The Mets teams of 1969 and 1986 were especially Amazin’, of course, but what if you could create a club combining the best players from each era? Or from any era? Here are my picks for an all-time Mets dream team, to wrap up my 15-part anniversary tribute to Queens’ hometown heroes. Miss any entries? Just hit the Mets link on qchron.com, and you can catch them all, tracing the team’s history from its genesis in the mind of Bill Shea through the end of last season. Now on to October!
This one is a no-brainer. Tom Seaver didn’t only have the greatest career of any Met pitcher, he was one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. His overall career record was 311-205, 198-124 as a Met. Four times he won 20 games or more; and two other times at least 18, all this for a team that did not score a lot of runs for him. He had nine straight years of more than 200 strikeouts, and for nine of his first 10 years as a Met he had an ERA below 3.00. In 1992, Seaver became the first player principally identified with the Mets to make the Hall of Fame.
Runner-up: Dwight Gooden. Like Seaver, he helped lift the Mets out of the cellar. And oh, what a career he could have had if he had not messed himself up! Still, 157-85 is quite a record, and his .649 percentage is the best in franchise history.
Jerry Koosman. As of 1976, Koosman had a 129-102 career record as a Met; in his last two seasons, he went 11-35 to finish 140-137. Still, he was a gutsy pitcher who won 19 games as a rookie in 1968, 17 in 1969, and 21 in 1976. He is the only Met pitcher to appear in the post-season more than once without losing a game. While he had some arm trouble in his career, he overcame that and was the perfect left-handed complement to Seaver.
Runner-up: Jon Matlack. He won 82 games in six years as a Met, and almost one-third of those (26) were shutouts. He led the league in shutouts twice, in 1974 and 1976.
Mike Piazza. When one can be mentioned in the same sentence as Joe DiMaggio, that says a lot. Piazza was not just a home run hitter, but a great hitter. Second to Darryl Strawberry in career home runs as a Met with 220, he shares with David Wright the single-season Met record for RBIs with 124, and is the only right-handed hitting Met to hit 40 home runs in a season.
Runner-up: Jerry Grote. A great pitcher like Seaver still needs a great catcher. Grote was one of the great defensive catchers of his time. Seaver referred to him as “my catcher,” and Johnny Bench once said of him, “If the Reds get Grote, I’m playing third base.” Although not known for his offense, Grote was not an automatic out at the plate; he batted .295 in 1975, and he got a lot of clutch hits in his career.
Another no-brainer. The acquisition of Keith Hernandez in 1983 was the turning point in the fortunes of a franchise that had suffered through seven straight losing seasons. Famous for his clutch hitting and fancy fielding, Hernandez also provided that unique quality of leadership that helped turned the Mets into contenders in the 1980s.
Runner-up: John Olerud. Olerud was a very good, graceful first baseman and a great hitter and run producer.
Edgardo Alfonzo. Throw a pitch in Alfonzo’s wheelhouse, and he’d crush it 400 feet. Throw one low and away, and he’d dunk it into right field for a single. One of the Mets’ great clutch hitters, Alfonzo was the heart and soul of the 1999 and 2000 teams that made the postseason. A bad back ended his career prematurely.
Runner-up: Felix Millan. A great singles hitter, Millan was a big factor in winning the 1973 pennant, leading the Mets with 185 hits, and he was the first Met to play all 162 games, doing that in 1975.
Jose Reyes. Well, he’s gone now, and one may question what his future will be with Miami, but his past contributions cannot be overlooked. From 2005 to 2008, Reyes scored 453 runs, an average of 113 a season, a figure unmatched in Mets history. He was far and away the best leadoff hitter the Mets have ever had.
Runner-up: Rey Ordonez. Not much of a hitter, Ordonez was an unbelievable fielder.
David Wright. When Wright doesn’t try to kill the ball, he is as dangerous as any hitter in the game. Five seasons with over 100 RBIs is something no other Met has accomplished, not even Strawberry or Piazza. Wright has that combination of speed and power.
Runner-up: Howard Johnson. A dead fastball hitter, Johnson three times hit more than 36 home runs, and he was the only Met to win the RBI crown, driving in 117 in 1991. He hit a lot of late-inning game-tying home runs in his Mets career, and stole a lot of bases also.
Kevin McReynolds. He may not have had the greatest personality in the world, but he was a solid, dependable and complete ballplayer. He drove in 95 runs in 1987 and 99 in 1988; most importantly, he gave Strawberry protection in the lineup. With McReynolds on deck, lefties were forced to pitch to Darryl, who hit 20 homers off lefties in 1988. McReynolds was also a smart base runner (21 for 21 in stolen bases in 1988) and a great defensive outfielder as well. Huck Finn? Maybe. Social outcast? No.
Runner-up: Cleon Jones. Jones was one of the heroes of 1969 with his .340 average, though injuries hampered his career a lot.
Mookie Wilson. This was a tough one for me. But Wilson played the game with a flair for the spectacular. In 1983, he once scored the winning run from second base on a fielder’s choice ground ball, and did the exact same thing a few days later. He ran out every ground ball he hit, and it is no coincidence that the most dramatic at-bat in Mets history, that in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, belongs to Mookie.
Runner-up: Carlos Beltran. A great defensive outfielder, and blessed with power and speed, Beltran might have been MVP in 2006 had he not been hurt the final month of the season. As far as his looking at that third strike for the last out of the League Championship Series against St. Louis, let’s be fair. That was a nasty, unhittable curve ball.
Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry could drive us crazy, and there is no telling what kind of numbers he would have put up if his head had been on straight, but he still hit 252 home runs and drove in 733 runs from 1983 to 1990, figures unmatched in Mets history. He walloped 39 home runs in 1987 and 1988, and 37 in 1990, and drove in over 100 each of those three years.
Runner-up: Rusty Staub. The first Met to drive in 100 runs, Staub sent 105 home in 1975. He was also a key force in the 1973 pennant, and led the Mets with a .423 average in the World Series.
Armando Benitez. For all the headaches he gave us, and for all the big games he blew, Benitez still saved 160 games from 1999 to 2003, including 41 in 2000 and 43 in 2001.
Runner-up: Roger McDowell. McDowell was the perfect complement to Jesse Orosco on those great Mets teams of the 1980s.
John Franco. Never an overpowering pitcher, Franco still saved 424 games in his career, 278 as a Met.
Runner-up: Jesse Orosco. This was a very close call for me between Orosco and Tug McGraw. They both had that great enthusiasm to go along with their talents. Since Orosco had more saves, he gets the nod.
Another tough one. My nod goes to Bobby Valentine. He wasn’t the most charming guy in the world, and who can ever forget the time he got tossed and then sat in the dugout with a mask on? But he is the only Mets manager to lead them into the postseason two years in a row, and he did not have all the talent that Davey Johnson had.
Runner-up: Davey Johnson. In 1984 he took a team that had lost 94 games the year before and guided them to 90 wins. True, he had a lot of talent to work with, but still a good manager has to know how to mesh that talent together. Davey did that.