By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
Since Johnny Lewis wasn't the next Willie Mays and Billy Cowan wasn't the next Mickey Mantle, the Mets were still going to need a long-term centerfielder. Maybe the search for a superstar wasn't the right approach. So, how about just getting a great defensive centerfielder who'd hit some line drives, beat out bunts, and get tons of infield hits while dazzling the fans with defense to compare with the greatest outfielders of all time?
Don Bosch was the man. His AAA manager, Larry Shepard, compared his defensive abilities to Willie Mays. He was the International League's all-star centerfielder and a major winter league star in the Dominican Republic. Maybe he wouldn't hit a lot of homeruns, but another Bill Virdon would be just fine.
So, the Mets traded for Bosch, in what, ironically, actually turned out to be a good deal for the Mets. But Bosch, himself, became a joke the day he reported for spring training and stayed a joke until he became a pathetic disappointment and was dumped to Montreal, from where he soon faded into oblivion.
The trade was Dennis Ribant (the first Mets' starter to actually have a winning record at 10-8) and throw-in Gary Kolb for Bosch and veteran back-of-the-rotation starter Don Cardwell. Cardwell became a very important cog in the rotation for the Mets' 1969 World Champs (that still sounds good), while neither Ribant nor Kolb became anything more than journeymen. But, from the Mets' point of view, the trade was first and foremost about Bosch.
Who was this Bosch? Remember, in those days, there wasn't in-depth coverage of the minor leagues in Major League cities, so no one seemed to know even what Bosch looked like. It turned out that he had grey hair and appeared so small that any bat he used looked bigger than him. He looked kind of like the scared little leaguer who had to take his at bat against the biggest and strongest pitcher in the league, knowing from the start that the best he could do was avoid getting hit by a pitch that would really hurt and hope if he swung hard, maybe he'd make contact and beat out an infield single. It seemed ludicrous that he was even playing in the big leagues. As it turns out, he hit .140 over the course of the season, and this alleged great centerfielder did absolutely nothing with the glove that couldn't have been duplicated by almost any minor league centerfielder. A year and a half later, failing even as a defensive replacement, he was sent packing.