Esposito: Bautista Latest Late Career Mets Pickup

Welcome to the Mets, Jose Bautista.

And as Mets fans are anxious to see if “Joey Bats” still has some gas in the tank – aka hits in his bat – the former All Star outfielder represents the latest in a long list of former All Stars the franchise has acquired late in their careers with the same notion – maybe they have something left.

No doubt the best example of that is when the Mets acquired one of the greatest players in the history of the game – Willie Mays.

By 1972, the San Francisco Giants knew the Say Hey Kid was near the end of his productive days. But Mets owner Joan Payson, herself a long time Mays fan and former minority owner of the Giants when they were the New York Giants and called the Polo Grounds home for half a century, wanted Mays to finish his career in the city where it started.

So she authorized the trade with San Francisco literally 46 years ago this month, and brought Mays back to the Big Apple for a young righthander, Charlie Williams, and $50,000.

Mays was already 41 at the time, and did flash a few moments for posterity, even hitting a home run in his first game as a Met – against the Giants, no less, but for the most part, his best days, of course, were behind him. He lasted as a Met through the 1973 season, and even grabbed a few last hits in the Mets’ World Series run that year. Mays had one hit in three at-bats in the ‘73 NLCS, and two hits in seven ABs in the World Series loss to Oakland.

In the early days of the franchise, it felt like the entire team were former All-Stars one step away from retirement.

It was intentional. The newborn expansion club in 1962 wanted recognizable “names” to encourage a fan base and attract attendance. They drafted names such as: Gil Hodges, Roger Craig, Don Zimmer, Gus Bell, and Jay Hook. They also brought in future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn and Frank Thomas. Even team President George Weiss and manager Casey Stengel were “rescued” from retirement.

In 1963, they brought famed former Brooklyn Dodger Duke Snider back to New York, but his best days were a distant memory as well. Although he did hit his 400th home run as a Met in ‘63, a moment which lives in Mets lore related to one of the craziest incidents in Met history.

Quirky teammate Jim Piersall challenged Snider, saying when he hit his 100th career home run, he would draw more attention. And it did. When he hit it, Piersall ran the bases backwards, in the correct order, but backwards. Stengel didn’t appreciate the stunt. Piersall was soon an ex-Met just a couple of days later.

In 1965, the Mets reunited two former All Star foes and future Hall of Famers as teammates, Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn. Berra’s last career at-bat came as a Met – grounded into a fielder’s choice forceout on May 9, 1965.

Spahn doubled as the pitching coach in ‘65, but he was actually released in July with a 4-12 record, 4.36 ERA, giving up 140 hits in 126 innings with just 56 strikeouts. He was picked up by the Giants and retired at the end of the season.

At the end of the 1970 season, the Mets brought in former All Star and Cy Young winner Dean Chance. They purchased his contract from the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 18. But in three games, all in relief, Chance threw just a total of two innings, and gave up three runs for a fat 13.50 ERA.

Chance was traded to Detroit at the end of spring training in ‘71, and was actually more efficient for the Tigers, pitching to a 3.51 ERA in 31 games, 14 starts. He retired at the end of the ‘71 season.

Interestingly, one of the players the Mets dealt to the Tigers in that deal was righthander Bill Denehy. Trivia fans will recall that it was Denehy who was originally traded by the Mets to the second incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1967 for…ta-dah…their manager, Gil Hodges.

Another pitcher the Mets acquired with just a couple of weeks left in a season was former All Star John Candelaria on Sept. 15, 1987. he lasted just three games, won 2, lost none, 12 innings, 17 hits, 5.84 ERA.

Candy ended up going to the Yankees in’88, and enjoyed a 13-7 season, 3.38, but his Mets career was just two weeks long.

Scott Erickson was another pitcher who closed out a year as a Met. The former All Star appeared in just two games as a Met at the end of the 2004 season, and was unimpressive with eight innings, 15 hits, 7.88 ERA.

George “Doc” Medich was a Met for just one game at the end of the 1977 season. Known better for his days as a Yankee, this Doc was picked up off waivers from the Seattle mariners on Sept. 26. In his one game, he lasted seven innings, and gave up six hits and three runs (3.86).

The Mets have a history of picking up former All Star infielders for brief periods or the ends of their careers – Larry Bowa in 1985, Garry Templeton in ‘91, John Valentin in 2002, Jay Bell in 2003.

Gary Sheffield spent his last major league as a Met in 2009, and owns the unique achievement of hitting his 500th home run for his first home run as a Met. The 9-time All Star batted .276 as a Met, with 10 homers and 43 ribbies in 100 games.

It remains to be seen what Joey Bats will do in his Mets career, whether his stint in Queens will be short or the rejuvenation of his career. Bautista, 37, arrives with a resume of 333 home runs, 932 runs batted in from 15 years in the bigs. But a brief resurrection as a Braves third baseman in the last month, he batted just .143 (5-35) with two homers and five runs batted in.

Bautista is wearing No. 11, and began his Met career hitting a double down the left field line. Utility man Philip Evans was optioned to Las Vegas to make room on the roster.

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