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By tobajoma
Nov. 07, 2016

Sure, it all comes under the category of speculation but it isn’t that farfetched that all of the following players could have been Mets going into the 1969 season. So, if the Mets won the World Series, it would have been no miracle. In fact with these players in the lineup and the Mets’ homegrown pitching led by Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, McAndrew, Ryan, and McGraw, it probably would have been expected.

Richie Allen - available from the Phillies in the expansion draft prior to the 1962 season, Allen was raw but could have easily made the Mets by 1964 as either an outfielder, first baseman, or third baseman. Becoming one of the top power hitters in the game, imagine Allen in the middle of the Mets lineup. He was left unprotected throughout the draft and could have been selected at any time.

Paul Blair - the premier defensive center fielder in the American League from the mid 1960's to the mid 1970's, Blair started his career in the Mets’ minor league organization in 1962, before being lost to the Orioles in the first-year player draft. With so few legitimate prospects at the time, it seems inexcusable that the Mets didn’t protect Blair.

Reggie Jackson - the favorite to be the #1 amateur draft pick in 1966 after dominating as a collegian at Arizona State, the Mets instead used the first pick to select catcher Steve Chilcott. Whether you believe racism or just poor judgment was the reason the Mets bypassed Jackson, this was a disaster.

So, in 1969 the Mets could have fielded this starting lineup :

Paul Blair cf

Ron Hunt 2b *

Reggie Jackson rf

Richie Allen 3b

Cleon Jones lf

Ed Kranepool 1b

Jerry Grote c

Bud Harrelson ss

Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman/Gary Gentry/Jim McAndrew/Don Cardwell**

*With Allen and Jackson in the organization, there would have been no reason to trade Hunt for Tommy Davis (or Davis for Agee with the presence of Blair)

*** Allen could have also played first base at times with Ed Charles playing third. You’d have Ron Swoboda as an extra outfielder and righty pinch hitter, Ken Boswell backing up second base and one of several available lefty bats off the bench along with Art Shamsky J.C. Martin, and Kranepool when he’s not starting. There would be a need for a backup shortstop but that would be a relatively minor deal that the Mets could have made.

With no Agee, no Clendenon, no Weis, and Swoboda probably on the bench would the Mets have still won the World Series ? Maybe not, but they’d be in position to be a power for several more years and with that kind of lineup, the pressure on the starting pitchers would have been reduced.

My personal take on this (I certainly have no concrete proof) is that both Allen and Jackson were passed up because they were outspoken young black men who didn’t fit into the mold of “acceptable” black players at the time. In 1961, Allen hit .317 with 94 rbi’s as a low level minor leaguer. Yet the fact that Philadelphia made him available and both the Mets and Houston passed on him can be attributed to the fact that he was already acquiring the negative reputation that stalked him his entire career. Still, it’s hard to ignore those kind of statistics especially in view of the players available in the expansion draft and that Allen could have been selected for $50,000.

What younger fans may not understand is that well after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, teams were still quite selective when it came to employing non-white players. You might think that the Mets’ drafting of players like Choo Choo Coleman and Sammy Drake was proof that a black player didn’t have to be a star to get a big league opportunity. True, but there was still a dual code of conduct that many big league teams subscribed to. George Weiss and Casey Stengel had come from the Yankees - the team that traded away its most promising black player, Vic Power, without ever giving him a chance. Power was flashy and was known to have dated light-skinned women which made Weiss characterize him as “not the Yankee type”. When the Yankees finally integrated they chose the soft-spoken Elston Howard. More than a dozen years later, Reggie Jackson was bypassed by the needy Mets likely for similar reasons. Whether Allen was held to the same racist standards, denying them their chance to be Mets is something known only to those Mets’ decision makers. Draw your own conclusions.

As for Blair, I don’t believe there were personal reasons but rather as simple as the Mets didn’t recognize his potential and hadn’t even found the right position for him yet. According to baseball rules at the time, first year minor leaguers could be scooped up in the draft for $8,000 and so Baltimore took Blair. In his only season as a Mets’ minor leaguer, playing in the California League, he batted .228 and struck out over 100 times. Still, the Mets weren’t exactly loaded with prospects and in fact selected Don Rowe, Ted Schreiber and Steve Dillon in the same minor league draft, so they certainly had room on the roster. Of note, Houston selected Jim Wynn from the Reds in that draft.

Now of course, what ifs ? are just that. It’s just as easy to say “what if the Mets had lost the lottery for Tom Seaver and he wound up with the Phillies ?” or “what if Bing Devine and Joe McDonald hadn’t convinced George Weiss not to release Jerry Koosman ?” Of course we will never know. For what it’s worth here are actual 1969 statistics for the “new” Mets in the lineup :

Hunt 3 HR, 41 RBI, .262, 25 HBP FINISHED 15th for NL MVP

Blair 26,76, .285, 20SB FINISHED 11th for AL MVP, WON GOLD GLOVE

Jackson 47,118, .275 FINISHED 5th for AL MVP

Allen 32,89, .288