Friday, March 26, 2010

If the Mets Had Drafted Reggie Jackson

Jon Lewin of "Subway Squawkers" read my post on what might have happened if Dwight Gooden had stayed clean. He suggested that if Mets general manager M. Donald Grant hadn't been so cheap in the 1960s and '70s, the Mets would have won more by keeping some of their all-time greats, and that he looked forward to more "what-if" (or "if-only") pieces based on that.

You know the old saying: Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.

In 1966, the Kansas City Athletics -- soon to move to Oakland -- chose outfielder Reggie Jackson of Arizona State University with the 2nd pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

The 1st pick belonged to the Mets, who chose Steve Chilcott, a catcher just out of a California high school.

Why? Not because of original Met manager Casey Stengel's advice: "You gotta have a catcher. If you don't have a catcher, you'll have all passed balls."

No. It was because Reggie was black and had a white girlfriend.

Actually, Reggie's girlfriend, Jennie Campos, was Hispanic, the daughter of Mexican immigrants born and raised near Arizona State's Tempe campus. They eventually married... and divorced.

How could the Mets be so racist? Well, there's a line that has been attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Napoleon Bonaparte and Robert A. Heinlein, which I first read from the late great anthropologist and Yankee Fan Stephen Jay Gould: "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." Maybe the reason Reggie believes he was passed over by the Mets due to racism is that his agent wanted to soften the blow.

Or maybe his agent thought he just wasn't ready for New York. Even in 1977, there were times when it didn't seem like he was ready. Sure seemed like it by September of that year, though. Definitely in October.

So let's imagine that the Mets had done the right, and smart, thing...

1967: Reggie debuts with the Mets.

1968: Reggie is the Mets' starting right fielder, meaning that Ed Kranepool now plays a lot more 1st base, and Ron Swoboda gets traded. Swoboda ends up on the Oakland Athletics.

1969: The Mets win the Pennant, but lose Game 4 of the World Series when Reggie -- in the place we remember occupied by Swoboda -- not only doesn't make a great catch on Brooks Robinson's 9th inning liner, but does what we remember him doing at Fenway Park on June 18, 1977, "not hustling" in Billy Martin's words. The Orioles win that game, 3-2, win Game 5 3-0 (they did lead by that score until the 6th), and take the Series in Game 6 in Baltimore. Reggie hit 38 home runs, a Met record that will stand until 1996, but he is remembered as the goat of the Series.

1971: Unhappy with Reggie's contract demands following a strong '71 season, M. Donald Grant trades Reggie to the Chicago Cubs, whose owner Philip K. Wrigley not only is willing to pay Reggie the $120,000 a year he wants, but has some of Reggie's friends on the team: Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and the recently-retired Ernie Banks, now a Cub coach, as is Negro League legend Buck O'Neil. Good situation for Reggie.

1972: The A's win their first World Series since 1930, when they were in Philadelphia, beating the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games. (Remember, Reggie was hurt and didn't play. I suspect Swoboda may have hit a home run in that Series.)

1973: Reggie Jackson is the Most Valuable Player of the National League, and the MVP of the World Series. First, the Cubs win the NL East. Then, in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field, Reggie slides into third base safely, and Pete Rose tags him in the face.  Rose often acted like a football player, but Reggie was good enough at the sport to get a Division I-A scholarship, and clobbers Rose. The Cubs take the Series the next day. Reggie homers off Oakland's Ken Holtzman in Game 7 of the Series, and the Cubs, Pennant winners for the 1st time in 28 years, are World Champions for the 1st time in 65 years -- the 1st World Championship for either Chicago team in 56 years. The Yankees remain the only franchise ever to win 34straight World Series. (The A's, with Reggie, did so in 1972-74, and remain the only other one to do so.)

1974: The Cubs slump as Billy Williams and Ron Santo are getting older. The Orioles beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, for their 4th World Championship. (1966, 1969, 1970, 1974. That's one more than they've won in real life, as they add a 5th in 1983.)

1975: The Boston Red Sox beat the A's to win the American League Pennant, but lose a classic World Series to Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates win the Pennant by beating the Reds. Seems Pete Rose just hasn't been the same since the '73 NLCS.

1976: Charlie Finley breaks up his A's. The Mets that won the Pennant in '69 and nearly the Division in '73 have already been broken up. The Yankees win the Pennant on Chris Chambliss' homer. They lose the Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, who sweep the Yankees to win their first World Championship in 94 seasons of trying. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner opens the vault, and signs Reggie. After all, George reasons, if he can help Chicago win a World Series, why not New York?

Then history reasserts itself, until 1980, when the Phillies, who didn't need Rose to win the Series in '76, have the confidence to win it without him in '80.

1984: Leon Durham scoops up a key grounder, and the Cubs manage to beat the San Diego Padres to win the Pennant. But they lose the Series to the Detroit Tigers.

1986: Former Met ace Tom Seaver comes in to close out the Red Sox' Game 6 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium, 5-3. His last pitch is a strikeout of Gary Carter.

1988: The Mets win the NL East, but Dwight Gooden meets Mike Scioscia. The Dodgers go on to beat the A's, who have won their 1st Pennant in 25 years.

1989: In a World Series interrupted by an earthquake, the A's beat the cross-bay San Francisco Giants, to win their 1st World Championship in 27 years.

1992: Seaver is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Reds cap on his plaque.

1993: Reggie is elected to the Hall of Fame, wearing a Yankee cap on his plaque. Cub fans are not pleased, but, hey, it's only been 9 years since they won a Pennant, and 20 years since they won a World Series.

2000: The Yankees win the World Series, beating the Mets in 5 games. The Mets have now won 3 Pennants, but never a World Series.

2003: Cubs Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson throws out the first ball before Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs nearly blow a 3-0 8th inning lead, but hang on to win 3-2, and take the Pennant. The name of Steve Bartman never enters the public consciousness, after Moises Alou remains calm after a minor incident. The Cubs go on to beat the Yankees in the World Series, winning Game 6, the last World Series game played at the old Yankee Stadium.

2006: Aaron Heilman meets Yadier Molina.

2009: Following the collapses of the previous three seasons, David Lennon of Newsday publishes The Curse of M. Donald Grant, just in time for the Mets to leave title-less (unless you count the 1968-69 Jets) Shea Stadium for the new Citi Field.

2010: After 2 years of sharing U.S. Cellular Field with the crosstown White Sox, the Cubs move into a newly renovated Wrigley Field, now a modern(-ish) facility with 46,000 seats, but retaining some old touches like the ivy, the brick wall, the bleachers, the scoreboard. A fitting home for a team generally viewed as a winner.

Hey, Jon, you asked.


Rangers 4, Devils 3, in a shootout. Chris Drury scores with 16 seconds left in regulation to tie. Damn it, Drury, where was that goal when your country needed it in the Olympics? As they say in English soccer, "Sod off, you useless bastard."

I hate the Rangers.


PaulG said...

I guess in this alternate scenario, Cobb still holds the record for most career hits

"Nutball Gazette" said...

No Cobb doesn't, Yankee outfielder Ross Moschitto is brought up to counter the Mets Reggie Jackson but Moschitto becomes the greatest hitter in baseball History as a Yankee.

Jon Lewin said...

You left out who the Mets got back when they traded Reggie - it was Ron Santo, finally filling their third-base void. So the Mets never traded for Jim Fregosi and held on to Nolan Ryan, who rose to stardom in 1972. In 1976, Seaver and Ryan staged a joint holdout. Grant buckled under the joint demands and gave both pitchers what they wanted. The Mets became the dominant team of the late 70s. Across town, the relationship between Reggie and Billy Martin became so poisoned that Steinbrenner traded Jackson on June 15, 1977 to the Reds for Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman. In the 1980s, Steinbrenner would further spite Reggie by acquiring his old sparring partner, Pete Rose. Rose would eventually become manager of the Yankees before being suspended for gambling. Furious that Rose had disgraced his franchise, Steinbrenner sided with Commissioner Fay Vincent in the battle over banning Rose from baseball. Grateful for the suppport, Vincent only gave Steinbrenner a slap on the wrist in the Howie Spira case, leaving Steinbrenner still in charge of the team in 1992 and able to reacquire Jay Buhner for outfielder Bernie Williams and two prospects, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Jeter moved over to third to accommodate incumbent Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez. A disgusted Gene Michael left the Yankees for the Mets, where he ushered in a new era of Mets prosperity.

Uncle Mike said...

Uh, no, Nutball. Ross Moschitto, a.k.a. "Mickey Mantle's Legs," was no better than Timo Perez.

Uh, no, Jon. Phil Wrigley wasn't dumb enough to trade the incredibly popular Santo. What's more, in this scenario, Reggie isn't traded away from the Mets until after December 10, 1971, when Ryan was traded for Fregosi. Therefore Yankee history plays out as we know it.

"If the Mets had never traded Ryan" is next.