It struck many observers that the 2012 season had an eerie resemblance to the 1979 team — you couldn’t help but notice that same, sad malaise. The empty seats, the sense of a team in nowheresville. But after the d’Arnaud trade (I refuse to call it “the Dickey trade”), I asked the question: Did the Mets just find a time machine and jump from ’79 to ’83?
Let’s take a closer look at that season in order to examine the question.
First, understand: The ’83 Mets went 68-94.
Most games played per position:
- C Ron Hodges (96)
- 1B Keith Hernandez (90, mid-season pickup)
- 2B Brian Giles (140)
- SS Jose Oquendo (116)
- 3B Hubie Brooks (145)
- LF George Foster (153)
- CF Mookie Wilson (148)
- RF Darryl Strawberry (117, rookie)
- Rotation: Tom Seaver, Craig Swan, Walt Terrell, Mike Torrez, Ed Lynch.
- Bullpen: Neil Allen, Carlos Diaz, Tom Gorman, Doug Sisk, Jesse Orosco.
Here’s the Opening Day Lineup:
- Mookie Wilson
- Bob Bailor
- Dave Kingman
- George Foster
- Hubie Brooks
- Mike Howard
- Brian Giles
- Ron Hodges
- Tom Seaver
Anything jump out at you, Mike?
Well, I know where you going and I want to get there. Your point is that 1983 was the actual start of the turnaround of the franchise, leading to some great years starting in 1984. Now, I can tell you that when that 1983 season was over I was very bullish on the Mets. So bullish that I pulled out a very high percentage of my income at that time and became a Mets season ticket holder. I felt confident in what was coming, so confident I wanted to invest my own money. I am not thinking about doing that today, and not feeling great I will feel differently a year from now either. The big difference? Ownership.
Last year when folks compared the team to 1979 a big comparison point was ownership. The d’Roulet’s were running a two-bit operation. So no surprise, the team on the field went down the toilet.
Well sadly Fred, Saul, Jeff, Bruce and all the rest of the motley family are still around holding this team hostage. And until they sell, or show a renewed committment to winning, I can’t buy that good times are really coming. The biggest positive change back then was the sale of the team to a new ownership group. That ownership, with majority owner Nelson Doubleday, put a great management structure in place, headed by Frank Cashen. Now I can see a parallel with Sandy Alderson, so sure that is great. But ownership also invested in the product. We need to see action from this franchise that it is ready to behave like a real major market team again. Until we do I can have some enthusiasm, but it is tempered.
You are right about that, but historically even a hater must concede that the Wilpons have spent lavishly, often placing the Mets among the top five teams in payroll. Since Madoff, of course, it’s gone in the wrong direction, and that must be turned around. For the record, the last ten years:
Year Payroll Rank
- 2012 14
- 2011 7
- 2010 5
- 2009 2
- 2008 2
- 2007 3
- 2006 5
- 2005 3
- 2004 4
- 2003 2
In ’83, our future manager, Davey Johnson, was on the horizon at the AAA level with the Tidewater Tides, along with a few (and only a few) players you might have fond feelings for: Ron Darling, Terry Leach, Wally Backman, and — guess what? — that’s about it. Otherwise it was a roster of organizational filler and outright busts. Guys like Rusty Tillman, Clint Hurdle, Gary Rajsich, Ron Gardenhire, Mike Fitzgerald, Terry Blocker, Marvell Wynn.
By the way, Mets 34-year-old minor league manager Ryan Ellis is a rising star. He was named 2012 Florida State League Manager of the Year after guiding St. Lucie to a 83-52 overall record. In 2011, he led the Sand Gnats to a 79-60 record and was voted South Atlantic League Manager of the Year. A guy to keep on our radar for sure.
Deeper down, at AA for the 1983 Jackson Mets, a few other notable names appear: Kevin Mitchell, Calvin Schiraldi, Roger McDowell, Billy Beane. At Lynchburg, we basically had two great guys: Lenny Dykstra and Dwight Gooden.
A few notes on those minor league guys. A bunch never pan out, and we are looking back at them, not forward. You just rattled off four names in Gooden, Mitchell, Dykstra and McDowell. Think about these guys. Gooden was immortal for a few years. Dykstra and Mitchell became stars and McDowell was a heck of a pitcher. I don’t see Aguilera here, he also had an excellent career, better than McDowell. We will be very fortunate to produce anything like this from our current system.
But the guy I want to focus on is Schiraldi. He was a big prospect and we traded him for Bob Ojeda. Again, until I see that, until I see us adding the Ojeda’s, the Carters, the veterans that need to get paid I am not buying the premise. It takes a mix.
Now, that brings me to the biggest positive of the offseason. It is not the trade. The trade was great and intelligent at this time. But the single smartest thing this team did this offseason was re-sign David Wright. The 30 year old, not 300 year old, Wright.
Because Wright mirrors a Met from the 1980’s, the guy we picked up in 1983, Keith Hernandez. Hernandez was 29 when we traded for him, and if you look it up, his best seasons were prior to that with the Cardinals. Even though Keith was a dreaded “second generation” free agent, after the trade Frank Cashen signed him long-term for the Mets. Sure, he wasn’t the MVP Keith from St. Louis but most Mets fans think he did O.K.
Wright is positioned to be that guy for us now. He still has plenty left in the tank and can help shepard younger players that will endure growing pains. If we are going to win in this decade we needed Wright. I’m thankful that was understood by the team.
Another thing about the ’83 club, we had the pieces that became Gary Carter: Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans. One key was a willingness to take on salary.
Now let’s consider our current club, as we can project it for the 2013 season (30 years after the 1983 club):
- C John Buck (d’Arnaud called up mid-season)
- 1B Ike Davis
- 2B Daniel Murphy
- SS Ruben Tejada
- 3B David Wright
- LF Lucas Duda
- CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
- RF Scott Hairston
- Rotation: Johan Santana, Jonathan Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, Warm Body (Wheeler called up mid-season).
- Bullpen: Frank Francisco, Bobby Parnell, Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Jeremy Hefner, Jeurys Familia, Greg Burke.
Out of those guys, I do see a few pieces that we could project to a winning 2015 team: Wright, d’Arnaud, Davis, Niese, Harvey, and Wheeler. It’s not nothing. And it’s somewhat on a parallel to what we had in ’83 (if you are willing to believe in Wheeler and d’Arnaud, as I do).
Hey, look, there’s no big point to prove here. I’m not trying to win an argument. But I am seeing glimmers of hope. It’s difficult and painful to turn around a great ship in the middle of the ocean, but I think Alderson is beginning to make progress with that direction change. Teams are built piece by piece, one at a time. Next off-season, they need to sign one significant free agent. An everyday player. It’s not hopeless.
I do think things have improved some. Wheeler should be a positive, and so should d’Arnaud. But in 1983 nobody doubted the owners were committed to winning. Right now, post Madoff, that trust with the fans needs to be re-established. When I see us add a player that includes a real payroll commitment I’ll fully believe we are turning a corner. Until then we might no longer be sinking but we are only treading water.