Last week I returned to Connecticut after a nearly week vacation in the Dominican Republic. No, I wasn’t there to scout for the New York Mets . Although the Mets have always scouted hard in the Dominican and even found a gem in Jose Reyes, it is a little different now. First of all, Omar Minaya is not their GM anymore. Also, it is tougher to get players to come to your team when Anna Benson is no longer offering herself to the entire team if her husband strays, which was pretty much a definite considering that her husband, Kris, was a professional athlete.
Enough with the jokes but I must admit, and this is especially true considering the fact that I am a Mets fan, the team has been a joke since I started following the team. A joke not in the same way as say the Kansas City Royals , Pittsburgh Pirates or some other sorry team. Nobody ever expects anything out of those clubs. The Mets are different. They give you a little bit of hope with a decent season, then sign a bunch of high priced free agents, and of course, the next year give you a losing season while their highest paid players reside on the disabled list. That, or they hit below the Mendoza Line . Or if they’re a pitcher, they challenge Anthony Young for most losses in a row. Well, actually they are never that bad. Afterall, you might remember that Young lost nearly 30 games in a row. Of course, Young pitched for the Mets.
I didn’t get to watch the Mets great season of 1986 as I was too young. I read “The Bad Guys Won” about that team and absolutely loved the club even nearly 20 years after the fact. They had an attitude that I have never seen on a Mets team. They also won. In fact, the attitude went along with the winning. They had attitude so they won and they won so they had attitude. That, to me, is the perfect combination.
The Mets teams that I have seen have not had the intense player like Lenny Dykstra , the pure power exemplified by Darryl Strawberry , the right arm given by God to Dwight Gooden , or the killer instinct (at least to cats and fellow teammates) of Kevin Mitchell . No, the Mets teams that I have seen were, in a word, a joke.
Let’s start from the beginning. It didn’t start well to say the least. To illustrate this point, all you need to know is that Young was on those teams of the early 90s. It improved a little through the mid-90s. Todd Hundley became a power hitting catcher. However, Hundley was still mostly known to be gritty, a term that is reserved for those who are less talented. You never would describe Barry Bonds , Alex Rodriguez , or Ken Griffey Jr . as gritty. At least, it would not be one of the first five words out of your mouth when asked about them.
At that time, the Mets fortunes were suppose to improve greatly. They had three young pitchers who were going to take the league by storm and as a Mets fan you knew great pitching won. If you needed any reminder, all you had to do was look at who always finished above you, in first place (at the time and for many years later). The Atlanta Braves won all of the time because they had Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz. The Braves victories were typically 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-2 or something involving numbers below 4. They didn’t have the greatest lineup but with that pitching staff they could win any game and their games would be over in less than three hours even when the home run era took over.
Of course, because it was the Mets, the three young guns never panned out. Pete Harnisch would be the guy the Mets would rely on to lead them to victory. Yeah, it didn’t matter that Harnisch wasn’t a great pitcher. The Mets would make up for it with their lineup. Alex Ochoa was supposed to be a five-tool player . He would be the next Raul Mondesi . The Braves were probably shivering by that point. They would no longer be able to only score three runs and expect to win. Ochoa would not be doing it on his own. He also had Butch Huskey and 160 pounder Lance Johnson . Move back the outfielders.
Then the Mets surprised everybody. They picked up a big name, Mike Piazza . I still remember the day they got him. Piazza was a very talented hitting catcher. The Mets were going to improve for real this time. It was good to get such a marquee player in Piazza because of his offensive production but it was equally vital because it showed that the Mets actually wanted to win and would spend big money on talent that warranted it. As only a Mets fan would remember, I recall that first weekend he was on the team. The atmosphere around the team felt different. The losing attitude was not as evident. You knew the Mets traded for him and were going to do everything in their power to keep him. At the same time, because of the huge investment, they were going to improve the team around him.
One player on the Mets didn’t seem to like the big addition. That was Hundley. Sure, Hundley had hit 40 home runs in the recent seasons but compared to Piazza, it was obvious he was not even close on the talent meter. Piazza was a sure Hall of Famer. Hundley was a gritty player. Because there is only one catcher allowed on the field at a time, Hundley was moved to the outfield. It was comical to see him try to catch a pop fly. It was like he was on rollerblades with no experience skating at all. If you were a betting man, you would take Tiger Woods sleeping with a black woman over Hundley catching a fly ball.
Still, things for the most part were good. The Mets even made the playoffs. However, they had to face the hated Braves. This was a case of the Mets hating the Braves, not the other way around. The Braves had always been good, ahead of the Mets. The separation was smaller but it was still there. These weren’t rivals. The Braves knew they were going to win no matter how much of a fight the Mets put up. Adding to the hatred of the Braves was two players in particular, John Rocker and Larry Jones . I liked Rocker, even after the Mets series, because he added character to an otherwise boring team. Jones was exactly why I hated the Braves. He was a guy who played up the fact that he just liked to play baseball. In other words, he tried to act as an All-American. He was hardly that as it was found out that he cheated on his wife and had a kid with another woman.
Although I liked Rocker (a rarity for me, liking a Braves player) New York absolutely hated him. You could say the same for Jones, although Rocker even surpassed him on the hatred meter. The Mets gave you hope, though, because they could play on the same field as the Braves. This couldn’t be said ever before. Adding to the hope was the optimism simply because you wanted the Braves to lose more than ever before. The optimism grew because, as said, the Braves played close games. They never blew anybody out. I specifically recall a playoff game between the two that went into many extra innings . Although you had a feeling the Braves would pull it out, you still felt maybe the Mets could get lucky, or even better, pound the Braves. It was unlikely but possible. It didn’t happen. Instead, there were a few Mets playing cards while the game was still going on.
Maybe the players didn’t want to win as much as they should have. That couldn’t be said for the Mets top employees. They wanted it. They knew they could win in the following years. The Subway Series was next. It was a big step but that quickly became a huge disappointment. It’s tought to say that it was a disappointment as the Yankees were a legendary team but you had a feeling the Mets could do it. Of course, they didn’t come close. Beating the Yankees to win the World Series would have been too good to be true-especially if you are the Mets. When you are a Mets fan, you can’t expect much. Still, you took the good out of it. The Mets were on the rise. They were a perennial contender.
They signed a bunch of big-time free agents. At least, they thought so. It wasn’t so much that they signed a lot of talented players as they threw lots of money at available players, all in the name of becoming a force that couldn’t be stopped. Well, injuries and bad performances stopped them.
That has continued for the team. Carlos Beltran received a huge contract even though he was only an average hitter. Of course, not every acquisition has been a disappointment. Even those, though, have not helped the team turn into a winner.
That is where the real problem is. The Mets have had their fair share of injuries and their willingness to give high salaries to mediocre players or great players from five to ten years prior to their big contract is infuriating. However, the really big letdown is that the Mets will bring up a lot of talented prospects and they will have a much better year than expected. Then, because of that success, hope builds and huge contracts are handed out and then the Mets take a step back. It is like they are never meant to be winners, no matter how hard they try. They are allowed to get to a point and then they are stopped. Well, the 86 team would not be stopped. They wouldn’t allow it no matter how big the foe was.