After looking at the five of the best pitching and position player seasons in Yankees history last week, it’s almost unfair to do the Mets right away; no team, let alone one that has been in existence for less than 60 years, has either the Yankees’ phalanx of Hall of Famers or their glittering history, let alone both.
So, as we turn to Queens, we will relax the rules. In order to qualify for having one of the best seasons as a position player by a Met, a player only needs to have spent five years in a Mets uniform. But, as always, each player is only allowed one appearance.
Howard Johnson, 1991The enchanted runs were gone (as was Davey Johnson) and the Mets were quickly morphing into "The Worst Team Money Can Buy" - so says the book bearing that title - but they weren't quite awful yet come 1991, posting a 77-84 mark that year. And, the lone bright spot was not the newly acquired Vince Coleman, but rather the old, reliable Howard Johnson, who’d been around since 1985.
HoJo saw all the glory and the gory, and while some may say 1989 was Johnson's best year, 1991 saw him lead the NL with 38 home runs and 117 RBI, both totals greater than those he recorded in 1989. HoJo also scored a career-high 108 runs in '91, his second and last All-Star season, and bagged his second and final Silver Slugger Award. He also finished fifth in the NL MVP vote, his final placement in that awards category, just before the ignominious Mets plunged the franchise into the Dark Ages.
Keith Hernandez, 1984Folks often debate over whether Keith Hernandez or Gary Carter was the acquisition that truly turned the Mets into a powerhouse. Both is the easy, lazy answer, but before Carter solidified the catcher's spot, Hernandez showed the Mets how to win.
In Davey Johnson's maiden year as Mets manager, Hernandez led a 92-70 season by batting .311, swatting 15 homers, driving in 94 runs, and sporting a robust .409 on-base percentage. Hernandez also earned a Gold Glove, his third of five All-Star nods, and his second and final Silver Slugger Award, and came up just short of winning his second NL MVP Award (finishing second behind Ryne Sandberg.) Thanks to Mex, and later The Kid (Carter), the Mets became a behemoth, winning 98 games in 1985 and 108 games, plus their most recent World Series, in '86.
Darryl Strawberry, 1988The 1988 season saw the Mets moonwalk to 100 wins, finish with a 15-game lead in the NL East, and defeat the Dodgers 10 out of 11 times – until they played in the NLCS, that is. But despite losing to the Dodgers in an NLCS that all but ended a dynasty that should have spawned at least three World Series rings, Darryl Strawberry had his best season as a Met.
Straw led the NL in homers (39), slugging (.545), and OPS (.911), won a Silver Slugger award, reached his fifth-straight All-Star Game, and finished second to Kirk Gibson in the MVP vote, despite having more homers and RBI than the hobbled Dodger who hit that impossible homer in the 1988 World Series.
Oh, what could’ve been.
David Wright, 2007Some may point to 2008 as Wright’s best season, but the year before, he had a higher batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.416), slugging percentage (.546), and OPS (.963) than he had in ’08, and his 30 homers 107 RBI weren’t far from his following year’s totals. He also reached his second of seven All-Star Games, won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote.
Wright, unfortunately, may have become the Mets’ version of Mattingly, in that he was a beloved team captain and seven-time All-Star who never played more than 100 games after 31 because of a bad back (in his case, spinal stenosis) that derailed his career. But, there's also the sense that Wright, unlike many of his muscular peers, was a “clean” player; he may not have reached his Hall of Fame potential, but David Wright went with what he had, rather than seize on the shadowy world of PEDs.
Mike Piazza, 2000Though he hit 40 homers the year before, Piazza had his best overall season as a Met in 2000. In just 482 at-bats, Piazza batted .324, smacked 38 homers, drove in 113 runs. And posted a better on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS than he had in 1999. The Mets also reached the World Series in 2000, which doesn't hurt for a franchise that has been to just five and won just two in their history.
Piazza could also get a nod for 2001 on just one moment alone: when he belted perhaps the most celebrated homer in the history of Shea Stadium, the game-winning shot in the Mets' first game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Honorable MentionGary Carter, 1985Cleon Jones, 1969Edgardo Alfonso, 1999Jose Reyes, 2011