"Generation K" was the catchy moniker assigned to hard throwers Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, the trio of Mets pitchers who arrived with much fanfare in the mid-1990s.
Their potential never was fulfilled with the Mets, and that era serves as a cautionary tale with the current ramped-up expectations for the most promising and deepest starting rotation in the team's history.
There is one striking similarity between the staffs of 20 years ago and today: Each can be labeled Generation TJ for the frequency of Tommy John surgeries, a procedure which replaces the ulnar collateral ligament in the affected elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
Pulsipher and Wilson underwent the operation once each, Isringhausen had it three times.
Four of the current phenoms -- Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler -- have had the surgery.
Harvey, who was out nearly 18 months, has been erratic in several starts after beginning the season in top form. DeGrom missed the entire 2011 minor-league season after the procedure, but has been dominant this season. Matz, who had the operation in 2010, made two starts this season before being sidelined with a partial tear of his left lat muscle. Wheeler is out until at least next June after having the surgery in March.
"We had big plans for the future, we believed we were going to be great pitchers," said Pulsipher, 41, who lives in East Moriches and works in road construction. He also gives pitching lessons at All-Pro Sports Academy in Bellport. "We came up to the big leagues, had some pretty good success right away. Eventually all three of us went through having the Tommy John surgery. Things didn't work out the way we had hoped and planned."
Pulsipher broke in with the Mets in 1995 at 21 and had a 13-19 record for five major-league teams in six big-league seasons. He later played for several teams below the major-league level, including the Ducks. Pulsipher came up with Isringhausen, who, despite three Tommy John surgeries, put together a 16-year career and had 300 saves, mostly with the Cardinals.
"We had dreams, but a lot of them didn't hold up," said Isringhausen, 42, a roving minor-league pitching instructor for the Cardinals. "I was fortunate enough to be able to come back from it," he said of Tommy John surgery. "I loved my career, I wish I could have done more. I wish I wouldn't have been hurt as much as I was."
Wilson, 42, also had shoulder surgery. He spent only the 1996 season with the Mets. He was 40-58 in parts of seven major-league seasons. His father, Jerry, said Wilson is an avid fisherman in Florida and declined to be interviewed about his baseball career.
Joe McIlvaine, who was the Mets' general manager from 1993-97, said he wasn't surprised when Generation K fizzled.
"I remember making a statement one time to somebody. I said one of them is going to be really good, one of them is going to get hurt and one of them is going to underachieve."
With injuries, trades and free agency, McIlvaine thinks it is unlikely any rotation of young stars will remain together for a long period.
"At some point, the owner will just say to you, 'I don't want to do that [financially],' " said McIlvaine, now the Mariners' special assistant to the GM. "If you get three out of three [to stay], you've hit the jackpot. More than that, it's the jackpot plus. You're going to win the pennant if you can do that."
Isringhausen and Pulsipher have kept tabs on the Mets' young pitching stars.
"Maybe before long, every one of them will be considered a comic superstar," Isringhausen said. "With the 'Dark Knight' [Harvey], 'Thor' [Noah Syndergaard], they have to come up with a name for Jacob deGrom, I guess."
Pulsipher said: "I think they're very exciting to watch. There are some exceptionally powerful arms. Seems like they've been well groomed in the art of pitching. It's [an] exciting young group of boys who can throw the ball . . . I grew up a Mets fan and looking back now, I would have loved to have stayed with them my whole career. But until you're in the midst of it, you don't actually know how things are going to work out."
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