Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Evolution of The Mets' All-Time Hits Record

Although he finished his 18-year career with only 1,418 hits, an average of less than 80 hits per season, Ed Kranepool had remained the Mets' all-time leader in hits for well over three decades.  That's "had", as is the past tense of "has".  David Wright has now supplanted Kranepool as the team's all-time leader with his 1,419th hit, collecting the landmark hit off Jeff Locke in the third inning of Wednesday night's game against the Pirates.

But Kranepool wasn't always the team leader in base hits.  Just as Wright replaced him, Kranepool replaced someone else.  And that someone else replaced someone else.  And so on.  Let's take a look at the evolution of the Mets' all-time hits record, going from Day 1 in 1962 to David Wright's record-setting hit.

The Mets played their inaugural game on April 11, 1962 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Rightfielder Gus Bell, who already had 1,746 hits to his credit in his first 12 big league seasons, became the answer to the trivia question, "who collected the first hit in New York Mets history?", with his second inning single off Cardinals starter Larry Jackson.  Naturally, that hit made him the first player in team history to claim the title of all-time team leader in hits.  It didn't last long.

In the fifth inning, Charlie Neal took over the just-established title of all-time Mets leader in hits with a home run off Jackson.  It was the second homer in team history (Gil Hodges hit the first one inning earlier) and Neal's second hit of the game, erasing Bell from the record books before the ink was fully dry.  Neal added a third hit that day, which helped him remain the team's leader in hits a little longer than Bell did.  But just a little.

On April 17, 1962, Felix Mantilla passed Neal with a sixth inning single.  Mantilla's hit gave him the team lead in hits with five, which was as many losses as the Mets had.  The Mets were 0-5 but had already gone through three all-time hits leaders.

In 1962, Felix Mantilla (left) passed Charlie Neal (right) on the all-time hits list and in this photo.

Two days later, on April 19, 1962, Frank Thomas became the first Met to hit two home runs in a game.  His second blast gave him seven hits on the season, which made him the team's fourth different all-time hits leader in its first seven games.  But the more things changed, the more they stayed the same, as the Mets were still without a win at 0-7.

April 23, 1962 was a memorable day in Mets history.  Not only did the Mets finally pick up their first victory (even if it took ten games), but it also marked the day Felix Mantilla retook the team lead in hits.  His tenth safety of the season broke a three-way tie for the team lead in hits (Charlie Neal had since jumped back into the mix by then).  For some reason, the Mets' first-ever victory overshadowed Mantilla's return to the top of the all-time hits list.  Go figure.

Four days after their first win, the Mets were still searching for victory No. 2.  On April 27, 1962, the Mets trailed the Phillies 11-1 before a furious rally got them within 11-9.  Their rally fell short, however, as the Phillies held on for the victory.  Just as the Mets' rally fell short, so did Mantilla's stay atop the team's all-time hits list, as Frank Thomas's 13th hit sent him back to the penthouse (or what passed for the penthouse on the 1962 Mets).

Thomas held on to the team lead in hits until May 12, 1962, when Mantilla's 28th hit allowed him to leapfrog past Thomas back to familiar territory.  That lasted all of one day, as Thomas' 29th hit on May 13, 1962 shot him back to the top.  He remained the team leader for the rest of the season.

At the end of the 1962 season, Thomas was the team leader in hits with 152, followed by Charlie Neal (132) and Felix Mantilla (128).  Thomas remained the team's all-time hits leader for the rest of his Mets career, which ended on August 7, 1964 when he was traded to the Phillies.  At the time, he had collected 311 hits in a Mets uniform.  Thomas was finally passed on September 30, 1964 by Jim Hickman.  Hickman's 312th hit as a Met was the final hit in his five-hit game against the Milwaukee Braves.

Ron Hunt
Hickman was the Mets' career leader in hits until 1966, when a wrist injury kept him out of action for nearly three months.  That allowed Ron Hunt to nudge his way past Hickman, which he did on July 7, 1966 when he collected his 415th hit as a Met.  Hunt finished his Mets career as the team's all-time leader in hits with 474.  Ironically, Hunt was traded to the Dodgers following the 1966 season along with the man he replaced as the team's all-time hits leader, as both he and Hickman were dealt to Los Angeles for the Brooklyn-born two-time batting champion Tommy Davis.  Davis went on to establish the Mets' single-season record for hits with 174 in 1967, but never approached Hunt as the team's all-time leader as Davis' stay in New York was limited to just that one season.

While Hunt was toiling in Los Angeles, Ed Kranepool was racking up hits in New York.  On July 2, 1967, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, Kranepool surpassed Hunt when he collected his 475th hit.  The pride of James Monroe High School in the Bronx continued to be the team's career leader in hits throughout the rest of the decade but a poor 1970 season got him sent down to AAA-Tidewater.  Kranepool collected only eight hits for the 1970 Mets, and by the end of the season, he had Cleon Jones breathing down his neck for the team lead in hits.  In 1971, Jones finally passed him.

On May 25, 1971, with Ed Kranepool not in the lineup, Cleon Jones delivered a first-inning RBI double for his 750th hit as a Met.  The milestone hit pushed Jones past Kranepool as the team's all-time leader in hits after Kranepool had held the spot for almost four years.

Injuries limited Jones to 14 games in June, allowing Kranepool to retake the team lead in hits on June 11, 1971 when he collected his 763rd hit.  Less than a month later, on July 7, 1971, Jones passed Kranepool again, this time with hit No. 783.  This time, Jones would hold on to the career lead in hits a little longer than his first time.

On August 2, 1973, Cleon Jones became the first player in team history to collect 1,000 hits in a Mets uniform.  Kranepool didn't reach 1,000 hits until May 12, 1974.  By that time, Kranepool was being used primarily as a pinch-hitter while Jones was still an everyday player.  At the end of the 1974 season, Jones had 1,176 hits to Kranepool's 1,060 hits.  But a tumultuous season on and off the field ended Jones' Mets career abruptly in 1975, allowing Kranepool to make his move.

The 1975 season began with Cleon Jones on the disabled list nursing a knee injury.  But on the morning of May 4, Jones was arrested for indecent exposure while on extended spring training in Florida.  Although Jones denied he was in a state of undress and the charges were eventually dropped, he was fined $2,000 by chairman of the board M. Donald Grant and was forced by the team to publicly apologize for his arrest.  Jones eventually made it back on the playing field on May 27, but was released by the team less than two months later after a heated altercation with manager Yogi Berra.  Jones played his last game as a Met on July 18, 1975, finishing his Mets career with a franchise-record 1,188 hits.  Kranepool now had no one in his way on the way to the hits record.

Ed Kranepool
On May 4, 1976, Ed Kranepool became the team's all-time hits leader (again) when he delivered an RBI single off Reds' reliever Will McEnaney, just six months after McEnaney had recorded the final out of Cincinnati's World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox.  Kranepool's record-setting hit came just three days after Cleon Jones played what became his final game in the major leagues as a member of the Chicago White Sox.  After recording his team-record 1,189th hit, Kranepool went on to play three more seasons with the Mets, retiring after the 1979 season as the team's all-time hits leader with 1,418 hits, a record he had held ever since.

It took 36 years, 4 months and 22 days for a Met to do what Cleon Jones did to Ed Kranepool twice.  With his 1,419th hit, an infield single off Jeff Locke in Wednesday's game, David Wright has become the first Met since Jones to push Kranepool down to the No. 2 spot on the team's all-time hits list.  Should the Mets choose to sign Wright to a long-term deal, he could very well keep the No. 1 spot to himself for quite some time, perhaps longer than the 36 years, 4 months and 22 days it was held by Kranepool.

Over the first decade of the team's existence, eight different men held the distinction of being the Mets' all-time leader in hits.  Everyone from Gus Bell (who held the title for all of three innings) to Charlie Neal to Felix Mantilla to Frank Thomas to Jim Hickman to Ron Hunt to Ed Kranepool to Cleon Jones spent time as the all-time hits leader for the Mets from 1962-1971.  Then Kranepool didn't relinquish the title for more than three and a half decades.  As the Mets have evolved from expansion team to National League veterans, so has the team's hits record.  It'll be fun to see what David Wright does with it now that he's become the new hits leader for the Mets.

Date Player Became Mets’ All-Time Hits Leader
Number of Hits At The Time Player Became Hits Leader
Gus Bell
April 11, 1962 (2nd inn.)
Charlie Neal
April 11, 1962 (5th inn.)
Felix Mantilla
April 17, 1962
Frank Thomas
April 19, 1962
Felix Mantilla
April 23, 1962
Frank Thomas
April 27, 1962
Felix Mantilla
May 12, 1962
Frank Thomas
May 13, 1962
Jim Hickman
Sept. 30, 1964
Ron Hunt
July 7, 1966
Ed Kranepool
July 2, 1967
Cleon Jones
May 25, 1971
Ed Kranepool
June 11, 1971
Cleon Jones
July 7, 1971
Ed Kranepool
May 4, 1976
David Wright
Sept. 26, 2012

2 comments: said...

Magnificent job. Cleon deserves the props he gets here. One of the greatest and most forgotten Mets--and still the best OF the Mets have developed besides Straw. Congrats, David, and to Krane for holding that record so damned long (though he can thank the Wilpons for that as well).

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Thanks so much, Matt. I think Cleon Jones, Carlos Beltran and Darryl Strawberry would have to be the best leftfielder, centerfielder and rightfielder in team history and should always be mentioned together when a "best Mets outfield" list is compiled. (Hmmm, "Best Mets". That sounds familiar.)

I've been thinking of turning my "M.U.M.'s The Word" 13-part series from 2011 into a book and to do so, I'd have to add a few more of the "Most Underrated Mets". Cleon Jones is definitely one of the additional players who didn't appear in the original series who would appear as one of the bonus chapters in the book (assuming I can ever get fully motivated to complete the project).