Let’s take a break from the Winter Meetings to continue around the diamond, identifying our Mets All-Time “2 Guys” Team. It is time to discuss second base. Edgardo Alfonzo was a fabulous all-around second baseman for the Mets, but not the type of player we are honoring for the “2 Guys” team. Two other players do quickly come to mind, though, Ron Hunt, and Wally Backman. I loved Wally and his constant dirty uniform, but if we are picking an all-time tough 2nd baseman I have to pick Hunt. Understand that when it comes to Hunt I am biased. Ron Hunt was my very first favorite player as a child. But let’s end all argument on this topic with the fact that no one in National League history has been hit by pitches more than Ron. Try standing still while a fastball hits you square. Hunt did that 50 times in 1971 alone. And keep in mind he did this in an era where the only thing between him and that baseball was some flannel. There was no body armor in the 60’s.
It really is an amazing statistic. Hunt led the NL in HBP for seven consecutive seasons, from 1968-74. Despite having almost zero pop — 39 HRs across 12 seasons, so there was no reason to walk this guy, ever — he ended up with a career OBP of .368 to go with a SLG of .347. It’s staggering that a guy with his limited skill set could have placed 4th (’71), 5th (’73), and 6th (’68) among the National League’s OBP leaders. He couldn’t hurt you with the bat — and apparently, pitchers couldn’t hurt him with the ball! But you know what? That was a skill Hunt developed with the Expos out of desperation, presumably. On the Mets, he was simply the first good, young position player to arrive on the scene. Hunt was second in Rookie of the Year Voting in ’63 (Pete Rose won it with nearly identical stats), and was named the starting second-baseman in the 1964 All-Star Game, with Billy Williams, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente in the outfield (Aaron didn’t even start!). Even so . . . I think you should take a longer look at Wally Backman. On rosters filled with far more talented players, Backman’s balls-to-the-wall, hair-on-fire approach to the game came to embody “competitiveness” for the NY Mets.
Wally was crazy and combustible. No doubt about that. I just can’t give in that he was tougher than Hunt. Hunt was best summed up by his own quote, “Some people give their bodies to science; I give mine to baseball.” It was not just the hit by pitches record. Hunt never put his own safety above making a play. One unfortunate defining moment Hunt had as a Met is another indication of that.
On a double play grounder to short in 1965, Hunt stood in like nails and was bulldozed by Phil Gagliano. Hunt ended up with a separated shoulder on the play. Not exactly Roberto Alomar, right? (Alomar used to run into short centerfield to “elude” base runners during his pitiful time with the Mets.) Mets fans never forgot that play. Gagliano was booed unmercifully for the rest of his career every time he set foot in Shea.
And yes, Hunt did not get hit by as many pitches as a Met as he did in later years. Still keep in mind he got hit by more in his rookie year, 1963, then Wally did in his entire career. In 3,708 PAs and 14 seasons, Backman totaled 5 HBPs. For a tough guy, he sure could duck!
I have mixed feelings about Wally. He really was the fuse for those dynamite Mets teams of the late 80’s. At the same time, Wally’s intensity could cross the line into batshit-crazy territory. So I can understand why no MLB team has made him a manager. It’s easy to imagine it ending very, very badly. By the way, he curses like a sailor. In this clip that lasts under two minutes, Wally says “Fuck” 35 times in a postgame speech as manager of the South Georgia Peanuts. It’s profane, stupid, hysterical, embarrassing, and undeniably Wally. I wonder how R.A. Dickey would enjoy listening to that?
Here’s another classic bit of Wally debating the finer points of the national pastime — “Minor league motherfucker is what you are!” — and it’s not safe for work, folks.
Do we have any other candidates? Jeff Kent? Because I’m thinking “no” for Greg Jeffries.
Maybe we should go with a platoon?! Or better, we need some sort of tie-breaker. How about a reader’s vote? Do we have enough readers to make a quorum? Right now, our All-Time Mets “2 Guys” Team has Stearns at Catcher, Delgado at First. Who plays Second? Please let us know in the comments section. I’m talking to you, Alan, Dan, Don, Frank, Charlie, Ken! Anyone, anyone?
LET THE VOTING BEGIN NOW IN OUR COMMENTS SECTION!