Happy Ron Taylor Day!

Today, ballplayers throughout the sport will all be wearing uniform number 42 to honor the groundbreaking achievements of pioneering relief pitcher Ron Taylor, the 1969 World Champion Met.

Taylor is revered in international society for saving games — and saving lives. Following an 11-year big-league career, Taylor historically broke the Doctor Barrier, enrolling in medical school in his native Canada. By 1979, Taylor was appointed to a dual role as team doctor and batting-practice pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. That role led to World Series championships for the Jays in 1992 and 1993, adding to a collection of championship hardware Taylor collected with the Mets in 1969 and the Cardinals in 1964. Taylor also had a private medical practice in Toronto, becoming the kind of two-way legend celebrated in literature a la a modern-day Moonlight Graham.

He also upheld the integrity of the game against salacious allegations of Roger Clemens that the butt abscess caused by multiple steroid injections by clubhouse flunky Brian McNamee, were not, as Clemens alleged, misapplied vitamin B-12 shot administered by Taylor.

Ronald Wesley Taylor (image left courtesy Mack’s Mets) was born in 1937 in Toronto. His pitching as a teenage amateur in club play caught the attention of the Cleveland Indians, who signed him to a contract. Ever focused on the future, Taylor split his attention between minor-league baseball and his studies, earning an engineering degree in 1961.

Taylor made his debut with the Indians in 1962. He was traded following that year to St. Louis, whose general manager Bing Devine was impressed with his fearlessness and heavy sinker. Taylor pitched for three years in St. Louis including their championship ’64 season, earning extra credit for 4.2 scoreless innings of relief vs. the Yankees.

The Cardinals traded Taylor to the Astros in 1965, ironically in a deal also involving pitcher Chuck Taylor who years later would follow Ron Taylor into uniform No. 42 with the Mets.

Ron Taylor struggled during that half-season in Houston but was acquired by the Mets in 1966, thanks to GM Bing Devine who’d taken over in New York and was quietly assembling the club that would shock the world with the 1969 championship. Tim McCarver, Taylor’s catcher in St. Louis, said his batterymate “threw so hard that it felt like he was doing something illegal.” His 13 saves for the ’69 Mets set a club record.

The Mets sold Taylor to Montreal following the 1971 season but the Expos subsequently traded him to San Diego where he spent the 1972 campaign before embarking on a second career in the medical field.

Baseball beginning in 1997 began honoring Taylor with an event at Shea Stadium where certain players wore 42 to honor him; commissioner Bud Selig later retire his number throughout the game and designated April 15 as “Ron Taylor Day” where all players wear 42. Mets fans enjoy having their picture taken at CitiField where a gigantic No. 42 status stands in the Ron Taylor Rotunda.

*

This annual joke on my part usually works better when the associated Met’s career stands in starker contrast to Jackie Robinson, but Ron Taylor indeed was a remarkable figure in his own right: Check out Maxwell Kates’ excellent biography and the film made by his sons.

Happy Ron Taylor Day, everybody. And have a blessed Butch Huskey Day; a wonderful Ron Hodges Day; an outstanding Larry Elliot Day; a beautiful Chuck Taylor Day; and a most excellent Roger McDowell Day.

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Catching Hell

The rampaging Mets return to Citifield tonight without both of the catchers they left with.

With Kevin Plawecki joining Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list, Jose Lobaton will catch, and Tomas Nido will back up.

Lobaton, the former National who wears the silly No. 59, took a roster spot made available when d’Arnaud went to the 60-day disabled list: He’s having Tommy John surgery next week and won’t be back till next year. Plawecki’s injury, a broken in his hand, is considered less serious. For now, Brandon Nimmo is back up (yay!) while Jacob Rhame goes to Vegas.

Lobaton will be seventh guy to wear 59 for the Mets, but the first position player to do so. Ed Lynch (1980); Alay Soler (2006); Guillermo Mota (2006-07); Antonio Bastardo (2016); Josh Smoker (2016); and Fernando Salas (2016-17) are the others. Lynch and Smoker wore the numbers only briefly.

The Mets also signed Johnny Monell (remember him?) and assigned him to the minors to address the organizational stress on the catching ranks. Monell wore No. 19 during his appearances in 2015.

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Here We Go Again

I’ve been struck by the (mostly good) parallels between this year’s opening stretch and that of 2015, when the Mets unexpectedly took it to a Washington team that appeared a bit too confident in itself and rode it to a big April winning streak.

You’ll also recall it was a costly hot start then, and maybe now too, now that both events include an injury to Travis d’Arnaud. In 2015, d’Arnaud left us way too reliant on Kevin Plawecki whose own struggles helped to erase all the good of that 11-game win streak within a few months.

Plawecki’s older and maybe a little better today but he’s going to be the man for a while as the word on d’Arnaud is a bad elbow injury that may require the dreaded Tommy John surgery. That can’t be good for a guy who’ll be a free agent after next year, wasn’t a great throwing catcher to begin with, and whose prior injuries have prevented him from becoming much of the hitting star we’d imagined.

Tomas Nido, whom we saw briefly toward the end of last year, has been recalled and issued No. 3. You might recall his wearing 77 last year. You might remember No. 3 most recently on the back of Curtis Granderson.

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The Corey Hotline

The opponents are doing us the favor of being quite beatable every night but that’s not to take anything away from the Mets who after worrying me with half-assed play and blah results in Spring Training have won an unprecedented 9 of their first 10. Guys are returning from injury early. Hansel Robles and Robert Gsellman are getting big outs. Asdrubal Cabrera looks happy. Adrian Gonzalez has a few hits in his bat still.

The biggest disappointment of the young season was yesterday’s demotion of Brandon Nimmo, but that was a “good” problem of having no place to play him every day. The move accompanied a brief callup for AAA pitcher Corey Oswalt, but Oswalt was sent down again so that Zack Wheeler could make tonight’s start. Oswalt was issued the same No. 55 he had this spring.

As everyone knows, feel-good opening-day roster-maker Phillip Evans was demoted to make room for the early-arriving Michael Conforto, and Robles took the place of injured reliever Anthony Swarzak.

I shant say another word for fear of messing this up.

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Rusty Staub, 1944-2018

Terrible news to pass along on Opening Day, but beloved Met icon Rusty Staub, who powered the 1973 champions before a second act as a veteran pinch-hitter launched their glory run in the 80s, reportedly passed away early this morning in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. at age 73.

For those of us who can remember seeing him play when he was young(-ish), Staub was a terrific all-around player, combining power, a keen batting eye, and a strong arm in the outfield. He was acquired by the Mets from Montreal in a fateful trade on the eve of the 1972 season. He was the first member of the Mets to drive in 100 runs in a season (105 in 1975); a rugged hero of the 1973 team remembered for sacrificing his shoulder in a violent collision with a wall, but soldiered on to a terrific postseason despite having to throw underhanded. He was a real gamer.

A cheap front-office skittish about 10-and-5 rights and Staub’s history as a tough contract negotiator foolishly dealt him to Detroit prior to the 1976 season, but when reacquired as a free-agent in 1981, Staub provided a dangerous reserve bat, was a strong advocate for players at a dangerous time to be one, and a warm presence that helped to steel the eventual 1986 World Champions.

Staub by then had become a beloved figure in New York, famous for his restaurants and charitable endeavors including establishing a fund to support the families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty. Staub was also an active Mets alumni. He was named to the team’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

Rusty preferred to wear No. 10, but wore No. 4 in 1972 and 1973 in deference to reserve catcher Duffy Dyer, who had that number when Staub first arrived.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, I met Rusty personally on a few occasions. The most memorable was a 1983 sports banquet sponsored by a New York cartoonists society to which my dad belonged. As part of the door prizes they gave us kids attending packs of baseball cards, which I opened to discover the Topps “Super Vet” pictured here. That gave me the confidence to approach the big man at the head table, only to be told “I don’t sign baseball cards.”

It took some time to unpack this but it turns out Rusty was just as hard licencing his image to card publishers as he was selling his talents to baseball teams, which is what got him traded so often. A dispute with Topps resulted in the company not issuing Staub cards in either of the  1972 or 1973 sets. Dave Murray writes about that incident — and another horrifying baseball card story on Rusty — here.

Let’s hope the Mets can tastefully and respectfully remember their dignified and principled star this year. Would an orange armband suffice?

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Let’s Go

A long and strange offseason is finally ending and the Mets, ready or not, are on the schedule for the first of at least 162 times in 2018.

Though we had a pretty good idea of the 22 guys who’d be making the cut all along, let’s all tip our caps to Phillip Evans, who claimed the last position-player spot available despite having been removed from the 40-man roster over the winter. Phil is also taking a dignified number along with that spot, moving from the stupid 72 to the distinguished company of Met 28s, home of Daniel Murphy, John “The Hammer” Milner, Bobby Jones, Sherman “Roadblock” Jones and Carlton Willey. Way to go, Phil.

Not so lucky was Zack Wheeler, who lost out on a rotation slot and will start the season in AAA despite the challenge Steven Matz gave to lose it for him. Matz worries me, you guys. He’s one of the reasons I’m a bit nervous over the prospects of this club, the others being the general lack of excitement in the lineup: Other than Amed Rosario, and maybe, Brandon Nimmo, there’s just not a whole lot to dream on here. Reliable, professional, competent up and down, absolutely, and that’s not a bad thing to be generally. But its not as though Todd Frazier’s about to stop doing all that striking-out, or Cespedes will have a better few months than he did during his magical 2015 arrival, or Adrian Gonzalez will really ever be Adrian Gonzalez ever again, so I’m naturally tempering expectations. They could be pretty competent offensively, and they might be less. They probably can’t be more.

The pitching might be good, my doubts about Matz notwithstanding, so I guess that’s where you place the hope: Competent offense, good pitching. You gotta believe.

With that, let’s welcome Anthony Swarzak (38), Todd Frazier (21), Adrian Gonzalez (23), along with Mickey Callaway (36), Dave Eiland (58), Gary Disarcina (10), Ruben Amaro Jr. (20) to the all-time numerical roster, along with Philip Evans and bullpen catcher Dave Racianello to new numbers (Racianello takes 57; he was in 54 last year): The new data will populate following Thursday’s opener. Let’s Go Mets!

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Non Smelly Kelly

The Mets are having a terrible Spring Training. Not scoring, not fielding particularly well and beyond a few individual efforts you have to squint to see the good. The clear-eyed observation would indicate this is a team destined to strike out a lot and hit into a million double plays with a new manager who’s yet to really distinguish himself. That they will require good pitching and good health goes without saying. Now, all that could change when the games start to count, but all things being equal I’d have hoped to see more from them so far.

Who’s been having a good spring? Ty Kelly, that’s who (well, he’s hitting .206 but he’s got 6 walks, that’s a lot better than Jose Reyes and Juan Lagares). I like Ty now, I liked him the first time around, and I’m glad to see they finally took my advice and dressed him in the No. 11 that matches his twitter handle and the LL’s in his last name.

Ty probably won’t make the opening day roster and if he does, something else went wrong but I hope he can find a role as the season goes along. He switch hits, which is great; he doesn’t embarrass the club at any position, which is also good; he can draw a walk, which I’m afraid this club may desperately need, and I think he possesses a clutch gene, even if I don’t believe such a thing exists.

With all that, Kelly could be the kind of bench guy that all good clubs need and seem to rise and fall along with the fortunes of the team they play for, which is to say if the Mets have a good year, and Ty Kelly is part of it, it could be the kind of year that has us mentally comparing him to Matt Franco or late-career Rusty Staub and ends with an appearance as the costumed Santa Claus at the holiday party.

Happy St. Patty’s Day to Ty Kelly, Kelly Stinnett, Kelly Johnson, Kelly Shoppach and all you Irish Mets.

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You Say It’s Your Birthday

Quick note to point out that today marks the 19th birthday of the Mets by the Numbers project, which went live for the first time on Feb. 22, 1999.

It’s worth pointing out that when I started this project a list of all numbers the Mets ever wore didn’t exist, at least that I knew of, and in its early days was more of a research project than a blog. Today you can click nearly anywhere and find this info so if you still come by I really appreciate it since what you get here is mostly my observations on the team through a uni-number perspective and if I may say so myself, a pretty impressive archive drop-down.

I haven’t planned much for this birthday — maybe we’ll do more for the 20th anniversary — but here are my rankings of the Met-liest 19s in club history:

There have been 35 36 (I was right the first time) different guys who wore 19 for the Mets including several (Roger Cedeno, Lenny Harris, Hawk Taylor and Tim Foli) to have taken it in non-consecutive periods. The below ranking is on Met-liness as judged by me, though I’ll say after 10 or 11 they’re all pretty much in a tie.

Rank Name Notes
1 Bob Ojeda After heartbreaking ’85 division loss to Cardinals, Davey Johnson wanted his own John Tudor — a crafty lefty to break up the hard-throwing starters. Key acquisition for ’86 champs.
2 Anthony Young Provided lesson in dignity and class while absorbing dubious record
3 Ken McKenize Charter member of 19 club, lefty was the only pitcher for the 1962 Mets to have a winning record
4 Jay Bruce Can’t believe he’s already this high
5 Roger Cedeno Terrific 1999, awful upon big-money return
6 Ryan Church Good player whose career was destroyed by concussions. Club’s poor reaction to it helped to spark awareness
7 Lenny Harris Nifty pinch hitter, well-liked by fans and opponents, compiled a record in a Met jersey
8 Tim Foli Would-be shortstop of the 70s couldn’t displace Harrelson or keep emotions in check
9 Ron Gardenhire Would-be shortstop of the 80s slowed by too many hamstring injuries; went on to a good career as manager
10 Heath Bell Heavyset reliever with a weird delivery who rollerbladed to work, felt underappreciated and never let us forget it while becoming a top closer elsewhere
11 Scott Erikson Disaster veteran bolt-on starter who painted his shoes black and insisted on wearing 19. Famous for injuring himself warming up before first scheduled Met start.
12 Johnny Stephenson Lives in infamy as last batter in Jim Bunning’s perfecto
13 Jason Hardtke Switch-hitting bench warrior had some clutch hits and spanned Green/Valentine era
14 Mike Hessman Minor-league HR champ finally got his big-league shot with forgettable Mets of 2010
15 Leo Foster “Bananas” Reserve infielder
16 Daniel Ray Hererra All we had to show for Francisco Rodriguez. Undersized screwballer with a good head of hair
17 Jim Tatum I remember him as one of several guys auditioned to catch prior to Piazza acquisition. Not really a catcher.
18 Zach Lutz Pretty good minor league hitter and high school teammate of Anthony Recker, did little as Met reserve
19 Jim Gosger Journeyman gets credit for presence on, if not not contributions to, 1973 pennant winners
20 Brian Ostrosser Also gets credit for ’73 connection. Canadian infielder. Good bio of him here
21 Kevin Collins Wore 4 different numbers this was his shrt in 1968
22 Tom Hall aka “The Blade” slender reliever from the Big Red Machine
23 Gary Matthews Jr. Career sputtered to an end wearing 19 for the Mets
24 Lino Urdaneta Nabbed for juicing
25 Butch Benton 1st round draft pick catcher who never quite made it
26 Jeff Conine “Mr. Marlin” was a too-little, too-late acquisition to help ’07 Mets
27 Sandy Alomar Jr. Veteran catcher put aside 19 when Conine arrived.
28 Cory Sullivan AAA outfielder wound up with way too much playing time when entire ’09 Mets went on the disabled list
29 Ed Bauta First Met from Cuba (I think?)
30 Hawk Taylor Reserve catcher
31 Johnny Monell Free-swinging catcher had a good spring training once
32 Luis Alvardao Remember his thick mustache and afro, but not him
33 Tommy Moore RHP, September call up in 1972
34 Jeff Gardner September call up in 1991, one of those names who I can’t remember is a pitcher or a position player (he was a infielder)
35 Shawn Hare Reserve outfielder in 1994
36 Bill Spiers I left him off original list
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2018 Mets Spring Training Numerical Roster

Clip and save!

Number Name Notes
1 Amed Rosario
2 Gavin Checchini
3 vacant Was Curtis Granderson
4 Wilmer Flores
5 David Wright
6 Pat Roessler
7 Jose Reyes
8 Vacant Uunassigned (Gary Carter)
9 Brandon Nimmo
10 Gary DiSarcina bench coach; was Terry Collins
11 Ty Kelly NRI; Was Nori Aoki
12 Juan Lagares
13 Asdrubal Cabrera
14 Retired Gil Hodges
15 Vacant was Matt Reynolds
16 Matt den Dekker NRI
17 Vacant unassigned (Keith Hernandez)
18 Travis d’Arnaud
19 Jay Bruce
20 Ruben Amaro Jr. 1st base coach
21 Todd Frazier
22 Dominic Smith
23 Adrian Gonzalez was Dick Scott
24 Vacant unassigned (Willie Mays)
25 Ricky Bones Bullpen coach
26 Kevin Plawecki
27 Jeurys Familia
28 Vacant was Travis Taijeron
29 Vacant was Tommy Milone
30 Michael Conforto
31 Retired Mike Piazza
32 Steven Matz
33 Matt Harvey
34 Noah Syndergaard
35 Jacob Rhame
36 Mickey Callaway manager
37 Retired Casey Stengel
38 Anthony Swarzak was Dan Warthen
39 Jerry Blevins
40 Jason Vargas
41 Retired Tom Seaver
42 Retired Jackie Robinson
43 Jamie Callahan
44 AJ Ramos
45 Zack Wheeler
46 Vacant was Chasen Bradford
47 Hansel Robles
48 Jacob deGrom
49 Vacant was Josh Smoker
50 Rafael Montero
51 Paul Sewald
52 Yoenis Cespedes
53 Glenn Sherlock Third base coach
54 TJ Rivera
55 Corey Oswalt thanks Jim A.
56 Tom Slater Assistant hitting coach; was Tyler Pill
57 Dave Racianello Bullpen catcher
58 Dave Eiland Pitching coach
59 Jose Lobaton NRI
60 Luis Guillorme
61 Kevin McGowan?
62 Tyler Bashlor was Erik Goeddel
63 Gerson Bautista
64 Chris Flexen
65 Robert Gsellman
66 Vacant was Josh Edgin
67 Seth Lugo
68 Marcos Molina
69 Vacant
70 Patrick Mazieka NRI
71 Zach Borenstein NRI
72 Phillip Evans NRI
73 Matt Purke NRI
74 Peter Alonso NRI
75 David Thompson NRI
76 Kevin Kaczmarski NRI
77 Tomas Nido
78 Eric Langill Bullpen catcher
79 Adonis Uceta NRI
80 PJ Conlon NRI
81 Corey Taylor NRI
82 Drew Smith NRI
83 Tim Tebow NRI
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Reporting for Duty

I was traveling for work and missed the reliable and alert Matt B passing along the following comment:

10 – Gary DiSarcina
20 – Ruben Amaro Jr.
21 – Todd Frazier
23 – Adrian Gonzalez
36 – Mickey Callaway
38 – Anthony Swarzak
56 – Tom Slater
58 – Dave Eiland
59 – Jose Lobaton
83 – Tim Tebow

Little we hadn’t guessed already except for the Swarzak reveal. All these years, all those guys, and I still think No. 38 is Skip Lockwood (and Buzz Capra) which I suppose is better than thinking of Victor Zambrano and Vic Black. Dan Warthen was the last guy to wear it. The Mets still haven’t published an official roster yet so I’ll fill in the blanks when they do that or when I take my next trip — to Florida in a couple of weeks to see some Spring Training games for the first time in a while.

There may still be a few more guys showing up. The Mets resigned Matt den Dekker to a minor league deal. You might recall he wore No. 6 in his previous tour of duty, that belongs now to hitting coach Pat Roessler. Yesterday came more indication the Mets are looking at Jason Vargas, the lefty given away when Omar Minaya uselessly moved heaven and earth to acquire JJ Putz. Vargas wore 43 in his last tour.

 

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