The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #44 Robin Ventura

On the same day that they acquired Roger Cedeno from the Dodgers and Armando Benitez from the Orioles, the Mets bested the final offer from those same Orioles and landed the left-handed hitting third basemen they coveted all along. Though it was officially announced a couple of days later, on December 1, 1998, the Mets came to terms with former White Sox Robin Ventura on a four-year, $32 million deal.

Ventura came to the Mets with the reputation of being a solid hitter and a terrific fielder, having won five gold gloves during his time in Chicago. His arrival meant that Edgardo Alfonzo would be making another of his many shifts around the infield, this time from third base to second. Many expected Ventura to take a bit of time to adjust to the National League, having played his entire career to that point with the White Sox. Ventura made a couple of fielding miscues in his first game as a Met, but went on to post one of the best seasons in club history.

Year  Age   PA     XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG   EQA  WARP3   VORP
--------------------------------------------------------
1999   31  671   70  74  301/379/529  .301   10.6   53.4
2000   32  551   48  75  232/338/439  .263    4.2   13.1
2001   33  549   41  88  237/359/419  .275    5.7   15.4
Ventura was 51 Batting Runs Above Replacement and 46 Fielding Runs Above Replacement in 1999, winning the gold glove at third and finishing sixth in the MVP voting, just ahead of teammates Mike Piazza and Alfonzo. He began the season with a ten-game hitting streak during which he batted .375/.422/.600, and followed that up with a cold streak in which he picked up just one hit in the next six games. He finished the first half hitting .283/.357/.492, but really improved his walk and homerun rates after the All Star break, hitting .294/.389/.549 to finish the season.

Despite the outstanding regular season, Ventura struggled once the playoffs began. He managed only three hits in fourteen at-bats in the LDS against the Diamondbacks, good for a .214/.389/.357 line. He was even worse in the LCS against the hated Braves, collecting just three hits in 25 at-bats for a .120/.185/.160. One of those hits, however, would become one of the most memorable not just in Mets' lore, but in all of baseball history.

The Mets took a 2-0 lead on a John Olerud homerun in the bottom of the first, but the Braves answered with two of their own in the fourth. Eleven innings and fifteen pitchers later the score was still 2-2 when a Keith Lockhart triple off of Octavio Dotel plated Walt Weiss to give the Braves a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifteenth inning. Kevin McGlinchy, who relieved John Rocker in the 14th, stayed on to try to pick up the win. My writing would do the majesty of the inning that followed little justice, so I'll allow the game log to paint the picture (courtesy of Retrosheet.org):

METS 15TH: Dunston singled to center; M. FRANCO BATTED FOR DOTEL; Dunston stole second; M. Franco walked; Alfonzo out on a sacrifice bunt (pitcher to second) [Dunston to third, M. Franco to second]; Olerud was walked intentionally; CEDENO RAN FOR M. FRANCO; Pratt walked [Dunston scored, Cedeno to third, Olerud to second]; Ventura singled to center [Cedeno scored, Olerud to third, Pratt to second]; Ventura's ball cleared the right-centerfield fence, but he was tackled by celebrating teammates before he reached second and was credited with a 'grand-slam single' instead; 2 R, 2 H, 0 E, 3 LOB. Braves 3, Mets 4.
Few can forget that the "celebrating teammates" were led full-steam by reserve catcher Todd Pratt, who was on the field mobbing Ventura just moments after the ball cleared the right-center field wall. Bob Costas described the game as "a 5-hour-47-minute trip to bedlam", and the game was surely that and more. The Mets ultimately lost the series in six games, but Ventura's historic swing lives on.
Ventura had suffered a bruise of his right rotator cuff during the LDS against the Diamondbacks, which could explain some of his struggles that postseason. He underwent arthroscopic surgery that December to remove scar tissue, just six weeks after similar arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Despite the surgeries Ventura was ready for opening day of the 2000 season, though he got off to a rough start and was hitting just .235/.350/.463 on July 13. After that day's game against the Red Sox, Ventura was sent back to New York for an MRI on his shoulder. Unable to raise his elbow above his shoulder, Ventura was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career on July 16. He would return on the 29th, but things didn't get any better for him at the plate. He finished the season hitting .232/.338/.429, a precipitous dropoff across the board compared to his 1999 campaign.

His performance didn't improve during the Mets' 2000 run to the World Series, as he hit .143/.368/.357 in the LDS against the Giants, .214/.409/.286 in the LCS against the Cardinals and .150/.190/.350 in the Series against the Yankees. He was able to keep his OBP up in the first two rounds by drawing some key walks, but he had no such luck against the Yankees.

Ventura got off to a fast start in 2001 and was hitting .305/.425/.517 on June 5. From that point until the end of the season Ventura batted an anemic .195/.316/.358. It's not clear what happened around that time, but it's a reasonable guess that Ventura's shoulder might have had something to do with that. Ventura was among a contingent of Mets who visited the George W. Bush White House on June 12, but I'll leave the conspiracy theories for someone else to sort through. For the year, Ventura hit just .237/.359/.419 and was traded to the Yankees in the offseason for David Justice. He had a solid season in the Bronx in 2002, but retired after playing out the 2004 season with the Dodgers.

If not for the shoulder injury that sapped him of his power in 2000 and all hitting ability in the second half of 2001, Ventura might well have been in the Top 30 on this list. Nevertheless, he cracks the Top 50 mostly on the strength of his remarkable 1999 season, his first with the Mets. He'll be remembered for that season -- and *that* hit in 2000 -- for a long time to come.

Sources

Robin Ventura at Baseball-Reference.com
Robin Ventura at Baseball Prospectus

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