Wednesday, January 6, 2016

#71) LOU KLIMCHOCK

Lou Klimchock was sent from the Milwaukee Braves organization to the New York Mets on September 25, 1965. The veteran came along with Ernie Bowman as the players to be named later as compensation for Billy Cowan who had been given to the Braves earlier on August 5th. Lou had finished the season with then Triple-A Atlanta and was grateful for a new opportunity with the Mets. "It was a stone wall whichever way I turned with that club," he told the Milwaukee Journal. "They just don't need enough help. This club does and there are jobs around here. I haven't got one yet, but I've got a good shot at least."

The veteran utility infielder had made his major league debut with the Kansas City Athletics in 1958. In his second game the 18-year-old achieved his first big league hit. A home run on the final day of the season.

Klimchock, who had now played parts of seven season in the majors, earned a spot on the Mets 1966 opening day roster by delivering a couple of key home runs and four hits in his last four spring training games. "I'd like to have him on the bench for his power as a pinch-hitter," Mets manager Wes Westrum said of his decision.

Lou appeared in his first game as a New York Met on April 17, 1966 at Shea Stadium. The left-handed batter struck out pinch-hitting for Tug McGraw in the 7th inning of the 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Klimchock would appear in four more games as a pinch-hitter through May 3rd. Failing to get a hit in any of those opportunities. "I've never done much as a pinch-hitter." Lou explained.

The Mets optioned Klimchock to Triple-A Jacksonville where he finished the 1966 season. New York traded Lou along with Ernie Bowman to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for pitcher Floyd Weaver on October 12, 1966

After his active playing career, Klimchock became the manager of the Indians' Class-A team in Reno, Nevada from 1972-1973. Returning home to Denver, Colorado after that to begin a 12-year career with the Coors Brewing Company. After which he and his family would move to Phoenix, Arizona to pursue a position with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company from which he retired in 1990.

Lou was named to the board of directors of the newly formed Major League Alumni Association in 1989. He continued to work for the association as the President of the Arizona Major League Alumni for more than 25 years. An organization that helps children throughout Arizona and those in the baseball family that have fallen on hard times. "It's my pleasure to work with Alumni members as well as individual and corporate sponsors for the common goal of enhancing lives through baseball related activities." Klimchock offered.

Lou Klimchock signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on November 17, 2015.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#96) JACK LAMABE

Jack Lamabe came to the New York Mets when his contract was purchased from the Chicago White Sox on April 26, 1967. The veteran pitcher had begun his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1962. Then moved to the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros before coming to Chicago. Jack was a high school teammate of future Miracle Met, Al Weis. The two played together for the White Sox prior to Lamabe joining the Mets.

Jack made his debut with the club on April 28th facing the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field. The right-handed reliever threw a scoreless 9th inning of the 7-1 loss. His first game as a Met in Shea Stadium came on May 4th against the San Francisco Giants. Once again being sent out to pitch the 9th inning of a game the Mets trailed. Lamabe would yield a home run to Jim Hart on the first pitch he delivered but recovered to retire the next three batters in what ended a 3-1 loss.

The Mets called on Jack to take a spot start on May 28th in the second game of a doubleheader with the Atlanta Braves at Shea. It was a short outing with Lamabe being removed in the second inning after allowing two runs on a pair of doubles. New York would lose 7-3. His only other start was facing the St. Louis Cardinals on July 2nd. He fared better hurling seven innings against the National League leaders, but gave up three runs that led to a 3-1 defeat.

After 16 games with a 0-3 record and 3.98 ERA the Mets decided to send Lamabe to the minors. He was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals and joined them on July 16th. Jack suited up for his new team to face the Mets in St. Louis later that same day. His former teammates were not kind to him. They would strike for seven hits and score five runs in just two official innings of work. Resulting in a 8-5 New York victory. Lamabe would certainly appreciate the move to the Cardinals as they went on to become the 1967 World Series Champions. While the Mets finished in last place in the National League with a 61-101 record.

St. Louis sent pitcher Al Jackson to the Mets as compensation for Lamabe in October of 1967.

Jack retired from pitching after the 1969 season and went to work as the pitching coach for the Montreal Expos. He also served as an assistant football and basketball coach at Springfield College throughout the 1960s. Lamabe left major league baseball and became the head baseball coach at Jacksonville University from 1973-1978. The next year Jack became the first full-time baseball coach in Louisiana State University history, and remained there for five seasons. Leaving the school to become a minor league pitching coordinator for the San Diego Padres and later Colorado Rockies.

He was inducted into the Vermont Athletic Hall of Fame in 1980.

Lamabe passed away at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on December 21, 2007.

I created Jack Lamabe's card in the set from an autographed index card in my collection.

Monday, January 4, 2016

#611) ALEX ESCOBAR

Alex Escobar was signed by the New York Mets organization as an international free agent from Valencia, Venezuela on July 1, 1995. The fleet-footed 17-year-old was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Mets in 1996 and responded with a .360 batting average over 24 games. That performance began his status as a prospect in the system.

Escobar had worked his way up to Triple-A Norfolk five years later and was elevated to the Mets top minor league prospect. "There is not much to worry about with Alex, other than just getting him enough at-bats so he can become the player he can be," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said during spring training camp in 2001.

In April the Mets were forced to place three outfielders- Darryl Hamilton, Benny Agbayani and Timo Perez on the disabled list with a variety of injuries. When center fielder Jay Payton strained his hamstring the club found it time to promote Escobar. He made his major league debut on May 8, 2001 facing the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Alex would get a base hit in the 6th inning over four trips to the plate. "There's a back end in sight to it," Mets general manager Steve Phillips explained. "He's not feeling like he has to produce to stay here, and we're not counting on him to turn things around." The scenario was for Escobar to play in New York and return to Norfolk in six days when Darryl Hamilton was activated to replace him.

Alex's return to Triple-A was relatively short. He was summoned back to the Mets when Tsuyoshi Shinjo was placed on the disabled list on June 21st. "Being in the big leagues the first time was a great experience," said Escobar. "The first time you don't know what to expect. You have an idea what you should do when you get up. The second time you feel more comfortable." His game that night against the Montreal Expos was his Shea Stadium debut. The Mets would lose to the visitors by a score of 10-3 but Alex collected two hits in the contest. The young outfielder would hit his first major league home run off Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine days later on June 23rd.

"As far as a kid coming up, people haven't had this much excitement since Strawberry came up in our organization," Norfolk Tides manager John Gibbons said in regard to the young Escobar. "It seems like with the very good players, they're effortless in the things they do, and that's what he's got. He's on of those guys that things come real easy for him. I guess you could say he's a natural boy wonder."

Alex remained on the Mets roster until late June but struggled to adjust to the major league pitching. He was returned to the Norfolk Tides until the rosters expanded in September. Escobar would have his greatest single game performance as a Met on October 5th. The rookie slugged two home runs and drove in four runs against the Expos at Shea Stadium. He would finish the season with three home runs, 8 RBIs and a .200 batting average in 18 games.

His career with the Mets came to a surprisingly quick end on December 11, 2001 when he was traded to the Cleveland Indians along with Jerrod Riggan, Matt Lawton, Billy Traber and Earl Snyder in exchange for Mike Bacsik, Danny Peoples, and future Hall of Famer, Roberto Alomar. "His strikeouts are a concern, but his talent has never faded," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said about Escobar after the trade. "We spent a great deal of time following him closely this season and we feel he had the total package."

Alex suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss all for the 2002 season. The injury robbed him of his speed and diminished his range in the outfield. In the four years of his major league career he would only appear in a total of 125 games due to persistent injuries. Escobar retired from baseball in 2008 after playing some of that year with Triple-A Columbus.

I created Alex Escobar's card in the set from an autographed index card purchased from Kyle's Sportcard, Inc. on January 4, 2016.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

#219) PAUL SIEBERT

Paul Siebert became a member of the New York Mets during the infamous "Midnight Massacre" on June 15, 1977. He was traded along with Bobby Valentine from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Dave Kingman. The deal was one of three made that Wednesday evening to reshape the roster. The most notable move saw future Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver heading to the Cincinnati Reds.

Siebert was a left-handed reliever whose family has deep baseball roots. His father was former major league All-Star first baseman Dick Siebert. The elder Siebert gained even greater acclaim as the head baseball coach at the University of Minnesota where he guided the school to three NCAA titles (1956, 1960, 1964) and 12 Big Ten Championships. The university renamed their baseball stadium "Siebert Field" after him on April 21, 1979.

Dick's contribution to Minnesota baseball did not stop at the collegiate level. He conducted a series of clinics throughout the state teaching his "gospel of baseball" to area youth. Among those benefiting from his instruction over the years were both his own sons. Paul's older brother, Dick Siebert Jr. became a prominent neurosurgeon instead of pursuing a baseball career. Paul was a highly recruited high school pitcher who planned on attending Arizona State University. He was drafted by the Houston Astros out of Edina High School in the third round of the 1971 amateur draft.

Paul made his New York Mets debut on July 7, 1977 facing the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium. His second appearance with his new team would be his Shea Stadium debut on July 9th. Siebert threw the final two scoreless innings of the 7-5 victory over the Montreal Expos and was credited with the win. Siebert would split the season between New York and Triple-A Tidewater appearing in 25 games for the Mets with a 2-1 record and 3.86 ERA.

He made the opening day Mets roster for the 1978 season, and pitched in games through July before again spending time in Tidewater. Paul returned in September to finish the season in New York. In his 27 major league appearances for 1978 he posted a 0-2 record, one save and a 5.15 ERA.

The southpaw's career with the Mets ended when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Bob Coluccio on October 2, 1978. Siebert was released by the Cardinals at the end of spring training camp. He pitched for the Triple-A Denver Bears before retiring from baseball after the 1979 season.

Paul Siebert signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on November 16, 2013.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

#433) MIKE DRAPER

Mike Draper began his time with the New York Mets when they selected him from the New York Yankees in the Rule V Draft on December 7, 1992. The 26-year-old right-hander had set an International League record with 37 saves for Triple-A Columbus during the 1992 season. "With the stockpile of young pitchers they have, a guy like me has a tendency to get lost, with or without 37 saves," Draper said. "I guess there was something they didn't like about me. But I didn't get angry. It made me work harder."

As a Rule V pick the Mets would be required to keep Draper on the major league roster for the entire 1993 season or offer him back to the Yankees. The fact coupled with a strong performance in spring training camp earned Mike a place on the opening day club. "He doesn't have the kind of stuff that knocks your eyes out or a trick pitch that falls off the table." Mets manager Jeff Torborg said to the New York Times. " I don't know how to describe it except to say the kid knows how to pitch."

Draper made his major league debut in his first appearance with the New York Mets on April 10, 1993. Mike would pitch the final two innings of the 6-3 loss to the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. Surrendering a run on four hits while striking out one batter. Mike was used with mixed results out of the bullpen for a club that was seriously struggling. On May 19th the Mets found themselves with a 12-25 record and 15 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies. "Four wins in three weeks," Torborg told the media following the loss in front of 6,000 home fans. "It's hard to imagine." The next day management replaced Torborg with new manager Dallas Green.

Draper would have the worst outing of the season on June 1st at Wrigley Field. He was called upon to preserve a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the seventh inning. Mike promptly allowed three runs on three hits and was removed after only recording a single out. He was charged with his first official loss in the 8-3 final.

The rookie's role in the bullpen was becoming different. He was not called upon late and began to only enter into games when the team was trailing. There would be significantly longer periods of time between his appearances as well. Late in the season on August 5th, the Mets gave up a 9-1 lead to the Montreal Expos only to hang on and win in extra innings. Draper was credited with his first major league victory after retiring the side in the 12th inning. It was only the second time he had pitched in the previous 22 games.

New York ended the 1993 season with a 59-103 record and a last place finish in the National League East. In what would turn out to be his lone major league season, Mike finished with a 1-1 record and 4.25 ERA over 42.1 innings of work. The Mets released Draper on September 29, 1993.

Mike played in the San Diego Padres organization at the Triple-A level during the strike shortened 1994 season and then was out of professional baseball in the United States. He would finish out his career with two additional years in Mexico.

Draper lived in Florida working at a furniture warehouse and as a landscaper. He would continue to be around the game of baseball playing in a men's recreational league. His Sports Page Rockets would claim the Palm Beach County National Adult Baseball Association championship in 2001. "I've been pitching pretty well recently," he said after the victory. "My arm has been feeling great and we battled all day. But we've been doing that all season. That's part of what makes this team as great as it is."

I created Mike Draper's card in the set from an autographed index card obtained from Bob Dowen on March 4, 2011.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

#250) DOCK ELLIS

Dock Ellis came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Bob Myrick and Mike Burhert on June 15, 1979. The flamboyant right-hander was a former National League All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates who claimed to throw his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. "I was as high as a Georgia pine," Dock said in the ESPN Outside the Lines feature on his career. The famous game was caught by future Mets catcher Jerry May on June 12, 1970.

There is no question that Ellis was a product of the wild 1970s and battling drug abuse. What made him stand apart was his courage and fearlessness both on and off the mound. "It's hard to find someone real in this world," former teammate Al Oliver offered when asked about Ellis. "Dock was for real. If he had something to say to you, he would say it to your face." The pitcher was a boisterous proponent for the African American athlete in a time when there were few brave enough to question inequality. His biography, "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball" was first published in 1976.

When he joined the Mets it was obvious that time had taken it's toll and the end of his pitching career was near. Dock started 14 games for the club and finished with a 3-7 record over 85 innings of work, posting a 6.04 ERA. On September 21st his contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would make his final start in the nightcap of a double header and retire from baseball on September 24, 1979.

Ellis entered a substance abuse treatment center in Arizona after leaving baseball and worked after that as a drug and alcohol counselor in California. At times working with prison inmates. The New York Yankees hired him in the 1980s to speak about substance abuse to their minor leaguers.

Film director Ron Howard cast Ellis in his 1986 movie, "Gung Ho". Dock is featured as a member of the American autoworkers softball team that play their Japanese managers.

"You know, I'm just clean and sober and going on about my business," Dock told the Dallas Observer in 2005. "But there's gotta be a place for me in baseball. I should be with baseball. But that's partly my fault, I alienated myself. I left baseball with the wrong impression about the people who ran the game. 'Cause I had that paranoia that everybody was out to get me."

Dock passed away in Los Angeles, California following a long battle with liver disease on December 19, 2008.

"He was so unique. He was viewed by some people as an outlaw, but he was far from that." his agent Tom Reich remembered. "He was so ahead of his time. He was so intuitive and smart and talented and independent. And he wasn't about to roll over for the incredible prejudices that existed at the time."

Dock Ellis's card is the set was created from an autographed index card in my collection.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

#323) TERRY BLOCKER

Terry Blocker was selected by the New York Mets organization in the first round (4th overall pick) of the 1981 Amateur Draft. The junior from Tennessee State University also was a part of their football and basketball teams. "It's the most exciting moment of my life, but I haven't really proven anything yet." Blocker told the New York Times from his home in Columbia, SC. "If everything works out and barring injury, I hope to be in the majors in a few years."

Terry played well in the Mets minor league system. Moving his way up to a full season of Triple-A baseball in 1984. He was a part of the club's major league roster leaving spring training camp the next season. Blocker made his big league debut as a pinch-runner when the Mets defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 at Shea Stadium on April 11, 1985. Terry would get his first at-bat as a pinch-hitter the next day facing the Cincinnati Reds in New York. Grounding out to Reds' pitcher, Mario Soto to lead off the seventh inning. It was the only official at-bat that he would receive in his four appearances before the Mets returned him to the Tidewater Tides when Ray Knight was activated from the disabled list on April 20th.

Blocker was recalled back to New York on May 13th when Darryl Strawberry tore the ligament between the thumb and index finger of his right hand during a diving catch against the Philadelphia Phillies. Strawberry required surgery and was sidelined for two months. Terry was added to the roster as a reserve outfielder for the time Darryl would be gone. Blocker got his first career base hit as the starting left fielder during the Mets 7-3 victory over the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium on June 2nd.

Terry's major league season ended on June 9th after colliding with right fielder Danny Heep in pursuit of a fly ball to center field. Blocker injured his left knee and was forced to the 15-day disabled list. When he returned it was to finish the season with the Tides.

Blocker was among the league leaders at the Triple-A level for the next few years until being traded to the Atlanta Braves on November 11, 1987. "The Mets finally gave me a break," he said from Braves spring training camp in 1988. "The Mets have been stacked with so much talent in the outfield. They saw I could be consistent, but there was no room for me."

Terry returned to major league baseball as a replacement player during the strike of 1995. He was a member of the Atlanta Braves spring training camp in West Palm Beach when tragedy struck. Blocker became a Pentecostal deacon following his baseball career. While witnessing to teammate Dave Shotkoski the two men formed a friendship. Walking home one night, Shotkoski was robbed and murdered on the sidewalk to his motel. Terry spent the next 48 hours on the streets of West Palm, asking questions and doing whatever he could to locate the killer. Acting on a tip given to them by Blocker the police made an arrest that led to the eventual conviction of the murderer. Terry refused the $10,000 reward offered by the Atlanta Braves and West Palm police. "That was not my motivation," Blocker said, "I was looking for satisfaction of a different kind. A life was taken, but now I have the opportunity to go out and tell people about this experience I had. Maybe it will help other people come to the kingdom of God."

I created Terry Blocker's card in the set from an autographed index card obtained from his home address on December 18, 2007.