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Baseball whiffs on Mets’ ‘Franchise Four’ ballot, disses Koosman

Tom Seaver was unquestionably greatest pitcher in Mets history.

Jerry Koosman

Jerry Koosman


Major League Baseball announced last week that the winners of the “Franchise Four” vote for the four greatest Mets were Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez and David Wright.

These type of contests are devised to cause arguments, and one could certainly make a case for Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry to be on that  list. Gary Carter and John Franco were the other names on the ballot. Carter, a Hall of Famer (whose plaque depicts him in an Expos cap) whose acquisition before 1985 is credited with putting the Mets over the top in their quest for a World Championship, only had three good years as a Met, which worked against him.

And Franco, well, he shouldn’t have even been on the ballot. Other than longevity, and one signature moment (striking out Barry Bonds to end Game 2 of the NLDS), Franco’s 15 years with the franchise were mostly devoid of special accomplishments. He was a serviceable, but never great, closer who rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way in 1997 when he ostracized starting pitcher Rick Reed in the clubhouse because Reed had crossed the picket lines as a replacement player two years earlier, reportedly because Reed, a West Virginia native, had indigent family members he wanted to help.

Instead of John Franco, arguably only the third best relief pitcher in franchise history (Tug McGraw and Jesse Orosco were better, and both were key parts of World Championship pitching staffs), Jerry Koosman’s name should have been the eighth one on the Mets’ ballot.

After Seaver, the greatest player ever the Mets ever had, and Gooden, Koosman was the third-best starting pitcher in franchise history. The lefty finished his career with 222 victories, had a career 3.36 ERA in 3,839 innings over a distinguished 19-year career and was 4-0 for the Mets in the post-season. Koosman was 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA in World Series games, and he was on the mound for the last out in the most important game in franchise history–the clinching Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, when Koosman beat the Orioles, 5-3, with a complete-game five-hitter, closing out the game with six shutout innings after the O’s score all their runs in the third inning.

Koosman pitched 12 seasons for the Mets, the most of any starting pitcher the team ever had, and his Met career included seasons in which he went 19-12, 17-9, 15-11, 14-13 and 21-10. He pitched more than 200 innings in nine of those seasons with the Mets. How does a resume like that not merit inclusion on the ballot?

There is also this famous anecdote: In 1969, the Mets had closed to within 2 1/2 games of the Cubs for the National League East lead when the two teams met at Shea Stadium on September 8.  In the bottom of the first, Cubs pitcher Bill Hands threw his first pitch at the head of Mets leadoff hitter Tommie Agee. Hands was a sinkerball pitcher with excellent control, so the Mets were pretty certain the pitch had a purpose. In the top of the second inning, Koosman, to send a message that 1) he had his teammate’s back and 2) that the oncoming Mets weren’t about to be intimidated, faced Cubs All-Star third baseman Ron Santo to lead off the inning, and Koosman fired up and in and nailed Santo in the wrist.

Message received. Agee hit a two-run homer and a double in that game. Koosman struck out 13 batters and the Mets won that game, 3-2, and went on to win their next eight in a row to pass the Cubs and win the pennant.

And in 1973, when the Mets rose from last place in August to first place at the end of the season before falling a game short of beating the Oakland A’s in the World Series, Koosman had a stretch bridging August and September in which he went 34 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.

Tom Seaver was unquestionably the greatest pitcher in Mets history.

But if the Mets had a critical game they had to win, there was no greater pitcher in a big game than Jerry Koosman.

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