Injuries ruined the New York Mets in 1972 after the team got off to a great start. Every key player seemed to go down with an injury. It had gotten so bad that at one point during the season, the Mets had to have all three of the team’s catchers in the starting lineup. The Mets simply couldn’t remain competitive.
The ’73 season would be somewhat of a repeat of the previous year. Again, just about every key player went down with an injury that kept them out of the lineup for a substantial amount of time. Cleon Jones (strained wrist), Bud Harrelson (broken finger), and John Milner (strained hamstring) were all on the sidelines.
The epitome of what the Mets were plagued by occurred on July 7, 1973 when George “The Stork” Theodore collided with Don Hahn while both were chasing down a fly ball in left centerfield. They were both injured but it was Theodore who endured the worst of it, dislocating his hip, which ruined his once promising career.
There are three injuries that had a huge impact on the New York Mets season.
On May 8, 1973, Marty Perez hit a come-backer, a lined shot, off the forehead of Jon Matlack. Matlack went down immediately. He was carried off the field and would be hospitalized for days with a hairline fracture of his skull.
It was a scary sight and, if it happened today, with all of the protocols in place, Matlack would have been out for an extended period of time. However, Matlack returned rather quickly and only missed two starts. And although he finished with 14 wins and a 3.20 ERA, he was, understandably less effective and inconsistent for the rest of the season.
On May 11, 1973, Jerry Grote got hit on the right wrist in Pittsburgh and was out six weeks with a fracture. While other players were always a bit more popular, Grote was always a very integral part of the team. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman have always raved about Grote, and how much the pitchers relied on him. He was the on field leader of the team. And it’s not a coincidence that once Grote returned the lineup, the Mets began winning.
On October 9, 1973, during Game 4 of National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Rusty Staub chased down a Dan Driessen fly ball and crashed into the outfield wall and dislocated his shoulder.
People will remember Willie May trying to play centerfield in that series, and it was somewhat embarrassing and painful to watch. The greatest centerfielder of all-time couldn’t hold down the position on baseball’s biggest stage. And then you had Staub, a pretty damn good fielder in his own right, hoping that the ball wouldn’t be hit to him because he couldn’t throw the ball. Watching him try to throw the ball to the infield underhanded was what second-hand embarrassment is all about.
Playing with Staub in right field hurt the Mets. Playing with Willie in centerfield hurt the Mets. Many of Yogi Berra’s decisions, hurt the Mets. Everyone points to his decision to start Seaver on three day’s rest rather than hold him back to a Game 7, and start George Stone in Game 6. That is an obvious miscue. But Yogi’s miscues led to so many on field miscues.
Why not play Mays at first, move John Milner to left, and play Cleon Jones in right, with Don Hahn in centerfield. Yeah, I know, everyone was having trouble with the afternoon Oakland sun. It would have been better than the alignment Yogi put out there.
And something completely forgotten about the series is how a horrible (so we were all told) New York Yankees right fielder played in centerfield – Reginald Martinez Jackson. He came through with some outstanding plays.
The point is that while everyone harps on the Seaver-Stone decision, the Mets were hampered by the Staub injury that affected the Mets defense, and that is probably what really cost them the 1973 World Series.