Is Mike Hampton the least popular New York baseball post season hero ever?

Usually post season glory in New York means immortality and a permanent place in the hearts of a passionate fanbase. Somehow that has eluded Mike Hampton.

He retired today. Yeah, it’s the same Mike Hampton. This isn’t like Mike Stanton where one retired and the Marlins got another one.

This isn’t a Steve Ontiveros situation where somehow two people named Steve Ontiveros made it to the majors.

And it isn’t the Mike Hampton who played in the Reds farm system in the 1990s.

The same guy who was a stud for the Astros in the 1990s hung up his spikes today. Last September I was stunned to see Hampton was still cashing a check as a member of the Diamondbacks.

So a big league career that began in 1993 with the Mariners ended in the Diamondbacks spring training camp today.

Of course he had incredible injury issues that forced him to miss two entire seasons and he famously (and expensively) flopped in Colorado. But he had a good solid career with a few terrific seasons sprinkled in there.

Along the way, he made a cameo with the 2000 Mets. The Mets sent Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel packing to the Astros after the 1999 season to get Hampton, who finished second to Randy Johnson in the Cy Young vote and won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year award.

He was no slouch with the bat either, batting .311 with a .806 OPS for the Astros in 1999.

He was a free agent to be, but the Mets had a World Series run on their mind and adding Hampton to the rotation could have been just what the doctor ordered to catch the Braves.

He may not have been a Cy Young contender in 2000, but he won 15, pitched 217 2/3 innings and let up the fewest home runs per nine innings in the league.

He out pitched Andy Pettitte in a July 9th win against the Yankees.

The Mets finished a game behind Atlanta but made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They defeated the Giants and advanced to the NLCS with revenge on their mind for their heartbreaking 1999 loss to the Braves. There would be no rematch as the Cardinals unseated the Braves.

Hampton pitched 7 shutout innings to win Game 1. Then, with the Mets up 3-1 in the series, took the ball for Game 5. The bullpen took the night off as once again, St. Louis couldn’t score off of Hampton.

He went all 9 innings and the Mets won the pennant.

The image of Mike Hampton being lifted off the ground in triumph should be a cherished moment in Mets history.

Mike Hampton was awarded the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award for 2000.

He is the ONLY Mets player to win that award. (They didn’t have an MVP for the 1969 and 1973 NLCS and Astros Mike Scott won the award in a losing effort for 1986.)

So he is a beloved Met, right?

At least a Met you’d give a standing ovation to, right?

When I wrote my Home Grown Vs. Acquired series a few years ago, I put Hampton on the All Time Acquired Mets Team. My rationale was I tended to honor players who had post season glory. And I didn’t expect to get much flak from Met fans about honoring a guy who pitched the team into the World Series.

It was almost unanimous that I was dead wrong.
While the name calling didn’t get as bad as this week’s barrage from Met fans, they couldn’t understand why I was heaping such praise on Mike Hampton.

“He won two games. Big deal!” One guy wrote to me.
Um, the clinching game of the League Championship Series IS a big deal! Or so I thought.

Most people thought I should have included Johan Santana based on his then one season with the Mets. (I wonder how many would still include him.)

But I have yet to hear from a Met fan who shares my praise of their lone NLCS MVP.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that he beat the Cardinals and not the Braves that made his achievement lack any resonating emotion. (Beating Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals in the 1980s would have been bigger.

Maybe it is because he pitched poorly against the Yankees in the World Series that any enthusiasm for his LCS triumph was muted.

Of course he made no friends in New York by leaving after one season and claiming his desire to go to Colorado had more to do with their school system than the fact that he got the biggest contract for any pitcher at that time in history. ($14 million a year should pay for tuition at a good private school.)

Either way it is unfortunate. For one season he pitched well for the Mets and joined a very short list of pitchers who clinched a pennant for the Mets:

Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Jesse Orosco and Mike Hampton.

That should be worth some love.

As for Mike Hampton, I salute you.
16 big league seasons, a Cy Young runner up, 148 wins, 2 All Star Game appearances, a Gold Glove, a 20 win season in 1999, 5 Silver Sluggers, a post season MVP and the experience of being the pitcher who gets mobbed after a clinching game are all things to admire.

$124 million in cashed checks is something we would ALL want.

Money might not be able to buy you love from Met fans… but we here at Sully Baseball will show your greatest highlight.

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Sully Baseball Salutes… Braden Looper

Pitcher Braden Looper retired today after failing to land a roster spot with the Cubs. He probably won’t get a prolonged farewell in baseball circles nor a big celebration of his career.

Chances are he’ll clean out his locker, say good bye to some old friends and leave Arizona for his home in Illinois.

But the staff here at Sully Baseball thinks his career in baseball is worth a salute.

The Oklahoma native pitched in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games and starred at Wichita State. He was drafted third overall that year (after Kris Benson and Travis Lee) and worked his way up the Cardinals system.

But because of the on going Florida Marlins firesale, he was sent packing to Miami in exchange for former World Series hero Edgar Renteria after the 1998 seasons. In his five seasons in Florida, he developed into a solid if not spectacular reliever and a part time closer.

Though he lost the closer job to Ugeth Urbina, Looper became a key contributor to the 2003 Marlins playoff push. In the Division Series, he was the winning pitcher when Pudge Rodriguez laced a 2 run 2 out walk off single in the 10th inning of Game 3. In the NLCS, he got the save for the marathon game 1. And when Alex Gonzalez hit the walk off homer in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, Looper got the win.

In 2004 and 2005 he pitched for the Mets as their closer before returning to St. Louis in 2006. He vultured off 9 relief wins in 2006 and got the final outs in Game 1 of the 2006 World Series. After earning his second ring in four years, Looper became a starting pitcher for the first time in his big league career.

His best start came on June 11, 2008, when he got 5 first inning runs and cruised to a complete game, 3 hit, no walk 10-0 shutout of the Reds.

He last pitched in the big leagues in 2009 when he posted a respectable 14-7 record with the Brewers. But he threw to a 5.22 ERA and led the league in runs and homers allowed.

I urged the Twins to sign him last year
, but alas it never happened.

So now he hangs up his spikes. He never was an All Star but a lot of top 3 picks never pan out as major leaguers. (Just ask the Pirates.)

And he has wrapped up 12 full big league seasons (and a partial season in 1998). He saved 103 ballgames and earned over $20 million in the process.

Looper can go home to Illinois with his head high about his career. And he and his wife are raising three children, including a girl they adopted from China.

And if any of the kids ask about daddy’s baseball career, he can slip on one his two World Series rings and tell them some tales.

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