In 1967, the Mets went 61-101, clearing the century mark in losses for the fifth time in six seasons (the outlier, 1966, saw them lose only 95 games). Looking to shore up their defense and get a bit younger in the process, on December 15, 1967, the Mets completed a long-discussed trade that sent left-fielder Tommy Davis, pitcher Jack Fisher, and two others to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for utility infielder -- and Long Island native -- Al Weis and young centerfielder Tommie Agee. Agee had won the rookie of the year and finished eighth in MVP voting in 1966, but a tough sophomore campaign enabled the Mets to pry him loose.
Agee's Met career got off to a suboptimal start. He was nailed in the back of the head by a Bob Gibson fastball in his very first spring training plate appearance, returning six days later, none the worse for wear. Once the regular season finally rolled around, Agee hit just .109/.144/.152 over his first 28 games, spanning 98 plate appearances. He wasn't a whole lot better the rest of the way, hitting .254/.292/.359 in his last 104 games to close the season with a putrid .217/.255/.307 line.
The end result was cringe-worthy, but Agee did pick his game up as the season wore on. He was hitting just .177/.220/.264 after the Mets drubbed the Giants 8-0 at Shea, but over his final 85 plate appearances -- 29 games' worth -- he hit .363/.386/.463, enough of a surge for manager Gil Hodges to all-but-guarantee Agee's place in centerfield for the following season.
Hoping to continue his hot swinging, Agee spent part of the winter with the Mets' instructional league team in St. Petersburg, Florida. It worked. Well, sort of. Agee collected five hits -- two of them homeruns -- and knocked in six runs in the first three games of the 1969 season, but picked up just three hits in his next 28 at-bats as his batting average dropped to .195 and he quickly found himself riding the bench in Hodges's doghouse.
Agee appeared sporadically over the subsequent three weeks, picking up just ten plate appearances over the Mets' next 17 games. Perhaps illustrating the fickle nature of batting average and small sample sizes, Agee raised his average to .265 in those ten times to the plate. He returned to the lineup for good on May 10 against the Astros, and smacked three homeruns in a double-header the next day. He would appear in 131 of the team's final 135 games -- making 129 starts along the way -- and finished with a .271/.342/.464 line, trailing only teammate and fellow Alabamian Cleon Jones for the team lead in OPS among starters.
Thanks in no small part to Agee's terrific season, the Mets shocked the baseball world by capturing the NL East title and stormed into the playoffs to face the Braves in the NLCS. Agee was brilliant against Atlanta, hitting .357/.438/.857 with two homeruns and four RsBI as the Mets swept in three games to move on to the franchise's first World Series appearance. Agee didn't fare quite so well against Baltimore in the Fall Classic, hitting just .167/.250/.333 in the five-game series, but his efforts in the Series' third game made up for any shortcomings otherwise.
With the Series tied at a game apiece and Shea hosting its first World Series game, Agee led off the bottom of the first with a clout to centerfield that put the Mets ahead, 1-0. The rest of his Game 3 heorics came with the glove, with which he made two incredible catches, including this one that robbed Paul Blair of an extra-base hit with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh. The Mets went on to win that game -- and the next two -- to capture their first World Series title against the heavily-favored Orioles (here is a photo montage the New York Times ran on 8/15/1969).
Fresh off his World Series celebration, Agee finished sixth in the NL MVP voting and was awarded a $40,000 contract for 1970. Continuing a pattern he established in his first two seasons with the Mets, Agee got off to a slow start again, hitting just .227/.310/.333 after the team's first 20 games and his first 84 plate appearances. Also like his first two seasons, Agee just took a little while to get going, as he hit .294/.349/.487 over his final 135 games. He also walloped eleven homeruns in June, setting a club mark for longballs in a month, had a 19-game hitting streak at one point, and won a game in tenth inning on a walk-off steal of home. He also picked up his second Gold Glove award for his play in centerfield. The Mets were tied for first place as late as September 14, but lost eight of their last eleven games to finish at 83-79, in third place in the NL East and six games behind the first-place Pirates.
Agee actually got off to a solid start in 1971, but was derailed by a right knee injury that cost him 20 games in June. He hit .287/.373/.439 for the 62 games that followed his return, but his season was halted again on September 4 when he "had 70 cubic centimeters of blood drained from his right knee" (New York Times, 9/5/1971). He missed fifteen more games recuperating, and the Mets finished the season tied for third, this time fourteen games in back of the Pirates.
Agee was reportedly healthy after an offseason of rest and light exercise, and the Mets signed him for the 1972 season for around $55,000, the same figure he earned in 1971. Agee's performance belied his assertion, as he struggled with the bat for much of the season. He missed a week with a groin strain at the beginning of July, came back for two games, then suffered a strained intercostal and missed the next three weeks. Agee muddled along -- much like the Mets -- for the remainder of the season, and finished with a disappointing .227/.317/.374 line.
Weary of Agee's growing list of injuries, the Mets dealt him to the Astros that offseason for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris, who went on to do little and nothing for the Mets, respectively. Agee hit a collective .222/.281/.398 with the Astros and Cardinals in 1973, but by that time injuries had sapped almost all of the speed and power from his once-athletic body. He was cut by the Dodgers during spring training of 1974 and that was it for Agee, who, at just 30 years old, was officially out of baseball.
Tommie Agee went on to sell title insurance after his playing career ended, and he died following a heart attack on January 22, 2001 at the age of 58.
Though it took him some time to get rolling, Tommie Agee turned in three excellent seasons for the Mets from 1969 thru 1971. He was terrific in the 1969 NLCS and owned Game 3 of the World Series, his miraculous diving catch in the latter having left an indelible imprint on a generation of Mets fans. The rigors of the game wore him down far too soon, and though his life was cut tragically short, the images and vivid memories of his time spent in Queens live on.