By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
Using the online Sporting News archive that I wrote about in my last post, I accessed the issue of September 20, 1961 just before the Mets made their choices in the expansion draft. In this issue, NY writer Joe King speculated on who might be chosen by the Mets and Colt .45's as well as who the Mets might select as manager. (Interestingly, a year before, TSN printed the ACTUAL lists of players made available in the AL expansion draft, but no such list was ever published for the NL.)
Although the player lists were only about half accurate, few of those who didn't get chosen would have made much of a difference. But certainly one name mentioned as a possible Met choice would have made QUITE a difference. King wrote matter-of-factly that the Mets could wind up with Willie McCovey as their first baseman. No doubt, the Giants came to their senses and substituted the likes of Sherman "Roadblock" Jones and Joe Amalfitano as available talent. Looking back, McCovey certainly stands out among the players listed as potential choices. Presumably, King decided that with the Giants having two natural first basemen in Orlando Cepeda and McCovey, they could afford to part with one of them. The Giants would make some dumb moves like trading Cepeda for Ray Sadecki as well as giving up on slugging outfielders like George Foster, Felipe Alou, Leon Wagner, and Willie Kirkland, but I don't think they were dumb enough to put up McCovey. Had they done so, I'd like to think the Mets would have grabbed him with the first pick.
The other very interesting item in this issue (same page) stated that "with all indications that Casey Stengel will not return to managing, signs point to Gil Hodges as the No. 1 choice to be manager of the Mets". There was even speculation that there would have to be an arrangement allowing the Mets to pick Hodges in the draft for the purpose of being their manager, so Houston wouldn't take him.
Had the Mets opted for Hodges to lead them, it's very likely they would have taken more young players. Or maybe they knew they would be taking mostly older ones, so Hodges was not the best choice as manager. Whatever the case, a 1962 Mets team with Gil Hodges as manager and Willie McCovey at first base would have probably put this team on a whole different course.