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This day in baseball history

On May 9, 1962, the New York Mets, in their first year of existence, obtained Marv Throneberry from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a player to be named later. “Marvelous Marv” would become the symbol of the futility of the 1962 Mets, who set the modern baseball record for futility by losing 120 games.

Actually, the acquisition of Throneberry probably improved the Mets offense. It enabled Casey Stengel to create an almost decent platoon at first base, with Throneberry facing right-handed pitchers and Gil Hodges facing lefties. By this point in his career, Hodges couldn’t hit right-handers (.132 batting average; .265 slugging average in 1962), but still hammered southpaws (.390 batting average; .712 slugging percentage).

As a Met in 1962, Throneberry batted .244 and slugged .426. He combined with Hodges to hit 25 home runs and drive in 66 runs in 484 at-bats. Playing more than Hodges, Throneberry contributed 16 of the home runs and 49 of the RBIs.

Unfortunately, Throneberry’s terrible defense at first base, along with base running issues, made him the stuff of legends. In 1962, he committed a whopping 17 errors in just 97 games at first, for a fielding percentage of .981. A first-baseman should not field worse than .990. It is true that Dick Stuart also had 17 errors at first base that year and fielded .982. But Stuart would later be dubbed Dr. Strangeglove.

Unlike Stuart, Throneberry wasn’t really a horrible first baseman. Stuart fielded around .980 year after year. Throneberry had fielded around .990 as a part-time first baseman prior to 1962. Indeed, Ralph Houk, the estimable manager of the New York Yankees, was shocked by Throneberry’s melt-down. He had managed Throneberry in the minor leagues and considered him a serious, competent ballplayer.

Houk was bothered by Throneberry’s new status as a laughingstock. Mets fans, though, appear to have been delighted. As for Throneberry himself, he was a good sport publicly. However, rumor had it that privately he was miserable about his play, as one would expect.

Fortunately, the Mets didn’t give up much to obtain Throneberry. The player to be named later turned out to be catcher Hobie Landrith (career batting average 233; career slugging average 327). Following the trade, Landrith would fall slightly below these numbers for the remainder of the season as a reserve catcher for Baltimore.

Moreover, Hobie Landrith was as bad a defensive player as Throneberry at his worst. Twice, he led National League catchers in errors without playing 100 games. Like first-basemen, catchers are under water if they field much below .990. Landrith’s career mark was .983.

Finally, let it be noted that the Mets played no worse after they obtained Throneberry than they did before. On May 9, 1962, their record was 5-16, a winning percentage of .238. They finished the season at 40-120, a percentage of .250.

Throneberry died in 1994 at the age of 60. You can read his New York Times obituary here.

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