It is an accepted legend that in the National League expansion draft of 1961, the Houston Colt .45s chose young, unproved players, while the New York Mets loaded their roster with fading old stars. In actual fact, the Mets' draftees averaged a full year younger than the Colts'. It was just that the Mets' choices weren't anywhere near as good. This fact remains true today, although only 15 of the more than 40 Mets who went to spring training last year are still with the team. However, this has been more a numbers game than an arithmetical progression, for the replacements obtained will not get the Mets much closer to ninth place than the team was last year. Responsibility for this must remain with President George Weiss (right) and his front office. On the field, Casey Stengel and his staff are as good as any in baseball. The front office itself has done well in every aspect but that of obtaining athletes to play ball. "From the start," says ex-Met Richie Ashburn, "everything was major league with the Mets except the team on the field." Just for the record, the team on the field was the worst in the majors in hitting, pitching and fielding, not to mention the standings. The 120 losses were no fluke. For this, their second year, the Mets appear to have strengthened themselves only on defense. While other teams were trading good ballplayers with abandon, Weiss dealt only in fringe players. This was a policy reminiscent of the days when he was with the Yankees, where he always held four to a flush. But with the Mets, where it is a question of drawing to an inside straight, Weiss's standpat attitude is confusing.
Now he continues to move the Mets in one direction—to youth. Unfortunately, the youth is not yet ready to serve in 1963. Last year the team tried to "accelerate" its best bonus prospects and they got murdered in Triple-A. The failure to take chances by trading some of the present key personnel could prove to be just as disastrous this year.
Duke Snider, Frank Thomas, Charlie Neal and Gil Hodges must lead the Met attack this year. Hodges' knee is responding slowly, and it is not certain that he will be of any help. Thomas got 34 home runs and 94 RBIs last year, but too many of the homers came with the bases empty and too many of the RBIs were bunched, often in lost causes. Neal could be the class of the Mets. His attitude is improved, a hand operation was successful, and the pride of responsibility may also help his hitting. Except for Marv Throneberry, the other infielders are either rookies with modest credentials or veterans who have never hit in the majors. If cured of a bad back, Cliff Cook is most likely to produce. Snider (36), who spent the last few years on the Dodgers' bench, is still a fine power hitter—the best the Mets have. Jim Hickman has a beautiful swing and may be the top Met prospect, but he can be pitched to. Rookie Dick Smith can run the bases, but he hit only .255 with Omaha and struck out too much this spring. None of the catchers has ever hit.
No "big three" in baseball is as valuable to any team as Roger Craig, Al Jackson and Jay Hook are to the Mets. Last year they accounted for 26 of the 40 Met victories—65% of them, a figure no three pitchers on any other team could manage. Stengel would like the luxury of being able to use Craig in relief. His control, poise and ability to keep runners at bay (a right-hander, he picked 13 men off first last year) would make him an ideal stopper. Carlton Willey, obtained from the Braves, could be a fourth starter. Holdovers Galen Cisco and Ken MacKenzie, a left-hander who actually won more games (five) than he lost (four) with the Mets, and newcomer Tracy Stallard look like the best of a meager bullpen. Pitching is still the Mets' biggest problem. After Craig, Jackson and Hook, every job is open.
It is on defense that the Mets have made strides. This may not win them many games, but it will stop them from throwing so many away. The right side of the infield is strong, even two-deep. Hodges and Tim Harkness carry good gloves at first, and so do Larry Burright and Ted Schreiber at second base. Neal will play third if smooth-fielding rookie Al Moran can hit enough to play short. In the outfield Smith has speed and an arm, but Thomas was never a defensive player and Hickman is a center fielder by default. Cook and Snider, who has knee trouble, will be platooned in right field, and Rod Kanehl, Stengel's pet, will play everywhere. Behind the plate Sammy Taylor and ex-Dodger Norm Sherry have experience, while Choo Choo Coleman has speed.