The New York Mets Encyclopediaby Peter C. Bjarkman
The New York Mets Encyclopedia provides the full and exciting story of modern-era baseball’s most popular expansion-age franchise. From those lovable losers of 1962 and 1963, to the Miracle Mets of 1969 and 1973, and on to year-in and year-out contenders of the 1980s and 1990s, New York’s National League Mets have written some of the most/i>… See more details below
The New York Mets Encyclopedia provides the full and exciting story of modern-era baseball’s most popular expansion-age franchise. From those lovable losers of 1962 and 1963, to the Miracle Mets of 1969 and 1973, and on to year-in and year-out contenders of the 1980s and 1990s, New York’s National League Mets have written some of the most exciting and colorful pages in Major League history. This is the team that captured the hearts of fans everywhere with its often-laughable antics under colorful and celebrated manager Casey Stengel. Only half a dozen years later, the Mets reached baseball’s pinnacle under gifted manager Gil Hodges. This colorful volume combines detailed narrative history with archival photographs, rich statistical data, and intimate portraits of the team’s most memorable personalities. This is also a franchise that has been home to many of the game’s biggest on-field stars. Among them are such unforgettable diamond characters as reckless slugger Darryl Strawberry; glue-fingered first sacker Keith Hernandez; baseball’s all-world catcher, Mike Piazza; pitching ace Johan Santana; and record-breaking third baseman David Wright. The full scope of the Mets’ fifty-plus-year history is discussed in an expansive chapter that gives the reader a historical detailed overview and features a year-by-year Mets chronology and season-by-season opening-day lineups. This newly revised edition offers insight on everything a Mets fan would want or need to know.
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If Mets history, like that of most big-league clubs, has been an endless roller coaster of exhilarating peaks and depressing valleys, century's end has definitely witnessed one of the more hopeful upturns. For two seasons now, the Mets have appeared to be sitting close to the cusp of a dramatic return to the glories of a not-so-distant Davey Johnson era. But so far, the corner has not quite been turned. The resurrection of the New York Mets is still very much a work in progress.
An exciting pursuit of the team's first-ever NL wild-card berth and potential return to postseason play kept Mets fans perched on the rims of their seats throughout the final stages of the 1998 campaign, at least until the team crashed and burned during the final week of an exhausting, upbeat season. The summer of '98 was noteworthy for an explosion of home runs and a corresponding flood of fan interest spurred by pursuits of one of baseball's most cherished records. All across the nation, fans tuned back into baseball, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa electrified them with their unprecedented joint pursuit of legendary home run milestones reached by Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. But in New York, all eyes were focused more narrowly on the hometown Mets and the dream of their first postseason visit in more than a decade. The collapse in the final week, five straight losses to Montreal and Atlanta, may have been sufficient to cede a wild-card prize to the Chicago Cubs, but it was hardly enough to dull widespread hopes for a true Mets rebirth-in-progress. The 1999 season proved a near carbon copy, with McGwire and Sosa still ringing up record home run numbers and the Mets still tantalizing their fans with the hope of October playoff success. The second time around, the promised land indeed seemed a step closer, even if the Mets' late-season run would again fall just a few steps short of World Series pay dirt.
The Bobby Valentine years would be characterized from the start by a constantly improving ball club that has repeatedly shown its mettle as a pennant contender. Only the ominous presence in the same NL East Division of the nineties' best outfit, the Atlanta Braves, and runaway free-agent spending by the expansion Florida Marlins dulled more grandiose dreams for potential postseason play. But on-field collapses and off-field chaos have also been franchise staples during most recent seasons. The 1999 campaign wasn't much more than a month old before chaos arose in the clubhouse. The drill-sergeant manager was reportedly unpopular with some of his veteran players, especially Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla; and early-season injuries to starters Bobby Jones and Rick Reed and the team's sluggish May and June performances did little for club morale. When the Mets dropped eight straight between May 28 and June 5, the beleaguered manager remained standing, but three of his handpicked coaches, Bob Apodaca, Randy Niemann, and Tom Robson, were reassigned to minor league duties. Valentine added his own chapter to the reigning calamity when he was suspended for two games and fined $5,000 for returning to the dugout in disguise after being ejected for umpire baiting. The Mets' disappointing overall performance had again raised the specter of Valentine's possible dismissal, but when the dust settled, the manager was still in place, even if his coaching staff had been partially dismantled. What seemed apparent throughout such trials was that the Mets, just like their crosstown rival Yankees, led by noisome owner George Steinbrenner, now seemed to thrive on such off-field upheavals. So far, in Bobby Valentine's managerial tenure, the lasting optimism has always somehow managed to slightly outpace the lurking pessimism.
The sudden arrival of Mike Piazza and the resulting second-half run toward a 1998 wild-card postseason ticket had kept the overachieving Mets in the headlines throughout one of the most memorable seasons in major league baseball history. Piazza's mid-season acquisition was indeed one of the biggest stories to surround the Mets' camp in years. The trade with Florida's Marlins in late May generated the kind of hoopla that had surrounded earlier acquisitions of slugging backstop Gary Carter in the off-season of 1985 and All-Star Keith Hernandez in mid-season 1983. Those trades had led directly to a world championship, and there was now rampant optimism that the Piazza deal would likely do the same. At the very least, this was exactly the kind of superstar acquisition so desperately needed to compete for fan and media attention against the rival Steinbrenner Yankees, who were now ensconced in another spectacular dynasty. The Yankees were busy racking up the largest win total in modern baseball history, as they ran roughshod over American League opponents; the Mets, with Piazza's potent bat in the lineup, appeared suddenly equipped to hang in a pennant race with the Yankee-like Atlanta Braves. Before the ink was dry on the headlines that greeted the Piazza trade, New York City was abuzz with giddy talk about a possible Subway World Series.
Piazza indeed proved to be everything that the Mets fans and front office had hoped. His contract disputes with the Dodgers and his short, embarrassing sojourn with the dismantled Florida Marlins now behind him, the muscular backstop continued the relentless slugging that had made him the best-hitting catcher in baseball annals. His .348 average over the season's last 100-plus games powered an offense that nearly carried the ball club to the wire. Piazza posted the league's fourth-best batting average, added his fifth season of 30-plus homers, and banged in more than 100 runs for the fourth time. But the stretch run of the 1998 campaign was more than just a solo Mike Piazza show. Baseball's most fearsome catcher also had plenty of help from an offense surrounding him that was one of the most potent the New York Mets had ever fielded. In his second year with the club, lefty-swinging first baseman John Olerud was the league's runner-up in the batting race; Edgardo Alfonzo took another step toward major stardom while manning third with career bests in homers and RBIs. And the pitching, still the team's Achilles' heel, was at least more respectable, thanks to 17 wins and a 2.47 ERA from Al Leiter, 16 victories and 212.1 innings of durable work from Rick Reed, and 38 saves from veteran John Franco.
The stretch run between the Mets and Cubs was the most intense in the short history of the wild card. Both teams entered the final weeks with no realistic hopes of catching division leaders Atlanta and Houston, but both were running neck-and-neck with the West Division Giants for the fourth postseason slot. And the dramatic race to the postseason wire came in the midst of what had become one of baseballis most celebrated summers in almost a decade. In the pennant-race background loomed the ongoing drama of the McGwire-versus-Sosa home run chase, which had captured the nation's fancy and restored millions of fans to the occupation of baseball fanatic. And it was the home run saga and the pursuit of Roger Maris's magic total of 61 that garnered most of the nation's headlines, even in New York, where the Yankees were on pace for a record 114 wins, and the Mets were playoff contenders for the first time in a decade.
After a brilliant August run, in which the club took 20 of 32 and kept pace with the red-hot Cubs, the Mets would falter in the season's final weeks and drop nine of their final 16 games. But the Cubs had an ill-timed slump of their own and didn't run away and hide from the Mets. Chicago actually opened the door one final time when it gave away a crucial game in Milwaukee on a dropped outfield fly in the ninth inning that handed over a sure win and kept the wild-card chase wide open. But the Mets failed to meet the challenge when they bungled two final games at home with weak Montreal (a team 30 games under .500) and then couldn't right the ship during the final weekend series on the road against playoff-bound Atlanta. The final playoff slot was not settled until the final weekend of the summer season, with the Cubs grabbing a pair in Houston while the Mets fell by counts of 6-5, 4-0, and 7-2.
In the end, the Mets' failures could be laid at the doorstep of pitching. It was only a high-powered offense carried by Piazza and Olerud that had kept the team competitive down the stretch. The Mets had no dominant staff ace who could be a stopper every fourth or fifth day; and in the several big September series on which the season turned, this would prove a fatal flaw. The rotation, with Leiter and Reed the only double-figure winners, was solid but not spectacular and also not always dependable in the clutch. The bullpen was also lacking the top closer and reliable setup men that other playoff-ready teams could boast. Franco surpassed his own team record with 38 saves, but the New Yorkers could not stack up against the Braves, Cubs, or Padres when it came to healthy and effective arms. In the end, the schedule didn't do the Mets any favors, either, with home (three wins in four games) and away (three straight defeats) clashes against powerhouse Atlanta on the docket for the final four weeks. Atlanta had little at stake in late September, with a division title clinched and a postseason home-field advantage already assured, but the proud Braves were certainly not about to roll over and play dead against their bitter New York rivals.
The last-minute collapse in 1998 would be a stiff challenge for the Mets to put aside for the next hope-filled season. One weighty tribute to manager Bobby Valentine was the fact that his next ball club was fully prepared by opening day to focus only on the present and to dismiss all bunglings of the past.
The Mets' front-office team of GM Steve Phillips and assistant GM Omar Minaya played a significant role in resurrecting 1999 hopes from the 1998 ashes. Off-season roster moves would now put in place other obvious elements to enhance the acquisition of Piazza and rebuild the Mets' fortunes in short order. The December free-agent signings of veteran third baseman Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox) and Hall of Fame-bound outfielder Rickey Henderson (Oakland A's) were bold moves, as was the 1999 off-season trade of Todd Hundley to the LA Dodgers for outfield prospect Roger Cedeno. Hundley had been excess baggage ever since the Piazza deal, and something had to be done while the injury-slowed spare backstop still had some market value. The Hundley-for-Cedeno deal proved brilliant, as the young Venezuelan quickly became the team's most versatile star. Cedeno started at all three outfield posts, filled the leadoff slot while Henderson was injured, served as an excellent late-inning defensive replacement, and came close to leading the circuit with 66 steals. The deal with LA provided an additional bonus: The three-way transaction, which also involved Baltimore, put flame-throwing Dominican Armando Benitez in the Mets' bullpen. With Benitez and Franco, New York would now have the best righty-lefty closer duo in baseball. And the pitching staff was also further strengthened, first by the free-agent addition of veteran Orel Hershiser and later by a July trade for experienced southpaw Kenny Rogers.
The arrival of Robin Ventura marked a watershed in team reconstruction. The immediate result was an infield that proved throughout the 1999 season to be one of baseball's all-time best. Shortstop Rey Ordonez didn't hit his weight, but he was as good a defender as could be found anywhere. Olerud had supplied a big bat ever since coming over from Toronto, but was also a top defender at first base. Edgardo Alfonzo dutifully accepted a switch from third to second to accommodate Ventura and mastered his new position in surprisingly rapid fashion. More important, Alfonzo was just as quickly becoming one of the best clutch hitters in the league and thus provided an offensive force at second that resurrected images of the legendary Rogers Hornsby. And the addition of Ventura provided another solid hitter. The Mets now offered a truly frightening lineup, with Henderson, Cedeno, Ventura, Alfonzo, and Olerud aligned in the batting order to protect the always-active bat of rock-solid offensive pillar Mike Piazza.
With their own modern-day version of Murderers' Row, the 1999 Mets were poised to launch a season that would boast more record-book milestones than had been reached in years. On the defensive side, the club would establish a major league record for fewest errors in a season, with only 68 miscues. The improved defense was largely due, as expected, to the crack infield, whose season-long error total of 33 was also a big-league record. Rey Ordonez contributed mightily to the glue-gloved effort by ending the season with 100 straight errorless games, another new entry on the major league record blotter. The pitchers got into the act when John Franco became the second player ever to reach the 400-save plateau and Turk Wendell posted a club mark by appearing in 80 games. But it was the big bats that made the loudest noise. For the first time ever, the Mets had three 100-RBI men (Alfonzo, Piazza, Ventura), with Alfonzo also tying a handful of records for single-game hitting performance (including hits, total bases, and runs scored). The club slugged a record eight grand slams, and Ventura became the first player in big-league history to whack bases-loaded homers in both ends of a doubleheader. Almost unnoticed in all this artillery display were Mike Piazza's efforts in tying the team standard for streak hitting (24 consecutive games) and setting a new record for RBIs (124).
Despite all the obvious improvements, the new season wasn't destined to be any easier than the last when it came to earning a spot in the postseason playoff derby. The Chicago Cubs had fallen from single-season grace, but were quickly replaced by the Cincinnati Reds as a Central Division contender. It had to be assumed that the Mets would not likely overhaul Atlanta for a division title and thus again would have to battle the Central Division and West Division runners-up for a wild-card slot. Either Houston or Cincinnati in the Central would have to be outpaced, and so would the suddenly potent expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, along with the Dodgers and Giants out West.
From the start, it was apparent that the Mets would likely be in the hunt in 1999, but also that the road traveled would be a rough one from April to October. The team proved early on to be streaky, capable of bunching strings of victories on the heels of strings of losses. One bad spell in June caused not only the coaching shakeup that brought Dave Wallace on board as the new pitching coach and original Met Al Jackson as the bullpen mentor, but also set in motion a busy mid-summer of roster adjustments. On the eve of the July trading deadline, there were a few minor but important deals that restructured the outfield and mound corps. Darryl Hamilton was acquired from Colorado, and although his impact was not like that of Piazza, the previous year's arrival, he was nonetheless a vital addition to the batting order. And Billy Taylor also seemed an important addition in the bullpen when he was plucked from the Oakland A's. But Taylor was not an immediate success; he never duplicated the fast start in which he saved 26 games for the A's through July, and he was rarely used in important games during the final seven weeks of the season.
As the summer progressed, Valentine solidified his reputation as a survivor. He got through the mid-season upheavals that had cost three coaches their jobs. He then survived another late-year slump, seven straight mid-September losses that nearly put Cincinnati squarely in the wild-card driver's seat. Again, the Mets had seemed to fade at the worst possible time, in the summer's closing days. Cincinnati had emerged as the chief rival for postseason honors among non-division-winners, and the Reds had hung with the Mets all summer long. Cincinnati even threatened to overhaul the Houston Astros for the top Central Division spot, but the Reds ran out of gas down the stretch. The Queen City outfit actually helped the Mets' cause, just as the Cubs had done the previous September, dropping two of three on the final weekend to the same Milwaukee team that had almost scuttled Chicago a year earlier. But this time Valentine and company had the experience and fortitude to hang on, if only barely.
In the end, the entire 1999 pennant chase for both the Mets and Reds came down to a single, extra regular-season game played at Cincinnati's Cinergy Field. The vital playoff game was an unscheduled affair needed to decide the wild-card postseason issue between two teams with identical records. Now the Mets' starting pitching, which had on so many recent occasions faltered, came through in spades when it was most desperately needed. The hero was Al Leiter, who hurled the best game of his season and perhaps his career. The crafty southpaw authored a complete-game two-hitter with four walks and seven strikeouts. Leiter received all the support he would need in the 5-0 season-making victory from a pair of long balls off the bats of Edgardo Alfonzo (two-run homer) and Rickey Henderson (solo homer).
In earlier postseason visits, the Mets had always seemed to be carried by unlikely heroes. Ron Swoboda and Donn Clendenon had been the prototypes back in the 1969 "miracle" season. And Len Dykstra was a later model during the 1986 uprising against Houston and Boston. Now it would be six-year veteran Todd Pratt, an unheralded reserve who had played for three National League clubs and never played more than 41 games before the current campaign. Pratt would luckily step to the fore when needed and save the opening playoff-round series.
The Mets got off to a fast start against the West Division champions from Arizona. The Diamondbacks had been a season-long surprise, but none doubted their legitimacy after 103 victories in only their second season of existence. With Cy Young hurler Randy Johnson in its arsenal, Arizona was not an unreasonable choice to go all the way. But the Mets were now back on track, and they shocked Johnson and the D-Backs out in Phoenix in the division series opener. A pair of homers by Edgardo Alfonzo were the big blows in an 8-4 romp. Surrendering eight hits and seven earned runs to mute his 11 strikeouts, Johnson would lose his sixth straight postseason game.
Arizona quickly rebounded, and the vaunted Mets offense was completely stymied in the second outing at Bank One Ballpark by veteran right-hander and former Cardinal ace Todd Stottlemyre. It was a game that handed the momentum back to Arizona. Another win in New York would now set the stage for handing the ball back to the overpowering Randy Johnson, with only a single win separating Arizona from advancing to the next round. But as fate would have it, Johnson was not destined to again toe the pitching rubber this postseason.
It was not only the prospect of another bout with Johnson that sent the Mets reeling after Game 2. Mike Piazza had injured the thumb on his throwing hand and would be stripped from the heart of the lineup for at least several games. The Mets' prospects immediately sank drastically. The replacement backstop would have to be the inexperienced Todd Pratt, a capable defensive catcher, perhaps, but certainly not a hitter with very imposing numbers. Fortunately, the absence of Piazza was not felt immediately in Game 3 back at Shea Stadium. The New Yorkers unloaded a big six-run sixth inning on Arizona pitching to build a safe margin. Rick Reed hurled a clutch game, which buoyed the Mets' clubhouse. It was now New York that stood one game away from victory, and the pressure was certainly there to eliminate Arizona once and for all so the Mets wouldn't have to revisit both Bank One Ballpark and the difficult Randy Johnson.
The final game of the divisional playoffs was a barn burner, one of the most unforgettable in club history. This game seemed to have it all, especially a heavy dose of nail-biting drama and late-inning heroics. There were several lead changes and some strange managerial moves along the way. There was a full-scale rhubarb late in the contest that featured the ejection of Mets third-base coach Cookie Rojas. And there was a crucial error by converted Arizona outfielder Tony Womack that allowed the Mets back into the game and also into extra innings. With the D-Backs only six outs from knotting the series, Womack dropped a routine fly off the bat of John Olerud, putting the Mets in position to wriggle off the hook with a game-tying eighth-inning run. Then lightning struck at Shea Stadium as it had hardly ever struck before. As though the script had been drafted in Hollywood, Piazza's replacement, Todd Pratt, stepped to the plate in the 10th with the game on the line. Rarely a long-ball threat, Pratt unloaded in dramatic fashion with a homer to center that instantly ended the series. The round tripper was a historic one, only the fourth to end a playoff game in sudden-death style, but it was also destined to be long remembered by Mets fans as one of the sweetest blasts in the team's annals.
The team that had collapsed at the wire in 1998 had now a year later transformed itself into a ball club adroit at clutch play whenever the chips were down. First, Leiter had come through with a masterful mound effort when the team most needed a stopper to plug opposition bats. Second, unheralded Todd Pratt had enjoyed his rare moment in the sun, joining the long list of unlikely postseason heroes who have so often enriched baseballis playoff lore. And thus Valentine's crew was still very much alive and about to enjoy a crack at the powerhouse Braves and thus at the National League pennant.
Against the Braves there was never much doubt from the early innings of the first NLCS game that the Mets were not yet quite ready to supplant the reigning National League dynasty. The series, in the end, would prove much closer in reality than the six-game scenario might suggest. The opener was decided by two runs and proved to be the most one-sided affair of the entire set. A surprising comeback and the heroics of the final game at Shea were enough to demonstrate that Valentine's team would not simply roll over. But then the magic finally ran out, and superior overall talent, not aimless luck, proved to be the final deciding factor.
Greg Maddux simply baffled Mets hitters from wire to wire in the series opener. The masterful Maddux worked seven innings, giving up a solo run on but five tame hits. Maddux was clearly on top of his game and threw only 83 pitches to the handcuffed Mets batters. Meanwhile, the Braves were busy scratching across single runs in the first, fifth, and sixth, and again in the eighth. The tally in the sixth came on a solo homer by eventual series MVP Eddie Perez, who was filling in behind the plate for the injured Javier Lopez. Flame-throwing Atlanta closer John Rocker did allow an unearned ninth-inning New York run but retired the final four batters to earn the opening-game save.
Kevin Millwood proved every bit as stingy in the second NLCS matchup. The 18-game winner allowed but a pair of New York scratch runs, which came on a walk and two singles in the second and Melvin Mora's first big-league homer in the fifth. But Millwood's effort proved sufficient in the sixth, when things suddenly collapsed for Mets starter Kenny Rogers, who offered up a pair of two-run homers to Brian Jordan and catcher Eddie Perez. Rocker then took over out of the bullpen and stranded the potential tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth. Manager Bobby Cox next surprised observers by turning to one of his starters for the closer role, and John Smoltz pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning to finish out the ninth.
The third game unfolded as a classic matchup between top lefties. Tom Glavine and Al Leiter dueled effectively and equally mystified opposing batters inning after inning. The game's only marker came in the top of the first frame without benefit of an RBI, and Glavine and relievers Mike Remlinger and Rocker then made it stand up for the full nine-inning course. Leiter surrendered only three hits in his seven frames and nearly matched his clutch outing two weeks earlier in the vital tie-breaker game with Cincinnati. But this time it was all for naught, as the Mets' bats could not provide their ace southpaw with even a single necessary run.
New York finally came to life in the fourth game of the series when the knockout count had reached the mandatory eight. An embarrassing sweep was staring the snakebitten New Yorkers squarely in the face when eighth-inning solo homers by Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko turned a 1-0 New York lead into an apparent series-ending 2-1 deficit. New York was not yet dead, however, roaring back in its own half of the inning after two batters had already been retired. Olerud, who had provided the only earlier run with a homer, now drove home the deciding tallies (Cedeno and Mora) with a clutch single to center off nemesis southpaw John Rocker. It was only the second hit the Mets had managed off Rocker in his four appearances, and at the moment, it loomed as the biggest hit of the fast-fading season.
The fifth game, the final game of the year in New York, unless a miraculous turnaround could somehow still salvage a Subway Series, proved to be a truly wild affair. Despite a largely one-sided series up to this point, the air had been charged by the on-field behavior and public pronouncements of Atlanta reliever John Rocker. Rocker had been a thorn in the side of New York fans throughout the series with his show-stopping, late-inning sprints from the outfield bullpen and his rally-stopping mound performances. He had also been quite vociferous in openly condemning New York fans in the press as uncouth and unruly. Against the backdrop of Rocker's blasts at New Yorkers, the Mets' last desperate stand turned into a marathon contest that involved 45 total players, 15 pitchers, and as many managerial moves on both sides as in a high-powered chess game.
Each team scored twice early, but those early runs were only distant memories by the time the battle reached its dramatic conclusion almost five hours later. Atlanta broke the extra-inning ice first, taking a 3-2 lead in the top of the 15th. Braves manager Bobby Cox was down to his final reliever, rookie Kevin McGlinchy, and for some reason was unwilling to turn to starters Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the bullpen, even though the pennant was now within easy grasp. McGlinchy remained on the hill despite a shaky performance which saw him load the bases with but one out. The struggling McGlinchy next walked across the tying run when he issued four wide pitches to Todd Pratt. With still no move back to the bullpen by Cox, Robin Ventura sensed a chance for instant redemption as he stepped to the plate in the midst of a 1-for-18 series slump. Ventura promptly unloaded on a McGlinchy fastball, driving the pitch over the right-field fence for an apparent game-ending grand slam. But Ventura's blast would quickly become something other than it appeared to be. As bedlam consumed the entire field, Ventura was mobbed on the basepaths by a torrent of teammates and never touched any bag but first. The dramatic blow was credited as a game-winning single, and only one run was counted. The exhausting game itself had stretched for 5 hours and 46 minutes, easily a postseason record.
The spunky Mets had one last chance back in Atlanta, and they nearly made the most of it. It was a game in which the New Yorkers might well have packed it all in and faded quietly after falling behind 5-0 in the first inning. Yet the Mets gamely rallied for three runs in the sixth inning and then pulled into a 7-7 tie on the strength of a Mike Piazza homer in the seventh. There were even two brief leads for New York in the top of the eighth and the top of the 10th, but the bullpen couldn't make those leads stand up. The tide eventually turned in the bottom of the 11th, when Gerald Williams doubled and then finally scored the game-winner when Kenny Rogers issued a final walk to Andruw Jones with the bases jammed. New York had battled right to the end to make a legitimate contest out of what had started as a one-sided series. In the end, the bullpen had once more let Bobby Valentine down in the clutch.
It seemed once more that the Mets might have a hard time rebounding from season-ending defeat. A most unfortunate incident in the late stages of the final postseason game seemed once more to point in the direction of disintegrating team harmony. Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla had left the dugout and were playing cards in the clubhouse while their teammates went down for the final time in the 11th frame at Atlanta. The rest of the ball club had already pulled together on that final night and had fought bravely with its back to the wall in a fifth consecutive one-run game. Henderson (released early in the 2000 season) and Bonilla (released outright in January) would quickly prove not to be part of the mix that would carry the torch into the next season.
The new century thus opened in Mets country with sufficient reasons for guarded optimism. Houston ace and Cy Young runner-up Mike Hampton, one of the National League's most effective southpaws, had been acquired at year's end in still another off-season front-office move of bold proportions. Stalwarts John Olerud and Roger Cedeno and pitching prospect Octavio Dotel had all departed, the former to free agency and the latter pair to Houston as part of the Mike Hampton deal. Veteran Kenny Rogers was given his release during the winter months. But the rest of the lineup was intact, and some vital reinforcements had been brought on board. Most notable among the newcomers was outfielder Derek Bell, who accompanied Hampton in the landmark Astros exchange and promised to add more lumber to one of the league's heftiest lineups. There was also much hoopla surrounding the new season when it opened with a historic two-game series versus the Chicago Cubs in Japan's distant Tokyo Dome. The event marked the first time official big-league play had been staged outside the North American continent and also signaled Major League Baseball's commitment to exploiting the sport's newfound international dimensions. Mets fans now had plenty of reason for optimism as a new millennium unfolded. If the powerhouse Atlanta Braves faltered anytime soon at the top of the National League pack, the retooled New York Mets would certainly be waiting hungrily in the wings.
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Mr. Bjarkman¿s ¿New York Mets Encyclopedia¿ is a welcome addition to those interested in the history of the Amazin¿s. There being no other book of such a comprehensive nature written on the team since Jack Lang¿s ¿The New York Mets¿ in the mid-eighties, it¿s a well needed update on the history of the 90s up to and including the 2000 World Series appearance. (Mr. Golenbock's "Amazin'", another comprehensive history, came about one year after this) Met fans of the more rabid nature will find this book a necessary addition to their home library. That being said, the book, in my opinion, has some serious flaws. I have found a number of errors in the text. For example, Mr. Bjarkman¿s assertion that no other player in New York history equaled Steady Eddie¿s 18 year run is incorrect. Mickey Mantle (the other #7) wore a Yankee uniform for the same number of years. His assertion that the 1969 Mets only made the World Series due to the introduction of separate divisions that year is also incorrect. (The Mets 100 wins were tops in the NL and they would have made the post-season even under the old system.) Probably due to the necessity of cramming 40 years into a mere 250 pages, the author also omits some, to me, rather pertinent and interesting information on some of the players. In discussing Duke Snider¿s 400th career home run (hit as a Met in 1963) I feel Mr. Bjarkman could have taken the story one step further and noted how that home run indirectly led to Jim Piersall¿s famous backwards trip around the bases after hitting his 100th home run. (as a Met in 1963) Many of the pictures printed in the volume seem to have been taken at an away park. They are rather sparse. I believe this might be due more to the Mets front office than any other factor. I have had discussions with another author of Met books, and he has told me that the Mets front office is adamant about not helping anyone writing on the subject of the team. (Which makes no sense, hence, perfect sense for the Mets, the only team to turn up their nose at free advertising.) Lastly, the ¿statistics¿ section on all the past players is a Spartan, condensed peek at their careers. It could have been expanded quite a bit more. All in all, I would recommend this book if for no other reason than its uniqueness. Mr. Bjarkman has penned a welcome addition to the family of research on the team. Again, though, the book comes across as flawed and hastily written. Hopefully, the future holds for Met fans a more comprehensive, better researched history book than this.