Monday, March 26, 2012
Tim Spehr came to the New York Mets when he signed a free agent contract on January 8, 1998. An injury to the elbow of Todd Hundley created a void at catcher for the Mets. Spehr, a six-year minor league free agent saw the opportunity to earn a roster spot in spring training. "All I can ask for is what they are giving me here," Tim said in March 1998. "but nobody has any control if they go and make a trade for a guy."
Tim was known as a fine receiver, but historically had not been as strong a hitter. However, in preseason games he was swinging his bat with great results. "It's only March 7th," he explained. "and there's still a lot of spring to go. Every catcher in the game is aware of the situation here when a major catcher like Todd is out. But just because I've put a couple of good games together doesn't mean to say I'm a star hitter."
Spehr made his Mets debut as the teams catcher on March 31, 1998. He started the game and remained behind the plate for all 14 innings of the 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the veteran's first career Opening Day assignment. "I don't know," Tim jokingly said afterward. "If I've ever caught 14 innings in a season." He was able to add a pair of hits in his five at-bats that afternoon. "Usually I'm coming in as a catcher on the squad, but No. 2 or No. 3," Spehr said. "Here I'm not sure how much I'm going to play, but I know I'll play a fair amount. It's a challenge, but a welcome one. It's not something I'm leary of."
The native Texan was excited for the opportunity and the chance to live in the city. "I wanted to be in New York. I love that Manhattan area. There are plenty of places to eat and go out." Spehr noted. "I'm going to enjoy being a New York Met...It's something I said a few years ago, I wanted to play for one of the New York teams. Now I'm here. But I know that this city can eat you alive. You have to be prepared to do your job each and every day you come to the ballpark."
One of the most memorable plays of his Mets career came amazingly while playing first base. During his first ever game appearance there he pulled off something that a regular at the position would be proud of. "I don't think you'll ever see it again," said Mets manager Bobby Valentine. Cincinnati Reds outfielder, Reggie Sanders blooped a hit into left center field. Both Mets middle infielders and outfielder, Bernard Gilkey rushed to retrieve the ball. Sanders saw second base uncovered and raced to stretch the hit into a double. The alert Spehr saw what was happening and won the race to second base against Sanders. Even catching the throw from the outfield and tagging the surprised Sanders for the out. "I felt like a quarterback out there," Gilkey said of his throw. "It was really classic," said Valentine. "I'll bet that's his last putout at second base from left field in his career. Just call it a hunch."
Unfortunately his time with the Mets was ended on a play at the plate on May 4th. The backstop suffered a broken bone in his left wrist as a result of a lunging tag of Arizona Diamondbacks, Kelly Stinnett in the game at Shea Stadium. Tim returned to catch the next inning. "He came out to me and told me to relax and stuff," Mets pitcher, Brian Bohanon remembered. "He never hinted he was hurt." After the game x-rays revealed the break. Spehr had only managed a .137 batting average, but had become quite valuable in handling the Mets pitching staff. "Not only have I become very comfortable with Timmy, but I've gotten very close to him as a friend and a teammate," Al Leiter said after the news. "It's upsetting to know he's going to be out awhile."
The Mets acquired future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to become their catcher in May. Spehr's contract was sold to the Kansas City Royals when he returned from the disabled list on August 31, 1998.
Tim returned to Dallas after his playing career and embarked on a successful career in real estate. He remained involved with baseball as a coach working with teams from the Centerfield Baseball Academy in Plano, Texas.
Tim Spehr signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to him on March 25, 2012.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Dennis Cook came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Florida Marlins in exchange for Fletcher Bates and Scott Comer on December 18, 1997. The left-handed relief pitcher was part of the 1997 World Championship team. "They started trading everybody," Cook said. "In a way it was sad, because of everything we'd accomplished. We put so much hard work into it, and it's gratifying when you do that and something positive comes out of it."
The Cook family grew significantly back in Austin, Texas. Dennis and his wife welcomed their first children, a set of triplets. He was excused from part of spring training to be home for the event. "It was an incredible experience," Cook said. "and I appreciate the Mets giving me the time to enjoy it. I don't know what will happen to me the rest of my life, but nothing will ever replace this. It was a miracle."
Dennis made his Mets debut during Opening Day at Shea Stadium on March 31, 1998. Throwing an inning and a third of the New York 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. He would lead the team in appearances with 73 during his first season. Finishing with a 8-4 record, one save, and a 2.38 ERA.
The Mets would earn the National League Wild Card in 1999. Cook did his part with a 10-5 record, three saves and a 3.86 ERA. Dennis registered 68 strikeouts in his 63 innings pitched during the regular season. The southpaw then did not allow an earned run in any of his postseason appearances.
New York would once again secure the N.L. Wild Card entry in 2000, but it was a challenging year personally for Dennis. Several rough outings caused his ERA to rise to 5.34. "I have the same stuff, but good mechanics come with consistent work, and I would say I'm not where I want to be with my mechanics right now," Cook said in mid-August. "I've had stretches of being very good but when I've been bad, I've been very bad this year." When the postseason arrived he was ready. Again he did not allow a single earned run that included three appearances against the New York Yankees in the World Series.
By mid-season of 2001 the Mets had decided to part ways with the impending free agent. Dennis was traded along with Turk Wendell to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for young lefthanders, Bruce Chen and Adam Walker on July 27, 2001. "I'm excited about it," said Cook. "Philly's right in the thick of it. It's a little bit sad knowing how you spent four years together, World Series team, a lot of friendships. But that's the nature of the beast."
Dennis retired from baseball in 2002, but returned to the game in 2010 when he was named the head coach for Team Sweden. Cook has participated in Mets Alumni Association events including the City Harvest event in 2011.
Dennis Cook signed an index card for Nick Duinte of Baseball Happenings in New York City on June 4, 2011 that was used to make his card in the set.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Bob Hendley joined the New York Mets when he was traded from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Rob Garner and Johnny Stephenson on June 12, 1967. The deal was needed because Don Shaw was the only left-handed pitcher on the New York staff, and was facing the possibility of being called to Army duty in Vietnam. Hendley had only made seven relief appearances for the Cubs to start the season. "I'm happy to come to the Mets," Bob said after the trade. "I need work and I'll start or relieve, whichever Wes Westrum says."
Hendley's greatest moment at Shea Stadium had come years earlier in a San Francisco Giants uniform. As a starting pitcher he was never expecting to be summoned from the bullpen to finish a contest. That is exactly what happened during the second game of the doubleheader on May 31, 1964. After 23 innings, the Giants took a 8-6 lead, and manager Al Dark called upon the last available pitcher he had to throw the bottom of the ninth. "That was the only time I was ever scared to take the mound," said Hendley. "After playing for over seven hours I did not want to be the one to ruin it for the guys." He did not, and retired the Mets in order to preserve the victory.
Bob would make his Mets debut on June 17, 1967 at Shea Stadium. The southpaw threw a scoreless ninth-inning of relief during the 1-9 loss to his former Chicago teammates. Bob was moved into the Mets starting rotation after that appearance. While facing Pittsburgh in New York, Hendley was forced out of the game with an elbow injury on August 13th. "I pitched for nine years of my baseball career with an injured arm," Hendley told me in 2012. "I remember when the bone chip broke free. It was like a pea under the skin. It locked up my elbow and I had to take my fingers and slide it to even move my arm." During this time in baseball most injured players were released without the possibility of reaching their major-league pension. Fearing that the left-hander was back on the mound just seven days later to battle through till the end of the season. In September the pain in his elbow had become too great to hide.
Bob finished the year with a 3-3 record, two complete games, and 3.44 ERA in 15 games. He decided to undergo elbow surgery that winter. "The Mets were good to me," said Hendley. "They never tried to release me while I was rehabbing the injury." His recovery effort took him to Triple-A Jacksonville, and Tidewater the next two years. Failing to return to New York, Bob decided to retire from professional baseball following the 1969 season.
Bob returned home to Macon, Georgia to spend time with his family and enjoy some hunting and fishing. His love for the game brought him into his second career as a high school coach. Hendley first joined Tattnall in 1972. Then moved to River North Academy where he won a state championship. It was after that school closed in 1983 that the former major-leaguer would join legendary coach, Bubber Adams at Stratford Academy. The duo would guide the program to much success winning five state championships during the next 19 years. Including teams that featured both of Hendley's sons. "I knew that he was a great teacher of fundamentals of the game, and my strong suit was organization." explained Coach Adams. "I think we made a very good team and had some great baseball teams and players." Stratford alumnus, Jay Cranford recalled, "I don't think there was a day where he didn't enjoy what he was doing. He was a really good mentor; he'd give you advice and watch over you. He was a good role model—a very ethical, moral man with character."
Bob Hendley signed his card in the set for me before the Stratford Alumni Game at Bobby Hendley Field in Macon, Georgia on March 10, 2012.