This Date In Mets History: January 17 — Willie Harris Leaps At Chance To Play In New York

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Old nemesis signs on for 2011, but the magic is gone.

One year ago today free agent Willie Harris signed with the Mets. Having Harris on board meant, at the very least, he wouldn't be able to break our hearts with his lunging/diving/leaping/oh-no-you-didn't grabs of balls in flight that were surely destined for greater things. These included some great plays that contributed to Mets losses in two seasons in which they were eliminated on the last day:

August 9, 2007: With one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Braves leading 7-6, Harris runs to the left field fence and jumps to rob Carlos Delgado of a sure game-tying home run.

May 15, 2008: More bottom-of-the- ninth inning heroics by Harris, now with the Nationals: With Carlos Beltran on first and nobody out, he makes a momentum-killing, diving catch of Ryan Church’s sinking line drive. Mets go on to lose 1-0.

Sept. 16, 2008: With two on and two out in the sixth, Harris, with a stretch and a bit of a leap, runs down David Wright’s “sure double” liner in deep left. Another 1-0 loss.

I was there on April 10, 2010, when Rod Barajas came to bat with the bases loaded, two out and the Mets trailing 4-3. The Mets’ catcher punched a sinking liner into no man's land between shortstop and left field where Willie Harris made full-out, body-parallel-to-the-ground diving catch to end the game and shut the crowd up in mid-cheer.

It seems there were a lot more games like these over Harris’ four seasons with the Braves and Nats. Any time he came in for defense there was the dread of a game-saving play at the Amazins’ expense.

With the Mets last year Harris played competently in the outfield, with occasional flashes of above-and-beyond glove work, and also logged some time at second and third base. But his bat speed and legs were slowing down. He hit only two home runs in 240 at-bats and was five-for-nine in steals, although he did post a respectable .351 OBP.

Birthdays

Happy 82nd birthday to Don “Popeye” Zimmer, the Mets first third baseman and poster boy for the newly minted Amazins’ penchant for failed expectations and ultimate futility. After hitting around .400 in spring training he went 4-for-52, compiling a slash line of .077/.096/.127. His only RBI was on a ground out with his team down 11-3. On May 7, he was traded to Cincinnati, where he promptly delivered three pinch hits in his first three at-bats. When his playing career ended in 1966, he managed in the minors and went on to manage four big league teams and coach a half dozen others, including his current employers, the Tampa Bay Rays. Zim, as Bob Murphy loved to point out, has never drawn a paycheck outside of baseball.

Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection

On this date in 2009, “Just Dance” became the first song by Lady Gaga to hit number one on Billboard’s Hot 100. If she had just danced at the opener of a Mets-Padres day-night doubleheader at Citi Field on June 10, 2010, we wouldn't be writing this. Instead, she showed up (in the fifth inning!) and made a scene, apparently upset that her seats were too close to the photographers’ box (we all know how camera shy she is). After storming off, she reappeared in a luxury box and, having stripped down to her designer underwear, cursed out and flipped off the “paparazzi” with a double-bird salute during the seventh-inning stretch. The box turned out to be that of super-fan Jerry Seinfeld, who was not there that day. The question is, if he had been there, would he have helped Lady Gaga move?

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