Sep 24, 2014

Mid Nineties Mets Outfielder: Bernard Gilkey (1996-1998)

Otis Bernard Gilkey was born on September 24, 1966 in St. Louis Missouri. The hometown baseball star signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1984. It took the six foot right hand hitter to get to the major leagues, after batting .295 at AAA Louisville in 1990.

In 1991 he was back at AAA but then got to the big leagues for good seeing action in 81 games that year with the Cardinals.

By 1992 he was the teams regular left fielder hitting over .300 for two straight seasons. In 1992 he hit .320 with a .364 on base % while stealing 15 bases. In 1993 he hit .305 hitting 40 doubles (6th most in the NL) & scored 99 runs. In the outfield he led all left fielders with 19 assists, was third in put outs (207) .

After leaing the league with five errors in left in 1992 he was second with eight in 1993. After an off year during the 1994 baseball strike shortened season where he hit just .253, he improved to .298 (with a .358 on base %) by 1995. That year he hit 17 HRs with 69 RBIs & 12 stolen bases. In the off season he was traded to the New York Mets for Eric Ludwig & a pair of minor leaguers.

Gilkey went on to have his best season in a Mets uniform in 1996. He started out hitting a HR on Opening Day against his old St. Louis Cardinal teammates in his Met sdebut at Shea Stadium. In the bottom of the 7th inning he then contributed with a four run Mets rally by tying the game with an RBI single. Gilkey hit another HR the next day driving in all three Mets runs in a 5-3 loss. He would hit safely in his first eight games, driving in runs in his first four. In April he hit safely in 18 out his first 21 games, batting .333 with 6 HRs & 23 RBIs by the end of the month.

 It was quite an impressive start in New York. On May 21st he hit a HR & drove in all four Mets runs in Los Angeles but the Mets lost 6-4 to the Dodgers. A week later on May 26th he drove in the only run of a 1-0 win at Shea Stadium over the San Diego Padres. The win gave Bobby Jones his 5th win against one loss. Overall in May he stayed hot driving in 24 more runs, and was hitting .315 at the end of the month. In June he added a ten game hit streak and continued to drive in runs. On July 16th he drove in three runs including hiting an 8th inning HR off Curt Schilling in the Mets 6-3 win over the Phillies at Shea. He was consistent throughout the season, never falling below the .300 mark.

During the final week of July he hit six HRs with 9 RBIs including a pair of multiple HR games. On a west coast road trip to California from August 16th through August 25th he had fourteen hits, with six doubles, while driving in sixteen runs. In the three game visit to San Francisco he drove in runs in all three games totaling seven RBIs. He ended the road trip with a three run HR in Los Angeles off Ismael Valdez.

In September when the Dodgers came to Shea, he hit HRs & drove in runs in back to back games. He he closed out the year hitting safely in 16 of twenty games for the 4th place New York Mets. He finished the year leading the team with 117 RBIs (eighth in NL). He batted .317 (also eighth best in the league) while finishing second on the club to Lance Johnson.

He set a Mets club record at the time by hitting 44 doubles (4th in the NL) while gathering 181 hits with 30 HRs 73 walks a .393 on base % & stealing 17 bases playing in 153 games. In the outfield he played very well defensively, leading the league for the second time in his career in assists (18) posting a .982 fielding percentage (3rd best in the NL).

Gilkey’s great hitting season was over somewhat shadowed by two other Mets who set records of their won. Todd Hundley hit 41 HRs the most by a catcher in a single season, & Lance Johnson set Mets records in hits (227) & triples (21).

Gilkey’s good year did get him some respect, ranking him # 14 in the MVP voting. His celebrity legacy in New York was captured by Hollywood in the 1997 movie, “Men in Black”. In the film he gets hit in the head with a fly ball while looking up at the big space ship over Shea Stadium, on its way to the 1964 World’s Fair Unisphere, in Flushing Meadows Park.

Unfortunately, he was never able to match those numbers again; the next season was Bobby Valentines first full year as manager & things began to change. Gilkey struggled especially in the first half of the season, batting just .211 by the All Star break. On July 19th he hit a three run HR breaking a 2-2 tie, against Cincinnati’s Bret Tomko leading the Mets to a 5-3 win over the Reds. Another highlight came on September 13th when he hit a three run walk off HR in the bottom of the 9th inning against Mike Thurman & the Montreal Expos.

Overall in 1997 his average dropped to .249 with a .338 on base %, striking out 111 times. He still hit 17 HRs with 33 doubles 78 RBIs and led the league in sacrifice flies with 12. Once again he was one of the league's best left fielders, leading the NL in assists (17) for the second straight year, posting a .989 fielding % (3rd best in the NL).

In 1998 he started out well, batting .314 with nine RBIs at the end of April. He missed two weeks of action in May, then In the final week he had 14 hits, hitting safely in seven straight games. In that stretch he had five multiple hit games bringing his average back up to .291. From there he fell into a big slump & after 82 games mid way through the season he was hitting .227 with 4 HRs 15 doubles & 28 RBIs.

Only July 31st, he was traded along with Nelson Figueroa to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Willie Blair & Jorge Fabregas. In 1999 he hit .294 in 94 games as a fourth outfielder, with the first place Western Division Champion Diamondbacks. He faced off against his old Mets team mates in the NLDS, going 0-6. After two brief stops with the Boston Red Sox (2000) & the Atlanta Braves (2001) he ended his career at age 35.

In a twelve year career Gilkey played in 1239 career games batting .275 with 1115 hits 118 HRs, 244 doubles 24 triples 606 runs scored 115 stolen bases 546 RBIs & a .352 on base %. He played in 966 games in left field (64th all time) making 102 assists (25th all time in LF) making 1798 put outs there (61st all time) posting a .982 fielding % (57th all time).

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