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Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, #22: Robin Ventura

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Ventura was a key player on the playoff-bound Mets teams of ‘99 and ‘00.

Robin Ventura #4... Getty Images

22. Robin Ventura

Home runs as a Met: 77
Home run rate: 1 per 23 plate appearances (4.3%)

By the end of the 1998 season, Robin Ventura’s hitting was an echo of what it had been in his heyday. The White Sox—Ventura’s only team since his major league debut in 1989—read the tea leaves and made the seemingly prudent move, or non-move, of letting the 31-year-old third baseman go to free agency.

The ascendant Mets, energized by a season in which they came tantalizingly close to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and emboldened by the record-breaking seven-year, $91 million contract Mike Piazza had recently signed, already had a good young third baseman in Edgardo Alfonzo. But they also had need for a second baseman, as Carlos Baerga’s regrettable tenure in Queens had finally come to its merciful conclusion.

It didn’t take a puzzle master to see the obvious solution, but to Steve Phillips’ credit, he moved aggressively to make it. Amidst a flurry of unrelated trade activity in which the Mets jettisoned Todd Hundley and acquired Armando Benitez and Roger Cedeno, Phillips and Co. signed Ventura to a four-year, $32 million deal. As for Alfonzo, he was sent over to second base, a position he was no stranger to, though it had been a few years since he had played there with regularity. It hardly rose to the level of what could be deemed a risk: Among the many delights of the 1999 New York Mets was an all-time great infield. Robin Ventura contributed mightily to that effort and bagged a Gold Glove award for his efforts.

Lest your author come fully undone in recounting one of the most enjoyable Mets teams of his conscious lifetime, this is a series about home runs. Robin Ventura hit 32 of them in 1999, and kicked enough ass at the plate overall that year as to practically pull even with the offensive output of his superstar teammate, Piazza. In fact, Ventura bested Piazza in MVP voting that year, coming in 6th—Piazza, the lesser defender but more prolific home run hitter, came in 7th. (Matthew Callan recounted the ‘99 season for Amazin’ Avenue in a wonderful series you should go back and read—or re-read.)

The uncontested pinnacle of Robin Ventura’s career with the Mets, and one of the most exciting moments in franchise history, was his infamous walk-off grand slam single in Game 5 of the NLCS versus the hated Braves. You’ve seen the clip many times before. Watch it again:

Incidentally, Ventura was a prolific grand slam hitter throughout his career; he swatted 18 of them overall, which ties him with Willie McCovey for fifth on the all-time list. He hit five of them during his three years in blue and orange—three of them in 1999 alone.

In December 2001, Ventura’s career with the Mets came to an end when he was traded the Yankees for David Justice. The Mets, who had missed the playoffs that year and were on an aggressive and ill-conceived mission to quickly return to excellence, would have been better off keeping him for one last season. Alas: Ventura went on to have an All-Star season in pinstripes while the Mets endured Roberto Alomar’s baseball equivalent of falling off a cliff.

That was no fault of Ventura’s, of course, and his legacy as a Met—and as a player who hit home runs for them at a tidy clip—was secure.

Robin Ventura (with the Mets)

Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
1999 161 671 32 130
2000 141 551 24 98
2001 142 549 21 105