The virtual 1960s New York Mets (Part 3:  1964-65)

In our first installment, we conducted a virtual 1961 expansion draft, and in episode two we got our version of the New York Mets up and running in their initial two seasons.

To review, this is how our virtual performance has compared with that of the actual Mets of 1962 and 1963:

     Actual Mets             Virtual Mets

     W     L   Pos   Year    W     L   Pos
    40   120    10   1962   65    95     8
    51   111    10   1963   64    98     9

Now it’s time for us to move into the mid-’60s.

1963-64 offseason: Actual Mets’ deals we will make

Oct. 10, 1963: Drafted pitcher Jack Fisher from the San Francisco Giants in a 1963 special draft.

At the conclusion of the 1963 season, the National League decided to give its toddling two-year-old expansion teams a booster shot by conducting a single-round mini-draft. Certainly, a major motivation for this had been the disastrous performance of the actual Mets, as the Colt .45s hadn’t been nearly as bad.

In our scenario, the Mets aren’t an embarrassment. But we’ll assume the league would go ahead and hold the “special draft” anyway, as even in our scenario, the Mets and Colt .45s would have no competition for last place from any other ’63 NL team. So we’ll let our Mets draft Fisher, a burly right hander (his nickname was “Fat Jack”) who’d steadily backslid after making an impressive showing as one of the “Baby Birds” in Baltimore in 1959-60.

Oct. 15, 1963: Purchased infielder Amado Samuel and outfielder Adrian Garrett from the Milwaukee Braves.

The Braves wouldn’t have been selling these guys if either one of them was anything special, but once in a while you get lucky with these kind of bargain-bin pickups, as was the case with Ron Hunt a year earlier.

Dec. 2, 1963: Purchased catcher-outfielder Hawk Taylor from the Milwaukee Braves.

Oh, heck, why not another one from the Milwaukee clearance rack. Taylor was a teenaged Bonus Baby back in 1957, but he’d never panned out.

Apr. 14, 1964: Sold outfielder Duke Snider to the San Francisco Giants.

Snider did all right for our Mets (as well as the actual Mets) in 1963. But we really want to be able to get something for him in the trade market before it’s too late. Our Mets would try to find a team willing to surrender a prospect or two for Snider, but we have no luck. So, on the eve of Opening Day, we’ll accept the Giants’ straight cash offer.

1963-64 offseason: Actual Mets’ deals we will modify

The actual Mets did this:

Nov. 4, 1963: Traded pitcher Roger Craig to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder George Altman and pitcher Bill Wakefield.

The veteran Craig had absorbed the astounding total of 46 losses in two seasons with the Mets, but most everyone understood that he wasn’t really a bad pitcher, just a luckless journeyman being overworked in a perfect-storm-bad situation.

The Cardinals saw Craig as such a good candidate to handle a swingman role that they were willing to part with their first-string right fielder to get him—although it is the case that Altman had been a disappointment in his lone season in St. Louis, delivering far less power than was expected of him. (A guidebook commenting on this trade at the time hinted that Altman might have some issues, offering, “Maybe the Cards know something.”)

Our Mets don’t have Craig, so we can’t make this deal. However, it does seem that we could work out a reasonable alternative. We’ll do this:

Nov. 4, 1963: Traded pitcher Bob Bruce to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder George Altman.

In our scenario, Bruce in New York hadn’t gained anywhere near the notoriety of Craig. But he’d quietly put together back-to-back solid seasons as a fourth starter. He was two years younger than Craig, threw harder, and almost certainly had more major league future ahead of him. It’s plausible that the Cardinals would have accepted Bruce to fill the spot they were creating for Craig, particularly since we’ll let them hang onto the prospect Wakefield.

For our Mets, though there was reason to have some concern about Altman as he entered his age-31 season, if he could bounce back just a little bit he’d be providing a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, and if that happened he would presumably become attractive as trade bait for some legitimate younger talent.

1963-64 offseason: Mets’ deals we will invoke

Sep. 30, 1963: Purchased pitcher Don McMahon from the Houston Colt .45′s.

It actually was the Cleveland Indians making this purchase. But—you guessed it—McMahon had to pass through waivers for that to happen, given that this was in September, before the annual interleague trading period had begun. And our Mets keep a close eye on that waiver wire.

A year earlier, Houston GM Paul Richards had correctly assessed that McMahon, then 32 years old, wasn’t washed up, as The Wizard of Waxahachie had picked him up cheaply and been rewarded with a brilliant 1962 performance by McMahon. But the veteran fastballer had been distinctly more hittable in 1963, and here at the close of the ‘63 season Richards was concluding that McMahon was now, in fact, not worth keeping.

There would be no downside for the Mets, with ample room for improvement in the bullpen, to test that proposition. We’ll grab McMahon.

Dec. 6, 1963: Traded first baseman-outfielder Frank Thomas to the Los Angeles Dodgers for first baseman Bill Skowron.

Our Mets had hoped to cash in Thomas on the trade market following his strong year in 1962, but we were unable to find a plausible deal. With his moderated performance in ’63, now we’re really motivated to get something for Thomas while we can. Ideally we’d prefer young talent, but we’ll take Skowron, who’s a veteran himself, just 18 months Thomas’s junior.

The Dodgers had traded for Skowron a year earlier, and been deeply disappointed as he suddenly plunged off the proverbial cliff. In actuality, on this date they were dumping him off to Washington for just a cash consideration. So it’s plausible that they’d take an offer of Thomas instead, given that in 1964 the Dodgers would carry Lee Walls on their roster as a right-handed-batting first base/third base/corner outfield utility guy: Thomas would represent a significant upgrade over Walls in that capacity.

As for our Mets, we’re undertaking the risk that Skowron would be truly washed up at the age of 33. If so, we’ll have wasted the trade of Thomas. But if Moose would be capable of mounting some manner of a comeback—and until 1963 he’d always been a hell of a good hitter—then we’ll still have a power producer at first base, and a commodity we could flip in the market for our ever-sought-after young talent.

December 1963: Traded outfielder Jim Hickman to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Arnold Earley and cash.

For the Red Sox, Hickman would represent a meaningful upgrade over Roman Mejias in the fourth outfielder role, and moreover Hickman had the kind of right-handed power that’s perennially of particular interest to a team housed in Fenway Park. And the Red Sox at this point had a glut of left-handers in the bullpen: Earley, Wilbur Wood, and Chet Nichols were all on the roster in ’63, and rookies Bill Spanswick and Ed Connolly would both be available for ’64.

Hickman had performed serviceably for two years as a utility outfielder for our Mets, but he was nothing to get excited about. Neither was Earley, a workaday journeyman. But we’re in need of some southpaw help in our bullpen, so this is a deal it would be sensible for us to arrange.

December 1963: Traded pitcher Galen Cisco to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Don Landrum.

Another swap of journeymen. Landrum would provide our Mets with a left-handed hitter who could play a capable center field, and given that the Cubs would send him to the minors for nearly all of 1964, it’s clear he wasn’t figuring strongly in their plans. With McMahon on our roster, we can expend the right-hander Cisco, who would provide an improvement in the Cubs’ second-line pitching.

December 1963: Purchased outfielder Bobby Del Greco from the Kansas City Athletics.

The 30-year-old Del Greco had never been a major league regular, but had been more or less the primary center fielder for the A’s in 1962 and ’63. He was a good defender and had some power, but he’d always struggled to hit for average. The degree to which the A’s were now committed to him can be summed up by this listing regarding Del Greco on baseball-reference.com: “Before 1964 Season: Sent from the Kansas City Athletics to the Milwaukee Braves in an unknown transaction.”

Ah, the dreaded “unknown transaction.” Presumably it involved a bag of broken bats and a like-new pine tar rag. Surely our Mets could have taken Del Greco off of Charlie Finley’s hands for a modest cash payment.

Feb. 17, 1964: Traded outfielder Carl Warwick to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder-first baseman Jim Beauchamp and pitcher Chuck Taylor.

This was a deal the Colt .45s actually made, but since it’s our Mets who have Warwick, we’ll make it. Warwick was a solid performer, but the offer of a good prospect (Beauchamp) and a decent one (Taylor) was worth accepting by a team properly focused on the future. And with Landrum and Del Greco on board, while they didn’t add up to a Warwick, at least the Mets could be confident in adequate defensive coverage in center field for the time being.

1964 season: Actual Mets’ deals we will make

Apr. 23, 1964: Traded infielder Chico Fernandez, catcher Bobby Catton, and cash to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Charley Smith.

Smith had notable power, and was a rifle-armed third baseman who had sufficient range to handle shortstop on a fill-in basis. But those strengths were countered by severe issues with walks (too few) and strikeouts (too many), and as such he hadn’t been able to stick in the majors. At the age of 26 his was a talent worthy of a chance with the Mets, as at the very least he would upgrade the infield bench.

September 1964: Purchased pitcher Tom Parsons from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not a top-tier prospect, but a young pitcher whose unusually good control made him worth a look.

1964 season: Actual Mets’ deals we will modify

The actual Mets did this:

May 8, 1964: Traded pitcher Jay Hook and a player to be named later to the Milwaukee Braves for shortstop Roy McMillan. (On Jun.17, 1964, the Mets sent outfielder Adrian Garrett to the Braves, completing the deal.)

We don’t have Hook, so we can’t make this exact transaction. But it makes sense for our Mets to acquire the veteran McMillan, who at nearly 35 was clearly in decline, but still a smooth fielder. And Hook wasn’t a key to the deal anyway, as the Braves were more or less salary-dumping McMillan and were only looking for a triple-A starter in return.

So instead, we’ll do this:

May 8, 1964: Traded pitcher Jim Golden, a player to be named later, and cash to the Milwaukee Braves for shortstop Roy McMillan. (On Jun.17, 1964, the Mets sent outfielder Adrian Garrett to the Braves, completing the deal.)

And, the actual Mets also did this:

Aug. 7, 1964: Traded first baseman-outfielder Frank Thomas to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Gary Kroll, third baseman-outfielder Wayne Graham, and cash.

We’d already dealt Thomas the previous winter. But, of course, we do have the guy for whom we traded Thomas. So let’s do this:

Jul. 25, 1964: Traded first baseman Bill Skowron to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Gary Kroll, outfielder-infielder Billy Sorrell, and cash.

We’ll make the deal a couple of weeks earlier than the actual trade, as we’d be on the phone to the Phillies as soon as Danny Cater broke his arm. And given that Skowron was hitting meaningfully better than Thomas at this point, we’ll be able to extract an additional decent prospect (Sorrell) out of them instead of the minor league journeyman Graham.

1964 season: Actual Mets’ deals we will not make

May 10, 1964: Signed pitcher Tom Sturdivant as a free agent.

May 30, 1964: Purchased pitcher Frank Lary from the Detroit Tigers.

The good news for us is that our pitching staff has reached the point where we no longer need to be bottom-feeding on other teams’ discards.

Jul. 28, 1964: Traded first baseman Tim Harkness to the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Bobby Klaus.

Nor do we need any help at utility infielder at this point. Besides, with Skowron traded, there’ll be some playing time at first base for Harkness until our hot young prospect Ed Kranepool fully ripens on the farm.

Aug. 8, 1964: Traded pitcher Frank Lary to the Milwaukee Braves for pitcher Dennis Ribant and cash.

Since we didn’t pick up Lary, we can’t pick up Ribant.

1964 season results

The major questions heading into the season were:
{exp:list_maker}Would Bill Skowron and Bob Aspromonte bounce back from their poor-hitting form of 1963?
Would the all-journeyman platoon combination of Don Landrum and Bobby Del Greco hold their own in center field?
Would the all-rookie platoon combination of Larry Elliot and Jim Beauchamp hold their own in left field?
Would either of the youngsters Jack Fisher or Tracy Stallard step up to fill the fourth starter role vacated by Bob Bruce?
Would the veteran reliever Don McMahon prove to have something left? {/exp:list_maker}

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   B. Skowron      33   80 265  29  74  10   0   9  40  12  49 .279 .310 .419 .729  106
   2B   R. Hunt         23  127 475  61 144  19   6   6  42  29  30 .303 .357 .406 .763  118
 S-3-2  B. Aspromonte   26  157 553  56 155  20   3  14  69  34  55 .280 .322 .403 .725  106
 3B-OF  F. Mantilla     29  151 558  74 155  25   3  24  64  51  66 .278 .338 .462 .801  126
   RF   G. Altman*      31  124 422  49  97  14   1   9  47  18  70 .230 .262 .332 .594   69
   CF   B. Del Greco    31  119 282  32  64  10   2   5  21  32  62 .227 .306 .330 .636   82
 LF-RF  L. Elliot*      26  132 370  46  85  13   0  15  36  40  80 .230 .305 .386 .691   96
   C    J. Gonder*      28  131 341  29  92  11   1   7  35  29  65 .270 .329 .370 .698   99

   OF   D. Landrum*     28  121 326  38  77  10   3   3  20  21  52 .236 .282 .313 .595   70
 LF-1B  J. Beauchamp    24  103 278  25  66  13   1   7  30  19  59 .237 .286 .367 .653   85
   1B   T. Harkness*    26   70 218  21  56   4   1   4  22  16  41 .257 .308 .339 .647   85
 3B-2B  C. Smith        26   81 222  22  52   6   0  10  29   9  53 .234 .264 .396 .660   86
  C-RF  H. Taylor       25   92 225  21  54   8   0   4  23   8  33 .240 .266 .329 .595   69
   C    C. Cannizzaro   26   60 164  12  51  10   0   0  10  14  28 .311 .365 .372 .737  112
   SS   R. McMillan     34   68 139  12  29   3   1   0   9   5   6 .209 .236 .245 .481   38
 1B-RF  D. Carmel*      27   43 111  17  24   3   1   4  16  15  35 .216 .310 .369 .679   93
 LF-1B  D. Smith        25   31  63   9  14   4   1   0   2   1  19 .222 .234 .317 .552   56

        Others                  134  12  31   4   0   1  13   9  21 .231 .274 .284 .558   60

        Pitchers                398  21  51   8   1   2  15  13 178 .128 .154 .168 .323   -8

        Total                 5544 586 1371 195  25 124 543 375 1002 .247 .298 .359 .657  87

        * Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        K. Johnson      31   35  35   7  12  15   0 218 209 104  92   17   44  115 3.80   93
        D. Farrell      30   32  27   7  12   9   0 198 196  84  76   23   52  115 3.45  103
        A. Jackson*     28   37  31   9  11  14   1 192 201 100  86   16   52  103 4.03   88
        J. Fisher       25   30  23   4   7  11   0 152 166  78  66   14   35   79 3.91   91
        T. Stallard     26   29  23   6   7  13   0 151 138  70  59   12   47   81 3.52  101

        B. Miller       25   74   2   0   6   8   9 138 120  53  44    2   65   92 2.87  124
        D. McMahon      34   70   0   0   5   5  16 101  75  32  28    6   49   89 2.50  142
        M. Drabowsky    28   39   7   0   3   6   2  97 106  53  51   12   36   74 4.73   75
        G. Brunet*      29   34   7   0   3   3   1  73  70  32  29    3   36   66 3.58   99
        A. Earley*      31   25   3   1   1   1   1  50  53  17  15    3   17   41 2.70  131
        W. Hunter*      30   21   0   0   1   2   1  25  27  13  12    2    5   11 4.32   82

        Others                    5   1   2   5   0  50  54  33  30    5   22   27 5.40   66

        Total                   163  35  70  92 31 1445 1415 669 588 115  460  893 3.66   97

        * Throws left

All of those questions would prove to be answered more or less positively.

The season would present just one significant negative: George Altman, counted upon to provide a serious bat as the right fielder, was awful, nagged by minor injuries and unable to get any kind of a hitting stroke going. A less severe disappointment was the regression in performance by reliever Moe Drabowsky.

But overall the progress shown by the 1964 team is solid across the board. The hitting isn’t good, but it’s competent, and the pitching, led by the outstanding bullpen one-two-punch of McMahon and Bob Miller, is flirting with league-average. It adds up to a Pythagorean record of 70-92, not good but approaching respectability in just our third season. Almost certainly this team would avoid the league’s cellar, finishing ahead of the expansion-companion Colt .45s.

We’re miles ahead of the actual Mets at this point. Can we sustain this momentum into 1965?

1964-65 offseason: Actual Mets’ deals we will make

Oct. 15, 1964: Traded outfielder-first baseman Dick Smith to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Larry Miller.

Just a shuffle of mediocrities, but we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: it’s never a bad idea to stockpile left-handed arms.

Jan. 15, 1965: Traded outfielder George Altman to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Billy Cowan.

For 1964, the Cubs had handed their starting center field job to the 25-year-old rookie Cowan. In that opportunity, he performed quite a bit less than brilliantly: his batting average was a wishy-washy .241, his walk-to-strikeout ratio was a ghastly 18-to-128, and in the field Cowan picked up just two assists while committing 11 errors. But nevertheless we’re talking about a rookie center fielder who hit 19 home runs and stole 12 bases (in just 15 attempts): wouldn’t you think that might be something to work with going forward? Wouldn’t a rookie center fielder demonstrating that combination of power and speed be typically seen as a glass half full?

Obviously not by the Cubs, who turned around and swapped Cowan straight-up for Altman, whom as we saw above came into the 1964 season as a 31-year-old with a question mark over his head, and proceeded to deliver a completely terrible performance. As ragged as Cowan’s game was in 1964, Altman’s was distinctly worse, and he was six years older than Cowan. What was going on?

The only logical explanation is that the Cubs had off-field issues with Cowan. This is pure speculation, as I’ve searched but never found any corroboration, but it seems likely that there was something about Cowan that led Chicago management to consider him as either current trouble, or bound for it. No strictly talent-based assessment justifies this transaction otherwise.

For our Mets (as well as the actual Mets), we’ll be happy to take our chances with this bad boy. Cowan was a vastly better talent than we could have reasonably expected to receive in the trade market for the imploded Altman.

1964-65 offseason: Actual Mets’ deals we will modify

The actual Mets did this:

Dec. 7, 1964: Traded pitcher Tracy Stallard to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Gordie Richardson and outfielder Johnny Lewis.

Neither Richardson nor Lewis projected as a star, but both were genuinely nice-looking young players, probably bound for some degree of major league success. They were sensible targets for the Mets.

But not at the cost of Stallard, who’d been a prospect of similar status when they’d acquired him just two years earlier, and after a rocky 1963 performance he’d stepped forward as a solid major league contributor in 1964, and he’d just turned 27 years old. To cash Stallard in for prospects at this point was to step from the path forward onto the treadmill.

So we’ll rework the trade this way:

Dec. 7, 1964: Traded pitcher Dick Farrell to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Gordie Richardson and outfielder Johnny Lewis.

Farrell had performed wonderfully for our Mets in all three of his seasons since being acquired in the expansion draft. But he would turn 31 in the spring of 1965, and had shown a hint of injury-tenderness in both ’63 and ’64. The time to “sell” on Farrell was probably now. The World Champion Cardinals, gearing up for a repeat, would very plausibly accept him in Stallard’s place.

1964-65 offseason: Actual Mets’ deals we will not make

Nov. 23, 1964: Purchased pitcher Warren Spahn from the Milwaukee Braves.

Mar. 28, 1965: Purchased pitcher Frank Lary from the Milwaukee Braves.

Tempting as it is to give these former greats a whirl, it remains the case that our Mets no longer have room on the pitching staff for such long-shots.

1965 season: Actual Mets’ deals we will make

Aug. 5, 1965: Traded outfielder Billy Cowan to the Milwaukee Braves for players to be named later. (On Sep. 25, 1965, the Braves sent infielders Lou Klimchock and Ernie Bowman to the Mets, completing the deal.)

As we’ll see below, Cowan, with the actual Mets and with our version as well, would wear out his welcome in a hurry. We’ll be just as happy for the Braves to take him off our hands as was the case in real life.

1965 season: Actual Mets’ deals we will not make

May 11, 1965: Purchased second baseman Chuck Hiller from the San Francisco Giants.

This move was in response to a shoulder separation sufferred by Ron Hunt. Our Mets will have sufficient infield depth within the organization to deal with that problem without importing Hiller’s limited talents.

Jul. 8, 1965: Traded pitcher Frank Lary to the Jimmie Schaffer to the Mets, completing the deal.)

Just as we didn’t have Lary last year, we don’t have him this year. And Schaffer is hardly compelling anyway.

Jul. 21, 1965: Traded catcher Jesse Gonder to the Milwaukee Braves for outfielder-catcher Gary Kolb.

Gonder was having a lackluster year. But we don’t see anything to be gained by converting him into the scrubeenie Kolb.

Aug. 18, 1965: Purchased pitcher Dave Eilers from the Milwaukee Braves.

Once again, no room on our staff for this manner of mediocrity.

1965 season results

So for ’65, the key changes were the insallations of Cowan in center field, Lewis in right, and rookie Ed Kranepool at first base, the emergence of left-handed batting rookie outfielders Johnny Stephenson and Billy Sorrell (thus sending Larry Elliot back to the minors), and the pitching staff replacement of Farrell with Richardson (thus requiring someone from the bullpen to step up into a starting role).

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   E. Kranepool*   20  153 525  44 133  24   4  10  53  39  71 .253 .303 .371 .675   93
   2B   R. Hunt         24   57 196  21  47  12   1   1  10  14  19 .240 .309 .327 .635   83
 SS-2B  B. Aspromonte   27  152 578  53 154  15   2   7  50  36  56 .266 .308 .336 .644   85
   3B   C. Smith        27  135 499  49 122  20   3  16  62  17 123 .244 .273 .393 .666   89
 RF-CF  J. Lewis*       25  148 477  64 117  15   3  15  45  59 117 .245 .331 .384 .715  105
   CF   B. Cowan        26   82 221  21  41  11   3   6  14   5  60 .186 .210 .344 .553   56
 LF-RF  B. Sorrell*     24   80 229  25  54   9   2   4  17  14  25 .236 .278 .345 .623   78
   C    J. Gonder*      29  111 263  14  58  10   0   9  23  26  49 .221 .289 .361 .650   86

 2-O-3  F. Mantilla     30  150 534  60 145  16   3  14  62  68  87 .272 .358 .391 .749  115
  LF-C  J. Stephenson*  24   91 257  19  56   7   0   8  22  17  41 .218 .266 .339 .605   73
   SS   R. McMillan     35  105 238  20  57   9   1   1  17  11  27 .239 .270 .298 .569   63
   OF   D. Landrum*     29   87 213  25  47   9   2   3  15  17  44 .221 .290 .324 .614   76
 LF-RF  R. Swoboda      21   68 200  26  45   8   2  10  25  16  51 .225 .286 .435 .721  104
 CF-RF  B. Del Greco    32   82 183  19  38   7   1   3  15  21  48 .208 .290 .306 .596   72
   C    C. Cannizzaro   27   71 126   9  23   4   1   0   4  14  30 .183 .266 .230 .496   44
 2B-SS  A. Samuel       26   30  75   5  16   4   0   1   4   3  16 .213 .241 .307 .547   56
   CF   C. Jones        22   30  74   2  11   1   0   1   9   2  23 .149 .171 .203 .374    7
 LF-1B  J. Beauchamp    25   24  53   5  10   1   0   0   3   5  11 .189 .259 .208 .466   36
   C    H. Taylor       26   25  46   5   7   0   0   4  10   1   8 .152 .167 .413 .580   61

        Others                   81   7  16   1   1   1   3   4  21 .198 .235 .272 .507   45

        Pitchers                394  17  40   8   0   0  11   9 178 .102 .117 .122 .239  -31

        Total                 5462 510 1237 191  29 114 475 398 1105 .226 .279 .335 .614  76

        * Bats left

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        K. Johnson      32   37  34   9  14  12   2 231 217  95  83   19   50  148 3.23  110
        G. Brunet*      30   41  26   8   9  12   2 197 154  71  62   10   66  138 2.83  125
        T. Stallard     27   40  26   4  10  10   0 194 169  77  68   23   72   97 3.15  113
        J. Fisher       26   33  30   6   6  18   1 191 182  87  79   15   48   91 3.72   95
        A. Jackson*     29   34  31   6   7  18   1 185 192  98  86   15   53  111 4.18   85

        B. Miller       26   61   1   0   6   8   9 103  85  42  37   10   27   75 3.23  110
        D. McMahon      35   58   0   0   3   5  11  85  83  38  33    8   35   60 3.49  102
        A. Earley*      32   46   0   0   0   2   0  59  63  34  25    4   23   38 3.81   93
        G. Richardson*  26   45   0   0   3   4   2  73  60  35  30    6   23   62 3.70   96
        G. Kroll        23   16   6   1   3   3   1  44  42  24  22    6   21   31 4.50   79
        M. Drabowsky    29   14   5   0   1   5   0  39  46  23  20    5   17   25 4.62   77

        Others                    5   0   0   3   0  52  50  25  23    6   21   32 3.98   89

        Total                   164  34  62 100 29 1453 1343 649 568 127  456  908 3.52  101

        * Throws left

Well.

On the positive side: the pitching was the best our Mets had yet enjoyed, performing slightly better than league-average in just our fourth season. Moe Drabowsky would fall short when tasked with some starting assignments, but George Brunet would step into the breech and succeed wonderfully, achieving a breakthrough at the age of 30. As a result our Mets would feature five solid starters. Neither Bob Miller nor Don McMahon did as well as in ’64, but they were all right, and the bullpen overall was competent.

The problems would arise in run production. Hunt’s injury was a blow: he missed most of the season, and performed at less than 100 per cent when in the lineup. But our Mets had the depth to deal with that, as hard-hitting Felix Mantilla would slide over to second base, with Charley Smith taking over third and doing a satisfactory job.

But Cowan’s bat was a disaster, so embarrassingly bad that he would not only lose his first-string role but also, as we saw above, end up dumped in August for a token return. And if hitting slumps are contagious, then our Mets sufferred an epidemic: rookie Cleon Jones, called up to take Cowan’s place, was completely overmatched. Stephenson, projected to hit well based on his minor league stats (indeed he looked as though he might become a Johnny Blanchard-style power-hitting outfielder-catcher), didn’t get the job done either.

Disappointing hitting was the rule across the roster, as the only bats producing as well as expected were those of Mantilla, Smith, Lewis, and Ron Swoboda, a rookie outfielder called up in mid-season desperation.

Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that, weak as our offense was, it wouldn’t be quite as weak as the anemic attack presented by the actual Mets. But ours would still be the worst in the league, and thus despite our admirable pitching, we’ll most likely finish last. Certainly we remain a whole lot better than the real-life Mets at this point, but still there can be no way of perceiving our 1965 season as anything but a setback.

Next time

We’ll see if we can get back on track in 1966.

References & Resources
The comment on George Altman is from Bill Wise, ed., 1964 Official Baseball Almanac (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett, 1964), p. 131.

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Comments

  1. Tim said...

    Well, the virtual ‘65 Mets did outperform the real team by 12 games… it seems, though that this team was pretty much doomed.

    So… guessing ahead to when there were drafts… are you going to draft Reggie instead of Chilcotte (sp?)?

  2. Philip said...

    Another excellent ‘What if…’ piece.

    I remember something similar about the 1961 expansion clubs a while back in a SABR publication article called, ‘‘What if God Owned the Angels.’‘

    Although some improvements for stocking new clubs were made in subsequent expansions, 1962 expansion was the first by the National League since 1891, with the A.L. having never expanded in its history since becoming a major league. Like major league baseball moving to the West Coast, it was charting new territory.

    It’s still a shame though that MLB didn’t give the 1969 expansion clubs a running start by allowing them to fully participate in the 1968 entry draft.

    Unfortunately for the 1961/62 clubs, they came in before the entry draft was created. But the Expos, Padres, Pilots and Royals could have benefited from such a system.

    According to MLB.com, the 4 expansion clubs were only permitted to participate in the 1968 entry draft after the 4th round.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/draft/index.jsp?feature=decade1960s

    However, I’ve yet to discover any list of 1968 June picks by the 1969 expansion clubs. If someone finds it, please publish it. If not, I suspect someone at the MLB website has a fuzzy memory.

    In any case, the first 4 rounds of the 1968 June entry draft did include talents such as: Thurman Munson, Bobby Valentine, Greg Luzinski, Gary Matthews, Bill Buckner and Lynn McGlothen.

    The 1968 June Secondary draft included Steve Garvey, Elliott Maddox and Ron Cey.

    Some of that talent certainly could have helped the 1969 expansion clubs improve their outlook going into the 1970s.

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