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If there is one hitter that represented the Mets through most of the 1990s, it would be catcher Todd Hundley. Always viewed as Gary Carter's long-term replacement, Hundley first came up in 1990, but did not start regularly until 1992.
He was originally a light-hitting catcher who possessed good defensive skills. 1992 and 1993 did not show much of Hundley's ultimate potential, as he hit below .230 in both years and did not show a lot of power (7 home runs in 1992, 11 in 1993) as the Mets fell to one of baseball's most underachieving teams those years.
Hundley started to turn the corner in 1994 with a .237 average, 16 home runs and 42 RBI until the strike wiped out the rest of the season. He finished his 1995 season with a career high .280 average, 15 home runs and 51 RBI.
Those numbers, however, may have been deceiving because he missed well over a month that year with a sprained wrist. After 1995, the waiting period for Hundley to blossom was finally over.
1996 showed Hundley adding a new dimension to his game that transformed him from an average catcher to one of baseball's best. As he made his first All-Star team that year, Hundley became a clubhouse leader by hitting a Mets record 41 home runs, while driving in a career high 112 RBI.
His home run total also set a Major League single season record for catchers, which has since been broken. What was interesting about this season was that the vast majority of Hundley's success came against right-handed pitching, as he hit 35 of the 41 homers against righties and also hit .286 against them, in comparison to 6 home runs and just .194 against southpaws.
This was always the case for Hundley, who consistently struggled from the right side. In fact, just 18 of his 124 career home runs as a Met were against lefties.
Thanks to this monstrous season, Hundley was rewarded with a new four year $21 million contract. Hundley followed up his career year with another very solid season in 1997 as he led the Mets to coming within a few games of a playoff berth before a nagging elbow injury he had most of the season became too painful.
Hundley raised his average to .273, hit 30 home runs and drove in 86 RBI as he made another All-Star team.
The other 1996 stars, Bernard Gilkey and Lance Johnson, both struggled and Hundley was the only one of the three to have a successful follow-up season, which raised his legacy above that of a traditional one year wonder.
This year was also tumultuous for Hundley as he clashed with new manager Bobby Valentine over rumors that he was drinking and partying too late at night throughout the year, and as a result, not getting enough rest.
Hundley denied all of this and was very outspoken in the local papers. He ended the year making a cameo appearance on a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Through most of 1998, Hundley had to recover from the elbow injury and watched the Mets trade for Mike Piazza, which infuriated him. Hundley finally returned in July, but this time as a left fielder.
This experiment did not work out well as he played in only 53 games and hit just .161 in that span. In the offseason, the Mets decided to sign Piazza long-term and sent Hundley packing to the Dodgers.
He spent time there and with the Cubs before retiring. In 2007, he was listed on the Mitchell Report, which raised questions as to whether his best years in 1996 and 1997 were tainted by steroid use. Hundley has not addressed the rumors.
Although Hundley only had two strong seasons during his career, he became a fan favorite and team leader, particularly in 1997 when the Mets started contending once again. His eventual loss halfway through that September affected the Mets offense, and that may have been a huge reason why they missed the postseason.
Some may be curious about his supposed steroid use, but Hundley was the Mets' first offensive superstar since Darryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson, and gave the fans one reason to care about the Mets during the mid-1990s. Thus, he should definitely get into the Mets Hall of Fame at some point.