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'Rud Awakening

I think I've read it elsewhere (another blog, perhaps), or at least heard it said that the best compliment you could pay a baseball player is to say "He played the game the way it should be played."

John Olerud retired yesterday, a move that will get little attention because his credentials don't quite match the potential of those making news at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. Olerud finished with 2,239 career hits, a .295 batting average and a place in the immortal pantheon of "Really good players who weren't quite Hall-of-Fame caliber, but whose accomplishments we appreciate nonetheless."

Olerud was a Met for three seasons and was best known for his clutch hitting, great glovework and quiet professional demeanor. Some say that the 1999 Mets were better than the 2000 squad because the former had Olerud's presence and the latter had the ever-too-patient Todd Zeile as his replacement. Some said the Mets should have offered him more money before he bolted for the comforts of home in Seattle and maybe then he would have finished his career inf Flushing. Some were hoping he'd come back to New York in 2006 and caddy for Carlos Delgado.

Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, and whomever else is coming on the Santa Minaya Holiday Caravan should hope to become as well-liked as Olerud was, both by fans and teammates. One of the keys to Olerud's popularity was that he had a great start to his Mets career. Bobby Bonilla can say that too, but Olerud was able to maintain the level of success he had throughout his Mets career.

The 1997 Mets struggled out of the gate, but Olerud didn't. He had multi-hit games in each of his first three Mets contests and homered in his first game at Shea Stadium. By the end of April, he was hitting .356 and the Mets realized they had something pretty good going at first base- a guy who could catch almost everything and who almost never took a bad swing.

They also had a guy you wanted up with a game on the line. Mets fans really learned that on May 19 against the Rockies. This was a day that had the crowd biting its nails early as Armando Reynoso toyed with Rockies hitters and Mets fans emotions by dangling the no-hitter carrot by the nose for 6 2/3 innings. The gory details of said attempt aren't terribly worth describing because in the end, they were rendered unimportant. The Mets led 2-0 into the seventh, but Jeff Reed ended the history-bid with a homer and the Rockies took the lead in the top of the eighth on a two-run single by Andres Galarraga.

The Mets were two outs from defeat when Edgardo Alfonzo doubled, just out of the reach of Rockies outfielder Quinton McCracken. That brought Olerud up. The statistics will tell you that Olerud was one of baseball's most patient hitters, but one nice thing about Johnny O was that in spots like this, he didn't mess around. If he saw something he liked, he put it in play. This time, Jeff McCurry's first pitch landed over the fence in right center field for a game-winning, walk-off two-run homer. The win made the Mets 23-20, marking the first time they had been three games over .500 in nearly five full years and set off a celebration that Alfonzo described as similar to winning a World Series. It was one of many terrific moments for Olerud over the next three seasons. Come to think of it, I can't recall a bad moment that involved him in any way.

There's a song we've heard at Shea Stadium a few times for another Met and the lyrics tell Johnny to go, go, go. But on this day, we wish he had stayedfor just a little bit longer. For those who know song lyrics, might we suggest he please, please, please, please stay.

True Meteruds know...John Olerud is the only Mets player who twice played in as many as 160 games in a season. He played in 160 in 1998 and 162 (out of a possible 163, but still tying Felix Millan's team record, set in 1975) in 1999. Coincidentally, Blogger tells me that this is my 160th post of the 'season.'


Anonymous said…
That was a Monday afternoon, one of those fourth games of a "wraparound" weekend series that always seem so odd (that was also the season when there was a preponderance of two-game sets in the Majors; go figure). I was listening at my desk and naturally when it was over, I took my cue from what Fonzie said and went nuts. I ran around the office looking to share the great news with my co-workers. But everywhere I looked there were Yankee fans, non-fans and, at best, two dormant vaguely sympathetic Mets types who were kind enough to indulge me for 30 seconds as I described what had just happened.

This was being a Mets fan when the Mets existed only for Mets fans. In many ways, it sucked. In a few ways, it was the best time of all.

Oly...Fonzie...Armando Reynoso even...can 1997 really be coming up on nine years ago?

Non-melancholy note: The day before, I am 98% sure, was the last time the Mets wore those godawful ice cream caps. That was also the day the Rockies walked in a bushel of Met runs and, because you probably cared, the Knicks completed their choke job to the Heat following their disgraceful melee in Miami, which was probably the tipping point that used up the last remnant of my active fandom for the Knicks. I listened to both events as I drove home from picking up a tux at Syms that my company bought me for a black-tie affair at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, TX the following week, one I happily volunteered for because it put me in position to visit the Ballpark in Arlington. I still have the tux. Haven't worn it since I accidentally put on the jacket very early one morning for a conference. It was dark when I reached into the closet for my dark blue suit and got dressed. Felt like an idiot walking around in a tuxedo jacket at a business meeting. Gives you an idea of how often I put on good clothes. I do much better in jeans and Mets t-shirts.

The level of detail between the two of us could humanely put a horse to sleep.

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