Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Gene Clines joined the New York Mets when he was traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Duffy Dyer on October 22, 1974. "I had mixed emotions about the trade," said the 29-year-old outfielder to Ebony magazine in June 1975. "When you work with guys for seven or eight years you become a closely knit group and it's tough to leave." Clines, a platoon player with the Bucs, added that being able to play every day would work to his advantage. "I was never given a chance to play in Pittsburgh. This is my opportunity. In New York I will be recognized and I can show what I can do."
Clines made his Mets' debut as the leadoff hitter that Opening Day at Shea Stadium on April 8, 1975. He was hitless in the 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Gene struggled to find his stroke all year, and even more surprisingly failed to become the base-stealing threat that the club had expected. In 82 games he finished with no home runs, 10 RBIs, a .227 batting average with only four stolen bases. The man nicknamed, "Roadrunner" was actually caught stealing four times that season as well.
The Mets traded Gene to the Texas Rangers for Joe Lovitto on December 12, 1975. Clines retired from playing in 1979 after three years with the Chicago Cubs. He became the team's first base coach the next day. Gene has served as a hitting coach with the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, and the Cubs. He most recently became a roving minor-league hitting instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007. "There's a satisfaction in seeing guys you helped make it....I remember watching Omar Vizquel, who I coached in Seattle," Clines said. "He's a 20-year guy in the majors and when I watch him I see him do things that I helped him with when he was at the same level as these guys."
Gene Clines signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on November 10, 2008.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The New York Mets signed Melvin Mora as a free agent on July 24, 1998. He was originally signed out of his native Venezuela by the Astros in 1991, but ventured to Taiwan after feeling his time in the Houston farm system was over. The move to the Mercury Tigers lasted only two months. "I don't like the kind of baseball there. They gamble everywhere. That's why I came back here." explained Mora.
He made his major-league debut when New York promoted him on May 30, 1999. Melvin entered the game at shortstop during a 10-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Shea Stadium. Mora was primarily used as a pinch-runner to begin his time with the Mets. So it wasn't until July 6th that he would record his first big-league hit. That single coming in a 10-0 victory over the Montreal Expos at Shea. Days later, Mora began to see increased time in the outfield. Unfortunately his versatility in the field was overshadowed by his inability to get things started offensively. The decision was made to return Melvin to Triple-A Norfolk the first week of August with his batting average at a lowly .083.
Mora returned when rosters expanded in September. Melvin would earn the role of late-inning defensive replacement for Rickey Henderson by the close of the season. He then stole the show on the final day of the regular season. The Mets needed a victory to create a tie with the Cincinnati Reds and force a 163rd game to the 1999 schedule. The game was knotted at 1-1 when Mora led off the ninth inning with a single against the Pirates. Melvin would eventually find himself at third base, with the bases loaded and slugger Mike Piazza coming to the plate. Former Met, Brad Clontz was on the mound for Pittsburgh. "I played with (Clontz) and I knew he would throw the ball at the dirt," Mora said. "I was thinking wild pitch because I knew he wasn't going to throw nothing around the plate to Piazza." When the pitch hit the dirt an alert Mora scampered home winning the game 2-1. "The run that's for the fans," he said. "They make a lot of noise for us and they bring the signs that say 'We Believe. We Believe."
New York defeated Cincinnati and advanced as the National League Wild Card into the postseason. Melvin was rewarded with a spot on the roster. He made himself known with a continued strong performance in October. Mora would collect the first extra base hit of his big-league career when he homered in his first at-bat of the National League Championship Series. Then saved Game 4 of that series with a defensive gem to cut a runner down at the plate in the 13th-inning. "I have said a couple times that Mora is our best defensive outfielder; people have snickered at me," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He is definitely our best bunter and one of our best defensive outfielders, if not the best. He is in there just like a reliever is in there, to save a game." Despite his efforts the Mets would fall to the evil Atlanta Braves four games to two, but Melvin would shine with six hits for a .429 batting average.
Mora made the Mets bench to start the 2000 campaign. He provided help in both the infield and outfield as well as becoming an effective pinch-hitter. Starting shortstop, Rey Ordoñez suffered a broken arm in late June, and was lost for the season. It provided Melvin with his first opportunity to become an everyday player. "It's better to play five days in a row than now and then." observed Mora. "You can do a lot of things." The task of replacing the Gold Glove shortstop that the predominantly groundball pitching staff was used to proved to be challenging. In two months Mora had committed seven errors, and forced the contending Mets to reconsider. When Cincinnati Reds legend, Barry Larkin vetoed a trade to New York another deal was reached. On July 28, 2000 the Mets traded Mora along with Mike Kinkade, Pat Gorman, and Lesli Brea to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Mike Bordick. "I had complete confidence in Melvin," Valentine was quoted even after the trade.
Mora became a two-time Major League All-Star with the Orioles. He and his wife, Gisel became the proud parents of quintuplets in 2001. Giving them a total of six children. "I love baseball," Melvin said. "I really do, but without them, I wouldn't be here."
Melvin Mora signed his card in the set for my friend Bryan before the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark on April 20, 2011.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Shawn Green was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the New York Mets in exchange for Evan MacLane on August 22, 2006. The 33-year-old outfielder waived his no-trade clause in order to get the deal done. "I'm definitely excited for the opportunity," said Green. "I really like the Mets' chances to go to the postseason and have a chance at the World Series."
Shawn was reunited with longtime friend, Carlos Delgado on the Mets roster. The two men had a close history that dated back to their minor-league days. So when the Shea Stadium fans welcomed Green with a standing ovation in his first plate appearance—Carlos approved. "It was pretty nice," Delgado said. "I guess Shawn Green and Mike Piazza are the only two people who have gotten standing ovations on their first days."
The left-handed slugger was a popular acquisition, and maybe even more so to many Jews in the city. "For me it's an important thing, the Jewish community here," Shawn offered. "I definitely want to be a part of it and am excited to be a part of it and hopefully I can make them proud." Born near Chicago and raised near Los Angeles, Green was not active in his faith until reaching the major-leagues with the Blue Jays. He became a member of the Toronto Jewish community during his rise to baseball stardom. Becoming dedicated enough to end a 415-game playing streak by sitting out Yom Kippur in 2001 while a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Shawn contributed to the 2006 National League Eastern Division Champions in New York. He appeared in 34 games and collected four home runs, 15 RBIs and a .257 batting average. All marks were below his career averages, but his performance in the postseason was much improved. Green combined for a .313 batting average while driving in four runs in the nine games he played during the Division and League Championship Series.
Green returned to the Mets for the 2007 campaign, but was placed on the disabled list on May 29th after fouling a ball off his foot. The injury was ruled as a chip fracture on the base of the first metalarsal of the right foot and sidelined him until June 11th. He rebounded with a .291 batting average for the year, but was part of a club that stumbled to close the season. Shawn himself hit well down the stretch, batting .407 in 59 plate appearances during September.
He was granted free agency for 2008, but chose to retire from baseball. "I wanted to stay here with my family," Green said from his California home. "Not travel around the country anymore. I enjoyed playing a lot. I enjoyed New York. But for me, it was time to be home."
Shawn left the game just three home runs shy of the all-time mark for Jewish players set by Hank Greenberg with 331.
In 2011, he became an author and published the book, "The Way of Baseball, Finding Stillness at 95 mph." It chronicles his use of eastern philosophy in approaching the game. "I wrote a book about it and I still don't always follow it," Green said. "I hope baseball fans will say, 'Wow, that's a new way to look at things,' and maybe it will light a fire in them."
Shawn Green signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie during a book signing held at Book Revue in Huntington, NY on June 6, 2011.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Pat Tabler was traded by the Kansas City Royals to the New York Mets in exchange for Archie Corbin on August 30, 1990. The right-handed power hitter was brought over to provide a veteran bat from the bench. "The guy's reputation is for hits in clutch situations," said Mets pitcher, Bob Ojeda. "When you make a deal for a guy at this stage, it's nice when it's a guy who is a proven commodity at this level."
Tabler joined a Mets club that was two games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League East. "Every player wants a chance to be on a championship baseball team and be involved in a pennant race," Tabler was quoted. "This is exciting."
The man nicknamed, "Mr. Clutch" was indeed that during his brief stay in New York. Serving well as an effective pinch-hitter in most of his appearances, and continuing an uncanny ability to hit with the bases loaded. When slugger Darryl Strawberry went down to back spasms the Mets called upon Tabler to be his replacement. It was during this time that Pat delivered his only home run for New York. A three-run blast that effectively sealed the 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium on September 28th. Important as it allowed the Mets not to fall further behind Pittsburgh.
The Mets would amass 91 wins, but finish four games behind the Pirates in the division. Pat was in 17 games and drove in a total of 10 runs with a .279 batting average. New York would offer Tabler a chance to remain as their pinch-hitter for 1991, but he elected to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent on December 5, 1990. Pat would contribute to their 1992 World Series Championship season.
After his playing career he has enjoyed success as a broadcaster for the Jays. "Being part of a live baseball broadcast is definitely a challenge." says Tabler. "However, there is no place that I would rather be than at the ballpark with the players and the fans. I missed that atmosphere from my playing days, and it may sound a little cliché but I truly have the best seat in the house."
Pat Tabler signed his card in the set for me (with an assist from my friend Lee in Cincy) before the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark on June 18, 2011.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Luis Rivera came to the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on January 19, 1994. The Mets were looking to create a tandem system with a major-league veteran and their young shortstop, Tim Bogar. Rivera initially looked to be that partner, and was predicted to appear in roughly two-thirds of the team's games. However, just prior to the start of the 1994 season, New York traded for Jose Vizcaino who moved to the role of starting shortstop. Had the trade occured one day earlier, it was almost certain that the Mets would have released Luis, who had fallen behind both Fernando Viña and Bogar in the battle for the position. The league deadline for early release waivers had passed and the team was comitted to paying Rivera his $425,000 base salary regardless of whether he made the club. "OK. So we're starting the season with four middle infielders," Mets general manager, Joe McIlvaine observed at the time. "That doesn't mean we will finish the season that way."
Rivera made his Mets' debut on April 9th at the Houston Astrodome. He entered the game in the bottom of the sixth-inning at shortstop. Then in his first at-bat for the team stroked a triple to left field during the 8-2 New York victory. Luis would deliver his first home run for the team on May 13th at Shea Stadium. Rivera's blast was a solo shot coming as a pinch-hitter off the Braves' Tom Glavine, and was one of only three hits the Mets would record during a 7-2 loss to Atlanta.
For the year, Luis would appear in 32 games, with three home runs, 5 RBIs, and a .279 batting average. His final game for New York was on August 11th. The next day Major League Baseball went on strike and ended the 1994 season. The work stoppage would cause the only cancellation of the World Series. Rivera was officially given his release in October, and signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals for 1995 when play resumed. He returned to the New York Mets organization for the 1996 campaign, but played the entire year in Triple-A Norfolk.
After his playing career, Luis has served as a coach in the minor-leagues beginning in 2000. Rivera returned to the big leagues as the Cleveland Indians first base coach from 2006-2009, and became part of the Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff in 2011.
Luis Rivera signed his card in the set for me before the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ballpark on June 18, 2011.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Desi Relaford joined the New York Mets when he was selected off waivers from the San Diego Padres on October 12, 2000. "Let me see," he recalled thinking after getting the news from Mets general manager, Steve Phillips. "I knew they had a Gold Glover at shortstop. I thought about it. But I had to think realistically. Last year wasn't a good season for Desi. Maybe it wasn't my time." Relaford had led all National League shortstops in errors during the 2000 season, and did not expect to unseat Rey Ordonez for the starting job in New York.
He made the team out of spring training and adjusted to the unfamiliar role of a bench player. "This is new for me, but I figure it's just one more thing," said Relaford. "I'll be a better ballplayer and person for it." Desi continued to prove his worth to the team in many ways. The switch-hitting infielder added a new one on May 17, 2001. The Mets were facing the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium when manager Bobby Valentine chose to send Relaford to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth-inning. Desi retired all three batters he faced by throwing exclusively fastballs (one reaching 91 mph) and changeups. The experience was bittersweet for Relaford as New York suffered a 15-3 loss. "Things could have been a lot worse if Desi didn't have as good of stuff as he did." Mets manager, Bobby Valentine offered. "I got to face a pitcher and I got me a punchie," Relaford said. "I just hope that I at least got the guys to laugh a little...It's been a tough time." Desi became only the fourth position player to pitch in New York Mets history, and joined Matt Franco as the only other Mets player to accomplish it at Shea Stadium.
Relaford continued to find ways into the lineup all season long, and in late August found himself with a team best .311 batting average. "I've got to keep believing that I'm an everyday player," he said. "That's what I'm trying to prove to everybody." By the end of the year he had accumulated 301 at-bats, with 8 home runs, 36 RBIs, a .302 batting average, and team leading 13 stolen bases. "If I'm playing every day, I'm happy." Desi explained. "Or whenever I play, I'm happy."
The Mets traded Relaford along with Tsuyoshi Shinjo to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Shawn Estes on December 16, 2001.
Desi Relaford signed his card in the set for me through a private signing held by Kevin Heninger on June 4, 2011.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Chris Jelic came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Kansas City Royals along with David Cone in exchange for Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo on March 27, 1987. The talented athlete from Pennsylvania had previously been a member of both the football and baseball programs at the University of Pittsburgh. The quarterback played in two bowl games for Pitt and was the baseball team's MVP, as well as an All-Big East and NCAA all-district selection. His father, Ralph Jelic was a two-time bowl champion, while his mother, Cynthia was 1959's Women's Athlete of the Year at Pitt.
Jelic started his professional baseball career as a catcher, but began to also include outfield duties while with the Double-A Jackson Mets in 1987. He would help the club at first base and third base a couple seasons later. Chris was part of a record-setting contest for Jackson on July 15, 1988. The Mets and their opponent, the San Antonio Missions were locked in a scoreless tie following 25 innings of play. A seven hour and 10 minute game that was suspended at 2:30 AM for fear the exhausted players might be injured. Jelic amazingly caught every inning of the longest scoreless game in Texas League history which ultimately ended with a Missions win in the 26th inning once resumed.
After he hit for a fine .306 batting average with the Triple-A Tidewater club, the Mets chose to promote Chris to New York at the close of the 1990 campaign. Jelic was added to the big-league roster following catcher Barry Lyons release on September 4th. Chris finally made his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter at Shea Stadium on September 30th, and then remained in the game as the left fielder.
Jelic did not enter another contest until the Mets closed the year with a three-game series in Pittsburgh. Chris returned to his hometown as the starting left fielder in each of these. New York split the first two games, and was leading 4-3 in the series finale. However, Jelic had been unable to record his first major-league hit in the 10 at-bats of his short career. Leading off the 8th-inning he deposited a Doug Bair pitch over the left field wall for a solo home run. "The last game, my last at-bat, in my hometown—you couldn't write a better script than that." Jelic said after the game.
The Mets released Chris Jelic on November 13, 1990. He would join the San Diego Padres organization the next year, but his four games in New York were his only time in the major-leagues.
I created Chris Jelic's card in the set from a signed index card given to me by my friend, Jessie on June 5, 2011.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Carlos Beltran joined the New York Mets when he signed as a free agent on January 11, 2005. The seven-year deal was given to the talented outfielder soon after signing pitcher, Pedro Martinez. "I like the plan (the Mets) have," Beltran said. "They're going in the right direction. They have made moves now that show that they'll be a different Mets team than they've been." His contract was the seventh largest in baseball at that time, and easily the most in Mets team history.
Carlos was able to handle the huge expectations of the contract through his faith. "I take the field with the mentality to play not for the New York Mets," Beltran told CBN. "I take the field thinking to play to please God. Everything I do out there is to be an example, to do things right in front of His eyes because I know that if I do those things right, He will be proud of me. Like I said, the best decision I ever made was accepting Christ because He changed me."
The Beltran era with the Mets could have ended during it's first year. The centerfielder was in pursuit of a ball in the outfield when he suffered a horrific collision with right fielder, Mike Cameron in San Diego on August 11, 2005. The result was a concussion for Carlos and a fracture of a facial bone for Cameron who had to be removed on a stretcher. Beltran acknowledged he had little memory of the episode or it's immediate aftermath. "After a collision like that," he said, "I feel lucky."
In 2006, the switch-hitting slugger seemed to have a chance to become the first New York Met to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. That year he tied the Mets single season home run record with 41 round-trippers. Carlos also drove in 116 runs, and established a new team mark for runs scored with 127. He would finish fourth in the final voting.
Beltran's performance was a large reason the Mets found themselves winning the National League Eastern Division and ending the Atlanta Braves streak of 14 years. Carlos continued his torrid hitting with three home runs in the NL Championship Series facing the St. Louis Cardinals, but was at the plate to strikeout looking for the final out of the decisive Game Seven. His at-bat ended the last postseason contest to ever be played at Shea Stadium.
Beltran was selected the National League Player of the Week on June 11, 2006, April 22, 2007, and August 19, 2007. His superb defense was honored with his inclusion to the Rawlings National League Gold Glove team for 2006, 2007 and 2008. Carlos also represented the Mets at the Major League All-Star Game in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
"It's been great man, It's been great," Beltran said about his time with the Mets. "It's been a lot of ups and downs. It's been a learning experience for me. But it's been great. It's been the experience of a lifetime."
Friday, June 3, 2011
Frank Thomas came to the New York Mets when he was traded by the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for Gus Bell on November 28, 1961. Thomas was one of the original Mets of the 1962 season and the starting left fielder for the first game played at Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964. The slugger set the Mets club record for home runs in a season with 34 in 1962. He also led the club with 94 RBIs in that inaugural season.
Frank was an accomplished fielder who could also be used at first and third base. His fielding prowess had begun as a kid playing fast pitch softball without the aid of any glove. Thomas was known to often later challenge major league players to throw fastballs that he would catch barehanded. "One time when I was with the Mets, we were playing the Giants. Richie Ashburn, who was our centerfielder, bet Willie Mays $100 that I could catch his hardest throw barehanded." Frank recalled to Harold Friend in a 2010 interview. "Willie took the challenge and I caught his first throw, but he said that it didn't count because he hadn't warmed up. Then he said the bet should be $10, not for $100. Willie warmed up, and I caught his throw. Willie is great."
Thomas was traded from the New York Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Gary Kroll and Wayne Graham on August 7, 1964. The Phillies acquired the veteran to help them during a late-season pennant race with the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately Frank broke his thumb sliding back into first base on September 8th and was unable to complete the season.
Following the success of the recent Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas, the senior Frank began using the title of "The Original" to distinguish between the two players. "We had a great ball club." Thomas said of the Mets. "We just didn't have any pitching. If we could have had a closer like they have today, we might have been in the thick of a pennant race. It was great playing in New York. I really enjoyed playing for Casey Stengel. I've always said that he probably forgot more baseball than I'll ever know."
After his playing career he has enjoyed time with his wife of over 50 years, their eight children and many grandchildren. Frank has been involved with the Baseball Assistance Team organization and has appeared at many fan events in the Pittsburgh area.
Frank Thomas signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on October 3, 2008.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Rich Becker was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the New York Mets in exchange for Alex Ochoa on December 12, 1997. The left-handed hitter was brought in to serve as a reserve outfielder or possibly more. "I'm sure (Bobby Valentine) is going to play whoever's going to give him the best opportunity to win that day." Rich said during spring training. "If one of us is playing well, I'm sure he'll be in the lineup." Becker was a strong fielder and hoped to provide power from the bench. The only concern was his large number of strikeouts with the Twins. "Part of that is aggressiveness; if we get him to be a little more aggressive, and still take pitches, that number of strikeouts will come down." stated Mets' general manager Steve Phillips at the time of the trade.
Rich made his Mets debut on Opening Day, March 31, 1998. He entered the game at Shea Stadium and struck out as a pinch-hitter during a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. The next day he produced his first hit for New York. A three-run ninth-inning home run against those same Phillies. Becker's finest game came on April 4th facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rich treated the fans at Shea to the total extent of his talents. During a marathon extra-inning contest he began by throwing out a runner at the plate in the first inning. Then saved two more runs with a sprawling catch in left to end the second, and pulled the Mets to within 3-2 with a 414 foot, two-run blast over the centerfield fence in the fourth. Becker singled to keep a two-out rally going in the eighth, and finally singled again over a drawn-in infield to win the game 7-6 in the 13th inning. "I can't complain," Becker was quoted. "It's a great day. A little bit of everything." The newest Met was making a name for himself. "Never heard of him," relief pitcher, Turk Wendell said. "I was like, 'Rich Becker? Who's that?' But people know who he is now, and I'm glad that he's on my team."
Unfortunately Becker's success would fade as his strikeout totals grew. With his batting average dropped to .190, he left the Mets after being claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles on June 16, 1998. Rich finished his time in New York with 3 home runs, 10 RBIs and 42 strikeouts in 100 at-bats. "He's a good outfielder with a good arm and speed," said Orioles manager, Ray Miller. "And he's only 26. That's not a guy you give up on."
Rich Becker signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on February 2, 2009.