Last month, MetsGeek announced the Inaugural MetsGeek Essay Contest, by which readers could submit their own essays for publication on the site. We’d like to thank all those who submitted entries; on the whole, they were quite good. The MetsGeek staff narrowed the field down to five, each of which will be run over the course of this week. At the end of the week, readers will be able to pick their favorite to determine the winner.
Our fourth essay comes from Charlie O’Brien who looks over all the Mets who have enjoyed less-than-triumphant returns to Flushing.
Players around the majors such as Mike Cameron, Preston Wilson, Braden Looper, and a host of others, please take heed to some friendly advice: history has not been kind to Met players who have served in the second of two separate tours of duty with the club. So if it is within your power, you Bannisters, Paytons, Floyds, and Moras of the world, think twice before taking that return trip on the Seven Train heading into Flushing.
Through the club’s first 46 seasons of existence, there have only been a scant few who have lived up the expectations of fans, as well as the players themselves, in their second go-around in the Mets organization.
One of the first early stars to make his return to the club after a two-year absence was pitcher Al Jackson. Although Jackson’s record with the Mets was abysmal (40-73) through the first four years of the club’s play, he was a pretty good hurler who occasionally showed flashes of brilliance for a team that otherwise lost more than 100 games routinely. Jackson had a couple of good seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals after a trade to the club following the 1965 campaign.
Via a trade in mid-1967, he became the first big former Mets star to return to New York. Jackson actually had a decent season with the Mets in ’68 as a spot starter and reliever. However, in ’69, as the organization hoped he would round out the bullpen entering the year, Jackson’s ERA soared past 10.00 in his first 9 outings. Sold to the Cincinnati Reds soon after, the southpaw ended his career at the close of the season.
Some years later, spot starter and clubhouse funnyman Ray Sadecki had been a key presence on the mound in the Mets’ drive for the 1973 N.L. East pennant. He attempted an unsuccessful comeback in 1977 having been dealt away from the club shortly after the close of the ’74 season. Just a handful of games into ’77, it was clear that Sadecki’s best days were behind him, and he was subsequently released, ending a career in which he won 135 games.
In 1975, Dave Kingman won the hearts of New York Mets fans when he smashed 36 home runs in his first season with the club, breaking Frank Thomas’s single-season record of 34, set in 1962. Although prone to the strikeout, Kingman remained a popular Met right up until he was dealt to the San Diego Padres in mid-1977. After a three-and-a-half-year absence, highlighted by a 48 homer season in 1979 with the Chicago Cubs, Kingman found his way back to Shea in 1981. His second stint with the club wasn’t as rosy, however. He spent three seasons at Shea with a batting average that decreased each campaign (.221 in ’81, .204 in ’82 and .198 in ’83) and too many strikeouts sandwiched around too few meaningful homers to keep the boo birds silent.
Popular third baseman Hubie Brooks had been an important building block in the Mets resurgence of the early-to-mid eighties. Brooks helped highlight a 90-win season in 1984 by setting a then team record 24-game hitting streak during the year. Traded along with a few prospects after the season to the Montreal Expos for All-Star catcher Gary Carter, Mets fans were naturally saddened to see Brooks go, if elated to see Carter arrive. Brooks was a two-time All-Star in his five seasons in Montreal. His return to the Mets was something of a disappointment, however. Traded to New York for the ’91 season by Los Angeles., Brooks was sidelined through nearly a third of the year. He hit only .238 before moving on to the California Angels in 1992.
Consistency was the name of the game for Kevin McReynolds as he patrolled leftfield for the Mets in the late 80’s. He averaged close to 90 RBI’s a season for the Mets and regularly cut down runners trying to stretch singles into doubles while playing near flawless defense. On the base paths, he chose his opportunities wisely, stealing a perfect 21 out of 21 in 1988 as the Amazins cruised to an N.L. East Championship title. After leaving New York in a trade for Bret Saberhagen before the ’92 season, he spent two years there before the Mets sent unwanted centerfielder Vince Coleman in exchange for McReynolds. 1994 would turn out to be McReynolds last season in the majors; the now stocky left fielder played in just 51 games with the Mets, hitting a pedestrian .256 and spending over sixty games on the disabled list.
The most pleasant surprise to come out of the 1988 Eastern Division Championship season for the Mets was the emergence of David Cone. After going 5-6 in his rookie year, Cone was the talk of the N.L. after posting a sensational 20-3 win-loss record. A two-time All-Star while a Met, he was traded away in mid-1992. Cone’s solid career to that point continued as he stared for the Amazins’ cross-town rival New York Yankees. Retiring after the 2001 season as a member of the Red Sox, Cone joined the Yankees’ broadcasting booth in 2002 only to take the mound once again the following season as a member of the Mets for one last fling. Although he pitched well in spring and his first regular season start, old injuries reappeared quickly, thwarting Cone’s comeback attempt as quickly as it started. In all, he appeared in just five games, going 1-3 with a 6.50 ERA, covering 18 innings.
Bobby Bonilla claimed he had unfinished business to take care of when he returned to the Mets in 1999 after a trade to the Orioles ended his first tenure with the Mets in mid-1995. Signed as a free agent for the 1992 season, Bonilla’s first stint in New York was a checkered one, starting off slowly by hitting .249 in his first season with the club and then bouncing back in ’93 to lead the Mets with 34 homers. After stops in Baltimore, Florida and Los Angeles, he returned to the Mets to avenge his critics. Unfortunately, Bonilla spent half of the season on the disabled list and hit just .160 in 60 games, only adding more fuel to the fire for the Shea malcontent.
Colorful Jeromy Burnitz used his choice orange bat in 1993 as a rookie and slugged 13 homers in 86 games, quickly becoming a fan favorite. But Burnitz was not a favorite with Mets manager Dallas Green and was sent packing after the strike-shortened 1994 season. Starting in Milwaukee, Burnitz topped the 30 home run mark four times in his five seasons with the club before returning to Flushing in 2002. With Green out of the picture, Mets fans were disappointed to see Burnitz bat an anemic .215 with just 19 round trippers to his credit. Though he picked up the pace in ’03, he was traded halfway into the season and went on to smash 34 dingers for Colorado the following year.
Speedy Roger Cedeno set a Mets single season record by swiping 66 bags for the Mets in 1999 while batting .313 as the Mets went on to the playoffs as a Wild Card team. As part of a trade which brought All-Star pitcher Mike Hampton to the Mets, Cedeno was sent to Houston after that one season. The Mets reacquired Cedeno for 2002 but his magic on the base paths diminished as he stole just 39 over two seasons in New York while batting a mediocre .263.
The Mets signed Japanese star Tsuyoshi Shinjo for the 2001 season and instantly became a Shea crowd pleaser with some flashy antics in the field. At the plate he batted .268 and showed some pop hitting ten homers. Shinjo spent one year with San Francisco in 2002 before returning to the Mets in ’03. The flash was gone for Shinjo, however. After hitting just .193 with one homer in 62 games, he was out of the majors.
It wasn’t all bad for Mets returnees during these past 46 years: Rusty Staub was a valuable pinch hitter in his second go-around with the Mets, as was Mike Jorgenson, Lee Mazzilli, and Lenny Harris. Even though Tom wasn’t so terrific, fans loved Seaver in ’83. Terry Leach gave the Mets a much needed boost to the starting rotation in ’87 with an eye-popping 11-1 record in his second opportunity. Todd Zeile finished up a fine major league career with the Mets, collecting his 2000th hit and homering in his last big league at bat.
So who knows? Perhaps one day Jason Tyner will come back to slug 40 homers at CitiField.