In recent weeks, in which I’ve resolved to get back on this blog and review the final legacies left behind by deceased Mets personnel, the idea still remained to honor these fallen soldiers in the order in which they fell.
But it would be wrong not to take a moment to acknowledge the passing in recent weeks of two Met figures who had distinctive if not large places in history.
Bill Monbouquette had the strange fortune of being the special sauce of a pitching coach spread between the two all-beef patties that were Rube Walker and Mel Stottlemyre, the two highest-profile pitching coaches in Mets history with the most successful staffs. I’ll leave somebody wiser to me to judge whether they were better or just more fortunate. But Bill, under managers George Bamberger and Frank Howard, brought along Jesse Orosco, Doug Sisk, and Ed Lynch. Mike Scott failed to come along during his tenure, and Neil Allen fell into the strange malaise that led to his eventual trade for Keith Hernandez. So… yay?
Bill was a baseball lifer, coaching and managing in the minors before and after that stint, a career which followed a long and often successful major league career. With beefy arms and a no-bullshit face, he was prone to old school advice like coming up and in with two strikes. Far be it from me to advocate using the baseball as a weapon, but I HATES when pitchers get ahead 0-2 and bounce two curveballs outside. (I’m looking at you, Mike Pelfrey.)
Bill’s boss, manager George Bamberger, quit less than one third of the way through 1983 (just his second season stewarding the team), against the pleading of GM Frank Cashen and team president Nelson Doubleday. The team was 16–30, and the stress was getting to him. His story was that he needed to get away from baseball and go fishing. But clearly, he needed to get away from the Mets, as he stuck around as a roving instructor and later resurfaced managing the 1985 and 1986 Brewers. What clearly drove him crazy was his pitchers’ inability (or unwillingness) to throw strikes, and he wasn’t above hauling his sixty-year-old frame to the pitching rubber to show them how easy it was.
So, in his own way, by failing to motivate his pitchers to throw strikes, Monbo drove away George Bamberger, setting the stage for the Davey Johnson era that followed. So… yay.
Either way, God be with the pitching coach working under a manager that was himself a very successful pitching coach.
The sad news of the passing of Monboquette (literal meaning: “my little bunch of flowers”) was followed by the equally lamentable passing of Charlie Williams. Charlie had a strong, cleft chin, like a proto-Neil Allen (all roads lead to Neil Allen). He played for the Mankato Mets in 1968, one of their but two years of existence, under future Mets manager Joe Frazier. He had a strong season for them. Mancato was in the short-season Northern League, and the Mancato Mets spirit lives on in the class B amateur team that bears their name to this day.
History, of course, doesn’t remember him as a star in Mancato, but as the man who went (along with fifty thousand dollars) to San Francisco in exchange for the returning Willie Mays. The trade was ironic, in that it was formulated to right an historical wrong, but it ended up sending away the only Met born in Flushing. (To that date, anyhow — Flushingite Ed Glynn would follow later.)
Williams (literal meaning: “hemet of desire”) would pitch on out of the Giants bullpen through 1978, getting the odd start, and apparently drawing little of the ire that latter-day fans often heap upon players acquired in exchange for legends. Good on him. Reports of his death included the odd paragraph of his non-baseball-fan sister arriving from New Jersey to attend to him on his deathbed in Florida, reporting that she still received baseball cards in the mail requesting signatures across that strong chin — a sister puzzled by her brother’s continuing fame and unclear about the meaning and gravity of her brother’s distinctive transaction.
Requiescant in pace, Bill and Charlie.