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Poll

What Number Should They Issue to 'Fartinez'?
6
12%
8
18%
12
6%
16
6%
18
6%
22
12%
24
6%
26
0%
27
0%
28
0%
29
0%
30
0%
38
0%
39
0%
43
0%
44
12%
47
0%
49
0%
58
12%
Other?
12%
Total votes: 17

 

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Mets by the Numbers

The Mets Website That Counts

Green Blues

This morning's Daily News reports that Sean Green -- the reliever acquired in the Heilman/Chavez-Putz deal and assigned the same No. 48 previously issued to Aaron Heilman -- has requested a new uniform before opening day .

Green, according to the article requested the change fearing fans will associate the number with Heilman and presumably, exhibit the same appalling lack of support and sportsmanship they showed Heilman last year when he struggled. Beside the fact that the Met fan behavior has devolved to a point where that scenario is entirely possible, it sure is ironic that the same fans will likely applaud this act of cowardice from their newest reliever. They are also no doubt the same fans demanding the Mets take numbers out of circulation for accomplished players as well.

To be fair to Green, his number in Seattle, 54, was already occupied by coach Dave Racianello when he arrived, though it's not as if he possessed the brand equity to dictate that stuff to his new club either.

Anyhow, with the roster now set barring injury, etc., the following numbers appear to be available should Green want one of them: 10, 12, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 35, 38, 45, 47, 49 and 50. Many of those numbers would be reserved for those assigned to the minor leagues, so the likely candidates, in my estimation, would be 30 (vacated by Rocky Cherry) or 38 (formerly Tom Martin). Those numbers have cooties too, Green.

We'll stay on top of this developing story, you can be sure.

Left in, Left Out

Although recent roster cuts bled the organization of lefties including veterans Ron Villone and Valerio de los Santos, the team hasn't stopped searching for Portside depth. On Monday, word came they signed Japanaese veteran Ken Takahashi to a minor league contract. Takahashi, who was recently released after an unsuccesful audition with the Blue Jays, is expected to report to Class AAA Buffalo. YouTube video out there shows him pitching for his former Hiroshima team wearing No. 22, now on the back of JJ Putz.

Elsewhere, looks like Rule 5 sidewinder Darren O'Day may sweat out the final bullpen slot, with Elmer Dessens and Fernando Nieve his competitors.

Very busy with travel recently, but I plan to resume with the Top 10 countdown after we get through Opening Day: We'll try to have the new rosters set, new player pages added, etc., later this week.

Would You Buy a Book from this Man?

That's a request, not a rhetorical question. As many of the readers here know, Greg W. Prince, who co-authors the outstanding Mets blog Faith & Fear in Flushing, has come out with a new book, also called Faith & Fear in Flushing and aptly subtitled An Intense Personal History of the Mets.

I will contribute a full reveiw when I'm finished reading it (I'm up to 1987 now, congratulations on meeting your wife, Greg) but thought now would be a good time to replay my explosive two-part interview with Greg that ran in this space last year. I was way out ahead of the market in declaring Greg a Big Shot then.

I had a fair amount of self-interest in doing this: In addition to pushing my own book, I was also hoping to understand how the heck he does it. The answer: He just does.

Here's Part 1

Here's Part 2

Enjoy!

* * *

I consider it good news that Freddy Garcia has agreed to extended spring training and/or a minor league assignment. He obviously wasn't pitching up to his standards, but perhaps at some point he will, and with the kinds of starts the Mets pitchers have been turning in lately, depth is going to be an issue over the course of a long season. Valerio de los Santos was released and Rule 5er Rocky Cherry -- I was rooting for that guy -- went and signed with Boston.

* * * 

Thanks to those who showed up my chat last night in Roslyn; and to Victor and Rosemary for helping to set it up; and to my sister Jennifer for putting me in touch with them.

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 the Bryant 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

John 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 after Joe 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 Moran in 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 pitcher Larry 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 wearing No. 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 – but 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 in 1965, 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 between 1974 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.

 

Fifty-Fifty

Thanks to the contributors who were quick to point out new reliever Fernando Nieve showed up this week in the same uni number, 50, left vacant when Duaner Sanchez was asked to beat it. Junior Spivey in the meantime appears to have been assigned directly to minor league camp and so needn't officially occupy a big-league number

Nieve is a longshot to make the team and would be subject to waiver claims if and when the Mets send him down, but their timing could be OK if they manage to pull it off while other teams are passing their own guys though. That, or maybe a mysterious arm injury, would appear to be the Mets' best strategy if they are to hang onto him.

Bullpen jobs are going fast. With each passing day it looks like Bobby Parnell, Brian Stokes and Darren O'Day will join sure-shots Frankie Rodriguez, JJ Putz, Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green. Like Nieve, O'Day ( a Rule 5 guy) and Stokes (out of options) would be easy prey to enemy claims if they are sent down, so the question is whether Parnell can fight off guys like Ron Villone. Still two long weeks to go.

 

Don't forget our meeting this Wednesday, 7:30 pm at the Bryant Library in Roslyn.

He Shall Be Livan

It's looking an awful lot like Livan Hernandez will make the team as both its fifth starter and fifth guy ever to wear No. 61, but I'm not counting on that quite yet. It seems to me that if all these opportunities for Freddy Garcia to get torched result in his getting some arm strength back that he'll still be getting his chances right to the end, especially with Tim Redding likely to start the year on the disabled list and Jon Niese not too impressive so far.

Anyway, I should say I've always admired watching Hernandez work -- he's an ox with a full repetoire, likely to throw any pitch at any count and looks like one of those guys who can nicked a few times each night but still hand over a winnable game to his mates and you ought not ask much more of a No. 5 guy.

I'd be lying if I wasn't a little disappointed that Rocky Cherry hadn't gotten a batter shot at cracking the Met bullpen, but the good news is the Rule 5 pick from the Orioles isn't headed back to Baltimore so fast. The O's refused the Mets offer, and the Mets subsequently released Cherry but word is they're trying to sign him to a new deal and stash him in Buffalo.

The Mets in the meantime are looking to audition pitcher Fernando Nieve and veteran infielder Junior Spivey whom they both acquired in recent days. Nieve is a live-armed lottery ticket snatched on a waiver claim from Houston. He's had some arm trouble in the past but reportedly brings it in the high 90s. He wore No. 64 in a few appearances with the Astros last year.

Spivey is the former Diamondback infielder (No. 37) and a member of the Snakes' blessed 2001 World Champs. He most recently was released by the Red Sox in spring training and played independent ball last season. The Mets.com roster doesn;t show tese fellas with assigned uni numbers yet -- let us know what you see.

 

MBTN: Live on Long Island

I'll be speaking about the Mets, uniform numbers, the MBTN book and anything else that comes up next Wednesday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bryant Library in Roslyn. I will have a few books on hand to sell ($10 cheap!) and/or sign.

The Bryant Library is located at 2 Paper Mill Rd. in Roslyn. I hope to see you there.

Top Ten 8s

Thanks 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 in 1982. 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 Stearns was 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 in 1986. Also in the official records is a September appearance in 1985 when he was issued No. 43 but 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 1992 season, 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.”

 

Ouch.

 

 

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).

We are the World

So long, Duaner Sanchez. May you forever remind Met fans to fasten their seat belts and not fall in love with relief pitchers. We'll always have the first half of 2006.

I've got issues with the World Baseball Classic but they're pretty much limited to the non-baseball aspects of it, particularly the addition of ugly sponsor logos to the uniforms, which we ought to know is a trial balloon for this sort of thing on a regular basis, considering Bud Selig is running the thing. However the competition has been great, once again, and fans who pooh-pooh it, no matter how well argued their cases, are missing out.

If it makes Spring Training seem boring by comparison, I've got news for you: Spring Training is already boring.For the Mets they've so far brought us little more than Sanchez's release (which could have come last September); some mildly interesting competition for a few bench and bullpen roles which experience tells us don't tend to matter a whole lot anyway; and health-related terror alerts around three of our projected starting pitchers.

This is not for me.

 

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 Bamberger’s 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 Jefferies, in 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!

High in the 90s

I have my doubts that Ron Villone, after 14 years and 11 teams, and presumably no longer on the juice, can actually reach 92 anymore, but that's his number this spring with the Mets, who seem to be fulfilling their obligation to offer potential employment to all ballplayers originally from the tri-state area at least once before they retire. Villone is among a group of longshots like ex-Met Tom Martin and Mexican League import Heriberto Ruelas to provide lefty depth in the bullpen: The veterans like this often have an advantage in the early going since they're in better position to reject the alternative of not coming north but I'd be surprised if the Mets get that point before doing something like signing Joe Beimel or Will Ohman, who to my knowledge are still lefthanders and still out there.

I refuse to get all caught up in the Johan Santana drama: If he's not available the first week or even the first month of the season, he's not. But it's safe to assume that when he is available, he'll be fine. Yankee fans, were they rational, might convince themselves of the same thing with regard to A-Rod. On the other hand I'm quite worried about John Maine, if only after reading some of his remarks after a stinker in an exhibition vs. the Italians today (he walked the first three batters he faced and confessed to being "embarrased" and lost). If he has a counterpart across town, maybe it's hard-drinking chubbster Joba Chamberlain whose been even worse so far.

Lotta spring to go still.

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