in four plate appearances, and was replaced for defense by Tony Clark. He then went on the DL for knee surgery, never again returning to a Mets or MLB game. He missed his own Bobblehead Night scheduled the following week, but the Mets had more in mind: A rotunda in their new park to honor the man.

Tonight, we remember Big Mo.

*

I’m only joking as has come to be a tradition this time of year and mean not to take an iota of dignity from the memory of Jackie Robinson, whose influence was importance enough to Mo Vaughn to have beaten baseball to the punch in wearing it on his back. Vaughn was also a pretty good player. Hats off to him! And to Ron Hodges, and to Larry Elliot, and to Chuck Taylor, and to Chuck Taylor’s brother, Ron Taylor! And Butch Huskey and Roger McDowell. But most of all to Jackie Robinson.

 

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Play Ball!

So when the Mets take the field this afternoon in Washington (and I kill myself missing it due to work commitments), we expect to enter the following names and numbers onto the Mighty Scroll:

Pete Alonso (20); Keon Broxton (23); Robinson Cano (24); JD Davis (28); Justin Wilson (38); Edwin Diaz (39); Wilson Ramos (40); and Luis Avilan (43), along with new coaches Jim Riggleman (50); Chili Davis (54); Chick Hernandez (59) and Luis Rojas (60)

Luis Guillorme (13), Jeff McNeil (6) and Jason Vargas (44) get new numbers.

That’s 15 changes if I counted em all up right, so there’s surely there will be a new feel to the club this year. I have my doubts as to whether an 85-loss team can turn it around as dramatically as the Mets expect to and with four teams all going for it in the East this year it’s going to end up disappointingly for some of them, but competition ought to be what it’s about, I’m grateful they haven’t sat this one out, and I’m very happy that baseball is back as a companion and all you guys for a 20th go-round.

LGM, YGB yada yada yada

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Marty Noble

Marty Noble’s appreciation for baseball, and what it meant for fans like him, carried through to his writing in a way that no one else who wrote about the Mets ever quite achieved.

He wrote with a sense of historical perspective and an eye for detail, telling stories that others in his position simply would not or could not. He was a dogged reporter and a skillful writer whose musings on the seemingly unimportant minutia of the game — who occupied who’s old locker, and the progression of uniform numbers — took on more depth every time he wrote about them, becoming one of the chief inspirations for the creation of this project.

I was fortunate to have met Marty on a few occasions–first to solicit a blurb for the Mets by the Numbers book–and also in a number of lengthy phone conversations over the years that loaned his perspective on the team and its players for this and other writing projects. This included a dynamite interview I published in three parts 11 years ago, and for an event in Manhattan that none among the small number of us attending fans will ever forget. While Marty wrote about uniform numbers in passing, and I do so more overtly, he completely understood what I was doing here and I will be forever grateful and humbled for his support.

Marty Noble passed away this week at age 70 and with him went a giant chronicler of Mets history. He was a Bronx-born Yankees fan who covered baseball for the Bergen Record in the 70s, Newsday for 24 years beginning in 1981 and finally MLB.com. He was opinionated and competitive, occasionally making the others on the beat look bad, and generating just the right amount of fear and respect from the subjects he wrote about. He brought a bit of himself to everything on the page including his last published piece, an astonishingly deep and heartfelt profile of Tom Seaver, another complicated legend who is also departing.

Thanks Marty for everything!

Here’s a few more appreciations of Marty from Mark HerrmannGreg Prince, Rich Countinho, Pete Caldera and Anthony DiComo.

 

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Choice Cuts

So our old friend Carlos Gomez is in camp wearing No. 85, which happened to be the lowest number available, although roster cuts and reassignments should free up additional space as opening day nears. Already there’s been 13 reassignments and yesterday news came that TJ Rivera had been cut and also released.

This is not a big surprise as Rivera was a one-tool longshot before he missed a year with an injury, but his release frees up No. 19 if anyone wants it. I assume it won’t be long before Dilson Hererra is reassigned and coughs up No. 16; then there’s Gregor Blanco (7) and Rajai Davis (11) who suddenly look more vulnerable now that Gomez is back. In case you’ve forgotten Gomez wore No. 27 in his first appearances as a Met back in 2007. His return suggests to me that Omar Minaya is possibly making the personnel decisions again and just relying on Brodie Van Wagenen to say the right things to the press about them. That’s not a good feeling.

Among pitchers, keep an eye on No. 26, where nonroster invitee Arquimedes Caminero has a 16.20 ERA so far (in a really small sample) but appears to need to beat out one or more better-performing counterparts like Hector Santiago (46), Luis Avilan (43) and Rule 5er Kyle Dowdy (33) who’s going to get every chance despite a Camineroesque ERA so far this spring.

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For Pete’s Sake, We’re 20

Today marks the 20th year since the Mets by the Numbers website first went live. We’ll celebrate by wishing best of luck to the Mets’ newest No. 20, Peter Alonso, who by the way asked yesterday that everyone just call him Pete.

It’s too early to tell whether Alonso, or Pete as we call him, will make the opening day squad. I suspect he’s a longshot till May, unless they can make some trades this spring. At any rate he’ll be something of a throwback, becoming the first Mets rookie to debut wearing No. 20 in 15 years.

They used to do it all the time.

1965 Greg Goosen

1974 Ike Hampston

1977 John Pacella

1981 Greg A Harris

1982 Rick Ownbey

1983 Mike Fitzgerald

2003 Prentice Redman

*

Thanks for checking in with the updates on invited infielders Adeiny Hechavarria (25) and Danny Espinosa (88).

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Full House

The Mets uniform assignments as they arrive at Spring Training are below. There’s been some significant shuffling, with Jeff McNeil dropping 62 digits; new assignments for guys like Luis Guillorme; and a few returning guys resuming previous numerical identities like Gavin Cecchini, Dilson Herrera and Juerys Familia.

A few of the new guys we were wondering about got assignments (Keon Broxton, JD Davis, Justin Wilson, etc) and the Mets seem to be at least trying to restore order to the universe, getting their coaching staff largely in the 50s where they belong and dressing their just-in-camp-for-the-catching-equipment guys in the 70s. Clip and save!

Because you can never have enough infielders Danny Espinosa has been invited to camp and doesn’t yet appear to be have been assigned a number — 25 is a good guess as its the only available between 1 and 69!

Number Name Notes
1 Amed Rosario, SS
2 Gavin Cecchini, INF NRI
3 Tomas Nido, C
4 Jed Lowrie, INF Was Wilmer Flores
5 vacant Was David Wright
6 Jeff McNeil, INF-OF Was coach Pat Roessler
7 Gregor Blanco, OF NRI; was Jose Reyes
8 Vacant Unassigned (Gary Carter)
9 Brandon Nimmo, OF
10 Gary DiSarcina 3rd base coach
11 Rajai Davis, OF NRI; Was Jose Bautista
12 Juan Lagares, OF
13 Luis Guillorme, INF Was Asbrubal Cabrera
14 Retired Gil Hodges
15 Tim Tebow, OF NRI; was Luis Guillorme
16 Dilson Hererra, 2B NRI; Was Austin Jackson
17 Vacant unassigned (Keith Hernandez)
18 Travis d’Arnaud, C
19 TJ Rivera, INF-OF Was Jay Bruce
20 Peter Alonso, 1B Was coach Ruben Amaro
21 Todd Frazier, 3B
22 Dominic Smith, 1B-OF
23 Keon Broxton, OF was Matt den Dekker
24 Robinson Cano, 2B Was unassigned (Willie Mays)
25 unassigned Was coach Ricky Bones
26 Arquimedes Caminero, P NRI; was Kevin Plawecki
27 Jeurys Familia, P
28 JD Davis, INF was Phillip Evans
29 Devin Mesoraco, C NRI
30 Michael Conforto, OF
31 Retired Mike Piazza
32 Steven Matz, P
33 Kyle Dowdy, P Was Matt Harvey
34 Noah Syndergaard, P
35 Jacob Rhame, P
36 Mickey Callaway manager
37 Retired Casey Stengel
38 Justin Wilson, P was Anthony Swarzak
39 Edwin Diaz, P Was Jerry Blevins
40 Wilson Ramos, C Was Jason Vargas
41 Retired Tom Seaver
42 Retired Jackie Robinson
43 Luis Avilan, P NRI; was Jamie Callahan
44 Jason Vargas, P was AJ Ramos
45 Zack Wheeler,P
46 Hector Santiago, P NRI; was Gerson Bautista
47 Drew Gagnon, P
48 Jacob deGrom, P
49 Tyler Bashlor, P
50 Jim Riggleman bench coach; was Rafael Montero
51 Paul Sewald, P
52 Yoenis Cespedes, OF
53 Glenn Sherlock 1st base coach
54 Chili Davis hitting coach; was TJ Rivera
55 Corey Oswalt, P
56 Tom Slater Assistant hitting coach
57 Dave Racianello Bullpen catcher
58 Dave Eiland Pitching coach
59 Chuck Hernandez bullpen coach; was Jose Lobaton
60 Luis Rojas “quality control coach”; was PJ Conlon
61 Walker Lockett, P was Bobby Wahl
62 Drew Smith, P
63 Tim Peterson, P
64 Chris Flexen, P
65 Robert Gsellman, P
66 Franklyn Kilome, P was Ty Kelly
67 Seth Lugo, P
68 Rymer Liriano, OF NRI; Was Jeff McNeil
69 Vacant
70 Eric Hanhold, P
71 Ryan O’Rourke, P NRI
72 Andres Gimenez, SS NRI; was Jack Reinheimer
73 Daniel Zamora, P
74 Ali Sanchez, C NRI
75 Colton Plaia, C NRI
76 Patrick Mazeika, C NRI
77 David Peterson, P NRI; Was Buddy Baumann
78 Eric Langill Bullpen catcher
79 Anthony Kay, P NRI
80 PJ Conlon, P NRI
81 Corey Taylor, P NRI
82 Joshua Torres, P NRI
83 Stephen Villines, P NRI
84 Ryder Ryan, P NRI
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Keeping Up With The Joneses

Justin Wilson, reportedly on his way to the Mets on a two-year contract, will become the sixth player with the surname Wilson and the ninth overall Wilson in club history, when you include first-name Wilsons (Valdez, Delgado and now Ramos).

The well-traveled lefty reliever, most recently a member of the Cubs, looks like the guy we’ll be turning to when we need to retire Freddy Freeman (and sure, Bryce Harper) and has worn a variety of numbers in his career including the retired 41 and 37, so they’ll likely slot him into some available digit, I’m guessing the 38 or 39 last belonging previous veteran relief washouts Anthony Swarzak and Jerry Blevins, respectively. (An alert reader has pointed out 39 has already gone to Edwin Diaz, so we’re going with 38).

And what about the name? Looks like Met uni-stitchers have applied the WILSON nametag as often as all but four other surnames. Here’s a rundown of the families (excluding first-names, coaches and managers). I last updated this list in the most recent edition of the book and am horrified to learn just now, I appear to have shortchanged the Martinez family by leaving off Teddy; the Smith Boys, along with the Wilsons, have climbed the charts since. (*-yet to appear)

No. of Players Surname Roster
8 Jones Barry, Bobby J., Bobby M., Chris, Cleon, Randy, Ross, Sherman.
8 Johnson Ben, Bob L., Bob W., Howard, Kelly, Lance, Mark, Rob
7 Hernandez Anderson, Keith, Livan, Luis, Manny, Orlando, Roberto
7 Smith Bobby Gene, Charley, Dick, Dominic, Drew, Joe, Pete
6 Wilson Justin*, Mookie, Paul, Preston, Tom, Vance
5 Miller Bob G., Bob L., Dyar, Keith, Larry
5 Taylor Billy, Chuck, Hawk, Ron, Sammy
5 Martinez Fernando, Pedro A, Pedro J., Ramon, Ted
4 Anderson Craig, Jason, Marlon, Rick
4 Bell Derek, Gus, Heath, Jay
4 Marshall Dave, Jim, Mike A., Mike G.
4 Phillips Andy, Jason, Mike, Tony
4 Young Anthony, Chris B., Chris R., Eric
4 Davis Ike, JD*, Kane, Tommy
4 Diaz Carlos, Edwin*, Mario, Victor
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Debate 8

Should Jed Lowrie get No. 8?

Let the debate begin. The Mets surprised the market by adding the veteran infielder on a two-year contract. In addition to figuring out where he’ll fit on an infield with Amed Rosario, Todd Frazier, Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, JD Davis, Peter Alonso, Dominic Smith, Luis Guillorme, Gavin Cecchini and TJ Rivera, they need to give him a jersey.

Lowrie’s been around the league a little, most often wearing No. 8, but also appearing in No. 12 and 4. The Mets quietly removed 8 from the rotation in 2003, when Gary Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame. Though it’s never been officially expressed this way, I think the idea at that time was to hold out and see whether the Kid would “go into the Hall” as a Met. When he (rightly) was enshrined as an Expo, his health issues made the prospect of reissuing 8 distasteful and so in mothballs it has remained ever since.

I think it’s more likely we see another Met 8 than see the club retire the number, and if it’s what Lowrie wants I suppose I have no problem with it. As I’ve expressed here before, I’d prefer it were the Mets to judiciously reissue, give No. 8 to the next good young catcher, but simply to uphold a limbo ban seems like a dumb idea so if Jed wouldn’t prefer to retake No. 4, I say let him have it.

I mentioned JD Davis above but haven’t got to his signing yet here. He’s a right-handed hitting corner infielder who tore it up as an Astros prospect and seems as though he could at the least challenge TJ Rivera to a roster spot, or perhaps replace Todd Frazier. Or maybe even pitch mop-up relief as he’s said to have a big-league arm.

At any rate, it’s a curious deal given the Mets coughed up three decent but young prospects for Davis. Is Brodie Van Wagenen addressing the criticism the Mets’ system is too “bottom heavy” by rebalancing the system with “ready” prspects? Maybe. Is he ridding the system of the Alderson Regime’s prize project? Perhaps. Is he really going to do something different here and reel in Bryce Harper? Probably not.

Davis wore 28 in a brief run in Houston but 26 is his twitter handle and minor-league assignment. That number became available when the Mets dumped Kevin Plawecki on the Indians in exchange for a fringe starting pitcher prospect, Walker Lockett, and a minor league infielder called Sam Haggerty. Lockett never pitched in Cleveland but instead passed through on paper from San Diego, which traded him with the idea they were to lose him in the Rule 5 draft anyhow. Lockett appeared in four games with the Padres last summer wearing No. 62: He’s the Mets’ problem now.

So long to Plawecki a 1st round Alderson draft choice who like his mate Travis D’Arnaud, simply seemed too nice to make it as a real starting catcher in the league; a forced promotion due to injuries probably got his career off to the wrong start anyway, so good luck on the reset in Cleveland.

And bye-bye, David Wright! The Mets gussied it up with a fake promotion to a fake front office job they but released him just the same.

 

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Is This Scott Holman?

Regarding the discussion below, is the guy on the far left Scott Holman? That jacket could say “28.” The capture is from an 86 Mets vid I found here.

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Revisiting Kingman’s Revisiting

Got a message from longtime reader Dave who asked in so many words, “What was Dave Kingman doing wearing No. 5 during spring training in 1981?”

It’s a good question and one we have addressed before here, but I should mention a few things about that: One, we did it 10 years ago. Did you know this site is nearing its 20th birthday? I still run it, still make the rules, and there’s none against reinvestigations. I actually like taking advantage of the archives (check out the impressive dropdown on the left!) and don’t do it enough. Ask me anything!

Two, what we hashed out was mostly in the comments section, which has been cut and pasted from a couple generations of the web site since and is kind of hard to find or read.

Three, my access to historical data has gotten much better since then as evidenced by what I was able to find looking it over again:

So that’s Dave upon his arrival at St. Petersburg on March 3, 1981, days after the Mets completed a trade bringing Kong back to blue-and-orange for the first time since departing in the Midnight Massacre of 1977. There’s great stuff in there about his handing out monogrammed pens to writers as a signal of his willingness to rehab his image as a reporter-hater. In five years Kingman would be outed for sending a gift-wrapped live rat to Susan Fornoff, who then covered Kingman’s Oakland A’s for the Sacramento Bee. Nothing changes, even when it does, including the uni number!

Anyway, Kingman ironically arrived in a trade for Steve Henderson, who turned out to be the best of all we’d gathered on that bloody 1977 night, if you don’t count Bobby Valentine’s managerial career (Valentine as you know arrived for Kingman along with Paul Siebert; Henderson came in the booty for Tom Seaver). But yep, looks like they initially just did a straight-up Uni Swap, Hendoo for Kong.

The Mets between Kingman’s departure and rearrival had issued 26 to pitchers Mike Bruhert (1978); Ray Burris (1979) and in late 1980, rookie callup Scott Holman. Holman was back training with the Mets when the Kingman deal was done.

Holman was considered something of a hot pitching prospect at the time but was already battling shoulder problems that would plague him for the duration of his career. He was also only 22 and a longshot to make the big club; he’d be reassigned to minor league camp March 25 and spend the entire 1981 season with AA Jackson, freeing up 26 for the Konger before regular-season play began.

Holman eventually made it back to New York in September of 1982, rejoining Kingman and the Mets wearing No. 28, which he also wore through 1983 with the big club. Holman ran out of minor-league options by 1984 but re-signed with AAA Tidewater; that freed up 28, ironically enough, for Bobby Valentine, who had retired but was rejoining the Mets as a third-base coach. Holman signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in 1985 and spent the year in Class AAA Iowa. But here’s another new thing I learned researching this: Some Mets fans spied a job-seeking Holman working out with the 1986 Mets during spring training, saying he’s briefly visible in a highlight VHS tape I have but cannot play, perhaps that’s out there on YouTube somewhere, if you see it and can identify what Holman’s wearing, let me know!

Kingman would be released by the Mets following the 1983 season and was off to his rat-infested tenure in Oakland.

And that… is the rest of the story.

 

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