New York Mets: Best First-Year Stars in Franchise History

Stephen SmithContributor IIIMay 24, 2012

New York Mets: Best First-Year Stars in Franchise History

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    There have been some spectacular debuts in New York Mets history.

    The franchise is celebrating their 50-year anniversary this season and what better time than the present to reflect back and reminisce about the top 10 performances by Mets players in their very first campaign with the Amazins.

    There truly have been some special ones.

    Let's take a look—enjoy the slideshow.

No. 10: Darryl Strawberry (1983)

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    I had the honor of interviewing "Straw" in 1985 and he could not have been more gracious. We spent a lot of timing reflecting back about his National League Rookie of the Year season in 1983.

    I still remember his Mets debut so well and all the excitement surrounding it. His debut came on a Friday night in early May against one of the best pitchers in the National League at the time, Mario Soto of the Cincinnati Reds.

    Strawberry went 0-for-4 with a run scored in New York's 7-4, 13-inning triumph that night, but better times were just around the corner for the powerful, lanky right fielder.

    Strawberry was a bright light in the Mets' dismal season in 1983, winning the Rookie of the Year award in the NL with 26 HR, 74 RBI, 19 stolen bases and a .257 average. He was one of the first foundation blocks in the Mets' eventual championship club just three years later.

No. 9 Pedro Martinez (2005)

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    The future Hall of Fame right-hander had just won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2004 before Omar Minaya signed him to a four-year contract in 2005.

    Well, the first year of the contract worked out beautifully, anyway.

    Martinez enjoyed a tremendous first season in a Mets uniform, fashioning a 15-8 record with a 2.82 ERA. The Dominican Dandy authored one shutout and led the National League with a sparkling WHIP of 0.949. He also fanned 208 batters to rank third in the league that season.

    Injuries took their toll after that, but for one season, Martinez looked like his old Hall of Fame self.

No. 8: Bernard Gilkey (1996)

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    After being acquired in a trade with the Cardinals in January 1996, the St. Louis, MO native enjoyed the finest season of his career with the Mets in 1996.

    The right-handed hitting left fielder finished eighth in the National League in batting average (.317) and fourth in doubles with 44. He added 30 HR and 117 RBI (eighth in the NL).

    Gilkey also paced all NL outfielders in assists with 18 that season and ranked second among all left fielders in fielding percentage (.982).

    Quite a memorable season indeed.

No. 7: Gary Carter (1985)

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    Everything changed once "The Kid" arrived in Flushing.

    The Hall of Fame catcher was one of the final pieces in New York's championship contingent when he became a Met in 1985 following the blockbuster trade with the Expos. He was the best catcher in the NL at the time, a tremendous competitor and a true leader in every sense of the word.

    In his first game as a Met against the Cardinals on that blustery April 1985 afternoon, Carter cracked a walk-off home run against former Met Neil Allen and he was on his way. No. 8 smashed a career-high 32 HR that season (fifth in the NL) added 100 RBI (sixth) and batted a solid .281.

    Almost as important was his work behind the plate as one of the best defensive backstops in the game. He nurtured a young pitching staff, had a cannon arm and finished second in fielding percentage (.982) in the National League.

    Carter was one of the main reasons the Mets won 98 games in 1985.

No. 6: Tom Seaver (1967)

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    George Thomas Seaver was "The Franchise" and the best pitcher in New York Mets history.

    A three-time Cy Young award winner and nine-time All-Star with the Metropolitans, "Tom Terrific" began his Hall of Fame career in stellar fashion in 1967 by capturing the National League Rookie of the Year award.

    After a fine collegiate career at USC, Seaver produced a 16-13 record with a 2.76 ERA for a very poor Mets squad in 1967. He tossed 18 complete games, including two shutouts. He fanned 170 batters and owned a fine WHIP of 1.203.

    It marked the beginning of Seaver's period as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball for two decades.

No. 5: Jon Matlack (1972)

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    A tall, lanky southpaw, the West Chester, PA native captured the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1972 with an impressive 15-10 ledger.

    Known for his high leg kick, Matlack tossed eight complete games, four shutouts and authored an outstanding ERA of 2.32 that season (fourth in the NL). His WHIP was a solid 1.172.

    Matlack's arrival gave the Mets three of the best pitchers in the NL in Matlack, Seaver and Jerry Koosman.

    It was no wonder then that New York would win the NL pennant the following year and face the Oakland A's in the World Series.

No. 4: Robin Ventura (1999)

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    After a fine 10-year stint with the Chicago White Sox, Ventura signed as a free agent with the Mets in December 1998. What was to follow in 1999 was the Oklahoma State product's finest season of his distinguished career.

    The left-handed hitting third baseman clubbed 32 home runs, knocked in a career-high 120 runs and batted a robust .301 (also a career high).

    Not only that, but Ventura garnered his sixth gold glove, committing just nine errors all year long.

    The Mets made the playoffs that year for the first time since 1988 and Ventura enjoyed one of the stellar moments of the MLB campaign.

    On May 20, he became the first player in baseball history to smack a grand slam in each game of a doubleheader (against the Brewers).

No. 3: Lance Johnson (1996)

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    Lance Johnson was another ex-White Sox player that came to the Mets and lit up the National League in his first year with New York.

    The diminutive, speedy center fielder was simply spectacular in 1996.

    Look at these numbers: Johnson paced the NL in at-bats (682), plate appearances (724), hits (227) and triples (21).

    All were career highs.

    He finished fourth in the NL with a .333 batting average, second in steals (50) and sixth in runs scored (117).

    Johnson was voted by the fans to start the All-Star game in Philadelphia—he batted leadoff and played center field in that contest. He came through in fine fashion, going 3-for-4, stealing a base and helping lead the National League to a 6-0 victory.

No. 2: Mike Piazza (1998)

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    When the future Hall of Fame catcher was traded from the Marlins to the Mets on May 22, 1998, it signified hope and a new beginning for the beleaguered franchise.

    Just one year later, the Mets advanced to the NL Championship series and, in 2000, made it to the World Series against the Yankees.

    The team's revival commenced in 1998 when the burly backstop pounded 23 HR and drove in 76 runs in just 109 games with New York. He also fashioned a .348 batting average—one of the highest single-season batting averages in Mets history.

    Piazza added 33 doubles and owned a .417 OBP. His arrival gave the Mets a real identity and a powerful, dangerous cleanup hitter. The Mets finished 88-74 that year, just one game out of the wildcard.

    It was easily GM Steve Phillips' best trade ever.

No. 1: Dwight Gooden (1984)

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    That's the best way to describe what it was like in 1984 every time Dwight Gooden took the mound. Shea Stadium was alive again after years of hapless play. I saw him pitch in person there twice that magical year and it was exhilarating.

    Shea was rocking. It was an event.

    It was THE place to be again. And it felt great.

    The 19-year-old kid from Tampa was the talk of baseball that season. "Dr. K" had lightning in his right arm, posting a league-high 276 strikeouts in just 218 innings of work. He went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and authored three shutouts. His WHIP was a sparkling 1.073.

    He easily won the NL Rookie of the Year Award with 23 of 24 first-place votes (Juan Samuel of the Phillies had the other first-place vote).

    The K Corner came alive that season.

    So did the Mets.