Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Christopher
In many ways, outfielder Joe Christopher epitomized the early editions of the New York Mets. After years of struggling to find a home in the major leagues, Christopher landed in the Polo Grounds with the worst team in major league history and found little space between fame and notoriety.
A native of the Virgin Islands, Joe Christopher was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. He made his major league debut four years later.
The guy could hit … minor league pitching. He batted .329 in his first professional season, and at the AAA level, Christopher batted .327 in 1958 and .301 in 1959. But he didn’t exhibit much power, and there wasn’t much room for a rookie outfielder in a Pirates lineup that included Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon and Bob Skinner.
Christopher played parts of three seasons with the Pirates, batting a combined .244 before being selected by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. It was a new lease on his professional life, as it was for so many players whose paths to major league stardom had seemed blocked by proven veterans. Now it was his chance to prove his worth against major league pitchers.
And as was true for so many of his Mets teammates (and the batters on the other three expansion squads), Christopher just wasn’t the same hitter against major leaguers that he was in the minors. The difference in pitching between the major leagues and AAA was oh so slight yet significant. In his first full season with the Mets, Christopher batted .244 in 1962, with six home runs and 32 runs batted in.
And that was the problem with the early Mets teams: talented players whose talent was marginal by major league standards. What they shared was the notoriety of being part of the fledgling Mets: good enough to be major leaguers, bad to be part of baseball’s worst-ever team.
Christopher batted .221 for the Mets in 1963. His best season came in 1964, when Christopher batted .300 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs. He batted .249 in 1965 and then was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Eddie Bressoud. He appeared in only 12 games with Boston before being traded with Earl Wilson to the Detroit Tigers for Don Demeter.
Christopher never played for the Tigers. He spent the next two seasons back in the minors, trying to earn one last trip to the major league level. But the best he could manage was batting .258 at the AA level, and he retired at age 32 after 14 professional seasons, eight in the major leagues. Christopher finished with a .260 career batting average.