Archive for Top 10

I’m 18 and I like it

It’s crazy and just about as accomplished but Mets By The Numbers has now had a career as long as Ed Kranepool: Eighteen years.

The site went “live” for the first time on Feb. 22, 1999. It wasn’t a “blog” then as such a thing didn’t really exist, but a website with a “home page” that was updated as needed, with stuff deleted as time permitted, which I guess is one reason why the earliest front-page updates I can find for it date only to the failed Barry Larkin trade of 2000, although I uncovered an early cry for help archived from October of 1999.

Anyway, we’re as pleased to be 18 as the protagonist in the Alice Cooper song, or Darryl Strawberry in 1983, or maybe, Darryl Hamilton in 1999. Fun Fact: 100% of the Mets’ Darryls have worn No. 18. Darrells (Ceciliani, Sutherland) are another story entirely.

Real quickly, the most Metly 18s in club history:

1 Darryl Strawberry: I used to wonder what it was about Yankee fans who grew up the 1950s and 60s that made them so obsessive about Mickey Mantle and then I met Strawberry and became one of them. He can still be a Daaaryl sometimes but he meant a lot.

2 Joel Youngblood: Terrific athlete who never found a home on the field. Darryl’s predecessor.

3 Art Howe: Luckless and dull caretaker of a manager astonishingly described as having “lit up the room” in an interview to replace Bobby Valentine. Right, Fred.

4. Felix Mantilla: Arguably the best player on the 1962 Mets which sounds like a kind of feint praise.

5. Moises Alou: Incredible hitter when healthy, never healthy.

6. Marlon Anderson: The best of his three numbers was 18, wore it for his famous inside-the-park home run.

7. Benny Ayala: Home run in first at-bat, of course

8. Bret Saberhagen: He’d have more success wearing 17.

9. Takashi Kashiwada: First Japan-born Met. I associate him with a photo playing in the “ice cream man” white hat.

10. Jeff McKnight. Because, Jeff McKnight.


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Top Twelve 12s

In honor of today’s date — 12/12/12, MBTN presents the Top Twelve 12s in Mets history, presented Casey Kasum style:

12. Danny Garcia (2003-04): Reserve infielder who seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder, Garcia became the first Brooklyn Cyclone ever to graduate to the Mets. His assignment of No. 12 was no mistake as the organization appeared to intentionally distance itself from its previous occupant (see No. 8 on the list, below).

11. Jesse Gonder (1963-65): Lefthanded hitting catcher who had a fine offensive campaign in his one and only season as a regular, 1964, when he hit .270 with 7 home runs in newly built Shea.

10. Shawon Dunston (1999): Brooklyn product who made the most of a short stay in Metsville. Remembered best for a grinding at-bat to lead off the bottom of the 15th, in the rain, during Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS vs. Atlanta. His single helped to set the table for Robin Ventura’s dramatic “Grand Slam Single” that ended it.

9. Jeff Francoeur (2009-10): Gregarious, enthusiastic, maddening player of tantalizing abilities and awful results, I’ll remember Francoeur as the final middle finger in Bobby Cox’s long history of flipping off the Mets.

8. Roberto Alomar (2002-03): When Bobby Valentine heard that general manager Steve Phillips had acquired All-Star Roberto Alomar for a collection of varied Met junk, his first question was “what’s wrong with him?” Beyond declines in bat speed, foot speed, defense, enthuiasm and charisma, not a thing.

7. Jeff Kent (1993-96): Anyone watch Jeff on “Survivor”? Good competitor who lost his teammates by being too singleminded. Never saw that coming.

6. Willie Randolph (1992; 2005-08): If things in Metville keep going as they have, the nostalgia for the Willie Randolph Era will ramp up accordingly. He was after all the last manager to bring a Mets team to the playoffs. Resist. Although Willie brought a certain dignity to the role that is missed, his team rotted beneath detachment, denial and paranoia, setting into motion years of half-assed fixes.

5. Scott Hairston (2011-12): Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed he was this high either but he just gave us one of the best seasons a nominal Mets “backup” ever provided.

4. Tommy Davis (1967): A star in his one and only year as a Met (1967) and key figure in blockbuster Tommie Agee trade.

3. Ken Boswell (1968-74): Sometime starter and steady reserve infielder, and a key contributor in 2 postseasons (3-for-3 pinch-hitting in the 1973 World Series and two HRs in the 1969 NLCS).

2. Ron Darling (1985-89): The longest-tenured and best of Darling’s three Met uni numbers was 12. He was 30 games over .500 wearing 12 (68-38) and one game under .500 wearing 44 and 15 (31-32). He’s also become an excellent broadcaster and ambassador.

1. John Stearns (1977-84): A Bad Dude, a four-time All-Star, and setter of weird stolen-bases-for-a-catcher records.

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Top Ten 6s

Thanks to everyone who came out to Amazin’ Tuesday this week at Two Boots — it was the best of all the Mets-related events they’ve hosted this year. Those who came got a live version of the following long-awaited contribution to the 10th Anniversary Spectacular: The Top 10 No. 6’s in Mets history.

6A reserve first baseman by the name of Jim Marshall was the first player to wear Number six in Mets history. The 1962 season was only a few weeks old when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Vinegar Bend Mizell, a veteran pitcher who unbeknownst to the Mets had won the last game of his major league career a few weeks earlier – against the Mets.

On the same day they traded Marshall, the Mets flipped Don Zimmer to the Cincinnati Reds for Cliff Cook, a beefy country slugger whose resume included a Most Valuable Player award from the American Association the year before. Cook arrived, was given the No. 6 jersey, and installed as the regular third baseman until bad hands cost him his starting job and a bad back ended his year. By July, he’d surrendered the No. 6 jersey to Rick Herrscher, a middling utility infielder whose entire major league career would began and end as a 1962 Met.

One year into their history and the Mets had issued Number 6 three different times to three different players. And until this day, it’s their most frequently issued uniform number ever.

Number 6 would be issued to multiple players again in 196419661967199019971998;20042008 and 2009. In 1962 and 1990 three men wore the No. 6 jersey. In 2004, and again in 2008, a record-tying four different guys wore the jersey.

Altogether 38 men have worn No. 6, well ahead of the next most popular number in Met history — 29, with 33 issues. The roster includes two Ricks, a Ricky and a Rich; two Carloses; Two Marshalls; two Jims; and three Mikes. There’s Wally, Melvin and Ruben. There’s Johnson and Nixon.

Narrowing this group down to a top 10 is especially difficult for the very reason so many candidates exist: Popular numbers are the realm of unpopular players. Wedged between Wright and Reyes; between Olerud and Kranepool, six is the official address of the Met scrub.

Now on with the countdown.

10 (tie): Jeff Keppinger and Ruben Gotay. I’m including these two together not only because they were traded for one another, but because the two of them help illuminate how lame the second base situation for the Mets has been since they told Edgardo Alfonzo to beat it back in 2002.

No matter whether they spent big for guys like Kaz Matsui and Luis Castillo, the Mets in this era always wind up giving a ton of innings to easy-come, easy-goers like Keppinger and Gotay. These two however could actually hit: by batting average in fact Gotay ranks second and Keppinger third among all guys ever to wear No.6 for the Mets.

9: The man who ranked first for all time highest batting average as a Met No. 6,  Bob JohnsonThe Mets have had two Bob Johnsons – I’m referring to the infielder in 1967, not the pitcher of 1969. This guy, Bob W. Johnson, was scooped up on waivers from the Orioles in May of ’67 and proceeded to hit .348 over 246 plate appearances that season while filling in at all four infield positions.

Bing Devine, the general manager who acquired Johnson, was shrewd enough to know he couldn’t count on a repeat performance in 1968 and so did a most un-Metly thing trading him while his stock was high, that October, to the Reds for Art Shamsky.

Number 8 is Mike Marshall, not the pitcher of 1974, the outfielder/first baseman of 1990. There was almost nothing redeeming to the Mets career of Mike Marshall, other than being notable for the guy we got for Juan Samuel in a trade, which was good, and the guy who replaced Keith Hernandez at first base, which was, obviously, very bad. Marshall played so poorly he was benched, had it out with manager Bud Harrelson, then after getting off the disabled list with gastrointestinal inflammation, was shipped off to Boston for a few warm minor league bodies. It troubles me to admit he reminds me in some ways of Jeff Francoeur: A tall, right-handed white guy with a dangerous but unreliable bat.

Darryl Boston, who began his Mets career wearing No. 7 but switched to wearing No. 6 whenHubie Brooks was reacquired in 1991, comes in at number 7.There is nothing particularly notable about Boston, other than that whole rape allegation thing, but he was competent outfielder and that alone makes him notable among Mets.

At number 6, we have a throwback player, Joe Orsulakwho looked like he was thrown back to the 19th century. Manning a corner outfield slot for three years on a semi-regular basis, Orsulak compiled 17 home runs and 114 RBI wearing no. 6 – the second-most in both categories among Met No. 6s, believe it or not – but was best-known as a Jersey guy with a reckless style and maximum effort. If Al Leiter was the Mets’ Bruce Springsteen, than Orsulak was its Southside Johnny.

The previously mentioned, first No. 6 ever, Jim Marshall, comes in at No. 5. This guy had only 35 plate appearances by the time the Mets traded him, but whacked three home runs and a double in that period. He was slugging 656 when they traded him, no Met No. 6 has ever come close. Marshall by the way hit just 220 for the Pirates and slugged only 350, the rest of the ’62 season, his last as a big-league player. The Mets would encounter him next as the manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1974, 75 and 76.

At number 4, a Venezuelan soccer player who arrived with the Mets by way of Houston and Taiwan: Melvin Mora.  In his 1999 rookie year he had a hand in more critical plays than might ever have been expected of a defensive replacement hitting .161: He scored the run that forced a one-game playoff with Cincinnati. His throw from left field to nail Jay Bell at home plate in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 4 of the Division Series against Arizona proved one of the most pivotal defensive plays in Met history.

The Mets however never seemed to know what to do with Mora, whose ability to play so many positions undermined his efforts to establish himself at one and forever tempted the Mets to put him where he’d be better off not venturing. When Rey Ordonez was injured in 2000, the Mets called on Mora to fill the hole at shortstop, only to lose their confidence in him when he made a crucial error to cost them a game, and send them scrambling to trade him for surer hands. Mora of course went to Baltimore for Mike Bordick, who never solved the Mets shortstop void. Mora in the meantime is still playing for the Orioles, still wearing No. 6, and has averaged 19 home runs and 80 RBI a year for 9 straight years.

Our No. 3 all-time Metliest No. 6 arrived just as suddenly as Mora, and like Mora, would play an important role in a Met playoff drive. But no amount of abrupt heroics will ever redeem Timo Perez for loafing around the bases in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, getting needlessly thrown at home plate in a play that does not get nearly enough credit in the annals of all-time baseball fuckups. There’s not a fan of either team who doesn’t believe to this day that the momentum in that series was established on that very play. I’m still angry about it.

Then there was Al Weis, who gave the Mets four seasons of suboptimal regular-season play, and a single resplendent World Series. Weis, who came over from the White Sox in the Tommie Agee trade, was a skinny reserve middle infielder who rarely showed any power, or much else. His OPS + in 1969 was 53, meaning, he was 47% below comparable player ranks. And that was his best regular season.

He nevertheless hit the game-tying home run in the seventh inning of the Mets’ decisive Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, and was 5-for-11 with a homer, three RBI and four walks in the series – that’s 455 .563 .727 1.290  in slash numbers. After the series Weis was presented with the Babe Ruth Award, a World Series MVP given each winter by the New York baseball writers chapter that is separate from the traditional Series MVP presented after the final game; Donn Clendennon took the better-known Series MVP prize in ’69.

That leads us to the all-time Number 1, No. 6, filthy little second baseman Wally Backman, who, were it not for exceptional grit and a champion in manager Davey Johnson, might well have suffered the same fleeting fate of the 37 other men who have worn the No. 6 jersey.

After hitting .548 as a 17-year-old high school shortstop in Beaverton, Oregon, the Mets selected Backman in the first round of the 1977 amateur draft (Mookie Wilson went in the second round). Listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Backman relied on hustle, a good batting eye and nominal switch-hitting skills — he consistently struggled from the right side — to reach the majors by 1980. But physical calamities and his own fiery temper kept him from staying there.

He debuted in September of 1980 (wearing No. 28), hitting .323 as a replacement for the injured Doug Flynn at second base, but he railed at being stuck behind veteran Frank Taveras at shortstop in 1981, and briefly staged a retirement when sent to the minors that season. In 1982, Backman split time with Bob Bailor at second base but was lost for the season after breaking his collarbone in a bicycle accident — at least that’s what the papers said. In 1983, frustrated at backing up the smoother-fielding yet weaker hitting Brian Giles, Backman was yo-yo’ed between New York and the Tidewater farm club three times in the season’s first two months and publicly campaigned for a trade.

Yet that demotion, in may of 1983, turned out to be the break his career needed, pairing him up at Tidewater with Davey Johnson, a believer in offense who would become the Met manager in 1984. “The Mets sent down Backman and Ron Gardenhire and kept Brian Giles and Jose Oquendo,” Johnson said, “and I thought they improved my ballclub and hurt theirs.”

With Johnson installed at Shea Stadium in ’84, Backman finally got a chance to play every day and rewarded his manager’s faith with the best stretch of his career during the Mets best era. Paired with Lenny Dykstra atop the Met lineup, the two diminutive speedsters terrorized opposing pitchers while setting up the big guns that followed. Though often platooned – Backman was a .164 hitter as a Met from the right side as opposed to .306 from the left – he always seemed to find his way into a key spot in a tight game. Traded to Minnesota following the 1989 season, Backman left behind a .283 career batting average and a .353 on-base percentage over nine years with the Mets.

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Top 10 7s

Our Countdown of Countdowns continues this week with a recap of the top 10 Metliest players ever to wear No. 7. As you can see the pickings are especially thin before a marked improvement in quality – at least, Met-quality – once we get to the top 5. The encouraging if scary thing is that we’re seemingly nearing at a point at which it won’t ever get any better.

Don’t forget, this Wednesday the 25th  I’ll be at theBryant Library in Roslyn, 7:30 pm, to discuss books and baseball and uniforms and other stuff. Stop by if you can… and tell your friends!

10. John Christensen

7John Christensen wasn’t destined to last with the Mets. He was assigned a pitcher’s number – 35 – upon his promotion as a rookie outfielder in 1984 and assumed a player’s number only afterJoe Sambito arrived in 1985 and requested he wear 35.

Christensen possessed decent right-handed power and a pretty good eye at the plate but didn’t make contact enough – with the ball or the Mets’ starting lineup – and the team met his desire for a new start by including him in the 8-player deal for Bobby Ojeda following the ’85 season. The Red Sox would later include Christensen in their trade for Dave Henderson, assuring Christensen would play a small role in assembling both sides of the 1986 World Series combatants.


9. Chico Fernandez

The Mets acquired veteran infielder Chico Fernandez to back up rookie starting shortstop Al Moranin 1963 but neither mentor nor protégé had a year to remember. Born in Cuba, Fernandez came up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and had since played with the Phillies and Tigers (where he clubbed 20 home runs in 1962) but by 1963 had suddenly lost it. The Tigers swapped him to Milwaukee when rosters were cut down and the Braves passed him along to the Mets for pitcherLarry Foss.

Fernandez was traded from the Mets’ minor league system early in the ’64 season for Charley Smith.


8. Amado Samuel and

7. Juan Samuel

There’s nothing out there I’ve seen that indicates the Mets’ only two Samuels — not counting Sammy Drake and Sammy Taylor — are related, but both were middle infielders hailing from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

Amado Samuel, who played briefly for the Mets in 1964, is old enough to be the father of Juan Samuel, who played in for them in 1989, and in one sense, he is – Amado is noted as the having been the very first of the more than 50 players from San Pedro de Macoris to play in the major leagues. The town has since become famous for producing shortstops like Penn State produces linebackers, as well as stars like Sammy Sosa, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell and Juaquin Andujar.

When he broke in with the Phillies in 1984, Juan Samuel looked like he had a chance to be better than all of them. His combination of power and speed made him an exciting player to watch even though closer analysis revealed he made way too many outs to be an effective leadoff hitter and wasn’t much with the glove.

None of that deterred the Mets in June of 1989, when they sent their own flawed leadoff man, Lenny Dykstra, along with reliever Roger McDowell, to Philly for Samuel in a deal that was supposed to electrify the team. Instead, it was a trade they would regret almost immediately. Samuel was used to wearingNo. 8 and playing second base, but the Mets dressed him in 7 and played him in center field (all Samuel’s jewelry were adorned with the No. 8). He stole 31 bases for the Mets, but reached base and hit for power abysmally, and they unloaded him the first chance they got after the season.

Amado Samuel simply didn’t have the ability to stick with the Mets beyond part-time appearances in ’64.


6. Elio Chacon

No memory of Elio Chacon ever gets very far before the “Yo La Tengo” story is retold for the 10 millionth time. And nothing against that story, but telling it over and over seems to have obscured the untold story of why the Mets held Chacon in such poor regard.

Whatever Chacon did to get on the bad side of Casey Stengel it’s a pity, because, without overselling his modest credentials, Chacon was the kind of player the early Mets didn’t see nearly enough of. A speedy Venezuelan shortstop selected from Cincinnati in the expansion draft, Chacon was the first player to wear No. 7 for the Mets. Though he hit just .236 with little power, he drew 76 walks in just 449 plate appearances in ’62 – fifth in the National League that year – and the most walks by a Met shortstop until Bud Harrelson in 1970.

His defense was much derided – the Yo La Tengo story probably contributed to that perception – but the stats show he played every bit as well as the average shortstop in 1962. And despite staying in the Mets’ farm system for years, Chacon never appeared with the big club again, tagged by Stengel among those players who “failed here before” and not welcome back again.


5. Todd Pratt

To me the great shock of Todd Pratt’s signature Met moment wasn’t that he provided it but that Steve Finley failed to prevent it.

Sitting that afternoon in deepest, highest right field we were treated to the realization that Finley failed to come down with that ball an instant before the rest of the stadium did, and to be shouting at the top of your lungs with glee only to be joined by another 50,000 voices was one of the most intense sensory experiences of my lifetime.

Most days, Finley makes that catch. Seemed like his timing was right, but his alignment was off a degrees and that was that. Pratt we knew, had the power to pop one out now and again, serving five seasons (1997-2001) as a capable backup for superstarter Mike Piazza. I always got a “regular guy” vibe from him. With his doughy build and goofy grin, he could be your drinkin’ buddy were he not playing pro baseball.

4. Kevin Mitchell

If you understood nothing else about Kevin Mitchell, and maybe you didn’t, you knew the guy could hit. He hit as a rookie, he hit as a fat guy, he hit as a shortstop, he hit as a pinch hitter. He hit a liner to shallow center with two out and a man on in the 10th inning then came around to score the tying run in the blessed Game Six. The guy could hit.

That Mitchell became an outstanding bench player for the Mets speaks both to his athleticism – he was passable everywhere if not good anywhere – and to Davey Johnson’s creative genius. Though primarily an outfielder, Mitchell played every position but pitcher, catcher and second base for at least part of the 1986 season. Why? Because he could hit: .277/.344/.466 in 364 plate appearances as a rookie.


3. Hubie Brooks

Hubie Brooks was doomed to suffer. He helped the Mets advance from patsies to respectability in the early 80s only to be sacrificed in the Gary Carter trade. And the dynasty he helped establish was in free-fall by the time Brooks returned as an outfielder in 1991 – more or less, as a replacement for departed former teammate Darryl Strawberry.

He was fun to watch and easy to root for, especially in the first go-round. He smacked line drives around the park, played a decent if not value-added third base (and in ’84, shortstop, see Davey Johnson/Kevin Mitchell above) and earned a reputation as a dangerous clutch hitter for a team that was only beginning to establish an offense. I don’t think he particularly enjoyed returning in 1991 after being re-acquired from the Dodgers for Bobby Ojeda, and don’t much blame him.


2. Jose Reyes

It’s only a matter of time before Jose Reyes tops all kinds of lists like these but given that he’s still a young man, and that so much is attainable but still before him, I hope the ascent up Mount Kranepool remains a motivating force.

What else can you say about Reyes? Other than, he’s that rare product of the Met farm system who’s been every bit as good as advertised, and probably better, and that’s considering the hype and how he used to worry me. Reyes fought injuries and a botched conversion to second base in 2004, and struggled to reach base often enough to be effective in 2005 before a breakout 2006 (30 doubles, 17 triples, 19 home runs, a .300 batting average and a .354 on-base percentage) and solid play since.

1. Ed Kranepool

When Ed Kranepool hung up his No. 7 jersey for the last time, the event drew little notice (to be fair, a lot of things that happened in Flushing in 1979 were like that). There was no tearful retirement press conference, just a quiet refusal by the Mets to offer a 1980 contract — sentiment subsequently echoed by the 25 other clubs declining to select Kranepool in the free agent draft that fall. “There was talk of giving him a day at Shea Stadium last season,” a Met publicist told the New York Times the following spring, “but nothing ever came of it.”

He was only 34 years old.

Kranepool at the time held virtually every meaningful offensive record in the history in the franchise, including games, hits, doubles, RBI, and home runs; and was a local boy, the team’s first high-profile amateur signee, the only player to spend every year of the franchise as an active player, and the senior player on the team for 13 years running.

Smart-aleck Met fans of the early 1960s once flashed a placard asking whether  Kranepool was over the hill. Who knew? His career as an everyday player might have peaked as a 20-year-old in1965, when he played a career-high 153 games, and was named to the All-Star team for the first and only time. Kranepool had fair power, but was slow afoot, nobody’s idea of defensive wizard, and reportedly, appeared disinterested and surly from time to time.

The Mets for their part seemed to be forever looking to replace him. He’d be displaced as the Met first baseman in 1969, waived and sent to the minor leagues in 1970, only to rebound with his best overall season in 1971 (143-58-.280/.340/.447 in 421 at-bats). From there he became a part-time outfielder/first baseman and effective pinch hitter for the balance of his career, a role for which he finally won the admiration of fans. Kranepool hit .396 as a pinch hitter between1974 and 1978, including .486 in 1974.

Of all the team-leading career statistics Kranepool’s longevity built for him, his safest record is the longevity itself. No Met spent more time occupying the same jersey number than Kranepool, and it’s not even close. Even discounting the 208 games Kranepool played at the beginning of his Mets’ career wearing No. 21 — no, he wasn’t born wearing 7 — his 1,645 games in No. 7 provides a cushion of 323 games over Bud Harrelson’s lengthy tenure in No. 3. That’s nearly two full seasons.

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Top 10 8s

8Thanks to a 10-year occupation by Yogi Berra, and an ongoing state of paralysis while the team frets over the implications of retiring the jersey forever, only 14 Mets – just 11 of them players including Yogi who barely qualifies – have ever worn the No. 8 jersey. Needless to say, constructing a Top 10 list is challenging and more pointless than usual. But it’s not as if challenging and pointless are deterrents around here. In fact the following list is even more useful than the others in this series because it can also be read upside-down as a Bottom 10 list. Isn’t that something?

Now, on with the countdown…

10. Rick Sweet

Big mustache, big hair. Very short Met career as a would-be backup to Stearns and Hodges in1982. He had three pinch-hitting appearances in April and was then sold to Seattle, where he happened to have grown up. By mid-season, his No. 8 jersey was on the back of the next man on this list.

9. Phil Mankowski

Mainly remembered as one of the guys we received in the blessed Richie Hebner trade, Mankowski wore 8 only during his 1982 appearance when he subbed at third base for a couple of weeks in place of an injured Hubie Brooks. I definitely have a stronger association with Mankowski wearing No. 2 in 1980 even though looking up the stats reminds me he played very little that year too. Anyhow, by September of 1982, the No. 8 jersey had passed from Sweet to Mankowski to the next man on this list.

8. Ronn Reynolds

Like Sweet, a backup catcher; and like Mankowski, a guy for whom I have two uni-number associations, Reynolds was the third and final wearer of the No. 8 jersey in 1982, thanks to a September recall from Class AA Jackson. Considered a tough, defense-first type of backstop, Reynolds broke camp with the big club in 1983 as Ron Hodges’ primary backup while John Stearnswas out with an injury. He’d go back to the minors once Stearns fully recovered.

Reynolds however wouldn’t return until 1985 – and by then wearing a different uniform, No. 9. The new uni number was because the Mets in the interim had acquired the first man on this list. The lengthy gap between appearances was because of the next man on this list.

7. John Gibbons

Gibbons was the third of the Mets’ three first-round selections in the 1980 amateur draft, and the 24th pick overall. The Mets famously selected Darryl Strawberry with the first overall pick and later got Billy Beane picking 23rd (the additional selections affording the Mets Beane and Gibbons were compensation for having lost free agents Andy Hassler and Skip Lockwood, respectively). It was a fateful haul, with Strawberry destined to become the team’s all-time slugger and Beane a revolutionary team executive. Gibbons would later become a hot managerial prospect with the Mets organization leading to a five-year gig as the Blue Jays manager which ended last summer. Most recently he was named bench coach for the KC Royals.

Gibbons’ breakout season at Class AA Jackson in 1983 (he batted .298/.375/.515 with 18 home runs as a 21 year-old) allowed him to surpass Reynolds among the Mets up-and-coming catchers. The performance had him touted as the heir to John Stearns and Jerry Grote, the latter of whom was, like Gibbons, a product of San Antonio, Texas. Writing in Newsday in 1984, Marty Noble dreamily described Gibbons as “a rookie catcher with ability and eyes bluer than Paul Newman’s.”


But injuries would eventually arrest Gibbons’s progress: A broken jaw in 1984 cost him his first opportunity and he wouldn’t get a second – other than a brief backup role wearing No. 35 in1986. Also in the official records is a September appearance in 1985 when he was issued No. 43but did not appear in a game.

6.  Dan Norman

Here’s another strange thing about Met No. 8s. Of the 11 players on this list who wore No. 8, seven of them also spent time in a Met uniform with a different number on the back. You might remember Dan Norman as a No. 33, which was his number in his first few appearances with the Mets in 1977 and 1978. He eventually got No. 8 when he came up for a lengthier stay beginning in 1979.

Norman is probably best remembered for being the fourth and final piece of the Tom Seaver haul – the only player in that fateful 1977 trade who didn’t immediately join the Mets, and to certain heartbroken 11-year-olds, he held a certain mysterious promise. Norman was a powerfully built outfielder with good numbers in the minors but limited success with the Mets. After a brief trial as an everyday outfielder in ’79, they turned him into a full-time reserve in 1980 and later included him with Jeff Reardon in a deal for another ultimately disappointing right fielder, Ellis Valentine.

5. (tie) Dave Gallagher and Desi Relaford

In order to fit 11 players into 10 slots I needed a tie somewhere so I chose this pair of veteran journeymen, each known for their professionalism and positive attitude.

Dave Gallagher of Trenton, N.J. is among the few Mets of the “Worst Team Money Can Buy” Era not to be remembered poorly. Acquired from the Angels for Hubie Brooks prior to the 1992season, Gallagher had a reputation as a good defensive outfielder and most often was called on late in games to curtail the potential defensive shenanigans the rotation of starters (Bonilla, Johnson, Coleman, etc.) represented.

Desi Relaford was just the kind of bench player a team likes to have: Though he’d failed as a starter and came only at the cost of waiver claim, he was still young (27) and possessed both young player’s skills (speed and the ability to play the middle infield) and the demeanor to re-establish his reputation. His one and only season for the Mets, 2001, would turn out to be the best of his career, and the Mets alertly parlayed into a trade for two players who would help – theoretically, at least – in 2002.

On May 17, 2001, with the Mets getting hammered by San Diego, Relaford entered as a pitcher in the 9th inning and retired the Padres in order on 12 pitches, including a strikeout. We’re fairly sure that event marked the lowest number ever to pitch in a game for the Mets.

4. Chris Cannizzaro

The Mets’ first No. 8 in their history was catcher Chris Cannizzaro, selected in the expansion draft from St. Louis. He was an actual prospect but had missed the majority of the 1961 season after an appendectomy and his future behind the plate was blocked by a kid named Tim McCarver. Were he any more desirable in other words, he would be off-limits.

“I’m glad they picked Cannizzaro, because I’m happy he is getting a chance to play. He is a fine prospect who never had a chance with us,” said Cardinals general manager Bing Devine.

Cannizzaro’s chances with the Mets were difficult to come by too, though by 1964 he’d demonstrate a certain usefulness with a .311 batting average in part-time duty. Cannizzaro would later play for the expansion San Diego Padres and become the first All-Star in that franchise’s history.

3. Carlos Baerga

Met GM Joe McIlvaine by the 1990s for the most part had become a value speculator: His portfolio was full of good stocks purchased at low prices – Gilkey, Olerud and Johnson types – that sometimes paid off big. Then there was Carlos Baerga, whose value was not only down but whose price would be a lot higher than Joe Mac ever imagined.

And that value was down to stay. Although Baerga arrived amid whispers he was more attached to his cellphone than to his teammates, his attitude in New York looked pretty good. It was his slowing bat and expanding waistline that were the trouble. And while it may be unfair to hold Jeff Kent’s future success against Baerga the least he coulda done was outplayed Jose Vizcaino.


Baerga began his Met career in 2006 wearing No. 6 – coach Steve Swisher had the No. 8 jersey then. He moved into 8 at the beginning of 1997 and wore it until his contract expired after 1998.

2. Yogi Berra

Among Gil Hodges’s lasting legacies was a competent coaching staff, the core of which was still doing business together a decade after he passed away. There was pitching coach Rube Walker – who was a former catcher. Joe Pignatano, also a former catcher, tending the tomatoes in the Shea bullpen. And Eddie “The Walking Man” Yost on the coaching lines at third, a superstar of on-base percentage long before anyone really cared much for the stat.

One thing that long-lived coaching staff wasn’t comprised of was future managers, which put the Mets in a bind when Hodges suddenly passed away shortly before the season was to begin in 1972. Bob Scheffing, who himself was thrust to the general manager’s role following a sudden death in the front office, was a former manager but not a particularly accomplished one. He expressed lukewarm interest in nominating himself for the role. The next internal candidate was former Yankee legend Yogi Berra, who’d been fired following his single season managing the Yankees in 1964 and been in the Mets’ employ as a catcher –a few turns at-bat only – and a coach ever since.

As one writer remarked Berra could probably have stayed a Met coach forever – he was that well-liked by players and the media. But subject to the greater scrutiny that comes with the Skipper’s hat, he wouldn’t last forever. Berra in fact survived a lengthy referendum on his job in 1973 and by the end of that year he and the Mets had improbably staved off elimination. But he was fired in 1975 amid the general feeling that the Mets underachieved given their level of talent during his reign.


Asked once the difference between playing for Hodges and playing for Berra, Tug McGraw replied with a murderous quip. “Six innings,” he said. “Hodges in the third inning would be thinking about what he might do in the sixth, while Berra in the sixth was thinking about what he should have done in the third.”


1. Gary Carter

A year ago, while schilling copies of the Mets by the Numbers book at a New Jersey book store, I had a chance for a brief meeting with Gary Carter – on hand to schill his own book. During a brief break in his furious signing activities I presented him with an autographed copy bookmarked at Chapter 8. “Thanks!” he replied with a big smile and firm handshake, as an assistant put the book aside. “I’ll be sure to read it!” and resumed signing.

As I walked away I had two thoughts:

1) That was a really nice thing to say.

2) Could he have possibly meant it?

And I knew right then: I’d definitely met Gary Carter.

I’m on record here as favoring a less-is-more attitude when it comes to number retirement and the ongoing limbo of No. 8 since Carter’s enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is a good example of why. If you’re going to be wavering on it for years, and if you’re terrified that in his next interview the guy’s going to say something that will embarrass the organization, then he probably isn’t a guy whose number deserves retiring anyway.

This is to take nothing away from Carter’s achievements on the field which were sublime and often heroic and make him, by a long shot, the greatest man ever to wear No. 8 for the Mets, much less anyone else. And Carter to his credit was a bit of a freak about it. His one non-negotiable demand upon joining the team was that he be offered No. 8 (sorry Gibbons), a number reflecting both his birthday (April 8) and wedding day (Feb. 8).

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Top Ten 9s

Continuing MBTN’s 10th Anniversary Spectacular, following are the Top 10 9s in Met history:

10. (Tie) Mark Bradley and Craig Brazell

The honor of being the 10th most Metly No. 9s is shared by two obscure Mets who I saw hit home runs at Shea that I will never forget.

The first time I ever sat in the front row at Shea was an August night in 1983. The seats were a ways down the right-field line but were available that night for walk-up.

Though we’d gone hoping to see rookie Darryl Strawberry, Mark Bradley started in right field instead, in deference to the opposing starter, the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela. Sitting behind us on this night is an Irish guy, who we realize, has never before seen a baseball game. We spent the early innings helping him understand what he was seeing – this is a single, double and triple and home run, etc. At one point the guy asks, “Can a guy hit a home run without the ball going over the fence?” and we said, yeah, but that never happens.

Sure enough Bradley in his next turn bloops one down the right field line and LA right fielder Mike Marshall (yeah, him) makes a comically poor decision to try and catch it, with the ball and a diving Marshall crashing to the ground practically right in front of us. The ball rolls all the way to the wall and by the time Marshall can go retrieve it, Bradley has an easy inside-the-parker that we’d assured this Irish guy he wouldn’t ever see.

It was a weird play in what was a short and strange career for Mark Bradley. The Mets had acquired him from the Dodgers for $100 grand and a couple of longshot prospects following a 1982 campaign when he hit a sizzling .317/.417/.488 with 101 RBI and 50 stolen bases at Class AAA Albuquerque. With the Mets he batted just .202 in sporadic appearances and earned a few fines for flouting George Bambergers rules.

When the Mets released him prior to the 1984 season, Bradley was only 27 but his career shows only one more stop, with the Class A San Jose Bees in 1984, an unaffiliated minor league team.

Twenty-one years later, I sat in the Mezzanine behind third base and watched the 2004 Mets glumly play out the string amid thousands of expat Cubs fans treating the a September afternoon at Shea as a coronation at a home away from home.

This was after Art Howe had already been fired but was still minding the store. And after the Mets had torched themselves with the Kazmir trade and coughed up Dan Wheeler for an A-ball outfielder with a steroid problem, and after Matsui at shortstop and Scott Erickson in the rotation and Fred Wilpon on the radio. And on this day, with Aaron Heilman starting on the mound and Gerald Williams leading off and Piazza playing first base, we’re getting completely shut down by Mark Prior and the Cubs fans surrounding me are getting louder and louder and drunker and drunker and my mood is blacker and blacker.

And, I’m a good sport. I have nothing against the Cubs going to the playoffs, not this year at least, but the wreck of this season is weighing upon me and the noise is an affront to what dignity I have left and I’m just about to say something when Victor Diaz hits an opposite-field two-out three-run home run off closer LaTroy Hawkins and ties it up in the bottom of the 9th. And in the 11th it ends when Craig Brazell – Piazza’s replacement at first base – puts one into the bullpen in right field. The Cubs never recover, losing the Wild Card slot to Houston. The Mets do but without Brazell, who turned out to be worth no more than say, Joselo Diaz. Look him up.


9. J.C. Martin

J.C. Martin was the primary backup for Jerry Grote for two seasons but like almost every Met reserve, he made the most of limited appearances in the 1969 postseason.

In the National League Championship Series vs. Atlanta, his two-run pinch single helped the Mets take the opening game. In Game 4 of the World Series, Martin was called to sacrifice the winning run to third base in the bottom of the 10th inning, but wound up getting the runner, Rod Gaspar, all the way home when Martin’s arm was struck by the throw intended to retire him at first.

In both turns he was pinch hitting for Tom Seaver. Martin was traded to the Cubs after the year to make room for Duffy Dyer.


8. Wes Westrum

When Casey Stengel’s managerial career came to an abrupt end following an Old-Timer’s Day mishap in 1965, a number of writers covering the Mets at the time were surprised at his choice for a successor: Wes Westrum, the former Giants catcher who joined the Mets as a first-base coach in 1964.

Westrum served out the remainder of the ’65 season and was hired again for 1966 but not without considerable deliberation – Eddie Stanky and Alvin Dark both waited for the Mets to make a decision before accepting managerial offers with the White Sox and A’s, respectively. There was also some talk of prying Gil Hodges away from Washington.

Though he lacked Stengel’s charisma, Westrum would be the first Mets manager to finish anywhere but last place: His 1966 Mets finished 28.5 games out of first, but 2 games ahead of the dreadful Cubs. And encouraged by a strong second half including a franchise record seven-game win streak in July, the Mets on Sept. 6 announced Westrum had received a $10,000 raise and a contract extension through 1967.

But the Mets failed to make progress in 1967, attendance dropped, another contract offer didn’t arrive, and Westrum resigned in September citing the “strain of managing.”


7. Ty Wigginton

A hard-nosed, unheralded product of the Mets farm system, Ty Wigginton became the bridge between third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who left after 2002, and David Wright, who arrived in ’04. He won’t ever be mistaken for either of them, but he’s had a decent career.

It’s a stronger comment about 2003 than about Wiggy, but somebody had to be the Mets’ best position player that year. In a season where injuries and trades and limited most Mets to fewer than 400 at-bats, Wigginton showed up every day, worked hard and by year-end led the team in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI and slugging/OPS. Given half the chance, he’d totally destroy you at home plate.


6. Todd Zeile

For a guy who played for a zillion different teams, it’s odd how Todd Zeile became such a … Met. But he is, isn’t he? I mean did John Olerud parade around Shea on the final day of the 2008 season? No, but his poor man’s replacement was right there. And Zeile, let’s not forget, not only made to the World Series as a Met but played pretty well in it: I’m not above admitting that while a home run would have been a lot sweeter, I was only hoping that Piazza could somehow extend the inning for Zeile when that fly ball found Bernie Williams’ glove in Game 5. Or maybe it didn’t. I turned it off before it did. But Zeile was on deck.

His biggest at-bat that postseason became a signature Met moment in itself. Game 1, and his long drive to left field hits the top of the Yankee Stadium fence and bounds back into play only to turn into devastating instant karma. Like Zeile itself, one long inch from greatness. Zeile slumped badly in 2001 (10-62-.266), but returned for a final go-round in 2004, though by then in No. 27.


5. Joe Torre

Joe Torre came with a solid reputation as future managerial material, and that’s just what left with, four-and-a-half years later.

He was named manager (player-manager, actually) only days before the Tom Seaver trade, and stuck around for a long stretch of darkness. By the time the Mets might even dream about being good again, he was long gone, building up a managerial resume that would one day make him the king of New York.

This has nothing to do with his Met-ness, but the furor over Joe’s recent tell-some book about the Yankees seems a little over the top. I mean, they’re a bunch of losers just like Joe said. No?


4. Jim Hickman

Who was the first Met to hit for the cycle? Who was the Mets’ all-time home run king through mid-1969? Who was last surviving Expansion Draftee in Mets history? Who was the last Met to homer in the Polo Grounds? Who was the first Met to hit three home runs in one game?

For an answer to a lot of trivia questions, Jim Hickman isn’t a name that’s thrown around all that much in Met lore. Drafted from the St. Louis organization in the Expansion Draft, “Gentleman Jim” was one of the few from that class not to have made his big-league debut yet. He revealed himself as big country slugger who struck out a little too often but had some ability, but didn’t put a great season together until after the Mets had given up on him. Check out his 1970 season with the Cubs.



3. Gregg Jefferies

“I don’t believe anyone can deny the fact that I have consistently taken it on the chin for the last three years,” wrote Gregg Jefferiesin an infamous 1991 fax recited amid uproarious laughter to listeners of WFAN. Jefferies penned the “open letter” in a desperate attempt to have the fans see his side in an ongoing battle with teammates but instead it only served to illustrate why teammates found him such a tool.

Given a little more maturity, a little more humility, and a much more supportive work environment, Jefferies might have been the great player he was pegged to be after tearing through the Mets’ minor leagues, twice winning recognition as Baseball America’s minor league Player of the Year. The team had rarely produced a better hitter. He arrived, however, to a clubhouse with a low tolerance for golden boys and quick to resort to derisive anonymous quotes and humiliating pranks. And in stark contrast to his hitting, Jefferies had shoddy defensive skills assuring that wherever he was positioned, he replaced a more capable fielder (and, it was assumed, a better teammate). That further poisoned whatever relationship he might have with his teammates, and he left an unhappy casualty of his own hype.


2. Todd Hundley

I was kind of anti-Piazza when it happened. I thought he was all Pert Plus and outrageous contract demands and a pretty boy who’d never be the kind of a teammate Todd Hundley was. Hundley was loyal, tough, hard-drinking, tattooed, a smoker and a brawler. An unsavory son of a bitch, you might say, who gave the fans some things to cheer about when there wasn’t much only to find himself too banged up to help when they really could have used him.

Hundley gamely but lamely attempted to reestablish his career as an outfielder, but was shipped to Los Angeles following the 1998 season.


1. George Theodore

One of the few things I’m not quite sure about in Met uniform history is precisely when George Theodore stopped being an 18 and started being a 9, but thanks to help from readers we’ve more or less been able to narrow it down to a small window early in the 1973 season.

But when it came time to commit the data to a book, I couldn’t be comfortable if I hadn’t at least exhausted all the potential places I might find this information, so one afternoon I looked up a George Theodore in Utah, left a phone message, and hoped for the best. Turned out I had the right guy: He got back to me right away, he was every bit as nice and down to earth as I’d hoped – who could look like that and have an attitude? – but his memory of events, at least as his uni number went, didn’t turn out so good.

I was able to pick up this tidbit: Theodore shed 18 for 9 as a tribute to Ted Williams, whom he considered a boyhood idol (“I thought it would help my batting,” he said). Although a longshot prospect who didn’t arrive in the big leagues until age 26, Theodore actually was a fine hitter, particularly as a minor leaguer, and made a name for himself as part of 1973 Mets with a combination of regular-guy looks and freaky charm (he discussed poetry, philosophy and metaphysics with writers). In a July game against the Braves at Shea Stadium, which as a 7-year-old fan in the left field stands I could never forget – Theodore sustained a broken hip when he collided with centerfielder Don Hahn as both pursued Ralph Garr’s drive to the gap in left center. Both players left the game on stretchers! The right fielder, Rusty Staub, had to field the ball which had rolled all the way to wall in left. Theodore bravely returned to active duty in late September and went to the World Series that year.

He hit just .158 in limited action in 1974, but knew getting back would be difficult after learning the Mets had acquired Joe Torre – the longtime and next No. 9 – shortly after that season ended.

Nevertheless, Theodore, with fewer than 200 turns at bat, is the Metliest No. 9 of all time. Congrats, Stork!

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Top Ten 10s

10The rankings below are completely subjective and based upon my own estimation of “Metliness.” Often, Metliness will mean they actually contributed something positive to the team but just as often it probably won’t. These are the guys we associate with the number for whatever reason, and together they reflect the character of the number.Today, as part of MBTN’s 10th Anniversary Spectacular, we honor the Top Ten 10s of All Metdom. Please share your greivances below.

And now, on with the countdown…

10. (tie) Joe DePastino and Joe Hietpas

They’re the Mets’ own version of Joe the Plumbers, only not as stupid … probably. A pair of lunchbucket reserve backstops who each spent only a moment in a Mets uniforms, they represent No. 10’s many brief visitors.

DePastino was a 29-year-old, 11-year minor league veteran who’d stalled at Class AAA when he got the call to the Mets roster in August of 2003 to serve as a replacement for backup catcher Jason Phillips, who’d taken time off to attend to the birth of his son. DePastino’s tenure with the Mets lasted for two pinch-hitting appearances and a single inning of catching, both during the late innings of blowouts (a 10-1 win and an 11-1 loss) exchanged between the Mets and Astros at Minute Maid Park.

‘”If something happens and I never play the game again, I accomplished my goal,” DePastino told the New York Times after the first game, when he grounded out to third batting for Dan Wheeler. “I got to the big leagues. As soon as I came in last night, Piazza said, ‘Hey, you’re in the encyclopedia.’”

If DePastino is a real-life Crash Davis, Hietpas might be a poor man’s Nuke LaLoosh – a minor leaguer whose best quality is a powerful right arm. Drafted by the Mets out of Northwestern University in 2001, Hietpas came through the Mets system and made his big-league debut by catching the final inning of the 2004 season: He replaced Todd Ziele, who caught (and hit a home run) in what would be the final game of his career.

Hietpas never got a turn at bat but that may have been just as well: He was a .208 lifetime hitter in the minors, a guy valued more for his defense than for his stick. Convinced his bat wouldn’t take him any further, the Mets in 2007 refashioned Hietpas as a pitcher, sending him to the Florida State League where he posted a respectable 2.47 ERA out of the bullpen. He struggled last year at Class AA Binghamton, but is signed for 2009 and could resurface depending on the level of bullpen terror in years to come. If so, he’d be the first Met ever to be recalled as a position player and a pitcher. Go Joe!


9. Greg Goossen

“We got a kid here who’s 20 years old and in 10 years he has a good chance to be 30,” Casey Stengel famously said of Greg Goossen. Though by the time Goossen was 30 he was on his way to Hollywood. A catcher/first baseman with fair power, Goossen was drafted from the Dodgers’ system in the first-year player draft of 1964. He spent parts of four seasons with the Mets but by the time they were ready to contend, Goossen vamoosed to Seattle in the expansion draft. His big league career was over at 24: He later gained modest fame as a character actor and frequent stand-in for Gene Hackman.

8. Shingo Takatsu

Shingo Takatsu made Met history when on Sept. 3, 2005, he trotted out wearing No. 10 – the lowest number a Met pitcher had ever appeared in – and summarily set another new low. Called into protect a two-run lead with two out, the bases loaded and Florida’s Miguel Cabrera at the plate, Takatsu coughed up a ringing three-run double providing the difference in a 5-4 Mets loss that for many, including me, put an end to any fantasies that the ’05 Mets had might challenge for a playoff spot.

Afterward, Willie Randolph memorably defended the decision to call on Takatsu – a fallen star who’d recently been released by the White Sox – by saying he felt the sidearming righty would “bring the funk.” Did he ever.

The loss came smack in the middle of a stretch where the Mets lost 12 of 15 games to fall from a season-high-watermark of 8 games above .500 and four games out of first place Aug. 26 to 5thplace and 12 ½ games back Sept. 15. Takatsu improved some from his debut but it didn’t matter by then. He hasn’t played in a Major League game since.


7. Duffy Dyer

He’s the guy I always associate most with No. 10, since he was the first one I knew. Though his Met career was spent mainly as Jerry Grote’s understudy, Dyer was every bit the hitter his counterpart was, and maybe better – not that Jerry Grote was much of a yardstick for hitters. But still. A big-time jock out of Arizona State, Dyer in 1972 got a Met career-high 325 at-bats while Grote missed significant time with injuries and during the opportunity socked more home runs (8) than Grote ever did in any of his 12 years with the Mets.

In 1973, Dyer’s pinch-hit, run-scoring double in the bottom of the 9th inning was critical in the famous “Ball on the Wall” victory that marked the Mets’ unlikely charge to the pennant. Traded for Gene Clines prior to ’75. Yeah, Gene Clines.

6. Jeff Torborg

Like Art Howe would many years later, Jeff Torborg came to the Mets directly from an American League team; had a reputation for decency and order; and enjoyed the strong support of owner Fred Wilpon. And just like Howe, the hiring turned out to be a bad match, even if the team’s failures under his watch weren’t entirely his fault.

Torborg wound up wearing No. 10 after consulting with a numerologist, which provided a window into his inner goofiness and offered a signal he might not have it as together as we believed. His only full season managing the Mets, 1992, resulted in the so-called “Worst Team Money Could Buy” and he was canned 38 games into the even-worse 1993 season. Technically, Torborg managed 37 games – he managed the 38th knowing it would be his last.


5. Dave Magadan

Dave Magadan was one of the best pure hitters the Mets ever developed but he was curiously underutilized and frequently injured, and never overcame two perceived flaws in his game – a lack of power and a lack of speed. Twice, jobs were taken from him. Twice, a teammate swiped his uniform number.

Magadan wore No. 10 for the 1990 and 1991 seasons only. He debuted in 29 – as the hero of the Mets’ division-clinch victory in 1986 – but ceded that jersey to Frank Viola in 1990. In 1992, he went back to 29 when new manager Jeff Torborg, with the help of a numerologist, selected 10 (see above).

Magadan’s first season in 10 may have been the best of his 14-year career. Despite the indignity of having lost a chance to start at first base by pointlessly imported veteran Mike Marshall (wtf?), Magadan finished the year with a .328 batting average and a .417 on-base percentage – second in the league – while appearing in a career-high 144 games. He slumped some in 1991, and the Mets subsequently imported Eddie Murray (and Bill Pecota, for god’s sakes) to take over his role.


4. Rey Ordoñez

Rey Ordoñez came along at precisely the wrong moment for an all-glove, no-hit shortstop. Stars like Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez were redefining expectations at the position, and statistical measures revealing just how poorly Ordoñez compared to them were becoming the language of the common fan. But his fielding was eye-popping enough to inspire the old romantics, and Ordonez subsequently became one of the Mets’ most fiercely debated players of all time.

Ordonez broke in with the Mets wearing number zero, and, in retrospect, his switch to number 10 in 1998 signaled the beginnings of a slow decline in overall pizzazz. Nevertheless the Mets signed him to a four-year contract after a 60-RBI season in 1999.

Later it was revealed that Ordonez was older by more than two years than the Mets had initially believed. Suddenly on the wrong side of 30, it was less of a surprise when his once-legendary fielding skills fell into decline, and when he uttered a few unkind words about the fans – even if he was right – any lingering arguments over the value of offense vs. defense turned to a near unanimous call for his removal, which the Mets were only too eager to answer.

3. Endy Chavez

Endy Chavez brought energy, spirit and maybe a touch of Mookie-like magic to the 2006 Mets. His magnificent catch in Game 6 of the 2006 NLCS – which not only stole a home run but turned into a humiliating double-play that should have (but unbelievably, didn’t) inspire the Mets to a league championship – belongs on the short list of baseball’s all-time postseason moments and assured Chavez would never have to buy a drink in New York for as long as he lives.

Throw in a .307 batting average and a few more home runs more than anyone had a right to expect, and Endy’s ’06 goes down among the best ever by a Mets’ reserve. But injuries interrupted a repeat performance in 2007 and while his glove remained magnificent his bat wasn’t the same in 2008. Magic – and productive reserves – only last for so long. His next stop is Seattle. Seeya, N.D.


2. Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub wore No. 10 in Houston and in Montreal but patiently waited three seasons until Duffy Dyer was traded to take the jersey with the Mets.


Staub’s move into No. 10, in 1975, coincided with his best single season as a Met. He hit 19 home runs, 30 doubles, had a .382 on-base average and drove in 105 runs – the latter a team record that lasted until Howard Johnson broke it in 1991. Fearful of players gaining 5-and-10 rights in a new era of worker activism, the Mets traded Staub to Detroit following that season (for Mickey Lolich in one of the biggest trades, pound-for-pound, they ever made) only to watch him rake for another five years. They reacquired Staub again in 1981 when he began a second career as an elderly – though still dangerous – pinch-hitter. He’d last until 1985, at age 41.


1. Rod Kanehl

“Do you know that the very first banner the fans hung up in the Polo Grounds had my name on it? We hadn’t played a game there yet, but there it was. It said: ‘We love the Mets.’ And under that, ‘Rod Kanehl.’ You know why they had my name up there? Because I was a hero…”

Like most of the nascent Mets, the man known as “Hot Rod” was valued not for his ability but for his determination in spite of it. And in the early days of the Mets you couldn’t get much more for much less than Rod Kanehl, a career minor leaguer who played every position except pitcher and catcher in a three-year span as Casey Stengel’s favorite reserve.

As the story goes, Stengel recalled Kanehl for having leapt over a fence to make a catch while in a spring practice with the Yankees, in whose minor-league system Kanehl had spent most of his career before the Mets came calling in 1962. Kanehl rewarded Stengel’s faith by becoming the first Met to hit a grand slam and scored the winning run in their first-ever home victory. If not fluid in Stengelese himself, Kanehl was said to understand the language of his skipper and translate it for teammates. When Stengel passed away in 1975, Kanehl was the only of the early Mets to attend the funeral.

Kanehl’s grit, hustle and versatility helped obscure meager statistical output — a .241 batting average and just 32 extra-base hits in nearly 800 at-bats over three seasons. But Hot Rod was released prior to the 1965 season, and was heartbroken to see another man wear his jersey (it was rookie Kevin Collins).

“I know the game from underneath. I know what goes on in the mind of a mediocre ballplayer. I know what it’s like to be a bad hitter. I know what it’s like to have to battle every time you go up to the plate,” he told Sports Illustrated in a brilliant 1966 article (also the source of the above quote). “I think the Mets were stupid for not keeping me. And you know what hurt most? They gave away my uniform number even before spring training started. They couldn’t wait.”


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