The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Jon Matlack”

Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 2 – Jerry Grote

This is the second installment of this series.  You can read Part 1 here.

As a young boy growing up a Mets fan in the 1970’s, I always liked Jerry Grote.  Looking at the back of his baseball card, I realized he wasn’t going to ever win a batting title, but watching him play on WOR-Channel 9, I watched him catch enough to know that he was a true professional behind the plate.

Even with the advances made in modern statistical calculations, including dWAR, it is difficult to put a real value on how much a catcher like Jerry Grote was worth to the Mets while he was their primary catcher from the late ’60’s through the mid ’70’s.  Thumbing through a copy of the 1974 Mets yearbook, I found this entry:

“Fortunes of Mets continued to revolve in great measure around availability of bulldoggish, fiery competitor ranked with elite N.L. receiving corps; Shea troupe’s decline began to set in after Ramon Hernandez pitch fractured his right arm bone in Pittsburgh May 11, while pennant push coincided with return to steady full-time duty July 21.”

Perennial stolen-base leader Lou Brock considered Jerry Grote the toughest catcher he ever tried to steal off of, and Johnny Bench himself once remarked that if he’d been on the same team as Grote, he (Bench) would have been relegated to third base with Grote being the regular catcher.

Joe Torre, who both played for and managed the Mets, once compared Grote to Johnny Bench and Ted Simmons.  He said that while Bench and Simmons were hitters that caught, Grote was a catcher who hit.  While that may have been an oversimplification of the abilities and careers these three fine players enjoyed, it does reflect on the high level of respect accorded to Grote by his contemporaries, especially concerning his defense.

Tom Seaver worked with a total of 25 catchers during his MLB career, including Grote, Bench and Carlton Fisk.  No catcher caught Seaver more than Grote did.  Grote was behind the plate for a Seaver start 239 times.  Bench was a distant second at 94 times.  Mets backup catcher Duffy Dyer caught Seaver 55 times.  Seaver made 395 starts as a Met.  Grote was behind the plate in 60% of those starts.  It’s hard to imagine Seaver developing quite the way he did without the defensive prowess of Jerry Grote.

Grote was the Mets starting catcher 1,105 times during his 11 1/2 seasons as a Met (1966-77.)  During that time, he was named to two All-Star teams, led N.L. catchers in putouts in 1970 and ’71, in Range Factor / Game six times, and in Fielding Percentage once.  He never led N.L. catchers in runners caught stealing largely because most base-runners just wouldn’t test his arm.

A .252 career hitter with just 39 career homers, Grote was never a great hitter, but he always viewed his defense as his primary job.  With Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and, a bit earlier, Nolan Ryan to catch, the question is, was his reputation partly enhanced by having the good fortune to catch those excellent pitchers, or were those pitchers so highly productive at least in part because they were lucky to have Jerry Grote behind the plate?

Certainly, a young pitching staff has a lot to learn, and a catcher as assertive and competent as Grote could only have reinforced their development.

Grote’s toughness behind the plate was legendary.  Out of San Antonio, Texas, Grote was an old school guy who was not afraid to call out Seaver or any of the other pitchers when they made a mistake.  He often had run-ins with umpires who earned his wrath, including one alleged incident when he allowed a pitched ball to hit an umpire in the mask.

Pitchers who shook him off could expect him to come barking out from behind home plate, so it didn’t happen very often.  And in 1988, seven years after he’d retired as an MLB catcher, Birmingham Barons manager Jerry Grote inserted himself into a game as his team’s catcher when no one else was available.  At age 42, it was the final time he suited up for a game.

Perhaps we should allow Tom Seaver to have the final word regarding the career of Jerry Grote.  Seaver once remarked on national television that even having had Bench and Fisk behind the plate at one time or another in his career, the finest catcher he ever enjoyed as a battery-mate was Jerry Grote.

If Jerry Grote  was good enough to win high praise from none other than Tom Seaver, who are the rest of us to judge?

R.A. Dickey’s Place in Mets History

You’ve probably already heard the news this evening that Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey has won the N.L. Cy Young award, becoming the third Mets pitcher to win the award (Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden being the other two.)  Dickey led the N.L. in strikeouts, led the Majors in Quality Starts, and finished second in the N.L. in ERA.  He also became the sixth 20-game winner in team history.

First, I want to congratulate R.A. Dickey for a fantastic season, and for being one of the few consistently bright spots in yet another disappointing season for Mets fans.

Aside from Cy Young awards, how does R.A. Dickey’s season rate among the best seasons ever by a Mets pitcher?  Before looking at the stats, I would have guessed that it was easily among the top ten seasons ever by a Mets pitcher.  Using WAR as a benchmark, here is where Dickey’s 2012 season actually ranks:

1)  Dwight Gooden – 11.9  1985

2)  Tom Seaver – 10.3  1973

3)  Tom Seaver – 9.7  1971

4)  Jon Matlack – 8.8  1974

5)  Tom Seaver – 7.5  1975

6)  Tom Seaver – 7.1  1969

7)  Johan Santana – 6.9  2008

8)  Pedro Martinez – 6.7  2005

8)  Tom Seaver – 6.7  1968  (Seaver owns 5 of the top 9 seasons in Mets history among pitchers.)

10)  Al Leiter – 6.5  1998 (Bet you didn’t expect to see him here.)

11)  Jerry Koosman – 6.2  1968

12)  Frank Viola – 6.1  1990

13)  Sid Fernandez – 5.9  1992  (Third toughest pitcher to hit ever!)

13)  Tom Seaver – 5.9  1974

15)  Jerry Koosman – 5.8  1969  (Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, what a great staff.)

15)  Jon Matlack  – 5.8  1972

15)  Tom Seaver  – 5.8  1967

18)  R.A. Dickey – 5.6  2012

19)  Jerry Koosman – 5.5  1973

20)  Tom Seaver – 5.4  1970

20)  Craig Swan – 5.4  1978  (Led N.L. in ERA and ERA+ in ’78, with just 9 wins for his efforts.)

22)  David Cone – 5.3  1988

22)  Brett Saberhagen – 5.3   1994  (WAR would have been higher, but for the lockout.)

24)  Dwight Gooden – 5.2  1984

25)  Tom Seaver – 5.1  1976

As you can see, though Dickey enjoyed a fine year in 2012, and, in my opinion, justly deserved the Cy Young award, his was far from the best season in team history.  That’s no slight against him.  It just goes to show that once upon a time, the Mets boasted many very fine pitchers.

But once again, congratulations to R.A. Dickey, and here’s to hoping that 2013 brings similar good fortune to him, and to his team.

15 Reasons Why (Against All Logic) I’ll Root for the Mets in 2012

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I suppose those of us who are Mets fans often stop to wonder why we continue to support this tragicomedy of a franchise.  I’m guessing that there’s a Charlie Brown masochism to the personality type that chooses to root for the Mets.  Jose Reyes is hurt again?  Rats.  Linus,why do I feel so miserable?  It’s simple Charlie Brown.  You were condemned at birth by the Gods of Baseball.

So here are ten random, pointless reasons why I continue to justify my loyalty to this franchise:

1)  I’m just about as old as the Mets, and, like the Mets, have had a few successes, lots of mediocre years, and a few bad ones.  In fact, with a few exceptions, my best years have generally mirrored the Mets successful years as well.

2)  Piggy-backing on Reason #1, I’ve been a Mets fan now for 37 of their 50 years of existence.  What would be the point of stopping now?  It has always mystified me why couples who have been married for, say, 31 years suddenly decide to get divorced.  What the hell’s the point of that?  You can’t have those lost years back.  Did you think things would be different if only you waited 31 years?

3)  Tom Seaver was a New York Met.  That’s good enough for me.

4)  Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run, just ten days after 9/11, giving the city of New York a huge emotional lift.

5)  Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, one of the greatest moments of my life.

6)  The back of George Theodore’s 1974 Topps baseball card #8 reads, “George loves strawberry milkshakes.”  ‘Nuff said.

7)  Rusty Staub was not only a very good ballplayer, he was an actual chef.  I visited Rusty’s Restaurant in 1976, but Rusty had already been traded to Detroit for Mickey (Fucking) Lolich.  Still, as I sat at a table eating something or other with my parents and my little brother, I scanned the restaurant in vain for any sign of Rusty.

8)  Lindsey Nelson’s sports jackets.  If you know what I mean, you are probably also a Mets fan.

9)  Dave Kingman’s epic home runs, and his even more epic strikeouts.

10)  Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, and David Wright will provide more offense this year than most people will expect.

11)  They’re not the Pirates.  Or the Cubs.  Or the goddamned Yankees.

12)  October 8, 1973, Game 3 of the N.L.C.S.  Bud Harrelson punches Pete Rose at second base after a typically hard, bush-league slide.  This launches a bench-clearing brawl that goes on for several minutes.  The Mets eliminate the Reds in five games.  Take that, ya bastards!

13)  Dwight Gooden’s superhuman 1985 season, the best year I ever witnessed by a pitcher:  24-4, 276 innings, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, 1.53 ERA, 268 K’s, 0.965 WHIP, 229 ERA+, 11.7 WAR.

14)  My step-grandfather, Joe Iritsky, a Navy veteran of WWII, and a war hero, took me to my first game at Shea Stadium in August, 1974.

15)  Jon Matlack was a better pitcher than Jack Morris.  (Yes, he was.)

The Best Losing Pitchers of All-Time

Most pitchers who lost more games than they won in their careers did so because they just weren’t very good pitchers.  In fact, they were often just plain awful.  But there is an unusual subset of pitchers who were actually pretty good at their craft who still ended up with more losses than wins.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true.  Some pitchers are just unlucky.

The original idea for this post came from my last post when I was examining the career of Jon Matlack. Matlack pitched 2,363 innings in his career, winning the N.L. Rookie of the Year award in 1972.  He retired with a career ERA of 3.18, an ERA+ of 114, and a career WAR of 38.7.

Overall, these are numbers that for most pitchers would normally have resulted in a winning record. Yet Matlack completed his career with a record of 125-126.  Although his peripheral numbers all indicate that he was a good pitcher, he still ended up with a losing record.

That got me to thinking about how many other pitchers there might have been in baseball history who pitched well at least as often as not, but never received their fair share of wins.

Before I started my research, I had to set some arbitrary ground-rules.  I decided that to make my list, a pitcher had to have at least 100 wins, 1,500 innings pitched,  at least 200 career starts, and he had to have a career ERA below 4.00.

My research has turned up (and I’ve probably missed some), several intriguing examples of “good” pitchers who retired with losing records.

Here are some examples of these pitchers, in no particular order, with a brief synopsis of their career highlights.

1)  Pat Dobson:  In 1971, Dobson posted a record of 20-8 with an ERA of 2.90 in 282 innings.  He hurled 18 complete games for the Orioles, and finished the season in the A.L. top 20 in MVP voting.  His ERA+ was 116.  The following season, Dobson led the A.L. in losses with a record of 16-18, despite an ERA of 2.65 and an ERA+ of 117.

Dobson would also go on to win 19 games with the ’74 Yankees, and in his seven seasons in which he tossed over 200 innings, he posted an ERA over 4.00 just twice.  He finished with a respectable career ERA of 3.54 in 2,120 innings.  Despite all of these positives, Dobson finished his career with a record of 122-129.

2)  Mark Gubicza:  Gubicza was a two-time All Star who enjoyed a Dobson-like 20-8 season with a 2.70 ERA in 35 starts with the Royals.  Although Gubicza had some trouble staying healthy in his 13 seasons with the Royals (1984-96), he did lead the A.L. in starts twice.

Gubicza also surrendered the fewest home runs per nine innings three times, and fewest walks per nine once.  In 2,223 innings pitched in his career, he posted a career ERA+ of 109, and a career WAR of 34.8, better than Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Rube Marquard.  He was, in most seasons, better than the average pitcher, yet accumulated more losses than wins.

3)  Bill Singer:  Twice in his career, in 1969 with the Dodgers and 1973 with the Angels, Singer won exactly 20 games.  In each of those two seasons, he also made exactly 40 starts, pitched exactly 315.2 innings, and hurled exactly two shutouts.  Also, in both seasons, he topped 240 strikeouts.  Strangely, he walked just 74 batters in ’69, then walked 130 in ’73.  Apparently, Nolan Ryan must have rubbed off on him.

Singer was an erratic pitcher, but, as you can see, he was quite dominant in his prime.  In 308 career starts, he tossed 2,174 innings, and his career ERA was a respectable 3.39.  It was a surprise to me, then, when I saw that Singer had finished his career with a record of 118-127.  He deserved better.

4)  Bob Friend:  Friend’s career is probably the most extreme example of this group of an excellent pitcher who got saddled with more wins than losses.  His 197 career wins are, by far, the most of any pitcher I could find who finished his career with a losing record (197-230.)  But his career win-loss percentage (.461) is actually one of the worst I could find among the players in his group.

Friend led the N.L. in wins with 22 in 1958.  Then he went on to lead the league in losses with 19 in 1959.  In 1960, he bounced back with 18 victories, then proceeded to lead the league in losses the following year once again with 19.

Friend led the league in games started three times, in innings pitched twice, in batters faced twice, and in ERA and ERA+ once each.  He pitched 200 innings every season from 1955 to 1965 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Friend’s career WAR of 48.9 is better than several pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

Friend, a four-time All Star, made 497 starts in his career, pitched in over 3,600 innings, and logged a career ERA of 3.58.  If he had pitched on better teams than the often dismal Pirates, he might have reversed his career record, and perhaps even some consideration for the Hall of Fame.

5)  Randy Jones:  Randy Jones won the 1976 N.L. Cy Young award for the Padres with a record of 22-14, led the league in starts (40) complete games (an astonishing 25), innings pitched (315) and WHIP (1.027).  Although he hardly ever walked anyone, it is also amazing that he struck out just 93 batters all season.

The previous year, Jones finished as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting to Tom Seaver.  Jones actually topped Seaver in ERA (2.24) and ERA+ (156) while posting a nice 20-12 record.  Interestingly, the season before these two consecutive excellent years, 1974, Jones led the N.L. in losses as he was saddled with a record of 8-22.

But Jones’ career went downhill rapidly from that point, his last semi-effective season coming in 1979.  Jones finished his career, spent almost entirely with San Diego, with a career record of 100-122, and an ERA of 3.42.  As far as I can tell, Jones is the only Cy Young award winner (among starting pitchers, and using the criteria I listed above) who finished his career with more losses than wins.

Now here are the rest of the pitchers who meet my standards, listed alphabetically, with their respective win-loss records, and their career ERA’s:

6) Jim Barr:  101-112, 3.56

7) Tom Candiotti:  151-164, 3.73

8) Dick Ellsworth:  115-137, 3.72

9)Woodie Fryman:  141-155, 3.77

10) Bob Knepper:  146-155, 3.68

11)  Jon Matlack – 125-126, 3.18

12) Rudy May:  152-156, 3.46

13) Fritz Ostermueller:  114-115, 3.99

14) Steve Renko:  134-146, 3.99

15) Jim Rooker:  103-109, 3.46

16) Zane Smith:  100-115, 3.74

17) Clyde Wright:  100-111, 3.50

A few other pitchers I looked at just missed making this list.  Danny Jackson, for example, had a career record of 112-131, but his career ERA was 4.01.  Nap Rucker finished his career with a perfectly mediocre record of 134-134, so he missed making this list by one loss.

Now, of the seventeen pitchers listed above, which ones were the best?

Let’s begin by eliminating all of those pitchers with a career ERA+ under 100.  Well, there goes Bill Singer (99), Bob Knepper (95), Woodie Fryman (96), Steve Renko (98) and Clyde Wright (96).

Now we are down to just twelve pitchers.  Using career WAR as a litmus test, let’s eliminate any pitcher on this list with a career WAR below 20.  Say goodbye to Pat Dobson (17.6), Randy Jones (19.7), Rudy May (19.6), and Jim Rooker (16.7).

We have eight pitchers remaining.  Let’s raise the bar a bit more to reward pitchers who pitched at least 2,000 innings.  That eliminates Zane Smith.  Let’s also knock off the lowest remaining ERA+, Dick Ellsworth (100).

Our six remaining pitchers are:  Jon Matlack, Mark Gubicza, Jim Barr, Tom Candiotti, Bob Friend, and Fritz Ostermueller.

Now let’s list our remaining six in order of career WAR, highest to lowest:

1)  Bob Friend – 48.9

2) Tom Candiotti – 41.0

3)  Jon Matlack – 38.7

4)  Mark Gubicza – 34.8

5)  Jim Barr – 30.5

6)  Fritz Ostermueller – 27.6

Eliminating Ostermueller, who has both the lowest WAR and the highest ERA (3.99), we have a nice little five-man rotation of Friend, Candiotti, Matlack, Gubicza and Barr.

The Black Ink test used by Baseball-Reference.com, that is, the categories in which a player led his league, highlighted in bold print, is still another way to measure a particular player’s value.

Using the Black Ink test, Bob Friend wins by a wide margin.  He scores a 20,  Matlack and Gubicza each score a 4, while Candiotti  and Barr each score a 2.

Therefore, I think it is clear that the best losing pitcher of all-time, as far as my research goes, was Bob Friend.  I would rate Jon Matlack as the runner-up, with either Gubicza or Candiotti in third place.

Congratulations to Bob Friend, the Best Losing Pitcher of All-Time.

Who Belongs in the Hall of Fame: Player A, or Player B?

There is a popular game among those of us who like to compare players who may or may not belong in the Hall of Fame.  You simply take the statistics of two or more players, place them side by side, and remove the players’ names.

The reason you take away their names is that with names come memories, emotions and biases.  These subjective “inputs” then cloud one’s judgment when attempting to objectively compare two or more players.

O.K., so it’s not much of a game.  But it does serve to illustrate that sometimes, what we think we know about a particular player may actually be at best just a pale shadow of who that player actually was.

On the other hand, as you shall soon see, the data that one chooses to use may also have its limitations.

Case in point:  Here are the career statistics of two pitchers, one right-handed and the other a southpaw.  Using only the data I have listed below, I will allow you to decide which pitcher you would rather have leading your hypothetical rotation.  I have chosen ten categories to use as a basis of comparison.

Pitcher A:

Career ERA+  105

Career WAR:  39.3

WHIP:  1.296

Strikeouts / 9 innings:  5.8

Strikeouts / Walk:  1.8

Career Shutouts:  28

Career ERA:   3.90

Peak WAR:  5.9

Seasons with ERA less than 3.oo:  0

Career Post-Season:   7-4, 3.80

Pitcher B:

Career ERA+   114

Career WAR:   38.7

WHIP:   1.233

Strikeouts / 9 Innings:   5.8

Strikeouts / Walk:   2.38

Career Shutouts:  30

Career ERA:  3.18

Peak WAR:  8.6

Seasons with ERA less than 3.00 – 4

Career Post-Season:   2-2, 1.40

As you can see, Pitcher A wins only one category, Career WAR, 39.3, just barely beating Pitcher B by 0.6 percentage points.  Pitcher A also ties Pitcher B in Strikeouts / 9 Innings at 5.8.

Pitcher B wins the other eight categories, and even seems to be the better pitcher in the post-season.

Both pitchers, by the way, pitched well over 2,000 innings in their respective careers, and neither of them won a Cy Young award.  One pitcher was named an All-Star game MVP, and the other won a World Series MVP award.  Both pitchers began their careers after 1970.

So which pitcher would you rather have on your team?

Choosing simply by the numbers I have listed, I am confident that most people would choose Pitcher B over Pitcher A.  Pitcher B simply has too great an advantage in too many important stats to ignore.

Therefore, most people would have chosen Jon Matlack over Jack Morris.

Yet, many people believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame, while virtually no one that I’ve ever met (there’s a pun there) would argue that Jon Matlack belongs in that same august association.

So what are we to make of these statistics?  None of the statistics I have chosen is in and of itself misleading, yet can we feel comfortable with the outcome I have presented?

Jack Morris, who spent his entire 18-year career in the American League, finished his career with a record of 254-186.  He led his league in wins twice, posted three 20-win seasons, had three 200 strikeout seasons, was a five time All-Star, and finished in the top five in his league’s Cy Young voting five times.

He was the ace of every staff he led, and, of course, he pitched one of the most famous games in World Series history, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves, when he hurled ten shutout innings as the Twins won their second World Series in four years.

Jon Matlack, meanwhile, while pitching for the Mets and the Rangers in the 1970’s and early 80’s, finished with a career record of 125-126, never led his league in wins, won the N.L. Rookie of the Year award in 1972, made three All-Star teams, and led his league in shutouts twice.

Jack Morris won twice as many games as Jon Matlack, pitched about 1,500 more innings in his career, and pitched in an era that was, generally speaking, more favorable to hitters than the era in which Matlack pitched.

So now what?  This is not, as some might argue at this point, an example of how modern sabermetrics have their limitations, because we all “know” that Morris was a better pitcher than Matlack during their  respective careers.

What we do know for sure was that Morris was more durable than Matlack.  We know that Morris pitched for teams that generally won more games (even when he wasn’t pitching) than Matlack. And we know that sometimes, fortune favors one person over another for no particular reason.

On a game by game basis, it is clear that Matlack could have held his own with Morris any day of the week in any era.  But it is also true that Napoleon had it right when (so the story goes) he was asked who his favorite generals are. He replied, “The lucky ones.”

This is not to cast aspersions on the fine career of Jack Morris.  But aside from the obvious conclusion that he really doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, it is clear that fortune smiled on him throughout his career.  Matlack’s numbers, as I have shown, clearly indicate that he was clearly an excellent pitcher for over a decade.

But Matlack also doesn’t merit serious Hall consideration.  No matter how you cut, split-up, and regroup the numbers, a pitcher with a career losing record just ain’t never getting into the Hall, nor, in my opinion, should he.

Because when all is said and done, the Hall of Fame isn’t simply about numbers.  It is also about memories, emotions, and personal connections.  Although the Hall of Fame shouldn’t simply be a Hall of Celebrity, it is also not merely a math problem to be solved with modern computer-generated algorithms.

A legitimate Hall of Fame career should be that narrow intersection where the emotional, metaphysical and, if you will, spiritual,  meets the sensible, rational and objective.

If that intersection is hard to find, that standard hard to meet, well, isn’t that the point?

Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Lenny Randle

I am excited to kick off a new series today, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.”  This is Part I of a twelve-part series analyzing those unfortunate players who performed well on otherwise terrible teams.  Almost every last-place team seems to have one of them, and their efforts are usually forgotten by all but that team’s biggest fans.

My colleague, Graham Womack of the baseball blog, “Baseball Past and Present,”  will be co-authoring this series with me, on a weekly, alternating basis.

The six players I will focus on in this series have all played since 1961.  Graham’s focus, then, will be on half a dozen players from pre-1961 baseball.  We have decided not to concern ourselves with splitting up the A.L. and the N.L., so ultimately, it is possible that one league or the other will end up being featured more prominently than the other.  So be it.

Graham and I have been in contact with each other regarding co-writing a series together since before Christmas.  This is the topic we have come up with.  We decided to keep the entire series here on my blog to avoid possible confusion for our readers, and, speaking for myself, the writers.  Graham’s first post will be featured next Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy this series.  If you have any suggestions about players you would like to see featured, please drop us a line.

Now, without further adieu, here is our initial offering.

The 1977 New York Mets are underrated as one of the worst teams in Mets history.  Almost everyone knows that the pre-1969 Mets were God-awful, but the decade of the ’70’s also featured some of the worst efforts, or non-efforts, that New York’s National League franchise ever produced.

There are actually several reasons, though, why the ’77 team stands out as a tragic example of how a Major League baseball team is quite capable of kicking its fans in their collective teeth, and appearing not to notice.  Specifically, given that the Mets had played better than .500 baseball in three of their previous four seasons, including a trip to the ’73 World Series and a couple of respectable third-place finishes, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ’77 Mets would be a competitive ball club.

For one thing, the Mets were returning with one of baseball’s best rotations:  Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, as well as promising young starters Nino Espinosa and Craig SwanBob Apodaca and Skip Lockwood provided above-average relief help in the bullpen.

The Mets defense also appeared solid, with the exception of Dave Kingman in left-field.  Young catcher John Stearns provided above-average speed behind the plate, and 22-year old outfielder Lee Mazzilli appeared to be a future star.

Very quickly, however, things began to unravel in Gotham.  The Mets, under manager Joe Frazier, stumbled out of the gate with a 15-30 record.  Then, on June 15, 1977, the unthinkable happened.  The Mets traded their 32-year old franchise player, Tom Seaver, for four young prospects, none of whom were to make much of a mark on Major League history.  Then they also traded their only legitimate power-hitter, Dave Kingman, to the San Diego Padres.

Thirty-six year old Joe Torre, now a player-manager, took over the helm in his very first shot at managing.  He didn’t have much left to work with.

In the previous off-season, however, the Mets did manage to pry a young third baseman named Lenny Randle from the Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named later.

Lenny Randle was no prospect.  He was going to be 28-years old in ’77, and few Mets fans had any idea what to expect.

But, as it turned out, Lenny Randle provided spark on a team whose guts had just been ripped out by upper-management.  He gave Mets fan a reason to keep watching their team long after it was obvious that ’77 was a lost season.

Randle’s statistics for the 1977 were not spectacular, but he was the best the Mets had to offer that year.

Randle led the team with a .304 batting average.  He led them in stolen bases with 33.  He also led the Mets in on-base percentage (.383, tenth best in the league), and in hits (156), triples (5) and runs scored (78).  His 4.2 WAR was the highest on the team.

Defensively, he played the position more like a middle-infielder.  His Range Factor per nine innings was a solid 3.06, 4th best in the N.L.

Although Randle’s  power numbers were terrible, accumulating just five home runs and 27 RBI,  Mets fans understood that Randle’s job was to get on base and make things happen.

But Randle turned out to be little more than a flash-in-the pan.  He performed poorly in Flushing in ’78, then bounced around between the Yankees, Cubs, and Mariners for the next several seasons, until his retirement in 1982 at the age of 33.

In 1983, Randle became the first American major league player to play in Italy, where he won a batting title by hitting .477.

On a really good Major League baseball team, Lenny Randle would have been a nice complementary ballplayer.  On the 1977 Mets, however, he was the star attraction on an abysmal team.

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