New York Mets: The 1980s All-Decade Team

Shale BriskinContributor IIIOctober 11, 2011

New York Mets: The 1980s All-Decade Team

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    As the 1980s began, the Mets were still one of the most underachieving teams in all of baseball. The team remained this way through 1983, but then, all of a sudden, the Mets began their longest streak of success from 1984 through the rest of the decade.

    Many factors helped turn the Mets around beginning in 1984. Key acquisitions, as well as the promotion of manager Davey Johnson, helped bring the team to another level. After two straight solid seasons that ended with a second-place finish, the Mets not only won the NL East in 1986, but they went all the way to win the World Series for only the second time in franchise history.

    The Mets had been expected to start a dynasty with all the talent they had, but they would end up falling short in each of the next three seasons before the 1980s came to an end, including a heartbreaking loss to the Dodgers in the 1988 NLCS.

    Despite all the success and failures of the Mets in the 1980s, they had by far their best and most talented group of players from any decade in franchise history. Here are the players that make up the Mets' 1980s All-Decade Team.

Catcher: Gary Carter

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    At the end of the 1984 season, the Mets already had a very solid team who was capable of winning a World Series. However, Mets GM Frank Cashen had one more move to make. He needed a popular and reliable catcher to help the pitching staff and boost the lineup. Perennial All-Star catcher Gary Carter fit the bill.

    Carter arrived with the Mets in 1985 and made his presence felt on Opening Day. That day, he hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning off of former Met Neil Allen. Carter was one of the Mets' best hitters that year, as he finished with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. He even finished in sixth place for the 1985 NL MVP voting.

    He followed this up with 24 home runs and 105 RBI in 1986 as the Mets won the World Series that year. In the postseason, Carter was the one who started the famous World Series Game 6 rally with a two-out single.

    After his numbers slipped a bit in 1987, Carter declined significantly in 1988 and 1989 before getting released after the 1989 season. At that point, Carter was near the end of his career, and he retired after the 1992 season. Nonetheless, he is still by far the greatest catcher the Mets had in the 1980s and the best in team history before Mike Piazza arrived in 1998.

First Baseman: Keith Hernandez

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    One of the biggest and most successful trades in Mets history occurred when the team acquired Keith Hernandez midway through the 1983 season. Although the Mets did not play too well overall that year, the team became more successful for the rest of the decade starting in 1984.

    As soon as he arrived in New York, Hernandez became a team leader, and it was no surprise that he became the first official captain in team history. Hernandez was always known for his amazing defense, as he won 11 Gold Glove Awards during his career, including six consecutive awards with the Mets from 1983-1988.

    Unlike most first basemen, Hernandez did not possess a ton of power, but he was still a reliable No. 3 hitter in the Mets' lineup. His steady hitting also helped him finish in second place to Ryne Sandberg in the 1984 NL MVP voting. He hit well from 1985-1987, before he began to decline in 1988. He spent parts of 1988 and 1989 on the disabled list before moving onto the Indians in 1990. He then retired after spending just one season there.

    For the past decade, Hernandez has been one of the Mets' primary announcers and has done a wonderful job with it.

Second Base: Wally Backman

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    The scrappy Wally Backman was one of the Mets' energizers during the 1980s, and he is definitely one of the best second basemen the Mets have ever had.

    From his initial call-up in 1980 through 1983, Backman had shifted back and forth between the major and minor leagues before finally landing an everyday job in 1984, largely thanks to Davey Johnson getting promoted as the new manager.

    Backman immediately became a fan favorite with his hard work and hustle. He played well at second base, and offensively, he got on base and racked up a good number of stolen bases as well, including 32 in 1984 and 30 in 1985. Eventually, though, the switch-hitting Backman became part of a second-base platoon, mostly with the right-handed hitting Tim Teufel. Backman had always struggled mightily from the right side of the plate, and because of this, Teufel would get most of the starts whenever the opposition had a left-handed pitcher starting.

    In 1986, Backman batted a career high .320 as he helped the Mets win the World Series. He stayed with the team until 1989, when he got traded to the Twins shortly after the 1988 season ended. He has most recently worked in the Mets' minor league system as the manager of the AA affiliate.

Shortstop: Rafael Santana

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    The Mets' shortstops of the 1980s were certainly not some of the most well-known players around baseball, but if anyone had some sort of impact on the Mets, it would be Rafael Santana, the Mets' primary shortstop from 1984-1987.

    A member of the 1986 championship team, Santana was never known for his hitting and almost exclusively batted in the No. 8 spot. However, he provided steady defense from shortstop, and this became evident during the 1986 postseason as he set new NLCS records for most putouts (13), assists (18) and accepted changes (31) for a shortstop in a six-game series.

    Santana's best offensive season with the Mets would prove to be in 1987, as he hit five home runs and drove in 44 RBI that year. After that season, though, he was traded to the crosstown Yankees. He ended up retiring in 1990 at just 32 years old.

Third Base: Howard Johnson

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    Ray Knight may have been the 1986 World Series hero, but his accomplishments among Mets third basemen in the 1980s is second to Howard Johnson, Knight's full-time successor from 1987-1993.

    Johnson was acquired prior to the 1985 season and immediately got platooned at third base with Knight. In 1986, Johnson struggled at the plate, which led to more playing time for Knight. However, after the season, Knight did not get re-signed after the Mets refused to commit to a multi-year contract for his services. As a result, Johnson became the everyday third baseman, and he certainly made the most of it.

    In 1987, Johnson broke out in a big way. He hit 36 home runs and drove in 99 RBI that year to lead the Mets to a second-place finish in the NL East. He also had 32 stolen bases as he and Darryl Strawberry became the first two Mets to ever hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 30 bases in the same season.

    Johnson didn't find the same success in 1988 but had one of his two career seasons in 1989, as he batted .287 with 41 doubles, 36 home runs and 101 RBI that year. He also had a career-high 41 stolen bases, 104 runs scored and a .559 slugging percentage. As a result, Johnson won his first Silver Slugger award.

    Johnson continued his success in the early 1990s, as he established himself as one of the greatest third basemen to ever wear a Mets uniform.

Left Field: Kevin McReynolds

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    Kevin McReynolds was not the biggest fan favorite within the Mets, but in the late 1980s, he was definitely one of the best hitters in the league.

    McReynolds was acquired in 1987 and immediately got the everyday left field job. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 95 RBI in his first season as a Met. He was even better in 1988, as he finished in third place for the NL MVP voting behind teammate Darryl Strawberry and winner Kirk Gibson. He batted .288 and finished with 27 home runs and 99 RBI that year.

    McReynolds had another solid season in 1989, as both Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson were traded away that season. He also became the fifth Met to ever hit for the cycle on August 1.

Center Field: Mookie Wilson

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    One member of the Mets' offensive core throughout the 1980s was Mookie Wilson.

    Mookie was a regular in the Mets lineup during the entire decade. He played well in both left field and center field. He also became the Mets' best stolen base threat at the time, especially in 1982, when he stole a career high 58 bases.

    However, he saved his best moments for the postseason. Although he batted just .115 in the NLCS and .269 in the World Series, Wilson's biggest moment also turned out to be one of the biggest moments in Mets history. 

    In Game 6, it was Wilson who had to leap 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 7 that the Mets ultimately won.

    As a result, Wilson became a World Series hero for Mets fans everywhere.

Right Field: Darryl Strawberry

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    Rounding out the outfield is perhaps the greatest hitter the Mets have ever had: Darryl Strawberry.

    Ever since he stepped on the scene in 1983, Strawberry became the start hitter the Mets had been craving for. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award that year and became a staple in right field.

    Strawberry had some very good seasons in 1984, 1985 and 1986, before taking his game to another level in 1987. He set career highs that year with a .284 average, 39 home runs, 104 RBI, 32 doubles, and 36 stolen bases. He also had a career high .398 OBP and .583 slugging percentage. He and teammate Howard Johnson became the first teammates from a single year to hit over 30 home runs and steal over 30 bases.

    A year later, in 1988, Strawberry batted .269 with 39 home runs, 101 RBI, 29 stolen bases and a league leading .545 slugging percentage. He also finished a close second place in the NL MVP voting behind Kirk Gibson and ahead of teammate Kevin McReynolds.

    Strawberry's numbers fell off a bit in 1989, but by then, he had already established himself as one of the best hitters in the league during the 1980s. Strawberry chose not to sign with the Mets after the 1990 season, which would become something he and his career would regret.

The Bench

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    John Stearns

    Although he spent more time on the disabled list in the 1980s than he had wanted to, John Stearns was still the second best catcher the Mets had during the decade. He hit well, though, when he was healthy and always gave the fans a show whenever he lost his temper.


    Dave Kingman

    During his second stint with the Mets from 1981-1983, Kingman brought the same style of play with him that Mets fans saw in the 1970s. Most of his at-bats ended with either a strikeout or a home run. But when he got a pitch in his wheelhouse, he would crush them a mile. In 1982, he tied his Mets' single season record with 37 home runs. He also had 99 RBI that year.


    Rusty Staub

    Perhaps the best pinch-hitter the Mets ever had, Rusty Staub was a reliable part-time player during his own second stint with the Mets. In 1983, he tied a NL record with consecutive hits as a pinch-hitter. In the same year, he also tied the MLB record for most RBI as a pinch-hitter with 25.


    Lenny Dykstra

    One of the best leadoff hitters in Mets history, Lenny Dykstra was certainly a cog at the top of the Mets' lineup from 1985-1988. He stole 31 bases in 1986, 27 in 1987 and 30 in 1988. In the 1986 World Series, he hit two clutch home runs as he helped the Mets win it all that year.


    Ray Knight

    Last, but not least, Ray Knight was a great hitter that the Mets had, even though his time in New York was shorter than everyone had wished. Knight took over the majority of playing time at third base in 1986 and made the most of it by leading the Mets offense in the postseason en route to winning World Series MVP honors.

Starting Rotation

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    Dwight Gooden

    The No. 1 pitching star for the Mets in the 1980s was without question Dwight Gooden. Gooden broke into the majors in 1984 at just 19 years old.

    He won the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year award and then won the NL Cy Young award in 1985 by having one of the greatest single seasons ever for a pitcher. Gooden won the pitching Triple Crown by going 24-4 with a remarkable 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. He is still the youngest pitcher to ever win a Cy Young award.

    Gooden pitched well again in 1986 and helped lead the Mets to a World Series championship. He missed part of 1987 thanks to drug rehab but came back and delivered another good season. He bounced back to go 18-9 in 1988 before missing part of the 1989 season with a shoulder tear.


    Ron Darling

    If Gooden was the "Batman" of the Mets' pitching staff, Ron Darling would have been the "Robin." Darling was always overshadowed by Gooden, but his numbers were always comparable, if not as good as Gooden's number every season from 1984-1990.

    Darling also pitched well during the 1986 World Series as he had a 14-inning scoreless streak during the postseason. 

    After a poor second half in 1987 that culminated with him getting hurt in late September, Darling bounced back in 1988 and won a career high 17 games. However, he struggled during the 1988 NLCS, especially in the decisive Game 7. Darling's 1989 season was inconsistent, but he became the first Mets pitcher to win a Gold Glove Award that year.


    Bob Ojeda

    One of the biggest acquisitions the Mets made prior to the 1986 season was acquiring Bob Ojeda from the Red Sox. Ojeda won 18 games in 1986. He pitched well for most of the postseason and was the starter in Game 6 of the memorable NLCS against the Astros. He also pitched very well in Game 3 of the World Series to give the Mets some momentum after being down in the series 2-0.  

    Unfortunately for Ojeda and the Mets, the rest of his Mets tenure would not live to his pitching in 1986. He missed half of 1987 with an elbow injury before bouncing back with a 10-13 record and a 2.88 ERA in 1988. However, he accidentally sliced off the tip of one of his fingers with electric hedge trimmers and missed all of the 1988 postseason.

    Ojeda then went 13-11 in 1989 in what would be the last quality season of his career.


    Sid Fernandez

    Another solid southpaw the Mets were fortunate to have was Sid Fernandez. Unlike Ojeda, Fernandez was a power pitcher who racked up one strikeout after another. His breakout year was in 1986 when he went 16-6. That year, he started his familiar trend of pitching much better at Shea Stadium than on the road.  

    Fernandez then had two more solid seasons in 1987 and 1988 before having a career season in 1989. He went 14-5 with a 2.83 ERA that year. He also set a Mets record by striking out 16 batters in a game, which is the most by a left-handed pitcher in team history.


    David Cone

    Rounding out the rotation is David Cone, who was the newest and youngest member of the Mets' core when he was acquired in 1987. He did not pitch too much that year, but had a huge breakout season in 1988 when he was inserted into the rotation.

    He went 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA and 213 strikeouts that year and ended up finishing in third place for the 1988 NL Cy Young Award voting. In the 1988 postseason, Cone struggled in Game 2 of the NLCS, but bounced back to pitch a complete game in Game 6.

    Cone had another strong season in 1989 by going 14-8 with a 3.52 ERA and 190 strikeouts.


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    Right-Handed Reliever: Roger McDowell

    Roger McDowell was a notorious prankster during his time with the Mets, but when he wasn't lighting a "Hot Foot" on the cleats of a teammate, he was a dominant reliever in the late innings. In 1986, McDowell won 14 games out of the bullpen and pitched very well during the postseason that year.

    He pitched well in 1987 and 1988 as well, before all of a sudden getting traded to the Phillies in 1989. As if sending Lenny Dykstra there was a bad idea, the Mets gave them McDowell too. 


    Left-Handed Reliever: Jesse Orosco

    Jesse Orosco was the Mets' late inning left-handed counterpart to Roger McDowell. He won 13 games in relief in 1983 before saving a career high 31 games in 1984. After pairing up with McDowell beginning in 1985, Orosco didn't close out every game anymore, but he still pitched well in 1985 and 1986.

    In the 1986 postseason, Orosco won three games in relief before saving two crucial games in the World Series, including the decisive Game 7 that saw him fling his glove in the air in celebration. After stumbling a bit in 1987, Orosco got traded in the offseason to the Dodgers. He then continued a long career that lasted through 2003.

Manager: Davey Johnson

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    Arguably the greatest Mets manager, Davey Johnson took over an underachieving team in 1984 and led the Mets to their greatest seven-year run in team history through 1990. During that stretch, the Mets won a World Series championship, two NL East titles and never finished below second place in the NL East.

    In 1984, Johnson led the Mets to their first winning season since 1976. The team finished with a 90-72 record. That year, he called up a few key cogs, such as Dwight Gooden and Wally Backman.

    In 1985, the Mets finished in second place once again and were in a very close race with the Cardinals throughout the season. The Mets' record that year was 98-64. Gooden won the Cy Young Award that year, while Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter led a powerful offense.

    A year later, in 1986, the pieces finally came together, and the Mets not only ran away with the NL East title that year, but went all the way to win the World Series. Johnson that year kept the team loose, which definitely helped them stay focused and playing winning baseball at all times.

    Unfortunately, the Mets did not get back to the playoffs in 1987 as the Cardinals edged the Mets once again. The Mets that year had to deal with various injuries, but Strawberry and Howard Johnson also grew tremendously as players.

    In 1988, the Mets got back to the playoffs, but got upset in the NLCS to the eventual World Champion Dodgers. Strawberry and McReynolds carried the offense that year, while David Cone made his presence felt with a 20-3 season on the mound.

    In 1989, the Mets finished second to the Cubs, but they still did pretty well despite all the poor trades that were made that year.

    All in all, Davey Johnson led the Mets into the franchise's greatest seven-year stretch and should be considered the best Mets manager ever for doing that. He was properly honored in 2010 when he got inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame.

General Manager: Frank Cashen

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    It should come as no surprise that the best manager in Mets history was hired by the best general manager in team history. That general manager would be Frank Cashen, the architect of the Mets' 1980s success.

    Cashen began his tenure by drafting Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden in consecutive seasons. Both would win a NL Rookie of the Year award and both led the Mets to one winning season after another in the middle and late 1980s. He also brought Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, and later Tom Seaver back to New York for their second stints with the team.

    One of the best trades Cashen made was rather unpopular at the time. The popular Lee Mazzilli was dealt to the Rangers in 1982 for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. Darling became one of the most dependable starters for the rest of the decade, while Terrell did well during his shorter tenure.

    In June of 1983, Cashen pulled off perhaps the best trade in Mets history when he traded Neil Allen to the Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez. Hernandez became a team leader and helped lead the Mets to success while providing Gold Glove-caliber defense each and every year.

    Cashen traded for Sid Fernandez after the 1983 season and then promoted Davey Johnson as the Mets' new manager, which was a turning point, because once Johnson became the manager, the Mets started winning in every season during his long tenure.

    Cashen also stocked up on productive third basemen by trading for Ray Knight in 1984 and Howard Johnson in the 1984-1985 offseason.

    But then, in that 1984-1985 offseason, Cashen traded for the final piece to the Mets' World Championship offense by acquiring All-Star catcher Gary Carter from the Expos.

    A year later, he traded for Bob Ojeda and Tim Teufel, who both contributed positively to the Mets.

    During the 1986 season, Cashen made one more critical move by signing Lee Mazzilli to add depth to the Mets' bench.

    After the Mets won the 1986 World Series, Cashen made the team even better by acquiring David Cone and Kevin McReynolds in the following offseason. However, those would be the last successful trades that Cashen made as the Mets' general manager.

    From that point on, Cashen all of a sudden started to make a few surprising moves by trading away players like Lenny Dysktra, Roger McDowell, Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman.

    By then, the Mets had begun to decline even in 1989 and Cashen's later moves really showed when the Mets began to struggle in 1991. Nonetheless, what he did to save the team before then is good enough for him to be considered the best general manager in Mets history. He was honored for this in 2010 when he got inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame.