When Tom Seaver, the greatest player in franchise history, announced in March that he would not be attending the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1969 World Series team, I was disappointed. When I read why, I was heartbroken.
Chris Donnelly, author of the new book, Doc, Donnie, The Kids and Bill Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul, is our guest on the latest edition of the Mets Rewind podcast. You can subscribe to the Mets Rewind podcast through iTunes here.
The 1985 Mets were filled with young, homegrown talent led by outfielder Darryl Strawberry and pitcher Dwight Gooden. They were complemented by veterans including Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ray Knight, and George Foster. Leading them all was Davey Johnson, a player’s manager. It was a team filled with hard‑nosed players who won over New York with their dirty uniforms, curtain calls, after-hours activities, and because, well, they weren’t the Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Yankees featured some of the game’s greatest talent. Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, and Don Baylor led a dynamic offense, while veterans such as Ron Guidry and Phil Niekro rounded out the pitching staff. But the Yankees’ abundance of talent was easily overshadowed by their dominating owner, George Steinbrenner, whose daily intrusiveness made the 1985 Yankees appear more like a soap opera than a baseball team. There was a managerial firing before the end of April and the fourth return of Billy Martin as manager. Henderson was fined for missing two games, Lou Piniella almost resigned as coach, and Martin punctured a lung and then gave drunken managerial instructions from his hospital room. Despite all that, the Yankees almost won their division.
While the drama inside the Mets’ clubhouse only made the team more endearing to fans, the drama inside the Yankees’ clubhouse had the opposite effect. The result was the most attention-grabbing and exciting season New York would see in generations.
Ron Swoboda made The Catch to save the Miracle Mets in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Mets won in the 10th inning on a throwing error and went on to capture their first world championship the next day, October 16, against the Orioles.
Mets Rewind presents Blue and Orange, a baseball podcast for Mets fans, by Mets fans. In our debut show we introduce you to Jacob Resnick, who has one of the most unique Mets fan experiences.
Terry Collins remembers flying back from the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic. It was February 2009, and the future New York Mets manager was feeling hopeful about Fernando Martinez. Collins watched Martinez play pain-free in the first game of a doubleheader before catching his flight back to the States. Maybe, just maybe, this was the turning point in the career of the Mets top prospect.
“When I got off the flight I had a message: he’s hurt again,” Collins shook his head in disbelief.
The injury was not the first Martinez suffered, and in hindsight, wouldn’t be the last. Since signing with the Mets in July 2005, a deal that included a $1.4 million signing bonus, Martinez has been on the disabled list nine times. His afflictions could be tallied by the body part – knee, elbow, hand, hamstring, lower back.
The $1.4 million question became: Could Fernando Martinez stay healthy long enough to play?
”That’s the goal, to keep him on the field,” said Buffalo manager Tim Teufel. “We know he has talent; it’s just a matter of keeping him healthy.”
The Mets and Martinez were hopeful a fresh start would bring good health and good fortune. The following spring, Martinez played in 10 games, batting .333 (8-for-24). Still, the Mets wanted him to prove he could perform at a high level and, more importantly, stay healthy. He carried his hot bat north to Buffalo with a four-hit game the first week of the season. One week later, Martinez was sent back to the disabled list with a sore hamstring.
“It’s not that you doubt the talent,” said assistant GM John Ricco. “It’s getting the [at-bats]. If not, that’s in the equation. Angel Pagan was a similar case. Everybody knew he had the talent, but you start to say, ‘OK, how long can we go?’ At some point he’s going to have to stay healthy.”
“He’s worth every penny,” Sandy Johnson, Mets’ VP for scouting, told the Times. “He’s a complete player.”
Baseball America ranked Martinez the No. 20 prospect. By last season he was at No. 77 on the list and headed south. One injury after another, year after year, deflated Martinez’ stock value. The Wall Street Journal called him “the forgotten prospect … no one is frothing over him anymore.”
“Sometimes I say, ‘Come on, what happened?’” Martinez said. “What happened to me? I play very hard. I’m young. Maybe all the injuries will stop one day.”
The injuries left him hobbled by arthritis in his right knee, a history that presents potential problems in the future. Ken Oberkfell, who managed him in Buffalo for two years said, “It’s been a leg issue with most of the stuff, so it’s slowed down his defensive development and his offensive development. You use your legs a lot to hit and obviously you use your legs a lot to play the outfield.”
“It’s really hard to project what these guys are going to be, whether or not they’re going to stay healthy,” said Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ former vice president of player development and amateur scouting. “To be honest, we’re not real good at it as an industry.”
The waiting game ended in January 2012, when the Mets released Martinez. He never played a full season, at any level, due to recurring injuries. Since making his major league debut in 2009 (at age 20), he Martinez played in 99 major league games, compiling 282 career at-bats and a .206 batting average.
POST SCRIPT: Martinez was signed by the Houston Astros, where he parts of two seasons before be traded to the New York Yankees. Six weeks after the deal, Martinez was suspended 50 games by the MLB for violating its drug policy. Today he plays for the Estrellas Orientales, the team from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.