The New York Mets have two talented players whose best position happens to be first base. One is a big powerful right-handed bat (who also throws right-handed) and the other is a lefty swinger (southpaw thrower) who also has some pop but is a bit more agile around the first base bag.
So how can these two guys with so much talent be in the lineup at the same time? Quite the conundrum.
The unfortunate part about it is that one of them can only play one position – first base. And while he has improved immensely (he was initially touted as a terrible fielder), he lags behind his teammate who is almost like the second coming of Keith Hernandez or even John Olerud as a first baseman, but who is a liability in the outfield.
Mets Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith can fit together in the lineup
Pete Alonso, the righthanded masher, burst onto the scene to bang over 50 home runs and garner Rookie of the Year honors. Dom Smith, the smooth lefty swinger, took a bit longer to develop, and has finally broken out to show he is a Major League hitter with pop, and some dazzling play at first base.
Forgetting about all the metrics, just from clear observation, it is apparent that, in order to get them both in the lineup, the Mets defense is greatly affected. Because with that, you have your best first baseman in left field.
Although a good athlete, Smith is clearly not the Mets best leftfielder. And with Smith in left, Brandon Nimmo, who should be in left, is forced to play centerfield, clearly not HIS best position, which is leftfield. With Smith away from first base in leftfield, that also weakens second, short, and third, as all of the errant throws likely to be saved by Smith, will, most likely, not be saved by Alonso. It also stands to reason that the guys in the infield are conscious that they will have to be more careful with Alonso at first and, therefore, could possibly be more deliberate and not be as fluid or natural with their throws across the diamond, and they could end up short-arming or pushing the ball.
There has been precedent whereby sluggers, in order to get another big bat in the lineup, have moved to another position, whether it be leftfield or even third base. Moving Alonso would be the simpler move. Because that means one person is playing out of position. Keeping Alonso at first base creates a domino effect whereby six positions are affected.
There is one specific situation where, in a somewhat similar situation, two players, two first basemen, one righthanded and one lefthanded, not only were productive, but each flourished enroute to their respective Hall of Fame careers.
Orlando Cepeda came up with the San Francisco Giants at the age of 20 in 1958 and won the Rookie of the Year Award. Nicknamed the Baby Bull, he was a big, strong, righthanded slugger (and righthanded thrower) whose best position was first base, but had the benefit of playing next to some guy named Willie Mays who took a lot of the pressure off of him in the outfield.
Cepeda was an All Star for six consecutive years from 1959 to 1964. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1966 for pitcher Ray Sadecki and won the National League MVP Award in 1967 while leading the Cardinals to the World Championship. He went on to the Atlanta Braves for the 1969 season and helped lead the Braves to the Western Division Championship.
Cepeda hit .297 for his career with 379 home runs and 1,365 runs batted in. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1999. His number 30 was retired by the Giants and there is a statue of him outside of Oracle Field in San Francisco.
Willie McCovey came up the very next year in 1959 at the age of 21 and made such a huge impression that he won the Rookie of the Year Award after playing in just 52 games. Nicknamed Stretch, he was a tall, lanky, lefthanded bopper (and southpaw thrower) with some quick feet and a long stretch (hence the nickname) at the first base bag.
McCovey played for the Giants from 1959 to 1973 and was a nine-time All Star. Much like he followed up Cepeda for rookie honors, McCovey won the National League MVP Award two years after Cepeda following the 1969 season. He would also play for the San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s, before returning to finish his career with the Giants.
McCovey hit .270 for his career with 521 home runs and 1,555 runs batted in. At the time of his retirement, only Babe Ruth hit more home runs as a lefthanded batter. He was so feared as a hitter, that teams employed the “McCovey Shift” when he would come up to the plate, pulling players around to the right side of the field before it was fashionable to do so like today. In fact, the Mets employed a four-man outfield during a critical game in the 1969 season, sending second baseman Al Weis out to the outfield, against McCovey.
McCovey was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. His number 44 was retired by the Giants and there is a statue of him outside of Oracle Field. There is also McCovey’s Cove named after him beyond the right field fence.
The Baby Bull was exclusively a first baseman when he came up in 1958. But he played 231 games in the outfield for the Giants after McCovey’s arrival in 1959. Stretch played 275 games in in the outfield for the Giants while in the lineup simultaneously with Cepeda through the 1964 season. In 1965, McCovey’s days as an outfielder came to a halt as Cepeda was hurt during the season and then was traded to the Cardinals the next season.
But during the years together with the Giants, these two Hall of Famers, whose best position was first base, managed to co-exist in the same lineup for seven seasons. The Giants were a good team with some great players in those days, but they only made it to the World Series one season, 1962, when they lost to the Yankees in seven games, McCovey famously lining to second baseman Bobby Richardson for the last out of the Series. Metrics were not used the way they are today, but somehow two guys, two first basemen, managed to play together on the same team for seven seasons and both of them made it to the Hall of Fame.
The sabermetrics may not support it, but perhaps the case of Cepeda and McCovey can show that Alonso and Smith can be a one-two punch for the Mets for a long time. The difference is that Cepeda and McCovey toiled in San Francisco, out of the limelight, and in the shadows of Willie Mays, covering ground and covering up for a lot of miscues in the outfield.
On the other hand, Alonso and Smith are constantly under the intense scrutiny of the New York media, the overanalytical sabermetrics departments, and, most importantly, Mets fans, who will analyze, re-analyze, and hyper-analyze what route was taken to camp under a routine fly ball.
Want your voice heard? Join the Rising Apple team!
The question was once asked “can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” The more pertinent question here is “can two first basemen co-exist in a Mets lineup without driving the media and fans crazy?”