Tommie Agee

West Metro, the IBC franchise combining the Mets and Angels, represents a group of suburbs to the west of Des Moines proper.  This is where I have lived since 1997, and as such is sort of my ‘home team’ in the league.  Equally important, its name, the Maroons, comes from the high school where I have taught as a substitute teacher for the past ten years or so.

Coincidentally, ten years ago was about the time that I decided to exit both the CBA and RUMBA leagues.  MLB just didn’t seem as interesting to me, and my hobby time shifted in other directions.  This might have led to the extinction of my interest in baseball, but as luck might have it the Dowling Maroons had a very good team and I started going to a couple of home games a week — the field was just a mile or so from home, and both the soph and varsity squads were worth the nominal price of admission.  It also helped that I knew the players (and that they knew me).

Several things have struck me over the years of watching one of the top high school programs in the state of Iowa.  Most obvious is how much better these kids are than the Regina 9 back in the day.  They are better athletes, bigger, stronger, and better trained than we were.  I sometimes marvel at how good you have to be to play for one of the big high schools in the metro, and empathize with average players who, as a result, don’t get to continue playing ball through graduation.  It also has struck me just how hard it is to become a major leaguer.  Two stars from the Dowling program, infielder Jake Yacinich & outfielder Zack Coppola, both turned pro after college but retired last summer after making it as far as AA ball.  

Dowling


The best player I’ve seen, I think, was a catcher named Spencer Navin.  He was such a good defensive backstop that I thought his path to the majors would be fairly easy.  Looking back, I suppose he had a slider-speed bat — this would be trouble down the road — but he was still good enough to start at Vanderbilt.  Eventually he was taken by the Dodgers in the 11th Round, but only got as far as high-A ball.  Last I heard Spencer was in independent ball, and I still think he’s got the defensive chops to be a useful player.  So I’m still hanging onto that ball I had signed by the guys on that 2010 Dowling squad.

It ain’t easy to reach the majors.  Per the Peanuts cartoon, Beethoven can’t really be great because his picture isn’t on a bubble gum card, and Topps confers immortality upon the Hank Aarons and Bill Zubers alike.  As fans we all get this at some level, and yet we still make cruel jokes about batters south of the Mendoza Line and pitchers who are so bad they couldn’t even strikeout Ted Williams’ frozen head.  

I suppose the 1962 Mets will always represent the worst roster ever.  But change is constant in baseball — the average MLB career is less than six years — and by 1968 that team had been transformed: aside from Ed Kranepool (who was 17 in 1962), not a single hitter stuck with the Mets over that period.  The team went through what we now recognize as a rebuild, and now had just one regular in the lineup (Ed Charles) older than 26.  

The West Metro roster is also youthful, and for kicks let’s see if the future seems bright for this collection of hitters.  Below are the team’s ten youngest batters, with columns for their pre-68 and post-68 WAR values.  

Batter        1968 Age   WAR (≤1968)   WAR (>1968)
2B Ken Boswell      22        2.3        3.2
SS Bud Harrelson    24        2.5       17.5
RF Ron Swoboda      24        6.1        1.9
LF Cleon Jones      25        4.2       13.9
DH Rick Reichardt   25        9.1        4.9
CF Tommie Agee      25       10.0       15.0
3B Paul Schaal      25        5.3        9.3
CA Jerry Grote      25        2.4       14.7

LF Art Shamsky      26        2.1        3.9
SS Jim Fregosi      26       26.6       22.1

Seven of the ten have more future value, which shows why rebuilding teams chase after youth.  But there are no guarantees, and this is what makes a case such as Ron Swoboda such a puzzler.  In 1968 he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, a year later he made one of the great catches in World Series history, but a few years after that was struggling for a bench role and would retire from the game before turning thirty.  

When I think of the Mets in this period, I think of Casey Stengel and extreme platoon baseball.  The 1968 Maroons carry on this tradition.  In the outfield, the righthanded group is Cleon Jones (.297/14/55 and 23 steals), Tommie Agee (.217/5/17), and 24-yo Ron Swoboda (.242/11/59); the lefthanders are Art Shamsky (.238/12/48), Vic Davalillo (.277/3/31 and 25 steals), and Roger Repoz (.240/13/54).  A seventh outfielder, Rick Reichardt (.255/21/73), serves as the club’s primary DH, but since Shamsky & Swoboda are also 4’s it’s a toss-up deciding which should wear a glove on any given day.  Performance-wise, this still looks more like a pair of expansion clubs than next year’s world champs: indeed, the best of that bunch, Jones, wouldn’t even start on a good team like the Knights.  But, as with the Dubuque Golden Eagles, the left/right mix and match makes it a fun team to manage.  

This outfield would look better if only the “good version” of Tommie Agee had arrived in New York from Chicago.  He had been an all-star the previous two season with the White Sox, but for the Mets he never really recovered from an 0-for-34 stretch early in the season.  In one of my draft leagues I have Chris Davis, and I’ve been waiting for his “good version” to return for a couple of years now. The jury is still out on Davis, but fortunately for Mets-lovers Agee would go on to have several more good seasons.

Don Mincher (.236/13/48) gives the club a nice left-handed option at the cold corner, but he only had 399 ABs and lacks a solid platoon partner.  Chuck Hinton (.195/7/23) is an ok utility guy, but obviously lacks the expected pop.  The situation across the diamond is similar, with 35-yo Ed Charles (.276/15/53) lacking the ABs to go every day and the next man up, Paul Schaal (.210/2/16), wields a pretty limp stick.  The 2B situation is much better, with Bobby Knoop (.249/3/39 and a ‘1’) forming a nice R/L platoon with 22-yo Ken Boswell (.261/4/11).  At SS, Jim Fregosi (.244/9/49) plays most days, with the switch-hitting 24-yo Bud Harrelson (.219/0/14) mostly just collecting splinters.

Catching is the team’s strong suit, with two above-average options in Jerry Grote (.282/3/31 and a -2 arm) and Tom Satriano (.253/8/35).  Satriano is also a decent sub at the infield corners, which helps remedy the problems discussed earlier.

Below are the historical ballpark ratings for the Angels and Mets (note all IBC parks are 9’s across the board).  Batting averages will be boosted by the switch, but the forecast is for fewer homers.

Ballpark Effect     California    New York
Lefty Singles          1            4  
Righty Singles         1            1
Lefty Homers           8           19
Righty Homers         14           19
 

ed kranepool mets hall of fame

A few hitters with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make West Metro''s 30-man roster.  Three were outfielders: Larry Stahl (.235/3/10), 36-yo Bubba Morton (.270/1/18), and 23-yo Ed Kirkpatrick (.230/1/15).  Kirkpatrick would have also given the squad another lefty option behind the plate, but seemed superfluous given Satriano.  A much harder cut was 23-yo Ed Kranepool (.231/3/20), but he would not really form a proper platoon with Mincher so I left him off the team.  Kranepool got six ABs back in 1962, when he was just a 17-yo kid — the razor’s edge separating him from guys like Jake, Zack, and Spencer made a world of difference.

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 10 weeks of play, and the current standings.  Council Bluffs has hit a rough patch (3-7 over last ten), and its once comfortable lead is down to 4 games.

1968IB-3-12-2019.lzp

6/16/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      44     23    .657     —
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         38     25    .603    4.0
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   37     27    .578    5.5
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      34     30    .531    8.5
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      33     32    .508   10.0
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      33     33    .500   10.5
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      29     36    .446   14.0
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         29     38    .433   15.0
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       26     40    .394   17.5
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)  23     42    .354   20.0

I’ll cover the West Metro Maroons pitchers next time!

© John Kisner 2019