It's not only here in Spring Training where Mets body parts have said "Snap, Crackle and Pop" for 25 years. Go back to the infamous episode of catcher Steve Chilcott, selected first by the Mets in the 1966 Draft when Reggie Jackson was available. He was betrayed by his shoulder and never reached Triple-A. Then run through Jerry Koosman and his shoulder, Tim Leary and his pinched nerve, Bill Pulsipher and his back, Jay Payton and his elbow and John Franco and his finger. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera doesn't begin to cover it all.
High-profile Mets prospects are a different kind of endangered species. They're not rapidly disappearing; they're routinely disabled.
Miss Fortune seemingly has been the first lady of the Mets since the last Miss Rheingold divorced them. At times, injured players have fallen like rows of dominoes even though the injuries are fully unrelated. During the 1995-96 offseason, Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson were on more baseball magazine covers than Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. In less than a year, each became too familiar with Tommy John, as in the surgery.
Now, this is not to suggest Wheeler's injury, suffered Tuesday morning while he was taking batting practice swings, is going to be a significant obstacle in his development, or even in his 2013. He wasn't expected to be introduced at Citi Field April 1 anyway. But his strained oblique is an arrow into the Mets' Spring Training balloon. Pfffffffffft. Some of the comfort of the camp is escaping as the balloon flies all over the complex.
The club's long medical rap sheet automatically appears when a high-profile prospect stubs his toe and makes observers assume the worst is in the offing.
There always seems to be something -- often something out of the ordinary -- with this club. The oblique has been an increasingly prevalent injury throughout the game in recent years. Jon Niese strained his swinging in 2010. So Wheeler's isn't an abnormal ouch. But Ike Davis had his Valley Fever scare last spring. And how long ago was it that concerns about the repaired hamstring of Jose Reyes were replaced by worry about his blood and diet? He was shut down in Spring Training.
Who recalls the year shortstop Dave Howard was in camp? Alarms went off when the Mets doctors discovered his cholesterol count was greater than 400. One player asked if it was catching. Honest.
This phenomenon -- it shouldn't be identified as a curse, should it? -- goes back quite a while. Payton's elbow betrayed him for a second time -- he had a second Tommy John surgery -- in Spring Training, 1996. Pulsipher knew something was wrong when he boarded the bus for the airport following the final spring game in 1996.
Two years ago, Fred Wilpon wondered in the pages of New York Magazine whether his organization was snake bit. Was he aware of the pygmy rattlers or the black racer creatures that have slithered through the outfields here since 1988, when a baseball complex disturbed nature? Wonder if the owner knows now of the six-foot diamondback -- not the Arizona species -- that was hiding under a tarp last spring. The Mets have avoided that sort of venom so far.
It's just that Wheeler's misfortune Tuesday prompts a strong sense of "We have all been here before" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1970). At one point, this burg could have been appropriately renamed Port St. Ligament. From 1995 to 1999, 17 players in the Mets organization -- not all pitchers -- had undergone Tommy John surgery.
Add to those victims Alex Escobar and Fernando Martinez, injured prospects who ran out of future. Jae Seo still is mentioned from time to time among the shoulda-woulda-couldas. Tommy John got him too.
Moreover, matters seemed to deteriorate after the original injuries in the club's recent history. See Ryan Church. Long before Davis and Valley Fever were linked, his bone bruise didn't heal as expected and micro-surgery was discussed. Sean Johnston was one of the eight players the Mets selected in the first 98 picks of the 1994 Draft. He allowed no hits in his first 10 professional innings. Two years later, he was one of the repaired 17. He never made it. Payton was repaired twice. He lost valuable development time.
And when Niese tore his hamstring, the injury was termed catastrophic, much more serious than most injuries of the same nature. It measured a 10 on the Richter scale.
Add to that Duaner Sanchez's shoulder, Carlos Beltran's knee, Pedro Martinez's toe, Glavine's teeth, Billy Wagner's elbow, Johan Santana's knee, Santana's elbow, Santana's shoulder, Aaron Heilman's shoulder, John Maine's shoulder, El Duque's calf, Carlos Delgado's hip, Jason Bay's concussion, David Wright's concussion, Wright's back and all of Daniel Murphy's pulls and tears.
And a lot of broken promises.