Baseball Tonight is currently running a special feature. For the month of August the cast of the show is selecting the three best players for each of the 30 Franchises. Fans can also cast their vote at ESPN.com. On Wednesday, August 20th, it will be the Mets turn and so I decided to write this week about my choices. I don’t expect everyone to my agree with me. These are just one fans’ choices. I made my selections based not solely on numbers and stats but on what the individual meant to the Mets as a team and the organization as a whole.
Without a doubt, Tom Seaver would be number 1. The Mets had been a laughing stock, the perennial cellar dwellers in the National League, for the first half decade of their existence. However, when the 22 year old RHP arrived in 1967, the Mets gained some instant credibility and a new attitude. For the first time in our history, at least there was one member of our pitching staff who could cause some grief to opposing batters. He gave Mets fans what they needed: Hope. Promise that a brighter future was ahead and just 2 years later, Tom Seaver had a Cy Young Award in one hand and a World Series ring in the other.
His impact was far reaching. In the 5 years prior to Seaver’s debut, the Mets averaged just 52 wins a year, finishing above 10th place just once. From 69-76, with Seaver as our ace, we were constantly in a pennant race. We averaged 84 wins per season and only finished lower than third in a 6 team division once. When Seaver was traded during The Midnight Massacre on June 15, 1977, a day that will live in infamy for Mets fans, our team took an immediate nosedive. For the next 6 full seasons, the Mets would only average 65 wins per season. The simple fact that an entire organization can thrive or fail based on one player shows the impact Seaver had.
Seaver was not just the best pitcher to ever wear the blue & orange. He was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball for over a decade. Along with Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, Seaver, it could be argued was one of the league’s top pitchers in the last half of the 20th century. And he was one of our own. In his 10 year span with the Mets (67-77), Seaver was a 6 time All-Star. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 67 and the Cy Young Award in 69, 73 and 75 and he struck out 200 or more batters 9 straight years. He is the Mets all-time leader in all major pitching categories: ERA (2.57), Wins (198), Starts (395), Innings Pitched (3045) Strikeouts (2541–versus only 847 walks) and an unbelievable mark of 44 shut-outs. As the only player to ever be inducted to the Hall of Fame as a Met, there is no doubt why Seaver was nicknamed, ‘The Franchise.’
In the number 2 slot, I’ve decided to go with Keith Hernandez. Yes, there have been players who put up better numbers but Keith was the model of consistency during our most successful years. The plan was simple: Write the name ‘Hernandez’ in the number 3 slot on the line-up card. Then, sit back and relax. Hernandez was a leader both on and off the field. He was named Team Captain for that very reason. His numbers were not outstanding. But they were very very good and very very consistent. He not only won the Gold Glove 6 of the 7 years he was in New York, but he played 1B with flare. In 880 games, the much beloved #17 managed 939 hits, 468 RBI’s, 455 Runs and 159 doubles. His 297 BA and 387 OBP is 3rd in Mets history.
However, more importantly, Keith had one thing in common with Tom Seaver that numbers don’t show. Much like Seaver’s arrival in 67, the acquisition of Keith Hernandez in 1983 from STL in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey brought hope and promise of a brighter future for Mets fans. The Mets had finished last (and next to last) for 6 straight years. Like Seaver in 67, Keith had a winning attitude. He brought with him an MVP award and a World Series ring. He appeared in a Mets uniform just 6 weeks after a rookie outfielder named Darryl Strawberry made his debut. With a player the caliber of a Keith Hernandez on your team, it showed the rest of the league that the Mets meant business. It was Keith Hernandez who was the foundation that the Mets of the 80’s was built upon.
Choosing #3 on my list was difficult. I left out some worthy players, such as Doc, Piazza, Koosman, etc…but I decided to go with Darryl Strawberry. When we think of him, we all mutter to ourselves, ‘What if…’ Still, in spite of batting personal demons, The Straw Man put up some incredible numbers for us. He was the power hitter on a powerful team. After winning the Rookie of the Year in 83, Darryl would go on to play in 7 All-Star Games as a Met. His 39 HR’s and 545 slugging percentage in 1988 led the NL. He is the Mets all time leader in RBI’s with 733, Home Runs with 252 and Runs Scored with 662. He ranks 2nd in Total Bases (2028), 3rd in Slugging (520), 4th in SB’s (191), 5th in doubles (187) and 7th in hits (1025).
As a side note, I would like to add that not all Mets were eligible. The 10 players selected by ESPN I have listed under ‘Comments.’ Many will probably disagree with my decision to leave out Mike Piazza in my Top 3. Piazza’s stats are beyond question. Without a doubt, he was not only the best hitting catcher we ever had, but one of the best (some would say THE best) in the history of the game. However, I left off number 31 for 2 reasons. 1) His defensive ability was a weakness. Base runners took advantage of his below average arm. 2) Piazza never got us a World Series ring. The 3 players I chose were all Champions. When picking the Greatest Players in the history of our franchise, I felt it necessary to pick players who helped deliver us a Championship. Seaver, Keith and Darryl did just that; Piazza did not. I know many of our readers will disagree with my picks. But feel free to give your own opinion. After all, that’s what makes Baseball a great game. We all have our own opinions. Let the debating begin….