1:20 pm Sep. 7, 2012
“Trust me, if I was a New York fan I don’t know how I’d feel,” Jones said Thursday. “There would be a certain part of me that would appreciate the realm of the career. But man, that’s a lot of heartache (through the years).”
Jones famously derailed Mets seasons both when the Braves have benefited and when they were disinterested observers. He named one of his children Shea, in honor of the pitchers' park that never was when he stepped to the plate. He's hit 49 home runs against the Mets; only one other player has hit more against them.
But for Mets fans, the opportunity to say goodbye to a longtime nemesis offers something unprecedented, too. Previous Mets-killers at Jones' level—and there haven't been many—usually came to New York with no indication that this was goodbye, and left without a dramatic final moment. And none of them were still playing at Jones' 2012 level. He's posted a 134 O.P.S.+ at age 40, just a stone's throw from his career mark of 141.
Willie Stargell, at least, was properly recognized in his final appearance against the Mets at Shea Stadium in 1982. The only man to hit more home runs against the Mets than Jones, Stargell had 60. Indications that he'd torment the Mets came early on, when he tallied the first hit in Shea Stadium history just after the park opened in 1964.
By 1982, Stargell was far from the dominant player who hit 48 home runs for the 1971 Pirates, or even the player who shared Most Valuable Player honors with Keith Hernandez for the 1979 World Series champions. He'd tallied just three home runs in part-time work.
Stargel appeared as a pinch-hitter in a September 27, 1982 game at Shea Stadium. He was the tying run; the Mets led, 4-1. But Stargell struck out against Scott Holman, and the Mets won, hours after presenting Stargell with a sterling silver trophy engraved with his record against the Mets. A day later, Stargell walked as a pinch hitter in a seventh-inning rally that helped the Pirates tie the game; the Mets ultimately prevailed, 3-2, on a game-winning single in the tenth inning from Rusty Staub.
For Willie McCovey, who hit 48 home runs against the Mets, his final visit to Shea Stadium came without even a chance to hit. As Steve Henderson provided hope to the 1980 Mets with late heroics, McCovey, 42, was left to watch and hope he'd get another chance to join the lineup. He didn't, however, and played his last game in the major leagues less than a month later.
McCovey's last game at Shea, then, came the year before, when he was still a productive member of the Giants' lineup. Hitting his customary cleanup, he went 1-for-4, a second-inning single off of Tom Hausman, on July 14, 1979. But no one even recognized the moment.
Mike Schmidt, whose 49 home runs against the Mets ties him with Jones for second all-time, played his final game at Shea Stadium April 19, 1989, just weeks before his unexpected in-season retirement. Consequently, few fans recognized that Schmidt's eighth-inning double against David Cone was his last hurrah at Shea. Two batters later, Ricky Jordan's single scored Schmidt to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead.
In fact, it was another veteran player, Lee Mazzilli, who made the headlines that day. Mazzilli's three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth gave the Mets a 4-2 victory.
To provide a sense of the breadth of Schmidt's Mets torture, he debuted against them in September 1972, tallying his first major league hit against Jim McAndrew, who pitched for the 1968 Mets, during Veterans Stadium's second year of existence. His final hit against the Mets came against Cone, who pitched for the 2003 Mets, in what was Veterans Stadium's final year of existence.
This will be Jones' last appearance in Flushing as a player. Whatever he inflicts on the Mets, no one will be able to say that they didn't see it coming.