|Imagine if a scene like this had happened at Shea Stadium with Griffey wearing a Mets uniform. (Elaine Thompson/AP)|
With today's news that Seattle legend Edgar Martinez failed to garner the votes necessary for Hall of Fame election, that leaves Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with a Mariners cap on his plaque in Cooperstown. But nearly two decades ago, a deal was in place that could have seen Griffey change the "S" on his cap to an interlocking "NY". That is, if Griffey hadn't rejected the trade.
According to the Seattle Times, Mariners general manager Pat Gillick and his Mets counterpart Steve Phillips had discussed a trade in December 1999 that would have brought Griffey to New York to join fellow 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza in the middle of a formidable Mets lineup that had come within two wins of a National League pennant just two months earlier. But Griffey was adamant about only playing in Seattle or Cincinnati, where he grew up and went to high school. As a 10-and-5 player (ten years in the majors, the last five with his current team), it was Griffey's right to reject any trade he didn't approve of, which he did after the Mariners asked for his approval of a potential move to New York.
Who would the Mets have sent to Seattle for the future Hall of Famer? Well, Roger Cedeño would have taken his .313 batting average and then-club record 66 stolen bases to the Pacific Northwest in the nixed deal. So would Octavio Dotel, who ended up pitching for a major league record 13 teams in his 15 major league seasons. A third player would also have been jettisoned to Seattle to go with the speedy Cedeño and the peripatetic Dotel. That player would have been Armando Benitez.
Yes, that Armando Benitez.
Benitez had become the Mets' closer in 1999 after John Franco was lost for two months with an injury. Although Benitez had a dominant regular season (22 saves, 1.85 ERA, 128 Ks in 78 IP), he was just ordinary in the postseason, blowing a save in the division series (a game the Mets eventually won in extra innings) and failing to hold a one-run lead in the tenth inning of Game Six of the NLCS (the Mets lost that heartbreaker to the Braves).
|Booooo!!! (Gregory Bull/AP)|
Benitez remained a Met until 2003, which was more than enough for him to incur the wrath of long-time Mets fans as well as recent converts. Dotel and Cedeño, who were two-thirds of the rejected trade for Griffey in 1999, were eventually traded that winter to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton, with Hampton eventually being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 National League Championship Series. Fortunately for Hampton, Benitez didn't blow any of his leads in his two NLCS starts, although Benitez did allow two runs in the ninth inning of Hampton's first NLCS start, turning a comfortable 6-0 lead into a 6-2 final.
Could the Mets have won the 2000 World Series if Griffey had okayed the trade? Would John Franco have gone back to being the Mets' closer and would he have held the leads that Benitez blew in so many crucial situations? We'll never know. But the thing we can say with certainty is that every person who booed Benitez would have cheered for Griffey. And Mets history would have looked a whole lot different.