Fans who grew up with David Wright holding down third base for a decade had a different experience than Mets fans who came before them. It was a running joke how the Mets simply couldn’t find someone to play third. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We wish they didn’t try so hard, as it cost them some valuable prospects when they went chasing for former glory to fill the black hole of the hot corner.

As an expansion club, the Mets had no choice but to use players from other teams at the beginning of their existence. Felix Mantilla was selected in the expansion draft from the Milwaukee Braves and did a serviceable job in 1962. After the season he was shipped to the Red Sox for three players who did very little for the Mets, while Mantilla gave Boston three strong seasons.

With Mantilla gone, the Mets used 11 different players at third base in 1963, with Charlie Neal and Jim Hickman seeing the most time. Neal came from the Dodgers, while Hickman came from the Cardinals. Neal was an All-Star in 1959 and 1960 but no one thought of him that way by the time he reached the Mets. Hickman wasn’t really a third baseman but in this time frame, it wasn’t uncommon to try outfielders at the hot corner. Hickman made 14 errors in 162 chances at third base in 1963.

Charley Smith was acquired in a trade from the White Sox shortly after the start of the 1964 season and for the next two years, he held down third base. He hit 36 HR and drove in 120 runs for the Mets in 1964-1965. But he was traded for the team’s next third baseman, former MVP winner Ken Boyer.

From 1958-1964 Boyer was one of the top players in the National League. He drew MVP support in all seven seasons, winning the award in 1964. He also made the All-Star team six times in this span. But he was 33 years old when he won the MVP and two years later he was on the Mets.

Boyer continued the stretch of decent but unspectacular play for the Mets at third base. He was the starter in 1966 and early 1967, until he was traded to the White Sox in the deal that netted the Mets future World Series hero J.C. Martin. Before they shipped out Boyer, the Mets had picked up Ed Charles from the A’s and he would play in over 100 games for the Mets in both 1967 and 1968.

In 1969, Charles platooned with Wayne Garrett, who the Mets picked up from the Braves in the Rule 5 Draft after the 1968 season. Charles had been a good hitter against southpaws throughout his career but when put in a platoon, he fell off considerably in 1969. Garrett wasn’t any better. After the season, the Mets released Charles.

But they were in no hurry to hand third base to Garrett. Instead, they traded Amos Otis (an outfielder that they tried to convert to third base) to the Royals for Joe Foy. Amos became an All Star with the Royals. Foy wasn’t awful for the Mets but he ran into drug and alcohol problems and was left unprotected after the 1970 season and lost to the Senators in the Rule 5 Draft.

Garrett made a great leap in his second season in 1970 and should have been the team’s third baseman in 1971. But Garrett had a miliary obligation with the National Guard in 1971, forcing the Mets to look for someone else again. And again they went with a veteran player, trading for former Brooklyn Dodger Bob Aspromonte, who was about as bad as you would expect. Garrett came back to the Mets in July but did not hit as well as he did in 1970.

If Garrett had picked up where he left off in 1970, maybe the Mets would have considered third base solved. But that’s not what happened. So the Mets traded for Jim Fregosi, who had been a star in the American League as a shortstop for most of the 1960s. But Fregosi had fallen off considerably in 1971, a victim of injuries and alcohol.

It’s hard to imagine today a team being unaware of the substance abuse problems of Foy and Fregosi. But the Mets traded for both of them, losing Otis and Nolan Ryan in the process. There is a lot of blame to go around with these two deals and everyone in the organization has dirty hands and should be held accountable.

Fregosi was injured during Spring Training and finished with his worst year in the majors up until that point. Garrett bounced back some in 1972 but not to where he was in 1970. Fregosi began 1973 as the starting third baseman but lost his job by the end of April and was sold to the Texas Rangers in July. Garrett took over the starting job and hit almost as well as he did in 1970 and the Mets made it to the World Series.

Garrett provided some stability to third base for the next few years but was never the home run hitter the organization hoped to play at the hot corner. Third base continued to be a revolving door for the Mets until Howard Johnson came over from the Tigers. Johnson platooned with Ray Knight before taking over as the starter in 1987.

The Mets now find themselves in a similar hole at third base as they did in the 1960s and 1970s. From 2016-2023, the Mets have used 34 different players at third base. Todd Frazier has played the most games there, with 234. We hope that either Brett Baty or Mark Vientos can emerge as the answer and be a regular there for a decade or more, like Wright was once upon a time.

4 comments on “A history of the revolving door at third base from Felix Mantilla to Wayne Garrett

  • ChrisF

    Thanks for documenting the long trail of misery at 3B. I seems to validate the millions of time Ive said “third base is a total black hole” in the 55 years Ive been a Mets fan. I will say I did love Lenny Randle playing third in the late 70s!

  • Brian Joura

    Most of my knowledge of the pre-1969 Mets comes from baseball cards. And I didn’t collect the 1962 set. Which is my way of saying I didn’t know Mantilla played 3B for them. I think of him as a member of the Red Sox – I can see his ’65 card in my mind.

    Anyway, reading this made me think about one thing. If Charley Smith and his 36 HR had come in 1970-71, would they have made the Ryan-Fregosi deal?

  • John Fox

    Aspromonte may not have been very good for the Mets in ’72, he was in his mid 30s and at the end of the line. But he was available in the expansion draft before the ’62 season, but the Mets went elsewhere in their first few selections and Houston grabbed him. He was not great with Houston, but he was a fixture at third for close to a decade for the Colt45s/Astros, and surely he would have been a good pickup for the Mets in the draft.

  • NYM6986

    Great walk down third base memory lane. Thanks. Hard to explain simply not having a solid player at 3B for most of their history. Baty has to step up given Mauricio’s surgery. It’s the only defensive hole in the infield.

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