Mookie Wilson

Mookie Wilson will forever be remembered for one World Series at-bat lasting ten pitches. With the Red Sox one strike away from clinching the 1986 WS in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six, Wilson fouled off pitch after pitch with last-second swings. With a 2-2 count, he fouled off two pitches. Then, reliever Bob Stanley threw one in the dirt at Wilson’s feet, and the long-time Met favorite skipped rope to avoid being hit. The wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score, tying the game, and moved Ray Knight to second base. Wilson fouled off two more pitches and then hit a slow grounder to first baseman Bill Buckner, playing well behind the bag. The speedy Wilson would have been safe anyway, but Buckner let the ball go between his legs, allowing Knight to score the winning run. With drama quite different from a game-winning home run, the accumulated excitement of the slowly building rally capped by the tension of Wilson’s at-bat made the game one of the most exciting in Series history.

For most of his career, Wilson was a hustling fan favorite whose at-bats were greeted at home with cries of Moooooo-kie. However, he had serious flaws as a leadoff man. He struck out more than 100 times in two of his three seasons as an everyday player, and when he led the NL with 638 at-bats in 1983, he drew only 18 walks, giving him a career-low .300 on-base average. Not until 1985 did he have an on-base average above .330, which is roughly the NL average, including pitchers, in a normal year. With the arrival of the more patient Lennie Dykstra in 1985, Wilson had to walk more to keep even a platoon job, and to his credit he did get his OBA as high as .360 (1987). He was a good basestealer, with highs of 58 in 1982 and 54 in 1983. And although he had wild swings between hot and cold during the season, from year to year he was a model of consistency. He hit .276 three years in a row (1983-85) and, after hitting .248 in his first call-up, hit between .271 and .299 from 1981 through 1988.

Wilson’s speed helped him outrun mistakes in the outfield and compensated for a weak arm; he led NL outfielders with six double plays in 1984. Arm surgery in 1985 weakened his arm even further and gave Dykstra the playing time that reduced the streaky, switch-hitting Wilson to a platoon player. His career was threatened by a freak eye injury suffered in spring training in 1986, when he was hit in the glasses by a Rafael Santana throw during an infielders’ rundown drill. When he came back after five weeks on the DL, he had trouble judging fly balls, especially during day games, that persisted for the rest of his career.

As the senior member of the team in the second half of the 1980s, Wilson was an important clubhouse influence. His hustle, even when the Mets had been notorious non-contenders, set an example for younger players. He grumbled about his reduced playing time, but continued to be an unselfish team leader until he was traded to Toronto in the second half of 1989. He sparked the Blue Jays to the 1989 division title and fittingly scored the run that clinched first place.