The New York Mets and their fans have been asking a series of “What Ifs” over the last four years.
What if the Mets bullpen could have backed promising young lefthander Oliver Perez in Game 7 of the National League Championship series in 2006?
What if the Mets hadn’t lost a seven-game lead with 17 left (5-12) in 2007 and a 3 ½-game lead with 17 to play (7-10) the following season?
What if Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, John Maine, Jonathon Niese and Perez hadn’t gone down early with injuries in 2009? And what if the entire offense didn’t go into a funk from the beginning of July, and Beltran, Jason Bay, Luis Castillo and Francouer combine for a 1.9 WAR and $39 million this season.
I didn’t mean to turn any stomachs, but since we’re playing, how about one more?
Imagine how much easier it would have been if the Mets had a Hall-of-Fame outfielder in their lineup the last four years. Well according to former Mets star Mookie Wilson, that is precisely what they would have had in Brian Cole.
Cole, a top Mets prospect, was killed in 2001 when his Ford Explorer crashed in the Florida Panhandle as he headed home to Meriden, Mississippi. He was returning from spring training on March 31 before reporting to Class AA Binghamton.
According to a lawyer for the player’s family, a settlement with Ford Motor Company was reached on Thursday, shortly after the jury in Jasper County had awarded $131 million in actual damages to Cole’s family.
Cole was on the fast track to Shea Stadium after being named Baseball America’s junior college player of the year in 1998 and being taken in the 18th round that summer by the Mets.
The 5-9, 170-pound Cole was a rare combination: a switch-hitter who could hit for average and power, and he was one of the top stolen base threats in the minor leagues. He reached Class AA in 2000 at the age of 21 and was ranked the 64th best prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America after that season.
In three years in the minor leagues, Cole hit .306/.347/.503 with 135 stolen bases in 320 games. He had 90 doubles, 19 triples, 42 home runs and 193 RBI and struck out just 180 times in 1,403 at-bats.
Cole was a postseason all-star in each of his leagues he started a season, and he was selected Mets Minor League Player of the Year in 2000, when he hit .301/.347/.494 with 35 doubles, seven triples, 19 homers, 86 RBI and 69 stolen bases split between Class A and AA. Cole was projected to make the major leagues about the time same Jose Reyes and David Wright joined the club
According to AP, Wilson, a minor league coach of Cole’s, testified on behalf of the family that Cole could have had a career similar to Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. Former Met and San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell testified that Cole would have made $100 million during his career.
In a New York Times article on April 2, 2001, General Manager Steve Phillips said Cole was projected to be an impact player in the majors, and that his talents suggested he could be an updated version of the classic leadoff hitter — Cole could steal bases, but he also had pop in his bat.
Phillips saw Cole play for the Class A St. Lucie Mets (in 200)), and Cole put on a show — infield hits, stolen bases, home runs. The Mets even considered promoting him (in September, 2000). .
”We had some of our longest discussions about him during spring,” Mets manager at the time Bobby Valentine told the Times. ”Most of it was about whether he was going to hit 20 or 35 homers in the big leagues.
There will certainly be long discussion among the Cole Family this weekend as they finally have some closure in Brian’s death. I’m sure they’ll also be re-living memories, looking up with a smile and wondering, “What If.”