By Joe Rini
With baseball fans wondering if and when the 2020 MLB season will begin, author Brian Wright’s new book The New York Mets All-Time All-Stars (Lyons Press) offers a timeless panoramic view of Mets history and their best players at each position. Chatting with Brian about his selection process and the challenge of debuting a book in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, he said he wanted the book to be “fun and enjoyable especially at a time when we want baseball to return” and hopes the book “starts debates instead of ending them” and with a percentage of the book’s sales having gone to the New York City Covid-19 Response and Impact Fund and now the Hospital for Special Surgery, the book benefits the reader and the public.
Stretching across baseball eras where home runs exploded and complete games receded, Brian analysis is a good mix of the analytical and the subjective. Employing metrics like OPS+, ERA+, and WAR that “try to level the playing field across eras,” Brian said he made an effort to “evaluate the players within the eras they played;” for example, while wins by a starting pitcher are devalued today, they weren’t when Ron Darling pitched 30 years ago. Also, Brian would also ask himself when judging whether to include a player on the all-time team, “Can you tell the history of the Mets without this person on the team?” Using this analysis was especially useful he said when he picked Darling and Al Leiter over David Cone and Sid Fernandez for the last two pitching spots.
While the presence of Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza on the Mets all-time roster is no surprise, the book is especially good in reminding even long-term fans about how good and instrumental players like Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Howard Johnson were to the franchise. While Jones’ offensive stats might pale through a year 2020 lens, Brian recognized his impact on the 1969 championship team, the era he played, and where he stood with the team when his career ended in naming him the all-time Mets left fielder. Similarly, although Grote was not the hitter of Piazza or Gary Carter’s stature, he included him on the team given the respect he had of the Mets pitchers, his defensive prowess, and the integral role he played in supplying “strength up the middle” on the 1969 championship team. Unfortunately for HoJo, a “30-30”player twice, Brian said, “His big years came when the team was underperforming.”
Some surprises might be the presence of relatively short-tenured Mets John Olerud and Robin Ventura as reserves but Brian said he judged longevity to be less of a factor than whether a player “was among the best at their position” when they were with the Mets and Olerud’s .354 average in 1998 is still the best by a Met and Ventura was a key cog on the 1999 and 2000 playoff teams. Ironically, having Daniel Murphy as the reserve second baseman even surprised the author but Brian said Murphy’s hitting consistency and his “other-worldly 2015 psotseason” put him over the top. As for players who missed the final cut, Brian has a significant Honorable Mention chapter that recognizes the contributions of players like Ed Kranepool and Felix Millan.
So if you need a baseball fix in the absence of real games, check out Brian Wright’s The New York Mets All-Time All-Stars and perhaps when real games start again, newcomers like Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Seth Lugo can start making a case to be included in a future edition by Brian.