Six Degrees of Damon Buford

2As we were saying below, the likely arrival of Frank Catalanotto and the No. 2 jersey he’s been wearing would mark the first time in 15 years that a Met player wore that number in a game. Damon Buford, the last, was a reserve outfielder who was acquired in the Bobby Bonilla trade in 1995 and swapped out for a basketball player the following winter.

Like his father Don Buford, an Orioles star notable in Mets history for his leadoff home run against Tom Seaver in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, Damon Buford was a compact outfielder out of the University of Southern California. Born in June of 1970, it was likely he was conceived shortly before the 1969 World Series. Like his dad, Damon had good speed and a little pop in his bat, but he lacked his father’s polish at the plate. Over nine seasons in the big leagues, he was a regular in only one year, 2000, when as the Cubs’ everyday center fielder he hit a modest .251/.324/.390 and was replaced the next year by another second-generation outfielder with a Met connection: Gary Matthews Jr.

Back in 1995, Buford was a minor league throw-in in the trade that shed the Mets the unhappy if productive Bonilla, and delivered them a prized prospect, Alex Ochoa, also a minor leaguer at the time. The Orioles, despite Bonilla’s best efforts, fell short of their goal to steal the AL East that year. And while Ochoa stayed in the minors for additional seasoning, Buford was called on right away to assume Bonilla’s position in left field.

The Mets issued Buford No. 2 (Ochoa would be the next to take Bonilla’s No. 25). The jersey had been sitting around since being shared by Wayne Housie and Doug Saunders in 1993, and last occupied by a significant contributor by Mackey Sasser in 1992. The jersey would become something of a regular for the itinerant Buford, who’d wear No. 2 again in Texas and in Boston in the years to come.

Buford had a short window with which to impress the Mets, who at the time were juggling a variety of young outfielders at or near the major league level including Ochoa, Jay Payton and Carl Everett. None really worked out. But despite some promise — in a September game against the Astros he hit two home runs off future Met Mike Hampton — what finished Buford for good in New York was the offseason acquisitions of veteran outfielders Lance Johnson and Bernard Gilkeyto supplement that young core. Gilkey in particular, was like Buford a righthanded hitter and possessed that power-speed combination Buford only might have developed. Within weeks he was swapped to the Texas Rangers for a lower-level minor league outfielder — Terrell Lowery — who was better known for college basketball stardom at Loyola-Marymount: it was his alley-oop pass that Hank Gathers slam-dunked moments before Gathers collapsed and died in 1990. Lowery after one season with the Mets organization was lost in the Rule 5 draft to the Cubs; he played parts of three years with the Cubs, Devil Rays and Giants. Lowery was enticed to leave basketball for baseball by Ranger scout Sandy Johnson, known today as Omar Minaya‘s mentor.

No. 2 was again unissued in 1996 until the Mets fired manager Dallas Green and hired Bobby Valentine. The card at right is shown at the New York Mets Hall of Records.

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One comment

  1. Jon Springer says:

    Submitted by (not verified) on Fri, 04/02/2010 – 9:32pm.
    To further the Damon Buford tale, he later met a new number and an old “friend” in the Cubs clubhouse. From Cubs by the Numbers (the book):
    “Catcher Todd Hundley was out of luck in 2001. Oddly, it was an outfielder, and former Mets teammate, Damon Buford, who had the number #9 he coveted because it had belonged to Todd’s dad, Randy, a Cubs catcher in the 1960s and 1970s. Todd took #99, a number Turk Wendell wouldn’t even touch as a Cub (although Wendell wore 99 as Hundley’s teammate with the Mets). The first issuance of #99 in Chicago lasted only three months. Todd grabbed #9 when Buford was cut. (“Sorry, buddy. Can I have that? Thanks.”) Buford didn’t play again in the majors.”

    Just saw this…Baseball-Reference now includes uniform numbers on player pages with proper team colors. Cool:

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