Gil Hodges and the all-time Mets ‘veteran’ team

With Veterans Day approaching on November 11, it might be interesting to assemble a lineup of one-time Mets who were veterans, in this instance using the military meaning. My criterion included that a player slotted at a position must have actually played at least one game for the Mets at the position. I am not naming all Mets who served in the military, just enough to round out a standard lineup with one starting pitcher and one reliever.

1b…Gil Hodges. Hodges was an original Met, after a long and distinguished career with the Dodgers, especially in Brooklyn where he was beloved as a year round resident. He was 38 when he played 54 games for the Mets in their first season, producing a respectable SLG of .472. He of course went on to be a very successful manager highlighted by his piloting the 1969 Mets to a WS win.

Hodges rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Marine Corps during WWII, and he fought in the Okinawa campaign, the bloodiest of the Pacific battles. He earned a Bronze Star for his efforts.

2b…Wayne Garrett. Garrett most often played third base for the Mets, but he did play 47 games at second in 1969. He was a key spark in driving the Mets to pennants in both 1969 and 1973. His 1969 NLCS stats against the Braves were off the charts, a .538 BA with a homer and two doubles. Garrett served in the National Guard, missing about ½ of the 1971 season to duty.

SS…Bud Harrelson. The slick fielding shortstop was a Mets fixture for many years, including the pennant winning years of ‘69 and ‘73. He served a stretch as the Mets’ manager in the 90’s. Harrelson also served in the National Guard, missing much of the 1968 season and part of 1969.

3b…Ken Boyer. Boyer had a great career for St. Louis, including an MVP year in 1964 as the Cards claimed a WS win. He came to the Mets in 1966 at age 35 and played 136 games, batting .266 with 14 homers. Boyer was drafted into the Army during the Korean conflict and missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

OF…Dave Schneck. Schneck was a good prospect who did not pan out, partially due to injuries. He was a backup outfielder from 1972-1974 with the Mets. He did a 14 month tour of duty with the army in a combat role in Vietnam from 1969-1970.

OF…Willie Mays. The Hall of Famer had a tremendous career with the Giants, then came to the Mets at the tail end of his career in 1972 and 1973. He did play 69 games for the Mets in 1972, putting up an SLG of .446, not bad for a 41 year old. Mays was drafted into the army in 1952. In his last game in early 1952, against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, he received a unique honor, a standing ovation from the crowd. Probably no other Giant ever got that kind of applause in Brooklyn, but the fans recognized his greatness and knew he was about to be inducted.

OF… Duke Snider. Snider was a Dodger great, eventually elected to the HOF. The slugger played for the Mets in 1962 at the age of 36, appearing in 129 games and hitting 14 homers. Snider served in the navy from 1945-1946, stationed aboard a submarine tender with the fleet in the Pacific.

C….Yogi Berra. The Yankee great won three MVP awards in the AL, and then became manager of the Yanks in 1964 leading them to the pennant. New York lost the WS to St. Louis, and Berra was fired, a seemingly harsh result. He landed as a Mets coach in 1965, and was actually activated briefly and caught two games for the Mets. He then went on to a long coaching career with the Mets and was made manager of the team after the untimely death of Gil Hodges in 1972. The following year Yogi skippered the team to a pennant.

Berra was in the navy in WWII, and was present at the Normandy landings in 1944, as a gunner on a landing craft support boat. Berra was awarded a Purple Heart and two battle stars.

SP…Warren Spahn. The HOF lefty was a long time Brave, and is considered one of the best southpaws of all time. In 1965, at the age of 44, he started 19 games for the Mets and posted a 4.36 ERA.

Spahn was in the army as a combat engineer in WWII. He was in the thick of the fighting around the Ludendorff bridge over the Rhine in 1945. He was given a battlefield promotion to lieutenant, and received a Purple Heart for the shrapnel wound he received during the battle.

RP…Tug McGraw. McGraw had a long career with the Mets, mostly as a closer. He was a key piece of the 1969 team and also the ‘73 pennant winner, coining the rally cry “Ya gotta believe.” McGraw was in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1965-1971, achieving the rank of Corporal.

7 comments for “Gil Hodges and the all-time Mets ‘veteran’ team

  1. November 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    So many times we hear these old ballplayers talking about how things were better back in their day and for the most part, I think they’re full of it.

    But we should all show our gratitude and appreciation for those who saw active duty combat in Vietnam, Korea and the World Wars and elevate those who volunteered for combat to even higher levels.

    No one thought more highly of Bob Feller’s baseball exploits, especially compared to modern guys, than Bob Feller but before we think of him as the ultimate “get off my lawn” guy, we should think of him as a guy who willingly walked away from his baseball career to serve his country. And he’s far from the only one.

    Warren Spahn “entered military service on December 3, 1942, and reached Europe in December 1944 with the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion, a trouble-shooting outfit that wasn’t permanently attached to any one unit.

    The 276th soon found themselves in the Battle of the Bulge. “We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forrest and had to fight our way out of there,” recalled Spahn. “Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn’t have a bath or change of clothes for weeks.”

    The quote came from the following site, which also lists other MLB players to serve in the Battle of the Bulge.
    http://www.baseballinwartime.com/bulge.htm

    • footballhead
      November 8, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks for the link Brian. I’m both a baseball nut and a history nut, so I really appreciated the read. I knew about the major leaguers being in the service, but I thought it was very commendable on your part to include minor leaguers who were at “the Bulge”. My father-in-law played semi-pro in the late 30’s, and also served in the European theatre during the war. He survived the last 9 months as a POW. Mr Reed was truly a shining example of the “greatest generation”.

  2. Hobie
    November 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Great article. I was going to suggest Gene Woodling as an OF Vet, but Schenk represents a Viet Nam combat vet which deserves the accolade.

    Thank you.

  3. Eraff
    November 8, 2017 at 6:49 am

    This mix is nice if only for the fact that guys like Dave Schneck would not ever make a “List”…at least not one that Celebrates Players.

    Schneck hit more “he almost got it” deep fly balls than any player I’ve ever seen— He defined Warning Track Power for me, as a young fan and as a young player myself.

    He also sits in a strange place regarding MLB’s Pension program…systematically Screwed!
    http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/10/players_like_dave_schneck_chea.html

    • November 8, 2017 at 8:01 am

      I did an interview with Doug Gladstone, which you can read here:
      http://mets360.com/?p=9407

      Also, I’ve always thought about Wayne Garrett being the guy who crushed balls that only reached the warning track.

  4. Pete from NJ
    November 8, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I remember maybe 1967 the Mets yearbook with a picture of Tom Seaver in his Marine uniform. Like Harrelson, McGraw and also Nolan Ryan the players joined the national guard or the reserves who were never activated for active duty. A dark secret so as to not get drafted (and deploy to Vietnam).

  5. JIMO
    November 8, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Hmmmm…I believe Davey Schneck hit a HR in his first AB. He might be the only Ex-Vet/Met to accomplish that feat.

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