Mets Merized Online » Barry Duchan Sat, 06 Feb 2016 23:29:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Amazin Moments: Mets Trade For Felix Millan and George Stone Sun, 30 Aug 2015 14:00:06 +0000 Felix Millan

I was on vacation in Japan when the Mets acquired Felix Millan in the winter of 1972.

I found out about the trade – Millan and lefty pitcher George Stone from the Atlanta Braves for starting pitcher Gary Gentry and reliever Danny Frisella – via a tiny mention of it in the International Edition of the New York Times.

1972 had been a very disappointing, injury-filled season for the Mets. Prior to the season, the Mets had acquired perennial All-Stars Jim Fregosi and Rusty Staub. Adding them to the lineup to go along with the best pitching in baseball figured to make the Mets a strong favorite for another championship.

Unfortunately, by the time the season ended, the pitching was intact, but the lineup was in shambles. In addition to the injuries, regular second baseman Ken Boswell finished the season batting .211, bad any way you look at it, but especially for a second baseman whose bat was considered his best asset. So the Mets looked for a replacement.

Millan was a former all-star coming off his worst season, but undoubtedly a better second baseman than Boswell. Gentry was, at 26, still young enough to become a star, although he was no better than a third starter with the Mets. Stone was a fringe major leaguer and Frisella a good reliever who was behind Tug McGraw in the Mets’ bullpen hierarchy.

At the time, the deal didn’t look all that good to me, because Millan at best was “steady” and Stone looked like he’d struggle to make the Mets, while the two pitchers the Mets gave up were young enough and good enough to have long, productive careers. But it turned out to be a steal for the Mets.

In seven seasons with the Braves, Millan batted .281 with a .668 OPS and a cumulative 9.4 WAR in 799 games. In that era, and long before the steroids era, those numbers ranged between very good and All Star level for a second baseman.

241-6After joining the Mets, “The Cat” as he was known, continued to produce at that level but also became very accomplished in another distinguishing aspect of his game. The three-time All Star batted .279 with a .663 OPS and 8.1 WAR in 4 1/2 seasons with the Amazins.

Millan also became MLB’s toughest player to strikeout and was always putting the ball in play and making things happen. For five consecutive seasons, one with the Braves and four with the Mets, he led the league in At-Bat to Strikeout ratio.

In fact, during his tenure with the Mets he finished with a remarkable 3.1% strikeout rate – the best mark in the majors during that span. To put that into raw numbers, that’s 92 strikeouts in 2,954 plate appearances.

With his trademark style of choking up on the bat, Milan was a catalyst for the Mets at the top of the order, batting second and hitting .291 while scoring 82 runs during the team’s incredible 1973 season. Unfortunately, the Mets ended up losing the World Series to the Oakland A’s in seven games.

A Puerto Rican native, Millan gave the Mets four very solid seasons before he was forced to retire in 1977 because of a serious shoulder injury he sustained in a brawl with Pirates catcher Ed Ott.

After Ott slid hard into Millan to break up a double play, the smallish second baseman punched Ott in the face with his fist clenched around the baseball. Ott responded by lifting Millan off his feet and then slamming him hard onto the ground. He did attempt to resurrect his career playing in Japan, but that was the last MLB game Millan would ever play.

George Stone was remarkable for the 1973 Mets, finishing 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 148 innings. After ’73, Stone did little to help the Mets and was gone after two more mediocre seasons. But clearly, this trade put the Mets in the 1973 World Series as much as anything.

As for Gentry and Frisella, elbow problems plagued Gentry for the rest of his career and he never really helped the Braves. He got one last spring training shot with the Mets a few years later, but was quickly released. Frisella was a mediocre reliever the rest of his career before his untimely passing in a dune-buggy accident before the 1977 season.

Did You Know?

On July 21, 1975, Joe Torre set an MLB record by grounding into four double-plays in a single game. Felix Millan had a nice 4-for-4 day at the plate singling all four times while batting ahead of Joe Torre in that game.

Afterward, Torre went into the clubhouse turned to the reporters at his locker and famously said, “I’d like to thank Felix Millan for making all of this possible.”

Millan jokingly responded, “Geesh, you’d think that big oaf would at least hit a two-run homer or something.”

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Steve Chilcott: Because Without A Catcher You’ll Have A Lot Of Passed Balls Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:30:17 +0000 steve-chilcott

There are certain names that make Mets fans cringe whenever they hear them. Scott Kazmir is one, as in “How can the Mets trade Scott Kazmir, maybe the best pitching prospect in all of baseball for Victor Zambrano, a mediocre 30-year old pitcher with arm trouble ?”

Remember Gregg Jefferies, who seemed to win Minor League Player Of The Year every season on his way to being fast-tracked to the Major Leagues. Only when he got there, he proved to be a player in search of a position who was despised by most of his teammates for his (alleged) selfishness and immaturity. Despite a fairly productive career with the bat after leaving the Mets, Jefferies fell far short of his goals of surpassing Ty Cobb and Pete Rose for the all-time hits record and has become more of a “whatever happened to…”.

But, old-time Met fans will always cringe at the mention of the name Steve Chilcott. For you younger fans who may not be up on early Mets history, let’s go back to 1966.

The Mets had the number one overall selection in the 2nd annual amateur draft and the choice clearly came down to two players. There was the star outfielder at Arizona State University, Reggie Jackson and a high-school catcher out of California by the name of Steve Chilcott.

Of course, Reggie Jackson went on to a Hall Of Fame career, while Chilcott never made the Major Leagues. There had been some speculation that the Mets had some question about Jackson’s character and associations, but at the time, most big league scouts were divided as to which of the two was a better prospect.

Steve Chilcott and Gil HodgesBased on a personal scouting report from Casey Stengel, probably combined with Casey’s philosophy that “if you don’t have a catcher, you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls”, the Mets went with Chilcott.

That wasn’t the first mistake the Mets made and it certainly wasn’t the last, but it was definitely among the biggest.

Anyway, I can say that I am probably one of the few people who actually saw Steve Chilcott play a professional game in New York City. No, not with the Mets or the Yankees, since Steve never made the big leagues, even though he got as close as Double-A and maybe a game or two in Triple-A with the Yankees organization after the Mets released him.

It was a special pre-game event at Yankee Stadium, a regular season league game between the Auburn Mets and Binghamton Yankees.

Binghamton’s Mickey Scott out-dueled Auburn’s Jerry Koosman, 1-0 in front of maybe 1,000 fans, most of whom thought they were arriving early for Big League batting practice.

But there were a handful of Met die-hards like myself who came out to see the Auburn Mets, and more specifically, to see the future of the Mets – Steve Chilcott.

Getting to see Jerry Koosman was, of course, a bonus. Koosman dominated New York Penn League hitters that season and after a quick jump to AAA the next season became a mainstay of the Mets’ rotation.

As for Chilcott, he hit a double down the rightfield line, almost a HR into the short right field seats of Yankee Stadium. But he also struck out a couple of times and looked pretty bad doing it. I was still sure that Chilcott would be starring for the Mets one day because that’s what all the “experts” said.

Little did I know that his appearance that day in Yankee Stadium would be the last chance I would ever get to see him play.


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The Mets Need Another Donn Clendenon Type Deal Sat, 06 Jun 2015 19:09:10 +0000 donn clendenon

With increasing talk about the Mets’ need to trade for offensive help, I immediately remembered the trade they pulled off on June 15, 1969 with the Expos for first baseman Donn Clendenon. Certainly, the trades for Keith Hernandez and Mike Piazza were more high-profile, but it’s fair to say the Mets would have never won their first World Championship without Clendenon who was the perfect acquisition for a young team that needed some veteran leadership as well as a powerful right-handed bat.

Clendenon had spent his entire career prior to 1969 with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a solid if unspectacular right-handed hitting first baseman. With the emergence of Al Oliver, the Bucs let Donn go to Montreal in the expansion draft. The Expos then dealt Clendenon to the Astros as a key part of the Rusty Staub trade, but when Donn refused to report, he found himself back in Montreal where he shared playing time with Ron Fairly and Bob Bailey.

He was definitely expendable and the Mets gave up 5 players to get him, none of whom were considered top prospects. They were Steve Renko, a right-handed pitcher and low-round draft choice who actually became something of a workhorse for Montreal, Kevin Collins, a third baseman who was found wanting in several trials with the Mets, and three low-level minor league pitchers – Jay Carden, Dave Colon, and Terry Dailey.

It seemed like a more than fair price for a veteran who was expected to be nothing more than a platoon partner for Ed Kranepool or a right-handed bat off the bench. But Clendenon proved to be so much more – a clutch hitter, great clubhouse presence and ultimately, a World Series hero. Can Sandy Alderson make a similar move ? We can only hope.


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Jon Matlack, the Mets’ Underrated Lefty Wed, 15 Apr 2015 15:27:22 +0000 matlack

Jon Matlack’s career record of 125-126 may be as mediocre as you can get, but Matlack was a much, much better than average major league pitcher. In fact, he was one of the very finest lefthanded pitchers ever developed by the Mets’ organization.

His other career marks – a 3.18 lifetime ERA (better than Steve Carlton, who was considered the best lefty of his generation), 97 complete games, and 30 shutouts attest to the fact that he was a workhorse, who when he was on, was as good as anyone.

Matlack holds several important distinctions as a Met, although not necessarily statistical ones. To begin with, he was the Mets’ very first GOOD first round amateur draft pick.

In ’65 with the second pick, the Mets selected the forgettable Les Rohr. With the first pick in ’66, they opted for Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson and we all know how that turned out.

In 1967, having advanced to ninth place the previous season, they didn’t get to pick until the #4 slot. The first three picks were Ron Blomberg, Terry Hughes, and Mike Garman. The Mets, up next, chose Jon Matlack, a 6-foot-3 lefthanded pitcher out of high school in West Chester, PA.

Certainly you could make a case that later first round picks like John Mayberry and Ted Simmons turned out better, but there’s no doubt that the Mets’ selction of Matlack was better than the three choices that preceded him that year and a whole lot better than most of the Mets’ #1′s through the years.

Next, Matlack was the first of the Mets’ hot young pitching prospects to be brought along slowly, getting three full seasons in AAA before being brought up for a cup of coffee in 1971. Prior to his extended hitch in AAA, in his first full year in the minors, 1968, Matlack had a superb year, going 13-6 2.76 with 188 strikeouts in 173 innings for Class A Raleigh-Durham.

Considering how the likes of Les Rohr, Dennis Musgraves, Ron Locke, Tug McGraw, Grover Powell, Tom Seaver, et al were force-fed to the big leagues based on single year minor league performances, you would have almost expected Matlack to be given a shot at the Mets’ rotation in 1969 or 1970 at the latest, but starting pitching was the Mets’ strong suit and that gave the organization the luxury of nurturing Matlack until he was unquestionably big-league ready. And in 1972, he certainly was, going 15-10 2.32 with the Mets, and winning the National League Rookie Of The Year Award.

Matlack was a solid starter for the Mets for six years, although he never really surpassed his rookie season, so he could be regarded as something of a disappointment i.e. he never became Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman.

Matlack was a three-time All-Star for the Mets and even shared MVP honors in the 1975 game with Bill Madlock.

He was eventually dealt away to Texas prior to the 1978 season in a bizarre 4-team trade involving a lot of big name players. I won’t go into the details here, but I’ve always wondered how that one came about.

Matlack pitched decently for the Rangers, but was out of baseball before he turned 34. In 1989, at the age of 39, Matlack resurfaced in the late, lamented Senior Professional Baseball Association where he had a solid 10-2 record, making him one of the few well-known players in the league to deliver more than “name value”.

I’ll always remember him as a true quality starter who unfortunately pitched on too many Mets’ teams that couldn’t score enough runs to make a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA a winner.


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Amazin’ Memories: Steve Henderson Delivered Some Thrills for the Mets Wed, 08 Apr 2015 04:41:00 +0000 Steve Henderson came to the Mets with the burden of being one of the key players coming over from the Reds in the 1977 Tom Seaver trade. In addition, since the Mets had just traded Dave Kingman to San Diego, Henderson was expected to eventually replace him in the middle of the Mets’ lineup. This was an awful lot of pressure for a kid who had never spent a day in the major leagues, but Henderson responded.

Exuberant, energetic, and most of all productive, Steve was an immediate sensation with the Mets.  The talented rookie came up with a lot of big hits and put up very impressive numbers in his first year with the team. Driving in 65 runs in just 99 games.

Henderson seemed well on his way to becoming a star, good for 20-25 home runs and 85-100 RBI a year, someone who the Mets could definitely build around and everything they expected when they traded for him. Mets manager Joe Torre was even quoted as saying “Someday the Seaver trade will be referred to as the Henderson trade”.

Of course, that never happened and as the years passed, it sort of became gospel that the Seaver trade was an awful one for the Mets. But a few weeks after the trade, there were many Mets fans, including myself who thought that the trade could actually pay big dividends for the Mets.  Henderson seemed to be that rare prospect who came over in a trade who not only offered hope for the future, but made an immediate impact at the Major League level.

In addition to Henderson, the Mets also got :

Pat Zachry, a starting pitcher who was co-rookie of the year in the NL the previous season and who figured to be good for about 12-15 wins a year. Unlike Henderson, Zachry was a sullen, brooding player who rarely smiled and looked like he was always annoyed about something. Fans who were up in arms over losing Seaver took out their frustrations on Zachry (never on Henderson) because he was expected to “replace” Seaver in the rotation. This certainly didn’t make it any easier on Zachry.  Actually Pat pitched much better for the Mets in ’77 than he did earlier that season with the Reds and made the NL All-Star team in 1978, but after that he injured his foot kicking the dugout steps one day when he was removed from a game and never was the same pitcher after that.

Doug Flynn, an outstanding defensive infielder who had no hope of breaking into the Reds’ infield but was an immediate starter at second base for the Mets. He was the Mets’ regular at second for the next five years and even won a gold glove, but his batting average was always in the low .200’s.

Dan Norman, the sleeper in the deal, a young outfielder who had 30- homer potential, or so we were led to believe. Norman did very little in several chances with the Mets over the next few seasons and faded from the scene without making any impact.

But Steve Henderson clearly was the prize and he became one of the Mets’ best and most popular players in his first season with the team.  He finished a close second in the NL Rookie of The Year voting to future Hall-of-Famer Andre Dawson, but unfortunately, Steve’s first season was also his best.


The following year, he played in 157 games, but his RBI total was the same 65 he produced in far fewer games the year before. His batting average was .266 down from .297, and he hit only 10 home runs, down from 12.

Mets fans hoped it was just a case of the sophomore jinx, but unfortunately, Steve never fulfilled his promise and settled in as a complementary player, and nothing more. His power numbers never improved, although he continued to bat around .300.

Henderson’s most memorable moment as a Met – and it was one that still stirs those who witnessed it – was a majestic three-run homer that completed an improbable five-run comeback in the ninth to give the Mets an electrifying 7-6 victory over the Giants. All hell broke loose.

“Hendu Can Do’” kept flashing on the Diamond Vision scoreboard as the Mets celebrated and rejoiced on the field. Exuberant fans roared their approval, rocking Shea Stadium to its foundation. For one night it felt like pennant fever was back in Flushing.

Frank Cashen eventually dealt Henderson to the Cubs, ironically, for Dave Kingman. When Tom Seaver rejoined the Mets a couple of years later, the Midnight Massacre had come full circle.

After being traded to the Cubs, Henderson had stints with several other big league teams as a part-time player and pinch-hitter. He later served as batting coach at Tampa Bay after coaching in the Pirates and Astros organizations. Today Hendu is the hitting coach of the Philadelphia Phillies.

I will always remember him for his electrifying play in 1977 and how he did his best to try to make fans forget Seaver and Kingman, at least for a while.

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Bing Devine Brought the Mets A Championship and “The Franchise” Mon, 13 Oct 2014 16:00:46 +0000 As we continue to wait out the Sandy Alderson era for a return to former Mets glory, here’s a little something about another Mets GM who helped engineer the first championship in franchise history in 1969. I’m talking, of course, about the great Bing Devine.

bing devineDevine’s tenure as General Manager of the Mets spanned the years 1965 to 1967 in between stints with the St. Louis Cardinals where he engineered some of the greatest teams in Cards history.

I would hardly call his work with the Mets perfect, especially since he had the final call on drafting Steve Chilcott over Reggie Jackson, but he was certainly an aggressive executive who while building up the farm system was also always looking to improve the team with trades and waiver pickups

In his 2004 book, Memoirs of Bing Devine, he states that in 1967 alone, the Mets made 54 deals.

While many of the players acquired did little or nothing to help the Mets, seven of those players, Tommie Agee , Ron Taylor, Cal Koonce, Art ShamskyJ.C. Martin, Al Weis  and Ed Charles were later instrumental in helping the 1969 Mets win a World Championship.

Earlier in Devine’s tenure, he had also dealt for Jerry Grote and Don Cardwell. Grote, of course, was a significant part of the Mets turnaround, both with his stellar defense and also for being charged with helping to develop a cadre of young and inexperienced pitchers who would eventually become the pride of the franchise. None of these players carried a high price tag or cost the Mets any promising young talent.

seaver-tom_ryan-nolan_69Add to Devine’s accomplishments that it was completely upon his recommendation that George Weiss agreed to put their name in the hat for the Tom Seaver lottery.

“The Franchise” would become the only Mets player ever enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Devine recollected that Weiss was reluctant to spend the $50,000 the Mets would have to pay Seaver if they won a drawing for him in April 1966.

“George Weiss was against it,” Devine told famed author Peter Golenbock. “He didn’t know anything about him. I made a big case, and I recall it was only hours before we had to make a decision and agree to that, and George Weiss finally shook his head, I’m sure not wanting to do it, and said, ‘If you people make such a big case of it, go ahead.’”

It was also Devine and his assistant Joe McDonald that persuaded Weiss to keep Jerry Koosman who he was preparing to release after a poor season in the low minors.

Devine’s time with the Mets was relatively short, but he certainly accomplished a great deal in that time. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2007 at the age of 90 at his home in St. Louis.

Devine once said that success required more than a sharp baseball intellect. “You have to be lucky,” he told The Evansville Courier in 2003. “And you’re never going to get lucky if you’re afraid to make a deal.”

Did You Know?

It was a trade engineered by Bing Devine that had the greatest impact on Major League Baseball and changed the game forever.

On October 7, 1969, Devine traded star center fielder Curt Flood, along with Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson.

Flood refused to go to Philadelphia, ultimately challenging baseball’s reserve system that bound players to one team. His suit against baseball set the stage for free agency, and was undeniably one of the most pivotal events in the game’s history.

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Turn Back The Clock: Mets’ 1971 Off-Season Tue, 07 Oct 2014 20:57:21 +0000 Seaver-Koosman-Matlack - Copy

With all the talk about possibly packaging young players in a trade to fill the Mets’ obvious needs for 2015, I was reminded of the 1971/72 offseason. In 1970 and 1971, the Mets had identical 83-79 records as the Pirates won the division both years. Still, there was reason to be optimistic that the Mets could rise to the top again in 1972.

By 1971, the Mets brought several players to the big leagues who showed promise including John Milner, Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen, Tim Foli, Teddy Martinez, Leroy Stanton, and pitchers like Jon Matlack and Buzz Capra. The team already had plenty of pitching talent, led by Tom Seaver, Gary Gentry, Jerry Koosman (who had an off-year) and the veteran Ray Sadecki. And Nolan Ryan, always erratic, still showed promise of being as good as any of them. What the team lacked was power. Kranepool, Jones, and Agee tied for the team lead with 14 home runs each. Plus there was an obvious need for a third baseman as recent years showed that Joe Foy, Wayne Garrett, and Bob Aspromonte were not the answer.

The off-season started with the October 18th trade of Jim Bibby, Art Shamsky, Rich Folkers, and Charles Hudson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Harry Parker, Jim Beauchamp, Chip Coulter, and Chuck Taylor. This was a relatively inconsequential trade, although eventually Bibby did become a very good major league pitcher.

This was a time before free agency. GM Bob Scheffing had work to do, and it would require more trades, but he seemed to have the excess talent to bring the Mets back to the top with a few good moves. Ever since the 1971 season ended, talk among Mets’ fans and writers seemed to center on the team’s possible acquisition of third baseman Ron Santo from the Cubs. Adding Santo would fill the hole at third base while providing the Mets with the power bat they’d been seeking as well as a positive clubhouse influence and a team leader. The problem was that any package the Mets might offer the Cubs would leave Chicago with a hole at third base and didn’t seem to make much sense for a team that had just finished the season with the same 83-79 record as the Mets. As is still the case today, fans conjured up trades that would help the Mets and seemed fair in terms of what they may have to give up without regard to the needs of the team on the other end. (Did you think this was a new phenomenon?)

White Sox power-hitting third baseman Bill Melton was also mentioned as a possible target for the Mets. I have no idea how close they came to actually making any deal, but by the end of the Winter Meetings, the Mets still hadn’t made their anticipated big move. Then on December 10th, the Mets announced that they had traded Nolan Ryan along with Stanton, minor league catcher Francisco Estrada, and pitcher Don Rose to the California Angels for perennial American League All-Star shortstop Jim Fregosi with the intention of moving him to third base. This has come to be considered as one of the all-time worst trades in baseball history, but if I remember correctly, at the time many Mets’ fans were glad that the Mets didn’t give up Gentry rather than Ryan and were more disappointed by having to throw in Stanton.

Ryan, of course, had that blazing fastball and “unlimited potential” but in 1971 beginning with his appearance the day before the All-Star break, he was 2-9 with a 7.62 ERA , averaging under 4.0 innings per start and more than 10 hits and 10 walks with only 6.75 strikeouts per 9 innings. There was even a chance he wouldn’t make the team the following year.

Fregosi was coming off an injury-plagued .233 season, but the previous year, he had hit .278 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI – and the Mets expected that the transition to third base would be easy for him. (This was one of many deals and signings that the Mets made for players who were former all-stars that never worked out!)

Fregosi suffered a broken thumb in an infield drill getting accustomed to playing third base in spring training while all the young position players competed for the few open jobs in the lineup or on the bench. Then, on April 2nd just before the start of the season, Mets’ manager Gil Hodges died suddenly of a heart attack and Yogi Berra was named as his replacement.

rusty Staub

At the same time, the Mets stunned their fans by acquiring Rusty Staub from the Montreal Expos for three of the young players who were fighting for jobs on the Mets – Singleton, Foli, and Jorgensen. Although all three had the potential to be good major league players, Foli was blocked by Bud Harrelson, the “glue” of the Mets’ infield, Jorgensen was one of three lefty first basemen along with John Milner and Ed Kranepool and Singleton’s job in right field now figured to be filled for many years to come by Staub, one of the great professional hitters in the game. Before the deal, I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about a potential Staub deal for the Mets, but back in those days, resources were scarce compared to today’s social media.

The Mets entered the 1972 season as favorites to win the division and got off to an impressive 25-7 start. In May, the Mets acquired Willie Mays who although well past his prime added even more excitement and professionalism to the club. It seemed like 1972 would be the year the Mets would return to glory. There was a great mix of experienced veterans, players just entering their prime, and promising rookies (Matlack and Milner). Then, the injury bug struck – BIG. Suffice it to say that key players like Staub, Grote, Harrelson, and Cleon Jones missed a lot of time and the Mets won just 83 games (again), finishing third.

How does this all relate to the present day? Once again the Mets seem to have an excess of young players. The question is how to parlay that talent into a winning major league team ASAP. The 1971/72 Mets made one terrible deal and one that might have paid off immediately had Staub not been injured. Unfortunately, when you trade seven players for two, and then one gets hurt while the other fails to perform, it comes back to bite you. Especially if you don’t have the depth to replace them.

Letting Bibby go because they had plenty of other pitching prospects was also a mistake. Look at the list of players the Mets traded in that one off-season and you can see how short-term goals come at a great cost. The Mets did have that “fluke” pennant in 1973, but many dark days followed.

The present-day Mets could go for free agents like Michael Cuddyer, JJ Hardy, or Torii Hunter or offer a package of players for an established star. Names like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Starlin Castro, and Yoenis Cespedes have been mentioned and while if they stay healthy, they would certainly bolster the Mets’ chances next year, would you give up 3 or more young players to acquire one of them? As much as I want to see the Mets win next year, the off-season of 1971/72 is a cautionary history lesson.

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What Will The Mets Do This Off-Season? Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:38:36 +0000 Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta visited MCU Park Wednesday night, likely to check out first-round pick Michael Conforto. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

Well, it looks like another sub-.500 season is close to the end, and we can expect Alderson and Collins back, so it’s time to look at what the off-season might have in store for the Mets. I think we can eliminate “spend big and acquire two or three major stars”, but it’s still somewhat of a mystery what the Amazins will do. Here are a few possibilities. 

1. Minor Tinkering Only: With Matt Harvey coming back and progress from the likes of Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares, and Lucas Duda, we can hope for continued improvement from them along with better seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson. Just add a few pieces via low-cost free agency or minor trades such as another righthanded hitting 1B/LF type, a veteran utility infielder, and a couple of arms to replace Carlyle and Eveland. Maybe replace a coach or two. This, is of course, the ultra-conservative approach. It assumes any trade of Colon, Gee, Niese, or Murphy will be instigated by the other team involved and that the return will be in the form of more prospects or relatively inconsequential major leaguers.

2. Trade Prospects for Established Players: Will Alderson go this route to fill the holes in left field and shortstop? Such names as Yoenis Cespedes, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar, Starlin Castro, etc. have popped up from time to time Obviously the value of each in terms of the talent the Mets will have to give up varies and whatever deal the Mets make will undoubtedly be considered an over-payment by some fans, but at least the Mets can say they are serious about challenging for a playoff spot in 2015.

3. Trade Pitching Prospects for Hitting Prospects: This probably won’t improve the team’s chances in 2015 but there are plenty of fans drooling over the Cubs’ Addison Russell or Javier Baez and think trading 2-3 of our top prospects for either one of them would be a great deal. Count me out on that one.

4. Unload Veteran Players: Trade Colon, Murphy and/or Gee for whatever they can get in prospects and use the money saved to sign a Melky Cabrera or Nelson Cruz to a multi-year deal.

5. Get A Star: Target one particular star player and offer whatever prospects it takes to get him. The player has to be potentially a major difference maker such as Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, or any other established star in their class. Of course, we are also talking major salary commitment.

Personally, I am hoping for option #2, but I’m expecting option #1.

What do you think? What do you want the Mets to do (be realistic, please – selling the team is not an option!) and what do you expect them to actually do?

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May 22, 1998 – The Mike Piazza Trade Thu, 22 May 2014 19:21:06 +0000 mike piazza

It was 16 years ago today that the Mets acquired Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins. Oh, if we could only make the same kind of trade today !

A legitimate cleanup hitter, certainly one of the best in the game for one major-league ready prospect in Preston Wilson and two maybes in Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall, neither of whom ever contributed on the major league level. Of course, a long-term commitment to Piazza was an essential part of the deal.

Unfortunately, there is no one available to the Mets, probably at any price, who comes close to a player with Piazza’s hitting credentials, at age 30 or less. There’s no one like that on the market, and certainly not at catcher.

The Mets’ need for a legitimate cleanup hitter should trump any need for an upgrade at shortstop or the bullpen where Wilmer Flores and a group of young pitchers, some already on the big league roster, others down at AAA, deserve a chance, but who do the Mets have to drive in runs?

Who do the Mets have who opposing pitchers fear in a close game? There is certainly no answer and I don’t know of a single player who may be available even for a price far beyond what the Mets paid for Piazza when they included two prospects ranked in the Top 100 by Baseball America.

A few months ago, I suggested a Noah Syndergaard for Jose Bautista deal which was shot down by 100% of readers who chose to comment. I’m not saying I’d do that now, but wouldn’t the outlook for 2014 be a lot brighter if that deal was made this past winter, before committing to Chris Young and Curtis Granderson?

I don’t have the answer, but this looks like another boring lost season unless some dramatic move is made and fast. Any ideas?


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Amazin’ Trades of the Past: Bobby Ojeda Sat, 08 Mar 2014 07:25:14 +0000 Continuing this series of posts on the best trades the Mets ever made, if Bernard Gilkey was the only hitter to have a career year after being traded to the Mets, then Bob Ojeda was clearly the first, last, and only pitcher to similarly have a career year after coming to Flushing.

Ojeda had been a decent, if unspectacular starting pitcher for the Red Sox for a few seasons. The Mets had been impressed with the work another former Boston lefty, John Tudor, had done with the Cardinals and were seeking a similar pitcher, so they inquired about Ojeda. Coming off a 1985 season in which he was 9-11 with a 4.00 ERA, Ojeda was definitely obtainable, but the Sox were still able to attract what seemed like a pretty hefty price from the Mets.

Calvin Schiraldi was among the Mets’ best young pitching prospects, Wes Gardner looked like the Mets’ best young reliever and John Christensen and Laschelle Tarver were AAA outfielders who looked ready to contribute on the big league level. The Mets sent all 4 to Boston for Ojeda, a pretty good minor league pitcher named John Mitchell, and a couple of other minor leaguers, Chris Bayer, and Tom McCarthy. At the time of the deal, few fans expected Ojeda to be anything more than a fourth or fifth starter and it looked like the Mets were overpaying in prospects for a mediocre pitcher.

But Ojeda had a tremendous year for the World Champion Mets in 1986, going 18-5, 2.57 and placing fourth in the Cy Young balloting. An off-season freak injury made 1987 a lost year for Ojeda, and after that, he was just so-so for the Mets, but his big year in 1986 made this trade one of the best ever for the Mets.

Although the Mets have dealt for one-time aces throughout their history from Warren Spahn and Dean Chance to Frank Viola, Bret Saberhagen and Johan Santana, it was the Ojeda deal that will remain as the only one in which an established pitcher went on to have a career year right after the Mets acquired him.

Since 2009, Bobby Ojeda has been the lead analyst on SNY’s Mets pre and post game coverage.

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Mets’ Prospects of The Early Years: Bud Harrelson, SS Fri, 14 Feb 2014 22:54:05 +0000 Back in 1963 and 1964 when fringe-major leaguer Al Moran and later, aging veteran Roy McMillan were playing shortstop for the Mets, the minor league system was developing two promising shortstops, one of whom who would hopefully be the long-term heir to the job. On the Mets’ Raleigh farm team, the shortstop was Wilbur Huckle, a hustling good-hands type who was signed to his first professional contract at age 24. At Salinas, there was a spindly 150-pounder with a strong arm and good range but who was error-prone and barely hit .220, a 19-year-old Californian named Derrel (Bud) Harrelson.

Huckle went on to play 8 years in the Mets’ farm system, never getting called up to the Majors, but still became somewhat of a mini-cult figure because of his name and appearance (red hair and tons of freckles) and his reputation for being the first player to shower and leave the clubhouse after a game. Harrelson, on the other hand, despite his unimpressive batting statistics, quickly became a hot prospect and of course, eventually one of the key cogs for the 1969 Championship team and 1973 pennant winners.

buddy harrelson

After spending 1963 and 1964 in the Class A California League, Harrelson was jumped all the way to AAA Buffalo in 1965 where he hit a surprisingly high (for him) .251 and began to be taken seriously by Mets’ fans as a prospect. He was even brought up to the big club at the end of the AAA season for a quick look. In 1966, it was back to AAA where the Mets had relocated to Jacksonville. There, Bud’s roommate was the newly-signed Tom Seaver. The 2 Northern Californians became fast friends and Bud began to switch-hit to take advantage of his speed and lack of power.

Although he never really became a good hitter, he did become a smarter one, and his arm, defense, and field leadership made him a fan favorite and a team leader, a vital cog in the lineup. If his offensive numbers didn’t measure up to what one might expect from a prospect, his on-field contributions surely did. Other memories of Bud : the National Guard Duty that kept him out of the lineup in 1969 and gave the even-lighter-hitting Al Weis his opportunity to shine, the 1973 fight with Pete Rose that brought Bud to national prominence, the trade to the Phillies that reunited Bud with TugMcGraw and produced his best hitting year and so much more, but let me just say that Bud Harrelson was definitely one prospect who made it as promised.

Harrelson, of course, went on to be a Mets’ coach, manager, and eventually Manager and President of the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, a born and bred Californian who became a lifelong New Yorker and a member of the Mets’ Hall of Fame, one of the most prominent names in Mets’ history.

Presented By Diehards

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Mets’ Prospects of The Early Years: Dick Selma, RHP Sat, 01 Feb 2014 14:16:17 +0000 $_1

Dick Selma was probably considered the Mets’ top pitching prospect from the day he signed a $20,000 bonus contract in early 1963. The small (5’11, 160 lbs.) but hard-throwing righthander out of Fresno, California was assigned to Salinas of the California League in 1963 where he led the league in strikeouts and ERA and was named the league’s top rookie and best pitching prospect.

Selma was expected to be the future ace of the staff and after a couple of so-so years in the higher minors, burst onto the major league scene in 1965 with a shutout over the Braves in his second major league start in which he struck out 13, then a Mets record. His fastball was always impressive but his control was inconsistent and his stamina was questionable so the Mets never could quite decide whether he’d be better as a starter or reliever.

In 1968, he got off to a 6-0 start then slumped to finish at 9-10 but with an impressive ERA of 2.75 with 3 shutouts. The Mets decided to put Selma into the expansion draft where he was chosen by the Padres for whom he was the Opening Day starter and winner in 1969. By then, the Mets had Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, and Ryan with Les Rohr and Jon Matlack among their top pitching prospects, so you could say the loss of Selma wasn’t significant. Still, there were probably players the Mets protected that would never achieve what Selma already had and would continue to do at the major league level.

Later in 1969, the Padres traded Selma to the Cubs where he again both started and relieved and also took on the role of unofficial bullpen cheerleader and general rabble-rouser for the Cubs’ faithful. In ‘69, of course, this made him a prime enemy of the Mets and their fans, but we all know how that turned out, so there were few hard feelings toward Selma once the season ended. That winter, Selma was on the move again, going to the Phillies in a deal for Johnny Callison. Selma had 22 saves for the Phillies in 1970, but it was all downhill for him after that.

So, you could say Selma had a decent major league career, maybe not what you would expect from a so-called premium prospect, but still better than many. An interesting footnote about Selma is that he was one year ahead of Tom Seaver both in High School and at Fresno City College. Selma was unquestionably regarded as the better prospect although Dick liked and respected Tom and supposedly put in a good word for him when the Mets were considering putting their name in the special lottery for Seaver. I find it hard to believe that Mets’ management would have given much weight to Dick’s recommendation if they weren’t already going to make a play for Seaver, but we can add it to Selma’s positive resume as a Met.

Dick Selma passed away on August 29, 2001.

Presented By Diehards

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Mets Prospects of the Early Years: Cleon Jones, LF Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:50:59 +0000 cleon jonesCleon Jones played both football and baseball at Alabama A&M when the Mets signed him in the summer of 1962 to report the following year. Unlike Kranepool and Swoboda, Jones was not a big-money bonus player who was touted as a surefire big leaguer from the day he signed, but in his first year in the minor leagues, Cleon quickly vaulted to the top of the Mets’ prospect list. He even made his way to a cameo appearance in centerfield for the Mets at the Polo Grounds that same year, 1963. I remember it well because I was at that game.

In a young organization, short of prospects, Jones was a standout, batting over .300 at both Class D Auburn and Class B Raleigh. He showed that combination of speed, power, and arm that was truly rare in the Mets’ system in those early years. He wasn’t ready for the big leagues and struggled for a few years shuttling between the Mets and AAA Buffalo.

Prior to the 1968 season, the Mets made two moves which turned out to be turning points for Cleon. First, they hired Gil Hodges as their new manager. Then, on Hodges’ recommendation, the Mets swung a deal for Tommie Agee, former AL Rookie of the Year, a true centerfielder, and a childhood buddy of Jones. Agee was a more outgoing personality than the shy Jones and he seemed to help bring Cleon out of his shell.

CleonjonesIf Jones never quite became a superstar, he did indeed have some excellent years, with 1969, of course, being his best, as he battled Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, and Matty Alou for the batting title. Jones wound up hitting .340 as one of the Mets’ integral players in that great Championship year.

Fondly remembered for his contributions to the 1969 Championship team and the 1973 NL Pennant Winners, Jones also was the focus of 2 negative incidents. In a one-sided loss to the Astros in 1969, Manager Gil Hodges walked on to the field to remove Jones for not hustling, a move that seemed to help bring the team together and pump Cleon up for a strong finish. Later in his career, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thoroughly humiliated Jones when he made him apologize to his wife and Mets fans for being caught in the back of a van with another woman during Spring Training. That was probably the beginning of the end for Jones with the Mets.

Jones is deservingly a member of the Mets’ Hall of Fame and remains one of the best hitters to be developed by the Mets’ organization. He was certainly one prospect who, if he didn’t quite reach the lofty expectations fans may have had, certainly made his mark as an all-time great Met.

Presented By Diehards

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Old Time Mets: John Stephenson Sun, 26 Jan 2014 16:58:30 +0000 john-stephenson-296x300If John Stephenson is remembered at all by fans of the early Mets, it’s as the last out of Jim Bunning‘s perfect game. He was so overmatched in striking out, the Mets might as well have plucked a fan out of the stands at random and asked him to get a hit off Bunning.

At the time, if I remember correctly, Stephenson was hitting a feeble .149 and it didn’t get much better for him.

Yet, almost amazingly Stephenson spent parts of ten years in the major leagues and was regarded as a decent lefty bat off the bench who could also fill in at a few positions by the time the Angels picked him up in the early ’70′s.

Johnny Stephenson came to the major leagues in 1964 solely because of the rule in effect at the time which required a big league team to carry second-year pros on their 25-man roster all season or risk losing them on waivers. To say that Stephenson was not ready is an understatement. He had a terrible “sweep” swing, the kind that’s usually corrected in Little League, and although he was considered primarily a catcher, the Mets didn’t play him there at all in the 1964 season.

If Stephenson ever had a big hit for the Mets, I don’t remember it. If ever there was a player I thought would never return to the majors after his one-year “trial”, Stephenson was the one. But somehow after getting to the Cubs, his swing was reconstructed and he actually became kind of a threat as a lefthanded pinch-hitter.

When you look at his lifetime numbers, a .216 average in nearly 1,000 at-bats with little speed, and below average defense, you marvel at how he managed to have such a lengthy career. When anyone says it’s a lot easier to get to the big leagues these days with more Major League teams and fewer farm teams, I point to the improbable career of John Stephenson, a player of minimal talent who managed to hang around for parts of ten years with four different teams.

Presented By Diehards

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Mets Top 20 Prospects: The Early Years Wed, 22 Jan 2014 13:00:27 +0000 jerry koosman

Technically, this is not a list of the Mets’ Top 20 Prospects going into the 1964 season, but rather a list of the 20 most prominent prospects who were signed by the Mets between 1962 and 1964, before the first Amateur Draft in 1965.

It does not include players drafted or acquired from other organizations.

As with most prospect lists, some went on to be stars, others had some level of major league success, and some had just a cup of coffee in the big leagues either due to injury or because they just weren’t good enough.

Only one really got away, Paul Blair, who was drafted by the Orioles out of the Mets’ organization, and only two never made it to the big leagues at all, Hank McGraw and Paul Alspach.

In future posts, I’ll take a closer look at some of the lesser known of this group, but for now, here are my two working lists of the Mets’ Top 20. The first is in approximate order of ultimate major league value, and the second one is based on the hype and anticipation of each prospect with a brief blurb about them.

1. Jerry Koosman
2. Paul Blair
3. Cleon Jones
4. Tug McGraw
5. Bud Harrelson
6. Ed Kranepool
7. Dick Selma
8. Ron Swoboda
9. Larry Bearnarth
10. John Stephenson
11. Dick Rusteck
12. Kevin Collins
13.Dennis Musgraves
14.Grover Powell
15. Danny Napoleon
16. Jim Bethke
17. Ron Locke
18. Shaun Fitzmaurice
19. Hank McGraw
20. Paul Alspach

Here are the same twenty players re-ranked in order of their “prospect hype” at the time:

1. Ed Kranepool – The prized prospect with future stardom expected.

2. Ron Swoboda – By far, the greatest pure power prospect signed by the Mets (maybe to this day).

3. Cleon Jones – No hype when he signed, but quickly established himself as the organization’s best all-around prospect.

4. Dick Selma – Hard-throwing righty regarded as a future staff ace.

5. Tug McGraw – Lefty showed great stuff as he moved up through the system.

6. Bud Harrelson – Outstanding defensive shortstop who didn’t hit a lick in minors.

7.Grover Powell – One of 3 pitchers on this list who pitched a shutout in his first major league start.

8. Larry Bearnarth – Former St. John’s star who made the big club after one year in the minors.

9. Dennis Musgraves – Showed outstanding promise in his brief stint with Mets, but an injury derailed his career.

10. Dick Rusteck – AAA ace who pitched a shutout in his first appearance with Mets and never won another game.

11. Jerry Koosman – Put it all together after some mediocre work in minors that almost got him released.

12. Hank McGraw – Tug’s older brother, considered a top prospect, but his free-spirited ways didn’t endear him to conservative Mets’ management.

13. Danny Napoleon – Incredible year in the NYP League vaulted him to majors, but had minimal success.

14. Ron Locke – Great numbers in NYP League didn’t translate to the majors.

15. Kevin Collins – Future hope at third base, dealt away in Clendenon deal, never really made it.

16. Shaun Fitzmaurice – Notre Dame star touted as centerfielder of the future, but stalled at AA.

17. John Stephenson – Best remembered as last batter in Bunning’s perfect game.

18. Jim Bethke – Over-matched at big league level and never did much in minors either.

19. Paul Alspach – One-time prospect became minor league journeyman.

20. Paul Blair – No hype whatsoever and grabbed in first-year draft by Orioles.

Presented By Diehards

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How The Miracle Mets Were Built: (Part 1) The Spring Of 1968 Wed, 15 Jan 2014 09:03:05 +0000 2014 is the 45 year anniversary of the 1969 Mets. Enjoy this special feature and welcome to Part One of my four part series entitled, How The Miracle Mets Were Built.

nolan ryan tom seaver spring training 1968

Turn Back The Clock 46 Years – It’s the Spring of 1968.

Spring training of 1968 saw the Mets coming off another last place finish but with a few glimmers of hope for the future. There was a new manager in Gil Hodges and a new center fielder in former  A.L. Rookie of The Year Tommie Agee who came to the Mets in a deal for their best hitter, Tommy Davis.

Tom Seaver had a brilliant rookie year in 1967, winning 16 games and establishing himself as the team’s first legitimate #1 pitcher, but there were still a lot of question marks in the rotation. Optimistic Mets fans could point to an impressive crop of pitchers coming up through the farm system and maybe a couple would be ready to contribute in 1968. Other than Seaver, veteran Don Cardwell figured to fill one slot in the rotation. Dick Selma was still around, although he had been something of a disappointment so far. Tug McGraw and Jerry Koosman had been the best starters at AAA Jacksonville and maybe they were ready to contribute on the major league level. Another young pitcher, Danny Frisella would get a shot too. If all else failed, veterans Cal Koonce and the recently re-acquired original Met, Al Jackson might be pressed into service. Any of those guys might also wind up in the bullpen along with carry-overs Ron Taylor and Don Shaw. Veterans like Bob Hendley, Billy Short, and Hal Reniff would also get looks. Touted youngsters like Nolan Ryan, Les Rohr, Jon Matlack, and Gary Gentry were considered legitimate prospects, but didn’t figure to be ready for a couple of years, at least.

ed charles jerry koosmanBehind the plate, Steve Chilcott and Greg Goossen were touted as future stars, but in the meantime, light-hitting (.195) Jerry Grote and J.C. Martin would have to suffice. Kranepool at first and Swoboda in right were still regarded as possible foundation players, but neither had lived up to their initial promise so far. Jerry Buchek was the incumbent at second base and was expected to be pushed by lefty hitting Ken Boswell who was regarded as a solid bat even though his minor league numbers didn’t reflect that. Defensively, Boswell was considered adequate at best. Shortstop Bud Harrelson had shown he could do the job in the field, but would he hit? Third base was a crap shoot with rookie Kevin Collins and ex-White Sox hopeful Dick Kenworthy likely to compete for the job. Buchek might play third if Boswell won the job at second or there was always veteran Ed Charles, a non-roster invitee whose play in 1967 led the Mets (and likely every other major league team) to believe that he might be at the end of the road.

Joining Swoboda and Agee in the outfield, Cleon Jones, once hailed as the best hitting prospect in the organization would get first crack at replacing Davis in left field. Defensively, Jones would certainly be an improvement, but his .246 average in 1967 while playing all over the outfield wouldn’t cut it.  Art Shamsky, a lefty hitter with power had been acquired from the Reds, for whom he batted a woeful .197 the year before. Rookies like Amos Otis and Clyde Mashore also figured to get a look and Don Bosch was still around too if a defensive replacement was needed.

Could this team even make it out of last place ? Were the Mets really building a winner ?

Next up. A look at how 1968 turned out and the outlook for 1969.

gil hodges

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Those Amazin’ Mets: Dave Kingman, OF/1B Sun, 12 Jan 2014 12:30:07 +0000

Dave Kingman was one of the most fascinating players in Mets’ history. Because he played in one of the Mets’ major down periods – the mid ‘70’s to early ‘80’s, you  don’t hear his name mentioned much in Mets’ retrospectives, but for a while, he was clearly the Mets’ biggest star and one of their very few drawing cards, at least at home. If remembered at all, it’s as a low-average power hitter, but Kingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Kingman was an outstanding pitcher in High School up through his sophomore year at USC, but coach Rod Dedaux thought he could help the team more as a regular player. Kingman reportedly wanted to stay a pitcher and it seemed at times throughout his career he was angry about something. That might have been it.

Kingman was  drafted by the Giants out of USC and rose to the big leagues quickly, mostly because of his prodigious power. At 6’6 with a long sweeping swing,  Kingman certainly looked the part. His long legs also gave him above average speed on the bases, but his defense was mediocre at best. Dave always seemed to give the impression that fielding was a part of the game he wasn’t very interested in.  It was ironic that Kingman who was made for the role of designated hitter spent the first 10 years of his major league career in the National League where he was forced to play the field.

dave-kingmanSince the Giants always seemed well stocked in the outfield and at first base, Kingman’s last shot at staying with the team as a regular was at third base, but found wanting there, he was sold to the Mets before the 1975 season. For a cash deal, this proved to be a great pickup for the Mets as “Kong” (a nickname he hated) went on to set a club record for homeruns with 36 in 1975 and broke it the following year.  Although it’s hard to say he was one of  the Mets’ most popular players since reporters characterized him as surly and uncooperative, he was certainly one of the few players  Mets’ fans came out to see on an otherwise dull and uncompetitive team.

Kingman hit some of the longest home runs in history while a Met, but like the greatest Met of all, Tom Seaver,  Kingman  let it be known that he considered himself underpaid and dissatisfied with the direction of the team and that led to a ticket out of town, being traded to San Diego on June 15, 1977, the same day  Seaver  was traded to the Reds. Kingman brought back the underwhelming package of mediocre pitcher Paul Siebert and future Mets’ manager, then fading utility player, Bobby Valentine. Toward  the end of the 1977 season, San Diego let him go and Kingman appeared for both the Angels and Yankees, helping the Yankees win the division.

Following the season, he signed a free agent deal with the Cubs, but eventually wound up back with the Mets during the early years of the Wilpon/Cashen regime in a trade for Steve Henderson. Although Kingman continued to hit some long home runs, once the Mets dealt for Keith Hernandez and seriously began to build a winner , Kingman’s value to the team declined and he was released at the end of the season.

Today, Kingman is remembered more for his sour disposition than his long homeruns, although as a Met he was relatively well-behaved. It was as a Cub that Kingman dumped ice water on a reporter’s head, and as an Oakland A, following his second stint with the Mets that he sent a female reporter a live rat. Despite hitting over 400 homeruns, no one (least of all, reporters who vote) considered Kingman a candidate for the Hall of Fame. But Mets fans like me will never forget the anticipation every time Kingman came to the plate, unmatched in Mets’ history.

Presented By Diehards

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The Mets’ First Two Great Prospects: Kranepool and Swoboda Wed, 01 Jan 2014 15:57:42 +0000 Today, when teams discuss trades, prospects have inflated value based on what they MIGHT achieve according to scouts and also because they will be relatively cheap and under team control for several years to come. But prospects often don’t turn out to be big stars; some don’t make the major leagues at all. Even the greatest prospects fail more often than they succeed.

When a player already makes the big leagues at a young age and shows signs of being able to hold his own against major league competition while still a teenager or barely in his 20’s, it’s reason to get excited. The future seems unlimited and especially for a losing team as the Mets certainly were in their early years, fans begin to envision great things and a bright future for years to come.

The Mets’ very first great prospect was clearly Ed Kranepool who was signed out of James Monroe High School in the Bronx where he had broken Hank Greenberg’s home run records. In the days before the amateur draft, the Mets gave Ed an $80,000 bonus in 1962 with all the fanfare you’d associate with a #1 Draft Pick today. Kranepool was quickly brought up to the big leagues that same season after a brief and successful stint in the New York-Penn League. Although hardly ready at the age of 17, Ed was penciled in as the first baseman of the future and got a shot at the regular job the following year after Marv Throneberry was released. While Ed is remembered fondly as one of the heroes of 1969 and a solid contributor as a pinch-hitter for many years to come, without a doubt, he was a disappointment in terms of the expectations the organization and the fans had for him.

Ed was slow-footed and never hit more than 16 home runs in any season. Although he looked like he could be a .300 hitter and even got off to red-hot starts a couple of years, you could basically count on Ed to hit in the .260 range. It wasn’t long before the banner “Is Ed Kranepool Over The Hill ?” made its appearance at Shea Stadium. The Mets certainly wanted him to succeed, but bringing in players like Dick Stuart was a pretty good sign that the team realized that Kranepool would never be the player they expected. Ed was even put up in the 1968 expansion draft , still just 24 years old, and wasn’t taken by either Montreal or San Diego before the Mets pulled him back after a few rounds. I know there are still lots of Kranepool fans out there and certainly his career was considerably longer and more successful than many other players but he didn’t come close to what we all thought his “potential” was.

Ron SwobodaIn 1964, a powerful outfielder recently signed out of the University of Maryland made a remarkable splash in spring training. Ron Swoboda displayed prodigious power and for all the world looked like the future cleanup hitter for the Mets for years to come. He was so impressive that despite no minor league experience, the Mets started him in AAA Buffalo. He was a little overmatched at the plate and his fielding was atrocious so the Mets sent him to AA Williamsport. Swoboda’s season statistics at AA and AAA were extremely impressive for a player with no previous professional experience – a combined 17 home runs, 72 rbi’s and a .271 average. At the time, baseball rules dictated that first-year pros had to be carried on the major league roster the following year or be subject to a waiver claim, so Swoboda’s presence on the 1965 Mets was much anticipated.

And Swoboda started off red-hot in 1965, giving fans hope that here was a player who could hit about 40 home runs and drive in 85 to 100 runs every year. His poor defense would get better with experience as would his .228 batting average which he compiled in 1965. As for his 19 round trippers, that was just the beginning. Well, Ron never came close to even hitting 19 home runs in a season again and after 6 disappointing years with the Mets (1969 heroics aside), was traded away and never really achieved major league success.

Of course, both had their great moments with the Mets, but as prospects, neither measured up to the potential everyone thought they had. Would the Mets have even thought about trading either in their first two years ? Highly unlikely. It’s something to think abut when the Mets or any other team call their prospects untouchable even in prospective deals for established big league players. Great prospects don’t always become great ballplayers.

Presented By Diehards

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Paul Blair, The Met Who Got Away Fri, 27 Dec 2013 02:54:45 +0000 Former Orioles center fielder Paul Blair died tonight at the age of 69. Blair played 13 seasons with the Orioles and four with the Yankees, winning two World Series titles with each team. Blair won eight Gold Gloves and was widely considered one of best defensive center fielders of all time. MMO sends their condolences to the Blair family. Here is an MMO Flashback originally posted in January of 2007 and written by Barry Duchan. 

In their long history, the Mets have had more than their share of young players who were dealt away and became stars with other teams. Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis are probably the 2 names mentioned most often. And the trading of future MVP’s Kevin Mitchell and Jeff Kent were in retrospect, major mistakes, too.

But the very first star the Mets let get away was Paul Blair who became nothing less than the premier centerfielder in the American League for 10 years while the Mets were constantly trying to fill the void. The Mets tried Jim Hickman, Johnny Lewis, Billy Cowan, and Don Bosch among others before landing Tommie Agee to fill the role nicely for a couple of years. Then, the drought began again with the likes of Don Hahn, Dave Schneck, Jim Gosger and Del Unser getting most of the playing time in centerfield while Blair and then Otis were still among the best centerfielders in the game.

Blair had always been a shortstop, until he got into the minor leagues. The Orioles made him a full-time outfielder, and he quickly became the top non-pitching prospect in their organization. The Dodgers refused to sign Blair out of high school, because they thought he was too small to make it the big leagues. He was signed by the Mets originally, for a $2,000 bonus. He played one year for the Mets’ Santa Barbara club in the California League in 1962, batting .228 while playing both infield and outfield.

The Mets didn’t have many prospects following the 1962 season, so their failure to protect Blair by putting him on the 40-man roster is tough to excuse. Obviously, the Orioles saw something in him that the Mets didn’t and drafted him as a first-year player for $8,000 while the Mets were still searching for anyone who could play centerfield.

Blair went on to have an excellent career. While his hitting was never his strong suit, in 1969, Blair hit .276 with 26 HR’s and 76 RBI. Oddly, the exact HR and RBI totals that Tommie Agee put up for the Mets, and with a better average than Agee. And of course, Blair had a much longer and more consistent career than Agee. So, letting Blair go was a mistake of major proportions. Especially when you figure that if the Mets had kept Blair, there would have been no reason to make deals for Cowan, Bosch, or Agee. So, the Mets could have used what trading chips they had for help in other areas.

When you talk about the ones that got away, no doubt Nolan Ryan will head that list, but Blair should be right behind him.

Rest in peace, Paul…

Presented By Diehards

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Mets’ Trades Of The Past – Mazzilli Goes To Texas Sun, 15 Dec 2013 14:00:20 +0000 While Mets’ fans wait to see if Ike Davis or Daniel Murphy will be traded and what they might bring back, here’s a look at a trade that was unpopular with many fans at the time, but turned out to be a great move for the Mets in every way possible.

mazz_kissDuring the dismal years of the late 1970’s, Lee Mazzilli was the Mets’ centerpiece player. A first-round draft pick out of Brooklyn, and incidentally, one of the Mets‘ very best first round picks, especially when you consider the players drafted ahead of him*.

Mazzilli quickly rose through the farm system, displaying an exceptional ability to get on base, steal bases, play centerfield, and also hit with consistency and power from both sides of the plate.

Once Mazz reached the big club, he quickly became a fan favorite. He had the look and swagger and put up some nice numbers on otherwise terrible teams. His one glaring weakness was his arm. Ironically, Lee was ambidextrous and his left arm was considered stronger, but once he signed with the Mets, he was instructed to throw righthanded only.

Whether Mazzilli was a legitimate all-star major league centerfielder, he was certainly the best one the Mets had, at least until Mookie Wilson came along. Once Wilson came up, Mazz moved over to left and also played some at first base.

Then, in February of 1982, GM Frank Cashen made what we all thought was a great move for the Mets, acquiring slugging left fielder George Foster from the Reds for a package of spare parts. With Wilson in center and Dave Kingman at first, Mazzilli was destined for a utility role, something that didn’t sit well with him, especially since his mentor, Joe Torre had been replaced as manager by George Bamberger.

In the spring of 1982, Cashen sent Mazzilli to the Texas Rangers for two minor league pitchers, a return that Mazzilli himself saw as an insult and many of his fans agreed.

ron darling

Ron Darling was the Rangers’ #1 draft pick the previous year, a talented pitcher out of Yale who started out in Double-A where his numbers were just fair and his control disappointing. Walt Terrell was considered a fringe prospect at best, a low-round draft pick who put up decent minor league numbers.

Although the Mets didn’t reap any immediate results and had another awful season in 1982 as Foster proved to be a major disappointment, by the following year, Terrell was in the Mets’ rotation with Darling joining him in 1984. Darling went on to put up excellent numbers as a quality starter for seven years and Terrell, after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years with the Mets was traded even-up to Detroit for Howard Johnson, who became the Mets’ top home run hitter and a solid contributor for almost a decade. Terrell, meanwhile was a workhorse for Detroit, so that trade helped both teams.

To top it off, after drifting from Texas to the Yankees to Pittsburgh, Mazzilli returned to the Mets for the 1986 stretch run, replacing the released George Foster, and was part of the World Championship team serving mostly as an effective pinch-hitter. So, this was undeniably, a trade that worked out about as well as possible. We can only hope Sandy Alderson can come up with something similar before the 2014 season.

* Mazzilli was the #14 pick. Between #4 pick Dave Winfield and Mazzilli, the other players selected were Glen Tufts, Johnnie Lemaster, Billy Taylor, Gary Roenicke, Lew Olsen, Pat Rockett, Ed Bane, Joe Edelen, and Doug Heinold.. The only player selected in the first round after Mazzilli to have any kind of career in the big leagues was catcher Steve Swisher.

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