9:04 pm Jan. 27, 2012
The Mets announced on Thursday morning that their longtime closer John Franco, a Brooklyn native, had been elected to the team's Hall of Fame.
The selection is a strong one. Franco played 14 seasons in New York, racking up 276 saves while playing a key role on a pair of playoff teams. He was at his best, however, for the Mets teams that didn't excel, often giving them an All Star-caliber performance in the early '90s alongside lesser players like Joe Orsulak, Mauro Gozzo and Anthony Young.
Still, John Franco was very much what we picture the prototypical Met to be. He did not wow anyone with his raw physical gifts. His fastball was ordinary at best, and he was undersize for a pitcher, at 5'10, 170 pounds. He got by on guile, which is a cliché, but accurate in this case. Franco’s best pitch was his changeup.
With Franco's induction, the Mets continue to re-embrace their history. After the team declined to elect anyone to the in-house Hall of Fame from 2002's Tommie Agee ceremony through 2009, they selected four people in 2010: former general manager Frank Cashen and manager Davey Johnson, the two men responsible for building and guiding the elite 1980s Mets, and Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, the two best players on those same Mets teams.
The period of time from 1984-1990, which saw the Mets win two National League East titles, a World Series, and finish second five other times—in a wild-card era, they'd have made the N.L. playoffs in all five years—is undoubtedly the finest in team history.
Franco's selection, however, indicates that enough time has passed for those responsible for a more recent success period—the 1997-2000 Mets—to get their due as well.
Accordingly, here are four more candidates for enshrinement.
Mike Piazza: This one is the most obvious. Piazza hit 220 home runs as a Met, second only to Darryl Strawberry in team history. He was consistently the most valuable player on the New York teams that went to the National League Championship Series in 1999, falling to the Braves, and the World Series in 2000, falling to the Yankees.
Moreover, the acquisition of Piazza in May 1998 represents the moment Mets fans came to imagine their team as a contender, just as surely as the acquisition of Keith Hernandez did the same for an earlier generation of Mets fans back in June 1983. Piazza also has two of the franchise's most iconic moments—a home run on June 30, 2000 to cap a comeback from 8-1 down against the Braves, and a home run on September 21, 2001 to give the Mets a 3-2 win over Atlanta in the first game played in New York after 9/11.
The near-certain Hall of Famer (Cooperstown edition) was justifiably the face of the franchise for the eight seasons he played in Flushing, and no honor should be kept from him—his 31 should be retired as well.
Carlos Beltran: Beltran ought to be honored at a Mets-Cardinals game in the near future for his accomplishments as a Met.
The finest center fielder in team history posted a career WAR (wins above replacement) of 31.5, third all-time in team history, just behind David Wright and just ahead of Jose Reyes. (That's right: By this measure, the most recent Mets teams had the second, third and fourth most valuable players in the 50-year history of the franchise.) Beltran was an absolute pleasure to watch, both in the field and at the plate.
He deserves to be recognized for all he did to return the Mets to contention, not to be castigated for eternity for one checked swing to end the 2006 season.
(Reyes will eventually have to be inducted also, of course. But right now is just too soon.)
Edgardo Alfonzo: If Piazza was the face of those late-90s Mets, Alfonzo was the thinking fan’s favorite. Sure, his WAR places fifth all-time in the franchise history, ahead of Piazza and behind only the recent trio and Strawberry. But that is an incomplete accounting of what Alfonzo was.
Unlike Piazza, Alfonzo was signed and developed by the Mets. He arrived in New York in 1995, and by 1997 was an elite third baseman. But when the Mets acquired Robin Ventura prior to the 1999 season, Alfonzo moved to a more challenging position, second base. Not only did he handle the position change flawlessly in the field, his offense even improved along the way. Without Alfonzo's versatility, the Mets wouldn't have put together what some observers consider the finest infield ever.
And you want clutch hits? Alfonzo has plenty of them. How about a grand slam to win Game 1 of the 1999 NLDS against the Diamondbacks, his second home run of the game? How about a double to put the Mets ahead in the eighth inning, Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS against the Giants? Or an eighth-inning double to tie Game 3 of the same series?
John Stearns: The 26 members of the Mets Hall of Fame are all associated with either the creation and early years of the franchise—see Casey Stengel, George Weiss, and Bill Shea—or one of the periods of success: 1969-73, 1984-1990 and, now, 1997-2000. But the Hall of Fame fails to honor a single player from that difficult period from 1974-1985 that saw the Mets go without a postseason berth.
Not only would Stearns be a worthy emblem for that time, he is legitimately one of the great Mets, regardless of era. Stearns ranks 11th all-time among the Mets in career WAR, trailing mostly Hall of Famers, along with the recent trio, Mookie Wilson and John Olerud. (Mookie is also overdue for induction, and Olerud, astonishingly, rolled up his value in just three seasons.)
Stearns played a decade in New York, from 1975-84, and was a lifelong Met, except for one unfortunate appearance for the 1974 Phillies. He was even acquired for another Met Hall of Famer, Tug McGraw. His four All Star appearances were usually the bright spot for Mets fans in an otherwise Met-free series of games, and he was a justifiable choice for the team.
Stearns was tremendous defensively, throwing out 37 percent of would-be base-stealers in his career. He added a propensity for the stolen base, exceedingly rare for a catcher, reaching double figures in steals four times, with a high of 25. He had some pop, and at a time when the Mets didn't have a ton to cheer about, and his football-style of play made him a favorite, along with Lee Mazzilli.
For a team looking to honor its entire past, what could be more fitting than to admit John Stearns into the Hall of Fame? In a season like the upcoming one, showing appreciation for a Met who played on weak teams would be a useful example.