This Date In Mets History: January 22 — Cardinals’ Bernard Gilkey Comes East

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But after a great first year at Shea, the left fielder’s bat goes south.

Seventeen years ago today Bernard Gilkey became a Met, obtained from the Cardinals for pitchers Eric Ludwick, Erik Hiljus, and Yudith Orozio. He had a monster year in 1996 with the kind of jump in offense (and subsequent drop-off) that sets steroid conspiracy theorists’ tongues wagging. The numbers certainly look suspicious at first glance:

Year PA HR RBI OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1995 531 17 69 .358 .490 .848 124
1996 656 30 117 .393 .562 .955 155
1997 606 18 78 .338 .417 .755 100

Bear in mind, however, that in 1995 Gilkey was primarily a lead-off hitter. Taking that plus the 125 additional plate appearances in 1996 into account, the leap is significant but not quantum, especially given that in front of him and behind him, Lance Johnson and Todd Hundley had career years. The former amassed a league-leading 227 hits and 21 triples, while the latter swatted a club record 41 homers.

It’s not unlike the case of Tommy Herr a decade earlier. In 1984 he hit four home runs, drove in 49 runs, and had a .681 OPS. In 1985, batting third ahead of that year’s stolen base champ Vince Coleman and batting champion Willie McGee, and with the always-dangerous Jack Clark (OPS+ 149) hitting clean-up, Herr’s numbers jumped to eight home runs, 110 RBI, and a .795 OPS.

Gilkey’s decline in 1997 (and beyond) has been attributed to everything from eye problems to a change of batting coach to alcohol to trying too hard to live up to the four-year, $20.4 million contract he signed in October of 1996.

"I don't like to wear them, period. I’m not far enough from the pitcher where I can't see." –Bernard Gilkey on the subject of contact lenses

Steroids are a possibility, of course, but his name is not in the Mitchell Report even though several Mets from that era, including Hundley, are. So, while puns like ”Gilkey as charged” may come readily to mind, the fact is that the jury is still out on this one.

Birthdays

Wayne Kirby, who turns 49 today, was one of 19 players who spent time patrolling the outfield for the 1998 Mets. His primary duties were as a pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement for Butch Huskey. His only offensive contribution worth noting came on June 25, when he hit a pinch triple in the bottom of seventh against the Orioles and scored the tying run on a Mike Piazza sac fly in a 3-2 Mets win.

Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection

The late Golden Globe Award-winning actress Ann Sothern was born on this date in 1909.

In 1965 she voiced the title character in the classically bad TV sitcom, "My Mother, The Car." In the pilot, while trying to convince her son (played by Jerry Van Dyke) that she is indeed his late mom, reincarnated as a 1928 Porter, Ms. Sothern intones through the car's radio: "I understand there's a baseball team called the Mets. If THAT'S possible, I'M possible." And that was one of the funnier lines.

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