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Don Aase disappoints in 1989, Tony Clark is a bright spot in 2003.
There was plenty of blame to go around for the Mets falling six games short of first place in 1989, but Don Aase certainly deserves his share. Signed as a free agent on February 20 that year, he went 1–5 as a set-up men and in back-to-back appearances in late May surrendered an eighth-inning run that proved to be the difference in two other Mets losses. Barring a trade with the Yankees for David Aardsma, Aase should continue to reign as the Mets’ number one player, alphabetically speaking, well into the foreseeable future.
2003 signee Tony Clark’s contributions were mostly positive in a very negative year. In less than half a season’s worth of at-bats the switch-hitting first baseman launched 16 home runs and drove in 43. He did his best hitting in front of the home crowd, excelled against left-handed pitching, and was also a good defender. Why the Mets didn’t try to re-sign him is puzzling. Clark could have been a cheap option (the Yankees snapped him up for $750,000) to hold down the fort at first base for a few seasons and spare us the Mike Piazza experiment, the second (lackluster) coming of Todd Zeile, Jason Phillips’s painful-to-watch stretches, and Doug Mientkiewicz.
Outfielder Shane Spencer, who turns 41 today, burst on the scene in spectacular fashion, slugging 10 home runs in only 67 at-bats with the Yankees in 1998, and ended his career in infamy with the 2004 Mets. In late July, while rehabbing in Port St. Lucie after a freak accident (stepping on broken glass in a Manhattan bar), he was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol, reportedly driving 98 mph while under the influence. In 185 at-bats as a Met he hit only four homers, knocked in 26, and was a perfect 6-for–6 in stolen bases.
Livan Hernandez, allegedly 38 today, was expected to eat a lot of innings in 2009, but too often had his lunch handed to him. Despite being released in mid-August, he still logged the third most innings among Mets pitchers that year.
Phil Lombardi celebrates his big 5–0 today. The backstop, who started 11 games behind the plate for the Mets in 1989, is no relation to, and would never be confused with, Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi. Phil’s claim to fame is being part of the first trade ever between the Yankees and Mets that involved major league players on both sides, with Lombardi coming over from the Bronx for Rafael Santana.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. It was a milestone for the USA’s first manned space program, which took its name from the first planet from the sun: Project Mercury. On July 27, 1999, that same planet lent its name to the “Mercury Mets” as part of the bizarre “Turn Ahead the Clock Night” at Shea. Decked out in hideous “futuristic” uniforms, the Mets wisely stayed off the bases for most of the game, thereby limiting exposure. One of the four Mets who braved ridicule was Robin Ventura, who launched a ball into outer space and made a quick orbit around the bases to account for their only run in a 5–1 loss to the Pirates. To the designer of those uniforms we have to ask: What planet are YOU from?