“He was good. Until he went to the Mets.”
If you’re a Mets fan, there’s a solid chance you say or hear that sentence at least ten times per year. The Mets have had several notable occurrences of “He Was Good Until He Went To The Mets” syndrome over their five decades of play, and countless players have fallen prey to it.
When the Mets turned 50, they released an “All-Time Team” to remember the greats who wore the orange and blue. But if you’re a die-hard Mets fan, you know that the greats are only half of the story. For every Keith Hernandez, there’s a Mo Vaughn. For every Mike Piazza, there’s a Jim Fregosi. For every… you get it.
So now we have an all-time “He Was Good Until He Went To The Mets Team.” This team was built with the players at each position who had the best careers prior to a lackluster stay with the Mets:
Catcher – Yogi Berra
After Berra was fired as Yankees manager in 1964, the Mets immediately scooped him up as a player/coach. Many people don’t even realize that Berra played for the Mets– albeit for four games in 1965. He went 2-for-9, and retired after striking out three times in a game for the second time ever on May 9. The American icon went on to coach and manage with the Mets for the next decade, including in a memorable run to the World Series in 1973.
First Baseman – Mo Vaughn
Vaughn looked like a potential Hall of Famer when he played for the Red Sox and Angels. From 1993-2000, an average season for Vaughn was .305/.394/.552 with 35 home runs and 111 RBI. But it was all downhill after the 2000 season. He missed all of 2001 with a torn bicep and was traded to the Mets for Kevin Appier prior to the 2002 season.
While Appier won 14 games and helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series,
Vaughn did little for the Mets. His first year with the team was far below his pre-injury averages– albeit not awful. He batted .259/.349/.456 with 26 home runs and 72 RBI. However, he played in just 27 games in 2003 and missed all of 2004 with a career-ending knee injury. The Mets paid him $46 million dollars over these three seasons to play in just 158 games.
Vaughn is perhaps best remembered by Mets fans for his weight issues; despite once weighing 225 pounds, Vaughn had skyrocketed to 275 pounds when he was with the Mets. This led to many an angry call into “Mike and the Mad Dog.”
Second Baseman – Roberto Alomar
Alomar has a plaque in Cooperstown today, but it’s safe to say this has little to do with his time on the Mets.
Much like Vaughn, Alomar was acquired from the Indians during the 2002 offseason to revitalize the team. The Mets would be acquiring a 32-year-old player who had made 12 consecutive All-Star teams and won 11 consecutive Gold Gloves.
Both of these streaks ended once he came to the Mets. Alomar batted just .266/.331/.376 in 2002, and after putting up similar numbers the following season, was traded to the White Sox in July of 2003. Alomar played just one more season before calling it a career.
The trades for Vaughn and Alomar helped end Steve Phillips’ time as GM of the Mets, who was fired in 2003.
(Dis)Honorable mention #1 – Carlos Baerga
Baerga was the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby to record consecutive seasons of 200+ hits, 20 home runs and 100 RBI when he did so in 1992 and 1993. After he was traded to the Mets in 1996, he never reached any of these plateaus again.
(Dis)Honorable mention #2 – Luis Castillo
Castillo won three Gold Gloves with the Marlins, yet is best remembered as a Met for failing to catch a pop-up. Enough said.
Shortstop: Kaz Matsui
Matsui is a legend in Japan, where he batted .309/.362/.486 with 150 home runs and 306 steals from from 1995-2003. This 2003 scouting report on ESPN.com called him “More talented than Hideki Matsui,” and the “Best all-around player [in Japan] since Ichiro left.”
So when Matsui decided to take his talents to America, the Mets signed him to a three-year, $20 million contract prior to the 2004 season. The team was so confident in his abilities that it moved highly-touted shortstop prospect Jose Reyes to second base to make room for Matsui.
Unlike the other Matsui in New York at the time, Kaz failed to meet expectations. He batted just .256/.308/.363 in three injury-plagued seasons with the Mets. He was traded to the Rockies in June of 2006. He spent the next four seasons with the Rockies and Astros before heading back to Japan in 2011.
In case you’re wondering, Matsui still plays in Japan for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he batted .256/.324/.366 with ten home runs and 48 RBI in 126 games last season.
Third Base – Jim Fregosi
Before the days of David Wright, the Mets struggled to find an everyday third baseman throughout much of their early history. In fact, they had eight different starting third basemen from 1962-1971.
The Mets hoped to put an end to these woes when they acquired Jim Fregosi from the Angels in December of 1971. Fregosi was a six-time All-Star with a bWAR of 44.8 and an OPS+ of 119 from 1963-1970. But a down season in 1971 made him expendable for the Angels, who traded him to the Mets for some young pitcher named Nolan Ryan.
Unfortunately for the Mets, the man bought in to be the third baseman of the future had a short and forgettable stay in Flushing. He batted an abysmal .233/.319/.328 with five home runs and 43 RBI in 146 games in 1972 and 1973. The Mets’ search for a star third baseman would continue until Howard Johnson made his debut with the team in 1985. Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan went on to throw over 5,000 strikeouts and seven no-hitters en route to the Hall of Fame.
Outfield – Jason Bay
After a season in which Daniel Murphy led the Mets with just 12 home runs, the Mets were in desperate need of a power hitter. So they signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract. Bay came to the Mets with seven consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs and 80 RBI, and was coming off a season in which he hit 36 home runs and 119 RBI with the Red Sox.
In three years with the Mets, Bay hit just 26 home runs and 124 RBI. He batted just .234/.318/.369, and had his contract terminated prior to the 2013 season.
Outfield – Vince Coleman
Coleman stole 549 bases during the first six seasons of his career with the Cardinals. He is one of just four players in the modern era to steal over 100 bases in a season, which he did three times from 1985-1987.
It looked like the Mets were signing the next Lou Brock when they signed him in 1990. What they got was one of the biggest embarrassments in team history. Coleman, who played with the Mets from 1991-1993, never played more than 100 games in a season.
Aside from the disappointing on-field performance, his off-field behavior was even worse. He was gone for good after he was charged with felony a firecracker at a group of fans at Dodger Stadium, which injured three people– including a two-year-old girl. Prior to this dubious incident, he injured Dwight Gooden by swinging a golf club in the clubhouse and had been suspended for feuding with manager Jeff Torborg.
Outfield – Willie Mays:
The “Say Hey Kid” was traded to the Mets in the middle of the 1972 season. Mays was 41 at the time, and was hardly the player he used to be. He hit just .238/.352/.294 in 135 games with the Mets from 1972-1973 to finish out his career.
Unlike many of the players on the “He Was Good Until He Went to the Mets” team, Mays is still looked at with reverence by the organization and fans, so much so that his No. 24 jersey has remained mostly out of circulation since he retired.
(Dis)Honorable Mention #1 – Bobby Bonilla
Many Mets fans would probably put Bonilla over Mays on this list, but from a purely numerical standpoint, Bonilla was actually not awful. He made two All-Star teams in four seasons while he recorded an OPS+ over 120 in each of his first four years with the team.
(Dis)Honorable Mention #2 – George Foster
Much like Bonilla, Foster didn’t live up to the hype of his five-year, $10 million contract, the second-largest in baseball history in 1982, but still put up decent numbers. Foster had at least 20 home runs in three of his five years with the Mets and had two years with a WAR over 1.5.
(Dis)Honorable Mention #3 – Duke Snider
Snider was a Hall of Famer and fan-favorite in New York as a Brooklyn Dodger before the team relocated to Los Angeles in 1958. He came back to New York in 1963 when he was sold to the Mets, where he batted .243/.345/.401 with 14 homers and 45 RBI in his only season with the team.
Starting Pitcher – Pedro Martinez
Pedro signed a four-year, $53 million dollar contract with the Mets in December of 2004. This represented a new era in Mets history, and was a major factor in persuading Carlos Beltran to sign. However, he contributed little on the field after the first year of his deal.
Martinez’s first season with the Mets was electrifying, as he went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and a league-leading 0.949 WHIP and 4.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio. After this season,Pedro would never make more than 24 starts in a season again, and recorded a 4.74 ERA throughout his remaining time with the Mets. A healthy Pedro could have made all the difference in 2007 and 2008, when the Mets were eliminated on the last day of the season.
Starting Pitcher – Tom Glavine
Glavine was one of the best pitchers of his era with the Braves, and was pretty solid with the Mets as well. He went 61-56 with a 3.97 ERA during his five seasons in New York. But he will always be remembered for his performance on the final day of the 2007 season, when he allowed seven runs in one-third of an inning to the last-place Marlins. Not a good time to have the worst start of your career.
Starting Pitcher – Warren Spahn
As a Brave, Spahn averaged 20 wins from 1947-1963. But after going 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA in 1964, he was sold to the Mets.
Much like Berra, Spahn had an oft-forgotten abbreviated cameo with the Mets in 1965. He was purchased and given both a spot in the rotation and the title of pitching coach.
Spahn had won 356 games prior to joining the Mets, and still believed that he could get to 400 wins when he joined the team. This proved to be a fruitless endeavor, however, as the 44-year-old went just 4-12 with a 4.36 ERA before being released midseason.
While on the Mets, Spahn was reunited with Casey Stengel, who he had played under with the Boston Braves in 1942. Reminiscing on his time with the Mets, Spahn once said: “I’m probably the only guy who worked with Stengel before and after he was a genius.”
Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez
The 2008 Mets’ bullpen was so bad that had their games ended in the eighth inning, they would have won the NL East by 12 games rather than losing it by three games. So that offseason, they signed Francisco Rodriguez, who was fresh off setting a single-season record with 62 saves, to a three-year, $37 million contract.
Rodriguez failed as a member of the Mets. His ERA ballooned to 3.71 in 2009– more than a run higher than it had been in 2008. He suffered a season-ending thumb injury in August of 2010 by assaulting his girlfriend’s father following a loss. “K-Rod” was traded to the Brewers in a salary-dump trade in 2011, where he has since made two All-Star teams.
Relief Pitcher – J.J. Putz
Putz recorded a 5.22 ERA as the setup man in 2009 before suffering a season-ending elbow injury that June. Putz was a stellar closer for the Mariners prior to 2009, as he had a 3.07 ERA and 101 saves in his six-year tenure with the team. After his time with the Mets, he recorded two 30-plus save seasons with the Diamondbacks in 2011 and 2012.
Putz later said that the Mets never gave him a physical upon acquisition. As Mets fans found out last year, medicals are rather important.
Manager – Art Howe
Howe was bought in in 2003 to be the Mets’ manager following Bobby Valentine‘s firing. Howe was the hottest managerial name on the market, as he had just led the Athletics to three consecutive playoff appearances. If he could lead the $40 million payroll Oakland A’s to three straight playoff appearances. Imagine what he could do with more than double that budget?
Not much. Howe went 137-186 in his two years on the job. He was fired following the 2004 season, and never managed again after leaving the Mets.