Back from a short biz-trip to let you know I still don’t know what the Mets are doing with these uni issues, the latest being T.J. Rivera’s recall from Las Vegas and subsequent assignment of No. 54.
I was with everyone else in advocating the Mets issue the recently freed-up No. 2 to Rivera but hadn’t a particularly strong argument for it until my friend Edward at the Crane Pool alerted me to this Daily Snooze profile detailing how Rivera got to the Mets in the first place:
“I told Tommy, ‘I can’t believe nobody drafted T.J. You can’t go wrong with him,'” recalls [Mackey] Sasser, who was a Met from 1988-92 [and Rivera’s college coach at Wallace Community College in Alabama]. “He’s going to make someone a good player.”
Sasser of course was a notoriously famous No. 2, maybe the jersey’s most memorable character behind manager Bobby Valentine and Marvelous Marv Throneberry, who we now know personally championed an undrafted free agent who reached the majors on the strength of his hitting. That the Mets somehow overlooked this intersection of opportunity (the Dilson Herrera trade) and appropriateness, while going completely off-script and making Rivera the first non-pitcher/non-coach ever to wear 54 isn’t a great signal they’re doing this whole uni-number-issuing thing correctly.
The Mets on the other hand aren’t doing much of anything right lately, culminating in this week’s deserved sweeping at the hands of the awful Arizona Diamondbacks and their fugly uniforms. Terry Collins yesterday made a show of demanding a fresh start from his guys, a move that could prove to be too late to save them or him.
Speaking of bad teams in fugly uniforms, my travels this week took me to the Twin Cities where I witnessed Target Field for the first time, encountering what for me was an odd site — the homestanding Twins in bright-red home jerseys. The stadium was quite nice, bonus points for locating it within moments of a train station, but the unis bothered me until I realized the none-too-subtle message I’m sure they were meant to deliver. Cheap chic indeed.
As you probably know by now the Mets have issued the newly arriving Jay Bruce No. 19 and have allowed Jon Niese to take back the No. 49 he wore in his last go-round with the club.
Bruce, who is scheduled to start in right field and bat third, will become the 36th guy to wear 19 for the Mets and has an outside shot of overtaking Roger Cedeno as the jersey’s most prolific home run hitter by the end of the year. (Roger had 18 dingers over three seasons as a Met 19).
Also Tuesday, the Mets placed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (13) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano (1) on the disabled list, demoted bullpenner Seth Lugo (67) and recalled utilityman Ty Kelly (56) and reliever Josh Edgin (66). Edgin is making his first reappearance in a Mets jersey since September of 2014.
I don’t normally keep track of this stuff, but it is notable the club is adding a combined 190 in combined uni numbers while subtracting just 90 — a net gain of 100 that has to rank as one of the largest one-day swings in club history.
Congrats to freshly picked Mets Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay and Peter Alonso, the club’s top three selections in the MLB amateur draft. Photographic evidence from their colleges show them wearing 19, 18 and 20, respectively. The draft continues this afternoon.
Speaking of new arrivals, Kelly Johnson is expected to join the club in Milwaukee today, but it’s still unclear whose spot he takes on the roster. If it’s Ty Kelly, Johnson could retain the No. 55 he wore in his last go-round with the Mets but it may well be Matt Reynolds, in which case either Kelly, or Kelly, will wind up with their second Mets uni assignment.
Including coaches and all members of the 40-man roster, available jerseys at the moment include 1, 9, 18, 46, 49, 54, 56, 58, 60, 61 and now 64 — since young pitcher Akeel Morris was sacrificed to Atlanta in the Johnson trade. You might recall Morris was catapulted from Single A to the Mets last summer and got bashed by the Blue Jays in his only appearance.
That incident and the subsequent trade granted Morris entry to an exclusive club of Met pitchers whose career club ERAs exceed their uniform number:
Players w/ career #Mets ERAs > uni number:
Garrett Olson (38) 108.00
Akeel Morris (64) 67.50
Todd Zeile (27) 45.00
Derek Bell (16) 36.00
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.
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.
I anticipate it will still be a week or so before the Mets reveal updates to their roster and assigned uni numbers, but this morning I stumbled across what would be among be the first such published updates in club history. The below clip (see the second item) was published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Feb. 22, 1962.
Can’t help but think had this column published today it would be called “GRODY TO THE MAX” rather than the “THE SPORTS WHIRL’D.” Grody was a longtime columnist at the Sentinel best known as a boxing writer.
As for those Mets numbers, we’re anticipating issues to new 40-man residents Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Josh Smoker, Jeff Walters and Brandon Nimmo; minor league guys who’ve been invited to spring training like Ty Kelly, Stolmy Pimental and Jim Henderson; potential reassignments for guys like Darrell Ceciliani; new bench coach Dick Scott; and newly added players like Alejandro De Aza and Jerry Blevins (Neil Walker in 20 and Asdrubal Cabrera in 13 are the only sure things at this point).
No sooner had Ben Zobrist left the Mets at the altar they turn around and score with a lookalike in Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker, then go out and buy another infielder, Asdrubal Cabrera.
Interestingly enough, Walker, like Zobrist, is a longtime wearer of the No. 18 jersey so little changes with regard to the prediction that coach Tim Teufel needs to find another number. The Cabrera signing in the meantime would seem to portend an end to Ruben Tejada‘s Mets career — a moment I mentally prepared for at least two years ago — which would free up Teufel’s playing-career No. 11 should he want it.
Walker as you know cost the Mets their all-time No. 49, Jon Niese, in a deal that also essentially ends the Mets lifetime for their all-time No. 28, Daniel Murphy. I strongly associate the two of them (and Bobby Parnell, also a likely goner) as the best remainders of the Omar Minaya Era, all three adequate major league players jettisoned before they got too expensive.
In their defense, that also describes Walker and Cabrera, a new middle infield combination likely to outhit their predecessors, and maybe out-field them too. I say “maybe” because I haven’t found much supporting Cabrera’s D even though I can’t recall ever having watched him closely myself, while there’s been rumblings from Pirates fans over Walker’s limited range at second base. If so, the Mets are giving me something less than I’d hoped while patching up the team: that is, give themselves a better chance through better fundamental play at key spots. At least they’ll hit more.
Cabrera you won’t be surprised to learn is a Venezuelan shortstop who favors No. 13: That jersey is technically available while Jerry “I broke my arm twice” Blevins tests the free agent market.
I’m not going to lie and say Daniel Murphy was ever my favorite Met, but there’s no denying his Met-ness.
Now that it looks like his career with the Mets has come to an end Murphy departs having accounted for more than one-fourth of all games ever played by a guy wearing No. 28 — nearly 40% among position players. His lead over the next most active 28, John Milner, is exactly 162 games and almost 1,000 at-bats.
No Met 28 had any more hits, runs scored, doubles, triples, RBI and stolen bases than Murphy (Milner had more home runs); none were a bigger force in the postseason; no player made you crazier behind brilliant and brilliantly awful plays than Murphy.
Now that Murphy has officially declined a “qualifying offer,” and it appears as though Yoenis Cespedes is going away too (thanks, and, uh, see ya around, Yo), remaking the interior of the Mets is a priority for the offseason. I don’t think it’s a radical of me to suggest the Mets look to do so with an eye on preventing the kind of up-the-middle sloppiness that doomed them to a deserving humiliation in the World Series (a friend described the Mets’ play against Kansas City as a “dog’s breakfast.”)
My opinion on the best way of going about things could change still but how about we move Wilmer Flores to second base, sign free agent Denard Span, and trade with the Red Sox for shortstop Xander Bogaerts? If and when Dilson Hererra forces his way up, Flores becomes the New Muprhy: Filling in at second, third and (if necessary) short.
Span — at least when healthy — is a nice player who can complement Lagares (he bats left, reaches base exceptionally well, steals bases).
The Bogaerts part of my plan I admit is a bit of a reach, and might mean parting with Matt Harvey, but 22 year old shortstops like him don’t grow on trees. And it might be more realistic than the Matt-Harvey-for-Mookie-Betts talk out there, as much sense as that makes if only to acquire a Mookie.
Conflict in the making: Both Bogaerts and Span wear No. 2.
Ian Desmond, who could replace Murphy’s offense easily and improve the defense at short, is another possibility if you can’t part with the cost of acquiring a guy by trade.
I warned you guys about Tyler Clippard, who wound up pretty much like all 46s do, but all the same bullpen upgrades should hardly ever be a priority. I suppose there’s an opportunity to add a few arms to the mix, but there almost always is.
Congrats to Terry Collins on the new deal, I’m shocked he ever made it this far but he’s grown on me: Complaints about bullpen management come with every guy, but in general I haven’t felt like Terry gives up anything strategically to the other team’s manager, and in the case of the Nationals he beat them badly. As noted above I’d like to see his teams get a little better at the little things, and hope he’ll be held accountable when they don’t.