Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lifetime Mets, We've Had A Few (But Just Enough To Mention)

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, the Mets have had very few players who spent their entire professional careers with the team.  I'm talking about players who originally signed with the Mets, came up through their minor league system and spent their entire major league careers wearing the orange and blue.

So many players spent a decade or more with the Mets, but all of them managed to play at least one game for another team.  Players such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Buddy Harrelson all came up through the Mets' minor league system and were teammates for most of their careers, but none of them retired as Mets.

Tom Seaver played for the Reds, White Sox and Red Sox after leaving New York (twice).  Jerry Koosman pitched for the Twins, Phillies and White Sox after playing his final game for the Mets.  And Bud Harrelson stuck around for a few years, toiling for the Phillies and Rangers once his days in New York were through.

There have also been a handful of players who most people don't remember as playing for an organization other than the Mets.  Do you remember Cleon Jones as a member of the White Sox?  No?  He was indeed a member of the Pale Hose, albeit for only 12 games in 1976 after playing a dozen years in New York.  How about Craig Swan?  The former ERA champion who led the Mets in wins during the Dark Ages of 1977-1983 finished his career with a two-game stint as a California Angel.  John Stearns played in a total of 809 games during his ten years in New York.  But the Bad Dude made his major league debut in 1974 for the Philadelphia Phillies, spending less time in Philly (two at-bats) than a cheesesteak spends in Rusty Staub's hands.

So which players can be considered true lifetime Mets?  Only three players who played at least seven years with the team fall into this category.  Let's take a look at that loyal trio.

Ed Kranepool

Of course the list has to begin with Steady Eddie.  Kranepool is the franchise's all-time leader in many categories due to his longevity with the team.  After the Mets drafted him in 1962 out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx, Kranepool made his major league debut as a 17-year-old on September 22, replacing Gil Hodges at first base in a blowout loss to the Cubs just days before the end of the team's inaugural season.  Seventeen years and eight days later, Kranepool played his final game for the Mets, collecting a double as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher John Pacella.

In an interesting piece of symmetry, Kranepool began his career by replacing a Brooklyn legend and ended it by pinch-hitting for a kid from Brooklyn.  (Pacella was born in Brooklyn in 1956, 11 months after Hodges won is only championship in the borough.)

Ed Kranepool played 18 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Mets, before being granted free agency after the 1979 season.  When no other team offered him a contract, Kranepool chose to retire at the age of 35.

Ron Hodges

Look up the term backup catcher in a baseball dictionary and Ron Hodges' picture will more than likely accompany the definition.  Although Hodges played 12 years with the Mets, beginning in 1973 with the "Ya Gotta Believe" Mets and ending in 1984, the first year of Davey and Doc, he was rarely the No. 1 option behind the plate.

Stuck behind Jerry Grote for the first four years of his career, Hodges continued to be the Mets' backup catcher when John Stearns took over for Grote in 1977.  Stearns went on to become the first non-pitcher to represent the Mets as a National League All-Star four times.  Hodges went on to familiarize himself with the Shea Stadium bench.  However, with Stearns suffering from an assortment of injuries in the early '80s, Hodges began to receive more playing time.

In 1982, his tenth season with the Mets, Hodges collected 200 at-bats in a season for the first time.  The following year, Hodges surpassed the 100-game mark for the only time in his career.  In 1984, Hodges went back to being a backup, this time to Mike Fitzgerald, before being released after the season at the age of 35.

David Wright

When Mike Hampton decided to leave the bright lights of New York to get a Rocky Mountain high for himself, his wife and his school-age children, the Mets were rewarded with a "sandwich pick" in the 2001 amateur draft.   With that pick, the team selected third baseman David Wright, a Mets fan who grew up watching the team's future stars in Tidewater and Norfolk.  Since then, Wright has become one of the team's biggest stars.

Wright made his way up the minor league ladder quickly, making his major league debut on July 21, 2004, batting seventh and playing third base against the Montreal Expos.  He's been a fixture at the hot corner ever since.

Now entering his ninth year with the Mets, Wright is the team's all-time leader in doubles, extra-base hits, total bases and RBI.  By year's end, Wright could potentially also be the team leader in runs scored, base hits and walks.  And just think, before Wright made his major league debut, the Mets used to go through third basemen like Davey Johnson went through bottles of Rolaids.

Of all the players who played more than seven seasons in Flushing, Ed Kranepool, Ron Hodges and David Wright are the only three to be drafted and signed by the Mets, played their way through their minor league system and suited up for no other team but the Mets.  Out of all the pitchers in team history, only Jeff Innis (1987-93) and Mike Pelfrey (2006-12) were Mets for as many as seven seasons, without having ever known another organization since the day they were drafted.

Chipper Jones is about to end an 18-year career in the major leagues, all with the Atlanta Braves.  Mariano Rivera is expected to do the same for the Yankees.  This comes a year after his long-time teammate, Jorge Posada, called it a career after 17 years in pinstripes.  And I'm not even going to mention Derek Jeter (even though I just did).  All of these players have had long, successful careers with the only organization they've ever known.  But the Mets have only produced three such players who played for the team for just half the time of Jones, Rivera, Posada and Jeter.

The Mets have had very few "lifetime" players, and even fewer who played at least a decade for the team.  It's something that they will hopefully correct with David Wright leading the way, followed by the abundance of young homegrown players currently on the team.


Solly said...

That Kranepool pic reminds me of someone's driver's license...

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Ron Jeremy's?