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Now About That Franchise Hit Record…

Posted By Greg Prince On September 9, 2009 @ 1:32 pm In Main Page | Comments Disabled

There’s a lot of talk going around about all-time franchise records for hits. I assume this has something to do with the eternal appreciation fans and media have for true legends of the game [1]. Given that the subject is in the air, I thought it would be fun (my kind of fun, at any rate) to explore how the vaunted Met record for most hits in a career came to be.

The first Met to hold the all-time franchise record for hits was Gus Bell. He produced the first Met hit ever, a one-out single to center off Cardinal starter Larry Jackson in the top of the second inning on April 11, 1962. Never mind that the Mets were already down 2-0 in the first game they’d ever play. We had a record-holder, and his name was Gus Bell.

In short order, Bell would be joined by Don Zimmer, Richie Ashburn, Charlie Neal and finally, via the first home run in Met history, Gil Hodges. Five men had one hit apiece. We had our first Top Five.

Such a tie could not stand. When Neal homered in the fifth to pull the Mets to within 5-3, he became the all-time hit record holder in Met history. When he singled in the seventh, Charlie had accumulated three times as many hits as any other player the Mets had ever had.

If Charlie Neal had kept it up, he would have set quite the standard. But he didn’t. By the fifth game of the 1962 season, Neal ceded the hit record to Felix Mantilla, the first man to gather 5 hits as a Met. By the seventh game, Frank Thomas took sole possession of the team record with 7 hits. Mantilla would retake leadership in the tenth game when he notched his 11th hit. Thomas took it right back in the thirteenth game when he surged to 15 hits. Come the 14th game the 2-12 Mets ever played, your franchise hit leaders were:

1. Frank Thomas – 18

2. Charlie Neal – 14

3. Felix Mantilla – 13

4. Richie Ashburn – 9

When that first exciting season of 40-120 Mets baseball ended, your franchise hit leaders were exactly the same:

1. Frank Thomas – 152

2. Charlie Neal – 132

3. Felix Mantilla – 128

4. Richie Ashburn – 119

Fifth place belonged to a slow starter from ’62, Jim Hickman, who had 96. His future was brighter than that of Mantilla (traded to Boston in the offseason for Pumpsie Green, Tracy Stallard and Al Moran) and Ashburn (retired after completing a Hall of Fame career). With Neal cooling off, Hickman surged into second place on the Mets’ all-time hit list in 1963, standing behind only Thomas, who ruled the chart by a fair margin. Neal, in third, was being pushed by rookie sensation Ron Hunt and supersub Rod Kanehl. Here were your Top Five Hit Men in Mets history after two seasons:

1. Frank Thomas – 261

2. Jim Hickman – 209

3. Charlie Neal – 189

4. Ron Hunt – 145

5. Rod Kanehl – 133

Change permeated 1964, evidenced not just by the franchise’s shift to Shea Stadium, but with its August trade of Thomas to the pennant-contending Phillies (for Wayne Graham, Gary Kroll and cash). When the Big Donkey left New York, he was the franchise hit king at 311. His record was ripe for shattering, and on October 1, in Milwaukee, Hickman took a bat to the damn thing and broke it in 312 pieces when he doubled off Denny Lemaster to ignite a two-out third-inning rally. When the season ended a few days later, here’s how the Top Five Hit Collectors in Mets history stacked up:

1. Jim Hickman – 314

2. Frank Thomas – 311

3. Ron Hunt – 289

4. Joe Christopher – 196

5. Rod Kanehl – 192

Hickman pressed his advantage and held off Hunt to maintain leadership through 1965. Joe Christopher solidified his place as ell. But the real news was unfolding at the bottom of the Top Five Hit Makers countdown:

1. Jim Hickman – 401

2. Ron Hunt – 336

3. Frank Thomas – 311

4. Joe Christopher – 305

5. Ed Kranepool – 299

No question about it, Kranepool — whose first hit was an eighth-inning double off the Cubs’ Don Elston at the Polo Grounds on September 23, 1962 — was moving up the ranks. And to examine the Top Five Hit Masters after 1966 was to infer the not-quite 22-year-old first baseman/outfielder was a young man on the rise.

1. Jim Hickman – 439

2. Ron Hunt – 427

3. Ed Kranepool – 417

4. Frank Thomas – 311

5. Joe Christopher – 305

The inevitable became a reality on May 16, 1967 when Eddie singled off the Braves’ Wade Blasingame in the fourth inning in Atlanta, giving him the 440th hit of his career. His lead over the rest of the Top Five Hitting Magicians in Mets history (none of them still with the club after ’66) would only grow as the season wound on:

1. Ed Kranepool – 543

2. Jim Hickman – 439

3. Ron Hunt – 427

4. Frank Thomas – 311

5. Joe Christopher – 305

Knowing what you probably know about Ed Kranepool, you probably figure the rest of the story is all denouement, merely maintenance en route to a lengthy proprietorship of posterity. But to observe the action among the Top Five Met Hit Creators following the 1968 season was to note something was bubbling up under the Krane.

1. Ed Kranepool – 629

2. Jim Hickman – 439

3. Ron Hunt – 427

4. Ron Swoboda – 402

5. Cleon Jones – 401

New blood! Keeping pace with Kranepool would be at least two other homegrown Mets: 23-year-old Ron Swoboda and 24-year-old Cleon Jones. Swoboda made his debut off an impressive Spring Training in 1965. Jones grabbed sips of coffee in ’63 and ’65 before planting himself at the major league lunch counter for good in ’66. Like Ed, Ron and Cleon had room to run. They weren’t the only rapidly maturing Mets who would be stretching their legs in 1969. Check out the post-miracle edition of the Top Five Hit Champs:

1. Ed Kranepool – 713

2. Cleon Jones – 565

3. Ron Swoboda – 479

4. Bud Harrelson – 349

5. Jerry Grote – 348

As the Mets entered the ’70s, every member of their Top Five was returning from the previous season for the first time since 1963. More significantly, every one of them was reaching the prime of his career as a World Champion Met. Well, maybe one of them was slowing up a bit despite ending 1970 shy of his 27th birthday. As the confetti completely faded from view, here were the Top Five Hit Celebrants in Met history:

1. Ed Kranepool – 721

2. Cleon Jones – 705

3. Ron Swoboda – 536

4. Bud Harrelson – 486

5. Jerry Grote – 454

Hey, it’s getting pretty close there at the upper echelons, ain’t it? Indeed, Ed Kranepool fell out of official favor at Shea in 1970 and was sent down to Tidewater to relearn his craft. Come 1971, it was fair to wonder whether he was already over the hill (as the banners liked to query all along). Cleon, meanwhile, went about posting his third excellent season in the last four. It all led to a changing of the guard on May 25, 1971, when Jones doubled off Ken Reynolds of the Phillies at Shea, for the 750th hit of his career, all as a Met, surpassing Kranepool’s total of 749.

And that was that…until June 11, 1971, when — with Cleon sidelined — Eddie went on a tear that included a fifth-inning single off Steve Stone of the Giants at Shea. That was the 763rd hit of Kranepool’s career, allowing him to retake the franchise record from the idle Jones.

And that was that…until…well, it was quite a horse race, actually.

• On July 7, 1971, Ed Kranepool and Cleon Jones entered the Mets’ home game against the Expos with 782 hits apiece. In the bottom of the seventh, Cleon singled off Carl Morton for the 783rd hit of his career. We have a leader!

• In the very next inning, Eddie doubled off Mike Marshall, driving in two runs (Cleon’s best friend Tommie Agee was out at the plate) to give him the 783rd hit of his career. We have a tie!

• Leading off the inning after that, Cleon singled off Marshall, making it Jones 784, Kranepool 783.

• Three days later, June 10, Kranepool would single off the Reds’ Wayne Simpson in Cincinnati to make it Jones 784, Kranepool 784.

• The day after, however, in the opener of a Sunday doubleheader at Riverfront, Cleon reached Gary Nolan for a fourth-inning single, and followed it up with two more hits to put the internal competition at Jones 787, Kranepool 784.

Then baseball took itself an All-Star break, presumably because it needed a breather from all this gripping tension. When the sport resumed, Cleon Jones continued to put distance between himself and Ed Kranepool, so much so that by the end of 1971, the Top Five Mets Manufacturers of Hits were assembled as such:

1. Cleon Jones – 866

2. Ed Kranepool – 839

3. Bud Harrelson – 624

4. Jerry Grote – 563

5. Ron Swoboda – 536

5. Tommie Agee – 536

1972 would be a strange year in the annals of Met hitting. A few games shy of a full loaf thanks to an early-season players’ strike, no Met would manage as many as 100 hits across the 156 contests played. There was general offensive ineptitude along with a lot of injuries (if you can imagine something like that would stifle a team’s offense). The Met who came closest to the century mark, Agee (who compiled 96 hits in ’72), moved up the all-time Top Five Safety Squadron:

1. Cleon Jones – 958

2. Ed Kranepool – 927

3. Bud Harrelson – 714

4. Tommie Agee – 632

5. Jerry Grote – 606

Agee would be gone before 1973 began (traded to Houston for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris; nice move), allowing a relatively healthy Jerry Grote to retake fourth place as another miracle was generated by four of the Top Five Hit Producers:

1. Cleon Jones – 1,046

2. Ed Kranepool – 995

3. Bud Harrelson – 846

4. Jerry Grote – 673

5. Tommie Agee – 632

No changes on the list in 1974, the year Ed Kranepool remade himself as one of baseball’s premier pinch-hitters. Here are the Top Five Hit Achievers the year after believing went pretty far:

1. Cleon Jones – 1,176

2. Ed Kranepool – 1,060

3. Bud Harrelson – 891

4. Jerry Grote – 755

5. Tommie Agee – 632

Just when you think you detect a trend, something happens — namely the end of Cleon Jones’ Mets career. It wasn’t pretty, involving as it did the acquisition of Dave Kingman; a lengthy stay in St. Petersburg to rehabilitate a surgically repaired knee; an arrest in a van in the company of a woman not his wife; a forced apology courtesy of the magnanimous M. Donald Grant; and a deteriorated relationship with manager Yogi Berra. On July 4, 1975, Cleon Jones pinch-hit a ninth-inning single off Tug McGraw of all people in Philadelphia. It was the 1,188th and final hit of his Met career. After refusing to enter a game as a defensive replacement a couple of weeks later, Jones would be released. At the time of his final hit, he led Ed Kranepool — hitting better in ’75 than at any time since he was the pride of James Monroe High School — by 75 hits. Here’s how the Top Five Hit Parade came to attention at year’s end:

1. Cleon Jones – 1,188

2. Ed Kranepool – 1,165

3. Bud Harrelson – 907

4. Jerry Grote – 869

5. Tommie Agee – 632

With Cleon taking one last shot at baseball with Bill Veeck’s shorts-sporting White Sox, Eddie had the Met field to himself in 1976. Thus it came to pass on May 4 — one year to the day Jones was hauled in by the St. Pete cops — Ed Kranepool, a Met in every season they had ever played, doubled off Pat Zachry in the bottom of the fifth (Zachry was on in relief; Tom Seaver was pitching for the Mets) for career hit No. 1,188 to tie Cleon Jones’ club mark. In the bottom of the seventh, Eddie singled home Felix Millan for career hit No. 1,189 to own the record once and, as the past 33 years have indicated, for all. Through 1976, the Top Five Mets as ranked by career hits as Mets:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,286

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Bud Harrelson – 991

4. Jerry Grote – 957

5. Wayne Garrett – 667

We know the topline result here, but let’s follow this through to the end of Eddie Kranepool’s career, because a certain poignancy develops in the Top Five as it appears after 1977:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,382

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Bud Harrelson – 1,029

4. Jerry Grote – 994

5. Felix Millan – 743

Multiple generations know 1977 was the end of Tom Seaver’s first term as a Met. Dave Kingman’s concomitant passing from our scene is inextricably linked to Seaver’s since they occurred on the same horrible night. What is probably not much remembered is that was also, sadly, the season that three stalwarts of the Mets’ first two pennant-winners ended their stays in Flushing. It was the end of Buddy Harrelson, Jerry Grote and Felix Millan almost all at once (with Garrett having gone the previous July). That makes the Top Five hit chart for 1978 a little staid except for Steady Eddie’s ever-increasing total:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,382

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Bud Harrelson – 1,029

4. Jerry Grote – 994

5. Felix Millan – 743

The first of the champion Mets to arrive would be the last to depart (at least in terms of uninterrupted service to the organization). On September 30, 1979, seventeen years and a week since his first hit, Ed Kranepool, batting for John Pacella, doubled to right field off the Cardinals’ Bob Forsch at Busch Stadium to lead off the seventh inning. Manager Joe Torre replaced him with pinch-runner Gil Flores. And that was all she wrote for the all-time Met franchise leader in base hits, Edward Emil Kranepool:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,418

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Bud Harrelson – 1,029

4. Jerry Grote – 994

5. Felix Millan – 743

That number, 1,418, is legendary in Met circles for several reasons: It is our hit record; it has been our hit record for three decades as of this month; and it is one of the lowest franchise hit records in baseball (only the Diamondbacks, the Rays and the Marlins — held by Luis Castillo! — have lower career bests, and they’ve been around far few years than the Mets). The Mets have sent some objectively much better players out there since the days of Ed Kranepool, but nobody’s hung around long enough to top him. Endurance isn’t as easy as it looks. Ed Kranepool, who had the most hits of any Met in an individual season exactly once, in 1965, sure as hell endured.

You didn’t think they called him Steady Eddie only because it rhymed, didja?

It’s also worth noting that the four guys behind him hung in there as well. Perhaps it’s indicative of what little talent was around to succeed them, but nobody touched the hit totals of Jones, Harrelson, Grote or Millan either for a very long time. That Top Five established at the end of 1979 remained the very same Top Five for the Mets through 1985. Mookie Wilson edged past Millan in ’86 and would eventually hit his way past Harrelson and Grote, leaving for Toronto in 1989 in third place, with 1,112 hits to his credit. Jerry Grote would give way to Darryl Strawberry in 1990, as Straw passed both the best defensive catcher the Mets ever had and a thousand hits. Before Darryl decided he loved L.A., he saw to it that for the first time, the New York Mets would be able to claim five players with hit totals in four digits:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,418

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Mookie Wilson – 1,061

4. Bud Harrelson – 1,029

5. Darryl Strawberry – 1,025

And that would be the Top Five Hit Leaders in Mets history from the end of 1990 clear into 2002 when Edgardo Alfonzo swung his way toward a whole new level of Met immortality:

1. Ed Kranepool – 1,418

2. Cleon Jones – 1,188

3. Edgardo Alfonzo – 1,136

4. Mookie Wilson – 1,061

5. Bud Harrelson – 1,029

Fonzie’s last Met hit came September 27, 2002. Nothing about the Top Five has changed since. Mike Piazza (1,028) finished up just ahead of Darryl Strawberry, one Met hit shy of Buddy Harrelson. Harrelson was a Met many more seasons than Piazza, but there’s something both beautiful and disturbing about their juxtaposition on this particular hit list. Poor Mike. If only he had tried a little harder, he could have been as good as Buddy. Jerry Grote is still in ninth place; Howard Johnson beat him out for eighth by a mere three safeties (997) — and they both came achingly close to a thousand. The smart money surely would have said both of them, along with Straw, Mike and Buddy — plus Mookie had all gone to plan — would have been taken down by Jose Reyes this season. Reyes entered 2009 in eleventh place, passed Keith Hernandez (939) early and seemed headed well up the chart. At age 26, how could he not be the odds-on favorite to finally overtake Eddie?

Sometimes money isn’t as smart as you’d think. Who knew Jose’s last hit would come on May 19 and that he’d be stuck on 960 for months on end? Who would have guessed he wouldn’t even be in the Top Ten by now? David Wright passed his disabled teammate last Thursday in Colorado. A hellacious closing kick could send Wright, now with 963 career hits, hurtling past Grote before this season ends. Then there’s always next year and hopefully good health for both of our former wunderkinder, with concussions curbed and hamstrings healed and David and Jose conducting a long-term tango for Met hit leadership that would make The Eddie and Cleon Show from 1971 look like a passing fancy.

Which I suppose it was.

***

If the genesis of the Met hit record is the kind of thing that fascinates you — or you just like baseball, baseball talk, pizza and beer — join Mets By The Numbers [2]‘ Jon Springer and me for the final AMAZIN’ TUESDAY of the season, 7:00 P.M., September 15 at Two Boots Tavern [3] on the Lower East Side. Our guests will include The Bad Guys Won author Jeff Pearlman [4], Metstradamus [5] mastermind John Coppinger and, live from Atlanta, however many guys the Mets can suit up to play the Braves. Come on down and hang with us for what may very well be the last good night you’ll enjoy in the 2009 baseball season.


Article printed from Faith and Fear in Flushing: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com

URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2009/09/09/now-about-that-franchise-hit-record/

URLs in this post:

[1] true legends of the game: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/sports/baseball/09mets.html

[2] Mets By The Numbers: http://mbtn.net/

[3] Two Boots Tavern: http://www.twoboots.com/TW2008/Les08/Les08.html

[4] Jeff Pearlman: http://jeffpearlman.com/

[5] Metstradamus: http://metstradamus.blogspot.com/

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