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.
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.