Mets Through the Years: Left Field
September 25th, 2012 by slangon

Man, time is getting short. The Mets have 9 games to go and I’ve got 3 positions left to do. Fingers, don’t fail me now.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the New York Mets, I’ve been looking at the primary players at each position throughout the teams history. We’ve already looked at the managers, Opening Day starting pitchers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops and third basemen, as well as all of the Mets’ All-Star representatives. Today, we’ll be looking into the players who’ve patrolled left field for the Metsies, in cardboard form, of course.

For the first 2 years of their existence, The Original Frank Thomas™ played left field for the New York Mets. Unlike a lot of the players who the Mets put on the field in their first couple of seasons, Frank Thomas was pretty damn good. He had some huge years with Pittsburgh in the 50’s and the 2 years he spent on the Mets were on par with those years, especially 1962. That season he blasted 34 homers and drove in 94 runs, easily the best on the team in both categories. Keep in mind that the Mets as a whole hit 139 homers and had 573 RBI’s that first year. That means Frank hit almost a quarter of the team’s home runs and drove in about 1/6th of their runs all by his lonesome.

George Altman took over in left in 1964. After Frank Thomas, George’s 9 homers and 47 RBI’s must’ve been something of a disappointment. Hell, even Frank’s .260-ish average eclipsed Altman’s .230 average during 1964.

The youngster Ron Swoboda played his second year of big league ball acting as the Mets left fielder. During his 1965 rookie campaign, Ron hit 19 dingers, driving in exactly 50 runners. 1966 saw him still drive in 50 guys, but he did it with only 8 homers. IN the field, he committed 2 errors in 136 chances.

Long time Dodger, former hit king and 2 time All-Star Tommy Davis took over in left for the 1967 season and, although he didn’t put up the kind of numbers he did during his tenure in Los Angeles (in 1962, he batted .346, hit 27 home runs and drove in 153, while scoring 120 runs), he was pretty damn good in his one year in Queens. He hit .302 while sending 16 balls over the fence and 73 men across the plate.

Cleon Jones took over in left field starting in 1968 and played the position through the 1971 season. He had mostly played center before this, but moved to left after the Mets acquired Tommie Agee. Cleon was a very good average hitter, batting .297, .340, .277 and .319 during this span. He didn’t hit many homers, but did have some pop in his bat, slugging in the mid to high .400’s. He also famously caught the final out of the 1969 World Series.

Although Cleon Jones still made 63 starts in left in 1972, he was platooned with the rookie John Milner, who got the majority of the starts, being that he hit lefty. His average left something to be desired at .238, but he did hit 17 home runs and drive in 38. This was good enough for him to end up 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Dave Rader and teammate Jon Matlack, who won the honor.

While platooning with Milner in left during the 1972 season, the Mets also tried playing him at first to keep his bat in the lineup. That didn’t work out very well as he ended up with 4 errors in just 20 games. He was back out in left field for the 1973 and 1974 seasons. Although his performance improved from the 1972 season, he fell out favor with the team after an arrest during extended spring training and several altercations with manager Yogi Berra, who gave the Mets a “him or me” ultimatum. The team released Cleon midway through the ’75 season, but also fired Yogi just a few weeks later.

The Mets bought Kong’s contract from the Giants before the ’75 season and he took over the left field job. In typical Kingman fashion, he had a low average and struck out a ton, but also hit 36 homers and drove in 88.

After spending a couple of seasons at first base, John Milner found his way back into left field in 1976. He had himself a pretty good year, hitting .271 with 15 home runs and 78 RBI’s. Of course, non of that mattered much since 1976 marked the beginning of a long, dark, downward spiral for the team.

When the Mets traded Dave Kingman halfway through the 1977 season, John Milner shifted back to first base and Steve Henderson took over in left, a position he would hold through the 1980 season. 1977 was his rookie year and he ended up second in R.O.Y. voting thanks to his .297/.372/.480 stat line. Future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson ended up with the trophy, but only by 1 vote. Ironically, Steve’s tenure in Queens ended after the 1980 season because he was traded to the Cubs for none other than the man who started this paragraph, Dave Kingman. During his 4 year career with the Mets, Henderson averaged a respectable .287.

Although he spent the majority of his time with the Mets in center field, Lee Mazzilli made the move to left in 1981 to accommodate the arrival of Mookie Wilson. It marked his worse statistical year since his cup of coffee season in 1976. He only hit .228 with 6 taters and 34 RBI’s. Compare that to his 1980 season when he batted .280 with 16 homers and 76 runs batted in. This was all due to him battling a back and elbow injury all season. The Mets shipped him to Texas after the ’81 season, which initially infuriated fans, until 2 of the pieces they got back, Ron Darling and Howard Johnson (they got Walt Terrell from the Rangers, who they flipped to Detroit for HoJo) ended up helping them to a World Series a few years later.

1982 saw the start of one of the most tumultuous player-fan relationships in the history of the franchise. Shortly before the start of the season, the Mets traded for the aging slugger, hoping to pump some power into their anemic lineup. Unfortunately, George never lived up to the kind of numbers he put up in Cincinnati, and the fans were not shy in reminding him of that. He also had an altercation with the upper management in the 1986 season, accusing them of being racist for continuing to play Lenny Dykstra in center even after Mookie Wilson was back from the DL. He was released shortly after, although whether it was because of his statements or because of his .227 batting average at the time is not known.

After Foster’s abrupt departure in 1986, the newly acquired Kevin McReynolds took over the number 7 position on your scorecard. He would hold down left for his entire tenure in New York, through the 1991 season. Although there was a slight decline towards the end of that run, he was mostly a very good, very consistent player. His average fluctuated between .258 and .288. He generally hit 20+ homers (except for his final year when he only slugged 16) and drove in 80 or 90 runs. His finest year in blue and orange came in 1988 when he batted .266 with 27 home runs and 99 RBI’s. He was 3rd in MVP voting that year, although most folks acknowledge that the fact that Strawberry had an MVP caliber year that season took some votes from McReynolds and vise-versa. (Which is not at all meant to imply that Kirk Gibson didn’t deserve it.)

Following the 1991 season, the Mets shipped McReynolds to Kansas City as part of the deal that brought Bret Saberhagen to Queens. Daryl Boston, who had been with the team since 1990, stepped up to fill in at left for the 1992 season. Defensively, he was great, making only 1 error all season. Offensively, he was a far cry from the output that McReynolds had, but wasn’t the absolute worst. He hit .249 with 11 long balls and 35 rib-eye steaks.

The team picked up Vincent Van Go in hopes of adding some speed to the lineup in 1991. In typical Mets fashion, Vince went from averaging 91.5 steals per year with the Cardinals to averaging 33 steals with New York. 1993 was his last year in New York and the only one where he was the main left fielder and probably his finest statistical season with the Mets. He hit .279 with 38 steals and 64 runs scored. His tenure with the team was fraught with suspensions and clubhouse clashes, culminating with getting suspended for throwing firecrackers into a crowd waiting for autographs. After the season, they traded him to Kansas City straight up for…

After 2 not-so-great years in Kansas City, McReynolds returned to New York to play left field for the Mets. Despite only making 46 starts, that was enough for him to be called the “main” left fielder. Sadly, his .256 average, 4 homers and 21 RBI’s do not compare favorably with what he did during his first go-round.

“Jersey” Joe Orsulak took over the job for the 1995 season, mostly because there wasn’t any better choice. I kid. I kid. But seriously, he did ok. Put up a .283 average. Only hit 1 home run, but did drive in 37. He was granted free agency after the season. By the way, does anyone else think that’s a funny way to phrase it? I mean, you’re pretty much getting fired, right? The team does not require your services any more. Does it not hurt so much when you make it sound like their allowing you to go to another team? Like it’s not you, it’s the team.

After they broke up with Joe Orsulak, the Mets immediately bedded down with Bernard Gilkey for the next 2 seasons. Although he had never shown outstanding power (prior to coming to New York, he only hit double digit homers twice, 16 in 1993 and 17 in 1995), his first year in Queens was pretty damn good. He batted to the tune of .317 with 30 homers and 117 driven in. He ended up in the Top 20 in MVP voting despite being on a team that finished the year 20 games below .500.

Rickey Henderson came to the Mets in 1999, and I remember being super excited about it at the time. I’ve always been more excited about players who are of the speedy variety rather than the power guys (although I do enjoy me a good old long ball), so hearing that the speediest of speedsters was coming to the Mets made my day. I mean, in 1998, he led the league with 66 steals. And he was 39 at the time. He didn’t put up 66 steals in ’99, but he did have an awesome year. He averaged .315, swiped 37 bases and scored 89 runs. He also hit 12 homers and drove in 41, out of the leadoff spot. He also hit .400 with 6 steals in the NLDS. Then came that whole card game thing and next thing you know, Rickey was gone. {sniff}

Benny Agbayani took aver left field after the Mets released Rickey Henderson. He mostly served as a 4th outfielder in 1999, and this was his first season as a starter. He started it off with a bang, too, hitting an 11th inning grand slam off of the Cubs’ Danny Young at the Tokyo Dome in the second game of the season. He finished 2000 with a respectable showing, hitting .289 with 15 homers and 60 runs batted in. His production slipped a bit in 2001 to .277 with only 6 homers and 27 driven in. He was shipped off to Colorado following the 2001 season.

Roger Cedeno took over left field duties for the 2002 season. This was actually his second stint with the team. He was part of the ’99 Mets and had a great year. He batted .313 with a .396 OBP. He also stole 66 bases and scored 90 times. This time around wasn’t so good, though. He hit .260 and only scored 65 times with 25 steals. He stayed with the team in 2003 but was moved to right field to make room for…

I’m not 100% why, but Cliff Floyd is one of my all-time favorite Mets. I think he’s one of those players that you end up liking more for their personality than their production. That’s not to say his production was bad. During his 4 seasons with the Mets, he averaged .268, hit 81 homers and drove in 278 runs. He also tore it up against the Dodgers in the 2006 NLDS, when he put up a .444/.500/.778 stat line. Unfortunately by that time, his his body was also pretty tore up and he only had 3 at-bats in the NLCS and did not collect a hit.

By some divine miracle, Moises Alou was actually able to make 84 starts in left field for the Mets in 2007. As Keith Hernandez put it, you could wake Moises up at 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, give him a bat and he’d probably lace a double. During his only “full” season with the Mets (I put full in quotes because even though he made 84 starts, he only had 360 at-bats), he hit a sweet .341 with a .524 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, injuries limited his time in a Mets uniform to this single season.

The injuries to Alou were frustrating and sad, but the silver lining is that we got to see Endy Chavez play a full season as a starter. Although the .267/.308/.330 stat line that he put up in 2008 was not all that great, it didn’t matter. He made The Catch™, dammit.

Gary Sheffield signed as a free agent with the Mets just before the 2009 season got underway. Although he only made 44 starts in left, those 44 starts were enough to vault him ahead of the 7 other guys who made starts in left that year (remember when the plan was to turn Daniel Murphy into the everyday left fielder?). Although he wasn’t anywhere near his former self, somehow his .276 average, 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s didn’t seem so bad on the 2009 Mets. Also, his first homer as a Met was his 500th, so that was cool. Right?

Rounding out our trip down left field memory lane is this guy. Jason Bay. I don’t even really know what to say about him at this point. Here’s the guy who was supposed to be a key part of a powerful Mets line up. Here’s a guy who’s won a Silver Slugger and who was a Rookie of the Year. He’s a guy who’s hit over 20 homers every year since his rookie year. Here’s a guy who’s driven in 100 or more 4 times. You know how many homers he’s hit for the Mets? 26. In 3 years. You know what his batting average is on the season right now? .155. You know how many guys on the team right now have a lower average than him? 15. You know how many of them are pitchers? 15. Hell, 9 of them don’t officially have an average because they haven’t had an at-bat this year. I have no idea what the hell happened to him. You can’t really get mad at him. He plays his ass off and leaves it all on the field. He’s just not getting it done. I don’t even know. How do you just seemingly forget how to hit? Sad.

Now for the recap. Over the course of the past 50 years, 24 men have held the title of Mets Main Left Fielder. Cleon Jones has played the most games at the position with an even 800. Unlike most of the other positions, I’m finding it a bit tricky trying to name who I think is the greatest Mets left fielder. Most of the other positions there was usually one or two very clear-cut choices who’ve stood head and shoulders above the rest. Left field seems to be one of those spots on the roster where the Mets have never really had an outstanding player. Frank Thomas was arguably the best hitter his team, but he was only here for 2 years and those teams were terrible. Cleon Jones played the most games at the position and he did have some great years, but he also had some really down years. Kevin McReynolds had some great years, but is 4 seasons enough? I personally really liked Cliff Floyd, but like I said, I think I like him more for his personality than his production. I think I would have to really come down to McReynolds or Cleon. I think in the end, I would need to give it to Cleon, mostly because he won a World Series with the team. It also helps in my mind that he came up through the system, although that’s not necessarily a priority. Also, the image of him down on one knee, squeezing that last out off the bat of Davey Johnson is an image that’s probably burned in every Mets fan memory, regardless of whether, like me, they weren’t even alive at the time.

One Response to “Mets Through the Years: Left Field”

  1. The Mets fan in me and the Canadian in me really thinks Jason Bay can turn things around and go off on an incredible run in ’13. I just wish I didn’t feel like Linus waiting out in the pumpkin patch for it to happen.

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