Monday, April 13, 2015

The Curse of the Mets (Part I)

Since 1969, the Mets have fared better than many of their NL rivals, winning two World Series and making a total of seven playoff appearances. Despite their moderate success, the team has been plagued by an ongoing series of questionable front office moves. The Mets have a knack for shelling out significant sums of money on big name players only to have them fail to meet expectations. The following examples provide a compelling case study.  

Gil Hodges
Having played on seven pennant-winning Dodger squads, the Mets knew that Hodges was a sentimental favorite in New York and were hoping to draw some fans when they picked him up in the expansion draft. Hodges--an eight-time All-Star--was thirty-eight years old and nursing a bad knee when he came to the Big Apple. Highlights were few. Over portions of two seasons, he hit .248 with 9 homers and 20 RBIs. In May of '63, he was traded. He would later return as a manager and lead the club to an improbable Series victory in '69.

Clem Labine
Labine was another key member of the celebrated Dodger squads of the 1950s/ early-'60s. In '55, when Brooklyn finally knocked off the powerful Yankees in the World Series, Labine led the NL with 60 appearances and posted a 13-5 record along with 11 saves. Acquired for the Mets inaugural campaign, he was coming off of a successful season with the Pirates in which he had drawn 55 relief assignments. The Mets had little choice but to dump him after he ran up a preposterous 11.25 ERA. 

Duke Snider
Among the most productive Dodger hitters of the 1950s, Snider's numbers were in decline when the Mets purchased his contract in '63. He still commanded a sizable salary and was hardly worth the investment. He played in 129 games (his highest total since '57), hitting .243 with just 14 homers. The Mets shipped him off to San Francisco in 1964. 

Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn
Before the 1965 slate, the Mets signed two of the game's most recognizable stars. Both were in their forties and the Mets probably knew what they were getting. Still, it cost them over $100,000 (a significant figure in those days) to have Spahn compile a 4-12 record while Berra hit .222 as a player/coach. The two aging veterans had an opportunity to work together one day, prompting Spahn to comment comically: "I don't know if we're the oldest battery, but we sure are the ugliest."

Ken Boyer
Between 1955 and '65, Boyer was among the top third basemen in the majors. He reached the pinnacle of his career with the Cardinals in '64 when he led the league in RBIs and captured MVP honors. Two years later, he signed with the Mets. It was the beginning of the end. Plagued by back trouble, his numbers dropped off sharply. He was hitting just .235 in July of '67 when the Mets dealt him to the White Sox

Joe Torre
Known more for the years he spent managing the Yankees, Torre had a highly successful playing career. A lifetime .297 hitter and nine-time All-Star, he led the NL with 230 hits, 137 RBIs and a .363 batting average in 1971. The Mets were expecting more from him when he joined the club in 1975. Over portions of three seasons in New York, he hit .267 while averaging just 4 homers and 25 RBIs per year. He eventually became manager, leading the Mets to five straight sub-.500 finishes.

George Foster
Foster was an irreplaceable part of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine," winning three consecutive RBI crowns from '76-'78. He was still cleaning off the bags regularly for the Reds when the Mets offered him a contract that made him the the highest paid player in the majors during the '82 campaign. The Mets were a light-hitting team and, without protection in the middle of the order, Foster's batting averages plummeted. Though he did crack 28 homers and drive-in 90 runs during the '83 slate, he never really lived up to the hype. His batting average stood at .227 when the Mets shipped him to Chicago in 1986.

Vince Coleman
Nicknamed "Vincent Van Go," Coleman led the NL in stolen bases every year from 1985-1990. In an infamously bad decision, the Mets signed him to a blockbuster contract in 1991. Injured constantly, he became a malcontent, sparring verbally with managers and coaches. In 1993, he threw a lit firework into a crowd of fans waiting for autographs, injuring several people. He was suspended and eventually released.

Bret Saberhagen
The Mets were taking a major risk when they acquired Saberhagen before the '92 slate. The right-hander had won a pair of Cy Young Awards with the Royals in '85 and '89, but an arm injury in '90 had limited him to 20 starts. He bounced back in '91, prompting the Mets to meet his substantial salary demands. The fragile moundsman suffered through two injury plagued seasons in New York before posting a 14-4 record and 2.74 ERA in '94. Off to a mediocre start the following year, the Mets finally gave up on him.      


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