BY JOE RINI If it’s really darkest before the dawn, then a first glimmer of daylight gleamed for the New York Mets 30 years ago this week when a much heralded Darryl Strawberry made his major league debut on May 6, 1983. The current rebuilding efforts by the front office, a fan base eager to see highly touted minor leaguers make their Mets debuts, and even the precarious situation of the manager with a possible successor at Triple-A, call to mind a similar Mets landscape in 1983.
After Tom Seaver’s triumphant return on Opening Day, the Mets proceeded to lose 15 of their next 20 games, taxing the patience of their fans and their manager George Bamberger, a man with heart trouble who would shortly resign. Four years into a rebuilding period, General Manager Frank Cashen called up Strawberry, the marquee player in the team’s blossoming farm system.
Starting against Johnny Bench’s Cincinnati Reds on a Friday night at Shea Stadium, Strawberry batted third in a game won by the Mets 7-4 in extra innings. The game featured heroes of the past, Seaver, Rusty Staub, and Dave Kingman in their second go- arounds with Mets, and young heroes in waiting, Mookie Wilson, Jesse Orosco, and Wally Backman.
Strawberry’s debut did not immediately reverse the team’s fortunes, but after a slow start, he slugged 26 home runs en route to National League Rookie of the Year honors. In June, Cashen pulled off one of the most memorable trades in Mets history by acquiring All-Star Keith Hernandez.
Playing above .500 after August and the exploits of an 18-year-old Dwight Gooden at Double-A Lynchburg, gave the fans reason to be optimistic in 1984 and they were rewarded. Manager Davey
Johnson was promoted from Triple-A and the Mets won 90 games, setting the stage for the most successful period in franchise history.
Thirty years later, fans are hoping history repeats itself and that the current crop of Mets prospects, namely pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, yield the bounty of Strawberry and Gooden.
As for last year’s top prospect, Matt Harvey continues to be this year’s ace. Calling to mind the grit of a young Tom Seaver and the excitement of Doc Gooden, Harvey retired the first 20 White Sox on Tuesday, before yielding an infield hit to Alex Rios with two out in the seventh inning on a close but correct call at first base. Rios was the only batter to reach base against Harvey, who finished the game with 12 strikeouts but a no decision, as the Mets edged the White Sox 1-0 in 10 innings.
Speaking of Harvey, manager Terry Collins said, “He knows you’ve got to deal with some things, that’s where I think I am the most impressed with him, how he handles everything that is going on.”
After seven starts, Harvey is 4-0 with a miniscule 1.28 ERA and an eye-popping 58 strikeouts in 49 innings. The Mets, who enter play on Wednesday with a record of 13-16, have won six of Harvey’s seven starts. The homestand continues this weekend against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for those fans with a spare bedsheet and art supplies, Saturday’s pregame will feature the ever popular, Banner Day.