Mets Rumors & News
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Let’s go back in time and revisit 1998. Monica Lewinsky was America’s sweetheart. Dennis Franz’s butt made ladies swoon. Celine Dion’s singing reminded us of Dennis Franz’s butt. And Ross and Rachael pretty much made us puke. Out at Shea, the Mets were a scrappy Bobby Valentine–led team that missed out on the Wild Card by one game.

After a team void of talent finished at 88-74 the year before, the Mets made some key acquisitions that got them on the path to back-to-back playoff appearances in ’99 and 2000. Over the winter the team sent A.J. Burnett, Jesus Sanchez and Robert Stratton to Florida for Al Leiter and Ralph Milliard. And in May the Mets made one of the biggest trades in team history―Mike Piazza arrived (also from Florida) in exchange for Preston Wilson, Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnell.

The team ended up 84-74 for the second year in a row. They heartbreakingly lost their last five games―including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves―finishing one game behind the Cubs and Giants in the Wild Card race. Hey, they’re the Mets. Nightmares happen every decade.

Piazza replaced the injured Todd Hundley behind the plate. To paraphrase Reggie Jackson, Piazza brought his star with him. The catcher restored the team’s credibility and gave them a sense of seriousness about winning that had been missing. In 109 games with the Mets, he batted .348 with 23 home runs and 76 RBIs. After returning from the DL, the displaced Hundley was given the task of playing left field. It proved to be a disaster. He played the outfield about as well as Paris Hilton can act.

The quiet, helmeted John Olerud set the Mets single-season record that year by hitting .354 and playing an impeccable first base. And he took the subway to the game every day. And he liked it. I miss John Olerud. At second base, Carlos Baerga ran funny, gained a lot of weight and just wasn’t very good. Shortstop Rey Ordonez won the Gold Glove, went on to call Mets fans stupid and disappeared. One of the all-time fan favorites, Edgardo Alfonzo manned third base, was on the rise in ’98 and would peak the next two years, followed by a steep and quick decline. What happened, Fonzie?

Besides Hundley gutting it out in left, the outfield included Brian McRae, Bernard Gilkey and Butch Huskey. Yikes! Huskey’s freckles couldn’t distract us from the fact that he set the Major League record for swinging at the most 0-2 curveballs in the dirt. Gilkey had that one great season in ’96, and then forgot how to play the game of baseball. And McRae just made Mets fans wish it were his father on the team instead of him.

On the mound, the starting rotation consisted of Al Leiter (17-6), Rick Reed (16-11), Bobby Jones (9-9), Masato Yoshii (6-8) and Hideo Nomo (4-5). Leiter was a borderline ace, while Reed was a fantastic under-the-radar pickup. He was known as the poor man’s Greg Maddux, but wasn’t nearly as annoying, and didn’t consistently pull himself out of games while constantly licking his lips. Down in the bullpen was John Franco, registering 38 saves and giving Mets fans everywhere a heart attack. The intense Dennis Cook was one of the greatest competitors the Mets ever had. Turk Wendell wore an animal-tooth necklace around his neck and his heart on his sleeve. In his time with the Mets, it seemed like he appeared in all 162 games each season. And the fans loved him for it. Also in the bullpen that year was Mel Rojas. Let’s just forget about him.

Sitting on the bench were pinch-hitting extraordinaires Matt Franco and all-time pinch-hit leader Lenny Harris. 1999’s playoff hero Todd Pratt backed up Piazza. Crazy-eyed Tony Phillips played some outfield. And the Rolls-Royce of mediocre utility infielders, Luis Lopez, made appearances at short, second and third. In the draft that year, the Mets selected Jason Tyner with their first pick, and Ty Wigginton was another notable chosen in ’98.

The 1998 Mets, with Steve Phillips as the GM, laid the groundwork for the next two seasons when they made it to the National League Championship Series in ’99 and then the World Series in 2000. Bobby Valentine ruffled some feathers and P.O.’d some of his players and the front office, but his teams generally overachieved. And his late-’90s teams were fun to watch to boot, hit-and-running and squeeze-playing their way into our hearts.

There are currently 4 responses to “10 Years Ago: A Look Back at the 1998 Mets”

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  1. 1 On August 4th, 2008, gozer said:

    who doesn’t miss John Olerud? hated seeing him in the Bronx.

  2. 2 On August 4th, 2008, Ted Mero said:

    Some people say my dad looks like Dennis Franz.

  3. 3 On August 5th, 2008, J Atwood said:

    Me, I don’t miss John Olerud, the Toronto Tool.

  4. 4 On August 5th, 2008, Kwame Flaherty said:

    We could use Rick Reed, he was a gamer. Butch Husky ranks with Ryan Thompson as one of the worst Mets ever. I was at the Todd Pratt game, best sporting event I’ve ever been to live.

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