Mets Through the Years: Second Base
June 22nd, 2012 by slangon

This is the fifth post in this series. We’ve already covered the men who’ve serve as managers, opening day starters, catchers and first basemen for the Mets over their 50 year history. Today, we’ll take a gander at the guys who’ve manned second for the Metropolitans over the years, in cardboard form, of course.

Charlie Neal was the first second baseman ever for the Mets. He was one of 7 ex-Dodgers that played for the Mets in 1962. Although, his numbers weren’t as good as some of his better years with the Dodgers, they weren’t that far off, either. In 1962, he hit an even .260 with 11 homers and 58 runs batted in while playing a solid second base. That was good for 3rd most RBI and tied for 4th most homers on the team.

Ron Hunt took over 2nd base duties during his rookie year in 1963. He had a pretty fine rookie year at that, as he came in 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting behind some dude named Peter Rose. Although Rose got an overwhelming 17 votes to Hunts 2, their numbers were surprisingly close. Rose hit .273. Hunt hit .272. Ron had 10 homers and 42 RBI. Pete had 6 and 41. Rose had 25 more hits in 90 more at-bats, but their OBP was identical at .334 and Hunt actually slugged 25 points higher than Rose. I guess the real difference was that Pete scored 101 runs to Ron’s 64. Ron also was the main second baseman in 1964 when he became the Mets first starting All-Star.

Early in the 1965 season, Ron Hunt was knocked out for the season after separating his shoulder colliding with a baserunner. This forced the Mets to purchase Chuck Hiller’s contract from the Giants. Looking at his .238 average in 1965 and his his nickname of “Iron Hands”, I think it’s safe to say the team didn’t have many other options.

Much to the relief of the Mets, Ron was back healthy in 1966 and reclaimed his spot at second. He hit a respectable .288 that year, which was good enough for him to again be named the Mets representative in that year’s All-Star game, where in the 9th inning, he bunted Tim McCarver into scoring position. McCarver then came home to score the winning run when Maury Wills singled him home the very next at-bat.

After  the ’66 season, the Mets traded both Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman to the Dodgers for Tommy Davis, a trade that reportedly broke Hunt’s heart. They ended up acquiring Jerry Buchek from the Cardinals to play second. He played second base. And that’s about all I have to say about that.

After realizing that Jerry Buchek’s .236 average wasn’t going to cut it, they decided to give Phil Linz a shot at second base over rookie Ken Boswell. Phil rewarded them with a sparkling .209 average.

The team wisely decided to give the second base job to Boswell in 1969, a position he held through the 1972 season. He was a solid, if unspectacular fielder and a pretty good hitter, especially against righties. Normally not a big power guy, he did hit 2 homers in the Mets’ 3 game sweep of the Braves in the ’69 NLCS.

Felix Millan took over second base duties in 1973 and stayed there for the next 5 years. Always an excellent fielder, Millan was also a very good hitter, albeit of the singles variety. He was also very tough to strike out. Every year of his career, he was in the top 5 of at-bats per strikeout. He led the league in that category 4 times, including 1974 when he only stuck out once every 37 at-bats.

After Felix Millan retired in 1977, Doug Flynn took over second. He was one of the four players acquired by the Mets in the notorious trade that sent Tom Seaver to the Reds. He never did much at the plate, averaging only .234 during his time on the Mets, but he did win a Gold Glove in 1980.

First round draft pick Wally Backman was brought up to man second for the 1982 season. That year was not his finest moment defensively, but he started to emerge as a scrappy, uniform-always-dirty type of player whose value was more in his ability to get on base and speed rather than power, as can be seen in the .272/.387/.372 slash line he put up in 1982. Alas, in mid-August, he fell off his bike and broke his collar bone, opening the door for…

You guys, did you know that Brian Giles played 2nd base for the Mets in 1983? When he was 12? And he used to be a 23 year black man? JK, you guys, JK. But seriously, Brian Giles took over for Backman after his bike accident and even though he only hit .210 for the remainder of 1982, his defense impressed the Mets enough that he got the nod for 1983 over Wally.

Thanks in part to the Brewers swiping Brian Giles in the Rule V draft, Backman was back at second from 1984 to their Championship season in 1986. While he kept up his scrappy hitting and hustling, he also improved his defense to tolerable levels. Although he recieved the lion’s share of starts at second during this span, Davey Johnson did platoon him with Kelvin Chapman and Tim Teufel mostly due to Backman’s inability to hit lefties.

While Teufel platooned with Backman in 1986, Wally slumped badly enough in ’87 that Tim ended up as the primary second baseman. He responded by having his best offensive year, batting .308 with 14 homers and 61 RBI.

For the third time, Wally Backman became the Mets main second baseman. The season didn’t start that way however. Davey Johnson publicly questioned Wally’s desire and awarded Tim Teufel the starting second base job. Backman quietly accepted his role as back-up and then proceeded to hit .303, regaining his role as primary second sacker in the process.

After Wally Backman left the Mets in 1989, Gregg Jefferies was promoted to full time second baseman for the next 3 seasons. He was one of many highly touted prospects that incurred fan wrath for not living up to the hype. He also proved to be not so popular in the clubhouse for being self-centered and immature. He didn’t help his case by writing an open letter to the local sports radio station complaining about it. In the end though, he was a decent second baseman, hitting .276 during his time in New York with 42 homers and 205 RBI.

In 1992, the Mets went back to their strategy from their early days of bringing in aging but beloved athletes from other New York teams. He did about as well as a 37 year old playing in the final season of a long career can do. He his .252, drove in 15 runs and scored 29.

Jeff Kent took over second right after Randolph’s retirement party. He held down the fort there for the next three seasons. Although not quite the All-Star and MVP player that he would become, during those 3 years he hit between .270 and .290. He also drove in around 70 runs a year while hitting in the neighborhood of 20 dingers. All in all, not the worst guy to have at second.

In 1996, Jeff Kent moved to third base, so Jose Vizcaino took over most of the playing at second. He did pretty well, too, hitting .303. Ironically, both Vizcaino and Kent were traded to Cleveland at the trade deadline. He still logged enough time at second though (93 games) for me to have him up here rather than Edgardo Alfonzo (66 games).

Jose Vizcaino was replaced at second by the man he was traded for, Carlos Baerga. This was a classic Mets trade in that Baerga, who was perennially an All-Star and Silver Slugger in Cleveland, came to the Mets and did doo-doo. While with the Indians, he hit over .300, drove in around 100 and smacked double digit homers every year. With the Mets, he hit .270 or so, never hit more than 10 homers and drove in about 50 every year. (As an aside, what are peoples thoughts on those protective coatings on Topps Finest? Peel them off? Leave them on? Stick the card in a box and never look at it? That last one is what I’ve been working with so far.)

Fonzie made the move from third to second after Baerga’s contract was up following the ’98 season and held the position until 2001. 1999 was by far his finest season as he hit .304 with 27 home runs and 108 runs batted in. 2000 was a great year as well. He averaged .324 with 25 homers and 94 RBI. Injuries plagued him in 2001, though and his average dropped to .243. He still hit 17 homers, which was pretty good, but he only managed 49 RBI.

Fonzie moved back to third in 2002 to make room for Roberto Alomar. This was another awesome trade by the Mets. In the 12 years before he came to New York, Alomar was an All-Star 12 times and won 10 Gold Gloves along with 4 Silver Sluggers. His first season in Queens, he hit .266 with 11 jacks and 53 RBI. What’s worse is his defense also began to rapidly decline. The Mets sent him to the White Sox mid-way through 2003.

What better way to follow up a washed up future Hall of Famer than with Danny Garcia? A guy so obscure than when you type “Danny Garcia” in Baseball Reference, it takes you to the page of a slightly less obscure Danny Garcia who had 14 at-bats with the Royals in 1981. Apparently, you have to type in “Daniel Garcia” to get to this obscure Danny Garcia. By the way, had Garcia played just 1 less game at second base in 2004, none other than Jose Reyes would be looking back at you right now. That’s right. The Mets second base position was in such a flux around this time that Danny Garcia is the “main” second baseman with 44 games and Jose was next with 43 games. Other guys to play the position that year: Joe McEwing (34), Jeff Keppinger (32), Ty Wigginton (25), Ricky Gutierrez (18) and Kaz Matsui (3).

Miguel Cairo got the majority of starts at second for the Mets in 2005, which I was actually a little surprised to see. By this point they had given up on the whole Kaz Matsui at short / Jose Reyes at second experiment, so I thought for sure that Matsui would’ve been the main man at second. He did play 71 games at the position, but Cairo beat him out with 82 games.

Jose “The Chin” Valentin took over second base in 2006 almost by accident. He started the season mostly as a pinch hitter and 4th outfielder. Once the Mets traded the slumping Kaz Matsui to Colorado for a bag of potato chips and an old wiffle ball in June, Jose was the second sacker by default. According to his Wikipedia page: “His veteran leadership, mustache, and consistent hitting played a big part in helping the Mets to the 2006 National League Eastern Division title.”

Considering Jose Valentin and his mustache helped the Mets so much in 2006, Valentin was named the team’s second baseman again in 2007. Unfortunately, in late July, he fouled a ball off his leg, breaking his tibia (ouch!). This forced the Mets to trade for the mustache-less Luis Castillo to fill the void, a void he would fill until Sandy Alderson basically paid him to go away in 2010. His numbers with the Mets were actually not too bad. He averaged .274 and got on base at a .366 clip while in New York. Most Mets fan I know (myself included) don’t really remember him that way however.

Much like Jose Valentin in 2006, Justin Turner became the Mets 2011 second baseman in around about way. Brad Emaus won the job out of spring training but proved to be not quite up to the job. Although his .260/.334/.356 stat line from 2011 might not jump off the page, his .350/.480/.500 line with runners in scoring position is what endeared him to Mets fans (or at least this Mets fan).

Ever since he’s been with the club, The Irish Hammer has been a man without a position. This year, the Mets have decided to give him a go at second. He hasn’t been spectacular so far, but at least he’s not playing left field. What’s a little concerning is that for a guy who is basically allowed to play a key defensive position because of what he does at the plate, he’s been doing very little at the plate lately. As of right now, he’s logged the most innings at second, but I can’t say for sure if that’ll still be the case come the end of this season.

Well, thats’s it. Over the course of 50+ seasons, the Mets have called 24 different guys their second baseman. Wally Backman has logged the most games for the team at the position with 680. For as many games as Wally has played at second, I would have to go with Edgardo Alfonzo as far as who was the greatest player the team’s had at that position. He hit for average (when he was healthy) and he hit for power (when he was healthy). Plus he was part of the “Greatest Infield Ever”. Looking at this post though, I think you can see that second base has not exactly been a strong position for them.

2 Responses to “Mets Through the Years: Second Base”

  1. The Brian Giles stuff cracked me up!

  2. This is a great set of posts! Good stuff.

Leave a Reply