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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Dave Hillman | Oldest Living Mets and Reds Player Dies At 95


Darius Dutton “Dave” Hillman, a former major league pitcher and the oldest living member of the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets, died Sunday, November 20, 2022 in Kingsport, Tennessee. He was 95.

In eight big-league seasons spanning from 1955-1962, Hillman pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Reds and Mets, compiling a won-loss record of 21-37 with a 3.87 earned run average.

Hillman’s best season with the Cubs was in 1959 when he posted an 8-11 mark and 3.58 ERA, completing four games and pitching seven or more innings in nine others. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the Pirates; struck out 11 in seven innings of relief to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers; and in the next-to-last game of the season stopped the Dodgers in their bid to wrap up the National League pennant. The Dodgers were one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves with two to play. A win over the Cubs and Hillman clinched a tie.

“I went out there, honey, and I’ll never forget the control that I had,” Hillman recalled. “I could thread a damn needle with that ball. I was just sitting back and sh-o-o-o-m-m-m…throwing that thing in there.”

Hillman scattered nine hits and struck out seven in the Cubs’ 12-2 win. The Dodgers ended up beating the Braves in a playoff and winning the World Series. It took Hillman six years to work his way up through the minors to the majors.

Dave Hillman (r.) with Ernie Banks (l.) / Author's Collection

He started his professional baseball career in 1950, winning 14 games at Rock Hill, South Carolina, in the Class B Tri-State League. He won 20 for Rock Hill in 1951, one of them a no-hitter. He also led the league in strikeouts with 203.

Hillman won only eight games the next two seasons, but he notched another no-hitter in 1953, playing for the Springfield, Massachusetts, Cubs in the Class AAA International League. A 16-11 record in 1954 for a seventh-place team, Beaumont, Texas, in the Texas League, earned him a shot with the Cubs.

A sore throwing arm nagged Hillman in 1955 so the next year the Cubs sent him to their Pacific Coast League affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels. Despite missing the first month of the season, his 21-7 record, 3.38 earned run average, three shutouts and 15 complete games paced the Angels pitching staff. 

“Dave Hillman was Mr. Automatic,” said Dwight “Red” Adams, a ’56 Angels teammate who went on to become a highly respected pitching coach for the Dodgers. 

After the 1959 season, the Cubs traded Hillman to the Red Sox in Major League Baseball’s first inter-league trade. He pitched primarily in relief for the Red Sox in 1960-61 before ending up with the Reds and Mets in 1962.

Hillman appeared in 13 games for the Mets, with no decisions, one save and a 6.42 ERA. When the Mets optioned him to the minors in late June, he headed home to Kingsport to work in a men’s clothing store owned by an uncle. He figured selling shirts and shoes was better than being with the hapless Mets and getting kicked in the pants every time he pitched. 

Hillman was born in Dungannon, Virginia, on September 14, 1927, the fifth of seven children. He married his high school sweetheart, Imogene Turner, in 1947 and relocated to Kingsport in 1952.

Hillman is survived by a daughter, Sharon Lake of Portland, Tennessee, three grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His wife, Imogene, died in 2011 and their son, Ron, in 2017. 

*This obituary was written by author Gaylon H. White, who featured Hillman in his book, The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Ted Schreiber, 84, Mets Infielder Made The Final Out At The Polo Grounds



Ted Schreiber
experienced every Brooklyn boy’s dream, making it to the major leagues with the New York Mets in 1963 after playing at James Madison High School and St. John’s University. While Schreiber’s MLB career lasted only one season, he represented a rich lineage of ballplayers who cut their teeth at the Parade Grounds on the way to the pros. Sadly, Schreiber died September 8, 2022, at his Boynton Beach, Florida home. He was 84. 

Born July 11, 1938, Schreiber grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, admiring legends like Duke Snider who would ironically become his teammate on the Mets. Schreiber first cut his teeth playing softball, only picking up baseball at age 15 when he attended high school. 

At Madison, Schreiber was a multi-sport star, garnering St. John’s attention in both baseball and basketball, the latter in which he earned All-City honors. At St. John's, Schreiber continued playing both basketball and baseball. With the help of Jack Kaiser’s connections, he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1959 for a $50,000 bonus spread out over four years. While in the Red Sox’s minor league system, he played with fellow New Yorkers Carl Yastrzemski and his Manhattan College rival Chuck Schilling. Schreiber quickly realized Schilling was blocking his path to the show and rejoiced when the Mets selected him in the Rule V draft at the end of the 1962 season. 

As a second baseman, Schreiber faced intense competition on an otherwise hapless Mets team. He told author Rory Costello how Charlie Neal made sure the Brooklyn kid was on the field enough to gain manager Casey Stengel’s favor. 

“I never had a rabbi with the Mets,” Schreiber said. “Larry Burright had Lavagetto. Ron Hunt had Solly Hemus, though I’ve got to say, he was a really good ballplayer. Another thing against me was that the Daily News and Journal-American were on strike that spring. They might have backed the local boy. If it wasn’t for Charlie Neal giving me some time in spring training, I wouldn’t have had a chance.” 

Schreiber made the team out of spring training, but sparingly saw the field. After appearing in only six games, the Mets sent him down to the minor leagues where he could get more playing time. The Mets recalled him in July and remained with the club in a reserve role for the remainder of the season. 

On September 18, 1963, Schreiber made history when he played in the final MLB game at the Polo Grounds. The Mets squared off against the Pirates in front of a sparce 1,752 spectators. Pinch hitting in the 9th inning, Schreiber hit a ball he was sure would evade Cookie Rojas’ glove. Rojas turned it into a double play that was the final two outs at the famed stadium. 

“Sure, I remember the game because I made the last two outs,” Schreiber told me in 2011. “I thought I had a hit because I hit it up the middle, but Cookie Rojas made a great play on it. … That’s why I’m in the Hall of Fame; they put the ball there because the stadium was closed after that.” 

Schreiber tried to hang on in the Mets farm system, but he chose to follow a teaching career which limited his availability to the summers. After doing double duty at Triple-A in 1964 and 1965, Schreiber decided to trade his cleats for chalk as a New York City teacher. 

Perhaps Schreiber’s most significant legacy didn't come in a Mets uniform, but was the 27 years he spent as a math and physical education teacher at Charles Dewey Middle School in Sunset Park. He lived in Staten Island until his retirement, moving to Centerville, Georgia, and then settling in Boynton Beach until his passing. 

 

*ed note - Rory Costello has been attributed to the Charlie Neal story. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Ed Bauta, Cuban Pitcher With The New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, Dies At 87


Ed Bauta, a former Cuban pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets died July 6, 2022, at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, New Jersey. He was 87. With Bauta’s passing and the recent deaths of Leo Posada and Cholly Naranjo, only a few players remain who played in the Cuban Winter League prior to Castro’s takeover. 

The 6’3” right-handed pitcher grew up in the town of Florida in Cuba’s Camagüey province. He caught Pittsburgh Pirates scout Howie Haak’s attention at a 1955 tryout in Camagüey and was later signed to the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $500 bonus. 

Toiling in the low minors, Bauta returned home to Cuba, but couldn’t latch on with one of the four major teams. “I tried out, but they sent me home,” Bauta said in 2011. 

He trained with Marianao as a reserve, but never saw any regular season action. Finally, after a strong showing in A-ball in 1958, he earned a spot on the team. He pitched the final three seasons of the Cuban Winter League, finishing the 1960-61 season with Havana. 

“I finally played with Marianao for two years and then ended up with Havana,” he said. “Everybody’s salary was cut in two to help the revolution [the final season].” 

Sadly, Bauta had to make the decision, like many of his Cuban brethren to leave his family behind in Cuba after the 1960-61 Winter League season. 

“My family house was gone,” he said. “I had a few dollars in the bank and that was gone too.” 

Stateside, Bauta continued to make strides towards the major leagues. When the Pirates traded Bauta in 1960 to the Cardinals with Julian Javier, it opened the door for Bauta to make his major league debut. He stayed with the Cardinals for the rest of the 1960 season. 

He shuttled between the majors and the minors the next two seasons with the Cardinals, before being traded to the New York Mets for Ken MacKenzie in August 1963. The late-season acquisition allowed Bauta to be a part of Mets history, pitching in the final game at the Polo Grounds on September 18th. The game was played to little fanfare and Bauta didn’t recall much about the game during our 2011 conversation.

Bauta was also connected to another bit in Mets history, as he was the losing pitcher in the first game at Shea Stadium. He came in relief of Jack Fisher in the 7th inning, but couldn’t hold the 3-2 lead, giving up both the tying and go-ahead runs. Less than a month later, Casey Stengel sent Bauta to the minor leagues. It didn’t sit well with the Cuban reliever. 

“In 1964, I only pitched eight games,” he said. “They sent me down to Buffalo. I went 8-4. They didn’t send me back up. I got pissed off and quit.” 

Bauta never reached the majors despite pitching in the minors and the Mexican League until 1974. He worked in the moving business until 1988 before retiring due to knee problems. In retirement, Bauta kept close contact with fellow Mets and Cardinals pitcher Craig Anderson. 

“He knows everything about baseball,” he said. “He’s a hell of a guy.” 

At the time of our talk in 2011, Bauta also shared the news of his MLB annuity payments. The union agreed to make annual payments to non-vested players who were on MLB rosters at least 43 days before 1979. While Bauta played in parts of four seasons, he did not play long enough to vest for a pension. He welcomed the extra money. 

“We’re really happy about it,” he said.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Gil Hodges Finally Makes His Way To Cooperstown


No more debates about whether Gil Hodges belongs in the Hall of Fame. The 2021 Golden Days Committee voted Hodges in the Hall of Fame during its December vote, giving Hodges the 12 votes necessary for election. 

Leading up to the vote, I debated in my Forbes Sports column whether the Hall of Fame had a financial interest in electing Hodges, as past committees haven't been favorable to deceased candidates from his era. Apparently, the committee went all in on four candidates—Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva and Hodges (with Dick Allen narrowly missing), focusing on widening the Hall's reach, instead of focusing on the living candidates who could promote the museum. 

The three-time World Series champion (two as a player, one as a manager) died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972 during spring training with the New York Mets. Prior to his election, Hodges was the only Hall of Fame candidate eligible for the Veterans and Eras Committees that received at least 50% of the BBWAA vote and didn't get enshrined.


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Phil Lombardi, Former Yankees and Mets Catcher, Dies At 58

Phil Lombardi (l.) a former MLB catcher with the New York Mets and Yankees died May 20, 2021 from brain cancer surgery complications.

Phil Lombardi
, a major league catcher who played parts of three MLB seasons with the New York Mets and New York Yankees from 1986-1989, died May 20, 2021 from complications due to brain cancer surgery. He was 58.

Lombardi was a third round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981. He played mostly as a September call-up during the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Yankees. They traded him during the 1987 off-season to the New York Mets for shortstop Rafael Santana. 

Injuries plagued Lombardi throughout his career. Years of catching took a toll on his knees, with Lombardi enduring two knee surgeries by the time he was traded to the Mets. He had a third surgery in 1988 and recovered enough to play 18 games with the Mets in 1989. 

“When I was with the Mets, (catcher) Todd Hundley watched me behind the plate one day,” Lombardi said to the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “He could tell I was hurting and noticed that I had all my weight shifted onto my right leg to alleviate the pain. Then he told me his father (longtime major league catcher Randy Hundley) had the same type injury to his left knee when he had been catcher, and shifted his weight onto his right side too. 

“The result was that his father’s hips were thrown out of alignment and at the age of 50 he had to have a hip-replacement operation. Right after he told me that story, my hips started to hurt. I swear.”

The Braves invited Lombardi to spring training in 1990 with the promise of being their third catcher, but the thought of getting behind the plate for another season was too painful to bear. Instead of signing on with Atlanta, Lombardi retired. He was only one of five players to spend their entire MLB careers with the Mets and Yankees.

“I had idols like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose because I thought I could have a career like they did,” Lombardi said. “Instead, I became a so-so player, in all honesty. My career was one step forward and one step backward. A lot of things happened, but in the end, my injuries wiped me out.”

Lombardi turned to real estate, launching a successful career with Pinnacle Estate Properties in Valencia, California. As a parent of three daughters, he also turned to coaching softball. He lent his MLB expertise to hundreds of girls throughout the years, including his children.

His two eldest daughters played college softball at Long Beach State, while his youngest, Gianna, is currently playing for Cal State University-San Marcos

Looking back at his injury shortened baseball career, Lombardi acknowledge the pain of knowing he never reached his full potential. 

“All I’ve got left is my baseball card,” he said. “Really, I was just a common player. My card isn’t worth a nickel. And it hurts, because I know I could have been so much more.”

 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Willie Mays Turns 90: A Legend Throughout The Years

Willie Mays celebrates his 90th birthday at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Hall of Fame legend Willie Mays turned 90 on May 6, 2021, and the entire baseball community celebrated the milestone with a variety of tributes including a grand celebration at Oracle Park.

As part of the festivities, the Giants announced the creation of the Willie Mays Scholars program, which will offer college prep and support to Black high schoolers in San Francisco. The initial class this fall will include five students who will receive $70,000 in support, including up to $20,000 in scholarships.

“I have always made kids my priority by helping them in any way I could throughout my playing career and life,” Mays said in a statement. “To have the Giants Community Fund and the Giants ownership group create this program in my name and to provide a path to college for Black children in our community means the world to me. I can’t wait to meet the first class of Willie Mays Scholars to offer my encouragement and support.”

Mays was a World Series hero for the New York Giants in 1954, his infamous catch of Vic Wertz's smash during Game 1 paved the way for the Giants to sweep the Indians. While the World Series odds seemed a longshot at +6000 for the Giants to start the 2021 season, the club's first place standing during Mays' celebration could be the inspiration needed to drive towards another championship appearance.

While honors have poured in across the landscape offering Mays his flowers, we take a look back at our coverage of Mays throughout his career, often through the words of his teammates.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | 'Big Sexy: Bartolo Colon In His Own Words' Author Michael Stahl

Bartolo Colón still has hopes of returning to the majors leagues. At 47, and with labor negotiations at a stand still, his chances are as good as Vegas bookmakers trying to set the odds to win the World Series

According to SBD, "The second-tier favorites have generally gotten longer with the MLB planning to play a shortened, 80-game season with an expanded playoff field. Fewer games means greater likelihood for unexpected outcomes."


Despite the uncertainty surrounding Colón's return to the field or if the season will take place, fans will rejoice reading Colón's journey in his new autobiography, "Big Sexy: Bartolo Colón In His Own Words". The 21-year MLB veteran partnered with Stahl through a series of interviews at his New Jersey home to tell how he achieved major league stardom from his humble Dominican Republic beginnings.

In the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast episode, Stahl discussed how the rookie author was able to link up with Colón for his "big league" publishing debut. During the 18-minute interview, he tells some of his favorite stories from the book, while also explaining how this venture has validated his transition from a New York City high school English teacher to author during an unprecedented pandemic.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Bobby Valentine Interview

Bobby Valentine joints the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss playing for Bobby Winkles with the California Angels. Winkles, who also managed the Oakland Athletics and won three College World Series championships at Arizona State University, died April 17, 2020 at age 90.

Winkles managed the Angels in 1973, when Valentine suffered his career-altering injury while playing the outfield. Valentine explains how the injury changed both of their career trajectories.





Saturday, April 4, 2020

Forever Linked With Rusty Staub, Mike Jorgensen Recalls Their Tremendous Bond As Teammates

When Rusty Staub died March 29, 2018, the New York Mets lost a franchise icon. The Mets traded a trio of young prospects to the Montreal Expos in exchange for the six-time All-Star just before starting the 1972 season. Mike Jorgensen, a 23-year-old homegrown talent from Bayside, Queens, was one of the traded players who had to replace Montreal's most beloved superstar.

“He was a hero,” Jorgensen said in a phone interview. “He was the Montreal Expo at the time, and it wasn't a very popular trade in Montreal.”


Going to Montreal with Ken Singleton and Tim Foli, Jorgensen found strength bonding with his new teammates. They turned their collective energy towards the field rather than worrying about living up to Staub's lofty expectations.

“That trade gave me a chance to be a regular player,” he said. “That was the foremost [thing] on my mind. I played up there for five years, so after a little while, [the fan reaction to the trade] wore down a little bit. At first, it was unpopular because he was an All-Star; he was, 'Le Grande Orange,' and he was a big deal.”

The baseball tradewinds reunited the duo in New York at the twilight of their careers. Jorgensen returned to the Mets in 1980 via a trade with the Texas Rangers. Staub joined him from Texas the following year through free agency. Now both seasoned veterans, they became friends by sharing a similar role on the team.

"We would go out to dinner a number of times; it was kind of unusual because we were both kind of winding [down] out careers at the time," he said. "We were both left-handed pinch hitters, [which] I guess you could do it in those days when you had seven guys on the bench; you wouldn't have room for that kind of a thing in today's game."

He recalled one candid bench conversation early in their Mets tenure that exemplified how attentive and competitive Staub was in his reserve role.

“The one thing I'll remember is that he studied the game,” he said. “He was one of the best pinch-hitters in the game, if not the best. He would study those pitchers, sit in the dugout, and look for something if they were tipping pitches or something like that. After a while, he'd say, 'I got him, I got it.' I'd always sit by him and try to pick up the tip myself. The first time he did that, I said, 'Yeah okay, what is it?' He looked at me and he said, 'You know, we're both kind of fighting for the same job.' It wasn't in a bad way, that was just the way he was.”

The 69-year-old Jorgensen, who currently works for the St. Louis Cardinals as their Senior Special Assistant to the General Manager, acknowledged how his former teammate's passing is a tremendous loss to the entire baseball community.

“He was great,” he said. “Obviously, everybody knows the stories about the restaurants and how he was a gourmet cook. … He was a wonderful man [with] everything he did there in New York, especially [with] the police department. It was enjoyable to play with him; it really was. I enjoyed my time with him. Baseball's going to miss him; we'll all miss him.”



* - Ed. Note - This story was originally published for the now-defunct Sports Post on April 11, 2018.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

John Strohmayer | Pitcher For 1973 New York Mets NLCS Championship Team, Dies at 73

John Strohmayer, a pitcher for the 1973 New York Mets National League pennant-winning team, died November 28, 2019, in Redding, California. He was 73.

John Strohmayer "Missing 1974 Topps Card" / Giovanni Balistreri
The South Dakota native made his major league debut in 1970 with the Montreal Expos. He pitched parts of four seasons with the Canadian club, compiling an 11-9 record before the Mets signed him off waivers midway through the 1973 season. It was a move that delighted the entire household.

“We are both so happy,” his wife Connie said to the Montreal Gazette in 1973. “He pitched so well against New York earlier this year and he had two good starts against them in ’71. I guess they remember.”

Unfortunately, Strohmayer could not recapture his Flushing magic in a Mets uniform. He pitched in only seven games with an 8.10 ERA and was left off the postseason roster. He spent most of the 1974 season in the minor leagues, making one final appearance as a September call-up with New York. Citing a sore shoulder, Strohmayer hung up his cleats and embarked on a 34-year career in education.

He returned to his alma mater, Central Valley High School, where he was once a standout multi-sport athlete. Working as a teacher and a coach, he led Central Valley’s boys’ basketball team to the CIF championship in 1989. The district dedicated the current basketball court in his honor.

“His attention to detail and getting kids to believe in themselves was the difference,” his son Kevin said to Shasta County Sports.

Strohmayer eventually moved up the administration ladder, working as an assistant principal and principal before becoming the district’s superintendent in 2005. Current Central Valley principal Kyle Turner found Strohmayer’s athletic and coaching experience enhanced his ability to relate to students and staff.

"I firmly believe that some of the best coaches can make fantastic administrators, and I know that a lot of the things that he's learned in his athletic past obviously helped him relate to students and keep the connections with students,” Turner said to ABC-affiliate KRCR. “And that's something that is an integral part of any educator, and he was able to do that very, very well, from everything that I've experienced with John."

In 2009 luck found Strohmayer, when he was one of 15 Gateway Unified School District employees who shared a $76 million lottery jackpot. He retired at the end of the 2009 school year after 32 years in education.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Jose Moreno | Former New York Mets Infielder Dies At 61

Jose Moreno, former utility player for the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and California Angels, died September 6, 2019 in Santo Domingo due to pulmonary complications. He was 61.


Moreno broke in with the Mets in 1980. His shining moment in Queens came on August 26, 1980, against the San Diego Padres. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Mark Bomback in the 5th inning, Moreno hit a two-run homer that was part of an epic 18-inning marathon. He was used exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the remainder of the season, and in December, he was traded ironically to the Padres for former Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones.

He is the only player in the history of the Dominican Winter League to achieve a 30-30-30 season (RBIs, runs scored, and stolen bases). He played 14 seasons in the Dominican from 1974-75 through 1989-90 that included three championships with Escogido.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Cookie Rojas explains Rey Ordoñez's incredible 1999 New York Mets season

Cookie Rojas should know a thing or two about judging infielders. A five-time All-Star who led his league in fielding on three separate occasions, Rojas made a strong case for Rey Ordoñez’s 1999 season as one of the best ever for a major league shortstop.

Cookie Rojas (r.) makes a powerful statement about Rey Ordoñez / N. Diunte
Rojas was in New York City last weekend as part of the Cuban Cultural Center of New York’s “History of Cuban Baseball” program at Fordham University. Speaking as part of a player panel which included Hall of Famer Tony Perez, Minnie Miñoso, Luis Tiant, Julio Becquer, and José Cardenal, Rojas was asked about Ordoñez’s place amongst the all-time defensive shortstops. He put on his manager hat and responded swiftly and succinctly.

Rojas joined the Mets as a coach in 1997, one year after Ordoñez debuted at Shea. Coming off a season where he [Ordonez] committed 27 errors, Rojas knew things had to change.

“So, after joining the Mets I looked at his record and I called him over to talk," Rojas said during the panel. "I said, 'Rey, there is something wrong for you to make 38 (sic) errors. A guy with your ability, that's impossible. There is no way I will accept that. We have work to do, in many areas. You will see that little by little you will improve and get a positive outlook.'”

Ordoñez improved quickly, committing only nine errors the season Rojas arrived. Nineteen-ninety-seven was the first of three consecutive Gold Glove campaigns for the Cuban shortstop. Rojas explained how he helped Ordoñez to improve by getting him to forget his struggles at the plate while he was in the field.

“The cause of most errors committed by major league infielders is that they do not know how to separate the offensive aspect of the game from the defensive,” Rojas said. “They go out to the field still thinking about their last at-bat, the slider that fooled them, the fast ball blown by them. They do this instead of thinking ahead to the fielding part, to think if the next batter is a fast runner or not, or what to do according to the speed of the hit ball.”



Involved in professional baseball for over 50 years as a player, coach, manager, and his current position as the Spanish Language broadcaster for the Florida Marlins, Rojas had many opportunities to analyze the top defensive shortstops in both leagues.

After a careful pause, Rojas offered the following about how Ordoñez’s magical 1999 season where he made only four errors ranks among the cream of the crop.

“Let me say I knew a great defensive shortstop who played for Almendares [in Cuba], his name was Willy Miranda, a defensive all-time great. But what I saw Ordoñez do that year, I have never seen a shortstop do in my whole life, anywhere, not even one of the all-time greats [Ozzie] Smith, a Hall of Famer,” he said. “How Ordoñez played that year was incredible. It was ... to see a defensive shortstop do what he did, one of the best that I have seen in my whole career."

A special thank you to fellow SABR member Tito Rondón for his translation of Rojas’ interview from the player panel.

* This was originally published for Examiner.com August 27, 2011.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Why Gil Hodges' Hall of Fame case is a no-brainer for one Washington Senators player

The annual Baseball Hall of Fame elections are popular topics for hot stove discussions across the country. Currently, the Eras Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee) is debating the merits of those whose careers peaked after the late 1980s. While Gil Hodges is not eligible for this current vote, the mere mention of any Hall of Fame committee meeting is still a hot button issue for many baseball fans.
Gil Hodges 1967 Topps / Topps

Fred Valentine should know a thing or two about Hodges’ Hall of Fame worthiness. He played under Hodges for four seasons (1964-67) with the Washington Senators and recently sat down with Baseball Happenings at the Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner in Long Island to express support for his fallen manager.

“He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” the 83-year-old Valentine said. “The biggest thing I remember from Gil was that when I came [to] spring training, the only thing he asked was for 100 percent. Regardless of how the game turned out, he just wanted a hundred percent from his players, and I always felt I didn't have any problems with that. He was going to give me an opportunity to play, and I told him that I was going to give him a 110 percent, and I think I did.”

While Valentine’s hustling spirit resonated with Hodges, he suggested that his leader’s stoicism might have contributed to his early demise. He said too often, Hodges would bottle up his emotions when players made boneheaded plays, and on those 1960s Senators teams, they were aplenty.

“He was a great manager,” he said. “The only problem I could see he had was that he wasn't another Earl Weaver. He kept so much in [when] players would make all kinds of dumb mistakes. Instead of throwing them out or cursing them out, he held it in, and I think that was his downfall from holding stuff in like that.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Jose Reyes releases new music video Vivimo Caro

Jose Reyes hit a whopping .189 for the New York Mets in 2018, so naturally, his next move is to make a music video, right? Reyes has actually been making reggaeton music since 2011 through his El 7 imprint.


Reyes can be seen flaunting some of the $140 million in riches that he's accumulated during his MLB career in the visuals for his new song, "Vivimo Caro."



Friday, October 5, 2018

Ron Locke shares wild tales of Casey Stengel during the Mets first year at Shea Stadium

Ron Locke was a 22-year-old rookie with the 1964 New York Mets, looking to make a name for himself as the Mets moved from the Polo Grounds to their new digs at Shea Stadium. Before he could break through from minor league anonymity with the fans, he first had to do so with his manager, Casey Stengel. It was a tougher task than he anticipated.

“To me, [Stengel] was a wacko,” Locke said during a phone interview from his Florida home in 2013. “I don’t know if he didn’t like me or didn’t know my name. I never knew what he was going to do. He’d send left-handers up against left-handed pitchers.”

Ron Locke / Author's Collection
While Locke was never sure if Stengel could identify him in a police lineup, he did have the attention of their Hall of Fame coach, Yogi Berra. Watching Locke closely with his keen catcher’s eye, Berra saw similarities with a former MVP teammate who was also a tough little left-handed pitcher.

“Yogi Berra thought I was like Bobby Shantz,” he said. “He would come over and say, ‘Ronnie, if I was managing here, you’d be pitching every four days until you prove you couldn’t pitch.’ That’s what I wanted to hear, but that’s not the way it worked out.”

Locke grew up in Rhode Island playing fast pitch softball as a left-handed third baseman and became an All-State baseball player in South Kingston. It was there where he caught the attention of Len Zanke, a Cincinnati Reds scout. At his urging, he auditioned in 1961 for their club in Jersey City.

“He said, ‘Go to Jersey City, Dave Stenhouse (another Rhode Island native) is down there. Just go and try it,’” Locke shared. “I pitched to their catcher on the side and he said, ‘You’ve got a good fastball; that thing really moves.’ So I go up in the stands and I’m talking to the head guy there and he asks, ‘How big are you?’ I said, ‘Maybe 5’9”-5’10”, 158 lbs.’ Well he said, ‘We don’t sign anybody here under six feet.’ So I left.”

Most amateurs would have tucked their gloves away after hearing that kind of a rejection from a top scout and moved on with their careers. Luckily for Locke, he had an angel in Zanke who urged him to give professional baseball another shot when the expansion Mets hired him the next year as a scout. After throwing in front of the Mets brass, he impressed enough that they asked him to pitch against their minor league team in Auburn.

“The Auburn team was going for the championship,” Locke recalled. “They said, ‘Go out and throw against those guys, see how you do.’ Man, they could not even touch me. The more I threw, the more confidence I got. They signed me that year. This was 1962.”

Locke joined Auburn in 1963 and set the league on fire. His 18-8 record with 249 strikeouts in 217 innings earned him a New York-Penn League first-team selection, alongside future major leaguers such as Tony Conigliaro, George “Boomer” Scott, and Paul Casanova. Little did he know that with only one year in the minors under his belt that his next season would be in the major leagues.

“I was always a small guy, I was never a big guy you know,” he said. “I just got there, looked at the field and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ I am looking at all these tall pitchers and saying, ‘My god.’ In this day and age, they probably would not have looked at me.”

Locke appeared primarily as a reliever in 1964, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.48 ERA, with his only win coming in one of his three starts. The adjustment going from pitching consistently as a starter the previous year, to not knowing if he had Stengel’s trust, increased the difficulty of his jump to the major leagues.

“They just didn’t pitch me enough,” he said. “When you go from Class A to the major leagues, that was a huge difference. You could not get your confidence. I thought I had my confidence, but he [Stengel] didn’t [have it].”

One incident that shook Locke’s confidence came when Stengel pulled him from a game in the middle of an at-bat. While box scores online do not show that he was removed mid at-bat, one account from the New York Times indicates that during the Mets first night game at Shea Stadium, Locke pitched to two batters, but only recorded a plate appearance for one of them.

“We were playing against Cincinnati … we’re losing four, or five-nothing, and he gets me up,” Locke said. “Deron Johnson was the next guy up; I threw two fastballs right by him on the outside corner. I looked over [to the dugout], and here comes Casey. I said, ‘I hope he’s not taking me out of the game. … He is walking across waving his hand to bring the pitcher in. He taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Good job boy. We’re going to bring in a right hander.’ I wanted to bury him right there. I had two strikes on him and he took me out in the middle of the at-bat. I just left the game, but I was some ticked off!”

Locke made an impressive bid during 1965 spring training to return up north with the big league club, but a late decision by Warren Spahn to hyphenate his coach title to player-coach, forced Stengel to make a move.

“I was there for most of 1965 [spring training],” he said. “Then Warren Spahn came over and was going to be our pitching coach. That was fine with me; it was going to be Tug McGraw and me in the bullpen. All of a sudden, Spahn decides he wants to be pitcher and pitching coach, so one of us had to take a hike, so I unfortunately got the call.”

Locke persisted in the minors through 1970, but could not break through the Mets developing rotation that eventually built their 1969 World Series championship team. His dampened second chance at a return to the majors never lessened his love for the game. Now, in his 70s, Locke continues to play both competitive baseball and softball.

“I play for a good team, the Florida Legends,” he said. “We have 98 national championships. We play in Las Vegas, Reno, all over the place, anywhere there is a national tournament. I started in the 60s [age bracket], now we are in the 70s. For a 70-and-over team, we have a very good team. We played on 330-foot fences and one of the guys hit the ball out of the ballpark. He is 72 years old! We have four or five guys that can hit them out 300 foot. I play the outfield. I hit and run like heck! … It was hard for me at first because I was used to that 90 MPH fastball down around my knees. All of a sudden it was unlimited arc; what a difference that was! You have to get used to hitting that.”

He feeds his baseball appetite by working for the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers and pitching annually in Roy Hobbs baseball tournaments. He even tried to audition as their batting practice pitcher.

“I work for the Red Sox at Jet Blue Park,” he said. “I’m a ticket taker, but I wanted to be an usher. I asked them to be a batting practice pitcher, but they have guys to take that job. I still throw pretty decent. I do not throw 90 MPH, but I throw decent. I play in the Roy Hobbs baseball tournament every year. They have different age groups. It’s fun.”

Despite his lone season in the big leagues, Locke continues to receive fan mail from all over the world. Some fans try to send him money to sign their items, but he feels an old school sense of responsibility to sign their items while returning their attempts at compensation.

“I get them all the time,” he said. “Sometimes it is 4-5 per day. It makes me feel good [to get the mail]. For somebody that has been out of baseball for a long time, I am glad at least the fans remember my name. Some people send me money, but I write them a note back saying that I don’t take money for autographs; I am an old timer.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Rare footage of David Cone pitching in the 1986 Puerto Rican Winter League All-Star Game

Fresh off of his rookie season with the Kansas City Royals, David Cone went to the Puerto Rican Winter League (Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente) to further hone his skills. By the end of the winter season, Cone was a champion, saving Game 6 of the Caribbean Series for Caguas en route to their title.

David Cone in the 1986 LBPPR All-Star Game / Joe Towers
Joe Towers (@joetowerscards) recently posted footage of Cone pitching in the LBPPR All-Star game, flashing the eventual brilliance that led him to five World Series championships and the 1994 American League Cy Young Award. Only a few short months after this appearance, the Royals traded Cone to the New York Mets, which put him right in the middle of the baseball spotlight for the incumbent World Series champs.


Click here to read more about David Cone and his later brush with baseball immortality.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Rusty Staub championed many with his tireless charity work

Rusty Staub, one of the most beloved players in New York Mets history, passed away on Opening Day, March 29, 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida. He was 73.

While Staub gained accolades for amassing 500 hits for four different Major League clubs, his greatest legacy was his tireless charity work, both on behalf of the Mets, and for the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund. He helped to raise millions of dollars to support families of fallen police officers and firefighters during their times of greatest need.

Rusty Staub (r.) with 1973 Mets teammate Felix Millan (l) / N. Diunte
In this video below from 2012, Staub discussed how proud he was to be a representative for the Mets long after his playing days were over.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Ed Charles experienced a social awakening playing in Canada

Ed Charles had his start in professional baseball in 1952 when the Boston Braves sent him to their minor league affiliate in Quebec, Canada. Charles, who passed away March 15th, 2018, shared in this interview how going north of the border was a social awakening for him after growing up under the laws of Jim Crow era segregation.

Ed Charles / N. Diunte


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Breaking down Mets spring training with Bill Whitehead

Bill Whitehead, AP and MLB writer covering the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, checked in with the Baseball Happenings Podcast to break down the hectic first week of 2018 Mets spring training.

Tim Tebow / Bill Whitehead
Whitehead gave us the inside scoop on Dominic Smith, and why his late arrival to practice was out of character for their young first base prospect. He covered Smith extensively during his 2015 season with the St. Lucie Mets.

During the 30-minute interview, Whitehead also provided updates on the myriad of injuries during the first week of camp, his thoughts on the Mets new manager Mickey Calloway, where Tim Tebow fits in the Mets plans, and why Peter Alonso and P.J. Conlon are two upstarts to keep your eyes on during the spring. 



Saturday, January 6, 2018

What did Wally Backman enjoy the most during his New York Mets career?

Wally Backman, the New York Mets second baseman during their 1986 World Series championship, explains in this video what he enjoyed the most about playing in New York City, including his memories of the spirit of his late teammate, Gary Carter.