Lets face it, for the most part the ’90′s were a lost decade for the Mets. They started out promising in 1990, when they battled the Pirates tooth and nail for the National League East title, faltering in the last week, but besides that , the team would not become relevant again until the later part of that decade. One of the people that helped put the team back on the map is number 12 on the countdown – as voted by you the fans. That player is none other than Ace pitcher of the Mets from ’98-’04, Al Leiter.
Alois Terry Leiter was born in Toms River New Jersey on October 23, 1965. As a teenager, Al attended Central Regional High School. Upon graduating high school , Al was drafted by the New York Yankees, where he would later be considered one of their top prospects.
In 1987, after five years in the minors, Al made his major league debut. He was a September call up when he got his first start against the Milwaukee Brewers. It would be his first career major league win. Over the next two seasons, Al would pitch unevenly, due in part mostly because he consistently struggled with blisters on his pitching hand. Finally the Yankees became discouraged with him and traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays on April 30th 1989 for power hitting outfielder, Jesse Barfield.
In his first season with the Blue Jays, Al was shut down early int he season when he underwent athroscopic surgery in his pitching shoulder. In his first three seasons with Toronto, Al pitched a total of twenty innings. He suffered from a litancy of injuries including a pinched nerve in his elbow coupled with tendinitis, which led to another arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder.
In 1993 Al was finally healthy enough to pitch again, and was used primarily out of the Jays’ bullpen. He made 32 appearances for the Blue Jays with twelve of them as starts. Al appeared in five games during the ’93 post season in which he earned a win in relief during Game One of the 1993 World Series. That would be the first World Series ring he would win. Al would return to the starting rotation the following year, becoming one of the premier starters in the American League.
In 1996 Al became a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins. It would be one of the best years in Al’s career. He was elected to his first All Star Team that season, pitched his first no hitter ( which was also the first no hitter in Marlins history) against the Colorado Rockies. Al finished the season with a record of 16-12 with a 2.93 ERA and 200 strikeouts.
In 1997, Al won his second World Series ring, this time with the Marlins. He pitched in two games against the Cleveland Indians, and didn’t receive a decision. Al started game seven of the Word Series, pitching six innings of two run ball, but left with a no decision. The, Marlins would win the game – along with the World Series title in eleven innings.
After the season had ended, it was evident that the Marlins could not afford all of their high priced talent. On the orders of then Marlins owner, Wayne Huizinga, the Marlins were forced to conduct a fire sale to get rid of the most expensive talent. Mets General Manager,at the time, Steve Phillips jumped at the opportunity to acquire the serviced of Leiter ,a legitimate number one starter, and traded minor league outfield prospect, Robert Stratton along with pitching prospects, Jesus Sanchez and relative unknown A.J Burnett. The Mets also received utility infielder, Ralph Millard in the deal. Leiter pitched extremely well in his first season with the Mets in 1998. He went 17-6 with a ERA of 2.47 ERA.
In 1999 Al had a off season. He went 13-12 with a ERA of 4.23. But Al would be the difference maker in the most important game of the season, when he pitched a complete game two hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in their own ballpark on the tie breaking 163 game of the season. Al’s near flawless effort put the Mets in their first post season in eleven years. The Mets would end up losing in the NLCS against the dreaded Atlanta Braves in four games.
In 2000,Al had a very good season going 16-8 with a 3.20 ERA. He was also selected to his second All Star Team that year. The Mets made the playoffs again as the wild card, defeating both the Giants and the Cardinals to make it to their first World Series in fourteen years. This as we all know was dubbed the ” Subway Series”, for the Mets would face their crosstown rivals, The New York Yankees. We know what happened so I’ll spare all of the gory details, but in his two starts with the Mets that post season, Al had a ERA of 2.87 with16 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings against the so called ” superior” Yankee team. The Mets ended up losing the World Series 4 games to 1, but if a few boneheaded mistakes weren’t made, the final result could have been entirely different.
Al would pitch for the Mets until the end of the ’04 season. By the end of his tenure he had received the reputation as being a bit of a clubhouse lawyer and it was rumored that he helped persuade the Mets front office to trade their stud minor league prospect, Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. When the season ended Al became a free agent and the Mets didn’t even tender him a contract offer.
Leiter Would end up re-signing with the Marlins, but he pitched terribly. He had a 3-7 record and a 6.64 ERA going into the All Star Break that season. Al was designated for assignment on July 14, 2005, and he was acquired by the New York Yankees the very next day. Al pitched well with the Yankees as both a starter and as a reliever for the rest of that season. Leiter appeared in his last postseason game against the California Angels ( a win) but the Yankees would lose to the Halos in five games. During that off season, Al signed a minor league contract with the Yankees but he ended up retiring before Spring training ended.
After he retired in ’06, Al has kept himself busy by working in the broadcast field. He first worked in the broadcast booth for FOX Sports during the playoffs as a color commentator. for the past five years, Al has been part of the revolving door broadcasting team on the Yankees YES Network, providing his analyst expertise. He won a NY Emmy in 2007. In 2009, Leiter was hired to be a in studio analyst for the then fledgling, where he worked in conjunction with the YES Network. Al has not been a stranger to the franchise in Flushing since his retirement. He was on hand for the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium where he was greeted loudly by boos from a segment of Mets fans that still blamed him for the Scott Kazmir trade.
Tomorrow we will reveal number 11 on the countdown. All I will say is he was one of the best offensive players that the Mets had in the ’80′s.
And with that said …. HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!
Mets alumni celebrating birthdays today include :
One of the better pitchers the Mets had in the early ’80′s, Ed Lynch is 55 (1956).I was sad when he was traded away in the middle of the ’86 season. I felt he deserved to make the playoffs with the Mets. But I am happy they did vote him a full Play off and World Series share as well as a World Series ring.
The New York Mets purchased the contract of reserve second baseman, Luis Alvarado from the Detroit Tigers on February 25, 1977. Luis only played in one game with the Mets, and went 0-2 .
And while you keep marking off your calendar waiting for baseball games to start again, just remember that there are 35 Dock Ellis days to go until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami, and only 42 more days until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn wishes he was a Pointer Sister !!!