They were called “The New Mets” by Carlos Beltran, in his introductory press conference 10 years ago, but it was a pair of older ones that intrigued everyone.
First there was Mike Piazza, finishing up his seven year contract, which brought the team back into prominence from the doldrums of the mid-90s. He singlehandedly carried the Mets from 1998-2001, helping the team to its only World Series appearance since the Reagan Administration.
Then there was Pedro Martinez, the first key signing of the Omar Minaya era, who came from Boston after a memorable World Series run and inked a four year contract worth $52 million. His presence gave the team something they hadn’t had since Doc Gooden was on the mound in the 1980s – a true and confirmed ace, who rocked old Shea Stadium every time he took the mound.
It was my first season covering the club for this publication and the Rockaway Wave. With the additions of Pedro, Beltran and two young players named David Wright and Jose Reyes, the Mets were at least going to be interesting, if not a possible contender.
But it was Pedro that made that club. The minute he put on the Met uniform, he became a leader on the team. All the rumors and bad press he received in Boston was proven to be hogwash, since Martinez became a great teammate, teacher, lightening rod and a great quote. His gregarious personality loosened the Mets up and they played better because of the pitcher’s performance off the field as well as on.
He went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA with 208 strikeouts. All the while, he was pitching with a hurt foot and back for more than half the season, which dropped his fastball down into the low 80s.
And then there was Piazza, who was coming back from two lost seasons – a 2003 lost to injury and then in 2004 where he had to try to play first base for a bulk of the season. The Mets sent him back behind the plate, but at age 36, he was a shell of himself, only hitting .251 with 19 homers and 62 RBI. His presence with the Mets was the last link to the Bobby Valentine era that electrified Queens during a time where the Yankees ruled.
No one will remember 2005 as a banner year for the club, since there were just too many holes to fill. A lack of bullpen doomed any chance rookie manager Willie Randolph had to field a contending club. They finished 83-79 that year but the future looked bright.
Piazza would leave the Mets and go on to play two more years in San Diego and Oakland. On August 9, 2006, on his return to Shea, he faced Martinez and hit runs off of his old battery-mate, earning a Shea Stadium curtain call.
“You don’t see that a lot,” Piazza said that day. “The last thing I want to do is show up the other team. When they ask you to do it, it’s one of those things.”
“It was well deserved, well earned, well done by the fans,” Pedro added. “I think players of Mike Piazza’s category that have done what they’ve done deserve the credit.”
Pedro had the last laugh with the Mets winning the game 4-3.
Later today, we will see if Pedro and Piazza will be linked again in the Hall of Fame class of 2015. Martinez seems like a lock for his first time on the ballot, while Piazza is hoping the third time is a charm, even though he has the unfair stain of the Steroids Era by his name.
There are other former Mets on the ballot, namely Cliff Floyd, Carlos Delgado and Gary Sheffield, but none of them are as close to election as Pedro and Piazza.
The results should be interesting when they are revealed at 2 pm.