Wayne Garrett
AP Photo

New York Mets fans love underdog stories. The team was built on one. Wayne Garrett was the underdog of the underdogs.

Kyle Newman

The New York Mets don’t have a ton of bargain bin success stories. Usually when they go fishing in the Rule 5 draft or the lower ends of free agency, they come up empty.

That just makes those few successful moments that much more memorable and special. It’s why many Mets fans either don’t know Wayne Garrett or simply forgot about him.

He wasn’t the best third baseman in team history, nor was he especially good. With Garrett, it’s all about the story and what he meant to the 1969 and 1973 squads.

Without the underdog of the underdogs, the Amazin’ Mets may never exist.

From the Rule 5 Draft to the World Series

In December 1968, the Mets were still an awful team. They had just won 73 games and were not a playoff ballclub by any means. They were looking to add strong young talent to help turn things around and make a push in the early 1970s.

That’s why when the Rule 5 Draft came along, the Mets selected Garrett, a 20-year-old third baseman. He was a prospect in the Atlanta Braves system who never received a shot in the major leagues. The Mets were about to change that.

Garrett began the 1969 season on the bench, splitting time between second and third base. He played well enough in the first half of the year, hitting .261/.339/.315.

There was no power, but Garrett was hitting decently. This earned him more playing time and he eventually earned a platoon role with Ed Charles at third base.

But in the second half of the year, Garrett hit a wall. He slashed an abysmal .163/.228/.208. He was downright awful, but the Mets stuck with him and played him in 54 games (44 starts).

Even with his awful performance, the Mets still won 100 games and earned a trip to the National League Championship Series to play against Garrett’s former team, the Atlanta Braves. Despite his awful second half, Garrett started all three games in the NLCS.

He rewarded New York in a huge way by hitting .385/.467/.769 in the postseason series. Garrett additionally recorded the Mets’ biggest hit of the year in Game 3.

Wayne ultimately hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning off Pat Jarvis to give the Mets a 5-4 lead. That would be the dagger that eliminated the Braves and sent the underdogs to one of the most unlikely World Series matchups in MLB history.

Despite his electrifying play in the NLCS, the Mets benched Garrett in the Fall Classic. He played in just two games, earning four plate appearances as the Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles for their inaugural title.

From utility man to hero

Charles retired after the 1969 season. A reasonable person would assume that after an up-and-down rookie year, Garrett would become the presumptive starting third baseman. The Mets disagreed, and so began a year-long search to fill that hole.

In December 1969, the Mets traded for Kansas City Royals third baseman Joe Foy. That moved Garrett back to a utility role on the bench. He still primarily played third base, but he additionally found time at second.

Foy turned out to be a bust. He hit just .236/.373/.329, which led to a platoon with Garrett. Wayne outperformed Foy, hitting an impressive .254/.390/.421. Garrett was worth a 3.0 fWAR through 114 games in 1970. He looked like a stud that should’ve been starting all along.

That might’ve been enough for Garrett to lock down the third base job for the foreseeable future, but he left the team after the 1970 season to serve his mandatory military service with the Bayside National Guard. He didn’t return until midway through the 1971 campaign.

That forced the Mets to replace him with Bob Aspromonte, who was dreadful in 1971 and retired after the season’s conclusion. Garrett wasn’t much better after returning from the National Guard.

After a dreadful 1971 season at third base, the Mets refused to give Garrett the starting job. They continued their search and made arguably the worst move in franchise history. Not trusting Garrett led the Mets to trade for six-time All-Star third baseman Jim Fregosi, who was coming off a dreadful 1971 season, having hit just .233/.317/.326.

Fregosi wasn’t much better than Garrett, but he was a megastar for years before that. The Mets saw an opportunity to buy a superstar at third base. Therefore, they gave up a package of young prospects and players, headlined by Nolan Ryan.

The All-Star was predictably awful in 1972. He hit just .232/.311/.344. Meanwhile, Garrett continued to outplay his competition, hitting .232/.374/.315. That was when the Mets threw in the towel and decided to just give him a shot.

They gave him the starting job at third base in 1973 and it was a runaway success. Garrett hit .256/.348/.403 and led the Mets hitters with a 4.0 fWAR.

The most impressive part of all this was how Garrett nearly single-handedly pushed the Mets offense into the playoffs in 1973. He hit an absurd .323/.411/.604 in September of that year as the Mets made their postseason push.

Garrett was awful in the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds though, hitting just .087/.083/.130. He recorded two hits in the whole series, but both were meaningful.

With Game 5 tied, Garrett hit a double in the fifth inning and would score the go-ahead — and eventually series-winning — run.

A similar story played out in the World Series. Garrett hit just .167/.306/.367, but he smacked a pair of home runs.

Replaced and traded

After finally shinning when he earned his chance, Garrett underwent a letdown season in 1974. He was atrocious and a major reason why the Mets were unable to repeat their success from the previous campaign.

Prior to the 1975 season, the Mets traded for superstar third baseman Joe Torre and Garrett returned to the bench. Garrett appeared in 107 games that year (68 starts) and hit .266/.379/.383, but it was too late. Torre had a hold on the starting third base job.

Torre would keep the job in 1976 and excel. He eventually became a player-manager in 1977. Meanwhile, Garrett disappointed again to begin the 1976 season and the Mets shipped him out to Montreal in exchange for spare parts.

Garrett was moved over to second base in Montreal, where he played decently. He would again be moved to the bench after the Expos signed Dave Cash in free agency and remained in that role for two more years.

At 31-years-old, Garrett was done sitting in the dugout, so he took a leap of faith. He followed his brother Adrian’s footsteps, went to Japan, and spent time with the Chunichi Dragons.

The underdog

Garrett is a story many Mets fans are familiar with. A player who looked promising at a young age but never received a fair shake.

He always played better than the guys the Mets tried to replace him with. New York still tries to do this. Brandon Nimmo was replaced and buried for years before breaking out, and even then the Mets would’ve benched him if Yoenis Cespedes was healthy.

Jeff McNeil broke out in 2018 and the Mets responded by trading a top prospect in a deal for Robinson Cano.

Had the Mets just trusted Garrett, they would’ve employed a competent starting third baseman alongside Nolan Ryan. Instead, they refused to have faith in their young talent and made one of the worst trades in MLB history.

The Mets are the underdogs. They’ve always been and it seems they always will be. That’s why fans gravitate to players who fit that role on the team. Nobody embodied that mindset better than Garrett.

From a forgotten minor leaguer to a World Series champion and a key member of a second National League Championship team, Garrett is one of the best forgotten stories in Mets history.

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