By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
The Mets' recent acquisition of Luis Castillo brought to mind another Mets' second baseman with similar skills - Felix Millan. Like Castillo, Millan was a low-profile, but excellent player who excelled in handling the bat and playing an outstanding second base. Felix was one of the main reasons the Mets surprisingly made it to the World Series in 1973, and he remains, arguably, the best overall second baseman the Mets ever had.
I was on vacation in Japan when the Mets acquired Millan in the winter of 1972, so I found out about the trade - Millan and lefty pitcher George Stone from the Braves for starting pitcher Gary Gentry and reliever Danny Frisella - via a tiny box in the International Edition of the New York Times. 1972 had been a very disappointing, injury-filled season for the Mets. Prior to the season, the Mets had acquired perennial all-stars Jim Fregosi and Rusty Staub and adding them to the lineup to go along with the best pitching in baseball figured to make the Mets a strong favorite for another championship. By the time the season ended, the pitching was intact, but the lineup was in shambles. In addition to the injuries, regular second baseman Ken Boswell finished the season at .211, bad any way you look at it, but especially for a second baseman whose bat was considered his best asset. So the Mets looked for a replacement.
Millan was a former all-star coming off his worst season, but undoubtedly a better second baseman than Boswell. Gentry was, at 26, still young enough to become a star, although he was no better than a third starter with the Mets. Stone was a fringe major leaguer and Frisella a good reliever who was behind Tug McGraw in the Mets' bullpen hierarchy. At the time, the deal didn't look all that good to me, because Millan at best was "steady" and Stone looked like he'd struggle to make the Mets, while the two pitchers the Mets gave up were young enough and good enough to have long, productive careers. But it turned out to be a steal for the Mets.
Millan gave the Mets 4 very solid seasons before tailing off in 1977. He finished his career playing in Japan. George Stone was remarkable for the 1973 Mets, finishing 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 148 innings. After '73, Stone did little to help the Mets and was gone after 2 more mediocre seasons. But clearly, this trade put the Mets in the 1973 World Series as much as anything.
As for Gentry and Frisella, elbow problems plagued Gentry for the rest of his career and he never really helped the Braves. He got one last spring training shot with the Mets a few years later, but was quickly released. Frisella was a mediocre reliever the rest of his career before his untimely passing in a dune-buggy accident before the 1977 season.