Monday, February 27, 2017

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets: John Franco and Armando Benitez

In New York sports, an athlete has to be great more often than not to be fully loved.  Players like Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza aren't revered just because they have phenomenal statistics; they're beloved because they produced in key spots when the Mets needed them to.

Similarly, a lesser player like Benny Agbayani will always have a special place in the hearts of Mets fans because he was a clutch performer even if his cumulative career numbers don't necessarily say he was one of the top players on the team.

On the other hand, a player who produces in non-pressure situations more often than he does when the stakes are higher will also be remembered by the Flushing faithful, but not in a way he'd like.  And even breaking a franchise record or two can't change the minds of fans with long memories.

The Mets' top two closers, if you go by saves alone.  (Focus on Sport/Getty Images; Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)

As a child growing up in Brooklyn, John Anthony Franco - the son of a New York City sanitation worker - dreamed of delivering a title to the Mets.  Nearly two thousand miles away, Armando German Benitez was developing his heater in the Dominican town of San Pedro de Macoris, whose primary export was major league shortstops.

Franco attended Lafayette High School, the same school that produced Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax and Mets owner Fred Wilpon.  He then attended St. John's University and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers after his junior year in 1981.  Two years later, the Dodgers traded Franco to Cincinnati, the team for which he made his major league debut in 1984.  Franco was brilliant as the Reds' closer, posting a 2.49 ERA in six seasons and saving 148 games, including a league-leading 39 saves in 1988.  But after making his third All-Star team in 1989, Franco was awful following the mid-season hiatus, blowing five saves in 15 opportunities and recording a 4.87 ERA.  As a result, the Reds replaced Franco during the off-season, trading him to the Mets for fellow southpaw Randy Myers in a deal that shocked Myers and delighted Franco.

"John had a great first half last season and a not-so-great second half," Mets' vice president Joe McIlvane said.  "We're hoping that a change of scenery will bring him back.  When we called him tonight, he was so happy he was bouncing off the wall."

Franco had a triumphant first season with the Mets, as he led the league in saves with 33 and became an All-Star for the fourth time in his career.  But Myers had greater team success, as he and his fellow Nasty Boys in the Reds' hard-throwing bullpen celebrated a World Series title in 1990.

The 1990 baseball season also saw the professional debut of another flame-throwing reliever, as Armando Benitez was signed as an amateur free agent with the Baltimore Orioles in April.  Four years later, Benitez made his major league debut, allowing one run in ten innings while striking out 14 batters.  While Benitez was blowing hitters away with his fastball, Franco was nibbling his way to success with the Mets.

From 1990 to 1998, Franco posted five years of 30 or more saves, after only one Met (Jesse Orosco) had reached the 30-save plateau in the franchise's first 28 seasons.  Franco's ERA during the nine-year period was a splendid 2.80, but he was constantly pitching in and out of trouble, as evidenced by his 1.346 WHIP and the .255 batting average against him.  Meanwhile, Benitez was practically unhittable as a member of the Orioles through the 1998 season, as he averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .197 average.

The Mets failed to qualify for the postseason in 1998, as they coughed up a slim lead in the wild card race during their season-ending five-game losing streak.  Going into the off-season, general manager Steve Phillips was looking to upgrade the bullpen, especially after reliever Mel Rojas posted a 6.05 ERA in 50 games - the highest single-season ERA in club history for a pitcher who made at least 50 appearances.  Phillips filled that hole by acquiring Benitez in a three-team trade in December.

"We feel we've added in Armando Benitez one of the best power pitchers in the game," Phillips said, "and somebody who will give us a completely different look in the bullpen - somebody who will give us someone who can get a strikeout coming out of the bullpen."

(Eliot J. Schecter/Getty Images)
Indeed, with the addition of Benitez, the Mets now had one of the best relief corps in baseball, as Benitez was now part of a bullpen that included closer Franco, as well as the righty-lefty set-up combo of Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook.

The Mets began the 1999 season using Benitez primarily as an eighth-inning pitcher and he was dominant in the role, posting a 1.34 ERA in his first 40 appearances and holding opposing hitters to a microscopic .119 batting average.  But on June 30, Benitez surrendered a walk-off home run to the Marlins' Mark Kotsay.  It would be a portent of things to come for Benitez, who would have a new job with the team two days later, and it had nothing to do with his poor outing against Florida.

On July 2, the Mets hosted the division rival Atlanta Braves in front of 51,979 fans on Fireworks Night at Shea Stadium.  The outcome of the game was decided early, as the Braves pummeled starter Masato Yoshii for eight runs in three innings.  With the Braves leading 12-0 by the time the ninth inning rolled around, Mets manager Bobby Valentine surprisingly brought in his closer to start the final frame.  Franco allowed a double and two walks before he was taken out of the game with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand.  Relieving him was utility man Matt Franco, who promptly allowed a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, causing Valentine to regret his decision immediately.

"I should have had Matty start the ninth, as it turns out," Valentine said.  "I had the wrong Franco start the ninth."

Franco's injury sidelined him for two months, as the lefty didn't pitch again until September 5.  While the former closer was recovering, the new closer was thriving in his new role.  During Franco's absence, Benitez recorded three wins, 13 saves and struck out 38 batters in just 23 innings.  But like Franco before him, Benitez constantly had to pitch his way out of jams he created, as he also walked 16 batters in those 23 frames.

Once Franco returned from the disabled list, Benitez continued to be the Mets' ninth-inning guy while Franco settled into a set-up role.  Both Franco (0.96 ERA in 12 appearances) and Benitez (0.64 ERA in 13 games) had strong Septembers, helping the Mets win the wild card berth to advance to the postseason for the first time since 1988.  It would be the first playoff trip for Franco in his 16-year career, while Benitez was making his third journey to the postseason.  (He was a member of the Orioles' bullpen when they qualified for the playoffs in 1996 and 1997.)

In the Division Series against Arizona, both Franco and Benitez were unscored upon, although Benitez couldn't hold a one-run lead in Game Four, allowing two inherited runners to cross the plate in the eighth inning.  With the Mets needing one win to advance to the National League Championship Series and avoid facing Randy Johnson in a potential fifth and deciding game, Valentine gave the ball to Franco as the game moved into extra innings.  Franco pitched a perfect frame and earned the win when Todd Pratt hit a series-ending home run off Diamondbacks' closer Matt Mantei in the bottom of the tenth.

Ten days after Franco bailed out Benitez, neither pitcher could bail out the Mets.  With the Mets desperately trying to force a seventh game against the Braves in the National League Championship Series, Franco couldn't hold a one-run lead in the eighth inning.  Two innings later, Benitez blew a one-run lead as well, as he allowed light-hitting Ozzie Guillen to drive in the tying run in the bottom of the tenth.  The Braves won the pennant an inning later when Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run.  Franco was one of many Mets who were disappointed by the way the team's storybook season came to a close.

"We had a good feeling about everything," Franco said.  "We just didn't get it done.  It took me 16 years to get here and to come so close, it's hard."

The Mets entered the 2000 season on a mission to play in the World Series, but by mid-May, their mission was just to stay above .500.  After 40 games, the Mets' record stood at 20-20.  The strong bullpen general manager Steve Phillips had constructed was falling apart, as Turk Wendell's slider was sliding off the plate (19 walks in 25⅓ innings) and Dennis Cook's ERA was approaching the Rojasphere.  Franco and Benitez were also not immune to the bullpen blues, as Franco struggled to keep his ERA under 4.00 and Benitez couldn't keep the ball in the park.  In fact, Benitez finished the year allowing ten homers, three of which were grand slams.  And out of the 24 runs he allowed on the season, 17 of them scored on home runs.  Fortunately for the Mets, their explosive offense was able to overcome the underachieving bullpen, as the team recovered from its slow start to win the wild card for a second consecutive season.

Once the 2000 postseason began, Franco was able to put his subpar season behind him.  Benitez, on the other hand, continued to struggle under the spotlight.  After losing Game One of the NLDS to the San Francisco Giants, the Mets were two outs away from knotting the series when Benitez surrendered a game-tying three-run homer to pinch-hitter J.T. Snow.  The Mets then retook the lead in the top of the tenth on a two-out double by Darryl Hamilton and an RBI single by Jay Payton.  Benitez started the bottom of the tenth, but was quickly removed after allowing a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Armando Rios.  Once again, Franco was called upon to bail out the man who took his job the year before.  In a pressure-packed situation, the veteran left-hander retired the first two batters he faced, then froze Barry Bonds on a 3-2 pitch to send the Mets back to Shea Stadium with a series-tying victory.  The Giants wouldn't win another game, as the Mets took Games Three and Four at home to advance to the next round.

Benitez fails, Franco prevails.  (NY Daily News Archives)

The Mets' opponent in the NLCS was the St. Louis Cardinals.  New York won the first game of the series at Busch Stadium, then took a 5-3 lead into the eighth inning of Game Two.  But this time it was Franco who coughed up the lead with a walk, a single and a wild pitch.  The Mets charged back in front an inning later, with Payton once again delivering the go-ahead RBI single.  And this time, Benitez came through, keeping the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the bottom of the ninth to save the game.  The series then shifted back to Shea Stadium, where the Mets would take two out of three to win their first pennant in 14 years and set up New York's first Subway World Series since 1956.

It took Franco seventeen long and sometimes tumultuous seasons in the big leagues, but he was finally going to the World Series.  Benitez was also playing in his first Fall Classic, but by the time Game One was over, Benitez had once again experienced a classic fall.

After seven strong innings by starting pitcher Al Leiter and a scoreless eighth by Franco, Benitez was called upon to shut down the Yankees in the ninth inning.  But the two-time defending world champions would not go down without a fight, as they scratched out a walk, two singles and sacrifice fly to send the game to extra innings, where they won it in the 12th on a bases-loaded single by former Met Jose Vizcaino.  The blown save was the third time in two postseasons that Benitez had coughed up a lead that would have given Leiter a victory.  Leiter never did win a playoff game for the Mets.  Two games later, Franco did what his fellow southpaw couldn't do.

The Mets returned to Shea Stadium for Game Three after dropping the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium.  With the score tied in the eighth inning, Franco entered the game with no outs and the go-ahead run on first base.  Three pitches later, he coaxed Jorge Posada to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.  Six pitches after that, he got out of the inning.  The Mets then scored twice in the bottom of the eighth and Benitez held down the fort in the ninth inning to give Franco and the Mets a much-needed win.

Unfortunately, that would be the only victory for the Mets in the 2000 World Series, as the Yankees took Games Four and Five to win their third consecutive championship.  Just as the Brooklyn Dodgers would say after each defeat to the Bronx Bombers in the Fall Classic, it was "wait 'till next year" for the Mets.  Unfortunately, next year - and the promises of another postseason run - never came.

After two seasons of ups and downs, featuring both shaky and thrilling performances by Franco and Benitez, the Mets struggled for most of the 2001 campaign.  By mid-August, the Mets appeared to be in need of a defibrillator, as their record stood at 54-68.  Playoffs?  They weren't talking about playoffs, especially when they were 13½ games out of first place and just two games ahead of the cellar-dwelling Montreal Expos in the National League East.  Most teams would have called it a season at that point.  Not the Mets, who remembered how to win when they and the rest of the city needed it the most.

From August 18 to September 9, the Mets won 17 of 22 contests, which allowed them to pull to within two games of .500.  But baseball was forced to put its pennant races on hold after the tragic events of September 11, as the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington postponed all games for a week.  When the Mets returned to action in Pittsburgh on September 17, the country's eyes were focused on New York's National League team.  The Mets did not disappoint.

The week away from the game did nothing to quash the Mets' momentum, as New York defeated Pittsburgh on the strength of a three-run ninth inning.  As important as the victory was for the Mets, Franco knew that the game meant so much more to the people watching back in his home city.

"For three hours, I hope we gave some pleasure to the guys who have been working," Franco said.  "We're not just playing for ourselves, we're playing for the whole city of New York."

(Keith Srakocic/AP)
With the Big Apple clearly on their minds, the Mets brought out the big brooms in Pittsburgh, sweeping the three-game set to move above .500 for the first time since they were 2-1.  Up next was a huge series against Atlanta at Shea Stadium, where another clean sweep would cut the Braves' lead to a mere 2½ games.  The opener would also be the first sporting event held in New York since 9/11.  For seven innings, there was a solemn atmosphere at the ballpark.  But in the bottom of the eighth, Mike Piazza's two-run lead-changing homer off Steve Karsay brought the crowd to its feet in celebration.  Benitez, who had allowed the Braves to take the lead in the top of the eighth on a Brian Jordan double, was taken off the hook by Piazza's long ball.  Two days later, there would be no one to save the Mets' closer.

After taking the first two games of the crucial series to cut the Braves' once insurmountable lead from 13½ games lead to just 3½, the Mets were poised for another sweep, especially after taking a three-run lead into the top of the ninth inning in the series finale.  But once again, Jordan produced another long hit against Benitez, taking him out of the park for a two-run homer - the 12th home run allowed by Benitez in 2001.  With the lead down to a single tally, Valentine left Benitez in, only to watch him surrender a two-out walk and back-to-back singles, the latter of which tied the game.  Two innings later, Jordan hit another home run, this time off reliever Jerrod Riggan, to stun the Mets and push the lead in the division back up to 4½ games.  The loss was just the sixth for the Mets in their last 28 games.

The following weekend, the Mets took on the Braves again, although this time the venue for the showdown was Turner Field.  Incredibly, the Mets had pulled back to within three games of the Braves and were just a sweep away from completing an inspired comeback and moving into a tie for first place.  It took a month for the team to move back into contention.  It only took a one-inning meltdown by Benitez and Franco to fall out of it.

Since becoming teammates in 1999, Benitez and Franco had combined for 130 saves.  There was no save situation for either pitcher in the first game against Atlanta, as Tom Glavine defeated the Mets in the series opener, 5-3.  The second game also went into the ninth inning without a save being at stake, but this time it was because the Mets had a four-run lead entering the final frame.  Starting pitcher Al Leiter had dominated the Braves for eight innings, holding Atlanta to one run on four hits.  That was enough for the manager, as Valentine went with Benitez to start the ninth.

Benitez got two outs, but not before he allowed a run to cut the Mets' lead to 5-2.  He then walked pinch-hitter Keith Lockhart, who was hitting just .228 at the time, and followed that up by surrendering a two-run double to Marcus Giles.  After Benitez issued an intentional walk to Julio Franco - a questionable call since Franco represented the go-ahead run - Valentine brought in John Franco to stop the bleeding.  Instead, he just poured salt into the open wound.

With two men on base, Franco walked pinch-hitter Wes Helms, whose .214 average made Lockhart look like a batting champion.  That loaded the bases for Met killer du jour, Brian Jordan.

A week earlier, Jordan had taken Benitez deep in the ninth inning.  This time, Jordan swung and missed at Franco's first pitch.

Two innings after Jordan tagged Benitez, he blasted an extra-inning long ball against Jerrod Riggan.  This time, Jordan hit nothing but air as he missed Franco's second offering.

John Franco had saved 422 games in his career - the most by a left-handed pitcher in history - and was one strike away from recording No. 423.  More importantly, he was a strike away from pulling the Mets back to within three games of the Braves.  Franco peered in at catcher Mike Piazza's low target and then fired a pitch that was belt-high and on the outside part of the plate.  In other words, it was right in Jordan's wheelhouse.

Just a bit outside.  Just a bit out of the ballpark.  And just a bit out of the playoff race.  ( screen shot)

Jordan's walk-off grand slam capped a seven-run ninth inning and gave the Braves an 8-5 win over the Mets.  For all intents and purposes, it was the night the lights went out in Georgia for the Mets' postseason aspirations.

"We've come back from a lot," a dejected Franco said after the game.  "But I don't know how you get over this."

The Mets never did get over their bullpen's meltdowns against the Braves.  In the two games, Benitez and Franco combined to face 17 batters.  They retired just five of them and allowed ten runs to score.  The second ninth-inning collapse in as many weeks dropped the Mets five games behind the Braves with seven games to play.  Four days later, New York was officially eliminated from the playoff race.

The 2001 campaign was just the second time in Franco's dozen seasons with the Mets that he ended the year with an ERA north of 4.00.  Benitez finished the year with a 3.77 ERA, which was more than a run and a half higher than the 2.22 ERA he posted in his first two years with the team.  Although the Mets posted their fifth consecutive winning season - barely, at 82-80 - the club was clearly in decline.  And they had to play the following year without their longest tenured player.

Franco, who had been named the team's captain in 2001, was forced to drop the anchor on his 2002 season, as an injury to his left elbow required Tommy John surgery.  That left Benitez as the only experienced closer on the team.  It also left him alone as the recipient of the fans' wrath when he once again couldn't keep the ball in the park.

As July turned to August, the Mets were four games over .500 and were within striking distance of the wild card-leading Dodgers.  But in the first game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium on August 3, Benitez was called upon to protect a one-run lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks and promptly allowed a home run to Craig Counsell, a hitter who had produced just 12 homers in nearly 2,000 career plate appearances before he took Benitez deep.  Counsell's blast was also the fourth home run Benitez had allowed in his last six outings.  The Mets would go on to lose the game to the D-Backs in extra innings.  They then went on to lose every game they played at home in the month of August.

With Franco on the sidelines, the Mets would finish the 2002 campaign in last place with a 75-86 record - their first losing season since 1996.  By the time Franco returned to the mound in late May 2003, the Mets were already buried in the division standings.  The team ended the year in the N.L. East cellar once again, marking the first time in 20 years that the Mets finished in last place in back-to-back seasons.  Franco played one more year in New York, posting a horrid 5.28 ERA in 52 appearances, before signing a free agent contract to pitch for the Houston Astros in 2005.  His 21-year career ended when he was released by the Astros in July, just three months before Houston won its first pennant.

While Franco was closing out his Mets career in 2004, Benitez was closing out the Mets as a member of the division rival Florida Marlins.  Just one year after he played his final game for the Mets, Benitez dominated his former team to the tune of a 0.68 ERA and 0.30 WHIP in 12 appearances, notching an incredible 11 saves against the Mets in 2004 alone.  It took him six years and a change of teams, but Benitez had finally learned how to block out the boos in order to perform well in New York, much to the chagrin of long-suffering Mets fans.

Franco and Benitez saved 436 Mets wins, but couldn't save themselves from hearing boos.  (Keith Torrie/NY Daily News)

John Franco and Armando Benitez rank No. 1 and No. 2 in saves in Mets history.  Ordinarily, that would make them beloved former members of the team.  But both pitchers, especially Benitez, have had their share of unflinching detractors.

Throughout his career, Franco was respected by Mets fans.  A member of the Mets Hall of Fame, Franco was a New Yorker through and through and always took pride in representing the team and the city.  But Franco was never a "lights out" pitcher, and quite often had to escape a jam of his own creation when he was on the mound, as evidenced by his commendable 3.10 ERA as a Met but less-than-stellar 1.365 WHIP.  Benitez, on the other hand, was supposed to be a "game over" type of pitcher when he replaced Franco as the team's closer, and for the most part he was, as long as those games weren't of great import to the Mets.  Sure, he had a 2.70 ERA and averaged nearly a dozen strikeouts per nine innings while he was with the team.  In fact, no pitcher who threw at least 300 innings in club history averaged more strikeouts per nine innings than Benitez and only Tom Seaver had a lower ERA (2.57) as a Met than the team's beleaguered former closer.  But he also had a penchant for allowing the biggest hits at the worst possible moments, which fans tend to remember more than the times he struck out the side in the month of May.

Mets fans love to cheer for a winner, and Franco and Benitez were certainly part of one of the more successful eras in team history.  But those same fans also have certain expectations for their star players, and if those stars fail to shine at the most crucial moments, their legacies in New York are forever dimmed.  Franco and Benitez have the numbers to be considered among the best at their position.  But unfortunately, too many opposing players had their numbers when they were on the mound.  And for many of the die-hards who watched them pitch, that's enough to take some of the shimmer off their otherwise respectable careers.

Note: The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players and personnel who experienced the best of times and the worst of times with the team.  For previous installments, please click on the names below:

January 2, 2017: Tom Seaver
January 9, 2017: Mike Piazza
January 16, 2017: Wally Backman
January 23, 2017: Daniel Murphy
January 30, 2017: Frank Cashen
February 6, 2017: Ed Kranepool
February 13, 2017: Doug Sisk
February 20, 2017: Joan Whitney Payson

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets: Joan Whitney Payson

All things considered, I've had a pretty fortunate run as a Mets fan.  Shortly after signing up to bleed Met blue at a very young age, they won a championship shortly into my run as a fan and were a very celebrated team.  An organization comprised of very colorful individuals (Mex, Kid, to name a few) and budding superstars (Straw, Doc, to complement the veterans) helped cement me as a Mets fan for life.

Thanks, Dad.

Being a student of history and literature as well, I was always fascinated by the Mets' overall past and how they came to be.  Little did I know, at age 10, that 1962 was just a mere 25 seasons prior in 1986.  As someone who celebrated her Tom Seaver birthday recently, 25 years is a drop in the hat.

Then by watching the video An Amazin' Era, I realized how the Mets were born.  It was hard for me to imagine at age 10, and even later in my 20s and 30s by reading books like Bums, Amazin', and Boys of Summer, what it might be like to see one of my teams (or my teams' rivals) leave town and go straight cross the country.  Because without the loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers (now of Los Angeles) and New York (baseball) Giants (now San Francisco), the Mets may not exist.  I'm sure I'd still love baseball.  But the idea of no Mets is disconcerting to me, despite how much they like to mess with my feelings.                                                                                                                                             

In the 2007 HBO documentary, The Ghosts of Flatbush, an older fan who was quite young when the Dodgers left town in 1957 said that "Los Angeles may have been Siberia, it was so far away."  So from 1958 through 1961, there was no New York National League baseball team.  And according to many amateur baseball historians (like my father, who I have to blame for being in this mess), New York always was and always will be a National League city.  Despite what those pinstripe dummies in the Bronx try to tell you.

Meanwhile, in that same documentary, not to mention countless books written about those bums of Kings County, a few lines were devoted to "that other" National League ball club that shared success in the same municipality but rival boroughs, and their fans shared a heated passion that was reminiscent of the Hatfields and the McCoys.  You'd never know, given the ink and video devoted to reminding us about the Brooklyn Dodgers, that the other team that inspired the Mets' color orange played at the Polo Grounds, the Mets' first home.  The other team that won a championship as late as 1954 in New York.  And had storied players like Willie Mays, who made the infamous "Catch" in that same World Series. (And Mays is why I believe I'd have been a Polo Grounds inhabitant).

And the other team, that according to the many books written on the era, made majority owner Horace Stoneham out to be a "patsy" who was cajoled by Dodger owner Walter O'Malley to provide a natural rival to the Dodgers on the west coast, who had one proverbial foot out the door to L.A. 

Stoneham's team was his primary source of income.  It was an eat or be eaten situation for him to move the team to make it more profitable.  While he originally thought "midwest," to go further west wasn't much of a stretch for him.

Yet, a Giants' minority shareholder was very vocal about the team not leaving town.  In fact, hers was the only dissenting vote to move the team to San Francisco.  Several years later, that voter got her own wish: to bring National League baseball back to the Big Apple in a big way.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Joan Whitney Payson was not only a philanthropist, coming from a very well-known and well-to-do socialite family, but she was a huge baseball fan as well.  She was a known art collector, but she mostly wanted to collect ticket stubs to baseball games.  (I also believe her to be my spirit animal).

Yet for how revered Mrs. Payson (as she is still referred to this day by several prominent former Mets like Tom Seaver and Ed Kranepool) was and is in Mets lore, she presided over some of the most disastrous Mets teams.  While no one would ever question her Mets love and baseball fandom, her baseball legacy was tarnished by her family who inherited the team after she passed.  A family who didn't give a hoot about baseball or running a team, and allowed the team franchise player to be traded on their watch, a move that ultimately led to several years of hardship in Queens.

We know how the current front office ownership is viewed by most fans today.  But would Mrs. Payson been given the benefit of the doubt had she owned the team today?  I mean, would Joan Payson have been essentially "Frederica" Wilpon, someone who loved baseball so much that they just wanted to own a team, and thought fans were a means to an end to obtain that goal?

That may be a bit of an unfair judgment, but let's take a look at how the team operated in the Payson years.  (This also accounts for the de Roulet ownership after her death, since they inherited the team.)

It goes without saying that in 1962, the Mets were historically bad.  Monumentally bad.  Horrific.  Yet, fans were so hard up for National League baseball in the Big Apple, that they went and root root rooted for the Metsies (and went home not too happy 120 times in '62, but that's okay).  Though by 1968, they didn't have another 100+ loss season.  So that's a plus, I guess. 

Year W L W-L% Finish
1962 40 120 0.250 10th of 10
1963 51 111 0.315 10th of 10
1964 53 109 0.327 10th of 10
1965 50 112 0.309 10th of 10
1966 66 95 0.410 9th of 10
1967 61 101 0.377 10th of 10
1968 73 89 0.451 9th of 10
1969 100 62 0.617 1st of 6
1970 83 79 0.512 3rd of 6
1971 83 79 0.512 3rd of 6
1972 83 73 0.532 3rd of 6
1973 82 79 0.509 1st of 6
1974 71 91 0.438 5th of 6
1975 82 80 0.506 3rd of 6
1976 86 76 0.531 3rd of 6
1977 64 98 0.395 6th of 6
1978 66 96 0.407 6th of 6
1979 63 99 0.389 6th of 6

And yet the two standout seasons, 1969 and 1973, almost happened by accident.  The Mets were hardly world beaters during Payson's ownership, but they did have success that ultimately made the struggles worth it.  Some high highs, and low lows, if you will. 

On the back end of the operation, though, Payson seemed to be a shrewd investor, but establishing her own level of cronyism that impacted the team well after her death.  According to Amazin' by Peter Golenbock, Mrs. Payson was approached to be an investor in the "Continental League" team that would be based in New York.  Initially, she declined, until she was given a piece of information that this was a ploy to get the National League to expand in New York.  She later bought out the original minority shareholders, ultimately acquiring 80% of the team (A percentage, related in her obituary, that she wasn't even sure of, and responded with child-like glee, "Oh I think I own somewhere around 80-85%!").

The remaining 20% was held by a relative of the political Bush family, Herbert Walker...and M. Donald Grant, her personal stockbroker.


Yet, from a business standpoint, the Mets probably would not exist had she not been eager to bring baseball back to New York.  But she did not seem interested in fielding a winning team, or at the very least, not willing to invest much in the team.  Also according to Amazin', when Branch Rickey was approached to run the new team, he insisted on a $5 million budget.  (In today's dollars, it would be in the neighborhood of $41 million...which is chump change for today's baseball, but back then probably astronomical, pre-free agency era).

They declined Rickey's demands...and named Grant team president.  On the general manager front, they hired George Weiss to run the team who had a reputation of being, shall we say, "frugal."  Weiss was tasked with finding "retreads" (i.e. ex-Giants and Dodgers who were beloved by the fans who stayed behind).  These players were also tasked to bring fans back to the Polo Grounds.  Basically, every Mets game early on was a Old Timers' Day parade featuring old Dodgers or Giants.

Until 1967, though, when a young upstart pitcher named Tom Seaver joined the team, the Mets had a nondescript team fielding some flashy but mostly nondescript players. 

If you think about it, the team got lucky when they got Seaver.  THEY WON A FREAKING LOTTERY DRAWING, FOR PETE'S SAKE.

Sporting News/Getty Images)
Yet the drafting of Seaver, not to mention the breakout of 1968 rookie pitcher Jerry Koosman (who finished in second to future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench in the ROY awards that year...I just like throwing that out there), the addition of former Brooklyn Dodger great Gil Hodges as team manager, plus some trades that got the likes of Tommie Agee, along with Mets old schoolers Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool got them to a 100-win season in 1969...AND a World Championship. 

Mrs. Payson, from most reports though, preferred to stay in the shadows, and was more than happy to just funnel the funds and be a matronly figure for her boys.  Yet, by anointing Grant (not a baseball guy) with decision-making powers, well, she may have had more of a Nelson Doubleday attitude towards being an owner (minus getting the correct baseball guys making the baseball decisions).  Grant himself certainly operated from a Wilpon very-hands-on perspective.

While the Mets finished in third place in each of the 1970-72 seasons, the only time Mrs. Payson "intervened," for lack of a better term, in baseball operations was to bring Willie Mays back to New York.  As legend had it, Mays was her favorite former New York Giant, and wanted him so badly on the Mets that, as Golenbock reported in Amazin', she offered to buy him from the San Francisco team for $1 million years before the actual trade went down.  Horace Stoneham ultimately acquiesced in 1972, and she brought Mays back to the city where he started defining his legacy as one of the all-time greats.

1973 was Mays' last year in baseball, but he managed to be part of a wild run for the "Ya Gotta Believe" team that won the NL East, went on to win the National League Championship, but lost to the Oakland A's in a seven-game World Series. 

By 1975, the Mets had finished two seasons, finishing in fifth and third place, respectively, after their YGB run.  Yet, the biggest loss of all that was a catalyst for sending the team into relative obscurity in the late '70s was the loss of Mrs. Payson herself, who passed away in September of '75.   Unfortunately, her love for baseball wasn't inherited by her family, who were now in charge of the Mets.  The de Roulet family entrusted M. Donald Grant with more baseball powers, preferring to follow his lead.

Generally, the landscape of baseball as we know it today also changed after the 1975 season with the advent of free agency.  With Mrs. Payson gone, and her family knowing little about baseball and caring less, M. Donald Grant had more reign over the team's payroll than ever before.

Under her family's watch, the team lost Tom Seaver in the "Steve Henderson" trade (Joe Torre once referred to the deal as such, and it always made me laugh).  Grant got rid of basically anyone who contributed to the Mets' successful years, because Grant had unquestioned power, and therefore, wanted to keep the payroll as low as possible.  The new baseball team owners didn't know squat about running a baseball team.

I have to wonder, actually, if that Midnight Massacre trade that has defined so many Mets fans' identities, would have taken place if Mrs. Payson was still alive. Here's my genuine curiosity: if free agency existed on the level when Mrs. Payson was still alive, would she have encouraged Grant to write out the blank checks?  I have to believe she would have personally intervened with Seaver and not allowed that infamous hatchet job by Dick Young to happen.  Even she knew how important Tom Terrific was to the Mets' name.

Evidence points to the fact that while the team loved her and thought she was a good owner who didn't meddle, it's possible that she, too, might have listened to Grant's suggestions to keep payroll low.  The alternative is that she would have done what she needed to do to keep her players happy - namely Seaver, Koosman and Dave Kingman - and would've made sure they were paid to market standards.

Joan Whitney Payson, original Mets owner.  Source: Pinterest

There aren't many quotes attributed to Joan Payson, mostly because she let her front office do the talking for her.  Her talking was to sign the checks and go to the games.  Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.

But with the passing of Mrs. Payson, and the Mets being sold to the Doubleday/Wilpon consortium in 1980, it was the end of an era.  That era being a throwback to how baseball used to operate under a "gentlemen's agreement" where owners called the shots and were nice enough to give jobs to scrappy baseball players.

But one woman broke that glass ceiling, and it's a shame we never knew how the team would have operated had she not put cronies at the top who didn't keep her best interests and wishes for a successful team at heart. 

So to recap, Joan Whitney Payson was a wealthy woman who loved baseball so much, she owned her own team.  Preferring to stay in the background, she let people loyal to her do the baseball work for her.  Yet, under her ownership, the team had two very successful years culminating in a World Championship and a National League Championship.  For those "highest of highs," the team suffered some abominable lows, like their 120-loss inaugural season to the trade of the team's "Franchise player" after her death, whose loss took years to overcome, even after the team was sold by the surviving de Roulet family.

Since 1962, the Mets have had four major ownership changes: Mrs. Payson, the de Roulets (her surviving family), Nelson Doubleday/Fred Wilpon, then the Wilpon/Katz Sterling Equities consortium.  There's been some overlap, yet no owner was quite as beloved as Mrs. Payson, who was the old grande dame of the organization and of baseball.

As Terence Mann spoke in Field of Dreams, the one constant through the years has been baseball.  It has been erased, rebuilt and erased again.  Mrs. Payson's ownership brings us back to a simpler time of baseball, and clearly could adapt to changes that sadly the people she put in the charge were not able to do.  There are signs of Mrs. Payson around Citi Field today, especially in the Mets Hall of Fame, where she was enshrined as a member in 1981.

Yes, under Joan Payson, the Mets had the thrill of some victorious years, but there was plenty of agony to go around.

Editor's note:  In case you hadn't noticed, this piece was written by Taryn "The Coop" Cooper", because she knows a thing or two about being a woman who loves baseball.

Note: The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players and personnel who experienced the best of times and the worst of times with the team.  For previous installments, please click on the names below:

January 2, 2017: Tom Seaver
January 9, 2017: Mike Piazza
January 16, 2017: Wally Backman
January 23, 2017: Daniel Murphy
January 30, 2017: Frank Cashen
February 6, 2017: Ed Kranepool
February 13, 2017: Doug Sisk


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets: Doug Sisk

Mets fans love their team.  It doesn't matter if the club is mired in last place or fighting for a title; the fans will always be supportive.  Occasionally, however, the team's fans have been known to show their disdain for a player or two, even though those individuals are wearing the team's colors and are playing on the same side as the athletes who get the loudest cheers.

Richie Hebner didn't like playing in New York.  The fans noticed.  Hebner, who was a gravedigger when he wasn't playing baseball, dug his own grave during his one season with the Mets.

Bobby Bonilla was actually from New York.  But after the Mets acquired him, he rubbed everyone the wrong way with his exploits, both on and off the field.  Bonilla called the press box during a game to dispute an error.  He then wore earplugs on the field to silence the boo birds at Shea.  The coup de grâce was when he offered to be a Bronx tour guide to a Daily News reporter.  And let's just say it probably would have been more violent than the seas during Gilligan's three-hour tour.

Besides hearing constant boos from the fans, Hebner and Bonilla shared something else.  They both played for awful Mets teams.

It's easy to dislike a player when the entire team is playing poorly.  But what about the player who receives negative reactions from fans when the team is playing reasonably well, perhaps even well enough to win a championship?  Or even worse, what if the player being booed was actually having a decent career with the Mets but no one remembers because they were too busy booing him?  Such was the plight of one championship reliever who was made to feel like less of a champion during the latter part of his career.

Doug Sisk didn't throw heat.  But fans often threw heat at him.  (Jacqueline Duvoisin/Getty Images)

Douglas Randall Sisk was drafted by the Mets in 1980 as an amateur free agent.  The Washington state native, who was born and raised approximately 2,400 miles away from where the 1969 and 1973 Mets played their home games, grew up rooting for those pennant winners despite the geographical distance between himself and the team.

"I can recall the '69 World Series and I could always name every player on that team," Sisk said to author Erik Sherman.  "And then I could always recall the '73 National League playoffs when Willie Mays was on the club.  I mean, how many kids from the Seattle area back then could name the rosters from those two teams?  I might have been the only one."

Sisk may have been the only Mets fan he knew in the Pacific Northwest, but he wasn't the only Mets farmhand making a rapid ascent to the big club.  After years of ineptitude brought about by a flawed front office and the dismantling of the team's minor league system, the Mets were committed to restructuring their farm with an influx of young talent.  By 1982, several of those players had become regulars at the major league level, with Wally Backman, Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks in the starting lineup just about every day, and Ed Lynch, Jesse Orosco and Neil Allen finding themselves on the mound more often than not.  Just weeks before the curtain closed on the 1982 campaign, Sisk was on the big stage as well.

Making eight relief appearances for the Mets following his September call-up, Sisk was quite effective, allowing just one run (a home run by future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson) in 8⅔ innings.  Sisk, who prior to his late-season promotion had never pitched above the Double-A level, broke camp with the Mets in 1983 and continued to shine.  Used in various relief situations, Sisk notched 11 saves and posted a 2.24 ERA in 104 innings.  In doing so, he became just the fifth pitcher in team history to throw 100 or more innings while pitching exclusively in relief, joining Tug McGraw (1972), Skip Lockwood (1977), Jeff Reardon (1980) and Jesse Orosco (also in 1983; Orosco reached the 100-inning mark two weeks before Sisk did).

Amazingly, Sisk allowed just one home run in those 104 innings in 1983, and once again, it was a future Hall of Famer who took him deep (Mike Schmidt).  To this day, Sisk is the only pitcher in club annals to pitch more than 100 innings in a season and allow fewer than three home runs in that campaign.

As great as Sisk was in 1983, he was even better in 1984, especially during the first half of the season.  Through July 1, Sisk had recorded 11 saves and was the owner of an otherworldly 0.50 ERA, allowing three earned runs in 53⅔ innings.  Opposing hitters were batting just .165 against the right-hander and slugging (if you want to call it that) at a .188 clip.

Sisk had always pitched to contact, nibbling at corners hoping to get batters to swing at his best pitch - the sinkerball.  As a result, hitters didn't collect many hits (just 29 of them through July 1), but they did draw their share of walks (31 bases on balls).  Still, the object of the game for a pitcher is to keep the opponent off the scoreboard and few pitchers were as effective at doing that during the first half of the 1984 season as Sisk was.

As the weather got hotter in July, so did the race for the N.L. East crown between the Mets and Chicago Cubs.  But one player who melted in the heat was Sisk, who allowed runs in six of his 12 outings during the month.  From July 28 to August 6, Sisk made three appearances on the mound.  All three times he pitched against the Cubs.  All three times he allowed runs.  And all three times the Mets lost.  His appearance on July 28, one in which he allowed four runs (three earned) without retiring a batter, caused the fans at Shea Stadium to serenade him with a chorus of boos once he left the mound.  It was a sound Sisk was not yet accustomed to.

It's scary how quickly fans turned on Sisk.
"You know, that's the first time I've ever been booed," Sisk said after the game.  "Oh well, I guess you've got to get booed once in a while."

Once in a while turned into every time he set foot on the mound, as the Shea faithful continued to show a lack of faith in their reliever.  Finally, after his third straight disappointing appearance against the Cubs on August 6, the Mets found a way to keep their once-dependable pitcher away from the hostile home crowd, placing Sisk on the disabled list with what the team called shoulder stiffness.  But the reliever begged to differ, claiming the transaction should not have happened.

''I don't think they should have disabled me,'' Sisk said.  ''I've had soreness in the shoulder in the past, and have pitched with it.  It's demeaning to me to be put on the disabled list.  It wasn't necessary.  It makes me feel they intend to trade me before next season.''

Upon his return from the disabled list, Sisk appeared in five more games in 1984.  He held the opposition scoreless in four of them.  The one time he was scored upon was - you guessed it - against the division-leading Cubs on September 8.

Sisk came into the game with the Mets trailing the Cubs by two runs.  He faced 14 batters in two innings, allowing eight of them to reach base.  But just two of them scored.  Wes Gardner then relieved Sisk and allowed two more Cubs to score.  Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who went on to win the Cy Young Award that season, pitched a complete-game shutout as Chicago knocked off New York, 6-0.

It's obvious that Sisk didn't have his best stuff in that game, just as it's obvious that any loss by the second-place Mets to the first-place Cubs was going to sting.  But did Sisk deserve to get viciously booed by the fans on that late summer evening at Shea?  The Mets failed to cross the plate in nine innings.  Sisk came into the game with the Mets already trailing by two runs.  After he was taken out for a pinch-hitter, Gardner pitched an inning and two more Cubs circled the bases.  That means the Mets would have lost the contest anyway even if Sisk had pitched two perfect innings.  Going back to the three consecutive appearances against the Cubs prior to his stint on the disabled list, the first loss (July 28) was definitely on Sisk.  But the other two?  Not so much.

On July 29, Sisk took the mound in the ninth inning with the Mets trailing the Cubs, 2-0.  He then allowed the Cubs to tack on an insurance run.  The Mets failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and lost, 3-0.  That final result was certainly not Sisk's fault, as once again the team could not generate any offense.  Eight days later, Sisk entered the game against the Cubs with the Mets already trailing, 7-3.  He pitched a scoreless sixth, then put up another zero in the seventh.  Sisk then allowed two runs in his third inning of work and the Mets lost to Chicago, 9-3.  Again, New York would have lost even if Sisk had not allowed two runners to cross the plate after he had already pitched two scoreless innings.

When Sisk pitched his final game before being disabled, the Mets' record was 62-45.  When he returned on August 31, the Mets were 73-58.  That means the team posted a losing record (11-13) while Sisk was recovering from his injury.  They also lost four games to the Cubs in the N.L. East standings during Sisk's recovery, going from a slim 1½-game deficit to nearly being out of the race at 5½ games back.  The boo birds probably found a way to blame Sisk for that as well.

Overall, Sisk finished the 1984 campaign with 15 saves and a 2.09 ERA - numbers that were still quite impressive, but not enough to make fans stop booing.  Sisk then began the 1985 season with an 8.53 ERA in his first 11 appearances, which earned him a demotion to AAA-Tidewater.  His manager, Davey Johnson, was as tired of Sisk's poor outings as he was of the fans' reactions to them.

"It was a tough decision to make, but I couldn't think of anything else to do," Johnson said.  "I just felt that his failure, plus the way New York fans were getting on him that I thought this was my only option.  In Tidewater he'll get playing time and a chance to iron out his problems."

Sisk may have ironed out his problems at Tidewater, but the fans at Shea still had a few creases.  (Duvoisin/Getty Images)

When Sisk returned to the team after three weeks with the Tides, he did not pitch well at first.  On June 7, he was brought into an extra-inning affair against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing six runs (five earned) in his one frame.  Of course, the game took place at Shea Stadium, where the home team's fans got to witness the carnage and voice their displeasure.

A week after his trouncing at the hands of the eventual division champion Cardinals, Sisk was still the owner of an ungodly 7.68 ERA.  But after June 14, Sisk turned his season around, going 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA the rest of the way.  Included in his revival was a yeoman-like effort against the Braves on July 4, when he pitched 4⅓ shutout innings in the Mets' epic 16-13 victory.  Sisk also hurled two scoreless frames against his previous year's nemesis, the Cubs, on August 2, then followed it up with two shutout innings versus the Giants and two more zeroes against the Dodgers, earning the victory in each game.  Unfortunately for Sisk, all of those brilliant efforts took place on the road.  When he returned with his teammates to Flushing, those games in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles were distant memories for throaty Mets fans.

For the second straight year, the Mets fell short in their quest for a division title, making them more determined to advance to the postseason in 1986.  Also determined to recover from his worst season in the majors was Doug Sisk.  In late September 1985, Sisk was found to have bone chips in his right elbow and was thought to be lost for a significant part of the '86 campaign, if not all of it.  The bone chips, as well as a spur that was found in his pitching elbow, were the reason why Sisk did not pitch well in 1985.

"I kept mentioning all year that I wasn't right," Sisk said.  "I wasn't getting any leverage.  They thought I was a mental case.  They had me throwing sidearm in the bullpen.  Sidearm.  And I sat for 18 days, twice.  I was scared."

Despite a prognosis that cautioned against any pitching-related activities, Sisk spent the off-season swimming and chopping wood back home in Tacoma.  He then did some soft tossing, with his wife serving as his catcher.  Defying the odds, Sisk was back with the team in 1986 before Memorial Day.

Although Sisk got off to a bumpy start, posting a 4.02 ERA over his first 18 appearances, this time the heat of the summer brought back his effectiveness.  From July 29 to September 21, Sisk was one of the best relievers in baseball, posting a stellar 1.02 ERA in 35⅓ innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .238 batting average and .628 OPS.  However, fans still found the need to mercilessly boo Sisk despite his solid recovery from an awful 1985 campaign, causing Johnson to use him primarily when the team was trailing.  Johnson also tried not to use Sisk in games played at Shea Stadium, especially after the All-Star Break.  Once players returned from the mid-season hiatus, Sisk pitched just seven times in his home park until the Mets clinched the division title on September 17.  In the postseason, Sisk did not allow a run in two appearances.  But of course, both of those outings came in mop-up duty, as he pitched the final innings of games the Mets lost.

For the season, Sisk lowered his ERA by more than two runs, finishing the year with a 3.06 mark.  He also didn't allow a single home run in 70⅔ innings - not even to a future Hall of Fame slugger.  How unusual has it been over the years to pitch that many innings for the Mets and not give up a single long ball?

Without generating this chart for me, you'd still be booing Doug Sisk.

Since coming into the league in 1962, only five Mets pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings in a season without allowing a home run.  The only one to surpass 36⅓ innings in a tater-free campaign was Sisk in 1986, and he pitched almost twice as many innings as the next closest gopherless pitcher.

It's been more than half a century since the Mets played their inaugural season.  Since then, only ten pitchers have thrown more innings in a season than Sisk without allowing a single ball to leave the yard, as detailed in the chart below.

I wonder if the other pitchers on this list had to put up with constant boos from their home crowd.

The Mets failed to repeat as world champions in 1987, but Sisk had another solid season.  He pitched 78 innings - his highest regular season total since his fabulous 1983 campaign - and posted a 3.46 ERA.  He also walked just 22 batters, averaging 2.5 walks per nine innings, which was the lowest ratio of his career.

When the Mets were battling it out with the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title in September, it wasn't Sisk who gave up the crushing, season-changing homer to Terry Pendleton.  That was Roger McDowell.  And when New York was still mathematically alive during the last week of the season, Sisk wasn't on the mound giving up a walk-off blast to light-hitting pinch-hitter Luis Aguayo.  That was Jesse Orosco.  In fact, from August 31 until the end of the season, Sisk pitched ten times and recorded a 2.08 ERA.  Even more impressive was the slash line against him, as opposing hitters could only manage a .208/.240/.229 mark in those ten appearances spanning 13 innings.

The Mets used three relievers in high-leverage situations in 1987 (McDowell, Orosco and rookie Randy Myers).  McDowell finished the year with a 4.16 ERA, while Orosco's ERA ballooned to 4.44.  Myers, who finished sixth in the N.L. Rookie of the Year vote, had the lowest ERA of the three, but it was still a relatively high 3.96 mark.  And that was still half a run higher than the ERA posted by Sisk, who was traded to Baltimore at the end of the season.

Doug Sisk was a Met for six seasons.  He had a rough patch against the division-winning Cubs in 1984, but was mostly stellar against the rest of the league.  He admittedly had a difficult year in 1985, but an elbow injury was later revealed to be the reason for his ineffectiveness.  Still, fans viewed him as a scapegoat, booing him just about every time he stepped on the mound at Shea Stadium during the final three-and-a-half seasons of his tenure in New York.

They booed the owner of 3.10 lifetime ERA as a Met, which is tied for the seventh-lowest mark for all pitchers who threw at least 400 innings in franchise history.  Other pitchers in the top ten include Tom Seaver (2.57), Jesse Orosco (2.73), R.A. Dickey (2.95), Jon Matlack (3.03), Jerry Koosman (3.09) and Dwight Gooden (3.10).  Those pitchers were either Cy Young Award winners, Rookie of the Year Award recipients or pitchers who recorded final outs in the World Series for the Mets.  In other words, Sisk is in good company.

In addition, the man who was on the receiving end of the fans' vitriol during the latter part of his career allowed just 11 home runs in 412⅓ innings during his time with the Mets.  That's an average of 0.24 homers per nine innings - the lowest of any pitcher with at least 400 innings in club annals.  The only other hurler with a ratio under 0.50 is Roger McDowell.  The ten players directly behind Sisk on this list include the usual suspects - Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Orosco - as well as other notable pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Bob Ojeda and David Cone.

Three world champion relievers.  Only one was booed regularly.  (NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

The 1985 season happened for Sisk.  It can't be erased.  But the other five years he was in New York, he pitched to a 2.63 ERA and held his opponents to a .248 batting average and .656 OPS.  He did this despite the fact that he wasn't a strikeout pitcher and had his share of walks when hitters were able to lay off his sinker.  But once a player is disliked in New York, he's always disliked in New York, even if his full résumé suggests that the hatred is unwarranted.

Doug Sisk experienced everything after being signed by the Mets in 1980.  He made his way through the minor league ranks quickly.  He joined Jesse Orosco to become a force in the bullpen just as the Mets were shedding their losing ways.  He was part of a world championship team.  But he couldn't get the fans on his side, no matter how hard he tried.  When his then-fiancee asked him why he didn't do anything about the constant derision, he only had one response.

"I can't beat up 60,000 fans."

Richie Hebner heard it from Mets fans.  Bobby Bonilla did, too.  The slow, rising crescendo of fans voicing their displeasure is enough to run the toughest players out of New York.  But not every player deserves that kind of treatment.  And certainly, a player who is a significant part of a team's rise to contention, culminating in an eventual championship, shouldn't have to be subjected to that kind of vocal negativity.

But that's what Sisk had to put up with for several years as a Met.  And unjust as it may be, that's also what he has had to deal with ever since he played his final game in New York.  Such is the agony of Doug Sisk, a player who wanted nothing more than to cherish being part of a victorious team accomplishment.


Note: The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of the Mets is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players and personnel who experienced the best of times and the worst of times with the team.  For previous installments, please click on the names below:

January 2, 2017: Tom Seaver
January 9, 2017: Mike Piazza
January 16, 2017: Wally Backman
January 23, 2017: Daniel Murphy
January 30, 2017: Frank Cashen
February 6, 2017: Ed Kranepool