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New Years Metsolutions

Since the calendar has turned itself over, it seems that a re-introduction is in order.

As someone who is a big believer in the idea that actions speak louder than words, I've always preferred "solutions" to "resolutions" so I don't do the whole thing regarding promising to be a better person than I was the previous year.

The Mets, on the other hand, always promise to be better than they were the previous season. They make resolutions in the form of "solutions", always bringing in new people, whether it be in the front office, in management, or on the field.

The history of this dates all the way back to the beginnings of the franchise in 1962 when ownership decided to bring in as many familiar faces as possible, hoping to generate immediate interest. That's why the Mets had George Weiss and Casey Stengel running the ship, with a roster in the early days that included the likes of Don Zimmer, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roger Craig, and Gene Woodling, despite the fact that all were beyond the prime years of their career.

Meanwhile, management was smart enough to have a master plan, but they knew it would take time for the Metsolution to work. They began signing good young talent in the early 60s and carried that plan through the middle part of the decade. That's how the team got the likes Bud Harrelson, Cleon Jones, Ken Boswell, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Tom Seaver, though of course a little luck was involved with the latter. Of the 11 position players that played 100 or more games for the 1969 Mets, only one Al Weis, was older than 27 (it should be noted that 33-year-old Donn Clendenon, obtained in midseason trade, became a regular upon acquisition).

After winning the World Series in 1969, management was left to ponder: How can we be better than this? It was around this time that they developed a third-base fetish, one that would last through every decade. First they became convinced that Joe Foy was better than Wayne Garrett, so they shopped a good prospect named Amos Otis to get him. Foy had personal issues and didn't work out. Otis became a star.

The next season, they decided that Brooklyn born Bob Aspromonte would be a better fit than Garrett. Aspro's .301 slugging percentage didn't quite take, so management than got the bright idea of taking an established shortstop and converting him to third base. That's how Nolan Ryan ended up being traded for Jim Fregosi.

The Ryan trade set a bad precedent in that it made the position change a trendy Flushing fashion. The Mets have been stubborn in the belief that it isn't so hard to move a catcher to left field (Todd Hundley), a second baseman to centerfield (Keith Miller), a shortstop to second base (Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes), or a catcher to first base (Mike Piazza). In each instance, the Mets solution only made the problems significantly worse.

In the mid 70s we can talk about Mickey Lolich and Dave Kingman. The former of whom never really wanted to be here in the first place and cost the Mets Rusty Staub . The latter was a sourpuss who did more harm than good despite hitting many a towering home run. The problems multiplied and the Metsolutions never worked out. Then Tom Seaver got traded and disinterested ownership felt the way to go was the cheapskate route. They sunk the team, basically by bringing in a lot of guys who just weren't that good.

The good news for the Mets was that they had new owners, though one professed to be a fairly bright baseball guy even though he had no background as such. Luckily he was smart enough to let his new general manager, Frank Cashen, make the decisions. Cashen's Metsolution was to make the team younger and better, and though his plan took time, it worked. Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman and Roger McDowell were among the homegrown talent that the farm system produced. Cashen knew when the time was right to make big splashes, with Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter, and when it was time to tinker slightly, by adding Bob Ojeda and Tim Teufel prior to the 1986 offseason.

Again the Mets had to answer the question: How do we do better after a championship? Their answer, at least for the short-term, was to bring in 'character guys' like Kevin McReynolds and rid the team of some of those like Kevin Mitchell who scared management with their off-field behavior. They went into go-for-it mode, figuring they might as well try to win as much as they could before their stars aged, or succumbed to drug/substance/alcohol abuse. They set another bad precedent in the process- that of desperate overpaying- by trading Rick Aguilera and four prospects for Frank Viola in an effort to win the NL East in 1989. It didn't work

After the 1990 season the Mets let Darryl Strawberry walk away as a free agent and the reverberations of this move were felt for the next six years. The Metsolution this time was to bring in names. Big names. The problem was that the bigger the name, the worse the player behaved when he got here. This logic landed the team Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray, Bret Saberhagen, Bobby Bonilla and quickly made them the laughingstocks of the National League and what became known as "The Worst Team Money Could Buy." Mets fans should have known they were in trouble when manager Jeff Torborg proclaimed that fans would love mediocre utility man Bill Pecota.

It took time to clean up the mess and cost managers and front office people their jobs. Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine, despite constant disagreement, were able to make things work. Phillips' strategy was one of aggressiveness. He took his best shot and let the consequences be what they may afterwards. That's the Metsolution that got Mike Piazza and Mike Hampton (and also the one that got Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and a few others most would like to forget) and put the Mets in the postseason in 1999 and 2000.

The team got stuck chasing its own tail again, trying to figure out ways to better excellence. They stumbled around in the darkness, symbolically speaking, until Art Howe lit up Fred Wilpon's room, a scary thought if ever there was one. Ownership became convinced that Howe was their best Metsolution. He was a total opposite to Valentine in terms of personality, and as it turned out, in terms of Mets success as well.

This leads us to the current regime where the Metsolution in 2005 was that Next Year was Now, and that meant importing the best hitter and pitcher, and using Willieball to awaken the team from the doldrums of the past two seasons. The question though, is that if Next Year was Then, what's coming This Year? I get the feeling that the Metsolutions of 2006 are only partly written, and that the bold moves that closed 2005 will only serve to foreshadow what is on the way in the coming months.

Perhaps there are Manny happy returns in the future, or perhaps there will be Manny regrets, if you'll pardon the pun. It's all part of the baseball fun we plan to cover here over the next 12 months, relating the current club to both its history and mystery (mostly through stories of amazing triumph, occasionally by other means like those we used here). We resolve to do it in the best manner that we can.

Happy New Year and hope you enjoy the blogging.

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