When discussing the outstanding trades the Mets have made over the years, the acquisition of Bernard Gilkey from the Cardinals is usually forgotten. In part, this could be because Gilkey really had only one good year for the Mets – although it was a terrific one, and also because even with Gilkey, the 1996 Mets weren’t a very good team.
Yet, Gilkey remains possibly the only experienced hitter ever to come to the Mets and immediately respond with the very best year of his career.
Gilkey had been the regular left fielder for the Cardinals for a few years and always was solid, if unspectacular In 1995, Gilkey batted .298 with 17 home runs and 69 RBI. Then in December of 1995, St. Louis signed Ron Gant as a free agent and suddenly Gilkey was out of a job.
Based on his past performances, it would have seemed that the Cardinals could have dealt Gilkey for much more than they got in return from the Mets in January, 1996 – minor league pitchers Eric Hiljus and Eric Ludwick (brother of current Cardinal of Ryan Ludwick) and outfielder Yudith Rosario.
It seemed like a trade the Mets really couldn’t lose on, unless one of the young players they sent away became a star. Of course, that didn’t happen.
Remarkably, though, Gilkey had an exceptional season for the Mets in ’96, batting .317 with 30 homers and 117 RBI – career highs in every department (compared to Gant’s .246, 30, 82 for the ’96 Cardinals).
Gilkey sort of reverted to form in 1997 and was soon gone from the Mets, but his legacy remains as possibly the only hitter in the 51-year history of the Mets to post a career year immediately after being traded to Flushing.
Did you know…
Bernard Gilkey had a small role in the 1997 film Men in Black? The climax of the film took place in Flushing Meadows where Gilkey appeared in his real life role as a Mets outfielder. Gilkey was distracted by a massive spacecraft above Shea Stadium (actually one of the two circular observation towers from the 1964 World’s Fair) and was hit on the head by a fly ball.