Dan Mennella is a writer for MLB Trade Rumors, and he has worked for MLB.com and the Long Island Press as an editor, reporter, and columnist. He also writes at his blog, The Mennella Line, and tweets @danmennella.
It’s been said that perpetual, unrelenting losing can skew one’s perspective. These were the unfortunate circumstances under which I entered into my first baseball debate.
When my Mets obsession began in 1991, they were beginning a three-year bottoming out after their successes in the 1980s. Of course, the Mets’ 1991-93 seasons turned out to be a garden-variety run of ineptitude, certainly not an historically bad one, but perspective and patience are uncommon virtues among 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds, so my indoctrination into life as a Mets fan was not always a smooth one.
One of the few highlights, though, was Eddie Murray, who became the Mets’ first baseman prior to the 1992 campaign. Murray was in the midst of one of those awkward, late-career mercenary tours after a successful 12-year stay in Baltimore, having played with the Dodgers from 1989-91 before signing on with the Mets. He was one of the few marginally useful, respectable players on Mets teams that went a putrid 60 games under .500 over the next two seasons, which included the 1993 Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy.
In retrospect, it’s not especially lofty praise to have been a rock of professionalism and adequate production for one of the laughingstocks of the modern era, but seeing as some of the other boys in Flushing were busy throwing firecrackers at children and spraying reporters with bleach, Murray was a welcomed exception, and I came to like him quite a lot. What else was there to root for?
My good friend and fellow baseball rat Brian, however, was a Yankees fan and a devout worshipper at the Church of Donnie Baseball. Mind you, these were the final days before the birth of the Yankees dynasty, when the Yanks were just beginning to emerge from their own doldrums. So, Don Mattingly was the only True Yankee in an era short on them, and his zealots were very protective of him and continue to be. He’s the patron saint of Yankee martyrdom, the very idea of which could make the rest of us sick were Donnie himself not so likable and deserving of his reverence.
Nonetheless, we had the fodder for my first baseball debate: Is Murray or Mattingly the better player? The lumbering switch-hitter or the slick-fielding sweet swinger? The quite, underrated loner or the long-locked, mustachioed rebel? Admittedly, this was not akin to whether you preferred Willie, Mickey or the Duke in the 1950s. After all, Murray was as much a Met as was Mays a generation earlier, which is to say not at all, and Mattingly, sadly, was a shadow of his former self, and it was obvious that he wasn’t for long with his back seemingly killing him with each cut he’d take. But it’s all we had, and it was a good-natured, if not an especially well-informed, debate.
Since-developed analysis shows that Mattingly was actually the better player by two wins in 1992-93. My thanks, however, to the Baseball Writers Associate of America, which has furnished me with the ultimate trump card: Steady Eddie’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Let that one burn, Brian.
It’s one thing for new fans to discover the wonders of baseball in good or even OK times, and another entirely to do so in lean years. At least Murray gave me something to argue.