By David Weiss
Have you ever wished that you could go back in time? There are plenty of movies that play with the concept. One such movie got me thinking. The movie Frequency combines the Mets and time travel. What if we could travel back in time and change things for the Mets? After careful thought, here are my top choices of moments I’d change.
First we need to lay out one basic ground rule. No player changes. This means:
- No changing draft picks
- No making or avoiding trades
- No changing free agent signings
Each example must be a single moment that one can go back and change. So here we go:
Number 10: Duaner doesn’t get in the cab
In late July 2006, Duaner Sanchez got into a cab in Miami. It was the ride that would ruin his life. A drunk driver hit Duaner’s cab leaving him with a severely injured shoulder. Duaner would not pitch for the rest of the season and his career never recovered.
Who knows what would have happened. Maybe he would have pitched in game 7 of the NLCS instead of Heilman. Perhaps Duaner would have pitched instead of Wagner in game 2. Had the Mets won either game they would have likely won the NL pennant and been favorites in the World Series. Maybe he would have been healthy in 2007 and 2008 and the Mets wouldn’t have had late seasons collapses. We will never know.
Number 9: Lagares starts Game 1 of the 2015 World Series in center and Cespedes in left
In the second half of 2015 the Mets had a formula for success in the outfield. Cespedes would start in Center with Conforto in left and Granderson in right. Late in the game after Conforto’s last at bat, Cespedes would move to left and Lagares would play in center. It was the best way to maximize 4 talented outfielders. In the World Series the formula seemed simple. Let Lagares start in center and Cespedes in left. Conforto would DH so that the Mets would have the best defensive outfield possible. However, Collins had other plans. For game 1, be benched Lagares. He preferred an extra lefty bat in Kelly Johnson. As a result, Cespedes was in center and Conforto in left for the first inning. One Royal batter into the game, the Mets paid the price as Escobar hit an insider the parker off a misplayed ball. Johnson only had two plate appearances in what turned out to be a tough loss.
This was not the only reason the Mets lost. Harvey couldn’t hold the lead in the sixth nor could Familia in the ninth. Escobar was called safe on Wrights E5 in the 14th (in what was a very questionable call). However, the first inning was sign of bad things to come.
Number 8: Timo runs it out
It was game one of the Subway Series. Scoreless in the sixth, the Mets appear to catch the first break. With Timo Perez on first, Todd Zeile nearly hits a home run. The ball stays in play but the speedy Timo should cruise home with two outs. The next thing know Timo is out at the plate. After looking at the replay, we see that Timo watches the ball thinking it will clear the wall and slows down. He tries to turn on the jets but it is too late.
To make matters worse, with the Mets up 3-2 in the ninth, Timo cannot get an insurance run in from third with less than two outs. Benitez blew the save and the Mets lost in 12. The next night Roger Clemens is NOT thrown out for chucking abat at Piazza and it was clear that the World Series will not go our way.
Number 7: Myers pitches the ninth in game 4 of the 1988 NLCS
The Mets were supposed to be the team of the 80’s. They were supposed to crush the much weaker Dodger club. With a 2-1 series the Mets wanted to bury LA in game 4 by sending Gooden to the mound. It was looking good. With NY up 4-2 the clock was running out on LA in the ninth. Instead of bringing in lights out closer Randy Myers, Davey Johnson decided to leave Gooden in despite a high pitch count. Mike Scioscia only hit three homers all year and was able to take a tired Gooden yard. The Mets would never recover.
In the 80’s pitchers were still throwing complete games. Keeping your ace in made sense. However, Gooden pitched in game one and had thrown many pitches on short rest. This one hurts since the Mets took a decade to recover.
Number 6: Beltran and Cameron don’t crash
On August 11th 2005, the Mets were only 3 games out of a wild card spot and playing well following a big win in San Diego. The game was tied in the sixth when a ball headed for right center. Cameron and Beltran are both natural centerfielders. They must have miscommunicated and the two dive head first into each other. It is a horrific scene. The batter ends up on third as the two are taken out of the game. The runner scores and the Mets lose by a run.
While Beltran made it back before the end of the month, Cameron’s season is finished. Although the Mets actually got to within 1.5 games of a playoff spot later on, they struggle in September and end up missing the postseason. Who knows what would have happened had Cameron been playing in September.
Number 5: Murphy fields the ball cleanly
After losing the first two in KC, the Mets took game 3 and were leading in game 4. Fans were pumped thanks to the two blasts from Conforto. Once again the Mets were winning late and once again disaster struck. After getting an out in the eighth, Clippard walked two in a row. Collins brought in Familia with the hopes of getting a double play. Sure enough a slow roller was hit to Murphy. Maybe a DP was possible but at least one out was needed. Instead, the ball and in rolled under his glove into right. The Royals tied the game and shortly after took the lead.
Beyond losing this game there were long term consequences. This was the last straw in Murphy’s seemingly endless mental mistakes. By the end of the series many did not want to keep. His glove was seen as a major liability. In the two years since, Murphy has turned into the ultimate Mets killer.
Number 4: Mets don’t fire Davey Johnson
Davey was the winningest manager with the Mets. For the first five seasons under his leadership the Mets won 90 or more games. With a disappointing 87 win season in 1989 the front office blamed Davey. After a slow start in 1990, he was canned. That was a very bad move. Davey had a lot left in the tank. The Mets had abysmal seasons with guys like Harrelson, Torborg and Green at the helm. On the other hand Davey thrived. In 1994 the Johnson-led Reds were in first at the strike and the next year they won the division. In his two seasons in Baltimore he took his teams to the ALCS both times. While he was a .500 manager in LA, he came back with Washington and led them to the division title in 2012. Needless to say, the Mets could have used him.
Number 3: George stone pitches Game 6 of the 1973 World Series and Seaver game 7.
In the 1973 fall classic the Mets were up 3-2. All that was needed was one win with two to play in Oakland. However in those days, managers expected pitchers to pitch in October on short rest. Manager Yogi Berra was no exception to this rule. Going into game 6, Seaver was pitching with only 3 days rest. Considering he tossed 8 innings in the game 3 loss, a good case can be made that he could have used the extra day. After all, it was not a due-or-die game. Seaver gave up two early runs and the Mets lost. John Matlack had also thrown 8 innings in the game 4 victory and was called upon in gave 7. He got shelled for 4 runs in the third inning and the Mets lost.
Had Yogi been a bit more creative, he’d have used George Stone in game 6 and saved Seaver for game 7. Stone had only been used once by game 6 and it was to get the save in the game 2 win. He had enough rest. People forget that he pitched well for the Mets all season and held down the Big Red Machine in game 4 of the NLCS to just a single run. Had Stone pitched game 6 of the World Series, you can bet that the Mets would have won the World Series with him or Seaver on full rest.
Number 2: Nelson Doubleday doesn’t sell his half.
In August 2002, Fred Wilpon bought out Nelson Doubleday. This made Fred the primary owner of the New York Metropolitan baseball club. Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride. In the 15 seasons with Wilpon in control, the Mets have been mediocre. They have only been over .500 six times. They won the wild card once but got eliminated in a one game playoff. Twice they took the NL East and once the NL pennant. They had two epic collapses and way too many seasons that are just a blur. Fans had to deal with a Madoff induced dark age from 2009-2014, and even now the Mets are run like a midmarket team.
There is no saying that things would have been better with Doubleday sharing control. However, we tend to associate the glory days with him. We had the revival of the 1980’s. While the early 90’s were awful, the late 90’s were a lot of fun. There is no saying what would have been but things would likely have been better.
Number 1: Doc and Darryl don’t party too hard
This one breaks the rules. Each other case can be identified as a moment in time. This one cannot. With that said, it needs to be here.
The 1980’s were a time of intense partying. Heavy drinking and hard drugs were prevalent in baseball. The Mets were a team that played hard and partied hard. By the end of 86, it seemed that a golden age of Mets baseball was upon us. With two young studs aged 21 and 24, fans thought the good times were going to keep coming. However, things weren’t as good as they seemed.
Gooden missed the World Series victory parade due to being incredibly high following the celebration. Many suspected he may have been high during the series causing him to pitch poorly in games 2 and 5. In 1987, Doc missed the beginning of the season with a suspension. While he was able to comeback, he simply wasn’t the same pitcher again. In his first three seasons, he ERA, WHIP and winning percentage were 2.28, 1.045 and 75.3%. The plaque in Cooperstown just needed to be engraved. The next three seasons, he these numbers were 3.13, 1.197 and 67.7%. Gooden was still good but not the superstar he once was. From 90-94 these numbered declined to 3.77, 1.271 and 55.3%. Injuries, drug use and crime had ruined the career of the most gifted pitcher of the era.
Strawberry was a bit different. In fact, a look at his numbers make you think that drugs didn’t hurt his career with the Mets. It was only once he left that he underperformed. In his 8 seasons, he averaged over 30 home runs, 30 doubles and 92 RBI’s. With an OPS of .878 his numbers simply speak for themselves. There was no real point of decline. However, he has admitted numerous times to being under the influence on the field. He wasn’t always able to play his best. Perhaps Strawberry could have been hitting 50 homers. More importantly he left behind a drug culture that was the Mets clubhouse.
Who knows what could have been has these two young men had a chance to meet themselves in the future. They could have used a good talk from the 50 year old versions of themselves. Sadly, neither knew how to manage stardom in New York. What is clear, is that their party lifestyle hurt the Mets dearly.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page ‘Jewish Mets Fans’.)