This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Mets team. Although not as celebrated as its predecessor, the World Series winner of 1969, the ‘70 club was interesting in its own right. With a few breaks, it might have been playing meaningful ball in October.
The defending champs were in contention for most of the year, with the team being in first or second place most of the time. As late as September 14, the Mets were in first place. However, they only were 5-10 for the rest of the season and finished in third place in the Eastern Division with an 83-79 mark.
The Mets played eventual division winner Pittsburgh seven times in the last two weeks of the season, and lost six of the games. Every single one of those losses was by one run. Instead of the strong stretch run by the ‘69 Mets, the ‘70 Mets struggled at the end.
The team once again boasted impressive pitching, with a formidable rotation led by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. The Mets staff led the league in ERA with a 3.45 mark, and in strikeouts with 1064. Seaver finished 18-12, and he had the best ERA in the league with 2.81, and he led in strikeouts as well with 283.
Defensively the team was pretty good, especially at the premium positions. Jerry Grote caught 125 games, and threw out runners at a 39% clip. Bud Harrelson played 156 games at SS and not many balls got past him. Center fielder Tommie Agee won a gold glove.
At first glance, the offense performed pretty well, the ‘70 club scored 695 runs, 63 more than they had the year before. However, the whole league scored significantly more runs, and the Mets outscored only second year teams Montreal and San Diego, and the Phillies that season. Notable hitters included Agee with 30 doubles, 24 homers and 107 runs scored, and first sacker Donn Clendenon, who slugged .515.
Was there a turning point to the season? You could say it was on September 15, the day the Mets fell out of first place for good. They lost to Montreal 5-4, after going ahead in the top of the 10th, when the Expos scored 2 in the bottom half of the 10th to beat Koosman. However, a very good case could be made that the turning point occurred before the season even started.
The Mets had looked to shore up third base, since Ed Charles had retired, and the brass was not entirely comfortable with Wayne Garrett. In December, the Kansas City Royals approached the Mets, indicating veteran third baseman Joe Foy could be had. The deal that was worked out sent pitcher Bob Johnson and young outfielder Amos Otis to Kansas City. That trade may have doomed the Mets from the start, and would hurt them for many years in the future.
Foy played only 99 games for the Mets, with a BA of .236 and a miserable SLG of .329. He was released by the Mets at the end of the season. In addition to his poor play, it became apparent that Foy had a serious drug problem, which affected his play and turned his teammates against him.
Meanwhile, Johnson made the starting rotation for the Royals and led the team in strikeouts. He went on to have a fairly successful career. But it was the other trade piece that really hurt. Amos Otis blossomed into a star.
Otis played 159 games in ‘70, with a slash line of .284/.353/.424 and a league-leading 36 doubles. He stole 33 bases, and was caught stealing just twice. He went on to play a total of 17 years in the majors, with three gold gloves and five All-Star appearances.
If he had not been traded, the Mets would have had a formidable outfield of Otis, Agee and Cleon Jones in ‘70. Otis likely would have batted leadoff, with Agee and Clendenon in the middle of the order to drive him in. Johnson would have been a useful setup man and possibly a spot starter.
If the Mets had not made the Foy trade, there is a decent chance they could have won enough games to edge out Pittsburgh for the divisional crown. The Mets would then have faced a rising Cincinnati team in the NLCS, In that best of five the Mets would have gone with Seaver, Koosman and Gary Gentry, and could come back with Seaver and Koosman if game four or five was needed, and that could easily have led to a World Series advance.
Baltimore was the AL champ again in 1970, which would have meant a Mets-Orioles rematch, that would have been fun to watch. The Orioles would have been heavy favorites, but then they had been heavily favored the year before.