A pair of Chicago Cubs centerfielders, Jimmy Qualls (1969) and Joe Wallis (1975), stole two of Tom Seaver’s early bids for a no-hitter. One year after being traded from New York to Cincinnati, Seaver threw a no-hitter for the Reds. Nolan Ryan never pitched a no-hitter – as a New York Met – but after being traded to the California Angels in 1971 he nudged Mets fans every couple years, throwing seven no-hitters. “Every time he pitched you expected a no-hitter – or 15 strikeouts,” said Jay Horwitz, Mets VP/Public Relations, referring to Dwight Gooden. In May 1996, Gooden tossed the only no-hitter of his career – as a member of the New York Yankees. Even Duffy Dyer had to leave the New York Mets to catch his first no-hitter (John Candelaria, Pittsburgh, 1975), 11 years before Josh Thole was born.
Four years later, in 2000, amidst a slow start and turmoil over comments Mets manager Bobby Valentine made during a speech at Penn’s Wharton School of Business, Mets ace Al Leiter attempted to lighten the mood. “I think I’m going to have to throw a no-hitter today to get the back page in New York with all the stuff going on,” he said. Starting against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road, Leiter surrendered a second-inning lead-off home run to Wil Cordero, crushing the hopes and promise of the first-ever Mets no-hitter.
John Maine was on the brink, again, in 2007, until Florida Marlins catcher light-hitting catcher Paul Hoover reached on an infield single with two outs in the eighth inning. Maine settled for a one-hit, complete game shutout but, again, hopes of a no-hitter were dashed.
There were other close calls before, after and in between those chronicled here, but you get the idea. The New York Mets avoided no-hitters for a half-century. It was baffling at times. How could the pitching-rich Mets not have a no-hitter? Seaver, Ryan, Gooden, Leiter, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Craig Swan, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Mike Hampton, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, Bob Ojeda, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine; over 50 years of baseball the stars never aligned, not for a single summer’s night, for Steve Trachsel, George Stone, Rick Reed, Bobby Jones, Orlando Hernandez, Dave Mlicki, Pete Harnisch, Pete Falcone or Pat Zachry? No, no and no. Game after game, season after season the Mets were denied.
To blunt the pain and frustration, Mets fans turned the no-hit quest into a punchline. On any given night during the season a Mets fan could grab their smartphone, tap the Twitter icon and wait for [insert pitcher’s name here] to give up the first hit of the game which, inevitably, led to a tweet along the lines of:
“Well, not tonight #Mets fans. That’s 7,952 games without a no-hitter.”
So, on June 1, 2012, when Johan Santana became the first pitcher in Mets team history to throw a no-hitter, fans celebrated. I celebrated. In fact, the New York Daily News and New York Post back pages hang on my office wall. It was a big deal. But that’s where the road forks for me and many Mets fans.
Last week, amidst controversy over Santana’s health, Mets blogger Ted Berg tweeted:
“Johan Santana returned from career-threatening surgery and pitched the first Mets no-hitter. He could show up 300 lbs. and he’d still be my hero.”
Thirty-five people re-tweeted the post. I am not sure if the reaction was a symbol of support or fans just wanted to share his message with the baseball world. Either way, I disagree. Yes, I was amazed by Santana’s drive to come back and perform like the two-time Cy Young Award winner he once was with the Minnesota Twins. No, Santana should not be labeled a hero for one game.
SNY’s Chris Carlin dished out a portion of these stats on Twitter, to which another Mets fan replied:
“Fair, for first no-hitter in Mets history.”
Fair? Really? This is a sad – and misguided – statement.
When the Mets traded six players for Santana in 2008 they also agreed to sign him to a six-year, $101.5 million contract. Since then, he’s made 109 regular season starts, winning 46 games. He’s earned over $900,000/start in New York, or, $2.2 million per win. He missed all of the 2011 season and one-half of the 2012 season (because of the wear and tear he put on his arm pitching the no-hitter).
Remember the day you heard the news that the Mets had finally acquired Santana from the Twins? I do. Expectations were high. After the crushing collapse at the end of the 2007 season, Santana symbolized a renewed hope that 2008 would be different. Of course, it wasn’t. The point is: Santana was going to help the Mets win; a division, a league championship, maybe a World Series. You did believe that, then, right?
Hypothetically, would you give back the no-hitter if the Mets could have had a healthy Johan Santana in July, August and September? I would. I am of the mindset that winning baseball games, not pitching no-hitters or breaking records, is the goal. I am most happy when the Mets are winning. It doesn’t matter how, but if the Mets win.
Let’s face it, Santana’s not coming back after the 2013 season (if he’s not traded earlier). Over five seasons in New York he’s been closer to a disappointment than hero. Call me naive, but I expected more than one no-hitter from Santana, but thanks for the memory (singular).