By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
Just before the start of the 1972 season, Mets' manager Gil Hodges died suddenly of a heart attack. A few days later, the Mets announced that Yogi Berra was the new manager and that they had completed a major trade, possibly the biggest in their history up until that time.
The Mets sent all 3 of their best young players to the Montreal Expos in exchange for the Expos' best and most popular player, Le Grand Orange, Rusty Staub. The trade gave the Mets the look of a powerhouse. Their solid pitching staff would now have one of the best hitters in all of baseball to drive in some runs. Staub was clearly an outstanding hitter. And, the Mets may well have won in 1972 if not for an incredible string of injuries that left them decimated. But, was this a good trade for the Mets? In retrospect, it was certainly an interesting one to analyze.
The Mets gave up Ken Singleton, a legitimate power-hitting prospect who put up great AAA numbers and appeared to be on the brink of major league success, Mike Jorgensen, a local Queens kid, a slick-fielding first baseman who was a pretty good hitter, and Tim Foli, the former #1 draft pick in the country, a pepperpot shortstop who was a pretty decent all-around player, but neither a premier defensive shortstop or a better than average bat. All 3 were major league ready, but not quite able to break into the Mets lineup, although Singleton was likely to be the right fielder if this trade wasn't made. At the time, I thought it was worth the gamble. There's an old adage about multi-player trades that whichever team gets the best player out of the trade made a good deal. Was that the case here? Probably, although with all the injuries the Mets suffered in 1972, all 3 of the players sent to Montreal would probably have gotten extensive playing time with the Mets.
Rusty Staub was one of the most popular Mets ever, and after being dumped for Mickey Lolich in a terrible trade with the Tigers (more about that next time) was brought back as a pinch-hitting specialist, a role that he thrived in. Never the best defensive player at first base or the outfield, and slow on the basepaths, Staub hustled and played all-out all the time and was an outstanding clutch hitter who also made some great defensive plays when they mattered most.
Singleton developed into a solid player with the Orioles after the Expos sent him there in one of their worst trades ever. Foli remained a middling shortstop throughout his career and returned to the Mets a few years later. Jorgensen earned a reputation as a slick fielder who was capable of putting up some decent numbers with the bat in a good year as well (think Doug Mientkiewicz).
Was this a good deal for the Mets or a bad one ? I'd say positive, although Singleton was tough to lose, but I always got the feeling that the Mets weren't going to give him the chance he needed. As for Jorgensen and Foli, they could have helped, but neither blossomed to be any more than projected; in Foli's case, somewhat less than projected.
Next, a look at Mike Vail, Staub for Lolich and how it all turned sour.