Ron Hunt is easily forgotten. A remnant of the early and mid-60s New York Mets, Hunt is a forgotten All-Star. That shouldn’t be the case.
The New York Mets debuted as a franchise in 1962. The team was the worst in MLB history. Fans were excited for a National League baseball in New York again and legendary names in the lineup only helped stoke interest.
That didn’t last long. After their dreadful debut season, the Mets needed to find a way to create a team that fans could be genuinely excited about.
A young rookie second baseman took that job on himself. At just 22-years-old, Ron Hunt made his major league debut in 1963.
The great Rookie of the Year debate
Ron Hunt took the stage as the lone bright spot of the 1963 Mets. The rookie hit .272/.334/.396. Those numbers may not seem spectacular, but he led the Mets in batting average, was second on the team in on-base percentage, and third in slugging percentage.
The only player who had a better all-around year than Hunt was the legendary Hall of Famer Duke Snider. That comparison isn’t all that fair either because Snider had about 200 fewer plate appearances than Hunt did.
Hunt took the National League by storm that year, but he wasn’t the only one. A young second baseman who played for the Cincinnati Reds by the name of Pete Rose also lit the league on fire.
Rose hit .273/.334/.371 over the course of the season. When it came time to decide the rookie of the year the choice should have been difficult. Hunt and Rose put up nearly identical numbers.
Hunt had a slight edge statistically due to his slugging percentage and his 10 home runs compared to Rose’s six. It should have been Hunt winning the award by a narrow margin. It wasn’t.
Pete Rose won the award nearly unanimously earning 17 of the 20 first-place votes. Hunt earned just two votes and pitcher Ray Culp of the Philadelphia Phillies got one vote. so, what happened?
Well, Hunt played on the worst team in MLB. The Mets won just 51 games in 1963 and the Reds won 86. In the eyes of voters that meant that Rose was more valuable.
With players as close in stats as Hunt and Rose were, it makes sense. They were nearly identical statistically so they needed something to help them make a decision why not their team performance?
It was an unfair way to judge the play of two single players and it cost Hunt the Rookie of the Year. Hunt would make all those voters look foolish the next year.
Hunt wasted no time showing the league he was the next great second baseman in 1964. He came out and improved on his 1963 by hitting .311/.361/.420 in the first half and earning his first All-Star appearance. He was also the first Mets player to ever start in an All-Star game. A special moment as the game played in the brand new Shea Stadium.
Hunt was truly the shining light on those awful early Mets teams. He was giving fans hope that a brighter future was just within reach. That hope only got stronger in the second half.
Hunt’s number dipped only slightly in the second half, as he hit .292/.351/.385. The second baseman was the New York Mets’ first bonafide homegrown star.
His 1964 was so strong that despite the team finishing with just 53 wins Hunt garnered MVP votes. His season was worth 3.0 fWAR the best of any Mets’ hitter in franchise history to that point.
It was also the second-best fWAR in major league baseball that season. Only Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski was worth more at 3.1 fWAR.
Hunt was clearly one of the best second basemen in baseball and at only 23-years-old. The Mets had struck gold early on in their franchise.
Hunt came back down to earth in 1965. He was hampered by an injury and only played in 57 games hitting .240/.309/.327. It was a major letdown after his breakout 1964 season.
He came back healthy again in 1966 and showed he was the same player. Hunt hit .293/.370/.379 in the first half. He was back to being his elite self and earned his second and final All-Star appearance of his career.
He disappointed in the second half hitting .280/.335/.317. the power suddenly left Hunt’s bat and it never really came back. Overall hunt hit .288/.356/.355 in 1966. He would only top that slugging percentage twice the rest of his career.
That’s how Hunt’s career with the Mets came to an end, as he was shockingly traded just a few weeks after the end of the 1966 season.
The trades that won the New York Mets a World Series
In November of 1996, after finishing the year with 66 wins the Mets made a curious decision to trade their homegrown star. They sent the soon to be 26-year-old Ron Hunt to the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for former MVP candidate Tommy Davis.
Davis was fresh off a dominant 1966 season that helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series. The move made little sense because Davis was 28-years-old. This was the kind of move contenders make to solidify their team. Bad teams don’t acquire players like Daivs.
To his credit, Davis had a strong 1967, hitting .302/.342/.440 and earning MVP votes, but the Mets only won 61 games. Meanwhile, Hunt battled injury and struggled with the Dodgers playing in only 110 games hitting .263/.344/.345.
At the end of the season, both teams made trades. The Mets sent Davis to the Chicago White Sox for former Rookie of the Year and All-Star Tommie Agee. The Dodgers sent Hunt to the San Francisco Giants for All-Star catcher Tom Haller.
Agee would put together one of the best seasons in Mets history in 1969, leading the Mets to their first World Series win. Hunt found success in San Francisco and later Montreal, twice earning MVP votes.
Hunt never got the chance to become a Mets’ legend despite his role in putting the team on the map early in the franchise’s history. Fans should remember the Mets’ first homegrown star. Without Ron Hunt, the history of the Mets would be very different.