Tag Archive for John Stearns

Sweet Little 16

16Can you believe I’m the owner of website that’s now old enough to drive?

Yes, it was this day in 1999 when Mets by the Numbers debuted. It’s had a career as long, and about as useful, as Bud Harrelson’s. This site is so old that when it was launched the Mets still cared about what Dwight Gooden thought.

To celebrate let’s run down a list of the varied and memorable creatures to inhabit the No. 16 jersey, which began as a hot potato but matured into one of Metdom’s revered digits.

sammy-taylorBobby Gene Smith (1962), sometimes referred to as B.G. Smith, was the first man to occupy 16 for New York. An outfielder-third-baseman who’d spent most of his career with St. Louis, Smith was picked from the Phillies in the Expansion Draft, and was destined to become one of the first ex-Mets ever. He was batting .136 (3 for 25) when the Mets traded him to the Cubs for catcher Sammy Taylor, although he has the distinction of collecting the first triple in team history, a two-run stroke off future Met Jack Lamabe in April of ’62.

Smith handed the 16 jersey to Taylor as they crossed paths in the airport, and Taylor (1962-63, photo at left pinched from Paul’s Random Stuff) — one of seven catchers for that 1962 squad — subsequently passed 16 along to Jesse Gonder (1963) when they were swapped for one another in July of ’63. Gonder spent only a week in 16, surrendering it to oufielder Dick Smith upon Smith’s acquisition later that July, and switching to the unoccupied 12.

Smith (1963-64) and the man who followed him in the 16 jersey, Danny Napoleon (1965-66) were typical of the early Mets – both free-swinging minor league sluggers whose power didn’t translate to the big leagues. Following Napoleon were reserves Tommy Reynolds (1967), Kevin Collins (1968) and Queens native Mike Jorgensen (1969-71).

Crouching, choked-up slap-hitter Felix Millan wore No. 16 for 1973, his first year with the Mets. Millan switched to 17 a year later while reserve outfielder Dave Schneck switched into 16.

The Taylor-Gonder uni swap of 1963 would be repeated 13 years later later when another Met catcher, John Stearns (1975-76), took 12 and left his 16 to an outfielder, Lee Mazzilli, ushering in a new era of prosperity for the jersey. Mazz of course would be remembered more for his pants than his shirts, though both were revealingly snug fits.

mazzilliMazzilli (1977-81) was capable switch-hitting outfielder with power, speed, a good batting eye and style at a time when it was difficult to find a Met possessing any one of those qualities. His triumphant performance in 1979 All-Star Game — a home run and RBI walk, the latter off the Yankees Ron Guidry, complete with Mazzilli’s eff-you bat-flip — is remembered fondly by all Met fans to have survived 1979. Among guys wearing No. 16, Maz is still the Mets’ all-time leader in games, hits, home runs, runs, RBI, walks, strikeouts and stolen bases.

By the time Mazzilli arrived for a feel-good Met reunion in 1986, Dwight Gooden had already rewritten 16’s history behind an electrifying right arm. The first pitcher to wear 16 as a Met, Gooden’s spectacular arrival in 1984 and mind-boggling success in 1985 will never likely see an equal. Although arm and drug troubles eventually wore some of the magic away, Gooden’s career was substantial enough that the club was careful not to issue 16 for nearly five years after his departure — and then only to a guy with equity in it, fading phenom Hideo Nomo (1998).

goodenAlthough Gooden was reportedly unhappy with the Nomo issue, several successors in 16 asked for — and received — Doc’s blessing. But a tradition of issuing 16 to veterans on their last legs was only starting then too.

Seafaring outfielder Derek Bell (2000) had long worn No. 16 in other locales as a tribute to Gooden, who preceded him from Tampa to the big leagues and whom Bell considered a hero. Bell would be a kind of Biazzaro Lee Mazzilli, known known not for his shirt but his gigantic, billowing pants.

In 2003, David Cone took 16 in tribute to his former teammate Gooden in a brief and doomed comeback attempt.

Then there was catcher Paul LoDuca (2006-07) who like Mazzilli was Brooklyn born, and grew up as a fan of the Gooden-era Mets, and wore 16 to signify it. LoDuca was a bit of a mess when it was all over but his .290 average as a Met is the best among guys who wore 16.

By the time LoDuca came along, Gooden’s long estrangement from the franchise led to careless reissues including a season of second-choice infielder Doug Mientkiewicz (2005); and nondescript reserve catcher Rob Johnson (2012). In between, prodigal outfielder Angel Pagan (2008-11) was alternately brilliant and brilliantly frustrating; his trade to San Francisco is one of the worst of the Sandy Alderson era.

Most recently, 16 went to last-call veterans Rick Ankeil (2013) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (2014). Most recently its been assigned to Alex Castellanos, a longshot non-roster outfielder who looks likely to spend the season in Las Vegas.

But after 16 years I can say this, you never know with these guys.

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Mazzy Star

In the event you didn’t see it before, my biography of Lee Mazzilli was recently published at SABR’s Biography Project. I thought Mazzilli made an interesting topic if I may say so myself!

Not mentioned there (but always mentioned here), Mazzilli wore 3 different numbers as a Met. He debuted wearing No. 12 in 1976, but switched assignments with fellow youngsterJohn Stearns in 1977. It’s not clear exactly why this happened, but the accompany photo of Stearns here in his Colorado Buffalos gear presents a compelling suggestion. Mazzilli’s No. 16, which he wore through his glory years and the Mets’ worst years, was issued to Dwight Gooden when the Mets miraculously reacquired Maz in 1986. Mazzilli wore No. 13 thereafter.

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A Very Boswell Birthday

Here’s Ken Boswell’s 1971 Topps baseball card. That’s the Cardinals’ Vic Davalillo arriving too late to break up the double play as Boswell works the pivot between shortstop Al Weis and first baseman Art Shamsky. The card — which must be one of the only Mets cards that includes a view of the Whitestone — was shot on May 28, 1970, in the 6th inning of a game that Mets were losing 6-0 to the Cards. Boswell, however, was having a good afternoon. He’d go 3-for-3 in this game with a double, a sac fly, and both Met RBIs in what became a 9-2 loss. Against Bob Gibson, not bad.

Boswell wore No. 12, which is apropos in that this month marks the 12th anniversary of Mets by the Numbers, which I’ve determined “went live” for the the first time on Feb. 22, 1999. This makes MBTN one of the real dinosaurs of the Metosphere; the Ultimate Mets Database, whose awesome powers I use to determine things like what happened to the Mets on May 28, 1970, debuted at around the same time. A site called Mets Online, founded by the current Yankees beat writer for MLB.com (!) and whose offspring today operates as NY Sportsday, was around then too, but not sure of many others. No. 12 was then in a dark period following Jorge Fabregas’s departure and the coming of the Shawon Dunston Era later that year.

Boswell was a Met for eight seasons and possessed a pretty good left-handed bat for a second baseman, especially for his era. A few injuries interrupted his early progress, and he’d eventually be displaced as the regular second baseman by Felix Millan, but he remained a useful player who batted 1.000 in the 1973 Word Series (3-for-3, all pinch hits) and clubbed home runs in consecutive games in the 1969 NLCS rout of the Braves. When Willie Randolph namechecked Ken Boswell while taking the No. 12 jersey, it might have been his finest moment as Mets manager.

12The No. 12 jersey has been an interesting one in Mets history. The all-time No. 12 was probably John “Bad Dude” Stearns, a four-time All-Star and all-time tough guy. Twelve was also the best of Ron Darling’s three numbers as a Met: He went 68-38 with a 3.38 ERA wearing 12 — and 31-32, 3.73 wearing other numbers (44 and 15, respectively).  Darling’s the only Mets pitcher to ever have worn 12.

Twelve belonged to Tommy Davis during his outstanding (and only) Mets season in 1967; and to maddening chatty hacker Jeff Francoeur in 2009 and 2010. It currently belongs to Scott Hairston, who’s likely to be a pinch-hitter and hopefully not a full-time player for the 2011 squad. One day, we may remember 12 as the number belonging to two Hall of Famers who endured difficult stays in Metville: Jeff Kent (who probably deserves in) and Roberto Alomar (who’ll be enshrined this summer).

Who’s your favorite 12?

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We’re No. 1 and Stuff

Here’s to the Mets for not allowing that shameful showing in the opener to prevent them from claiming first place to themselves by series’ end. Seems we were fortunate to catch Philly while Chase Utley suffered a severe case of the sucks, but if 2007 taught us anything it’s that the winners can’t choose how ugly the losers turn out to be.

With the uniform number roulette temporaily slowed down — at least until they call up a guy to take Pedro Martinez‘s again-delayed start on Saturday (word coming in as as I write this is Brandon Knight, currently wearing No. 15 for your New Orleans Zephyrs), or Ryan Church arrives, or the trade deadline occurs… or whatever — we have a few uni oddities to ponder.

Reader Michael sent along these here images of Jose Reyes wearing unfamilar numbers. While Reyes has occupied No. 7 for his entire Met career (except for Jackie Robinson Day this season), these are extrametular: No. 9for his stint with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic; andNo. 28, I presume, from Binghamton prior to his callup but I’ll let you experts out there tell me for sure.

The below team shot of hideously-dressed 1979 ballplayers on a tour of Japan, first published on Uni Watch this week, subsequently generated a fair amount of discussion at the Crane Pool Forum. The multistriped hats aren’t 1976 pillbox throwbacks but renderings in the then-contemporary style in Japan (the 1976 lids had three stripes, not five). But what knocks me out are the contrasting styles of the numerals on the Mets jerseys worn by John Stearns and Joel Youngblood, respectively (see a larger image here). Can anyone offer an explanation of Youngblood’s incorrect No. 1?

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