Esposito: Conforto Not The Only Lonely Met All Star

Yes, the Selection Committee, and in part, Joe Maddon and his Cubs staff got it wrong by selecting Michael Conforto as the only Met All Star. It likely should have been – or could also have been – Jay Bruce, who enjoyed a great first half, banging out 23 home runs, with 59 RBIs and a .266 average in 81 games. Conforto lifted just 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 70 games, albeit with a higher average, .284. And no one would have questioned adding Jacob deGrom to the staff, with his 9-3 first half mark, 130 strikeouts in 111 innings, pitching to a 3.65 ERA.

At media day in Miami on Monday, Conforto agreed to the oversights. “I was hoping other guys would make it. I was hoping Jay Bruce would make it (and) that Jacob deGrom would make it.”

This wasn’t the only outlet to suspect there was some age discrimination afoot, as MLB seems to be enjoying a renaissance of youth in the game and in particular, at the All-Star Game, where many of the new stars were age 25 and younger.

No matter. Thanks to the tradition that each team should have a representative at the All-Star game, it was nice to see at least one Met carrying the flag.

And Conforto had a chance to do what only one other Met had ever achieved, becoming an All-Star game MVP. There he was, in the bottom of the ninth, with the winning run on base, facing Boston’s Craig Kimbrel. Any sort of hit would have won the game and put an MVP crown in his ledger. Alas, it was not to be, as Kimbrel struck him out swinging. But at least Conforto got a clean hit in the seventh off Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.

The experience, of course, was something Conforto will never forget.

“It’s pretty humbling for me to be here. I’m just trying to soak up everything I can. I’m ecstatic to be here.”

It was 42 years ago when a Met did win All-Star Game MVP honors, albeit shared with a teammate. In 1975, Jon Matlack was co-MVP with the Cubs’ Bill Madlock.

Matlock got the win with two innings of shutout relief in the 6-3 NL victory. He gave up two hits but K’d four batters to lock it down. Madlock earned his share of the trophy with a bases-loaded single in the ninth to break a 3-3 tie.

This year marked the 22nd time just one Met was named to the team in the franchise’s 56 seasons.

Usually a sign that the team’s season is not going well – okay, sure, that’s the main reason most of the time – but the Mets were not the only team with just rep on the squad (see Phillies, Padres, Brewers, Reds, Braves, et al). Heck, the only Angel, Mike Trout, was on the DL!

For the first six years of Mets existence, only one Met rode the All-Star bus, and usually spent much time on the pine.

In the last year of the aborted plan of playing two All Star games per summer in 1962, Richie Ashburn was the lone Met representative. In a season which ended with 120 infamous losses, Ashburn was the club’s best hitter, and ended the year with a .301 average.

In the first All Star Game that year, Ashburn was a “fan,” and merely watched from the bench. In the second game, played at Wrigley Field, Ashburn singled off Hank Aguirre in the seventh, pinch-hitting for Turk Farrell in the AL’s 9-4 win.

In 1963, future Hall of Famer Duke Snider (actually, Ashburn is in the Hall of Fame as well, don’t want to slight him anything, either) was the only Met. The “Dook” of Flatbush struck out looking against Dick Radatz in his only plate appearance, pinch-hitting for Tommy Davis and then replaced him in left field, not his usual center field position. That’s because a fellow named Willie Mays was playing center, and curiously was replaced late in the game by Roberto Clemente, normally a rightfielder.

Shows you how differently the games were played back then. Clemente was merely squeezed into the game late just to give him a token inning or so.

In 1964, with the All-Star game staged in the brand new Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Ron Hunt became the first Met to make the starting lineup. The hard-nosed hustling second baseman went 1-3, with a single off Dean Chance in the third. This was the game won by the NL, 7-4, with a walk-off home run by Johnny Callison in the bottom of the ninth off Radatz, the early sixties version of an Aroldis Chapman, a hard-throwing closer.

The following year drafted a young Ed Kranepool as the sole Met on the NL squad. The 21-year-old first baseman never got into the game as over a dozen future NL Hall of Famers (16 in the game overall) battled to a NL 6-5 win. Unfortunately, it was Krane’s only appearance on an All-Star team, so he never did get to fully participate.

In ‘66, Hunt was again the lonely Met, and in his only plate appearance pinch-hitting for Jim Lefebvre, he grounded into a 6-3 off a pitcher Mets and Yankees fans know well, Mel Stottlemyre.

The year 1967 was a turning point for the Mets, best represented by a young pitcher who was the only Met at the All-Star game, Tom Seaver. The young righthander almost didn’t get into the game, but it went extra innings, and he ended up with the save by closing out the 15-inning extravaganza with one inning of shutout relief. He walked one, and struck out Ken Berry to end the 2-1 NL win.

As an aside, there is a famous Mickey Mantle story related to this All-Star Game, which was played in Anaheim, California. Mantle didn’t start, if you can believe that, but after all, he was getting near the end of his phenomenal career. Vic Davilillo, of all people, started in center, but Mantle made a token pinch-hitting appearance in the fifth and struck out against future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.

Obligations granted, Mantle quickly hits the showers, is dressed and on a private plane back to his home in Dallas before you can say it wasn’t a Ballantine Blast. (Longtime Yankees fans know all about that.)

Instead of heading home, Mantle lands in Dallas and heads straight to his favorite golf course, and the bar in the lounge. He saddles up to the bar, and the game, having gone extra innings, is still on the lounge TV. A bar fly looks up from his drink, sees Mantle, and is amazed. “Hey, weren’t you in this game?”

For the next decade, mutliple Mets made the All-Star squad. But in 1977 and ‘78, it was a lonely time for Mets fans once more. John Stearns made the team in ‘77, Pat Zachry (who was acquired in the infamous trade of Seaver to the Reds in ‘77) made it in ‘78. (I know, I know, it should have been Seaver again!)

From 1980-83, there was again only one Met wearing all-Star colors. In ‘80 and ‘82, Stearns returned. In ‘81, Joel Youngblood earned the honor. In ‘83, there was Jesse Orosco on the hill.

For the quartet of years 1992-95, there was a continuance of one Met at a time – David Cone in ‘92, Bobby Bonilla in ‘93, Bret Saberhagen in ‘94, and Bonilla again in ‘95.

In 1999, Mike Piazza was the only Met, but at least in the starting lineup.

In 2002, it was a Piazza solo act again, and in ‘03, Armando Benitez wore the Met uniform in the bullpen.

In 2014, Daniel Murphy represented the Mets (hmm, whatever happened to him?). And in 2015, deGrom was de-All-Star.

All in all, it’s more fun for Mets fans when more than one makes the squad, but it’s still a fun game to watch.

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