Who can forget where we were and what we were doing on December 16, 2004? (Ok, I admit it. I didn’t know the exact date either). It was a huge day for us fans. After finishing 25 GB and under .500 for the 3rd straight year, Omar Minaya made not only a bold move but made a statement. The New York Mets—yes, OUR New York Mets—signed the top pitcher of his era: Pedro Martinez.
Granted, we all knew at 33, Pedro’s best days were likely behind him. However, it sent a message to the National League. The Mets were back! And ready to build a champion.
Just as the realization of Pedro pitching in blue and orange took hold, the Mets did not back off. Less than one month later our GM went out and signed one of the game’s premier hitters and 5 tool superstars, Carlos Beltran.
Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran within 30 days? Yes, it was a hell of a good winter. Remember how it felt? Remember how we were drooling in anticipation? Opening Day could not get here quick enough.
The Mets improved their win total by 12 and finished just 7 GB. Pedro went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and although Beltran struggled in the NY spotlight, we felt hopeful for a bright future. We were heading in the right direction.
Meanwhile, 3000 miles west, in August that year, the Giants called up a pitcher named Matt Cain.
In spite of the improvement in 05, Mets fans hungered for more. We were on the cusp of something great. We had Pedro, Beltran and youngsters David Wright and Jose Reyes were coming into their own.
If we thought the 2005 off-season was good, 2006 far surpassed it. There were areas for improvement. And Minaya acted.
Our closer, Braden Looper, posted an unacceptable 3.94 ERA. The Mets went out and signed Billy Wagner and his 284 career saves. Wagner responded and in his first season he recorded 40 saves (3rd most in team history) and a 2.24 ERA.
While Doug Mientkiewicz provided a good glove, first base is a power position. Minaya was able to pull the string and bring Carlos Delgado to Flushing. Like Wagner, Delgado put up solid numbers, knocking in 114 RBI’s and 38 HRs.
That same winter we said a tearful goodbye to our beloved Mike Piazza. No one could fill his shoes. But in 2006 it was fiery Paul LoDuca behind the plate. LoDuca hit 318, the 2nd highest of his career.
Pedro. Delgado. Wright. Reyes. Wagner. Veterans like Glavine and El Duque. Yes, we were on the verge of greatness. A dynasty to rival the 1980’s. We were taking New York back from the aging Yankees.
We still remember that late October evening. Carlos Beltran flinched at the knee-buckling curve delivered by Adam Wainwright. We sat and watched in disbelief as the Cardinals celebrated on OUR field, in OUR home.
The disappointment of 2006 was a bitter pill to swallow. As we blamed Aaron Heilman and cursed Yadier Molina, we were still hopeful. Our young players now had post-season experience. We finally dethroned the mighty Braves and although we fell short in 06, we were confident this was the start of something new, something great. This was only the beginning.
That winter the Mets fine-tuned the bullpen and also acquired veteran Moises Alou.
In 2007, the Mets were on fire all season but suffered a September collapse for the record books. Our 88 wins put us just 1 GB of our 2nd straight division title.
That season also saw the debut of Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum.
2007 was another bitter pill to swallow…but we remained hopeful. 185 wins in 2 years for the Mets is something to behold. The future was still bright. We were oh-so-close. We could taste it. We were only one or two players away from getting that Championship.
On February 2, 2008, I was driving down the street listening to the radio when I heard the news. I screamed out in excitement, pounded my steering wheel, pulled to the curb, picked up my cell and called my dad. When he picked up, I shouted, “Holy &*%$, we just got Johan!!!”
Once again, Mets fans were chomping at the bit, counting down to Opening Day. The best LHP pitcher in baseball would be towing the rubber for us every fifth day. It was a great time to be a Mets fan. After falling short in 06 and 07, NOW we’d finally get to the Promised Land. We were ecstatic.
That same winter, 3000 miles west, Giants GM Brian Sabean picked up the phone. He asked the Padres if he could negotiate with San Diego’s manager, a guy named Bruce Bochy. The Padres CEO was Sandy Alderson. Alderson said ‘Go right ahead.’
On August 14 of 2008, a rookie third baseman named Pablo Sandoval made his debut.
2008 was another heartbreak. We tallied 89 wins, just 3 GB and missing the Wild Card by 1. Three straight seasons. Three straight heartbreaks. While we were building a winner and focusing on dethroning the Braves, it was suddenly now the Phillies who were the class of the NL East.
Our hope was waning. But we still felt confident. We still had a hell of a good team. We were competitive. We had talent. We could almost taste the champagne on our lips.
That winter Omar Minaya ratcheted things up. He went out and signed the premier closer in the game. Fresh off his record setting 62 saves with Anaheim, K-Rod would now be closing for us. The Mets also acquired innings eater Livan Hernandez and veteran proven winner Gary Sheffield.
In spite of 3 straight gut-wrenching years, we spent the winter eagerly awaiting Opening Day. No matter what happened in the past, the future appeared bright.
I don’t want to start a debate about our GM’s. One ran the Mets as a team, the other as a business. One was concerned about wins on the field, the other is concerned with the bottom line, putting a sub-par product on the field, and then asking fans to hand over money.
Bruce Bochy has been at the helm of the Giants for 6 seasons. The Mets have had 3 managers in that time. In the 16 seasons since Brian Sabean has been running the Giants, we’ve gone through 5 general managers. Maybe something is to be said about the way the Giants do things: After all, they’ve won as many championships in the last 3 seasons as we’ve won in 50.
Did Omar fail? Maybe, maybe not. But at least he tried. All those years he was our GM, we were seemingly only 1 or 2 players away from a championship. How many players away are we now?
Minaya spent winters bringing us guys like Delgado, Beltran, Pedro, Wagner and yes, even Jason Bay—but at least the man tried. Minaya brought us hope. The first winter Alderson was at the helm, we were pinning our hopes on guys like Brad Emaus, Chris Young and Chin Lung-Hu. (I didn’t bother calling my dad to share the news)
With 2 full-seasons under his belt, Alderson has watched our wins decrease both years. Attendance has continued to plummet.
As heartbreaking as 2006, 2007 and 2008 were, wouldn’t it be nice to at least be part of a pennant race again? Wouldn’t it be nice to play meaningful games after June?
We tried to build a winner under Minaya. That didn’t work. But at least we were heading in the right direction. We were so close. But now? Is anyone out there looking forward to Opening Day? Any Mets fans chomping at the bit for that big series in September against the Nationals when we might be fighting for a pennant?
The point I’m making (in a very long winded way) is this: We’ve gone from a fan base eager to win, thirsting for improvement, hungry for a championship to an impatient bunch, worn down by the spin of the front office.
Think about it. Just a few years ago, we spent winters hoping to IMPROVE. Now we spend winters simply not wanting to get any worse.
The Mets front office considers it a victory not to improve with new players, but to retain the players we have.
This winter our goal is not to go after guys like Upton or Hamilton but to keep what we have. Let’s be honest. If we end up keeping both Wright and Dickey, we’ll consider it a great winter. But is that IMPROVEMENT?
Jose Reyes, in spite of being a Met for 8 seasons, was told by Alderson, ‘Show me what you can do.’ Reyes responded by becoming the first Met ever to win a batting title. Alderson’s response was a kick in the butt and sending him south.
Now, the much loved, hard-working, Cinderella story of RA Dickey has played out. Eight months ago who would have dreamed that RA would win the Cy Young? The last time a Mets player won that award was Doc Gooden in 1985. At that time David Wright had just learned to walk and was two years shy of kindergarten.
The Alderson regime has not only attempted to teach us to do more with less, but he has also trained us to expect less. No expectations breeds a contented fan base.
In 2006, the Mets catch phrase was “The Future is Now.” Under Sandy Alderson, the future is…well, the future is in the future.
“I, by no means, am looking beyond 2011. Our job here is to put the best possible team on the field in 2011. And I think if we work at it, we should have every chance to be competitive.”
Sandy Alderson speaking to the media after being announced as Mets GM. October 29, 2010