Congrats are in order for Matt Harvey, whose fifth strikeout last night helped him surpass John Maine to become the Mets’ all-time leader in strikeouts by guys who wore 33.
Harvey raced to his current career total of 470 whiffs in just 455.1 innings pitched, a pretty impressive feat for a guy I love to hate.
In other races we’re watching this year, keep an eye on Jacob deGrom as he mounts an assault on Aaron Heilman’s all-time mark of 395 strikeouts by a 48: At his rate, that’ll be sometime in June.
Harvey, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz in the meantime have quite the battle on their hands for strikeout supremacy, between themselves and their extended numerical families. Matz ‘ Team 32 has the current lead among them at 2,034 career K’s, with Syndergaard’s 34s currently at 1,946; Harvey’s 33s at 1,934 and deGrom’s 48s at 1,909.
It’s possible that all four of these jerseys surpass 16 to move into the top five of all time before the season is over. Not that we need reminding, but these are the good old days.
If you ever had a vinyl copy of the GREEN album by REM, and sat around your dorm room listening to it instead of going to class or planning a future, you might have noticed that if you tilted the cover just the right way toward the light, a feint opaque image of the number “4” appeared wherever an “R” did.
I was reminded of that this afternoon when word came that Travis d’Arnaud was hurt — you don’t say — and that Class AAA catcher Rene Rivera was called up to take his place. Not that you’d want to, but if you could tilt Rene Rivera to the light just the right way, maybe you’d see this RR reflects a 44. Cuz, you see, that’s his number, according to the lightning fast fingers of ESPN’s Adam Rubin, reporting from CitiField where Rivera makes his Met debut tonight as Kevin Plawecki’s backup.
Rivera, a 31-year-old veteran of four other organizations, signed a AAA contract with the Mets earlier this month and had been hitting .280 in Las Vegas. He wore 44 as a member of the Padres and Rays.
Guys, I’ll be making my Citifield debut tonight. Should we talk about the weather?
Today, players throughout Major League Baseball will all wear jersey No. 42 in honor of former bon vivant Mets sinkerballer Roger McDowell, whose groundbreaking comedy props and courageous bullpen mischief broke the Prank Barrier in the 1980s.
Roger Alan McDowell was born on Dec. 21, 1960 in Cincinnati, the youngest of Herb and Ada McDowell’s three children. He attended Cincinnati’s Colerain High School and attended Bowling Green University on a partial baseball scholarship, arriving on campus just as Orel Hershiser, a 17th round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1979, departed.
McDowell was a stalwart of the Falcons’ pitching rotation, earning All Mid-American Conference honors when he was selected by the Mets in the third round of the 1982 draft.
A slender right-hander listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, McDowell made his living on essentially one pitch — a sinking fastball he could throw at various speeds, almost always for strikes. McDowell also threw a slider and occasional change-up but the sinker was his featured delivery. “He never shakes me off,” catcher Gary Carter once said. “There’s nothing to shake off, actually. He just throws the one pitch.”
McDowell rose through the ranks of the Mets’ minor league system quickly but an elbow injury suffered at Class AA Jackson in 1983 cost him nearly all of the 1984 season. Rehabbing the injury in the Instructional League, McDowell made a slight adjustment in arm angle and discovered his signature sinker broke even more sharply than the one he threw before the injury.
That impressed manager Davey Johnson enough to usher McDowell onto the opening-day roster in 1985, the second straight year he’d championed a rookie pitcher to the club unexpectedly: He’d done the same with Dwight Gooden a year before.
McDowell earned a win in his debut appearance in the big leagues, throwing a scoreless 11th inning on April 11, 1985 in a game the Mets would win on Danny Heep’s bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 11th, 2-1. After two so-so starts early that year — the only starts among 700 big-league appearances, he emerged as a late inning weapon whose sinker was talk of the league.
“He’s got a wicked sinkerball. I know it, and so do other hitters,” teammate Keith Hernandez said that summer. “They come down to first and talk to me about the kid’s nasty sinker. He is awesome.”
McDowell went 6-5 with 17 saves and a 2.83 ERA in ’85, finishing 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.
Although a New York Times article that summer described McDowell as “a mild-mannered, laid-back, inoffensive and polite young man,” a colorful personality soon emerged. McDowell wore a stylish spiky haircut, blew gigantic pink bubbles while he pitched and by 1986, his mischief became legend.
His specialty was the “Hot foot” — clandestinely securing a book of matches to the spikes of unsuspecting teammates’ shoes and igniting them with a burning cigarette. Coach Bill Robinson was a favorite target. Despite the difficult nature of the stunt: McDowell often needed to crawl beneath the dugout bench undetected — he was never caught in the act.
But burning socks were only part of McDowell’s repertoire:
When the Mets honored retiring legend Rusty Staub in a 1986 pre-game ceremony, teammates emerged from the dugout in garish red wigs to greet them, provided by McDowell.
Before a game in Los Angeles in 1987, McDowell appeared on the field wearing his uniform upside down, pants stretched over his head and spikes on his hands.
He made light of an administrative crackdown on ball-doctoring in 1987 by conspicuously wearing a carpenter’s belt in the bullpen, complete with sandpaper, lubricant, a file and a chisel.
He once got the attention of fans around the the visiting bullpen of Dodger Stadium, and threw open a door to reveal teammate Jesse Orscoso on the toilet.
After Phillies’ teammate Tommy Greene threw a no-hitter in Montreal in 1991, the pitcher was fooled by a prank phone call from McDowell who pretended to be Canada Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney and had Greene on the line for 20 minutes. “It was a tossup who was fooled more that day, the Expos batters or Greene,” writer Paul Hagen observed.
McDowell backed his humor with results. In 1986 he won 14 games in relief — still a Mets team record — while also notching a team-best 22 saves, one more than lefty counterpart Jesse Orosco. Although they split saves down the middle, Johnson deployed his stoppers differently: While Orosco was a typical one-inning guy, McDowell averaged more than 5 outs per appearance in ’86.
McDowell was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, benefitting from the Mets’ three-run seventh inning rally despite giving two of those runs back in the eighth.
Surgery for a hernia cost McDowell the first several weeks of the 1987 season but he returned to lead the club with 25 saves. In 1988 McDowell notched another 16 saves despite losing the closer title to Randy Myers. Though he rarely allowed home runs, Kirk Gibson connected for the game-winning home run off McDowell in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS.
In a regrettable deal the Mets traded McDowell and teammate Lenny Dykstra to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel in June of 1989. McDowell never wore No. 42 again despite turns with the Dodgers, Rangers, Orioles and White Sox and now, 10 years as the Atlanta Braves pitching coach. The number was subsequently taken out of all of baseball in 1997 to honor his pranking ways.
The above info on McDowell was adapted from my biography appearing in the new book, THE 1986 METS: THERE WAS MORE THAN GAME SIX, a quite good SABR book now available in print and download versions. I contributed 4 chapters in all!
Andrew Beaton’s welcome-home profile of new Mets second baseman Neil Walker includes this fascinating detail: Walker, it turns out, has taken over the Upper East Side apartment lease of Jon Niese, the man he was traded for over the winter.
And no, Jon Niese didn’t move into Walker’s parent’s home in Pittsburgh, but he did turn up wearing Walker’s former uniform number, 18, in Pittsburgh, making the trade a Reverse Uni Swap. Niese you may have seen, started the other day for the Pirates and was positively Niese-like: 5 innings, 4 earned runs, 7 whiffs, and a no-decision.
Here’s a look at a few other ex-2015 Mets and their new numerical identities:
Daniel Murphy is wearing No. 20 in Washington, where fans say #TheyreWith28 when it comes to outfielder Jayson Werth.
In Milwaukee, Kirk Nieuwenhuis has suited up in No. 10 and Carlos Torres in 59, changes from their respective 9 and 52/72 here. Kirk beat out former teammate Eric Young Jr. for the reserve outfield slot with the Brewers.
Departed heroes of 2015’s famous bench-strength acquisition: Atlanta Brave Kelly Johnson wears No. 24, while Juan Uribe is wearing No. 4 and a skicap with the Indians.
We unfortunately didn’t get deep enough into Kansas City’s bullpen earlier this week to see Dillon Gee, who reverses his customary 35 with the World Champs, wearing 53.
Phinally in Phoenix, irritating short reliever Tyler Clippard wears No. 19. He was 46 last time around in New York.
Scattered rubble of the National League champs including Scott Rice (Arizona), Eric O’Flaherty (Pittsburgh), Wilfredo Tovar (Minnesota), Jack Leathersich (Chicago Cubs), Alex Torres (Atlanta), Anthony Recker (Cleveland), Darrell Ceciliani (Toronto) and Bobby Parnell (Detroit) didn’t crack opening-day rosters.
So sure enough opening night there was Tim Teufel, “along the lines at third” and wearing No. 11, shedding the No. 18 he’d worn he’d worn as a Mets coach since 2012.
Teufel as we know spent more than five years as Mets player wearing No. 11. And though 18 was never a good fit for him (it belonged during parts of his tenure to Darryl Strawberry, who according to reports cruelly tormented Teufel while they were Mets teammates) his retaking No. 11 represents something of a break with tradition too. Teufel is not only the first coach or manager ever to wear 11 but his occupation of it denies the jersey its distinguishing element: No number has appeared in as many games as No. 11 — 4,442 regular-season games through 2015, or nearly 52% of every Mets regular-season game ever. And until this year, only four seasons since the founding of the Mets have gone without at least one player appearing in No. 11 — 1967, 1968, 1997, and 2002.
No. 7 (4,273 games) and No. 5 (4,208) are the next-most frequently employed jerseys in game action for the Mets but each are more than a full season behind even as they maintain compilers in Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright, respectively.
Guys I’m sorry to have discovered all my fears of a lackluster spring training play out in front of us on opening night. As I write a few hours before Game 2 I’m thinking we have an obligation to make a statement and an ideal opportunity as well: They’re starting a right-handed slowballer, and we have Noah Syndergaard. And while any victory is acceptable, I’d really like to Mets to find out which of the Royals reserve infielders can also pitch.
Glad to see the Mets get off the schneid just once before we go to war Sunday night in Kansas City. As noted below this was hardly the most encouraging warmup I’ve ever experienced but I’m thankful we’ll be answering the bell with relatively good health and a ton of promise. Hopefully, we kick the shit out of Kansas City.
The opening roster, announced yesterday, indicates we’ll soon be welcoming the following men to the All-time roster:
13 Asdrubal Cabrera
16 Alejando De Aza
20 Neil Walker
51 Jim Henderson
59 Anotnio Bastardo
They would bring the scrolls through 1,013 1,012.
Joining the field staff for the first time is bench coach Dick Scott, wearing No. 23, while Kevin Plawecki and coach Tom Goodwin pulled an offseason trade, with Plawecki taking 26 and Goodwin 22. Reliever Jerry Blevins is in a new number, 39, and coach Dan Warthen in 38.
Ruben Tejada’s departure in the meantime opened up No. 11 should third-base coach Tim Teufel want to return to the number he wore as a Mets player: The roster posted at Mets.com indicates that’s the case but I thought I spied him ont he televised game from Vegas the other day still in 18. Any help?
It doesn’t mean anything, and a peek at the archives would reveal I’ve been ready to go to war with less A LOT, but I should just come out and confess I’ve been a Mets fan for something like 40 years and can’t remember a better Spring Training.
That seems like a long time ago but that was me, only a year ago, buckling in for what looked like, and ultimately turned out to be, a very rewarding season to be a Met fan.
And while I maintain the part about its ultimate meaninglessness, it’s difficult to interpret this year’s spring as anything but a basket of sour grapefruit. They have failed to win any of their last 13 games. I’m not satisfied they’ve answered any lingering questions about David Wright’s ability to go this year. The bullpen has been terrible. Nobody’s hitting for power. deGrom’s velocity is down. We learned a lot about what’s inside Matt Harvey’s bladder and Yoenis Cespedes’s garage, but we don’t know that they are going to be effective on the mound or in center field, respectively.
Ruben Tejada appears to have departed at just the right moment.
I suppose the good news is that Matt Reynolds is having a good spring and ought to adequately replace Tejada’s penciled-in role as a reserve infielder, and that amid the struggles of Familia, Reed, Blevins and Bastardo, some guy named Jim Henderson has looked like viable bullpen candidate. They’re basically the only guys on the bubble anyway, illustrating just how dull a spring its been on top of all the lackluster exhibitions.
Two more games in Las Vegas, then opening night in Kansas City await. We’ll have the official O.D. roster updated then.
Kevin Collins, the former Met infielder who was a key ingredient in the trade bringing the Mets 1969 World Series MVP Donn Clendenon and who also holds a distinction in the club’s uni-number history, passed away at his winter home in Naples, Fla. on Feb. 20 at age 69.
Collins was among the “Youth of America” class of young players assembled by the Mets in their formative years. Although a steady job in the big leagues would wind up being blocked by another of that group, Bud Harrelson, Collins bobbed between the Mets’ farm and the big-league club often enough between 1965 and 1969 to achieve a notable place in team history: He was the first Met to wear four different uniform numbers, a record that would be tied in the 1980s by Ed Lynch and surpassed a decade after that by Jeff McKnight.
As part of SABR’s book on the 1969 Mets, THE MIRACLE HAS LANDED, I interviewed Collins by phone and wrote a brief biography you can see published here. In our conversations Collins was a gregarious and funny man — when informed him of his place in Mets’ uni-number history he was so amused he told his wife as we discussed it. What emerged from my research was a story of a great teammate: When sent to the minors in 1969, instead of storming off he left a note in his emptied locker wishing luck to incoming replacement Ken Boswell; and when knocked cold in a collision at third base by a sliding Doug Rader in 1968, several teammates rushed to Collins’ aid including pitcher Don Cardwell, who initiated a bench-clearing brawl by socking Rader above the eye. After a subsequent trade made him a member of the 1970 Detroit Tigers, Collins was among the first big-leaguers to share a road-trip hotel room with a black player, Gates Brown.
Collins wore 10, 19, 16 and 1 over his sporadic appearances as a Met, dating to a debut in 1965 as an 18-year-old.
More sad news from the afterlife: Tom Knight, a Brooklyn-based baseball historian and a fan of the MBTN project, passed away Feb. 17, according to this article in the New York Times. I knew Tom from his appearances as a master of ceremonies at countless Casey Stengel Chapter SABR meetings, and I was more than flattered when I discovered he’d penned an unsolicited and extremely positive review of the 2008 Mets by the Numbers book.
Fans and media around Metland this week are also mourning Shannon Forde, the club’s beloved media relations director, who passed away at the way-too-young age of 44.
Thanks everyone for the continued updates as Spring Training gets rolling and the numbers pile up.
I’ve been very busy lately (more on that below) but happened to tune into the Twitter Garbage Fire ignited by Ken Davidoff’s curious piece in the Post yesterday suggesting Lucas Duda was the club’s most “overhated” and underappreciated Met. I have no problem with opinion columnists sharing opinions — particularly provocative ones — but this one simply didn’t ring true and marked the second time this month a Post columnist goofed in delivering supposed insights to the team (see Kernan’s since scrubbed-clean Jerry Blevins piece discussed below). I have a lot of respect for the Post sports but they can’t be misinterpreting fan sentiment and also cover it well.
While objectively there probably are some Mets fans who dislike Duda (some people don’t like puppies either) Davidoff’s search for an angle overlooks the obvious. Duda in fact strikes me as an especially easy player to root for, even among a current squad with plenty to like: He’s darn good to start with, and his seeming discomfort in the spotlight to me makes him come off very much one of us.
Some of you may know this, but I’m busy in part because I’m making the final touches on the manuscript for a new-and-improved Mets by the Numbers book, publishing later this year (June 7) by Sports Publishing LLC. Again written with Matt Silverman, MBTN Mach II is more than just an update of the 2008 classic but a thorough and loving re-write with more cool stuff! Not everyone gets to re-write their first book, and I’m very proud of this version, and hope you will consider a few copies for yourself and the Met fan in your life. More news on that to come.
In the meantime, lots of interesting Met books are on the way this year including Greg Prince’sAmazin’ Again — a lickety-split recap of that terrific 2015 season we just had, Ron Darling’s intriguing Game 7, 1986, Erik Sherman’s Kings of Queens and Matt’s own One-Year Dynasty, all reflections on the 30-year anniversary of that season.
Dirk Lammers, a journalist who chronicled the Mets’ futile quest for a no-hitter until Johan Santana came along and ruined it all, has applied his deep knowledge of everything no-hitter into a new book, No-Hit Wonders, which I’m proud to say includes an enthusiastic back-cover blurb by yours truly. Dirk has done great work well beyond his service providing the uni-number graphics at this site, and you’ll enjoy that one too.