Five spots, three players – who had the best season by a Mets first baseman in franchise history? Let’s take a look.
#5: Keith Hernandez, 1983
Mex’s 1983 would be a candidate to be ranked higher, but he arrived in New York in mid-June, so much like Piazza’s 1998, we are penalizing it just a little. But make no mistake – this is a fine season. His .424 OBP set a Mets record that would not be broken for 15 years, and while his extra base hit totals were low, he was an on-base machine on a team that lacked any semblance of an offense.
Keith’s bat is also getting some extra credit, because his arrival, coupled with the promotion of Darryl Strawberry, started a new era in Mets history. An era where the Mets had…above average hitters. Those early 80’s teams were some of the worst hitting teams you’ll ever see. 1983 saw a bottoming out; other than Mex and Straw, the team didn’t put a single good hitter on the field. The times, they were a-changing. Keith Hernandez and his .858 OPS were the start of that change.
#4: Keith Hernandez, 1984
The change continued in 1984. With a full season to do some damage for the Mets, Mex delivered in spades, setting his Mets high water marks in batting average and RBIs (if you’re into that sort of thing) and slugging percentage and walks (if you’re into that sort of thing). This year, the Mets bats were a little less lousy, and the team scored 77 more runs over the year before. Part of that was from better seasons by guys like Hubie Brooks and George Foster, but part of that was a full season of Keith Hernandez.
#3: Keith Hernandez, 1986
The culmination of the change. The 1983 Mets didn’t have any above average hitters outside of Mex and Straw; the 1986 Mets had all above average hitters except Rafael Santana. The 1983 Mets scored 575 runs, won 68 games, and finished with the worst record in the National League; the 1986 Mets scored 783 runs, won 108 games, and finished with the best record in the National League. Three years, big changes, and it all started with Mex.
Sadly, this will be the last time you’ll see Keith Hernandez on this list. He was still good in 1987, but he took a small step back. Likewise, 1988 was also a good year, but a year where Mex would miss time due to injuries. 1989 saw a more drastic erosion in Mex’s skills, and he lost time to Dave Magadan, and was gone the next year. But 1986? Mex finished 4th in the MVP voting, he hit well over .300, drew 94 walks just for good measure, and led his team to a championship. Not too shabby.
#2: Dave Magadan, 1990
“Wait a second,” you’re probably wondering. “Dave Magadan had the second best season by a Mets first baseman in history? And not Keith Hernandez? What? How? What’s wrong with you? Also, your list has no credibility and you are a total fraud of a man.”
Well, first of all, thank you for reading my blog, Keith. I appreciate your support and I love your commentary on SNY, so I sincerely hope you do not think of this as a slight.
It just so happens that the man who replaced you had a really, REALLY good year. He would have had to, in order to knock your 1986 season down to #3. The reason he rates so high is his on-base percentage; take a look at that. That .417 is quite high, higher than any full season you have on the list. So is that .328 batting average as well as that .457 slugging percentage. He even threw in six triples; you had 10 in your entire Mets career! So give the guy some credit.
Sadly, Magadan was never able to really sustain this level. The lack of power at first base was a concern; Magadan never topped those 6 homers in a season. Even in the early 90’s, you had to hit at least double digits in homers to play first base. After an injury-plagued 1991, Magadan was moved to third base when the Mets signed Eddie Murray, and then became the first significant free agent acquisition by the expansion Marlins in 1993. Today, he is the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, where he would seem to be a perfect fit for their emphasis on plate discipline.
#1: John Olerud, 1998
Surprised? I wasn’t kidding before when I talked about Olerud being underrated. Frankly, Olerud’s #1 ranking on this list isn’t even close; only Carlos Delgado ever OPS’d higher than .900 at first base, and Olerud is almost 100 points ahead of him. That .447 OBP is 20 points higher than any OBP at first base (beating his own 1999 season), and the slugging is also higher than any Mets slugging percentage in history.
Those 62 extra base hits stood as a Mets record by a first baseman until his old Blue Jays teammate Delgado broke the record in 2006 (and as an aside, can you believe that the lead-footed Olerud had 4 triples? I mean, he only hit 13 for his career!). 197 hits, 31 doubles, 22 homers, 96 walks…everything about this season was excellent. It is hard to imagine any Mets hitter topping this season, it was that good.
So here’s a debate for you: who was the best hitting Mets first baseman of all time? Olerud has the breadth; Mex has the depth. Mex’s 1983-1986 seasons all appear on the list, and his 1987 and 1988 were close. Olerud only played here three years, but all three are on the list, including holding down #1. Mex does get extra credit for winning a World Series, and more MVP finishes (although I am loathe to give BBWAA any credit for anything ever).
In the end, it’s probably Mex (so please do not bombard me with hate mail, Keith) but Olerud makes this a tighter race than you might think. He doesn’t have the ring and he doesn’t have the longevity, but Olerud’s peak on the Mets was very, very good, and his best season ranks with the best season by any Mets hitter. This list is proud to give the man his due.