The Mets may be missing a few crucial members once they go north, with Johan Santana sure to start the season on the DL and David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Shaun Marcum possibly joining him. As such, the team's Opening Day lineup--not expected to be any great shakes to begin with--could take on a deathly pall. Fans with short memories might be tempted to call it the worst starting nine for a season opener in franchise history. However, no matter who takes the field on April 1st, the 2013 lineup will have some stiff competition.
I took a look back at all of the Mets' Opening Day starters going back to 1962, in an effort to find the worst such lineup for each decade. A lineup was deemed truly awful if its players:
- Were objectively bad in that particular season.
- Held no glimpse of future success (no hot prospects, budding stars, or championship building blocks).
- Had accumulated no body of work that made them worth watching regardless of their current skill level (think former All Stars or future Cooperstown inductees).
- Displayed other spiritual deficiencies that rendered them unlovable and unwatchable.
By these criteria, I judged the five teams below the worst Opening Day lineups in franchise history. Like snowflakes, each is awful in its own unique way.
1960s: You might think the dreadful 1962 Mets would be a shoe-in for this slot. The thing is, as awful as that team was, their inaugural lineup boasted a future Hall of Famer (Richie Ashburn), as well as a should-be HOFer (future skipper Gil Hodges). In 1963, another plaque-worthy player trotted out for the Mets on Opening Day (Duke Snider). And from 1962-1964, the Opening Day lineups boasted a bona fide slugger in Frank Thomas (not Big Hurt; this guy).
Granted, all of these guys were on their last legs as players. The early Mets made a conscious decision to go after established vets whose presence would incite nostalgia among ex-Dogers and Giants fans, rather than attempt a youth movement. Even so, a Mets fan could have seen legends like Gil or The Duke in the Opening Day lineup for their first few seasons. Then, in the latter part of the decade, Mets' Opening Day squads began to feature members of the '69 miracle team, like Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Buddy Harrelson.
The divot in the middle of these eras came on April 12, 1965, when the Mets pushed out onto the Shea Stadium grass an Opening Day lineup devoid of both hope for the future and fond memories of the past.
|1.||Billy Cowan, CF|
|2.||Roy McMillan, SS|
|3.||Johnny Lewis, RF|
|4.||Ed Kranepool, 1B|
|5.||Joe Christopher, LF|
|6.||Charley Smith, 3B|
|7.||Bobby Klaus, 2B|
|8.||Chris Cannizzaro, C|
|9.||Al Jackson, P|
We all know Steady Eddie, of course, and Al Jackson has a few Mets achievements to his name (first franchise shutout, first Shea Stadium shutout, last home win at the Polo Grounds). Beyond that, though, we are faced with a veritable Who's That? of 1960s baseball. If none of these names ring familiar to you, the reason is very few of them lasted in the majors for any length of time. The position players in this lineup would go on to combine for B-Ref WAR of 5.9 of over the entire 1965 season. (Joe Christopher paced the club with a whopping 2.4). This lineup doesn't even have intangibles, except in the sense that, apart from Kranepool and Jackson, I cannot think of one tangible thing to say about anyone in it.
If I really want to stretch, I can tell you that Roy McMillan was a slick-fielding shortstop typical of his era and made a pair of All-Star teams in the 1950s for the Reds. Joe Christopher is credited with being the first major leaguer from the Virgin Islands. And the rest...I'm sure they're lovely people. The 1965 Mets would go on to lose 112 games, by the way. But you probably figured that already.
1970s/1980s: Throughout the Me Decade, even during some lean years, the Mets managed to field decent Opening Day lineups featuring the likes of Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Rusty Staub, and Dave Kingman. They were also all started by Tom Seaver, which automatically disqualifies them from being awful. Then in 1977, the Seaver Trade was executed, plummeting the franchise into the doldrums. The following seasons are one big tie for last, but the back-to-back gut punches of 1979 and 1980 were my choices for absolute worst, a suck so bad it spanned two decades.
First, let's look at the lineup that took Wrigley Field on April 5, 1979.
|1.||Lee Mazzilli, CF|
|2.||Kelvin Chapman, 2B|
|3.||Richie Hebner, 3B|
|4.||John Stearns, C|
|5.||Willie Montanez, 1B|
|6.||Steve Henderson, LF|
|7.||Elliott Madox, RF|
|8.||Doug Flynn, SS|
|9.||Craig Swan, P|
Matinee idol Maz appears here, a player who is fondly remembered even if he never quite lived up to the hype. John Stearns was popular as a hardnosed, blue collar type who, like most hardnosed blue collar types, probably shouldn't have hit cleanup. "Bad Dude" caught 155 games in '79 and hit all of 9 homers. That is definitely not bad enough to rescue the president from ninjas.
After them, though, there's nothing but implied despair. Even the not-terrible players in this collection give me a case of the sads. Steve Henderson was responsible for some highlights during a Mets era with very few of them. However, Henderson's presence only serves to remind me of that man who isn't here. Ditto for Doug Flynn, who, along with Henderson, was part of the package the Mets got in return for The Franchise. (Also included: Dan Norman, Pat Zachry, and 30 pieces of silver.) In Seaver's stead, we get Craig Swan, who somehow led the league in ERA in 1978 (2.53) but never came close to that kind of excellence ever again. Fittingly, the hot corner is manned by Richie Hebner, a man who spent his offseasons working as a grave digger. Surely he could have seen this team was D.O.A.
As a sidenote: Jesse Orosco made his major league debut in this tilt, coming from the bullpen to get the last out of the game. That's the closest thing to hope you'll find here.
It will probably not surprise you to find out the lineup the Mets put out on April 10, 1980 against the Cubs (this time at home) was no better.
|1.||Frank Taveras, SS|
|2.||Elliott Maddox, 3B|
|3.||Lee Mazzilli, 1B|
|4.||Steve Henderson, LF|
|5.||Mike Jorgensen, RF
|6.||John Stearns, C|
|7.||Jerry Morales, CF|
|8.||Doug Flynn, 2B|
|9.||Craig Swan, P|
Maz shifted to first, Jerry Morales manned center, and Mike Jorgensen was installed in right. This is otherwise known as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. A whopping 12,000 and change came out to for Opening Day this year, which makes the Mets' current attendance woes seem tame in comparison.
1990s: For a good chunk of the 1990s, the Mets experienced a period so fallow it rivaled the post-Seaver trade years. After several failed attempts to recapture the magic of 1986, they became a team adrift, bereft of any clues about how to claw their way back to the top. There are several (un)worthy candidates for worst Opening Day lineup from this decade. However, my vote goes to the one that took the field at Shea on April 5, 1993.
|1.||Vince Coleman, LF|
|2.||Tony Fernandez, SS|
|3.||Eddie Murray, 1B|
|4.||Bobby Bonilla, RF|
|5.||Howard Johnson, 3B|
|6.||Joe Orsulak, CF|
|7.||Jeff Kent, 2B|
|8.||Todd Hundley, C|
|9.||Dwight Gooden, P|
Decontextualized, this looks like a pretty good cast of characters. We've got one Hall of Famer (Murray), one Met legend (Gooden), another fan fave with some good seasons under his belt (HoJo), and a few others who were perpetual All Stars at the time. The Mets put out several Opening Day lineups during the 1990s that were far more worse, materially, than this one. 1995 and 1996 were particularly yeesh.
To understand why I picked this year out of the entire decade, you have to know what happened to the Mets in 1993. Or rather, what the members of that team did to themselves. In 1992, the Mets spent big to bring in free agents like Murray, Vince Coleman, and Bobby Bonilla. It didn't quite work out, as a team full of hired guns lost 90 games. But that was just a warmup act. Their big finale came next year, when they let their sociopathy come to full flower. Midsummer, Coleman threw a firecracker at a crowd of autograph seekers outside Dodger Stadium and blinded a young girl. When reporters pestered the clubhouse for comments on the horrible incident, Bret Saberhagen threw a firecracker at them. And for an encore, he sprayed the scribes with bleach.
These were just at the tip of a deep, gross iceberg. So while the members of this team were individually pretty good (at baseball, anyway), as a collective they are spiritually the worst team in franchise history. Thus, their Opening Day lineup is the worst of the decade and possibly in franchise history. Plus, any team with Jeff Kent on it gets a huge demerit from yours truly.
2000s: The early portion of the 2000s had some stinkers, but for my money, the lineup seen on April 6, 2004 outstank them all.
|1.||Kazuo Matsui, SS|
|2.||Ricky Gutierrez, 2B|
|3.||Cliff Floyd, LF|
|4.||Mike Piazza, C|
|5.||Mike Cameron, CF|
|6.||Jason Phillips, 1B|
|7.||Karim Garcia, RF|
|8.||Ty Wigginton, 3B|
|9.||Tom Glavine, P|
This may be a harsh judgment for a lineup that features future Hall of Famers like Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine, and former All Stars like Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd. However, this lineup also conveys a certain amount of blinkered cluelessness endemic to the latter days of the Steve Phillips Era. (He had already been deposed at this point, but this lineup has his handprints all over it.)
You'll notice there's no Jose Reyes here. That's because he'd injured his hamstring during spring training and wouldn't be seen again until June. It's impossible to say for sure he injured his hamstring while trying to learn second base, but Kaz Matsui's presence is a reminder of that idiotic experiment. Mo Vaughn had eaten his way out of baseball, which is why he is not playing first base. It does not, however, explain why the sport-spectacled Jason Phillips was playing there in his place.
In March of that year, Karim Garcia and his best bro Shane Spencer were involved in an altercation at a pizza place in Port St. Lucie. The short version is, a worker asked them not to urinate on his store and was beaten up for his trouble. For some reason, this ugly incident did not prevent Garcia from being in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Probably because, as with Vaughn-Phillips above, there were no better options.
Looked at in this context, Collin Cowgill and Lucas Duda don't seem that bad, do they?