By Opening Day 1972, the New York Mets starting lineup was a shell of the 1969 World Series championship team. More than one-half or the roster had be traded, injured or retired from the game.
Two weeks shy of the season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets took a gut punch when their leader and manager, Gil Hodges, suffered a fatal heart attack on a Florida golf course. He passed away two days shy of his 48th
With the season opener looming, the Mets quickly responded, naming Yogi Berra manager.
“We left a good man today,” Berra told the media after the funeral. “I hope I can fill his shoes. I was very honored when Mrs. [Joan] Payson and Mr. [Donald] Grant offered me the job. I talked it over with my wife and we decided, let’s do it.”
With Berra in place, the Mets seized the opportunity to announced that they’d traded Ken Singleton, Tim Foli and Mike Jorgensen for All-Star Rusty Staub.
“We’re not traders by nature,” M. Donald Grant said. “We like to train our own young men. But you’ve got to give something to get something. We need a man who can knock in runs.”
Art Shamsky, Ron Taylor, Donn Clendenon, Ron Swoboda, Ed Charles, Al Weis, Bobby Pfeil, Jack DiLauro, Cal Koonce, Al Jackson, Don Cardwell and Nolan Ryan were gone.
“You hate to give up on an arm like Ryan’s,” said Hodges after the Nolan Ryan deal. “He could put things together overnight, but he hasn’t done it for us and the Angels wanted him. I would not hesitate making a trade for somebody who might help us right now, and Fregosi is such a guy.”
“We’ve had three full years and, although he’s a hell of a prospect, he hasn’t done it for us,” added Bob Scheffing. “How long can you wait? I can’t rate him in the same category with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry.”
For the record, Ryan would go on to win 329 games, pitch seven no-hitters and strikeout 5,714 batters.
The 1972 Mets got off to a fast start recording a seven-game win streak in April and an 11-game winning streak in May and by June 1 the Mets were 30-11 with a five-game lead in the NL East.
During that stretch rumors began swirling that the Mets were attempting to acquire Willie Mays. When asked about the potential of bring Mays back to New York, team president M. Donald Grant told the media: “We’ve had a constant and continuous interest in the man. But we haven’t had one word of down‐to earth negotiations. We’ve always told the Giants that we’d be interested in getting first crack at Willie Mays if and when he became available. However, we do not want him when it’s too late for him to be of any value to our ball club. If they asked us for half a million dollars and a good pitcher we’d say no. If they asked us for any money and a good pitcher, we’d say no. It’s far from a fait accompli.”
On May 11, 1972, the deal became official. Mays was traded to the Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams. Three days after the trade, Mays homered in his first game as a Met, against who? The San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium.
Mets fans were also excited about a fresh-faced new left-handed rookie pitcher named Jon Matlack. Over his first nine appearances (seven starts) through April and May, Matlack was 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA, two complete games and a shutout. He finished the season with a 15-10 record and 2.32 ERA (fourth best in the National League), his win total second on the team behind Mets ace Seaver. His success earned him the National League Rookie of the Year honor.
One of the memorable moments of Matlack’s rookie season came September 30, 1972, when he was the pitcher who served up Roberto Clemente’s 3,000 hit, which turned out the be the last one of his career.
In an interview with MetsRewind, Matlack said he had “no idea” Clemente had 2,999 hits when he stepped to the plate. “When I gave up the double fans gave him a standing ovation,” he said. “I looked back at the scoreboard and realized what was happening. I was just an oblivious rookie.”
The Mets fell apart during the summer as injuries piled up. Staub, Milner, Fregosi and others suffered injuries that cost them significant playing time. On July 1, the Mets had lost their division lead but were still tied for first place. Over the next two months (22-32 combined in July and August), the Mets plummeted to 63-58, a full 13 games out of first place.
Despite finishing 83-73, the Mets finished in third place for the third straight season.
The season recap published above is written by David Russell and published in his book, Fabulous to Futile in Flushing: A Year-by-Year History of the Mets. Do you love Mets history? Pick up this book online at your favorite bookseller and enjoy season-by-season historical recaps, Mets highlights and challenging trivia that will send you on a fun journey through the Mets rich franchise history.
1972 SEASON RECAP