The 5th Best Trade In Mets History: Joe Mcllvaine Steals a First Baseman

john olerud blackMike:

Well, five great trades behind us (six including Leiter), we are halfway through our list. It’s interesting to note that so far all six players we have discussed (Leiter, Clendenon, Delgado, HoJo, Agee, and Grote) were part of Mets playoff teams. That streak continues today with John Olerud.


Even though I was a fan at the time, I still feel like I should write a letter of apology to John Olerud. He wasn’t just good. He was nearly great.


We wrote about it a year ago. I will call it the “Piazza factor,” but as terrific a player as John Olerud was I believe he was not fully appreciated. As we mentioned when discussing Al Leiter, that period was the height of the steroid era, and home run numbers were out of control. John Olerud, as pure a hitter as the Mets have ever had, was not a slap hitter, but he played first base, known as a power position. Hitters all over the place were getting 30 plus jacks a year, and that was not John’s game. It made it easy to under-appreciate him, something that began, thankfully for us, in Toronto. Cito Gaston wanted more pop from his first baseman, and Joe Mcllvaine swooped in to pick up the unwanted Olerud for Robert Person.


Cito drove Shawn Green out of town, too. Both Olerud and Green didn’t fit the mold of what Gaston wanted them to be — and he completely missed on appreciating the players they were. hughMcLeodCompanyHierarchyInteresting comparison to the current Mets organization that also wants its players to fit into a preconceived type. Long, long ago, in the 1980′s, I worked in the corporate world. I had a great boss, a wise old guy, and he used to say, “You have to take the whole man.” Meaning that we can’t pick and choose the attributes we want, while dismissing the flaws. You have to take the whole thing. This is true of marriage, too, the essential lesson. I think you get into trouble when you focus too much on a person’s weaknesses without properly balancing those against his/her strengths.

Deep stuff, I know. Please forgive me.


Getting back to baseball, there are very few players who can do everything well. So if you look for a problem, you can usually find it. John had few actual issues, the fact is he was no Dave Magadan. He could drive the ball. The only tool he did not possess was speed, I can’t give him that.


It’s amazing that Big John only played three years for the Mets. During that time he put us a slash line of .315/.425/.501. I mean, holy shit. And talk about consistency:

  • 1997: 154 G, 22 HR, 102 RBI
  • 1998: 160 G, 22 HR, 93 RBI
  • 1999: 162 G, 19 HR, 96 RBI

In the 1999 NLDS, he had an OPS of 1.151; in the NLCS, he hit .296 and slugged a couple of homers for an OPS of .863 against a tough Braves staff. What’s more, he was a perfect #3 hitter, as solid as they come.

All that said, everybody just seemed to accept that he was going to leave the Mets for Seattle after the ’99 season. I didn’t flip out, and the organization seemed resigned to it, too. Weird. We should have been screaming for the Mets to keep him. He was only 30 years old and we let him walk.


MetsInfieldSportsIllustratedWe didn’t just lose a bat, we lost a glove too. Olerud was a fabulous first baseman, a three time Gold Glove winner. Zeile was okay, but he could not carry John’s bat, or his glove. We came so close in 2000, it is hard not to wonder how the team would have done in that World Series with Olerud still on the team.


Of relevance here, I think, is that this was yet another trade where the Mets gave up a live arm, Robert Person. There was a time when the minor league mavens were giddy about Mr. Person’s potential, but he never really amounted to a hill of beans — though for a time he was our hill, and our beans. It seems that historically, Mets teams have done well trading unproven pitching in exchange for projectable hitting.

In fairness to Robert Person, he looked like a pretty decent pitching prospect in the Mets system, though he didn’t crack the roster until 1996 (cup of coffee late in ’95). He went on to start 135 major league ballgames. That’s not nothing, including two good years with the Phillies in 2000 and 2001. For all his mediocrity, I’m glad (and heartsick) to learn to that Person went on to “earn” $11,972,000 over the course of his MLB career. Not bad for a guy who retired at age 33, unable to get anybody out for the Red Sox.


What I remember most about Person’s post-Mets career was an incident where the police had to hogtie him so he could be safely transported to the station, after resisting arrest. It was the day of his arbitration hearing, and is a reminder of how dangerous that process can be for a player.

Be careful Ike!


In the end, all it took was one long look at Todd Ziele for us all the realize what we had in John Olerud. Sigh.

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  1. John A says:

    We wouldve won the 2000 WS if we had Johnny O

  2. James Preller says:

    The link to the “hogtie” story is well worth clicking, folks! This is why we love baseball.

  3. Alan K. says:

    Based on Olerud’s production, why did the Mets allow him to get into his walk year of the contract and not lock him with a long term deal up beforehand?

    • Michael Geus says:

      Looking back it is hard to figure now, especially since the team was spending, and in “go for it” mode.

      Olerud got five years from Seattle. I wonder if it was A-Rod related, Phillips trying to make sure he had a lot of cash ready after the 2000 season ended. The prevailing thought at the time was that A-Rod would become a Met.

      • The A-Rod angle strikes me as pretty perceptive.

        Also, the story was that Olerud was a Seattle guy who knew exactly what he wanted, and that was to go home. It was presented to us (and the Mets?) as a foregone conclusion. Of course, a strong offer might have changed John’s mind. But given his character, it’s possible that money was not the primary motivation. His heart might have been set. At the time, that’s how I understood it. Though in retrospect, I should have been screaming (or typing loudly!) that the Mets needed to go the extra two yards to retain him.

  4. Dave says:

    Olerud was a great Met. I loved everything about him…the subway commute to Shea, the smooth glove work at 1B, the plate discipline, and of course the balanced, sweet swing. . I agree that many Mets fans thought he was replaceable. Part of that was his low key presence and laconic personality (most NY fans prefer hot to cool when it comes to sports icons). Olerud was the rare sports star that seemed to have no ego…he was completely “swag-free” on and off the field I’m glad Olerud is getting credit from 2Guys in this space. He remains the franchise leader in BA, OBP and OPS (minimum 1500 plate appearances).The bottom line is Olerud’s three year performance as a Met match up well with the best three year stints in franchise history.

  5. Patrick Boegel says:

    I missed this because I was either hung over or sledding on New Years Day! Or perhaps both.

    I was screaming and typing loudly in 1999 off season when the Mets let Olerud walk. Mostly typing loudly into email and instant messenger applications.

    I simply could not wrap my head around nor buy into the Steve Phillips line that Olerud was simply predestined to go home. The winter prior the Mets Inked Robin Ventura for 4 years and $32MM. Certainly a shrewd but what appeared an astute move by Phillips though Ventura had come off two sub par years, but bounced back strong in 1999. Of course he struggled mightily after Early June 2000 due to an injury. I still maintain to this day he bruised or cracked a rib in his belly flopping roost of Mike Piazza during a rain delay at Yankee Stadium. A Sunday night game that was eventually rained out. Which then became part of the in famous day night cross town double header.

    I digress massively.

    The Olerud camp wanted the Mets to at least go average annual value for a new contract. He ended up signing a 3 year $20MM dollar deal with Seattle, then re-signed for an additional 2 years after the 2002 season.

    Big mistake letting him go.

    • Michael Geus says:

      I saw the five years with Seattle last week and surmised that was the issue, not remembering the original deal with the Mariners was for only three. Sadly these things happen to me more and more, earlier I forgot one of my bags at the grocery store.

      All of which explains some of our posts, but not why Phillips did not keep Olerud. It’s hard to explain.

      • I’m guessing that bag contained the salad fixin’s.

      • Patrick Boegel says:

        That actually explains the Mets under the leadership of Fred Wilpon and son quite well. Always leaving something somewhere and yet they seem to do so purposefully without any measure of thought, consequence or reconsideration.

        34 years Fred Wilpons family has been involved in ownership of the New York Mets in some capacity and I get the feeling that they get lost in the grocery store daily.

    • Sledding and hangovers, now there’s a concept! Why haven’t I tried it yet?

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