Going into the latter half the 1970s, things were not going well for the New York Mets. After being consistently competitive and winning a pennant in the early half of the decade, the franchise’s fortunes had turned. The pinnacle moment of the tumble to the baseball abyss took place on June 15, 1977, when the Mets traded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman in one dark, devastating night. The fans were aching for something, anything, positive. While the wins would not begin to pile up until 1984, on December 8th 1977, the Mets brought in a player with a sense of style.
As the 1977 winter meetings were wrapping up, the Mets, Braves, Pirates, and Rangers engineered a 10-player trade. Interestingly, though the Seaver trade truly signaled the end of the “winning” Mets, Jon Matlack was in this mega deal. His exit represented one more piece from the 1973 pennant winners being sent away. The primary player the Mets received in December of 1977 was the stylish first baseman, Willie Montanez. When the Mets acquired Montanez, he was coming off a season where he had hit .287, with 20 HRs and 68 RBI with the Braves. Montanez had been with the Phillies and Giants prior to his time with Atlanta, and had played 7 full seasons in the major leagues. Why was Montanez “stylish”? Montanez had two primary traits that characterized him as such. First, when receiving a throw at first base, he would snap his foot off the bag after receiving the ball. Second, he had the most unique home run trot in the history of baseball. Montanez would slow to almost a walking pace when he approached each base, do a crow hop on the bag while (sometimes) putting his hand on his helmet, then speed up to the next base and repeat the process. Check out this video at the 8:55 mark!
Montanez was Met for less than two seasons, being traded late in the 1979 season. His numbers with the Mets were somewhat pedestrian. He played in 268 games for New York, batting .247 with 22 HRs and 143 RBI. Montanez was also a stellar defensive first baseman. However, during a dismal time for the organization, Willie Montanez’s primary contribution went well beyond his numbers. He provided some life, some style, and a little entertainment. How would Roger Clemens react to Willie’s antics? I guess we’ll never know. As a young fan when Willie played, I know I looked forward to watching him. He gave us something to smile about, while we were watching the likes of Kevin Kobel, Randy Jones, and Bruce Boisclair. Montanez will be 65 years old in 2013. Thanks for memories, Willie. I hope you’re enjoying your retirement.