Monday, November 28, 2011
#441) JEROMY BURNITZ
Jeromy Burnitz was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (17th overall) of the free agent draft on June 4, 1990. A product of Oklahoma State University who worked his way through the minor-league system and made his major-league debut in a Mets uniform on June 21, 1993. He would record his first big-league hit as a pinch-hitter at Shea Stadium the next day.
The rookie posted fair numbers during his first experience in the majors. Playing for a club that would lose 103 games, Burnitz finished his first year with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs, and a .243 batting average in 86 games. A performance that gave him the opportunity to become the Mets starting right fielder to begin the 1994 season.
New York manager, Dallas Green quickly soured on the young player, and was quite vocal about his displeasure. Criticizing both poor outfield play, and bad decisions on the base paths from Burnitz. The left-handed hitter had seen his batting average drop to a meager .192. In mid-May the announcement was made that Jeromy was heading back to Triple-A Norfolk. "I keep trying to improve and trying not to make the mistakes I've made in the past," Burnitz explained. "I admit I've made mistakes, but I will learn from them and I will be successful whether it's here or I have to go somewhere else first."
Jeromy would return for the month of July, but ultimately return to the Norfolk Tides to close out the year. Green again vocalized his disappointment in August. "He decided to send me down and said a couple of things to me that I disagreed with, and that was it," Jeromy remembered. "The things he said to me didn't make me happy. They weren't positive, I can tell you that." It was not a terrible surprise when the Mets traded Burnitz along with Joe Roa to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Dave Mlicki, Paul Byrd, Jerry DiPoto, and Jesus Azuaje on November 18, 1994.
Burnitz would continue to improve away from New York and became a Major League All-Star with Milwaukee in 1999. He averaged 34 home runs and 107 RBIs during his last four seasons playing for the Brewers.
With a different manager now in place, the Mets returned Jeromy to the Mets as part of a massive three-team trade that involved no less than 10 players on January 21, 2002. Burnitz was now a veteran who found a supporter in Bobby Valentine. "His personality is alive." said his former Norfolk manager. "He has less questions now. He got more upset with stuff before, but now he knows the answers and he has fewer questions." Jeromy would fail to find any consistency throughout the season. His batting average dipped to a career-low .215 at the close of the 2002 campaign. The 154 games he appeared in led the team, but only managed to provide 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. Marks that were far below expectations.
New York unsuccessfully attempted to trade the slugger that winter. "He didn't forget what to do last year. I think things just kind of snowballed, got away from him a little bit as the season went on." explained general manager, Steve Phillips. "I think when he struggled he tried harder and it compounded his struggles. Nobody cares more. Nobody works harder. And that's a pretty good combination." Jeromy was enjoying a successful start to the 2003 season when another setback occurred. A bone in his hand was broken by a Billy Wagner fastball at Shea Stadium on April 22nd. Burnitz remained in the game following the injury, but x-rays revealed the break and placed him on the disabled list. "It's heartbreaking when you get hurt anytime," Jeromy said. "But it definitely adds to it when you're feeling good."
Burnitz returned to the lineup on May 23rd, and provided instant offense for a club slipping out of division contention. Despite missing a month of the season he found himself with 18 home runs by the All-Star break. In an effort to shed payroll from the team, the Mets dealt Jeromy to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Victor Diaz, Kole Strayhorn, and Joselo Diaz on July 14, 2003. "It's hard for me to get real specific but I wouldn't trade my experience in New York for anything," Burnitz said at the time of the trade. "It gave me something inside. My personal experience there is tough for me to define. I wasn't part of a contending team, but they are the organization that drafted me."
"And with last year's struggles, I felt as bad as anyone. But to be able to come back and execute my job in a way that was productive to the team. When you're struggling there's no hiding anything in New York. To be exposed in a way through struggles, the whole experience gave me a lot inside and I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Jeromy Burnitz signed his card in the set for me from an autograph request sent to his home on November 28, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 5:54 PM 1 comment:
Friday, November 25, 2011
#518) MANNY ALEXANDER
Manny Alexander was traded along with Scott McClain from the Baltimore Orioles to the New York Mets in exchange for Hector Ramirez on March 22, 1997. "They are Ripken casualties," Mets general manager, Joe McIlvaine said. "Alexander was behind him at shortstop last season, and McClain was behind him at third base this spring."
"It's exciting," said Alexander. "It's a new team. I knew that I wasn't going to play for the Orioles. I hope that it's the right thing. You never know what the chances are." New York placed him on the opening day roster as the insurance policy for an injured Rey Ordoñez. The Dominican Republic native made his debut with the Mets on April 2, 1997.
Manny became the team's starting shortstop when Ordoñez broke a finger on his left hand on June 1st. The assignment was short-lived. Alexander was also forced to the disabled list when he was injured running the bases on June 10th. The injury required arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. "It's frustrating because not many teams have a backup player who could step in and become an everyday player without losing anything," assistant GM Steve Phillips said. "Manny was a luxury. This is just another challenge. This team has overcome a lot so far." Recovery from the procedure kept Alexander out of the lineup until July 10th.
Manny returned, but once back in the lineup aggravated the injury to his tendon making a spectacular diving play against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. He returned to the disabled list on July 28th due to inflammation of his right knee.
Before he was able to return to play, the Mets sent Alexander to the Chicago Cubs completing a six-player deal that imported Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas, and Brian McRae. "It's like doing your shopping at 7-Eleven," Mets manager, Bobby Valentine explained the trade that also included the popular Lance Johnson. "You need something right now, so you pay a little more. We did that—but I think it was the proper thing to do." Manny finished with two home runs, 15 RBIs, and a .248 batting average in 54 games for New York.
I created Manny Alexander's card in the set from an autographed index card that was signed for Dion Soskin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during the 1992 season.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 9:59 PM No comments:
Thursday, November 24, 2011
WORLD SERIES GAME SIX- BILL BUCKNER 10/25/1986
The baseball world questioned what could ever best the ending of the 1986 National League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Mets. An answer quickly came during the World Series to immediately follow. It featured the swaggering Mets against a Boston Red Sox franchise looking to erase years of frustration.
The two talented clubs had played an exciting World Series entering into Game Six in New York. After grabbing the lead in the top of the 10th inning, Boston was threatening to close things out when the true drama was about to unfold.
Calvin Schiraldi was in his third inning of work, and quickly retired the first two New York batters of the inning. The Red Sox stood one out from a World Championship. "I was up in the clubhouse," remembers Keith Hernandez, who had made the second out of the inning. "The reasoning was I didn't want to see Boston celebrating on our field. Then all of a sudden, we're watching it on TV, and this stuff starts happening. I didn't get out of that chair."
What happened were consecutive base hits from Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, and Ray Knight. The events plated a run and forced Red Sox manager, John McNamara to pull Schiraldi and insert reliever, Bob Stanley. With Mets outfielder, Mookie Wilson at the plate, Stanley uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Mitchell to scamper home with the tying run.
Facing a full count, Mookie continued to foul off pitches until connecting on a ground ball to first base. "A little roller up along first....Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner!" was the call of broadcaster Vin Scully. "In comes Knight, and the Mets win it!"
New York had gotten down to their very last strike before elimination, and rallied to victory. After earning the right to a Game Seven, the Mets finished the drive to their second World Championship two nights later.
"I can't remember the last time I missed a ball like that," offered a dejected Buckner. "But, I'll remember this one." It became regarded as the greatest single moment in Shea Stadium history.
Controversy has surrounded McNamara's decision to leave his first baseman, who was hampered by leg injuries in the contest. The ball was picked up by right field umpire Ed Montague, who put a small "x" near a seam to identify it. Montague gave the baseball to Mets executive, Arthur Richman, who in turn presented it to Mookie. At that time Wilson wrote on it, "The ball won it for us". The souvenir was passed around the victorious clubhouse, and someone even left a tobacco stain where he kissed it.
Owners of the baseball have included actor, Charlie Sheen who first purchased it at auction. It has spent time on display at the the Mets Hall of Fame.
"It's crazy the way, it's 25 years later, people are still talking about it, and it was not the seventh game of the World Series, it was only the sixth," said Bill in 2011. "The series was tied, we might not even won, but for some reason, it stuck." The legendary error should not overshadow the fine career of Buckner. A man who recorded 2,718 career hits and played the game with passion and grace.
Bill Buckner signed his card in the set for my friend, Jessie at JP's Sports and Rock Solid Promotions autograph show in Uniondale, NY on October 23, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 2:23 PM No comments:
Sunday, November 20, 2011
#144) DON HAHN
Don Hahn joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Ron Swoboda and Rich Hacker on March 31, 1971. The move allowed the then discontented Swoboda a new chance away from the Mets.
Hahn made his debut with the team on April 11, 1971 at Shea Stadium. He came into the game as a pinch-runner for Art Shamsky in the ninth-inning facing the Cincinnati Reds. Don made his first start as centerfielder on May 3rd. It was the beginning of his replacement of Tommie Agee as the Mets regular at that position. Hahn finished the year with one home run, 11 RBIs and a .236 batting average. Although he did not provide much offensively, it was apparent that he provided a solid glove in center field.
Don was sent to Triple-A Tidewater for the 1972 season. He recorded a .282 batting average in 114 games, and was promoted back to New York at the close of the year. Hahn managed just 6 hits during 17 games for the Mets that year and saw his big-league batting average stand at just .162. With the team's addition of the legendary Willie Mays, there was no immediate need for Don to provide assistance in center field.
When the Mets traded Tommie Agee that winter it still did not initially provide an opportunity for Hahn at the major-league level. Don was returned to the Tidewater Tides, and did not return until June of the 1973 season. The future Hall of Famer, Mays was showing signs of his 42-years of age in the field. Hahn was summoned to New York to share time in center field. He finished the year with 93 games played, but a low .229 batting average.
The Mets had rallied to win the 1973 National League Eastern Division, and then defeated the "Big Red Machine" of Cincinnati in five games. Don was in center field for all the games of the National League Championship Series. He was also there for the World Series games against the Oakland A's. Hahn flashed his defensive skills in Game Three, by leaping up to pull back a Joe Rudi drive over the right center field fence. Don was not near as fortunate when the next hitter, Sal Bando crushed a Tom Seaver pitch over his head. The Shea Stadium outfield had been reconfigured due to turf removed by celebrating fans following the victory over the Reds. Over 1,000 square feet of grass had been moved to the infield to cover bare spots. As a result the warning track had grown two feet wider than it had been all season. "I was playing deep, but not deep enough," said Hahn. "I played the warning track. What should have been, wasn't. The ball dropped for a double. After the game Seaver told me he knew about the field being changed, but forgot to tell me about it." Oakland would win the game 3-2.
The light-hitting Hahn, delivered a triple during Game Five of the series that drove in one of the two runs in New York's 2-0 victory. Then he added an additional three more hits in the deciding Game Seven, but saw the Mets ultimately fall to the reigning World Champion Athletics.
With the retirement of Mays, he was established as the full-time centerfielder for the 1974 campaign. Hahn was able to deliver four home runs, 28 RBIs, and a .251 batting average in 110 games. The Mets traded Don, along with Tug McGraw and Dave Schneck to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for John Stearns, Del Unser, and Mac Scarce on December 3, 1974.
Hahn played for three different organizations during his final year in professional baseball. After leaving the game he began a real estate career in the San Jose, California area. Don and his wife, Kathy had four children who became accomplished college athletes. Their youngest son, Dustin was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2004. "When I was growing up we would play from sunup to sundown," Hahn remembers. "There are more opportunities today if kids today take advantage of them."
I created Don Hahn's card in the set from an autographed index card given to me by Adam and Dan of City Liquidators on October 29, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 4:05 PM No comments:
Saturday, November 19, 2011
#732) GEREMI GONZALEZ
Geremi Gonzalez signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on January 24, 2006. A once highly-touted prospect with the Chicago Cubs who following a pair of major elbow surgeries hoped for a healthy return. The Venezuelan native was given a minor-league contract and invited to major-league spring training camp. There in Port St. Lucie, Florida he lockered next to Jose Lima, and the two pitchers developed a friendship. The duo were the perpetrators of many practical jokes on their Mets teammates throughout the two months of camp. Before heading north, it was decided that Gonzalez would be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to start the 2006 season.
The National League Eastern Division leading Mets found themselves in need of starting pitching, and Geremi was promoted to New York. He made his debut with the club on May 13, 2006. The righthander faced the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. "Pitching from the first-base side of the rubber out of a hunched, stiff windup, Gonzalez was anything but tentative, firing his fastball over the plate and letting its movement work for him." Is how the New York Times described his work that game. The result was a five-plus inning performance in which he only surrendered two solo home runs. An implosion from the Mets bullpen kept Geremi from receiving the victory in an eventual 9-8 New York win.
Next up was a marquee matchup with the New York Yankees at Shea Stadium on May 19th. Gonzalez squared off against Randy Johnson, and was quickly battered by the Yankees offense. Geremi lasted but three innings while allowing nine hits, and six runs. He exited the game with a ballooned ERA of 10.13. Remarkably, the Mets would rally back to win 7-6 on a game winning ninth-inning hit by David Wright off Mariano Rivera.
Due to the struggles of Gonzalez and Jose Lima, changes were made to the starting rotation. The Mets added Alay Soler from Norfolk, and acquired Orlando Hernandez in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Geremi quickly found his opportunity limited.
"Who knows? Gonzalez might come around and do a good job today," manager Willie Randolph was quoted before his next start on May 25th. "He might deserve another shot." Instead Geremi surrendered deep home runs to Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard to stake the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-0 first inning lead. He would pitch six innings, but see New York fall by a final score of 5-3. Gonzalez was designated for assignment following the conclusion of the game.
The club traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Mike Adams on May 26, 2006. Ending his brief Mets career with an 0-0 record, and 7.71 ERA over 14 innings of work.
Geremi was on a pier along a beach in western Venezuela when he was the victim of a fatal lightning strike. Gonzalez tragically passed away (at the young age of 33) in Punta Palma on May 25, 2008. Two years to the day from his final appearance at Shea Stadium.
I created the set card for Geremi Gonzalez from an autographed index card purchased on October 17, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 11:11 AM No comments:
Friday, November 18, 2011
#545) RICK WILKINS
Rick Wilkins came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Lindsay Gulin on May 12, 1998. The veteran catcher was obtained to fill a void left by the injuries to catchers, Todd Hundley, Tim Spehr, and Todd Pratt. "I thought he had a lot of upside," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said at the time of the trade. "He's done a lot of things at the major-league level. I thought he was a good bet. I'm hoping I was right." The team's general manager, Steve Phillips was concerned with Alberto Castillo as the only healthy option. "It's too uncertain. We didn't want to get caught with Castillo going down, and have Jim Tatum as our only catcher." said Phillips.
Rick made his team debut behind the plate on May 14th at Jack Murphy Stadium. He was hitless in four at-bats during New York's 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. Wilkins would not collect his first hit in a Mets uniform until his first game at Shea Stadium. His single to right field drove in the first run of the 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on May 19th.
The Mets options at catcher quickly changed when the club acquired Mike Piazza on May 23rd. Wilkins was sent to Triple-A Norfolk where he finished out the season with the Tides. During this time he partially tore the labrum in his shoulder, but did not require surgery. At the conclusion of the season he elected to become a free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization on March 6, 1999. "Guys are playing until they're 36, 37, 38," said Wilkins in 1999. "I still have quick hands and feet. I still have a quick bat. I think that age is overrated in major-league baseball."
Wilkins retired from playing after the 2002 season. In 1993 (a year that saw him hit 30 home runs and a .303 average with the Chicago Cubs) he established the Rick Wilkins Foundation. With the help of his brother, Ray they have raised money to support various organizations that work with adults with disabilities. The idea began as a tribute to their sister, Trisha who was born with cerebral palsy. "This is strictly a labor of love," said Ray Wilkins.
The Rick Wilkins Academy of Baseball was opened in 2009. The indoor facility located in Mandarin, Florida has batting cages, pitching machines and personal instruction. "It's good to come home and settle back where it started and provide an opportunity for those in the area."explained Wilkins.
I created Rick Wilkins card in the set from an autographed index card purchased on November 18, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 11:34 AM No comments:
Labels: Rick Wilkins 1998 New York Mets
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
#681) SCOTT ERICKSON
Scott Erickson joined the New York Mets as a free agent on February 5, 2004. The event of his signing a minor-league contract was the last of three big days for the former Minnesota Twins star. His 36th birthday was first. Followed by his wedding to former Monday Night Football sideline reporter, Lisa Guerrero the next day. "I wish spring training started tomorrow," Erickson was quoted from his honeymoon in Hawaii. "I'm ready to go."
Scott was coming off a season lost to shoulder surgery, and had previously missed the 2001 campaign recovering from Tommy John surgery. "We're lucky." Scott said. "With the way medicine has advanced, 15 years ago I'd have been finished." The right-hander pitched his way into the fourth spot of the Mets starting rotation with a strong spring training performance.
Erickson was scheduled to make his debut with the team facing the Atlanta Braves on April 9th. Eight minutes before the first pitch of the game at Turner Field, he strained his left hamstring while warming up in the bullpen. "It's unfortunate, after all the work to get ready with my arm, the leg sets you back," Scott said. "There was a lot of buildup for this." The Mets placed Erickson on the 15-day disabled list and recalled Jae Seo to the roster.
A rehabilitation in the minor leagues followed, but by mid-season he had worked his way back to New York. Scott made his comeback in front of 23,176 fans at Shea Stadium on July 19th. Erickson hurled six innings, giving up eight hits and was in position to win the game when he left. The Mets bullpen would falter and provide a 6-5 Florida Marlins victory. "There really wasn't as much emotion or nerves as when I made my first start after Tommy John surgery," Scott recalled. "I was more nervous getting ready in Atlanta earlier this year, to tell you the truth."
The veteran did not fair nearly as well in his next start for the Mets. Erickson would only last into the third inning, but allow seven runs to the Montreal Expos. New York would ultimately lose by a score of 19-10. A disappointed Mets team chose to designate him for assignment prior to the next day's game at Olympic Stadium. Scott was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Josh Hoffpauir on July 31, 2004.
Scott continued to pitch until 2006. After retiring from baseball he began a new career as a motion picture producer. "And I basically left Yankee Stadium, flew out to Montana right onto the set and threw on a headset," Erickson remembered. "And it was perfect timing, in a sense, that my baseball career ended and my moviemaking career started basically within a week of each other." His first film was the 2007 release A Plumm Summer, which featured his wife, Lisa.
Scott Erickson signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie at the MAB Celebrity Services show in Fairfield, New Jersey on November 12, 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 10:08 PM No comments:
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
#25) CHARLEY SMITH
Charley Smith joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Chico Fernandez and Bobby Catton on April 23, 1964. Smith made his debut with the club at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh the next day. He entered the 9-4 loss to the Pirates as a late inning defensive replacement at third base.
Charley established himself as the Mets most used option at third base during the first season of Shea Stadium. He appeared in 85 games at the position, but also was used in left field. Smith rewarded the club's faith in him by leading the team in home runs with 20 round-trippers.
Smith's biggest moment in the new ballpark came on August 17, 1964. Charley slugged a pair of homers that drove in a total of four runs during New York's 5-0 victory over the Pirates. It was all the offense needed to back up Mets rookie pitcher, Dennis Ribant on way to his first major-league win.
Charley returned for a second season with the Mets in 1965, and led the team in RBIs. During his two years with the team he hit 36 home runs, with 120 RBIs, and a .242 batting average. The free-swinger also recorded team highs in strikeouts during his two years in New York.
The Mets traded Smith along with Al Jackson to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Ken Boyer on October 20, 1965. Charley continued to play in the major-leagues until leaving the game in 1969. His two games with the Chicago Cubs that season allows him the rare distinction of having played for all four New York and Chicago big-league clubs.
The South Carolina native later retired to Reno, Nevada. Charley Smith passed away following knee surgery at the Washoe Medical Center there on November 29, 1994. He was just 57 years old.
I created Charley Smith's card in the set from an autographed Mets game program acquired from Adam Novak of City Liquidators in August of 2011.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 9:29 AM No comments:
Monday, November 14, 2011
#210) LEE MAZZILLI
Lee Mazzilli was selected by the New York Mets in the first round (14th overall pick) of the free agent draft on June 5, 1973. As a young athlete the Brooklyn native participated in speed skating and won eight national championships. Lee was naturally ambidextrous which translated into his ability to effectively switch-hit as a baseball player. He joined the Mets straight out of Lincoln High School with large expectations.
"Maz" was brought to Shea Stadium to officially sign his first major-league contract. The 18-year-old was asked by General Manager, Joe McDonald if there was anything that he wanted to see at the park. "Yeah, Willie Mays," responded Mazzilli. "I'd like to meet Willie Mays." Lee remembers this first day as his all-time favorite memory of Shea. "So they took we down to the clubhouse, the trainer's room. I walk in, and Willie Mays is on the trainers table." recalled Maz. "What could have been better? And then he came into Yogi's office. I'm there with Yogi Berra and Willie Mays. You kiddin' me? It was like a monument to me. Talk about being starstruck."
The fleet-footed Mazzilli set a minor league record by stealing seven bases in one game for the Visalia Mets of the Carolina League in 1975. He was soon promoted to New York as a late-season call up and made his major-league debut on September 7, 1976 in Chicago. The next day at Wrigley Field he delivered a three-run pinch-hit home run to propel a 11-5 ninth-inning victory over the Cubs.
During his first full season the Mets used Mazzilli, and his matinee good-looks as a centerpiece for their marketing campaign. He responded with a fair showing of six home runs, 46 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .250 batting average for a 1977 team that lost 98 games.
Lee's breakout season came in 1979. Maz was selected as the Mets' lone representative to the Major League All-Star Game in Seattle. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter and hit a game-tying solo home run in the eight inning, and then drew a bases loaded walk in the ninth to force in the winning run as the National League claimed a 7-6 victory over the American League.
For the year, Mazzilli delivered 15 home runs, 79 RBIs, 34 stolen bases, and a career-high .303 batting average. Even further endearing himself to the Shea Stadium faithful.
New York, searching for pitching, traded Maz to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell on April 1, 1982. His departure proved temporary as the Mets returned their hometown hero during one of the franchise's finest years. The Mets resigned Lee as a free agent on August 3, 1986. Most importantly, he was eligible for post-season play. In the role of a pinch-hitter, the veteran sparked rallies in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. Appropriately making one of the most popular players in Mets history a part of the 1986 World Champions. "It was a special team." recalls Mazzilli. "It was a confident team that had a lot of ability and great players, but most importantly they played as a team. That shows when you play together as a team, you win."
Lee remained with the Mets until being selected off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 31, 1989. He would end his playing career at the close of that season. Maz became a coach with the Yankees in 2000, and served as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2004-2005. He later returned to the Mets as a member of the SNY broadcast network in 2007. "The Mets have been a huge part of my life..." said Mazzilli.
Lee Mazzilli signed his card in the set for my good friend, Jessie at JP's Sports and Rock Solid Promotions autograph show in Uniondale, NY on October 23, 2011. Adding a "86 WSC" inscription.
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.
Posted by LEE HARMON at 4:54 PM No comments:
Labels: Bill Hepler 1966 New York Mets
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