Two Guys: 1983 New York Mets, A Possible Parallel to the 2013 Club

Jimmy:

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:

  1. Mookie Wilson
  2. Bob Bailor
  3. Dave Kingman
  4. George Foster
  5. Hubie Brooks
  6. Mike Howard
  7. Brian Giles
  8. Ron Hodges
  9. Tom Seaver

Anything jump out at you, Mike?

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.

Jimmy:

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.

Future Mets manager, Ryan Ellis.

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.

Mike:

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.

The veteran Ojeda was a key member of our last World Championship squad

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.

Jimmy:

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.

Mike:

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.

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13 comments

  1. Alan K. says:

    The difference in 1983 was that the Mets had Strawberry and Gooden who were simply dominant all world talents. The Mets have some good prospects but no one on that level. Ryan Ellis sounds interesting but he’s a few years away and I think Collins will be gone before then. I’d love to see Joe McEwing get the job-he is a coach with the White Sox and was a very sucessful minor league manager. Super Joe was close to Wright and he’d be good with the media. I don’t Backman co-existing with Alderson and while Teufel may be a loyal organzation man, I don’t see anything that would indicate that he’d be a standout major league manager.

    • I can’t imagine anybody hiring Backman to manage in NY. I think he should follow the Larry Bowa model and stay away from reporters. Teufel seems like a corporate-vanilla type; I heard rumors that he wasn’t effective as a manager. So, yeah, I agree. My latest thinking is that Collins will get a one-year extension and, once expectations rise, he won’t last. Hard to let him go, no matter how bad 2013 gets (though, personally, I could do it!).

  2. Eric says:

    Minor First Point: Forget all of the fascination with EX-Mets as future team Managers—it’s just NOT important!

    As for parallels—sadly, what this Organization MOST resembles is ITSELF— a dysfunctional, low aim, cut rate level of ownership. NOTHING means anything until you provide a First Quality Front office guy with Power and Money—I don’t buy Sandy as THAT GUY…. even with Power and Money…but he has NEITHER.

    • Eric, I actually think Mike is right about this topic. For the sake of discussion, I threw out the 1983 comparison — and I think it’s got some merit — but Mike’s conclusion that we need to see a strong follow-up from ownership will tell us if it’s for real. But as I showed above, for all their faults, the Wilpons have spent in the past. If they can return to those levels, Alderson should be able to build a winner for 2014-15.

  3. Eric says:

    James, the talent levels are growing throughout their system. As you point out, they added and ENABLED a very capable Front Office Guy–Frank Cashen. He did all of the big and little things you need to do to win.

    THAT is where the situations part, in my opinion. The Alderson Front office is wearing a Big REP….and I’m not sure that it’s legitimate. More importantly, they are SADDLED with bad ownership—there is no debate about that! It is ownership that has habitually been in the way…and NOW it’s ownership that is without resources. YES…bad POOR own ership is actually worse than bad RICH ownership—at least you can get a Rich owner to stand aside while you use his wallet. In this case, neither Ownership Involvement or Finances are an asset—that’s a big difference from the 1980′s resurgence.

    • Well, Eric, I can’t disagree with anything you said. However, I give Alderson an “incomplete.” There are many differences between ’83 and ’13, of course, but I still maintain that the d’Arnaud trade could signal a turning point for this organization. We showed a new willingness to sacrifice the short-term in favor of necessary long-term improvements.

      I’d like to see one more real piece added to this puzzle by the end of the season — a young-ish, talented outfielder. Or two! We need building blocks. And another strong year of minor-league development. Our pitching prospects aren’t powerful chips yet, but I’m hoping their market value will rise quickly over the next 1-2 years.

      If, and if, and if.

      We shall see.

      Thanks for commenting, I enjoy your righteous indignation.

      • Eric says:

        The NEXT move is huge. Scanning actual availability of Big League Players, you arrive at the fact that the next addition of Big League level talent is via TRADE…. the age of Big, Young FA Stars is pretty much over.

        The growth of Roster/Organizational Player value Plus good targeting/identification AND (finally) a Willingness and ability to add to payroll will make the next move a Gigantic bite.

        It’s only a “little easy” to know what you don’t have—it’s Glaring! It’s harder to figure out what you do have, resource wise, to fill your own needs…it includes tradeable players, but it also includes Owners’ Equity—Got Any?

  4. DD says:

    To my thinking the big difference — the other big difference, after the differences in the ownership situation – between the Mets of ’83 and the situation facing today’s team, is the general level of knowledge across the baseball landscape. I believe that on some level the Red Sox of ’84 really did not understand how uphill Ojeda’s situation was, a lefthander pitching in Fenway; and accordingly they undervalued him, making him available to the Mets at a bargain price. A similar undervaluing could be seen in Montreal with Carter, though no doubt the salary figured into that decision.

    Today, a lot of what was then just being learned has passed into the pool of common knowledge. It makes pulling off several hugly successful trades like those two (or three, with HoJo, four with Darling and so on) all that more difficult.

    • Michael Geus says:

      I agree whole heartedly with this, we could add in Cone and Sid too. In genernal I think more GM’s know what they are doing now, which makes things harder.

      On the other hand, a lot more teams make the playoffs now, so you don’t have to be as good.

  5. Eric says:

    Good Baseball Men and Good Organizations are a CONSTANT…the measurement tools and scouting evolve, but trades are still TRADES of Value and Time Envelopes—This for That…Now for Then.

    It’s not a matter of doing better than the other guy in the trade—it’s just a matter of getting what you need….that comes after identifying what you already have at your core and within your resource pool.

    The recent “Dickie Trade” was a great example of two Organizations with a Clear Identification of the What and When involved on both sides of a trade—in my opinion, a great trade concept and structure for each team—of course, the results will be judge over (and over and over and over ) time. Dickie may be long forgotten by the time the value of the trade plays out…or he may have been traded for WHO!? in 5 years…but the trade itself was solid.

    • One of my favorite trades to discuss is the Smoltz-Alexander trade from 1987. It’s often labeled as one of the worst trades ever made, since Smoltz went on to become . . . John Smoltz. And Alexander really only had a year and a half with the Tigers. BUT, Alexander arrived and went 9-0 for the Tigers and helped them win the AL East; Smoltz was a year out of high school. Of course, the Tigers would have preferred to give up a different player, but they got what they desperately wanted at the time.

  6. Ken H. says:

    For what it’s worth, the ’83 Mets were my first Strat-O-Matic team. I didn’t do very well in my league of junior high school baseball nerds. Somehow, my Jose Oquendo card was rigged to hit .080 (despite his relatively superior .213 performance in real life). I can only hope that Strat-O-Matic Met fan nerds of 2013 won’t have any player hit that low (but be careful with the Nickeas ’12 card).

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