The virtual 1969-76 Phillies, Cardinals, and Mets (Part 8:  1975-76)

It’s been a long journey, but now we’re finally in the home stretch. Our Cardinals have been dominant, capturing four division titles in the past five seasons, while our Phillies and Mets have managed just one flag apiece.

          Phillies:  Actual         Cardinals:  Actual        Mets:  Actual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    63   99  5    645  745    87   75  4    595  540   100   62  1    632  541
 1970    73   88  5    594  730    76   86  4    744  747    83   79  3    695  630
 1971    67   95  6    558  688    90   72  2    739  699    83   79  3    588  550
 1972    59   97  6    503  625    75   81  4    568  600    83   73  3    528  578
 1973    71   91  6    642  717    81   81  2    643  603    82   79  1    608  588
 1974    80   82  3    676  701    86   75  2    677  643    71   91  5    572  646
 1975    86   76  2    735  694    82   80  3T   662  689    82   80  3T   646  625

          Phillies:  Virtual        Cardinals:  Virtual       Mets:  Virtual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    64   98  5    611  691    98   64  2    659  528   101   61  1    638  550
 1970    77   84  5    596  691    80   82  4    742  703    84   78  3    687  619
 1971    86   76  4    629  598   102   60  1    787  647    89   73  3    643  561
 1972    68   88  5    585  638   105   51  1    675  478    93   63  2    551  523
 1973    93   69  1    680  572    80   82  3    621  593    91   70  2    625  539
 1974    86   76  2    679  654   100   61  1    738  591    83   79  4    648  622
 1975    82   80  4    715  712    98   64  1    762  652    92   70  2    656  565

Last year, our St. Louis outfit shrugged off the loss of a superstar cleanup hitter and waltzed to yet another victory. In this final chapter, is there any hope for a different outcome?

The 1975-76 offseason: Actual deals we will not make

Oct. 20, 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals traded outfielder Willie Davis to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Dick Sharon.

We have no 3-Dog to trade. (Nothing against the immortal Dick Sharon.)

Oct. 28, 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitcher Mike Garman and a player to be named later to the Chicago Cubs for shortstop Don Kessinger. (On April 5, 1976, the Cardinals sent infielder Bobby Hrapmann to the Cubs, completing the deal.)

Kessinger has long been a fine player, but at this point he’d be no particular upgrade over the journeymen our Cardinals have sharing the shortstop position.

Dec. 8, 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals traded third baseman Ken Reitz to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Pete Falcone.

So why, you ask, are we not accepting this kind offer from the Giants? Falcone is a hard-throwing southpaw who’s blown through the minor leagues in a year and a half, and then posted a solid rookie year as a full-time starter in the majors at the age of 21. Reitz is a snappy-fielding 24-year-old third baseman who can hit a semi-soft .270, never draw a walk to save his life, and be literally outrun by most catchers. Why not say “yes” before Horace Stoneham gets a chance to think again about the last trade he will ever make?

Because in an exercise such as this, we must do our best to be realistic. And a key factor to bear in mind when considering this trade is that in reality, Reitz was at this point an established regular of three years, and had been voted the National League’s Gold Glove third baseman for 1975. The Ken Reitz acquired by Stoneham was not only a hometown San Francisco/Daly City boy, he was broadly considered—not wisely considered, but broadly considered—a young low-grade star.*

The media and fans perceived this deal as an immediate-term improvement to the Giants, and, to be fair, just about everyone (including Stoneham) properly understood that young pitchers, no matter how impressive, are a high-risk proposition (as Falcone would go on to all-too-vividly illustrate).

But, importantly, in our scenario, Reitz has been deployed strictly as a backup (Joe Torre’s understudy), his common appearance being a late-inning defensive replacement. In our scenario, Reitz would be perceived at this point as a capable young utilityman, a candidate to become a first-stringer, but by no means a star of any grade. And realistically, not even the septuagenarian Horace Stoneham would offer the just-turned-22-year-old Falcone straight up for that guy.

And our Cardinals think Reitz can continue to be of more use to us, still in a calibrated manner, than whatever less-than-Falcone might plausibly be made available from the Giants’ roster. So, no deal.

Dec. 9, 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitcher Ron Reed to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Mike Anderson.

As we’ve observed:

Anderson was a toolsy athlete who’d once appeared ticketed for stardom, but by this point in his mid-20s it was clear that all he’d ever be was a utility guy. Reed was a veteran who’d also never broken through as a star, but had instead put together a solid career as a middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater.

But Reed presented an interesting profile: a durable strike-throwing right-hander, just the sort of so-so starting pitcher who often thrives when shifted to the bullpen in his early 30s. Recent examples of talents similar to Reed who’d done just that included Ron Kline, Pedro Ramos, Orlando Pena, Mudcat Grant, and Dave Giusti.

So, while our Phillies would be fine with this one, our Cardinals will think better of it.

Dec. 10, 1975: The Philadelphia Phillies traded pitchers Dick Ruthven and Roy Thomas and infielder-outfielder Alan Bannister to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jim Kaat and shortstop Mike Buskey.

Following an early-30s lull, the big, strong, always-popular veteran Kaat has rebounded to deliver back-to-back 20-win seasons at ages 35 and 36. That’s marvelous, but consider our Phillies skeptical that he’s going to keep cranking those out. For his part, Ruthven hasn’t yet turned the corner we think he might, but he’s still under 25 and is an established, durable major league starter. We have to recognize that over the balance of the next five years, Ruthven is probably going to be the one deliver more value.

Dec. 12, 1975: The New York Mets traded outfielder Rusty Staub and pitcher Bill Laxton to the Detroit Tigers for pitcher Mickey Lolich and outfielder Billy Baldwin.

What a week for wonderful old American League southpaws to be welcomed into the National League East. Just as we love Kitty Kaat, we love us some Mickey Lolich. Alas our Mets don’t have Staub, nor are we willing to part with any of the serious bats we do have.

Feb. 3, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals purchased pitcher Tom Walker from the Detroit Tigers.

March 16, 1976: The New York Mets traded outfielder Bob Gallagher to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Leon Brown.

April 1, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies signed outfielder Bobby Tolan as a free agent.

April 8, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitchers Ken Reynolds and Bob Stewart to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Danny Frisella.

No interest in any of these guys.

The 1975-76 offseason: Deals we will invoke

Oct., 1975: The Philadelphia Phillies sold pitcher Tommy Moore to the Texas Rangers.

Oct., 1975: The Philadelphia Phillies sold pitcher Mike Wallace to the Baltimore Orioles.

Clearing some room on the 40-man.

Nov., 1975: The New York Mets traded outfielder-first baseman John Milner and pitchers Clay Kirby and Bill Laxton to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Grant Jackson, catcher John Stearns, and outfielder-first baseman Bruce Boisclair.

Our Mets are pretty sure that, his poor 1975 results notwithstanding, Milner will re-emerge as a darn good young hitter. But we have the luxury of not needing to find out. Our Phillies, meanwhile, are ready to go in a different direction in left field. So, everybody wins: our Mets get a bullpen upgrade plus a remarkably toolsy young catcher, and our Phils get an appealing left field option plus a couple of enigmatic arms.

Dec. 12, 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals traded outfielder Wayne Nordhagen and pitcher Greg Terlecky to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Lee Richard.

Actually it was Buddy Bradford in place of Nordhagen. So sue us if we have a soft spot for Bee Bee.

Dec., 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals sold third baseman-first baseman Joe Torre to the Baltimore Orioles.

We’re ever grateful for the terrific run he’s delivered in St. Louis, but it’s time for our Cardinals to bring in a new primary third baseman.

Feb., 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies sold outfielder Luis Melendez to the Montreal Expos.

Feb., 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals sold infielder Jerry DaVanon to the New York Mets.

Feb., 1976: The New York Mets released infielder Tony Taylor.

Roster adjustments in preparation for spring training.

March 2, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies traded second baseman Ted Sizemore to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Willie Crawford.

Actually it was the Cardinals making this trade for Crawford. Our Phils will make the same call.

March 3, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies sold outfielder Rich Coggins to the New York Yankees.

And with Crawford on board, we’ll give this guy’s stalled career another fresh start elsewhere.

March, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals sold pitcher Jim Willoughby to the Boston Red Sox.

March, 1976: The New York Mets released pitcher Ken Sanders.

March, 1976: The New York Mets sold catcher Charlie Sands to the Oakland Athletics.

March, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies sold pitcher Clay Kirby to the Montreal Expos.

March, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies sold outfielder Mike Anderson to the Minnesota Twins.

April 1, 1976: The Philadelphia Phillies traded pitcher Dave Giusti to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Mark Mercer and cash.

April 8, 1976: The New York Mets sold pitcher Wayne Simpson to the California Angels.

Final roster pruning as Opening Day approaches.

The 1976 season: Actual deals we will not make

May 19, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals traded outfielder Luis Melendez to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Bill Greif.

June 7, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitcher Danny Frisella to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later. (On June 23, 1976, the Brewers sent outfielder Sam Mejias to the Cardinals, completing the deal.)

No, thanks.

June 15, 1976: The St. Louis Cardinals traded outfielder-first baseman Reggie Smith to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher-outfielder Joe Ferguson, outfielder Bob Detherage, and infielder-outfielder Freddie Tisdale.

The Cardinals’ trade of Steve Carlton for Rick Wise in 1972 was, of course, one of the more lopsided boo-boos in the annals of trading. However, St. Louis GM Bing Devine salvaged the situation by stealing Bernie Carbo for Joe Hague, and then packaging Carbo along with Wise to yield Reggie Smith. To be sure, the parlay of Carlton-for-Smith didn’t quite balance out, but it wasn’t too bad.

But the frenetic Devine couldn’t be satisfied with that. Spooked by Smith’s chronic nagging injuries, Devine bailed on the switch-hitting slugger after just two-plus seasons and cashed him in at the age of 31 for Joe Ferguson—a fine ballplayer by all means, but nothing resembling Smith’s equal. Thus the parlay had become the rather ridiculous Carlton-for-Ferguson.

That was bad enough, but then Devine soon compounded it by flipping Ferguson for Larry Dierker, at exactly the point Dierker’s arm was about to dissolve into powdery ash. Thus in a span of just over five years, the Cardinals had methodically transformed future Hall of Famer Lefty Carlton, with 252 wins yet to be delivered, into the sad end of the line for Larry Dierker.

July 21, 1976: The New York Mets traded third baseman Wayne Garrett and outfielder Del Unser to the Montreal Expos for outfielders Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer.

The 24-year-old Mangual does appear to be a potential star (though far from an actual one), but he meets no need on our Mets. (No one anticipates that Mangual’s bat would utterly and irretrievably implode upon arrival in New York.)

The 1976 season: Deals we will invoke

April 21, 1976: The New York Mets purchased catcher Tim Blackwell from the Boston Red Sox.

Actually it was the Phillies picking up this spare part. Our Mets will do it instead, in response to Milt May’s broken ankle.

1976 season results

Phillies

Crawford and Milner give us two serious left-handed bats to work with in left field. With the departure of Sizemore, veteran Denny Doyle, who’s hit pretty well in a utility role the past few years, will regain the primary second base job, platooning with sophomore Alan Bannister.

Rookie right-hander Larry Christenson will join the starting corps, and we’ll shift hard-throwing but tender-armed Wayne Twitchell to the bullpen, replacing veteran Dave Giusti. Bill Laxton has won the lefty bullpen spot vacated by Grant Jackson.

1976 Philadelphia Phillies     Won 92    Lost 70    Finished 2nd

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  G. Luzinski    25  149 533  73 162  28   1  21  92  50 107 .304 .369 .478 .847  137
  2B  D. Doyle*      32  117 432  51 103  14   6   0  26  24  39 .238 .274 .299 .573   61
  SS  L. Bowa#       30  148 562  61 139  14   8   0  41  29  28 .247 .278 .301 .578   63
  3B  M. Schmidt     26  160 584 111 153  31   4  38 104 100 149 .262 .374 .524 .898  151
  RF  R. Smith#      31  112 395  60  99  14   6  19  54  35  66 .251 .314 .461 .775  116
  CF  G. Maddox      26  146 531  74 175  37   6   6  65  42  59 .330 .377 .456 .833  134
LF-RF W. Crawford*   29  120 392  54 119  17   4  10  47  39  51 .304 .361 .444 .805  126
  C   B. Boone       28  121 361  39  98  18   2   4  51  45  44 .271 .344 .366 .710  100

LF-1B J. Milner*     26  105 295  40  84  18   3  10  49  42  38 .285 .372 .468 .839  135
2B-SS A. Bannister   24  105 263  36  61  11   2   1  16  31  45 .232 .308 .300 .608   72
  OF  J. Martin      27  117 262  29  66  14   1   7  30  19  57 .252 .303 .393 .696   95
  C   T. McCarver*   34   90 155  25  43  11   2   3  28  35  14 .277 .407 .432 .839  136
1B-OF B. Beall#      28   73 117  21  28   5   1   2  13  32  32 .239 .401 .350 .752  113
  C   J. Essian      25   52 100  10  24   4   0   0  11  11  15 .240 .313 .280 .593   68
 IF   C. Robinson    27   56  87  10  15   1   0   0   4  13  27 .172 .280 .184 .464   33
 P-PH K. Brett*      27   41  87   8  21   4   0   2  10   3  16 .241 .261 .356 .617   72

      Others                  17   3   7   1   0   0   0   2   1 .412 .500 .471 .971  174

      Pitchers               289  20  50   8   0   2  27  18 109 .174 .205 .222 .427   20

      Total                5462 724 1447 250  46 125 666 570 897 .265 .332 .396 .728  104

      * Bats left
      # Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      J. Lonborg     34   33  32   8  17  11   1 222 210  85  76   18   50  118 3.08  115
      D. Ruthven     25   32  32   7  15  13   0 216 210  92  92   11   82  130 3.83   92
      K. Brett*      27   29  26   8  10   9   2 183 145  75  68    5   76   84 3.34  106
      L. Christenson 22   35  26   2  12   8   0 169 197  76  68    8   42   55 3.62   98
      T. Underwood*  22   36  22   3  10   6   2 156 152  62  60    9   63   96 3.46  102
      C. Morton      32   29  21   1   6   7   0 140 156  73  60    5   45   43 3.86   92

      G. Garber      28   60   0   0   9   3  15  94  79  33  29    4   30   93 2.78  127
      T. McGraw*     31   59   0   0   7   6  15  98  82  34  27    4   42   77 2.48  143
      B. Laxton*     28   48   2   0   2   5   3  96  72  47  42   11   57   78 3.94   90
      W. Twitchell   28   28   1   0   3   1   2  62  55  18  12    3   18   67 1.74  203

      Others                   0   0   1   1   1  22  23   9   7    1    6   10 2.86  124

      Total                  162  29  92  70 41 1458 1381 604 541  79  511  851 3.34  106

      * Throws left

Just about everything proceeds according to plan. With Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, and a full-season-healthy Garry Maddox leading the way, we present a deep, multi-faceted, and highly productive offense. Our pitching staff doesn’t include any particular standout star, but is also top-to-bottom deep and effective.

It adds up to an excellent all-around ball club, a very serious contender. Unfortunately, we fall three games short of our 95-win Pythagorean projection, and in an extremely tight race that’s enough to force us to settle for second-best.

Cardinals

We’re making only modest adjustments to the roster that delivered the fourth flag in five seasons in 1975. Replacing Torre at third base will be power-hitting rookie Hector Cruz (Jose’s brother). On the pitching staff, rookies John Denny and Harry Rasmussen win starting spots, replacing retired Bob Gibson, and moving veteran Ron Reed to the bullpen.

1976 St. Louis Cardinals     Won 83    Lost 79    Finished 4th

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  K. Hernandez*  22  156 617  91 180  35   9  12  76  82  75 .292 .379 .436 .815  131
  2B  D. Cash        28  160 666  82 187  14  12   1  50  52  14 .281 .332 .342 .675   92
  SS  M. Tyson       26   76 245  27  70  12   9   3  29  16  34 .286 .326 .445 .771  117
3B-OF H. Cruz        23  132 395  43  89  13   1  10  53  31  90 .225 .282 .339 .621   76
RF-CF J. Cruz*       28  133 439  56 140  23   5   4  63  55  46 .319 .392 .421 .813  131
CF-RF B. McBride*    27   72 272  41  91  13   4   3  25  18  28 .335 .385 .445 .829  135
  LF  L. Brock*      37  126 448  68 137  22   4   4  61  32  68 .306 .347 .400 .746  111
  C   T. Simmons#    26  150 546  62 158  35   3   5  79  72  36 .289 .369 .392 .761  116

  OF  L. Hisle       29  103 291  37  78  10   3   6  43  29  50 .268 .329 .385 .714  102
  3B  K. Reitz       25   93 254  19  67   9   0   2  29  10  22 .264 .285 .323 .608   72
SS-3B M. Phillips*   25   79 210  24  56   5   6   2  23  19  25 .267 .319 .376 .695   97
  CF  J. Mumphrey#   23   75 192  27  48   7   2   1  14  17  29 .250 .311 .323 .634   80
RF-LF L. Stanton     30   84 185  12  36  10   1   2  21  20  47 .195 .269 .292 .561   59
  SS  G. Templeton#  20   35 142  22  41   5   1   1  12   5  22 .289 .313 .359 .672   90
OF-1B J. Dwyer*      26   61 105  10  18   3   1   0   5  14  11 .171 .267 .219 .486   39
  IF  L. Richard     27   44  61   9  11   3   1   0   3   3   6 .180 .215 .262 .478   35
  C   S. Jutze       30   28  61   5  10   1   2   0   5   3  11 .164 .200 .246 .446   26
  CF  L. Herndon     22   23  33   5   9   1   0   0   2   2   5 .273 .306 .303 .609   73

      Others                  16   2   3   0   0   0   2   2   3 .188 .278 .188 .465   34

      Pitchers               373  20  70  11   1   1  26  10 107 .188 .192 .230 .422   19

      Total                5551 669 1499 232  65  57 621 492 729 .270 .326 .366 .692   96

      * Bats left
      # Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      S. Carlton*    31   35  35  13  18   8   0 253 232  94  88   17   72  196 3.13  113
      B. Forsch      26   36  31   2   9  10   0 188 202 108  81   16   70   76 3.88   92
      J. Denny       23   29  26   6  10   8   0 181 163  62  50   10   66   68 2.49  143
      L. McGlothen   26   33  28   8  12  14   0 179 180  82  76    9   60   96 3.82   93
      F. Norman*     33   29  18   5   9   6   0 139 117  54  46    7   56  101 2.98  119
      H. Rasmussen   24   39  15   2   5  11   0 135 124  59  52    9   49   69 3.47  102

      A. Hrabosky*   26   68   0   0   8   6  15  95  89  42  35    5   39   73 3.32  107
      R. Reed        33   59   4   1   7   8  14 128  94  39  35    7   32   97 2.46  144
      J. Curtis*     28   37   5   1   3   5   1  89  90  43  42    6   43   37 4.25   84
      M. Garman      26   35   0   0   1   3   1  51  49  28  24    4   23   27 4.24   84

      Others                   0   0   1   0   1  21  17   8   8    0    7   12 3.43  104

      Total                  162  38  83  79 32 1459 1357 619 537  90  517  852 3.31  107

      * Throws left

The performance of the rookies is a mixed bag: Heity Cruz disappoints, but Denny does splendidly, while Rasmussen is so-so. And that seems to symbolize our year, with the positive developments (including the blossoming of 22-year-old sophomore Keith Hernandez, the continuing late development of 28-year-old Jose Cruz, and the rejuvenation of Reed as a reliever) being countered by the not-so-positive (another injury-riddled season for Bake McBride, and flops by utility outfielders Leroy Stanton and Jim Dwyer).

Generally it’s a year in which we fall a bit short of our excellent standard. Compounding it, we underperform Pythag by four wins. The result is a Cardinal team finishing in the unfamiliar position of the middle of the pack.

Mets

We’ve undertaken only a few tweaks. Rookie Mike Easler replaces Milner’s left-handed bat, and journeyman Jerry DaVanon takes Tony Taylor’s backup infield role. The rookie John Stearns becomes the third catcher in place of Charlie Sands (and Stearns will move up the depth chart when Milt May goes down early). Veteran Grant Jackson and rookie Nino Espinosa join the bullpen.

1976 New York Mets     Won 93    Lost 69    Finished 1st

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1B-LF D. Kingman     27  117 427  60 101  13   1  33  81  25 122 .237 .283 .504 .787  128
  2B  F. Millan      32  139 531  60 150  25   2   1  39  41  19 .282 .337 .343 .680  100
  SS  B. Harrelson#  32  103 269  28  63   9   3   1  20  48  42 .234 .348 .301 .649   92
  3B  W. Garrett*    28  139 428  57  95  12   2   6  42  85  45 .222 .351 .301 .652   93
  RF  K. Singleton#  29  154 544  67 150  25   2  13  74  87  76 .276 .371 .401 .772  127
  CF  A. Otis        29  153 592  86 158  37   1  19  79  61 100 .267 .334 .429 .763  123
LF-CF J. Johnstone*  30  129 440  63 135  35   3   5  50  41  38 .307 .363 .434 .797  133
  C   J. Stearns     24  107 261  37  69  11   1   6  26  41  28 .264 .367 .383 .750  120

SS-2B T. Foli        25  130 410  34 100  25   1   5  43  12  24 .244 .260 .346 .607   77
  1B  A. Thornton    26   81 239  29  42   9   1  10  29  46  37 .176 .310 .347 .657   93
  C   J. Grote       33   84 215  23  59   9   1   3  21  25  13 .274 .348 .367 .716  110
LF-1B M. Easler*     25   80 198  23  56   9   1   7  27  14  45 .283 .327 .444 .772  125
  1B  M. Jorgensen*  27   78 172  20  39   7   0   3  13  27  23 .227 .328 .320 .648   91
  3B  J. DaVanon     30   61 107  21  31   3   2   2  21  22  11 .290 .412 .411 .823  142
  C   T. Blackwell#  23   39  62   4  11   1   0   0   4   6  12 .177 .246 .194 .440   30
  LF  B. Ayala       25   11  26   2   4   0   0   2   4   2   6 .154 .214 .385 .599   73
  C   M. May*        25    6  25   2   7   1   0   0   1   0   1 .280 .280 .320 .600   76

      Others                  20   2   5   0   0   0   2   3   3 .250 .348 .250 .598   73

      Pitchers               407  30  61   6   0   0  26  30 157 .150 .192 .165 .357    6

      Total                5373 641 1336 237  21 116 584 616 802 .249 .323 .365 .688  102

      * Bats left
      # Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      T. Seaver      31   35  34  13  15  11   0 271 211  83  78   14   77  235 2.59  126
      J. Matlack*    26   35  35  16  17   9   0 262 236  94  86   18   57  153 2.95  111
      N. Ryan        29   35  35  19  17  15   0 256 169 112  97   11  181  298 3.41   96
      J. Koosman*    33   34  32  17  21   9   0 247 205  81  74   19   66  200 2.70  121
      C. Swan        25   23  21   1   6   7   0 111 105  52  41    8   37   76 3.32   98

      S. Lockwood    29   50   0   0   8   6  13  75  48  24  21    4   27   89 2.52  130
      W. Fryman*     36   46   0   0   3   3   2  58  37  16  13    2   20   41 2.02  162
      B. Apodaca     26   36   0   0   2   4   5  59  39  15  11    1   20   32 1.68  195
      G. Jackson*    33   32   0   0   3   2   2  50  36  18  16    1   21   28 2.88  114
      N. Espinosa    22   26   5   1   2   2   0  50  50  22  17    3   19   30 3.06  107

      Others                   0   0   0   0   0  11   8   3   3    0    4    4 2.45  133

      Total                  162  67  93  69 22 1450 1144 520 457  81  529 1186 2.84  115

      * Throws left

Line-drive-hitting Jay Johnstone wins the primary left field job, reducing Dave Kingman to a secondary role. But incumbent first basemen Andre Thornton and Mike Jorgensen both slump, creating an opening for Kong, who seizes it with his signature all-or-nothing approach.

In May’s absence, both Stearns and veteran Jerry Grote hit well. With Amos Otis and Ken Singleton both contributing strongly, our offense is a distinct strength.

And it’s paired with a pitching staff of rare excellence. The Big Four of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and Jon Matlack are all healthy, and they combine for 70 wins. The lightly-taxed bullpen behind them is superb as well. To engineer a big inning against this gang of arms is an exceptionally challenging assignment.

It’s arguably the all-around best ball club in Mets’ history, entirely championship-worthy. The Run Distribution Gods are in a foul mood, however, and we undershoot our projected record by five wins. Nevertheless, we’re good enough to nip the excellent Phillies entry at the wire in a memorable running.

Epilogue

When conceiving of this series, my expectation was that it would deliver a Battle Royale between the virtual Cardinals and Mets. In this period, both of those actual franchises made it a specialty to muff opportunities, as St. Louis frittered away Bobby Tolan, Dick Allen, Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, and Jose Cruz, while New York allowed Amos Otis, Nolan Ryan, and Ken Singleton to slip through its fingers. Meanwhile, our Phillies, not being able to benefit from picking up Carlton at a bargain price, projected to struggle mightily.

But if in real life, “that’s why they play the games,” then in our virtual scenarios, “that’s why they run the spreadsheets.” What these exercises best illuminate isn’t just the impact of the stars, which may be obvious, but the multitude of meaningful “what if” stories lurking amid the rosters full of lesser names. And there’s really no way of understanding what the impact of those many alternative situations will be until undertaking the scenario. The only thing that will certainly be encountered is surprise.

These Cardinals turned out to be even better than I expected, presenting outstanding roster depth and continual development of good young talent to support the stars. These Mets, meanwhile, didn’t demonstrate quite the same organizational capacity to fill in the softer spots behind their great front-line talent, and so while they were very good, they didn’t pose much of a challenge to St. Louis over the long course of these years.

And despite the absence of the towering Lefty, our Phillies were a plucky survivor. This exercise reveals that the early-1970s Phils could plausibly have done a much better job of managing the full roster than they did. They hurt themselves with giveaway trades of Grant Jackson, Johnny Briggs, Tim McCarver, and Andre Thornton, and by dumping off veterans Tony Taylor and Woodie Fryman when they still had value to deliver. They could have negotiated a better deal than they did when surrendering Allen, and overall for several years there was a layer of reasonably-available role-player talent that the actual Phillies had a very hard time locating.

Still, in our scenario, by 1975 and especially ’76, the actual Philadelphia ball club was better than ours. Given that Carlton would age remarkably well, delivering several of his best seasons in the late ’70s and early ’80s, looking forward past 1976 it seems clear that our Phillies will have lost the rabbit’s foot.

In real life, the most successful National League East team through this era was the Pittsburgh Pirates. In this scenario, unable to make use of Dave Giusti, Bob Johnson, and Ken Brett, they’re no match for St. Louis. And the dominant NL West team in these years was, of course, the Big Red Machine, but missing out on Tolan, Wayne Granger, Tom Hall, Fred Norman, and Clay Kirby, they wouldn’t have been as excellent as they were. Yet as reader Philip articulated in last week’s comments, by 1975 that shortfall would have largely dissipated, and the Cincinnati team that emerged would be almost as amazingly good as the genuine article.

          Phillies:  Actual         Cardinals:  Actual        Mets:  Actual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    63   99  5    645  745    87   75  4    595  540   100   62  1    632  541
 1970    73   88  5    594  730    76   86  4    744  747    83   79  3    695  630
 1971    67   95  6    558  688    90   72  2    739  699    83   79  3    588  550
 1972    59   97  6    503  625    75   81  4    568  600    83   73  3    528  578
 1973    71   91  6    642  717    81   81  2    643  603    82   79  1    608  588
 1974    80   82  3    676  701    86   75  2    677  643    71   91  5    572  646
 1975    86   76  2    735  694    82   80  3T   662  689    82   80  3T   646  625
 1976   101   61  1    770  557    72   90  5    629  671    86   76  3    615  538

          Phillies:  Virtual        Cardinals:  Virtual       Mets:  Virtual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    64   98  5    611  691    98   64  2    659  528   101   61  1    638  550
 1970    77   84  5    596  691    80   82  4    742  703    84   78  3    687  619
 1971    86   76  4    629  598   102   60  1    787  647    89   73  3    643  561
 1972    68   88  5    585  638   105   51  1    675  478    93   63  2    551  523
 1973    93   69  1    680  572    80   82  3    621  593    91   70  2    625  539
 1974    86   76  2    679  654   100   61  1    738  591    83   79  4    648  622
 1975    82   80  4    715  712    98   64  1    762  652    92   70  2    656  565
 1976    92   70  2    724  604    83   79  4    669  619    93   69  1    641  520

References & Resources
* An additional reason Reitz was overrated was that he’d been an extremely hot starter: he hit .417 in April of ’74, and .369 the following April. This got his name mentioned in the papers, listed prominently among the league’s batting leaders (if only fleetingly), in a way that wouldn’t have happened with a slow start and a strong finish.

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Comments

  1. John A said...

    Dec., 1975: The St. Louis Cardinals sold third baseman-first baseman Joe Torre to the Baltimore Orioles.

    Instead of becoming the player-manager of the Mets and retiring at age 36, Torre finds new life as a full time dh in the American league and is able to finish his career with 3000 hits and a ticket to the hall of fame.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    Not implausible.  After his big 1969-70 weight loss, forever after Torre kept himself in terrific condition, and he could always lay out the line drives.  His swing was such a thing of beauty:  calm, sure, smooth, strong, not a particle of wasted energy.

  3. Paul G. said...

    Historically, the Mets faceplanted after this season and would be terrible until the mid-80s.  Do you think that these virtual Mets would at least be respectable until they turned it around?

  4. Steve Treder said...

    Definitely.  These Mets still hold three huge assets the actual Mets didn’t, in Amos Otis, Ken Singleton, and Nolan Ryan, all of whom still had a long way to go past 1976.

  5. John A said...

    The virtual Mets of the 80’s would have to go a different way since they almost certainly wouldn’t have Strawberry or Gooden, or Hubie Brooks (a key part of the Gary Carter trade).

  6. KJOK said...

    Teriffic series of articles.  I think one thing this may have proved is that Bing Devine (with some help from Gussie Busch) completely lost his way in the 1970’s, and missed a huge opportunity to build on the Cardinal’s 1960’s success.  The Cardinals could have almost had a 1964 thru 1987 ‘dynasty’ period.

  7. Steve Treder said...

    “I wonder if the Phillies would now have wished they had made that offer to the Pirates of Ken Brett for Dave Cash. He certainly would have made the difference in 1976.”

    Sure, but these Phillies had Sizemore in 1973, and he’d been holding down second base just fine.

  8. Philip said...

    Another fascinating virtual history alternative, Steve.

    I wonder if the Phillies would now have wished they had made that offer to the Pirates of Ken Brett for Dave Cash. He certainly would have made the difference in 1976.

    Re: The Cincinnati Reds
    According to Wiki (haven’t yet checking this with retrosheet), The Big Red Machine went 88-19 in games in 1975-76 in which Sparky Anderson penciled in the “Great Eight” (Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion, Rose, Foster, Geronimo and Griffey) as his starting lineup.

    According to Retrosheet.org, from 1974 through 1978 (including the win in the 1976 LCS), the Cincinnati Reds were 10-5 in games in which Steve Carlton started against them. Carlton’s ERA in those games was 3.34. That would seem to bode well for the Reds in any LCS vs a Cardinals team that retained the big lefty.

    On the other hand, the Reds may not have faired so well against the New York Mets in the 1976 LCS. Seaver, Koosman and Matlack started 7 games against the Big Red Machine that year, the Mets winning 4 of those (although the “Great Eight” started only one game against them – and ironically lost that one to Jon Matlack).

    In addition, Steve’s Alternative Timeline Mets would have Nolan Ryan thrown into the mix. The upset the Mets achieved in 1973 against the Reds might have simply ended up being delayed 3 years.

    Although outside of Steve’s analysis (as the focus was primarily on the 3 NL East teams in question), I believe this alternate time would have had a serious impact on the 1976 American League pennant race.

    Without Singleton, the O’s likely wouldn’t have been able to stay ahead of the Red Sox. And a Yankees team without Randolph, Rivers and Figueroa would have found it difficult to unseat defending champion Boston, especially if the Red Sox had won the 75 World Series on Fisk’s homerun.

    But it’s not just the AL East that gets the butterfly effect. No Amos Otis in Kansas City probably means the Oakland Athletics win a sixth straight division crown.

    Of course, all this would have huge implications as free agency begins.

    Do the Yankees still go after Reggie Jackson had they retained Bobby Bonds in 1976?

    Do the Mets, perhaps with a NL flag in 1976, still trade Tom Seaver the following season to the team they might have beaten in the NLCS: Cincinnati?

    Do the Reds feel greater pressure to retain Don Gullett if their last World Championship remains 1940?

    Do the Red Sox, perhaps with two straight World Championships, make it three in a row (and maybe four in 1978?)?

    What about Joe Torre? Does his move to Baltimore delays his managerial debut? But does the experience he gains under Red Schoendienst and now Earl Weaver make him an even better skipper in the future? Then again, as John A. said, Torre probably extends his playing career.

    Moving forward, free agency aside, I think the Mets may be in the best shape of the 3 NLE clubs here – if they retain that amazing pitching staff. The Phillies are soon to have problems: Reggie Smith injuries and the end of the line for Denny Doyle and Willie Crawford.

    With Greg Luzinski planted at first, they probably don’t go after Pete Rose.

    Rose likely ends up either in Atlanta (Rose: “Ted Turner… made be a tremendous offer” – Palm Beach Post, 11/27/78)…

    … or Pittsburgh! Yes, the Pirates were courting Rose (to likely play third). So, too, the Mets (who in the alternative time-line probably don’t).

  9. Philip said...

    True, the Phillies did win in 1973 with Sizemore’s help. And, overall, Philadelphia did improve during the alternate time-line period, so one really can’t argue against success.

    Hands down, the Cardinals sure cleaned up. Whereas the Phillies gained an average of nearly six wins per season and the Mets gained nearly seven, St. Louis was up an average of 12. In additional, whereas both Philadelphia and New York each won the same number of division titles as they had won in the real timeline, the Cardinals won four – four more than they actually won – all coming at the expense of the Pirates.

    There are nearly 200 extra losses to spread out among the other major league teams. As Steve pointed out, the Pirates end up big losers in this alternate history.

    But it’s not just the National League that takes the hit.

    Baltimore, Kansas City and New York will all take hits to their win totals, with that memorable 1976 ALCS instead likely becoming a re-match between Boston and Oakland.

    The California Angels will sorely miss Nolan Ryan.

    Not having won the pennant in 1973, is Yogi Berra still the Mets manager in 1976?

    And how about this change?

    from this:
    Managerial Record of Red Schoendienst
    1965   80-81   .497   7th    
    1966   83-79   .512   6  
    1967 101-60   .627   1 – World Champions
    1968   97-65   .599   1 – NL pennant
    1969   87-75   .537   4th  
    1970   76-86   .469   4th  
    1971   90-72   .556   2nd  
    1972   75-81   .481   4th
    1973   81-81   .500   2nd
    1974   86-75   .534   2nd
    1975   82-80   .506   4th
    1976   72-90   .444   5th
    TOT 1010-925   .522
    31st on the All-Time Winning Pct List*
    (* of managers with 1000+ wins)

                 
    to this…
    Managerial Record of Red Schoendienst
    1965   80-81   .497   7th    
    1966   83-79   .512   6  
    1967 101-60   .627   1 – World Champions
    1968   97-65   .599   1 – NL pennant
    1969   98-64   .605   2nd  
    1970   80-82   .494   4th  
    1971 102-60   .630   1st – World Champions? 
    1972 105-51   .673   1st – World Champions?
    1973   80-82   .494   3rd
    1974 100-61   .621   1st – World Champions?
    1975   98-64   .605   1st – NLE champions +?
    1976   83-79   .512   4th
    TOT 1107-828   .572
    10th on the All-Time Winning Pct List*
    (* of managers with 1000+ wins)

  10. Grandpa Boog said...

    Schoendienst got the shaft several times by management, who traded Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, and Jim Bibby. How many 100’s of games did those three starting pitchers win for other teams? It must have been 400 or more and they were not all Carlton’s wins, either, yet, Schoendienst several times competed for the pennant.

    —Stay tuned.

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