Mets history on December 16 includes the addition of four MLB legends
By Tim Boyle
The New York Mets have an interesting history on December 16th. On this day, they’ve acquired three future Hall of Fame players plus another MLB legend.
December 16 doesn’t have too much significance to me. It’s still more than a week away from Christmas and a good warning sign that I better get shopping. For the New York Mets, it’s a day when they have done some major shopping both in free agency and the trade market.
Baseball and December go well together even if there aren’t any games going on. It’s the time of year when every team is atop the division. We hear about rumors, actually see moves happen, and have hope for the coming season.
In Mets history, they’ve used the middle of the month to add some big-name players. Sticking with December 16 specifically, I want to travel back and look at how they added four notable Mets to the roster, including three future Hall of Fame players.
December 16, 1980
Until 1980, the Mets had never made a significant move on December 16 of any year. This changed when they chose to reunite with free agent Rusty Staub.
Staub last played for the Mets in 1975. Now in the twilight of his career at age 37, he came back for the next five seasons.
Le Grande Orange performed well in 1981, hitting .317 in 186 trips to the plate. However, when given a chance to play a little more in 1982, he showed why he’s best utilized in a reserve role.
Staub stayed in Flushing through 1985 where he was used mostly as a pinch-hitter. One of baseball’s best players not in the Hall of Fame ultimately called it a career after the 1985 season. Unfortunately for Staub, this meant missing out on all of the fun in 1986.
December 16, 1982
Exactly two years after the Mets brought Staub back, they repeated history by making a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for the greatest pitcher in franchise history. Charlie Puleo, Lloyd McClendon, and Jason Felice all went to Cincinnati in exchange for Tom Seaver.
Seaver was famously traded away by the Mets in the middle of the 1977 season. During his five and a half years in Cincinnati, he enjoyed some productive seasons. There was little doubt Seaver was still one of the best pitchers in the league until he posted a 5.50 ERA in 1982.
Not long after the season ended, the Mets brought Seaver back for another year. He wasn’t the legendary starter he once was. However, at age 38, he still pitched 231 innings and gave the ball club a 3.55 ERA performance.
Those hoping the reunion would last were disappointed to see that in January of 1984 he was chosen by the Chicago White Sox in the free-agent compensation draft.
December 16, 1998
Many years after Staub and Seaver had retired, the Mets made another move on December 16 to bring a notable baseball legend to town. In 1998, the Rickey Henderson era in Flushing officially began.
The all-time leader in runs scored and stolen bases was a 40-year-old coming off a year where he led the league with 66 stolen bases. He wasn’t quite as speedy for the Mets but still did manage to swipe 37 bags for them. Perhaps more noteworthy, the “Man of Steal” slashed .315/.423/.466.
The romance was short-lived, however. In 2000, Henderson showed significant signs of slowing down. He batted just .219/.387/.229 in his first 124 plate appearances.
More memorable was the story about him playing cards with Bobby Bonilla in the locker room during a loss in the 1999 NLCS. This incident together with his poor play made it easy for the Mets to release Henderson in May of 2000.
December 16, 2004
Finally, there’s the December 16 free agent signing from 2004 to complete the significant moves made on this date. After ending the curse with the Boston Red Sox, Pedro Martinez signed a deal with the Mets.
The performance in 2005 was stellar. It included a record of 15-8 and a 2.82 ERA. Martinez was an All-Star for the Mets and followed it up with another appearance in 2006. However, in this second All-Star season, he was clearly nearing the end of his career.
Battling injuries, Martinez posted a 4.48 ERA in 2006. He made only five starts in 2007 and saw his ERA balloon up to 5.61 in 2008.
Martinez wasn’t the same pitcher he was during his Boston years. Although the Mets were able to add yet another Hall of Famer on this noteworthy date, the performance from Martinez was anything but Cooperstown-bound.
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Which one of these transactions do you remember most?