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New York Mets: The Top 10 Hitters Ever

Shale BriskinContributor IIIFebruary 14, 2011

New York Mets: The Top 10 Hitters Ever

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    David Seelig/Getty Images

    Although they have always been overshadowed by the Bronx Bombers, the New York Mets have possessed their fair share of baseball's greatest, especially in recent times.

    The Mets offense struggled during most of the 1960s until it all of a sudden became clutch in 1969, when they won their first World Series.

    The offense was better but still inconsistent during the 1970s. When the Mets won, they were hitting, but during the latter years in which they were a losing team, the hitting was not the same.

    In the 1980s, the Mets were consistently hitting well in what was probably their best offensive decade. The 1990s offense was weak but kept getting stronger each year. After the 2000 season, though, the offense was no longer a force until 2006-2008, when the Mets started contending for the playoffs again.

    As a result, all 10 of the Mets' greatest hitters are from the 1980s to the present day. This is what the list looks like.

Honorable Mentions

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    Todd HundleyOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Deciding on a definitive top 10 was not easy, so it's only fair that some hitters that did not make the cut get acknowledged.

    Bernard Gilkey, Lance Johnson and Todd Hundley all had career seasons in 1996 and set some Mets season records while doing so, but their other seasons in a Mets uniform were not as spectacular (Hundley's 1997 season being an exception).

    Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones were two of the best hitters on the 1969 championship team, but their numbers were simply not good enough to make the cut, despite Jones batting .340 in 1969.

    John Olerud hit .354 in 1998 to set a Mets record, but his Mets stint was unfortunately too short. Carlos Delgado was an offensive force from 2006-2008, but his tenure was a bit too short as well.

    Finally, Dave Kingman was the first genuine Mets slugger, but a low career average and high strikeout totals hurt his case of being one of the team's all-time great overall hitters.

10. Mookie Wilson

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    Mookie WilsonT.G. Higgins/Getty Images

    Mookie Wilson was a staple in the Mets outfield throughout the 1980s. He could bat leadoff, second, fifth or sixth. It did not matter because he got the job done in every spot.

    He played well defensively both in center field and left. He also set a then-team record with 58 stolen bases in 1982.

    Mookie did not hit for the highest average (.276 career) and never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, but his contributions to the Mets' 1986 championship are what Mets fans will forever remember him for.

    Does the phrase 'Game six' ring any bells? It was Wilson who leaped away from Bob Stanley's wild pitch that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run.

    That same at-bat, Wilson was part of arguably the Mets' greatest moment ever. He hit a ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs that allowed Ray Knight to score the winning run and force a Game seven that the Mets ultimately won.

    Mookie returned to the Mets in 1997 to be the first base coach in the Bobby Valentine era and will return to the same post this year.

9. Gary Carter

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    Gary CarterJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The final piece of the Mets' 1986 championship team arrived when Gary Carter was traded from the Montreal Expos to the Mets in 1985.

    Arguably one of the best catchers of his era, and the best Mets catcher before Mike Piazza, Carter gave the Mets the offensive boost they needed with 32 home runs and 100 RBI in 1985.

    He dropped to 24 home runs the following year but still collected 105 RBI and delivered some of the most clutch hits during the 1986 postseason. It was Carter's single that started the Mets' Game 6 rally vs. the Red Sox, and he hit a crucial home run in the deciding Game 7.

    A three-time All-Star, Carter's hitting declined after the World Series, and he had poor seasons in 1988 and 1989 before he got cut loose.

    Defensively, Carter was pretty good and successfully handled one of the best pitching staffs the Mets have ever had. But his clutch hits in 1985 and 1986 are what Mets fans will remember most.

8. Carlos Beltran

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    Carlos BeltranAl Bello/Getty Images

    Carlos Beltran came to the Mets in 2005 and signed the second largest Mets contract ever, behind Johan Santana. After an underachieving year in 2005, Beltran proved why he was one of the best overall players in the game the following year by delivering one of the best seasons ever for a Met.

    Beltran in 2006 hit a respectable .275 with 41 homers, which tied Todd Hundley's team record set in 1996, and 116 RBI with 38 doubles and a .982 OPS. He won his first of three consecutive Gold Gloves and made one spectacular catch after another during that stretch.

    A three-time All-Star, Beltran followed up his career season by hitting .276 with 33 home runs and 112 RBI in 2007 and .284 with 27 home runs and 112 RBI in 2008.

    Although 2009 and 2010 were marred by knee injuries for Beltran, his Mets career has become one of the best ever for a Mets outfielder. Hopefully his tenure here will end on a good note.

7. Jose Reyes

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    Jose ReyesJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Jose Reyes has become arguably the greatest shortstop the Mets have had, which says a lot for what the 27-year-old has done so far.

    Reyes first came up in 2003 and showed promise on a very underachieving team. In 2004, Reyes was shifted to second base when Kaz Matsui arrived, which proved to be a big mistake. To add injury to insult, he only appeared in 53 games due to injuries.

    The next year, Reyes moved back to shortstop and put together his first good season by stealing 60 bases and giving the Mets the leadoff hitter they had missed since the brief tenure of Lance Johnson.

    Reyes had his best year in 2006, hitting .300 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI, all of which were career highs. He made his first of three All-Star appearances and was a key cog in the Mets' 2006 postseason run.

    Reyes followed up with more success in 2007 and 2008, including setting a new Mets record with 78 stolen bases in 2007. In 2008, he led the league in hits with 204.

    The last two seasons for Reyes have, like Beltran, been marred by injuries, but Reyes is now bound to have a bounce-back year in 2011.

6. Edgardo Alfonzo

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    Edgardo AlfonzoEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Edgardo Alfonzo may not have had the limelight of Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura or John Franco, but the Mets' success in the late 1990s and early 2000s would not have been the same without the Fonz.

    Alfonzo was originally a third baseman that played shortstop and second base occasionally but eventually became the Mets' greatest second baseman, which says a lot about their history at that position, before moving back to third in 2002.

    Fonzie broke into the majors in 1995 as a utility infielder and became the starting third baseman in 1997 once Butch Huskey was permanently moved to the outfield. Alfonzo hit .315 that year, which led the team, and followed up by hitting 17 home runs with 78 RBI in 1998 while successfully manning the hot corner.

    In 1999, Alfonzo shifted to second base when Ventura arrived and went on to have his best season. He set career highs with 27 home runs and 108 RBI and won his first and only Silver Slugger Award. He also had many clutch hits and set a Mets record by going 6-for-6 with three home runs and scoring six runs in a game against the Astros. He even appeared on a Sports Illustrated cover as part of the "Best Infield Ever."

    In 2000, Fonzie set a career high with a .324 average to go along with 25 home runs and 94 RBI. He made his only All-Star team that year and was clutch once again in the postseason.

    Alfonzo's last two Mets years were mediocre, and he signed with the Giants in 2003. He has still been playing ball through 2010 and has reportedly stated that he wants to retire as a Met. Only time will tell whether he gets that opportunity, but regardless, the Fonz will always be a fan favorite for his everyday hustle and clutch hits.

5. Howard Johnson

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    Howard JohnsonScott Halleran/Getty Images

    HoJo is one of the greatest of many third basemen in Mets history, which goes to show the difficulties the Mets have had in finding a long-term fixture at the position.

    It was HoJo that finally broke the curse that has now led to third base being a premier Mets position (Alfonzo, Ventura, David Wright, etc.).

    HoJo came to the Mets in 1984 from the Tigers and became a cog in the Mets lineup for years to come. The one year he did not play regularly was in 1986, when he platooned with Ray Knight. While Knight had much success that year, HoJo went on to have the better career as a Met.

    His first great season was 1987, when he hit .265 with 36 homers and 99 RBI. He then went on a pattern of hitting very well during an odd year and mediocre in an even year.

    HoJo's 1989 season was even better than '87. He raised his average to .287, hit another 36 homers with 101 RBI, made his first All-Star team and won his first Silver Slugger Award that year. HoJo found similar success in 1991, which was his career year. Although his average slipped to .259, HoJo set career highs with 38 home runs and 117 RBI, won another Silver Slugger Award and made his second All-Star team. In those two years, he set various Mets records that have since been broken.

    The rest of his Mets years were dismal, but during his time, HoJo set the standard at the hot corner that another third baseman would one day cross.

4. David Wright

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    David WrightAl Bello/Getty Images

    That one third baseman would be David Wright, the current face of the franchise and a five-tool player that may one day become the best Mets position player. The fact that he is No. 4 on this list at just 28 is remarkable in itself.

    A highly-touted prospect, Wright got called up to the Mets in July of 2004 and hit 14 home runs in just 263 at-bats. That season, Mets fans realized that their third baseman of the future was here.

    In 2005, Wright batted .306 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI and followed up in 2006 with a .311 average, 26 home runs and 116 RBI. He made his first of five consecutive All-Star appearances that year but struggled in the second half of that season.

    Wright did not elevate himself as one of baseball's best players until 2007, when he set a career high by hitting .325 to go along with 30 home runs, 107 RBI and 34 stolen bases. He became only the third Met to have 30 home runs and 30 steals in a season (HoJo and Darryl Strawberry were the others). He also won the first of two straight Gold Gloves that year.

    In 2008, Wright hit .302 and set career highs with 33 home runs and 124 RBI, which tied the Mets record set by Mike Piazza in 1999. At this point, he became viewed as one of the best overall hitters in all of baseball.

    Although 2009 was a disappointing season for Wright (10 home runs, 72 RBI), he still hit .307 to make it five straight seasons of hitting above .300, and he bounced back in 2010 with 29 home runs and 103 RBI, though he set a career low with a .283 average and raised his strikeouts to 161.

    Already in the top five of many Mets career records, Wright will hopefully remain a Met throughout his career and may retire with many records bearing his name.

3. Keith Hernandez

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    Keith HernandezStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Mets' best at first, Keith Hernandez came to New York in a trade that gave Mets fans hope that success was right around the corner. A former co-MVP, Hernandez became the heart and soul of the lineup, as well as a clubhouse leader during the 1980s.

    His first full season in 1984 would be his best as a Met. He hit .311 with 15 home runs and 94 RBI and won his second Silver Slugger Award and the first of six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mets. He finished with 11 consecutive Gold Gloves through his career.

    Hernandez's 1985 and 1986 seasons were also solid, as he hit over .300 in both and had a .413 OBP during the 1986 championship season. Hernandez's 1987 season would be his last great year, as he hit .290 with a career-high 18 home runs and 89 RBI. He declined in 1988 and 1989 and signed with the Indians for the 1990 season before retiring.

    Mex is currently one of the Mets' beloved announcers and will always be a fan favorite and remembered for being the glue of the Mets in the 1980s.

2. Darryl Strawberry

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    Darryl StrawberryT.G. Higgins/Getty Images

    Darryl Strawberry is without question the greatest hitter the Mets have ever drafted.

    A rare blend of power and speed, Straw lived up to his billing when he arrived in 1983 and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award that year. He averaged over 31 home runs and over 91 RBI a year between 1983-1990 and made the NL All-Star team in seven of those years.

    He was the cleanup hitter in a formidable Mets lineup throughout his tenure and was one of the leaders behind the 1986 championship season. Straw left the Mets after the 1990 season and spent the next decade with the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees before retiring.

    Due to his eventual legal issues, many fans question whether Strawberry's overall legacy would have been better if he had not been deterred by drugs, but it's no secret that his Mets legacy is good as it ever will be for any Mets hitter. The only question Mets fans may be concerned with is whether Strawberry could have had even more successful seasons in Queens had he not decided to become a free agent after 1990. Those early 1990s teams certainly could have used his bat.

    Straw is the all-time Mets leader in home runs, RBI and runs scored, fourth in stolen bases and second in total bases. If Straw's résumé does not make him one of the greatest Mets hitters ever, then honestly, what does?

1. Mike Piazza

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    Mike PiazzaAl Bello/Getty Images

    Many fans may argue that because of the numbers he put up as a Met, Darryl Strawberry should be considered the team's greatest hitter. However, Straw's overall legacy is not at the level of Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history.

    Already with a reputation as one of the game's most feared power hitters, Piazza came to New York in 1998 when the Mets were in dire need of a catcher while Todd Hundley was hurt. They got all that and a lot more.

    Teammates welcomed him with open arms. John Franco gave up his No. 31 for Piazza and moved to No. 45. Hundley became an outfielder when he returned so Piazza could remain the catcher.

    After a solid 1998 season, Piazza signed a seven-year, $91 million deal with the Mets, which instantly transformed the Mets into dangerous contenders. Piazza continued to produce during his prime and hit .303 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI in 1999, as he led the Mets to their first postseason since 1988. The RBI total set a new Mets record.

    He followed that up with an even better season in 2000, hitting .324 with 38 home runs and 113 RBI. He led the team to its first World Series since 1986, and Piazza certainly did his part during those two postseasons by hitting clutch home runs and being the one feared hitter the Mets had at the time.

    Piazza had two more great seasons in 2001 and 2002 before injuries and his knees in particular began to affect his playing. He missed most of the 2003 season with a groin injury and played half of 2004 as a first baseman, which did not turn out as well as the Mets had hoped.

    His last year in 2005 was bittersweet because he was such a fan favorite, but the fans also knew that he would not be the feared hitter he was ever again, and Piazza spent his last two seasons in San Diego and Oakland, respectively, before retiring.

    Countless home runs and clutch hits will forever remain etched in the minds of Mets fans that were fortunate enough to watch him play, none more significant than the home run he hit against the Braves in 2001 during the first sports game in New York after 9/11.

    Another reason Piazza should be considered the Mets' greatest hitter is because the team depicted him as that when he caught the last pitch at Shea Stadium and the first at Citi Field, both of which thrown by Tom Seaver, the Mets' greatest pitcher and overall player.

    A soon-to-be Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza transformed the Mets from underachievers into successful contenders when he arrived in New York, and his Mets legacy will be second to none.

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