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The Mets' historic three-way uniform-number trade of 1974

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Before the 1974 season, Felix Millan, Dave Schneck, and Teddy Martinez all switched uniform numbers. This is the story behind that trade.

Felix Millan (right) was involved in the most intricate uniform-number swap in Mets history.
Felix Millan (right) was involved in the most intricate uniform-number swap in Mets history.
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Mets fans might notice something different about Travis d’Arnaud when the team begins the season April 6 in Washington against the Nationals, a subtle change that might call to mind a more complex one from a long time ago. Gone will be the catcher’s customary uniform number 15 in favor of 7, his preferred number, which he wore through the minors up until coming to the Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2012 season.

The switch came about with the cooperation of bench coach Bob Geren, who wore the number previously modeled with distinction by Jose Reyes and, before him, Ed Kranepool. Formerly a catcher himself, Geren agreed to d’Arnaud’s request and exchanged numerals with him before the full squad convened in Port St. Lucie, Florida, for spring training.

The trade between catcher and coach calls to mind another pre-season swap, somewhat more convoluted, from 41 years ago. Changing numbers during spring training isn’t all that uncommon, but many fans of the defending National League champion Mets were probably scratching their heads, rubbing their eyes and double-checking their scorecards when the 1974 season got underway.

That year, with the help of the equipment manager, a three-way deal occurred.

Bob Scheffing, the general manager at the time, had made only one actual trade that offseason before the team assembled in Florida, but dealing pitcher Jim McAndrew to the San Diego Padres for a minor leaguer didn’t exactly get the fans in New York chirping. So Felix Millan, the steady second baseman best remembered for choking up at the plate like nobody before, decided to mix things up.

For Millan, switching from 16 to 17 was a chance to be more comfortable wearing the number he’d chosen for good luck with the Atlanta Braves, who traded him to the Mets before the 1973 season. And according to him, teammate Teddy Martinez, number 17 in your Mets scorecard during the ‘73 season, wanted to wear 23, the number of his idol, San Francisco Giant infielder Tito Fuentes. Martinez, ever amiable, agreed to give up his number to Millan.

"Teddy liked number 23 and I liked number 17," Millan said recently.

"All I wanted was a number that I could wear in the big leagues, that’s all I cared about"

But in order for the deal to come to pass, a third player, outfielder Dave Schneck, would have to cooperate. The stocky center fielder from Allentown, Pennsylvania, drafted by the Mets in the 38th round of the 1967 amateur draft, had logged brief stints with the team in 1972 and 1973 and would break camp with the club that year. Twenty-three belonged to him.

He was only too happy to oblige. To Schneck, any number was fine, as long as it was stitched to his back with the Mets.

"All I wanted was a number that I could wear in the big leagues; that’s all I cared about," he said.

And that’s how the most significant Mets trade going into the 1974 season came to pass.

Nowadays, players with long track records and oversized egos think nothing of requesting their favorite number when moving to another team, oftentimes offering monetary or material compensation in return. But times were different in ‘74.

"I didn’t offer him nothing," Millan said of Martinez, the infielder/outfielder who played for the Mets from 1970-’74 before moving on to the Cardinals, A’s and Dodgers.

"He liked Tito Fuentes a lot; he gave me the number 17 easily."

Millan waited a full year to make the request, feeling it wasn’t his place to ask it of Martinez when he first got to New York, along with pitcher George Stone, for pitchers Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella.

Upon arriving and finding out 17 was taken, Millan said he didn’t ask his new teammate to give it up.

"I won’t say it’s superstitious, but I like the number"

"No, no I never did - at that time I was a newcomer and Teddy was there before me, and I wasn’t going to try to make him give me the number," he explained.

"I took 16 because it was closer to 17."

Why 17? Millan will tell you that luck and superstition don’t necessarily go together.

"It was my favorite number when I was a kid – number one is good, and seven they say is a lucky number," he said.

But don’t confuse that with being superstitious, he clarified.

"I won’t say it’s superstitious, because I don’t believe in superstitions, but I like the number," Millan said.

Schneck, who went on to open a batting cage after his playing career ended before starting another business waterproofing basements, will tell you that he doesn’t remember much of anything about the three-way deal. He took Millan’s 16 and that was that.

"To me back then, a number was a number – I’m in the big leagues, I don’t care," he said.

He agreed that many ballplayers are superstitious about what numbers they wear, even if his former teammate, "El Gato", was not.

"Oh yeah, a lot of them are, but I was never that way," Schneck said.

An accomplished fullback in high school who once rushed for 179 yards in one game for Whitehall High, Schneck wore number 61 back then. Did he simply reverse that number in 1974 for good luck? No, he says.

Was there any reason he picked 23 when he was called up in ’72? No again.

"It was given to me and that’s what I wore,’ he said.

There would be no more numerical shifts after ‘74 for Millan, who was named to three all-star games while with the Braves and batted .278 in his five-year career with the Mets, which ended in 1977.

Why did he, like Martinez and so many other ballplayers, obsess over the number on his back?

"Maybe because when they have a number and they do good, they want to keep that number, and if you don’t do good with a number you try to change it right away," he said.

Unlike Millan, who batted .279 over 12 years in the bigs, Schneck’s time in the show was brief. After making the Mets in ’74, he batted .205 and was dealt to the Phillies after the season in a six-player trade and never appeared in the majors again.

To him, a more significant numeral is 50 – that’s the number of years he’s been with his wife, Suzanne, who he married after they began dating when both were 15. What’s their secret?

"Every day we laugh; we have a good laugh every day," he said.

But to some ballplayers like Millan and, perhaps, d’Arnaud, the number you wear is no laughing matter.