Saturday, January 7, 2012
#92) JERRY KOOSMAN
Jerry Koosman joined the New York Mets when he signed as a free agent on August 27, 1964. The left-handed pitcher was an engineering student when he was drafted into the Army in 1962. During his service years, Koosman was playing baseball with Queens native John Luchese, whose father happened to be an usher at Shea Stadium. John was the team's catcher, and wrote to his dad about the talented pitcher. After the tip was passed on to Mets farm director, Joe McDonald the southpaw farm boy from Appleton, Minnesota was offered a contract.
"Kooz" was far from impressive in his first minor-league season. In fact the Mets organization had decided to release him in 1966. The only thing standing in the way was a $50.00 loan the Mets had given him for a road accident while traveling to spring training. McDonald had arranged for the debt to be repaid from Koosman's future paychecks. So the Mets granted a reprieve. The hard-throwing southpaw learned to throw a slider from pitching coach Frank Lary, and his fates were immediately changed. "I caught on to it right away," remembers Jerry. That season he was 12-7 at Class A Auburn with 174 strikeouts and a league-leading 1.38 ERA.
Koosman made his major-league debut with the New York Mets on April 14, 1967. Throwing from the bullpen he tossed 2.2 innings of scoreless relief at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia during a 5-1 loss to the Phillies. He would appear in a total of nine games for New York that year, but spent most of the year at Triple-A Jacksonville.
The 1968 campaign was the first for new Mets manager, Gil Hodges. He chose to add the young Koosman into his starting rotation. Jerry rewarded that decision with an amazing first full season in the majors. Kooz was selected to the first of his two Major League All-Star Games representing New York. The lefty established a new club record with 19 victories, seven shutouts, and recorded a 2.08 ERA. He would fall one vote short of Cincinnati Reds catcher, Johnny Bench in the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year ballot.
Jerry paired with right-handed pitcher, Tom Seaver to create a formable top of the rotation. They became the cornerstone of the "Miracle Mets" team that brought the franchise their first world championship. Koosman states his greatest moment of a legendary Mets career came during Game 5 of the 1969 World Series at Shea Stadium. "There was so much noise, you couldn't hear the crack of the bat to judge how well the ball was hit," says Jerry. "Your first glance, you see the outfielder go back and you pray it isn't out of the ballpark." The flyball from Baltimore Orioles second baseman, Dave Johnson's bat nestled into the glove of Cleon Jones and the Mets became World Champions. Actually the club won all six of the postseason games started by Koosman.
It would be 1973 before the Mets would return to the postseason. Once again it was pitching that propelled a club that finished with the lowest winning percentage of any team in baseball history. "I don't know what we ever did to turn it around," Jerry said. "We only won 82 games." It was during an August team meeting held by the very business-like chairman M. Donald Grant that a Mets motto was born. "He told us, 'You've got to believe,' and then he left and closed the door, Tug McGraw starts yelling, 'Ya gotta believe! You gotta believe!,' " Koosman recalls. "He was making fun of him, but he said it with such emphasis that it kind of stuck. We kept saying it to each other." The club would finish strong and defeat the 1973 Cincinnati Reds club to advance to the World Series. Kooz was once again strong at Shea Stadium during the Fall Classic. "I'll be sitting in the dugout," Jerry told Sports Illustrated Magazine. "and the crowds will get going and I'll feel a chill up and down my spine." New York would battle a powerful Oakland A's team, but lose the deciding Game 7 in California.
Despite his career success, Koosman always seemed to be lost in the shadow of future Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver. "I'm perfectly satisfied with the role he played and the role I played," Jerry said in 2008. "I'm satisfied if I don't get any publicity." In what was possibly his best personal performance he went on to record 21 victories, and a 2.69 ERA during the 1976 season. Further establishing him as one of the greatest men in New York Mets history.
On December 8, 1978, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Jesse Orosco and Greg Field. That ended a 12-year career that saw 140 wins, 1,799 strikeouts, and a 3.09 ERA. "I was sad to leave New York, but New York was in a rebuilding process at the time," says Koosman. "I wanted to move on and play for a club that had a chance to win."
Jerry was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1989.
Koosman returned to engineering after retiring from baseball in 1985. Purchasing Mesa Technologies, Inc and moving the business to Wisconsin. Working at Mesa, he received a patent for a Clean-In-Place Automated Food and Beverage Dispenser. Better described as a self-cleaning soft-serve ice cream machine.
In his spare time Jerry enjoys ice fishing and golf. He was honored at the closing ceremonies for Shea Stadium on September 28, 2008. "It was a great day, just wish the Mets had won that last game but it was a fun day. I got to see a lot of the guys from the past." said Kooz.
Jerry Koosman signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to his home on January 7, 2012. Adding "The 5th Game of the WS '69" in celebration of his greatest moment at Shea Stadium.