Welcome to Part Two of my series entitled, How The Miracle Mets Were Built. You can read Part One by clicking, The Spring Of 1968.
The 1968 Off-Season
The Mets had just completed their most successful year winning 73 games and finishing in 9th place under new manager Gil Hodges. Even though it wasn’t that much of an improvement over previous years, there were definitely some positive developments in ’68. Second-year man Tom Seaver and rookie Jerry Koosman won 16 and 19 games respectively to give the Mets two reliable young pitchers to head the rotation.
Nolan Ryan was inconsistent and plagued by blisters, but showed great potential. Cleon Jones was solid in left field raising his average from .246 in 1967 to .297 and driving in 55 runs. Jerry Grote at catcher and Bud Harrelson at shortstop excelled defensively and Grote also hit well enough to solidify himself as the undisputed #1 catcher on the team. Unheralded Jim McAndrew came up from the minor leagues and showed that he could be a useful 4th or 5th starter. On the farm, although Les Rohr had an injury-plagued and wasted year , the Mets were developing another good crop of young pitchers such as Rich Folkers, Jim Bibby, Barry Raziano, and Steve Renko and both Gary Gentry and Tug McGraw pitched well enough at AAA Jacksonville to contend for major league jobs in 1969. But there had also been many disappointments in 1968.
For the third year in a row, it seemed like the Mets had traded for a centerfielder who was a complete bust. Following in the footsteps of Billy Cowan and Don Bosch, Tommie Agee, playing in 132 games batted .217 with five home runs and 17 RBI, while striking out 103 times. Would Agee get another chance ? Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda who had once been hailed as the future hitting stars of the team, disappointed once again. Nobody on the team had more than 15 home runs and that was old man Ed Charles who won the third base job in spring training. Nobody on the team drove in as many as 60 runs.
The good news was the Mets had to finish better than ninth in 1969 because divisional play had begun and the worst the team could do was finish 6th. The first order of business was to prepare the list of eligible players for the expansion draft to stock the new Montreal and San Diego franchises. Although the Mets’ full list was never divulged, I read that Ed Kranepool was eligible, but was withdrawn after the Expos picked Don Shaw because Shaw and Kranepool were 2 of M. Donald Grant’s favorites and the Mets weren’t about to give up both.
The Mets also wound up losing Dick Selma who had been a useful swing man, but never really established himself, as well as several minor leaguers including outfielder Jerry Morales and pitchers Ernie Mc Anally and John Glass. Following the draft, the Mets sold Don Bosch to the Expos. In the Rule 5 draft, the Mets selected infielder Wayne Garrett. Before spring training, the Mets sent one-time stellar catching prospect Greg Goossen to the expansion Seattle Pilots for veteran minor leaguer Jim Gosger. Other than that, the Mets did not make a single deal in the off-season. Most experts thought that the Mets had a good shot at beating out the expansion Expos, although even that was In doubt because in Rusty Staub and Donn Clendenon, Montreal had 2 professional hitters the Mets couldn’t match.
Optimistic Mets fans saw Nolan Ryan joining Seaver and Koosman in the regular rotation possibly along with Gentry or McGraw to give the Mets an outstanding young rotation. Gentry had been making steady progress ever since the Mets signed him out of Arizona State in 1967, but was he ready for the major leagues? McGraw was definitely ready for another shot, but would he stick this time, and would he start or relieve?
Personally, I thought that the Mets had a chance to possibly beat out both the Expos and Phillies, and maybe even the Pirates, but the Cubs and defending league champion Cardinals looked like they would dominate the division. As we all know, things fell into place very nicely for the 1969 Mets. More in my next post.