Over the 50-year life of the New York Mets franchise, much has been made of their constant futility to find an adequate third baseman. For every David Wright, Howard Johnson and Robin Ventura there were dozens of Jim Fregosis, Tucker Ashfords and Tom O’Malleys.
No one really talks about an area where the Mets have excelled — at catcher. The Mets have had a string of All-Star catchers, and hopefully Travis d’Arnaud can resume that excellence behind the plate.
It all started in 1966 when the Mets obtained Jerry Grote, one of the great Mets trades of all time. He wasn’t much of a hitter, but he was excellent defensively. He never won a Gold Glove (for some reason you have to be a good hitter to win the fielding award), but Johnny Bench, winner of 10 Gold Gloves, once famously said that if he and Grote played on the same team, Bench would play third base.
John Stearns took over when Grote was traded in 1977. Stearns was a four-time All-Star, mostly because the Mets were so bad and he was their only player worthy of the honor. But Stearns was no slouch — he once held the record for steals by a catcher with 25, and he was tough as nails.
Gary Carter came along in 1985 — all he did was lead the Mets to a World Series championship and go to the Hall of Fame.
In 1992 Todd Hundley picked up the mantle. He set the Mets single-season home run record with 41 in 1996 (which still stands, equaled by Carlos Beltran) and was selected to two All-Star games.
When Hundley went down to injury in 1998, the Mets made the bold move to trade for Mike Piazza. Two years later they were in the World Series, and Piazza is the best hitter in Mets history.
Piazza’s successor, Paul Lo Duca was really nothing special in his two years, but even he made an All-Star team.
The catching corps has been a bit thin in the five years since Lo Duca left. The Mets have been getting by with such journeymen as Brian Schneider, Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco and Ronny Paulino, and more recently the disappointing Josh Thole.
Now Travis d’Arnaud is set to join the team. By all accounts he is expected to be more along the lines of the Mets catching All-Stars rather than the recent backstops. Let’s hope it works out that way.