The blog for Mets fans
who like to read


Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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.

Got something to say? Leave a comment, or email us at (Sorry, but we have no interest in ads, sponsored content or guest posts.)

Need our RSS feed? It's here.

Visit our Facebook page, or drop by the personal pages for Greg and Jason.

Or follow us on Twitter: Here's Greg, and here's Jason.

The Sky’s Limit

Where do you go after you’ve traded Amos Otis for Joe Foy? Not to the heights of the hot corner, we learned in 1970. As we pick up the thread of our OF-3B/3B-OF series, we shake off the Mets’ decision to swap a promising outfielder who didn’t appear promising at third for a third baseman who didn’t have much left at third, and attempt to reset.

The Mets, as we learned in the first part of this series, practically came into this world eyeing the outfield to solve their genetic third base shortfall. By the end of the second part of this series, we saw that they continued to devote serious consideration to the concept as the 1960s wore on — before entering the ’70s with a bona fide third baseman in tow who didn’t work out. That was Foy, traded to New York for Otis. Otis, as we’ve explored, wasn’t a third baseman, but was a very good player. He was also not a Met when the full discovery regarding his talents was made.

Oh well, said the Mets, back to the drawing board. Having detoured in the third part of this series to the intriguing world of catchers who got caught in the web of OF-3B/3B-OF, we shall return to our drawing board and watch where the quest to spark third base joy after Joe Foy takes the Mets. By 1975, something tells us they’ll be attempting to scale the heights with an uncommonly tall, particularly powerful third-sacker. Or, more specifically, a first baseman-outfielder who will play third base for them.

Though 1970 was the year it didn’t work out with a veteran 3B, the Mets in 1971 were content to work the same gimmick with a different veteran 3B. Out went Foy, in came Bob Aspromonte. Aspromonte’s “hey, I know something about him” fact is he was the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the major leagues. The boys one associates with The Boys of Summer were all retired by the 1970s. Even the fellas one doesn’t instantly associate with the legendary squad that left Kings County behind because their biggest moments awaited them in L.A. — your Koufax, your Drysdale, their catcher Roseboro — were done. Aspromonte outlasted them all. The borough native’s Flatbush experience was a single at-bat as an 18-year-old in a 17-2 blowout of the Cardinals in September 1956, but it counted. “My knees were shaking,” he’d recall, but Aspromonte appears in the very same box score as Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and his future manager Gil Hodges, all putting in just another day of work en route to the Hall of Fame. “Gil took me under his wing in the early days when it was tough,” Bob remembered. “You really didn’t belong, but you had to be there.” Fifteen years later, at the tail end of a solid career for the Dodgers, Colt .45s/Astros and Braves, the Lafayette High School graduate came home again, or close to it.

Returning to pretty close to where it all started had been on Aspromonte’s mind for a while. When the deal that sent Ron Herbel to Atlanta to get Bob went down, Newsday’s Tim Moriarty recalled Aspro, then an Astro, pestering some reporters in the Mets’ traveling party around the batting cage in Houston, “When are the Mets going to make that trade and bring me back to New York?” When it finally happened, his manager in Atlanta, Lum Harris, sent him on his way with what amounted to a half-throated endorsement. “Sure he can play,” Harris said of the 32-year-old who’d batted .213 in 1970. “The reason we can let him go is we have Clete Boyer at third base,” which, in 1970 fielding terms, was like saying you had Nolan Arenado at third base. “The Mets don’t have a Clete Boyer at third base, do they?”

No, the Mets didn’t even have Joe Foy at third base anymore, having let him go to the Senators in the Rule 5 draft. They did, as they had since the suddenly distant but eternally golden year of 1969, have Wayne Garrett, but Garrett was scheduled to serve out his National Guard commitment for more than half of the 1971 season. Like the Washington Senators, that’s something that doesn’t enter a lot of contemporary baseball stories these days.

“When one thinks of Sandy Koufax,” Bill Travers wrote in the Daily News on Christmas Eve 1970 in a lament for Lafayette’s athletics department’s budgetary woes, “he thinks of one of the greatest pitchers in history. When one thinks of Bob Aspromonte, he thinks of the new Met third baseman who might cure their hot corner ills.” The shared alma mater of the two old Dodgers (and Fred Wilpon) would eventually get its baseball program back on sound financial footing, as evidenced by the development of future Met closer John Franco. And Koufax would forever be Koufax in every pitching conversation.

Few think of Bob Aspromonte as having cured the Mets’ hot corner ills. After one underwhelming season of Aspro (.225/.285/.301), the Mets moved on. Bob himself retired, ensuring the Brooklyn Dodger presence on active MLB rosters was history. Garrett, having done his Guard stint, was still around, as were a couple of young infielders who’d reported for duty at both third and in the outfield: former overall No. 1 draft choice Tim Foli and the über-useful Teddy Martinez. But whatever awaited on their respective horizons, none flashed the power a team wishes from its third baseman. Among them, in 682 plate appearances, the trio combined for two home runs in 1971 — or four fewer than Clete Boyer hit in 30 games for the Braves.

The Mets instead replaced a veteran named Bob at third base with a veteran named Jim at third base. Except veteran Jim wasn’t really a third baseman or, for that matter, an outfielder. And not really a power hitter, either, having topped 20 homers just once since coming to the majors in 1961. This is where we meet Jim Fregosi, who the Mets acquired from California for that Ryan kid.

Actually, it was that Ryan kid plus three others, as if GM Bob Scheffing wanted to tell the Otis-for-Foy trade, “Hold my beer.”

We know about Nolan Ryan blossoming into the greatest strikeout pitcher of all time about five seconds after leaving the Mets. We know that one of the three others dispatched to the Angels to get Fregosi, outfielder Leroy Stanton, went on to a more than respectable career in the American League. We know Jim Fregosi, the American League’s long-running All-Star shortstop, wasn’t the answer at third base for the Mets during what became an ill-fated Shea stopover of less than two years when:

• he broke a thumb in his first Spring Training;

• he ranked by latter-day metrics as the least valuable defensive third baseman in the National League of his day;

• and he hit fewer home runs in his entire Met tenure than Stanton did in his first year as an Angel.

One could have hoped for the best out of Fregosi, turning 30 and coming off an injury-affected season in Anaheim, but one could look at all that was being given up and wondered what the hell? If you had to trade Ryan and all his potential on the eve of his age-25 season, might you not find a surer thing than an aching shortstop who’d have to learn a new position in a new league? And would you have to throw in three other players to make it happen? Steve Jacobson of Newsday predicted the day after the trade was made, “Unless Fregosi has a very good year, it won’t seem like a fair exchange,” which might explain why Steve Jacobson endured as a top-flight baseball writer into the next century.

One could have hoped for the best even as one wondered what the hell?

Of all the things we know about Ryan-for-Fregosi, are we aware that on June 5, 1973, versus the Reds in Cincinnati, Fregosi took a turn in left field for the Mets? If we didn’t, we do now. Cleon Jones was injured and trying anything that might work topped Yogi Berra’s agenda. Fregosi, carrying a .194 average through the games of June 4, had played left seven times for the Angels, all in 1971, his eleventh season in the majors. It was seven times more than he’d played third base prior to coming to the Mets in 1972.

Fregosi-to-left wasn’t a disaster, which is one of the few contexts for which “it wasn’t a disaster” fits anything related to trading Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. The man started, drove in a run, played into the tenth, and was removed for defense once the Mets took a 5-2 lead (which Tug McGraw and Phil Hennigan proceeded to blow). No balls were hit to him, thus he made no catches, but committed no errors. Not convinced of Jim’s utility, Berra never deployed Fregosi in the outfield again, perhaps because with Bud Harrelson also out hurt, Yogi needed Fregosi to reacquaint himself with shortstop. A month or so later, as neither Fregosi’s presence nor performance still wasn’t letting anyone forget the Nolan Ryan deal, the Mets sold the former star’s contract to Texas…the same franchise for which Nolan Ryan would be pitching twenty years later…when Jim Fregosi was managing the Phillies to the World Series. (Win-win for everybody except the Mets.)

Garrett, meanwhile, was about to do something the Mets’ front office hadn’t envisioned while it was off collecting and eventually discarding Foy, Aspromonte and Fregosi. He established himself as the everyday third baseman the Mets always needed. Wayne was there all along and now, down the unlikely stretch of 1973, the Mets noticed. From the late-August night the Mets climbed out of the NL East cellar to the October afternoon they clinched their second division title, Garrett slashed .320/.405/.590 and proved himself one of the main reasons the club rushed from worst to first in just over a month’s time. In recognition of his abilities, the Mets left third base alone entering 1974. It was Garrett’s to have; to hold; and, alas, to lose.

Across a full season, Wayne saw his batting average sink more than thirty points, his power numbers regress and his defense, which was more than decent (fourth in the NL in fielding percentage at third, for what that’s worth), not make the case for his continued incumbency. “Let Wayne Garrett play every day and he’ll hit .230,” Fregosi had ruefully predicted when he himself was under fire in New York, overestimating the redhead’s average by six points. Almost as soon as ’74 ended, the Mets made another move for a veteran. Unlike Foy, he knew the National League. Unlike Fregosi, he knew third base. Like Aspromonte, he knew the neighborhood.

It was Brooklyn’s own Joe Torre, forever rumored to be en route in one big trade or another. The haul the Mets sent to St. Louis on October 13, 1974, to secure him at last wasn’t really that big — veteran swingman Ray Sadecki and perennial pitching prospect Tommy Joe Moore — but maybe his bat could be. “Right now, I picture Torre for third base,” Berra said, as if staring straight through Garrett. “He has a couple of good years left.” Torre, as a Brave and a Cardinal in a career that dated back to 1960, had socked 240 homers and driven in 1,110 runs. As recently as 1971, while playing third base for the Cards, he hit .363 and was voted the National League MVP. He didn’t even wait for Spring Training to start playing for Mets. The ballclub was making a goodwill tour of Japan in the autumn the Mets got him, so he went along, put on the uniform and got the folks back home excited ahead of 1975.

One fellow may have been less than enthused. “I’m just going to be a utilityman, I guess,” Garrett, entering his seventh season as a Met, said in Spring Training after an offseason when he saw 1969 teammates Ken Boswell, Duffy Dyer and Tug McGraw get traded. Longevity at Shea was no guarantee of a future.

The thrill of veteran Joe Torre at third base — a position he’d eased away from as he transitioned to first his last couple of years as a Redbird — didn’t last long. Turning 35 in ’75, Joe may not have been the most mobile of third sackers. The pop that once produced 36 homers in a season (mostly as a catcher) fizzled. Torre went deep only six times in his first season as a Met, only once more than Fregosi had in ’72. The overriding memory of Torre as a player at Shea became the game when Felix Millan singled four times, only to find himself forced at second four times because Joe Torre, batting directly behind him, grounded into four consecutive double plays. It set a record.

As 1975, like Torre, wore down, we began to see Garrett, still only 27, rise anew and take starts by the bunch at third; his batting average rose to a career-best .266, as he homered exactly as much as Torre and drove in only one run fewer. We began to see the latest infield phenom from Tidewater, Roy Staiger, who led the International League in RBIs, get a shot. And, most tantalizingly, we began to wonder if something too good to be true could enter the realm of the possible. Might it be that the player who had solved the most glaring offensive void that had plagued the franchise almost since its beginning would also be the player to solve the most glaring defensive void that had plagued the franchise absolutely from its beginning?

The answer was embodied within six feet and six inches of intermittent thunder that went by the name of Dave Kingman.

Dave Kingman loomed as a revelation when the Mets sent a brimming basket of cash to Horace Stoneham in San Francisco in order to obtain Kingman’s services. Kingman, tagged with the “sensitive” label as a Giant, was a bona fide home run threat — which was something no Met had approached being since Frank Thomas swatted 34 in 1962 — and he consistently hit some of the longest home runs anybody had ever seen, even if he was an inconsistent hitter in general. The Mets saw the breathtaking aspect of his game for themselves. In August of his rookie year, 1971, Kingman dinged both the ERA of Jerry Koosman and the roof of a bus parked behind the visitors’ bullpen in left. The Mets won the game and, as the victors, they later got to write the history. In the 1975 yearbook, on the page their new acquisition shared with reliever Jerry Cram, the Mets called that home run “an estimated 500-foot Shea shot”.

Dave Kingman, preparing to play his best position.

When that kind of power can be at your disposal and there’s an array of body shops nearby, why wouldn’t you grab yourself some Dave Kingman if all it takes is 150-grand and tolerance for his perceived shortcomings? When they purchased his contract from San Fran early in Spring Training, the Mets appeared set at all the positions 26-year-old Kingman played, having made a passel of offseason moves after trading for Torre, but a big bat was a big bat, even if it had struck out 422 times in 409 big league games. Dave’s gargantuan wood left mouths agape when it took Catfish Hunter deep into what might as well have been the Everglades in one game televised back to New York from Fort Lauderdale. “I’ve never seen one hit further,” swore Mickey Mantle, who hit more than a few pretty far. So, yeah, that stick of Dave’s would stick somewhere.

“If Yogi Berra’s cast were working in the American League,” one wire story mused in late March, “Dave Kingman would be a perfect designated hitter. But the NL doesn’t have the DH, so Kingman has to bring his baseball glove to the ballpark along with his bat. That’s trouble.” Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s measured praise was “Kingman has power, he runs and he throws superbly, and that’s what you look for in superstars. Now he’s got to learn to play ball,” a.k.a. defense. Dick Young chimed in, “He is an exciting outfielder, lending the thrill of uncertainty to the pursuit of a fly ball every so often.” His former San Francisco teammate, Mets coach Willie Mays, was more understanding: “He’s happy and that’s the main thing because everything will come then. He’ll hit and he’s willing to play any place. His best position is first, but I told him wait and see” for, among other things, how well Mays might tutor him in the outfield.

Ah, the good old days, when a glove, too, had to find a place to play.

Yogi brought his team to Shea and let Kingman feel his way on the field. Early on, with Rusty Staub nursing an injury, Dave Kingman took a couple of turns in right and produced two home runs, winning over the crowd as a whole (“I never played anywhere where the fans are so enthusiastic”) and, noticeably, their spiritual leader. Sign Man Karl Ehrhardt brandished a SUPER WHIIFF! placard when Dave struck out, but switched to KONG! in approval of his first Met swat. Rusty soon returned to the lineup and Dave shifted to left, since 1968 the province of Cleon Jones but temporarily vacant while Cleon dealt with his own knee problems. Dave put his third through eighth homers into orbit as the starting left fielder, the position he claimed as his own more days than not.

By June, Sky King — our announcers informed us that if we had to call the 6’ 6” Kingman by nickname, he preferred Sky King to Kong — was occasionally whiling away the gloved portions of his innings at first base, spelling Ed Kranepool and John Milner. Two of the swings he took during that interlude connected for home runs nine and ten. Shea’s air traffic, however, wasn’t exactly drowned out by the cacophony from Sky King’s connections. As June drew to a close, RF-LF-1B Dave Kingman had totaled a respectable eleven homers. It was a pretty good pace Metwise, considering no Met had hit as many as 25 home runs since 1969, but a Mets fan really had to squint to not notice his .219 batting average nor the 47 strikeouts that had piled up.

Come July, there was no missing what Dave Kingman was doing, no matter that some of it was missing the ball altogether at the plate or in the field, for when he did make contact, it was buses beware. Planes, too.

A home run on July 4.
A home run on July 5.
A home run on July 7.
A home run on July 8.
After the All-Star break, a home run on July 17.
A pair of home runs on July 20 — a three-run job to catapult the Mets back into a game they trailed by six and a two-run bomb that sealed a 10-9 comeback win.

Then some more home runs for the mostly left fielder and intermittent first baseman until Kingman finished July with 13 for the month (the Month the National League named him its Player of) and 24 on the season. A year that increasingly couldn’t get out of its own way at Shea — Jones was disgracefully released and Berra was about to get fired — at least contained a potential highlight four at-bats per game. Dave’s batting average soared to .260, which was nice, if not the statistic upon which you dwelled when balls were leaving the yard. His strikeout sum was up to 84, but that we accepted as the cost of doing Sky King business.

As Dave brought his power to bear, one couldn’t help but be curious about one element of Kingman’s biography. We’d seen him in left and right. We’d seen him at first. What about third? Wasn’t that on his San Francisco résumé? Indeed, between 1972 and 1974, Sky played 140 games at third and hit 36 homers as the Giants’ third baseman, including one off Ray Sadecki at Shea in ’73. He was the Opening Day third baseman at Candlestick the year before he came to the Mets. Yet after April, he rarely set foot near third in ’74, unless it was on his trot from second to home.

Yogi was asked when the Mets purchased Kingman’s contract in Spring Training whether the position the Mets could never solve was a feasible fit now that they were about to harness the thump they’d sorely lacked. “What I saw of him at third base, I don’t like,” Yogi grumbled. A little later in Florida, the skipper reiterated, “He had 26 errors in 20 games at third base,” not quite nailing Kingman’s 1974 defensive record — it was 12 errors in 21 games — but the crux was understood. “First base I don’t like him too much, either.”

What Berra preferred, though, was no longer salient at Shea once he was dismissed in early August. By that same month there was another factor to consider: Mike Vail, hot-hitting rookie outfielder. Vail, who’d led the IL in batting (.342) took over in left, with he and Staub trusted to flank Del Unser. With Vail’s National League rookie record 23-game hitting streak about to unfurl, it appeared Mike would never be dislodged. Rusty around in right was having a dynamite season, heading for 105 RBIs, while Unser stuck close to .300 and provided the best center field defense Shea had seen since Tommie Agee. The outfield was occupied.

At one corner of the infield, Milner was having a horrible, injury-wracked year that would see his batting average plummet beneath .200 and his home runs dwindle to single-digits. Kranepool, despite a renaissance campaign (batting .318 as a starter) found himself reassigned to his customary pinch-hitting duty as the Mets forged a wishful August push toward their third division title. Kingman was suddenly the full-time first baseman — while Torre was less and less the full-time third baseman. Familiar default resort Garrett received some reps at third, as trusty Red inevitably did. Prospect Staiger was given a whirl, too, but young Roy must have forgotten to pack his lumber upon leaving Virginia (he batted .158 after his callup).

Come the middle of September, interim manager Roy McMillan resisted lingering possibility no longer. Dave Kingman, he of the 44 errors in 140 career games at third base, would play third base. At the time he was pointed to the left side of the infield, Dave was sitting on 34 home runs, having knotted Thomas’s previously unassailable 1962 mark. In his fourth game as the Mets starting third baseman, Kingman dislodged Thomas from the record books, an OF-3B taking over for the Original OF-3B…except by the time Kingman came through with No. 35, which happily happened to be the bottom of the ninth for a walkoff win, McMillan had shuffled his personnel and Dave was technically playing first. Sky had one more 1975 homer in him. That Kingman dinger, a solo shot on September 26, unquestionably came as a third baseman. It also came the half-inning after Dave made an error that led to an unearned run that proved the difference in a 4-3 loss. In all, Kingman tried his glove at third in a dozen games and committed three errors…or three times as many home runs as he hit as the Mets’ third baseman.

So maybe an outfielder whose least worst position was first base wasn’t the answer at third, but he did hit 36 home runs, and that pretty much overshadowed all defensive shortcomings, not to mention his 153 strikeouts (making a prophet of Karl Ehrhardt) and .231 average. Sky King was content in Queens. “I’m very happy,” he said late in his first Met season. “I always wondered would happen if I was given the chance to play regularly. I feel I’ve improved in a number of areas because I’ve been given that chance.”

He tried.

When the 1976 yearbook came out, three-quarters of Kingman’s bio and stat page, graphically speaking, was devoted to Kingman’s defense. There were pictures of him — with scraps of box scores serving as additional evidence — playing some first, some left and some third. “VERSATILITY,” the caption gushed. “Dave Kingman moves glove around in addition to his bat.” The snapshot of Dave at third shows a ball getting by him. Not mentioned in any of the agate type: detailed fielding statistics.

After 1975, Dave Kingman would hit 118 more home runs for the New York Mets…and never play third base for the New York Mets again.

A multiplayer pileup is about to transpire at that ever blazing hot corner, encompassing Met outfielders, Met third basemen and, yes, Met catchers. The next article in our series, endeavoring to sort out who played what and who didn’t want to play where, is coming soon.

That ’70s Show Gets Underway (1970-1975)

15. Tim Foli
Mets 3B Debut: September 12, 1970
Mets CF Debut: September 7, 1971

16. Teddy Martinez
Mets 3B Debut: July 6, 1971
Mets LF Debut: September 12, 1971

17. Jerry Grote
Mets 3B Debut: August 3, 1966
Mets RF Debut: July 12, 1972

18. Jim Fregosi
Mets 3B Debut: April 15, 1972
Mets LF Debut: June 5, 1973

19. Ken Boswell
Mets 3B Debut: September 18, 1967
Mets RF Debut: August 19, 1974

20. Dave Kingman
Mets RF Debut: April 8, 1975
Mets 3B Debut: September 15, 1975

Mets who’ve played both at third base and in the outfield represent one of my favorite things. As the new season approaches, Jeff Hysen and I swap a few others we love about baseball at National League Town. Listen here or on your podcast platform of choice.

10 comments to The Sky’s Limit

  • Joey G

    Kong did play a decent amount of 3B for the Giants prior to joining the Mets, since S.F. had a bevy of outstanding young outfielders as well as Mr. McCovey manning 1B. A glove was essentially a foreign object to him, although he was fairly serviceable around 1B as I recall. What is stuck in my head was his maddening chronic inability to lay off of the two-strike breaking balls away, leading to immeasurable swinging strike-outs. That and his Spring Training home run off Catfish Hunter in ’75, which is probably still traveling. That first year and a half was all sunshine and lollypops, as we finally had a fear inducing bopper in the middle of our line-up. He would have shattered our home run record in ’76, but a thumb injury derailed him with 32 dingers in July. It was all downhill after that, and you know the rest of the story….

  • Seth

    That’s cool. I like 3rd basemen that move their glove around. Also Kingman had the best pair of 70’s sideburns.

  • Bob

    Many years ago @ Dodger Stadium I saw Kong hit 3HRs and beat Dodgers–LaSorda was NOT thrilled….
    And Fregosi–in my 60 years as a Met fan, I’m still trying to forget that one–along with when we let Seaver get away–twice!

    And now Thor is with the Angels in Anahiem–arfg%%##@!
    Big mistake not keeping Thor–but what do I know?

    Let’s Go Mets!

  • Seth

    A bit fuzzy on the details, but didn’t Nolan Ryan want to be traded? He didn’t want to stay in NY and hadn’t yet come into his own as a pitcher — so maybe at the time he was only worth a Fregosi.

    Also, it sounded like Thor decided to leave, I think the Mets wanted to work something out but he made like a banana, and split.

    • The Alvin, Tex., native wasn’t what one would call at home in New York. Still a lousy trade.

      Thor got two years after two ill-timed years of inactivity. Best wishes.

  • eric1973

    I loved Dave Kingman, and I even got his autograph. When he was with Oakland, he made an appearance at a Batting Range near Rockaway Beach, where my family and I went on the weekends. He was very nice.

    AppleTV announced Tuesday that its first Major League Baseball telecast will be the Mets-Nationals game on April 8. This happens to be Max Scherzer’s first start as a Met. The game is exclusive to AppleTV+.

    Sucks a big one, but fine with me. I am used to this, as many games were on Sportschannel before Cable came to Brooklyn.

    Back to the radio, I guess, where I hope Howie Rose is well enough to do the game.

  • eric1973

    Hi Greg, my post on Kingman and Apple Tv got lost in the spam, I guess.

  • eric1973

    Basically, it said I loved Kingman, got his autograph, and the Mets are exclusively on AppleTV for Scherzer’s first start.

  • Eric1973

    Oh, and deGrom is dealing with shoulder tightness.

    Who didn’t see that coming?