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Jim Fregosi

March 26, 2010

Back in the 1970s, people went off to find themselves. Where did they go, exactly? And what did they find? I can’t really say. I picture some chanting, some hirsute nudity. I was a kid then, and unlike other fads of that fad-crazed time, such as the Pet Rock or the mood ring or feathered haircuts or Wacky Packages, the idea of going off to find yourself was not kid-friendly. It was something adults did alone. Adults hit a certain point and felt as if whatever game they had been playing had pushed them to the sidelines. They wondered, as they never had before, what could possibly come next. A question hit them with the force of something they’d long been subconsciously avoiding: Who am I?

I imagine that the moment before a guy went off to find himself looked a little like this 1978 card of Jim Fregosi. (Women went off to find themselves just as often as men, but I imagine their pre-departure look as being more weepy and forlorn than the angry male grimace of Fregosi.) Here he is on the margins, bat at the ready, waiting for his name to be called, beginning to understand that his name will probably not be called. More likely, if the manager notices him at all, it will be with surprise, much like the surprise I had when I came upon this card in my pack of Pirates yesterday: When did Jim Fregosi become a Pirate?

He became a Pirate, it turns out, right at the end, riding the bench for half a season in Pittsburgh in 1977 and doing the same in 1978 before they gave him his release so he could pursue a managerial opportunity with the team that both he and Mets fans might agree he never should have left in the first place, the California Angels. This seamless transition from playing to managing made Jim Fregosi an anomaly not just in the baseball world, where retired players don’t generally ascend immediately to major league manager jobs, but in the world of the 1970s as well. Though he looks in this card like he’s realizing that he doesn’t belong in the world he thought he belonged in, and that the next befuddled, disgruntled step in the life of this man approaching middle age might be to relocate for a while to Oregon to learn origami and bluegrass mandolin and try to “figure things out,” the truth is he was still intensely and narrowly focused on the game at hand, plotting his next move. He had, unlike most in that beautifully aimless decade, figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up.

From my own experiences with adults in that decade, I’d put Jim Fregosi in the one-third minority of adults along with one of the three figures in my trio of parents. My dad knew pretty early on in his life that he wanted to be a sociologist. By the time he got to the 1970s, he had been working in that field for a while, and that’s where he stayed. He was beyond the age of those who most often went off to find themselves. He’s a member of the generation that grew up in the depression and served during World War II; that generation did not go off to find themselves, at least not on a broad scale (one member, Jack Kerouac, could be said to be a godfather of the idea of going off and finding yourself). My other parents, my mom and her boyfriend, Tom, were younger, and during the late 1960s and 1970s they, among other things: worked as a firefighter in Alaska (Tom); took painting classes (Mom); went away for a couple months to learn to be a blacksmith (Tom); worked, sporadically, as an elementary school art teacher (Mom); worked, sporadically, as a blacksmith (Tom); worked at a newspaper (Mom); worked in a lab (Tom); started a sign-painting business (Mom); worked at a woodstove company (Tom); took a computer class (Mom).

It always ended, the decade-long search to find oneself, with the taking of a computer class. Maybe it began with a hit of acid or crested with a trip to India or involved “shacking up” for a while with a longhaired ceramics instructor who was into primal scream therapy, but it always ended with the taking of a computer class. Thusly, the 1980s began.

That latter, leaner, meaner decade was the one where I first edged into an adulthood that I still have yet to really embrace, all these years into it. I started working, but never with the commitment that Jim Fregosi brought to his own chosen field. I scooped ice cream, I pumped gas, I sold liquor. Once in a while I went off to find myself and wherever I went I ended up squinting at myself in the mirror. You. Then I came back and started up again with the jobs. This job, that job. I spent enough time dealing with the crushing stress of unemployment to be thankful whenever I had a job, and this drew a certain level of commitment out of me, but I have never gotten free of that feeling of being on the outside looking in, and have never gotten free of the lure of going off to find myself. It’s as if I’ve been trapped in the 1970s all my life, trapped in the moment that I projected onto Jim Fregosi in his 1978 card: Who am I supposed to be now?

***

(Love versus Hate update: Jim Fregosi’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

50 comments

  1. A couple of thoughts:

    My parents were in their 40′s during the 1970′s. It was a strange era in that someone only about 5 years younger seemed to be about 20 years younger. There were a few that were younger and cut from the same cloth as my parents, but for the most part, there was a great divide between them and people of a slightly younger age.

    Maybe GM’s were trying to find themselves or relate better to the players in this era. Frank Robinson, Joe Torre, Fregosi (and maybe others) all made the immediate transition from player to manager.

    The last paragraph is great. I really enjoyed this entire post, but that last paragraph is excellent in my opinion. Well Done!!!


  2. Soundbounder,

    I can totally relate to your post. My parents were also in their 40′s during the 70′s and it seemed like there was this huge chasm between themselves and people 5 to 10 years younger and people 11-20 years younger were from another planet. What made the chasm even larger is that my parents grew up in France during the German occupation. My father used to tell me stories of getting an “orange” or bar of “chocolate” as a Christmas present and how this was really a big deal.

    My college roommate and I always used to lament and were kind of bitter that we hadn’t been adults in the 70′s. It seemed like when all the baby boomers reached the 1980′s, suddenly everything they used to do that was “cool” wan now frowned upon. We were being criticized for behavior that wasn’t anywhere near as out-of-control as to what they were doing in the 70′s.


  3. The Pirate uniforms of this time period are so bizarre and unique. Black uniforms, gold uniforms, gold tops/black pants, black tops/gold pants, “Double” pinstripe uniforms, Double pinstripe tops and black pants. And then the had a black pillbox hat and a gold pillbox hat that they would interchange with all of those uniforms. Then in 1980 they discontinued the double pinstripe to an “all white” uniform that they would not mix with any other combination.

    http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/dressed_to_the_nines/uniforms.asp?league=NL&city=Pittsburgh&lowYear=1977&highYear=1984&sort=year&increment=9

    Has any other team worn “Double” pinstripe uniforms?

    The one thing I never understood is that they kept the same batting helmet from their ’71-76 uniform, gold top with the black brim. Has any other team worn a batting helmet that wasn’t the same design as their wool hats?

    Has any other team discontinued a wool hat yet continued to wear the same design on their batting helmets?


  4. As a nation, we’ve become so much more uptight and corporate-minded. Ever fearful of image, we work hardest to “keep up appearances,” a tensing of our individuality which seems to only be growing tighter. In The Bronx Zoo, Sparky Lyle wrote of shagging fly balls in batting practice with his nuts hanging out. The only disciplinary action he faced was a plea by the manager to never do it again. But if that were to happen today, can you imagine the outrage, feigned or otherwise? If we’re going to have a repeat of the 70s economy, can we at least bring back the relatively easygoing mindset of the time as well?


  5. Great post! I’m really looking forward to the book. My daughter promised that she would get it for me for my birthday and I’m hoping she reads it first before she sends it to me. She lives in the Chicago area, so are you doing any signings around there Josh? She lives down south (near Chicago Heights)and, seeing as how she’s an aspiring writer herself, I think it would be great for her to meet you. You WILL keep us posted, right?


  6. That’s a good question about the batting helmet/regular cap design disconnect, johnq11. I can’t think of any other team that did what the Pirates did.

    godfreyjon65: I’m hoping to do a Chicago-area reading or two, but no date on that yet. I certainly will put the word out whenever something does get scheduled. Thanks for asking!


  7. This post can’t help but make me think of those lost anti-heros of 70s American cinema. I think characters like the ones Nicholson played in Five Easy Pieces, or Gene Hackman in Night Moves reflect and refract those same ideas and attitudes very poignantly. A song from that era that I always connect with those feelings is Black-Throated Wind, penned by Bob Weir & John Barlow and in heavy rotation in the Grateful Dead’s sets from ’72-’74.

    “What’s to be found, racing around,
    You carry your pain wherever you go.
    Full of the blues and trying to lose
    You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know.”


  8. The odd thing about all those strange Pirate uniforms from the ’70s is that they weren’t exactly a new franchise. You’d think you would have had the uniforms sorted out after almost a hundred years.


  9. sb1902: What can you say, it was the 70s. I mean, the White Sox? Those all-maroon Phillies unis? Franchise longevity meant nothing!


  10. sb1902,

    If you look at the history of the Pirate uniforms, they basically change ever year or so from 1901-1948. They didn’t even start to wear the Black & Gold until 1948. Before that the looked like Red Sox uniforms, Navy Blue and Red.

    They seem to be a franchise that was kind of innovative as far as uniforms were concerned. They were one of the first teams to adopt the “vest” in 1957, they were the first team to introduce the polynit pull-over uniform in 1970, they were the only team that kept wearing the “pill-box” into the 1977 season, they were one of the only teams in the modern era to wear double pin stripes.

    But the ’77-84 multi color uniform mix was bizarre and arbitrary even for the standards of the 1970′s.

    Take the all gold uniform. It was used as a home alternate from 1977-79, then it wasn’t used in 1980, then it came back in ’81-82, then it became the road alternate in 83-84

    The Gold Top/Black Pants combo was used in ’77, not in ’78, then again in ’79-80, not in ’81 then again in ’82, not in ’83, then back again in ’84. It’s like WTF, make up your mind?? To confuse things even more, it was used as an alternate road uniform for all of those years except in 1984 when it was the alternate home uniform.

    The Black Top/Gold Pants combo wasn’t used in ’77, then in ’78, not in ’79, then in ’80-81, not in ’82, then in ’83-84. It was used as a road uniform in ’78, home in ’80, Road in ’81, home in ’83, and road in ’84????

    The solid Pinstripe uniform and the pinstripe top and black pants were used at home from 1977-1979. Then the all white uniform was used from 1980 until 1990 when the replaced it with a button up version in 1991.

    The black pill box hat was used with the Pinstripe, the All Gold, the gold/black, and the all white uniform.

    The gold pill box hat was used with the Pinstripe and black pants, the all black uniform and the black top with the gold pants.


  11. My dad, too, was from that earlier era – he had served in the Marines during mopping-up operations in China right after the Japanese surrender, and clung to an old school mindset that was mitigated by the creative nature of his work as a graphic artist, and by my mother’s being from a generation younger than his own.

    He would occasionally make very slightly disapproving, yet wistfully affirmative reference during the ’70′s to so-and-so acquaintance or relative “doing their own thing.”

    “Doing You Own Thing” was VERY big in those days, sort of an ancillary to “Finding Yourself.” Whether it was moving to a commune and perusing the Whole Earth Catalog, taking batik classes, studying Kung Fu, eating macrobiotically, turning on, dropping out… that decade was perhaps the most acceptable time in recorded history in which to DO it.

    Of course, as you so brilliantly state, Josh, it did generally always end with a computer course..

    And the less said on Jim Fregosi the better.

    The Next in a long line of Panaceaic-Messianic Saviors to be coronated *The Answer* to the Mets perapatetic line of transient third base Human Riddles, I spent most of my childhood shaking my head in disbelief while looking at the back of my most recent Topps Nolan Ryan card, and asking myself the rhetorical question: “THIS??…This is who we gave up for Jim (f@&^%*#) Fregosi?!?!?”

    Yep. And Leroy Stanton too. And a whole lot of self respect.

    It may have been possible to appear less committed, less involved, and less interested in what was going on around the third base bag than Jim Fregosi did during his brief Met tenure, but I’m having trouble coming up with an image.

    The Human Flame Thrower from Alvin, Texas, meanwhile, went on to “Find Himself” quite nicely out in the AL West, thank you, going from spot starter to Strikeout King, “Discovering Who He Was” as a Multiple-No-Hitter-Throwing Multi-Millionaire, and “Doing His Own Thing” as a Perrenial All-Star all the way from Anaheim to Cooperstown… probably with a serene smile on his face most of the way there.

    All these years later it still gets me upset to think about it.


  12. Ramblin Pete,

    I’m also a Mets fan and have often though of what the Mets would have been like in the 70′s if they had not made so many of those moves.

    An outfield of Singleton, Otis, and Mazzilli, Tim Foli and Mike Jorgenson in the infield, a pitching staff of Seaver, Ryan, Koosman and Matlack and Whitey Herzog as the Manager. I think that would have been a very solid team during the 70′s.

    Gil Hodges gets lauded as this fantastic manager but he approved all of those trades. One of the many mistakes the Mets made during that time period was not giving Herzog the manager’s job after Hodges died.

    The Mets still have that “trade the group of young kids for the 30 year former all star” mentality like they’re still an expansion team or something. The only time it’s ever worked in their favor was when the traded for Keith Hernandez, most of the time it’s been a disaster. Sometimes they’ve gotten two good years from the former all-star and then the guy is usually done like Staub, Carter, Mcreynolds.

    Fregosi takes a lot of crap because of the Ryan trade, but to be fair he was the best A.L. shortstop during the 60′s and was on his way to a HOF career until he got hurt in 1971. As it is he’s one of the top 20 short-stops of all time.

    Interesting note, when Fregosi retired in 1978, he was 3rd all time for home runs by a short-stop and he was 6th all time in career ops+ by a short-stop.


  13. JohnQ11,
    You stole my thunder!
    I was going to comment along the same lines about Otis, Singleton,Ryan etc.
    However;
    In fairness to staub, he had quite a few good years with both the Mets and the Tigers in the 70′s. The problem is that the Mets gave up too much talent to get him, and then got nothing (Lolich) in return when they traded him away.
    The Carter trade doesn’t bother that much. I hated to see Brooks go, but they felt they needed a high quality catcher with all those young arms. I was never a big Carter fan, but with all respect, he helped put them over the top.
    One final point…the period between about ’78 and ’85, they actually make a lot of very good trades. Darling, Ojeda, Hojo, Cone, Sid Fernanadez, Keith Hernandez all are obtained in trades. The big busts in that period were Mike Scott for Danny Heep, and Reardon for Ellis Valentine.


  14. Soundbounder,

    Staub really had 2 good years with the Mets, 73 & 75. He was hurt in ’72, but what’s evident from modern measurements is that he couldn’t really play right field by 1974, so that negated some of his offensive value.

    They were fearful that they couldn’t control Staub because he would be a 5-10 year man so they made that terrible trade for Lolich. Tiger Stadium kind of inflated Staub’s numbers and by ’77 he was a DH because he couldn’t play right field anymore.

    Singleton wasn’t a great fielder but he was a tremendous hitter. He finished in the top 5 in Ops+ 5 times from ’75-80. Foli and Jorgensen weren’t great but they could have been used in a trade.

    As far as Carter goes, yeah they won and he was very good/great in ’85-86, but he was shot by ’87-89. One of the reasons they didn’t go back to the playoffs in ’87 or WS in ’88 that’s never brought up is how terrible Carter played in those two years. He had 1100 plate appearances and an ops+ of (83) in 1987, and a ops+ (93) in 1988 and hit .222/.250/.333 in the NLCS. He was basically hurt the entire 1989 season.

    The trades you spoke about are really from 80-86 when Frank Cashen was the G.M. That’s really one of the rare time periods in Mets history where they actually had quite a number of trades go in their favor.

    Cashen also traded for Claudel Washington, Kingman#2, Staub#2, Foster, Seaver#2, Knight, Teufel, Mazzilli#2, to mixed results.


  15. johnq:

    “They didn’t even start to wear the Black & Gold until 1948. Before that the looked like Red Sox uniforms, Navy Blue and Red.”

    I did not know that. I had always assumed gold/yellow was in there (can’t tell in the B&W photos). ‘

    Am I the only one who remembers the “SPORT” magazine article, “The Greatest Team That Never Was” about the Mets? I believe it was from 1980. It also featured the Rick Bosetti article about him taking a whiz in every outfield in the majors (Josh wrote about it: http://cardboardgods.net/category/teams/toronto-blue-jays/rick-bosetti/). In any case, the “That Never Was” article about the disappointment surrounding the Mets of the ’70s, reflecting on the Singleton/Otis moves.

    I was also surprised to notice that Fregosi was listed at a first baseman on this card, being famous as a SS. Wasn’t his reputation as a player generally thought of as a bust, only to be reconsidered much later on?


  16. ramblin’ pete:
    Great treatise on “doin’ your own thing.”

    sb1902:
    “Wasn’t his reputation as a player generally thought of as a bust, only to be reconsidered much later on?”

    I think the “children of the ’70s” like you and me might have seen him this way, because he was so strongly associated at that time with being the lump of coal the Mets got in return for Nolan Ryan, but he must have been thought of differently by older fans who saw him go to six all-star games and win a gold glove in the 1960s. But I also read recently somewhere (maybe in Bill James’ book, where he places Fregosi 15th among all shortstops) that early in Fregosi’s career Ernie Banks had predicted Fregosi would hit .400, so maybe people in the 1960s were always waiting for more for him, too.


  17. sb1902,

    That Sport article sounds really interesting, I wish I could read it.

    The most honest/candid book I’ve ever read about the Mets’ history was “Amazin” by Peter Golenbock. It’s told almost exclusively from former players and managers perspective.

    Whitey Herzog’s parts are fantastic in the book. They’re extremely candid in the criticisms on how the Mets were run in those days. He talks about how frustrated he was spending all this time and money developing players only to have them traded in a series of 4-1, 3-1 trades. And because of this, the Mets farm system was barren by the mid 70′s. He said he would have never allowed the Staub-Singleton, Foli, Jorgensen trade go through if he was made manager after Hodges death.

    He also talks about this odd need the Mets had of only hiring former Yankee, Dodger, Giant or Met players as their manager. And it shows in that only Joe Frazier, George Bamberger, Davey Johnson, Art Howe, and Jerry Manuel have become mangers with no connection to the Yanks, Mets, Dodgers or Giants.

    And to take it a step further, they’ve only had 11 full seasons out of 48, that the manager had no connection to Yanks, Mets, Dodgers, or Giants. And Davey Johnson made up the bulk of those seasons (6) ’84-89.


  18. sb1902,

    As far as “The team that never Was”, if you want to take it a step further, the Mets probably would have taken Reggie Jackson if George Weiss wasn’t the G.M in 1966.

    There was a controversy in that Jackson had a white girlfriend and Weiss/Stengel wanted no part in it. Remember that inter-racial marriages weren’t even legal until 1967. Also, Weiss was an avowed racist. Go back and read some of his comments when he was the Yankees’ G.M. in the early 50′s.

    But what makes the whole thing more bizarre is that Jackson’s girlfriend was of Mexican ancestry and Jackson himself was of mixed race.

    So in an alternate universe, the Mets of the 70′s had an outfield of Reggie Jackson, Ken Singleton, and Amos Otis with a pitching staff of Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, and Matlack, with Whitey Herzog as their manager.

    Another problem the Mets have is this cult of Gil Hodges, as if everything he did was perfect and wonderful and the only reason they were terrible ’77-83 was because Gil Hodges died.

    Hodges wanted Otis to play third, Otis said he couldn’t and said he was a much better outfielder. Hodges treated Otis like a petulant child after this and was behind the trade for Joy Foy. He was in favor of both the Ryan and Singleton-Foli-Jorgensen trades as well.


  19. Stengel was gone by 1966.

    As for Hodges:
    That doesn’t surprise me that he approved of the trades. Most managers will take an established player over a prospect. They are a manager not a GM, and they are concerned with what makes them better now. Not what a prospect might do in the future. By then, they may not even be the manager anymore.

    Also, Herzog discusses the Mets in his book(White Rat). The Mets probably don’t defeat the Reds in the ’73 playoffs without Staub, but they forfeited too much of their future for that one pennant.

    Torre had no connection to any of those teams until after his Mets managerial stint, so that one doesn’t really count. Plus, Bud Harrelson had no connection.


  20. soundbounder,

    Stengel was still working for the Mets in 1966 as an advisor. He went with Bing Devine to see Steve Chilcott play and gave the thumbs up. It’s very sketchy as to who put the kibosh on drafting Reggie.

    Hodges handled the Otis situation terribly there’s no way around it and it cost the franchise dearly during the decade. My point it there is a mythic quality about Hodges because of ’69 and because he died relatively young so he’s not held up to much scrutiny.

    I disagree with Herzog on the ’73 NLCS. They won that series because the pitching staff posted a 1.33 era with 42k’s/47 innings pitched. Staub hit .200 with 3 home runs and was injured in game 4. He hit a solo shot in game#2 that the Mets won 5-0. and he hit a 1 run HR and a 3 run home run in game #3 in which they won 9-2. Besides his pitching Tom Seaver went 2/6 with 2 doubles and a walk and Jerry Koosman went 2/4.

    Staub’s claim to fame was the ’73 WS in which he hit .423/.464/.615. with an injured shoulder. That’s when he became a Mets’ cult hero.

    As far the ’73 regular season, Singleton blew Staub away.

    Staub hit .279/.361/.421 with a 118ops+ with slightly below average defense in right field. In ’73, Singleton hit, .302/.425/.479 with an ops+148 with slightly below average defense in right field. He lead the major leagues in on base percentage and finished 8th in the majors in ops+, 6th in the N.L.

    The connection was that Torre and Harrleson were former Mets players. So were Hodges, Berra, McMillan, Green, Valentine, and Randolph for that matter. you could even put Mike Cubbage into that mix but he was only the manager for about a week. Salty Parker was a manager for about a week in ’67 had no NY connection.

    So basically only Frazier, Bamberger, Johnson, Howe and Manuel had never played or managed for the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, or Mets, which makes up 11 full managerial seasons out of the Mets’ 48 seasons.


  21. JohnQ11,
    I misread your manager comment and did not see that the Mets were included as a team. But I think that is fairly common for a team to have a high percentage of managers with a previous link to the team they manage.

    As for Hodges; I am not defending him. I think you are right that he mishandled the Otis situation. I just don’t think that the fact he approved of a trade is proof of that. Most managers approve of acquiring an established player in exchange for prospects.

    Game 3 of that ’73 NL Playoff belongs to Staub. I am not a believer in the idea of simply subtracting a players output and claiming the team would have won regardless. By the second inning, Staub had already homered twice and driven in 4 runs. He also made a great catch in the outfield (that’s how he got hurt). As much as I wish they had kept Singleton, I think it is only fair to give him his due for that pennant.


  22. Soundbounder,

    Let me go back to clear some things up. Herzog’s quote in “Amazin” is that “For some odd reason, Grant always thought a Yankee of Dodger or Giant (Westrum) should manage the Mets.” Herzog felt this was part of the reason why he didn’t get the managing job after Hodges died. Grant even ordered Herzog not to attend Hodges’ funeral for fear that it would add to speculation that he’d be the new manager.

    If you look at it the Mets have had an odd way of hiring a lot ex Yankee or Dogers as managers.

    They’ve also hired a lot of “in-house” guys for good or for bad. So there’s really only two, Bamberger/Howe that weren’t Yankee/Dodger/Giant/ or in the Mets organization in some capacity. Bamberger/Howe only represent 3 1/2 seasons of managing over 48 seasons.

    So basically if the Mets look for a manager they either promote someone from within the organization or look to hire someone connected to the Yankees or Dodgers.


  23. Yeah he says pretty much the same thing in WHITE RAT. He refers to the “old Dodgers and Giants” and Yankees. Up until Joe Frazier, that was pretty much true. The philosophy they followed bringing back old Dodgers and Giants players in the early expansion years, hung on for 10 years in their approach to picking managers.
    Also, I don’t really consider Torre a Met guy. He came over at the end of his career and there were probably already ideas that he would someday be manager. I think they liked him because he was a local guy. And managers such as Dallas Green and Torborg spent time with the Yankees, but they also spent time with several teams.


  24. Soundbounder,

    As far as Staub is concerned,

    Herzog in quoted in “Amazin” as saying “We made a terrible deal giving up three fine players for Rusty Staub”. “I would have stopped that deal cold”. So for the third time in 2 years Hodges had pushed and worked on a trade of blue chip youngsters for a proven veteran.

    I have to agree with Herzog. I loved Rusty Staub when I was a kid but this was a terrible trade, right up there with Ryan and Otis. Staub’s peak years are 1963-1971 so he was on the downside of his career, Singleton was just starting his great career. Lets use War (Wins above Replacement) to score the trade.

    From 1972-1975 Staub amassed 6.5 War. Staub was traded for Lolich in ’76 and Lolich gave the Mets 1.4 WAR then he retired. So that’s 7.9 War The Mets received.

    From 1972-1984 Ken Singleton amassed 38.8 War. Foli was pretty awful, basically replacement level. Jorgensen was pretty decent with the glove and on base percentage and they actually got traded back to the Mets. They amassed 10.6 War before they came back to the Mets.

    Staub/Lolich=7.9 WAR
    Singleton/Foli/Jorgensen=49.4

    I don’t think people refer to this trade as being “bad” because Staub is/was such a popular figure.


  25. Soundbouunder,

    Torborg had that Dodger connection in that he caught those Koufax no-hitters. So did Frank Howard, Valentine, Hodges, Stengel, even Randolph played with the Dodgers for a year or two.

    Frazier and Torre were in the organization like Davey Johnson, Jerry Manuel.

    The Mets are a pretty loyal organization, for good or for bad. If you stay with them they tend to appreciate your loyalty.


  26. Giving Singleton away has always been right up there as a bad trade for me.

    Sorry to nitpick, but…..
    You can’t include Lolich in the argument, because if they had kept Singleton, he would have been traded for some utility infielder in the ’76-77 period also. By that point he was an established star and Grant would not have wanted to pay him. He would have been gone just like everyone else.
    He is still the best hitter the Mets ever produced.


  27. “You can’t include Lolich in the argument, because if they had kept Singleton, he would have been traded for some utility infielder in the ‘76-77 period also”

    Hilarious, LOL

    I just kept Lolich in there for book-keeping.

    Yeah, I forgot about “M. Donald Grant Logic”. I could see in some alternate universe where they don’t trade Singleton for Staub and then around 1975 Grant is upset because Singleton “Walks too much”

    Grant: I’m not paying these guys to walk, I’m paying them to hit. That’s why I’ve made a deal with the Orioles to get 39 year old third basemen Brooks Robinson to finally fill our void at third.


  28. JohnQ11,
    There is a good book that came out around 1971-72. I think it is simply called THE NEW YORK METS. It is very detailed and long; it’s like a text book. It discusses even the trades that were not made.
    Anyway, it says that when the Mets acquired Clendenon, they had actually been trying to get Staub or Torre. So they had those two in their sight for awhile.
    I found it in a library about a decade ago. It is very detailed, and worth a look if you are interested in that first decade.


  29. As far as the 1973 LCS,

    I would put Staub as the fourth most valuable player in that series. He hit .200/.333/.800 with a 3/15, 3 BB, and 3 HR. He hit that solo shot in game two that the Mets won 5-0, and he hit the two home runs in game 3, but he didn’t contribute anything after game 3. He went 0-5 in game 4 and got injured and didn’t play in game 5.

    Cleon Jones hit .300/.364/.400. and he went 3-5 in game five. Felix Milan, .316/.381/.316 actually had the highest BA, and On base percentage but had a higher on base percentage than a slugging percentage if that’s even possible.

    But I would say Matlack, Seaver, and Koosman were the 3 most important players in that series.

    Matlack pitched a 2 hit, 9 strikeout shutout in game two of that series with the Mets down 0-1. If the Mets lose that game they probably don’t come back down 0-2.

    Koosman gave up 2 earned runs and 9 k’s in 9 innings in game 3.

    Seaver gave up 2 earned runs and had 13 k’s and LOST game 1. He only gave up 1 earned run in 8-1/3 inning in game 5. and Harry Parker actually pitched quite well in game 4.

    The 3 pitchers had an era of 1.02, 22 k’s in 26.3 inning in the 3 wins.

    It’s ashame the Mets lost the ’73 series because Staub would have most definitely won the MVP with his damaged shoulder and his .423/.464/.615 line. I think a WS win and MVP would have taken some of the sting out of the Singleton trade.


  30. Yeah, I’m going to have to look for that “New York Mets” book.

    It’s interesting you said that the Mets “targeted” Torre and Staub because that seems to be a Mets’ calling card over the years. They seem to like to target local NY guys like Franco, Viola, and Harnish regardless of the players they have to give up or if the player is past his prime when they get them.

    The Mets also had this odd thing of re-acquiring the same players. Kingman, Staub, Foli, Jorgensen, Seaver, Mazzilli, Bonilla just to name a few off the top of my head.


  31. That Game 1 Seaver loss was a heartbreaker. I was only 8 years old but I still remember the Bench and Rose HR’s.
    Yeah the pitching was the key, but that was always the Mets strength in that era. Look at the 1969 stats for the Orioles. They score 1 run in Game 2; 0 in Game 3; and 1 run in Game 4 (Of course the ’69 playoffs was just the opposite for the Mets pitching).
    I am just trying to give Staub his due. In a short series, a low batting average isn’t as important to me as big hits. Staub had a lot of big hits in that ’73 post season. Game 3 in the playoffs; Game 4 in the World Series.
    This is no shot againgst Ken Singleton, but I think it is fair to say he wouldn’t have played as well as Staub did that postseason. Staub played excellent that October.
    It still sticks in my craw that the Mets traded Ken Singleton. It bothers me more than the Ryan trade. But Rusty was a solid player and he deserves his due for what he did in 1973.


  32. I was a month short of 7 years old during the ’73 post-season so I hardly remember it at all. Plus my parents were from France and weren’t into baseball. I remember the players lining up being introduced before the ’73 series. And I remember cutting out these cartoon caricatures of Mets players that the Daily News used have in the Sunday newspaper.

    His performance in the ’73 series, .423/.464/.615, was really remarkable when you consider he had a damaged shoulder. He easily would have won the MVP if they had won. I still don’t understand why George Stone didn’t start game six up 3-2, and why Seaver wasn’t saved with full rest for game 7.

    Then Staub he hit those 2 home runs in game 3 and ran into the wall in game 4 of the LCS. Plus he was a really good guy. I remember when I started following baseball in ’74 that Staub was one of the most popular players with a lot of the popularity coming from the ’73 post-season.

    It’s rare for a team to make such a terrible trade and yet the player they traded for remains extremely popular with the team.

    What was even more stupid was The Expos trading Singleton for Dave McNally. Imagine the Expos outfield of the late 70′s early 80′s, Dawson, Singleton and Valentine or Dawson, Singleton and Raines? I bet that team would have made the playoffs in ’79, ’80,


  33. I was a month away from being 7 in ’73 so I don’t really remember the post-season that well. Plus my parents were French and they weren’t really into baseball. I remember cutting out these cartoon caricatures that the Daily News had in their Sunday papers during ’73.

    I started following baseball in ’74 and I remember Staub was one of the most popular players. The ’73 post-season had a lot to do with it. That .423/.464/.615 line was really remarkable during the ’73 series when you consider he had a damaged shoulder. I think people really respected that plus the 2 HR in game #3 of the lcs.

    Staub would have won the MVP had the Mets won. I still don’t know why Berra didn’t start Stone in game 6 up 3-2 and save Seaver on full rest.

    The Staub trade is one of those rare trades that is extremely lopsided in that one of the best hitters the Mets every produced (Singleton) was traded away very young, yet the person the Mets received (Staub) remains very popular.

    What’s even more dumb is the Expos traded Singleton for Dave McNally. The Expos could have had an outfield of Dawson, Singleon, and Valentine or Dawson, Singleton and Raines during the late 70′s early 80′s. They might still be in Montreal if they had kept Singleton.


  34. 1973 was my “coming of age” for baseball. Before that it is just bits and pieces of memory. I had the Met yearbook; I can remember specific games; I remember Don Hahn and George Theodore colliding in the outfield.(Ralph Garr was the hitter. We were listening on the radio at a friends house who had a swimming pool)
    The closest parallel I can think of to the Staub-Singleton trade is the Red Sox trading Cecil Cooper for George Scott. Cooper is a lot like Singleton, yet Boomer was very popular in Boston.
    The Mets were certainly kings of the bad trades in that period, but fans of other teams must kick themselves too. The Red Sox gave up Reggie Smith, Cooper and Sparky Lyle; The Cardinals let Steve Carlton go; The Giants traded Cepeda; and the Astros gave away Joe Morgan.


  35. I got into baseball in ’74 mainly because of my older sister’s new found obsession; the New York Mets and Wayne Garrett. My sister bought 100′s of packs of ’74 baseball cards trying to find Wayne Garrett cards. She kept the Garrett cards I inherited the rest.

    The irony is that she stopped following the Mets in ’76 when Garrett got traded and became a gasp, Yankees fan.

    The Cooper/Scott analogy is a good one and rarely brought up as a horrible trade on the Red Sox part. But imagine Cooper on those ’78-84 Red Sox.

    I think one of the reasons the Singleton trade doesn’t get the attention it does is because Singleton has been underrated historically. He played mostly in a pitcher’s park and On base percentage has only recently been valued. But if you take the highest ops+ from 1975-1980, Singleton ranks #1 tied with Reggie Jackson with a 150ops+.

    At his peak, Singleton was a HOF caliber player. His fielding wasn’t great and he suffers in career value, and it’s like all of sudden he was done in 1984.

    I think he would have been a serious HOF candidate if he had more career length. As it is, Bill James ranked him 18th all time among right fielders.

    I think that’s a bit high but it all depends how you value peak/career.


  36. I think also the reason the Staub-Singleton, and Cooper-Scott trades aren’t brought up is because there is a tendency to look at the trades that involved a player who was great, who was traded for a player who was a bust.
    Ryan-Fregosi; Foy-Otis; Broglio-Brock; Cater-Lyle; Sandberg-De Jesus etc.

    Staub and Cooper weren’t busts, they were good players. The trades however were still very lopsided.


  37. I meant to say “Staub and George Scott weren’t busts”.


  38. I’m sorry I’ve been missing out on this conversation; I’m also a Met fan who came of age in ’73 (and had parents in their 40s at that time).

    As you point out Singleton-Staub never gets enough credit for how bad it turned out. Otis for Foy was every bit as awful too, then the Fregosi mess. If they’d only dared to stick with Wayne Garrett; he’d eventually wind up there after both those stiffs anyway. What really knocks me out about the Ryan-Fregosi trade was not how bad it was for the Mets but how great for the Angels: They’d dealt the best player in the team’s history for the succeeding greatest player in the team’s history: I can’t imagine any team has ever done that before or since.

    I’d never heard that Whitey was asked not to attend the Hodges funeral, although I should say not all of his remarks on the Mets he’d made in his books are entirely accurate. In one, he relates some stories of taking part in events that pre-dated his tenure with the Mets (I think the Ryan draft, but would need to check). Still he’d have been a better choice.

    One recurring theme in Mets history is a complete lack of adequate succession planning: They were unprepared to replace Devine as GM and Hodges as manager and erred in both decisions. Their GM for much of the 70s was a statistician who’d climbed the ladder due mainly to deaths of his bosses (McDonald). They did a terrible job hiring replacements for Valentine and Johnson; didn’t really know what they were getting replacing Randolph with Manuel; Cashen with Harazin; never hired a front office exec with any evaluation skills after Minaya left Phillips, on and on.


  39. “They’d dealt the best player in the team’s history for the succeeding greatest player in the team’s history: I can’t imagine any team has ever done that before or since.”

    Interesting!
    I hadn’t thought of that. Now I am going to spend the rest of the day thinking about it. The expansion teams seem like a good place to start.


  40. Mbtn01,

    Those are some very good points you made.

    In hindsight they should have just given Garrett the 3b job in ’70 which he eventually got in ’73 anyway. This way they could have kept Otis & Ryan.

    In hindsight Garrett was an underrated player. His value was in on-base percentage which was undervalued at the time and he was good with the glove at third. Shea also had a tendency to lower offensive players numbers a little bit. But he was at least league average for most of his career and some years like ’73 he was actually pretty good. For instance he lead the ’73 Mets Position players in WAR (wins above replacement).

    Garrett-4.2 War
    Millian-3.1 War
    Staub-2.5 War
    Harrelson-2.3 War

    I think what hurt Garrett a little bit was his military commitment during the early 70′s so he had to miss large portions of the season. And then the Garrett/Unser-Manguel/Dwyer trade was dumb and pointless.

    According to Whitey he was asked by Grant’s people to stay away from the Hodges funeral for fear that there would be speculation about the manager’s job.

    You’re 100% right in your succession planning assessment. And I think they’ve been overly loyal to a fault. They tend to hire from within rather than look for talent outside of the organization and they also have that odd ex-Yankee/Dodger fixation.

    So the Mets are not the type of organization to go out and get the big time manager like Tony Larussa.


  41. soundbounder,

    I’d have to say that Scott was a bust. He had a 116 ops+ in ’77 which is about league average for a 1b in 1977, then he sucked in ’78-79 and then he was traded for Tom Poquette in ’79. Cooper meanwhile went on to have a very productive career especially ’80-82.

    Boy, you think about the Red Sox collapse in ’78, point to George Scott as one of the big goats. He hit .233/.305/.379 with an ops+ 83 in 466 plate appearances which is just horrible for a 1b/DH at Fenway Park.

    Here’s the ledger on the Cooper/Scott trade:

    Cooper: 29.3 WAR, 1977-1987
    Scott/Poquette: .9 War, 1977-1979


  42. JohnQ11,
    To me that is not a bust. It is a very lopsided trade, but he wasn’t Joe Foy or Ellis Valentine. Those guys didn’t even keep their job 3 months after they arrived.
    He put up good numbers in 1977:
    157Games; 26-2B; 33 HR; 103 Runs; 95 RBI; 269/337/500 114 OPS+
    That is certainly better than what they got out of Cooper the previous year. He was also a very good glove at first base. IIRC, Scott plays hurt most of 1978. They knew they were getting an older player, but I think they were going for all the marbles in 1977-79.

    There was a lot of young talent on those Red Sox teams. Another classic case of a team that never was. Fisk, Cooper, Evans, Rice, Lynn, Burleson. They made a great trade to get Remy.

    They just never had the pitching. They mad a couple of bad trades and the Bill Cambell signing didn’t work out. I am surprised they never tried to get Seaver. IIRC, Seaver wanted to go to the Dodgers, Reds or Pirates, but he played for them a little bit later on, and he lived in CT. A lot of Met fans would have become secret Red Sox fans; rooting for them over the hated Yankees of that era.


  43. They had Reggie Smith, Oglivie, Sparky Lyle, and Lynn McGlothen too in the early seventies.


  44. Just to bring the conversation full circle: speaking of Red Sox who got away, Jim Fregosi was originally drafted by the Red Sox before going to the Angels in the expansion draft. Maybe with him at short and Rico at third in ’67 they would have managed one more win against the Cards.


  45. Part of the problem the Red Sox had for years was what Bill James called “The Fenway Factor”. Basically they over-rated and over-valued their hitters and under-rated and under-valued their pitchers because Fenway Park would inflate offensive numbers. The Red Sox had some very good pitchers during that late 70′s early 80′s time period, Eckersly, Jenkins, Tudor, Ojeda.

    To me I can’t look at that Cooper/Scott trade as anything but a complete disaster. The Red Sox could have been a serious play-off contender from ’78-83, especially ’78,’81,’82, with Cooper at first.

    Scott had a 114 ops+ in 1977, which was exact Median ops+ (13th overall)for a 1b with at least 450plate appearances that year. And his 83 ops+ in 1978 was horrible for a 1B. He ranked 20th out of 22 first baseman that year. And then in 1979 he was traded. His defense by 1977 was league average.

    Here’s Scott’s WAR numbers for 1977-1979:

    1977-1.5
    1978-(-0.4)
    1979-(-0.3)

    Here’s Cooper’s War numbers for 1977-1983:

    1977-1.8
    1978-2.8
    1979-2.8
    1980-6.7
    1981-5.2
    1982-5.9
    1983-3.6


  46. By 1981, Fisk, Lynn, and Burleson are gone, so I think you really need to limit the argument to the late 1970′s.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing with you that it was a bad trade. I am the one who brought Scott up as an example somewhat similar to Staub. I really don’t need to see the WAR numbers; I know how good Cooper was. My only point is that Scott is not the classic case of a bust along the lines of Foy, Broglio, etc. Just like Staub, he was part of a lopsided trade, but he wasn’t a bust along the lines of the more famous ones.
    George Scott was an All Star in 1977. I realize that is not an exact science, but he is not in the same group as Foy, Ellis Valentine, Broglio etc.


  47. Soundbounder,

    I get your point as far as far as a “classic bust” goes.

    The Red Sox were still competitive in ’81 & ’82. They were only 1 game behind the Yankees in the second half of the ’81 season. They Red Sox during that time period really under-valued their 1b-Dh position. Tony Perez had a ops+ of 97 in 1981, Cecil Cooper had an ops+ of 151 in 1981.

    The Red Sox were 6 games behind the Brewers in 1982. Stapleton had a 87 ops+ for the Red Sox, Cooper had a 142+ for the Brewers. the Red Sox were 6 games out in ’82, Cooper was about a 6 win player in ’82 take that away from the Brewers and give it to the Red Sox and they’re even.

    And in 1978 Scott was below replacement level so with Cooper they probably win the division outright.


  48. mbtn01,

    You made an interesting point in that Ryan succeeded Fregosi as the the best player on the Angels resulting from that trade. What’s interesting to note and what’s often left out of the Fregosi-Ryan trade is that the Mets traded 3 OTHER players along with Ryan: Estrada, Stanton, and Don Rose and how the Angels parlayed for much success for years.

    Frank Estrada was traded for a guy named Tom Dukes who was out of the majors by ’72-’73.

    Leroy Stanton played with the Angels until 1977 when he was taken in the expansion draft by the Mariners. Stanton had a ops+ 123, 3.5WAR season for the Angels in 1975.

    Don Rose was part of a trade in ’73 for Ed Figueroa. Figueroa had a great season in ’75, (5.4War). Add that up with Stanton (3.5), and Ryan (2.6), and you get (11.5War) in the ’75 season from the Fregosi trade.

    Figueroa and Mickey Rivers were traded for Bobby Bonds and the end of ’75. Bonds had (3.6War) and Ryan had (2.2War) in ’76, but in 1977 Bonds had a really good year (4.7War) and Ryan had a great year(8.3War) So basically (13War) from the Fregosi trade in ’77.

    Bonds was traded for Brian Downing, Dave Frost and Chris Knapp at the end of 1977. Downing, Frost and Ryan would all be big contributors for the Angels ’79 Division year. Downing (6.1War), Frost (4.2War) and Ryan (3.5War) So that’s (13.8War) From the Fregosi trade. And on top of that Fregosi had come back to manage the team.

    That’s not to mention Ryan was giving them about (7War) a season from 72-74.

    Downing ended up playing with the Angels until 1987, so the Fregosi trade was still paying dividends 16 years after it was made.


  49. This was a good thread. I enjoyed all the old trades talk.

    I was reading about Mike Cuellar this morning and noticed he was traded away for nothing by both St Louis and Houston.
    Then I looked at some sites that listed worst trades by team.
    Astros traded Staub, Morgan, and Cuellar in a 2-3 year period.
    Cardinals traded Cuellar, Carlton, K Hernandez, and a strange trade that sent Fingers, Simmons, and Vuckovich to the Brewers.

    http://www.astrosdaily.com/history/worsttrades.html

    Happy Easter everyone.


  50. Soundbounder,

    Agreed, good back and forth. Also, what I really like about this blog is that there is usually is a very civil discourse back-forth unlike most of the baseball sites on the web.

    Yeah, Cuellar moved around quite a bit. He was on the Reds, Tigers, Indians Cards, Astros, Orioles and the Angels.

    Cuellar’s a good example of how misleading W-L record can be. He was much better than his W/L record would show in his Astros’ days and then the Orioles offense and fielding tended to over/rate his value during the early 70′s.

    The Astros did make some horrible trades, they left off the Jimmy Wynn trade. They could have been a real power-house in the early-mid 70′s.

    I think the big problem they had was that the Astrodome was such a pitcher’s park, it tended to over-rate pitchers and under-rate hitters. And then it was even worse from ’66-68 so players like Staub, Morgan and Wynn really never got their due. Then when Guys like Staub and Morgan got to hitter’s parks, suddenly their stats exploded.

    Staub’s .333 in 1967 is just insane when you consider the environment he played under. A .291 in 1968 in the Astrodome is equally insane. In a neutral context, his average comes out to .335. The Astrodome and playing during the ’63-68 pitcher’s era cost Staub 3000 career hits and about .015 on his career average. If Staub had played in a neutral park early in his career he’d be in the HOF.

    I kind of forgot that Fingers was a “paper” Cardinal for a couple of days in 1980. What a bizarre set of trades the Cards made around the end of 1980. And that Fingers/Simmons/Vukovich trade to the Brewers was terrible. It’s kind of over-looked as one of the all time bad trades for some reason. Imagine if the Brewers would have beat the Cards in the ’82 series. This trade would have gotten a lot more attention as a horrible trade.



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