New York Mets: The 1960s All-Decade Team

Shale BriskinContributor IIISeptember 7, 2011

New York Mets: The 1960s All-Decade Team

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    In the first part of this new series, the best Mets per decade are going to be compiled into the best possible rosters. Chronologically, we will begin with the best Mets of the 1960s.

    The Mets struggled for the vast majority of the 1960s after their inception in 1962. However, in 1969 the Mets completely turned themselves around, winning the World Series. While the Mets' offense and pitching struggled for the first half of the decade, in the latter half the pitching really stepped up and became one of the best staffs in baseball.

    With this being said, here is the Mets' 1960s All-Decade Team.

Catcher: Jerry Grote

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    The Mets had trouble finding a stable everyday catcher from 1962-1965. This problem was solved once Jerry Grote was acquired from the Astros

    Grote was one of the best defensive catchers in the league during his time. However, due to Johnny Bench's presence in the National League, Grote was always overshadowed. As a result, Grote did not make as many All-Star Game appearances or win as many Gold Glove Awards as he should have.

    Grote's hitting was never as good as his defense, but during the 1969 season, he had his best offensive season, with six home runs and 40 RBI. He then caught every inning of the 1969 postseason, which shows how durable and dependable he was throughout his time as a Met.

    The Mets had an amazing pitching staff in the latter portion of the decade, and some of the credit for this should go to Grote for being a great mentor. The pitchers all enjoyed throwing to him. And this was a huge reason why the Mets enjoyed having Grote around, despite not being one of the best hitters in the league.

First Base: Ed Kranepool

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    Another longtime Met from the 1960s was first baseman Ed Kranepool. No Met has spent more seasons with the team than Kranepool, who played his entire career with New York from 1962-1979.

    The Mets did not find a regular first baseman until Kranepool was given the everyday job in 1964.

    Kranepool was solid defensively, and although he was not the best hitting first baseman of his time, he was a steady offensive contributor. His best offensive season was in 1966, when he hit 16 home runs and had 57 RBI. He also made the NL All-Star team in 1965. 

    In 1969, Kranepool began platooning with the right-handed hitting Donn Clendenon. The platoon was successful, as Clendenon hit left-handers very well and Kranepool's steadiness would be there against right-handers.

    Kranepool did not play much in the World Series due to the Orioles' numerous left-handed pitchers. However, he hit his only postseason home run during the series.

    Kranepool was not a flashy player, but he was a dependable first baseman, and widely considered the Mets' all-time iron man.

    Honorable Mention: Donn Clendenon

Second Base: Ron Hunt

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    Ron Hunt was the Mets' first great second baseman. Plus, being that he was the Mets' first starting All-Star representative, it should be no surprise that he is the Mets' best second baseman from the 1960s. 

    Hunt arrived in New York in 1963 and after batting .272 that year. He followed that with a great season in 1964 by batting .303 on a below-adequate Mets team. Hunt was one of the team's few bright spots during his time, which ended up being all too short, as he was traded to the Dodgers after the 1966 season. 

    Honorable Mention: Ken Boswell

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson

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    The clear choice for the best 1960s Mets shortstop is Bud Harrelson.

    From 1962-1966, the Mets did not have the most durable of shortstops. Roy MacMillan was an adequate defensive specialist during the end of his career from 1964-1966, but the Mets did not get a solid everyday shortstop until Harrelson received the job in 1967. 

    Like some of his teammates during the 1960s, Harrelson was not the best offensive shortstop in the league—in fact, he only hit one home run during the decade. But he always provided reliable defense behind an amazing Mets pitching staff, particularly in the latter portion of the decade.

    Although his defensive efforts finally were rewarded during the 1970s, Harrelson's play in the field was very important to the team. Manager Gil Hodges had him as one of the few position players to play every day, while most of the other positions were strictly platoons. The fact that Harrelson was a switch-hitter may have helped his case as well. 

    Harrelson even showed some potential with his speed by stealing 12 bases in 1967. However,it wasn't until the 1970s that his speed would finally reach its full potential.

    One of the most sure-handed infielders during his time, Harrelson was by far the best shortstop the Mets had in the 1960s, and he would go on to play much longer for the Mets due to his durability.

    Honorable Mention: Roy MacMillan

Third Base: Ed Charles

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    One position that was difficult for the Mets to find a long-term player for was third base. Throughout the 1960s, the team kept plugging in one third baseman after another. Even when one of the players would do well, the team kept looking for better solutions.

    The Mets featured 41 different third basemen during the decade, but the one who was probably the best during that time was "The Glider" himself, Ed Charles. 

    Charles came to the Mets in 1967 in a trade with the Kansas City Athletics. After a dismal season in 1967, he hit well in 1968 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI. However, he then platooned with the left-handed hitting Wayne Garrett in 1969. He hit his final career home run during the Mets' NL East division clinching game. In the World Series, he scored the winning run in Game 2. After the Mets won the World Series, Charles decided to go out on top and retire. 

    Charles was a solid contributor to the Mets in the late-1960s and was definitely one of, if not the, best third baseman for the Mets in the decade.

Left Field: Cleon Jones

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    If Ed Kranepool defined longevity for a Mets infielder, Cleon Jones represented longevity for a Mets outfielder.

    Jones, who first came up in 1963, was originally a center fielder. But following the arrival of Tommie Agee, Jones moved to left field, where he played for the remainder of his career.

    Jones was not a slugger, but he was a good hitter. In 1969, he was among the league leaders with a .340 average. This also set a team record that would not be broken until 1998.

    After manager Gil Hodges pulled Jones from a game that season due to a lack of effort, it became a turning point in the Mets' season. The team then went on an impressive stretch through the postseason that culminated with a World Series championship. So one could say that Jones' lack of effort that day was a blessing in disguise for the Mets.

    Speaking of the World Series, Jones caught the final out of the series by dropping to one knee, which is one of the most endearing images of the whole series.

Center Field: Tommie Agee

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    Although he only spent two years in the 1960s, Tommie Agee is arguably the Mets' best center fielder of the decade.

    Agee did not play well in 1968, but had a great season in 1969. He led the team with 26 home runs and 76 RBI out of the leadoff spot. He also consistently provided solid defense in center field.

    Agee's biggest game with the Mets occurred during Game 3 of the 1969 World Series. He hit a leadoff home run off Jim Palmer, and then made two spectacular catches that potentially saved a combined five runs. As a result, he should definitely be considered one of the Mets' heroes during the series.

Right Field: Ron Swoboda

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    He may have been "Rocky" at first, but Ron Swoboda became a great all-around player for the Mets during the mid- to late-1960s.

    Swoboda had a successful rookie season in 1965 and remained a great role player through the rest of the decade. He eventually platooned in right field with the left-handed hitting Art Shamsky in 1969.

    In September of that season, Steve Carlton set a then-MLB record with 19 strikeouts, but the Mets won that game thanks to a pair of two-run home runs by Swoboda.

    Swoboda did not play in the 1969 NLCS, but made the most of his opportunities in the World Series. He made a spectacular catch in Game 4 to end a rally, and in Game 5, he drove in the game-winning run, as the Mets won their first championship in franchise history.

Bench Players

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    Duffy Dyer

    Duffy Dyer was Jerry Grote's backup, and he did a solid job in this role. He was the first notable backup catcher in Mets history.

    Donn Clendenon

    How could the 1969 World Series MVP not be part of this discussion? Donn Clendenon was only a Met for a few seasons, but his contributions in 1969 were very critical to the team's success. Clendenon blasted three home runs during the World Series that year en route to winning the World Series MVP award.

    Ken Boswell

    Ken Boswell was the primary second baseman for the Mets in the late-1960s. He started most of the games in 1969, and came through during clutch situations. Boswell was not known for his power, but he homered in two consecutive games during the 1969 NLCS, which helped the team get to, and ultimately win the World Series.

    Art Shamsky

    Left-handed hitting Art Shamsky platooned with Ron Swoboda in right field from 1968-1971, and he had his best season in 1969 hitting 14 home runs and driving in 47 runs. He would likely be the primary left-handed bat off the bench for the All-Decade team.

    Frank Thomas

    Last but not least, the Mets' first ever slugger cannot be forgotten. Frank Thomas was the Mets' first ever left fielder and set the original standard for a Mets slugger by hitting 34 home runs and driving in 94 RBI in 1962. In fact, he was one of the very few Mets that year who actually hit well. His Mets' single-season home run record would not be broken until 1976, and his RBI record would last until 1970.

    Honorable Mention: Al Weis

Starting Rotation

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    Tom Seaver

    The Mets of the late-1960s were well known for their deep pitching staff. The one name that really stood out though was Tom Seaver. Brought up in 1967, Seaver promptly won the 1967 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He pitched well again in 1968 before setting a Mets single-season record with 25 wins in 1969. He won his first of three Cy Young Awards that year and led the Mets to the franchise's first ever World Series championship. Seaver was also an influential team leader and always believed in his team no matter what. His leadership rubbed off on his teammates as many of them played well in 1969.

    Jerry Koosman

    Seaver may have gotten most of the individual glory, but Jerry Koosman was by far one of the best left-handed pitchers in the league during the late-1960s. During his rookie season in 1968, Koosman went 19-12 with a 2.08 ERA and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He then went 17-9 in 1969 with a 2.28 ERA, as he helped Seaver carry the team. In the World Series, after Seaver lost Game 1, who stepped up and pitched brilliantly in Game 2? Jerry Koosman. Koosman also pitched in the decisive Game 5 and threw a complete game as the Mets won it all that day.

    Gary Gentry

    Gary Gentry's only season in the 1960s was during his rookie season in 1969, but he was another great addition to the Mets pitching staff that year. He had a 13-12 record that year and got the win in Game 3 of the World Series, in large part thanks to Tommie Agee's two amazing catches.

    Nolan Ryan

    In the late-1960s, Nolan Ryan had not yet developed into the great pitcher he would eventually become, but he pitched well during some of the most clutch situations in Mets history. He pitched both in the rotation and out of the bullpen, but he pitched seven scoreless innings during Game 3 of the NLCS and pitched very well in Game 3 of the World Series as well. 1969 would be the only year that Ryan ever played in a World Series.

    Al Jackson

    Despite losing 20 games in a season twice during the decade, Al Jackson was one of the few Mets pitchers of the early- and mid-1960s who actually had some potential. He won 13 games in 1963 and 11 in 1964, which were pretty good totals in comparison to most of the other Mets pitchers during those years. His 43 wins were once a franchise record until Tom Seaver passed him rather quickly.

Bullpen

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    Right-Handed Reliever: Ron Taylor

    Ron Taylor was one of the Mets' first great relievers and part-time closers in the late-1960s. He was the only Met on the 1969 team with previous postseason experience. Taylor won nine games out of the bullpen in 1969 and also had 13 saves. He did not allow a single run throughout the 1969 postseason, won a game in the NLCS and saved the Mets' first ever World Series win.

    Left-Handed Reliever: Tug McGraw

    Tug McGraw was the Mets' other great relief pitcher in the late-1960s. He was originally a starter, but once the Mets had a rotation logjam, manager Gil Hodges decided to put McGraw in the bullpen, where he soon developed into a dominating closer. McGraw went 9-3 with a 2.24 ERA and 12 saves during 1969. He did not pitch that much in the postseason that season, but this was because he was being groomed by Ron Taylor as the closer of the future. Once the 1970s came around, McGraw took his pitching to another level and became one of baseball's best closers at the time.

Manager: Gil Hodges

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    After Wes Westrum resigned from being the Mets' manager in 1967, the Mets' front office decided to bring Gil Hodges back to New York, selling a pitching prospect and including $100,000 to the Washington Senators in order to acquire him.

    Hodges originally played for the Mets from 1962-1963 and hit the first home run in Mets history. As a manager, his 1968 team improved by 12 wins before he did the unthinkable and led the 1969 Mets to a World Series championship.

    Many Mets players from that year have stated that Hodges' leadership was very influential toward their own performances. Hodges was a fair man who demanded his players play their very best at all times. One day, Cleon Jones failed to run quickly after a fly ball. After the play ended, Hodges walked from the dugout all the way into left field to remove Jones from the game. That moment sent a message to the entire team that partial efforts would not be tolerated. After that day, the Mets surged into the lead for the NL East title and ultimately won the division for the first time in team history.

    Hodges did not have too much to work with in regards to the team's offense, but he successfully ran many platoons at most positions. For the most part, they were effective. The pitching, on the other hand, was the Mets' strength and it helped the team win 41 games by one run.

    Hodges turned a team that was going nowhere into a successful group of winners in 1969. For his remarkable efforts and leadership, there is no question that he was the best manager for the Mets in the 1960s.

    Honorable Mention: Casey Stengel

General Manager: George Weiss

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    He was not the Mets' General Manager when the Mets became World Champions in 1969, but George Weiss deserves a lot of credit for putting together the Mets' first core of players.

    Weiss already had experience with creating winning teams. He had been the Yankees' General Manager for years and the teams he put together won seven World Series championships. As a result, it was only natural that the Mets hired him prior to their inaugural 1962 season.

    Although Weiss originally drafted many former Dodgers, Yankees and Giants players onto the 1962 Mets, he made two key trades before the season, acquiring Frank Thomas and Richie Ashburn.

    Prior to the 1963 season, Weiss signed Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones and Ron Hunt as the Mets' late-1960s core began to form. He later signed Bud Harrelson and Ron Swoboda as well. He also brought back the popular former Dodger, Duke Snider, for a victory lap season with the Mets.

    In June of 1964, Weiss signed Tug McGraw as an amateur free agent, and two months later, he signed Jerry Koosman. He even got Yankees legend Yogi Berra to become a player/coach for the team, although Berra only had nine at-bats before retiring as a player and becoming a full-time coach.

    In the 1964-1965 offseason, Weiss signed the legendary Warren Spahn who spent part of his final professional season with the Mets. After the 1965 season, he traded for another future mainstay in catcher Jerry Grote. He also acquired former MVP Ken Boyer from the Cardinals.

    But Weiss' biggest move occurred in the 1965-1966 offseason. His assistant Bing Devine persuaded him to enter into the lottery for the rights of a college pitcher named Tom Seaver. Due to Seaver being rather unproven at the time, Weiss was at first reluctant to do so. But ultimately, he ended up placing the Mets in the lottery, and as fate would have it, the Mets won the lottery and Seaver became the new star pitcher for the team. This would become by far the greatest stroke of luck in Mets history.

    Weiss also drafted a few other notable Mets during his time as General Manager, including Nolan Ryan, Ken Boswell and Duffy Dyer.