The 1984 Mets: three important groups of players not part of 1986 Championship

Whether we are talking about leaks in the New York Mets front office or the dirty New York media, Sandy Alderson’s declaration to the Mets ownership of 90 wins was not intended to be shared to the press. I have mentioned several times about the parallels between the 1981 and 2011 changes in the front offices and the time it takes to build a winning team through the farm system. The main differences between then and now are the fact that the Mets teams of 1978-1983 were so bad, the team was rewarded with some of the top draft picks in all of MLB. Similarly to recent teams like the Orioles, Pirates and others who have struggled for years, the Mets had a chance to strengthen the depth of their organization like they did.
The 1983 team finished at 68-94 but seemed headed in the right direction. Of course, the trade for 1B Keith Hernandez was the big move that everybody points to as the turning point for the franchise. Maybe Sandy was pointing to the fact that the 1984 Mets won 90 games- using that as a barometer for where the Mets should be 30 years later. It could make sense since he took over in 2010 about the same time Frank Cashen took over in 1980.
Comparing the 1985 Mets to the 1986 team is a lot harder to do since there was a lot of similarities with the construction of the roster. What the 1984 team had was a mix of players that had been there for years, veteran players handing on for the last year of their careers, young players that would be used as trade pieces and players that would represent the core of the team for years to come.
One of the things that fascinate me about the 1984 Mets is the fact that they had three players on that roster that played for the Mets team of 1973. Of course, Rusty Staub (.264= 19-72, 1, 18 in 1984) was a major part of the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets of 1973 that made it to the World Series. But 1973 was also catcher Ron Hodges rookie year with 1984 being his last big league season (.208=22-106, 1, 11). RHP Craig Swan made his debut that season and was pretty much finished by the time 1984 came around (1-0, 8.20 in 10 relief appearances). Swan had a great stretch during the late 1970s and was the team’s best starter for a couple of seasons. Veteran catcher John Stearns traces his time with the Mets back to 1975, making a brief appearance on the 1984 club (3-17 in 8 games).
The next group is similar to the first one as it includes veterans nearing the end of their careers. The 1983 off season got off to a rough start as the team did not expect to lose Tom Seaver to the new free agent compensation pool. Veteran Mike Torres was a major part of the 1983 staff, who with Seaver made 68 of the 162 starts for Mets pitchers that season. Torres had little left in the 1984 season as he made just 8 starts, going 1-5 with a 5.02 ERA to finish off his MLB career. Another pitcher who fit that build was former Indians, White Sox and Yankees RHP Dick Tidrow, who made 11 appearances with the Mets in 1984, pitching to a 9.19 ERA. Finally there was OF Jerry Martin, who served as the Philadelphia Phillies 4th OF in the years of 1976-1978 when they won the NL East Division. He was used primarily as the Mets right hand hitting PH, but hit just .154 (14-91), 3, 5 in what turned out to be his last MLB season. All veterans who had postseason experience before, something that is beneficial for a young team.
I am sure this Mets front office understands that while it is great to have a bunch of high end prospects, there is not enough room for them all in the big leagues. Of course, a trade of star OF Lee Mazzilli brought the Mets RHPs Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. Terrell pitched effectively in his first shot in a MLB rotation for the Mets in 1984, going 11-12, 3.52 in 33 starts pitching 215 innings. Darling, who had seen just 5 starts prior to the 1984 season, went 12-9, 3.81 in 33 starts pitching 205 1/3 IP for the Mets. Terrell was traded after the season for Howard Johnson, who would be a key contributor to the team in 1985 and 1986 before becoming a star in his own right. Shortstop Jose Oquendo (.222, 0, 10 in 81 games in 1984) was part of a roster crunch for the Mets in 1985. He was dealt to the Cardinals for Angel Salazar, who was stored in the minor leagues for 1985. Ron Gardenhire (.246, 1, 10 in 71 games) stuck around for another season in the big leagues before playing in AAA for the 1986 season. He was dealt to the Minnesota Twins for a minor leaguer and started what would become his MLB managerial career. Oquendo also joined an organization for which he is still a coach today.
The Mets moved a couple first round draft picks that played for the team in 1984. OF Billy Beane (1-10 in 1984, the 23 overall pick in the 1980 draft) was traded after the 1985 season to the Twins for 2B Tim Teufel. Perhaps the value of Oquendo, Gardenhire and Beane is being overstated here… as players. But imagine having Beane as a GM, Gardenhire as a manager and Oquendo as a coach. They also moved RHP Tim Leary (3-3, 4.02, 20 games, 7 starts) to the Milwaukee Brewers in a weird 4 team trade that got the Mets RHP Frank Wills. The Mets made a trade during the regular season, sending future MLB players Gerald Young and Manuel Lee to the Houston Astros for 3B Ray Knight (.280 in 96 ABs for the 1984 Mets).
The 1984 Mets are known for having 3B Hubie Brooks (.283, 16, 73 in 153 games), C Mike Fitzgerald (.242, 2, 33 in 112 games) and briefly OF Herm Winningham (.407= 11-27, 5 RBI) on the team. Along with RHP Floyd Youmans, they were traded to the Montreal Expos for All Star catcher Gary Carter. RHPs Wes Gardner (1-1, 6.39 in 21 games) and Calvin Schiraldi (0-2, 5.71, 5 games, 3 starts) made their debut for the 1984 team and were traded after 1985 to the Red Sox for LHP Bob Ojeda.
The next group of players you already know about, as they were all factors in the teams that sustained success for the next several seasons.
In my opinion, the 1984 season was the turning point for the Mets franchise not just because of the record the team finished with. The fact that they made as many moves with the talented players they had put the team in a position where it should have been successful for a long time, not just another 5-6 seasons.

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