Mets Through the Years: Third Base
September 4th, 2012 by slangon

Man, I’ve been slacking on this series. I still have 5 positions left to go and only about a month left in the season. We’ve already looked at the managers, catchers, Opening Day starting pitchers, first basemen and second basemen. We’ve also gone through the players the Mets have sent to the All-Star Game every year. Today, we’ll be looking at the players who’ve manned the hot corner for the Mets throughout their 50 year history,¬†in cardboard form, of course.

Like pretty much every other position on the team during their inaugural year, the Mets did not exactly send a super star onto the field to play third base for them. Felix had a pretty respectable season for the team that year, however. He hit .275, which was good for second best on the team, behind only future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. He also hit 11 homers and drove in 59 runs. Although he is listed as a shortstop on this card, and he played the majority of his career at either short or second, he got 88 starts at third base for the Mets in 1962, which was more than Rick Herrscher, Sammy Drake, Rod Kanehl, Charlie Neal, Don Zimmer, Cliff Cook, Frank Thomas and Elio Chacon combined.

The Mets traded Felix Mantilla to the Red Sox after the ’62 season for Pumpsie Green, Al Moran and Tracy Stallard, so Charlie Neal took over the third base job. Even though the Mets traded Neal to the Reds on July 1, he still managed to make 64 starts at third, which was 10 more than Jim Hickman. Nine other players also spent time at third for the Mets that season. During his limited time with the Mets that year, he was shadow of the player he was with the Dodgers, hitting .225 with 3 home runs and 18 RBI’s in 72 games.

The Mets acquired Charlie Smith from the White Sox in April of 1964 and he manned the hot corner for them for the next 2 years. Although he never had a very high average during his time in Queens (.242 over 262 games) he was fairly productive. He hit 20 dingers and drove in 58 during the 1964 season and hit 16 homers and drove in 60 the next year. As an aside, Charlie was traded to the Mets in April. This is card number 519, which I assume came out very late in the season. Topps couldn’t have taken a new picture during that time? At least turned out a crappy airbrush job?

After the 1965 season, the Mets traded Charlie Smith and Al Jackson to St. Louis for Ken Boyer, who had won the N.L. M.V.P. in 1964. Of course, since this is the Mets, he went from hitting .295 that year with 24 home runs and 119 RBI’s to hitting .266 with 14 homers and 61 RBI’s with the Mets in 1966. Interesting fact: Ken Boyer had 6 brothers who played in either the Major Leagues or the Minor Leagues. Another interesting fact: One of his brothers was named Cloyd.

1967 saw the team staring to gain a little bit of respectability with the arrival of some of the good young players that they’d been developing on the farm. To compliment all those promising young players, they traded for Ed Charles early in 1967. He played the majority of third base for the Mets for the 1967 and 1968 seasons. ’68 was his better of the two years, when he hit .278 with 15 home runs and 53 runs batted in. That might not sound very impressive, but keep in mind that this was The Year of the Pitcher and the league averaged just .243. Entire teams averaged just 89 homers and 518 RBI’s.

The veteran Ed Charles started to show his age a bit in 1969, so Gil Hodges decided to platoon him with the rookie Wayne Garrett. Since Garrett  batted lefty, he ended up facing right handed pitchers and therefore received the majority of the playing time. He hit .218 that year, which was only slightly better than Ed, with his .207 average.

Joe Foy took over third base for the 1970 season after the Mets traded Bob Johnson and future Gold GLover and All-Star Amos Otis for him. He had a forgettable year in his only season in Queens, batting .236 with 6 long balls and 37 runs driven in. He did sport a nice .373 OBP thanks to his 68 walks in 399 plate appearances.

The Mets traded for veteran Bob Aspromonte after the 1970 season. It would turn out that 1971 would be his last year in the Majors. Although he led all National League third basemen with a .965 fielding percentage, he hit just .225. Unsurprisingly, the Mets released him at the end of the season, after which he hung up his spikes. Interestingly, before he retired, he was the last former Brooklyn Dodger still playing.

In what might be one of the most infamous trades in Mets history, the team sent Nolan Ryan and 3 other players to the Angels in exchange for Jim Fregosi. Of course, hindsight is a funny thing. At the time, the Mets were only a few years removed from their World Championship and felt that they were only a few pieces from returning to glory. Fregosi was a perennial All-Star while Ryan was a young kid who threw hard but had tons of control issues. Of course, since this is the Mets, 1972 saw Jim hit .232 and slug just .344 while Nolan Ryan won 19 games with a 2.28 ERA and 329 strikeouts.

Wayne Garrett reclaimed the third base job in 1973, a position he would hold for the next 3 years. He had a bit of a better go-round this time, hitting .245 during those 3 years. He also hit 35 homers and drove in 145 during that span. He also apparently learned to rather stylishly match his batting glove to his hair.

The Mets promoted former first round draft pick Roy Staiger to the third base job in 1976. He… uh… played… third base that year… I guess. Oh wait! Here’s something. He led the League in Total Zone Runs as a Third Baseman with 15! Whatever that means! It’s also sort of cool that he shares his rookie card with Willie Randolph.

Owner of one of my favorite baseball cards of the 70’s, Mr. Len Randle, took over hot corner duties for the Metropolitans for 1977 and 1978. He had a pretty awesome 1977 season, hotting .304 on the year and scoring 78 runs. He also stole 33 bases. He cooled down considerably in ’78, dropping his average to .233 and only crossing the plate 53 times. He only managed 14 steals that year.

Before the 1979 season got underway, the Mets traded for Richie Hebner to man the hot corner. He actually filled in quite nicely, hitting .268 with 10 home runs and 79 RBI’s. Then, at the end of the season, the team moved him to the Tigers for Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales.

After spending the previous 2 seasons in a mostly utility role, Elliot Maddox started 110 games at third for the Mets in 1980, which was his final year in the Majors. He hit .246 with 4 homers and 34 runs batted in. He also led the league in getting hit by pitches that year. He was plunked 6 times (technically he was tied for first with Tim Foli, Pete Rose, Andre Dawson, Greg Luzinski and Dan Driessen, but who’s counting).

After getting a late season cup of coffee with the team in 1980, Hubie Brooks took over the majority of third base duties in 1981. He had a pretty nice year, too, putting up a .307/.345/.411 line. That was good enough to get him 3rd place in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Tim Raines and Fernando Valunzuela, who won the award. Hubie manned the hot corner through the 1984 season.

After the Mets traded Hubie Brooks to the Expos following the ’84 season, they sent Walt Terrell to Detroit in exchange for a young HoJo (I guess it’s more accurate to say it was in anticipation of that trade, since the Haji deal predated the Carter trade by 3 days). The switch-hitting Johnson split time with the righty Ray Knight, but HoJo got the most playing time. He hit .242 that year with 11 long balls and 46 runs batted in.

After struggling in his first full season with the Mets, Ray Knight had a huge resurgence in 1986, wresting the third base position from Howard Johnson. He hit .298 that year with 11 homers and 76 driven in. That all earned him the National League Comeback Player of the Year award. Although he didn’t do much in the playoffs, he also played a big part in the Mets World Championship, winning the Series MVP award. He hit .391 during the Series and drove in 5 runs.

Ray Knight became a free agency casualty after the ’86 season, which freed up third base for Howard Johnson again, a position he would hold for the next 7 seasons. He really came into his own during those years, hitting 30+ homers 3 times and 100+ RBI’s twice. He was also named to the All-Star team twice and won the Silver Slugger award twice. He also topped 30 steals 4 times during that span, being a three time member of the 30-30 Club.

The Mets were in a bit of a mess during much of the 90’s. After dismantling the championship team in the late 80’s, they seemed to rely more on pricy free agents and aging stars than trying to build young talent. Bobby Bonilla was a prime example of that. He had actually been with the team since 1992, but 1994 was the first year that he played primarily third base. He actually had a pretty decent year, hitting .290 with 20 homers and 67 RBI’s. Actually, looking at his numbers as a Met, Bobby Bo was quite a bit better than he gets credit for (at least by me). Over the course of 5 years in Queens, he put up a .270/.356/.495 stat line.

The Mets shipped Bonilla off to Baltimore at the trade deadline in 1995, clearing the position for rookie Edgardo Alfonzo. Despite only getting 57 starts at third, that was more that Bonilla’s 41, making Fonzie the Mets main third baseman that season. He had a pretty good year for a rookie, batting .278 and driving in 41. This will not be his only appearance in this post.

Although Jeff Kent was on the Mets since 1992, he had been primarily used as a second baseman. For whatever reason, the team decided to play Fonzie and Jose Vizcaino at second and move Kent to third. Ironically, both Kent and Vizcaino would get shipped to the Indians at the trade deadline. Wither way, in his 89 games with the Mets (all starts and all at third base) he hit .290 with 9 home runs and 45 runs scored.

By the way, I’ve never been a huge fan of the ’96 Topps design and that has a lot to do with things like this:

Fonzie was back at the hot corner for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. With more playing time came more production for Edgardo. In ’97, he hit .317 with 10 dingers and 72 driven in. In ’98, his average dropped to a mere .278 but his homers increased to 17 and his RBI’s to 78. He also scored 84 and 94 times during those years.

The Mets signed free agent Robin Ventura after the 1998 season. He was the Mets main third baseman during his 3 years with the team, with his best season coming in his first year. He had a career high .301 average in 1999 and hit 32 homers and drove in 120. That year he was also part of what’s been called “The Best Infield Ever”, along with John Olerud at first, Edgardo Alfonzo at second and Rey Ordonez at short. His average dropped down to the .230 range his remaining 2 years with the team, but he still hit 24 and 21 homers, respectively and drove in 84 and 61 runs.

Fonzie had his final go-round at third in 2002. He posted an excellent .308 average, but his production fell to 16 homers and 56 RBI’s. The drop off was mostly due to injuries, including a bad back.

Ty Wigginton played his only full season as a Met in 2003, starting 153 games at third. He put up a .255/.318/.396 stat line while hitting 11 homers and driving in 71. He also stole 12 bases. Unfortunately for him, the Mets had another guy down on the farm that would make any third base candidates a moot point, and that guy was chomping at the bit to come up. It’s kind of a shame, too. I really remember liking Ty quite a bit when he was a Met, and he also seems to kill the team whenever he faces them nowadays. He kills them to the tune of .316/.400/.568 with 5 homers and 27 RBI’s in 95 at-bats against them.

David Wright came to the Mets mid-way through the 2004 season and logged enough games to edge out Wigginton for most games started at third, a position that he’s held a rock solid grip on ever since. He was pretty awesome from the get-go, hitting .293 with 14 homers and 40 RBI’s in just 69 games in 2004. Since then, he’s pretty much rewritten the Mets record book single handedly. Should the Mets resign him (and they damn well better) I see no reason why he couldn’t conceivably own every Mets offensive record.

So that’s that. Over the course of 50+ years, 22 different players have called the hot corner home for the Mets. David Wright has played the most games with 1228 at the time of this writing. Howard Johnson is a distant second with 836. Picking the greatest third baseman in franchise history is pretty much a no brainer. David Wright would not only take that cake in my book, but I would say that he has got to be the greatest position player in franchise history as well. If the Mets can get their asses in gear and keep him in Queens for the remainder of his career, I would have to think that that title would be his for a long, long time to come.

Leave a Reply