Browsing Archive February, 2011

2 DUPACR: Mackey Sasser

With only 2 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, we honor the day with former #2 Mackey Sasser.

Why Mackey Sasser, as opposed to some other former Met who wore #2? I have to admit that this post almost honored a player I never saw, but read volumes of stories about: Marvelous Marv E. Throneberry — the player who once lost a ground ball in the sun and missed first base on a triple twice in the same inning (among other dramatics). I could have also chosen Jim Fregosi, who was traded for Nolan Ryan, but I was only one year old when that happened and therefore don’t remember much about it. Sticking to my policy of picking players I’ve seen and for some reason or another stick in my memory, the number 2s from the past weren’t particularly memorable — except for Mackey.

Unfortunately, most people remember Mackey Sasser for his interminable throwing condition that is now referred to as “Sasser Syndrome”. His inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher made him the butt of cruel jokes, endless taunting, and a synchronized crowd chant of “one! two! three!” as he pumped his arm back three times (sometimes four) before weakly lofting the ball back to the pitcher. It was painful to watch, and was not unlike viewing an adventure movie or murder mystery, in that you didn’t know a) when he was going to throw the ball; b) IF he was going to throw the ball; c) what the arc of the ball would be like; and, d) whether he was going to fall back on his butt after the throw.

It was a shame, really, because other than an inability to perform the simplest duty, Mackey Sasser was a promising catcher. Defensively, he had good skills — he moved well behind the plate, was a roadblock for opposing runners, possessed leadership ability, and had a strong, accurate arm with a quick release that was capable of throwing out runners at an average to above-average rate (the throwing issue allowed runners to delay steal, skewing the stats). I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’d have won Gold Gloves, but Sasser was a decent backstop — certainly good enough to be an everyday catcher.

And “good enough” was all he needed to be, because Mackey could rake. An overly aggressive, line-drive hitter with extra-base power, he slashed balls into the gaps and pounded wicked grounders down the lines, chasing home runners at good rates — he had 41 RBI in only 270 ABs in 1990, for example. A free swinger, he didn’t take many walks and often swung at — but made solid contact with — balls out of the strike zone, and was a particularly fond of low pitches. His quick hands allowed him to catch up to triple-digit heat, but his sweet lefty swing looked effortless.

Though his throwing problem was intermittent before, it became more pronounced and frequent after a collision at home plate in early July of 1990 resulted in injuries to his ankle and achilles tendon. He missed about a week but played with the injury for the rest of the season. At the time, Sasser was on a hot streak — he was 6 for his last 9 before the collision — and when he came back he continued on a tear at the plate. As of early August he was hitting around .350 but the throwing issue became progressively worse, to the point where he simply could not be used behind the plate. Had it not been for that, there’s no doubt that Sasser would have been the Mets’ starting catcher in ’90 and likely ’91. Instead, he was limited to a pinch-hitting role (in which he performed very well) and was used sparingly in the outfield (his natural position) and first base — where his lack of home run power made him less interesting as a ballplayer.

There is an enlightening and fascinating psychological study on Mackey Sasser and the issues in his life that contributed to the mental block, which I recommend you read if you have 10-15 minutes.

Other Mets who wore #2 include legends such as Jimmy Piersall, Phil “Harmonica” Linz, Chuck Hiller, Roy Staiger, Phil Mankowski, Larry Bowa, Billy Almon, Jose Oquendo, and Damon Buford, among others.

Which #2 do you remember best and why? Share your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#2 Mackey Sasser
#3 Bud Harrelson
#4 Ron Swoboda
#5 John Olerud
#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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Saturday News and Notes

Alex Remington over at FanGraphs discusses the thought of the Mets going public- i.e. the team would be run by stockholders (presumably the fans, particularly if there is a cap placed on the number of purchasable shares).

Having the franchise run by the collective brain trust of WFAN callers would be priceless in terms of pure comedic value. It would also mean nothing short of Waterloo for the franchise. At some point, after we’ve traded David Wright and Wilmer Flores for Jeff Francoeur and David Eckstein, installed Wally Backman as player-manager, and held Carlos-Beltran-Effigy-Burning day as a promotion, well, you think Selig’s ticked off now; the Mets will probably be terminated for giving the rest of the National League East an unfair competitive advantage.

It’s hard to envision such a phenomenon, although in my imagination, the decision-making process would probably look something like this.

In other news, the Mets hired Brad Andress as their new strength and conditioning coordinator, replacing Rick Slate. Andress has had a similar role with the Rockies, Tigers, and the University of Michigan throughout his career. Now, I don’t want be one of those fans who celebrates every move Sandy Alderson makes (beware the confirmation bias). However, if the Mets well-documented injury issues the last few years are any indication, the team’s medical staff were basically broscientists under the Omar regime.

Last but not least, Adam Rubin has an interview with some dude- Evans Nicholas or something like that- who’s apparently competing for a spot on the big league roster. I’m guessing they saw something in him at Mets Fantasy Camp over the winter and decided to give him an invite to Spring Training.

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3 DUPACR: Bud Harrelson

With 3 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, we offer a cool, refreshing Bud — Bud Harrelson, that is.

Derrel McKinley Harrelson was signed by the Mets in 1963 (there was no draft until 1965), and made such an impression on manager Casey Stengel that “The Ol’ Perfessor” lobbied to bring him north with the big club after spring training in 1964. Not surprising, considering the Mets were awful back then and Stengel always favored little guys with spunk, brains, and the ability to execute fundamentals (see: Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto). In fact it was Stengel who, seeing Harrelson struggle with his hitting, suggest he try switch-hitting in 1965. The move paid off, as it helped him reach the big leagues quickly and it allowed him to be one of only 4 players penciled into the Gil Hodges’ platoon lineup on an everyday basis in 1969.

I had to live with the fact that I wasn’t going to be a hero hitting those home runs. I’m not a home-run hitter, I’m not a .300 hitter and I’m not going to make $125,000 a year. All I’m supposed to do on offense is get on base and score a run. I may not be as much of a hero to the fans, but I’m just as much of a hero to the club. I have to take advantage of what I am. I am Bud Harrelson, contact hitter, who has to hit the ball on the ground. If I try to hit a fly ball, I’m thinking wrong.

Looking at the numbers, Harrelson wasn’t much of a hitter. But you have to understand the era; generally speaking, a shortstop’s primary focus back then was to play defense, and any offense at all was a bonus. And though he provided no power (7 HRs in his 16-year career) and a low batting average, he often posted a surprisingly high OBP (for example, he hit only .227 but put up a .366 OBP in 1974). Additionally, he was an outstanding bunter, good situational hitter, and was an above-average baserunner.

Of course, Harrelson was known not for what he did with the bat, but for what he did with the glove. His defense was steady and flawless if unspectacular — the type of fielder who is better appreciated when seen every day rather than on a highlight reel. That’s not to say he didn’t make great plays — he did — but his real value was his day-to-day consistency. A good example was the 54 games he played without making an error in 1970 — also the first time he was named to the All-Star team and the year before he won his only Gold Glove.

As with many of the players in this countdown, Bud was known for being a scrappy, hard-nosed ballplayer with a fiery personality. Every Mets fan (even those who weren’t around to see it live, thanks to rain-delay highlight films) remembers seeing “Twiggy” take on Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS.

This choice was fairly clear-cut, but there were several other Mets who have worn #3. Among them include one of my old favorites, former backup catcher Vance Wilson; Sergio Ferrer, whose name was better suited to making designer jeans; Richie Hebner, who was the most hated Met until Bobby Bo “came home”; dinosaur expert and child abuser Carl Everett; Rafael Santana; Miguel “How Is He Still in MLB” Cairo; and another of my all-time favs, Damion Easley.

Which #3 do you remember best and why? Share your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#3 Bud Harrelson
#4 Ron Swoboda
#5 John Olerud
#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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4 DUPACR: Ron Swoboda

NOTE: this was supposed to go up yesterday, but I had technical difficulties; I couldn’t get an internet connection from the Johannesburg airport in South Africa. Oh, didn’t I mention I was on a business trip in South Africa since last Friday? Sorry … and yes, we’ll be honoring #3 at some point later today.


With 4 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, I choose former #4 Ron Swoboda to represent the day — though, with less than 100% conviction.

For me, choosing one player to honor #4 was difficult. If I had been born a few years earlier, and had the opportunity to see Ron Swoboda play, I believe he would have been my hands-down, easy choice. And though my policy throughout this series has been to only honor those former Mets I saw on the field with my own eyes, for “Rocky” I’m making an exception — for a few reasons.

First, there is this really strange, personal connection I have for Swoboda. For whatever reason, I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to a microfiche machine. Don’t ask me why — I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, I can watch the same episode of a sitcom three times before realizing I’ve seen it before, and I usually forget my age. But in any case, I remember being in the third or fourth grade, going on a field trip to the public library, and the librarian teaching us how to use the microfiche. For those born after Al Gore invented the internet, the microfiche is a film-viewing machine that allows people to read — among other things — newspaper archives going back several decades. After we were instructed on this research device, each student had to find the film container that had the newspaper issue for his/her birth date, pick an article, and write a one-paragraph “research report”. So I found the film can for the week of my birthday, loaded it into the microfiche, and turned the knob until I reached the boxscores listed for April 14, 1970. And as it turned out, the Mets lost 6-4 to the Pirates, but Ron Swoboda hit a triple. That was pretty much my report: Mets lost, Swoboda hit a triple. It’s dumb, I know, but ever since that experience, Swoboda has held a special place in my memory.

Of course, another image ingrained in my memory is of “The Catch” — the diving, backhanded stab of a line drive by Ron Swoboda in the 1969 World Series (not to be confused with “The Catch” by Endy Chavez or “The Catch” by Willie Mays). Even though I wasn’t yet around to see it live, I must have seen “The Catch” several dozen times by the age of 10, since ’69 Series highlights were shown every time there was a rain delay during a WOR broadcast (usually shown right after the ’62 highlights featuring Casey Stengel yammering about “the children with their placards saying ‘Metsie, Metsie'”).

Reading about Swoboda’s baseball career — and later, chatting with him about baseball during a podcast focused on outfield play — I came to realize that he certainly would have been one of my favorite Mets. Though hitting came somewhat naturally, fielding was difficult for “Rocky”, partially because he was moved from the infield to the outfield. He looked awkward chasing fly balls but hustled after everything, usually got to them, and made strong, accurate throws to the right base. From all accounts, he worked extremely hard at improving his outfield play and though he didn’t always look pretty out there, he got the job done. His apprach to the game was fairly simple, and “old school”: work hard to improve, hustle all the time, do whatever is needed to help the team win, and leave everything you have out on the field.

In addition to his exploits in the outfield, I’ve been told that Swoboda was something of a “clutch” hitter. When I asked him about that, he downplayed it, suggesting that maybe it just seemed that way, or perhaps the pitchers gave him better pitches to hit because people were on base. Looking at the stats, he did hit nearly 50 points higher with RISP, and almost 100 points higher in “late and close” situations in 1969 — so maybe that’s where the reputation came from. His career stats also show him hitting 40 points higher with 2 outs/RISP and 20 points higher in “high leverage” situations.

But enough of the numbers, and back to the memories. I mentioned that there were other players considered to honor this day, so I’ll mention them briefly. First, there is Rusty Staub, who while wearing #4, put the Mets on his back and carried them into the 1973 World Series — and performed well in that Series despite a shoulder so badly injured that he had to throw the ball underhanded. But, Staub also wore #10 so he was honored almost a week ago.

Then there is Lenny Dykstra. “Nails” very nearly was honored for this day, due to his dramatic postseason performances in 1986 and his all-out approach to the game. Watching the “smurfs” — Dykstra and Wally Backman — at the top of the lineup always insured some kind of excitement.

Finally, my last candidate was Robin Ventura, whose career I enjoyed watching from his time in college (images of him and Will Clark terrorizing pitchers with their Easton Black Magic Bats are etched in my memory). Ventura remains one of my favorite all-time Mets; I only wish he spent more time in the orange and blue.

There were some other Mets who wore #4, including Bob Bailor, John Valentin, Jose Moreno, Bruce Boisclair, Chris Woodward, Ben Johnson, and Duke Snider, among others. Which #4 do you remember best and why? Share your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#4 Ron Swoboda
#5 John Olerud
#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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5 DUPACR: John Olerud

With 5 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, we honor the day with former #5 John Olerud.

Why not David Wright? Because this series is about remembering Mets from the past. I hope the day we remember D-Wright as a “former” Met, it is a day in the far, far future.

But back to Mr. Olerud, who was chosen despite playing only three years in Flushing — though it seemed somewhat longer, and at the same time, wasn’t long enough. Going back in the memory banks, it feels like Olerud was on that last Mets team to make a World Series appearance (vs. the Yankees in 2000), but in fact he had already left for Seattle by then. He was, however, part of “The Best Infield Ever“, and a key performer on what was arguably the best Mets team since 1988 — the 1999 Wild Card club that went 97-66 but lost the NLCS to the Braves. Though, the best year of his career was the season before, when he hit .354 (incredibly, good enough only for 2nd place for the batting crown) with a .447 OBP, .551 SLG, .998 OPS, 22 HR, and 102 RBI.

During his time in the orange and blue, Olerud was my favorite Met (with Robin Ventura a close second) because of the way he approached the game, carried himself on the field, remained cool and steady in all situations, and for his incredible clutchness. That’s the way I remember him: as “Mr. Clutch”, seeming to always get the huge hit exactly when the Mets needed it. Since memories aren’t always reliable, I went back to check the numbers, and it turns out that the stats support my memory. In ’98, of course, he hit no matter what the situation, so we’ll throw those numbers away. But looking at ’99, the stats agree with the sentiment: he hit .356 with a .500 OBP and 1.076 OPS with 2 outs and runners in scoring position (he hit .298/.890 overall that year). Similarly, in “high leverage” situations, he hit .315 / .941. If that’s not “turning it up a notch”, I don’t know what is.

Looking back, it’s incredible to believe that the Blue Jays gave up on Olerud so quickly, and dumped him for journeyman pitcher Robert Person. But at the time, they felt Olerud was overpaid, underperforming, and “not aggressive enough”. For once, the Mets came out as the beneficiary in a lopsided trade executed due to poor judgment. I’m not sure it made up for the Nolan Ryan – Jim Fregosi deal, or the Amos Otis for Joe Foy flop, but it certainly paid off well.

Other number fives of note include original Met Hobie Landrith, Ed Charles, Joe Foy, Jim Beauchamp, Mike Phillips (who, remarkably, hit for the cycle as a Met), Steve “Hendu” / “Stevie Wonder” Henderson, Mike Howard, Charlie O’Brien, Jeff McKnight, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Jeromy Burnitz (first time around), and Mark Johnson, among others.

What #5 do you remember best and why? Share your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#5 John Olerud
#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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Is Wilmer Flores the Rodney Dangerfield of Prospects?

NOTE: this is a post by Matt Himelfarb

Project Prospect released their top 100 prospect list yesterday. The list included six Mets, ranked as followed:

42: Reese Havens

48: Matt Harvey

53: Fernando Martinez

83: Jenrry Mejia

94: Brad Emaus

100: Wilmer Flores

Yup, you read that right. Brad Emaus is more valuable than Wilmer Flores. Also, according to Project Prospect, MySpace is way cooler than Facebook, Godfather Three puts one and two to shame, and Dane Cook isn’t a total douche (okay, I  made that part up).

When I first saw the rankings yesterday afternoon, it appeared to me as a subtle cry for attention. And by subtle cry of attention, I mean that annoying freshman girl who acts dumber than she actually is. The one who is so beautiful and whom you would love to hook up with, until the moment she starts talking.

Upon reflection, however,

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6 DUPACR: Wally Backman

With 6 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, I chose former #6 Wally Backman to represent the day.

Are you surprised? If so then you don’t come by here often.

Wally — like many of the ’86 Mets — was considered an “old-school” player in the 1980s … which means, in today’s game, he’d be REALLY old-school … in fact I’m not even sure that schools existed in cro-magnon times.

25-30 years ago, old school meant hustling all the time; getting the uniform dirty by sliding head-first and diving for balls; taking out the pivot man on a double play as a rule; leaning into a pitch to get on base; stealing signs; barreling the catcher; playing with injuries; and doing everything else (without cheating) to win a ballgame. This may sound similar to what “old school” means today, but there is one more factor that you rarely, if ever, see from today’s old-schooler: hatred for the opponent. There was no fraternizing back then — not before games, not during games. OK, there was an occasional chatty first baseman, but for the most part, opponents genuinely hated each other. And in 1986, NL teams genuinely hated the Mets — and vice-versa. Three players in particular — Wally Backman, Ray Knight, and Lenny Dykstra — epitomized the “old school” way, and despite not being the most gifted or highest-profile players, were driving forces of the character of the last Mets World Championship club.

There are many things I remember vividly about Wally, beginning with his distinctive, squatting batting stance. He did everything he had to do to get on base, be it by hit, by getting hit, by walking, or, my favorite, via a drag bunt. His drag bunting from the left side was spectacular; he would push it hard past the pitcher, but too far away from the first baseman and more or less at the second baseman, who was usually playing too far back to field the ball in time. Both Backman and Mookie Wilson turned that execution into an art form, and seemed to always get a hit as a result. To this day I don’t understand why the Mets haven’t sent Jose Reyes to work with Wally and/or Mookie during spring training to learn how to bunt like this; Reyes might hit .350 if he bunted for a hit more often.

But I digress …

Of course I remember Wally’s hard-nosed play and passion on the field. Though, one other incident that sticks with me was off the field: his run-in with Darryl Strawberry in 1987. For years, Straw was chronically late for games and/or would beg out after partying too much the evening before. The Straw that broke the camel’s back came in early July ’87, when Darryl recorded a rap song on a Monday night, then came up “ill” on Tuesday night before an important game against the Cardinals. He sat out that game and the next for “low-grade fever and headache”; his teammates translated that to mean, “I don’t want to face the Cards’ two tough lefty starters Joe Magrane and Mike Mathews”. Lee Mazzilli and Wally Backman called out Darryl in the press, with Backman saying, “From the stuff I heard from the trainer’s room, Straw should’ve been out there. Nobody in the world that I know of gets sick 25 times a year.” This prompted the 6’6″ Strawberry to respond, “I’ll bust that little redneck in the face”. When reporters relayed that to the 5’8″ Backman, Wally said, “If that’s the case, do you think I’m going to back down?”. Gotta love it.

There were many, many others to wear #6, so I’m sure you have your own choice to represent this day. Just a few of them: Jose Cardenal, Al Weis, Mike Vail, Alex Trevino, Daryl Boston, Joe Orsulak, Melvin Mora, Timo Perez, Mike DiFelice, Ruben Gotay. What #6 do you remember most and why? Share your memories in the comments.

We have less than a week, folks!

The countdown thus far:

#6 Wally Backman
#7 Hubie Brooks
#8 Gary Carter
#9 Gregg Jefferies
#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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