Pitcher – Ron Darling began wearing the No. 44 before switching over to No. 12 And although he also wore the No. 15, he is mostly remembered for wearing No. 12 during his Mets career. Darling was technically the beginning of the turn around of the franchise following the sale by the Payson family. GM Frank Cashen traded the popular Lee Mazzilli to the Texas Rangers for Walt Terrell and Darling. The trade was widely panned at the time, but it became the start of the laying of the foundation for the World Championship team in 1986. Darling was a part of what is probably the best starting rotation in team history, along with Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera. Although arm troubles plagued him for most of his career, Darling finished his stay with the Mets just one victory short of 100. He is now better known by this generation as a third of the Gary-Keith-Ron team on SNY telecasts. A super intelligent guy and graduate of Yale University, he is the author of some pretty good books too.
Catcher – John Stearns arrived on the scene in the trade that sent Tug McGraw to the Phillies and made his debut in 1975. He began his career with the No. 16 before swapping with Lee Mazzilli and taking the No. 12. Stearns played with a lot of heart. He was hard-nosed and played every inning of every game hard. He was a two-sport athlete at the University of Colorado and, believe it or not, was drafted ahead of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield in both the Major League Baseball and National Football League drafts. He hit .260 for his career and, as strong as he was, didn’t hit many home runs due to injuries sapping his power. But he had a high on base percentage, .385, and walked more than he struck out. A four-time All Star, Stearns set the stolen base record (at the time) for catchers with 25 swipes in 1978.
First baseman – Lee Mazzilli is most identified with the No. 16 but he was originally handed the No. 12 when he first came up in 1976. As Mazzilli was my favorite player at the time – like me he was a switch-hitter and ambidextrous and a centerfielder – I was devastated when he swapped with Stearns to wear No. 16. When he returned to the Mets during the 1986 World Championship run, he took the No. 13 which he wore for the rest of his Mets career. Following the departure of Tom Seaver in 1977, Mazzilli became the face of the franchise. He had matinee idol looks, and he had the combination of speed and power that New York cherished in their centerfielders. He even made basket catches in centerfield a la Willie Mays. From 1978 through 1980, Maz hit for a .287 clip, averaged 16 home runs, 72 runs batted in, with 82 walks, 32 stolen bases, and 80 runs scored. He had an on base percentage of .385 and never struck out 100 times in his entire career drawing more bases on balls than he struck out. However, once Joe Torre took over as manager and moved him to first base in 1981, Maz was never the same. GM Frank Cashen quickly traded him to the Texas Rangers for two minor league pitchers named Walt Terrell and (future No. 12) Ron Darling.
Second baseman – Roberto Alomar was handed his No. 12 which he wore previously with the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Indians, on his way to the Hall of Fame. Alomar played two seasons for the Mets. Prior to joining the Mets, he played in 12 All Star games, won 10 Gold Glove Awards, and 4 Silver Slugger Awards. However, his short time with the Mets saw him with numbers vastly below his career numbers. He hit 44 points below his career batting average and his on base percentage was 55 points below his career numbers. Watching Alomar playing for the Mets those two seasons was almost as bad as watching Willie Mays play his two seasons in blue and orange. It was painful.
Shortstop – Shawon Dunston was also handed his No. 12 upon his arrival after he was unceremoniously dismissed from the Cubs. Dunston was the first overall pick, No. 1 in the country, of the 1982 draft by the Cubs. Just as a point of reference, the Mets chose Dwight Gooden four picks later and the San Francisco Giants selected a young high school outfielder named Barry Bonds 38 picks later. While the Mets got the arm in the draft, Dunston would show off his arm from his shortstop position. He was a two-time All Star but could never really put it all together with the Cubs and was gone after 10 years with the club. He bounced around with the Giants, back to the Cubs, then to then Indians, back to the Giants, then to St. Louis, before the Mets picked him up for the pennant drive in 1999. He hit .344 for the Mets in 42 games. But went back to the Cardinals and then on to the Giants for a third time before calling it quits.
Third baseman – Jeff Kent, after initially being handed the No. 39, quickly took the No. 12 and wore some form of it (he wore No. 21 with the Giants) most of his career. Kent came in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade deadline dump of David Cone in 1992 and was never expected to be anything special. The Mets management focused more on another player in the deal, Ryan Thompson. Kent was going to be another in the revolving door that was third base, until incumbent Willie Randolph’s illustrious career began to disintegrate in Queens. Kent was then moved to second base where he was chastised for his lack of range in the field, and regardless of how well he hit, he was never well-liked by management, and was actually disliked by the media. In just over four years, he averaged .279 with 16 home runs and 65 runs batted in. Not bad for a second baseman. But during the 1996 season, Mets management decided to flip Kent for Cleveland Indians All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga. Kent would go on to a career in which he hit .291 and slammed 366 homers and drove in 1,467 runs. He won four Silver Slugger Awards, he was selected to play in five All Star Games, and he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000. Given his numbers, given his longevity, given his quiet yet hard-nosed, old school approach every game, every season, it’s a wonderment as to why Kent is being snubbed by the HOF voters.
Left fielder – Tommy Davis donned No. 12 for his one year in a Mets uniform. Davis was a hitter…a pure hitter. I was a mere child when Davis came to the Mets but my grandfather, still a true Dodger fan, said that Davis was one of the best natural hitters he had ever seen. He was a two-time National League batting champion and came to the Mets in a trade for two popular players – Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt. In his single season with the Mets, he hit .302 with 16 HR and 73 RBI. Davis was then packaged to the Chicago White Sox in the trade that brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to Queens. Davis was an enigma and was deemed difficult in the clubhouse. He was a career .294 hitter yet played for eight more teams (10 total) after the Mets.
Centerfielder – Juan Lagares wore No. 12 for many years while with the Mets. Lagares was signed as a young shortstop and was enjoying success while moving up through the Minor Leagues. At some point, when the Mets saw his speed and raw power, and need for outfielders they converted him. And he did not disappoint. He, at times, looked like the second coming of Andruw Jones. He was smooth, he made it look easy, and he was an absolute joy to watch patrolling centerfield. He actually captured a Gold Glove in 2014, in his first full season with the club. It was enough for the Mets to hand him an extension and sign him long-term. However, Lagares could never hit enough to stay in the lineup, especially when Yoenis Cespedes arrived during the 2015 season. Lagares had power but did not hit more than six home runs in a season. He had speed but averaged 10 stolen bases a year. Combine that with a .254 batting average, and it was enough for him to be cut from the roster a couple of times, only to be brought back and have to wear No. 15 and, gulp, No. 87. Doesn’t bode well, does it?
Right fielder – Jeff Francoeur took the No. 12 when he came to the Mets from the Atlanta Braves. Francoeur was a hometown hero and first round draft pick of the Braves. He had a very likeable personality and an absolute rocket for an arm. He had two-plus productive years for the Braves hitting for power, average, and he drove in over 100 runs in consecutive seasons. However, he suddenly began to struggle and the Braves decided a change of scenery would be best. The Mets also had a right fielder who needed a change of scenery, Ryan Church. So in midseason of 2009, the teams swapped their frustrations and, while the scenery changed, the results didn’t. Church continued to fail in Atlanta and Francoeur, well, he enjoyed initial success but then flopped and was flipped the next season to the Texas Rangers for…well…it doesn’t matter really.
Shout out to Ken Boswell
I do feel a bit guilty that the player that got me to wear No. 12 is not on the list. So a special shout out, again, to Ken Boswell. I truly wish you were treated a bit better by Mets management. I thought more of you as a player than I did Felix Millan. It’s just that Alomar was always a favorite of mine and he IS in the Hall of Fame. So I just had to defer to him, right?
I honestly have to say that there is no player on this list who I didn’t like. I absolutely loved Mazzilli and I, too, would make basket catches when I played centerfield, emulating him out there. I was a huge fan of Alomar and was truly disappointed that he was a shell of himself in his tenure with the Mets. Kent, well, I am a firm believer that the Mets made an awful mistake with him and that he certainly deserving of getting a call to the Hall. The hugest disappointment is probably Lagares. I truly believed he would be the second coming of Andruw Jones. I would be in awe watching him patrol centerfield at CitiField.
But for now, and hopefully for many years to come, No. 12 will be worn by Francisco Lindor, and hopefully he will do it proud.