Thursday, August 26, 2010
Luis Ayala was traded from the Washington Nationals to the New York Mets in exchange for Anderson Hernandez on August 17, 2008. The Mets lost their closer, Billy Wagner to an elbow injury just days before. So when the Nationals placed Ayala on waivers New York claimed him. The two clubs were able to later work out the deal. "I'm surprised. It's a little bit late for a trade, but for me, I passed my best times in this organization." Luis said in Washington following the announcement. "They're fighting for first place, so I'm going to try and clear my mind and try to help the bullpen."
The right-hander made his Mets debut on August 19th. Pitching the last two outs of the seventh-inning at Shea Stadium during a 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. On September 8th Ayala had picked up his sixth save in seven chances in a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. When it was determined that Wagner needed season ending surgery the Mets established Luis as the new closer. "I feel bad for Billy, but I'm here for whatever the team needs," explained Ayala. "and, I know I can do the job."
New York would fade down the stretch and lose their chance at the National League Wild Card entry on the last day of the season. Ayala was one of the Mets pitchers to take the mound during the final game ever played at Shea Stadium. He surrendered the final run scored by the Florida Marlins in their 4-2 victory on September 28th.
Luis finished with a 1-2 record, nine saves, and a 5.50 ERA in his 19 appearances for New York. He left the Mets when he signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins on February 19, 2009.
Luis Ayala signed his card in the set for my friend, Sam before the Atlanta Braves played the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park on July 6, 2013.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Hank Webb came to the New York Mets when he was selected in the 10th round of the free agent draft on June 7, 1968. The hard throwing prospect worked his way through the minor-leagues and made his New York debut on September 5, 1972. Entering the game against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium and surrendering two runs in the ninth inning. His late season audition did not continue much better and had Webb returning to the minors after posting a 4.42 ERA in six appearances.
The Copiague, New York native looked good during the 1973 season at Triple-A Tidewater. Hank pitched nine complete games for the Tides, including a shutout, and even picked up two more relief appearances for the New York Mets in early May.
Webb threw the majority of the season for Tidewater again in 1974, and showed promise in a starting role. Hank continued to toss complete games and struck out 130 minor-league batters over his 152 innings of work. The Mets gave him another September call-up and during that opportunity came his most memorable moment at Shea Stadium.
The St. Louis Cardinals faced the Mets on September 11, 1974, in what would be the longest game ever played to a decision. Hank Webb took the mound for New York at the start of the 25th inning. He allowed an infield hit to the speedster, Bake McBride. Then while trying to hold him close uncorked an errant pick-off throw past the first baseman. Coupled with an error by catcher, Ron Hodges it allowed McBride to score, all he way from first base, what proved to be the winning run of a St. Louis 4-3 victory. The game ended at 3:13 A.M. (September 12th.) Taking seven hours and four minutes to play. Hank was credited with the loss for his first major-league decision.
Webb pitched in the most games of his big-league career the following season. Appearing in a total of 29 games. He was the starting pitcher in 15 of those. Hank would post a 7-6 record and 4.07 ERA during 1975. He was given a spot in the bullpen for the start of 1976, but found himself back in Tidewater after pitching his last game for the Mets on May 24th.
Hank was traded by New York along with Richard Sadler to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Rich Auerbach on February 7, 1977.
His son, Ryan Webb followed in his footsteps and became a major-league pitcher too. Making his debut with the San Diego Padres in 2009.
Hank became the Executive Director of Clearwater for Youth in Florida. The organization works with sports programs that serve the area's children.
Hank Webb signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on December 17, 2008.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Rickey Henderson signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on December 16, 1998. "It's always a thrill to go play in New York," Henderson said. "People in baseball know that. That's where you want to be to have fun. If we want to have fun and get some attention, we have to win. I think we can do that." Although it had been semi-retired in honor of Willie Mays the club gave the speedster his accustomed uniform number "24".
The greatest lead-off man in baseball history struggled during his first spring training with the Mets hitting for a lowly .130 batting average. All of which changed when the regular season began. "I don't even worry about me," Rickey said following the second game of 1999. "I have 162 games, brother. One game ain't going to make me. One game ain't going to break me. I'll be there at the end." Over the season Henderson led the Mets team with a .315 batting average while collecting 12 home runs and 37 stolen bases for the National League Wild Card winner. That Wild Card entry earned after a 5-0 victory in Cincinnati facing the Reds in a one-game playoff game. "I never thought there was pressure in the postseason," remembers Rickey, who played left field that day and homered in the fifth inning. "The pressure was you had to get there. Then it was fun." Manager Bobby Valentine removed the veteran for defensive purposes late in the game that night. Henderson was dressed by the end of that game and waiting in the clubhouse for his victorious teammates.
After handling the Arizona Diamondbacks the Mets advanced to the National League Playoffs facing the Atlanta Braves. Rickey was removed in the eighth inning of Game 4 once again for defensive purposes. This time the removal occurred after Henderson had already taken his position in left field. Bobby Valentine called him back and inserted Melvin Mora as his replacement. A frustrated Rickey showered and left the stadium minutes after the game ended. "The timing of that was very bad, and in particular for a player of Rickey's stature," Valentine said before the start of Game 5. "I expressed the concerns to him yesterday."
New York would fall to the evil Braves in the decisive Game 6 at Atlanta. Outfielders Bobby Bonilla and Henderson spent the last three innings of the game in the clubhouse playing cards. "Guys who saw (the card game) wanted to take a bat to their heads after the game," one person affiliated with the Mets said. "There were players crying and screaming in the dugout (after the Mets lost the game in 11 innings). Then they walk in the clubhouse and see that?"
The incident would linger and lead to the club releasing Rickey on May 13, 2000. He was picked up by the Seattle Mariners two weeks later with the Mets paying the majority of his $1.9 million dollar contract that season.
Henderson, baseball's career stolen base leader, returned to the New York Mets as a guest spring training coach in 2006. He was brought in by General Manager Omar Minaya primarily to work with Jose Reyes. Rickey was still hoping to continue playing at age 47, and was quoted, "I thought maybe I'd come out here and trick'em. They'd look at me, give me a glove and say, Go play."
Following the mid-season dismissal of Rick Down, the Mets made Rickey the team's first base coach on July 12, 2007. The moves shifted Howard Johnson to hitting coach. "If it was a situation where we were going to win the World Series and I was the only player that they had left, I would put on the shoes," Henderson said with a smile. "I haven't submitted retirement papers to MLB, but I think MLB already had their papers that I was retired." He was not retained by the club for the 2008 season.
Rickey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. He received 94.8 percent of the vote during his first inclusion on the ballot. "I feel great about it. It's been a long time coming," Henderson said. "I was nervous waiting."
Rickey Henderson signed his card in the set for my friend Jessie through a Jack Berke Event held Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 23, 2010.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Don Bosch came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Don Cardwell in exchange for Dennis Ribant and Gary Kolb on December 6, 1966. The young switch-hitter was touted by his Pirates Triple-A Manager, Larry Shepard as a centerfielder worthy of comparison to Willie Mays. His arrival in New York was highly anticipated by the media and fans.
Bosch made his debut with the team on April 11, 1967 at Shea Stadium. Don was the Mets' Opening Day leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He collected a base hit off Pittsburgh starter, Don Veale in his first at-bat that game. However, his hitting would not continue long after that, and by mid-May he was being used exclusively as a slick-fielding defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Mets optioned Bosch to Triple-A Jacksonville with a .148 batting average on June 5th. In 90 minor-league games Don was able to hit .263 with five home runs. Earning him a September call-up and an opportunity to finish the 1967 season as a bench player in New York.
During spring training the next year Don beat out fellow outfielder Amos Otis for the final roster spot and started the 1968 campaign with the Mets. Bosch would again split time between New York and Jacksonville. Spending the majority of the season in the majors as a reserve batting .171 in 50 games. The highlight of which was stroking his first major-league home run on June 14th facing the San Francisco Giants. The solo-blast came off pitcher Mike McCormick in the third inning of the Mets 7-3 victory at Shea Stadium.
"I don't think I compared him with Mays," Larry Shepard hedged to Baseball Digest in March 1968. "He didn't have Willie's quickness or arm, but he could go as far to catch a ball. Maybe the jump from Triple-A to the major leagues was too much for him." Perhaps if his minor-league manager had not generated such lofty expectations Bosch might have been given more realistic goals and time to develop in New York.
The Mets sold Don's contract to the newly formed Montreal Expos on October 16, 1968.
Don Bosch signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on November 8, 2008.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Al Leiter was traded along with Ralph Milliard by the Florida Marlins to the New York Mets in exchange for A.J. Burnett, Jesus Sanchez, and Robert Stratton on February 6, 1998. Coming to the team that he had rooted for as a boy in Toms River, New Jersey. "This is really exciting for me," Leiter said after the trade. "I feel like a little kid." During the 1998 season he pitched like the ace the Mets thought he would be. Winning 17 games, striking out 174 batters and registering a 2.47 ERA. All marks that led the team's pitching staff that year.
Leiter avoided becoming a free agent that winter and signed a four-year contract to remain with the Mets. "Four years out of high school, I started my first game at Yankee Stadium," Al said. "After all the ups and downs that I have been through, to finish up my career not only in the same city but with the team I rooted for growing up, it's almost perfect." The left-hander's biggest game of that 1999 season came as game number 163 on the schedule. Leiter was given the ball to pitch a tie-breaker game to determine the National League Wild Card representative. The Cincinnati Reds had ended the year with the exact same 96-66 record as New York. Behind Al's complete-game 5-0 shutout at Cinergy Field the Mets earned their 97th victory and a trip to the postseason. "It felt pretty good out their celebrating," said Leiter, "although I think I'm deaf in my left ear from John Franco screaming so loud. Then, I had to watch out for Robin Ventura coming over pretty hard from third base. But it was a great feeling and hopefully we'll get to experience it two or three more times." After defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks the club would fall to the Atlanta Braves and miss a World Series berth.
Al was selected to represent the Mets in the 2000 Major League Baseball All-Star game. A year made special for New York baseball when both teams advanced to the World Series in October. "Historically, with the fact that the Yankees have been around a long time and certainly are the premier organization of all sports, you've got to figure they deserve that," Leiter said. "That doesn't take away from me as a Mets fan and all the other Mets fans. This organization has done pretty well, too." The first "Subway Series" in 44 years would be won by the rival Yankees. Al was on the mound for the Mets in the final Game Five at Shea Stadium. After throwing over 140 pitches he would allow Luis Sojo to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth-inning. "He pitched his heart out," said Mets catcher, Mike Piazza. "It was an honor to catch that ballgame." A visibly stunned Leiter said, "Deep in my heart I know I pitched well, but it's disheartening I couldn't get that third out. I've never been so emotional after a performance in my career. I was upset."
Al Leiter became the first pitcher to beat all 30 major-league teams a result of the 10-1 Mets victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 30, 2002. "I believe that this is the only stadium where I have not won in the major leagues," he said after that game. 'I was joking with the guys and said "I've never lost with 10. Get me 10 and I think that I can win this one', and they did."
His Mets' career ended on December 8, 2004 when he signed a free agent contract with the Florida Marlins.
Both during and after his active playing days, the pitcher has been very involved in lending resources to charitable causes. Al and his wife, Lori founded Leiter's Landing Foundation in 1999 as a means of raising funds for the awareness of children's education, health, social, and community service issues. He was Major League Baseball's 2000 Roberto Clemente Award winner in recognition of his dedication to others.
Leiter found a second career as a sports broadcaster. First working on FOX Sports postseason baseball coverage before joining the YES Network in 2006. Al joined the newly formed MLB Network in 2009 as a studio analyst.
Al Leiter signed his card in the set for my friend Lou, outside of Yankee Stadium following the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners game on June 30, 2010.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Tom Herr was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies to the New York Mets in exchange for Nicko Riesgo and Rocky Elli on August 30, 1990. It was a strange destination for the player that had been so important to the St. Louis Cardinals teams in the past. Ones that had shared some bitter pennant battles with the Mets. "There is a brotherhood among ballplayers that transcends old rivalries," Herr explained.
Herr was inserted as the leadoff hitter in his Mets debut at Shea Stadium on September 1st. He was a big factor in the 5-4 New York victory over the San Francisco Giants. Slugging a home run and coming up with a defensive play to cut down the potential game-tying run at home plate in the eighth inning. "I was nervous," Tom said. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I was tired, but emotionally, I was at a high pitch." The win temporarily moved the Mets into first place in the National League Eastern Division. They would finish in second place behind the Pittsburgh Pirates at season's end. The second baseman ended 1990 with the one home run and a .250 batting average.
During the winter Herr and the Mets avoided arbitration when he signed a one-year contract. "We're happy to have Tommy back for next year," Mets' senior vice president Al Harazin commented. "He's a veteran leader who will provide our young infield with the type of leadership it needs." Youngster Gregg Jefferies was given the majority of the playing time at second base before shifting to third base. On May 19, 1991, a slumping Herr was told he would be resuming a reserve role upon the return of shortstop, Kevin Elster from shoulder surgery. The team was moving Jefferies back to second. A closed door meeting with General Manager Frank Cashen followed in an effort to clarify Tom's future with the team. Cashen came out of the meeting saying only that he felt Herr was having difficulty adjusting to the prospect of life as a bench player.
With Herr's batting average dipping to a lowly .194 the Mets made a move. Tom was released by the club on August 5, 1991.
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native served as an assistant coach for 12 seasons at his high school alma mater Hempfield High in Landisville. During that time he coached his two sons, Jordan and Aaron Herr in both baseball and football. Tom was named the first-ever manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League when the team was formed in 2004. "This is almost too good to be true, being able to manage in my hometown," Herr said upon the announcement. "I have been looking forward to the return of baseball to Lancaster for quite some time and this will be an extension of my involvement and love for this community. I know it will be a great experience for me and my family."
Tom Herr signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 2, 2009.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Kris Benson was traded along with Jeff Keppinger to the New York Mets from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ty Wigginton, Jose Bautista, and Matt Peterson on July 30, 2004. Also included in the three team trade was Justin Huber leaving New York to the Kansas City Royals. "It's kind of a relief to just to get it over with. "The way things worked out couldn't be any better," said Benson. "I think my transition is easier because this is a team that I wanted to be on. The Mets were the most interested in getting me, and that meant a lot." The club sent a private plane to Milwaukee (where the Pirates were playing) to bring Kris to Atlanta and join the team there.
He made his Mets debut the very next day on July 31, 2004. A rocky start facing the Eastern Division leading Braves that resulted in a 8-0 loss. The loss moved New York back to eight games behind in the standings. "They definitely had my number," Benson said. "I didn't pitch my game. It was awkward out there. That's the first time that's happened to me this season, where I didn't feel all that comfortable." Kris later threw one of only two complete game shutouts the Mets would have during the 2004 season. Benson's gem coming against that same Atlanta team at Shea Stadium on September 14th. He struck out seven Braves and gave up only four hits during the 7-0 win. New York finished the year in fourth place a full 25 games behind Atlanta. Kris ended with a record of 4-4 and a 4.50 ERA.
The team signed the free agent right-hander to a three-year contract in November of 2004. Both he and his outspoken wife, Anna Benson had expressed a desire to remain in New York during the season. "I believe that I have a lot to offer in terms of altering people's views on how to treat other people," Anna was quoted. "I figured if I gain some type of celebrity status, people might listen to me more." She did get noticed as FHM Magazine proclaimed her "Baseball's Hottest Wife" in 2004, and an appearance on the Howard Stern Show generated even more interest.
The newly signed pitcher was mentioned in trade rumors during the Winter Meetings as New York was looking for payroll flexibility. When Kris Benson was asked to play the role of Santa Claus during the Mets Annual Christmas Party for local school children it was Anna who stole the show with her Mrs. Claus outfit. "I've always said I wanted to be here," Kris said through his fake beard. "I signed here because I want to be here. We said all along we want to be here."
A strained pectoral muscle landed Benson on the disabled list for the first month of the 2005 season. He would return to the rotation and make 28 starts for New York. Posting a 10-8 record and 4.13 ERA, while leading the team in home runs allowed with 24.
Kris was traded from the New York Mets to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for John Maine and Jorge Julio on January 21, 2006. General manager, Omar Minaya contended that Anna and her comments about the team were not a factor in the decision. The Bensons did not agree. "New York is just a world of it's own. I knew that coming in, but you learn that a little more when you get put in the spotlight like that in a negative way," Kris said. "It was a little frustrating at the time because people kind of believe what they read. For her it's been a little tough, because they kind of portray her in a negative light." Insisting that through it all she had a great relationship with the Mets' front office and PR department, Anna said, "In New York I manipulated the media, and I had my fun. They were very irritating at times, and I irritated them back."
Kris and Anna formed "Benson's Batallion" in October 2001. A nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to fighting terror and supporting city and state police and fire departments.
Kris Benson signed his card in the set for my friend, Greg when the Reno Aces visited the Tacoma Rainiers at Cheney Stadium on August 2, 2010.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Mike Stanton signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on December 16, 2002. He had been a valuable set-up man for the New York Yankees during their World Series years, but was not offered a contract for 2003. "The Mets are definitely an intriguing possibility," the left-hander who lives year-round in New Jersey offered, "My kids are in school here and when you live in a place six years, you get rooted." Mike passed on an offer from the Rangers in his home state of Texas. "This is where I wanted to be," Stanton said after signing the deal. "I'm happy we got it done."
Mike made his Mets debut on April 2, 2003. Working a perfect eighth inning while striking out two batters at Shea Stadium during a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. He finished his first season with the Mets with a 2-7 record, 4.57 ERA and five saves. This for a club that lost 95 games and finished 34-1/2 games behind the division winning Atlanta Braves.
Stanton established a then team record for appearances the next year. His 83 games during the 2004 campaign was the most by a Met in a season until Pedro Feliciano appeared in 86 games in 2008. Mike's effectiveness returned with the extra work as well. Evidenced by his lower 3.16 ERA.
The reliever performed a rare feat on August 3, 2004. Stanton entered the game at Miller Park to start the eighth inning facing the Brewers. Mike struck out the first batter he faced. Then Scott Posednik swang and missed on a ball that was ruled a wild pitch when it passed Mets' catcher Vance Wilson and went to the backstop. The speedy Posednik was safe at first on the "dropped third-strike". A determined Stanton then fanned two more batters on called third strikes to officially record four strikeouts in the same inning. It was only the second time in Mets' history for the oddity to occur. (Derek Wallace did it on September 13, 1996.)
Mike was traded by the Mets to the Yankees in exchange for Felix Heredia on December 3, 2004. It was a return to the club that had given him many post-season opportunities. Stanton told the Yankees media, "I made some friends over there that I'm still friends with and that I'll try to always be friends with, but losing 95 games, there's not a whole lot of fun in that."
After leaving his active pitching career Stanton became the head baseball coach for Don Bosco Prepatory School in Ramsey, New Jersey. "I've been on the road so much," Mike explained. "Then I started going to see my son play. It kind of turned into me hanging around every day and they ended up giving me a uniform. But I've always had a passion for working with kids."
Mike Stanton signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to Don Bosco on August 16, 2010.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Orel Hershiser joined the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on March 25, 1999. The former star of the Los Angeles Dodgers during their 1988 National League Championship Series victory over the Mets was brought in to replace a struggling Hideo Nomo. "As down as I was yesterday over losing a player that I had a lot of sweat equity in and who I was pulling for to do well," manager Bobby Valentine said the day of the signing, "I'm even higher than that today knowing that one of the greatest competitors, one of the best pitchers I've ever seen, is lined up on our team."
The 40 year-old right-hander brought with him a strong positive clubhouse presence. He was a devout Christian who never smoked or drank and avoided swearing. Orel was also one of the most intelligent players in the game. "Bulldog" struggled on the mound to start the 1999 season. He made his Mets debut in Montreal facing the Expos on April 8th, but lost after surrendering four runs in just four innings of work. No longer the dominating figure he had been years earlier with the Dodgers. Hershiser only had a 2-4 record following his first seven starts of the year.
Things began to change for the veteran following a win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium on May 21st. Now going deeper into games he was able to post an 8-3 winning record over his next 13 starts leading to a milestone win on July 22nd. Hershiser recorded his 200th career win with the Mets 7-4 victory over the Expos at Shea. "I'd like to dedicate something like this to my wife," Orel said. "I think that she's been through a lot and I think that the girls really stay off to the side and out of the limelight, and they really do an awful lot of work for us to come out here and play as well as we do and take care of our families." He became only the 95th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish the feat. "I don't think that I even thought about 200 when I was struggling at the beginning of the season because the eight wins seemed a long way off, as bad as I was pitching," Hershiser said.
Orel would end the regular season with a record of 13-12 and a 4.58 ERA. Leading the club with 32 starts, and tied for most team victories with Al Leiter. When the Mets won their final four games of the regular season it allowed them to clinch the Wild Card entry into the postseason. Coming from the bullpen it was Hershiser that held the score tied in the 4th inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. A game that would be won in legendary fashion by Robin Ventura's walkoff "Grand Slam Single" in the 15th inning. "If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history," Orel said after the 5-hour, 46-minute epic. "One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any." Unfortunately the Mets would fall to the evil Braves in Game 6 and miss an opportunity at the 1999 World Series.
It would be Bulldog's only season with the Mets as he signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 5, 1999.
After his active pitching career ended in 2000, the 1988 Cy Young Award winner had served as a pitching coach and later Executive Director for the Texas Rangers. Leaving that position to join the staff of ESPN as both a print and television analyst for their baseball coverage.
Hershiser is an accomplished poker player and advanced to the final four at the 2008 National Heads-Up Poker Championship in Las Vegas. Defeating three notable professionals to earn $125,00.00 in winnings.
Orel has volunteered time on behalf of Little League Baseball and served as a coach in the Appreciation Game in 2010. "You really have to watch what you say and how you act," Hershiser explained. "You're a role model every moment. You might not be teaching them baseball; you might be teaching them manners and respect."
Orel Hershiser signed his card in the set for my friend, Lou after the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium on August 8, 2010.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Heath Bell was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on June 16, 1998. He had gone undrafted after his time pitching for Rancho Santiago Community College in California. "I was like, Man my dreams are gone." said Bell. The hard throwing right-hander was entertaining the idea of joining the Marines before the Mets offer came. Heath's father repeatedly talked him out of enlisting and pushed him to pursue his baseball future.
Bell made his major-league debut on August 24, 2004 at Shea Stadium. He lists the moment of his charging from the bullpen and striking out the first batter he would face as a favorite baseball memory. "I saw a bunch of guys go up and down," Heath said. "I spent five years in Triple-A just sitting there waiting for my spot, seeing everyone else go up but me."
The Mets would bounce Bell back and forth between the major and minor league roster during his entire time with New York. "For me it was 11 times in 2006, but only only nine of them counted," Heath said. "There were a few where I got called up, took batting practice and was told, 'Oh wait, we're not activating you.' Or you get the phone call after you get off the plane and they're telling you 'Just wait there.'"
So it was not much of a surprise when the Mets traded Bell along with Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson on November 15, 2006.
"The Mets gave me a shot. I wasn't drafted. I'm real thankful for that," Bell reflected in 2008. "For, what, nine different seasons I was a Met, or in the minor leagues? They went to the World Series in 2000. I was a huge Mets fan, because I poured my heart and soul into New York. I still keep track of everything that goes on. I still throw a Mets game up here on my TV and watch the guys playing. I'm still rooting for the guys, as long as they're not playing us."
After becoming the San Diego Padres closer, Heath has been selected to the Major League All-Star Game in 2009 and 2010. Before the pitcher's second appearance in the mid-summer classic, Jim Bell handed his dog tags from his career in the Marines to his son. "I went and got one of those chains in the store and threw them on," Heath said following the special gift from his father. "I'm probably going to wear them from here on out."
Heath Bell signed his card in the set for my friend, Lou before the San Diego Padres faced the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 8, 2010.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Larry Elliot joined the New York Mets when they purchased his contract from the Pittsburgh Pirates on December 16, 1963. The left-handed hitting outfielder made his Mets debut on April 15, 1964. He entered the first game ever played at Shea Stadium two days later on April 17th. After Jim Hickman was struck by a pitch in the fourth-inning, Larry came in as a pinch-runner and remained as the new centerfielder. Collecting his first hit at the new ballpark in the eighth-inning on a single past the Pirates shortstop.
Elliot would make 80 game appearances during the 1964 season. Hitting a total of nine home runs during his first year with the Mets. He slugged four of them in four consecutive games between July 21st through July 24th. Three of those blasts coming against the Cincinnati Reds. The same team that would sign Larry to play for them in the minor-leagues for 1965.
Larry returned to New York after a year absence. He started the 1966 season at Triple-A Jacksonville where he hit for a .303 batting average. That earned him a promotion to the Mets on July 5th. Elliot was again used as a centerfielder, but ended the season as primarily a pinch-hitter and finished with five home runs and a .246 batting average.
The team traded him to the Kansas City Athletics in exchange for Ed Charles on May 10, 1967. He would not appear in another major-league game before retiring following the 1969 season.
Elliot remained around baseball following his playing career. He became a very successful head baseball coach at Mira Mesa High School in San Diego, California. A man who always tried to remain behind the scenes during that time. "Maybe we, as coaches, toot our horn a little too much," Larry was quoted. "I coached a water polo team two years ago and we didn't win a game. I was doing the same things then that I'm doing now. The only difference is that we won the championship last year, I had a lot of talented players."
Larry Elliot signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on November 24, 2008.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Richie Hebner was traded along with Jose Moreno by the Philadelphia Phillies to the New York Mets in exchange for Nino Espinosa on March 27, 1979. The veteran was brought in to serve as the team's third baseman and to provide some much needed left-handed power. "He never wanted to play in New York, he defied the Mets to obtain him in a trade," said Mets broadcaster and analyst, Howie Rose. "They did trade for him. He came here, and was absolutely miserable—and played like it."
Hebner did lead the team with 79 RBIs, but hit only 10 home runs. His .268 batting average for the season was highlighted by a four hit performance at Shea Stadium. That occurring on May 19th in a 12-inning loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mets traded Hebner to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Jerry Morales and Phil Mankowski on October 31, 1979. Later, Mets General Manager Joe McDonald revealed, " Richie hated crowds and traffic," he told the Sporting News. "He went into Manhattan only once all the time he was here."
On his first year of addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot he even received one vote.
During the off-seasons of his long baseball career he joined the family business. Hebner would work with his father, and brother Dennis digging graves in a West Roxbury, Massachusetts cemetery. "Whenever I see Hebner," said former teammate George "Doc" Medich, "he'll say, 'If you ever screw up, keep me in mind.'" In later years he has driven a hearse for a friend that operates three funeral homes in the Boston area.
Following his 18-year major league playing career he became a batting coach for the Boston Red Sox in 1989. He has continued to remain in the game at the minor-league level as either a manager or coach long after that. Richie accepted the hitting coach position for the Norfolk Tides in 2010. "I've always said I'm not gonna get fired for laziness," Hebner stated. "I put the time in. I tell people when you hire me you get your money's worth, because I'm not afraid to work."
Richie Hebner signed his card in the set for me before the Norfolk Tides and Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field on August 9, 2010.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Eric Hillman was selected by the New York Mets in the 16th round of the 1987 free agent draft. The left-hander began his professional baseball career in the minor leagues. The 6-foot 10-inch tall pitcher drew obvious comparisons to the more famous Randy Johnson. "I'm fine being Eric Hillman," he explained. "He strikes them out. I let them ground out."
The tallest pitcher in New York Mets history made his major-league debut on May 18, 1992. Coming into the game in relief of Dwight Gooden and tossing a scoreless eighth inning of a 3-0 loss to the Padres in San Diego. Following a second relief appearance that same series he was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk.
When he returned it was as a starting pitcher. Hillman made his Shea Stadium debut by arriving on an early morning flight the day of that evening's game. "I walked out and it sure looked like every baseball field I had ever pitched on," observed Eric. "The dimensions were the same. I wanted to take that attitude to the field." His results were terrific as he limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to six hits in his eight innings of work in a 2-0 Mets victory. Hillman had worked with a sports psychologist who helped him visualize success. "I see my pitches winding up in certain spots," he explained. "I see groundballs."
Eric was part of the Mets starting rotation to begin the 1993 season. He struggled early and failed to record a victory in his first 13 appearances. Some of which included his return to the bullpen and then back to Triple-A Norfolk. Hillman's first win of the year came in a complete-game shutout facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. "You've got to give Eric a lot of credit," Mets Manager Dallas Green commented afterward. "He did a lot of the things that we sent him down for, staying ahead of hitters, using all his stuff, bunting the ball." Hillman would end the year with a 2-9 record and 3.97 ERA. Asked to describe the disappointing 1993 campaign that saw the Mets lose 103 games, "The Three Stooges are the image for me and the Mets'" Eric said. "There is one scene in an episode where the three are in a boat with a leak. Moe and Larry are bailing it out while Curly is drilling another one. Absolute chaos I think is the phrase."
The southpaw was facing the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium on May 4, 1994 when he surrendered a home run to Barry Bonds. During his next trip to the plate Hillman hit the slugger with a pitch. A matter that Barry took great exception to. "If he hits me again, I'm chasing him around the clubhouse and out of the clubhouse," Bonds told reporters. "I'll take my bat out to the mound if he starts running away. They're going to have to restrain me because I'm going to come after him all day." Eric repeatedly stated that the incident was unintentional and the comments undeserving of a response. Right before the Major League Baseball strike occurred, with a record of 0-3 and a 7.79 ERA, he was optioned back to Triple-A to finish the season. Hillman went 10-1 for Norfolk.
He was granted free agency on October 15, 1994. Hillman followed his Norfolk manager, Bobby Valentine to sign with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan in 1995. Eric teamed up with pitchers Hideki Irabu and Satoru Komiyama to form a strong rotation. In his second year with the Marines he was selected the Pacific League's Best Nine pitcher with a 14-9 record and 2.40 ERA. Hillman signed with the Yomiuri Giants for the 1997 season, but injuries limited him to just six innings and ended his career.
Eric Hillman signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on April 30, 2009.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Randy Sterling was selected by the New York Mets in the first round of the free agent draft on June 5, 1969. The 18 year-old right-handed pitcher from Key West, Florida was the fourth overall pick that year. A highlight of his fine high school career included a Florida State Championship with the Conchs and once striking out 24 batters during an 11-inning no-hit victory over Miami Edison. "When I was in Little League I used to come over and watch games, and to me at that time it was like coming over to watch a big league game," Sterling remembers about the die-hard baseball community in which he lived. "You'd see the big league games on TV, but you'd actually, as a Little Leaguer, dream of putting on a Conch uniform rather than putting on a Dodgers or Yankees uniform."
During a seven year minor-league career, that included three seasons at Triple-A Tidewater, he would post a record of 60-56 with a 3.40 ERA. His major-league debut came with the Mets on September 16, 1974. Randy was given the starting assignment that day facing the Expos in Montreal. Sterling threw 5-2/3 innings and was officially credited with the win during a 3-2 New York victory. It was one of only three games in which Randy would appear in the big leagues. The last of which came on September 28th and was his only appearance at Shea Stadium. He ended with a 1-1 record, 9.2 innings pitched, and a 4.82 ERA.
After his baseball career was over, Sterling returned to Key West and became the head of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. He was honored for his Key West High School accomplishments when the Conchs retired his uniform number in 2005. He is a member of the competitive fishing team aboard the Reel Conch, which includes his son, Captain Randy Jr. and Erica Hughes Sterling. "I've fished most of my life and I've always been competitive," Randy said in 2008. "My six years on the Mets were the most competitive. Each year professional sports become more competitive, but the past six years being a team with my son, Shane, and Erica, in fishing tournaments, competition has taken on a whole new meaning."
Randy Sterling signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to the Parks Department Office on December 12, 2008.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Rick Aguilera was selected by the New York Mets organization in the third round of the free agent draft on June 6, 1983. He made his major-league debut with the team on June 12, 1985. Rick pitched the final two innings of the 7-3 extra-inning win over the Phillies in Philadelphia. The young right-hander was credited with his first major-league victory. During his rookie campaign he finished with a 10-7 record and 3.24 ERA in 19 starts. A year that saw the Mets fall just short of the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title.
Aguilera had earned his spot as the fifth starter in the rotation during the 1986 season. He posted almost identical numbers as he had the previous year. Only this time for a team that would run away with the National League Eastern Division. The Mets bested the second place Philadelphia Phillies by a whopping 21-1/2 games. Rick was standing on the top step of the dugout at Shea Stadium when the team clinched on September 17th. He was overcome by fans charging onto the field in celebration. "As soon as Wally (Backman) caught the ball, I was fallen on," recalled Aguilera. "Somebody came out of the stands, trying to get on the field, and landed on me. I never felt any pain, but my arm felt numb." He would miss a start, but return to pitch in the post season. With the Mets going to a shortened rotation his role became that of a reliever. Rick threw five scoreless innings of relief against the Houston Astros in the National League Playoffs, but struggled in the World Series. Aguilera was able to pick up the victory as the pitcher of record in the legendary Game 6 of that series. Becoming a member of the 1986 World Champions when the Mets defeated the Boston Red Sox in the deciding Game 7.
Rick enjoyed his best season as a starting pitcher the next year. Despite missing three months on the disabled list, he would post a career best 11 wins with a 3.60 ERA during his 18 appearances of 1987. An elbow operation was eventually performed and forced Aguilera to miss most of the 1988 season and have the Mets replace him with David Cone in the rotation. Upon his return Rick found himself as New York's long reliever.
During the winter of 1989 he was not only asked to continue in the bullpen, but also for reduced pay after agreeing to avoid salary arbitration. "No one likes to go back in salary, but the Mets treated Rick well last year," Aguilera's agent would state. "What Rick wants to do now is concentrate on baseball and get back into the starting rotation, either with the Mets or someone else if the Mets trade him."
A strange thing happened. After surgery the velocity on Rick's pitches increased and despite his continued desire to once again become a starter he flourished as a reliever. The Mets established Aguilera as the team's late-inning right-handed option where he registered seven saves. Forcing him to tell The Sporting News, "The most amazing thing is that I am actually learning to like being a reliever."
The Mets traded Aguilera along with Tim Drummond, David West, Kevin Tapani, and Jack Savage to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Frank Viola on July 31, 1989.
Rick became the Twins all-time saves leader and entered the Twins Hall of Fame in 2008.
After his playing career he settled in California to spend time with his wife and two children while pursuing real estate ventures. "It's been a bit of a surprise how busy real life is," Aguilera was quoted. "Baseball is it's own little fantasy world. I'm realizing how busy real life can get with kids." Rick was the former head baseball coach for Santa Fe Christian School and has been a speaker on both faith and baseball.
Rick Aguilera signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie at JP's Sports and Rock Solid Promotions autograph show in Uniondale, NY on October 23, 2011. Adding an awesome "1986 World Series Champions" inscription.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Oliver Perez was traded along with Roberto Hernandez by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Mets in exchange for Xavier Nady on July 31, 2006. The move was made in response to the club losing valued relief pitcher, Duaner Sanchez to a shoulder injury suffered during a traffic accident in a New York taxi. Acquiring Hernandez was the focus of the trade, and not the once promising Perez. A major-league strikeout leader who had been pitching in Triple-A Indianapolis and was initially assigned to Norfolk by his new team. "He has some upside," Mets General Manager Omar Minaya said at the time. "We think Perez has some potential to be turned around."
"Ollie" made his New York Mets debut on August 26, 2006. The left-hander from Mexico, gave a glimpse of what his talent was capable of when he threw a complete game shutout facing the Atlanta Braves on September 6th. "That was the game that was needed," Perez explained. "I know I was having a lot of problems. This game is very good for me." Oliver ended the season for the National League Eastern Division Champions with mixed results. Injuries to Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez forced the Mets to add Perez to the postseason rotation. He responded with pitching New York to a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. "Everybody is excited to play in a game that can get you to the World Series," Oliver said following that performance. "This is what we play for. I just want to go out there for the team and do my best." In a strange turn of events it would be Perez to take the ball at Shea Stadium for the deciding Game 7 of that series. Ollie would pitch superbly, alowing only one earned run in six innings, but New York would lose the contest 3-1.
The next season appeared to be a turning point for Oliver Perez. He established himself as the team's most consistent starting pitcher and led the staff with 15 wins. His wildness too seemed harnessed when he only allowed 79 walks in his 177 innings pitched. Although the Mets faltered and the team failed to make the postseason it was Oliver who was a winner. He became one of the few players to ever enter an arbitration hearing in team history. After presenting his case Perez was awarded a $6.5 million dollar salary for 2008. The verdict produced a nearly 200 percent increase over the previous year. "I know it's a business," Ollie commented after the hearing. "That stuff is outside the game. Both sides have a job to do. There are no hard feelings."
Perez returned to his inconsistent ways during the 2008 campaign. His record of 10-7 was filled with many big innings and saw him leading the National League in walks allowed with 105. After having the honor of starting the home opener during the last year of Shea Stadium he was also on the mound for what proved to be the final game there. Pitching on short rest Oliver took a two-hit shutout into the sixth inning facing the Florida Marlins. His fortunes changed quickly when the first run scored on a pair of hits. Perez was then lifted during that same inning with the base loaded and one out. The Mets' relievers would surrender two more runs in the 4-2 loss on September 28, 2008. Ending the Shea Era.
Oliver Perez signed his card in the set for me before the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field on September 4, 2010.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Lute Barnes was selected by the New York Mets in the 21st round of the 1969 amateur draft. A native of Forest City, Iowa who attended Oregon State University. Barnes worked his way through the minor-league system reaching Triple-A Tidewater in 1971. He was rewarded with a call up to New York the next season when starting shortstop, Bud Harrelson was forced to the disabled list. Barnes made his major-league debut on August 6, 1972 at Shea Stadium. The Mets were facing the Chicago Cubs that Sunday afternoon on route to a lopsided victory. Manager, Yogi Berra brought his starters out of the game in the top of the 7th inning. Lute would not come to the plate until the 8th inning facing Cubs' pitcher Steve Hamilton. In his first major-league at-bat he would lace a line drive to left field and drive in the 12th run of the game. One of 17 hits that the young infielder would record during his 24 games to close that year. He finished with a .236 batting average and six RBIs.
Lute was back in Tidewater for the entire 1973 minor-league season. Receiving a second call up when the major-league rosters expanded in September. During this visit he would only appear in three games as either a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter. He collected his last major-league hit in what would be his final major-league at-bat on September 26, 1973. A base hit to drive in a run back at Shea Stadium where his big league career had begun.
Barnes would play the next two years in Triple-A. Finishing his career with the Cincinnati Reds organization at Indianapolis before retiring in 1975.
I created the card for Lute Barnes in the set from an autographed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie on June 24, 2010.