Jason Bay: Destined to Be Another Mets Bust?
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Jason Bay had a very underachieving 2010 with the New York Mets.
So much so, in fact, that his first season in the Big Apple has me comparing him to a few other Mets outfielders who've signed lucrative contracts and underachieved in their first seasons in New York.
Carlos Beltran is the first player who comes to mind, as he had a down year in his first Mets season in 2005 before having a career season one year later, but Beltran is an easy comparison that just about every fan is all too familiar with.
Another former Mets outfielder who Bay could also draw comparisons to if he does not hit like he did in Pittsburgh and Boston is George Foster.
As a formidable hitter for the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, Foster made the NL All-Star team five times between 1976-1981 and won the 1977 NL MVP, hitting 52 home runs and driving in 149 RBI that year.
He became the first player to hit over 50 home runs in a season since Willie Mays hit 52 in 1965. No player hit 50 home runs in a season again until Cecil Fielder did it in 1990.
And this was only a few years after Foster was given an everyday job in left field.
He followed up his MVP season with 40 home runs and 120 RBI in 1978. At that point, Foster was viewed as one of the best hitters in all of baseball and a definite future Hall- of-Famer.
He was a big reason that the Big Red Machine won the World Series in 1975 and 1976 and was arguably the best National League team throughout the decade.
Foster's numbers declined slightly after 1978, but he still tallied over 90 RBI in each season. The Reds then decided to trade Foster to the Mets a few months before the 1982 season, which turned out to be a very smart move on their part.
New York had high expectations for Foster to carry the struggling Mets offense to success in 1982, and immediately signed him to a five-year, $10 million contract.
The team needed something to propel them to more victories as they hadn't had a winning season since 1976. With the speedy Mookie Wilson at the top of the order, Foster was expected to drive in many runs and become the feared hitter they needed.
What the Mets got out of Foster that year, though, was far below anything anyone expected.
Foster hit just .247 with only 13 home runs and 70 RBI. He was the one of the biggest subjects of yet another underachieving Mets season. Foster was constantly booed by fans and was not the leader the Mets paid a then-record $10 million dollars for.
In 1983, Foster improved to 28 home runs and 90 RBI, but he batted just .241. These numbers were nice, but Mets fans were expecting an annual repeat of the 1977 MVP season.
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It never occurred.
However, with a young Darryl Strawberry, another MVP in Keith Hernandez and an up-and-coming rotation, the Mets were improving, and Foster was still viewed as a veteran leader due to his past accomplishments.
Foster raised his batting average in 1984 to .269, the highest it ever got during his Mets tenure, but he hit just 24 home runs and only drove in 86 RBI, still failing to reach expectations.
In 1985, Foster saw reduced playing time with the arrival of Lenny Dykstra, and put up similar numbers (.263 average, 21 home runs, 77 RBI) as it became obvious his career was on its last legs.
One year later, Foster became a fourth outfielder for most of the season and was not happy with the new role. His only highlight of his 1986 season was his less-than-decent rapping abilities in "Get Metsmerized."
In the song, he rapped about how the team was going to win the World Series that year. It turned out that Foster was correct, but by that time he was no longer a part of the team as he finally got released in August.
He then played with the White Sox for a month before getting released again.
All in all, George Foster was acquired by the Mets to transform them into a winning team. The club's ultimate goal actually occurred, but Foster was an afterthought by the time the Mets won the World Series in 1986.
It was hitters like Strawberry, Hernandez, Wilson, Dykstra, Gary Carter and Ray Knight that propelled the Mets into a powerhouse offense that went along perfectly with their young and established rotation.
There have been plenty of big busts in Mets history, but if Foster is not the biggest one, he's definitely one of them.
It could very well happen that Jason Bay turns into Foster's second coming and fails to produce with the Mets like he did for years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and in 2009 with the Boston Red Sox.
He hit just six home runs and drove in only 47 RBI in his first Mets season last year, but it was obvious that he was completely lost at the plate. Whether it was the Citi Field factor or difficulties in readjusting to National League pitching, Bay had a miserable season.
To add injury to insult, he suffered a concussion in Los Angeles a couple weeks after the All-Star break, which ended his season.
Apparently, he's been working hard to get back to the hitter he used to be. Only time will tell whether he turns his career around like Beltran did in 2006, or turns into yet another big bust in Mets history like George Foster.
Who knows? Maybe the Mets will win another World Series near the end of Bay's four-year contract and Bay will be an afterthought like Foster was in 1986.
Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated wrote that Bay would follow Foster's footsteps and become a high-priced bust for the Mets before the 2010 season even started. His thinking could definitely be correct, just like it was for the Reds in the 1980s when they decided to let go of Foster.
But hopefully, for the sake of the Mets and their fans, Bay will bounce back, have a great season this year and reestablish himself as one of baseball's best hitters.
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