Monday, November 14, 2011
#210) LEE MAZZILLI
Lee Mazzilli was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (14th overall pick) of the free agent draft on June 5, 1973. As a young athlete the Brooklyn native participated in speed skating and won eight national championships. Lee was naturally ambidextrous which translated into his ability to effectively switch-hit as a baseball player. He joined the Mets straight out of Lincoln High School with large expectations.
"Maz" was brought to Shea Stadium to officially sign his first major-league contract. The 18-year-old was asked by General Manager, Joe McDonald if there was anything that he wanted to see at the park. "Yeah, Willie Mays," responded Mazzilli. "I'd like to meet Willie Mays." Lee remembers this first day as his all-time favorite memory of Shea. "So they took we down to the clubhouse, the trainer's room. I walk in, and Willie Mays is on the trainers table." recalled Maz. "What could have been better? And then he came into Yogi's office. I'm there with Yogi Berra and Willie Mays. You kiddin' me? It was like a monument to me. Talk about being starstruck."
The fleet-footed Mazzilli set a minor league record by stealing seven bases in one game for the Visalia Mets of the Carolina League in 1975. He was soon promoted to New York as a late-season call up and made his major-league debut on September 7, 1976 in Chicago. The next day at Wrigley Field he delivered a three-run pinch-hit home run to propel a 11-5 ninth-inning victory over the Cubs.
During his first full season the Mets used Mazzilli, and his matinee good-looks as a centerpiece for their marketing campaign. He responded with a fair showing of six home runs, 46 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .250 batting average for a 1977 team that lost 98 games.
Lee's breakout season came in 1979. Maz was selected as the Mets' lone representative to the Major League All-Star Game in Seattle. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter and hit a game-tying solo home run in the eight inning, and then drew a bases loaded walk in the ninth to force in the winning run as the National League claimed a 7-6 victory over the American League.
For the year, Mazzilli delivered 15 home runs, 79 RBIs, 34 stolen bases, and a career-high .303 batting average. Even further endearing himself to the Shea Stadium faithful.
New York, searching for pitching, traded Maz to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell on April 1, 1982. His departure proved temporary as the Mets returned their hometown hero during one of the franchise's finest years. The Mets resigned Lee as a free agent on August 3, 1986. Most importantly, he was eligible for post-season play. In the role of a pinch-hitter, the veteran sparked rallies in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. Appropriately making one of the most popular players in Mets history a part of the 1986 World Champions. "It was a special team." recalls Mazzilli. "It was a confident team that had a lot of ability and great players, but most importantly they played as a team. That shows when you play together as a team, you win."
Lee remained with the Mets until being selected off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 31, 1989. He would end his playing career at the close of that season. Maz became a coach with the Yankees in 2000, and served as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2004-2005. He later returned to the Mets as a member of the SNY broadcast network in 2007. "The Mets have been a huge part of my life..." said Mazzilli.
Lee Mazzilli 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 a "86 WSC" inscription.