Charlie Williams was a player with a baseball card as bland as his name. But he played an important role in franchise history, being the kid they traded for Willie Mays. Here’s a look at his time with the Mets. Charlie Williams has two claims to fame for the Mets. Most fans can tell you that he was the pitcher who the club traded to the Giants along with $50,000 for Willie Mays in May of 1972. But not too many can tell you his other distinction. Williams is the only player in team history who was ever born in Flushing.
Williams was a seventh-round draft pick of the Mets in 1968 out of Parsons College, the same school from which a year earlier the club chose Rich Folkers as its first-round pick. If Parsons College does not ring a bell, it’s because it no longer exists. If you came of age during the Vietnam War you might recall Parsons College. Because of its liberal recruitment practices, Parsons was a popular destination for those trying to avoid the draft. Actually, Parsons College has a pretty interesting history overall. Click here for its Wikipedia entry.
Back to Williams, who began his professional career in Mankato under future Mets manager Joe Frazier in 1968. Williams had a fine debut, going 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA. Perhaps his most impressive number was allowing just two home runs in 67 innings.
Next year in Visalia was more of a tough go for Williams. He went 3-6 with a 4.75 ERA. And the California League was a hitter’s league back then, too. This time Williams allowed 13 gopher balls in 91 innings. But he did have a 91:37 SO:BB ratio which helps explain how he got a promotion to Double-A. At Memphis Williams was 1-3 in 10 games.
It was a different story for Williams in Memphis in 1970. He was one of two aces on the staff, joining Don Rose in leading the Blues to the Eastern Division championship. That squad lost the Texas League championship to Albuquerque. Like Williams, Rose was also involved in a trade with a Hall of Famer, as he was one of the players the Mets included with Nolan Ryan in the Jim Fregosi deal. Williams went 12-5 with a 3.25 ERA.
In 1971, Williams skipped Triple-A and spent the entire season with the Mets. He pitched in 31 games and made nine starts. Williams pitched five innings of relief on June 2nd to pick up his first win, as the Mets defeated Juan Marichal and the Giants, 5-2. It was a big deal, as Marichal was 23-3 lifetime versus the Mets heading into that game.
Nine days later, Williams made his first start in the majors and got a no-decision against the same Giants squad. He went 6.2 innings, gave up two runs and struck out nine. Williams won his next two starts and took a shutout into the ninth inning versus the Pirates before settling for a 3-2 win which upped his record to 3-1 for the season.
But Williams gave up 14 runs in 10.1 innings over his next three starts and found himself back in the bullpen. He made three more spot starts during the year, getting rocked in two of them. But in his other start, Williams went the distance in the second game of a double header versus the Reds and struck out eight in the team’s 9-4 win.
In 1972, Williams opened the season in the minors, where he went 3-2 in five games for Triple-A Tidewater before being shipped to San Francisco in the big deal for Mays. He was unimpressive in three games for the Giants and found himself back in the minors for the rest of the season.
The story line around the trade was that the Giants wanted to do right by Mays by sending him home to finish his career. While there’s probably some truth to that angle, it had more to do with the Giants being unwilling to guarantee Mays a high-paying coaching job when his career ended. The 50 grand the Mets gave San Francisco along with Williams didn’t hurt any, either.
Meanwhile, Mays did admirably for a 41-year old for the Mets in 1972, posting a .267/.402/.446 line. However, Mays and manager Yogi Berra clashed over playing time, with Mays wishing for more time off. In the early part of the year, it looked like a storybook tale. The former New York Giants hero returns home to help lead the Mets to the World Series. But the dream fell apart when Rusty Staub went down with a broken hand. Staub was plunked with a pitch by future teammate George Stone. He played with the injury for more than a month before it was properly diagnosed and he went on the DL.
At the end of the day on June 3rd, when Staub got hit, the Mets were 31-12 and led the Pirates by five games. When Staub went out of the lineup for two months on July 18th, New York was 47-35 and five games behind the eventual National League East winners. Mays would have to wait for the following year for his shot at the World Series.
Charlie Williams never got to play in the World Series. He pitched six more seasons with the Giants and was a useful swing man from 1974-1977. Williams threw his last pitch in the majors in 1978. He finished his eight-year career with a 23-22 record with four saves in 268 games.
Even though he played only one year with the Mets, his name looms large in the club’s history. From the kid who beat Juan Marichal to the player who helped bring in Willie Mays, Williams did a lot in his brief time with the club. Not bad for the kid from Flushing.