Thursday, May 12, 2016

Forgotten Mets of 1986

We all remember Doc, Mookie, Lenny and Keith. Tim, Raffy, Ron and Wally. Jesse tossing his glove. But, how about Stanley, George, Dave and Barry? No team wins a World Series with 8 fielders and a few pitchers. Teams have a 40 man roster for a reason. Guys come up from the minors, guys get released, trades get made. The 1986 Mets were no different. There were a whole host of players that played for that 1986 team that are forgotten to some degree today. 

1986 Donruss #116 George Foster (above)

Foster came to the Mets in 1982 from the Reds. In 1977 he was the NL MVP with 52 HR and 149 RBI. By 1982, though, his best years were behind him and he would hang around hitting the occasional homer until midway through the 1986 season when he was released. The Donruss card above is a great card, Foster looks like he is smiling as a ball exits Shea Stadium. Foster wasn't smiling when the Mets released him in 1986, though. Foster had been benched a few weeks earlier after he was reported as stating ''I'm not saying it's a racial thing. But that seems to be the case in sports these days. When a ball club can, they replace a George Foster or a Mookie Wilson with a more popular white player." This led to some acrimony and back and forth with a few players like Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson (who had recently lost his starting job to the white and popular Lenny Dykstra) expressing some level of support for Foster. The Mets countered that the benching, and eventual release, were for performance reasons. They promptly replaced Foster with the white and popular Lee Mazzilli.

1986 Donruss #632 Ed Lynch

Ed Lynch was drafted in 1977 by the Texas Rangers. He was later sent to the Mets as part of the Willie Montanez trade. Lynch made his MLB debut with the Amazins' in 1980 and toiled away with them through the lean, rebuilding years of the early 1980's. Lynch had surgery in April 1986 for torn ligaments in his knee and, after his rehab assignment was completed he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Dave Lenderman and Dave Liddell. Lenderman never made it past Double A and was out of baseball by 1988. Liddell, on the other hand, has the distinction of having a 1.000 batting average for the Mets. He appeared in one game in 1990, an 8-3 loss to Philadelphia on June 3rd. He singled in his only major league plate appearance, when he pinch hit for Mackey Sasser in the top of the 8th. Liddell subsequently moved to 2nd on a walk, moved to 3rd on a Marc Carreon flyball and scored on a wild pitch by Phillies pitcher Pat Combs. His career wasn't long but it was perfect.

Ed Lynch was reportedly voted a full world series share by his Mets teammates after they won the crown in '86.

1986 Donruss The Rookies #54 Ed Hearn

1986 was Hearn's rookie year and he appeared in 49 regular season games. He hit .265 with 4 HR and  10 RBI. Hearn made the postseason roster as Gary Carter's backup. He didn't appear in any games, however. In fact, he is quoted as saying he was told before the postseason that he wasn't going to appear unless there was a dire emergency. Hearn was traded to the Royals before the 1987 season as part of the deal for David Cone. He appeared in a few games for the Royals in 1987 and 1988, then hung around in the minors until 1990. 

1987 Donruss #642 Stan Jefferson

A first round pick in the 1983 draft, Jefferson was called up in September 1986 and appeared in 14 games for the eventual World Champions. Jefferson had 1 HR and 3 RBI and hit .208. Jefferson didn't make the postseason roster and was traded in the offseason as part of the deal that brought Kevin McReynolds to the Mets. After leaving the Mets, Jefferson played parts of 5 more seasons with the Padres, Yankees, Orioles, Indians and Reds.

1986 Fleer #87 Terry Leach

Leach made 6 appearances for the Mets, giving up 6 hits and striking out 4, in April and May of 1986. He spent the rest of the year at Tidewater (which I still sometimes refer to the Mets AAA team as). Leach would subsequently appear in the 1988 postseason for the Mets and would also appear in the 1991 postseason with the Twins and earn a World Series Ring. Leach retired after the 1993 season.

1987 Donruss #29 Randy Myers

Myers pitched out of the bullpen in 10 games in July, August and September of 1986. He had made his debut the previous year and would eventually be traded for John Franco. Myers later developed into one of the premier closers in the league and would collect a World Series Ring with the Reds in 1990.

1986 Fleer Update #U82 Randy Riemann

Niemann was drafted in 1975, a second round pick of the Yankees. He came to the Mets from the White Sox prior to the 1985 season. In 1986 he appeared in 31 games, ending up with a 3.79 ERA over 35.2 innings. Niemann made the postseason roster but didn't get into any games in either the NLCS or the World Series. Niemann famously sprayed Frank Cashen with champagne while Cashen was being interviewed following the Game 7 win over the Red Sox, to which Cashen replied "Isn't it funny how it's always the guys who do the least that celebrate the most?". Niemann was released just over a month later, unsurprisingly. He lasted one more year in the Bigs, going out for 6 appearances with the Twins in 1987. Cashen apparently didn't hold much of a grudge, Niemann began coaching in the Mets organization in 1988, where he remained in various capacities until 2011.

1987 Donruss The Rookies #37 John Mitchell

A September call up, Mitchell appeared in 4 games toward the end of the season. He started once, a 7-1 loss to the Phillies on September 21. Mitchell wasn't on the post season roster. He would pitch a bit for the Mets in 1987, 1988 and 1989 before finishing up his MLB career in Baltimore in 1990. Mitchell would toil away in the minors and independent ball until 1998, but would never get back to the bigs. Mitchell played for the Newark Bears in 1998, his final year in organized ball.

1986 Topps #339 Bruce Berenyi

After undergoing rotator cuff surgery in 1985, Berenyi returned with the Mets for the 1986 season. He appeared in 14 games early in the season, starting 7 of them. Berenyi was sent down to Tidewater for the remainder of the season and wasn't on the postseason roster. His appearances with the 1986 Mets were his last MLB performances. Injuries ended his career not long after the 1986 season came to its' glorious conclusion.

1985 Donruss #116 John Gibbons

Gibbons was highly touted out of MacArthur HS in Texas and was taken by the Mets in the 1st round of the 1980 amateur draft. Gibbons made his way through the minors, earning some time with the Mets in 1984 (10 games). He spent 1985 at Tidewater and then got in 8 more games with the big club at the tail end of the 1986 season. Gibbons had one big league HR, a solo shot in the 8th inning of a Mets 9-5 win over Philadelphia on Sept. 20, 1986 at Shea.Gibbons was back in the minors for 1987 before he was traded to the Dodgers. He spent the next few years in the Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies organizations and was out of baseball after the 1990 season.

1987 Topps Traded #68T Barry Lyons

Lyons appeared in 6 games for the Mets in April, May and June of 1986. In 9 AB's he failed to register a hit, but did record his first MLB RBI on May 20 when he grounded out to 3rd, scoring Ray Knight in the process. Lyons remained with the Mets until they released him in Sept 1990. He would appear in 212 games for the mets during his career.

1987 Fleer #2 Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson was drafted by the Mets in the 24th round of the 1978 amateur draft. He labored through the Mets minor league system, largely at Tidewater, Anderson made his MLB debut on June 9, 1986 when he started against the Phillies at Shea. Anderson went 7, leaving with the Mets up 2-1. Orosco and Sisk didn't hold up for Anderson though and the Mets lost that game 3-2 in 10. Anderson would appear in 15 games for the Mets in 1986, starting 5 and finishing the year with a 2.72 ERA over 49 2/3 innings. Before the 1987 season started, Anderson was traded as part of the deal, along with Ed Hearn, that brought David Cone to the Mets.

1987 Donruss #575 Dave Magadan

A top prospect at the time, Magadan earned a September call-up in 1986 and wound up appearing in 10 games for the big club, mostly spelling Keith Hernandez at 1st base. Magadan went 8 for 21 for a .444 batting average. Magadan remained with the Mets through the 1992 season when he became a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins. Magadan would wind up hitting .292 with 21 homers and 254 RBI's during the 7 years he was with the Mets.

1986 Donruss #556 Danny Heep

Heep, originally a Houston Astros prospect was acquired by the Mets after the 1982 season for none other than Mike Scott, who would bedevil the Mets in the 1986 NLCS. Interestingly, Heep faced Scott twice in the series and had success both times. In the 1st game of the NLCS when he pinch hit for Dwight Gooden with the Mets down 1-0 in the top of the 8th inning. Heep promptly singled to center and was replaced with pinch runner Kevin Elster. Elster would make it to 2nd on a Lenny Dykstra single but would remain stranded there after Mookie and Keith Hernandez both struck out.
In the 4th game, with the Mets losing 3-0 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Heep pinch hit for Rafael Santana with 1 out and Mookie Wilson on 3rd. Heep popped a flyball to center, deep enough to score Mookie and record the sac fly. 

In the World Series, Heep started game 3 as the DH. The Mets were down 2 games to none and were back on their heels. They needed a win and a big first inning, in which Heep played an important part, against Oil Can Boyd would eventually lead to a 7-1 Mets win and help get the Series back on track for the Mets. With one out and the bases loaded in the first Heep came up. The Mets were already up 2-0. Heep promptly deposited a 0-1 pitch into centerfield for a single, scoring Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. 

Heep wound up with a 2 or 15 line, 3 RBI against 3 K's in the 1986 post season.

Danny Heep became a free agent after the 1986 season and would play on til 1991 with the Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves. Heep is one of my all-time favorite Mets. My standard answer, when people ask me if I am a Mets fan, is "Danny Heep....Craig Swan.....Del Unser".

1991 Nobody Beats the Wiz #84 Tim Corcoran

In his last major league appearances, Tim Corcoran registered 5 pinch hits and 1 game started at 1B with the 1986 Mets. He had been signed as a free agent prior to the 1986 season and started the year at AAA Tidewater. He came up for a few games in April and went 0-1 as a pinch hitter. He made a return to the bigs in June, went 0-7 and was released on June 9, 1986. Thus ended Corcoran's time with the Mets.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dave Kingman

My early Mets memories consist almost entirely of Dave Kingman. It's probably a composite memory but I can clearly recall Kingman striding to the plate in the bottom of the 9th at Shea, with the Mets down 2 runs and 2 runners on. My young boy brain knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Dave Kingman was about to hit a 3 run home run and win the game. 

I can just as clearly picture Kingman striking out to end the game, leaving those 2 runners stranded.

Dave Kingman played only 6 seasons, in 2 stints, with the Mets. Yet it seems like he was there forever. Or least for the entirety of the late 70's and early 80's, which for Mets fans, was forever. Those years, after the World Series of 1973 until the buildup to 1986, were a black hole in Mets history. Those were also the formative years of my Mets fandom. 

Kingman appeared in 664 games for the Mets. He hit 154 home runs and struck out 672 times. Even my young boy brain should have realized in that 9th inning that Kingman was 4 times more likely to strike out than he was to hit a game winning blast. And that sums up what being a Mets fan is all about: Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst. I learned that sitting on the floor in front of our ancient console Magnavox that I had to get up and change the channel on physically. I passed that onto my children watching Tom Glavine give up 7 runs in the first inning on Sunday, Sept 30, 2007. As good as we are now, I know what's coming down the road. But I am ready.

No matter what tragedy befalls the Mets, no matter what disappointments come, I am prepared. Dave Kingman made sure of that. And for that I thank him.

I believe I will wear my Dave Kingman jersey today.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mets Card of the Day - 1996 Topps #214 Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson was selected with the #1 overall pick in the 1994 draft by the Mets. Wilson was part of "Generation K" along with Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher. 

After spending 1994 and 1995 ascending through the Mets system, Wilson made his debut with the big club at Shea Stadium on 4/4/96, starting against the Reds. He went 6 and got a no-decision, giving up 8 hits and striking out 2. Wilson would finish the year going 5-12 with a 5.38 ERA, 1.530 WHIP and 109 K's. That would be the only year Wilson made it up with the big club, he was traded to Tampa Bay on 7/28/2000.

This post isn't really about Paul Wilson, though. It's also not about Generation K. It's about a player that Wilson played with in 1993 on team USA, Steve Reich. Wilson and Reich both had cards in the 1993 Topps Traded set and they are shown below:

In 1996, while Wilson was making his way through his debut MLB season, Reich toiled away for the High Desert Mavericks of the California League, making 2 appearances. Reich had signed with the Baltimore Orioles organization once he completed 2 years of his military commitment after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point, Reich set the record for most wins by any Army Pitcher. Reich was highly touted as a prospect coming out of High School, but he chose to attend West Point instead. 

After realizing that the California League was probably about as far as he was going to go in professional baseball, Reich re-entered the United States Army and would eventually serve 4 tours in Afghanistan.

Reich was Killed in Action on June 28, 2005. He was aboard a MH-47 Special Operations Helicopter that was hit by an RPG while trying to rescue a 4 man Navy Seal team. This incident is covered in the book and movie "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Luttrell.

"Generation K" is something that should rightly be forgotten by Mets Fans. Nothing personal against Paul Wilson, but I prefer to remember his Team USA teammate Steve Reich.

RIP Maj. Stephen C. Reich 

God Bless the men and women of our Armed Forces. 

Go Army! Beat Navy!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mets Card of the Day - 1975 Topps #619 - Benny Ayala

August 27, 1974. A small bungalow in Lavalette, NJ. We spent 3 weeks a summer here, gathered with cousins, aunts and uncles. I was 6, my brother was 4, my mother was 32. My father wasn't with us, he only came down on weekends, not wanting to miss work. Ironworkers didn't get vacation, they got stamps in their paychecks that they could cash in. If you worked a full year you got enough stamps to make up a week or 2 salary so you could take some time off. But, ironworkers usually didn't work full years, the work was dependent on demand and competition was stiff. Even if you did work enough to accumulate the stamps you needed to make up a week's salary, why would you take a week off when you could just cash those stamps in for some extra cash and keep on working? That was my father's viewpoint. Maybe that's why he died before he hit 60. Maybe that's why the two most important lessons I learned from my father are:

  • work hard
  • take vacations

Anyway, back to Benny Ayala. The Mets were playing the Astros at 8:05 PM at Shea Stadium. I know we were in the bungalow, we probably spent the day at the beach rafting and catching rock crabs in hand nets. I don't remember much (I was only 6) but I recall the game was on the radio. My Mother was a Met Fan, a huge Met Fan. She was possibly the biggest Met Fan of all time. She is gone too, listening to the Mets in Heaven. Because, as we all know, if anyone deserves to go to Heaven, it's Mets Fans. We have suffered enough.

In the second inning, with no one on, Benny Ayala came to the plate for his first Major League at-bat. I don't know what the count was, I don't know who was pitching for Houston. I do know, and can recall it as clear as if it happened yesterday, Benny Ayala deposited one into the left field Loge seats, just to the right of the foul pole. I remember my Mother jumping around, happy as can be. I knew, in my 6 year old brain, that Benny Ayala was going to be a star. This was our Babe Ruth. How could he not be? He just homered in his first at bat. Benny Ayala was the first Met to homer in his first MLB at bat. Benny Ayala was the first Puerto Rican player to home in his first MLB at bat. Benny Ayala was great.

This is my first Mets memory.

This is when I became a Mets fan.

The next year, 1975, was the first year I collected baseball cards. I still have the Benny Ayala Rookie Outfielders card from that set. It's possibly my favorite card of all time.

As for Benny Ayala, he went on to hit one more homer for the Mets in 1974 and after spending 1975 at Triple A Tidewater, he hit one more for us in 1976. On March 30, 1977, the Mets traded Ayala to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for second baseman Doug Clarey, who never played a game for the Mets and who has, incidentally, no baseball card. Ayala subsequently landed with the Baltimore Orioles, where he played until 1984. Ayala retired after playing in 46 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1985.

They won yesterday Mom, I know you were watching.