Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Experience Required (Unless If You Want To Win)

With the impending departure of Jose Reyes, the Mets will be left with David Wright and Mike Pelfrey as the only two players who have been with the team for at least five seasons, with Wright making his debut in 2004 and Pelfrey making his first major league appearance in 2006.  It would also leave David Wright as the only player left from the Art Howe era.

If Reyes has indeed played his last game as a Met, he will have played a total of nine seasons in New York, falling one year short of the decade mark.  That got me thinking.  Do you remember the last non-pitcher to play at least ten seasons for the Mets?  Would you believe it was Mookie Wilson?

Even before his famous ten-pitch at-bat in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mookie Wilson was a beloved Met.  He was admired by the fans and respected by his teammates.  He was also a player the team wanted to have around, as he made his major league debut as a September call-up in 1980 and remained with the team until he was traded to the Blue Jays in 1989.

Mookie Wilson played for the Mets in every season in the '80s, experiencing the highs ("little roller up along first") and lows (George Foster).  He was also the last everyday player to suit up for the Mets at least once in ten consecutive seasons.  (Lee Mazzilli also played ten years for the Mets, but his time was split into two stints, from 1976-1981 and from 1986-1989.)

To find the last non-pitcher who played more than ten seasons in New York, you have to go all the way back to a player who played his first game for the Mets during their "Ya Gotta Believe" season of 1973.  Ron Hodges played 12 seasons for the Mets, ending his career in 1984.  However, despite the fact that Hodges was a non-pitcher, he was far from an everyday player, never collecting more than 250 at-bats in a single season.

How long has it been since Ron Hodges became the last non-pitcher to play more than ten years with the Mets?  Let's just say color photography didn't exist back then.

It's amazin' that the Mets haven't had an everyday player spend ten years with the team in over two decades and even more amazin' that it's been over a quarter century (more than half of their existence) since a non-pitcher surpassed the decade mark.

In fact, in addition to Wilson, Mazzilli and Hodges, the only other everyday players to play at least ten seasons for the Mets in their fifty-year history are John Stearns (1975-1984), Ed Kranepool (1962-1979), Jerry Grote (1966-1977), Bud Harrelson (1965-1977) and Cleon Jones (1963, 1965-1975).  That's a total of eight everyday players in 50 years to play at least ten years with the Mets.  Compare that with 15 such players on the Astros (who also came into existence in 1962).

Free agency has definitely changed the landscape of the game.  Since its advent in the 1970s, players have been more likely to move from team to team than they are to stay with one franchise.  However, every team has a homegrown star or exceptional player that they try to lock up for as long as possible.  Not every team can boast a Tony Gwynn (20 years in San Diego) or Cal Ripken, Jr. (21 years in Baltimore), but they can claim a Jay Buhner (14 years in Seattle) or Mike Sweeney (13 years in Kansas City).

It's not only small market teams that keep their players around.  Large market teams do it as well.  For example, that other team that plays in New York (their name escapes me at the moment) has had a number of ten-year everyday players since they started winning division titles and World Series championships.  Players such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada all played key roles on those teams.  None of those players was playing in the major leagues the last time the Mets had a non-pitcher play at least ten years for them.

 Don't look at us like that, Jose.  It's true.  You really would have been the first Met everyday player since 1989 to play at least ten years with the team had you decided to stay.

If Jose Reyes leaves the Mets during the offseason, he will fall one year short of reaching the decade mark, leaving it up to David Wright to try to end the streak in 2013.  Of course, he might be traded by then.  If that ends us happening, the longest-tenured everyday player on the Mets would be (get ready for this) Angel Pagan, assuming he's still on the team as well.

A good team has to have youth and a core of veterans who can share their wisdom and experiences with those novices.  Players who have seen the highs and lows (a la Mookie Wilson) are always key members of a winning team.  They've been in the clubhouse long enough and can help bring the team together in ways that can't be seen in a boxscore.

It's been almost a quarter century since the Mets have had a veteran like Mookie Wilson play at least ten years with the team.  It's also been a quarter century since the Mets last won a championship.  That's not a coincidence.

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