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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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Promises, Promises

There are no guarantees in baseball (just as there are no “slam dunks” or “no-brainers”), but I guess you can make a promise. Sick kids have been known to return to good health on promises of home runs hit in their name — not just in the movies and Felix Unger-produced radio serials, either — and at least one free agent outfielder signed on the dotted line after he was made a promise…and, y’know, offered $7.25 million.

It stuck out among the offseason platitudes I was jotting down at the Mets’ holiday party when Sandy Alderson mentioned that “we promised Chris Young some at-bats.” I’ve heard him say it in other venues, too. I wondered how that would work and what that meant exactly. What is “some”? How many ABs fulfills what was “promised”? Does an April average of .200, which is what CY2 batted as an Athletic for all of last year, render the promise null and void? And though it may be just baseball semantics, it’s a little intriguing that the general manager of the ballclub that stresses hitters working counts and values walks as much as hits doesn’t say “we promised Chris Young some plate appearances” instead.

Of course Young could come out smoking like a Seventh Avenue office worker on a mid-morning break and nobody would have to be reminded to keep any playing-time promises because he’d never be removed from the lineup. John Buck wasn’t made any specific promises of playing time that were mentioned publicly. Buck was the starting catcher by universal pre-d’Arnaud acclamation and he commenced to own April of 2013 lock, stock and RBI barrel. Then May, June and July evicted his bat from the premises of effectiveness, but hardly ever from Terry Collins’s immediate plans, save for the occasional breather or baby.

Geez. It seems the Mets have been stuck in the mud so long that I’m now reflexively wary of new guys getting off to blazing starts because I just assume they won’t keep it up and then the whole thing will sink into more mud. Chris Young hasn’t had one AB or PA yet and I’m wondering what can go wrong — besides Juan Lagares’s glorious glove going unused for uncomfortable stretches. Apologies in advance to CY2, who should at least get the meaningless exhibition schedule under his belt before I grow precautionarily discouraged about his Met tenure.

I think I’m in backlash mode against my long-held instinct to automatically embrace former All-Stars joining the Mets. Chris Young is a former All-Star, even if I had no idea who he was when he made the N.L.’s stellar squad in 2010, and that should be enough to earn him February goodwill. But, oh gosh, so much “former” in those former All-Stars and too often so little left when they join the Mets. The lesson that credentials aren’t necessarily transferable to imminent Metsian success had to be learned and relearned many times over before I began to figure out that bit about no guarantees. It probably didn’t finally kick in until the Mets traded for 2010 A.L. All-Star catcher John Buck in December 2012 and I managed to keep my enthusiasm in check.

My first hint of how these things can go and, more frustratingly, how they can stall was probably dropped in my youthful lap when the Mets went out and bagged themselves a six-time All-Star to fill a glaring positional void and most of what it took to obtain him was a pitcher who sometimes threw as if the strike zone was in the next county.

That transaction was better known as Jim Fregosi for Nolan Ryan. Out of respect for Fregosi — someone acknowledged far and wide upon news of his passing last week as a great baseball man in every sense of the phrase — let’s just say it was a heckuva trade for the California Angels.

Six-time All-Star? To the Mets? Excitement was in the air.

Six-time All-Star? To the Mets? Excitement was in the air.

In the months before it revealed itself as kinda the opposite for the New York Mets, there was no guarantee that Fregosi, the premier American League shortstop of the 1960s, was going to solve the Mets’ perennial third base shortcomings, which was the organizational plan in December 1971, but he arrived with an outsize reputation and it was at the very least promising to imagine a name of Fregosi’s caliber wedged in among the Joneses, the Agees, the Grotes and the Harrelsons to whom we were accustomed by the spring of 1972. Then the Mets traded a few kids for another former All-Star, Rusty Staub, and it appeared we had a genuine major league lineup on our hands. By May, the Mets would acquire the most glittering All-Star there ever was, Willie Mays, and now it felt like were stacked.

We were. The Mets roared into late May, cresting at 25-7 and leading the N.L. East by six games. One of the reasons they heated up was Jim Fregosi, who, despite a nagging Spring Training injury and his own sense that he was done as an everyday player, shook off a chilly April and contributed a sizzling seven-game span in which he hit .462, drove in a half-dozen runs and lifted his season average over .300.

That was basically it for Fregosi and the Mets in 1972 when it came to meeting expectations. The team fell back to third place and Jim wouldn’t last through 1973 in New York, while Ryan…ah, hell, you know what happened with Ryan. For that matter, one of the three additional throw-ins to the Angels, Leroy Stanton, accumulated 101 hits in ’72, which isn’t remarkable except it was five more than any Met collected that same season. There were a lot of injuries on that club. There was also, sad to say, more than a dollop of used-to-be in that lineup.

Fregosi’s career got back on a righteous path once he left the Mets. He’d be considered a valuable pinch-hitter type for a few years, manage Ryan and the Angels to their first division title, run the White Sox between Tony La Russa and Jeff Torborg, lead a most colorful Phillies squad to an improbable pennant and keep the Blue Jays very respectable amid the heat of the hypercompetitive A.L. East. After managing, he served as a top major league scout for the Braves, who you might have noticed have been more than pretty good for a very long time.

No, it didn’t work out for Jim Fregosi, New York Mets third baseman. But it was exciting thinking it might.

18 comments to Promises, Promises

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    At the time I did not think it was such a bad trade. Pitching was our strength – we had the top rotation in the league and one of the top fielding teams as well. But our pitching, as we know, was undermined by that lack of run production. Our hitting was dismal, being toward the bottom in runs produced so we had to make moves to build that up – there was no free agency so we just couldn’t buy ourselves a hitter. So as much as he had the potential to be a great talent, because of our pitching depth we were able afford to give up Ryan

    Fregosi was coming off an injury prone year in 1972 but the year before he was still in top shape and had hit a career high 22 home runs with a .278 average. Maybe there was something Jim knew that we didn’t because it did not appear that he was anywhere near being done as a player. Prior to his injury riddled year, he was an all-star for five straight seasons. Was it that players did not take physicals to finalize trades back then and the Mets were unaware that Jim’s injuries were severe enough to cut short his career at the age of 30?

    Otherwise, if this was the winter of 1971/72 without having the hindsight of knowing what we do now, understanding the state of the Mets after the 1971 season with our pitching, defense and lack of hitting and Fregosi being the player he was at that time, would anyone be hesitant not to make that trade again? To be honest, I wouldn’t.

    But then, I wanted the Mets to give John Maine one more chance as well. :)

    • Ken K. in NJ

      Yep, that was my take in 1972 also. It was a good trade at the time, and was a great trade for those first 32 games. In fact, other than 1986, I don’t recall feeling as confident about any Met team as I did in early ’72. Then everybody got hurt, and That, agonizingly and inevitably, was That.

  • D.

    I remember that trade.

    Even after I ceased to be a gung-ho fan, the first question out of my mouth when faced with too-good-to-be-true trades was “What’s wrong with him?” The apex (or was it a nadir?) of that was probably Bret Saberhagen, who spent a lot of his time in New York on the DL.

  • Dave

    I remember the trade well. Trading Ryan didn’t seem like a big deal. They were loaded with young pitching and Ryan had fallen short of expectations at almost every opportunity; he was the poster child for “thrower, not a pitcher.” I remember the odd part being that they felt a shortstop was the answer to their perennial 3B problem. To restate the obvious, it wasn’t.

    But as far as I can tell, Fregosi handled his dubious place in the game’s history with class, fitting of someone who was a real baseball man.

    • Joe D.

      Hi Dave,

      Remember that great double-play combination that the Los Angeles and then California Angeles had – Fregosi at short with Bobby Knopp at second? Of the first four expansion clubs (Angeles, new Senators, Colts and Mets), I thought they would be the first to win a pennant (or in 1969, a division). People forget that during that great American League pennant race in 1967, for two thirds of the season the Angels too were in the thick of it, only being a game and a half out of first on August 13th after a three game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway. They tanked out after that.

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  • March'62

    I remember being very upset about the trade at the time but not because they gave up on Ryan. How could they give up on that Stanton kid. He hit a triple in his first major league at bat. We finally develop a serious bat and we trade him away for a shortstop who will be moved to third? I can understand moving Ryan, after all he’ll only be a number 4 or 5 starter. But Stanton? This trade won’t amount to anything.

  • vin

    The Fregosi trade overshadows the other 3B trade of Foy (who’s birthday is mentioned today in Mets Briefing by Rubin) to the Mets from KC for Amos Otis who went on to a stellar AL winning career…Foy was replaced by Fregosi….so it took Ryan & Otis and Stanton (who had a couple of nice years and is much forgotten in these discussions)plus Don Rose et al to process 2 3B has beens thru NY! As a youngster I had a sense that Fregosi was thru watching his actions in the AL and fely Ryan would be stellar albeit not at the level he attained. Ofcourse more trajedy hit the Mets this time period when Gil Hodges was fatally stricken on Easter Sunday 1972 creating more chaos in the organization . It was fortunate the Mets had Mr. Berra around to steady the ship..there would be more injuries and set backs in 1972 not the least was Staubs hand injuries (another star was given up in Singleton to get Staub) …mays arrived on Mothers day 1972 in the rain with a go ahead HR off the man he was traded for (Williams) to bring some joy to Metsville culminating in 1973 pennant which has been much discussed this past year in your column because of how it was overlooked by the Mets on its 40th anniversary.

  • Will in Central NJ

    It seems to me that over the decades, our Mets have had a virtual All-Star team of guys who, before their arrival in Flushing, had been All-Stars. Then, upon arrival, failed to contribute much:

    Bob Aspromonte, Vince Coleman, George Foster, Tom Herr, Dock Ellis, Mickey Lolich, Juan Samuel, Garry Templeton…

  • open the gates

    …Carlos Baerga, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Bobby Bonilla, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, Shawn Green, Jeromy Burnitz, Ellis Valentine, Jeff Francouer…and more…and I haven’t even gotten to the pitchers yet…

  • kjs

    Fast-forward to 2024:

    “Carlos Gomez for a damaged arm, knee, a dubious no-hitter, and umpteen million bucks…yeesh! What did they think?”

  • nestornajwa

    Yes, it was a very bad trade. The Mets got almost nothing back. Ryan received the most votes among pitchers on that “All-Century” team. He remains the all-time strikeout leader, with 324 career wins and the rubberiest arm not attached to Cy Young or Hoss Radbourn. First-ballot Hall of Famer. Seven no-hitters — perhaps the most poignant stat of all to Mets fans.

    In 1973, Ryan went 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA and a whopping 383 strikeouts. If he’s in the rotation, there’s a better chance Seaver pitches Game 7. And, as we all agreed last week, NOTHING would be better than a chance to do-over one of those years where the Mets came close, but didn’t quite make it.

    Now, I’m going to ask everyone to take a deep breath and TRY to keep an open mind.

    I think Nolan Ryan is overrated. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve his plaque — he certainly does. But the best pitcher of the 20th Century? No, not even close. The All Century vote just happened to take place when Ryan’s reputation was at its peak. Those 324 wins were compiled over a record 27 seasons. That’s 12 wins per season (12.46 if you discount his brief 1966 cup of coffee). He led the league in strikeouts 11 times, but he also led in walks 8 times. He never won a Cy Young.

    Ryan really forged his legend during his incredible resurgence after his 40th birthday, long after he would have left the Mets under any circumstances. Four of those 11 K-leading seasons were from 1987-1990, while his final BB-leading season was 1982. He led the league in ERA twice: in 1981 and 1987. His heart was always in Texas, and he would have gone there eventually, especially when free agency dawned in the mid-70s and the Mets pulled down the window shade and went back to bed. The only Mets team on which Ryan could have made a difference was 1973. I’m not trying to minimize that; I’d give away my car for another Mets trophy, and I love my car. But don’t pretend that Ryan would have changed EVERYTHING.

    After 1969, he never pitched in a World Series. His post-Mets teams never even won a playoff series. Ryan’s lifetime postseason record is 2-2, with 1 of those wins in 69. He didn’t pitch particularly well in the NLCS in either 1980 or 1986, two of the closest playoff series in history. If he had gotten a single win in either of those series, the Astros probably would have gone to the World Series. If you say his absence cost the Mets a title in 1973, then it may have given us one in 1986, when the Mets knocked him around after a few strong early innings in Game 2. And there’s no guarantee he would have risen to the occasion in the 1973 World Series. He certainly never carried a team like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Orel Hershiser or, going way back, Christy Mathewson in 1905.

    Ryan wasn’t very good when he was a Met. He flourished immediately after the trade. I think he was one of many, many athletes who, for some reason, did not perform well in New York. I’m not saying he would have been Ed Whitson or Vince Coleman, but maybe he never would have had that great career if he had stayed. But that’s speculation. Here are 15 better 20th Century pitchers than Ryan: Matty, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Spahn, Seaver, Carlton, Feller, Hubbell, Koufax, Gibson, GC Alexander, Ed Walsh, Marichal, Maddux and Rube Waddell. We can debate others.

    Again, Ryan is a deserving Cooperstown inductee. And it was a terrible, terrible trade in hindsight. But the Mets would have had him for a few more years, tops, when his greatest triumphs were still ahead of him. Maybe he would have delivered 1973, but maybe not. He wasn’t great in the postseason, and he didn’t pitch well for the Mets. And he’s certainly not one of the top ten pitchers of any century.

    Okay, I’m putting on my blindfold. You may fire when ready.

    • No blindfold necessary — as overwhelming as Ryan could be, I didn’t often think of him as THE pitcher in the game (though usually one of the very better ones) — but I would check Game Five of the 1986 NLCS before completely writing off his postseason contributions. He was all he was cracked up to be that day.

  • open the gates

    Off-topic, but yesterday’s NY Post reports that Ike Davis essentially played the entire 2013 season injured, and never said anything to the trainers or docs because he was on the bubble.

    Now why doesn’t that make me feel any better?

  • JerseyJack

    Just checked out Ryans stats in ’86 vs the Mets: in 14 inn, a 3.86 ERA, 10.9 k/9 , 0.6bb/9, k/bb = 17 , 5.8hits/9 , whip of 0.7 Not too shabby!

    • nestornajwa

      Mostly, yeah. But in 1986, a 3.86 ERA was nothing special. The composite NL ERA that year was 3.72, and the Astrodome and Shea were two of the most ERA-friendly parks in baseball history. Ryan allowed 5 earned runs over 5 innings in Game 2. If he doesn’t do that, the Mets probably have to face Scuffball Scott again in Game 7 in Houston, and the mid-80s Mets go down in history as the best team never to win a title.

  • […] him? Francisco Estrada was one of the four players the Mets gave up to get Jim Fregosi from the Angels in 1971. That’s usually as far as he gets in the Met canon, but if you read Long Shot, you’ll […]

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