When Sandy Alderson traded R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays last month, he was banking on a high major league yield of the crop of prospects the Mets got in return. While we all have high hopes for Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Beccera, there is no guarantee they will flourish into the big league stars they’re expected to be. Today on “Glory Days,” the first of 2013, we take a look at a can’t-miss prospect who turned out to be little more than a Quadruple-A ballplayer: the Amazin’ Don Bosch.
Dateline: July 4, 1968. The Mets are hosting the second game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Getting the start in the two-hole was centerfielder Don Bosch, who had gone 0-3 in the first-game loss against his former team.
Don Bosch was a 23-year-old Triple-A All-Star in Columbus in 1966 and his manager even said he was the next Willie Mays in the field. Bosch was brought into the New York organization with much fanfare on December 6, 1966, when he and pitcher Don Cardwell were acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for Dennis Ribant, the Mets’ first starting pitcher with a winning record (11-9 in ’66), and light-hitting Gary Kolb. In Baseball Digest’s 1967 minor league scouting report, Don Bosch was listed as New York’s top prospect over Tom Seaver (#2), Nolan Ryan (#4), and Jerry Koosman (#7). Things went south almost immediately for the 5’10” “silver fox,” who was noted in the New York Times of the day for being the only center fielder in the major leagues with an ulcer. His 1967 season in which he started the first game as leadoff man was marred by nothing more than mediocrity, as he hit .140 in two stints with the big ball club and added a .263 average in 90 games with Triple-A Jacksonville. At this point in his 1968 campaign he was about as well as Eugene McCarthy, hitting just .167 through 38 games. On this day, however, Bosch would give Mets fans at least one glimpse of what could’ve been.
New York gave the other half of the Bosch trade, Don Cardwell, an early lead when Cleon Jones hit a solo home run off the Pirates’ Jim Bunning in the 1st inning. Cardwell would give the lead up in the 3rd on Maury Wills’s single, Gene Alley’s double with error, and old-time Met-killer Willie Stargell’s sac fly.
Down 2-1, the home team came back in the bottom half of the inning: Cardwell reached on a one-out error. After Bud Harrelson flew out, it was Don Bosch’s time to shine as he tagged Bunning for a two-run homer. Bosch’s 3rd longball and 6th & 7th RBIs of 1968 gave the Mets a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the 5th, Bosch got a head start on a potential post-baseball career path by producing a strong insurance policy: his two-out double led to another Met run as he came in on an error during Jones’s at-bat. Nothing much happened for the rest of the game: Cardwell was finished after 7.1 strong innings and Ron Taylor came on for the save. The only hiccup was with two outs in the 9th when who else but Bosch package piece Gary Kolb hit a solo home run. It was not enough for the visitors, however, as the Mets beat the Pirates 4-3 in front of 29,587 Shea faithful who stuck around for the back end of the doubleheader. Bosch’s Amazin’ final line: 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
Led by emerging aces in Seaver, Ryan, and Koosman (the guys ranked below Bosch in the ’67 scouting report), the ’68 edition of the Mets were on their way, finishing with a club-best 73 wins and a second non-last place finish in three seasons. With just about all the pieces in place, including Cardwell, Gil Hodges’s bunch was well on its way to that miraculous World Series run in 1969.
Unfortunately for Don Bosch, his chance at becoming part of the long-term solution in New York ended in mid-August of 1968 when he was sent back down to Jacksonville for the second time in the season. He finished that year hitting .171, collecting no more home runs or RBIs after his Glory Day. The Montreal Expos purchased his contract after the season but would play on 49 games for the expansion club in ’69, hitting a career-best .179. He started out 1970 in Triple-A Buffalo and was traded to the Houston Astros organization in June. That was the summer that my dad and his statistics-geek friends, who became Bosch devotees when the Mets got him back in ’66, waited patiently every four weeks for The Sporting News to publish the full minor league statistics to see Bosch hitting .196 for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He retired from professional baseball after 1970 at age 27.
Look, I want d’Arnaud and Syndergaard to succeed as much as the next guy. I want to be able to look back on the R.A. Dickey trade and disdainfully concede that Sandy Alderson made the best baseball move. I would just like to remind everyone that even can’t-miss prospects don’t always pan out. As much as d’Arnaud has the chance to become the next Joe Mauer, he has just as much a chance of becoming the next Don Bosch. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
July 4. A good day for Jim Tabor in 1939 (hits two grand slams in one game) and Nolan Ryan in 1980 (strikeout #3,000). Also a good day for Walt Whitman in 1855 (Leaves of Grass is first published). A bad day for citizens of Amsterdam in 1810 (city is occupied by French forces) and the Southern army in 1863 (General Lee withdraws from Gettysburg and Vicksburg is captured by General Grant). A great day for Don Bosch in 1968.