THE 7th BEST TRADE IN METS HISTORY: This One Was Quite a Catch

 

THE 7th BEST TRADE IN METS HISTORY

* December 15, 1967: New York Mets trade Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, Billy Wynne and Dick Booker to the Chicago White Sox for Tommie Agee and Al Weis.

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Jimmy:

Mike, you love Tommie Agee. When it came to position players, my guy was Cleon Jones. The big stars on those Mets teams were the pitchers, Seaver and Koosman. I think Agee tended to get overshadowed.

Mike:

When you have Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman it starts there, you are right. But Agee and Jones were also a fun story back in those days.

The two of them were always linked together, the two Mobile Alabama guys who ended up together in New York City. Jones and Agee. The same way, a generation later, fans would say, Doc and Darryl.

agee-marker-lf_They had their business by Shea, the Outfielders Lounge, and Agee became quite famous for a ball that some people believe he hit fair into the upper deck at Shea. I happen to think that is urban legend, by the way, so if any of our readers can set me straight, I’m ready to be educated.

Jimmy:

I have to admit, I’m not as high on this trade as you.

It must be said: Tommy Davis was a very fine player. A two-time NL batting champion, career .294 hitter, Davis badly injured an ankle in 1965 and never fully recovered, basically playing the remainder of his career on one good leg. The Dodgers traded him to the Mets (in the Ron Hunt deal) after winning the 1966 World Series with Davis playing a reduced role. In 1967, at age 28, he put up an excellent slash line of .302/.342/.440 for the Mets. He was 4th in the NL in doubles, tied with Lou Brock and Pete Rose, behind only Rusty Staub, Orlando Cepeda, and Hank Aaron. He put up the 9th best BA (tied with Maury Wills). Strange that he was with the Mets for just one season. There may have been something deeper going on with him, because a lot of teams were content to say goodbye (Davis played for six teams from 1967-70: Dodgers, Mets, White Sox, Pilots, A’s, Cubs), earning him the tagline, “Have bat, will travel.” I can only theorize that his union activities as player representative did not make him beloved by management.

Due to the leg injury, Davis never quite duplicated those 1967 slash numbers in the nine seasons that followed. However, in 1973 he had an outstanding year as DH for the Orioles, ranking 3rd in the AL batting race, finishing 10th in MVP voting). In 1974, he had 84 RBIs for the first-place Orioles. Davis retired after the ’76 season with over 2,100 career hits. Coincidentally, Davis ended up with a .320 career average as a pinch-hitter, an all-time high. Imagine if he had two good legs.

Mike:

Imagine if I had two good legs right now, I could run the NYC marathon. I don’t, and can’t. And Davis did not have two good legs when this trade was made. Life is a bitch and Davis was damaged goods.

This was not a good trade, this was a blowout trade. Yes, many moons after the trade, due to a rule change that did not exist on December 15, 1967 (the DH), Davis was able to limp around and contribute. Here is Davis’s and Agee’s OPS for the five years following this trade:

  • 1968, Davis .633 Agee .562
  • 1969, Davis .688, Agee .806
  • 1970, Davis .695, Agee .812
  • 1971, Davis .774, Agee .790
  • 1972, Davis .607, Agee .692

Agee was beaned in Spring Training in 1968 and never fully recovered that year.

Jimmy:

Side note: He got beaned in the first inning of the first game of Spring Training, by Bob Gibson of all people. We don’t know much about concussions today, back then we just heard about guys suffering from headaches. I’d bet my house that Agee was in a fog for that entire year.

Mike:

So sure, Davis won that season by default. The next four years this is not even a discussion. Davis had become a gimpy slap hitter who didn’t belong out on the field. He had all of 238 and 116 ABs in 1971 and 1972. Agee was fast and fluid, a threat on the bases and he also had power. Tommie hit 77 home runs during those years. Davis managed 24.

Jimmy:

In 1967, the Mets had Cleon Jones in CF. Tommy Davis was in LF, and Ron Swoboda was in RF. For a team built around pitching, the Mets were shooting themselves in the foot with that mismatched assortment roaming the pastures.

Mike:

lucas-duda (1)Correct, and that is the thing about this trade. You could reverse those offensive numbers above and I’m still not convinced I would want Davis. Juan+Lagares+Pittsburgh+Pirates+v+New+York+J5tFF-ym9uSlAgee was a fabulous center fielder. Davis couldn’t move. Defensively this is the equivalent of Lucas Duda being swapped out for Juan Lagares. It’s a one round knockout.

But there is more. The Mets have only won two World Championships in their history, 1969 and 1986. As the famous pictures above show, Tommie Agee’s two great catches were a huge reason we won that World Series. But he wasn’t the only person involved in this trade that was integral to the Mets winning against Baltimore. The throw-in, Al Weis, had the week of his life, with a slash line against the O’s of .455/563/727. Included in this was a game-tying homer in the seventh inning of the clincher.

Jimmy:

I was in the stands for that one, as shocked as anyone. It was almost as shocking as when Dave McNally took Koosman deep earlier in the game. We gasped when that happened. I was like, “Pitchers can do that?”

Mike:

Donn Clendenon had a great Series and won MVP honors, but many people thought Weis deserved the honor. I was one of them.

Jimmy:

I believe Koosman deserved it. He came out in Game 2, a must-win, and no-hit the Orioles through 6 innings. In Game 5, when he was obviously out of gas, Gil Hodges kept him in there all the way. It’s not an accident he was standing on the hill when the confetti came pouring down.

Mike:

Koosman belonged in the conversation, and hey, so did Clendenon. In fairness to the voters, it was a tough call.

Jimmy:

Agee had three incredible seasons for the Mets. After 1971, he was done in by injuries, limping to retirement after the ’73 season. A sad ending.

Look, my point isn’t to go toe-to-toe on the relative merits of their careers. Davis had value after that 1967 season, the man could hit. He played in 154 games, led the Mets in HR and RBI, OBP and SLG, BA and DOUBLES. I’m saying that Tommy Davis was a fine player, not that he was better than Agee over the next three seasons.

For whatever reason, the organization made a call and got it right. Trading for young Tommy Agee carried real risk. Agee only hit .234 in ’67 with a SLG of .371. In the year of the trade, 1967, Tommy Davis blew Agee out of the water.

And yet they still made that deal. To me, that doesn’t make the trade worse, it makes it look better, because it was as if they could see accurately into the future.

Also, and clearly, they wanted Agee’s Gold Glove in CF. That’s what I most admire about this trade. It took a clear-eyed evaluation of exactly what the team needed at the time — to be built around pitching and strength up the middle: Agee joining Grote and Harrelson — a move that required the guts to cast away a two-time, Brooklyn-born batting champion coming off an excellent season at Shea. They could have tried to flip Jones instead. How’s that for a terrifying thought?

Mike:

In Bud Harrelson’s book, Turning Two, he gave much of the credit for the deal to Gil Hodges. Gil had a lot of input on personnel decisions, and he had been managing the Senators in the AL, he had witnessed Agee’s defense as an opponent.

Jimmy:

collinsYes, that’s a theme from that time. Gil shaped that team. Later, Davey Johnson also served as a nudge to management, lobbying for moves. In the Howard Johnson deal, he made a comment that resonated with me, that they wanted to move from being a “contending team” to a “dominant team.” He was reaching for the brass ring. And the fact is, you can’t grab it unless you begin by reaching for it. I can’t imagine that Terry Collins has much say, other than to listen, nod, and say, “OKAY!”

Mike:

Yes, as we have discussed regarding Wally Backman, the role of the manager has been downsized.

Sandy Alderson would never hire Gil Hodges.

 

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10 comments

  1. Eddie Wilkowski says:

    In the days when the RBI mattered,Tommie Davis has 153 of them in a season. Pretty impressive. Collins is a manager who is just happy to be a manager and will always just tow the company line and suffer in silence. Happily to be mediocre and employed.

  2. RAFF says:

    Yes – the RBI mattered, and in those times of ignorance- the Stolen Base was thought to matter, too. How else to explain Maury Wills so often standing in scoring position with Davis at the plate?

  3. IB says:

    I cried when they traded Hunt for Davis. A shattered lad. Not to mention, I loved Jim Hickman – got his autograph at poolside at the Traveler’s Motel by Shea, back when ballplayers didn’t hang at the Ritz.

    Another world.

  4. Eric says:

    The trades are a reminder that teams have always been built when there was an identifiable goal….and a willingness for Risk and Failure.

  5. RAFF says:

    I’ve been searching on and off throughout the day for an archive of New York Newspaper articles from April 10th. 1969. That was my first real year as a baseball fan. I was crazy about my “Mets from Mobile” – Agee and Jones. “Mets from Mobile” (the book) was my first biographical read on baseball, as well. I remember hearing about the homerun as a young fan. I don’t remember where I might have read about it. The closest I can come to an article on the subject is a reflective piece in the Daily News from 2008. Lot’s of quotes from players who were there.: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/tommie-agee-upper-decker-remains-singular-shea-swat-article-1.323886

  6. RAFF says:

    Eureekah! I have found it. Mike- I sent you a note with the NY Times Article from April 11th 1969 attached, which corroborates the “legend” of Agee’s Blast. I’m not clear on what the copyright detail is with sharing here, fully.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Thanks, good stuff, a mention in Joe Dursos article that day about the Upper Deck blast. I’ve never seen that before.

  7. IB says:

    Yeah, I remember that piece now. Great stuff.

    When you’re a kid it fills you with a mix of grief, anger, injustice. Now I’ve evolved into Archie Bunker and all I can muster is “Ah Jeez”.

  8. IB says:

    Mike – That last comment was about your Hunt piece. I still haven’t gotten the hang of the reply button.

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