Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#42) BILLY COWAN

Billy Cowan was traded to the New York Mets from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for George Altman on January 15, 1965. Billy was coming off a fine rookie season in Chicago during which he had hit 19 home runs, and drove in 50 runs with a .241 batting average over 139 games. "Cowan adds speed, good defense, power and youth to the outfield," said Assistant to the Mets President Bing Devine. "This gives us another center fielder who has played regularly in the big leagues," legendary Manager Casey Stengel explained. "He can run and catch the ball. He has to cut down on the strikeouts and he can become a good hitter too."

Cowan made his debut with the New York Mets on Opening Day, April 12, 1965. The center fielder and leadoff hitter struck out three of his four at-bats facing Don Drysdale during the 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium. It was June the 21st before Billy would hit his first home run as a Met. The blast proved to be the game-winner as the Mets defeated Claude Osteen, who had taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning by a 1-0 score.

The results were not what the club had hoped for when signing Cowan. The Mets began giving time in center field to both Cleon Jones and Johnny Lewis which affected Billy's playing time. When the team found themselves in need of a roster spot to return Ron Hunt from the disabled list, they sold Cowan's contract to Triple-A Buffalo on August 5th. The Mets later traded Billy to the Atlanta Braves for two players to be named later on August 10th.

Cowan ended his one year with the Mets hitting three home runs, 9 RBIs, a .179 batting average and striking out 45 times against just four walks. "I enjoyed being with the Mets," Billy said in a July 1969 interview.  "When I first came to the Mets they said I was gonna play center field regularly. I don't think I ever played a full two-week stretch."

Billy retired from baseball in 1972. He formed his own real estate investment firm, Bill Cowan Associates in Palos Verdes Estates, California. Spending most of his spare time playing golf and racket ball while raising three children and seven grandchildren with his wife, Allene.

He was inducted into the East High School Hall of Fame in his hometown of Bakersfield, California in 2012. "I have been inducted into a couple of others, but I don't think any of those mean any more to me than this one does." Cowan offered. "It is really a privilege.

Billy Cowan signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on October 6, 2008.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#229) TOM GRIEVE

Tom Grieve came to the New York Mets in a rare four team trade on December 8, 1977. The Texas Rangers sent Grieve and a player to be named later to the Mets. The Atlanta Braves shipped Willie Montanez to the Mets. Texas then sent Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine and Eddie Milner to the Braves and Bert Blyleven to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates sent Nelson Norman and Al Oliver to the Rangers. The Mets moved John Milner to the Pirates and Jon Matlack to the Rangers. Texas would send Ken Henderson as the player to be named later to New York on March 15, 1978 to eventually complete the complicated transaction.

Grieve was an accomplished veteran outfielder who had hit 20 home runs during the 1976 season with the Rangers. Two years later, during his lone season with the Mets he would only start 21 games for New York. Tom's debut with the team came on April 9, 1978 at Shea Stadium. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth-inning of a 5-0 loss to the Montreal Expos. Grieve's first home run with the club came on April 14th when the team visited Montreal. His ninth inning blast tied the game that was later won by the Mets 3-2 in 10 innings. "Naturally I want to be a starting player." Grieve said after the game. "I will stay in the best of shape and show them I can play regularly."

Tom was not able to establish himself as an everyday part of the lineup as he had hoped. He finished the 1978 season with 54 appearances, two home runs, 8 RBIs, and a .208 batting average. It was a year that also saw the Mets flounder to a miserable 66-96 record. The last victory led by Grieve in a guest manager role. Mets manager Joe Torre had a tradition of selecting a veteran from the current roster to take over managerial duties on the final game of each season. "He said you can do anything you want except change pitchers," Tom recalled to MLB.com in 2011. "I said, 'Can I put on the suicide squeeze?' He said, 'Sure". Grieve got the chance in the fifth inning. The Mets led 1-0 and had one out, a runner on third and pitcher Kevin Kobel at the plate. Tom called for the squeeze. "He fouled off the pitch," Grieve said. Kobel then grounded out, but the runner later scored on a hit and the Mets won the game 5-3 over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. With his managerial experience Grieve became part of a special tradition that Torre kept up all the way through his 29-year coaching career. "That was a great thing that he let players do," said Grieve. "I'll never forget it."

Grieve was traded along with minor league pitcher, Kim Seaman to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Pete Falcone on December 5, 1978. He played one year with the Cardinals and retired as a player after the 1979 season. Tom became the General Manager and later broadcaster for the Texas Rangers. He was inducted into the Ranger's Hall of Fame on July 24, 2010.

Tom Grieve signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 31, 2009.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#370) TOM O'MALLEY

Tom O'Malley joined the New York Mets organization when he was traded from the Montreal Expos along with Mark Bailey in exchange for Steve Frey on March 28, 1989. O'Malley was a former major league veteran who had been working to return to the major leagues the last few seasons. "I know I can play in the big leagues," The Triple-A Tidewater Tides third baseman said in an interview in May 1989. "It's tough not to have the chance. About the only thing you can do down here is to try to keep from pulling an attitude muscle." O'Malley was looking at a tall order to make the New York team with Howard Johnson as the Mets starting third baseman. "I am just down here trying to put up some good numbers again. I hope they notice."

O'Malley was promoted to the Mets when rosters expanded, and made his debut with the club at Shea Stadium on September 7, 1989. Tom came in as a pinch-hitter during the 13-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. He would appear in a total of nine games for the team that finished in second place of the National League Eastern Division. O'Malley did deliver six hits in 11 at-bats for a .545 batting average over that handful of games.

The left handed hitter made the big league club out of spring training to be used as a pinch hitter and reserve corner infielder. O'Malley was struggling with just two hits during his first 22 at-bats when what is possibly his greatest Mets moment came on June 5, 1990. He entered the 5-5 tie game against the Montreal Expos at Shea in the 10th inning. His first at-bat that day came in the bottom of the 11th inning. "My birthday is June 6th," remembered Mets manager Buddy Harrelson. "Tom had been struggling for us as a pinch-hitter, and I said that I would give all my presents back the next day if Tom O'Malley would just hit a home run." When the ball sailed over the head of David Martinez falling over the 410 foot marker of the centerfield fence, Tom had delivered the game winner. "It was a birthday wish that came true and I thought that was the catalyst that got us going in June." Harrelson concluded. "It was unexplainable," O'Malley said after the game. "It's something I didn't expect. People might not have been aware that I was on the team. Maybe this will be a start and people will recognize the Irish fellow."

Tom remained with the club as a part time player for the remainder of 1990. He appeared in a total of 82 games hitting three home runs, driving in 14 runs while posting a .223 batting average. At the end of the season the Mets sold his contract to the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League.

O'Malley played six years in Japan for both the Tigers and later Yakult Swallows. He was both the regular season and Japan Series MVP while leading Yakult to win the Japanese Series in 1995. After retiring from playing in 1996, Tom managed the independent Newark Bears from 1998 to 2001.

The Montoursville native became the coach of the local Loyalsock High School softball team in 2013. "It's been a lot of fun so far. They've played hard. They've had great attitudes." Coach O'Malley described his start with the Lady Lancers. "And you know they're doing the little things and we worked on the fundamentals."

Tom returned to Japan in January 2014. He became the hitting coach for the Hanshin Tigers.

Tom O'Malley signed his card in the set for Jamie Blye at the Williamsport Crosscutters 8th Annual Hot Stove Banquet in Williamsport, PA on January 20, 2013.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

#80) NOLAN RYAN

Nolan Ryan was selected by the New York Mets organization in the 12th round of the free agent draft on June 8, 1965 out of Alvin High School in Texas. The 18-year-old right handed pitcher was sent to rookie level ball at Marion of the Appalachian League. Nolan advanced quickly during the very next year. He began 1966 in Single-A Greenville, where he posted a 17-2 record before being promoted to Double-A Williamsport and finally the major leagues as a September call-up.

The "Ryan Express" made his big league debut as a member of the New York Mets on September 11, 1966. The Shea Stadium faithful saw the Mets lose to the Atlanta Braves by a score of 8-3. The 19-year-old future legend threw two innings of relief. Nolan struck out the first batter he faced, but in his second inning of work surrendered a solo home run to Joe Torre. A week later, Ryan was given his first starting assignment but lasted a single inning. Nolan surrendered four runs on four hits while striking out three Houston Astros batters at the Astrodome in his home state of Texas. Nolan was returned to the minor league system following those two appearances.

He would leave the minor leagues for good at the start of the 1968 campaign. Ryan's first game back at the big league level was a return to the Astrodome on April 14th. This time Nolan would show signs of the pitcher he was to become by hurling 6-2/3 innings of shutout baseball while striking out eight, and earning his first ever major league victory with a 4-0 win over Houston. He started a total of 18 games during his 25 appearances in 1968. His first full season ended with a 6-9 record, and fine 3.09 ERA. Most importantly the power pitcher struck out 133 batters in 134 innings of work.

Nolan was used as a spot starter and long reliever during the magical 1969 season. His efforts helped the "Miracle Mets" win the franchise's first World Championship. There was no question that the right hander had a tremendous fast ball. Often the question was could he keep it in the strike zone. Mets manager, Gil Hodges brought Ryan into a key moment of Game Three of the National League Championship Series. Trailing in the game with two runners on base, Mets starting pitcher Gary Gentry had fallen behind 1-2 in the count. Desperately needing a strike three, Hodges bypassed a more reliable Tug McGraw and summoned Nolan from the bullpen. "Keep it down," the manager instructed as he handed Nolan the ball. "Just keep it down." A packed Shea Stadium crowd alongside the rest of the national television audience saw the young Texan fire in strike three on his first pitch. The Mets manager called for an intentional walk to the next Atlanta batter, future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda to load the bases. Now a lapse in control would force home another run with any additional walk. Ryan struck out Clete Boyer and ended the inning with a fly ball to left field off the bat of the next batter. New York had come out unscathed and Nolan would finish the game and be credited with the win as the Mets rallied back to a 7-4 victory. It was the first post-season win at Shea Stadium and sent the club to the World Series. "We were elated, absolutely overjoyed," remembered Jerry Koosman. "We were so happy and proud of Nollie. We just couldn't believe it."

Ryan came out of the bullpen for Game Three of the World Series to record the save by closing out the 5-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Shea Stadium. "Looking back on it." Ryan reflected to the Daily News in 2009. "It was my one shot at a World Series team. When it happened, probably a lot of us, thought that we'd be in that position again. It was our inexperience to not realize how hard and unique it is to get to that position. Now, there's such an appreciation."

Nolan would pitch two more years for the Mets before being sent to the California Angels in what would become one of the all-time worst trades in baseball history. New York traded Ryan along with three prospects in exchange for third baseman Jim Fregosi. "As for Ryan, I really can't say I quit on him." offered Mets general manager Bob Scheffing in December 1971. "But we've had him three full years and, although he's one hell of a prospect, he hasn't done it for us. How long can you wait? I can't rate him in the same category with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry."

Nolan Ryan and his 100 mph fastball would go on to throw a major league record seven no-hitters, strike out 5,714 batters, while earning a total of 324 victories over a 27 season career. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Nolan Ryan signed his card in the set through an autograph request sent to the Nolan Ryan Foundation on August 13, 2014.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#353) MARK CARREON

Mark Carreon was selected by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the free agent draft on June 8, 1981. The Tucson, Arizona native is part of a baseball family. His brother Michael played on the 1973 Cactus Little League team that represented the United States in the Little League World Series. His father was Camilo Carreon, a former major league player for 8 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Clevelend Indians and Baltimore Orioles.

The 17-year-old outfielder made his professional debut with the Rookie Level Kingsport club playing 64 games in 1981. He had worked his way up to the Triple-A Tidewater Tides by the close of the 1985 season. Carreon hit 10 home runs, with 89 RBIs and a .312 batting average during a fine year with the Tides in 1987. The effort earned him a September call-up to the major leagues.

Carreon made his big league, and New York Mets debut on September 8, 1987 as a pinch-hitter at Shea Stadium. A bitter sweet moment for the rookie who had dealt with the passing of his father only six days earlier. Mark would appear in a total of nine games that year, but return back to Norfolk to begin the next season. He received another September call-up in 1988 and entered seven games for the National League East Champions.

Mark became a permanent major leaguer during the 1989 campaign. On May 12th, the Mets began to use him as their right handed pinch-hitter off the bench and he rewarded their confidence by setting the then club record of four pinch-hit home runs that season. He was also an option in the outfield and finished with an overall total of 6 home runs, 16 RBIs with a .308 batting average over 133 at-bats.

At the beginning of the 1990 season, Mark was able to switch from his assigned uniform number 32 to the same number 45 his late father had worn. He was enjoying a breakthrough season hitting 10 home runs with 26 RBIs in only 188 plate appearances when an unfortunate injury occurred. Carreon tore the ligament in his right knee while rounding third base in San Diego on August 21st. "People say you hear the ligament go," Mark recalled to the New York Times. "I didn't hear anything. I just wound up on the ground. I couldn't move an inch." During his rehabilitation time Carreon checked himself into New York's Smithers Center for Alcoholism and Drug Treatment. "I checked into the program because I wanted to educate myself, to learn more about this problem before it got any worse." Mark explained to the Tuscon Star at that time.

He worked hard over the winter and reported to spring training to compete for a spot in the outfield. "When I reported, I was called a cripple," said Carreon. "But I've made great strides since I've been here." A good spring earned him a roster spot, but the free agent signing of Vince Coleman forced Mark back into the bench role he had shaken during the previous year. "It's a tough pill to swallow," the outfielder remarked about playing time in April. "But it's beyond my control." On May 4th he hit his eighth career pinch-hit home run to establish the Mets club record. "It's unfortunate that my career is at a standstill when I'm 27 years-old and at the peak of my abilities," Carreon told reporters after the game. "There is no doubt that I want to play and no doubt I would do about anything so that I can play." Mark's attitude deteriorated throughout the rest of the season. It was reported that twice during 1991 he violated club policy by leaving the dugout and departing the stadium before the end of the game. The Mets eventually honored his requests and traded him along with pitcher Tony Castillo to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Paul Gibson on January 22, 1992. "I'm not going to cut any throats," Carreon said following the trade."New York is definitely the place to play, but you have to be playing. I've always had full confidence in my ability. I just couldn't show it in New York."

Mark played another five years in major league baseball and two more in Japan before retiring in 1999. After baseball he was part of a shipping company in McComb, Mississippi. Carreon was among the players named in the 2007 Mitchell Report as a known user of performance enhancing substances during his time with the San Francisco Giants. "Regarding the Mitchell Report, the following is true-towards the end of my 18-year career, regretfully on one occasion I experimented with a performance-enhancing sustance, however the remaining 17 years were unscathed by this one error in judgement." Carreon explained in a written statement. "Meanwhile here in the present, I support the challenge that lay before the Players Association, current players and owners in restoring the great game of baseball."

Mark Carreon signed his card in the set through a private signing held by Nick Cicogna on August 5, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#444) JOSIAS MANZANILLO

Josias Manzanillo joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Wayne Housie on June 12, 1993. The right handed pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris of the Dominican Republic is the 17th of 18 children in his family. Josias was assigned to Triple-A Norfok after the trade, and primarily served as a starting pitcher for the Tides. He earned a promotion to New York to make his Mets debut at Coors Field in Colorado on August 21, 1993. He would make six appearances with the club to record a 3.00 ERA over 12 innings of relief work.

Manzanillo was unable to retain a spot in the Mets bullpen during spring training the following season. A disappointed Josias almost refused his assignment to Norfolk but reconsidered. "I didn't want to start over and rebuild with another club," Manzanillo told The New York Times. "I felt like what I had to do was show them here what I can do." Less than a month into the season he was rewarded for that decision when the Mets added him to the major league roster.

The spirited pitcher was known for ending innings in an unusual way. Josias would place his head down and sprint full speed into his team's dugout whenever the third out of an inning was recorded. This bold display would occasionally irritate the opposing batter who had created that out. Something which might encourage an opposing pitcher to retaliate. "It's my nature. It's the way I play the game. It's nothing I plan," explained Manzanillo. "It's not to show anybody up or to be a hot dog. I don't want to do anything that would put my teammates at risk. That's not good for the team, either."

"Manzy" fit well into the job of a major league reliever. Mets manager, Dallas Green established him as the set-up man to the club's closer, John Franco. "This is all new to me," Josias observed. "but I like the idea of throwing one inning. I like the idea of setting up for Johnnie, because he's one of the best in the game at that role." His season took a bad turn when an MRI on August 2nd revealed a bone spur in his right shoulder. The injury ended his 1994 campaign with 37 appearances over 47.1 innings, with a 3-2 record, 48 strikeouts, and a 2.66 ERA.

He returned to pitch the beginning of the 1995 season with much different results. "I think it's a matter of confidence as much as anything," Green said in mid-May. "Manzy breeds on confidence, and he doesn't have it right now." Josias was designated for assignment and selected off waivers by the New York Yankees on June 5, 1995. His 12 appearances for the Mets finished with a 7.88 ERA over 16 innings.

The Mets returned Manzanillo to the organization when he resigned on July 3, 1998 following his release by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was not until Opening Day the next season before he pitched for New York in a major league game. He threw two scoreless innings of a 2-6 loss to the Miami Marlins at Dolphin Stadium on April 5, 1999. "I see myself as a guy that needs a job in the big leagues and will pitch in any type of role that throws me out there," Josias told the NY Daily News. Pitching for the Seattle Mariners two years earlier, Manzanillo had been struck in the groin by a Manny Ramirez line drive. He was not wearing a protective cup. The extreme injury forced emergency reconstructive surgery to both testicles. "I came back and I wasn't the same guy," Manzanillo offered. "My confidence was tough because I was trying to protect myself before I threw the ball." His work during the 1999 season was brief as the Mets designated the right hander on May 10th. His final run with the Mets ended with a 4.90 ERA over 18.2 innings of work.

Josias pitched for three other clubs before retiring from baseball in 2005. "I love baseball. I have a passion for the game," Manzanillo said. "I enjoy every single time I walk on that field." He remained around baseball by establishing Manzys Pitching Farm in Florida. HIs program offers pitching instruction to prepare youth for high school and college programs.

Josias Manzanillo signed his card in the set at a private signing in Florida by Signatures4U on July 2, 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#283) TOM VERYZER

Tom Veryzer was traded to the New York Mets from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Ray Searage on January 8, 1982. "With the trade of Frank Taveras, we were looking for an experienced infielder to team with our youngsters like Ron Gardenhire and Wally Backman," Mets general manager, Frank Cashen told the New York Times. "Tom Veryzer provides us that infielder."

The 29-year-old Long Island native was glad to join the Mets. "I'm thrilled about the trade," Veryzer said from his Islip home. "Nothing could be better than going home to play. I was a regular for four years in Cleveland and I know there is a chance to play here too."

Veryzer made his Mets debut on April 9, 1982 facing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He entered as a replacement for the starting shortstop Gardenhire. Tom was used primarily as the backup to the younger infielder until an injury essentially ended his season. Veryzer fractured his leg when Atlanta Braves outfielder, Claudell Washington slid into him at second base on June 1st. Tom was unable to return to play until September. "I've played long enough to know you accept these things," Veryzer reflected later. "You can't change what has happened. A lot of things could be worse." He appeared in a total of 40 games with 54 plate appearances and a .333 batting average.

Veryzer returned to battle for one of the starting middle infielder jobs the next spring. Although the veteran really considered himself a shortstop. "Everybody says that if you can play shortstop you can play second base," Tom explained. "My problem is that while I'm at shortstop I don't have to think. But at second, a little thing like a ground ball to third, I'm supposed to run to first. But half the time, I just stand there." The club valued his bat but decided to remain with their two younger options. They traded Veryzer to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for minor leaguers, Rob Schilling and Craig Weissmann on April 2, 1983.

Tom continued his major league career two more seasons before retiring from the game following the 1984 campaign. He was inducted into the Suffolk County Hall of Fame in 1995.

Veryzer suffered a stroke and passed away at the young age of 61 on Tuesday July 8, 2014.

Tom signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 28, 2009.