The 1970 set is one of my favorite Topps sets. Yeah, I know, the gray borders are kind of bland. But the set was packed with good photos, the different color lettering of the various team names made it excellent for matching games and the yellow and blue backs are perhaps the finest Topps ever made.
Tommie Agee generally did not have great cards as a member of the Mets. His first one in ’68 was the classic “I’ve been traded so here’s a tight shot on my face with no cap” pose. His ’69 card had a poor airbrush job, his ’71 card was an action shot that was hard to tell who the card was supposed to be for and his ’72 card he looked more like a guy in a beer league than he did a pro athlete. So his borrowed Ed Kranepool bat pose from one of my favorite sets is an easy choice here.
In 1969 and 1970, Agee put up back-to-back years with a 5.1 bWAR, which is tied for the 10th-best mark for an outfielder in team history. Given how badly the Mets need an outfielder these days, it would be wonderful if the next Agee was somewhere in our farm system – preferably in Triple-A.
Having said that, I have a confession to make, one that will probably shock and dismay you once I gather the courage to type it. I’m not an Agee fan.
I recognize this statement as heresy for many. I’m versed enough in my history to know Agee’s importance to the 1969 World Championship team. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen the highlights of the Agee catches in the World Series I’d have a nice down payment for a brand new car.
As I mentioned last week in this space, the first team I really remember is the 1972 version. And, well, let’s be kind and say it wasn’t Agee’s best year. He got off to a good start but then cratered. From June 1st until the end of the year, a stretch covering 320 PA, Agee had a .188/.278/.316 line. For a comparison, Jason Bay has a .152/.236/.278 line this season. He wasn’t quite as bad as Bay, but he was in the same zip code.
But you couldn’t say anything bad about him because he was a World Series hero. We were just supposed to watch him fail on a regular basis and accept it. To be fair, Agee was suffering from both knee and neck injuries by this time in his career. But imagine if anytime you said something bad about Bay today, people would criticize you for talking that way about a team legend. That was Agee throughout more than half of the 1972 season.
Meanwhile, out in Kansas City, Amos Otis put up a 129 OPS+, played Gold Glove defense in center field, made the All-Star team and finished eighth in the AL MVP voting in 1972. Otis essentially turned in a similar season for the rest of the decade, while the Mets trotted out guys like Don Hahn, Dave Schneck and Del Unser, instead.
The Mets had given Otis away following the 1969 season. The trade was due to several reasons, one being the presence of Agee in center. With perfect hindsight, the Mets would have kept Otis and then sold high on Agee following the 1970 season. Then I could remember him as a World Series star rather than a 1972 anchor.