With Monday being Presidents Day, I thought it would be fun to rank the Mets with presidential surnames. There are 23 of them (although Russ Adams is in camp and played for Buffalo last season, he’s never suited up for the Mets and doesn’t qualify for this list), and I used Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement to rank them in reverse order. I have a feeling that you’ve probably already guessed the top three, but here we go:
23. Paul Wilson (-2.8 rWAR): I’ll admit, this one surprised me. I knew Wilson struggled while he was with the Mets, but I didn’t realize how much. A former number 1 overall pick and member of “Generation K”, Wilson started 26 games for the 1996 Mets, going 5-12 with a 75 ERA+ (and a 5.38 ERA). In terms of rWAR, Wilson’s 1996 is the single worst season by a Mets pitcher. Craig Anderson (-2.0 rWAR, 1962) and Randy Jones (-1.8 rWAR, 1981), are in the discussion, but it’s not really close. Wilson would go on to have moderate success in Tampa (and later in Cincinnati), but he seriously under-performed his hype while with the Mets.
22. Hawk Taylor (-1.8 rWAR): Robert Dale “Hawk” Taylor was a catcher/first baseman/left fielder for the Mets from 1964-67. According to the Wikipedia, Taylor appeared as a pinch hitter in the first game at Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964. This is true, though not especially significant (he struck out, and he wasn’t even the first pinch hitter used: that “honor” belonged to Ed Kranepool). The Wikipedia also credits him with hitting the first pinch hit grand slam in franchise history (against the Pirates, on August 16, 1967). So he’s got that going for him.
21. Darrin Jackson (-0.6 rWAR): Darrin Jackson had to very good years for the San Diego Padres in 1991 and 1992, posting 4.4 and 3.8 rWAR respectively as the Padres made an ill-fated push for the NL West pennant. Jackson was then caught up in the Padres’ infamous fire sale and traded to Toronto for future-Met Derek Bell (and minor leaguer Stoney Bell). It didn’t work out in Toronto and Jackson was traded to the Mets on June 11, 1993 for fellow former Padre Tony Fernandez. Jackson slashed .195/.211/.241 in 31 games for the Mets, which translated into a woeful 22 OPS+ (78% worse than the average outfielder). Jackson left for the White Sox during the following offseason where he rebounded in the strike shortened season (2.4 rWAR).
20. Roy Lee Jackson (-0.5 rWAR): Possessing one of the cooler names in franchise history, Jackson appeared in 40 games for the Mets between 1977 and 1980 (starting 14 of them). He was on the AAA shuttle for most of his time with the Mets: 28 of his 40 appearances came in 1980 (when he was worth 0.1 rWAR). Jackson was traded to Toronto (for Bob Bailor) and had some success for them in 1981 (1.2 rWAR) and 1982 (2.1 rWAR).
17 – 19. Mark Johnson, Chuck Taylor, Billy Taylor (-0.4 rWAR): I’m not going to bother splitting these guys up, but I will add these three comments: 1). When he signed with the Mets, Johnson was one of three active “Mark Johnsons” in MLB. He wasn’t the best, but he wasn’t the worst, either. So there’s that. 2). This Chuck Taylor did not have a signature shoe line. 3). Billy Taylor was involved in one of the worst trades in franchise history, having been acquired for Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. While Taylor was gone from the Mets after the 1999 season, McMichael and Isringhausen combined to produce 1.5 and and 11.8 rWAR in their careers. On a related note, Steve Phillips stinks.
16. Brian Buchanan (-0.2 rWAR): Buchanan was involved in two fairly big trades: the Yankees sent him to Minnesota with Eric Milton, Christian Guzman, and Danny Mota for Chuck Knoblauch, and the Twins later sent him to San Diego for Jason Bartlett. His last appearance in the majors came with the Mets on August 29, 2004.
13 – 15. Sammy Taylor, Tom Wilson, Preston Wilson (0.0 rWAR): Again, I’m not going to bother splitting them up, but I will add three comments: 1). Sammy Taylor actually appeared in 90 games for the Mets in 1962-63. I thought this was a record of sorts until I found that former Met Willie Montanez’ career total was also 0.0, but in 1,632 games. Now that’s impressive. I guess. 2). Tom Wilson was hitless in four at bats (with one walk) for the 2004 Mets. 3). Preston Wilson went on to have a decent career, but I doubt there’s a single Mets fan that wouldn’t have traded him for Mike Piazza.
11. & 12. Chris Carter, Ben Johnson (0.1 rWAR): I’m sure you remember the Animal (I’m going to miss that character. Not much, but still). Ben Johnson was acquired (along with pitcher Jon Adkins) for Heath Bell and Royce Ring. Adkins pitched one (flawless) inning for the Mets and Johnson received 30 plate appearances over nine games. Ring’s bounced around (-1.0 rWAR) but Bell became one of the best closers in the game (91 saves in 111 opportunities, 9.0 rWAR for San Diego). This is probably Omar Minaya’s worst trade.
9. & 10. Bob Johnson, Stan Jefferson (0.2 rWAR): A pair of championship Mets. Bob Johnson of Aurora, IL (Wayne’s World! Party time, excellent!) was a September call-up for the 1969 Miracle Mets, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings over two games. That offseason, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals (along with Amos Otis) for Joe Foy in one of the seemingly-countless trades the Mets made for third basemen. Most of the angst in this trade is generated by the loss of Otis, but Johnson had a decent career himself (6.6 rWAR over his next six seasons. In a twist of fate that means absolutely nothing to no one other than this author (and maybe his parents), Johnson played his final major league game on the day I was born.
A native New Yorker, Jefferson was a September call-up for the World Champion 1986 Mets, slashing .208/.296/.375 in 27 plate appearances (over 14 games). That offseason, he was sent to San Diego along with Kevin Brown (thankfully, not the Hall of Fame candidate), Kevin Armstrong, Shawn Abner (the second former number one overall pick referenced in this post) and Kevin Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging. Two September call-ups on championship teams later involved in franchise altering trades. How’s that for a coincidence?
8. Claudell Washington (0.5 rWAR): Washington appeared in 76 games for the 1980 Mets, his only season with the club. I always remember Washington as a Yankee in the late ‘80’s (he had his second-best season with them in 1988), and I kind of wondered why the Mets let him get away. In the long run, it turned out to matter very little: the Mets outfield was more than solid for the rest of the decade.
7. Vance Wilson (2.5 rWAR): This was another surprise for me. Although he wasn’t an offensive superstar in his six seasons with the Mets, Wilson hit well enough (.254/.308/.354) to be slightly above replacement in each season. Wins Above Replacement is a cumulative stat, and he compiled enough steady seasons (in which he did little to help, but even less to hurt) to accrue a decent career rWAR.
6. Al Jackson (4.5 rWAR): An original Met, Jackson was something of a bright spot on some pretty crappy teams. Though never even a league-average pitcher (his highest ERA+ during those seasons was 94 in 1962), Jackson didn’t embarrass himself: he was never worth less than 0.5 rWAR in any given season and was worth 3.1 in 1962. His second stint was less successful (-0.6 rWAR in 1968-69). He didn’t get to see the Miracle Mets reach the promised land in 1969, but he returned to the club after retirement and has held a number of front office positions since.
5. Ron Taylor (4.8 rWAR): Another member of the Miracle Mets, Taylor had a productive run with the club from 1967-71, averaging almost a full win above replacement each season (0.96 rWAR). A spot starter earlier in his career, Taylor was exclusively a reliever with the Mets. He appeared in 269 games and earned 49 saves while never having an ERA+ lower than 94 (his average ERA+ in those years was 115). His post-playing career was also very successful: he graduated medical school in 1979 and became team physician for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979.
And now, the Mets’ “Mount Rushmore”:
4. Lance Johnson (8.9 rWAR): As Patrick Flood noted, Johnson is “The Trivia Answer”: he holds so many unique distinctions that, as Flood so aptly put it, “If you ever see a Mets trivia question, and the answer could be Lance Johnson … the answer is probably Lance Johnson”. I hated the trade that sent him away, but in hindsight it wasn’t that bad: Johnson accumulated just 0.3 rWAR in his remaining three seasons. It appears as if he emptied his tank in 1996-97. Sure, we had to put up with Mel Rojas, but Brian McRae at least had one decent season and the Turk Wendell experience was pretty awesome, so I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought at the time.
3. Gary Carter (11.2 rWAR): “The Kid” cracks the top three on our list of Mets with Presidential surnames. Carter was a WAR machine from 1977 to 1985, averaging 6.02 rWAR and failing to top 5 rWAR once (in the strike-shortened 1981 season). His 1986 wasn’t too shabby either (3.8 rWAR), but he fell off a cliff the next three seasons: 0.9 (1987), 0.1 (1988) and -0.3 (1989). Like Lance Johnson, he makes this list because of two excellent seasons.
2. Mookie Wilson (19.4 rWAR): I make no bones about this: Mookie Wilson is one of my favorite Mets of all time, and I’m thrilled to see him make this list. He was like clockwork from 1982 to 1988: he accumulated 17.8 rWAR during these seasons, averaging 2.5 rWAR and never going lower than 1.8 (1982) or higher than 3.2 (1984 & 1986). And, to top it off, he had one of the most pleasant public image I’ve ever seen an athlete have. I have to digress for a moment and share two personal stories about Mookie, one big, one small:
- 1986 was my first full season as a Mets fan (I only started watching baseball in the summer of 85). On that fateful night, I went to bed at some point during the game. I guess my parents felt that bedtime was more important than the World Series, but I’ve never asked them. And, as a dumb kid, I listened to them and went to bed. Anyway, I have mixed memories about what happened next. My Dad definitely woke me up with the Mets trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth. For a long, long time I thought he did it to let me watch my favorite team’s season end, but for the past ten years or so I’ve had a sneaking sensation (a false memory maybe?) that he woke me to see a bit of baseball history: the Red Sox’ first World Series since 1918. I’ve never talked to him about it because I’m not sure I want to know. But I do know this: what happened next was one of the greatest moments to ever happen to me, and I love my Dad for waking me up.
- My first game professional game was the second half of a day/night doubleheader against the Cubs. I think it was 1987, but it could have been 1988. Either way, I remember being terribly confused and almost violently upset when the Shea faithful booed as Mookie Wilson lead off in the bottom of the first. My uncle laughed at me and explained that they were screaming “Mooo!” Needless to say, I screamed it at the top of my lungs each time he came to the plate after that.
1. Howard Johnson (24.7 rWAR): Hojo’s 1989 (7.7 rWAR) was a season for the ages: according to B-R.com it was the fifth best season in Mets history, trailing only John Olerud’s 1998 (8.1), Bernard Gilkey’s 1996 (8.1), Carlos Beltran’s 2006 (8.0), and David Wright’s 2007 (7.8). His six-year peak was generally excellent as well: he averaged 4.84 rWAR from 1986 to 1991 and received national recognition for it with three top-10 MVP finishes (including top-5 in 1989 and 1991) and two all-star appearances. And just like that, it was over. He earned just -1.4 rWAR over his final 1,165 plate appearances for the Mets, Rockies, and Cubs. In a minor coincidence, he left the organization (after they made him wait months for a job offer that turned out to be a major demotion) in the same year that Mookie Wilson returned to it.
And so, to recap:
- 23 Mets share a surname with a POTUS.
- There are five Johnsons (Andrew, Lyndon Baines), five Taylors (Zachary), five Wilsons (Woodrow), and three Jacksons (Andrew), two Carters (Jimmy), one Buchanan (James), one Jefferson (Thomas), and one Washington (George).
- When their careers are combined, the 23 Mets are worth 70.0 rWAR.