Monday, April 22, 2013

Kevin McReynolds revisits the Mets NL East championship team twenty-five years later

Kevin McReynolds figured prominently in the New York Mets' quest for the National League pennant in 1988. The 28-year-old left fielder was in his second season with the Mets after a trade in December 1986 brought him to New York in exchange for Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, and Kevin Mitchell. Coming to the Mets fresh off of their World Series victory, he had lofty expectations for his time in Flushing.

Kevin McReynolds / N. Diunte
“You had high hopes with a team that strong,” said McReynolds during an appearance at a baseball card show at Hofstra University this Saturday. “[They] had great pitching at the time. You think it was going to be … almost like a dynasty in the making. You look back now; of course it didn’t turn out to be that. It was always an interesting team and [there was] a lot of good baseball too.”

McReynolds, who was known for his private nature off the field, came out in a major way in 1988, finishing third in the MVP voting behind teammate Darryl Strawberry and the Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He blasted 27 home runs, drove in 99 runs, and set the single-season record for the most stolen bases without a single caught stealing, going a perfect 21-21.

“They just saw a fat ol’ white boy over there, so they didn’t pay attention to me,” McReynolds joked. “As long as I didn’t run in situations where I could hurt us with an out … they gave me the green light.”

The Mets faced off with the Dodgers in an unforgettable National League Championship Series, with the Mets taking the first two of the three games. During Game 4, McReynolds launched a fourth inning home run to put the Mets up 3-2. Going in to the ninth inning leading 4-2 with Dwight Gooden on the mound, Mets fans felt confident that the potential for a series clinching Game 5 would take place at Shea Stadium; however, Dodgers’ catcher Mike Scioscia had plans otherwise.

After a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth inning, Scioscia blasted a home run to right field to tie the game, hushing the boisterous Shea Stadium crowd. The two teams battled in extra innings, until Gibson homered off of Roger McDowell in the top of the 12th to put the Dodgers in front 5-4. The Mets would not go quietly, as
as they put the first two batters on base with consecutive singles off of Dodgers reliever Tim Leary, forcing manager Tommy Lasorda to bring in ex-Met Jesse Orosco. The lefty specialist walked Keith Hernandez and recorded the second out of the inning when Strawberry popped up to second base.

Just as McReynolds approached the plate with the bases loaded, Lasorda called upon Orel Hershiser, who pitched seven innings in the Dodgers' loss the night before. He encountered a pitcher in Hershiser who refused to give in. He flew out to center field ending the four-and-a-half hour marathon.

“I ended up making the final out," he said. "We had beaten LA so many times during that year, but Hershiser was on that phenomenal streak at the time. You always hate to be the last guy to make the last out, but unfortunately someone has to win and someone has to lose.”

The Mets lost Game 5 at Shea Stadium, but forced the deciding game in Los Angeles when David Cone pitched a complete game 5-1 victory aided by a McReynolds home run. Hershiser was too much for the Mets to handle in Game 7 and the Dodgers advanced to the World Series, which they won in convincing fashion over the Oakland Athletics.

McReynolds played with the Mets through 1991 when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals as part of the Bret Saberhagen deal. He played two seasons in Kansas City until the Mets reacquired him in 1994 in exchange for Vince Coleman. He played half of the 1994 season before knee injuries ended his baseball career.

Spending the bulk of his major league career in New York, McReynolds said the fans captured his attention while playing in Queens.

“There were always a lot of fans, [but] they weren’t always fans for you at times," he said. "They were always very verbal and they [expected] a good product on the field. [The fans] were just one of the things to look forward to.”

The 53-year-old McReynolds lives in Little Rock Arkansas, and when he is not playing golf, he is pursuing a wide range of business interests.

“I play golf a lot, run a commercial duck hunting operation during the winter time, and a couple of friends and I own some pizza restaurants in Memphis.”


Friday, April 12, 2013

Bronx native Larry Miggins recalls Jackie Robinson's first day in the minor leagues

Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball was felt immediately the moment he stepped on the field for the Montreal Royals in their season opener against the Jersey City Giants on April 18, 1946. In addition to all of the social implications behind Robinson’s debut, his 4-for-5 performance that included a home run, two bunt singles, and two runs scored by causing Jersey City’s pitchers to balk, left an indelible mark on his opposition.

Larry Miggins’ view of Robinson’s eye opening performance remains vivid some sixty-seven years later. The 20-year-old Bronx, New York native manned third base for Jersey City that day and had no trouble recalling how the day’s events unfolded.

“I remember it well,” the 87-year-old Miggins said from his home in Houston, Texas. “It was a full house, 45,000 fans. The place was packed.”

Larry Miggins
As the team went over its pre-game scouting report, information on Robinson’s tendencies were limited to what the manager had seen during batting practice. The Giants and Royals were due to meet in spring training, but the game was cancelled when officials in Jacksonville, Fla., upheld a city ordinance that did not permit mixed racial competition.

“Most of the guys were known by somebody, but when it came to Robinson nobody ever had seen him play,” Miggins said. “Our manager Bruno Betzel said he saw during batting practice that Robinson was a strong pull hitter. He said to me, ‘Miggins, you play him deep at third base.’”

Following his coach’s orders, Miggins positioned himself as instructed. During Robinson’s first two at-bats, the ball didn’t come Miggins’ way, as he grounded out to shortstop his first time up, and then hit a 335-foot home run down the left field line.

Expecting another powerful shot by Robinson, Miggins held his ground behind the third base bag as Robinson approached for his third at-bat.

“Next time up, I’m playing back, deep behind third base,” said Miggins. “He bunted and dropped one down. I could throw a ball through a brick wall in those days, so I pick it up and fire to first base and it was a real close play, safe. He could run too you know. He beat it out.”

Robinson proceeded to hit a single to right-center field during his fourth at-bat, which set the stage for Miggins to have another close encounter with the Royals second baseman. He did not think that Robinson would test him a second time with a bunt.

“Like an idiot, I’m playing him back at third base again the fifth time up. He dropped another bunt down and beat it out,” said Miggins. It was a lesson learned for the young infielder. “I gave him two hits that day and he never bunted again on me because I played him even with the bag from then on.”

Miggins went on to play parts of two seasons in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 and 1952, but his involvement with Robinson’s debut is one that he wears with a sense of pride and humor.

“They got him into the Hall of Fame and there he was, Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a World Series Champ, all because of the great start I gave him in baseball!” said a laughing Miggins. “I gave him two hits opening day and he never stopped from there, he just kept going. I always look back and that 4-for-5 opening day gave him a thrust for his whole career.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Archbishop Molloy coach Curran helped prepare New York Yankee Mike Jerzembeck to pitch in the majors

For over 50 years, Jack Curran helped to shape thousands of young men into baseball players that walked through the doors of Archbishop Molloy. During those 50-plus years, he sent countless numbers of players into professional careers other than baseball, but only two made the major leagues. One is current New York Mets outfielder Mike Baxter, the other is former New York Yankees pitcher Mike Jerzembeck.

Mike Jerzembeck
Jerzembeck, a member of the Yankees 1998 World Series Championship team, spoke with me regarding the influence of his high school coach on his development on and off the field through his teenage years.

The article recently appeared in the April 6 edition of the Times-Ledger newspapers in Queens.

"Yankee pitcher praises Coach Curran" - Nicholas Diunte - Times-Ledger Newspapers

Monday, April 1, 2013

'Bullet' Bob Turley, 1958 Cy Young winner, passes away at 82


"Bullet" Bob Turley has run out of ammunition. The 1958 Cy Young Award winner passed away Saturday evening from liver cancer in a hospice care center in Atlanta. He was 82.

In retirement, he remained a fan favorite, graciously obliging his fans when he returned for Yankees Old Timers Day.

“I can’t understand some of these players today,” he said. “Nothing ever bothered me, signing autographs, doing interviews. You have all the privacy you want when you get out of the game.”