New York Mets: Greatest All-Time Team

New York Mets

Also known as the Metropolitans
National League (1962-Present)
National League Champions: 1969, 1972, 1986, 2000, 2015
World Series Champions: 1969, 1986

From 1947 to 1957 a team representing New York City had participated in the World Series every year except 1948. In fact two teams from “The Big Apple” competed against one another in 1947, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956. It was a great time to be a New York baseball fan. Only in 1948 (Cleveland Indians) and 1957 (Milwaukee Braves) was the World Champion not from New York.

When the Dodgers and the Giants left New York for the West Coast following the 1957 season, the National League found themselves without a franchise in the Big Apple for the first time in over 75 years. Even though the Yankees were the dominant team in baseball, the two National League teams held their own with the Bronx Bombers in both performance and fan base. The Brooklyn and Giant Fans now had nowhere to go. They certainly weren’t going to support the hated Yankees. When a group of businessmen attempted to form a new Major League (the Continental League) in the late 1950s, New York City was one of their prime targets. It was the threat of a new Major League that convinced the powers in the two Major Leagues to accept an expansion. Putting a National League team in the nation’s largest city was a top priority. Thus was born the New York Metropolitans, quickly shortened to the Mets.

Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the Dodgers and Giants, the Mets took the colors of Dodger Blue and New York Giant orange. Their home field was the former home of the Giants in Queens, the Polo Grounds. They hired former Yankee Skipper Casey Stengell to manage the new team. It didn’t immediately work. Fans stayed away from the old ballpark and the team was terrible, going 40-120, the worst Major League team since the doomed 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134). 

They improved to 51-111 in 1963 and then abandoned the Polo Grounds, for a new ballpark, in Flushing Meadows, Shea Stadium in 1964. Their performance on the field continued to be awful (53-109), but their attendance exploded.  Despite their dismal records on the field the Mets passed the American League Champion New York Yankees in attendance in 1964 with over 1,732,000 paying fans. The Mets would outdraw the Yankees for the next 12 years. Proving once again that New York was a National League town.

The Mets performance on the field continued to be dismal, through 1967 they only avoided a 100 loss season once, in 1966, when they went 66-95. They hired former Brooklyn Dodger star Gil Hodges to manage the team in 1968 and had their best record in franchise history (73-89), and for only the second time finished out of the cellar. 

Then came 1969, when they became the “Amazin’ Mets”. 

They started the season by going 9-11 in April, better than usual, but showing no indication they were a contender. After a loss to the expansion San Diego Padres on May 27th they fell to 18-23 and found themselves 9 games behind the first place Chicago Cubs. Only the expansion Montreal Expos were behind them in the National League East. They then ran off an 11 game winning streak, that included 3 game sweeps of both the Giants and the Dodgers. The streak ended with the Mets securely planted in second place, a position they would never fall out of. 

The Cubs were making a route of the pennant race, but a strong second place finish would be a huge step forward for the franchise. They continued to stay comfortably above .500, but could not get close to the Cubs. They trailed by 8 games on the first of July, closed to 6.5 at the end of July, and then fell to 10 games behind on August 13th.  

Then it happened. The Mets rattled off 12 wins in their next 13 games and found themselves only 2.5 games behind the frontrunning Cubs. The Mets were still 2.5 behind when they welcomed the Cubs into Shea Stadium for a two game series on September 8th and 9th. The Mets, behind their two ace starters, Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver, swept the Cubs, 3-2 and 7-1. When they swept a double header from the Montreal Expos the next day they found themselves alone in first place!

The Chicago Cubs, of course, completely collapsed and the New York Mets continued to win. By the end of the season New York’s record was 100-62, 8 games better than the second place Cubs.

They beat the Henry Aaron led Atlanta Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series, 3 games to none, and then faced off against the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. The Orioles had won 109 games and swept the Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series and were a heavy favorite. The Mets beat them 4 games to 1. Thus was created the “Miracle Mets”.

The franchise has been hit and miss every since. Winning a second National League Championship in 1973, but losing a seven game World Series to the Oakland Athletics in the Series. They won it all in 1986, and two more National League Championships in 2000 and 2015. The Yankees started beating them in attendance in the late 1970s, and the Mets remain second in the pecking order in New York to this day. It still seems possible for them to supplant the hated Yankees in the hearts of New York fans if they could produce a consistent winner in their new stadium built in 2009, Citi Field. 

Catcher

Mike Piazza (1998-2005) is in the Hall of Fame. He’s probably the best offensive player who’s primary position was catcher. Catcher is the second most important defensive position on the field (behind only pitcher). He was not a terrible defensive backstop, but he wasn’t really good either. The Met’s had Jerry Grote (1966-1977) behind the plate when they won their first Championship in 1969. His defense was good, not great, but he hit like a catcher. If his defense was better this would be a tough philosophical decision. How much defense at catcher are you willing to sacrifice to get another bat in the line up? In this case it’s not difficult. You have a good catcher who doesn’t hit, or an average backstop who hits like an outfielder.  Mike Piazza (1998-2005).

First Base

Keith Hernandez (1983-1989) had his best years in St. Louis. It doesn’t matter, He was still a Gold Glove Fielder at first base with New York and the clear choice there for the Mets.

Second Base

In their September, 6th, 1999 issue SPORTS ILLUSTRATED put the Met’s infield of John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo (1995-2002), Robin Ventura, and Rey Ordonez on the cover with the caption “The Best Infield Ever?”. Twenty years later that caption seems rather silly. Nobody today seriously believes that was the greatest infield ever, but it was a very good one and the second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo (1995-2002) was the best of the four. In 1999 he hit .304, with 27 home runs and 108 RBI and followed that with .324, 25 and 94 in 2000 when he was 27 years old. Expecting his best year yet in 2001 he was plagued by injuries. He never again played a complete season. The Mets let him go following the 2003 campaign, but he accomplished enough before that to be the easy choice at second base.

Third Base

Howard Johnson (1985-1993) was a versatile, and underrated performing for New York for nine years. Dividing himself between third base, shortstop and the outfield, he was an integral component of the Met’s best teams. His problem is that third base was his primary position, and he’s up against the second best player in Met history. We’ll have to see if he can make it at shortstop. David Wright (2004-2018) finished as high as 4th in the National League MVP balloting, and three other times was in the top ten. A two time Gold Glove at third, and seven time All Star, he’s probably a little short of Hall of Fame production, but retired as one of the most popular players in Met history. 

Shortstop

Jose Reyes (2003-2011, 2016-2018) competition is the previously mentioned  Howard Johnson (1985-1993). They are pretty much even, but since Jose Reyes (2003-2011, 2016-2018) was a real shortstop we’ll go with him and consider Johnson in the outfield.

Left Field

Cleon Jones (1963-1975) was the best everyday player on the team that shocked the baseball world in 1969. He was not as valuable as the two pitchers, Seaver and Koosman, but his best year was the miracle one. His competition in left is the displaced third baseman, Howard Johnson (1985-1993). Johnson played 1,031 games at third for the Mets, and another 273 at shortstop and only 217 in the outfield. When he had his best year (1991) he divided his time equally between third and the outfield. Since David Wright is obvious at third, and Reyes beats him narrowly at short, the only place left to play him is left field. The metrics we use shows Howard Johnson (1985-1993) as the 5th best player in the history of the franchise, while Cleon Jones (1963-1975) is rated 10th. That’s good enough for us to move Howard Johnson (1985-1993) to the outfield.

Center Field

Carlos Beltran (2005-2011) was a gypsy, playing for seven different teams in his 20 year career. He had more games and plate appearances with the Mets than any other franchise, but only about 33% of his total production was in New York. He’s an interesting Hall of Fame candidate. A nine time All Star, and three times a Gold Glove in center field. His career numbers are good, but he didn’t reach any of the traditional milestones that would automatically get him in. (3,000 Hits, 500 Home Runs). His best years were with the Mets, so he’s an easy choice in center field. 

Right Field

What an enigma Darryl Strawberry (1983-1990) was to the New York Mets. The overall #1 draft choice for the Mets in 1980, he streaked through the Mets farm system, making the big club in May, 1983. He hit 26 home runs that season and easily won the National League Rookie of the Year. For the next seven years he was the key player for a team that was the best in baseball when he was in the line-up. Back problems hampered him for the rest of his career, then drug and legal problems ended it completely. He still holds the franchise record for career home runs, but he is now viewed as a disappointment. At his best, he was as good as any other player of his time.

Pitchers

There’s a case to be made that Tom Seaver (1967-1977, 1983) is the greatest pitcher in baseball history. His overall record is 311-205 (198-124 with the Mets), with a 2.86 ERA. This was with teams that were below .500 when he wasn’t starting. A GREAT PITCHER.

#2 Dwight Gooden (1984-1994) was Tom Seaver for his first five years in New York. Going 91-35 in those years, while winning a Cy Young Award in 1985. Drugs and injuries cut short what looked like a Hall of Fame career. He still wound up with a 157-85 record in a Met’s uniform.

The #3 selection is Seaver’s teammate on both the 1969 and 1973 Championship teams. Jerry Koosman (1967-1978) was never the ace of the staff, but he was a solid staff anchor for 11 years.

#4 is tough. Jon Matlack (1971-1977), Sid Fernandez (1984-1993) and Al Leiter (1998-2004) were all key members of Met Championship teams, but were never one of the stars of those teams. It could be last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Jacob de Grom (2014-2019). Despite a 10-9 record in 2018, de Grom won the award behind his 1.70 ERA and WHIP (Walks+Hits times Innings Pitched) that was under 1. He’s one of the favorites to win a second Cy Young in 2019 despite another pedestrian win/loss record (about .500). We’re always hesitant to rate current players. This is close, but we think he has already done enough to be rated #4. 

Manager

For sentimental reasons it would be nice to choose Gil Hodges (1968-1971), who guided the Mets to their miracle championship in 1969. After two 83 win seasons in 1970 and 1971 he died tragically of a massive heart attack during spring training in 1972. His teams just didn’t do enough during his four years at the helm to lift him over the manager that led the team to their other World Series Title. In Davey Johnson’s (1984-1990) six full seasons with the Mets they never finished lower than second in the National League East. Their overall record in those six full years he was in charge was 575-395. That’s an average record of 96-66. The best record, by far, for any Met manager. Not a popular choice, but an easy one.

MVP

Quick personal story. This writer has been watching baseball since the Dodgers were playing their home games in the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. He’s seen Warren Spahn, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Clayton Kershaw. The most dominant performance he ever witnessed was early in the season in 1974. The Mets were in town to face the Dodgers in Dodgers Stadium. My Dad and I were in the Left Field Pavilion behind the center field fence. Andy Messersmith was on the mound for the Dodgers squaring off against Tom Seaver (1967-1977, 1983). Messersmith was very good, going 11 innings and allowing one run and six hits, but Seaver was in a completely different zone. He threw for twelve innings, in which the Dodgers managed to hit one ball out of the infield, he struck out 16, leaving with the score tied 1-1. The Dodgers managed only three hits, but two of them were infield singles on weak ground balls. He did hang a curveball to Steve Garvey in the fifth, that Garvey promptly deposited in the Dodger bullpen in left. That was the only hard hit ball of the night against “Tom Terrific”. Seaver’s game score that night was 106, the highest of his career. An incredible performance. The Dodgers eventually won the game in the 14th inning.  

In March of 2019, Seaver’s family announced that he suffered from advancing dementia and would retire from public life. Let us not forget the level of excellence he displayed on and off the field.


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