NEW YORK - AUGUST 01: Mets Hall of Fame inductees (L-R) Davey Johnson Dwight Gooden Darryl Strawberry and Frank Cashen pose for photographers prior to the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 1 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images).....Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden join former manager Davey Johnson and former general manager Frank Cashen
I'm willing to hypothetically bet $20 that your favorite Mets player of all time wasn't a pitcher.
Oh, I might have to pay out on a few bets. Surely, some of you will designate Tom Seaver as the Met most likely to set your nostalgic heart all a-flutter. Others might give Jerry Koosman the recognition he attained while pitching in Seaver's formidable shadow. The lucky ones can still summon the palpable feeling of excitement that surrounded every pitch Dwight Gooden threw in his formative years. And hey, ya gotta believe in Tug McGraw, right?
However, I expect to cover those losses with the innumerable gains I'll receive courtesy of Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, and Darryl Strawberry. The longevity of Ed Kranepool and Jerry Grote should pay dividends, as should Wally Backman's dirty uniform, Mookie Wilson's ball past Bill Buckner, or Gary Carter's smiling face.
It's more than the simple realization that more position players than hurlers passed through the clubhouses of the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, and Citi Field. I place this wager because I feel pitchers get shortchanged in our collective memory, perhaps because they don't play everyday or because being the best of a last place club does not stand for much when you're getting sentimental over the orange and blue.
This season, the Mets will not induct anyone into the organization's Hall of Fame after ending the Hall's eight-year sabbatical in 2010. Despite previously inducting Mookie Wilson (1996), Keith Hernandez (1997), and Gary Carter (2002), the Mets ended the Hall hiatus to further acknowledge the 1986 World Championship Mets team by enshrining its backbone - general manager Frank Cashen, manager Davey Johnson, Strawberry, and Gooden. They all seemed obvious, and, despite the politics that play into (and likely delayed) these selections, they all seemed long overdue.
Disclaimer: I freely concede the intelligence of arguing a team's inner Hall of Fame on its merits. They represent marketing devices to sell tickets and memorabilia by tapping into the nostalgia that comes from a club's history. Their inductions lack the same weight or gravitas of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and remain subject to the whims of ownership or the politics that likely chased a player out of town.
Despite that disclaimer, the Mets Hall of Fame includes only four pitchers - Seaver, Koosman, McGraw, and Gooden. Compare that to the ten position players receiving the honor (or 11, if you want to include Gil Hodges's brief tenure with the team in 1962 and 1963).
Three of the four pitchers gained the recognition on their merits as much as they continue to curry favor with Mets fans everywhere. Seaver, known across Metsopotamia and Baseball Nation as The Franchise, sits atop nearly every meaningful Mets pitching category in addition to the many achievements that earned him the highest-ever percentage of votes given to any National Baseball Hall of Famer before or since. Koosman and Gooden rank right behind Seaver in most if not all of those categories. Seaver, Koosman, and Gooden ranks first, second, and third in Mets career leaders in bWAR with 75.8, 41.8, and 41.2 wins respectively.
In short, they're all no-brainers.
McGraw's case is not as clear-cut, since he ranks as a highly effective reliever in team history but not a particularly exceptional one by baseball standards. But again, he likely alleviated any doubts through his outwardly character and by his role in coining the phrase, "Ya Gotta Believe!" History does not care that Tug allegedly uttered the phrase to derisively portray ownership. It only matters that the phrase stuck for the right reasons.
Now compare those profiles to those of the ten hitters enshrined in the Mets' Hall. Only Strawberry (first overall), Hernandez (fifth), and Wilson (ninth) rank in the top ten of the club's career leaders in bWAR with 37.7, 26.5, and 19.4 wins respectively. Ranking seventh overall with 26.4 bWAR, Mike Piazza should receive the honor when the National Baseball Hall of Fame comes calling. David Wright should sail in as he already ranks second on the list with 31.1 bWAR. Howard Johnson (sixth, 24.7 bWAR) might warrant the honor if he makes amends with the club after his ignominious exit following the 2010 season, while Jose Reyes (eighth, 23.3 bWAR) could enter the conversation pending the result of where he signs his next contract.
And that's just the obvious candidates and three of the immortalized. The rest of the Mets position players residing in the Hall of Fame received the honor to adopt a wayward franchise's first National Hall of Fame inductee (Carter), as a sort of lifetime achievement award (Grote, Harrelson, Staub, Kranepool), or in commemoration of their exploits with the 1969 Mets (Jones, Agee). They won the hearts and minds of Mets fans everywhere with big seasons at the right time, or by the grit and hustle the exhibited during their long tenures with the club. But rarely both for any extended period of time.
Again, I'm not here to critique how the Mets marketing gurus draw the lines for entry into the team's Hall of Fame. It serves to please the fans, and that criteria should rise above any statistical arguments you can make about each player's contributions to Mets history.
Except one. I struggle to recognize how so many Mets pitchers fall through the cracks while the Position Players' wing serves as a clearinghouse of every popular player in team history.
The Mets could not bring themselves to keep the team Hall of Fame festivities rolling by inviting Jon Matlack to tip his cap to the Citi Field crowd one more time? They sincerely intend to make Ron Darling endure a few more years calling games for SNY before they thank him for his contributions to the club in the grandest possible fashion? They cannot find the time to recognize John Franco, who holds many meaningful Mets records himself (including games pitched and saves) in addition to being the All-Time leader in southpaw saves?
Historically speaking, the Mets tend to fail at embracing all of their history. They'll parade out 1969 and 1986 to your heart's content, and sprinkle it with memories from 1973 or the Subway Series in 2000 to connect the dots. And that suffices for most.
It just never did for me. I came of age as a Mets fan in an era of team history that frequently gets swept under the rug (a.k.a. The Worst Team Money Could Buy), and I like to peek there and at similar eras from time to time. I'm as much a fan of the also-rans as I am of the sure things. I celebrate the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to break free from the blind spots in team history.
The biggest blind spot hides the team's great pitching tradition. They may not be appreciated as Hall of Famer pitchers by statistical standards, but they're our best pitchers and more than four of them are out there.
And they should be recognized as such.
I should confess that my all-time favorite Met was and is Todd Hundley, putting me down $20 to myself.
Rick Reed was a very close second, though.