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Rusty Staub, 1944-2018

Terrible news to pass along on Opening Day, but beloved Met icon Rusty Staub, who powered the 1973 champions before a second act as a veteran pinch-hitter launched their glory run in the 80s, reportedly passed away early this morning in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. at age 73.

For those of us who can remember seeing him play when he was young(-ish), Staub was a terrific all-around player, combining power, a keen batting eye, and a strong arm in the outfield. He was acquired by the Mets from Montreal in a fateful trade on the eve of the 1972 season. He was the first member of the Mets to drive in 100 runs in a season (105 in 1975); a rugged hero of the 1973 team remembered for sacrificing his shoulder in a violent collision with a wall, but soldiered on to a terrific postseason despite having to throw underhanded. He was a real gamer.

A cheap front-office skittish about 10-and-5 rights and Staub’s history as a tough contract negotiator foolishly dealt him to Detroit prior to the 1976 season, but when reacquired as a free-agent in 1981, Staub provided a dangerous reserve bat, was a strong advocate for players at a dangerous time to be one, and a warm presence that helped to steel the eventual 1986 World Champions.

Staub by then had become a beloved figure in New York, famous for his restaurants and charitable endeavors including establishing a fund to support the families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty. Staub was also an active Mets alumni. He was named to the team’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

Rusty preferred to wear No. 10, but wore No. 4 in 1972 and 1973 in deference to reserve catcher Duffy Dyer, who had that number when Staub first arrived.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, I met Rusty personally on a few occasions. The most memorable was a 1983 sports banquet sponsored by a New York cartoonists society to which my dad belonged. As part of the door prizes they gave us kids attending packs of baseball cards, which I opened to discover the Topps “Super Vet” pictured here. That gave me the confidence to approach the big man at the head table, only to be told “I don’t sign baseball cards.”

It took some time to unpack this but it turns out Rusty was just as hard licencing his image to card publishers as he was selling his talents to baseball teams, which is what got him traded so often. A dispute with Topps resulted in the company not issuing Staub cards in either of the  1972 or 1973 sets. Dave Murray writes about that incident — and another horrifying baseball card story on Rusty — here.

Let’s hope the Mets can tastefully and respectfully remember their dignified and principled star this year. Would an orange armband suffice?

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Non Smelly Kelly

The Mets are having a terrible Spring Training. Not scoring, not fielding particularly well and beyond a few individual efforts you have to squint to see the good. The clear-eyed observation would indicate this is a team destined to strike out a lot and hit into a million double plays with a new manager who’s yet to really distinguish himself. That they will require good pitching and good health goes without saying. Now, all that could change when the games start to count, but all things being equal I’d have hoped to see more from them so far.

Who’s been having a good spring? Ty Kelly, that’s who (well, he’s hitting .206 but he’s got 6 walks, that’s a lot better than Jose Reyes and Juan Lagares). I like Ty now, I liked him the first time around, and I’m glad to see they finally took my advice and dressed him in the No. 11 that matches his twitter handle and the LL’s in his last name.

Ty probably won’t make the opening day roster and if he does, something else went wrong but I hope he can find a role as the season goes along. He switch hits, which is great; he doesn’t embarrass the club at any position, which is also good; he can draw a walk, which I’m afraid this club may desperately need, and I think he possesses a clutch gene, even if I don’t believe such a thing exists.

With all that, Kelly could be the kind of bench guy that all good clubs need and seem to rise and fall along with the fortunes of the team they play for, which is to say if the Mets have a good year, and Ty Kelly is part of it, it could be the kind of year that has us mentally comparing him to Matt Franco or late-career Rusty Staub and ends with an appearance as the costumed Santa Claus at the holiday party.

Happy St. Patty’s Day to Ty Kelly, Kelly Stinnett, Kelly Johnson, Kelly Shoppach and all you Irish Mets.

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2018 Mets Spring Training Numerical Roster

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Number Name Notes
1 Amed Rosario
2 Gavin Checchini
3 vacant Was Curtis Granderson
4 Wilmer Flores
5 David Wright
6 Pat Roessler
7 Jose Reyes
8 Vacant Uunassigned (Gary Carter)
9 Brandon Nimmo
10 Gary DiSarcina bench coach; was Terry Collins
11 Ty Kelly NRI; Was Nori Aoki
12 Juan Lagares
13 Asdrubal Cabrera
14 Retired Gil Hodges
15 Vacant was Matt Reynolds
16 Matt den Dekker NRI
17 Vacant unassigned (Keith Hernandez)
18 Travis d’Arnaud
19 Jay Bruce
20 Ruben Amaro Jr. 1st base coach
21 Todd Frazier
22 Dominic Smith
23 Adrian Gonzalez was Dick Scott
24 Vacant unassigned (Willie Mays)
25 Ricky Bones Bullpen coach
26 Kevin Plawecki
27 Jeurys Familia
28 Vacant was Travis Taijeron
29 Vacant was Tommy Milone
30 Michael Conforto
31 Retired Mike Piazza
32 Steven Matz
33 Matt Harvey
34 Noah Syndergaard
35 Jacob Rhame
36 Mickey Callaway manager
37 Retired Casey Stengel
38 Anthony Swarzak was Dan Warthen
39 Jerry Blevins
40 Jason Vargas
41 Retired Tom Seaver
42 Retired Jackie Robinson
43 Jamie Callahan
44 AJ Ramos
45 Zack Wheeler
46 Vacant was Chasen Bradford
47 Hansel Robles
48 Jacob deGrom
49 Vacant was Josh Smoker
50 Rafael Montero
51 Paul Sewald
52 Yoenis Cespedes
53 Glenn Sherlock Third base coach
54 TJ Rivera
55 Corey Oswalt thanks Jim A.
56 Tom Slater Assistant hitting coach; was Tyler Pill
57 Dave Racianello Bullpen catcher
58 Dave Eiland Pitching coach
59 Jose Lobaton NRI
60 Luis Guillorme
61 Kevin McGowan?
62 Tyler Bashlor was Erik Goeddel
63 Gerson Bautista
64 Chris Flexen
65 Robert Gsellman
66 Vacant was Josh Edgin
67 Seth Lugo
68 Marcos Molina
69 Vacant
70 Patrick Mazieka NRI
71 Zach Borenstein NRI
72 Phillip Evans NRI
73 Matt Purke NRI
74 Peter Alonso NRI
75 David Thompson NRI
76 Kevin Kaczmarski NRI
77 Tomas Nido
78 Eric Langill Bullpen catcher
79 Adonis Uceta NRI
80 PJ Conlon NRI
81 Corey Taylor NRI
82 Drew Smith NRI
83 Tim Tebow NRI
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The Hard Facts About 15

The following is a guest post from longtime friend of MBTN, Edward “Bunt the first Two” Hoyt:

“They got rid of Reynolds.”

>”Well, they designated him for assignment. He may yet survive.”

“I liked him.”

> “Well, I did too. I guess he was just the most expendable and the least claim-able guy on the roster to their estimation. A lot of people’s estimation, I would guess. To tell you the truth, this isn’t a big surprise to the fellers at the Crane Pool.”

“Eff the stupid Crane Pool! It’s not fair!”

> “Son, I’m going to look past that first sentence of yours. About the other part, well, I’m your father, and I guess that means that I’m supposed to have accumulated a lifetime’s worth of wisdom. But I suppose you’re starting to realize that I don’t know a helluva lot, and apart from the whole playing-in-traffic thing, I’m not all that wiser than you, and pretty soon I won’t be fooling your sister either. But there’s one thing I DO know. I know it as well as I do anything. And the sooner you know it too, the better.”

“What’s that?”

> “The minute — and I mean the very minute — that Matt Reynolds decided it was OK to keep wearing 15 after Tim Tebow joined the organization, it was over. He was a walking dead man.”

“Holy shit!”

> “What idiot thinks he can wear Tebow’s number? For fuck’s sake, it’s Florida.”

“Wow! You’re smart, Daddy.”

> “Don’t tell your mother about the F-bombs. Did you do your homework?”

“Yup.”

> “Well, I’m gonna have to trust you on that. Good night.”

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Forever Young

I associate Anthony Young with Powerball, the multi-state lottery phenomenon which launched around the same time the Mets’ tragic hero bravely battled through a 27-game consecutive-loss streak.

Young, everyone knew, deserved better than 27 straight L’s, which occurred over a mix of starts and relief appearances between May 6, 1992 and July 24, 1993, all while wearing No. 19. He made his Mets debut the year before wearing No. 33, but put that aside when the club acquired future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray over the 91-92 offseason.

I’m not a lottery guy by any stretch but the buzz around Powerball and attention around Young was such that I’d tried it a few times and started a losing streak of my own. My Powerball number, in case you needed to guess, was 19 every time I played in support of his class and dignity as he faced his cruel fate. We all lost with him, and we all probably deserved better.

Young died this week at age 51 of a brain tumor. My friend Rory Costello has authored a great biography here.

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Jagged Little Pill

The Mets announced Friday that they’ve recalled Tyler Pill from AAA Las Vegas to take the roster spot undeservedly belonging to Rafael Montero, who the club evidently has finally had enough of.

Pill, a righthander who was a 4th-round drfat pick in 2011, was assigned uni #56, becoming the first Met since Ty Kelly to wear the digits and the first pitcher since Scott Rice.

Montero has been sent to Las Vegas to make room but unless I’m mistaken might not get there as his options have expired. I know, he’s really sucked this year but he also has some good stuff and the way things are going its not like the Mets are in a position to give away guys with 95-mph stuff and a slider even if they suck.

Pill has been described as a Dillon Gee-type and got off to a hot start in AA and AAA this year despite an alarming lack of strikeouts. His brother is the former Giants’ first baseman Brett Pill so at least he’s got baseball in his blood.

When I think of Met 56s I think, for some reason, of Darren Bragg, the reserve outfielder who said he wore it in honor of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. He sure didn’t wear it in honor of other Mets in 56, who include Brian McRae (another baseball blood-relative who said 5+6= his dad Hal McRae’s #11); Dyar Miller; Jeff Kaiser; Edwin Almonte; Luis Ayala; Jon Switzer or Andres Torres. McRae was all right but that’s a lot of crud otherwise.

Seth Lugo was moved to the 60-day Disabled List to make room for Pill.

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Neil Before Me

So the Mets are trying to address a ghastly bullpen and today announced they’d signed Neil Ramirez to a contract and he’ll be in uniform tonight — No. 55 — as they face Arizona.

The extent to which Neil Ramirez can be the “answer” is a matter of some debate — he’s been released by two clubs already this year and has yet to match a short stretch of success he had as a Cubs rookie a few years back — but I’d agree it’s time to do something. This bullpen in particular is churning up memories of 2008 when similarly disappointing returnees and a merry-go-round of cheap acquirees (Luis Ayala, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas, Scott Schoeneweis, and so on) seemed basically infected with a strain of lost confidence.

And while the bullpen pitchers are ultimately at fault, some of the blame needs to go to old Terry, whose use of the pen reeks of his lack of confidence in some guys and over-confidence (and overuse) among others; and to the rotation, whose poor efforts require more help than the club has been able to offer (and who repeatedly commit the sin of giving back every run the club scores as soon as possible); and to the offense, who, especially early on, made every game a do-or-die bullpen situation by failing to support the starters or give them any breathing room. Good teams simply cannot allow themselves to have their fates determined by 12th or 13th best pitcher on them (or the best relievers working to protect 5-run leads) and the way to do that is to make better starts and hit the ball harder.

It could be, the best move for the bullpen would be to turn Curtis Granderson and Jose Reyes into pinch hitters; get Robert Gsellman two weeks of starts in Las Vegas and got get Zimmo and Cecchini already.

But for now, the best move is Neil Rodriguez.

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Seaworthy?

Well it took less than a week before the Mets required reinforcements, as righthander Paul Sewald was recalled from AAA Las Vegas following last night’s game and reserve Ty Kelly designated for assignment.

And though we feared that recent history would result in Sewald retaining the ghastly No. 79 he wore during spring training, good sense prevailed and Sewald will suit up in the somewhat less controversial No. 51, last seen on the back of Jim Henderson last year, Jack Leathersich the year before, bullpen predecessors Rick White, Mike Maddux, and Mel Rojas, and a ton of coaches. Fun fact: The only position player ever to appear in a Mets game wearing No. 51 was Lance Johnson in a one-game issue on Mookie Wilson Day in September of 1996 (Mookie, then a coach, and Johnson, then wearing No. 1, switched for the occasion). Johnson had three hits including a triple that day.

For the Mets the move to 13 pitchers would presumably give additional hitting opportunities for little-used bench guys like Michael Conforto and T.J. Rivera, but I’d suspect the move has more to do with the unsteady performance of the low-end bullpen guys like Josh Smoker and Rafael Montero and the fact that there’s just 2 off-days among the next 32. Eventually, I’d like to see Brandon Nimmo get that Ty Kelly role but he’s I guess we have to get through this next batch and see what happens. At any rate, we need to hit more.

Ty never got back to me on my suggestion he switch to No. 11, by the way. I’m telling you right now, it’s harder to DFA a guy wearing 11 than a guy wearing 56. Think of your career, man.

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Ynoa the Drill

63Another AAA pitcher has appeared on the big-league roster, taking his spring training number with him. Last night it was Gabriel Ynoa, who not only threw a scoreless inning in his big-league debut but earning the win while doing so surpassed his only predecessor in the jersey, Chris Schwinden for most victories by a guy wearing No. 63.

Ynoa (63) follows the recent pattern of AAA callups simply retaining their spring numbers upon initial promotion — Eric Goeddel (62); Akeel Morris (64); Josh Smoker (49); Ty Kelly (55, now 56) and Seth Lugo (67). Along with a concurrent willingness to dress even non-pitchers in high jerseys (T.J. Rivera 54, Kelly Johnson 55), the Mets are likely running their highest average uni count ever, though I haven’t looked that up.

35To make room for Ynoa the Mets demoted Logan Verrett, who hung in there for awhile as the fifth starter — it seemed like every outing was a must-win for him — but he didn’t go and lose all by himself until his most recent starts. Jose Reyes also came back, costing Matt Reynolds his role as starting shortstop. Reynolds showed he get into one every once in a while, but those whiffs are a little much to hang in a pennant race with.

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#WatchWatch

32This year’s trade deadline, about as nutty as last year’s, has resulted in the acquisition of Reds slugger Jay Bruce and the shocking return of Jon Niese. Both guys will be hunting for new uniform numbers as their existing digits belong to their new teammates.

49Bruce, a slugger who can hopefully replace some lefthanded sock that vanished when Lucas Duda got hurt, wears the unusual No. 32, currently and could perhaps pry it from Steven Matz with a Rolex — in the baseball world, the currency of the uniform number. Niese was the Mets’ last occupant of No. 49 until Josh Smoker came and went last Tuesday. Technically 49 still belongs him him.

Niese by the way wore No. 18 in Pittsburgh, where he washed out as a starter and had recently been assigned to the bullpen.

As for the outbound freight, Dilson Hererra has been occupying No. 2 in Vegas and on the Mets’ 40-man roster, which was his number before and after the visit from Juan Uribe last summer, when Hererra wore the since-reassigned No. 16. Uribe, struggling in Cleveland, happened to have been DFAed to make room for all Cleveland’s new gets today and so could potentially slide back in No. 2. That’s the theme this year.

The guy we traded for Niese, gascan lefty Antonio Bastardo, wore No. 59, for the apparent minimum number of seconds he took between delivering pitches. I’m glad to see it and he go, particularly since the Pirates are picking up the commitment.

Fill me in if anything official comes in!

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