Aug 8, 2016

1969 World Champion Mets Center Fielder: Tommie Agee (1968-1972)

Tommie Lee Agee was born on August 9th, 1942 in Magnolia, Alabama.

The area has produced the great baseball talents of Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Satchel Page, Amos Otis & Agee’s lifelong friend, Cleon Jones. He grew up playing ball in junior high with his future Mets team mate Cleon Jones.

Agee was a star athlete at Grambling State University batting .553 (the second highest average in the Conferences history). Cleon Jones was at his house the day all the MLB scouts arrived to attempt to sign him.

Agee went with the Cleveland Indians signing a deal with a $60,000 bonus. He made his debut in a September cup of coffee in 1962, playing five games going 3-14. The next two seasons he made brief appearances playing in only 13 games each season, hardly hitting at all.

In 1964 he hit 20 HRs with 24 doubles at AAA Portland in the Pacific Coast League. Prior to the 1965 season he was sent to the Chicago White sox with Tommy John, in a three team deal that included Rocky Colavito & Cam Carreon (Mark Carreon’s dad). He spent most of the year at AAA batting just .228 with 8 HRs & 33 RBIs. He got another September call up to the Sox batting just .158 in ten games.

In 1966 he was named the White Sox regular centerfielder & finally made his impact. He won hit .273, with 22 HRs, 27 doubles 8 triples 84 RBIs, 98 runs scored (3rd in the A.L.) & 44 stolen bases (3RD in the A.L.). .

Agee won the Rookie of the Year Award, made the All Star team, & won a Gold Glove while leading the league in putouts , posting a .982 fielding percentage with 12 assists. Agee was a free swinger who would strike out over 100 times five straight seasons.

In 1967 the Sox were in the pennant race until the last days of the season, falling to the Boston Red Sox in their Impossible Dream season. Agee had a good first half making another All Star team, but his numbers fell off in the second half. He finished batting .234 with 14 HRs 26 doubles 52 RBIs & 28 stolen bases while striking out 126 times.

The Sox gave up on him, but the new Mets manager Gil Hodges, remembered what he saw of Agee while he was managing the Senators & wanted him as his centerfielder in New York. That December, Agee was traded to the New York Mets along with Al Weis in exchange for Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, Billy Wynne and Dick Booker.

Agee was happy to be re-united with his childhood friend from Alabama, left fielder Cleon Jones. In his first at bat in Spring Training he was beaned in the head by Bob Gibson & had to be taken to the hospital. Hodges penciled him in as the Mets starting centerfielder on opening day 1968 and he remained there for the next five seasons.

Agee made his Mets debut batting third & playing centerfield on Opening Day 1968. In that game he went 2-4, stole a base & scored two run in the Mets 5-4 loss to the Giants in San Francisco.

After starting out by going 5-16 he then he slumped for two weeks going hitless in 34 at bats finding himself batting just .102 at the end of April. He didn’t hit his first HR until May 10th coming at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

On may 16th he singled in the bottom of the 9th inning off the Reds Gerry Arrigo to give Tom Seaver the Mets a 2-1 walk off win. Agee struggled mightily his first season in New York, he didn't even hit over the .200 mark until midway through September.

On June 7th he hit a HR inSan Francisco & wouldn't hit another until August 4th almost two months later. He hit another later in the month then went all through September without a HR or an RBI. He finished up hitting .217 with 5 HRs 12 doubles 3 triples a .255 on base % & 17 RBIs in 132 games.

Agee continued to hustle, he did steal 15 bases, stayed positive and never complained. He earned the respect of his manager Gil Hodges as well as the New York fans.

In 1969 he became one of the most important position players on Mets Championship squad. He was moved up to the leadoff position and provided most of their speed as well as power until Don Clendenon arrived in June. On Opening Day he got two hits & drove in two runs against the expansion Montreal Expos who beat the Mets at Shea Stadium 11-10.

On April 10th, in the third game of the season Agee blasted a tremendous HR to the left field Upper Deck Section 48 at Shea Stadium. It was the longest HR in Shea Stadiums history, estimated at 480 feet, coming off Montreal’s Larry Jaster. No other player has ever hit an upper deck HR in that part of the old ballpark.

To commemorate the HR, a red & white marker was painted on the spot where the ball landed. He hit two HRs that day leading the Mets to a 4-2 victory.

Agee was in the middle of most Mets highlights throughout the 1969 season, whether it was with his glove on the bases or at the plate. On May 2nd he had a big four hit day at Wrigley Field, hitting a HR & driving in two runs. In a May 11th double header at Shea against the Houston Astros, he homered in the first game & then hit two in the night cap driving in three runs leading the Mets to a 11-7 win.

In the week of May 11th through the 17th he was in the midst of a ten game hit streak, as he drove in 11 runs & boosted his batting average up to .313. On June 10th in San Francisco Agee had a four hit day where he clobbered a pair of HRs & drove in three runs in the Mets 9-4 win.

In a June 22nd double header at Shea, Agee drove in two runs of the first game to help New York defeat Steve Carlton 5-1. In the nightcap he drove in the games only run, helping Jerry Koosman defeat Mike Torrez 1-0.

On July 9th, the night of Tom Seaver's classic imperfect one hit game, Agee helped the cause by driving in the games third run with a double in the second inning. On July 13th he hit two HRs at Shea Stadium to lead the Mets past Montreal 9-7 as he drove in four runs in the contest as well. He helped the Mets take two of three from the first place Cubs at Wrigley Field when he homered in the last game & drove in runs in both wins.

On July 25th against the Cincinnati Reds, he hit a two run HR in the bottom of the 5th inning, leading Tom Seaver & the Mets to a 3-2 win. On an August road trip he homered in back to back games in victories at Atlanta.

Then he had a big two hit, four RBI day at the Houston Astrodome & drove in runs in three straight games. On August 19th he hit a walk off HR off the San Francisco Giants Juan Marichal , helping Gary Gentry & the Mets to a 1-0 victory.  In the first eight days of September Agee hit four HRs two in Los Angeles & then two more on a Shea home stand.

On September 8th the first place Chicago Cubs came to town with the hot Mets just 1.5 games back. This game would go down in Mets history as "Black Cat Night" as a black cat ran onto the field & glared into the Cubs dugout.

 As the game began, New Jersey born Cubs pitcher Bill Hands knocked down Agee with a brush back pitch to try to send a message. Well the Mets sent a messgae right back, as Jerry Koosman knocked down Cubs slugger Ron Santo when he hit him on the wrist with a pitch, injuring him. The message was don't mess with these Mets.

In the 3rd inning Agee hit a two run HR scoring Bud Harrelson sending the same message back to Hands & the Cubs. In the 6th inning he singled and stretched it into a double, scoring on a close play at home plate on Wayne Garrets base hit. The Mets won the game 3-2 & were within 1/2 a game of first place.

The next night Gary Gentry beat the Cubs 7-1 as the Mets took over first place, Agee had two hits, a walk & scored a run in the game. On October 1st with the Mets having clinched the NL Eastern division & the Cubs 9 games back the Mets were playing at Wrigley Field. With the score tied in the top of the 9th inning, Agee doubled to score two runs & put New York ahead. Although they couldn't hold the lead, they won the game in extra innings.

Overall in the 1969 Mets Championship Season, Agee played in 149 games, more than any other position player. He led the team in HRs (26) RBIs (76) runs scored (97) & at bats (565) hitting 23 doubles, with 4 triples, & 12 stolen bases. He played an excellent center field; posting a .986 fielding %, making only five errors & nailing seven assists. He was considered for the MVP award coming in sixth overall in the final voting.  

Post Season: In the 1969 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, Agee hit .357 with 2 HRs and 4 RBIs. He went hitless in Game #1 at Atlanta. In Game #2 he went 2-4, hitting a two run HR, off Ron Reed in the second inning. In the 7th inning he walked & scored on his buddy Cleon Jones two run HR. In the game, Agee scored a pair of runs as the Mets went on to romp the Braves 11-6.

Late in that game, Agee was on third base, with the Mets leading 9-6. He attempted a surprise steal of home plate off side arm pitcher Cecil Upshaw. As he headed home, Cleon Jones was trying to distract catcher Bob Didier swinging at the pitch. He fouled off the ball with a line shot down the third base line about a foot from Agee’s head. Luckily no damage was done.

In the pennant clincher Game #3 at Shea Stadium, Agee went 3 for 5, driving in two runs and stealing two bases. In the third inning he hit his second NLCS HR, this time off pitcher Pat Jarvis cutting the Braves lead to 2-1. In the sixth inning, he singled home the seventh & final run of the game off future Met George Stone. The Mets won the game 7-4 sweeping the Braves in three games & advancing to the World Series.

Agee led off the 1969 World Series against the Orioles in Baltimore, grounding out to third base, and then went hitless in the first two games. The Series moved to New York and Agee had what Sports Illustrated called “the greatest day any centerfielder ever had in a World Series”.

He led off the Mets first inning with a HR off the Orioles Jim Palmer, getting the Shea crowd all revved up. Then he made two catches that probably saved five runs and will be remembered forever in Mets & World Series history.

In the 4th inning with runners on the corners, the Oriole’s catcher Elrod Hendricks ripped a Gary Gentry pitch to left center field. Agee dashed and stuck out his glove, catching the ball backhanded in the webbing & running into the wall to rob Hendricks of an extra base hit. He preserved the Mets 3-0 lead & ended the inning.

In the seventh inning, the bases were loaded & the Mets led the game 4-0. Baltimore outfielder Paul Blair ripped a shot to right center field. Agee ran back at full speed and made his second spectacular catch of the day. This time a sliding grab on the warning track saving three more runs from scoring. The crowd of 56,335 was ecstatic, and when Agee led off the bottom of the inning he received a standing from the Shea faithful.

Quotes: "Words can't describe how that made me feel," he said. "I felt like I wanted to hit two home runs in that one time at bat."

The catches immediately were rated among the best in World Series history, along with grabs by Brooklyn’s Al Gionfriddo off Joe DiMaggio in 1947, Willie Mays’ off Vic Wertz in 1954. & Sandy Amoros’ catch off Yogi Berra in 1955.

Quotes: Agee said after the game. "The homer meant only one run, the catches saved more than that."

Overall in the Series he only hit .167 going (3-18) striking out five times, hitting the one HR, driving one run and walking twice. Game #3 was the high point of his career and made him a Mets legend. After the Series he was voted the NL Comeback Player of the Year, and enjoyed stardom like many other 1969 Mets.

He appeared with his team on The Ed Sullivan Show, then appeared with other members of the 1969 Championship Team in a short lived Las Vegas revue singing American standard tunes. In their home town of Mobile, Alabama a parade was held in honor of hometown heroes Agee & Cleon Jones.

Agee followed up the 1969 Championship season with possibly his best season ever.

In 1970 he became the first position player to win a Gold Glove in both leagues, and the first Mets player to ever win the award. He led all outfielders in put outs (374) as well as errors (13) while posting a .967 fielding percentage.

He opened up the season with three hits in Pittsburgh, scoring two runs in the Mets 5-3 win over the Pirates. At the end of April he had a 20-game hitting streak going into May, & later in the summer he had a 19 game hit streak from late June into July.

On May 19th Agee hit a pair of HRs against the Montreal Expos, leading New York to a 7-4 win. On a seven game June home stand he hit five HRs & drove in ten runs, getting 14 hits while scoring ten runs. Overall in the first three weeks of June he hit nine HRs, giving him 15 for the year among the league leaders. In the month he also drove in 28 runs, with 11 multi RBI games.

On Monday night July 6th at Shea Stadium, Agee hit for the cycle in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He singled in the first, then scored a run. In the bottom of the 4th he blasted a three run HR off Jerry Reuss, putting the Mets up 6-0. In the next inning he doubled, driving in Al Weis & then tripled off Frank Linzy in the home 7th. Quite a day for Agee in the Mets 10-3 win.

Two weeks later he had another four hit day in Los Angeles and was batting above .290. On July 24th Agee reached base in the bottom of the 9th inning, on a fielder's choice grounder in a 1-1 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He stole second base & reached third on a Jim Brewer wild pitch. Then with Cleon Jones aboard he got a great jump & stole home plate to score the winning run. After a seven week drought without any HRs, he blasted two round trippers on August 23rd leading the Mets past the Cincinnati Reds 5-4. 

In September he kept the Mets in the pennant race ending the season by hitting safely in 13 of the last 15 games, including nine straight to end the year. The Mets stayed in the race but faded in the final week of the season, after being as close as 1.5 games back on September 22nd.

In 1970 he led the club in hitting with career highs in batting (.286) HRs (24) doubles (31) runs scored (107) at bats (638) & slugging percentage (.469). He set a Mets record stealing 31 bases (6th in the league) that stood until 1977. He also had career drove in 75 runs with a .344 on base % He received votes for the MVP Award as well coming in at 19th.

In 1971 Agee drove in a run on Opening Day against Montreal's Rookie of the Year Carl Morton, helping Tom Seaver to a 4-2 victory. On April 24th he hit a grand slam HR at Wrigley Field against Milt Papas & the rival Cubs.

On May 3rd as the Cubs came to Shea Stadium, Agee hit a walk off game winning single off Chicago's Ken Holtzman, scoring Jerry Grote. During the next home stand he had back to back HR games while leading the club in wins. In June he was batting .280 when he injured his knee & missed almost three weeks of action.

In the August he had a three hit game in the Mets 20-6 win over the Braves at Fulton County Stadium. On August 28th in the second game of a double header against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Agee singled home Duffy Dyer in the bottom of the 8th inning off pitcher Jim Brewer. The Mets won it on a Cleon Jones walk off HR in the 9th.

The next day it was Agee's turn to be the walk off hero, this time in a pinch hitting role. He singled off Dodger pitcher Bill Singer in the bottom of the 9th driving in Ken Singelton with the game winning run.

By September 3rd the Mets were 11 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates & Agee went down with another injury, keeping him out of action for two weeks. Agee finished the 1971 season batting .285, second on the club to Cleon Jones. He tied for the team lead in HRs with 14 HRs, also hitting 18 doubles with 50 RBIs & 58 runs scored with a .362 on base % (third on the club). Agee stole 28 bases & tied with Bud Harrelson for 4th most steals in the league.

By 1972 Agee’s career was already winding down at the age of 30. In Spring Training, Manager Gild Hodges passed away from a sudden heart attack & the Mets family was in shock. Agee took it hard as did almost all of his team mates.

The season began a bit late as a players strike delayed the home Opener until April 15th. That day the Mets retired Gil Hodges uniform #14 and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on a Tom Seaver 4-0 shut out.

On April 28th in Los Angeles, Agee had another big moment coming at Dodger pitcher Jim Brewers expense. He hit a grand slam HR leading Rookie of the Year Mets pitcher; Jon Matlack to a 6-1 win.

In May Mets Owner Mrs. Joan Payson acquired her favorite player, the veteran Willie Mays from the San Francisco Giants. Although Mays was over forty, he was a huge fan favorite & took playing time away from Agee. On May 21st in with the Mets down 3-0 in Philadelphia, Agee hit a two run HR in the 6th off Steve Carlton scoring Willie Mays. In the top of the 8th Mays then hit a two run HR leading New York to a 4-3 win.

On June 6th, his 7th inning RBI single ended up being the game winner in a 3-2 win over The Big Red Machine. But Knee injuries were also setting Agee back. He would miss three weeks of action in July & after peaking at .300 at the end of May, he dropped off to only hit .228 on the year. In August he hit HRs in three straight games, including an extra inning game winner off the Cubs Burt Hooton in Chicago's Wrigley Field.

On September 24th, Agee hit a 1st inning HR off The Phillies Steve Carlton. The only other run of the game was driven in by rookie Lute Barnes, helping Tom Seaver out duel Carlton 2-1, for his 19th win of the year.

On September 29th Agee drove in his last career Mets run, it was the only run of a 1-0 game where Tom Seaver earned his 20th win of the year, beating the Pirates Nelson Briles at Three Rivers Stadium. He would play his last Mets game on October 4th 1972.

Agee will always be remembered as one of the most popular Mets & a Shea favorite. In 1972 Agee played the least amount of games in his Mets career (114) and only stole eight bases. He led the team with 23 doubles, and was second to Rookie John Milner in HRs hitting 13. He drove in 47 runs, scored 52 runs & posted a .317 on base %. That year he led all centerfielders in errors (10) & posted a .962 fielding % while making six assists.

On November 27, 1972 he was traded to the Houston Astros in exchange for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris. He spent his last major league season platooning for the Houston Astros (83 games) and then the St. Louis Cardinals (26 games). In 108 games he hit .222 with 11 HRs, 8 doubles & 22 RBIs.

He was traded to the the Los Angeles Dodgers for Pete Richert, but didn’t make the big league club. In way too short of a career, Agee retired from baseball at age 31, during spring training, 1974.

He finished his 12 year with a .255 lifetime batting average, 999 hits 130 HRs 170 doubles, 27 triples, 558 runs scored 167 stolen bases a .320 on base % & 433 RBIs in 1129 games. In the outfield Agee played 1073 games, 933 in centerfield. He had 2371 put outs, with a.975 fielding % making 61 errors & 53 assists.

Quotes: “When you win in New York, it just happens to carry on. Every day I walk around the city and people stop me and want to talk about 1969. They remember some home run I hit or the time I stole home in the 10th inning. They remember that team.”                     

Retirement: Agee went into business running his own Restaurant called the Outfielder's Lounge, located on Astoria Blvd. near Shea Stadium. After that he also worked for the Stewart Title Insurance Co. in New York City.

He married Maxine Agee in 1985; his best man was friend & teammate Cleon Jones. Agee had Art Shamsky on standby to fill in, just in case Cleon didn’t show, since Cleon was running very late.

Passing: In 2001, Tommie Agee collapsed while walking out of a midtown Manhattan office building. Emergency medical service workers found him in cardiac arrest and attempted to work on him. They used a defibrillator en route to Bellevue Hospital, but could not resuscitate him. He passed away at age 58.

Teammates from the 1969 Amazing Mets (Tug McGraw, Ed Charles, Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky, Bud Harrelson, and Donn Clendenon) served as pallbearers during his funeral service in Mt. Vernon, New York.

Ed Charles, his friend & the third baseman on the 1969 championship team, spoke on behalf of the Mets during the service. "In that miraculous year of 1969, he was very special to us," Charles said. "I can't recall anyone who ever said a bad word about Tommie Agee, or anyone that wasn't taken by that disarming smile of his."

Quotes: “Forget teammates. Teammate was over a long time ago. He was a friend."-Ed Kranepool, who did a lot of charity events with Agee. "He was a great friend and the way he conducted himself after his playing days were over was admirable. He's gone way too soon," Ron Swoboda.

Honors: Agee was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 2002. His widow & daughter were invited as he was honored at the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008. Agee is third all time in Mets games played in centerfield (591) he is 13th in stolen bases (92) & ranks in the top 25 in most other categories.


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