Once upon a time, the spring of 1969, to be precise, the New York Mets were in the market for a hitter. Sure, other GMs told their Met counterpart Johnny Murphy , we’ll give you somebody. Names like Joe Torre , Richie Allen , even Frank Robinson  were floated. All it would cost the Mets was young starting pitching. The Mets were loaded with young starting pitching. They had Tom Seaver , Jerry Koosman , Nolan Ryan , Gary Gentry , Jim McAndrew , plus a golden left arm in the minors, Jon Matlack . Trades were discussed. Trades were rejected. The pitching was protected.
One young Met pitcher would be dispatched in 1969, righty Steve Renko . Steve had been in the Met system since 1965, chosen in the 24th round of the very first June amateur draft, and was struggling at Triple-A Tidewater. Murphy apparently didn’t mind giving him up, since what Renko — along with Kevin Collins , Jay Carden and Dave Colon — brought back from Montreal was the kind of bat the general manager had been seeking all along: a real power hitter. The man who came to New York on June 15, 1969, was Donn Clendenon . Four months and one day later, Clendenon was accepting a 1970 Dodge Charger, his reward for being voted World Series MVP.
That trade worked out. It would always work out. When Renko and the Expos defeated McAndrew and the Mets at Jarry Park on June 26, 1970, it worked out. When Renko started a game at Shea that July in which Montreal eventually topped the Mets, it worked out. When, in the September heat of the 1970 pennant race, Renko threw a complete game in Canada to beat Seaver and the Mets, it never stopped working out.
Trading Steve Renko to the Expos for Donn Clendenon was a major step toward the Mets winning a World Series…toward winning the 1969 World Series, an achievement that forever defines this franchise for the good. Renko pitched through 1983 and won 134 big league games, nine of them at the expense of the team that drafted and traded him. Yet there was never a second of regret at having dealt 24-year-old Steve Renko away. It gave the Mets Clendenon. It gave the Mets a championship.
Friday night, John Gant , 23, won his first major league decision, a very effective 5-1 victory for the Atlanta Braves  over the New York Mets. Gant is a Brave because the Mets sent him and Robert Whalen  south last summer to obtain Juan Uribe  and Kelly Johnson . At the time, the Mets had plenty of young starting pitching in the majors and too many minor leaguers filling their bench. They had to have Uribe and Johnson to push forward in a highly competitive pennant race. Gant was a 21st-round Met pick in 2011, taken three rounds sooner than Renko. He was at Double-A Binghamton in 2015, posting numbers no more eye-popping than those registered by Renko as a 1969 Tide. Never having seen Gant (or Whalen), I had no opinion of their prospects when Sandy Alderson opted to ship them off to the foundering Braves.
Within weeks, it was clearly the right trade for its time. Uribe and Johnson were exactly what the Mets needed in the moment. The moment would extend into November. The Mets won a division title and league championship. How we think of the Mets, as a team that is supposed to win ballgames, was utterly altered by what they accomplished in 2015. We are in a different space because of what all the players who steered the Mets into August and September did, few any more vital to the cause than the two erstwhile Atlanta utilitymen who chipped in big hit after big hit. That pennant is forever.
Just keep that in mind should Gant drop another six-and-two-thirds innings of two-hit ball on the Mets in the near or distant future. And when they play Detroit later this season, please refer to all of the above should we face 23-year-old Michael Fulmer , he of the current 7-2 record, 2.43 ERA and just-snapped 33⅓-inning scoreless streak . Fulmer, as you are no doubt aware, was the Met pitching prospect dealt to the Tigers to acquire Yoenis Cespedes . Yoenis Cespedes was the biggest reason the Mets roared into their first postseason in nine years . Fulmer might do wonderful things for Detroit and terrible things to our psyche in the years ahead. If Gant’s allegory is Renko, Fulmer’s might be Matlack, the first-round pick who was in demand, except Alderson, unlike Murphy, let him go for the bat the Mets desperately needed. Matlack was destined for a sensational career, most of it with our team. Fulmer has begun his run in spectacular fashion away from us.
We got Cespedes for him. We got to the World Series for the first time in fifteen years. It was worth it. It always will be .
By sheer coincidence, I’ll be at the Briarwood branch of the Queens Library , Saturday, June 25 at 3 PM to discuss Amazin’ seasons past and present. Hope you’ll join me.