Among the many transactions that took place on this date, three stand out for various reasons. The first is a head-scratcher (to say the least), the second is open to debate, and the last was stroke of genius... or luck.
1975: Having just set a new club RBI record (105) Rusty Staub was looking for a significant, well-deserved raise. That made him an ingrate in M. Donald Grant’s book, so the productive 31-year-old OF/1B was shipped to the Tigers for 35-year-old left-hander Mickey Lolich, who was clearly showing signs of wear over his previous two seasons with Detroit. In fairness to Lolich, he had poor run and defensive support and pitched better than his 8-13 record indicated, but it was still a terrible, spiteful trade and Mets fans let him know it. He didn’t win anyone over when he announced his retirement before the ’77 season, then attempted a comeback with the Padres in ’78. Happy recap: Rusty came back to Shea in 1981 to spend the last five years of his career as a part-time player and premiere pinch-hitter.
1986: In what must be a record for the most Kevins involved in a single trade, the Mets sent Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Armstrong, Kevin Brown, Shawn Abner, and Stan Jefferson to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging. Mets fans are still debating this trade, pro and con. Discuss among yourselves.
2005: Taking a chance on Jose Valentin, who was coming off of a terrible year with the Dodgers, was one of the smartest moves Omar Minaya ever made – although it didn’t look that way early on. Primarily a bench player backing up Kaz Matsui in 2006, Valentin had two RBI and a .360 OPS through his first 30 AB. Then in back-to-back starts on May 13 and 14 he went 6-for-9 with a double, a home run, and 6 RBI. By the end of that month he was the everyday second-baseman and he finished the season with an .820 OPS, 3.4 rWAR, 18 home runs, and 62 RBI. The 36-year-old Valentin also showed above average range in the field and was a steadying influence on Jose Reyes. I was there the night the Mets clinched the division and saw him launch two missiles over the fence to account for three of the team’s four runs. Valentin was a bargain that year at just over $900,000. They quadrupled his pay for 2007 but his numbers dropped way off. On July 20 he fractured his right tibia and, despite two attempts at a comeback with the Mets, Valentin and his famous mustache never played another game in the majors.
There are no bona fide Mets birthdays to celebrate, although Met-on-paper Derrell Griffith is 69 today. The outfielder was a throw-in in the November 1966 deal that brought slugger Tommy Davis to Shea in exchange for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman. He was traded four months later for Sandy Alomar (Sr.).
Amazin’ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1985, the Cleveland Indians signed free agent pitcher Tom Candiotti. The right-hander had spent the last few seasons in the minors perfecting his knuckleball, a pitch that kept him in the big leagues for the next 14 years. It also earned him a spot in the 2012 documentary Knuckleball!. The film focuses on the 2011 seasons of the Mets’ R.A. Dickey and the Red Sox’ Tim Wakefield, with commentary by their respective catchers, Josh Thole and Jason Varitek, and past knuckleballers Candiotti, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, former Mets pitching coach Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, and Jim Bouton. Carlos Beltran and Joe Torre have cameos.