Sunday, April 15, 2012

This Year's Mets Have A 1984 Feel To Them

In 1984, the Mets were coming off one of the darkest eras in franchise history.  For seven straight seasons, the Mets finished at least 21 games under .500 and never finished higher than fifth place in the six-team NL East.  There were no expectations going into 1984 even though the team had a veteran leader in Keith Hernandez, a nice mix of homegrown talent (Darryl Strawberry, Hubie Brooks, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman) and a new manager in Davey Johnson.

They also had a young pitcher named Dwight Gooden, who was given the ball despite having no experience in the major leagues.  Gooden went on to reward the Mets for showing their faith in him, making the All-Star team and becoming the fourth Met to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

After seven consecutive losing seasons, that combination of veteran leadership and youth, along with an intelligent manager, gave the Mets their first winning record since 1976 and only their second 90-win season in franchise history.

Fast forward nearly three decades to 2012.  The Mets have yet to record a winning season since moving to Citi Field in 2009.  In addition, although they did finish above .500 in each of their last three seasons at Shea Stadium, the 2006 to 2008 teams are most known for losing at the end of each campaign.  In essence, the team has "lost" for six straight seasons now.

But this year's Mets appear to be on the right track.  They have a young homegrown pitcher (Jonathon Niese) who was just given a vote of confidence by the Mets in the form of a five-year contract extension.  Just as Gooden rewarded the 1984 team when they had faith in him, Niese is doing the same for the 2012 club, winning his first two starts in dominant fashion (.156 batting average against, .178 slugging percentage against).

The 1984 Mets also had two veteran pitchers who performed very well for the team in Walt Terrell and Bruce Berenyi.  The two pitchers combined to go 20-18 with a 3.60 ERA.  Twenty-eight years later, the Mets have that same veteran presence in the rotation with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, who have both pitched exceptionally well during the first week and a half of the season.

Jesse Orosco (10-6, 31 saves, 2.59 ERA), Doug Sisk (15 saves, 2.05 ERA) and Tom Gorman (6-0, 2.97 ERA) were a formidable threesome in the bullpen in 1984, just as the trio of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell have been for the Mets in 2012 (the three have combined to post a 0.61 ERA and 0.68 WHIP).

As far as the offense goes, the 1984 Mets were fueled by a young power hitting rightfielder named Darryl Strawberry, who led the team with 26 home runs in his first full season in New York.  (The Straw Man was called up to the Mets in May 1983.)  The 2012 Mets also have a young power hitter in right field, Lucas Duda, who was called up for good during the 2011 season and is now leading the 2012 team in home runs.

Other young homegrown players who blossomed in 1984 were infielders Wally Backman and Hubie Brooks, as well as outfielder Mookie Wilson.  The 2012 team are succeeding with their own young homegrown players, such as infielders Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis, and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Hubie Brooks' breakout season in 1984 allowed the Mets to trade him for Gary Carter, who started the tenth inning rally in Game 6 that ended with Mookie Wilson's roller.  Ain't symmetry grand?

And of course, who could forget about Keith Hernandez?  The man who would eventually become the Mets' first team captain was entering his eighth full season in the major leagues at the age of 30 and was absolutely spectacular (.311, 31 doubles, 15 HR, 94 RBI, .409 OBP).  David Wright is now entering his eighth full season with the Mets.  Wright, who will turn 30 before year's end, is off to his best start, hitting an impressive .571 (12-for-21), while also reaching base at a .615 clip.  The unofficial team captain has also struck out only two times in 26 plate appearances, becoming one of team's best contact hitters nearly three decades after Hernandez was doing the same.

Finally, just as Davey Johnson had managed many of his players in the minor leagues before becoming the Mets' manager in 1984, Terry Collins also coached a number of players in the Mets' minor league system who he eventually managed in the major leagues.  This familiarity would lead to a comfort level between both managers and their players, leading to less friction and more production.

No one expected the 1984 Mets to be as good as they were.  But they won six of their first seven games en route to a surprise second-place finish in the National League East.  The same can be said for the Mets' expectations in 2012.  But after a 6-3 start, predictions of a last-place finish might have to be revised.

Big Brother was watching everyone in 1984.  Now the 1984 Mets might be serving as a big brother to the 2012 team, writing the script that the current team is following.  In the end, the 1984 team fell short of the playoffs, as might their 2012 counterparts.  But the 1984 Mets served as a springboard for what was to follow over the next few seasons.  Will the 2012 Mets do the same?  It wouldn't be surprising if they did.


Connor said...

The question has been whether the Mets would be like the '83 team- young with promise, but a long way to go.
Instead, they seem to be more refined and ready to compete, like the '84 Mets. I sure hope this continues. Despite the loss today, I'm excited.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

I'm excited as well, Connor. The 1983 Mets won 68 games, a number that was surpassed by the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Mets, even though those teams were considered to be disappointments. This team might not win the 90 games won by the '84 team, but they should surely win far more than the 68 won by the '83 team.

I like where this team is going and I'm very happy that our young players are producing at the major league level. The future is most certainly bright for the Mets.

Paul said...

I cant believe that you compared Niece to Gooden. Thats like comparing a Ferrari to an Acura.

Anonymous said...

I think you got it backwards: Niese is the Acrua; Doc (pre-drugs) was a Ferrari.

Paul said...

yes your right.

Connor said...

He's not comparing them.. He's just pointing out the young pitching the team had in '84 is similar to this team, just without the Gooden at the top.

Anonymous said...

This is such a simplistic article overreaching to find comparisons. The Mets have nothing that compares to Gooden and Strawberry right now. Or Darling, Mookie or Orosco. Or Dkystra, Mitchell and Agullera coming up in the minors.

But......The Mets do have hope as Sandy builds a solid farm system. So I do have some hope for the Mets in 2014.

Midwestern Met said...

Does this mean Jason Bay is George Foster?

Anonymous said...

Of course, the Veterans are much better than that 84 team. Niese is definitely no Gooden, but Santana and Dickey are much better then Terrel and Berenyi.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Actually, I've compared Bay to Foster for a few years now. The only difference between the two is that Bay is much easier to get along with than Foster was. Of course, neither player has done much on the field to validate their large multi-year contracts. It'll be interesting to see if this team can approach the 90 wins posted by the '84 squad.