The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #46 Ron Hunt

On October 11, 1962, following the team's 40-120 finish in their inaugural season, the Mets completed a now-and-later cash transaction with the Milwaukee Braves for minor league second baseman Ron Hunt. The deal called for the Mets to pay $5,000 to the Braves up front and, if they decided to keep Hunt, another $45,000 on May 9, 1963. Hunt made his big league debut with the Mets on April 16, 1963, and went 2-for-3 with a walk in a 7-4 loss to the Reds. Three days later, Hunt picked up his first major league RBI -- three of them, actually -- including two on a walkoff double at the Polo Grounds that brought the Mets their first victory of the season in the team's ninth game. Hunt was optimistic at the time:

"I was happy to be traded here. I knew I'd be with a bunch of guys my own age. We can at least give other teams a lot of trouble in the league. I think we're doing all right now, but it sure was great to win the first one."

-- New York Times, 4/20/63

On May 9th Hunt was hitting a robust .299/.392/.418 and the Mets gladly sent the Braves the rest of the $50,000 they owed for their now-starting second baseman.
Year  Age   PA     XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG   EQA  WARP3   VORP
--------------------------------------------------------
1963   22  600   42  43  272/334/396  .278    5.9   28.4
1964   23  521   31  60  303/357/406  .293    8.0   37.5
1965   24  223   14  38  240/309/327  .242    1.0   -0.8
1966   25  543   24  62  288/356/355  .273    4.7   25.9
Hunt was arguably the best hitter on that putrid 1963 Mets team. Pound-for-pound, left fielder Frank Thomas may have had a better season (113 OPS+ to Hunt's 108), but Hunt had almost 150 extra plate appearances so whatever he lacked in rate he made up for in aggregation. Despite slightly better stats, Hunt finished runner up in the rookie of the year voting to Cincinnati's Pete Rose. Hunt had the edge in WARP3 (5.9 to 5.6), EQA (.278 to .268) and VORP (28.4 to 20.8), but he also played for the worst team in the league and likely garnered little recognition as a result.

Not to be deterred, Hunt returned in 1964 to post what would eventually be the best season of his career, leading all national league second basemen -- including ROY Pete Rose -- in everything that mattered: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, WARP3, EQA, VORP, you name it. For his efforts, Hunt was selected to his first all star game, played at the brand new Shea Stadium in Queens, and even picked up a single vote for MVP (again, the Mets endured yet another historically awful season). Hunt missed the last month of the season with a back injury that he linked to a 1963 car accident, but was once again the best hitter on the team and was voted the team's MVP for the second consecutive year.

After working during the 1964 offseason as a truck driver, Hunt signed a new contract with the Mets worth an estimated $25,000. Unbeknownst to the Mets, Hunt also sustained an injury to the middle finger of his right hand playing handball over the winter. The injury was diagnosed as a "bad bruise", but it was apparently bad enough to keep him out of action from the end of spring training through the end of April, forcing Hunt to miss the team's first 15 games. Hunt hit .265/.359/.324 in ten games before separating his shoulder on May 12 after the Cardinals' Phil Gagliano collided with him in the baseline. Hunt missed another 83 games with the shoulder injury, and he struggled upon his return to the lineup on August 5. He finished the season with just 223 plate appearances and a meh .240/.309/.327 batting line, far and away the worst of his short career to that point.

Determined to put his injuries behind him, Hunt spent the 1965 offseason getting himself in better shape. He played 40 games in the Florida Instructional League and spent two months exercising at St. Louis University. He reported to spring training thirteen pounds lighter and promptly signed a new contract for the same $25,000 he made in 1965. Hunt rebounded nicely in 1966, hitting .293/.370/.379 at the all star break and was named to his second mid-summer classic. He exhibited very little power in the second half of the season, possibly due to lingering back problems. He hit .293/.370/.379 before the break, .280/.335/.317 after, and was traded to the Dodgers in the offseason along with Jim Hickman for Tommy Davis and Derrell Griffith.

In his four seasons with the Mets, Ron Hunt was the best hitter they had three times, missing significant playing time in the fourth year. He was the team's only all star selection in 1964 and 1966, and he collected 41 of his eventual 243 career HBPs. He would never make another all start team after leaving the Mets, but he had a couple of nice seasons with the Giants and Expos before calling it quits in 1974 at age 33.

Sources

Ron Hunt at Baseball-Reference.com
Ron Hunt at Baseball Prospectus

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