Fifty years ago, Met fans were still celebrating the stunning World Series win over the mighty Baltimore Orioles. One of the key architects of that team and its triumphs was no longer employed by the team. That would be Bing Devine, a front office magician for the Mets from 1965 to 1967.

Devine rose to prominence with the St. Louis Cardinals, serving as GM from 1957 to August of 1964. Devine engineered several key trades during his tenure with the Cards. He pried away Curt Flood from the Reds, and Flood became an elite center fielder. He acquired Dick Groat from the Pirates after they thought he was past his prime. Groat made the All-Star team and was second in the MVP voting in his first year in St. Louis, then made the All-Star team again in 1964 as the Cards won the World Series. His most famous trade was that of Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, often cited as one of the most one-sided deals ever, Brock went on to a Hall of Fame career.

Devine won the Executive of the year award in both ‘63 and ‘64, but was shockingly fired in August of ‘64, just as the Cardinals began a hot streak that carried them all the way. Apparently the Cardinals owner, August Busch, was impatient for a pennant.

The Mets quickly pounced on Devine, adding him to their front office and put him in charge of negotiating trades. Devine did not have the pieces to offer that he had in St. Louis, but he still managed to land many of the key Mets that contributed in 1969.

Young catcher Jerry Grote was acquired from Houston in exchange for pitcher Tom Parsons. Parsons was soon out of baseball, while Grote became a mainstay behind the plate for the Mets for over a decade. He was a sterling defensive catcher, In 1969 he threw out 40 of the 71 runners who tried to steal on him. He hit a key double in game four of the WS as the Mets eked out a one run win.

Veteran pitcher Don Cardwell was traded from the Pirates to the Mets in December of 1966. In September of 1969 he drove in the only run of the game and pitched a shutout to complete a double header sweep of Pittsburgh, Jerry Koosman had turned the same feat in the opener.

The Mets bought the contract of reliever Ron Taylor from Houston in February of 1967. Taylor pitched 2 innings of scoreless ball against Atlanta in the NLCS, saving the game for Tom Seaver. He pitched another scoreless inning the next day, this time getting the win.

Devine traded infielder Bob Johnson to the Reds in November of 1967, receiving outfielder Art Shamsky in return. The left-handed batting Shamsky mostly platooned with Ron Swoboda in ‘69. Shamsky batted .300 with a .488 SA for the season, and he then went wild in the NLCS batting .538.

In November of 1967, the Mets acquired backup catcher J. C. Martin from the White Sox as a player to be named later from a previous deal. Martin only made one appearance in the WS, but it was memorable. In the 10th inning of the pivotal game four Martin was sent up to pinch hit, specifically to sacrifice pinch runner Rod Gaspar over to third base. Martin laid down the sacrifice and was safe when the thrown ball struck him and rolled into the outfield. The speedy Gaspar motored all the way from second base to home to score the winning run.

Devine was a shrewd trader, but his greatest service to the Mets was not a trade. In early 1966 the Braves signed future Mets great Tom Seaver. However, the college baseball season had already started, and Commissioner Eckert ruled the signing to be invalid. The NCAA also ruled Seaver ineligible to play college ball. The commissioner then decided there would be a drawing to determine which team would sign Seaver, with the provision that the team would have to meet the original bonus amount offered by the Braves.

Mets president George Weiss was inclined to pass on signing Seaver, but Devine pressed Weiss and owner Joan Payson hard, advocating for the team to try to sign Seaver. Finally Devine convinced them. Only three teams signed up for the drawing, the Indians, Phils, and Mets. The Mets won the drawing, and Devine had rendered his greatest service to the team.

Devine departed the Mets in late 1967, when he returned to his hometown of St. Louis to serve a second stint as GM of the Cards. Before he left, Devine negotiated one final deal. It was he who managed to arrange the deal that brought Washington manager Gill Hodges to New York to take the helm of the Mets.

10 comments on “Bing Devine was an unsung architect of the ‘69 Mets

  • Pete from NJ

    Just to add the trade genius of the man it appears his drafting resume looks impressive. The likes of Amos Otis, Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen were uses as trade chips for that elusive hitter which would have made our mini dynasty a real dynasty.
    It’s interesting that the pre- free agent era caused the Mets to hold onto older players because of the lack of salary escalation. Perhaps in the modern era, the players mentioned above would have made their marks with the Mets instead of some far off city which they played.

    • John Fox

      I was mainly concentrating on players who contributed to the ’69 season. Another draft choice under the Devine administration who had big impact after 1969 was John Matlack, a # 1 pick.

  • Mike W

    In the 32nd round of the 1967 draft, the Mets drafted Dan Pastorini, who would become the starting QB for the Houston Oilers.

  • TexasGusCC

    Nice, easy read John. Devine was the first Cashen for the Mets.

  • Rob

    One thing always scratched my head about was why only three teams went for Seaver.

    • Mike W

      Because the Braves were the only team to scout him while he was in college. So, he was pretty much an unknown.

    • Brian Joura

      Also, teams had to pay Seaver the $51,500 the Braves were going to pay him. I couldn’t find info about 1966 but in 1967, the average MLB salary was $19,000. It would be the equivalent today of paying a draft pick around $12 million.

      The highest bonus ever paid to a U.S. amateur is $8.1 million. No doubt that artificial constraints are in place to keep bonuses down, so clubs would bid $12 million on an elite talent if allowed to today. But it certainly wouldn’t be all of the clubs. Would it even be double digits?

      It looks bad in hindsight because it was Tom Seaver. But it could have ended up being Steve Chilcott.

  • Peter Hyatt

    Enjoyable article.

    • John Fox

      Thanks, Peter, it was fun writing it and thinking of that amazing team.

  • Andy Trimble

    I’m in the process of doing an article about the Astros GM, Spec Richardson, and the series of horrible trades he made, and it includes this one.

    He traded Mike Cuellar, Jack Billingham, Dave Giusti, Grote, Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo. Basically we got 3 so-so years from Lee May and Tommy Helms and Jesus Alou for that collection of players.

    He then dispatched John Mayberry and Nate Colbert for basically nothing. These guys would have better years than Lee May during the time he was with Houston. He was always trying to get a big slugger to play 1B.

    Every single player on that first list played significant roles on WS teams. He gave Cincy the workhorse starter (Billingham) during their 70’s run, plus the CFer (Geronimo) they didn’t have, and the best player in the league for 5 years (Morgan). They would not have won a WS without that trade.

    Grote was the starting catcher for the best staff in baseball, and was every bit as good, defensively, as Bench. The Mets went to 2 WS with him behind the plate. Staub ended up being the best hitter on the Mets’ ’73 team, and almost singlehandedly beat the A’s! Check out his postseason stats.

    Cuellar was a monster for Baltimore, and key to their championship runs.

    Giusti was Pittsburgh’s closer while they made the playoffs year after year. And he was a good one.

    The Astros would have been the team of the 70’s had Spec Richardson simply let that team gel and grow. Instead, they had a shaky bullpen, half a rotation, a constant catcher problem, and were always a .500 team instead of a playoff team.

    He also traded Jerry Reuss for Milt May. Reuss would be a good starter for Pittsburgh and the Dodgers, and came up big in their playoff runs, as well. Milt May would be an above average catcher, bouncing around the league hitting .260.

    Thank God Tal Smith finally took over.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

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