By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
Roger Craig was the Mets' #1 starter in 1962 and 1963. He valiantly went out there every 4th or 5th day and lost 46 games in 2 years. Craig was probably good enough to be a 4th starter with most good teams (back in the days of the 4-man rotation) and it was only a matter of time before the Mets would find a trading partner who would give them a big bat in exchange for Craig. The Cardinals complied by trading George Altman, who had put up big numbers for the Cubs, but was a 1-year disappointment for St. Louis, to the Mets for Craig. Well, Altman was an even bigger disappointment for the Mets in his one year with the team.
The Cubs knew that Big George was at his best in Wrigley Field and offered their multi-talented rookie centerfielder, Billy Cowan, in exchange. Now, Cowan had put up some big numbers in the PCL, he had speed and power and was considered a good centerfielder. He was also considerably younger than Altman. This HAD to be a good deal for the Mets. Sure, Altman was capable of another solid year or two at Wrigley, but Cowan would be the Mets' centerfielder for years, a combination of speed, power, and glove. Cowan's only drawback was his propensity to strike out. But 25 HR's was not out of the question and if he could just hit .260 or so, this was going to be a great trade. WRONG AGAIN.
Although Altman didn't quite live up to the Cubs' expectations and later established himself as one of the best hitters in the Japanese League, Cowan was an unqualified disaster. He didn't hit, didn't field, didn't steal bases and seemed washed up at the age of 25. Following a disastrous season, in which his shining moment was when Ralph Kiner called him "the closest I've ever seen to Jimmy Piersall" (if you have nothing good to say about his playing ability, at least talk him up as a character !), he was dealt to the American League for a bag of balls, or their equivalent in minor league talent and was barely heard from again. Centerfield would remain a problem area until the Mets traded for the Amazing Don Bosch! More about that one in the next installment.