THE REGGIE! PROJECT: 1969
The Reggie! Project is my multi-season project, wherein I’m playing full season (single-team) replays from different stages of Reggie Jackson’s career. I’ve completed Reggie’s 1977 Yankees season and his 1982 California Angels season. In the coming months I’ll be posting results of Reggie’s 1969 season. Though the ’77 and ’82 seasons were recreated using mostly as-played lineups for all teams, the 1969 season will be different. In this season, Reggie will be the starting right fielder for the 1969 New York “Miracle” Mets.
PART 1: THE DRAFT
The New York Mets had a choice to make early in the morning on June 7, 1966. In anticipation of the first overall pick in baseball’s amateur draft, the Mets had reviewed the thousands of eligible ballplayers in America and whittled the candidates down to two.
On the one hand, there was a 17-year-old catcher with a smooth left-handed swing from Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, California. Steve Chilcott had been scouted by the Ol’ Perfesser himself, Casey Stengel, and had won the legend’s endorsement in the Mets front office. Chilcott was young and raw, but his athletic talent was unquestionable. Besides being an all-American ballplayer behind the dish, he had quarterbacked his school to a league championship, too. With an easy demeanor and a strong work ethic to boot, Chilcott was as sure a thing as a 17-year-old catching prospect could be.
His competition for that number 1 overall pick was a centerfielder from Arizona State University, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Reggie, as he was known, was also a two-sport star. An All-American Halfback and Outfielder, he swung his bat with tremendous power, threw with a plus-arm, and walked with the kind of swagger, charisma, and confidence in athletic competition that simply can’t be taught. But while Reggie had everything on the field going for him, the Mets had concerns about off-the-field issues with Reggie.
Reggie had already announced in the press that his signing demands would be, “sky high – up there where the air is rare.” This might conceivably make the Mets balk, but as they had already prepared a $75,000 contract should they choose Chilcott, Reggie’s requested $85,000 bonus wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility.
No, it wasn’t his contract demands or his talent on the field that the Mets front office couldn’t deal with, it was something far more pedestrian and far more sinister. According to Reggie, Arizona State head coach Bobby Winkles told him that the New York Mets didn’t like that the flamboyant and charismatic young man of Puerto Rican and Afro-American descent was dating a white girl.
To be fair, Winkles later denied making this statement, so it’s his word versus Reggie’s. Reggie’s claim isn’t far-fetched, however, when you consider that NY Mets President at the time was George Weiss, a noted racist who while running the New York Yankees in the 1950’s once proclaimed that “no black man would ever wear the Yankee pinstripes.”
So who would it be, come decision time? Would the Mets take the safe, easy, All-American boy from Southern California? Or would they go against their personal bias and take the budding superstar with out-of-this-world talent from Arizona State?
In real life, we know what happened. The Mets took Chilcott, who blew out his shoulder as an 18 year-old in the Single-A Florida State League and never reached the major leagues. The Kansas City Athletics selected Reggie Jackson with the second overall pick. Reggie was the A’s starting rightfielder as soon as 1968, a bona fide superstar by 1969, American League Most Valuable Player in 1973, and he then went on to lead the A’s to three World Series titles before packing up and taking his talents to the Mets’ cross-town rivals: the New York Yankees.
Though the 1969 New York Mets did win the World Series, they are known famously as the “Miracle Mets” due to the unlikelihood of the feat. Tabletop gamers have been notoriously unsuccessful at trying to replicate the Mets title run on the tabletop due, mostly, to lack of big guns in the lineup.
With this replay I intend to answer the question: would the NL Pennant race of 1969 have been any different if the Mets had drafted Reggie Jackson when he was available to them in the June, 1966 amateur draft?
Since we’re going back in time and shuffling things around, I had to make some assumptions about how this change would have affected the rest of the baseball world. Here are the four main assumptions:
- The Mets take Reggie with the #1 overall pick, the KC A’s take Chilcott at #2 and the rest of the draft stays exactly the same. This is a big assumption, because in real life the A’s didn’t take a catcher until pick #62, and they already had a 22 year-old Rene Lachemann tearing up the minors and looking like he’d eventually be a mainstay as the Athletics’ receiver for years to come. It’s a stretch to think they’d take Chilcott over RHP Wayne Twitchell and LHP Ken Brett (picks 3 and 4, respectively). And (though I have no way to prove this) if we consider the fact that the first three players the A’s drafted that year were all bat-first outfielders, I’m guessing that if Reggie had been off the table, Kansas City probably would have taken Tom Grieve, the big right-handed bat from Univ. of Michigan who went #6 to the Senators. It’s immaterial to this replay, however, since Chilcott never reached the majors and Grieve didn’t make his ML debut until 1970.
The Mets never trade for Art Shamsky in November, 1967. With Reggie in the outfield, the Mets are over-stocked out there. In real-life, the Mets sent Bob Johnson to Cincinnati for Art Shamsky that offseason. Johnson later went to the Braves in a six-player deal. For this replay, I’ll assume that Shamsky stays in Cincinnati through 1969 and that Bob Johnson plays the 69 season in Atlanta, just as he did in real life. We’ll see if this (non)trade makes a difference. In real life, Shamsky was one of the heroes of the 69 club, and his .538 batting average in the NLCS (7-for-13) led all hitters.
3. The Tommy Davis for Tommie Agee trade (Dec 15, 1967) still takes place. Of all the assumptions we make here, this is the transaction I’m least confident about. It’s actually a pretty big deal that sends Agee and Al Weis from the Chicago White Sox to the Mets for Tommy Davis, Buddy Booker, Jack Fisher, and Billy Wynne. The trade makes sense for both teams in the absence of Reggie Jackson, and a reasonable case can still be made for it in this alternate universe. For one thing, Mets manager Gil Hodges saw great potential in Agee and made it his mission to acquire the outfielder from Chicago as soon as he was hired on in New York. We can assume that Hodges would be a fan of Agee in any universe. The most likely scenario in this alternate universe, however, is that Tommy Davis would have been dealt already, probably for a young catcher early in 1967 (Dave Duncan of Kansas City would have made sense for both clubs) as soon as it was apparent Reggie was the real deal.
4. All other transactions happen just as they did in real life.
I’ll be managing the Mets throughout the season, using the real life schedule and using as-played lineups for their opponents in most cases unless there is a clear conflict (e.g. let’s say I’ve decided to start a lefty pitcher, but in real life the opposing team’s lineup was loaded with lefties that day to face Tom Seaver or something. It wouldn’t be fair to make them stick with that lineup.) I always manage both clubs to win, and try to stick with a “realistic” distribution of playing time.
I’m playing all games C&D, and will probably play 90% of them Strat Basic. I like to throw in some Strat Advanced and even some other tabletop games (I have the 1969 season for both Payoff Pitch and Replay, too) now and then, but Strat Advanced is just my girlfriend – Basic is my one true love. I’ll be using one of my personal customized scorebooks to record all games and stats.
Here is the man of the hour: