Nov 28, 2014

1986 World Champion Mets Infielder: Howard Johnson- Part Two (The Nineties & Beyond)

In 1990 he doubled his salary, earning one point six million dollars & the expectations for him were high. He hit a HR on Opening Day but finished April at .252 with four HRs. He began May with HRs in back to back games, & hit a third two days later, but didn't do too much more that month. That June, he had one of his best games, having his first career five-RBI game. That day he also hit a grand slam HR in a 15-10 Mets win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

On June 26th in St. Louis his top of the 10th inning double, off Ken Dayley broke the tie & were the Mets game winning runs. When Kevin Elster went down at short stop with injury, Hojo moved into the position for the last two months of the season. On August 31st he drove in the winning run off Steve Bedrosian to beat the San Francisco Giants. In September he hit three HRs & drove in 14 runs as the Mets finished second to the Pittsburgh Pirates four games back.

He played 154 games, stealing 34 bases with 37 doubles (fourth in the NL) & 90 RBIs, but his HR production fell to 23 HRs and he hit just.244 with a .319 on base %. His 63 extra base hits were sixth in the league & his nine sac flies were 8th most. On the field he led the league in errors for the first of two straight seasons & struck out 100 times.

In 1991 the Mets faded off to a fifth place finish & there wasn't too much left over from the '86 Championship team. Just six other players besides Johnson had been around that long & the face of the organization was certainly different. Hojo returned starting out a bit slow in April, batting just .211 although he did hit fur HRs. On May 4th he hit a walk off HR off Mike Lacoss to beat the San Francisco Giants 4-3 at Shea Stadium. A week later he hit another HR off Lacoss in a 4-2 Mets win at San Francisco.

At the end of May he drove in runs in nine of twelve games & had 11 HRs for the season. In June he picked up his pace, as he hit six HRs in the month & passed Dave Kingman going into second place on the Mets all time HR list.

On June 8th he won the game in Houston with a top of the 11th inning HR off Mike Capel. On June 18th Hojo hit a grand slam off the Reds Tom Browning at Shea Stadium. Midway through at the All Star break, Hojo had 19 HRs with 63 RBIs & was voted to his second midsummer classic.

In August he hit six HRs, topped off by hitting a pair of long balls on May 31st in Cincinnati. That day he drove in three runs leading to the Mets 8-7 win. He finished out the year with a fantastic September, hitting 10 HRs with 28 RBIs, earning him his second National League Player of the Month award. He was one of the very few bright spots for a lowly Mets team.

It was possibly his best season of all, as for the first time in history a Mets player led the league in both HRs (38)& RBIs (117). Not only that but he is also the only Met to have ever have led the league in the RBI category. He also became the only player besides Barry Bonds to join the 30-30 club in three different seasons.

Hojo scored 108 runs, which tied a Mets club record, hitting 34 doubles while stealing 34 bases. He posted a .342 on base % & hit .259, while finishing fifth in the league's MVP voting. He was so bad in the infield that, that season he began to play some outfield (30 games).

In the off season, the Mets went out & bought a bunch of high priced free agents that all would pretty much all fail, especially as a team together. As the team went down strangely so did Johnson. In 100 games he hit only seven HRs with 43 RBIs batting a lowly .223 his worst average of his Mets career. Johnson's only bright spot was when he passed Ted Simmons for the N.L record with most HRs by a switch hitter (183).

The next year (1993) was even worse for him, as injuries limited him to 72 games and at age 32 he seemed washed up. The Mets let him go to free agency & he moved on, signing a one year deal in Colorado with the Rockies.

In his nine year Mets career, Howard Johnson ranks high in many offensive categories. He is fourth all time on the Mets list in HRs (192) RBIs (629) doubles (214) stolen bases (202) runs scored (627) & walks (556). He has 997 hits (10th on the Mets all time list) in 1154 Mets games played (6th all time) with a .251 batting average. He is third in sac flies (50) & in strike outs (827).

In 1994, Johnson signed with the Colorado Rockies & in the strike shortened year he batted a career low .211. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1995 hit only .195 and retired at age 35. After a 14 year career he had batted .249 with 1229 hits 228 HRs 247 doubles 231 stolen bases 692 walks & a .340 on base % in 1531 games played.

With his glove he made 163 errors on the field. He played 1031 games at third base (98th all time) posting a .929 fielding %. Johnson played 273 games at short, 217 games in the outfield eight games at second & five games at first base.

Retirement: In 2001 Johnson was named the batting coach of the Mets' new minor league A ball team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. He became their manager the following season. He was then the hitting coach for the St. Lucie Mets, winning the Florida State championship in 2003. The next year he moved up to the AA Binghamton Mets. 

In 2005 he was the Norfolk Tides batting instructor & had the team hitting their best in six years. In 2007, he returned to New York as the Mets first base coach and eventually became their hitting coach in 2008. He served two years in that capacity but was not asked back in 2010 although he still was working in the organization.

Honors: He remains a popular Mets figure & was on hand for many of the recent team celebrations. He was on hand at the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1986 team in 2006 and the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

Johnson & his wife have three children. His daughter Shannon is a figure skating coach in Florida & his son Glen plays pro baseball. He was offered a contract by the Mets in 2007 being drafted in the 37th round but did not sign.

In 2011 at age 50 he returned to pro ball playing two minor league games with his son for the Rockland Boulders

Nov 27, 2014

1986 World Champion Mets Infielder: Howard Johnson- Part One (The Eighties)

Howard Michael Johnson known as "Hojo" was born on November 29, 1960 in Clearwater, Florida. The five foot eleven switch hitter was originally drafted as a first round, pitcher out of St. Petersburg College, by the Detroit Tigers in 1979.

In the minors he was converted into a third baseman due to bat & his strong arm. In his third minor league season he hit 22 HRs at AA Birmingham in 1981. In 1982 he hit 23 HRs while batting .317 stealing 35 bases at AAA Evansville earning a call up to the big leagues.

He came up to the Tigers in 1982 as a back up to Tom Brookens batting .316 with 4 HRs in 54 games. By 1984 he was being platooned with Brookens, starting out the year hot, driving in run in six of ten games in May. A strong June had him hit up at the .300 mark along with four HRs. But he tailed off as the year came to an end, and he saw less playing time in September after the Tigers rolled over the American League. Soon veterans Darrel Evans & Marty Castillo were getting more playing time, especially in the post season.

Hojo had 12 HRs 50 RBIs & batted .248 in 116 games, but only had one at bat going 0-1 in the post season as the Tigers won the World Series. After the season, he was traded to the New York Mets for pitcher Walt Terrell.

He arrived in New York as one of three third baseman, but Hubbie Brooks was quickly traded in a deal to acquire All Star catcher, Gary Carter. Hojo was the Mets starting third baseman on Opening Day1985, getting a hit & drawing an RBI walk in the 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Hojo's debut went under noticed, since Carter was also making his debut & hit a walk off game winning HR.

Johnson struggled not getting above the .200 mark until July 4th, that month things got better for him. As Ray Knight struggled, hitting just .218 on the year, Johnson remained the teams main third baseman. He drove in 16 runs, raised his average thirty four points and hit four HRs. On August 3rd his top of the 10th inning HR in Chicago, off the Cubs George Frazier broke the 4-4 tie & was the game winner. On September 10th he hit a grand slam HR off the St. Louis Cardinals John Tudor, keeping New York in first place, one game up after the 5-4 win.

Three weeks later on September 29th, his three hit three RBI day, including a HR, helped the Mets beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh 9-7. Hojo hit, 242 with 11 HRs 18 doubles & 46 RBIs, posting a .300 on base %. For 1985 he played 126 games at third base posting a .941 fielding % making 15 errors in 253 chances.

In 1986 he started out well batting .357 in April. On April 24th Hojo hit a two run HR off St. Louis' Todd Worrell tying up the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Mets went on to beat the rival Cardinals 5-4 on George Fosters RBI base hit. From there he spent time on the DL miss most of the month of June.

Upon his return he struggled, losing his starting job at third base, to Ray Knight who would bat .298. On June 23rd he hit two HRs in a game against the Montreal Expos, even though the Mets lost 5-4. Johnson had only hit one HR going into mid June then went on a tear hitting 6 HRs during the next month.

One of his biggest blasts came during the legendary July 22nd game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Reds Eric Davis had slid hard into third base & Mets third baseman Ray Knight went crazy. He immediately took his glove off & threw a punch at Davis. A classic bench clearing brawl occurred as both dugouts & bull pen's emptied. Players were ejected & manager Davey Johnson had to fill spots on the field, including having pitcher Roger McDowell play outfield.

Johnson followed up with a three-run HR off Ted Power in the top of the 14th inning, which led to the Mets 6-3 victory. Hojo’s constant smile and good sense of humor was constant throughout the year.

He became Roger McDowell’s side kick in issuing the “hot foot” to Mets players in the dugout. The “Hot Foot” was when a matchbook was stuck with bubble gum to the back of a players shoe & lit on fire by either Johnson or McDowell.

This was demonstrated in the 1987 “Let’s Go Mets” video by Johnson & McDowell. He finished the 1986 Championship year batting .249 with 10 HRs 14 doubles, 39 RBIs & a .341 on base %.

Post Season: HoJo was shut out in the postseason, going 0-for-7 in the four games he played in. His only start was Game #2 of the 1986 World Series when he went 0-for-4 in the Mets loss. His only other at bat in the series was in Game #6 when he struck out in the ninth inning.

Trivia: Hojo goes down in Mets history as the first Met to greet Ray Knight at home plate as he scored the miraculous winning run in the classic World Series Game # 6.

At age 25 Johnson already had won his second World Series title. Ray Knight was gone after the World Series and Johnson became the Mets regular third baseman. He developed into one of the league’s top power hitters over the next two seasons. After a slow April, he went on a three month tear starting out with a five HR 15 RBI stretch from May 10th through May 20th. In June he had a stretch where he homered in three of four games & then three more HRs in three straight games the next week.

He had 20 HRs by the All Star break and in July he had a stretch of driving in six runs in a seven game span. From July 10th through July 16th he hit six HRs driving in eight runs. He started August with a grand slam in Montreal in the Mets 12-4 blowout win. During a thirteen-game span he had at least one RBI in all but one game. In mid August he homered in three straight games, driving in seven more runs in that span.

On August 31st he hit a top of the 10th inning HR off The Pares Keith Comstock for a game winning 6-5 Mets win in San Diego. Two days later his two run HR off Ed Whitson led New York to a 3-2 win, helping Dwight Gooden complete the three game sweep of the Padres. On September 21st he hit another grand slam, this one at Wrigley Field in Chicago helping the Mets to a big win. The win had the Mets keep pace with the Cardinals just 2 1/2 games back. They would fade away in the final week of the season & finish a very close second by just three games.

Hojo had always been a quick base runner as well. In the late eighties the trend became joining the & so called exclusive 30/30 club. Hojo did just that as he stole 32 bases & finished the year with 36 HRs (7th in the league). That year he set a HR record for NL switch hitters with his 36 HRs. He was overall a much a better hitter from the right side of the plate.

He had 99 RBIs, second on the club to Daryl Strawberry & tenth most in the league. He hit 22 doubles with 93 runs scored while posting a 3.64 on base percentage. He was now being recognized as a new Mets slugger as the careers of Gary Carter & Keith Hernandez were beginning to wind down. Johnson even earned 42 points in the MVP voting as well. The free swinging Hojo struck out 113 times (9th in the NL). It was the first in a five year stretch where he struck out over 100 times.

In 1988, Johnson’s numbers fell off, especially after he suffered a right shoulder injury. In April he batted just .171 with three HRs. On May 1st he helped Doc Gooden go to 6-0 as he hit a three run HR & drove in four of the Mets 11 runs in an 11-0 shutout. On June 2nd he hit a walk off HR against the Cubs Frank DiPino in the bottom of the 13th inning. In the final week of the month he hit four HRs & drove in runs in six of eight games. On June 29th he hit a bottom of the 9th inning HR at Shea Stadium, off the Pirates Jim Gott. The HR tied the game, in which the Mets went on to win in the bottom of the 13th.

He began July by driving in runs in the first four games of the month. hitting just .230 on the season. But he still showed some power with 24 HRs 24 doubles & 68 RBIs, setting a Mets record with 25 intentional walks. On August 27th, his first inning two run single, were the only runs Ron Darling needed in his 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants Rick Reuschel. On September 8, 1988 at Wrigley Field he had the only five-hit game of his career, going 5-for-5 with a three-run HR & four RBIs.

As Johnson was struggling on the field, mostly due to his back issues, the Mets tried out the highly touted 21-year-old prospect, Gregg Jefferies at third base, Jeffries started out on a tear & had a hot September. The Mets clinched another NL Eastern title that season, as Johnson batted .230 with 24 HRs 21 doubles & 68 RBIs. He walked 86 times (fourth in the NL) posting another good on base % at .343%, while playing in 148 games.

Post Season: Johnson struggled in the 1988 NLCS going just 1-for-18 with six strikeouts. He did not help the Mets cause, in the losing effort to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was benched in the final two games, with the exception of a Game #7 pinch hit role, where he struck out. Greg Jeffries played third base in both those games.

Trade rumors about Johnson were all over the news during that off season, but instead it was Wally Backman who got shipped out of New York. Jeffries took over second base & Johnson remained as the Mets third baseman. He would commit 24 errors at third, second most in the league in the position & fifth most out of all position players. Johnson committed a lot of errors in his career (163 overall), leading the league twice (1990-1991) & coming in the top four at third base four times.

Davey Johnson moved him up from sixth in the batting order to the number three spot in front of Daryl Strawberry in 1989. He responded by having an awesome year & the fact that he stayed healthy certainly was a difference. It began with a solo HR & three RBIs on Opening Day, as he helped New York beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-4.

In May he hit HRs in back to back games at the start of the month, including a walk off HR against the Cincinnati Red's Rob Dibble. He went on a tear in June, as he hit 11 HRs driving in 24 runs, winning the NL Player of the Month award. He hit five HRs in the first eight games that month, and had a hitting streak where he hit safely in 16 of 18 games entering July.

That season he was name to his first All Star team & started at third base for the NL in the All-Star Game held in Anaheim. In his first at bat, he drove in a run with a single off Oakland's Dave Stewart. The AL won the game 5-3.

On August 20th he hit his 30th HR of the season & joined Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays as the only multi-year members of the 30-30 club. He hit five HRs in September but the Mets finished second that year, six games behind the Chicago Cubs.

He personally finished 1989 second in the NL with 36 HRs, (tying his career-high and his own NL record for switch hitters) He led the league with 104 runs scored, drove in 101 runs (4th in the league) hit 41 doubles which set a Mets club record & was third most in the league. Johnson stole 41 bases (4th in the NL) finishing fifth in the MVP voting.

The Legend of New York Giants Outfielder: Moonlight Grahm (1905)

Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was born on  November 12th, 1877 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Graham made one appearance in a major league game.

On June 29th, 1905 he was placed in right field, but never got a turn at bat for John McGraw's 1905 World Champion New York Giants.
It was not on the field but in fiction where Graham became famous.

In 1975 author W.P. Kinsella, had taken notice of Graham's statistic in the Baseball Encyclopedia. He used the character in his novel; Shoeless Joe which the movie Field of Dreams was based on. In the movie Kevin Costner & James Earl Jones are sent to Fenway Park in Boston by the voice that tells them "If you build it he will come." And "Ease his pain".

At the game the Graham stat is seen only by them on the scoreboard.  The voice tells them, "Go the distance..." as the two soon drive off to Chisholm, Minnesota, to find out what they can about the man and his mysterious MLB career.

In the movie Graham as an older man was portrayed by Burt Lancaster & Frank Whaley as a younger man. The film also gives the message that during that era, many of the minor league teams, such as the ones Graham had played for,  may have been as good as the major league teams. Some of the actual dates were changed for the films purposes.

As for the real life Moonlight Graham, he attended the University of North Carolina where his brother was president of the School. He later became a United States Senator. Moonlight played baseball in college & then moved onto the minor leagues in New England.

In 1905 he played in the New York State League where his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. On June 29th, 1905 he was inserted in right field in the 8th inning, at Washington Park in Brooklyn, in a game against the Brooklyn Superbas. In the 9th inning he was the next batter when the final out was made, so he never got a chance to hit.

He went back to the New York Penn. League, where he missed winning the batting title in 1906 by just four points. Graham was considered one of the fastest players on the base paths in his league as well.

Graham finished medical school & gave up baseball to become a medical doctor. He was known as Doc Graham & worked in schools in the Chisholm, Minnesota area. He would have used glasses sent to his office & on weekends, he checked the eyes of children who's fathers worked in the Iron Range & distributed them as needed, free of charge. The Graham Scholarship is still given to this day, in Chisholm schools, named in his honor.

Moonlight Graham passed away in August 1965, at age 85.

Nov 26, 2014

Former Mets Manager, Coach & New York Giants Catcher: Wes Westrum (1964-1967)

Wesley Noreen Westrum was born on November 28, 1922 in Clear brook, Minnesota. The five foot eleven catcher was signed by the New York Giants in 1941. He then spent three years in the military serving in World War II. He returned home safely & made his MLB debut in 1947 as the Giants backup catcher for the two seasons to Walker Cooper.

Westrum was an excellent defensive catcher, with a strong accurate throwing arm. He threw out over 50% of would be base stealers six different times, leading the league in caught stealing twice (1953 & 1954) & coming in second place three other times. In 1950 he led all catchers with a .999 fielding % making only one error in 680 chances, he also was tops in games played (139) & assists (71). From 1950-1954 he was among the top four catchers in games caught, put outs assists & caught stealing every year.

In 1950 he became the Giants regular back stop hitting a career high 23 HRs with 71 RBIs & a .236 batting average. He was never a big hitter, but had a good eye & drew a lot of walks which led to decent on base percentages. In 1949 he posted a .385on base % & in 1950 he drew 92 walks posting a .371 on base %.

On June 24th 1950 he had a three HR game at the Polo Grounds and just missed a fourth HR, which would have been an inside the parker, instead he settled for a triple.

In the 1951 Giants amazing comeback pennant winning season, Westrum hit another 20 HRs with 70 RBIs & 104 walks. Although he hit only .219 he posted a .400 on base percentage. In the 1951 World Series he went 4-17, drawing five walks while playing in all six games. Katt caught over 100 games for four straight seasons, & made two All Star appearances.

In the Giants 1954 World Championship season, he was behind the plate 98 times, while sharing time with Ray Katt. That season he batted a lowly .187, only gathering twelve extra base hits. He drew 45 walks in 246 at bats, hitting 8 HRs with 27 RBIs.

Trivia: On the first Sports Illustrated magazine cover in 1954, Westrum is the catcher behind the plate as Milwaukee Braves slugger Eddie Mathews is swinging at a pitch in Milwaukee's County Stadium.

Post Season: In the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, Westrum batted .273 (3-11). In Game #3 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, he singled in the 5th inning, driving in Hank Thompson putting the Giants ahead 5-0. In Game #4 he helped the Giants sweep the Series by bringing in two runs in their 7-4 win.

He stayed with the Giants through their last season in New York in 1957 playing in 63 games batting just .165. He was the starting catcher for the last Giants game played at the Polo Grounds on September 29, of that year as a battery mate to Johnny Antonelli.

He retired as a player after an eleven year career, with a .217 batting average, 503 hits, 96 HRs 59 doubles 489 walks & a .356 on base %. Defensively Westrum posted a life time .985 % behind the plate, throwing out 49% of runners attempting to steal.

Westrum did go West with the Giants to San Francisco, being offered the spot of third string catcher or coach. At age 34he chose to coach, a position he held from 1958 through the 1963 season. Then he came back to New York as a coach for the new National League franchise; New York Mets in 1964.

He was one of the first pitching coaches in the game who was a former catcher & not a pitcher. In July 1965 he replaced player/coach Warren Spahn who spent a brief time period with the Mets. In August the aging Mets manager Casey Stengel broke his hip and had to step down from the position due to his health.

Westrum was his replacement & named the second manager in Mets history. He certainly wasn’t the most popular choice but Stengel had promised him the job and held true to his word.

Everyone else expected the job to go to the popular Mets coach; Yogi Berra, who seemed much better suited for the position. Westrum had his problems with the press, early on. He wasn’t an educated man, and they ate him up when he used his malapropisms.

Once as a coach, after a classic Casey Stengel speech, he told the press “boy they really broke the molding when they made him”. Another time after a tight game in St. Louis he said “that was a real cliff dweller". The Mets finished 19-48 under his watch the rest of the way in 1965, once again finishing in last place. In 1966 the team improved to a ninth place finish going 66-95. It was the first time in their brief five year history they did not finish last.

In 1967 Westrum’s Mets went 57-94 falling back to the National League last place spot. But there were a few bright spots, and some hope for the future.

That season the Mets brought up Tom Seaver, who went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Ron Swoboda had hit a few dramatic HRs early on & was being billed as a slugger. Tommy Davis hit .302 in his one season in New York, & young veterans Ed Kranepool, as well as Gary Buchek, also put in solid seasons.

Westrum was instrumental in tutoring a young Jerry Grote in his early days as a Met catcher. He helped him not only with tips in catching behind the plate, but also in how to adjust his attitude. In those days, Grote had a real chip on his shoulder, & his manager Westrum said "if he ever learns to control himself, he might become the best catcher in baseball".

Late in 1967, the word leaked out that Gil Hodges was going to replace Westrum the following year. So with just eleven games left to go, Westrum resigned as the team’s manager, rather than be fired at the end of the season. He was replaced by coach Salty Parker to finish out the year. Westrum’s career record as Mets manager was 142-237 with a .375 winning percentage.

He went back to coach for the San Francisco Giants through the late sixties & early seventies. He got another chance to manage in 1974 replacing Charlie Fox. In 1975 his Giants finished in third place one game under .500.

Westrum was replaced by is former battery mate in the Polo Grounds, Bill Rigney in his second go around as Giant manager in 1976. In his managerial career Westrum posted a .415 winning percentage.

He then became a scout for the Atlanta Braves organization. Westrum lived in Duchess County, New York when he played with the Giants. He continued to reside near his hometown of Clear brook, Minnesota where he passed away in 1992 at age 79.

Early 2000's Mets Pitcher: Pedro Astacio (2002-2003)

Pedro Julio Astacio was born November 28, 1969 in Pilar Rondon in the Dominican Republic. In 1987 the six foot two, right hander signed as a teenager with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was known as “the Mule” debuting in 1992 after an uneventful minor league career. 

In his rookie season, he went 5-5 posting an impressive 1.98 ERA. He was put into a starting role the next season, going 14-9 with a 3.57 ERA. His wins were best on the Dodgers staff that season. Astacio was third in the league in shutouts in both 1992 (4) & 1993 (2). 

Pedro would pitch five and a half seasons in Los Angeles (1992-1997) striking out over 100 batters four times in those years. He pitched in two post seasons (1995 & 1996) with the Dodgers, pitching as both a starter & reliever. He appeared in three games of the 1995 NLCS loss to the Cincinnati Reds, pitching 3.1 relief innings allowing no runs.

In August of 1997 he was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Eric Young. There he would win 12 or more games in each of the three seasons he was with the Rockies.

In 1998 he was 13-14 posting a 623 ERA leading the league in earned runs (145) HRs allowed (45) & hit by pitches (17). 

In 1999 he won 17 games (17-11) striking out a career high 210 batters (third in the NL) & posted a high ERA (504). He would allow the most HRs to NL hitters for the second straight year (39) with 130 earned runs & 75 walks allowed. 

In 2000 he went 12-9 with a 5.27 ERA getting traded to the Houston Astros on July 31st.  He left the Rockies as their all time strikeout leader with 749 Ks. Prior to the 2002 season he signed a $7 million contract with the New York Mets, although it was known he had arm issues.

In his first Mets start he beat the Braves in Atlanta, pitching 6.2 innings allowing just three runs. Next he won a 3-2 game at Wrigley Field, pitching into the 8th inning. Then in his Shea Stadium debut, he pitched a one run complete game against the Braves striking out eight batters. 

By the start of May he won his fifth game finding himself at 5-1 with 34 strikeouts & 2.54 ERA. On May 14th, he pitched a two hit shut out in Los Angeles beating his old Dodger team mates 2-0. After a quiet June, he won five straight in  July.

Astacio was 10-3 by the All Star break, among the league leaders in wins, strike outs & ERA. The Mets looked as though they had made a good pick up, when wheels fell off in August. He went 1-5 in the month allowing 28 earned runs & six HRS in the month. 

He went 1-3 in September allowing 29 earned runs, finishing up the year at 12-11, only one win shy of the team lead held by Al Leiter. Pedro struck out 152 batters in 192 innings, posting a 4.79 ERA. He 63 walks led the league in hit by pitches (16) & for the third time in his career allowed the most HRs in the league (32).

The next season he started out on the DL & would only pitch in seven games going 3-2 with a horrible 7.36 ERA. He walked 18 batters, allowing 47 hits and gave up 30 runs in 36 innings pitched. He tore his labrum and was done for the season by the end of May. He finished his Mets career at 13-15 with a 5.20 ERA.

In 2004 he briefly appeared in five games for the World Champion Boston Red Sox then went to Texas, San Diego & Washington finishing his career in 2006. In a 15 year career Astacio went 129-1224 with a 4.67 ERA, 1664 strike outs,726 walks in 392 games. He allowed 291 HRs hit 111 batters & walked 726 men in 2196 innings in 392 games.

Retirement: Pedro his wife & have three children & live on a ranch one mile away from Armando Benitez in the Dominican Republic. He is also an amateur Jai Lai player and has applied for Pakistani citizenship so he may compete in the annual National Jai Lai Championships there.

Former Mets 1980's Prospect: Randy Milligan (1987)

Randy Andre Milligan was born November 27, 1961 in San Diego California. Milligan was another highly touted prospect that never quite made it with the Mets at the big league level. Randy was the 1981 first round draft pick for the Mets. 

He didn’t develop like the Mets had hoped and didn’t make his MLB debut until September 7th, 1987 as a pinch hitter for Bobby Ojeda. 

He struck out in the Mets 8-1 loss at Busch Stadium. He appeared two more times, going hitless, with one walk. It was the only three games he played in as a Met. He was still considered a prospect and the next spring the Mets traded him to Pittsburgh for Mackey Sasser & Tim Drummond. 

He hit .220 in 40 games in Pittsburgh then went to the Baltimore Orioles where he spent four seasons. He saw alot of action in Baltimore, playing in over 100 games each season. His best year was 1990 when he hit 20 HRs20 doubles, 60 RBIs and batted .260. He followed that up with 16 HRs70 RBIs and a career high .263 average. 

He didn’t make the Orioles 1993 squad and spent some time with the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians & Montreal Expos, finishing up in 1994.

Milligan is a  .261 lifetime hitter, with 70 HRs 106 doubles 284 RBIs in 703 games. Retirement: Milligan became a scout with the Orioles after his playing days.

Nov 25, 2014

Former Mets Third Baseman: "The Grave Digger" Richie Hebner (1979)

Richard Joseph Hebner was born November 26, 1947 in Boston Massachusetts. Hebner will forever be remembered as being a grave digger in the off season, as stated on the back of his 1974 baseball card. He made $35 for each grave he dug, working at a cemetery run by his family.

In high school he was one of the best young hockey players in Massachusetts history, but he was also a star baseball player. He chose the baseball career getting picked in the first round of the 1966 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted .336 at AA Raleigh in 1967 after 78 games there that season. In 1968 he batted .276 at AAA Columbus with 6 HRs & 51 RBIs.  

He arrived in the big leagues at age 21 in 1969. This was at a time when the Pirates would dominate the NL East, with the exception of 1969 & 1973 when the Mets won the Eastern Divisional title. In Pittsburgh he made five post seasons appearances, winning a World Series in 1971.

He was their regular third baseman until 1977 when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as free agent. He won two more NL East titles there, making it to seven of ten NLCS in the seventies.  

Hebner earned a reputation as a ladies’ man who liked to party, known as one of baseballs most eligible bachelors in the seventies. He sometimes lacked concentration on the field which affected his fielding at third base. He got into two famous shouting matches with his Pirate manager Bill Virdon in 1973, which got him a reputation as a trouble maker, & even made some of the Pittsburgh fans heckle him.  

Hebner was a steady solid player hitting over .290 five times, hitting 15 or more HRs seven times, having 65 plus RBI seasons four times. He was a master at getting hit by pitches, usually among the tops in the league, getting on base 74 times in his career after being plunked. He was a sacrifice hitter as well with 44 sac hits & 77 sac flies in his career.  

Post Seasons: In 1971 he batted .271 with 17 HRs & 67 RBIs on the year.In the 1971 NLCS he hit .294 with two HRs & five RBIs. In Game #3 against the San Francisco Giants he hit an 8th inning game winning HR off Juan Marichal. In the World Series he hit a HR in Game #2 at Baltimore against the Orioles in the Pirates 11-3 loss. Overall he would only get two hits in the Pirates World Series Championship.  

In 1972 he batted .300 with 19 HRs 24 doubles & 72 RBIs, posting a .372 on base %. In the NLCS he batted just .188 (3-16) with an RBI in the series loss to the Cincinnati Reds. In the 1973 season he had career highs in HRs (25) RBIs (74) doubles (28) & games played (144) but the Pirates finished second to the Mets on the final days of the season. The consistent Hebner batted .2291 with 18 HRs 21 doubles & 68 RBIs in 1974 as the Pirates won the NL East again.

In the 1974 NLCS he & Willie Stargell both hit HRs in Game #3 the only Pirate win against the Dodgers. In the series he was 3-13 with four RBIs batting .231. In the 1975 season his average fell off to a career low .246.

In the 1975 NLCS he hit .333 against the Big Red Machine as his Pirates were swept in three games. He struggled again in 1976 batting just .249 with 8 HRs & 51 RBIs in 132 games played. Hebner signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977, replacing Dick Allen as the teams first baseman & Phil Garner replaced him in Pittsburgh. He regained his form in Philly, batting .285 with 18 HRs 17 doubles & 62 RBIs scoring 67 runs on a Phillies team that won 101 games.

He hit .357 in the 1977 NLCS against the eventual World Campion Los Angeles Dodgers (5-14) with two runs scored. In 1978 his numbers remained in the same ballpark for Hebner; 17 HRs 71 RBIs & a .283 average. In the 1978 NLCS he went 1-9 with an RBI in the Dodgers three game sweep over the Phillies. Overall Hebner hit .270 in the post season with 4 HRs 7 doubles & 16 RBIs in 30 games played.  


In Spring Training 1979 the Phillies signed Pete Rose & Hebner was expendable. He was traded to the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Nino Espinosa. He was devastated going from one of the best teams to one of the worst teams. He would only spend one season in New York and he hated it. He didn’t like the city or playing for the dismal ’79 Mets losing team.  

The Mets still hadn't found a steady third baseman since Wayne Garrett had left & in 1979 Hebner got the position. He had been playing first base the past two seasons & his transition back to third base didn't go well. He made 22 errors (5th most in the league) with a .940 fielding%. Hebner struggled at the plate early on causing the Mets fans to boo him right away. With all that said, he was still one of the better players on that team, usually batting in the cleanup spot.

On Opening Day he had four hits, including two doubles, a HR & four RBIs in the Mets 10-6 win at Wrigley Field in Chicago. In mid May he drove in 13 runs with 13 hits in five straight games, raising his average above .300. On May 20th he drove in five runs in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, incuding a three run 10th inning HR which tied up a game the Mets had fallen behind in. They would win it on Frank Taveras' walk off base hit. The next day he drove in three runs in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.  

In June he drove in runs in four straight games with a three RBI day on June 13th against the Cincinnati Reds. He kept the average above .300 but it went down from there on & he rarely had any memorable highlights. He did have a hot September having his biggest month of the year, recording an 11 game hit steak, while driving in 21 runs during the month. On September 22nd he hit two HRs driving in all three Mets runs in a 6-3 loss in the first game of a twin bill against the St. Louis Cardinals.

On September 26th he hit a two run HR, in the first inning off The Cubs Donnie Moore. He later doubled home two more runs, driving in four of the Mets eight runs in a 8-3 win. In his last six games he drove in eight runs, hitting safely in 12 of 13 games. He finished the year leading the '79 team in RBIs (79) hit by pitches (8) and sac flies (8). He hit ten HRs with 25 doubles while batting .268, the second lowest average of his career to that point. That year the Mets finished 6th 63-79. thirty five games out of first place.  

During the end of the season, Mets GM Joe McDonald told the Sporting News "Richie hates crowds & traffic, he's only been to Manhattan once since he's been here". Hebner & New York never worked out.

On Halloween 1979, one week before he was to get married & settle down from his bachelor life, the Mets traded him to the Detroit Tigers for Jerry Morales & Phil Mankowski. In 1980 at Detroit he was revived, his average rose to .290 with a career high 82 RBIs. He hit 12 HRs with 10 doubles & a .360 on base %. He was the Tigers first baseman for two seasons before going back to the Pirates in 1982 & 1983 as a back up to Bill Madlock. Hebner then went to the Chicago Cubs for his two final seasons 1983 & 1984.

He retired in 1985 after 18 seasons with 1694 hits 203 HRs 890 RBIs 203 doubles 57 triples & a .276 batting average while posting a .385 on base percentage.
Retirement: Hebner has been a long time minor league coach & manager, more recently with the Baltimore Orioles organization with the Norfolk Tides in 2010.