Friday, August 20, 2010
#540) AL LEITER
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.