The New York Mets were blessed with one of the best defensive players to ever pick up a glove when they traded Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1983.
Seven years and six Gold Gloves later, Keith Hernandez—mustache and all—became the standard by which all other Mets in the field would be measured up against.
While the Mets may not have been inundated with players who could flash the leather over the years, they have certainly had some stars who made opposing hitters weap.
From Jerry Grote and Art Shamsky in the 1960s and '70s to Rey Ordonez and Carlos Beltran in the '90s and present day, New Yorkers have watched in amazement as their idols made impossible plays that defied belief.
Fans love the diving stop and the behind-the-back flip, the double play and the home run-robbing catch, and I'm no different.
Here's my New York Mets all-time defensive team.
For a look at an article discussing the Mets best offensive stars click here.
This one is a toss up between Carter and Jerry Grote. Carter’s days as the best defensive catcher in the league may have been over by the time he headed south from Montreal, but his service behind the dish at Shea Stadium was matched only by the bat he brought to the lineup.
Grote, by contrast, was shining as the Mets everyday catcher for a decade more than 10 years before Carter even arrived in the Big Apple.
Carter came to the Mets as a 31-year-old backstop, two seasons removed from his third and final Gold Glove as a member of the Expos. In his four full seasons with the Mets, Carter’s lowest fielding percentage was .990, and he never committed more than nine errors in any one single season despite averaging 138 games between 1985 and 1988.
His arm obviously wasn’t what it used to be when he threw 47 percent of all would-be base stealers out in the early 80s, and the number dropped from 34 percent in 1985 to below 20 percent for the first time in his career in ’88. This was undoubtedly what stopped him picking up a fourth or even fifth Gold Glove, as guys like Tony Pena, Jody Davis, and Mike LaValliere took over as the elite catchers in the National League.
At the other end of the spectrum, Grote gave the best years of his career to the Mets, racking up more than 8,000 innings dropping the signals between 1966 and 1976. He threw out more than 40 percent of base runners in five of his first seven years with the team, but he received little fanfare for his efforts. He never won a Gold Glove or received an MVP vote, and he only went to the All-Star Game twice. Still, he is considered one of the greatest of his era. If Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan sing your praises, who am I to argue.
I love Carter, but infinitely more for his bat than his arm. He was good, but Grote was the best defensive catcher the Mets have ever seen. Add to the fact that he won a ring with the Mets in '69 and you have your best defensive catcher.
Jason Phillips, J.C.Martin, and even Brian Schneider had decent seasons behind the plate for New York, but they all come a distant third at best.
The Mets may have not been stacked defensively over the years, but the one spot where there is absolutely no debate at all is at first.
He won 11 consecutive Gold Gloves between 1978 and 1988, and only seven other players in the history of the game have won more. He is the only first baseman with double-digit Gold Gloves, and he is arguably the third best defensive infielder that ever played the game behind Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith. You could make the case for Omar Vizquel too, I suppose.
Five of Hernandez’s Gold Gloves came solely as a member of the Mets, where he made just 40 errors in 7,820 chances (.995 fielding percentage). His career fielding percentage in his 17 seasons in the league was .994. Over the course of his career, Hernandez made 1,671 assists, with only eight throwing errors.
Few can compare to the success that Hernandez had at first, although John Olerud and Ed Kranepool would be somewhere in the discussion further down the line…much further down the line.
People forget that he had a good eye at the plate, handled the bat pretty well too, and—in his days as a Cardinal—showed off some good wheels. But when you are the benchmark by which all other defensive first basemen are measured, you can be excused for not really caring about his dozen home runs each year.
Simply put, if the ball was coming to him, you know it was in safe hands.
Second base is about as barren as it gets defensively for the Mets. Damion Easley, Baerga, Roberto Alomar, Brian Giles, Luis Castillo…Yeah, slim pickings indeed.
Luckily there are two guys who stand out from the lackluster crowd—Doug Flynn and Edgardo Alfonso.
Flynn came to the Mets in 1977 in a trade that sent Tom Seaver to Cincinnati. He had been an average defensive player for the Reds across the infield, although he was more a utility player than an everyday starter.
He had spent time playing second, third, and short with the Reds, and he got the majority of his playing time in New York at shortstop throughout the ’77 season.
He became the team’s primary second baseman the following year, and he held onto the role for the next four seasons until he was traded to Texas in 1981.
Flynn won his only Gold Glove at second base in 1980 when he made just six errors in 1,115 innings and, like Ordonez, you know he wasn’t in the lineup for his ability with the lumber. His 34 errors in four-and-a-half years at Shea gets him the nod here, but only because there’s few other competitors.
Alfonso came close, but he only played two full seasons at second base. He split time across the infield in 1995 and 1996, and he became the team’s starting third baseman in ’97 for two years after the Mets had traded Jeff Kent the previous summer.
Third base was a toss-up between Ventura and David Wright. Ventura had slightly better numbers in his time with the Mets, although Wright could surpass him pretty soon.
Ventura had a .969 fielding percentage in his three seasons with the Mets, making 42 errors in 515 games. By contrast, Wright’s fielding percentage is .952, having made 109 errors in his six seasons (842 games) with the club.
Although Wright has two Gold Gloves, you have to really look at someone like Scott Rolen as the best defensive third baseman over the past decade. He has only made 108 errors since 2000, showing you just how much Wright needs to improve to truly be one of the best hot corner defenders in the game.
With that said, Ventura himself was only “good” with the glove by the time he made his way to New York from the White Sox. He may have won five Gold Glove awards in Chicago, but if you subtract the sparkling first year he had with the Mets, he was only an average fielder.
Ventura won his sixth and final Gold Glove, and his only one with the Mets, in 1999 when he posted a .980 fielding percentage over 160 games. The nine errors was the fewest in his career as a full-time third baseman. Importantly, it allowed Alfonso to move to second base after Baerga signed with the Cardinals as a free agent without taking a massive hit defensively.
With Todd Pratt, Olerud, Ordonez, and Brian McRae also in the team, the addition of Ventura made the Mets by far the best defensive team in the league. Only Mike Piazza had double-digit errors in the ’99 season, and the team’s .989 fielding percentage was the best in all of baseball. The second best team in the Major Leagues was the Baltimore Orioles and they had 21 more errors as a team.
Shortstop: Rey Ordonez
Rey Rey is one of just 21 big league shortstops to win two or more Gold Gloves, and he is the only Met in history to pick up the honor on multiple occasions (three).
While he struggled as a 25-year-old rookie (27 errors) in 1996, he quickly became one of the best middle infielders over the next few seasons. Either side of a so-so 1998 campaign, Ordonez committed just nine errors in ’97 and only four in ’99.
If it wasn’t for his skills flashing the leather, his career could have been incredibly short, considering how inept he was with the stick. He was truly useless…a career .245 hitter.
The main problem with Ordonez, his struggles with the bat aside, when he first came up to the Major League was that his footwork was not where it needed to be. He was throwing the ball off balance, and he often tried to force plays that weren’t there. Twelve of his 27 errors were throwing errors, but as he matured and grew at the position, he came a much better defensive player.
As a teenager, it was great watching Ordonez turn the double play. He developed good relationships first with Carlos Baerga and later with Edgardo Alfonso up the middle, and he utilized his trademark play sliding towards the third base line on an almost nightly basis. It wasn’t technically sound, but it sure cut down on his mistakes.
To illustrate just how much he developed, Ordonez threw the ball away just 10 more times in the next four seasons. You can maybe thank Olerud for part of that, because he really was a solid defensive first baseman. The same goes for the time Todd Zeile spent at first.
The one story that I have read that I love about Ordonez comes from his debut on April 1 1996 against the Cardinals.
Royce Clayton tried to score from first base on a double to left field by Ray Lankford. The Mets’ Bernard Gilkey hit cutoff man Ordonez who threw out the speedy Clayton at home from his knees from shallow left field. This type of play was the reason the Mets kept him in the lineup every day.
Whether or not he really did save the Mets a run a game, as the myth goes, Ordonez stands out as the best defensive shortstop they’ve ever had. The fact that coaches would specifically tell youngsters not to emulate him is neither here nor there.
Chavez will be remembered by Mets fans for the home run he saved against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The catch would probably have gone down in playoff history as one of the greatest of all time had the Mets not lost that decisive game.
Still, Chavez did more than just make that highlight-reel grab at the wall. In fact, his .998 fielding percentage is the best by any full-time Mets player in the history of the franchise.
Chavez has only made 12 errors in nine seasons in baseball, and he made just one in his three years at the Mets, snapping a 253-game streak. I can’t find the exact game, but I can tell you that it was a fielding error when he was playing in right field where he got most of his starts that season.
Endy is probably the best defensive Mets player in history never to win a Gold Glove for any team, but New York fans remember him fondly for the work he put in at the corner outfield positions.
Beltran patrols the New York outfield as well as any who have gone before him. He has good speed and a decent arm, and he reads the ball off the bat as good as anyone in the game, which is important considering the ground he had to cover in the middle of Shea Stadium and now Citi Field.
Jim Edmonds won the last of his Gold Gloves in 2005, the year Beltran came to the Mets, but since then Beltran has picked up the award in three of the last four seasons. He probably would have had another last year if it wasn’t for injury, but I have no problem with the job Michael Bourn did. He was a deserving winner.
Beltran may not have the arm that he once had, but he is still capable of gunning runners down. His speed allows him to play shallower than a few of his peers which gives him an instant advantage on shallow fly balls, and he has a knack of taking away extra-base hits which may evade other center fielders. Three plays come to mind when I think about Beltran in the outfield.
There was the scary collision he had with Mike Cameron in August 2005 against the Padres when the two outfielders dove for the same sinking line drive off the bat of David Ross. Then there’s the catch he made in 2007, in Houston, to save the game in the bottom of the 14th inning when he ran up Tal’s Hill and made a tumbling grab to deny Luke Scott. Then finally there was the time he robbed Ryan Ludwick of a home run in 2008.
Each memory is different, and I can’t wait to see Beltran back in the outfield.
Since joining the Mets, he has made 16 errors and recorded 35 assists in 662 games. He has also been responsible for starting 11 double plays. His .991 fielding percentage is the best for any Met with at least 400 appearances in the outfield.
I didn’t know a whole lot about Shamsky before I started my slideshow, and I never thought my right fielder would be a part-time utility guy.
But here we are, and he is Art Shamsky. He joined the Mets from Cincinnati in 1968 and immediately became the fourth outfielder behind Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda, and Tommie Agee. He got most of his starts in left field, and he only made one error in 616 innings.
The following season he was moved across to right field where he again made just one mistake fielding the ball in 120 more chances. He platooned with Swoboda and hit .300 against righties, forming a key part of the Mets championship squad.
He also made a handful of starts in left and at first base, proving himself to be a very useful role player and pinch hitter. He had some pop in his bat, and he became increasingly valuable as a left-handed threat off the bench in the late stages of games where he could stay in the game as a defensive replacement.
He got 71 more games in right field over the next two years, making just one error in total before being traded to the Cardinals as part of an eight-player deal.
Shamsky, a member of the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, posted a .993 fielding percentage in 256 total games in the outfield for the Mets over four seasons. As a side note, Shamsky is one of the elite members of the club to hit three home runs in one game…he did it on Aug. 12, 1966 as a member of the Reds.