Sunday, October 14, 2012


Jim Tatum signed with the New York Mets as a free agent on December 26, 1997. The versatile player had first made the major leagues in 1992 with the Milwaukee Brewers. When he signed a minor league contract with New York it occurred during the same time the Mets were in discussions in bringing in Japanese pitching ace, Masato Yoshii. Tatum had played the previous season in Japan alongside Yoshii on the Japan Series Champion Yakult Swallows club.

"The practices were tougher than the games. That's what they want. They want it so the games just come naturally," Jim explained. "It really clicked for me in Japan. I saw a different culture and a different work ethic. I thought I was really working here. But over there I realized I wasn't really working at all." Bobby Valentine became a fan of his hustle and the many ways that Tatum might help the team. The Mets manager added Jim to the opening day roster for the 1998 campaign as a bench player that might even serve as the third catcher as needed.

Jim made his Mets debut on March 31, 1998 at Shea Stadium. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in New York's 1-0 opening day victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Tatum's first home run for the Mets came as a walk-off pinch-hit three run shot off Houston Astros closer, Doug Henry on April 22nd. The two-out blast completed a 10-7 comeback victory. "Is it surprising?" Tatum asked afterward. "No, because I know I can do stuff like that...You put 500 at-bats in me, who knows what I'll hit?"

Injuries to the starting lineup allowed many opportunities for Jim to fill in at various positions. His first start at third base on May 17th in San Francisco was memorable to him and his teammates. "I give him a nine for the somersault," Bernard Gilkey said after the game. "Give him two points for the takedown of Rey. And he did one of the best juggling acts I've ever seen on the third one. It was amusing. It loosened us up, I'll tell you that." Giants hitter, Darryl Hamilton fouled off two consecutive pitches in the first inning that eluded the third-baseman Tatum. Both falling untouched to the ground aided by a bright sun and a near collision with shortstop, Rey Ordonez. "On the third one, I just got lucky and guessed where it was going," said Tatum. "When it was hit, I thought, 'I better catch this one.'" The catch brought a sarcastic applause from the crowd, the Mets team to cheer from the dugout steps, and a sheepish grin to Jim's face.

Tatum appeared in his final game as a Met on June 11th, and was released a few days later. Jim complained that he was injured when he was designated for assignment and filed a grievance that was eventually settled with the Mets. He finished with 2 home runs, 13 RBIs and a .180 batting average in 35 games.

Following his 16 year playing career (that took him through the majors, minors, Japan, Korea and Mexico) he became the host of The Jim Tatum Show. A sports radio talk show in Colorado that he was a part of for seven years.

He ended up back on the field as an umpire in 2008. Tatum graduated the Jim Evans Umpire School and began calling games in professional Independent League baseball. "I'm still learning," Jim offered that season. "If I was 22 years old, I'd say I want to be a major league umpire. All I can do right now is be the best umpire I can be in the Atlantic League."

Since then Tatum has began a new baseball career, becoming the hitting coach for the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League in 2012. "I wasn't going to just go out there and collect a check and hang out. I have too much reverence for the game of baseball. Everything that I have emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially is because of baseball. Why would I want to take advantage of that?"

Jim Tatum signed his card in the set for me before the Washington Wild Things and Florence Freedom game at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Kentucky on August 25, 2012.

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