Executives at the Topps Baseball Card Company must have really liked watching the Mets slide home in 1986. Their 1987 set featured two Mets sliding home. One was Wally Backman, and MMO featured that particular card in this series here.
Today, thank to a comment left in a recent article by MetsHof, we’re going to take a look at the second card in that genre, card number 653, which was Kevin Mitchell‘s rookie card:
Kevin Mitchell first appeared in a Mets uniform in 1984 as a September call-up. He went 3-for-14 that month, and had minimal impact as the Mets tried to catch the Cubs for the division that season.
After spending 1985 in the minors, Mitchell was a much bigger contributor to the Mets in 1986. He hit .277/.344/.466 that season as a 24-year old. His 12 homers, 43 RBIs, and 51 runs scored helped the Mets to the World Series, where the young left fielder went 2-for-8 against the Red Sox.
The Play on the Card
So let’s get our Sherlock Holmes hat on and utilize the internet, particularly baseballreference.com to see if we can determine the date the play occurred, whether Mitchell was safe at home scoring one of the 51 runs he scored that season, and if so, did the Mets won the game?
2. The picture is from a day game, and as Mitchell is wearing the home team uniform, we’re looking for a day game played at Shea in 1986 against the Expos.
3. The Mets and Expos played 9 games at Shea in 1986: June 23-25; August 1-3; and September 8-10. The June 23 and 24 games can be ruled out at the game pictured as those were night games, as were the August 1st and 2nd games and all three September games.
4. We’re left with the June 25th game and the August 3rd game as possibilities. Taking a look at the scorecards for each day (the electronic version kept at baseballreference, not the scorecards kept at the game in pencil and paper) while Kevin Mitchell played in both games, Mike Fitzgerald was not the Expos catcher on the August 3rd game. We now know that the play pictured must be from the June 25th game. Elementary Watson.
5. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with two out and Darryl Strawberry on third and Montreal leading 2 – 0, Mets shortstop Kevin Mitchell hit a line drive double to left, scoring Strawberry, off of Andy McGaffigan. Sid Fernandez was the Mets pitcher that day and Davey Johnson often sacrificed defense at short to get a better hitter when a flyball pitcher such as Sid Fernandez was pitching. The next batter, Ray Knight, hit a ground ball single through the left side, scoring Mitchell and as noted in the scorecard, advancing to second on the throw home. This is the picture shown on the card in question. Mitchell was not involved in any other plays at the plate that game, which the Mets won 5-2.
By the time young collectors had this card in their hands in 1987, Kevin Mitchell was no longer a Met. Following the 1986 season, Mitchell was traded along with Kevin Armstrong, Kevin Brown , neither of which ever reached the majors, and Stan Jefferson and Shawn Abner to the Padres in exchange for Kevin McReynolds, reliever Gene Walter and Adam Ging, the latter of which failed to reach the major leagues.
Kevin Mitchell would win the 1989 NL MVP award withe Giants, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, Slugging, OPS, total bases and intentional walks. Mitchell concluded his career in 1998 with a lifetime .284 batting average, 234 home runs, 760 RBIs and 630 runs scored, including the one recorded for posterity in the 1987 Topps set, card #653.