Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best Met of All-Time

The greatest position player in Mets history, next to the greatest pitcher in Mets history. Photo from
Now, this is a loaded question that I'm grappling with in this article. The best Met of all time... What exactly does that mean? Is the best player ever to have played for the Mets? I don't think so, but that answer would be Willie Mays. Is it the most talented player to don a Mets uniform? In which case, despite going downhill so quickly, you could say it's Doc Gooden. Should the player have spent all of their career with the Mets? Because, well, then that takes away most options, leaving us with David Wright and Ed Kranepool.

So my definition that I'm working with, is, a player who played a significant amount of time with the Mets (seven years sounds about right), and had a great impact on the team's success.  So, that rules out the late great Gary Carter, as well as Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and of course, Bartolome Fortunato. But it does leave Bill Buckner, as he was the single most important part of the Mets second championship. Thanks Billy!

That leaves us with Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, John Franco, Mike Piazza, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. As you can see, I only mentioned two of those guys just to sweeten the situation. Koosman was really good, and a key factor in the '69 championship, forming a great combination with #1 starter Tom Seaver, but he wasn't the best pitcher on the team at the time, so he won't win this. Much like Jose Reyes, who was great, but arguably the fourth best player on the 2006 Mets, behind Wright, Beltran, and Delgado.

Darryl Strawberry was clearly a better hitter than Keith Hernandez, but Keith's reputation as maybe the great defensive first baseman of all time equalizes them. If you scroll down their baseball-reference pages, you'll see that Strawberry was better during the '86 playoffs, so that knocks ole Keith right out of the running.

Look, John Franco was great at the end of games for the 14 years he was with the team, but I'm not going to vote for a reliever as the best Met of all time. They aren't as important as starters, so I just can't do it, especially when the competition at starting pitcher is so stiff.

As great as captain David Wright has been, and will be, as of now, he loses out to Mike Piazza. While Wright may own most of the franchise records, a quick comparison of their numbers gives Piazza the edge. Throw in the facts that Piazza's position as catcher means a whole lot more because he was managing the games as well as being such a huge factor on offense and that the 2000 Mets made the World Series while the didn't. Obviously, that's independent of both Piazza and Wright, but being the best player of all time has a lot to do with feeling as much as it does numbers. So, because his team made it further, it feels like Piazza has that advantage. Even further, Piazza delivered one of the greatest moments in the history of sports with his home run against the Braves in the first sporting event in New York City since 9/11. David Wright has been the center of some exciting times, but nothing he has done will compare to that one swing by Piazza.

Now that I've eliminated half of those candidates, let's look at the progress. I'm now left with Gooden, Strawberry, Seaver, and Piazza. I'm putting Gooden over Strawberry because while Straw came in second in the MVP voting in 1988, nothing else he did compared to the absolutely legendary season that Gooden had in '85. Just look at those numbers! He led the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and ERA (notice how I didn't mention wins). Combined with his rookie year in 1984, he had one of the greatest two year stretches ever. Mets fans flocked to Shea Stadium to watch Gooden pitch because there was always a chance of history. Obviously, it's tougher to compare a pitcher and a position player, but Strawberry didn't have quite that same effect. But hey, both their middle names are Eugene, so at least the Mets know what to look for in the draft.

I'm going to take Gooden over Piazza because while they both won Rookie of the Year awards, Piazza won his as a Dodger. Also, Gooden won a Cy Young Award in that amazing 1985 season. He was also the best player on a World Series team. It's unfortunate for Piazza, because it's not his fault that the Mets didn't draft him, nor that the team around him wasn't better in 2000. But again, this is about feel and perception more than it is about stats, especially when you are comparing two amazing players like these.

It has come all the way to this, as it's down to Gooden and Tom Seaver to see who is the greatest player in the history of the New York Mets. It's kind of hard to compare players of different generations, but I'll do it anyway. The answer here, isn't a question at all. Tom Seaver is the best. He was better than Gooden over a longer period of time. He bested Doc's RoY and one Cy Young Award by being named the best rookie in 1967, and three Cy Young Awards, in 1969, 1973, and 1975. Notice that two in two of those years, the Mets reached the World Series. After leaving the Mets for the Reds, White Sox, and Red Sox, Seaver continued his success, and is considered to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. That perception is largely due to his time in a Mets uniform. When he was voted to the Hall of Fame, he received 98.8% of the vote, which is still a record. Seaver made the Hall of Fame with flying colors, while Gooden was booted off the ballot after receiving 3.3% of the vote in 2006. So, they both played the majority of their careers in blue and orange, but Seaver will forever be remembered as one of the greats. As you can see whenever you go to a Mets game, Seaver's number is retired, while seven players have worn Doc's number 16 since he last played for the Mets in 1994.

In addition to having his number 41 forever retired on the left field wall of Shea Stadium, and now Citi Field, Tom Seaver will be known as the greatest player to don a Mets uniform, for probably as long as I live. Unless of course, Matt Harvey has something to say about that.

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