Friday, March 17, 2006

My Favorite Mets - Part 3 Hunt and Christopher

In 1963 and 1964, it seemed that everybody's favorite Met was 2nd baseman Ron Hunt, and for good reason. Hunt came to the Mets in a deal with the Braves with no AAA experience, grabbed the 2nd base job early in the 1963 season, finished 2nd to Pete Rose in Rookie of the Year balloting and had an even better season in 1964. Fans voted him as the very first Mets' all-star starter in '64, a game played at Shea Stadium, the first, last, and only All-Star Game I ever attended (or probably ever will - you can't get tickets to an All-Star game for $2.10 anymore).

Hunt was the consummate hustler, down and dirty type of player. If you're a younger Mets fan who's unfamiliar with Hunt, but can remember Wally Backman, you get the picture. Definitely a fan favorite, but not quite MY favorite Met, probably because I had the impression that if I ever met up with Hunt in person, he'd be as likely to spit tobacco juice on my shoes as sign an autograph. Hunt later became famous for his skill at getting hit by pitched balls, but he hadn't yet developed that talent as a Met. To be a real favorite of mine, you had to be a good guy as well as a good ballplayer.

Joe Christopher was used mostly as a pinch-runner in his brief tenure as a Pittsburgh Pirate. When he came to the Mets in the expansion draft, he was probably expected to be a good defensive outfielder who might not hit too much. But it turned out, he wasn't much of an outfielder and his first 2 years with the Mets included some more minor league time and rather disappointing play all around. Then, in 1964, he put it all together and had a solid year - batting .300 with 16 HR's, 76 RBI's, improved defense and a continuous positive outlook on baseball and life in general. He just seemed like the kind of guy who'd gladly sign an autograph with a kid or sit down and talk hitting with any fan who'd ask. Joe faded the next year, was dealt to Boston for Eddie Bressoud, where I felt sure he'd duplicate Felix Mantilla's success and tattoo the green monster on a regular basis, but it wasn't to be. Joe had exactly 1 hit in 13 at bats with Boston and his big league career was over. Joe had one shining season sandwiched between a bunch of miserable ones. Why do things like that happen ? I certainly don't know, but for one season, Joe was my favorite Met.

For more on Joe, go here :

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Favorite Mets - Part 2 The Very Early Years

Frank Thomas (for those of you under 30 ,I'm not talking about the one who's been playing for the White Sox for the past 10 years) was easy to like. For one, he was easily the Mets' most productive hitter in 1962, and while his defense was below average, he gave it his best in left field, third base, or first (where he probably should have played more, but the Mets had plenty of guys who could ONLY play first, so Thomas did his thing mostly in left field). He was also a big, friendly guy who, just for fun, liked to catch anyone's hardest fastball in his bare hands. Fortunately, there was no incident of this practice damaging his career in any way. He was also, apparently, quite a cutup, the Roger McDowell of his day, as opposed to someone like Marv Throneberry, who was taciturn, but became a joke. Thomas had the bad luck to play with the Pirates until they finally got good in 1960, then was shuttled among several losing NL teams until winding up with the 1962 Mets. As awful as the first-year Mets were, imagine how much worse they could have been without Frank and his 34 HR's and 94 RBI's. And he was NOT part of the expansion draft, but a trade acquisition from the Braves.

After being a good soldier with the Mets for 2 1/2 seasons, he got what looked like the break of his life by being dealt to the pennant-bound Phillies in mid-1964 for Gary Kroll (see failed prospects) and Wayne Graham (great college coach, washout as major league player). Thomas did his best to help the Phillies coast to the pennant, and I rooted for him all the way, with the Mets, of course, nowhere in the race, but Gene Mauch's squad managed to blow what looked like an insurmountable lead and it was disappointment once again for big Frank.

To me, Frank Thomas was just the kind of guy you have to root for, and easily my favorite Met from the early years.

Next up, Joe Christopher.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

My Favorite Mets - Part 1

When Kirby Puckett passed away last week, I cried. At first, I didn't know why, because as a Mets fan, I didn't even see him play all that much. Then, I realized that Puckett was just one of those likable ballplayers who didn't have the physical gifts or natural talent of so many others who accomplish much less. And I always admired those players with sunny dispositions and a positive outlook on life. So, even though Puckett had no connection to the Mets, he was a favorite of mine, at least subconsciously.

The Mets have had some good players over the years, and a handful of great ones, starting (and maybe ending) with Tom Seaver. And of course, I rooted for Seaver as long as he was wearing a Mets uniform, and knew that when he was on the mound, the Mets chances of winning were always good. But, I can't say that Seaver was a favorite of mine. In spite of his being railroaded by M. Donald Grant who, like most Mets fans, I couldn't stand because he was the dictionary definition of "effete snob", I never rooted for Seaver when he was pitching elsewhere. I guess I thought he was a bit of an egotist and let his label as the "franchise" go to his head. And when the Mets brought him back as an announcer because he was the primary link between "Mets" and "greatness", I wasn't all that excited. And frankly, he was a lousy announcer, who let his ego shine through. I won't miss him. So Seaver doesn't make my list of all-time favorite Mets.

Reminiscing from the early days, 2 names do make the list - Frank Thomas and Joe Christopher, from the championship team of 1969, it's clearly Tug McGraw. But my all-time favorite is Mookie Wilson. More about all of them, and some more names from my list later this week. And let me know who your all-time favorite Met is, and why.