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Old Time Mets - Jim Hickman

Barry DuchanSaturday, March 8, 2008
By Barry Duchan

If Marv Throneberry symbolized the bumbling incompetence of the early Mets, Rod Kanehl the everyman quality, Ed Kranepool the hope for the future, and Roger Craig the frustration, nobody symbolized all of these qualities wrapped into one player the way Jim Hickman did.

If Al Jackson was the Mets' best expansion choice, Hickman was clearly second. The tall, rangy outfielder was basically the Mets' regular centerfielder for their first four seasons, although it seemed like the organization was always trying to replace him. Hickman would show flashes - the first Met to homer 3 times in a game, the first to hit for the cycle, the guy who homered to end Roger Craig's ridiculously long losing streak - and yet, Jim was a target of boobirds for his frequent strikeouts and double play grounders in clutch situations. Defensively and on the bases, Jim was okay, but his long strides and gangly build somehow made it seem like he wasn't trying because it looked like he should have been better.

Jim Hickman When the Mets finally disposed of Hickman as the throw-in sent to the Dodgers along with Ron Hunt in the Tommy Davis trade, most Mets fans either didn't care or said "good riddance" and his performance with the Dodgers, a .163 batting average in his only season in L.A. seemed to confirm what some Mets' fans thought all along - that this guy was no major league player.

Yet, incredibly, and seemingly from out of nowhere, in 1970, Hickman then with the Cubs produced a remarkable season, a .315 batting average, 32 homeruns, 115 rbi's, a spot in the all-star game where he drove in the winning run, and an eighth place finish in the NL MVP race. Suddenly he was among the most feared hitters in the league. Who was this guy?

The following year, he hit just .256 and his rbi's were down to 60, more typical of the kind of years he had with the Mets, and before long, he was gone from the major league scene. But if ever a mediocre player had one shining year, living up to the potential that Mets' fans once hoped he had, though most eventually abandoned that idea, Hickman was the one. In retrospect, his 1970 season is still a little hard to believe.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (2)

Bill James did an article recently on fluke seasons, unexplained surges by players. He called the piece "The Pena Files" after Carlos Pena and the great season he just had for the Rays.

Anyhow, James listed Jim Hickman's 1970 as the most Pena-like season ever, even out Pena-ing Carlos Pena himself.

I grew up in the Adirondack area of NYS. I remember the day that I saw Jim Hickman hit the three home runs in one ball game on TV. Thank you for this brief remembrance of a hero I had when I was about 10. I was a left handed hitter but when my older brother and I played wiffle ball outside he would make me hit the way the team member did. He pretended to be the Reds and I was the Mets team. I can recall hitting a home run right handed merely because I was such a fan of Hickman. I did not know about his great 1970 season since I was basically a hippie that didn't care for baseball at that time. Thanks for the brief article.

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