Feb 24, 2019

50th Anniversary of the 1969 Mets: Spring Training 1969 (Part 1)

**this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 World Champion Amazing Mets. centerfieldmaz will be remembering the 1969 team with posts on memorable 1969 moments & games all season long.

The Mets entered Spring Training with some hope & optimism. They had just finished up the 1968 seasons in ninth place with a 73-89 record. Obviously they had some good pitching, with their two aces having made the All Star team.

Jerry Koosman had finished his 1968 Rookie season coming in second to Johnny Bench in the Rookie of the Year voting. He  made the All Star team, finishing up with 19 wins (19-12)  a 2.08 ERA (both fourth best in the NL), 179 strike outs & seven shut outs (third best in the NL). 

Tom Seaver had gone 16-12 with a 2.20 ERA (seventh in the NL) & 205 strike outs (sixth in the NL). Young fireball throwing Nolan Ryan had struck out 143 batters in 133 innings, but had walked 75 times & went 6-9 in 21 games (18 starts). 

The Mets added youngster Gary Gentry to the starting staff, who in 1968 went 12-8 with a 2.91 ERA at AAA Jacksonville. The other two starters were Don Cardwell who was 7-13 with a 2.95 ERA & Jim McAndrew who was 4-7 with a 2.28 ERA. 

Overall the 1968 Mets  staff had the leagues fourth best ERA in 1968 at 2.72 & second in strike outs (1014) shut outs (17) & saves (33). 

Tug McGraw who spent all of 1968 at AAA Jacksonville, was brought up as the main lefty out of the bullpen to go with right hander Ron Taylor who had saved 14 games in 1968 which was fourth most in the league. Cal Koonce, Al Jackson, Danny Frisella & Bill Short were the other bullpen left overs from 1968. 

Koonce would be the only man left from the bunch, pouring champagne on his team mates, in the October 1969 Mets clubhouse. Koonce would have a solid 1969 season at 6-3 with seven saves. Short & Jackson who started 1969 with the Mets, both ended up with the Cincinnati Reds.

The hitting was certainly not as solid as the pitching. In 1968 their were only ten NL teams, the Mets finished last in batting average, on base % & slugging.  They were ninth in runs scored, Eighth in doubles, triples & hits. Their best area was HRs where they were fifth with 81 round trippers. Ed Charles led the team with 15 & Cleon Jones was next with 14.

Run production was so weak, that Ron Swoboda's 59 RBIs led the 1968 squad, Jones' 55 was second best.

Cleon Jones the teams best hitters was developing into one of the NL's best hitters as well, he batted just under .300, finishing at .297 (sixth best in the league). Jerry Grote who was the leagues best defensive catchers had hit a solid .282. Third baseman Ed Charles had hit .276 but at age 37 was winding down his career. 

Third base was a problem, for the Mets  for years, they were counting on young rookie Amos Otis to fill the spot. Otis soon to be an All Star centerfield fielder with the Royals in the 70's & early 80's, never adjusted to third base & clashed with manager Gil Hodges. 

Prior to Spring Training 1969, the Atlanta Braves had asked for Otis in exchange for Joe Torre. The Mets refused, considering Otis untouchable. The Braves got Orlando Cepeda for Torre, who went to St. Louis winning the 1971 NL MVP Award. The Mets would trade Otis to the Kansas City Royals for Joe Foy in 1970, a disaster of a deal. 

Young red headed Wayne Garrett would share time at third base with Charles in 1969.

Garrett along with Rod Gaspar had earned their spots on the 1969 roster during Spring Training. Duffy Dyer also won a spot behind Jerry Grote & J.C. Martin in the catchers role. Larry Stahl the 1968 third string catcher, had batted .235 (53 games) was lost to the new San Diego Padres in the expansion draft.

The outfield was set with Cleon Jones in left, Ron Swoboda & Art Shamsky platooning in right. Tommie Agee, a favorite of Gil Hodges had a terrible 1968 season but Hodges had faith in him & Agee would sure turn it around. After batting .217 in 1968 he upped it to .271 in 1969. He went from 5 HRs & 17 RBIs (132 games) to leading the club in both categories in 1969- 26 HRs & 76 RBIs (149 games).

Off seasons weren't as active in 1969 as they are today, with no free agency going on. So the Mets had pretty much the same regular eight guys in the line up leaving spring training camp. 

The bench was improved as Jerry Buchek (73 games) & Don Bosch (50 games) who both hit under .200 were let go, Greg Goossen & Kevin Collins who went to the expansion Montreal Expos were also gone with  Gaspar, Garrett  & Bobby Pfeil replacing them. 

The Mets took the squad North out of  St. Petersburg Florida to Queens with 100-1 odds to win the World Series. Oh what a year 1969 was to be...…………..

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