The Mets spent their earliest years fielding older, yet very popular and familiar personalities in an attempt to recapture a jilted and frayed New York National League fan base. Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Yogi Berra, Frank Thomas, Warren Spahn, Roger Craig, Don Zimmer and Joe Pignatano all saw action during the club’s first two seasons at the Polo Grounds, and/or helped inaugurate Shea Stadium.
As we Mets fans are currently learning, it takes time to build a winning ball club. Things were no different back then. In those earliest years, and unbeknownst to all, pieces of a future championship were already being fitted together. It’s always nice to include Ron Hunt in these conversations, and by 1963, he, Ed Kranepool (’62) and Cleon Jones had already donned Mets uniforms. By 1965, Bud Harrelson and Tug McGraw arrived.
The year 1965 is by most measure, when the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club began an earnest movement towards team building, and adopted a fully focused player developmental mindset. The first man ever to occupy the office of Mets General Manager, George Weiss, brought in the wildly successful Bing Devine from the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Devine eventually assumed the office of President and General Manager, and served through the 1967 season.
Before his departure, he made two brilliant decisions. Joe McDonald started with the Mets in 1962 as a statistician. In 1967, Bing Devine named him Director of Scouting. That same season, Devine also named Whitey Herzog Director of Player Development. Herzog was originally hired in 1966 to coach first, then third base. This triumvirate of Bing Devine, Whitey Herzog, and Joe McDonald, were chiefly responsible for assembling the 1969 Miracle Mets, and the Amazin’s of ’73.
With the departure of Bing Devine, Johnny Murphy took over, and was GM when the Mets won the World Series over the Orioles. To Murphy’s credit, Mets history might read differently if he had not first acquired manager Gil Hodges in a trade, then Donn Clendenon in another.
In 1970, the club suffered the first of a series of major blows that shook the organization to its foundation. Johnny Murphy succumbed to a heart attack. Then in April 1972, Gil Hodges was also stricken by a heart attack and likewise passed away.
Prior to the 1972 season, Whitey Herzog was passed over in favor of Yogi Berra to succeed Gil Hodges as manager. Before year’s end, Herzog, a brilliant baseball mind, left the Mets in favor of a managerial position with the Rangers.
After the Amazin’ run of 1973 under Yogi Berra, the Mets suffered their greatest loss of all. In 1975, Mets majority owner Joan Whitney Payson passed away. From this, these Mets never recovered.
Now comes the part of the story when Mets fans of that time, began developing very strong, varying, and often derisive opinions over what happened next. The time covers the days leading up to the eventual sale of the team late in 1979. Some Mets fans place a very small fraction of blame for the ultimate fall of Metropolis at the feet of Charles Shipman Payson. Some place an equally small fraction of blame on Mrs. Payson’s daughter, Miss Lorinda de Roulet. The vast majority of fans however, place most, if not all blame on perhaps the most detested man in Mets history - the one and only, M. Donald Grant.
However, I am into this effort in support of Joe McDonald, not to discuss M. Donald Grant. Sorry. I know that’s fun, so, instead, this is where I want you, the reader, to contribute with comments, because M. Donald Grant rants are the gifts that keep on giving.
At the end of the 1974 season, Joe McDonald was named General Manager of the Mets. He replaced Bob Scheffing. Between M. Donald Grant’s destructive micro-managing, and Miss Lorinda’s order to effectively cease all spending, it’s my opinion that Joe McDonald still suffers from negative and ill-deserved critiques regarding the era (1977-1979) we refer to as the Dark Days.
Even before the infamous Tom Seaver trade, heading into 1977, Joe McDonald was already faced with having to deconstruct an aging team he himself helped construct. I will be the first to admit, trading Tug McGraw and Rusty Staub in 1975 infuriated me. As things turned out, the Mets posted their second highest ever victory total (at the time) during the 1976 season. That however, was their last hurrah.
The reality of the situation was, the Mets, as configured, enjoyed a good ten year run, but the time had come to rebuild. Trading Tom Seaver opened the flood gates. Mr. Grant instigated that trade, and a highly influential local sports columnist named Dick Young rubber stamped it. In my opinion, Joe McDonald still receives a woeful and underserved amount of blame for being the man who traded away the Franchise. Afterwards, one trade followed another. John Milner, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and others were all dealt. Then Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ed Ott ensured the end of Felix Millan‘s career when the two engaged in a fight. The final curtain came down in 1979 with the retirement of Ed Kranepool. A few short months later, the team was sold.
Under Joe McDonald however, the farm system continued to produce talent, and his influence can be found all over the Mets 1986 championship roster. Almost a full 1/3 of that team can be, directly, or indirectly, traced back to Joe McDonald.
Lee Mazzilli was a 1st round pick in the ’73 draft when Joe was still serving as the director of minor league operations. Later during the dark ages, the talent he both developed and acquired proved invaluable.
Future closer Jesse Orosco was acquired by trading Jerry Koosman. Lee Mazzilli was used to acquire Ron Darling, and a solid pitcher named Walt Terrell, who in turn enabled the Mets to acquire Howard Johnson. By the way, I was very happy Lee Mazzilli was later re-acquired. Whitey Herzog reared his head again when he craved Neil Allen and famously traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets. Of course, Hubie Brooks and Mike Fitzgerald opened the door for Gary Carter‘s arrival.
That’s eight players, in some way connected to Joe McDonald. Two more notable achievers who were traded away were Mike Scott, whom the 1986 Mets should remember well, and closer Jeff Reardon, who at one time, was baseball’s all-time saves leader.
As we all know, the new ownership selected Frank Cashen to become the next GM of the Mets. Mr. Cashen in turn, offered Joe McDonald a position within the organization, but he respectfully declined to stay beyond the 1980 season.
Joe McDonald moved on, accepting a job in 1981 to work along side Whitey Herzog again, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He earned his second World Series ring there as an organizational member. Later in 2004, Joe McDonald began scouting for the Boston Red Sox, and has since earned three more WS rings as an organization member. His most recent came this year, for a personal total of five.
I now propose, based primarily on his length of service, and the multiple organizational successes derived in part through his efforts, that Joe McDonald should be voted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame. With respect to Bing Devine, in my opinion, Joe is perhaps one of the top three executives this club has ever had. He is 84 years old now, and I feel this honor is long overdue. While Mr. McDonald is still well, energized by the game of baseball, and happily scouting players in Florida, can we please bring him to Flushing for his enshrinement into the club’s Hall Of Fame that he helped populate?
After all, he is only one man or woman, with (his) fingerprints on both championship trophies.
- Why is Joan Whitney Payson NOT a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? She was the first woman to establish her own baseball enterprise, not to mention, she threatened the old establishment with the creation of an entirely new league. Starting in 1961 and ’62, the course of baseball’s modern expansion has followed the blueprint of the proposed Continental League ever since. Joan Payson, one time minority owner of the New York Giants who voted NO regarding the move to San Francisco, was a devastatingly impactful woman upon the greater landscape of baseball.
- Whitey Herzog and Bing Devine comprise one of the biggest what if’s in all of Mets history. Whitey Herzog went on to manage a small dynasty in Kansas City, where he won three straight division titles. He then moved on to St. Louis and won a WS title in 1982, and a pair of National League pennants in 1985 and 1987. Bing Devine’s stamp is all over the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1960′s. In the decade, he won 4 N.L. flags, and 3 world championships. Had Gil Hodges survived, and Herzog and Devine were retained by the Mets, their collective contributions to the club could have been extraordinary.
It obviously pays to have good people. That said, the modern triumvirate of Alderson, DePodesta, and Ricciardi, have my continuing confidence.