Sunday, July 5, 2020

No Offense Required

Yesterday I wrote about Doug Flynn, a Met who provided most of his value with the glove. It made me think about a Met from an earlier era who fit the same description. Like Flynn, Don Hahn played an important up-the-middle position on the diamond, center field. Unlike Flynn, Hahn played for a memorable Mets team that made the postseason.

Donald Antone Hahn was a 17th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 1966 Amateur Draft. He was picked up by the Montreal Expos in December 1968 in the rule 5 draft, and the 20-year-old Hahn was the starting CF when the Expos clobbered the New York Mets 11-10 in their first game ever April 8, 1969. Hahn batted eighth and went 0-3.

Hahn had only 6 more at bats for Montreal in their inaugural season. In 1970 he played in 82 games, amassing 149 AB, slashing .255/.374/.309 with 1 HR and 11 RBI. The following March Hahn was traded to the Mets for former World Series hero Ron Swaboda.

The 22-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder played 98 games for the 1971 Mets. Hahn put up what would become fairly typical numbers for the glove-first ballplayer, slashing .236/.317/.292 over 203 plate appearances, accumulating only 7 extra base hits: 5 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run.

The following season was marred by the sudden death of manager Gil Hodges on April 2, 1972. Hodges was replaced by Yogi Berra, who apparently didn't see the value of an outfielder who slugged .292. Hahn started the season as a bench player, going 0-6 with a walk, and was sent down to Triple-A for the majority of the season.

Don Hahn started off the 1973 season in Triple-A, but was called up to the Mets in June and became the team's starting CF. The 1973 Mets looked like they were going nowhere. At the end of July they were 13 games under .500 and in last place in the NL East. Fortunately for the Mets, no one in the division was playing well.

While the Mets were trying to figure it all out, the 24-year-old Hahn was having his typical offensive year. In 293 plate appearances, Hahn slashed .229/.285/.290 with 2 HR and 21 RBI, good for a lowly OPS+ of 62. In contrast, 42-year-old Willie Mays, whose struggles that year convinced him to call it a career, had an OPS+ 19 points higher at 81. Arguably the loudest hit Don Hahn managed all season was his July 7 collision with George "The Stork" Theodore that put Theodore out of action for much of the season.

By the end of August, the Mets were still 9 games under .500, but had climbed back to fifth place. The club then caught fire and went 20-8 the rest of the way to win the division. Hahn would start all 12 of the Mets postseason games, as they beat the Reds 3 games to 2 to win the NL Pennant, but dropped the World Series in 7 games to the Oakland A's.

Don Hahn put up very Hahn-like numbers in the NLCS, going 4-17 against the Reds. He did better against the A's, going 7 for 29 with a double and a triple along with a pair of RBIs in the World Series. He tripled in a big run in the bottom of the sixth in the Mets 2-0 game-5 win that put them up 3-2 in the series, and went 3-4 in their Game 7 loss. He also had an excellent defensive play in support of Tom Seaver in Game 3 in New York

The 1974 season saw the 25-year-old Hahn put up his best offensive season by far in his career. In 366 plate appearances Hahn slashed .251/.328/.337 with 19 extra base hits. He put up career highs in Runs (34), Doubles (14), Home Runs (4), RBI (28) and Walks (37). His OPS+ of 88 was his highest in any season where he had more than 40 AB. Unfortunately, the Mets fell back to fifth place, and the era of good-field, no-hit outfielders was coming to an end.

Don Hahn was traded to the Phillies after the 1974 season, along with Tug McGraw and Dave Schneck, in exchange for John Stearns, Del Unser and Max Scarce. He was released by the Phillies in May, 1975, signed as a free agent by the Cardinals, then sold to the Padres in June. He only accumulated 51 plate appearances combined for all three teams. That would mark the end of his major league career at age 26.

He spent 1976 and 1977 with the Giants' Triple-A club in Phoenix, then called it a career. In 7 major league seasons, 4 of them with the Mets, Don Hahn played in 454 games, accumulated 1,149 plate appearances, 7 HR and 74 RBI. His lifetime slash line was .236/.319/.303, good for a lifetime OPS+ of 75. My memories of him as a centerfielder was that he was better than average, but hardly Gold Glove caliber. The 70s, particularly the early 70s, was a pitcher-dominated era, the tail end of a stretch in the 1960s that was so dominated by pitching that they lowered the pitching mound after the 1968 season to give the batters a chance.

The thinking when runs were hard to come by was that you didn't want to give anything away for free. Defense was particularly stressed for the "up the middle" positions of catcher, second base, shortstop and center field. There were some exceptions but, for the most part, teams were willing to tolerate pretty bad offensive numbers from these positions. The 1973 Mets featured the following OPS+ numbers from their starting up the middle position players: (C) Jerry Grote 70, (2B) Félix Millan 92, (SS) Bud Harrelson 86 and (CF) Don Hahn 62. Between the four of them, they hit 6 combined home runs, and three of those were Millan's. The Mets were not an offensive juggernaut, but those numbers weren't all that atypical of the era.

I enjoy a close, well-pitched game as well as anyone, but that era of baseball was just too much of a good thing. A decade after Hahn played his last major league game, teams were asking much more offensively out of even these key positions. The games are higher-scoring, and a higher premium is placed on run production. It's hard to picture a playoff team today going to battle with a starting outfielder whose on-base percentage and slugging percentage were both under .300.

Don Hahn was very much the product of his era of baseball, and that era came to an end before he had the chance to leave the game on his own terms. Still, he managed to make it in the majors for 7 seasons, and start in centerfield in both a League Championship Series and a World Series. There are a lot of guys who wish they could say the same. So, in his honor, I'm going to grab a frosty cold Rheingold out of the icebox and drink a toast to a guy who roamed centerfield for the Mets back in the golden, offensively challenged days of my youth.

That's it for me today. Thanks for stopping by and taking a trip back in time with us. Please stay safe, stay well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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