By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
It's June of 1966 and the Mets have already experienced the good fortune of getting their name picked out of a hat to win the signing rights to Tom Seaver. Seaver goes directly to AAA Jacksonville where manager Solly Hemus is calling him "Wonder Boy" and projecting him as a star of the future. Now, draft day is approaching and the Mets have the Number One Pick.
There are 2 prime choices for the pick. Slugger Reggie Jackson of Arizona State is probably the consensus choice, but there is also sentiment for Steve Chilcott, a lefthanded hitting high school catcher out of California. Of course, we all know which way the Mets went, but what if they had taken Jackson instead ? After all, the Mets had a quality defensive catcher in Jerry Grote and Greg Goossen still had potential. So, why take another catcher ? Although there has always been speculation that there were non-baseball reasons for the move, I won't go into that here.
Let's just change history and say that the Mets decided they needed a power-hitting outfielder with the potential to make the big leagues quickly more than they needed a catcher who was a few years away, at best. So they take Jackson. No doubt, Reggie would have gotten at least a cup of coffee in 1967 and by 1968 would be the talk of spring training, favored to unseat Ron Swoboda in right field. Assuming that Jackson would have put up the same numbers for the Mets that he did in Oakland, during the period 1968-1975, a few more Met pennants would not have been inconceivable. Imagine that great pitching staff led by Seaver and Koosman with a legitimate slugger and cleanup hitter to anchor the offense. Also,the Mets would have had much more trade leverage trying to fill their other holes instead of always looking for a power hitter.
Of course, no one will ever know. Maybe Jackson would have turned down the Mets' offer and gone back into the draft the following year, when the Yankees had first pick, so Reggie could have spent his whole career as a Yankee. Imagine that.
It's just painful to look back at this move. The difference between selecting a Hall of Fame slugger who was also one of the most colorful baseball personalities of his time as opposed to a catcher who never came close to making the big leagues. No doubt, the Mets have made other big mistakes, but this one has to be at the top of the list.