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.