Last week we kicked off a series on strange endings to iconic careers by looking at Ty Cobb. Cobb ended his career in Philadelphia following a career in which he was the face of the Tigers franchise.
This week, we take a look at three (and-a-half) famous franchise icons who finished their careers in a Mets’ uniform.It seems that the Mets front-office regularly wanted to cash-in on some player branding even if those players were very much past-their-prime.
Few players have had such success in their career as Yogi Berra had with the New York Yankees. Over an 18-year career with the Yankees, New York won 14 American League pennants and an astounding ten World Series championships.
Yogi served as the everyday starting catcher for the Yankees for darn-near two decades, and only missed out on playing in the Fall Classic four times. Over the course of his tenure in the Bronx, Berra finished top-four in MVP voting seven consecutive seasons, and earned MVP honors three times.
Not only is Berra a legend for his play, but he is the only catcher to be behind the dish for World Series no-no, having been the catcher for Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
While White Sox catcher Ray Schalk has the record for catching four no hitters, Berra’s three, including a World Series perfect-o takes the cake as the most impressive and most memorable.
While most people know that the Mets signed Yogi as a coach after his playing career ended, (he served as manager following Gil Hodges untimely death), some may not recall that he played in four games donning a Mets uniform in 1965. It wasn’t exactly a swan-song per se, more like a flash-in-the-pan, but it’s hard to think of a curtain call in his final at bat coming in Shea Stadium rather than Yankee Stadium.
Once again, the Mets seem to have a propensity to sign stars in their last year or two, perhaps hoping to spark some mid-20s magic out of guys who are in the late 30s and early 40s. Dodgers first baseman, and occasional utility man, Gil Hodges is no exception.
The Dodgers called up Hodges in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier.
Like Berra, Hodges was a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate who moved with the team from New York to California. Like Berra, he played for a franchise that was a perennial contender.
Over his 16-year career in Dodgers’ blue, and across two cities, since he moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with the team, Hodges played in seven World Series, and ended up on the opposite side of Berra’s Yankees in many Fall Classics, as Hodges’ Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers managed two victories in seven tries.
During his 16 year tenure with the Dodgers, Hodges earned selection to eight all star games, including seven in a row. Though he never led the league in any offensive category, he mustered a .274/.360/.488 slash line and hit 361 home runs in Dodgers’ blue.
In 1962, at the age of 38, Los Angeles let Hodges go in the expansion draft, and he ended up finishing his career with the Mets. Most people know Hodges as the manager who delivered the shocking upset in the 1969 World Series, but few might recall the 65 games he played for the Mets.
Similar to Gil Hodges, Duke Snider made the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Snider is fourth all-time in Dodgers bWAR, and is an iconic part of the franchise’s history on both coasts.
In his sixteen years in a Dodgers uniform, Snider earned seven all-star appearances, and put up a 142 OPS+ and hit 389 home runs.
In 1962, Snider’s contract was sold to the second-year expansion Mets. In his 129 games with the Mets, Snider slashed .243/.345/.401, with 14 home runs. The Mets, still being in their infancy, finished a terrible 51-111, and Snider, knowing he was at the end of his career, asked to be trained to a contending team.
On opening day, 1964, the San Francisco Giants acquired Snider’s contract. He would finish his career in San Francisco, playing only 91 games in his final season. He is only one of 25 players to have played for all three franchises, and Snider is the only player to have played for only the Dodgers, Mets, and Giants.
The ‘Say-Hey Kid’ made his debut a generation ago for the New York Giants in 1951. The 50s were the glory-days of New York baseball, with three mostly competitive teams in the same metropolitan area.
Mays spent over two decades with the Giants, playing nearly 3,000 games in a Giants uniform (a number he likely would have achieved had he not missed the entire 1953 season due to military service).
Mays won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1951, en route to driving the Giants to the NL pennant, and he led New York to a World Series championship in 1954, the first of two MVP awards.
Mays is also a storied part of Giants history as well, since similar to Hodges, he was a major part of the team on both coasts ,and through the move from New York to California.
During his time with the Giants, Mays earned rookie of the year honors in 1951, won two MVP awards (1954 and 1965), and earned 18 consecutive all star selections. He led the league in OPS five times, and led the league in home runs four times. He is the franchise bWAR leader, with a total 154.6 wins, far-and-away more than second-best Barry Bonds’ 112.5.
Willie Mays will always be remembered as a Giant, but for two brief years in the early 70s, he played as a Met following a trade to New York for pitcher Charlie Wilson, and $50,000. Mets ownership considered Mays a New York baseball player at heart, and used his return as a fairly successful publicity stunt.
While he still was a better-than-league-average hitter, mustering a 112 OPS+ in his tenure with the Mets, his .238/.352/.394 slash line over 135 total games are not exactly what we think of when we think of Willie Mays, but what would one expect from a player in his early-40s. Mays played for the Mets in the 1973 World Series,which New York lost to Oakland in seven games.
Mays retired at the end of the 1973 season, a season in which he earned his 24th All Star selection at the age of 42, taking his final at bat with the Mets.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano