Right now everyone’s mind is on the trade deadline so what better time to break out this classic Topps card with TRADED bolded and stamped across the groin of poor Jim Fregosi. This was one of seven cards in the last series of the 1972 set to be so branded. When Topps released cards in series, the last series came out when the season was more than half over and we had already seen more than enough of Mr. Fregosi at that point (and heard what Nolan Ryan did in the other league) to want any part of this card.
To a young Mets fan, let’s call him me, Topps had three choices for a TRADED card for this set and picked the worst one. There had been no Rusty Staub card in the set, surely he should have been the choice. It’s impossible to explain nearly 40 years later how much I wanted to see Staub in a Mets card. But there was no card of him in either ’72 or ’73. Most likely this was due to a monetary dispute with Topps but as far as I know the complete story of why has never been published. So, Rusty, if you’re reading this drop me a line and let me know. Did they just forget? Did they lowball you? Were you going to start your own trading card set? Was the photographer someone you hated? Or was it just an elaborate joke on your part?
If it wasn’t Staub, then it had to be Willie Mays. It was such a huge deal when Mays came back to New York. Of course now everyone will tell you that Mays embarrassed himself with his play with the Mets. Let me go all caps here and throw in a swear word for extra emphasis: THIS IS SIMPLY NOT F!@#$%G TRUE! In his first 53 games with the Mets, Mays went .283/.432/.467 for an .899 OPS. He finished the ’72 season with an .848 OPS with New York, which was good for a 145 OPS+. Mays was still great – he just needed more days off at age 41 then Yogi Berra and the Mets were willing to give him.
But it seems likely that Mays was not included in this TRADED set as he was dealt during the 1972 season (May 11th). The seven players in this subset were dealt in the offseason or Spring Training. The latest transaction involved Denny McLain, who was dealt by the Rangers to the A’s on March 4th.
And so it became Fregosi. I was so thrilled with this that I took scissors to my copy of this card and winded up spending decades before finally acquiring a clean version for my set. While Ryan quickly became a star, Fregosi merely became a stiff, another in a long line of third basemen who failed for the team.
Yet, it wasn’t his fault. Let’s start by reading the sponsorship of Fregosi at his Baseball-Reference page.
“The best Major League shortstop from 1961-79, and most productive expansion-draft pick ever. Injuries prevented a Hall of Fame career.”
Now this probably says as much about the quality of SS in this era as it does about Fregosi, but we should remember he was an outstanding player from 1963-1970, when he posted a 7.4 fWAR. In 1971, Fregosi developed foot problems which would plague him the rest of his career. And then he broke his thumb in Spring Training with the Mets in ’72.
When he got on the field, Fregosi got off to a hot start with the Mets, as he posted a .306/.376/.510 line over his first 26 games. But it was all downhill from there. He didn’t produce and he didn’t seem to care. Later Fregosi allegedly said he was going to write a book and had the title: The Bases Were Loaded and So Was I.
The funny thing in remembering the Fregosi trade is that at the time fans were at least as much worried about losing another player in the deal – Leroy Stanton – as they were Ryan. There wasn’t anywhere near as much publicity surrounding minor leaguers then as there is now, so chances are if you had heard of a guy in the minors, he was a pretty good prospect.
Stanton had a .324/.374/.540 line at Triple-A in 1971. But that year the Mets had Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Ken Singleton in the outfield in the majors and there was apparently nowhere on the roster for Stanton. He ended up being a solid major league player but never developed into a star with the Angels. Overall, he played nine seasons in the majors.
Anyway, maybe we should hold out hope that when the Mets trade Carlos Beltran that in return they’ll get a future HOFer and a guy who plays nine seasons in the majors. It’s good to have hope, sometimes that’s all you’ve got. Now let’s just all wish that we don’t have to see Beltran with a large TRADED stamp across his chest.