(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Thanks to the 1986 World Series, the Mets and Red Sox will be inexorably linked in baseball history. But their connections began long before that, and continue to this day, thanks to a slugging outfielder named Yoenis Cespedes.
With the Red Sox in town for one of the only times they’ve been in Queens since ’86 (they actually helped open Citi Field in 2009 with a late spring training exhibition) it might be fun to reminisce about some of the links shared by both clubs.
The first Mets Opening Day lineup in 1962 contained a player who would be involved in one of the first trades between both clubs, Felix Mantilla. The slick-fielding shortstop, who batted .275 for those virgin Metsies in ’62 – quite an accomplishment in those days for a team that lost 120 games – was traded to Boston after the season for another infielder, Pumpsie Green, and pitcher Tracy Stallard.
Both Green and Stallard came to New York having already earned asterisks of sorts in baseball history. Green was the first African-American player to ever play for the Red Sox beginning in 1959. Stallard’s claim to fame, or infamy as the case may be, was giving up Roger Maris’ 61st home run in 1961.
Late in the ’62 season, the Mets claimed pitcher Galen Cisco off waivers from the Red Sox. And he would become a mainstay on the Mets staff for the next three-plus years. You can’t brag about his record during that time (18-43, 4.04), but hey, rarely did anyone have impressive stats with the Mets in those early years.
In May of 1963, the Mets traded for a former Red Sox player so famous they even made a movie about his life, Jimmy Piersall. The Washington Senators sent Piersall to the Mets in exchange for Gil Hodges, who they wanted to be their manager, not their first baseman.
This ended up being a very fortuitous deal for the Mets, as Hodges received his on-the-job education as a manager, with skills that served him well when he came back to skipper his former club in 1968.
But as for Piersall, whose life was chronicled in the 1957 biopic, “Fear Strikes Out,” (a very lousy baseball movie, by the way) his Mets career was equally poorly received and short-lived, about two months’ worth, thanks to a well-known incident in Met lore.
In July of ’63, future Hall of Famer Duke Snider hit his 400th career home run, most of which on behalf of the Dodgers, his 11th as a Met. Naturally he received a lot of press for the feat, and all of the back pages of the papers in New York.
Piersall teasingly boasted to Snider that his next home run would be his 100th career dinger, and that he would get even more publicity for doing so, albeit for a far lesser amount. Sure enough, when he hit that momentous home run, Piersall turned his back to first base and ran the bases backwards. In the correct order, of course, but nonetheless like a film being spooled in reverse. Of course, everyone got a big laugh out of it, and yes, the publicity was wide-ranging.
Everyone got a kick out of it except for his manager, Casey Stengel, and likely the GM, George Weiss. Piersall was released a day or so later.
Stengel’s reaction was not surprising, he was in charge of this motley crew, but if you search Stengel’s history, you’ll find a moment form his playing days when he purposely approached home plate with a bird hidden in his cap. He made a spectacle when he doffed his cap and the bird flew off.
Perhaps the strangest Mets-Red Sox connection occurred in 1986. When the Mets were battling the Sox for the crown, one of the players in the opposing dugout was All-Time Greatest Met Tom Seaver. George Thomas was in the waning days of his Hall of Fame career, and wasn’t even activated for the series, but there he was in the Red Sox dugout, cheering for his new teammates to beat his original club.
Ironically, Tom Terrific would attempt one more comeback in spring training the following year, with the Mets, but that didn’t go over too well either, and his pitching days were over.
Of course, those ’86 Mets might not have ever made it to the Fall Classic were it not for a very important former Red Sox hurler on the staff, Bobby Ojeda. In November of ’85, the Mets and Red Sox completed an eight-player deal that sent Ojeda, Tom McCarthy (not the broadcaster), John Mitchell, and minor league prospect Chris Bayer to New York in exchange for John Christensen, Wes Gardner, LaSchelle Tarver and Calvin Schiraldi.
Some would say the first step toward planning the parade down the Canyon of Heroes one year later was made that day, not only because the Mets acquired Ojeda, but because Schiraldi went to Boston. (see Game 6, 1986 World Series).
But more importantly, Ojeda went 18-5 for the Mets in ’86, with a 2.57 ERA. The indispensable lefthander was the perfect complement to the staff that featured righthanders Doc Gooden and Ron Darling, and fellow southpaw Sid Fernandez.
And then there is the Pedro connection. One of the newest Hall of Famers, Pedro Martinez, came to the Mets directly from the Red Sox in 2005 when he signed a four-year free agent contract with the Mets for about $52 million. While his Mets stint was not as successful as all parties would have preferred (32-23, 3.88), and he was injured in the postseason run of ’06 when he could have been the difference in getting to the big dance, Martinez added a dimension that was fully welcomed. His effervescent personality and still powerful delivery was instrumental in keeping the team competitive in what was the last above-.500 era before this season.
The LaGuardia to Logan connection also extends to the manager’s perch. One time Met Don Zimmer was a popular Red Sox skipper from 1976-80, where he had a winning percentage of .575 (411-304). And while Bobby Valentine is still revered for his antics and success as Mets manager from 1996-2002, and resulted in one World Series appearance in 2000, his one-year stint as the Red Sox manager in 2012 went horribly awry, and resulted in a last place finish.
There have been dozens of players who have suited up for both clubs, and a handful of trades and waiver deals, the last occurring in 2012 when the Mets acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach on waivers from the Red Sox for a player to be named, who turned out to be pitcher Pedro Beato.
You’ll notice we’re not even mentioning the name of a former Red Sox outfielder that signed with the Mets a few years ago after hitting 36 home runs up in Fenway in 2009. Too frustrating. But there is one moment that never fails to put a smile on Mets fan faces, one that is punctuated with, “It gets by Buckner…”