Thursday, February 24, 2011
#3) RON HUNT
Ron Hunt joined the New York Mets after they purchased his contract from the Milwaukee Braves on October 11, 1962. The scrappy infielder had been stuck in the Braves minor league system. "I was happy to be traded here," Hunt told the New York Times in April 1963. "I knew I'd be with a bunch of guys my own age. We can at least give other teams a lot of trouble in the league." Ron made the jump from Double-A Texas League to New York. "The Mets were using me as a bullpen catcher," he recalls. "During spring training, Casey Stengel told me to come to him rather than going to the press if I ever had any problems." He did just that. "Larry Burright wasn't doing too well," Hunt said. "I went up to Casey after a game in the Polo Grounds and said , 'This is Ron Hunt, number 33. I'm not a bullpen catcher. I can play second base. If you want me to go to the minors every day until you need me, I'll do it." The move paid off. "I guess Casey took a liking to me," Ron laughed. "He said, 'Do you want to play that badly, son? You're in the lineup tomorrow." Hunt would make his major league debut in a Mets uniform on April 16, 1963.
Usually the club's starting second baseman, Ron was the starting third baseman during the first game played at the new Shea Stadium. He got off to a great start hitting at a .300 batting average during the first ten games of the 1964 season. Hunt made history during the third game played in the new ballpark by hitting a home run on April 23rd. It was the first one hit by a Mets' player at their new baseball home.
Hunt would have a second "first" for the Mets in 1964. New York was rewarded for building it's new stadium when the Major League All-Star Game was played at Shea on July 7th. Ron was selected as the starting second baseman for the National League squad. This made him the first Mets player to ever start one of the mid-season classics. Hunt would earn a second All-Star selection while with the Mets in 1966.
Known for his fearless style of play on the diamond it was his ability to be hit by a pitch that gave him lasting acclaim. He would crowd the plate no matter who was on the mound. "I worked and practiced in full uniform in a mirror to make sure I was perfect," Hunt explained to Baseball Digest in 2000. "I'd stand right on top of the plate. An inside pitch had to be right on the corner, or it would hit me. The umpires never called me for getting hit on purpose." He later set the single season record by being hit 50 times during the 1971 season as a member of the Montreal Expos.
The Mets traded Ron Hunt along with Jim Hickman to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Tommy Davis and Darrell Griffith on November 29, 1966. "Ron got traded around a lot, but he always considered himself a Met," his wife, Jackie Hunt said. "That was the first team he was with, and we certainly didn't want to get traded. We were happy there. Mrs. Payson said he was the only guy other teams wanted. He was the only thing they had to trade."
He started the Ron Hunt Instructional Baseball Camp from his Missouri facility in 1986. Working to teach a style of baseball that combines basic fundamentals and the mental aspects of the game to young players.
On April 17, 2008, the New York Mets commemorated the first team to play at Shea Stadium by inviting back Ron, along with Tim Harkness, and Jack Fisher to change the sign in left-center field counting down the number of remaining games to be played there.
Ron Hunt graciously signed his card in the set for my friend, Stiles Burson at the Cardinals Winter Warmup event in St. Louis on January 15, 2010. Even adding a "Shea - 1964 All Star" inscription.