Sunday, July 24, 2011
Jon Matlack was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (fourth overall pick) of the free agent draft on June 6, 1967. The 18-year old was taken after Mets' super scout, Whitey Herzog stated, "...for his age–his poise and control are better than any young pitcher I've ever seen."
The young left-hander joined a talented pitching staff when he made his New York debut on July 11, 1971. Matlack got the start facing the Reds at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium in the second game of a double-header that day. Mets catcher, Jerry Grote came to the mound before that game and asked if he was nervous. "No" replied the southpaw. "I'm scared to death." He pitched well, allowing only two runs in seven innings of work, but did not factor in the decision. Legendary staff ace, Tom Seaver surrendered a home run to Tony Perez during a rare relief appearance. The walk-off blast gave Cincinnati a 5-3 victory.
Matlack's first full major-league season came in 1972. It was then that he proved all the early predictions of his talent to be true. On the final day of spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida he recalls counting the lockers that still had uniforms in them. "I finished counting and gave a little fist pump and Gil Hodges had walked through the door and caught me," Matlack remembered. "He said, 'That's right kid. You made it.' He died a few days later."
Jon took his opportunity and entered the starting rotation. He would win his first six decisions and establish the best start by a Mets rookie pitcher in franchise history. (The effort was equalled by Dillon Gee in 2011.) Matlack finished the year with a 15-10 record, 2.32 ERA and 169 strikeouts. This earned him the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year honors. "Somebody called me up and said, 'You're the Rookie of the Year.'," Jon recalls. " I said, 'What's that?' I was just tickled to death to be there, and was trying to do things I needed to compete to the best of my ability."
On the final day of that season he became forever linked to the great Roberto Clemente. In front of his hometown Pittsburgh fans the future Hall of Famer entered the record books on September 30, 1972. "I had no idea he was sitting on 2,999." Matlack said. "I was just trying to win a game. When I gave up the double–I think it short-hopped the centerfield wall–there was all this hoopla. The ump presented him the ball at second and I'm glowering and thinking, 'Hey, we have a ballgame here.' I was just an oblivious rookie. Then I saw it on the scoreboard. That was his 3,000th hit."
The Mets would advance to the 1973 World Series behind their strong pitching who defeated Cincinnati's fabled Big Red Machine. Jon baffled the Reds offense in Game Two of the National League Championship Series holding them to just two hits. Matlack was then given the ball in Game One of the Fall Classic facing the Oakland A's, and only allowed three hits in six innings. Jon returned to better that in Game Four where he gave up one one run in eight innings of work and recorded the victory. However, Matlack and the Mets would fall just short of a World Championship in the decisive Game Seven. The left-hander surrendered home runs to Bert Campaneris and Reggie Jackson during the 5-2 loss.
Jon represented the Mets in the Major League All-Star Game on three occasions. He shared the Most Valuable Player Award for the 1975 contest with Bill Madlock of the Chicago Cubs. "To this day I just think they got the names confused," Matlack said with a grin. "although I did pitch two pretty strong innings." Jon became both the only Met to ever win the award, and the first player from any New York club to do so.
The Mets traded Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers as part of a four-team trade that involved a total of 11 players on December 8, 1977. During his seven years in New York, he would strikeout 10 or more batters in a single game nine times, throw 65 complete games, and pitch a one-hitter at Shea Stadium against the Houston Astros. Making him undoubtedly one of the greatest pitchers in team history.
After his playing career ended in 1983, he first worked in commercial real estate and then raised horses on a ranch in Texas. Jon returned to baseball in 1988 as a minor-league pitching coach. Matlack has coached at both the minor and major-league level and became the Detroit Tigers minor-league pitching coordinator in 1996.
Jon Matlack signed his card in the set for me following the Toledo Mud Hens and Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field on July 6, 2011.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Claudell Washington was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the New York Mets in exchange for Jesse Anderson on June 7, 1980. The veteran who had played all three outfield positions as a 19-year-old rookie for the Champion Oakland A's in the 1974 World Series was not nearly as popular in Chicago. A fan banner reading "Washington Slept Here." was once infamously displayed from the Comiskey Field bleachers.
Joining the Mets seemed to regenerate the talented slugger. Washington made his Mets debut at Shea Stadium on June 11th as a pinch-hitter, but thrilled the New York fans days later in Los Angeles. On June 22nd, Claudell would become just the third man in club history to hit three home runs in a single game. The left-handed hitter had a total of four hits and drove in five runs during the Mets 9-6 victory over the Dodgers.
Washington's best day in Flushing came on the Fourth of July. New York hosted the Montreal Expos in a doubleheader that saw him connect for six hits in ten at-bats over the two games. Claudell had a total of 21 multi-hit games during his 79 appearances for the Mets in 1980. He would also finish the season collecting the team's second highest home run total with 10 round-trippers.
Claudell left the Mets when he signed as a free agent with Atlanta on November 15, 1980. The deal given to Washington by Braves owner, Ted Turner was one of the game's richest three-year contracts at that time. In the new age of "free agency" the size of the commitment sent shockwaves throughout baseball. New York Mets general manager, Frank Cashen called the signing, "stupefying."
Washington would enjoy a 17-year career in the major-leagues that finished in 1990. "I still had a love and passion for the game," Claudell said about the end of his playing days, "but something was missing. When something's missing and I can't go out there and have my total focus on what I'm doing, it's time for me to go." After baseball he became the CEO of CWash, Inc, a construction company in Oakland, California. Applying some of the same attributes that produced his success on the diamond, "Camaraderie, unity, paying attention to details, managing your resources—all that comes into play."
I created Claudell Washington's card in the set from a signed index card purchased from Worldwide Collectibles on June 14, 2011.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Ryan Church was acquired by the New York Mets along with Brian Schneider from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Lastings Milledge on November 30, 2007. "We see ourselves as a better team now," General Manager Omar Minaya said. "It fills two needs with players in the prime of their careers." The left-handed hitting outfielder was excited to come to the Big Apple. "I just love the fact to have a chance to year in and year out go to the playoffs and try to win a championship," explained Church. "I've never been in that situation before."
The beginning of his Mets career was full of events both good and bad. During a spring training game on March 1, 2008, he suffered a vicious collision with teammate Marlon Anderson trying to catch a fly ball. The result was a grade 2 concussion that forced him out of the lineup for several days. On a much brighter note Ryan and his wife welcomed their first child, Mason Alexander on March 14th. Church was able to return home for the birth during a short paternity leave. "I'm at peace with a lot of things." Ryan commented on fatherhood. "I go home and he smiles and if I go 0 for 4, he doesn't care. He loves me for who I am."
Church made his official Mets' debut on Opening Day - March 31st. He delivered a run scoring hit during New York's 7-2 road victory over the Florida Marlins. It appeared that he was the Mets solution in right field until another collision on May 20th. This time Ryan was sliding in to break up a double play and a leaping Yunel Escobar struck him in the head with his knee. The blow caused a large scrape on the upper-right part of Church's forehead. "He was pretty dazed when I got out there, pretty glazed over," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "...he took a pretty good shot."
Ryan was allowed to remain playing, but continued to suffer after effects of the concussions and was finally placed on the disabled list on June 6th. He was activated on June 29th, but within days of playing realized that symptoms returned. "I still have the aches, the pains." Ryan said. "When I move my head a little bit, I can feel my brain swishing around a little bit. That's what happens when I have migraines." Church was returned to the disabled list on July 6th.
Months later, on August 22nd he returned to finish his first season in New York. "I knew I was going to come back, I just didn't know when." Ryan said. "There was a plan...and we stuck to it. Hopefully it's over with and I won't have to deal with this type of injury again." Church was greeted to a standing ovation from the Shea Stadium faithful during his first at-bat that night. He later shared that the fan's gesture brought his wife Tina to tears and cemented his desire to spend the rest of his baseball career with the Mets.
Ryan continued to contribute to the club during their pennant race that year. He found himself in the lineup on the last day of the season facing the Florida Marlins. Church would hit a fly ball to deep centerfield with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning during the 4-2 loss. The defeat ended the season and made him the final batter in Shea Stadium history.
Ryan Church signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on July 15, 2011.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Keith Hughes was traded along with Cesar Mejia from the Baltimore Orioles to the New York Mets in exchange for John Mitchell and Joaquin Contreras on December 5, 1989. The left-handed hitting outfielder remembers his first visit to Shea Stadium during his first major-league call up. It came as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1987. Keith was called on to pinch-hit against Terry Leach. "Almost hit a home run," Hughes recalled. "but Darryl Strawberry caught it in right field."
Hughes joined the Mets' Triple-A team in Tidewater for the 1990 season. Posting fine numbers there for the Tides with 10 home runs, 53 RBIs, and a .309 batting average in 117 games. He was rewarded with a September call up to New York. Used as a pinch-hitter with the Mets he was unable to register a hit in his nine at-bats to finish the year. "Unfortunately, when I got my chance to pinch-hit I did not do well." Keith said. "I was actually on my honeymoon in Bermuda when I received word from my agent that I had been released—not a surprise." Hughes left the Mets on November 13, 1990.
Keith would play for minor-league teams in Columbus, Portland, and Indianapolis before another chance came at the big-leagues. He joined the Cincinnati Reds during May of the 1993 campaign. "Was unexpected." explained Hughes. "It was a gift from God. I was supposed to have gotten released at the end of spring training, but God orchestrated a spot on the AAA roster for me." The three games for the Reds would be the last of his major-league career.
He ended his playing time with a season in Triple-A Omaha, and then became a coach in the Kansas City organization in 1995. Hughes was a coach with the Wilmington Blue Rocks for two years, and served as a scout for the Royals another six years after that. Keith left baseball to return home to the Philadelphia area. Allowing him to enjoy time with family and develop a successful career in sales.
Keith Hughes signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on July 14, 2011.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Eric Cammack was selected by the New York Mets organization during the 13th round of the free agent draft on June 3, 1997. He worked his way through the Mets minor-league system the next three seasons. The right-handed relief pitcher began 2000 at the Triple-A level, but only three games into the Norfolk Tides season he was first summoned to New York. Cammack lasted just a single day before being returned to Norfolk and replaced by starter Glendon Rusch.
His second tour of duty allowed him the opportunity to pitch and have his major-league debut at Coors Field in Colorado on April 28, 2000. Eric allowed four runs in two innings of work during the Rockies 12-5 victory over New York. Even then it was a trip back to Norfolk the next day when Vance Wilson was recalled. "It's great to go up (with the Mets), especially if you get to play," Cammack said at the time. "But you want to get some work in, wherever you're at. It's kind of like a double-edged sword because you want to be up there. If they call you up, I don't know anybody who is going to turn them down to get more work in the minors."
Eric returned at the end of June for an additional two weeks, and then finished the season in New York when he was a September call-up. On July 5th, during a Mets rout of the Florida Marlins in Miami they called on Cammack to take his first major-league at-bat. Eric delivered a ninth inning run-scoring triple off Ron Mahay. The reliever pitched in a total of eight big-league games for the eventual 2000 National League Champions, but never had another plate appearance.
Cammack was sidelined during spring training the following year. Surgery was performed to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. He was placed on the disabled list on March 20, 2001 and never returned that entire season. After pitching in the minor-leagues and failing to return to New York, the Mets released Eric on May 30, 2003. He was signed by the Houston Astros organization as a free agent only three days later.
The Texas native was unable to find a path back to the major-leagues during the years following his time in New York. This made his appearances with the Mets the only games of his big-league career. Placing him in limited company as one of only four men in MLB history to post a career slugging percentage of 3.000, or 1 for 1 with a triple.
Eric Cammack signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on July 14, 2011.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Luis Lopez came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Houston Astros in exchange for Tim Bogar on March 31, 1997. The switch-hitter from Puerto Rico made his Mets' debut at Shea Stadium as a pinch-hitter on June 2nd. Luis filled in as the starting shortstop that month until Rey Ordoñez was able to resume the role. In all, the versatile infielder appeared in 78 games and hit for a .270 batting average. A good enough performance for the Mets to bring him back the next season.
"He plays well when he is rested, no doubt about that," said manager Bobby Valentine. "And Luis was very valuable last year." Lopez did not always agree that the Mets best way to use him was from the bench. "My approach right now is to come to the ball park and go about my work. If I'm playing, I go out and do my 100 percent," explained Luis. "If I'm not, I've got to be ready whenever they need me." He was indeed ready and entered the lineup as both a reserve and at times again as the replacement for Ordoñez when he was ailing. Lopez even added games in the outfield to his credits during a strong 1998 season.
"I take pride in my job," he said. "I go early to the ball park and take grounders at third, short and second and then go to the outfield and work out there too. My job is to be a defensive player." So when general manager Steve Phillips resigned Lopez for a two-year contract it was no surprise. "Luis is one of the most versatile players in the League," Phillips said. "The way Bobby Valentine uses his roster he is an extremely valuable commodity."
Unfortunately Lopez would struggle in 1999. His offense fell off considerably at the time a usually light-hitting Rey Ordoñez was enjoying an unexpected surge. The result was a large reduction in Luis' playing time. Frustration between he and Ordoñez came to it's peak on September 2nd. The Mets team was in transit from the Newark airport after having returned from a series in Houston. Between 4-5 a.m. a fight between the infielders broke out before reaching it's Shea Stadium destination. Lopez was uninjured, but his blow to Ordoñez required six stitches above the shortstop's eye. Although the cause of the altercation was never truly established it was rumored to be either Lopez's jealousy or Rey's opposition to Luis' hazing of Mets' rookie, Jorge Toca during the trip. "It's a clubhouse matter," said Adam Katz, the agent for both players. "It's been taken care of. It wasn't anything big. They're friends. I know for a fact. It's a nonissue."
Lopez ended the season with a .212 batting average in just 68 games. He was traded that winter to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Bill Pulsipher on January 21, 2000.
After retiring from playing in 2006, Luis began coaching in the minor-leagues. He joined the Boston Red Sox organization as the hitting coach for the Lowell Spinners in 2008, and moved to the Greenville Drive of the South Atlantic League in 2010.
Luis Lopez signed his card in the set for my friend Katie at the Greenville Drive and Lexington Legends game at Whitaker Bank Ballpark on June 25, 2011.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Graeme Lloyd was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on January 24, 2003. The tall left-handed veteran was brought in to help the bullpen. "I know I will be battling for a job," said the former Yankee pitcher. "I have to show what I have, and hopefully that's good enough to go north with the team...I have a lot left in baseball and I want to redeem myself."
Graeme did make the roster, and had his Mets debut on March 31, 2003. He threw a scoreless eighth inning of the 15-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day at Shea Stadium. The shoulder injury that had limited the southpaw's effectiveness the previous two years seemed to be behind him. Lloyd became an important part of the bullpen when Mike Stanton went on the disabled list and he pitched well. Graeme produced a streak of 9-2/3 scoreless innings during appearances from May 29th to June 22nd.
With many of the Mets veteran stars injured it appeared that the club was headed towards a youth movement for the 2003 season. On July 28, 2003, New York traded the 36-year-old reliever to the first place Kansas City Royals in exchange for Jeremy Hill. The Mets then replaced Graeme on the roster with minor-leaguer Jaime Cerda. Lloyd left with a record of 1-2, and 3.31 ERA in 35-1/3 innings of work.
Since his retirement from pitching, Graeme has been very involved in building the game of baseball in his native Australia. "I remember the P.A. announcer saying I was the first Austrlian to pitch in the big leagues," Lloyd said. "There were like 24,000 Oakland fans who stood up and gave me a cheer. I still remember my knees knocking. It was just an amazing experience."
Monday, July 4, 2011
Jason Isringhausen was selected by the New York Mets in the 44th round of the free agent draft on June 3, 1991. The right-hander was drafted out of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois. "My dad said, 'Go have a fun summer and get ready to work when it's over.' We both figured it would be a little summer fling thing," recalls Isringhausen. "For a summer job it worked out all right."
Jason beat the odds of being a late round draft pick from a small school, and became the third part of a trio of talented pitchers dubbed "Generation K". Isringhausen along with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson were showcased as part of what became more of a media circus building tremendous expectations. "I don't know many teams who wouldn't trade their five veteran pitchers for our guys." said Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine at that time.
"Izzy" made his major-league debut at Wrigley Field on July 17, 1995. The rookie starter was not part of the decision, but threw seven strong innings of the eventual 7-2 Mets win. His first big league victory came during his Shea Stadium debut on July 30th. Jason tossed eight innings allowing only a single run for a 2-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finshed the season with a 9-2 record, 55 strikeouts, and a 2.81 ERA. The performance allowed him to finish fourth in balloting for the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995.
"We took a flier on him," Assistant general manager, Gerry Hunsicker said. "Izzy never had the maturity that Pulse did, and I don't think he had the mental toughness Pulse had. One thing about Izzy is he always had the great breaking ball. He sailed through the minor leagues because he had that hammer." Isringhausen's poor decision making became a problem in 1996. By his own admission he drank too much beer and gained too much weight. A ribcage injury forced a stint on the disabled list for the last half of August. In total, Jason fell to a 6-14 record and saw his ERA balloon to 4.77. It was discovered in September that he would require athroscopic surgery on his throwing arm. Surgeons repaired a tear in his labrum, and removed bone chips from the right elbow. "The doctors wondered how I was able to pitch with it all year," Jason said.
While the club was expecting him to rest following the operation it appeared that Izzy was shockingly playing for a softball team in February. Then after a sub-par pitching performance while rehabbing from the surgery at Triple-A Norfolk, an angry Izzy punched a plastic trash can and broke his right wrist on April 11, 1997. He returned home to heal and began experiencing severe pain in his chest and breathing problems. Tests were inconclusive, but showed a spot on his left lung that was ruled as tuberculosis. Jason responded well to treatment, but the combination cost him essentially the entire season. "Knock on wood, it can't get much worse than this," Isringhausen said in May 1997. "Hopefully, we can just put this behind us and start succeeding a little better."
That was not the case. The pitcher went to Puerto Rico to rehab during the Winter League season. Discomfort while throwing there made it apparent that Izzy would require reconstructive right elbow surgery. "It's just too painful," he said. The procedure was done and he was lost for the 1998 campaign.
Jason returned to pitching in 1999, but struggled. On July 31, 1999, the Mets traded him along with Greg McMichael to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Billy Taylor.
Isringhausen returned to the New York Mets in 2011. "I'm not near the person I was then, To me, I feel like I'm a better person," Jason said. "I was real immature, and pretty much an idiot back then." He came back after a career that had a total of three Tommy John surgeries between two All-Star appearances for the man that became the St. Louis Cardinals all-time team leader in saves. "Been a lot of games between then and now," he said. "It was hard, but I wouldn't change the path of my career for anything...It's been a long road."
Jason Isringhausen signed his card in the set for my friend, Tom before the New York Mets and Washington Nationals spring training game in Viera, Florida on March 29, 2011.