Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Looking Back To 1962 - Al Jackson -The Mets' ONLY good pick

If you know your Mets' history, you are probably aware that George Weiss was hired as the Mets' first general manager, although technically his title was President because upon being fired by the Yankees, Weiss had to agree not to become the GM of another big league club. Weiss then proceeded to hire his long-time associate, Casey Stengel, who was similarly dismissed by the Yankees. Ultimately, Casey became the face and focus of the early Mets. As awful as the Mets were on the field, Stengel used his influence with the press and his colorful persona to keep the Mets in the news and always provide something to write about, win or (usually) lose.

Weiss, with the assistance of his advisors and scouting staff proceeded to the expansion draft, seeking name recognition along with some younger talent with potential. It turned out that the 1962 Mets were an assemblage of past all-stars well past their prime, decent if flawed offensive players who couldn't play defense, career second and third-stringers hoping for the chance to play regularly and mainly a lot of failed prospects from other organizations.

It's interesting to note that the best of the 1962 Mets were Frank Thomas who was acquired in a deal with the Braves after the expansion draft and Roger Craig, a legitimate fourth starter type who became the de facto "ace". Looking back over the draft crop, there was only one really good choice, that is to say, a player who lived up to his potential as a prospect, even if his record didn't reflect it.

That player was Alvin (Al, Li'l Al) Jackson, the crafty young lefty out of the Pirates chain. The Mets were fortunate that the Pirates were loaded with starting pitching, because Jackson was a legitimate major league starting pitcher who couldn't crack a solid Bucs rotation. If Jackson was around today, he'd probably be making $8 million a year. With a team like the 2006 Mets, Jackson could have been a 15-game winner easily. Unfortunately, almost all of Jackson's major league career was spent with pathetic Mets teams that couldn't field and couldn't hit and it seemed like Al had to pitch a shutout to win. When you look at his record, a couple of 8-20 years, sandwiched around 13-17 (for a team that won 51 games) and 11-16, it's hardly impressive, but when you realize that in his 4 seasons as a regular in the Mets' rotation, he had 41 complete games and 10 shutouts, you get a better picture of how good he was with dreadful teams. No one is saying Jackson was a great pitcher, but when you look at the contracts being handed out to mediocre starters today, you'd have to say that Al was born 40 years too soon.

Of course, the majority of Mets fans aren't old enough to remember Jackson, except maybe as the Mets' bullpen coach or minor league pitching instructor, but he was a pleasure to watch, and by all accounts, a great guy, too. He unquestionably had a very frustrating career. After all those years pitching for miserable Mets teams, Jackson was actually a member of the 1969 Mets, but was sold to the Reds in mid-season before the Mets made their incredible run.

I will always have fond memories of him.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

WHAT IF ? Turning Back The Clock To 1966

It's June of 1966 and the Mets have already experienced the good fortune of getting their name picked out of a hat to win the signing rights to Tom Seaver. Seaver goes directly to AAA Jacksonville where manager Solly Hemus is calling him "Wonder Boy" and projecting him as a star of the future. Now, draft day is approaching and the Mets have the Number One Pick.

There are 2 prime choices for the pick. Slugger Reggie Jackson of Arizona State is probably the consensus choice, but there is also sentiment for Steve Chilcott, a lefthanded hitting high school catcher out of California. Of course, we all know which way the Mets went, but what if they had taken Jackson instead ? After all, the Mets had a quality defensive catcher in Jerry Grote and Greg Goossen still had potential. So, why take another catcher ? Although there has always been speculation that there were non-baseball reasons for the move, I won't go into that here.

Let's just change history and say that the Mets decided they needed a power-hitting outfielder with the potential to make the big leagues quickly more than they needed a catcher who was a few years away, at best. So they take Jackson. No doubt, Reggie would have gotten at least a cup of coffee in 1967 and by 1968 would be the talk of spring training, favored to unseat Ron Swoboda in right field. Assuming that Jackson would have put up the same numbers for the Mets that he did in Oakland, during the period 1968-1975, a few more Met pennants would not have been inconceivable. Imagine that great pitching staff led by Seaver and Koosman with a legitimate slugger and cleanup hitter to anchor the offense. Also,the Mets would have had much more trade leverage trying to fill their other holes instead of always looking for a power hitter.

Of course, no one will ever know. Maybe Jackson would have turned down the Mets' offer and gone back into the draft the following year, when the Yankees had first pick, so Reggie could have spent his whole career as a Yankee. Imagine that.

It's just painful to look back at this move. The difference between selecting a Hall of Fame slugger who was also one of the most colorful baseball personalities of his time as opposed to a catcher who never came close to making the big leagues. No doubt, the Mets have made other big mistakes, but this one has to be at the top of the list.