On September 26, 1992, New York Mets infielder Bill Pecota made history by becoming the first position player to pitch for the franchise.
After their first losing season in seven years in 1991, the New York Mets went all in for 1992. Frank Cashen finally let go of the reigns as general manager, though he held onto them so long the Mets lost GM-in-waiting Joe McIlvaine to the Padres. They still had Al Harazin, apprenticed to Cashen in Baltimore and then New York, who took over as GM. A numbers guy more than a baseball man, Harazin planned on doing more than just follow the company line.
While Cashen never liked free agents, Harazin signed three of them—and big names, too. Former Pirate Bobby Bonilla received one of the richest deals in history to that point (five years, $29 million). Harazin also signed veterans Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph. He brought in one of the game’s up-and-coming managers, Jeff Torborg, from the White Sox to manage the Mets after Bud Harrelson was let go as manager in one of Cashen’s final acts.
Harazin made a handful of small trades, but he threw in a blockbuster deal as well. The Mets sent two of their biggest bats—and malcontents—in Kevin McReynolds and Gregg Jefferies, plus hard-nosed utilityman Keith Miller, to the Royals for two-time Cy Young winner Brett Saberhagen and veteran infielder Bill Pecota.
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With a record $45 million payroll and a team awash in veterans, on paper it looked like the Mets were reloading for another push. The paper seemed to burst into flames upon contact with reality.
—A woman accused Dwight Gooden, Vince Coleman, and the newest Met, Daryl Boston, of rape. There were no convictions. The players went silent with the press following a New York Post cartoon regarding another controversy: That David Cone had exposed himself in the Mets bullpen in 1989.
–Bonilla got off to a bad start and was so thin-skinned that he wore earplugs at the plate to drown out the boos. Pittsburgh hated Bonilla even more, throwing objects at him in his return to Three Rivers Stadium and forcing him to don a batting helmet in right field.
–Murray was polarizing with the press and was not the leader the team hoped.
–Vince Coleman, the big free-agent haul the year before—signed after Darryl Strawberry bolted for home in LA—continued to be unproductive and disruptive as a Met.
–Saberhagen was brilliant until a tendon sheath injury in May put him out of action for 66 days.
–Torborg, who’d been Manager of the Year in Chicago, created unnecessary barriers with the team, like not allowing alcohol on airplanes, giving out sensitive information in his pre-game radio show, and starting a feud with backup catcher Mackey Sasser, among other transgressions.
–The Mets trailed the Pirates in the NL East by four games to start August, but three weeks later the Mets were 15 games back. With David Cone a pending free agent, the fading Mets pulled the trigger and sent him to first-place Toronto for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson.
The Mets, who had been the kings of the New York sports scene for the better part of the decade, were a spectacle—not spectacular, as they’d hoped. It made such good fodder that Mets beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper immortalized the club’s many trials with a book, The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets.
“But the truth was the Mets were playing lousy baseball,” the book observed, “and they had no one to keep the public’s interest while the innings blurred along.”
The innings blurred along until the team was eliminated from the race, Cone looked like a good bet to get to the postseason with Toronto, and infielder Bill Pecota was on the mound down by 16 runs in Pittsburgh on September 26. Pecota, the spare infielder fetched from Kansas City with Saberhagen in the big offseason deal, batted for reliever Jeff Innis in the top of the eighth and then he took Innis’s place on the mound in the bottom of the inning.
The score had been 12-1 by the second inning and Innis had been the only one of the five pitchers so far to not allow multiple runs.
So Pecota came in to pitch, the first position player to take the mound for the Mets in their 30-year history. Andy Van Slyke, just about the only Pirates starter still in the lineup in this blowout, greeted Pecota with a home run. Pecota got the next three batters. It would be another seven years before another Mets position player, Matt Franco, took the mound in another laugher.
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But in 1992, there wasn’t much funny about what was happening with the Metropolitans. The 90-loss club even showed that Klapisch and Harper’s book title was premature. The 1993 Mets, with virtually the same roster (well, Bill Pecota had taken his two-way talents to Atlanta as a free agent), lost 103 games and cost Torborg and Harazin their jobs. That ’93 team really was the worst team money could buy.