Ninety years ago on this date, the second manager in Mets history was born. Wes Westrum, who died in May of 2002, was named interim manager on July 26, 1965, after Casey Stengel broke a hip. The daunting task of taking over for a living legend, who would officially retire a few weeks later, wasn’t helped by the Mets losing 17 of their first 20 games under the former New York Giants catcher. After the season ended, Westrum had to wait six weeks, amid rumors that the likes of Alvin Dark and Yogi Berra were being considered, before the Mets gave him the job full time.
With an infusion of youth and some key veteran acquisitions, Westrum led the team to its first ninth place finish, winning 66 games–a 16-victory improvement over ’65. The manager, his team and the fans had reason to expect continued improvement in 1967. Their core of promising young players had gained another year’s experience; hard-throwing rookie right-hander Tom Seaver was ready to prove he belonged; and Tommy Davis brought his power bat to Shea.
"Well, that was a real cliff-dweller." -Wes Westrum, after a close game
But the best-laid plans went awry as some of the young talent, most notably Cleon Jones and Jerry Grote, took a step backward; highly touted import Don Bosch was a bust in center field; and a number of veterans appeared to have aged five years over the winter. Westrum used 20 starting pitchers as the likes of Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw and Bill Denehy were not ready for prime time and too many of the veteran hurlers proved to be past their prime.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, and perhaps sensing that he had never really been anything more than an interim manager all along, Wes Westrum resigned with 11 games to go and a return to the basement all but guaranteed.
"I had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel." - Wes Westrum on his decision to resign as Mets manager
He returned to managing in mid-1974, but his year and a half with the San Francisco Giants failed to produce a winning record.
Happy 40th birthday to Jose Parra. He posted a 1.38 ERA through his first 12 games out of the 2004 Mets bullpen, but a horrid 13th, which including a three-run HR by the Phils’ Jim Thome to put a close game out of reach, ended his major league career.
Pedro Astacio, who turns 44 today, was 11-4 with a 2.95 ERA after hurling his third complete game of the season on August 6, 2002. Then he lost his mojo (or possibly hurt his arm), going 1-7, 7.50 the rest of the way. The trend continued into 2003 and he was soon an ex-Met. Three years and four teams later, he was an ex-big leaguer.
The Mets made their first official trade on this date in 1961, acquiring slugging outfielder Frank Thomas from the Milwaukee Braves for a player to be named later and $125,000. That player turned out to be Gus Bell, who played 25 games in the same 1962 Mets outfield as the man for whom he was traded before being dispatched to Wisconsin.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On November 28, 1925, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville made its debut on radio station WSM. In March of 2000, Garth Brooks, one of the Opry’s most popular and successful members, briefly traded in his guitar for a bass base – third base that is. He joined the Mets in St. Lucie to raise money for his children’s charity, the Touch 'em All Foundation. Manager Bobby Valentine was happy to have him around, and Brooks’ fellow Oklahoma State alumnus Robin Ventura didn’t seem to mind the competition. The latter’s status as the regular third-baseman was secured after Brooks finished spring training 0-for-17, plus a walk that reportedly drew a standing ovation.