Top 100 Mets #79: Kevin Elster

Kevin Elster had a checkered big league career to say the least. He joined the Mets just in time to take part in the 1986 World Championship festivities, and played a solid shortstop in New York for the next half dozen years. Famous for his matinee idol good looks, injuries and problems in his personal life prevented him from reaching his full potential as a major league ballplayer. As a Met, he did manage to set a major fielding record, and for that reason he gets our nod as Greatest Met #79.

Elster joined the Mets at the stretch run of the 1986 season, and he made the postseason roster as backup to starting shortstop Rafael Santana. He batted only once in the 1986 World Series, but it was at a crucial juncture in game #6 and the rookie was retired. Manager Davey Johnson has been second-guessed time and time again for that decision.

In 1988, Elster took over full time at shortstop because he figured to be as good as Santana defensively, and projected to be much, much better offensively. He quickly set the Mets single season homerun and RBI records for a shortstop, as he surpassed both of Eddie Bressoud's marks, which had been set in 1966.

The Mets ruled the National League East in 1988 and Elster proved to be a dependable shortstop. He made few errors and had a good arm. In that rookie season of 1988, Elster showed a little pop, hitting nine homers and driving in 37 runs. However, his average was only .214. Although Kevin would show great potential as an offensive threat in his time for the Mets, he would never hit for a high average. His remarkable errorless streak would begin in the second half of the 1988 season and would extend into 1989.

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

1986

Mets

.167

30

5

0

0

3

0

3

8

.242

.200

1987

Mets

.400

10

4

0

1

1

0

0

1

.400

.600

1988

Mets

.214

406

87

9

37

41

2

35

47

.282

.413

1989

Mets

.231

458

106

10

55

52

4

34

77

.283

.360

1990

Mets

.207

314

65

9

45

36

2

30

54

.274

.363

1991

Mets

.241

348

84

6

36

33

2

40

53

.318

.351

1992

Mets

.222

18

4

0

0

0

0

0

2

.222

.222



New York would go on to lose the 1988 NLCS in an upset vs. Tommy Lasorda's LA Dodgers in seven games. Elster split time at shortstop with Howard Johnson. He had two hits in eight at-bats over five games for a .250 average. He was, more or less, HoJo's defensive replacement in the late innings. But Davey Johnson now felt that he had his regular shortstop for the future, and Kevin supposedly would only get better.

Following the 1988 NLCS loss to the Dodgers, Elster had by far his best season as a Met in 1989, both offensively and defensively. His 10 homeruns and 55 RBI knocked Bressoud out of the Mets record books for a shortstop. Although his average wasn't too much better at .231, he would go on to crush Ed Brinkman's errorless record by some 15 games. Kevin set the then standard of 88 straight outings without a miscue. That record would stand until future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it with 95 consecutive errorless contests.

In the 1990 season, which signaled the end of the Davey Johnson era, Elster had a decent, but unspectacular, season. After having played 300 games the previous two seasons, Kevin was limited to 92 contests in 1990, mainly because nagging injuries had begun to take their toll on him. He began to have shoulder problems, which limited his throwing considerably, and would inevitably end his time with the Mets.

Although his power statistics remained consistent, with nine homers and 45 RBI, his average plummeted to slightly above the Mendoza Line, at .207. Clearly Mets management was beginning to look at other options at shortstop.

In 1991, new manager Bud Harrelson, a great shortstop himself in his playing days, continued to show faith in Kevin's ability, and Kevin was once again the starting shortstop that season. He managed to play in 115 games. He hit six homers and drove home 36, and posted his best batting average as a Met for a full season, with a mark of .241.

It essentially would be his final season with the Mets, however. He would suffer a devastating shoulder injury that hampered his throwing, thus he was limited to 18 at-bats in the 1992 season. He was slow to heal and the Mets let him go following that season. As a free agent, he signed with LA Dodgers in the off season, and that began a baseball odyssey for Kevin.

His bad shoulder persisted and he never played a game in 1993. That began a series of comebacks for Kevin, which culminated in a miraculous season for Texas in 1996, which was by far the finest offensive season of his career. It was highlighted by 24 homeruns and 99 RBI, with a .252 batting average, far surpassing his previous yearly highs.

That led to his biggest payday when he signed with Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1997 season. But the previous season had simply been an aberration, and Elster had three more unremarkable seasons following his fantastic Texas campaign.

After hitting 14 homeruns for the Dodgers in 2000, Kevin decided to call it a career. For Met fans, however, he will forever be associated with the legendary fielding streak that reached 88 games without a single miscue, as well what could have been if injuries hadn't intervened. He occupies the Greatest Met #79 slot in our rankings.

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