A graduate of Grover Cleveland High, Saberhagen was the master at putting up non-consecutive good years. (Otto Greule, Jr. / Getty Images)
Eighteen years ago today, members of the Major League Baseball Players Association followed through on their threat of a strike, thus starting the longest labor stoppage in the history of professional baseball. The strike led to the cancellation of all remaining games in the 1994 season, including the playoffs, making it the first time in 90 years that a World Series would not be played.
Though they had only an outside shot at making it to the Fall Classic, for the Mets, the strike brought an end to a moderately promising season. One year removed from losing 100+ games for the first time since the mid-'60s, the team stood just three games under .500 at the time of the walk out. Most of this improvement was shouldered by Bret Saberhagen, who after two injury plagued seasons in New York, reemerged as one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Always known for his pinpoint control, in 1994, he threw with the precision of a darts champion. Saberhagen led the league in walk rate, averaging a minuscule 0.7 BB per nine, and in strikeout-to-walk ratio, posting a gaudy 11.00 K/BB. Since the start of the 20th century, no other starter with at least 100 IP in a season has topped that mark. In another statistical oddity, when play stopped August 12, 1994, Saberhagen had 14 victories and just 13 free passes to his name, making him the first pitcher since Slim Sallee in 1919 to end a full season with more wins than walks.
Barry Manuel is 47. A mop up man for the 1997 Mets, Manuel served as a human white flag. He appeared in 19 games for the team, seventeen of which were losses. Of those seventeen losses, all but five were by more a margin of more than two runs.
The Mets brought the funk on August 12, 2005, signing reliever Shingo Takatsu to a minor league deal. Takatsu had an inauspicious Mets debut roughly a month later. Facing a based loaded jam against the Marlins, Mr. Zero, as he was known in Japan, tried to sneak an 80 MPH fastball past Miguel Cabrera. The young slugger found the pitch easily and smoked a line drive off the left field wall for three-run double. When asked about his decision to let a soft-tossing pitcher who hadn't seen major league competition in over a month face the Marlins' best hitter, manager Willie Randolph cited Mr. Zero's "funky" wind up. Explaining himself further, he added, "I just chose Takatsu."
On this date in 1979, the Mets sent first baseman Willie Montanez to the Rangers for players to be named later. Presumably, those players were named at birth, but for the purposes of the transaction, they wound up being called Ed Lynch and Mike Jorgensen.
Game of Note
To call Benny Agbayani a fan favorite doesn't really do him justice. The perfect combination of folk hero and fourth outfielder, there might not be a more universally beloved figure in the history of the franchise this side of Mr. Met. That said, Benny broke the heart of one young fan on this date in 2000. The Mets held a 1-0 lead over the visiting Giants going into the fourth, but in the top of the inning, San Francisco used a double, an error, and a hit batsman to load the bases with just one out. That brought up Bobby Estalella, a backup catcher and career .216/.315/.440 hitter who inexplicably turned into Johnny Bench (.286/.352/.556) whenever facing Mets pitching. Starter Mike Hampton forestalled the metamorphosis in this at-bat, however, getting Estalella to hit a sac fly along the left field line that Benny Agbayani gloved easily. Let's pause the recap here for a quick quiz:
Q: How many outs have been recorded at this point in the inning?
If you answered C, you're paying closer attention than Benny was. Assuming he'd caught out number three, Agbayani gave the ball to seven-year old Jake Burns, a second grader in the stands. Ellis Burks, the runner on second, took note and sped around the bases. Realizing his mistake, Benny ripped the ball from Jake's tiny fingers and fired it home much too late to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring. Giants pitcher Shawn Estes fanned for the actual third out and Benny trotted off the field to boos for probably the only time in his Mets career. The jovial Hawaiian made good with Jake in the fifth by giving the young fan a ball that wasn't in play. Two innings later, Todd Zeile did right by the rest of the home fans, putting the Mets up for good with a two-RBI double. Final score: Mets 3, Giants 2.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Today is the Glorious Twelfth, the traditional start of grouse hunting season in the United Kingdom. In 1972, just two weeks after signing a contract with the Mets, pitching prospect Steve Johnson was hit with 48 pellets of birdshot when his friend's shotgun accidentally discharged during a grouse hunting trip. Johnson survived and recuperated well enough to pitch one game for the Mets' rookie league affiliate in 1973.