May 9, 2016

The First Mets Regular Centerfielder: Jim Hickman (1962-1966)

James Lucius Hickman was born May 10, 1937 in Henning, Tennessee. The tall lanky six foot three, outfielder known as “Gentleman Jim” was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956.

He toiled in the minor leagues five seasons, despite hitting over twenty HRs from 1957-1959 through the AA level. In 1961 he became an original New York Met, getting selected in the 1961 expansion draft.

He would spend five seasons in New York as the team’s first regular centerfielder. He would play all outfield positions, as well as first base & some third base in 624 career games as a Met, batting .241 with 60 HRs with 210 RBIs. He made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter in the Mets first home game at the Polo Grounds, going 0-1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Three days later he made his first start in centerfield, and went hitless in two at bats. A week later on the road in Pittsburgh he had a big three hit day driving in two runs. The next week he hit his first career HR & followed up the next day with another HR, both coming at home in the Polo Grounds against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In May he hit three HRs in the first two weeks & on May 19th his 8th inning sac fly capped off a Mets four run rally driving in the winning run off Milwaukee's Lew Burdett. On July 22nd he drove in all three Mets runs in a 4-3 losing effort at Cincinnati. In August he had two more three RBI games but all coming in Mets losses.

On September 1st Hickman blasted two HRs in a game at St. Louis driving in three runs in the Mets 10-5 loss to the Cards. He finished the year with 13 HRs (3rd best on the club) 18 doubles, 46 RBIs & a .328 on base % while batting .245. He led the team strike outs (96) that season & again in 1963 (120).

In 1963 he hit a HR in his first game played that season, it came off Lew Burdette at Milwaukee. On April 21st he hit a grand slam HR off Milwaukee's Claude Raymond in an 8-5 Mets win at the Polo Grounds. He closed out April batting .315 with 14 RBIs. On May 10th he drew a bases loaded walk against the Reds, then in the bottom of the 8th he broke the tie game with a HR which turned out to be the games winning run. A week later in a wild home game, his 8th sac fly helped the Mets tie the game 12-12, and then Choo Choo Coleman's base hit in the next at bat, would bring home the winning run.

On June 2nd Hickman hit a walk off HR against the Pittsburgh Pirates & pitcher Roy Face. He had some shining moments as a Met and is in the history books with some firsts. On August 7th he became the first Met to hit for the cycle, coming at the Polo Grounds on in a 7-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Two days later he hit a dramatic walk off grand slam HR off the Cubs' Lindy McDaniel giving the Mets a 7-3 victory in front of 11,000 fans at the Polo Grounds. Hickman would also be the hero to pitcher Roger Craig that day, since it was this win that ended his ridiculous 18 game losing streak.

He would hit two more HRs against the Cubs later in the month as well. On September 18th he would hit the last ever HR at the Polo Grounds in a 5-1 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies. For the season he led the team in HRs (17) and triples (6). He batted .229 with 21 doubles (second on the club to Ron Hunt) & a .291 on base %. That year in the outfield he played in 82 games making six assists with a .963 fielding%. He also played in 59 games at third base but made 14 errors in 162 chances.

On April 17, 1964 Hickman was the starting centerfielder, batting in the sixth position in the first game ever played at Shea Stadium. He goes down in the record books as the first to draw a walk & get hit by a pitch in the new ballpark.

After a quick start the first week, he struggled batting just around the .200 mark in early June. From June 7th - June 14th Hickman hit three HRs & drove in eight runs, hitting safely in all but one of those games that week.

On July 26th he hit HRs in both ends of a double header against the Milwaukee Braves although the Mets lost both games. He hit well in August with a hit streak a streak of 12 out of 14 games where he drove in ten runs. On August 19th he hit a grand slam HR, driving in all four Mets runs in a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That season he hit a Mets career high .257 with 11 HRs, 14 doubles a .319 on base % & 57 RBIs.

In the outfield he had eight assists & posted a .976 fielding %. In 1965 Hickman would hit 15 HRs (3rd best on the team) with 18 doubles, 40 RBIs while batting .236 playing in 141 games. He had two multiple HR games that season as well as two four hit games on the road that September.

On May 31st he drove in four runs against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, including a two run HR leading the Mets to a 5-3 win. The next day he hit two HRs leading the Mets to a 10-5 win over the Cubs again.

Later that month he hit two HRs & drove in runs in three of the four games on road trip to Dodger Stadium. Hickman struggled in August with the exception of a three run bottom of the 8th inning game winning HR on August 22nd, to beat the Cardinals 7-5. On September 3rd he had a tremendous day, hitting three HRs in a game at St. Louis, all coming off future Mets pitcher Ray Sadecki. Hickman also had four hits on the day with four RBIs.
In 1966 he played in only 58 games, hurting his wrist in May & missing two months of action. He was hitting .237 with 4 HRs & 16 RBIs, when he got traded along with the popular Ron Hunt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Tommy Davis. Hickman was the last of the original Mets to play on the ball club at the time of his departure.

After one season batting a lowly .163 in Los Angeles he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Ted Savage & Jim Ellis. He would bat .223 in first year at Wrigley Field, followed up by a .237 mark in 1969. That season he was the team’s main right fielder and watched as his old team, now the Amazing New York Mets, took over first place from the Cubs. Hickman blasted 21 HRs with 11 doubles & 54 RBIs on the season.

Hickman helped the Cubs cause hitting a walk off HR against the Montreal Expos on June 22nd. On August 23rd he hit two HRs against the Houston Astros including a 7th inning grand slam that was the game winner.

Hickman would have his best season in 1970 winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, batting .315 with a 415 on base % (5th in the NL) 162 hits, 33 doubles, 32 HRs (10th in the NL) 115 RBIs (6th in the NL) 102 runs scored (10th in the NL) and 93 walks (9th in the NL)—all career bests that placed him 8th in the MVP voting.

He also made his only All-Star appearance that year & drove in the games famous winning run. In the 12th inning, he singled off the California Angels Clyde Wright, with Pete Rose on second base.

As Hickmans hit went to the outfield Rose rounded third and proceeded to run over Cleveland Indian catcher Ray Fosse to score the game winning run. The play is still controversial today, since it was an All Star game & Rose could have just slid & would have probably scored.

Hickman came back to earth the next season but still had good numbers for the Cubs, 19 HRs 60 RBIs & a .256 average. In his years with the Cubs he hit four walk off HRs helping his team to victory. After hitting a solid .272 in 1972 he finished up his career with the ’74 St. Louis Cardinals hitting .267 in 50 games.

In his 13-year career, Hickman played 1421 games, batted .252 with 1002 hits 159 HRs, 163 doubles, 25 triples, 560 RBIs & a .335 on base %

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