What do you do when a 42 year old future Hall of Famer disappears from spring training camp? That was the predicament the New York Mets experienced in 1973, when Willie Mays went MIA.
Luckily, Mays returned to camp in St. Petersburg, Florida two days later, telling the Mets brass he made an emergency trip to San Francisco to visit his sick wife. Mays said he planned on returning the next morning, but he missed his early morning flight.
In the hours before he returned to camp, the Mets began to wonder if Mays simply up and left for good. In the days leading up to his disappearance, Mays’ swollen knees, which were wrapped in tape braces when he played, concerned both teammates the and from office.
McGraw said he was “shocked” when he was told he had been traded to Philadelphia in December 1974, telling the New York media:
“When I got the call last December (1974) at 6 o’clock in the morning, I was shocked. I’d spent 11 years with the Mets, I was home in California, and I walked down the hill to my neighbor, Bob Miller, who pitched for so many teams that he lost track. He helped me to accept it. That night, we pitched a party for the neighbors to celebrate—but nobody knew whether to offer condolences or congratulations. I had a few traumatic evenings during the winter, but I came to realize that everybody gets traded in sports. So I’m not bitter about it or about the way the Mets fizzled last year. Look, I got a lot of the credit when we won the pennant in 1973, so it’s only fair that I should get a lot of the blame when we didn’t in 1974. Now I’m on the team that has a real shot at winning everything.”
The New York Mets arrived in Florida in the spring of 1985, hopeful. They were young, talented and hungry to win. The team had come off a 90 win season in 1984 and the players were confident.
“The crowd shocked me, I didn’t think it’d be that big,” said Gooden.
The Mets had quickly become a thing. Spring Training attracted the New York media — and the eyes of the national media. Everyone wanted to know more about this team of stars and young phenoms, especially Gooden. The New York Times wrote: Even when Gooden warms up, huge galleries stand behind the ropes watching and snapping pictures. One day, Mets manager Davey Johnson was working on a distant diamond, heard the crowd buzzing near the warm-up mounds and said with a laugh: “I’ll bet Doc is throwing.”
“Last year, we had a lot of skeptics. This year, I feel I’m playing with a full deck. I have a feeling that there’s going to be an awful good feeling here. It’s a combination of feeling you’re pretty good, and enjoying it. Reveling in it. My reading of the atmosphere is that it’s a very relaxed, confident, aggressive camp. And very happy. The players feel the trades we made this winter were beneficial, not just shuffling guys around. I’m also mildly surprised by the public response. But you could anticipate it because of the year we had and our trade for Gary Carter.”
The Mets arrived at Spring Training in 1988 amid controversy.
Strawberry said, “Carter just quit. His attitude was, like, ‘Oh well, I’m having a bad year, guess I’ll feel bad.”
On Keith Hernandez: ”I know he was going through a divorce and all, but who knows where his head was half the time.”
On Wally Backman: ”Wally spends too much time trying to act like Keith. But he doesn’t have the game to back it up. Lenny’s the same way. Lenny was one of the guys playing for himself last season. As long as he got his hits, he was happy.”
Strawberry claimed the magazine “twisted his words,” but the excuse didn’t ease the tension in the Mets clubhouse.
”If I’d wanted to bury my teammates, I could have done it last summer when people were getting on me,” he told the media. ”But I didn’t. I agreed to the interview in January, but had no idea it would come out that way. I came to camp last month a happy man. My family was together after a separation that was extremely unhappy. I was looking forward to a great year for me and the team. Then this comes back to haunt me.”
Carter did most of the speaking for his teammates saying:
”I’m just going to talk with him and clear the air. We’ll settle it. One thing I never do is quit. If need be, I’ll sit down and give him some fatherly advice again. I was always taught if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything. But you shouldn’t make more of it than it’s worth. On with the season. There comes a time when you do have to grow up. I’m not saying he hasn’t. But one of these days, Keith and I will be gone, and he’s going to be the seasoned veteran. Maybe then it’ll hit him. Look, Darryl’s my teammate. I’m with him 110 percent. But it’s in Darryl’s best interests to go to each guy and set it straight.”
As Bud Harrelson prepared for his first (and only) full season as Mets manager in 1991, his credibility was in question. Despite leading the Mets to a respectable 71-49 record during the summer of 1990, the media groused about Harrelson’s ability to manage at the major league level.
“What am I supposed to be, the expert on every single category?” asked Harrelson. “Of course, I’m going to make all the final decisions, but I have people to remind me of things. I doubt that I’m getting too much advice. All managers lean on their people. Otherwise, what are they there for? To be figureheads?”
The media questioned Harrelson’s “tactical soundness,” his seemingly lack of “improvisation,” and an “acutely defensive, outsized personality.” Despite the perceptions, most of the team supported him.
Howard Johnson said:
“You’re always going to have second-guessers, and you are always going to have guys who will say good things regardless. I consider him a players’ manager. And any players griping or questioning him behind his back should spend more time worrying about themselves.”
“My style is more basic than anything else. I’m not Whitey Herzog. I’m not Tommy Lasorda. I’m not Davey Johnson. But I’ve been around the game long enough to understand that the game is mostly made up of standard situations, some creative additions and pure guts. And I think your guts get better the more you manage. And the public acceptance of those guts gets better.”
Frank Cashen also squashed the rumors that Harrelson was given the job so the front office could assume control of the day-to-day decision-making. “I don’t put any stock in that,” said Cashen. “His appointment wasn’t to satisfy any organization or individual aims. It was to win. This year will be more of an example of what Bud Harrelson is.”
Harrelson’s Mets finished the 1991 season in fifth place with a 74-80 win-loss record.
The 2003 season was going to be 40-year old David Cone’s miraculous comeback. The former Mets and Yankees pitcher sat out the entire 2002 season due to injury.
”Everywhere I go — the mall, on the street — people have been extremely supportive,” said Cone. ”There are plenty of 40-year-old fathers with two or three kids who are behind me.”
Cone pitched six seasons with the Mets (1987-1992) before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jeff Kent in late August. Now, at 40, Cone found himself back in blue and orange bidding for the final spot in the team’s starting rotation. ”I’ve shown enough to prove I can still pitch,” he said. “It’s all still there. I just need to get stronger and sharper and recover.”
Cone pitched 18 innings for the Mets in 2003, recording a 1-3 record and 6.50 ERA before officially retiring.
The New York Mets released Duaner Sánchez, ending his strange rollercoaster journey with the organization.
Sanchez had a breakout season in 2006, compiling a 5-1 win-loss record and a 2.60 ERA in 49 games with the Mets.
Then, his season, and eventually his career, came to a halt when Sanchez injured his shoulder in a taxicab accident in Miami. The injury led to a pair of shoulder operations causing Sanchez to miss the remainder of the 2006 season and all of 2007.