On January 22, 1996, the New York Mets traded Yudith Orozio, Erik Hiljus, and Eric Ludwick to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bernard Gilkey. Gilkey, a 28 year-old outfielder, had just enjoyed one of his finest seasons for the Cardinals–posting a .298/.358/.490 line with 17 HR, 69 RBI, 73 R, and 12 SB. The right-handed hitter was hardly considered of “All-Star”-caliber, but that soon changed one he donned orange and blue.
Despite never hitting more than 17 homeruns in a single season, Gilkey exploded for the Mets in 1996–swatting a .317/.393/.562 line with 30 HR, 117 RBI, 108 R, and 17 SB in 656 PA’s. His homerun total was second most to Todd Hundley’s 41, but was nonetheless very exciting–and placed fourteenth in the MVP voting. Even with Gilkey’s unexpected and enormous production, the Mets still finished at a dismal 71-91 (good for fourth place in the National League East). However, his good play was rewarded with an awesome cameo appearance in the movie Men in Black.
Going into 1997, there were higher expectations for both the Mets and Gilkey. While the Mets held-up their end of the bargain (with a 88-74 record), the outfielder floundered in his second season with the team (.249/.338/.417 line with 18 HR, 78 RBI, 85 R, and 7 SB in 606 PA’s). Unfortunately, the 31 year-old continued to regress in 1998, batting a .227/.317/.330 line in 305 PA’s before being shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks mid-season. The righty wasn’t much better with the D’Backs (.248/.327/.277 line in 114 PA’s).
Bernard Gilkey was never the same player-mostly due to injuries–after his incredible 1996 campaign with the Mets. From 1999 to 2001, Gilkey owned a combined .249/.332/.399 line in just 547 PA’s for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, and Atlanta Braves. He retired after the 2001 season at age 34. Gilkey wasn’t a member of the Mets for a long period of time, but his fab 1996 will always stand-out as one of the finest offensive seasons for a Mets hitter.