Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#56 - Mets Team Records

Here are the '73 NL champs. Like the Orioles card this one has very good clarity; I can pretty much recognize everyone including the three Hall of Famers in the second row. The guy in the shades and the fro in the back left is a mystery - Nino Espinosa? - but everyone else I am pretty sure about.The only downside to the photo is that backdrop. Depressing!

1973 was a pretty crazy year for these guys. Just about every regular got hurt and the team pretty much occupied last place from early June until the end of August. Tom Seaver injured himself moving a case of wine. They finally gave up on Jim Fregosi, moving him to Texas. Willie Mays retired before the end of the season, promising to return if the team made the playoffs, which did not seem likely at the time of his announcement (this is one of his last cards while he was active; the other one is down the road). There was a bunch of talk about Billy Martin replacing Yogi Berra as manager. That was all laid to rest by a September during which the Mets went 19-8 while the only other NL East team over .500 was Montreal. The definitive game of that drive was on September 20th in which the Mets beat Pittsburgh in the 13th inning. The game featured the "Ball off the Wall" play in which a Cleon Jones to Wayne Garrett to Ron Hodges relay nailed Richie Zisk at the plate. It was also the rally during which the "You gotta believe!" slogan became meaningful. In the end the Mets won their division with an 82-79 record, up 1 1/2 games over St. Louis. In fact the five top teams were within five games on the last day of the season. It was a very emotional year.

There is not too much special on the front of the checklist. It is split pretty evenly between guys on the '69 club and the "newer" guys. Some signatures are pretty formal but nothing particularly stands out.

Now that I have done this a couple times, the format I established is to talk about the guys without cards in the current set. Here goes:

Roy McMillan was a shortstop who signed with the Reds in 1947 out of his small Texas town after a tryout. While he had some moments as a hitter in the minors - a .307 in C ball in '48 - he quickly earned a reputation as a defensive gem He came up in '51 and was pretty much Cincinnati's starting shortstop through the 50's, and was widely viewed as the NL's best at that position. During his time in Cincy Roy would twice be named an All-Star and win three Gold Gloves. After the 1960 season he was traded to the Braves to make way for Leo Cardenas. He would be the regular Milwaukee guy for three seasons and earn some MVP votes in '61. Early in the '64 season he went to the Mets for Jay Hook. He started for NY the next two years and played for them through the '66 season, his last as a player. Roy hit .243 for his career with 68 homers and nearly 600 RBI's. Defensively he finished very high in career categories and currently ranks 19th in career shortstop putouts, 18th in assists, and eighth in double plays. He then took up coaching, first in the Mets' system ('67 as a coach and '68-'69 as manager), up top for Milwaukee ('70-'72), and then at that same level for the Mets ('73 to '76). During that time he managed the Brewers a couple games in '72 and took over NY after Yogi was canned in '75 and went a combined 27-28 in those two stints.He then moved to manage in the Minnesota system ('77-'80) before scouting for Montreal ('81-'97). As a manager in the minors he went 454-449 and won two league championships. He died shortly after the end of the '97 season of a heart attack at age 68.

Charlie Neal was another Texas kid whose first pro experience was for the Negro League's Atlanta Black Crackers when he was a teenager. He then signed with Brooklyn in 1950. While he would hit .286 in the minors as a second baseman, he would not get to The Show until '56 since he had two Brooklyn icons ahead of him in the middle infield in Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. That year he arrived early in the season and hit .287 as a backup middle guy. In '57 Reese moved to third so Charlie took over as shortstop. When the Dodgers moved to LA Jackie opted to retire and Charlie regained his primary position, taking over second base. He would then put up his two best seasons, in '58 topping out with 22 homers despite missing some time; and in '59 charging things up by hitting .289, 30 doubles, 11 triples, 19 homers, 83 RBIs, and 102 runs. He would follow that up with a monster Series against Chicago. In '60 he was again an All-Star (as he had been in '59) though his offense came down pretty hard and remained there in '61. Prior to the team's initial '62 season he was traded to the Mets where he was the first starting second baseman. He put up his best numbers since '59 but after a discounted start to the '63 season went to the Reds midway through in what would be his final year. He hit .259 for his career with 87 homers and 391 RBI's and won a Gold Glove. In the post-season he hit .323 with two homers and six RBI's in his seven games. There is absolutely nothing out there on what he did subsequent to his playing career. He passed away in '96 at age 65.

In 1962 Charlie Neal roomed with the Mets' catcher Choo Choo Coleman, who was a bit of an airhead. During training camp the following season, Charliel bet someone that Choo Choo would not know who he was, despite their time together the prior year. When the other player asked Coleman who Charlie was, his response was "Number seven". Neal won the bet.

Frank Thomas had a colorful career, not all for good reasons. A big local kid, he was signed by Pittsburgh late in '47 after apparently attending seminary school in his teens. He planned to be a priest but liked baseball too much. He had some big seasons in the minors, including his first one in '48 when he knocked in 132 in D ball and in '51 when he hit 23 out with over 90 RBI's in Double A before being called up top. He hit OK the rest of the way, returned to Double A for a big year - .309/35/131 and came up for good later that season. With the Pirates Frank was viewed as the heir apparent to Ralph Kiner and he remained with Pittsburgh through '59. While there he averaged 27 homers and 90 RBI's. His best season was '58 when he hit 35 homers with 109 RBI's. But despite being a three-time All-Star he never led the league in homers like Ralph did and after his big '58 he was traded to the Reds with a guy named Whammy and others in the deal that got Pittsburgh Smokey Burgess, Don Hoak, and Harvey Haddix. But an arm injury led to an off season and following it Frank went to the Cubs, had surgery on his hand, and put in other discounted year. Early in '61 he went to the Braves where he recovered his stroke. Prior to the '62 season he was traded to the Mets for Gus Bell and had a decent season - .266/34/94 - for that terrible team. In '63 he moved to first base - he also had played third - and would stay there midway through the '64 season when he was traded to Philly for that team's pennant run. He was having a nice run for the Phillies when he broke his thumb; it was cited as one of the reasons for the team's collapse that year. In '65 he and Dick Allen got into a fight with racial overtones and Thomas was sent to Houston the next day. After return stints with the Cubs and Braves, he was done in '66. For his career he hit .266 with 286 homers and 962 RBI's. He also had eight kids. While Thomas was playing he would boast that he could catch anyone's hardest throw bare-handed; as far as I can tell, he always did. There is no dirt out there on what he did after baseball professionally though for a long while he did the old-timer game thing and he still shows up regularly at card shows.

Donn Clendenon has one of the most intesting Wiki pages that I have ever seen. The link is here. Set on becoming a teacher after his graduation from Morehouse College like his dad, Donn was influenced enough by his stepfather, a former Negro League star. to take a few days off from his teaching job and try out for the Pirates in '57. He made the cut and while in the minors he developed some power, his fielding at first base, and his ability to strike out. He came up late in '62 and despite only 222 at-bats finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He stuck with Pittsburgh through '68, averaging .275 with 17 homers, 77 RBI's, and 125 K's. His biggest Pirate seasons were '65 and '66 when he put up lines of .301/14/96 and .299/28/98 respectively. Following the '68 season he was taken by the Expos in the expansion draft - the Pirates had Al Oliver coming up - and was quickly traded to Houston with Jesus Alou for Rusty Staub. Harry Walker was the Astros' manager; Donn had played for him in Pittsburgh and did not want to do so again, so he refused to report. After half a season in Montreal, he was traded to the Mets for a bunch of young players. He became a clubhouse leader, sat out the NL playoffs, and had his kick-ass Series against Baltimore. 1970 may have been his best season - 22 homers, 97 RBI's in less than 400 at-bats - and after a '71 in which his playing time was greatly reduced, he went to the Cards in '72 for his last season. He finished with a .274 average, 159 homers, and 682 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .357 with three homers, four RBI's, and a .438 OBA in his four games. Donn was very active away from baseball professionally during his career, working as a teacher, a consultant, and in management for some pretty big companies. Following baseball, he got a law degree, started his own criminal law firm, and in the Eighties had a pretty big drug problem. He got cleaned up, did a bunch of rehab work, and passed away in 2005 at age 70 from leukemia.

Bill Wakefield pitched one season in the majors, and it wasn't that bad. Bill came out of Kansas City and then went to Stanford. Somewhere along the way he must have put up some impressive pitching numbers since he was signed by St. Louis just prior to his sophomore baseball season in '61. A starter, he won nine and ten in A ball and Double A, respectively, each of the next two seasons but each year had a losing record and a pretty high ERA. After a '63 in which he went a combined 4-10 out of the pen in Double A and Triple A with another high ERA, he came to the Mets with George Altman for Roger Craig (good trade for Roger; bad one for Bill). Primarily a reliever in '64, he did some spot starting, including the first night game at Shea. He finished with a 3-5 record, two saves, and a 3.61 ERA, pretty good for that team. That year he also earned his degree at Stanford. He went back to the minors, where outside of his last season, 1966, he regularly had ERA's close to 5.00 which I guess is what kept him from coming back. He also seems to have had some control issues. In the minors for his career he went 29-53 with a 4.67 ERA. Following baseball Bill was an operations VP at S+W Fine Foods ('67-'77); a VP at Kransco ('77-'94); and since '94 has run his own firm which manufactures sporting goods (he is on LinkedIn). There is a nice video of Bill on YouTube in which he throws out a first ball at the new Citi Field in 2009.

Roger Craig has a bio on the Houston manager/coaches card.

Jack Fisher was signed by the Orioles out of his Atlanta high school in '57. After a shaky career start that year he won 14 in B ball in '58 and then eight in half a Triple A season in '59. Around those last numbers he debuted up top that year and while he was only 1-6 was deemed to be part of a group of young pitchers - Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Jerry Walker, and Chuck Estrada were the others - to pull Baltimore out of the second division. 1960, during which he was 12-11with a 3.41 ERA, was his best season. In '61 and '62 he recorded losing seasons as his win totals moved down while his ERA moved way up. Following the '62 season he was traded to the Giants. After a not great year there as a spot guy he got to come to the Mets in the infamous "make-up draft". In four years with the Amazins' he led the league in losses twice and in earned runs three times. Prior to the '68 season he went to the White Sox in a pretty big trade that brought the Mets Tommie Agee. While he went 8-13 for the Sox he put up his best ERA of 2.99. In '69 he went to the Reds. After that season and a 1970 spent in the minors - for Baltimore and St. Louis - he was done. He finished with an 86-139 record with a 4.06 ERA, 62 complete games, nine shutouts, and nine saves. After playing he coached a bit and worked for a publishing company before opening a restaurant in PA he ran for a long time called "Fat Jack's" (his nickname when he played).

The most prominent everyday player in '73 without a card is Willie Mays who had 209 at bats. Jim Fregosi had a card with his new team in Texas. Jim Gosger also put in some outfield time and had 92 at bats but he hadn't had a card since '71. On the pitching side 5 wins, 21 losses, and seven saves are not represented; those stats belonged to Jim McAndrew (3-8 with a save and a 5.38 ERA in his last NY season), Buzz Capra (2-7 with four saves and a 3.86 ERA also in his last NY season), Phil Hennigan (0-4 with three saves and a 6.23 ERA in his final MLB year) and a couple 0-1 guys in Craig Swan, who would go on to have a decent MLB career, and Tommy Moore, who wouldn't. Most of these guys do make the team photo card, however. Mays is the second guy in the second row; Capra, Gosger, and Hennigan are the first three in the third row; and McAndrew is the third guy from the right in the last row. Though the Mets were NL champs, the excluded at bats and decisions get them close to the bottom of the list in representation.

Getting Frank Robinson linked to these guys takes advantage of a very big trade:

1. The '73 Mets included Jerry Koosman, Tom Seaver, etc.
2. Koosman, Seaver, etc. and Nolan Ryan on the '67 to '72 Mets;
3. Ryan and Frank Robinson '73 to '74 Angels.

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