One team that does
not have a third baseman approaching the caliber of George Brett is the New
York Mets. Not now, not 10 years ago, not ever. What the Mets have had is a lot
of third basemen. Let's go back to the beginning, 1962, the year the Mets were
born. Don Zimmer, No. 1 historically and No. 67 alphabetically, was at third
when the season opened and he started reasonably well, with three hits in 12 at
bats. Then he went 0 for 34 and was benched for Felix Mantilla, No. 2. Zimmer
reappeared after a few days and got a couple of hits but was traded to
Cincinnati for Cliff Cook, No. 3.
Cook showed up
with some bad news for the Mets. He had a bad back, which made bending over
difficult. Not that Cook was much of a third baseman when he could bend over.
Are you starting to get the point?
The Mets have been
in existence for almost 19 years, and in that time 67 souls, most of them
unfortunate, have played third.
Randle, who was available only because he had just punched out his manager, hit
.304 in 1977, no Mets third baseman had ever hit higher than .276, which Ed
Charles did in 1968. Until Richie Hebner drove in 79 runs last year, while
desperately pleading to be traded (which he was last October to Detroit), no
Mets third baseman had ever driven in more than 62. There have been bumblers,
bunglers and stumblers. There have been names that would excite only devotees
of trivia. Unsurprisingly, the two worst trades the Mets ever made involved
The incumbent is
Elliott Maddox. Oddly enough, he can play. He may be the best centerfielder on
the team, but if he isn't run over by a bus, he will finish the season as the
best-fielding third baseman the club has ever had. When the season began,
Manager Joe Torre, who was No. 48 himself, planned to spell Maddox with Phil
Mankowski, acquired from the Tigers in the Hebner trade, another wretched deal
for the Mets. Mankowski became No. 64 on April 15, a cold gray Tuesday at Shea
The game's first
batter doubled and the game's second batter bunted the ball to Mankowski, who
threw it away. Charlie Neal would have appreciated that. Neal was the Opening
Day third baseman in 1963 and he threw the first ball he got into the stands.
One batter later, Mankowski got his first ground ball, a tricky little devil
that went through his legs for another error. Now that's a man who has a deep
and abiding concern for history. Mankowski went on the disabled list April 29
and hasn't returned.
No. 65 was a quiet
little rookie named Mario Ramirez. He became No. 65 by playing one inning at
third on May 22. The next day he was in Triple A and Jose Moreno, another
rookie, was in Flushing.
Moreno also had a
concern for historical continuity. He became No. 66 one bright sunny day at
Candlestick Park, June 18 to be exact. The first ball hit to him was a pop foul
which he never saw. He had forgotten to put on his sunglasses. God bless you,
The Mets became a
national phenomenon because, in the early years, they lost creatively and
humorously and the writers covering the team refused to take them seriously.
Casey Stengel wouldn't have let them if they tried. Jack Lang has covered the
Mets since Day One, first for the Long Island Press, now for the New York Daily
News. He has become, in effect, the team historian, and, as the scope of the
catastrophe became clear, it was Lang who would proudly announce the correct
number when a new third baseman showed up. Belatedly recognizing that history
consists of defeats as well as victories, the Mets now keep their own master
Maddox, who grew
up in New Jersey and used to play centerfield for the Yankees, knew about the
Mets' third-base problem when he was a kid. "I don't know why nothing's
happened to me yet," he said recently. "Hopefully, I can be there a
while." Several days later he pulled a hamstring and Bill Almon became No.