Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 30, 2006
BASEBALL: 25 Least-Favorite Mets, Part II
Continued from yesterday...
(By the way, in noting the pain of watching Mike Piazza play first like a catcher, I forgot the far more horrifying spectacle of Todd Hundley playing the outfield like a catcher)
10. Roberto Alomar .336/.541/.415. 30 steals in 36 attempts. 100 RBI, 113 Runs, 34 doubles, 12 triples, 20 HR. Those were not Roberto Alomar's numbers years before he came to the Mets - they were his numbers in 2001, the year before he came to the Mets. In his three years in Cleveland, Alomar batted .323/.515/.405 and averaged 121 Runs, 103 RBI and 35 steals. A year and a half later, he was traded in a deal in which the best player the Mets got was a AA pitcher who now projects as a LOOGY, and was replaced in the everyday lineup by Joe McEwing. I don't know whether Alomar didn't take good care of himself, didn't care, both, or just lost it, but the explosive player he had been before was completely gone in the blink of an eye at age 34, and the Mets got stuck holding the bag. To cap it off, Alomar's failures led the Mets to fill the 2B hole by moving Jose Reyes and signing Kaz Matsui.
9. Armando Benitez. Yes, he could be higher, but honestly, I loved Benitez when the Mets got him - his numbers in Baltimore were breathtaking, and finally a closer who could throw gas! - and for a long time I was willing to forgive some of his big-game blowups (basically, until Game One of the 2000 WS). Benitez' rap sheet for blowing big games is far too extensive to recount here, but let's say that by the end I was more than ready to cheer at his departure. (Charges that Benitez hit his girlfriend didn't help).
8. Mo Vaughn. Mo is, by all accounts, a nice guy, and it's not hard to see why he was a fan favorite in Boston. But his tenure with the Mets was an unmitigated catastrophe, starting with acquiring a gigantic contract for a player who hadn't played in a year, was demonstrably out of shape, and had no realistic prospect of getting in shape. His time in New York started badly - he didn't hit a lick for two months, least of all hit for power - and when he did get hot, he still couldn't even try to run or field. Then he got hurt again. For this, Mo was the highest paid player in the National League, and after two years with the Mets he still had three more to go on that awful contract. The #2 redeeming feature of the Mo era was that the Mets got rid of Kevin Appier's ridiculous contract, but even that joy was spoiled when Appier helped the Angels win a World Championship, one they likely would not have won with the iron-gloved Mo at first.
The #1 redeeming feature was that Mo's injury finally got his contract to be paid for by the insurance company.
7. Kaz Matsui. I can understand why people thought Matsui could be a major league hitter - his numbers in Japan weren't quite as gaudy as those of Ichiro or Hideki Matsui, but they also weren't so far away, either. .280/.450/.340 was a reasonable expectation for Matsui, and he's done nothing like that. What I could never understand was how anyone thought he could play shortstop in the majors, and well enough to move a tremendous prospect like Reyes off his natural position.
6. Braden Looper. Like Benitez, except without all the good parts - no great fastball, no brilliant seasons. Just a half-season of pretty good pitching followed by a year and a half of fooling absolutely nobody into believing he wasn't pitching hurt. You could tell by looking at Looper's expression when he came into a game if he didn't have his good hard sinking fastball - his primary weapon - that day. Which, in 2005, was most of the time.
5. Kenny Rogers. Tigers fans don't hate Rogers yet, but they will, they will. Rogers wasn't in New York that long, and his stint with the Mets began with a stretch of undefeated pitching (he didn't lose in his first ten starts), but that just set us up for the inevitable fall. I'll never forgive Bobby Valentine for starting Rogers over the red-hot Rick Reed in Game Two of the 1999 NLCS, thus guaranteeing that the team would get stuck in an 0-2 hole they could never climb out of. And that was before Rogers - supposedly a control pitcher - walked in the winning run to end an all-time classic series.
4. Dale Murray. If a relief pitcher is supposed to be a fireman, Murray and teammate Skip Lockwood were the Arsonists. The Mets of the early 80s were a crappy team, but with a Neil Allen/Jeff Reardon bullpen, and later an Orosco-led pen, they at least fared pretty well in late/close situations. But the late 70s were another matter. I was just getting old enough in those years to really follow the Mets regularly, and Murray's meltdowns really sucked the remaining rays of hope out of an already terrible team.
Murray's one redeeming feature: in 1983, the Yankees traded a 19-year-old Fred McGriff and Dave Collins and a young Mike Morgan to get him. Heh.
3. Rey Ordonez. When he first came up and the Mets were still bad, Ordonez was a lot of fun to watch. But Ordonez was wholly unsuited to playing on a team that was serious about winning (it's not an accident that the Mets made the World Series the year he was out hurt) - I don't have time to run the numbers here, but he was basically the worst-hitting everyday player to hold a job for a significant number of years since Bill Bergen. Plus, he wasn't a particularly good guy. Plus, his fielding deteriorated over the years (though he was always an above-average glove man). Plus, the guy couldn't even bunt.
2. Carlos Baerga. Before there was Alomar, there was Baerga, an allegedly 27-year-old lifetime .305/.454/.345 hitter entering 1996. The Mets traded Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to get him; Kent could still be their second baseman, having outhit the Mets' actual second baseman every year since then except 1999. Baerga is higher on the list here than, say, Alomar because the Mets gave up for him and suffered through him for longer, 2 1/2 years. In 2003 with Arizona, Baerga batted .343.
1. Juan Samuel. It took an awful lot of bad decisions, injuries and bad luck to bring down the Mets juggernaut of the mid-1980s, but the watershed moment of the collapse - the first time I really felt management had no clue what it was doing - was when the Mets traded Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel in 1989. Recall that Samuel was a poor-fielding second baseman whose main virtue was that he hit well for a middle infielder; the Mets moved him to center field, where his bat even at its best would have been unremarkable, and his glovework was not much better.
In 1988, Samuel hit .243/.380/.298; Dykstra (a good defensive center fielder two years younger than Samuel) hit .270/.385/.321. In 1989, when they made the trade, Samuel was hitting .246/.392/.311, while Dykstra was hitting .270/.415/.362. Granted, the 1988 season had raised some questions about Dykstra's patience, and granted he did not hit well in Philly the rest of the year, but Dykstra was a real talent and would go on to bat .325 in 1990 and score 143 runs as one of the leaders of a pennant winning team in 1993. McDowell, too, remained effective on and off for several years. But Samuel was already done as a productive regular, as his performance to date in 1988-89 had shown; with the Mets, who ended up six games out of first place, Samuel hit just .228/.300/.299. (Eventually, several years later, Samuel became a fine hitter as a bench player, batting .274/.502/.350 from 1994 through 1997. But that was after years of futility as a regular).
In the fall of 1989, I went off to college and turned 18. I met my wife on August 20, 1989, the day Willie Randolph hit a homer off Don Aase that - I felt at the time - basically signified that the Mets would not catch the Cubs, who then held a 2.5 game lead. It was inevitable that I would move out of the stage where baseball in general and the Mets in particular were by far the most important thing in my life. But the ugly unraveling of that team made the process a lot more painful, and the Samuel deal was when it really became visible that the wheels were coming off. Which is why he remains my least favorite Met.