Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at [email protected] and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed both the good food and the good football games played. This week’s off-season player of the week is former Met outfielder, Bernard Gilkey. The 46-year-old was a product of University City High School in St. Louis, Missouri, and was signed by the hometown St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent back in 1984. After a successful minor league career, he made his debut for the Cardinals as a September call-up in 1990. His best overall seasons with St. Louis came in 1993, when he hit .305/.370/.481 with 16 homers, 70 RBI, 99 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, and only 66 strikeouts in 557 at-bats.
Before the 1996 seasons, the Mets made a trade to bring Gilkey to Flushing and sending three prospects to St. Louis; he and Lance Johnson both had fantastic seasons for an awful Mets team (71-91 record in 1996). In his two-plus years with New York, Gilkey had his best year in ’96, as he hit .317/.393/.562 with 30 homers, 117 RBI, 73 walks, 17 stolen bases, and 108 runs scored, while placing 14th in NL MVP voting. However, he would never come close to matching his first season with the Amazins, as he compiled a .249 batting average in 1997 and was hitting .227 in 1998 before he was traded mid-season to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Once he was traded, his days as an everyday player were over. He played another year and a half in Arizona, and was present in 1999 when Todd Pratt beat them in game five of the NLDS with a walk-off homer. Gilkey also spent some time with the Red Sox in 2000 and Braves in 2001 before he decided to hang up his spikes.
Although he was never selected to an All-Star game, he put together three .300 seasons, four years of 15+ homers, three years of 85+ runs scored, and six straight seasons of 10+ stolen bases. He was also a force in left field, as he compiled a .983 career fielding percentage and had five seasons in which he accumulated more than 10 assists, leading the league in 1996 with 18.
During his time with the Mets, Bernard found some time to fit in a small role in the 1997 movie, Men in Black. He played himself in the movie, where the climax of the film took place nearby Shea Stadium.
It was unfortunate Gilkey wasn’t around for better times in Flushing, as his 6.0 offensive WAR seems to have gone wasted on an awful team in 1996. He started to see the turnaround in 1997, as New York posted their first winning record (88-74) since 1990, but saw the culmination of the Mets return to the post-season in 1999, but as a member of the opposing team. Even though I was very young during his tenure in Flushing, I enjoyed watching him play. Both him and Lance Johnson made the Mets worth watching when there wasn’t much of a reason to turn on a game.
So, here’s to you, Bernard. Thanks for helping bring our Mets back to respectability, and I’m sorry you weren’t around to reap the benefits of it.