By Dave Mills
Editor's Note: This is Dave Mills' first submission to this blog. - M.S.
To be a Mets fan is to experience true agony with some rare ecstasy. Two World Championships and four World Series appearances in 45 seasons is OK, but nothing to write home about. Beats being a Cubs or Astros fan. Our two championships were monumental and gratifying, to say the least, but no no-no's, no MVPs and no batting championships have left a certain void.
We have had some fine front-line pitchers starting with the original and only Tom Terrific. For those who missed it, superlative defensive backstop Jerry Grote said many times that if he dangled a dime by a string over home plate, Seaver would hit it nine out of 10 times. His 231 career complete games says he was a competitor of the first order. And for almost 10 seasons, until M. Donald broke our hearts, we were lucky enough to view on consecutive days a Tom and Jerry Show that outdistance even the cartoon. And while we have had some great arms (Ryan, Gooden, Cone and a few others, who had a great season or two), there have never been two hurlers of the caliber of Seaver and Koosman on this New York National League franchise. In fact, the pitching stats from the stretch run and post-season in 1969 were deliciously impressive.
This past season commemorated the 20th anniversary of our 1986 Champs. Perhaps a bit overplayed due to the new network, but worth remembering nonetheless. At the same time, that team never really fulfilled the promise of greatness that comes with dynasty building. I, for one, would have to say the disappointment of only a singular World Championship forever mollified the accomplishment.
In late 2004, we embarked on a new Mets era that began with Freddie Skill Sets and Son finally hiring a dynamic New Yorker and endowing him with the "power." Say what you want, but good business always trickles down from the top and the Wilpons, who do deserve praise, went out and got their man. Through tribulation, Fred learned that all pales in comparison to someone who knows how to evaluate and sign talent, as well as use chemistry as an elixir.
Omar Minaya has earned my respect and every Mets fan should take note. Sure, some moves are better than others, but what is impressive about Omar is how he takes action and plays the carom. He went out and signed a controversial choice as manager. Yes, it would have been easy and perhaps expeditious to overlook the Yankee and sign a guy with more Mets or National League affiliations, but he saw something in Willie--a guy who made the most of his talent, was a tireless worker, as well as a quiet and dignified leader. Most of all, he knew how to win. He also played for many effective and legendary managers. For good measure, he also happened to be a New Yorker.
And look at the way Minaya goes out and gets players. He knew he was taking a risk when he closed the deal with Pedro, but he figured other players would take notice. Beltran, Delgado, Wagner, Franco and LoDuca all followed. He traded Anna Benson for Julio and Maine and promptly rebounded with Julio for El Duque after reestablishing Julio's value. Little pickups went unnoticed but Endy Chavez and Jose Valentin didn't make their bosses look good totally unexpectedly. Nady for Hernandez and O. Perez may turn out to be one of his best, especially since he may have subsequently found even better righthanded hitting outfield options. He packed the bullpen with a host of live arms and gave Randolph and Peterson a host of options. Best of all, he signed Reyes and Wright to long-term deals before their time and in mid-season. If that doesn't inspire the base, I can't imagine what does?
This off-season, Minaya has been one of the busiest GMs around. He added young arms and a talented outfielder named Ben Johnson as a right-handed compliment to Chavez. And he was not afraid to add one of history's most potent right-handed bats against southpaws in Moises Alou. The naysayers say too old, but Johnson, Chavez and Milledge are all young, versatile and talented. He also lost Chad Bradford to an awfully generous offer by the overly generous O's, whose GM takes particular delight in this sort of play.
It is also interesting to note that the new Mets Triple A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, will have a dynamic pitching staff (Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, Bannister, Soler) and some quality talent in the field (Milledge, Gomez, AHern, Gotay, Abreu) for the first time in many years. This is in no small measure due to Omar Minaya's vision of the total franchise.
Like Wilpon and Minaya, Willie Randolph continues to grow and enrich us with good baseball instincts, Is he the best tactical manager in the game? No way, but he may well be the best handler of his roster and one of the most respected skippers by players and coaches.
So what does it all amount to? The Mets have a damn good team and fine leadership at all levels. They have youth, speed, experience and balance. In three seasons they move to a first-rate new stadium and their new TV network is a source of sustenance to all. Just let me count the ways.
As a Mets fan, I am inspired by what I see. As a baseball fan, the prospect of seeing Jose Reyes gleefully run the bases or make a tough play look routine will tide me over till the new season begins and beyond. A batting title, MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, a no-no and a bunch of division crowns will be nice, but the real measure will be how many World Series appearances the Amazin's make during the next decade. It will be a journey worth experiencing and commenting about.