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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Johnny Estrada has a 2008 New York Mets baseball card.

2008 Topps Heritage #378, to be specific — a set made in the fashion of the 1959 Topps cards, down to the goofy personal info. (Johnny has a juco degree in recreation, which apes old-style Topps cards perfectly in that it’s simultaneously ridiculous and made to sound slightly demeaning.) He gazes out from it, black bat held ready, in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform whose cap has been airbrushed into a perfectly plausible Met hat.

Desktop publishing has transformed such baseball-card trickery — in the old days Topps was infamous for obviously recolored caps and hand-drawn logos that crept across players’ hats like spiders, but now they’ll recast an action shot of a player without a second thought. What they can’t alter, however, is memory — we know perfectly well that Johnny Estrada isn’t a 2008 Met, however much we might be willing to entertain the notion, standing as we do at the dawn of the era of Raul Casanova or Robinson Cancel or Gustavo Molina. (I was surprised — and, oddly, a little disappointed — to find Gustavo isn’t, in fact, part of the seemingly inescapable Molina catching clan. Perhaps “molina” means “receiver” in some Spanish dialect, much the way someone named Cooper can bet he had an ancestor who made barrels. Or perhaps it will mean that one day.)

Anyway, Estrada’s in D.C. with the growing cast of vaguely affronted ex-Mets, destined to be remembered in these parts (absent some future, Molinaesque blow struck against us) as being the return on exiled Guillermo Mota and one of those oddball winter-only Mets, like Joe Randa. (Who, come to think of it, had a blow struck against us that was at least a minor Molina.) But Estrada will forever be a member of the 2008 Topps Heritage roster — and that makes him a throwback to a baseball-card era I thought had vanished.

Back in the day, Topps issued cards in series, giving kids a few weeks to collect 100 or so cards before the next series arrived. (Which is why the “high numbers” from old sets are the most expensive — they were the year’s tail-enders.) One consequence of that was that Topps would periodically anoint players who’d switched clubs as regulars (or at least roster-fillers) for their new teams, posing them hatless or inking them into new hats and tops as described above. Inevitably, some of those bets proved wrong. For a kid collecting that year, this was no big deal — he’d remember that oh yeah, Joe Shlabotnik got sent down to Stumptown before the team went north. But for someone like me, collecting years later, the presence of these players was baffling. Who were these unfamiliar names? Errors in a checklist? Real Mets I’d somehow forgotten about?

These Non-Mets shouldn’t be confused with other fringe members of the blue-and-orange cardboard tribes. They aren’t guys who played briefly for the Mets but never got a Met card (Don Zimmer, famously, wears his honest-to-goodness, unairbrushed Met hat on a 1962 card identifying him as a Cincinnati Red), cup-of-coffee guys who never got a big-league card (a long list that begins with Ray Daviault in 1962), or members of the infamous Lost Mets, those who never got a card of any kind. (Al Schmelz is the king of this little-surveyed hill.) Prospects don’t count — the likes of Bill Haas, Randy Bobb and Nelson Figueroa may never have got into a game as Mets, but their placement on part of a Met card was speculative from the get-go. (And Figueroa may yet make it — he’s the player in Port St. Lucie I’m rooting for most.) Nor are we discussing Phantom Mets — your Jerry Moseses and Mac Suzukis and Billy Cottons and Terrell Hansens who took up a roster spot and wore the uniform but never got into a game. (Randy Bobb’s one of those, too.)

The Non-Mets begin with Neil Chrisley in ’62. Chrisley was a basically useless outfielder the Mets acquired from the Milwaukee Braves in October 1961, one of those odd “purchased from/sold to” deals that seem to have vanished from the baseball landscape. His biggest claim to fame is that his first name was Barbra. That oddity would have made him a good fit as an Original Met, but the Mets had no use for him, and returned him to Milwaukee on April 2, 1962. He never played in the big leagues again, and stares out from ’62 Topps #308 like a man who’s baffled by the general proceedings. If I’d been saddled with the name Barbra, I’d probably feel the same way.

Next up, 1963′s Wynn Hawkins, a blonde Midwestern pitcher whose gigantic, faked Met logo appears to be sneaking off the front of his cap, possibly to conduct a secret mission or out of sheer embarrassment. (You can also tell Wynn wore No. 34 with the Indians — it’s on his sleeve in a location the Mets never put a uniform number.) Hawkins was another purchased player — he arrived from Cleveland around Thanksgiving, 1962. ’63 Topps #334 states that “Wynn is sure to see lots of duty with the Mets.” It also says that “Wynn is a great fan of motion pictures.” The latter is, presumably, the more accurate of these two statements.

Third on the list is Mike Joyce, whose suspicious expression and brush cut on ’64 Topps #477 suggest he’s got a hankering to beat up a member of the Beatles or some other longhair. Joyce was purchased from the White Sox on the final day of March in 1964, then optioned to Buffalo on April 13. (As Topps mentions in an addendum on the cardback, perhaps with vague disapproval.) Joyce never made it back downstate — as with Chrisley and Hawkins, his Met card serves as a gravestone for his baseball career.

1966 brought Ernie Bowman, a former Giants shortstop whose forehead still bears the line of a just-removed cap on ’66 Topps #302. The cardback states that “the hustling veteran is given a good shot at making the 1966 starting team,” then introduces an unfriendly note of doubt by following that with “Ernie is eager to resume his big league career.” This mixed message probably led a lot of young Met fans to scan his card, and note that in 205 big-league at-bats, Ernie Bowman had hit one homer, collected 10 RBIs and hit .190. You probably know this is coming by now, but there was never a 206th at-bat. Bowman, who’d arrived in September 1965 from the Braves along with Lou Klimchock in exchange for Billy Cowan, departed in October 1966 (again with Klimchock) in a trade to the Indians for someone named Floyd Weaver.

The next Non-Met was Dick Kenworthy, a pleasant-looking young man posing hatless in a White Sox uniform on ’68 Topps #63. Kenworthy is billed by Topps as a “flashy fielding infielder,” which of course meant that he couldn’t hit. He did, however, escape the Curse of the Non-Mets, racking up 122 at-bats in ’68, once again in a White Sox uniform. There’s a transactional mystery there — Topps says Kenworthy became a Met to complete a deal for Ken Boyer, and my copy of 1968′s Who’s Who in Baseball (complete with a receipt showing it was bought for 64 cents at Andan News in Huntsville, Ala.) reports that he was sold “conditionally” to the Mets on Oct. 17, 1967. Conditionally? Based on what? Being good? Liking St. Petersburg, Fla.? Laughing at Tug McGraw’s jokes? I’m not sure exactly how Kenworthy got back to the White Sox; I like to imagine being a Met didn’t agree with him, so he just wandered off one day and showed up back where he was still wanted.

Then, finally, there’s 1971′s Jerry Robertson. Robertson was an original Expo, and pitched 1.1 innings in their first game against the Mets — the 11-10 Opening Day Met loss that turned out to augur absolutely nothing about the close of 1969. The Tigers traded him to the Mets on March 30, 1971 in return for Dean Chance and Bill Denehy. (Denehy occupies a different place in baseball-card lore: He had the misfortune to share a rookie card with Tom Seaver.) ’71 Topps #651 offers little in the way of interesting info: We’re informed that Jerry had a fine year at Tulsa in 1968, which is like someone trying to brag on me by saying I was in great shape in 2005. One can’t help but note that Robertson looks decidedly morose on his card. Is it that he’s stuck wearing a completely blank hat? Or that he suspects he’s seen in his final day in the Show? Since both of these things are true, I suppose you can take your pick.

13 comments to Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

  • Anonymous

    …Bill Denehy, who occupies a different place in baseball-card lore for having the misfortune to share a rookie card with Tom Seaver.

    And as we all know, Mr. Denehy owns a larger piece of Mets lore than that…

  • Anonymous

    I made a trade — there may have even been coin involved — to acquire the Jerry Robertson card in sixth grade. Mind you, this was four springs after it came out. But when a classmate showed it off, I was fascinated. I'd never heard of Jerry Robertson, certainly not as a Met. Nobody had. His blank cap would have been a dead giveaway that something was awry except blank caps were not uncommon in those days. And of course the '71s had the maddening feature of not providing year-by-year stats, so he was a total mystery man to me.
    Kind of satisfying to know he's the last of his breed.

  • Anonymous

    Joe Randa… *shudder* The Human Pitchfork. That's a day I think we'd all like to forget, Jace. Please let's never speak of it again. (Have I mentioned how much more horrible it all was on a HUGE-A$$ SCREEN?)
    Can't alter memory indeed.

  • Anonymous

    Wounds either heal some or get misplaced because I saw that reference and thought of Humberto Cota and his night of a thousand stabs to the heart, not Opening Day in Cincinnati.
    Joe Randa…wow, that was every bit as horrible. I can confirm some wounds do not heal. And that if I ever seem slightly forgiving of Braden Looper, it means I have lost even more of my mind.

  • Anonymous

    I wish there was a baseball version of the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” thing (where we could selectively wipe certain things out, though). I'd be first in line.

  • Anonymous

    I've often wondered what it is about Jerry Moses that makes him a persistent footnote in Metsdom (here, ultimatemets.com, etc.). Perhaps we felt tricked by his 1975 yearbook profile, team photo and “Mets catchers” photo would have led you to believe that he'd still be a Met by the time the ink dried. (But then came Stearns, I figure.)
    A Mystical one indeed. baseball-reference.com listed him with an All Star (!) stamp, so I had to read on. It seemed that Moses was a Zelig-type figure; the human chameleon who was part of some notable trades featuring: Graig Nettles (could Moses have been the deciding factor in the deal that put Nettles in pinstripes and the Yank-me-s' subsequent reign in the '70s?), Vada Pinson, Jim Perry, Tony Conigliaro…even one of the greatest baseball names, Charlie Spikes. All of this of course, predated his imminent “purchased by … from …” doom in 1975.
    All that said, I want to perpetuate this myth:
    “Moses patted Tom Seaver on the back in the beginning of spring training '75 and said 'It's all good, Mr. Seaver' with his Mississippi drawl that hinted at a higher meaning, then looked up, then back into his catcher's mitt, glanced brefly at Seaver then slowly walked toward the bullpen to warm-up fellow recent acqusition Skip Lockwood, who was complaining of tightness in his shoulder. Hours later, Seaver said 'My sciatica! It's gone!' Where's Jerry? No, not Grote. The new guy. I want to thank him. And as we know, Seaver's '75 season would fetch him his next and last Cy Young Award.”
    Stay with me, it get's better.
    “M. Donald Grant, having heard of what is now termed the “Moses Miracle” along with the repeated requests from the ailing Mrs. Joan Payson and Casey Stengel to bring this Moses fellow to visit their respective bedside, knew he had to take drastic action. Knowing now that his pin-stuck Seaver, Payson and Stengel voodoo dolls were no match for “Miracle Moses” — and still reeling from the perennial popularity and subsequent syndication of “Bewitched” — Grant fetched his personal copy of 'The 1692 Puritan Book of Ethics' and began his 3-year quest to purge the Mets of Moses and all who practiced Witchcraft, i.e., took a liking to or benefited from Moses: most notably Staub, Kingman, and Seaver. Upon Moses departure, personal physicians for Mrs. Payson and Mr. Stengel reported that each took a turn for the worst.”
    I guess the moral of the story is something liek “With Moses goes hope”.

  • Anonymous

    I think I speak for everyone who ever lived by requesting that scans of these baseball cards be posted at once.
    The Mets were all about the “conditional deal” in the 1960s, especially under Weiss, who seemed incapable of paying full retail for anything (and who, it was said, always made money on his deals).
    No excuse for Topps to be rolling out the Estradas in this day and age.

  • Anonymous

    Tell ya what, J-E-B, I remember the thrill of Jerry (or Gerry) Moses being transactioned up to the Mets in April of '75, and yes I mean thrill. Moses was indeed a 1970 American League All-Star and anytime the Mets could get an All-Star, even an All-Star several years out of code, then you were darn tootin' I was excited.
    The '75 Mets burst from the gate chock full of guys who had established genuine credentials, stellar or noteworthy, elsewhere, including the Giants' Dave Kingman, the Cardinals' Joe Torre, the Pirates' Gene Clines and the Phillies' Del Unser. To top them off with onetime Red Sox All-Star Jerry/Gerry Moses? Geez, I thought, now we're getting somewhere.
    By the end of April he was gone without having caught a pitch, without having displayed the form that entitled him to back up Bill Freehan and Ray Fosse (in their futile catch-off versus Johnny Bench and Dick Dietz), without nearly enough time to tutor young John Stearns or support old Jerry Grote. I can't speak for the rest of Metsdom, but that's why the not-quiteness of Moses the Met nibbles at the fringes of my soul still.
    It's quite possible you think I'm being facetious. I am not.

  • Anonymous

    Gawd, they all look like such wannabes.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. One look at them and you know at once that they simply don't possess the inherent nobility and valor of a Bob Moorhead or a Don Bosch.
    What?

  • Anonymous

    Neil Chrisley looks like one of those guys who always seemed to play a baseball player in old movies… nearly always crusty, grumpy old dudes in their mid-40s.

  • Anonymous

    1975 was my coming of age year as a Mets fan, right at the point the pendulum or Mets-fortune swung back to near-triple-digit loss seasons and near empty stands @ Grant's Tomb (incidentally, my family moved from Queens to Lake Tahoe in '84 just as the pendulum reversed it's course). Everything had heightened meaning to me that year, especially yearbook and program content. Thanks for reassuring me that I was never alone in my '75 esoterica. Like the HFC commercials that accompanied many a night game on the radio in that era.
    As for Moses via your Freehan/Fosse reference, I'll pay closer attention to the '70 All Star Game segment when ESPN Classic runs its annual marathon this year. Most notably Fosse's replacement after the Rose run-in.
    As for Gerald Braheen Moses in general, long live the myth!