No More Outfield for Mets' HundleyROB GLOSTER , Associated Press
Aug. 26, 1998 8:41 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The Todd Hundley outfield experiment officially ended Wednesday for the New York Mets.
Hundley, a two-time NL All-Star catcher, had tried left field for the last 6 1/2 weeks after returning from reconstructive right elbow surgery that made it impossible for him to play catcher.
Also, by the time Hundley made his 1998 debut on July 11, the Mets had obtained catcher Mike Piazza in a trade.
But Hundley has struggled in the outfield and his average has plummeted to .164, leading to the decision to restrict Hundley to pinch-hitting duties for the rest of the season.
``I think this was both because of the offense and the defense,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. ``It's all based on performance and it gets to a point where you just have to deal with it.''
Hundley misplayed a ball in Tuesday night's 7-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants, and has been a liability in left field for the Mets. Runners consistently have taken extra bases on him, knowing his arm is not back to full strength.
Hundley called Mets manager Bobby Valentine in his hotel room following Tuesday night's game, and the decision was made to scrap the outfield experiment. The Mets are leading in the chase for the NL wild card.
``It was a decision from everybody. We all agreed on it,'' Hundley said. ``You can't be experimenting like this in crucial situations. We have good outfielders here. Let them play and get the job done.''
Valentine said the switch was not a big deal.
``Nothing really changes other than some guys get to play more, there's no change in roles,'' the manager said.
Phillips said he respects Hundley's decision to give up playing time.
``I give Todd a lot of credit for saying he's struggling out there and doesn't feel he can play out there,'' Phillips said. ``He has made every effort to help this team, to try to come back. Now he's saying that he doesn't think he can play the outfield any more.''
Hundley had 41 homers and 112 RBIs in 1996, breaking Roy Campanella's 43-year-old major league record for home runs by a catcher. He followed that up with 30 homers and 86 RBIs last season, joining Darryl Strawberry and Dave Kingman as the only Mets players to hit 30 homers in consecutive seasons.
But he had elbow surgery last Sept. 26 and arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in November. He missed the first 85 games of this season.
This year has been a struggle for Hundley, who started 34 games in left field. In addition to being unable to catch and seeing the Mets obtain Piazza, several New York newspapers raised concerns about Hundley's drinking habits.
``He's coped with a lot,'' said Phillips, who met with Hundley on Wednesday morning. ``I told him I couldn't have handled the struggles, the controversies or at times the embarrassing situations nearly as well as he has.''
Hundley has had just 18 hits in 110 at-bats this season, with two homers and 49 strikeouts.
``He got off to a slow start. It has compounded itself and worked into a slump and it hasn't gotten any better,'' Phillips said. ``If he's able to hit like he could, you could overlook some of his struggles (in the outfield).''
Piazza is eligible for free agency after this season and has said he wants a $100 million contract. Hundley has two more years on his contract with the Mets after this season.
Phillips refused to speculate on who will be the Mets' starting catcher next season.
``One guy's a free agent and we're not sure if he's coming back,'' Phillips said, ``and the other guy's a catcher who can't catch right now.''