The New York Mets’ short history has more significant African American players than one may realize, including some champions.
Having debuted in 1962, the New York Mets never had to weather baseball’s integration storm. It was well-established by their first season, so it wasn’t really up for debate.
And as any Mets fan knows, finding and holding onto franchise players has been hard. Even in sharing the sport’s largest media market with the crosstown rival New York Yankees, the Mets aren’t known for taking care of homegrown talent.
As a result, only a handful of African American players to don the orange and blue stayed long in Queens.
It’s still Black History Month and we gave the Yankees the same honor. Let’s build the New York Mets All-African American team.
C: Choo-Choo Coleman, 1962-63, 1966
Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman didn’t have a great MLB career. He played parts of four seasons with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. New York made him the 28th pick in the 1961 expansion draft and Coleman split catching duties in ’62 with three other players in a 120-loss season.
Coleman then was the starting catcher in 1963, but only hit .178 in 106 games. He spent the next two years in the minors before returning to the Mets for six games in 1966, his last year in the majors.
Even though he wasn’t necessarily a good player, Coleman’s nickname matches what the Mets are all about. They’re the team of the everyman compared to the white-collar Yankees. In a shallow catching pool, Coleman stands out.
1B: John Milner, 1971-1977
Even as the New York Mets struggled to keep up with the Yankees, John Milner was their first sign of turning a corner. The rookie first baseman and outfielder debuted in 1971 and hit a career-high 23 home runs with the Mets in 1973. Milner also hit .296 in the World Series that year as part of the legendary “Ya Gotta Believe” team.
Milner spent the first seven years of his career in Flushing and, though streaky, proved to be a valuable lefty bat. He hit .245 as a Met with 94 of his 131 career home runs.
He was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates in December 1977 as part of the epic four-team deal that also netted the Pirates Bert Blyleven. Milner then won a World Series with Pittsburgh in 1979, but make no mistake. The man will always be a Met first.
2B: Brian Giles, 1981-1983
No, not the Brian Giles who slugged 287 career home runs for three teams from 1995-2009 and effectively ended Mark Prior’s career. I mean the original Brian Giles who spent three years with the New York Mets in the ’80s.
The Mets haven’t had many Black infielders, but Giles stands out in particular. He had a cup of coffee with the Mets in 1981, was a reserve in 1982, and became a regular out of nowhere in 1983. Giles hit .245 in 145 games and also stole 17 bases.
Giles then spent the 1984 season in the minors, and was then picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft. He bounced around the majors and minors from then until 1990.
Even if he’s the big fish in a small pond, Giles is absolutely one of those random players we can look back on fondly.
3B: Bobby Bonilla, 1992-95, 1999
Bobby Bonilla’s contract and its millions in deferred money may be baseball’s biggest punchline, but it underscores just how good a player he was in his prime.
The Bronx-born Bonilla joined the Mets in free agency after the 1991 season and, though mostly an outfielder by this point, also played his natural position of third base. Even as he clashed with New York’s notorious sports media, Bonilla represented the New York Mets in two All-Star Games.
New York traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in 1995, and he returned via another trade in 1999. On the whole, Bonilla hit .270 as a Met and slugged a career-best 34 home runs for them in 1993. As much as we like to tease him about his deferred payments, it’s also important to remember his .279 lifetime batting average and six All-Star selections.
SS: Shawon Dunston, 1999
Shawon Dunston played for six teams in an 18-year MLB career, and the New York Mets were nary more than a pitstop during it. The St. Louis Cardinals sent him to New York for Craig Paquette in 1999, and Dunston re-signed with St. Louis in the offseason.
But this short 42-game stint in Queens was a homecoming for the Brooklyn-born Dunston. He hit .344 as a Met and though he never played at shortstop for them, it is the position he played most of his career.
Even though his New York tenure was a blip on the radar, it’s always nice to see a native son play for the home team. For Dunston, we’ll recognize him accordingly here.
LF: Cleon Jones, 1963, 1965-1975
Cleon Jones is one of the few homegrown New York Mets prospects who played a majority of his career with the team. He had short stints with the big league club in 1963 and 1965, then became a regular in 1966.
Jones’ true breakout year came in 1969, when he hit a career-high .340 in his sole All-Star season. That October, he and the Amazin’ Mets beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In the same series, Jones was involved in the now-famous “Shoe Polish” play seen above.
Jones was a streaky hitter and didn’t have much home run power, but he still managed to bat .281 with the Mets. He also proved to have a strong arm in the outfield, notching 64 assists for his career.
He was released in 1975 after falling out with manager Yogi Berra, and had a brief stint with the White Sox before retiring the next year. Even so, Jones remains beloved by the New York Mets and their fans today.
CF: Tommie Agee, 1968-1972
Joining Jones in the New York Mets’ World Series-winning outfield in 1969 was Tommie Agee, who wowed with both his bat and glove. The Mets acquired him from the Chicago White Sox in December 1967 and he failed to impress, batting just .217 in 1968.
However, Agee was a new man in 1969 and hit .271 with a career-high 26 home runs and finished sixth in NL MVP voting. In the World Series, he led off Game 3 with a home run off of future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and also made two amazing catches. Agee’s success continued the following year when he won his second career Gold Glove.
The Mets traded Agee to the Houston Astros after the 1972 season, and he retired after the season at just 31 years old. He batted .262 as a Met and made the most of his time in Queens.
On top of his accomplishments in New York, Agee was also the 1966 AL Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.
RF: Darryl Strawberry, 1983-1990
Darryl Strawberry was both myth and man. His slender 6’6″, 200-pound frame made his Griffey-esque home run swing even sweeter. He debuted for the New York Mets in 1983 and hit 26 home runs en route to being named NL Rookie of the Year.
Three years later, Strawberry became even more of a household name when the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Strawberry only hit .208 in the series, but his solo shot in Game 7 iced the game for the Mets. In 1988, he led the NL with 39 home runs and finished second in MVP voting.
Strawberry eventually proved too expensive for the Mets, and he signed with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency. After dealing with some off-field issues, he resurfaced with the Yankees and won three more World Series rings.
But we all know the truth. Darryl Strawberry was a New York Met, first and foremost. His 252 home runs are the most in team history, and his 733 RBI rank second. Sorry, Yankees fans, but you don’t get to claim him.
SP: Dwight “Doc” Gooden, 1984-1994
Gooden was nicknamed “Dr. K” and earned the moniker. His blazing fastball and devastating curve saw him fan 744 batters in his first three seasons. He debuted as a 19-year-old phenom in 1984 and went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA en route to being named Rookie of the Year.
In 1985, Gooden had one of the best seasons in baseball history as he went 24-4 with an MLB-best 1.53 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award. Oddly enough, Gooden’s regular-season success didn’t follow him to the World Series, where he went 0-2 with an 8.00 ERA against the Red Sox in 1986.
Gooden spent 11 years with the New York Mets and went 157-85 with a 3.10 ERA before off-field problems derailed him. Like his longtime teammate Strawberry, he resurfaced with the Yankees and won two more rings, including the 2000 Subway Series. Gooden also pitched a no-hitter with the Yankees.
But even though he played for both sides of the rivalry, Gooden will always be a New York Met.
RP: Pat Mahomes, 1999-2000
Before he was everyone’s favorite Super Bowl dad, Pat Mahomes was a journeyman pitcher who spent 11 years pitching for six teams. Two of those seasons were spent with the New York Mets, who signed him after he spent the 1998 season in Japan.
Mahomes proceeded to have a bullpen year for the ages, going 8-0 with a 3.68 ERA in just 39 appearances. He also proved valuable in the playoffs, pitching to a 2.25 ERA in four games.
He never graced the cover of Madden, nor did he get his own Nintendo-64 exclusive. Mahomes pitched to a 5.47 ERA for his career and his time with the Mets was, like the aforementioned Dunston’s, kind of a blip on the radar.
But he still made an impact on an otherwise obscure New York Mets team, and we recognize him here for it. Plus, bonus points for his son being a Super Bowl MVP!