Saturday, December 25, 2010
#315) RAY KNIGHT
Ray Knight joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Houston Astros in exchange for Gerald Young, Mitch Cook and Manny Lee on August 28, 1984. The veteran was added to provide a bit of fire power and protection for the corner infield positions. He turned out to do much more.
Knight played in 27 games to close his first season in New York. His batting average was a respectable .280, but only yielded one home run and six RBIs. In November, arthoscopic surgery was performed to repair his right shoulder. "I played first base most of my last two years with the Houston Astros, but when I went back to third my arm felt heavy," Ray explained. "This should clear things up." Unfortunately following spring training, bone chips were discovered in his right elbow and required a different surgery. Recovery forced him to the disabled list for the beginning of the 1985 season. He did not return until April 21st.
His first full season with the Mets was a challenging one. The right-handed hitting third baseman only appeared in 90 games and saw his batting average drop to a shocking .218 for the year. Knight became the target of boos from disappointed fans at Shea Stadium. "Don't let them affect you," was the advice his wife, Nancy Lopez the LPGA Hall of Fame golfer gave. Things were not made any better when reports surfaced about a failed trade of Knight to the Pittsburgh Pirates that winter.
All seemed to change the next spring. For 1986, the Mets established a platoon of Ray and newly-acquired, Howard Johnson at third base. Knight started strong and hit six home runs in the month of April alone. His health and confidence seemed to have returned. The infielder's firey leadership surfaced at Shea Stadium on May 27th. Tom Niedenfuer of the Los Angeles Dodgers surrendered a grand slam home run to George Foster. He then hit Knight in the elbow with the next pitch. Ray charged the mound and benches emptied. Knight was fined $300 for the incident. "It was an eventful week," Ray said. "You know as far as having a baby one day and getting into a fight the next day, I don't do either very often." The Knights had welcomed their second child on May 26th.
The Mets continued their domination of the National League that summer. Tempers flared again on July 23rd. This time in Cincinnati when Reds' pinch-runner Eric Davis slid into Knight at third base. Pushing and shoving began, and Ray punched Davis. A 16-minute bench-clearing melee followed which ended with a battered and bloodied Knight. "He looked me right in the eyes, and I felt threatened." Ray later recalled. "I had a real short fuse back then—and I unloaded on him. Eddie Milner charged over and I hit him, too. The next thing I knew, there were guys all over me."
New York won the National League Eastern Division by a 21-1/2 game margin. Ray Knight was given the N.L Comeback Player of the Year honors with a .298 batting average and 76 RBIs. The Mets defeated the Houston Astros in a remarkable playoff series, and set the stage for Knight's greatest moment. In Game Six of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox he scored the winning run on Mookie Wilson's legendary grounder through Bill Buckner. Then he came back in Game Seven and delivered a tie-breaking home run to earn the Most Valuable Player Award of the series. "As close as I came to my death in baseball, this is hard to believe," Ray said that night. "It's not even a dream come true because it was too farfetched to even dream about. I mean, I was buried the last two years. People ask me if I was ready to give up and I say, 'No,' but I definitely thought the Mets were ready to give up on me. This just shows what persistance and hard work can do."
The Mets elected not to resign Knight as a free agent for 1987. Making him the first player to join a different team the season following winning an MVP award. Ray signed with the Baltimore Orioles on February 12th. As such he did not participate in the World Series ring presentation at Shea Stadium the next season. "Those type of things hurt when you're not able to share in something you fought for," Knight was later quoted.
After his active career he has remained in major-league baseball. Ray became a broadcast announcer for ESPN. He then served as a coach with the Cincinnati Reds in 1993, and was promoted to the club's manager for the 1996 and 1997 seasons. Most recently, Knight has become a broadcaster for the Washington Nationals in 2007.
Ray chose not to attend the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in 2008. Electing to finish his season covering the Nationals. "It was, believe me, much more important to be at Shea than to be at my desk doing commentary for a last place ballclub, but my devotion and loyalty is a part of what I am," Knight explained.
Ray Knight signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie at the MAB Celebrity Services "Hot Corner Show" in Secaucus, New Jersey on November 13, 2010. Including his "1986 World Series MVP" inscription.