New York Mets: The 1970s All-Decade Team

Shale BriskinContributor IIISeptember 22, 2011

New York Mets: The 1970s All-Decade Team

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    The 1970s was a roller coaster decade for the Mets.

    Fresh off their first championship in 1969, the Mets played well from 1970-1972 despite not making the playoffs in any of those seasons. Then, in 1973, the team came out of nowhere to win the National League pennant.

    From 1974-1976, the team played reasonably well, but from 1977-1979, the Mets came completely undone, and became one of the worst teams in the league.

    During this decade, the Mets saw their fair share of players that played well, as well as other players who simply did not live up to the hype. The late 1960s core stayed strong through the middle of the decade, until the vast majority got traded away.

    Here is the Mets' 1970s All-Decade Team.

Catcher: John Stearns

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    Although Jerry Grote was the Mets' catcher for most of the 1970s, John Stearns, his successor, proved to be a much better hitter and base runner than Grote ever was.

    Stearns had a good season in 1977 with 25 doubles, 12 home runs and 55 RBI. He followed this up with an even better season in 1978. That year, he had 24 doubles, 15 home runs, 73 RBI and 25 stolen bases, which was the most in a single season by a catcher at the time.

    Stearns made two All-Star appearances for the Mets in the 1970s (1977 and 1979). He was also well known for his short and explosive temper.

    In 1977, Stearns tackled the Braves' mascot, Chief Noc-a-Homa, when the Chief danced too close to the Mets' dugout before a game in Atlanta. The "Bad Dude," as he was known, was certainly fun to watch.

First Base: John Milner

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    John Milner was one of the Mets' better hitters during the 1970s. "The Hammer" split time over those years at first base and left field, but is still one of the best first basemen during the first quarter century in the history of the franchise.

    After finishing second in the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year voting, Milner had a great season in 1973. He had 23 home runs and 72 RBI that year as the cleanup hitter. He followed this up with a 20-home run and 63-RBI season in 1974.

    After not playing too much in 1975, Milner had two more solid seasons before getting traded to the Rangers after the 1977 season.

    Over seven seasons with the team (he had 18 at-bats in 1971), Milner had 94 home runs and 338 RBI, both of which were the most of any Mets batter in the 1970s.

Second Base: Felix Millan

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    The man who spent the most time at second base for the Mets in the 1970s was Felix Millan. Thus, it would be fair to consider him as the best player to play second base for the Mets during that decade.

    Millan did not have a lot of power, but he consistently put the ball in play and set a then-team record with 191 hits in 1975. That year, he also became the first Met to play in all 162 games of the season.

    Some Mets fans may remember his critical error in Game 1 of the 1973 World Series, but Millan was an energetic player that was good at setting the table for the Mets' run producers of his time.

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson

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    Once again, Bud Harrelson makes a Mets' All-Decade Team as their best shortstop in the 1970s, mostly because few other infielders played the position during his time.

    Harrelson's offense never quite improved in a significant way later in his career, but he finally got rewarded for his consistently solid defense by winning the 1970 and 1971 NL Gold Glove Awards.

    Fans may also remember the infamous fight that he and Pete Rose had during the 1973 NLCS, which may have given the Mets even more motivation to get back to the World Series—which they ended up doing.

    Harrelson was one of the last Mets of the 1969 squad to leave the team, when he got traded after the 1977 season, but it would be a long time until a shortstop was able to have an impact on the Mets like Harrelson did.

Third Base: Wayne Garrett

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    Throughout the decade, the Mets were always trying to find someone better to play third base, and for the most part, this led to one failure after another.

    The one exception though was Wayne Garrett.

    After platooning with Ed Charles at third base in 1969, Garrett was hoping to be the starting third baseman in 1970. However, he would have to wait until 1973 to get the everyday job, after the Mets saw Joe Foy, Bob Aspromonte and Jim Fregosi fail in consecutive years from 1970-1972.

    Garrett became the Mets' leadoff hitter in 1973 and banged out a career-high 16 home runs and 58 RBI. He remained the starting third baseman in 1974 and 1975 before Roy Staiger got the majority of the playing time in 1976.

    Nonetheless, Garrett definitely had the most significant impact among all Mets third basemen in the 1970s.

Left Field: Cleon Jones

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    Another member of the Mets' core stayed through most of the 1970s. That would be Cleon Jones.

    Jones had a few more solid seasons from 1970-1974, including a career-high 14 home runs and 69 RBI in 1971, before he ended up getting released midway through 1975. However, he was still an important veteran presence on the team and was always a popular player during his time.

    Jones batted .300 in the 1973 NLCS and .286 in the 1973 World Series, which shows that he was still a productive force in the Mets' lineup.

Center Field: Lee Mazzilli

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    The Mets of the late 1970s were not particularly good, but Lee Mazzilli was one of the few bright spots during those years.

    Mazzilli's rookie season in 1977 was good, but his breakout season occurred in 1978 when he had 16 home runs and 61 RBI. He was even better in 1979 when he batted .303 with 15 home runs, 79 RBI and 34 stolen bases. He made the NL All-Star team that year as well.

    Mazzilli played solid defense in center field and became a very popular player for the Mets during his brief first stint with the team.

Right Field: Rusty Staub

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    Another popular player whose original Mets tenure was all too short was Rusty Staub.

    Staub was acquired from the Expos at the start of the 1972 season. After having a decent season that year—despite missing over a month with a broken hand—Staub delivered three of the best offensive seasons the Mets had at the time.

    He hit 15 home runs and drove in 76 RBI in 1973, 19 home runs and 78 RBI in 1974, and 19 home runs and a then-single season Mets record 105 RBI in 1975. He was the first player to surpass outfielder Frank Thomas' original Mets record of 94 RBI in 1962.

    What was Staub's big reward for those three seasons? He got traded to the Tigers for Mickey Lolich prior to the 1976 season. But he made the most of his brief stay in New York.

    Staub was certainly clutch in the 1973 postseason, too. He blasted three home runs during the NLCS and batted .423 with a home run in the World Series that year.

The Bench

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    Jerry Grote

    Jerry Grote was the Mets' catcher through most of the 1970s until John Stearns took over in 1977. He caught every inning of the 1973 postseason and helped the Mets' pitchers perform at their full potential.

    Ed Kranepool

    Although he was no longer an everyday player during the 1970s, Ed Kranepool made the most of his opportunities. He played first base, filled in at left field and was always a reliable pinch hitter. He played his entire career with the Mets before retiring after the 1979 season.

    Dave Kingman

    Dave Kingman was definitely one of the biggest offensive stars the Mets had in the 1970s. A pure slugger, Kingman immediately broke Frank Thomas' single-season club record with 36 home runs in 1975 and followed up with 37 in 1976. He had nine in 1977 before all of a sudden getting traded during the infamous "Midnight Massacre." Nonetheless, Kingman made the most of his brief first stint and put on a show with the long moonshots he hit.

    Lenny Randle

    Lenny Randle only played with the Mets for two seasons, but was one of the few bright spots during a forgettable 1977 season for the Mets and their fans. That year, Randle batted .304 with 22 doubles and 33 stolen bases. He also had a .383 OBP. However, in 1978, Randle failed to duplicate his 1977 success as his average fell to just .233 and he got released during spring training in 1979.

    Tommie Agee

    Tommie Agee will always be most remembered for his contributions during the 1969 season, but he had another solid season in 1970 when he batted .286 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI. He had two more good years in 1971 and 1972 before getting traded after the 1972 season.

Starting Rotation

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    Tom Seaver

    Tom Seaver continued his dominance during the 1970s when he won his second and third NL Cy Young Awards in 1973 and 1975, respectively.

    He led the Mets to winning the 1973 NLCS over the Reds and was certainly the heart and soul of the team. In 1977, though, a lot of changes occurred. Seaver grew very frustrated with the way the media was depicting his financial life and he demanded a trade.

    This ended up happening when the Mets sent him to the Reds during the "Midnight Massacre." This shocked and broke the hearts of Mets fans everywhere, but Seaver nonetheless became the greatest pitcher to ever play for the Mets.

    Jerry Koosman

    Not to be outdone by his right-handed counterpart, Jerry Koosman continued his own dominance during the 1970s. His numbers never really stood out like Seaver's did, but Koosman quietly put up one solid season after another. He pitched very well during the 1973 postseason and won a career-high 21 games in 1976. He came in a very close second place for the NL Cy Young Award voting that year. Koosman stayed with the Mets until he got traded after the 1978 season.

    Jon Matlack

    As if the Mets' 1969 rotation was already amazing, it got even better when Jon Matlack came up in 1972. Matlack won the NL Rookie of the Year Award that year and then became a very reliable starter for the Mets in 1973. He pitched very well during the 1973 postseason. Although his overall record as a Met was just 82-81, Matlack did not get much run support throughout those years and was a very solid No. 3 starter.

    Craig Swan

    After Tom Seaver's trade in 1977, the Mets' pitching staff never really recovered altogether for the rest of the 1970s. One of the few bright spots, though, was Craig Swan. Swan did not emerge into the Mets' rotation until 1976, but had a breakout season in 1978 when he led the NL with a 2.43 ERA despite a 9-6 record. He then went 14-13 with a 3.29 ERA in 1979. Had Swan been given a better team with a stronger lineup, his numbers could have been even better. He at least made the most of what he had in those two years.

    George Stone

    George Stone pitched for the Mets for just three seasons, but it was his 1973 season that helped him round out this rotation. That year, Stone surprised many people by going 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA. The southpaw then pitched well in the 1973 NLCS and in the 1973 World Series, as well. However, Stone failed to match his 1973 success in 1974 and 1975 and got traded after the 1975 season. He never made another major league appearance after 1975.

The Bullpen

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    Right-Handed Reliever: Skip Lockwood

    Skip Lockwood was the Mets' primary closer during the late 1970s. Despite being stuck on some bad teams during those years, Lockwood saved 19 games in 1976, 20 games in 1977, 15 games in 1978 and nine games in 1979 before missing the last three months of that season with a shoulder injury. He signed with the Red Sox prior to the 1980 season.

    Left-Handed Reliever: Tug McGraw

    Tug McGraw was already an established closer for the Mets by 1969, but improved a lot during the 1970s. In 1971, he won 11 games in relief, racked up eight saves and had a 1.70 ERA. He followed this up with 27 saves and a 1.70 ERA in 1972.

    His 1973 season did not start well, but once he began the "Ya Gotta Believe" rally cry, he completely turned his season around. He ended up getting 25 saves while pitching very well in September as the Mets came out of nowhere to win the NL East division with just a 82-79 record.

    He continued to pitch well during the 1973 postseason before battling injuries in 1974. The Mets decided to trade him away after the 1974 season due to health concerns, but the Mets would regret this trade as McGraw continued to pitch well for the Phillies.

Manager: Yogi Berra

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    Although he will always be remembered as a Yankee, Yogi Berra was also an important part of the Mets' history.

    Berra was originally a coach for the Mets in the late 1960s and was a member of the 1969 championship team.

    In 1972, Berra all of a sudden faced the task of replacing the legendary Gil Hodges after Hodges' untimely death right before the start of the season. The Mets played decently that year and finished 83-73 before having one of the most miraculous seasons in 1973.

    The 1973 Mets got off to a terrible start and never seemed to go anywhere until August. Then, out of nowhere, the Mets surged in September and won the NL East with just a 82-79 record. The Mets then upset the powerhouse Reds in the NLCS before losing to the A's in seven games during the 1973 World Series.

    Berra came up with his "It ain't over 'til it's over" quote during the World Series, as well. He also took a lot of heat for starting both Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack on three days' rest in Game 6 and 7, respectively, instead of putting in George Stone for Game 7 and giving the Game 7 starter more rest.

    In 1974, the Mets did not play as well, as they stumbled to a 71-91 record. A year later, Berra began his last stand as the Mets' manager.

    The 1975 season was inconsistent and the Mets finished 82-80. In August, the Mets were within five games of first place, but did not play well in September.

    Despite Dave Kingman's hitting 36 home runs, Rusty Staub's driving in 105 RBI and Seaver eventually winning his third NL Cy Young Award, it all was not enough for Berra to keep his job.

    Apparently, his decision to release Cleon Jones midway through the season was not something that the Mets' front office was fond of. Berra ended up getting fired with 53 games left in the season and coach Roy McMillan finished the rest of the season.

    Berra's Mets' managerial tenure will always be best remembered for how he helped lead the 1973 Mets to the World Series in a year that no one expected the Mets to get that far.

General Manager: Bob Scheffing

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    The Mets only had two general managers during the 1970s, and while neither of them particularly stood out, Bob Scheffing's tenure will be better remembered than that of his successor, Joe McDonald.

    Scheffing became the Mets' new general manager in 1970 after Johnny Murphy's untimely death. His first major move was to trade the popular Ron Swoboda to the Expos for center fielder Don Hahn.

    The 1971-1972 offseason will be what Scheffing will be most remembered for. He first traded Art Shamsky, sold Ron Taylor and released Donn Clendenon before making arguably the worst trade in Mets history when he dealt Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi.

    All the blame for this should not be put on Scheffing, though, because Ryan had demanded a trade, seeing as he wanted to leave New York. Scheffing, however, could have gotten a lot more in exchange for Ryan than just Fregosi.

    The next string of Scheffing's moves as general manager ended up benefiting the Mets.

    In 1972, he acquired Rusty Staub, promoted Yogi Berra as the Mets' new manager after Gil Hodges' death, and acquired the legendary Willie Mays. Prior to the 1973 season, he also acquired Felix Millan and George Stone from the Braves. Both had a major impact on the Mets that year.

    Outside of selling Fregosi, Scheffing did not make any moves on the surprising NL pennant-winning 1973 Mets, who lost to the Oakland A's in the World Series. Mays retired following the season.

    Scheffing did not make any moves during the 1974 season, but the team finished 71-91, considerably worse from the previous year. M. Donald Grant and the rest of the front office apparently became very upset and immediately reassigned Scheffing to be a scout, while promoting Joe McDonald as the new general manager.

    This turned out to be a terrible move, seeing as outside of 1976, the Mets never found any success during McDonald's tenure. Had Grant and his staff not canned Scheffing right after 1974, maybe the team would have been better. Nonetheless, Scheffing's time as the Mets' general manager was good overall, outside of the Nolan Ryan trade.