Mitchell's time with Mets was catalyst for fine MLB career

October 24th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Former Major Leaguer Kevin Mitchell was a rookie while playing with the 1986 Mets. In fact, it was his only full season with New York, but it was a year to remember.

That season, the Mets dominated Major Leagues Baseball, compiling 108 victories and winning the World Series title by beating the Red Sox in seven games. Mitchell was the team’s most versatile player, having played every position except for second base, pitcher and catcher.

Major League pitching didn’t overwhelm Mitchell, either, as he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 108 games.

Mitchell had no idea he was going to be part of the ‘86 Mets until the last day of Spring Training, when then-manager Davey Johnson asked him, “How many gloves do you have? You need a lot of them because you made this team.”

“I understood that I still had some time to play in the Minor Leagues,” Mitchell said. “I was just thankful that Davey gave me an opportunity. When I played, I just gave it my all because I wanted to be there. I fell in love with all of my teammates.”

By late October, Mitchell put himself in Mets lore during Game 6 of the Fall Classic. It was the 10th inning, and the Mets were down, 5-3, and one out away from seeing Boston win its first World Series title since 1918.

But New York had its own core four -- Mitchell, Gary Carter, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson -- who had other ideas.

With closer Calvin Schiraldi on the mound for Boston, Carter kept the inning alive with a single to left field. Mitchell, who came in as a pinch-hitter for right-hander Rick Aguilera, followed and singled to center field to put runners on first and second.

“Where I grew up, I would rather be a hero, not a zero. I wasn’t going to be the last out,” Mitchell said. “As a young kid, I didn’t understand where I was. I was learning from veteran guys. Keith Hernandez was the main one.”

Ray Knight followed and blooped a single to center field, scoring Carter to make it a one-run game and moving Mitchell to third. Red Sox manager John McNamara made a pitching change and gave the ball to Bob Stanley, who proved to be no better than Schiraldi.

Wilson was in the batter’s box when Mitchell scored on a wild pitch to tie the score at 5. Wilson was the sixth hitter in the inning. He worked the count full and then he hit a slow roller that went through Bill Buckner’s legs at first base, allowing Knight to score the winning run and tie the series at 3. New York would win the title two days later.

Mitchell thought he was going to be with the Mets for years to come. In fact, Johnson was planning to make Mitchell the regular left fielder the following season. However, Mitchell’s time in Gotham ended almost two months later when he was traded to the Padres as part of an eight-player deal that brought outfielder Kevin McReynolds to New York.

Recently, Johnson expressed his unhappiness about the trade to, believing Mitchell was a great person on and off the field.

“I saw him swing the bat,” Johnson said. “When I saw him, he was playing in the Minor Leagues. I got to know him. We would talk. I knew he didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs. He came from the roughest part of San Diego. [The Mets] knew he didn’t drink or smoke, but they probably thought Kevin McReynolds was a better fit.

"I even fought with [Mitchell]. But you know about a guy for what he stands for. You don’t blame him for it. You think of it as strength.”

Mitchell can remember having a conversation with Mets second baseman Wally Backman shortly after winning the World Series title. Backman believed Mitchell was an up-and-coming player and told him he didn’t think the team would trade him.

But when Mitchell arrived at his grandmother’s house in San Diego on Dec. 11, the local media surrounded her house, and he was informed that he had been traded to the Padres.

“I said, ‘What?’ I thought I would be a Met forever,” Mitchell said. “I went on to do bigger and better things.”

Mitchell would go on to play 11 more years in the Major Leagues and reached greater heights with the Giants in 1989. It was a season for the ages. Mitchell won the National League Most Valuable Player Award after leading the Majors in seven offensive categories, including home runs (47), RBIs (125) and OPS (1.023).

Mitchell credits Dusty Baker for his success in the batter’s box that season. Baker was San Francisco's hitting coach at the time.

“Dusty has been a big part of my life ever since I joined the Giants,” Mitchell said. “Dusty kept me focused. This man was my hitting coach. I don’t care if I hit two home runs, Dusty would say, 'I saw flaws in your swing.’

"We were in the batting cage that night while everybody is leaving the stadium. Dusty is the man.”

After playing more than four years in San Francisco, Mitchell went on to play with the Mariners, Reds, Red Sox, Indians and Athletics. Mitchell even had stints with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Japan Pacific League, Olmecas de Tabasco of the Mexican League and the independent Sonoma County Crushers and Lincoln Saltdogs before hanging up his spikes in 2001.

Mitchell, 61, then had health issues starting in 2013, when doctors found a bulging disc in his neck that pressed against his spinal cord. Mitchell said he suffered the injury because of the wear and tear of playing baseball.

After surgery, Mitchell found himself in a wheelchair for five years before using a walker and then a cane.

“It humbled me quickly. I always thought I was a lion and could never get hurt like that, especially from baseball. The neck is fused,” Mitchell said. “The doctors told me I would never walk again.”

Mitchell is walking again and enjoying life in California. But his time in New York will never be forgotten. He believes playing for the Mets was a game changer and he credits the New York fans for playing more than a decade in the big leagues.

“All they want is a World Series again. The fans are so awesome,” Mitchell said. “They make you play the game. When you step between those white lines in New York, you better be ready to play. Don’t come in [and not hustle]. They know when you are loafing.

"If you play for the Yankees or New York Mets -- if you go anywhere else, it’s a piece of cake. It’s intense in New York.”