Saturday, October 20, 2007

You Gotta Have A Catcher - Part 1

In the 1961 expansion draft, the Mets made Hobie Landrith, a journeyman catcher, their very first pick. Why Landrith rather than someone who could be considered a prospect? Manager Casey Stengel had a simple explanation - "You gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lotta passed balls".

Throughout their history, the Mets have done an absolutely awful job of drafting catchers - Steve Chilcott, Butch Benton, Rich Bengston and John Gibbons were first-round busts. Admittedly, catching is probably the most difficult position to draft for. With the exception of Todd Hundley, the best homegrown Mets' catchers were Mike Fitzgerald, Ron Hodges, Duffy Dyer, Alex Trevino, and Vance Wilson, not the most impressive group. Yet the Mets managed to have an almost unbroken string of quality catchers that they acquired in trades.

In the winter of 1965, the Mets traded a mediocre pitcher by the name of Tom Parsons to Houston for a young catcher named Jerry Grote. The Astros felt they already had their long-term catcher in John Bateman who was a far better hitter than Grote who projected as no more than a backup. But Grote became the heart and soul of the Mets and was the regular catcher for the better part of the next 11 seasons.

When it became obvious that none of the farm system products were ready to take over, the Mets engineered a trade for the very highly-regarded Phillies prospect, John Stearns, who had been the #2 choice in the 1974 amateur draft, after David Clyde and just before future Hall Of Famers Robin Yount and Dave Winfield. Getting Stearns required giving up Tug McGraw and it can be argued that Stearns never really lived up to his potential, but he still filled the Mets' first-string catching job for the next 6 years.

Faced with the prospect of Mike Fitzgerald and Ronn Reynolds as their catching corps, the Mets dealt a package of players headed by Hubie Brooks, and including Fitzgerald for perennial all-star Gary Carter. Gary had 4 solid years for the Mets from 1985 to 1988. The Mets were contenders each year and probably should have won at least one more championship.

After getting by with the likes of Barry Lyons, Mackey Sasser, and Rick Cerone for the next few years, the Mets had their one and only homegrown star catcher, Todd Hundley, take over the regular job in 1992. He held on to the job, setting home run records in the process, for the next 6 years, until he was injured and the Mets once again needed a catcher.

In 1998, the Mets, probably spurred on by public opinion, dealt for Mike Piazza, who the Dodgers had traded to the Marlins and was made available almost immediately for the best offer. The Mets surrendered Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz in return and reaped the benefits of Piazza for the next 8 seasons before allowing him to leave when it was clear he was becoming a liability behind the plate and couldn't make the move to first base.

THe new #1 catcher was to be Paul LoDuca who was acquired in a trade with the Marlins in exchange for a couple of prospects. Ramon Castro was signed as a free agent prior to the 2005 season. Together, the 2 have provided a solid tandem, but now they are both free to go and the Mets once again need to make a move.


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