Showing posts with label 1962 New York Mets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1962 New York Mets. Show all posts

Monday, August 15, 2016

Choo Choo Coleman: Farewell to a good 'bub'

Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman, one of the venerable members of the inaugural 1962 New York Mets team, passed away Monday August 15, 2016 at the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, South Carolina due to complications from cancer. He was 80.

Of all of the members of the 1962 New York Mets team, the details about the life and career of catcher “Choo Choo” Coleman remained mysterious, as he disappeared from the public spotlight after leaving baseball.
Choo Choo Coleman in 2012 / N. Diunte

Coleman, then 76-years-old, returned to New York in 2012 for the first time in 46 years for a series of appearances at various memorabilia shows and to attend the Baseball Assistance Team Dinner at the Marriott Marquis.

The usually reserved former catcher invited me to meet with him the Friday evening he arrived in New York, giving his first interview ever since his playing days. Greeting me with a, 'Hey bub, nice to meet you,' Coleman broke the ice with a term I quickly discovered he used to refer to almost everyone. Sitting in his hotel room, he explained the origins of his nickname “Choo Choo”. It was something he had long before professional baseball.

“Growing up in Orlando, I was small and fast, like a choo-choo train,” Coleman said.

He cut his teeth in professional baseball during the 1955 season, signing with the Washington Senators Class D affiliate in his hometown of Orlando, Florida.

“A friend of mine played for them and told me about it" he said. "I talked to the people, tried out and made the team."

Playing professional baseball in the segregated South, Coleman encountered his share of obstacles while traveling.

“At that time it was hard," he said. "People were different [then]. I don’t know about now, it’s a whole lot different. We lived in different places [from the team]. We lived in private homes; we couldn’t live in the hotels back then."

After two stints with the Orlando team, Coleman was picked up by Syd Pollock’s Indianapolis Clowns halfway through the 1956 season. By that time Coleman asserts, the Clowns had moved on from their Negro League affiliation to that of a traveling ball club. His escapades with the Clowns took him to far reaching parts of the country such as North Dakota.

“We weren’t in the Negro Leagues, we played all over,” he said. “I played two years. We played almost every day. We went everywhere; it was a lot of fun.”

He reveled in discussing some of the antics that made the Clowns popular at that time.

“We’d have the Clowns run down on to the field, hitting people in the crowd in the head, stuff like that,” he said.

By 1958, Coleman returned to Orlando and spent two more seasons there, waiting for an opportunity to climb baseball’s proverbial ladder. This chance came in 1960 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I went to Vero Beach and made the A ball club in Macon,” he recalled. “I played there a month or two and then I went to Montreal (AAA).”
Choo Choo Coleman with the Los Angeles Dodgers in Spring Training
The Phillies liked Coleman’s performance in Montreal enough to draft him from the Dodgers and place him on their opening day roster in 1961.

“I went to the Phillies first,” he said. “Then they sent me to Spokane, Washington. … I didn’t play too much.”

His hot bat in spring training was not enough to force manager Gene Mauch’s hand.

“I went to spring training and hit about .280, but they never played me,” he recalled. “They played Clay Dalrymple; he hit about .215 and played about every night. [Mauch] knew his baseball, but I don’t think he liked me.”

Coleman confirmed his suspicions about Mauch when he was put in to pinch-hit for Ruben Amaro with two strikes in what was only his second plate appearance in the majors.

“There was a man on first base,” Coleman recounted over 60 years later. “Ruben Amaro was supposed to lay the ball down, put him over. He never did. He did it two times and fouled the ball off. I’m on the bench all night and he called me to come take his place with two strikes. My first time in the major leagues [and I pinch-hit] with two strikes! I fouled four balls off and I hit in to the double play that night in Philly. I always remembered that. That’s tough man!” (Note - It was Coleman’s second career plate appearance and he grounded out to first to end the inning.)

The Phillies left Coleman unprotected in the expansion draft and he was signed by the New York Mets for the 1962 season.

“I never knew at that time that I’d be there on the first [team],” he said. “I made the team and I was happy to be there. I did my best. I hit over .250 my first year. I stayed hurt a lot. My shoulder was out of place, nose fractured, fractured my fingers (displaying multiple broken fingers on his right hand). It’s different now. They play now with one hand behind the back; I didn’t do that, I caught with two hands.”

Despite his small size, Coleman remained fearless behind the plate. He wasn’t going to let his stature be a factor in determining his playing time on the field.

“It didn’t make no difference,” he said. “I weighed 155; I was the smallest one. All of the fellas were over 200. I wasn’t afraid.”

When asked about the legendary Mets manager Casey Stengel, Coleman recalls very limited interactions between the two.

“I didn’t talk to him too much,” he recalled. “Most of the time, he’d be on the bench asleep.”

Coleman played for the Mets their first two seasons and made a return appearance in 1966 for six games. Taking time to reflect on his stay in New York, Coleman enjoyed his time there and its demanding fan base.

“It was nice to play here,” he said. “In order to play here in New York, you had to be good. You can’t be bad or slow; you always had to do your best.”

He had one last hurrah with the Mets organization in 1969 after leaving baseball behind for two years; however, he could not make it back to the majors to be a part of the World Series championship team.

“I took off two years and I stayed home to go fishing at the time,” he said. “I came back two years later after I wrote them a letter and told them I wanted to start back. They sent me to Tidewater. I been out two years, but I still made the team!”

While he was in New York, he looked forward to being able to see teammates such as Al Jackson and Frank Thomas, as well as Willie Mays, whom he regards as the best player he’s ever seen. He also was excited to Citi Field for the first time, a sight he would rather have experienced as a player than a spectator.

“If I was playing, I’d be more excited to see it … it would be a lot different,” he said.

After baseball, he returned to Florida and later owned a Chinese restaurant for 18 years. In retirement, the humble Coleman enjoyed the ample opportunity to go fishing whenever he wanted.

“It’s a lot of fun just to go and relax,” he said.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rare footage of Ralph Kiner interviewing Roger Craig during Mets 1962 spring training

A predecesor to Kiner's Korner, this is rare footage of the late Ralph Kiner interviewing newly minted New York Mets pitcher Roger Craig in 1962 during the team's first spring training. Craig entered the majors in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Kiner's last year in the majors. They never faced off in a major league game, as Kiner was in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Joe Ginsberg, original New York Met dies at 86

Joe Ginsberg - Baseball-Almanac.com

Myron “Joe” Ginsberg, a veteran catcher of 13 major league seasons and an original 1962 New York Met, passed away Friday November 2nd, at Sunrise Retirement Living in West Bloomfield, Mich. He was 86.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mets legend Ed Kranepool disappointed with David Wright's reserve selection

Ed Kranepool holds many distinctions in 50-year association with the New York Mets. At 17, he was the youngest member of the inaugural 1962 team, and when he finished his career in 1979, he left as their all-time leader in hits, at-bats and games played. Tuesday afternoon, Kranepool spread some good will as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays program at Citbank in Huntington Station.

Ed Kranepool signs an autograph at Citibank in Huntington Square
“I’ve been representing the Mets for 50 years," Kranepool said. "I signed in 1962, so it’s been a long association and most of it has been good. Representing here with Citibank has been great. They support the alumni program [and] they create the programs we participate in. I enjoy meeting all of the bankers and their customers and it’s a great support level that Citibank has offered the Mets and got behind them with sponsorship; they’re doing a lot of good things for the community.”

With David Wright on the heels of Kranepool’s all-time franchise hits record, the third baseman’s snub by the fans for the starting nod for the All-Star Game did not sit well with Kranepool.

“First of all, you want to get the fans involved, but I think they have too much of a say right now. I think it is a disgrace that David Wright is not the starting third baseman for the National League,” he said. “He’s hitting .360, driving in runs, [and] playing every day. He’s made a tremendous comeback. The other gentleman is having a good season, but not a David Wright season. All you have to do is check the record, check the book. There is no reason [that he shouldn’t be starting].”

Kranepool suggested that the current voting system should undergo a facelift.

“He loses by so many votes, c’mon," he said. "I think the fans should be involved, it’s their game, but I don’t think their vote should carry [the whole thing]. They should have a portion of it. Let the coaches and managers vote and the sportswriters vote. Two out of three wins and you mark it up.”

The discussion of Wright’s oversight by the fans roused up memories of Kranepool’s selection to the 1965 All-Star Game. Only 20 years old, Kranepool found himself surrounded by the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax on the National League squad.

“That was a tremendous feat for myself, I was only 20 when I made the All-Star team,” Kranepool recalled.

As excited that Kranepool was to be representing the Mets in Minnesota, he would have enjoyed it more if Philadelphia Phillies manager Gene Mauch would have called Kranepool’s number off of the bench.

“I didn’t play in the game," he said. "I was disappointed … It’s kind of frustrating because I never made it again. You want to play. … What’s the sense of sending a guy to the All-Star Game, if he’s not going to play? Not that you want the three days off, you’d rather be in the All-Star Game, but if you’re going there, I want to say I played in the game. Let the country see you play the game.”



While he acknowledged that the All-Star team managers have been more aware of getting everyone involved in the mid-summer classic; however, he still thinks the game can stand a few minor adjustments.

“They do a better job of managing the players today in the game; they get everybody in, but I think they should have free substitution with a couple of players," he said. "They ought to mark before the game, two-to-three guys who play a lot of positions and keep them around. If you put them in the game, you’re allowed to remove them, [to] get everybody in the game. … They should change certain rules. Baseball in certain ways is trying to make changes and other ways, they’re antiquated in their positioning.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Long Island native Evans Killeen was a Casey Stengel favorite in New York Mets first spring training

Fifty years ago in February, the New York Mets opened spring training with a hodgepodge of players cast off by their respective organizations, some looking to prolong their careers, others searching for a new opportunity.

One of those upstarts was 26-year-old Evans Killeen; right-handed pitcher from Elmont, New York. Killeen played in four games with the Kansas City Athletics in 1959, and then in Mexico before the Mets gave him another lease on his baseball career after pitching in a local semi-pro league.

Evans Killeen
“I had been with Kansas City in the AL in 1959,” Killeen said from his home in Long Island. “I hurt my leg in my fourth game in the major leagues; I stepped on a catcher’s mask backing up a play in home plate in Cleveland. In 1960, I played in the Mexican League, just going through the motions. In 1961, I was home and people talked me into playing semi-pro baseball again. I guess I dazzled them out there. St. Johns coach Jack Kaiser saw me pitch against his team and recommended me to the Mets.”

Killeen was part of a group of pitchers that arrived early to spring training that included high-priced signings such as Jay Hook and Bob “Righty” Miller. Despite not being one of the Mets prized recruits, manager Casey Stengel liked what he saw in Killeen.

“It’s got at least five promising youngsters … who will make it big in the future. When we started I didn’t think we had a single prospect. But I liked what I saw in Evans Killeen,” Stengel said to the New York Times.

He quickly gained the favor of Stengel by combining with Roger Craig to throw the first shutout in Mets history, when they blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on March 13th. Killeen threw four no-hit shutout innings in relief. His performance not only earned him a headline in the New York Times, but more importantly, his 72-year-old manager's praise.

“Wasn’t he great? He was fast, all right, but I was particularly pleased with his slow curve. Yes, sir, that young fellow’s got a chance around here,” Stengel said.

Just as Killeen’s stock was rising, he encountered a cruel twist of fate the day after his sparkling performance. A wayward foray into his grooming supplies gave a sudden u-turn to his spring training hopes.

“I had a freak accident; God must have wanted me not to be a ballplayer,” Killeen laughed. “I reached in my shaving bag and cut my right thumb. I cut it pretty good and was bandaged most of spring training.”

Killeen was relegated to short relief after his injury, pitching well enough to stay with the club until they broke camp. Just as they were to travel north, he was notified he was going to Syracuse.

“The handwriting was on the wall.” he said. “You knew they weren’t pitching you. … It was a money thing. … I had a minor league contract and they had a lot of money invested in all of those players they got in other organizations. I got caught in a numbers game.”

Killeen spent the 1962 season between Syracuse and Quincy before calling it quits. His frustrations after his ambitious spring training were mounting from the pressures of his family for him to move on.

“I didn’t even want to play after I left spring training," he said. "I asked myself, “What am I doing here?’ I was 26 years old, making no money. You couldn’t ask a girl to marry you. It’s terrible. All my friends were becoming doctors and lawyers. With all of these things, how can you hang in there? What kind of confidence do you have to want to play ball?”

The final straw came at the end of the 1962 season courtesy of general manager George Weiss.

“What kicked me in the face, George Weiss offered me to come back the next year with a contract for $700 [a $100 reduction from the prior season]," he recalled. "[After that] I said to myself, ‘I’m done, that’s it.’”

Despite leaving the Mets organization soured by Weiss’ offer, his fond memories of that inaugural spring training season have persisted five decades later.

“It was phenomenal, just the people that were there, from Gil Hodges, to Richie Ashburn, Gus Bell, Casey Stengel, Rogers Hornsby, etc. The whole fanfare was so exciting, so tremendous.”

As the Mets dedicate the 2012 season to celebrating the 50-year history of the franchise, Killeen would welcome the opportunity to get together with his teammates.

“It would be nice, [even though] I didn’t play on the main team, to be invited to a Met reunion for their 50 years. They forgot about guys like me. We’re forgotten people. I would love to see the guys again.”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choo Choo Coleman interview

Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman has been an elusive figure since his playing days with the New York Mets. Returning to New York after 45 years, Coleman sat down for an interview about his career starting from Class D with the Orlando club of the Washington Senators in 1955, through his time with the Dodgers and Phillies organizations before landing with the Mets in 1962.

Click here to read this rare interview with one of the favorites of the 1962 Mets.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Johan Santana homers enroute to a complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds

New York Mets Johan Santana and Henry Blanco react after Blanco hits a 2-run homer in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field in New York City on June 10, 2010.  UPI/John Angelillo Photo via Newscom
Johan Santana hit his first major league home run last night for the New York Mets, capping a 3-0 shutout victory against the Cincinnati Reds. He was the first Mets pitcher to homer since John Maine in 2007 and the first lefty since Sid Fernandez in 1989. Click here to see video of Santana's home run and highlights from the game.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jose Lima, former All-Star pitcher dies at 37 of a heart attack

With the passing of Jose Lima, "Lima Time" is officially over at the age of 37. The colorful right-hander died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ted Kazanski recalls his magical moment in the wake of Angel Pagan's feats

Earlier this week, Angel Pagan of the New York Mets made baseball history against the Washington Nationals, being the first player in 55 years to hit an inside the park homerun and start a triple play in the same game. The last player to accomplish that feat was shortstop Ted Kazanski of the Philadelphia Phillies on September 25, 1955 against the New York Giants on the final game of the season at the Polo Grounds.

The 76-year-old Kazanski who lives in Northern Michigan, was reached via telephone Friday evening to discuss his memorable day in Manhattan. Ironically, he remembers the triple play much clearer than the home run.

Ted Kazanski / 1954 Topps
“I remember the triple play because it ended the season," Kazanski said. "It was the last play of the season and I think it was the last game that Leo Durocher managed the Giants. I remember that part of it. They got the first two men on. [Joey Amalfitano singled and Whitey Lockman walked.] We were winning the game 3-1. I think Bobby Hofman pinch hit. I was playing closer to second base for a possible double play. He hit a line shot right at me, I flipped to Bobby Morgan and he threw to first [Marv Blaylock] and the season was over! I don't remember the home run too much. The left and right center gaps were a mile away.”

The New York Times account of the game details his inside-the-park homerun as a result of a crash between Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes.

“Kazanski's round-tripper was an inside-the-park affair that was somewhat of a gift. Kazanski drove deep to left center. Mays raced over and caught the ball, but Dusty Rhodes ran into Willie. The ball, Mays and Rhodes hit the ground and Kazanski crossed the plate.”

Even more prominent than the triple play from that game, were his memories of a teammate that had fallen asleep despite all of the commotion. Saul Rogovin was a pitcher for the Phillies who would later become a standout teacher at Brooklyn's Eastern District High School, where he mentored future major league pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. Rogovin was out cold as his team ran off the field.

“The thing I remember the most about that day is Saul sleeping in the bullpen," he said. "He was a funny guy, a great guy. Saul had narcolepsy, you know, where you fall asleep anytime. So that day, Saul is in the bullpen. Bang, the triple play happens, the season's over! We're all running off the field. You had to go all the way to center field and up the steps in the Polo Grounds to the clubhouse; that's where our clubhouse was. People were running onto the field. Meanwhile, we're all in the clubhouse showering and Pete the clubhouse guy looks out on the field and says, 'Holy ----, Saul is still out there in the bullpen sleeping!' So they had to send the batboy out there to tell him the season's over. That was a classic, I'll always remember that. He was still sleeping in the bullpen!”

Kazanski said that his efforts went with little media coverage, as compared to the coverage of Pagan's play.

“Every time I turned on Baseball Tonight, they showed his play," he said. "In our day, I don't even think they made a big deal of it in the newspaper.”

Kazanski played six seasons in the majors from 1953-58, and another six in the minors, retiring after the 1964 season at 30 after multiple surgeries on his left shoulder. This is the second time this season one of Kazanski's feats has been in the papers. In April, Atlanta's Jason Heyward became one of only ten major leaguers to have 4 RBIs in their major league debut. One of those other ten was Kazanski who collected four in his first game on June 25, 1953.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sammy Drake member of the original 1962 Mets dies at age 75

Former member of the 1962 "original" Mets, infielder Sammy Drake, passed away on January 27, 2010 in California. Drake played three seasons in the majors from 1960-62 with the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Drake along with his brother Solly were the first African-American brothers to play in the major leagues. To read a more complete write-up on Drake's career including an interesting story about how he integrated the Macon team of the Sally league, click here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Solly Hemus recalls his days with the 1962 New York Mets

The 21st annual BAT dinner in New York City provided me the opportunity to catch up with one of the coaches of the inaugural 1962 New York Mets. Solly Hemus, now 86 and living in Houston, was in New York to attend the dinner which supports former baseball players who are experiencing financial and medical hardships.

“I have been involved with the BAT for 20 years," Hemus said. "Joe Garagiola got me involved. They're trying to help other ballplayers who have problems. I like to see the other ballplayers that you played with. We needle each other pretty well. It's a great gathering. We get together and tell a bunch of lies. Garagiola, he's getting ready to hit .400!”
Solly Hemus as a coach with the 1962 New York Mets / Author's Collection
After playing 11 seasons in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies, Hemus served for three seasons as the manager of the Cardinals from 1959-61. One of those seasons was in the rare role of player-manager. After being fired halfway through the 1961 season, the opportunity arose to join the start-up franchise in Queens.

“George Weiss, the General Manager, brought me on board to the Mets in 1962," he recalled. "Casey Stengel was one of the smartest managers in baseball and Weiss was an excellent GM, so I knew I couldn't lose.”

Joining the “Old Professor” might not have been a losing situation for Hemus, but he sensed the ride for the 1962 season was going to be a rough one. The Mets brought in a lot of older players that resonated with the New York faithful, but were a bit long in the tooth to recapture the form of their glory days.

“I knew we were going to have a problem [as] a lot of ballplayers we picked up were for name recognition," he said. "New York always wanted the big names: Hodges, Ashburn, Craig ... people like that. You knew they were coming to the end. Craig's fastball lost a little bit, Hodges was always a great first baseman, Ashburn had a little fire left in him, and Frank Thomas had a great year, but overall they didn't have the type of ballplayers you would like to stock a team with.”

The Mets 1962 season was filled with miscues that were typical of a new franchise. He recounted a bad luck story from his view in the third base coach's box with “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry that exemplified the team's struggles.

“It was about the eighth inning in the Polo Grounds, there were two outs, we were behind by one run and there were two men on base," Hemus recalled. "He hits the ball into one of the gaps, right center I guess. He comes all the way around to third base, makes a perfect slide and they call him safe. They then threw the ball to second base, and said Marv missed second base. Casey goes running out there, and Augie Donatelli the umpire stopped him and said, 'Casey, you better get out of here, because he missed first and second!'”

Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was also on the coaching staff alongside Hemus during that season. As a fellow infielder, Hemus was able to work well with the gruff superstar.

“You knew he was a great ballplayer; however, his personality, you would like to see a lot added to it," he said. "I got along with him pretty well. Certain ballplayers I'd mention to him, and we'd talk about them and then try to make them better.”

After the 1963 season, Hemus was let go as a coach from Stengel's staff. He later resurfaced with the Mets organization in 1966 with AAA Jacksonville in what would be his last year in baseball. He explained how he had the choice of mentoring two future Hall of Famers on their way to the big leagues.

“I had a choice of either taking Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver," he said. "They wouldn't let me take both of them, even though I wanted both of them. I took Seaver; I thought he was a little further advanced. I think I helped him a bit. He was intelligent, he knew how to pitch. The only time I ever got after him was when he got the ball up and someone hit it out of the park off him. I tried to get him to slow down a bit. I saw a lot of great value in him. In fact, one of my reports I sent to the Mets on him read, 'For anything, just don't trade him, don't get rid of him.' They didn't and he went on to have a great career.”

Visiting New York for the BAT dinner brought back many fond memories from both his playing and coaching days in the Big Apple. He only wished his time with the Mets could have lasted to be a part of their World Championship team.

“It's a big city; you are kind of in awe with it as a ballplayer," he said. "I really liked Brooklyn; it had a short right field fence, and as a lefty, that helped me. When coaching the Mets, I used to live at a hotel near the ballpark. Now, I like coming up here with my wife; it's the place to be. ... I would have liked to be a part of the ball club that won the World Series in 1969 because that's what I had in mind when they hired me. I thought that they would eventually win it and they did just that. It was a fine organization.”