The Mets’ Five Greatest Hitters
Darryl Strawberry (1983-90)
The slugging prodigy from the mean streets of south-central Los Angeles was all but tagged The Chosen One when signed by the Mets, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a can’t-miss prospect. At first, Strawberry appeared on the path to fulfilling such expectations by winning the National League’s Rookie of the Year award at age 21 in 1983 with his first of nine straight years belting 26 or more home runs. And although he emerged as the first genuine star hitter for a franchise that previously relied solely on top pitching, his path to superstardom ran right off the cliff, dragged down a dark abyss filled with numerous bouts of substance abuse and run-ins with the law.
Tall, slender but powerful, the left-handed hitting Strawberry disappointed on the field only with a batting average that rarely climbed above the .270 mark. But he walked often to build up his on-base percentage and more than occasionally was on the run to steal a base; three years before Jose Canseco became baseball’s first 40-40 player (40 home runs and 40 steals in the same year), Strawberry nearly did it himself—but missed nearly a third of the year to a thumb injury that kept his totals to 29 homers and 26 steals. In 1987, he barely missed 40-40 again, finishing with 39 blasts and 36 swipes (both career highs). A year later, he hit 39 jacks again and finished second in the NL MVP vote. His star power was such that he was named to the All-Star Game every year with the Mets except for his rookie season; his 252 home runs with New York remains the franchise high.
A free agent after the 1990 season, Strawberry came home and signed with the Dodgers, but soon the weight of his personal issues became too burdensome and collapsed upon him, struggling just to put up part-time numbers over the remaining eight years of his career. He became a walking mess, delving into alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, tax woes, depression and spousal abuse; a bout with colon cancer in 1999 only complicated matters. Strawberry’s life became so bad that he once told a judge that he seriously contemplated suicide.
The final years of Strawberry’s career were spent in relative peace with the high-flying New York Yankees of the 1990s, a time when many ex-Mets stars (including fellow problem child Dwight Gooden) drew their last, fleeting breaths of greatness on a ballfield. Strawberry’s own flashes of brilliance with the Yankees included three home runs in the 1996 ALCS and 24 home runs in 295 at-bats during the team’s juggernaut (114-48) 1998 campaign.
Howard Johnson (1985-93)
After five years spent in the majors struggling with part-time playing roles, subpar averages and fair power, the switch-hitting Johnson lucked into the everyday third base job at New York when incumbent Ray Knight left for bigger bucks, and produced a stunning breakout performance—starting a five-year ride in which he would become one of the NL’s preeminent sluggers, tagging 157 homers with 475 RBIs and 160 steals.
As Johnson belted 36 homers during the 1987 season after averaging only eight over his previous five years, skeptical opponents tried to prove there was more to his sudden power surge than met the eye. He became the poster child for the gamesmanship fad of the year by having his bat routinely confiscated and checked for cork after planting the ball over the fence; never did any of his sticks test positive for such illegal substances. Johnson further surprised by swiping 32 bags, becoming part of the first pair of teammates (along with Strawberry) to go 30-30 in the same year.
Proving he was no one-year wonder, Johnson continued to produce, forging numbers very similar to those of Strawberry—with iffy averages compensated by solid power and a high volume of walks and steals. In 1991, HoJo—as Mets fans came to call Johnson—capped his five-year run by leading the NL with 38 home runs and 117 RBIs. After that, his output tailed off dramatically, and he suddenly found himself playing out the string in the mid-1990s with short, forgettable stops with Colorado and the Chicago Cubs.
Johnson’s only disappointment for the Mets was that he was a postseason bomb—collecting just one hit in 25 at-bats over 10 postseason games.
David Wright (2004-18)
The Virginian native stepped on the ballfield for the Mets at age 21 and never looked back, playing at an All-Star level from Day One and maintaining excellence into his prime years. From that, he emerged as the franchise leader in hits, runs, doubles, RBIs and walks. Some believe he staked his claim as the franchise’s greatest hitter—but any further efforts to convince the holdouts were a challenge as a spinal condition kept him limited to a total of 77 games played over his final four seasons.
A model of top-notch consistency, Wright seldom disappointed for the Mets. When healthy, he managed to top .300 (or come close to it) while knocking out roughly 25-35 home runs and 100-plus RBIs. His only statistical anomaly occurred in 2009, when his home run output suddenly dropped to 10; critics blamed the expansive outfield dimensions at first-year Citi Field, even as he hit the same number of homers at home (five) as he did on the road. (Ironically, he became the first Met to homer at the new ballpark.) A year later, Wright adjusted and belted out 29 longballs, 12 of them in the Citi.
Wright was a seven-time All-Star, the recipient of two Gold Gloves at third base and was an excellent basestealer, peaking in 2007 with 34 swipes while getting caught just five times.
Carlos Beltran (2005-11)
Seduced less by his eye-opening numbers with the Kansas City Royals and more for the eye-popping numbers he gave the Houston Astros (hitting 31 homers in 112 games, including the playoffs) after a midseason trade in 2004, the Mets gave Beltran a lucrative $119 million pact which became scorned upon once he began spending more and more time on the disabled list. But when healthy, Beltran lived up to the wages he was owed, being named to five All-Star Games and three Gold Glove rosters during his time in New York.
Beltran endured a rough first year in New York, with underachieving stats that led to catcalls from the Mets’ tough fan base; things got no better when, while chasing a fly ball, he suffered a brutal head-to-head collision with fellow outfielder Mike Cameron—who got the worst of it. He rebounded beautifully through the next three years, averaging 34 homers (including a career-high 41 in 2006), 113 RBIs and 112 runs scored while providing sound batting averages, high walk totals and his continued brilliance in stealing bases, maintaining a near-90% success rate that’s among the highest in major league history.
Beltran’s outstanding start to the 2009 season (hitting .336 on June 21) was curtailed by a knee injury that would ignite the more turbulent portion of his Mets tenure; against the team’s wishes, he underwent surgery just prior to spring training in 2010 and didn’t return until mid-July, with yawning results. A resurgence occurred in 2011, which only encouraged cash-strapped Mets ownership to deal him to San Francisco at the trading deadline.
In 2020, Beltran gained a second life with the Mets as their manager, despite having no previous coaching experience at any professional level.
Mike Piazza (1998-2005)
After six years of power-hitting stardom with for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the venerable catcher arrived in New York via Florida—where he spent barely a week with the Marlins in the midst of their post-championship slashing of talent in early 1998—and gave the Mets five years of some of the most impressive offensive numbers ever delivered in franchise history.
Piazza quickly surged out of obscurity in Los Angeles, where he was only given a chance with the Dodgers because he had family ties to manager Tommy Lasorda. With the Mets, Piazza produced as he had in L.A., hitting over .300 with plentiful power using a distinctive upright swing that none other than Ted Williams once told him never to change. Piazza tied career marks in 1999—his first full year in New York—with 40 home runs and 124 RBIs, the latter mark setting a franchise record later tied by Wright. A year later, Piazza arguably had his finest season as a Met; it certainly was his most remembered, principally for the moment in the World Series when he had the jagged edge of his broken bat thrown at his feet by Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens, who earlier in the year had beaned him out of commission for several days—instigating a serious feud between the two ballclubs. (Curiously, Clemens and Piazza formed the starting NL battery at the 2004 All-Star Game, where Clemens—then with Houston—gave up six runs on five hits; some believed Piazza extracted his revenge on Clemens by tipping his pitches to opposing AL hitters.)
A 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, Piazza is the all-time leader among catchers with 394 home runs; he hit 220 of his 419 career blasts in a Mets uniform. Piazza’s only weakness was his throwing arm behind the plate, as opposing runners often ran wild on him with great success.
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