After putting together an 86-76 record to finish out the 1976 season in third place, fans were in for some dark days ahead at Shea Stadium. Over the next seven seasons, the Amazins were exactly the opposite, as they suffered through six years of 90+ losses. The one year they didn’t reach that mark was 1981, but lost 62 times only because of the strike-shortened season. Former Mets GM Frank Cashen was looking to build a winner in the mid-80s for the Shea Faithful, and he used this day twice during his tenure to send that message, as he first used it to come to terms with outfielder George Foster in 1982.
Foster made his MLB debut in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1975 with the Cincinnati when he found his stroke at the plate and become a premiere power threat in the National League, hitting .300/.356/.518 with 23 homers and 78 RBI. Over the next four seasons in Cincy, he would be selected to four All-Star games, won the 1977 NL MVP award, led the league in RBI three times, and hit the most homers twice (two-straight 40+ HR seasons).
After having somewhat of an off-year in 1980, Foster went to the fifth and final All-Star game of his career in ’81, finished third in NL MVP voting, and won the Silver Slugger award, hitting .295/.373/.519 with 22 homers and 90 RBI. Cashen acquired Foster from the Reds in exchange for Jim Kern, Greg Harris, and Alex Trevino, and the deal was complete on this date back in 1982, as Foster agreed to a five-year/$10 million deal with New York, which made him the highest-paid player in franchise history. This gave the Mets a proven power bat in the outfield to help them become a consistently competitive team once again, which they did, but although he put up solid power numbers, this trade and signing is referred to as a bust.
During his four and a half years in Queens, Foster didn’t hit for the kind of average he did in his earlier years (.252/.307/.422), but he did put together three 20+ homer seasons, and drove in more than 77 runs three times as well. Despite still being productive in his mid-to-late 30s, the high expectations of his huge contract always made what he accomplished not enough for Mets fans. In 72 games played in 1986, he struggled so much (.227/.289/.429, 13 HR, 38 RBI) that he was released by New York in favor of young outfielder Keith Mitchell. He would catch on with the White Sox for the rest of the season, but that was it for his career, as it ended in nothing but frustration.
On the other hand, after acquiring Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals in June of 1983, it took a while for the Mets to convince him that they were ready to win in 1984, as they were fresh off a 68-94 season. Cashen convinced Keith and his mustache to stay put instead of testing free agency at the end of the next season, agreeing to a five-year deal worth $8 million on this date in ’84, the second-richest contract in history, behind Foster’s.
Unlike, Foster’s time in Flushing, Keith’s was a lot more successful, as he represented the Mets in three All-Star games, won five-straight Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, had a .300+ average three times, and drove in 80+ runs four times. Obviously, he was a key component to New York returning to the post-season in 1986 with their league-best 108-54 record, and in 13 playoff games that year, he posted a .345 OBP (drew 8 walks), drove in 7 runs, and scored 4 more on his way to celebrating his second (and last) World Series title. Now in the booth for SNY with Gary Cohen and fellow ’86 World Champion, Ron Darling, Mets fans get to hear him on a nightly basis…as he’s normally good for a few funny comments each broadcast.
Even though only one of these signings worked out the way New York wanted, they both showed the fan base that the organization was invested in getting premium talent in order to put them over the top and be competitive again. February 10th will always be an important date in Mets history.