Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who We Are

I've never met Greg Prince, though, after reading his new book, Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, I kind of feel like he's someone I've known for years.

The book, written with the same grace and eloquence as his blog, certainly justifies its title; it's a glimpse into the life of a man who has lived and died by the Mets, through moments of joy and pride, moments desperate and harrowing, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking and beyond.

Any Mets fan can't help but feel some kind of relation to Greg as they read this book. It's this particular attention to detail, the ability to remember the highest highs with the same clarity as the depths of despair, that the beauty of this book lies.

As I read the book, I couldn't help but feel that Greg and I are very similar as people. We come from fairly similar backgrounds, discovered the Mets at basically the same age (his true fascination coming just at the right time, mine beginning a tantalizing year too late) and even had parents who seemed happy to indulge our interest in the Mets despite not fully sharing it themselves. And we seem to remember everything when it comes to the Mets. I would venture the guess that if you put the two of us in a room together, we'd probably have a 3-hour discussion...about the 1999 Mets.

But this isn't what the book is about. Though Greg's knowledge of the history of the Mets is indisputably vast, the book is written for any fan and every fan of the Mets. It's not simply about history or knowledge, the book offers some insight into what it is to be a fan of the Mets. Though, of course, not every Met fan immerses himself with the same voracity that Greg does, we can all relate to his experiences. We've all had that one great moment, as fans, where we saw something or watched something that will stick with us forever. For the Mets fan, it's never about saying, "We're better than you," or "When was the last time your team did..." Mets history is steeped in words like "Believe" and "Miracle." Words that inspire thoughts of the little guy who rose up and did something great. Not all the time. In fact, sometimes, it's been downright humiliating. But for those moments, we continue to root, we continue to believe, and we keep coming back. Certainly, we have our rivals. Greg wholeheartedly admits a dislike for all things Yankee or Brave. We believe in things like superstitions and karma. I used to follow the same route every time I went into Shea Stadium, buy my program from the same vendor, take the same escalators, etc. Greg, in 1999, lashed out against the Braves while watching this game, and then felt the need to praise them for karma's sake. But these things, too, are all a part of being a Mets fan.

More than anything else, however, Greg is a Mets fan with the gift of eloquence. Memories of the Mets are interwoven with personal anecdotes as smooth as Kevin Elster used to look out at SS. Certainly, the book isn't flawless. But I feel that many of the problems are merely matters of opinion, my own opinion of historical moments, certainly not problems with the writing. Greg does a fine job of telling us his life story as a Mets fan without being too schmaltzy, without being too forceful and with great care for his own personal life. Basically, you should read this book, if you're a Mets fan at all. It's one thing to read about Mets history. It's readily available in many different forms. Greg gives it to you from a fan's perspective, good or bad. It's truly a worthy addition to any Met fan's Library.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Breaking Traditions?

I had mentioned the other day about how I was still waiting for my tickets to show up from the Mets. I know that the Season and Plan ticket holders get these fancy, glitzy tickets from a special office somewhere in Arkansas, but nonetheless, I'd still kind of like to have them in hand before Opening Day. That's just a personal preference. I also hadn't really heard anything whatsoever from the Mets regarding them, and, in reality, the only confirmation that I had was that they'd processed my credit card, and I've since paid the bill.

But that day, I got the mail and there was a small manila envelope from the Mets, with my name unceremoniously slapped on the outside. I went upstairs and opened it up. It didn't feel like tickets of any kind, though I wondered if, perhaps, they sent me my Opening Day tickets separate from the rest of the plan. That makes no sense, but then again, does anything the Mets do make any sense? I went upstairs and opened it. Out spilled a letter and a small envelope. The letter read as follows:

Dear Mets Plan Holder:

Thank you for joining us [blah blah blah].

In appreciation [blah], we are pleased to enclose complimentary tickets for the Mets' team workout to be held at Citi Field on Sunday, April 5 [blah blah blah etc].

I'll spare you the rest. Apparently, I was invited to a special preseason workout, at 11am on April 5th. I believe it's tantamount to a glorified Batting Practice, and it's only open to plan holders. Then again, the Mets have had a habit of saying one thing and ending up doing something else. Nonetheless, I've now got these two tickets for a Sunday Morning practice, when there's no guarantee that I'll even be awake at 11am on a Sunday.

I generally make it a rule of thumb, or at least it's been a tradition of mine, that I don't go past the stadium (I can't say Shea anymore) before Opening Day, or after Closing Day (Postseason games excluded). By past, I mean I don't ride out there on the 7 or make some sort of concerted effort to actually go out there to see the stadium. If my travels take me past it, that's another story entirely. But I digress.

I'd sort of been fixing for my maiden voyage to Citi Field to be on Opening Day, April 13th. That would be my first game, my first chance to see the Stadium and walk around and see what the place was like. That's how it is every year on Opening Day. I usually get out there early and watch BP, and mess around, and take a bunch of photos, and, yes, it's one of the rare games where I'll have a couple of beers. Usually, though, it's an afternoon game, and I'm buzzing work to be there. And I have no problem making a whole day of it.

This year, however, Opening Day is actually Opening Night, and the 7:10 start time sort of takes away from the whole magic of Opening Day. I suppose I'll still get out there early, perhaps around 5 or so, but I'd basically just knock off work early. It's not really the same. But still, that was going to be my first steps into Citi Field.

Now, I've got these workout tickets. Part of me really wants to go, just for the hell of it. It's a Sunday Morning and I probably don't have anything better going on anyway. It might be the only chance I'll have to get into some of the expensive seats in Citi Field. Who knows how liberal they'll be with Batting Practice once the season starts.

On the other side, this is really breaking tradition. It's almost like seeing the Bride before the Wedding. I feel very torn. Am I the only one who feels this way? What would you do?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Take That, Danny Meyer!

It's a little-known fact that I am a connoisseur of Hamburgers. My quest for New York City's best hamburger has led me to two specific places. Neither of them were Shea Stadium. The dry, lukewarm Bubba Burger that they pawned off didn't quite rate.

Whether or not the Citi Field Shake Shack is going to raise the Stadium Burger into the upper echelon of NYC Burgerdom is immaterial after I found this story and accompanying photo on Drudge this afternoon.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Midwest League West Michigan Whitecaps, a single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers (currently managed by Met-for-a-Minute Joe DePastino, remember him?!), are offering the above monstrosity at their concession stand. The 4lb, 4,800 calorie burger features a one-pound sesame seed bun, 5 1/3-pound beef patties, cheese, chili, salsa and corn chips. Anyone hearty enough to finish off this $20 masterpiece will receive a free T-Shirt, as well as a substantial discount on the ensuing heart surgery.

Despite the fact that this is a nauseating amount of food, a family of 4 could probably go to a game, buy one and be well-sated by game's end. They will even cut it with a pizza slicer for you.

Not sold yet? Here's some video of them making the burger.

I think it's safe to say that you'll never see anything quite like this at Citi Field. A burger like this is well beyond the imagination of Danny Meyer or the folks at Aramark who are more interested in serving up Pizza slices that taste about as good as the box they come in. It's almost reminiscent of the Mo-Licious sandwich the Carnegie Deli named after Mo Vaughn.

I don't have any trips to Grand Rapids planned any time during the upcoming season, unfortunately, so I won't have a chance to sample and report back on this particular burger. Rest assured, however, that I will think of it the first time I patronize the Citi Field Shake Shack.

Michigan Baseball park to offer 4,800-calorie burgers [Breitbart]

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Stop With No Name

This story came out a couple of weeks ago. How I missed it is beyond me. I must have been in La-La Land or something, because I'd been waiting for some sort of news on the matter, and it happened, and I just plain blew it. That's a bad job by me.

Last offseason, I'd written a bit about the transformation of the 7 train station at Shea Stadium, and how the overpass that we'd been so used to walking over had been torn down to make room for the Citi Field construction. In its place was a staircase, which I felt took away from that great, grand entrance one would have to Shea. So be it. This offseason, I was wondering when the switchover would take place from the station being called "Willets Point - Shea Stadium" to "Willets Point - Citi Field."

As it turns out, that switch took place rather quietly and didn't turn out quite the way anyone expected. This story, from the March 11th NY Times, talks about how, although the MTA had procured some public funding for infrastructure and renovations to the station and the Passerrelle bridge to the LIRR station, it didn't actually involve any money for changing the name to Citi Field. Since the Mets were receiving what has become some ill-gotten funds for the stadium naming rights, the MTA apparently felt entitled to some funds for the subway station name as well. Understandable, though for other reasons I feel the MTA deserves to be boiled in oil. Why give Citi more free advertising that they don't deserve? It was only fair, after some $40 million was spent to improve what was a rather dreary station, that the MTA get their piece of the corporate naming rights pie.

The Mets, however, declined to offer any money to the MTA for the station name.

Thusly, as I discovered while looking at the weekly photo blog from citi_field on Webshots, the station is now rather ambiguously called the "Mets/Willets Point" station. It's even reflected as such on the MTA Website and on the latest Subway map. Any mention of the stadium is gone. Instead, signs just say "Mets Baseball," and the like.

I'm still not sure how I missed this completely. It's been mentioned on a few other blogs, both about the Mets and about the Subway system. The Mets Police, for one, seems to agree with the sterility of the new station name. They suggest taking it a step further: If they were going to charge to have Citi's name on the station, why not charge the Mets for the use of their name? By that logic, the stop may as well just be called plain old "Willets Point Blvd." or "126th Street." Why not, as suggested by a commenter on the QueensCrap Blog, remove any connotation to Baseball altogether and call it "Willets Point - USTA Tennis Center."

Still, though, I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of improvements they've made to the stop. The staircase did, for the most part, improve postgame egress to some degree, though things always seemed to get unnecessarily clogged up when 50,000 people were showing up to a game. Then again, since a sellout now comprises only 42,000 people, and with the William A. Shea Memorial Parking Lot set to open to the public, maybe those postgame rides on (what I sincerely hope still exists) the 7 Express back into Manhattan will be a quieter affair this coming season.

We'll see. All I need are my tickets. Have any plan holders out there received theirs yet? That's another story, for another time.

Stadium is Citi Field, but the Subway Stop has other ideas [New York Times]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stand Together!

Though the end result was not a surprise, and the glory of the tournament all too brief, don't hang your heads. You guys have nothing to be ashamed of.

Congratulations on a great season. We still Believe in the Binghamton Bearcats!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Key Carlos

This is #5 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.
At the outset, saying that the expectations for Carlos Delgado's output in 2008 were questionable at best was an understatement. Following his miserable 2007 season, in which he was puzzlingly inconsistent, nobody knew what to expect from Carlos. For the first time in his career, Delgado's numbers had fallen off alarmingly from what had been a standard pace of 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. You could count on that as much as anything. But, for whatever reason, Delgado didn't come anywhere close to those numbers in '07.

Through the first few months of 2008, we alarmingly found that we had little to no reason to expect that Delgado would come close to those plateaus again. Delgado hit .198 in April and .258 for May. Listless and lifeless, Delgado was a sinking ship in the middle of the lineup, that appeared to be dragging the whole team down with him. The fans turned on him, booing him in a Pinch-hitting appearance in April. I myself was especially critical of his performance, calling for the Mets to eat his conract and give him his outright release.

Following the game on June 25, 2008, Carlos Delgado was hitting .229 with 11 Home Runs and 35 RBIs. Based on my statements when I named him #1 of my 5 Key Mets for 2008, Delgado was officially an unmitigated disaster, and the team was set to go absolutely nowhere.
Then came that afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Delgado managed to cram 1/4 of his RBI output for the season into one game. I didn't give it much notice at the time, after all, it was just one game, and these things can happen sometimes. But this game signaled a turning point for Delgado. He took off after that game, and he basically never looked back. Whatever the problems were to that point in the season suddenly fell off his shoulders. Delgado became, from that point on, a revelation. He was the man the Mets needed in the middle of the lineup, protecting Wright and Beltran around him and generally coming up with all the big hits the Mets needed him to get.

Once the hits started coming, and they were coming in bunches, along with the HRs and RBIs, the fans got behind him once again. For July, Delgado was a new man, hitting a robust .357 with 9 HRs and 24 RBI. August saw his batting average drop off to .248, but he still chimed in with 7 HRs and another 24 RBI. September, more of the same, .340/8/22.

Not coincidentally, Delgado's hot streak coincided with the Mets getting hot as a team, making up several games in the standings, and basically dragging themselves kicking and screaming into a pennant race. Not coincidentally, Delgado was right in the thick of a multitude of key victories for the Mets. By late August, he was basically carrying the entire team on his back.
After being booed by simply sticking his head out of the dugout in April, Delgado was now being serenaded with chants of "MVP!" at Shea. After spending a goodly share of time filleting him, even I now believed the chants. Delgado capped off his season with a Grand Slam off of Carlos Zambrano in a frenetic final week game that went awry at the end. By that point, teams were simply pitching around him. They knew better. But in his final at bat, in the 8th inning on that final afternoon, Delgado's drive, a desperate shot to continue a rally and try to drag the Mets back into the game one last time, fell tantalizingly short.
But one thing was for sure. Delgado wasn't done. When, at the beginning of the season, there was no guarantee that the Mets would pick up the option on his contract, by season's end, it was a no-brainer that he would be back.

But much like the situation was coming in to 2008, the question is: What will Carlos Delgado bring back? Delgado will be 37 on June 25th, and, certainly, his best days have passed. But given that the Mets finished a game out of a playoff berth last season, and given that the Mets hitting, particularly their situational hitting, was very spotty throughout the season, and given that while Delgado was very good for half a season, he was also very bad for half a season, is it realistic to expect that Delgado will be as good as he was down the stretch all year, and even if he is, will it be enough?
The reality is that there aren't many questions surrounding Delgado. It's pretty simple, really. Will he, or won't he? That's about it. If he does, the Mets are in good shape. If not, well, the first half of last season will show you the result. The results from Carlos during the World Baseball Classic have been encouraging. But the only thing we know for sure is that Delgado will be right smack in the middle of the Mets lineup, either 4th or 5th, on Opening Day. Where he and the Mets will go from there is anyone's guess.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Miracle Bearcats

I'm not at all of a Basketball fan. I will sometimes pay some halfhearted attention to the Knicks, but since they've been so bad for such an extended period of time, it's just not worth it. I pay even less attention to College Basketball. Every year, I will join an ESPN NCAA Tournament Bracket pool with some friends just for the hell of it. I fill out a bracket without any knowledge of any team and generally do very poorly. But this year, the Tournament and the preceding Conference Tournaments caught my attention.

When I was in College at Binghamton (what was once SUNY Binghamton, and now Binghamton University), school athletics were, more or less, non-existent. The Colonials were a ramshackle Division III team with nothing that drew anyone's attention. There was a Baseball team and a Basketball team, not that anyone noticed. I paid more attention to the AA Binghamton Mets, or the Semipro Hockey team, the BC Icemen, whose games were more an opportunity to see some poor-quality Hockey, get really drunk and yell stuff.

The year I graduated, however, the school decided that they were going to go Division I with their athletic program. Whatever. Nobody took it seriously, especially when they changed the team name from Colonials to Bearcats. What the hell is a Bearcat? That's something you name a Little League team. To make matters worse, there were a number of construction sites on campus, which were all marked with a cartoon Bearcat, that seemed to resemble a constipated bear moreso than an actual mascot. I used to punch them as I walked past.

So, I graduated, and Binghamton's athletic program progressed in its own way. The major attraction was the Men's Basketball team, which inspired little confidence in anybody. Stuck in the Mid-Major America East Conference, there was little drawing power for recruits. Several years of obscurity followed. But two years ago, a new coach, Kevin Broadus, was brought in, and he began a process of recruiting better, albeit troubled talent to the school's Basketball team. The academic ramifications of this strategy drew some heavy criticism on campus, and even in a recent article in the New York Times. As an alum, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, you'd like to think that the school you went to would want to pay more attention to its academic reputation (and Binghamton has long been called the "Ivy League of the SUNY System) as opposed to its Athletic program, like most Diploma Factory schools.

On the other hand, I couldn't help but think that it would be pretty damn cool if the Binghamton Bearcats should ever make the NCAA Tournament. Most of my friends from Binghamton agreed.

The America East Conference usually only has one team make the NCAA Tournament, and that's the conference champion. Usually a low 14-15-16 seed, the team is summarily wiped out in their first game by a much better opponent. For several years, Binghamton proved only good enough to get to the Conference Semifinal round before getting knocked off.

This season proved different. The Bearcats stormed through the regular season with a 20-8 record, by far and away the best in school history. In the tournament, they wiped out their first opponent, Hartford, without much challenge. The Semifinal brought a test from the University of New Hampshire. But though they trailed 67-62 with under 2 minutes remaining, they ran off a 10-0 run to finish the game, capped off by a key steal and dunk from Forward D.J. Rivera. By this point, I'd become interested enough to follow the game online thanks to ESPN 360. This sent them to the Conference Championship game, which was played at home, in Binghamton, against the defending Conference Champion, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on Saturday morning. It was the first time Binghamton would play for a Conference Championship. It would be the first time ever that Binghamton would appear in a Nationally televised game, on ESPN2. The events center was packed to the gills with a raucous student body, plus many alumni watching on TV.
Though the game appeared, to me, a rather sloppy affair, with a number of airballs and shoddy offense, the game itself was, more or less, no contest. Binghamton shot out to an early lead and cruised to a 61-51 win, despite the fact that they didn't score from the floor in the final 7 minutes. Though UMBC played tough defense, Binghamton was up to the challenge, not allowing UMBC a point within the last 4 minutes of the game. And by the end, the crowd, bursting at the seams to celebrate, rushed the court in celebration. The Miracle Bearcats were on their way to the NCAAs! I never thought I would see the day.

Binghamton, of course, now faces hopeless odds in the Tournament. Seeded #15, they'll have the pleasure of facing the Duke Blue Devils, a perenially obnoxious powerhouse, in their first round game, on Thursday night at 9:40pm in Greensboro, NC. So if drawing Duke wasn't bad enough, they're basically playing what amounts to a home game for Duke. Screw it. We can hope against hope that they will somehow rise up and kick Mike Kryzywysyszyewszyswzysyezki in the nuts, even though the most likely result is a 40-point loss. I don't care. I don't care what means it took us to get there, we're there. So, for the next 4 days, we should all be proud of our team.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dropkick Murphy

This is #4 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.
But don't you get your hopes up high,
The kid's allright.
-Bettie Serveert

Chances are, on Opening Day, 2008, you had no idea who Daniel Murphy was.

By the end of the season, he was at the forefront of all our consciousness, after his surprise ascension to the Majors, punctuated by his penchant for working counts, getting big hits and generally hustling every moment he was on the field.

On Opening Day, 2009, he'll more than likely be starting for the Mets in Left Field.

That's not to say that he's a given to repeat his strong showing from 2008. It's not a knock on Murphy by any means, but given that there were certainly sexier options for the Left Field spot available to the Mets during the offseason, it was really a tremendous show of faith by Minaya and Jerry Manuel to pretty much go out and say that they're handing the Left Field job to Murphy based on his two months worth of work in the Major Leagues.

But Murphy endeared himself to everyone pretty much from the second he set foot on the field on that evening in Houston. You'll recall that Murphy nailed a hit off of Roy Oswalt in his first AB, and later in the game made an acrobatic catch out in Left Field and turned it into a double play. Within a week, Murphy had become an Overnight Sensation, compiling a key RBI hit, a 3-hit game and a Pinch-Hit HR, and followed it up with another 3-hit game within the next few days. Murphy was here to stay, and through his first month in the Majors, he was hitting a robust .333 with 23 hits and 13 RBI in 27 games. The fans, and Mets Management, obviously, ate it all up.
But lost amid the shuffle of the continual bullpen meltdown and the more glaring failures of the men around him was the fact that Murphy came back to earth bigtime over the final few weeks of the season. Yes, the case could be made that Murphy was a victim of the myriad left-handed starters the Mets faced down the stretch. Yes, the case could be made that Murphy still made most of his hits count. But the numbers stick out. Over the final month of the season, Murphy hit .245 with 4 RBIs. The final two weeks, Murphy could only muster a .152 clip (5 for 33) with 3 RBIs, none in the final week, which concluded for him by failing to bunt Reyes over to 2nd against the Cubs, bobbling a grounder in Left Field against the Marlins, and striking out as a pinch hitter on the final day of the season.

That said, it wasn't as though Murphy was completely clueless throughout this stretch. More likely, he was just coming back to earth after his hot start, as most players are apt to do. There's no way of knowing, definitively, what Murphy is as a Major Leaguer based on his 49 games and 131 At Bats in 2008. Overall, though, you had to like what you saw out of him. Though his fielding was subpar, it was understandable because he hadn't played Left Field before 2008. At the plate, he showed polish and discipline not seen in players with his experience. He was certainly deserving, at worst, of making the club outright in 2009, in a platoon in Left Field with Fernando Tatis. This was assured once it was clear that the Mets weren't going to make a run for Manny Ramirez.
But Manuel surprised all of us when he stated, rather boldly, that Daniel Murphy would probably be the everyday left fielder at the start of the season, against righties and lefties. Murphy, who apparently worked out like a demon for most of the offseason, had gained such high regard from his Manager that he was willing to give Murphy the job outright. No questions asked. It's his.

Well, all right then.

It's an awful lot to put on the shoulders of a young guy like Murphy, because both he and Ryan Church stand to shoulder a lot of the Mets offensive fortunes. More than likely, we'll see either Church or Murphy batting 2nd in the lineup, with the other batting 6th, and Wright, Delgado and Beltran in between. Both of them, basically, have the same responsibility in this lineup. Hit, get on base, and remain consistent doing both. It will have a massive impact on how pitchers will pitch to the 3 sluggers in between the two of them.

In my capsule on Church, I noted that when Church was going well, teams couldn't pitch around Beltran and Delgado to get to him. When he was bad, which, down the stretch, he was, teams worked to get to him regularly, and Church justified the move every time. Basically, the same can be said of Murphy. Should Murphy hit in the #2 spot, he'd be wise to do two things with consistency.

1) Take no less than 2 pitches with less than 2 strikes, allowing Reyes to steal should he be on base.

2) Improve his bunting should the situation call for him to bunt Reyes up a base.

Given what we've seen from Murphy, I think it's safe to say that 1) can be counted on. 2) remains to be seen.
It's always a bit unsettling when you know that your team is going to hand a key position and a key spot in the batting order to someone who is, for the most part, unproven. Given the way the fortunes of the Mets have fallen over the past couple of seasons, it's very easy for the Mets fan to be skeptical. The fear, of course, is that Murphy is given the job and falls flat on his face, hitting .185 by the end of April and never gets going. But an awful lot of people seem pretty confident that this won't be the case. Murphy himself seems pretty determined to make us all believe. He's assuming an awful lot of pressure to succeed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Favorite Team

Last week, I started what I think will become a recurring series here, digging into my collection of Mets Baseball Cards and posting them here. There are two reasons behind this, I suppose. 1) I think that this is where my fandom began, at least from the standpoint of I really wasn't so into Baseball before I started collecting, and 2) I'm a complete lunatic. I doubt I'll get into doing this so regularly once the season starts and there are more, tangible things to talk about regarding the Mets. Right now, you could hash and re-hash the glaring issues the Mets have, and I do that often enough. Spring Training is a good time for re-acclimation and this is one way to do it.

Last week, I wrote about the 1987 Topps Mets team set, which was the first set I put together, way back in my youth. This week, we're going to take a trip back 10 years, to what was probably my favorite Mets team. The year, of course, is 1999. Over the past two years I've been writing this, I have probably written about the 1999 Mets more often than any previous Mets team (not including the current seasons' team), through Lost Classics and the 20 Days In October series. Now, we'll look at the '99 Mets through the eyes of Topps.

#13 - Edgardo Alfonzo

After running massive, 792-card sets for most of the 80s and early 90s (peaking at 825 in 1993), Topps returned to much smaller sets in the late 90s, probably in response to the aftereffects of the 1994 Strike. From 1996 to 2000, Topps sets didn't number higher than 504, and they didn't even make a Traded set between 1996 and 1998. They also produced, in my opinion, some of their nicest set designs. 1999, however, was not one of them. After the 1998 set had a really nice gold-bordered design, they returned to the gold border design in 1999, but made the front much plainer. It's a pretty bland set, all things considered. Fonzie kicks things off for the Mets this year. It's a good way to start, considering how important a role Fonzie played for this particular team. After a breakout year in '97 and a regression in '98, Fonzie would embark on his two finest seasons in '99 and '00. Not coincedentally, the Mets had two of their best seasons. Fonzie is still loved by every Mets fan. How loved, you ask? Well, a couple of months ago, I was talking with El Guapo about the Mets over a beer. Fonzie's name came up, and we stopped and immediately toasted him.

#32 - John Olerud

I had Olerud on my Fantasy team in 1998, and he had a pretty good year that season. Of course, he did it in his usual, unassuming fashion, to the point that you almost forgot he was there half the time, but he really carried the Mets most of the way, particularly through moments where they were woefully undermanned. His .354 BA that season stands as a Mets record, without a truly close challenger. He continued as a steady presence in the #3 spot in the order through 1999, by which point he'd firmly established himself as probably my favorite player on the team.

#53 - Rick Reed

Topps, unlike competitors Fleer, Upper Deck and Donruss (who by 1999 had lost their license with MLB), signed individual contracts with players, rather than contracts with the MLBPA. We all, by now, know Reed's story about being a replacement player and being booted out of the Player's Union. Benny Agbayani had a similar issue. It's because of this that the only place you'll find cards of Reed in a Mets uniform is in a Topps set. It's a shame, because Reed blossomed as a pitcher during his 4 1/2 seasons with the Mets. After emerging out of nowhere to win 13 games in 1997, Reed was, perhaps, even better in 1998, twice taking perfect games into the 7th inning and even making the All-Star team. Though he regressed to a 4.58 ERA in 1999, he came up big when it was needed most, and his last three games were a testament to his guile on the mound.

#106 - Butch Huskey

Huskey was always a case of unfulfilled potential. The 1996 Spring Training show was just the start. In 1997, Huskey hit .281 with 24 HRs and 81 RBI as a 25-year old. But in 1998, Huskey couldn't come anywhere close to those numbers. His season was cut short by a hamstring injury in August and he was dealt to Seattle in the offseason. Though Huskey's 1999 Fleer card also pictures him in a Mets uniform, it lists him as a member of the Seattle Mariners with a little "Traded" stamp on the front. This card, not so much.

#167 - Masato Yoshii

Yoshii was fairly unremarkable in his two seasons with the Mets. I don't think there's much more to say than that. Though, he is the answer to one of my favorite Mets trivia questions; one which people get wrong much more often than you would think. On October 5, 1999, the Mets played in their first playoff game in 11 seasons. On the mound for the Mets was Yoshii. Yoshii also started the Grand Slam Single game, though his 3+ innings were a distant memory by the game's end.

#176 - Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones led the Mets in wins in the 1990s, which is impressive in its own right. Jones also made three Opening Day starts for the Mets in the 90s as well. However, injuries and inconsistency undercut his 1999 season, keeping him off the postseason roster and knocking him into a mopup role out of the bullpen during the latter part of the season. He would make up for this in 2000, however.

#194 - Rey Ordonez

To break up the monotony of photos taken at Shea Stadium, here's a nice photo of Ordonez in Florida (Alfonzo's card is taken in Florida as well) doing what he did best: avoiding a takeout slide to complete a DP against the Marlins. You can tell it's in Florida because of the teal, not so much because of John Cangelosi. There's no camera coverage of the 4 people in the stands at Pro Player Stadium (I believe it was called Pro Player Stadium in 1999).

#268 - Matt Franco

Though the Topps sets were smaller in these years, they still managed to sneak a card of Matt Franco into the set. I'm not necessarily sure, following Franco's .273/1HR/13RBI output of 1998, that Franco merited a card in the set, but considering how well he made his lone HR count, maybe he earned it. He certainly earned it after his strong showing as a top-flight pinch-hitter during the 1999 season.

#269 - Brian McRae

I am still floored when I look at Brian McRae's line for the 1998 season and I see that he hit 21 HRs and had 80 RBIs. I watched or listened to just about every game that season and I just don't have any recollection of him being quite that good. He came back to earth in 1999, and by the time he was dealt to Colorado for the much more useful Darryl Hamilton, he was hitting a paltry .221 with 8 HRs. I also remember him using AC/DC's Hells Bells as his At-Bat music, before it was so widely associated with Trevor Hoffman.

#275 - John Franco

Usually the mention of the name John Franco is enough to give me some sort of horrible acid flashback. My enduring memory of Franco in 1998 was on a Friday night in late September, a game at Shea against the Marlins, who were in nowheresville, having lost over 100 games. The Mets were neck and neck with the Cubs and Giants for the Wildcard. Desperately needing a victory, and in front of a packed house, I watched in horror from my dorm room as Franco came in in the 9th inning with a 6-4 lead, and the Marlins proceeded to get dink hit after dink hit, with Franco nibbling and failing to put guys away, and the lead disappearing and turning into a 7-6 loss. Franco was 0-8 for the '98 season. His '99 season was undercut by a finger injury, and by time he returned, he'd been replaced as the closer by the even more frightening Armando Benitez.

#277 - Rickey Henderson

While I was working on the 20 Days In October series, I had gone back and watched my tapes of each game. After watching Rickey's interview with Craig Sager prior to Game 5, all I can think about now, when I hear the name Rickey Henderson, is the phrase, "It's Rickey Henderson Time!"

#282 - Bobby Bonilla


#302 - Hideo Nomo

That Nomo/Yoshii Japanese tandem was charming for a while, but it had very little in the way of staying power. Nomo was for the most part terrible during his half-season with the Mets, and didn't survive Spring Training in 1999 when his competition consisted of Allen Watson. I believe he hooked on with Detroit after his release, which is what makes this card even more perplexing: Topps released their '99 set in two series, the first coming out in December, the second coming out in April. You would think that they would have been able to airbrush him into a Tigers uniform, wouldn't you? Guess not.

#314 - Robin Ventura

Ringleader of the Best Infield Ever. Calm, galvanizing force from the left side of the plate to hit behind Piazza. Grand Slams in both games of a Doubleheader. Author of the Grand Slam Single, among innumerable other clutch hits. The man who brought the Mojo to the Mets. One of the best Free Agent signings the Mets ever made.

If there is only one reason to love the 1999 Mets, Robin Ventura alone should be the reason.

#320 - Al Leiter

Leiter was more or less a microcosm of the team in 1999. Often confusing, rarely consistent, maddening, frustrating and head-scratching. But he always put it all together when he absolutely had to.

Oddly, though Leiter would deliver his signature performance as a Met in 1999, this would be the bad year he would sandwich in between a pair of fantastic seasons in 1998 and 2000.

#340 - Mike Piazza

It's easy to overlook now, considering how revered Piazza is among Mets fans, but there was no guarantee, following the 1998 season, that Piazza would return to the Mets. He had played out his option and appeared ready to test the Free Agent market. He hadn't exactly endeared himself to the Mets fans, and the fans never quite took to him that well either, particularly those who were fans of the popular incumbent catcher Todd Hundley. If Piazza had left, he probably would have ended up being held in the same regard as Bobby Bonilla among Mets fans, another coward who couldn't take it. But Piazza refused to be remembered that way. He wanted the challenge of winning the fans of New York over. He wanted to stay, and he never did make it to the open market of Free Agency. The rest, as they say, is history.

#T37 - Jason Tyner

Topps started plonking some Minor Leaguers and Draft Picks into their Traded Series, beginning in 1999. Previously, the closest they got were cards of Olympic Baseball Players or Team USA. So, here's Jason Tyner's Rookie Card, a year before he would make it to the majors and embark on a career as a light-hitting journeyman outfielder.

#T38 - Mo Bruce

...which is more than you can say for Mo Bruce, a somewhat touted 2B prospect who never saw the light of day as a Major Leaguer.

#T80 - Armando Benitez

Armando came to the Mets in that confusing 3-team deal with the Dodgers that involved Charles Johnson and Todd Hundley and Roger Cedeno. Benitez benefitted from the change of scenery in New York, and responded with one of his best seasons in the Majors, and by the All-Star break had taken over as the team's closer. His postseason struggles, however, continued to confound us all.

#T101 - Roger Cedeno

Originally, Cedeno was the odd-man out in an outfield that included Brian McRae, Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla. But under Henderson's tutelage and benefitting from Bonilla's suckitude, Cedeno took over the Right Field position and ran with it, quite literally. Though he never established himself as a leadoff hitter on a regular basis, he performed well enough in 1999 that the Mets were able to parlay him into Mike Hampton for the 2000 season. At least, this is how we'd like to remember him.

#T113 - Kenny Rogers


#T117 - Darryl Hamilton

Hamilton, much like Cedeno, is one of those Mets who I'd prefer only to remember for their contributions during the 1999 season, if only because they did very little to endear themselves to anyone afterwards. Hamilton lost most of his 2000 season to injury and then pouted over a lack of playing time in 2001.

#T120 - Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor may be one of the most forgotten Mets in team history. After being acquired from Oakland for Jason Isringhausen at the trade deadline, Taylor, a 6'8" sidearming righthanded reliever, was supposed to complement Armando Benitez late in games. His first save opportunity came a week later against the Dodgers, and he butchered it horribly. Taylor would pitch in 18 games with the Mets, and in 13.1 IP, he managed to give up 20 hits and post a miserable 8.10 ERA, while not saving any games. He was left off the postseason roster and was, not surprisingly, not heard from again.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Go Big Time Pelf!

This is #3b of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.It's no great secret around here how much I enjoyed the coming of age of Mike Pelfrey during the 2008 season. It's always nice to see one of your own home-grown players mature and become successful in front of your eyes. And it was particularly true for Pelfrey, who had been so highly touted since being drafted in 2005, and had, by the beginning of the 2008 season, justified absolutely none of that hype. In fact, throughout much of the early part of 2008, Pelfrey appeared destined for journeyman status.

I've written about it in depth many times. But it's worth reiterating one more time. On May 26th, 2008, Pelfrey's record was 2-6 and his ERA was 5.33. These turns have a habit of starting quietly, happening in a way that you don't really notice it. But in a victory over LA and a loss in San Diego, Pelfrey turned in a pair of solid outings, allowing 2 and 1 run, respectively. He followed that up with the game that really turned my head, his brilliant performance against Arizona where he threw shutout ball into the 9th inning, outdueling Brandon Webb. All three of those games would end up in no-decisions for Pelfrey, but by then, a corner had been turned, and it was only a matter of time before these strong outings started turning into wins, and before we knew it, Pelfrey's 2-6 record suddenly became 6-6, and then came a pair of outings against San Francisco and Colorado where he was truly dominant, and 6-6 became 9-6 by late July.

Pelfrey came back to earth a little bit in August, after getting beaten a couple of times by the Marlins, but he continued to look better as a pitcher. Working studiously with Dan Warthen, Pelfrey started to work more on pitching to contact, using his hard sinker as an out pitch, the kind of pitch that, when it's on, batters will repeatedly pound it into the ground. Where, previously, Pelfrey would muscle up and start to use his fastball as an out pitch, driving up his pitch count, he began using the fastball as a setup for the sinker, thus making him a more economical pitcher, lowering his pitch count, and allowing him to go deeper into games. The end result of this is that in late August, Pelfrey accomplished something that became a rarity among Met pitchers: a Complete Game. And Pelfrey did it in back-to-back starts, no less.
Though Pelfrey went winless in September, he never pitched especially poorly, or at least not as poorly as he had been pitching earlier in the season. Given that Pelfrey was asked to shoulder a workload he wasn't yet accustomed to, with Maine hurt and the Bullpen being a disaster, he could have been forgiven for a poor outing. But he really didn't have one (or when he had a bad outing, his offense bailed him out). In the end, you have to consider Pelfrey's 2008 season nothing short of a rousing success, at 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA, 209 hits, 110 strikeouts and 64 walks in 200 2/3 innings pitched.

The high inning total has drawn a bit of concern. It's been proven that when a young pitcher passes a certain threshold in throwing more innings than he had the previous season, the consequences can often be bad, whether it means a poor season or an injury. And it's a justifiable argument as to why Pelfrey might not be as good as he was in 2008.

That doesn't mean that I have to agree with it. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that Pelfrey is the kind of pitcher who can be the exception to the rule. As I've mentioned in the past, most of the time (See: Verlander, Carmona, Jimenez, McGowan) you're dealing with a pitcher who is of a moderate build and often a non-fluid, sometimes violent motion towards the plate. Pelfrey, at 6'7", 230lbs is far from slight, and his motion towards the plate is easy and fluid. Plus, he's learned to conserve his pitches enough that by the end of the season, his pitch counts were manageable, falling generally in the 108-113 pitch per game range. Basically, my point is that Pelfrey is a horse. I think he can be the kind of pitcher who will eat innings with gusto, consistently be able to work through 7 innings, and be successful. I don't think it's outlandish to expect Pelfrey to continue to evolve, and be able to pitch well over a full season. If this is the case, we could expect 15-18 wins, and an ERA in the 3.25-3.50 range, firmly cementing himself as the #2 starter in this rotation behind Santana.
Of course, I've been wrong before. None of this is guaranteed. But few people seem to want to give Pelfrey any kind of credit. Again, I'll reiterate a point: If, at the beginning of the 2008 season, someone asked who would have the best season, out of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Mike Pelfrey, your answer wouldn't have been Pelfrey. But he was the answer, and it wasn't debateable. And if Pelfrey were on the Yankees, he'd be getting the kind of hype Joba gets. But Joba spent much of the season injured or bounced around, and his role still hasn't been clearly defined. Pelfrey's role is defined. His expectations are clear. He's just got to go out there and do it.

I wouldn't bet against him.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exile On Maine Street

This is #3a of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.

Analyze the evolution of John Maine, and the 2008 season seems rather out of place.

During Maine's first two seasons with the Mets, he left us wanting, and perhaps expecting, more.

In 2006, Maine, then an unknown Rookie thrown into a trade, burst out of nowhere to run off a 26-inning scoreless streak and capped off his season with two solid outings in three Postseason starts. No, he wasn't eye-popping good. No, he didn't blow you out with his stuff. But he proved himself a cool, collected character of the highest order, stepping up and performing well in spots when it was needed the most. That last outing, in particular, showed his fortitude, as he worked out of a big jam in the 1st, and kept the Cardinals off the board until the Mets were able to scrape out enough runs to win the game and extend their season. If he was still a question mark, he was one with a lot of upside.

It was at this time that I named him the #1 Key Mets Player for the 2007 season. The Mets believed that he was a prime candidate to build on his success.

They, and I, were right, for the most part. Maine emerged as the Mets best starter throughout the 2007 season. He started off incredibly strong, even putting away Pitcher of the Month honors in April. By the All-Star Break, he was a solid 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA, perhaps the Mets most reliable starter most of the time. His second half, however, was uneven. While the Mets struggled around him, Maine seemed to unravel with a number of losses and no-decisions, games where he was either getting hit hard, or throwing too many pitches early in the game and becoming spent by the latter innings. He mixed in some good performances, but he wasn't quite as sharp as he was in the 1st half. But with the Mets teetering on the brink of the abyss, with two games left in the season, Maine took the mound against the Florida Marlins and delivered his signature game, a masterful 13-strikeout performance and a no-hitter for 7.2 innings. Again, with their backs against the wall, the Mets handed Maine the ball, and Maine delivered with a performance equal to the magnitude of the day.

Turned out, that would be our last memory of Maine for the 2007 season. But overall, you couldn't look at his numbers and say he wasn't a success. You don't scoff at 15-10, 3.91 and 180Ks in 191 IP in someone's first full season in the Major Leagues. It was safe, you would figure, to assume that Maine would at the very least match his '07 numbers in 2008. After all, even when Maine was at his worst, he still looked like he belonged. And he was probably just hitting the wall a little bit, or at least that was how we tried to justify it.

So a funny thing happened in 2008: Maine regressed. Which was something that none of us really expected. You didn't really notice it at first. He had a lousy first outing in Atlanta, but that was OK, it was raining and the game was delayed, etc. He followed that up with several decent outings, and all seemed to be on track. All the numbers seemed to be right in line, at least if you were looking at the box score. But he wasn't really going much past the 6th or 7th inning, except for one outing in LA when he worked into the 9th. But by Mid-May, he was 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA. That was just fine, and just good enough for me to give him a ridiculous nickname, which was actually coined by Shirts vs. Blouses, but that's neither here nor there.

Then, it all started to go downhill. Beginning with an outing in Atlanta on May 20th, where Maine got torched for 4 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings, things clearly didn't look right. Maine seemed to be getting through games, but just barely. He was throwing strikes, but too many strikes, and too many strikes that were just kinda hittable. He wasn't putting hitters away, he was nibbling and getting into too many deep counts. Jason at Faith and Fear said it best: Maine had "Leiteritis." Maine was getting two strikes on hitters and not putting them away, wasting away pitches and wasting his ability to go deep into games. Sometimes, he was just barely getting through 6 innings. Sometimes, he was getting outright pounded. He left a start in Philadelphia with a problem in his non-pitching shoulder. Whatever it was, it wasn't what we had expected. Then, finally, we found out the problem: A bone spur in his shoulder was affecting his start and stop points in his pitching motion. It wasn't doing any damage, but it was causing him quite a bit of pain, and perhaps forcing him to make an ever-so-slight change in his move to the plate. Whatever it was, Maine's season was over on August 23rd, after he got lit up for 8 runs by the Astros.
Though he would need an operation on the spur, Maine held off. Perhaps, he felt, he would be able to come back and help the team down the stretch. His Manager, however, felt otherwise. Maine was last seen warming up in the 10th inning of a desperate last-week game against the Cubs, a game that would deteriorate before he had a chance to appear. And so, though he was counted on to be the same presence he was in 2007, John Maine was saddled with a rather forgettable 2008, a 10-8 record, 1 4.18 ERA, 122 strikeouts, 122 hits and 67 walks in 140 innings. To evidence his struggles, Maine averaged 4.17 pitches per batter, a figure that led the National League. Not up to our standards, and not up to his standards by any stretch.

So, that brings us to 2009. Maine had his operation shortly after the season ended, and now stands primed to return to his 2007 form. Pitching without pain, Maine has been working with Dan Warthen on using his curveball, a pitch that Rick Peterson made him drop two years ago. It's one thing to say that the Mets need Maine to go out and be the kind of pitcher he was in 2007, and another for him to go out and actually do it. If it was indeed the bone spur that led Maine to such a string of ineffectiveness, then this probably isn't much of an issue. But, if Maine simply doesn't have the oomph to put away a hitter, that's something else entirely. Maine isn't necessarily wild, though he can go through fits and starts of walking guys. But if he's wasting a lot of strikes that just get fouled off, it means he's not going as deep into games as he needs to, which means more tax on the bullpen, which can lead to a domino effect. Though the bullpen is vastly improved from last season, the starting pitching still needs to do its job, and keep the Mets in the game. It starts with John Maine being able to recapture his success from 2007. Maine will be handed the #3 spot in the rotation (3 or 4 is really just a matter of semantics at this point. I know that Perez will start the 3rd game and Maine the 4th), and his expectations, I'm sure, have been clearly defined. He knows it, and we know it. He's tantalized us quite a bit, but he's never quite put it all together. Things always seem to finish for him just a few steps short.

Perhaps this will be his time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Kid for a Kid

I had an idea a few weeks ago. This may not be an original idea, and it may not even be a very good idea, but it was an idea nonetheless that I'd like to try out. I was inspired in part by a post by Jason at Faith and Fear, about collecting Baseball Cards. I've written in some vague depth about my own collection of Baseball cards, which may be about as expansive as Jason's, at the centerpiece of which is a collection of Mets cards spanning their entire history, going back to 1962. To say I'm OCD about this collection is kind; I keep everything in an album, in order, and currently is lacking only 3 cards, those which I'm sure you could guess rather easily (1967 Topps Tom Seaver RC, 1986 Topps Nolan Ryan RC, 1970 Topps Nolan Ryan). Cards from the 80s and 90s, and even today, are rather easy to come by, at least if you're sticking to the gold standard of regular issue Topps. I've got a large number of cards from Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Donruss and the others, but and those are catalogued in a similarly anal fashion, but it's the Topps cards that carry the prestige. They've been around since the beginning, and that was how it all started for me.

It was 1987. The Mets had just capped off a magical World Series victory, I was 8 years old and attending Saturday afternoon Sports Club, something that seemed to be a staple of the youth of just about any male child who grew up in New York City in the 80s. One of the counselors thought it a good idea to give out packs of Baseball cards as a prize for the kids who did well in Basketball drills. Somehow, despite my general lack of aptitude for Basketball, I managed to score myself 3 packs of the just-released 1987 Topps. The first card I turned over in the first pack was #20, Gary Carter. That was how it started. Pretty soon, I was getting more and more, and trying to finish off a set of 792, and starting in with albums and plastic pages, and it pretty much blew up from there.

So, now we're in 2009, and I'm still collecting cards, though in a much tidier fashion. I don't buy packs anymore, just cards I want. Mostly Mets. Sometimes I try to build an older set. But I keep going back to the albums of Mets, going all the way back to '62, and I thought I would share some of them with you. 1987 was the first year I collected cards, and I put the Topps set together by hand, and here, in order, are the Mets cards from that classic 1987 set.

#20 - Gary Carter

This is where it started for me. It's a pretty good shot of The Kid's form behind the plate. Topps, still based in New York, always seemed to have a majority of their photos taken at Shea Stadium. It was always pretty easy to pick it out. The '87s were no exception. The woodgrain borders, not seen on Topps cards since the original Mets year of 1962, were a nice touch.

#48 - Wally Backman

The card back states that Wally "is an avid hunter in the offseason." This particular photo shows Wally sliding in under a tag from Pirates Catcher Tony Pena. I believe the photo also made the Daily News.

#75 - Ron Darling

I got this card in a pack, and showed it to one of my sports club counselors. He started going on about how Darling dated all these models. That, back then, seemed more impressive to me than his numbers in 1986, 15-6, 2.81 ERA and 184 Ks in 237 IP. If he put up numbers like that today, he'd probably finish in the top 3 in Cy Young Award voting, and people on WFAN would be screaming about how he was due for a dropoff because he threw so many innings. Darling wasn't terrible in '87, but he fizzled out with a string of no-decisions before his season ended early, not because of arm trouble, but because of a broken thumb suffered in a most infamous game.

#103 - Rick Aguilera

Aguilera's hitting prowess was always overlooked. He hit 2 HRs in 1986 and another one in 1987, but after that year, he was moved to the bullpen and rarely, if ever, saw an AB. Then, he was traded to the AL in 1989 and made his name as a closer.

#130 - Dwight Gooden

This, along with Don Mattingly, was the prize card in the set. I got this one in a pack and 3 other kids immediately crowded around me yelling "WOAH! LUCKY!" and tried to trade me for it. Gooden's personal problems were a mystery to us kids back then. We knew he was out, but I don't know if we ever really grasped the magnitude of the situation until we were older.

#147 - Randy Niemann

Niemann was let go after the '86 season and only pitched in 6 games for the Twins in '87. He did return later on as the Mets Bullpen coach. Topps, through most of the 1980s, put out a 792-card set, which sometimes included goofy subsets like "Turn back the clock" or "Super Veterans", but it generally afforded the ability to include cards of just about every schlub who saw some action in the Majors the previous season. Niemann, an unremarkable middle reliever, is one such example of this. We'll see others before too long.

#158 - Tim Teufel

1987 was the year the "Teufel Shuffle" made its debut. This, combined with his surprisingly strong play when Backman went down with an injury, served to indelibly mark his time with the Mets. In reality, the season Teufel had in '87 (.308/14/61) was more or less the high point for him.

#185 - Roger McDowell

Hotfoots, Hernias, Crushing HRs, Masks and wearing his uniform upside down. That pretty much summed up McDowell's '87 season.

#198 - Lee Mazzilli

Maz shows his form as a 1st Baseman in this photo, or at least that's how it appears. In his second tour of duty with the Mets, Maz hardly, if ever, got a start, and usually didn't justify doing so. He did do well as a Pinch-Hitter though, and he was still remembered fondly for his time as one of the few bright spots on some pretty lousy Mets teams.

#213 - Randy Myers

Who knew that behind this almost-cherubic face lurked a maniacal, fatigue-wearing, ninja star-throwing lunatic? Of course he was closer material! Myers only had brief cups of coffee in '85 and '86 and he took some time to establish himself in '87, but by 1988, there he was.

#241 - Danny Heep

Unassuming Heep was another minor chip let go after '86. I remember getting his card and wondering where he was on the '87 Mets. I didn't even know he was gone until an Early September game in LA that ran long, and Heep ended up chugging around the bases to score the winning run on a Ho-Jo throwing error in the 16th inning.

#267 - Howard Johnson

There were some cards in this set that we always used to love to pull because of the jokes that would ensue. This was one such card (I remember Sparky Anderson and Dennis Boyd being some others). Ho-Jo's name aside, what's even better is that on the back of the card, it states that "Howard was co-winner of a rib-eating contest among professional athletes after 1985 season."

#295 - Len Dykstra
I used to love this guy. As an 8-year old, my 2 favorite players were Dykstra and Hernandez. I was also a big Gregg Jefferies fan, but he'll come later. He was small, he liked to run into walls, and his book, Nails, that came out in '87 was loaded with the kind of 4-letter words that I wasn't supposed to say but they made me laugh. What wasn't to like? Hell, I shouldn't even say I used to love him, I still do!

#331 - Mets Leaders

Another 80s staple that keeps coming back and disappearing, it's basically a summary of the Mets team leaders in an assortment of statistics. It's usually accompanied by a dreamlike photo of the team's better-known or longest tenured players. Carter, Strawberry, yeah, that's acceptable. Though it's worth noting that Keith Hernandez, featured off in the shadows on the right, led the Mets in most offensive categories in '86.

#350 - Keith Hernandez

You knew when someone had a card that ended in numbers like -00 or -50, he was probably pretty good. Keith Hernandez at #350 was pretty good. This is a nice candid shot of Keith, with the moustache in full bloom during Spring Training. It's unlike most other cards of Keith, which feature him in action. Keith's card doesn't have any fun facts on the back, just stats. Besides, by '87, what could you say about Keith that hadn't already been said?

#378 - Rafael Santana

Santana was the classic 1980s Shortstop. Came out of San Pedro de Macoris, DR, great glove, and he didn't hit a lick. 1987 was no exception.

#404 - Doug Sisk

According to this card, "Doug received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Washington State University." This fact is probably more noteworthy than anything Sisk did during the '87 season.

#433 - Ed Hearn
Hearn, like Heep, was one of those guys who I had a card of but was puzzled as to why I never saw him on the team in '87. Then, I heard he was traded to Kansas City for a pitcher named Cone, which was another one of those names that made me laugh, kind of like Howard Johnson or Sparky Anderson.

#460 - Darryl Strawberry

We didn't laugh about Darryl Strawberry, for some reason. Probably because he was nearing that rarefied air of Mattingly or Gooden. This was another one of those cards that you got and would flash to your friends to make them jealous.

#488 - Ray Knight

After Knight's performance in the '86 World Series, his card became another one of those "gotta get" cards. After all, it was also his last card with the Mets. Knight didn't do much with Baltimore in '87 and his career pretty much peaked in the '86 Series, but getting that Last Mets card of Ray Knight was a pretty big deal back in the Spring of '87.

#512 - Dave Magadan

Magadan's card drew that ubiquitous, colorful "Future Stars" tag that would grace many an '80s Topps Card. Magadan figured to get a strong look at 3rd Base for the '87 Mets, but he wasn't quite there yet, and his glovework at 3rd Base left a bit to be desired. And he wasn't replacing Hernandez at 1st just yet. So, Magadan bounced between AAA and the Majors for another year.

#543 - Dave Johnson
For some reason, I really liked the checklist cards in sets. I would always get them and furiously check off all the cards I had, thusly ruining the card with my sloppy penmanship. The Manager cards were a big deal too, because it had all the cards on the team listed on the back. So it was thrilling when I pulled Johnson's card and checked off all the boxes on the back. At a much later date, I replaced all the marked checklist cards with clean cards.

#570 - Sid Fernandez

From the card back: "Sid wears uniform #50 for two reasons: His native Hawaii was the 50th of the US States, and his favorite television show is "Hawaii Five-0." I remember that Sid used to enter to the Hawaii Five-0 theme too.

#582 - Bruce Berenyi

It seemed like every year, Berenyi was supposed to be a key member of the Mets rotation. And every year, he got hurt and barely pitched. After two seasons of this, Berenyi was let go following '86 and that was it for him.

#594 - Rick Anderson

I'll reiterate what I said in reference to Randy Niemann. When you have a 792-card set, you have to fill it out, and sometimes, you have to fill it out with some pretty obscure names and guys who had never or will never see the light of day. Not that anyone would remember, but Anderson made it into 15 games with the '86 Mets after 8 years of toiling in the Minor leagues, at the age of 29. And just as quickly, he was gone, to Kansas City with Ed Hearn for that Cone fellow.

#595 - Keith Hernandez All Star

Here's one such subset. The All Stars. Each All Star Game starter from both leagues got their own card, and on the back, there was a list of the league leaders in a particular stat that they might have excelled in, and another fun fact. Keith's All Star card has the NL Leaders in Runs scored, for which Keith finished 6th, with 95. The leader, Tony Gwynn, had 107.

#601 - Darryl Strawberry All Star

Darryl's card features the NL Leaders in RBIs. Strawberry finished 7th in the NL, with 93, however this is an odd choice of stat for his card, since he wasn't even first on his own team. Carter, with 105 RBIs, finished 3rd in the NL.

#602 - Gary Carter All Star

And you don't even have to go far to find Carter, who has the League Leaders in Game-Winning RBIs, a particularly useless stat that only existed from 1980 to 1988 and which, oddly, Keith Hernandez was the career leader in. In '86, however, Carter tied for the NL Lead with Houston's Glenn Davis with 16 (and added another 3 in the Postseason). Strawberry was second with 15. Hernandez and Knight each had 13.

#603 - Dwight Gooden All Star

Gooden seems rather perturbed in this photo. I'm not sure why. Fittingly for Dr. K, his card features the League Leaders in strikeouts, which Gooden finished tied for 4th with his teammate Sid Fernandez, but way off the 306 put away by Mike Scott.

#625 - Mookie Wilson


Yes, we laughed.

#653 - Kevin Mitchell

Mitchell was gone in the Kevin McReynolds trade before 1986 had even ended. He went on to some pretty good seasons with the Giants before his attitude and conditioning got the better of him. He was a pretty solid contributor for the '86 Mets, though, and this rather dusty photo is a good example of Mitch in the middle of things.

#704 - Jesse Orosco

Fresh off the iconic image of Jesse with his arms raised in celebration in '86, Orosco failed to even come close to duplicating his success in '87 and by '88 was shipped off to the Dodgers, beginning a career odyssey that would span clear to the year 2003.

#746 - Bob Ojeda

Ojeda hit his peak in '86, and as we would later find out, he basically did it at the cost of his '87 season, and perhaps further than that. Pitching in pain most of the season, Ojeda was the perfect complement to Gooden's heat and his 18 wins were a testament to that. Also took the ball in the two biggest games of the season and won them both with outstanding performances. Again, think about it. 18-5, 2.57 ERA. His season, more or less overlooked, was about the same as Johan Santana in 2008.

#1T - Bill Almon

Ah, but we're not done! There's the Traded Set, which is now commonly known as "Topps Updates and Highlights." Back then, it was a 132-card set packaged in a cute little box and sold only as a factory set, and it usually came out in November or so, featuring Rookies and, naturally, Traded players. Almon was one such player who came to the Mets in '87 and didn't amount to much.

#24T - David Cone

Here's that Cone fellow. Acquired for, among others, Hearn and Anderson in what was more or less a nothing deal late in Spring Training. I think it's safe to say the Mets got the better end of that one.

#63T - Terry Leach

Terry Leach had had some cards in prior Topps sets, but he didn't make the '87 set since he'd barely stuck with the team in '86, appearing in only 6 games. But he turned the corner and was a revelation in '87, filling in admirably when guys like Ojeda, Aguilera and Fernandez went down and ran off 10 consecutive victories to start his season. Plus he had that bizarre submarine delivery that we would always try to copy. Badly.

#68T - Barry Lyons

The Mets only used the script "New York" on their road jerseys for one season, 1987. In '86, their road jerseys just had "Mets" in script, and in '88, the script was dropped in favor of a rather plain looking "New York." Here's a good shot of it, albeit on Lyons' warmup jersey.

#76T - Kevin McReynolds

This is, oddly, McReynolds first Topps card, despite the fact that he was already well established in the Majors with the Padres. He had Fleer cards and Donruss cards, but no Topps, and I've never found out why. Of course, his Topps debut features him with that wispy moustache that he would sport from time to time, though it seemed to be primarily in Spring Training. Which is good, because I don't see how you could take him seriously with that thing in the regular season.

#83T - John Mitchell

Ragtag righty who came in the Ojeda trade, made a bunch of spot starts and earned himself this card. Did nothing remarkable otherwise, though I suppose it's worth noting that he was considered to be among the Mets top pitching prospects back then, along with guys like Jack Savage, Julio Valera, Jeff Innis or David West. I went to school with a kid who really liked him, and used to make little clay sculptures of him in shop class.

So, there you have it, the full tour of the 1987 Topps Mets team set. It's pretty expansive, and one of the larger ones, clocking in at 39 cards. I don't have exact counts handy, but I think it's pretty much par for the course among the 80s team sets. We'll revisit this with some other Mets team sets over the course of time, at least until we've covered all the years.