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Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, #19: Tommie Agee

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Outfielder Tommie Agee helped lead the Miracle Mets to a World Series championship.

Tommie Agee Shea Stadium Home Run Circle (credit: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/Creative Commons) Wally Gobetz/Flickr/Creative Commons

19. Tommie Agee

Home runs as a Met: 82
Home run rate: 1 per 32.8 plate appearances (3.1%)

Whether you’ve been a Mets fan since 1962 or, like me, you arrived at the party some years or decades later, you know the name Tommie Agee. When I first pulled the list of the Mets’ home run leaders, I wasn’t surprised to see Agee’s name in the top twenty-five. I was, however, surprised to learn that Agee did not start out with the Mets, and that if it hadn’t been for another team’s quest for greatness, the Mets would not have had the player whose heroics helped them win their first World Series championship.

Agee made his major league debut with the White Sox in 1966 and enjoyed a sterling first act, winning Rookie of the Year and making the American League All-Star team in both ‘66 and ‘67. The White Sox were pretty good at the time, but in the waning pre-division, pre-playoff era, you either won the pennant and went straight to the World Series or you went home. Thus, while the White Sox’ 89-73 record in ‘67 was very good, it was only good enough to finish three games behind the pennant-winning Red Sox. As Mets fans know all too well, near-misses like that are painful.

1967 must have felt doubly frustrating for the White Sox and their fans, though, as it officially marked a half-century of World Series drought—which, as we creatures from the future know, had many more years left to run. One can imagine that such an ignominious feat would add a sense of urgency to the usual offseason exercise of re-tooling a team; but whether that psychological gremlin tormented the Sox’ front office or not, they decided a boost to their offense would help them summit the mountain. To achieve that aim, they sent Agee and teammate Al Weis to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Tommy Davis—a recent arrival in Queens and a regular .300-ish hitter—pitcher Jack Fisher, and a couple minor leaguers.

Because baseball has no patience for well-intentioned plans, the White Sox promptly tanked. But while there can be no doubt the trade worked out better for our heroes, the pairing of Agee and the Mets didn’t begin especially well, either: Thanks to a miserable start to the season that included an 0-for-34 slump, Agee threw a clam (69 OPS+) in 1968. But he quickly returned to form in 1969 and went on to enjoy several very good seasons as a Met.

Agee hit 82 home runs in five seasons with the Mets, the last two of which were injury-shortened. That’s pretty good—good enough to make the Mets’ home run leaders list, anyway. It’s what Agee did in the World Series, though, and in Game 3 in particular, that made him a household name for Mets fans of all generations. Look at this:

To an extent, that home run, which Agee absolutely crushed, and those catches, which are at least as exciting and athletically outstanding as what we saw from Endy Chavez in the 2006 NLCS or anything we’ve seen from Juan Lagares since, speak for themselves. But you have to consider the context to appreciate how truly wondrous those plays were.

The 1969 World Series pitted the Mets against the heavily favored Orioles, who were just about as close to being a perfect team as it gets. The Mets were seen as basically a bunch of upstarts who had certainly done well, but were just as certainly going to get their asses handed to them. The teams split the first two games of the series in Baltimore and headed back to New York for Games 3 through 5. Smart money was still on the Orioles.

Tommie Agee was the Mets’ leadoff hitter and therefore had the unenviable task of being first to face the gauntlet of Orioles pitching. In Game 3, that pitcher was future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. No matter: Agee clobbered a leadoff home run to center field to give the Mets the only run they would wind up needing that game. Moreover, and most famously, he made those two spectacular catches.

From a modern fan’s perspective, it can be strange to watch footage of old baseball games. Players from bygone eras seem often seem slower, weaker, and more mechanical than their present-day counterparts. But to watch Agee's catches from that perfect behind-the-plate camera angle is a thing of lasting beauty.

Tommie Agee's leadoff home run in Game 3 was a spark, and his catches were electrifying. We can know, rationally, that “momentum” isn’t really a thing; but in a short series where every play's impact is amplified, things like a home run or a spectacular catch—or two—can turn out to be the fulcrum of success. The Mets won that game, and the next, and, finally, wonderfully, the last.

Tommie Agee (with the Mets)

Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
1968 132 391 5 69
1969 149 635 26 122
1970 153 696 24 116
1971 113 482 14 126
1972 114 483 13 99