Sunday, November 13, 2011
#72) BILL HEPLER
Bill Hepler was selected from the Washington Senators by the New York Mets in the Rule V Draft on November 29, 1965. Once chosen, it was required for the young Hepler to remain on the major league roster that entire next season. If not he would have to be returned to the Senators. Bill made his big-league debut in a Mets uniform on April 23, 1966.
"I felt I belonged and was able to get the major league hitters out." said Hepler. "I was very poised at the age of 20. I thought at the time I would be a major league pitcher for many years."
Bill was used as both a reliever and starting pitcher during the 1966 campaign. He would record his first major-league victory in relief facing the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium on June 15th. However, it was an August 17th contest at Shea Stadium that is his greatest memory. "The one game that stands out the most was against the Pirates." shared Hepler. Jack Fisher, the New York starter, had allowed three Pittsburgh home runs. "We were losing 7-1 and I relieved in the third inning. Pitched four innings giving up four hits and no runs to win the game 8-7."
"It was always a wonderful feeling to play at Shea." Bill said. "I pitched more at Shea and did very well there. In 69 innings of big-league ball I got 15 double plays."
Hepler finished his rookie year with a 3-3 record, and a 3.52 ERA in 37 appearances.
Still the lefthander found himself back in minor-league baseball for 1967. "The Mets felt I needed to get some innings in." explained Bill. "I bounced around in AA and A-ball but ended up in the Carolina League where I helped the team win the League Championship."
"In 1968, I pitched in the Texas League and became a pitcher that knew how to pitch." said the southpaw who recorded a 9-6 season with a 3.14 ERA. "I felt like I was ready to pitch again in the major leagues. The Mets had other plans." He understood that the club had pitchers like Ryan, Koosman, and Seaver, "So I wasn't in their plans." The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Hepler into their system and assigned him to their Triple-A Tulsa club managed by Warren Spahn. "I was throwing in the gym at home in Covington, Virginia and felt something in my shoulder." A poor spring training audition followed and the Cardinals returned Bill to the Mets. "I couldn't really throw like I used to," Hepler remembers. "Finally in 1970, I gave it up. Still love the game and wish I could be involved with the Mets."
After retiring as a pitcher, he coached amateur baseball for a couple of years. Then found a new career in the construction industry for the next 37 years. "Mostly as a Senior Superintendent for a large commercial company that built high rises, commercial buildings, schools and churches." Hepler retired from his second career in 2010. He and his wife of more than 30 years spend time around their home in Florida. Enjoying family and allowing Bill to play as much golf as possible.
Hepler is among the 874 retired major-league baseball players that have been denied a pension they would have easily earned in today's game. Their case has been waged for over 30 years and is chronicled in Douglas Gladstone's book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee.
Bill Hepler signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on October 22, 2008.