Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Daryl Boston was claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox by the New York Mets on April 30, 1990. The club was in need of a centerfielder at that time after trading away both Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson. Second basemen Juan Samuel and Keith Miller had both tried unsuccessfully to convert to the position. So Daryl's defense was a welcome relief.
On April 23, 1992, the Mets were facing the rival St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium. The two teams played to a scoreless tie through 12 innings. Boston came to the plate with the bases-loaded in the bottom of the 13th inning. Cards' reliever, Juan Agosto would hit Daryl with a pitch to force in the lone run of the day. The ball struck him in the stomach, unbuttoning his jersey, and settling between his uniform and undershirt. "It just slipped out of my hand." Agosto would say. Final result was a Mets 1-0 victory.
Boston left the Mets when he signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies on December 21, 1992.
After retiring as a player, Daryl became a minor league coach. In 1998, he was the hitting coach with the Bristol White Sox, and the next year, held the same position for the Burlington Bees. Boston spent the 2000 season on the Winston-Salem Warthogs staff and since then has been a minor league outfield instructor for the Chicago White Sox.
Daryl Boston signed his card in the set for my friend, Sam Lynagh when he visited the Chicago White Sox spring training camp in Glendale, Arizona during March of 2010.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Ron Swoboda signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on September 5, 1963. He made his major league debut while a member of the Mets at Shea Stadium on April 12, 1965. The 20 year-old outfielder's first manager was the great Casey Stengel. Swoboda would later change his uniform number to "4" in respect of Mr. Stengel when "The Old Perfessor" retired from the game. In only his second major league at-bat Ron hit a tape-measure home run over the back wall of the Mets bullpen at Shea. "The longest ball I ever hit" said Swoboda. His 19 home runs in 1965 would lead the team and established a then season record for a Mets rookie.
Beginning with the 1968 season, Gil Hodges became the New York manager. "Gil was so on top of the game," says Ron. "There was no one better than Hodges. He was interesting, and creative, but in a way a player could understand."
Ron was a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets World Championship team. "If you are lucky enough to get into the World Series, that's a privilege." Swoboda stated, "All I was trying to do was play baseball." His greatest contribution to that victory came in Game 4 of the World Series. In the ninth inning, with two runners on, Swoboda would make a diving, nearly horizontal backhanded grab of a wicked Brooks Robinson liner. If the ball falls in then the Orioles certainly score two runs instead of one. The Mets would go on to win that game in the 10th inning, and finish Baltimore in Game 5. An amazing fielding feat for the man nicknamed "Rocky" because his outfield play was so ragged years earlier. "I joke about it—some people had a career, I had a catch," Ron says. "You could sum it all up with that. But if you get a little deeper, it says that I worked at it."
On March 31, 1971, Swoboda was traded along with Rich Hacker to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Don Hahn. "The Catch" is currently immortalized in metal silhouette at the right field entrance of new Citi Field.
After his playing career, Ron Swoboda has enjoyed a career as a baseball broadcaster. Most recently teaming up with partner Tim Grubbs for Zephyrs games in his newly adopted home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. "Baseball is a beautiful game," Ron explains, "I feel very fortunate to do these games at the Triple-A level. Everybody's striving—they don't have it made. I like that. I relate more to that game. There's not a lot of pomposity or ego on display. It's not adorned with much other than effort and desire. It's cool."
He has also become a historian of New Orleans and is particularly appreciative of Jazz music. Ron received the Thurman Munson Award in recognition of his accomplishments on the field of play and philanthropic efforts on February 3, 2009.
Ron Swoboda signed his card in the set, adding a terrific World Champs inscription, from an autograph request sent to his home on March 18, 2010.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Rodney McCray came to the New York Mets when he was signed as a free agent on December 13, 1991. He made his Mets' debut on April 15, 1992 at Shea Stadium facing the Philadelphia Phillies. This was one of only 18 games in which he would appear for New York. Remarkably 14 of which involved him as a pinch-runner. Rodney often remained as a defensive replacement late in those games. It was on one such occurrence that he got is only at-bat while a Met. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the opponent on May 8th at Shea Stadium. McCray had entered the game in the eighth inning to pinch-run for Eddie Murray. He remained in right-field for the top of the ninth and came to the plate with a tie score in the bottom half of the inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Rodney stroked a line drive to deep shortstop. Junior Noboa scored the winning run and the Mets were victorious by a score of 4-3. "Some of the guys were kidding me, telling me that I might set the record for most games without an official at-bat." McCray would comment afterward. The game had began after a rain delay of two hours, and ended in light rain and mist with around 2,000 fans remaining.
McCray was released by the Mets on June 8, 1992. "I could play with the best of them as far as defensively and stealing bases," Rodney said, "I just couldn't hit enough."
One amazing defensive play will assure that Rodney McCray will always be remembered. In 1991, while playing in the minor leagues for the Vancouver Canadians the fleet-footed outfielder was chasing a fly ball and literally crashed through the outfield wall. The startling play has become immortalized in highlight reels shown on scoreboards around the nation ever since. Years later, "Crash" McCray was even honored with a "bobble-fence" stadium giveaway in Portland, Oregon where the event occurred. "The play dictates what kind of ballplayer I was," Rodney said of his break-through moment, "I was a hard-nosed player. I went after it."
After retiring from baseball in 1993, McCray worked as a hotel concierge before becoming an instructional coach. He first worked with the Cincinnati Reds and then joined the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2007.
Rodney McCray signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training facility in Arizona on March 27, 2010.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Octavio Dotel was signed as a free agent on March 20, 1993. A native of the Dominican Republic who played there in the Mets' program until joining the Gulf Coast League Mets in 1995. Dotel worked his way to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides before he was promoted to the New York Mets to assume the struggling Jason Isringhausen's spot in the starting rotation. Octavio made his major league debut on June 26, 1999. Facing the rival Braves he would allow six runs in the four-plus innings and fall to Atlanta, and Tom Glavine by a score of 7-2. "I tried to tell him to calm down," Mets pitching coach Dave Wallace said, "He was just anxious, as any young man making his first major league start would be."
The hard-throwing 23 year-old rebounded well in his next starts. "I have to say that he is a young kid with a great future." evaluated Cubs star, Sammy Sosa after a Dotel victory over his Chicago team. Octavio's pitching was even beginning to draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez as his record swelled to 8-2. "I just want to be good every time, because they gave me a chance to be here," Dotel was quoted after a win. "... and you guys know we have a lot of starters. I just want to take the opportunities they give me." He was the winner of
the National League Player of the Week Award on
July 25, 1999.
In late September it was determined that Octavio would be moved to the bullpen. Concerns arose over the number of innings that he was being asked to throw. "I feel I'm a starting pitcher," Dotel responded, "but I've got in my heart that I can do whatever they're gonna do with me. I changed my mind right away. I do not know if my arm will change."
The New York Mets won the National League Wild Card following a one-game playoff with the Cincinnati Reds. Dotel, pitching from the bullpen, struggled in his only appearance facing the Arizona Diamondbacks during the NL Division Series. When the club advanced to face Atlanta in the NL Championship Series he would have a second opportunity for post season success. This time the rookie would be credited the victory in Game 5 of the series after three strong innings of work against the Braves. It would be the last time that Dotel took the mound at Shea Stadium as a New York Met. Octavio was traded with Roger Cedeno and Kyle Kessel to the Houston Astros in exchange for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell on December 23, 1999.
Octavio Dotel signed his card in the set for me when the Baltimore Orioles faced the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Florida on March 10, 2010.
Mike Pelfrey selected by the New York Mets in the first round (ninth pick overall) of the free agent draft on June 7, 2005. The 6ft.-7in. right-hander is known affectionately as "Big Pelf". He made his major league debut on July 8, 2006 at Shea Stadium facing Florida. Five innings of work earned him his first career victory in a 17-3 blowout of the Marlins.
Mike always wore a mouthpiece while pitching for the Mets during his first two seasons. Often chewing on it as he threw. The protective device was in response to Tempromandibular Joint Disorder. A problem that began after being struck in the jaw by a batted ball while he was pitching for Team USA in 2004. He abandoned the practice out of fear he might be tipping his pitches through his mannerisms with the mouthpiece.
The prized prospect was established as the fifth starter in the Mets' rotation out of spring training in 2008. Pelfrey rewarded that confidence when he earned the National League Player of the Week Award on July 13, 2008. During that time he threw 15 scoreless innings in his two victories. "Now we feel like we're going to win when he's out there," catcher Brian Schneider commented. ""He's come on so fast. You knew he had talent, but he was having trouble getting to it. Then, boom."
His success during the final season of Shea Stadium continued when he became the first Mets pitcher, since Bret Saberhagen in 1995, to throw consecutive complete game victories. Pelfrey's two wins coming on August 20th and 25th. The second of which placed the Mets temporarily into first place in the National League East. A half game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Mike Pelfrey signed his card in the set after a Mets' morning practice in Port St. Lucie, Florida on March 14, 2010.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Reid Cornelius was traded by the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets in exchange for David Segui on June 8, 1995. The young pitcher was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk upon joining the Mets. Reid was simply dominating there with a 7-0 record and miniscule 0.90 ERA in ten starts. The Mets chose to trade Bret Saberhagen to the Colorado Rockies and Cornelius was given that vacant roster spot. He was recalled to New York and made his debut with the team on August 3, 1995. Reid suffered a 3-2 loss in Cincinnati after going six innings and yielding three runs on four hits that day.
During the 1995 season he was given a total of ten starts and posted a 3-7 record and 5.15 ERA. "I wish I could have helped the team more as far as my record goes," Reid said. "But it was a good experience." Cornelius was traded to the Cleveland Indians along with Ryan Thompson in exchange for Mark Clark on March 31, 1996. Thus ending his time in the Mets system.
Arm problems developed for him following the 2000 season. Reid required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. When arthritis followed, Cornelius was forced to retire. He had started to pursue a degree in business at Palm Beach Community College before an unexpected offer came. "It really sort of came out of nowhere." Reid explained. He was offered an opportunity to become a pitching coach for the Jamestown Jammers. Cornelius would continue to coach in the minor leagues until he returned to the Major Leagues as the Florida Marlins bullpen coach in 2010.
Reid Cornelius signed his card in the set for me before a game when the New York Mets faced the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Florida on March 14, 2010.
Willie Collazo was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on March 1, 2006. He began the season in Double-A Binghamton, but was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk by the end of that year. The next season found Collazo once again in Triple-A with the Mets. Although now in New Orleans as New York changed their minor league affiliation. The left-hander was named to the 2007 Pacific Coast League All-Star team, and was further rewarded with a call-up to New York when the rosters were expanded at the end of the year. Willie made his major league debut as a member of the Mets on September 5, 2007. He pitched 1-2/3 innings of scoreless relief facing the Reds at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati that day. Collazo would make a total of six appearances from the bullpen and finish the season with a 6.35 ERA.
The 2008 season found Willie back with the New Orleans Zephyrs club in Triple-A. "You are never going to forget the first time you get called up to the Big Leagues." Collazo reflected. "You always want to go back to that feeling again and that's what we're all here for. To pursue that dream."
Willie Collazo signed his card in the set for me following a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros in Kissimmee, Florida on March 8, 2010.
The New York Mets secured the ace of their pitching staff when they acquired Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra on March 31, 2008. The two-time American League Cy Young Award winner was signed to a six-year contract extension that made him the highest paid pitcher in the game. Santana joined a talented club during the final season of Shea Stadium. "This team has the right pieces to go all the way," Johan said, "and I'm very excited about that."
The left-hander had also been courted by both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but former teammate, Torii Hunter was not surprised by Santana's choice. "The Mets are not only getting a Cy Young winner," Torii offered, "but an absolute bulldog who's great in the clubhouse. He's going to dominate that league. They're going to absolutely love him in New York. I know he is happy too, because he really wanted to go to the Mets. He's always wanted to swing the wood. He can hit."
During his first season with the Mets he was indeed the best pitcher on the team. Johan finished with a 16-7 record and 2.53 ERA (the lowest in the National League). All while striking out 206 batters in 234-1/3 innings of work. Santana's three-hit shutout victory on the next to last day of the season, that coming off just three days rest, was not enough to keep the Mets from faltering at the end of the 2008 campaign. They would miss the playoffs by one game, and provide a somber closing of Shea Stadium.
Johan Santana signed his card in the set during a rainy batting practice session before the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox game in Ft. Myers, Florida on March 17, 2010 (St. Patrick's Day).
Friday, March 26, 2010
Gary Matthews, Jr. became a New York Met when his contract was purchased from the Pittsburgh Pirates on December 28, 2001. The Bucs were trying to free up budget to keep their closer, Mike Williams for the 2002 season. Matthews did not last long in New York. He pinch-hit in the opening game of the year at Shea Stadium facing the Pirates on April 1st. Then entered the second game as a pinch-runner. With just two games played he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for John Bale on April 3, 2002.
Matthews would rejoin the Mets on January 22, 2010 when he was traded by the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for pitcher Brian Stokes.
Gary Matthews signed his card in the set for me while entering the New York Mets spring training site in Port St. Lucie, Florida on the morning of March 15, 2010.
Billy Wagner came to the New York Mets when he signed as a free agent on November 29, 2005. "One of our main priorities this off-season was upgrading the bullpen," said Mets General Manager Omar Minaya following the signing. "Adding Billy Wagner gives us one of the elite closers in the history of the game." The hard-throwing reliever was brought in to replace Braden Looper. Billy's contract with the Mets established him as the highest paid relief pitcher in Major League Baseball to that point.
During his first season in New York he finished with 40 saves and a fine 2.24 ERA. Wagner reached a personal milestone by recording his 300th career save on July 4, 2006. All this during a campaign that saw the Mets claim their first National League Eastern division title in 18 years.
Billy represented the Mets in the 2007 and 2008 MLB All-Star Games. He also became the vocal leader of the team during his time in New York. He was even featured weekly on a local ESPN radio show. During that time providing some of the best quotes and never backing away from an issue. Not surprising for a man whose life presented so many obstacles along the path to the major leagues.
Wagner's mother was 16, his father 19, when he was born into abject poverty in the tiny southwest Virginia town of Tannersville. His parents split bitterly not long after, launching their boy on a terrible odyssey, from uncles to aunts to one set of grandparents then another and eleven schools in ten years. Many mornings, breakfast was a few crackers and peanut butter. Billy only throws left-handed because he broke his right arm—twice—as a child.
As a teenager, Wagner poured his rage into his pitching. Even when his fortunes finally improved, tragedy struck. His wife's parents, who'd become surrogate parents to Wagner himself, were brutally murdered one night. "Things can change at any time," he said, "There is no certainty in tomorrow."
Billy operates a 200-acre farm in Crozet, Virginia with his wife and children. Along with longtime friend Erik Robinson he co-founded the Second Chance Learning Center, which helps struggling students achieve success in the classroom. "I love kids," Wagner said, "I love what positive influences can do for them and if you can help some kid to change their life or change other people then I think that you're a lucky man."
An arm injury finished Billy's season in September of 2008. He was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow and his flexor pronator. Surgery was performed and with tremendous work he would return to the mound as a Met on August 20, 2009.
Billy Wagner signed his card in the set for me at the Atlanta Braves spring training facility in Orlando, Florida on March 7, 2010.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Mike Bordick was acquired by the New York Mets from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Melvin Mora, Mike Kinkade, Lesli Brea, and Pat Gorman on July 28, 2000. The deal was made right at the major league trading deadline to bolster the team's post-season run. A week earlier the Mets had been in discussions with the Cincinnati Reds in an effort to acquire Barry Larkin. A deal was reached, but Larkin refused the trade. Mets' starting shortstop, Rey Ordonez had broken his arm in late May of 2000. Bordick gave the club an All-Star caliber replacement. "I'm very excited to be in a playoff race," Mike would say upon joining the team, "The Orioles are struggling this year and to be thrust into a playoff race is great."
During his first day in the clubhouse third baseman, Robin Ventura fashioned a name tag for the newest Met. "Hello, my name is Mike," read the tag he placed on Bordick's uniform, "but you can call me Bordy." The Shea Stadium fans quickly learned his name. In his first at-bat as a New York Met, on the first pitch from Cardinals' pitcher Andy Benes he saw, an anxious Bordick homered to left-field. A standing ovation ensued and was followed by a curtain call from the crowd. "It was incredible, certainly one of the biggest highlights of my career." Mike said about his home run and the reaction. "It was very exciting. This whole thing was exciting. Obviously, the victory was most important."
The Mets would win the National League Wild Card and advance to the World Series in October of 2000. Unfortunately the reliable Bordick would struggle hitting during the post-season. After 10 years of major league baseball he would get his first World Series at-bat. Only to see manager, Bobby Valentine choose to start Kurt Abbott at shortstop over the slumping veteran for the important Game 5. "It's very frustrating, but I am only disappointed in myself," Mike said before the game. "Obviously we are down 3-1. We've got to do something to spark us." The Mets would lose the game 4-2 to the New York Yankees, who clinched a World Championship without Bordick entering the game.
Mike resigned with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent on December 20, 2000. He became a offense coach for the Orioles' minor league system in 2010.
Mike Bordick signed his card in the set for me in Bradenton, Florida, prior to a spring training game between the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates on March 10, 2010.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Al Pedrique was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets on July 21, 1978. The seventeen year-old from Venezuela played in the Mets' minor league system for nine years before making his major league debut on April 14, 1987. He entered the contest as a late-inning defensive replacement that day in Philadelphia. Al would appear in just five games as a member of the New York Mets before being traded along with Scott Little to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Bill Almon on May 29, 1987.
Pedrique, who had been hitless while with the Mets, collected his first hit at Shea Stadium on June 7th only days after his trade to the Pirates. It was only the second one of his young major league career.
Once his playing career was concluded in 1989 he would become a minor league manager and later a major league coach. The mid-season release of Bob Brenly allowed Pedrique to become the interim manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. He accomplished his first win as a major league manager on July 4th after a complete game victory by Randy Johnson. "I made sure to hold on to the last out ball and presented him the ball as we walked off and said, 'Congratulations on your first major league win'." Johnson shared. "It feels real nice." Pedrique would say that day, "I feel the monkey is off my shoulder now."
After his time in Arizona he has served as the bench coach of the Houston Astros.
Al Pedrique signed his card in the set for me before the Houston Astros faced the Atlanta Braves in a spring training game on March 7, 2010 at Champions Field in Orlando, Florida.
Joe Christopher was one of the Original 1962 New York Mets. He was selected from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the draft on October 10, 1961. The fleet-footed outfielder established then team season records for total hits (163) and runs scored (78) during the first year of Shea Stadium in 1964. The same time he became the first Mets' player to register a .300 batting average in a season. Christopher credits the superior season to a little 50-cent pamphlet written by Hall of Famer, Paul Waner. "I saw the ad for the book in The Sporting News and sent away for it," Joe recalls, "Waner once talked to me in '61 and helped me a lot."
Joe had been the first player from the Virgin Islands to appear in a major league game. Winning a World Series with the Pirates in 1960, and becoming a fan favorite with the Mets. Christopher was known for the habit of wiggling his ears for the New York fans.
After his baseball career was finished he joined an advertising agency in New York. Christopher worked his way to a Vice Presidency with the firm, Promotions Colorful. He now enjoys painting and drawing, in a Pre-Columbian style, from which he claims to gain patience and concentration.
Joe Christopher signed his card in the set for me during a private signing conducted by Chris Potter on February 27, 2010.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Trot Nixon was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the New York Mets on June 13, 2008. Starting outfielders, Moises Alou and Ryan Church were both placed on the disabled list and the club found themselves in need of a replacement during their absence. The veteran Nixon had been playing in the minor leagues for Arizona at the time of the deal. "I'll tell you what," former Red Sox teammate Pedro Martinez commented, "He can play for my team any day."
Trot described the Mets during his time in New York, "...plenty of guys in here grind it out. This is a great group." Nixon appeared in 11 games, and managed six hits. One of which was a home run that accounted for his lone RBI for the Mets.
On June 29th he was placed on the disabled list due to hernia surgery. The Mets granted Trot his release at the close of the season, and he signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers on December 18, 2008.
Trot Nixon signed his card in the set for my friend Jay at the Purpose Driven Baseball Camp (where he was a guest instructor) in Clayton, North Carolina on February 27, 2010.
Bob Ojeda joined the New York Mets when he was traded with John Mitchell, Tom McCarthy, and Chris Bayer by the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Calvin Schiraldi, Wes Gardner, John Christensen, and LaSchelle Tarver on November 13, 1985. The left-hander began his Mets career throwing from the bullpen on April 11. 1986. He would be credited with the victory for three innings of work in a 9-7 New York win over the Phillies in Philadelphia. His success that season soon moved him into the rotation and Ojeda ended the season with a record of 18-5 and a 2.57 ERA. Bob would also play a big role in the World Championship run of the 1986 club.
Elbow surgery limited Ojeda's ability to pitch during most of 1987. Then a strange accident kept Bobby from pitching much of the 1989 season. On September 21, 1988 he was gardening at home and severed a finger tip from his hand with a set of shears. Microsurgery allowed reattachment and he returned to the mound and pitched for several years to follow. Compiling 51 wins and a 3.12 ERA (with 17 complete games) during his Mets career. "This whole ordeal has made me realize how much I really love what I do for a living," The pitcher reflected during his rehabilitation. "I had always tried to downplay it. I'm also not going to change the way I live. I'll still ride dirt bikes and drive fast cars. I'll still take out my own garbage and I'll still work in the yard. But I'll certainly be more careful. And I'm positive I'll never use electric hedge clippers again." Bob left the Mets when he was traded along with Greg Hansell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Hubie Brooks on December 15, 1990.
Unfortunately Ojeda might be best remembered as the only survivor of the tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of fellow Cleveland Indians pitchers, Steve Olin and Tim Crews on March 22, 1993. Bob was seriously injured and underwent surgery for what was described as a "scalping incident - a very large laceration of the head". Ojeda credited his position in the boat during impact as the reason for his survival. He would return to pitch later in that season.
After his playing career Bob became a pitching coach in the New York Mets farm system. He joined SportsNet New York in 2009 as a pre-game and post-game studio analyst for Mets television broadcasts.
Bobby Ojeda signed his card in the set for me while he was leaving through the media gate at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida on March 15, 2010.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Just wanted to take a moment and inform my guests here that I will be traveling to Florida during the next two weeks. Heading down for some spring training adventures and I will probably not have internet access during the trip.
So please understand the lack of posts during this time. Rest assured that I will have many new successes to post on my return.
Thanks to everyone for checking the blog regularly and I appreciate all the support.
"Let's Go Mets!"
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Warren Spahn joined the New York Mets when his contract was purchased from the Milwaukee Braves on November 23, 1964. The winningest left-hander in major league baseball history came to the team in the dual role of pitcher and coach. Warren was in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career when Braves manager, Bobby Bragan questioned his motive for continuing to pitch. "He can bluff his way next season and still not take a pay cut." Bragan said, "He is only thinking about Warren Spahn—the great Spahnie." Those comments irritated Spahn who requested a trade and was sold to the Mets.
In New York he was reunited with his first manager in baseball, Casey Stengel. Things had not went particularly well for the two men during that experience. During his rookie season he had been instructed by Stengel to throw his first two pitches at batter, Pee Wee Reese's head. When Spahn only went shoulder height and inside, forcing a walk, an irrate Casey stormed to the mound. "Yer outta the game." he said, "and when you get to the dugout, keep walking till you reach the clubhouse. There's gonna be a bus ticket there back to Hartford. You'll never win in the major leagues. You got no guts." Years later, Stengel would admit that demoting Warren was the biggest mistake he had made in baseball.
During 1965 the two competitors still did not see eye-to-eye. Spahn had lost his effectiveness and the great pitcher was just a shadow of his former self. Stengel complained, "The hitters jump on him so quick, I can't get him outta there fast enough." After his retirement, Warren was asked about their relationship and responded, "I pitched for Casey Stengel both before and after he was a genius."
Spahn would pitch in 20 games for the Mets with a 4-12 record and 4.36 ERA. He was released by New York on July 22nd and signed with the San Francisco Giants. After leaving the majors, Warren pitched in Mexico and the minors before finally retiring in 1967 at the age of 46. When he was criticized for pitching that long, he said, "I wanted to pitch until they tore the uniform off me, and that's just about what happened."
Warren's greatest moment of courage did not occur on a baseball field. The pitcher became a soldier when he served the United States during World War II. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery under fire in the Battle of the Bulge. As a member of the 176th Combat Engineers Battalion, Spahn earned a battlefield commission to first lieutenant after several members of his company were killed during the famous taking of the Bridge at Ramagen over the Rhine River.
Warren Spahn passed away in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on November 24, 2003. The 82-year old had battled assorted illnesses in his final years.
I created Warren Spahn's card in the set from an autographed index card in October 2008.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Joe Smith was selected by the New York Mets in the third round of the free agent draft on June 6, 2006. The side-arming right-hander was first assigned to the NY-Penn League, Brooklyn Cyclones team. He excelled there and became noted for his "stone-cold stare" as he faced opposing batters working as the team's closer. "My head coach at Wright State, Rob Cooper worked really hard at the mental aspect of the game," said Smith. "I can't tell you how much he taught me about the mental game." His first season of professional baseball ended in Double-A Binghamton and earned him a spring training invite to major league camp in 2007. A strong showing there allowed him to continue his fast track to the major leagues. Less than a year after being drafted, Joe would make his major league debut on Opening Day facing the Cardinals. Throwing a third of an inning in St. Louis on April 1, 2007.
Smith enjoyed some initial success with the Mets. He did not allow his first major league run until May 12th, but the fatigue of pitching at the big league level seemed to have taken it's toll. Joe's fastball which had been clocked at 90 mph was now in the 86-87 mph range. "You can tell he is not the same Joe Smith that he was earlier in the year." General Manager, Omar Minaya would assess. The rookie was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on July 26th. "I know I was going through some struggles, obviously, but I didn't think I was going to be sent down." Smith would say. The Mets brought him back as the rosters expanded in September and he would pitch in nine games recording a 3.46 ERA.
The avid fisherman brought his poles and tackle with him when he returned to Florida for spring training in 2008. Joe seemed much more relaxed in his approach to making the major league roster. "Yeah, If anything, I'll go to Okeechobee." Smith commented, "Growing up in Ohio, we didn't do any of that going out on a boat stuff, like all the way out in the ocean." His confidence was rewarded when he made the roster to start the new season. Another sign of his greater comfort in New York was an absence of parking tickets which had plagued him during his rookie campaign. Smith had paid over $400.00 in fines. "This year," Joe said, "I made arrangements for parking." He made adjustments on the mound too. "He looks similar to last year, but different." Mets' manager, Willie Randolph would observe. "He's whipping the ball better and that's key for him."
Proving himself a major league pitcher might not totally safeguard him from a brief return to the minors. In May of 2008, the team found themselves in need of a spot starter for a difficult part of the schedule. Joe was the pitcher on the team that had minor league options and appeared on the way to Triple-A in the necessary roster move. "If he goes down, it's a number thing," Billy Wagner defended, "Does he deserve to get sent down? No. With a bullpen like ours, you need arms and he's been throwing the ball fantastic." Smith had his own plan to stay, "I'm just trying to make the decision hard for them. That's all I can do." The Mets would keep the reliever on the roster and he would finish the season in New York. While there he gained significant cult popularity with the fan base. Even inspiring some to song. During the following winter he would be involved in a twelve player - three team deal that brought J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed to the Mets and sent Smith to the Cleveland Indians on December 11, 2008.
Joe Smith signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training facility in Arizona on April 6, 2009.