The New York Mets were one of baseball’s first expansion teams. In 1957, both the Dodgers and Giants relocated to the west coast, leaving the largest city in America with no National League team. In 1960, in an effort to prevent a third professional league from being created, the National League granted two expansion teams to New York and Houston, both of whom began play in 1962. The Mets took their colors – blue and orange – from the previous National League teams in New York – the Dodgers & Giants, respectively. And, while the Mets were able to hire the legendary Casey Stengel to be their first manager, it didn’t translate into wins on the field. Their inaugural season ended with a 40-120 record, which is still the worst record in baseball since the season was expanded to 162 games (they had 2 that were canceled due to weather). And, Stengel is quoted as saying, “The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I ever knew existed.”
In time, though, the Mets have enjoyed some success – appearing in 4 World Series (’69, ’73, ’86 & 2000), and winning 2 (’69 & ’86 – tied with Toronto & Miami for the most by any expansion franchise). They’ve also made 3 other postseason appearances in their 52-year history. They’ve had 3 different pitchers win 5 Cy Young awards, and have 4 Rookie of the Year winners. No one has ever won an MVP while with the Mets, though some have been very close. They only have retired one of their players’ jerseys, who also happens to be the only player in the Hall of Fame to have played primarily with the Mets. Here are the 5 greatest to play for this franchise:
5. Mike Piazza (’98-’05) – I’m going to set the steroids questions aside on this one. Primarily because most of the “evidence” is just hearsay, and you can’t draw any conclusions based on his power numbers (peaked between the ages of 28 & 31, and after the age of 33, his numbers began tailing off as you would expect of an aging player). So, assuming Piazza is clean, he is one of the top 2 or 3 hitting catchers in the history of the game. While with the Mets’ franchise, he appeared in 6 All-Star games, won 4 Silver Sluggers, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2000 – helping the Mets to the World Series. He never led the league in anything while in New York, but keep in mind how gaudy the league-leaders’ numbers were during that period. And, as impressive as Piazza’s career was when comparing him historically with other catchers, he also put together some impressive all-around statistics with the Mets – where he spent about half of his career. He ranks 4th on their all-time batting list (.296), 5th in OBP (.373), 1st in SLG (.542), 2nd in OPS (.915), 8th in hits (1028), 5th in total bases (1885), 3rd in HR (220), 3rd in RBI (655), 4th in OPS+ (136), and 4th in runs created (675).
4. Darryl Strawberry (’83-’90) – Strawberry burst onto the scene in ’83, hitting monstrous home runs at the age of 21. He won Rookie of the Year that year, finishing with 26 HR, 74 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and an .848 OPS in just 122 games. He went on to appear in 7 consecutive All-Star games while with the Mets. In ’87, he became just the 10th member of the 30-30 club, hitting 39 HR, and stealing 36 bases. In 1988, he led the league in HR (39), SLG (.545), and OPS (.911), leading the Mets to a division title, and a tight 7-game loss to eventual world champion Los Angeles in the NLCS. He also finished 2nd in MVP voting that year, in a tight race between him and the Dodgers’ Gibson. But, it was his off the field antics and poor choices that led to him being allowed to sign with the Dodgers after the 1990 season (when he was still just 28 years old!), rather than extending a potential HOF career in New York. Even with a fairly short and tumultuous tenure in New York, he still ranks 2nd all-time on the Mets’ career SLG list (.520), as well as 4th in OPS (.878), 3rd in runs scored (662), 3rd in total bases (2028), 1st in HR (252), 2nd in RBI (733), 4th in stolen bases (191), 1st in OPS+ (145 – including 3 of the top 6 OPS+ seasons in Mets history), and 2nd in runs created (759).
3. David Wright (’04-present) – I may be wrong, but it seems like I hear more people that are disappointed in David Wright’s production than they are impressed by it. Maybe it’s because he hit 27 HR at the age of 22, and didn’t progress much beyond that with his power. I don’t know, but for 6 years (before he started having some injury issues) Wright was stellar. From ’05-’10, his average season consisted of a .306 avg., 25+ HR, 100+ RBI, 20+ stolen bases, and a .902 OPS, while winning multiple Gold Gloves at 3B, and appearing in 5 All-Star games. Oh, and he also had 3 top-10 MVP finishes. Perhaps some were looking more for him to become the 35-40 HR guy, but that’s just not his game. He has a high SLG year in and year out, but that’s because on top of the 25+ HR, he’s also going to give you around 40 doubles, and a few triples. He’s a high-average, gap-to-gap hitter with good (albeit not great) power, good speed, and a great glove – I wish more people would recognize just how valuable that combination is – especially at the hot corner. Thanks to his recent contract extension, it appears he’ll be in New York for a long time. And if he can stay healthy, then he could move on up this list. As of today, he ranks 2nd on the Mets’ all-time batting list (.301), 4th in OBP (.382), 3rd in SLG (.506), 3rd in OPS (.888), 1st in runs scored (853), 1st in hits (1558), 1st in total bases (2619), 1st in doubles (345), 2nd in HR (222), 1st in RBI (876), 5th in stolen bases (183), 3rd in OPS+ (137), and 1st in runs created (1025).
2. Dwight Gooden (’84-’94) – Gooden’s first three seasons in the majors were absolutely incredible. His average season was a 19-6 record, with a 2.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 248 K’s. He led the league in K’s his first two seasons in the league. He won Rookie of the Year in ’84 (and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting), and followed that up with a Cy Young award win in ’85, when he led the league in wins (24), ERA (1.53), K’s (268), and ERA+ (229 – the 8th best single-season ERA+ in the history of baseball at the time). His ’86 season wasn’t quite as good, but he was an All-Star for the 3rd straight time, finished 7th in Cy Young voting, and he helped the Mets to a World Series championship. Then, the wheels began to come off. A cocaine suspension in ’87 limited him to just 25 starts – but, he still went 15-7, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting. In ’89, Gooden suffered a shoulder injury, which shortened his season significantly. He rebounded in ’90, and finished 4th in Cy Young voting, but suffered another injury in ’91. His career declined rapidly from that point, and he tested positive for cocaine twice in ’94. Gooden was brilliant for a short period of time. It makes you wonder what might have happened if perhaps he had remained drug & injury free. Even with all of the struggles, Gooden ranks 4th in career ERA among Mets pitchers with at least 1,000 IP (3.10), 2nd in wins (157), 1st in win pct. (.649), 3rd in WHIP (1.17), 3rd in K/9 (7.78), 2nd in K’s (1875), 2nd in K/BB ratio (2.88), and 3rd in ERA+ (116).
1. Tom Seaver (’67-’77, ’83) – “Tom Terrific” is one of the all-time great pitchers in the history of baseball. His first 10 seasons with the Mets were . . . well, terrific. Rookie of the Year in ’67, Cy Young winner in ’69, ’73 and ’75 (and runner-up in ’71), MVP runner-up in ’69 to McCovey in one of the tightest MVP races in history (both received 11 1st-place votes), 9-time All-Star, led the league in wins twice, ERA three times, WHIP three times, K’s five times, K/9 six times, and K/BB ratio three times. He also led the Mets to two NL pennants, and a World Series title in ’69. It’s unfortunate that Mets ownership was as stubborn as they were when it came to negotiating with Seaver on his contract. It got so bad that Seaver gave up trying to work with them, and insisted on a trade in the midst of the ’77 season. When Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in ’92 (as the only player to have played primarily for the Mets), he received the highest vote percentage in the history of the HOF (98.84%), appearing on 425 of 430 ballots. Of the 5 who didn’t vote for him, three were ballots that were turned in blank by writers protesting the Hall’s decision to make Pete Rose ineligible, one was cast by a writer recovering from heart surgery who said he didn’t notice Seaver’s name, and the other was cast by a writer who declared that he never voted for anyone on their first ballot. Seaver is the all-time leader in Mets history in ERA (2.57), wins (198), WHIP (1.076), K’s (2541), CG’s (171), SHO (44), K/BB ratio among those with at least 1,000 IP (3.00), and ERA+ (136).