The Mets’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Tom Seaver (1967-77, 1983)
After the Mets suffered through five years of atrocious yet loveably adored losing, the right-handed Seaver arrived on the scene in 1967 and immediately let it be known that he would be a new kind of Met who didn’t find defeat “particularly amusing.” With his Rookie of the Year performance, he set the pace for a decade of outstanding pitching in New York that also included Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and, briefly, a young Nolan Ryan.
The Mets landed Seaver in New York serendipitously. The Fresno, California native originally inked with the Atlanta Braves, but the deal was voided by the commissioner’s office because he had yet to finish his college career at USC. The Mets matched the Braves’ $40,000 offer, as did Cleveland and Philadelphia, but won the rights to Seaver when their name was literally picked out of a hat in a lottery-like drawing.
Seaver’s impact was immediate. He won 16 games in each of his first two years, then towered to big-time heights in 1969 with a Cy Young Award-winning performance in which he won 25 games, including a 10-0 mark and 1.34 earned run average down the stretch; he then threw a 10-inning gem in Game Four of the World Series to elevate the Mets to their famous “miracle” championship.
In his next eight years at New York, Seaver would easily live up to his nickname of Tom Terrific with two more Cy Young awards (in 1973 and 1975) and three National League ERA crowns (including a career-best 1.76 figure in 1971); he would also pace the league five times in strikeouts and win 20-plus games three more times—a figure which certainly would have increased had he not been saddled with an anemic offense during his time in New York. Seaver never threw a no-hitter for the Mets, but did toss five one-hitters; perhaps his most dominant effort with the Mets came on April 22, 1970, when he tied a then-NL record with 19 strikeouts against San Diego—striking out the final 10 Padres to set a major league mark that still stands.
Seaver’s tenure in New York came to a bitter end when his calls for Mets owner M. Donald Grant to start spending on free agents was publicly assailed by Grant’s friend in the Gotham press, the New York Daily News’ Dick Young. Seaver was infuriated by Young’s repeated attacks on him by proxy and asked for a trade; he got it, getting shipped to Cincinnati. Mets fans were so infuriated by the move that Grant needed a bodyguard to help him move about Shea Stadium for the rest of the year.
With the Reds, Seaver remained stellar for five years until injuries and age began to finally catch up to him. He received a triumphant welcome back to New York in 1983 when the Mets (under new ownership) brought him back from the Reds. His second tenure lasted only one year (9-15, 3.55 ERA) and finished under mysterious circumstances, as he was “accidentally” left unprotected for the Chicago White Sox to grab him in completing an earlier trade with the Mets. The team claimed it was devastated by the error, while others suspected there was nothing accidental about it. Seaver would go on to win 31 games over the next two years for the White Sox.
A 12-time all-star, Seaver is the Mets’ all-time leader in wins (198), complete games (171), shutouts (44) and strikeouts (2,541). His popularity was confirmed when, in 1992, he entered the Hall of Fame with a then-record voter approval of 98.84%; Dick Young, who died five years earlier, could not cast a vote.
Dwight Gooden (1984-94)
Like Darryl Strawberry, his teammate of seven years with the Mets, the right-handed Gooden is a sad case study of greatness lost. Few major leaguers blasted to immediate stardom as impressively as Gooden—but fewer fell as hard.
Nicknamed both Doc and Dr. K, Gooden earned the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year award at age 19 with a 17-9 record, 2.60 ERA and a rookie record 276 strikeouts—but that was mere prologue for his astounding effort a year later, when he delivered an unbelievable 24-4 mark and 1.53 ERA that’s the lowest recorded in baseball since 1968. It didn’t matter that his fielding skills were poor and the few opponents who reached base were given carte blanche to steal off him; combining a fastball with great movement and a sweeping curve, Gooden was a slam-dunk choice as the youngest recipient of the NL Cy Young Award; he was so good, oddsmakers in Las Vegas refused to place lines on games he started. Some were already penciling him for Cooperstown.
Gooden’s immortal edge wore off after 1985, yet he remained one of the best pitchers in the game; after his first eight seasons, he had built up a 132-53 record. But the dark side was slowly starting to take hold of Gooden’s game—and his life. He started encountering drug problems as early as 1986, admitting years later that he watched the Mets’ championship parade on TV while drugged out at a crack dealer’s apartment; checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in 1994 to battle problems with alcohol; and when he turned to cocaine shortly thereafter, was suspended for the entire 1995 season. The Mets wanted nothing more to do with Gooden and let him go; he followed Strawberry across town to the Yankees, who turned him into a sentimental reclamation project. He responded by generating one shining moment in 1996 with his only career no-hitter; otherwise, he was a deceiving 11-7 with a more telling 5.01 ERA. After further degrading, Gooden bounced around with numerous teams, finally calling it quits in 2000.
In retirement, Gooden continued to be an active presence on police blotters, with arrests ranging from DUI to battery on a girlfriend. In 2010, he fled the scene of an auto accident under the influence of drugs—leaving a child passenger behind in his back seat. And as for that early sure ticket to Cooperstown? Gooden attracted only 3% of the vote on his first ballot, short of the 5% needed just to stay eligible for future votes.
Jerry Koosman (1967-78)
Following on the heels of Seaver, the left-handed Koosman set a then-rookie record with seven shutouts in 1968, winning 19 games overall with a sterling 2.08 ERA and finishing just one vote shy of making it two Rookie of the Year trophies for Mets pitchers in consecutive years (Johnny Bench took the honor instead).
Koosman was every bit as terrific as Seaver in his first few years, and even though he wasn’t able to sustain the brilliance of his future Hall-of-Fame teammate, he remained a worthy, occasionally outstanding component of the Mets’ rotation.
Using a solid fastball to go with a sharp breaking curve, Koosman saved some of his best stuff for the postseason. In the Mets’ 1969 World Series triumph, he won both of his starts against Baltimore—no-hitting the Orioles through six innings in Game Two. In New York’s improbable 1973 run to the World Series, he was 2-0 in three playoff starts with a 2.55 ERA.
After posting a 21-10 record in 1976 (his only 20-win effort in a Mets uniform), Koosman collapsed to 11-35 over the next two seasons—despite a respectable 3.62 ERA—and was shipped off to Minnesota, where he won 20 games for the Twins. His career wavered over his final six years, with up-and-down successes for the Twins, White Sox and Phillies.
Jacob deGrom (2014-22)
The tall (6’4”) right-hander from Florida was considered to be the backend of an explosive wave of promising young arms in the Mets organization, depth-charted behind more cherished prospects in Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. But deGrom promptly established himself as the ace of aces, consistently producing strong results without chronic injury (Syndergaard) or off-field distractions (Harvey). After the end of his nine-year tenure with the Mets, he owned the team’s all-time best career ERA (2.52).
A survivor of Tommy John surgery early in his minor league career, deGrom didn’t make his major league debut until age 25, and looked to endure a rough baptism by fire when he failed to win either of his first seven starts for the Mets—though it didn’t help that the Mets averaged less than three runs a game, just the start of a persistent and troubling trend in his time at New York. But the wins started to come, and so did the attention; he struck out the first eight batters he faced in a September 15 start against Miami, finished the year with a 9-6 record and sharp 2.69 ERA to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors.
deGrom hit top gear starting in 2018, the beginning of bittersweet, back-to-back campaigns that saw deGrom post, respectively, electrifying ERAs of 1.70 and 2.43—but only decent win-loss marks of 10-9 and 11-8. The epitome of his frustration came during a 14-start stretch during 2018 in which deGrom won one, lost seven and posted a 1.89 ERA; outside of his lone victory (where Mets bats awoke for a 12-2 rout at hitter-friendly Colorado), he was given less than two runs per start during this period. Still, voters saw through the deceptive win-loss record and deservedly handed deGrom the NL Cy Young Award in both seasons. He might have won a third in 2021 as he was on pace for a season for the ages; he started 15 games and produced a remarkable 1.08 ERA, allowing just 40 hits through 92 innings, before arm issues put an early end to his year.
Jon Matlack (1971-77)
In the year the Mets lost what they never realized they had—dealing Nolan Ryan to California—Matlack came along and eased the pain, winning his first six decisions of the year and becoming the second Mets pitcher (after Seaver) to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Matlack’s 82-81 record in seven years with the Mets was more indicative of poor run support than common .500 output. He had a career 3.03 ERA in New York, twice led the NL in shutouts and was named to three All-Star Games—being named the MVP of the 1975 Mid-Summer Classic by earning the win and throwing two dominant innings. In the 1973 postseason, he pitched 23 straight scoreless innings before finally caving to eventual champion Oakland in the decisive game of the World Series.
A pitcher with good control who, like Koosman, never could take that last step to greatness on the mound, Matlack was traded to Texas as part of a complicated four-team deal following the Mets’ disastrous 1977 campaign.
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