Sunday, December 13, 2015

1971 New York Mets (3rd T): 83-79, .512, 14GB

The Amazin's season ended in July (8-20).  They started the month 2 games out of first and ended it 11 games back.  With the Pirates firing on all cylinders New York never had a chance to get back in it.  Despite injuries to Jerry Koosman (only 24 starts) and Ray Sadecki (20 starts) the Mets still had the #1 staff in the league, which featured a 2.99 ERA.  "The Franchise", Tom Seaver (21-10, 1.76) was at the height of his powers.  Seaver somehow lost out to Fergie Jenkins in the Cy Young award voting, even though his ERA was 1 full point lower and he bested Jenkins in every pitching category.  Folks in NY considered this highway robbery.  Seaver would be victimized again like this 10 years later, but that's a story for another blog.  With Kooz and Sadecki missing time two fireballers from Texas, Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan picked up the slack.  The former was looked on by the franchise as a keeper, while the latter was viewed as inconsistent and moody.  Sadly this would mark the final season in Flushing for Ryan, who would be traded at season's end and go on to a HOF career.  Gentry would soon develop arm trouble and wind up out of baseball.  So go the breaks of this fickle game.  The pen was outstanding with Danny Frisella (1.99) and Tug McGraw (1.70) combining for over 200 innings and 20 saves.  So what went wrong here ?  Simple:  Same ole' Mets anemic offense.  As baseball moved further away from the pitching dominant 60's, offenses began to resurrect themselves.  The Mets, who's offense was actually middle of the road, were unable to compete with the bats that came alive in Pittsburgh, who were poised to dominate the division for the next few years.  Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones and Tommy Agee all had decent offensive seasons.  Each tied for the team lead with 14 homers, which tells you that this team had to scratch for runs since the long ball was not a consistent option.  The injury bug also hit these three causing them all to miss 20-35 games each.  Their replacements were not up to the task.  Youngsters like Ken Singleton (.245-13-46) were just not ready for the bright lights of the big city.  The fielding was rock solid.  Buddy Harrelson won a gold glove at short and Agee, who won the 1970 GG, was still near the top of his game in center.  With all the injuries and a July to forget Met fans still led the league is supporting their team.  Almost 2.5 million fans came through the turnstiles in 1971 as the Mets led the league in fan support.

I created 13 cards to round out this set.  All photos were supplied by Jeff D, unless otherwise noted.

Aspro was another in a long line of forgettable pros who came to New York to become the Mets regular 3rd baseman, only to fail miserably.  In 104 games he hit a miserable .225 with just 5 homers.  At the conclusion of the season he chose to retire   Brooklyn born and raised, Aspro is the answer to a trivia question:  Who was the last Brooklyn Dodger to retire ?  Of course he got just one AB in Brooklyn as and 18 year old back in 1956, but he's still the answer to that question.  I'm sure he wished his time with the Mets, in his hometown went better.  I found this photo on an ebay auction.
His original card was had the horizontal (landscape) layout, so for this project we needed to give him a vertical card to match the rest of the team.  Buddy was an anchor at shortstop for the Mets for over a decade and was finally recognized for his talents in 1971 by winning the gold glove award.  Never a big hitter, Buddy still managed to chip in with a solid .252 and 13 sacrifice bunts.
Capra was a late season call up that saw limited action (3 games) and no success (0-1, 8.44).  He would struggle to crack the Mets rotation over the next 2 years (who wouldn't have ?) and was sold to Atlanta where he had a HUGE breakout season in 1974.  Arm trouble hit him after that season and within a few years he was gone from baseball.
Williams lone season in Flushing saw him log 90 innings out of the pen in a sort of mop up long man role.  His claim to fame in Met lore would come the following season when he was sent to San Fran in a sentimental trade that brought Willie Mays back home to New York.  To go one better he served up Willie's game winning homer in his first game back.  For that feat alone Williams is fondly remembered by Mets' fans.
With Agee and Jones injured Hahn logged a lot of time as the Mets 4th outfielder.  Always a rock solid glove man Hahn hit his customary .236.  New York smartly brought him in during the off season in exchange for Ron Swoboda, who's skills were eroding fast.  Hahn would spend 4 seasons in Flushing before moving on to Philly, St. Louis and San Diego.
Rose would pitch just 2 innings for the Amazin's in 1971.  In fact it probably took me longer to track down a photo to use for his card :).  He would get a chance the following year with the Angels after being added to the Ryan-Fregosi deal.  I found this photo on Google.
Estrada played one game in the majors, and that was with the 1971 Mets.  He would go 1 for 2 and finish his career with a lofty .500 batting average.  The 23 year old Mexican would return home to his native country and play an incredible 26 seasons.  His career minor league numbers weren't terrible, but returning to your native country and logging a long and incredible career is flat out amazing.
"The Hammer, got his first taste of the biggs thanks to his more senior teammates being injured.  Milner was rushed up and hit just .167 in 18 AB's.  1972 would be his breakout season as he became a regular in the lineup and finish 3rd in the NL ROY voting.  Milner played 7 solid seasons for the Mets and was a fan favorite.  When he was dealt to Pittsburgh no one was happy, except him since he was able to get a World Series ring in 1979.
The 21 year old Matlack just wasn't quite ready for the big time in '71.  In 7 games (6 starts) he was 0-3 with a 4.14 ERA.  1972, however was to be his year.  The tall lefty finished 15-10, 2.32, en route to winning the 1972 NL ROY.  In his 7 seasons in Flushing he would post the best ERA for a starter EVER at Shea Stadium, but he never received any run support.  His Met career record was barely over .500 (82-81), but his ERA was 3.03.  After a disappointing '77 season he was dealt to Texas where he had some solid seasons before developing arm trouble and retiring in 1984.
Stanton, who hit just .190 in limited action, never was able to crack the Mets lineup or impress the team's brass, so he was a "throw in" part in the big offseason Ryan deal.  A change of teams and coasts did him well as he turned into a serviceable every day outfielder for both the Angels and expansion Mariners.
Martinez, who hit .288, was an irreplaceable utility guy who filled in whenever Harrelson or Boswell (2B) went down.  Flushing fans really loved Teddy, who could play any position on the diamond.  Martinez moved around the league after leaving New York and eventually settled into a neat utility role for the pennant winning Dodger teams of the late 70's.
With Bud Harrelson firmly entrenched at short there was really no place for Foli to go.  The Mets tried to use Foli at 3rd and in the outfield as the injuries piled up, but the youngster was frustrated plus he didn't hit enough to man those spots.  At seasons end he would be dealt to Montreal in the Rusty Staub trade where he would flourish into an every day shortstop for the better part of his 16 year career.  He would make a return trip to the Mets in 1978, then get dealt to the Pirates just in time to win a World Series ring with them along with old teammate John Milner.  I found this photo on an ebay auction
Agee was a huge fan favorite in Flushing.  Those two World Series catches in 1969 cemented his legend in NY lore.  Injuries began to take their toll on his legs as he missed almost 50 games in 1971.  Still he hit .285 with 14 homers.  If he stays healthy there is no doubt this team contends.  Originally he had a horizontal card, so I searched high and low for a quality photo to use for this card.  I loved this picture, because it shows him showing off his 1970 Gold Glove and it was taken in 1971.  The original photo was B&W, so I colorized this one.  Agee was always one of my favorites and I'm glad I was given an autographed cap and picture of his, before he passed away so young.

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