Willie, Rickey and The Duke? All-Time New York Mets Starting Lineup

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When Mets fans choose among the franchise all-time greats, we don’t have the luxury of waxing poetic over whether we want Mantle or DiMaggio as our starting centerfielder. No, our debate is more along the lines of who ya got at second? Felix Millan or Edgardo Alfonzo? (For the record, the correct choice is Millan.)

Then there is that difficult dividing line one must cross when constructing all-time teams — the line that forces fans to choose between “best” and “favorite.” For instance, if we consider “body of work while playing for the New York Mets,” our “best” centerfielder would be Mookie Wilson. Favorite? That’s a deep, personal conversation for every Mets fan, but for me, it will always be Tommie Agee.

These last several weeks in lockdown, bemoaning a barren sports landscape, have given those of us who think about such things time to ponder a myriad of all-time starting fives, defensive lines, batting orders and starting rotations. To shake things up a bit, and out of deference to the Mets historic knack for trading all-time greats before their prime, or acquiring legendary names long after, SportsAttic has decided to put together the New York Mets All-Time Lineup — consisting of the best major leaguers to ever don a Mets uniform, (and this is the important part) regardless of how long their stay may have been in Queens.

So here we go (and yeah, we’ll start in the deep end of the pool, with the near-impossible decision surrounding three Mets Hall of Famers — yes, you read that right):

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CATCHER: It’s hard to pick a starting backstop when you have three hall of famers to consider. But that’s our task leading off here, and choosing between a three-time MVP; The Kid, who was synonymous with our most recent World Series champion; and the man who delivered the 9/11 game-winner, is the Rubik’s Cube of Mets puzzles. However, the rules say we have to make a pick, and we’ll go with Mike Piazza. Yogi gets DQ’d for all those years in pinstripes (not to mention managing us out of the ’73 World Series), and while the heartstrings cry out for Gary Carter and his unabashed enthusiasm that introduced us to the curtain call, Piazza’s sustained excellence at the plate just edges out Kid in the closest call we have at any of our positions. Winner: Mike Piazza

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FIRST BASE: This is another close one, and not because we have stars in our eyes over all those juiced-ball dingers Pete Alonso hit last year. At first blush this was a dead heat between Gil Hodges and Keith Hernandez. Like Berra, Hodges was a fading New York hero brought to Shea way past his prime to try and sell tickets on those lousy early editions of the Mets. While his time as a Met was brief and undistinguished (as a player, anyway), his career body of work is borderline Hall of Fame, and that’s before we consider his outstanding glove. Speaking of gloves, our beloved Mex was the gold standard for guys my age when we look back on iconic Mets stars of the past. The dilemma here is that there’s an actual Hall of Famer here we have to consider, Eddie Murray. Murray is a member of the elite .300/500 club, and like Mickey Mantle, did it as a switch hitter. While we may not consider him in the class of a Hernandez or Hodges when it comes to the glove, his career fielding percentage actually slots in exactly between Hodges’ .992 and Keith’s .994 (yeah, stats guys, Murray threw around the leather at .993). So who’s the pick? Well, it’s my list and I’m passing up Murray, who was surly and underwhelming during his two years at Shea, and going with Keith. Winner: Keith Hernandez

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SECOND BASE: It is so much fun to harken back to the days when Millan seemed like he was choking up all the way to the bat’s label while hitting second for all those lovable Mets teams of the early- to mid-’70’s. Or shake our heads in retrospect at Fonzie’s power numbers hitting third for Bobby V.’s contenders around the turn of the century. But this one really isn’t close. Yeah, Roberto Alomar was an enormous bust as a Met, but his Hall of Fame career as one of the best second baseman in the game overrides the disappointment he dished to us all when he arrived in New York amidst much hoopla. Winner: Robbie Alomar

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SHORTSTOP: As tough as our choice behind the plate may have been, the selection for shortstop on our All-Time is that easy. Has their ever been a more exciting home grown star for the New York Mets than Jose Reyes? He was the type of player you came to the ballpark to watch, be it in the field, on the bases or at the plate. A Reyes triple up the alley was worth the price of admission and always concluded with the signature chant — Jo-zayyyy, Jose, Jose, Jose… He won a batting title, led the league in steals and triples multiple times and came within a Beltran-called-strike-three of leading our ’06 squad to the World Series. Winner: Jose Reyes

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THIRD BASE: At first this one felt like a no-brainer, too. The Mets dearth of quality third-sackers (Wayne Garrett, Mike Cubbage, Joe Foy, Bob Aspromonte, Lenny Randle, etc.) over the years was part of the Mets quirky history up until Captain America came on the scene. Manning the left side of the infield with Reyes, David Wright was our answer to Derek Jeter across town, and appeared to be Cooperstown-bound. That was before a new stadium with impossibly deep and high outfield walls robbed him of his power numbers, though, and then injuries took care of the rest. So this choice was as easy as Reyes at short, right? Not so fast. There was a pretty fair third baseman by the name of Ken Boyer the Mets brought on board in 1966 — once again to much fanfare. Like Berra and Hodges before him, his track record with his former team didn’t translate into results at Shea. But check the numbers, Boyer was nearly an equal of Wright’s when we look at all-time stats, and most who saw him play would argue Boyer was the far superior third baseman. To further complicate matters, don’t forget about the converted Atlanta Braves catcher, who became a league MVP at third after being traded to St. Louis for Orlando Cepeda, and would one day become the only player-manager in Mets history. Joe Torre showed up in blue and orange in the mid-’70’s (you guessed it, right after his best years were behind him), and immediately regressed in skills so markedly that we felt like we had another Jim Fregosi on our hands. One could make a solid case that Torre was the most accomplished third baseman of the bunch, but again, it’s my list and Wright is the pick. We’ll leave Torre for Yankees fans to deal with when choosing between he and Casey for the Bombers’ all-time manager’s spot. And Boyer? Well, he was only a Met for a year and a half, and David was, well, Captain America. Winner: David Wright

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CENTERFIELD: Say Hey. Nuff said (although much love to my boyhood favorite Agee, not to mention Mookie, Nails and the first ever batter in Mets franchise history — Richie Ashburn). Winner: Willie Mays

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LEFT FIELD: The sentimental choice here is Cleon Jones, for his spectacular 1969 campaign when he led the league in hitting for most of the season (he finished third) and caught Davey Johnson’s fly ball to conclude the most unexpected World Series win in MLB history). But Rickey says don’t forget about Rickey. Yeah, Rickey may have concluded his blue and orange tenure playing cards in the clubhouse while his team was engaged in an extra-innings fight for their playoff lives on the field, but this one is nearly as lopsided as going with Mays in center. Winner: Rickey Henderson

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RIGHT FIELD: Oh, dilemmas. If we go strictly on stats as a right fielder, Bobby Bonilla is the choice (egads!). Of course, there’s no EFFING way we EVER let Bonilla back in the house (it’s bad enough dealing with “Bobby Bonilla Day” every year when his deferred money pays out). And revisiting the Bobby Bo years is unnecessary when the franchise’s all-time home run king once owned right field at Shea Stadium. Straw was our first truly GREAT homegrown position player, and for an eight-year stretch beginning with his Rookie of the Year campaign in ’83, it appeared he’d also be a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But similar to those incredibly talented Mets teams he was a part of in the ’80’s, so much more was expected due to all the physical gifts Darryl Strawberry possessed. Meanwhile, remembering that we are measuring all-time greatness for those who wore a Mets uniform at some time during their career, there was another Mets right-fielder who would one day be enshrined in Cooperstown by the name of Duke Snider. Indeed, The Duke was even captured in song as the third of the holy trinity of 1950’s New York centerfielders, when he’d put up huge numbers for those excellent Brooklyn Dodgers clubs of the day. And check the old scorecards — Duke played 293 career games in right, including 63 for our 1963 New York Mets. Add to that the fact that Duke Snider was AtticMom’s favorite player as a little girl growing up in the ’40’s,  and Darryl comes up just short. Winner: Duke Snider

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STARTING ROTATION: An absolute embarrassment of riches to choose from as we assemble our all-time New York Mets rotation. Of course you have to start with The Franchise, Tom Seaver. And with Tom Terrific as our ace, we can add a little bit of everything to the mix. There’s one Hall of Famer we got rid of before he became immortal — say hello, Nolan Ryan! And another HOFer we acquired long after the magic had begun to erode. Yup, Warren Spahn and his 363 career wins donned the blue and orange for the first half of the ’65 season, and from the looks of the picture above, it must have been right around Spahnie’s 50th birthday. Throw in Pedro Martinez, who kickstarted our brief return to respectability during the mid-2000’s when he elected to sign with us as a free agent. Now you are four-fifths of the way to the best rotation ever assembled. Over their storied history, the Mets actually had a fifth future Hall of Famer toe the rubber at Shea, when Tommy Glavine anchored the staff following his time as co-ace down in Atlanta. And Glavine’s 300-plus wins make for a damn strong pedigree, but when it comes to an all-time Mets rotation, can we really move on without at least even discussing Doc Gooden? No, Doc’s all-time stats aren’t in the same league as his HOF mound mates, but for one magical season back in 1985, there’s never been a more dominant New York Mets starter. Like his frenemy Straw, so much more was expected of Gooden than came to pass, but if we’re picking between Glavine in his prime versus 20-year-old Doc for one start? Yeah, sorry Tommy. Winners: Seaver, Ryan, Spahn, Martinez, Gooden

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BULLPEN: We decided to go with one lefty and one right-hander to complete our all-time Mets squad with a lockdown bullpen, for those rare instances when one of our vaunted, all-time starters couldn’t finish what they’d begun. Both bullpen slots created selection challenges for very different reasons. Start with Jesse Orosco. Jesse throwing his glove in the air before jumping into Gary Carter’s bearhug following Game 7 of the ’86 Series will forever be burned into the memory of many a Mets fan. Orosco was far from dominant, but during his time with the Mets was usually effective, and occasionally even touched elite. He then went on to set the record for most games pitched in MLB history, the only hurler to ever cross the 1200 appearance barrier. Yeesh! But did Orosco ever truly touch us Mets fans the way two other lefty relievers did? There’s “Ya Gotta Believe” Tug McGraw, and Brooklyn’s own Johnny Franco to consider here, and while Franco may have boasted slightly better stats as a Met than Tugger, we’re still going with McGraw in another photo finish. The righty? There have been few right-handed closers in Mets history who make fans light up when thinking of their time on the hill at Shea or Citi. Whether it’s Armando Benitez unable to close the door in Game 1 against the Yanks in 2000, or Jeurys Familia getting hung with three “L’s” against the Royals in ’15, either big man elicits more groans than happy memories. Ron Taylor was the main fireman back in ’69, but we rarely think about Taylor when looking back on our all-time great relievers. Again, though, we have to factor in that we can choose from those who rose to prominence elsewhere, part of the long list of prospects given up on by the Mets before their time had arrived. Under that rationale, the list improves dramatically, and we land on Jeff Reardon. You remember Reardon, right? The bearded setup man (to Neil Allen for crying out loud!) we chose to send to the Expos for a washed up Ellis Valentine? The same Reardon who went on to become number ten on the all-time saves list? Yeah, that Jeff Reardon. Honorable mention to Rick Aguilera, who had slightly inferior career stats to Reardon, but was his equal when we consider talented young arms we traded away. Winners: Tug McGraw and Jeff Reardon

So there you have it. Painful at times, but all Mets, for all time. Cue the song — We’re Talking Baseball…Willie, Rickey, and The Duke…

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