Apr 17, 2015

Italian / American Mid Ninties Met: Rico Brogna (1994-1996)

Rico Joseph Brogna was born on April 18, 1970 in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. The Italian / American Brogna grew up in Watertown, Connecticut where he was an All American star quarterback, getting offered a scholarship with Clemson University. He chose to play baseball & was the Detroit Tigers number one draft pick (the 26th pick overall) in 1988.

By 1990 he was an All Star first baseman at AA London, Ontario. He led the Eastern League in HRs (31) & was tied in RBIs (77). Although he didn’t match those same numbers again, he was brought up to the Tigers in September 1993. He appeared in just nine games going 5-26.
Three days before the 1994 season began he was traded to the New York Mets for Alan Zinter. 

He made his Mets debut replacing the injured David Segui at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on June 22nd going 0-3. He then got his first hit coming at Shea Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the next home stand. At the end of June, entering July 1st, Brogna hit solo HRs in three straight games, giving him five HRs in his first 16 Mets games.

In July he became just the third Met rookie in history to have a five hit game. It came on July 25th in a five hit night, playing the Cardinals in St. Louis. On the next night he had a four RBI day in a tight game against the Cardinals in the same series. In the top of the 11th inning he hit a two run HR breaking the 8-8 tie for what turned out to be the game winning runs. In mid August the baseball strike killed the season, in only 38 games Brogna showed a lot of promise, batting .354 with 46 hits in 131 at bats. He had seven HRs with 11 doubles a .380 on base % & 20 RBIs.

For 1995 he was penciled in as the Mets regular first baseman& has the distinction of being the first player to hit a HR at Colorado’s Coors field. The HR came on Opening Day when he blasted a line drive HR off Bill Swift. In the third game his solo HR leading off the bottom of the 7th inning led to the Mets comeback win over the Cardinals. On May 6th he hit his third HR driving in two runs, giving him a total of seven RBIs through his first eight games. In the first two weeks of the season he was also batting .400. He finished up the end of May still hitting .300 while driving in 14 runs in the month.

He became popular with the Shea Faithful, as they would chant “Rico, Rico” when he came to bat. On June 15th in a game against the Florida Marlins, he helped tie the game with a bottom of the 9th inning base hit capping off a Mets three run rally. They went on to win the game in extra innings. On June 30th he hit a two run HR off the Reds Chuck McElroy to break a 5-5 tie in the home seventh inning, in another game the Mets go on to win. From July 13th to the 25th he drove in twelve runs including two separate four game RBI streaks.

Brogna hit safely in eleven of the twelve games & got just under the .300 mark, batting .297. He remained consistent in August gathering up two different seven game hit streaks keeping his average above .290. He had a productive September driving in 21 runs, while hitting six HRs & scoring twenty runs. From September 12- September 15th he hit five HRs driving in eleven runs while enjoying a powerful six game hit streak.

On September 14th he helped Dave Mlicki to a 4-2 win with a two run fifth inning HR in the 5th inning breaking the 2-2 tie. As the Phillies rolled into town for a Mets home stand, Brogna greeted them with a two run HR on September 16th helping the Mets to a 10-8 win. The next day he had a career day. hitting a pair of HRs while gathering up three hits & driving in five runs leading New York to a 8-2 win.

He finished out the year with six more RBIs in his last five games. He had a fine season, by leading the club in most offensive categories; HRs (22) RBIs (76) doubles (27) & runs scored (72). He hit .289 (third on the club) with 146 hits (2nd on the club) playing in 134 games. At first base he led all N.L. first basemen in fielding with a .998%, and was fifth in the NL in putouts with 1112. His biggest draw back on the year was striking out 111 times, fifth most in the league.

In 1996 a back injury ended his season on June 19th playing in just 55 games for the year. He hit.255 with ten doubles, seven HRs a .318 on base % & 30 RBIs. He began the ear by driving in the winning run on Opening Day with a double play sac fly capping off a four run Mets home seventh inning rally. He had another good start to the season batting .364 with six RBIs through the first nine games.

In May he had his best month including a May 11th game against the Chicago Cubs at home where he hit two HRs leading the team to a 7-6 win. On a West Coast road trip he hit a HR driving in three runs at San Francisco & then came back two days later to hit another HR while driving in four runs in a 7-1 Mets win in Los Angeles.

The injuries concerned the Mets, as he had been diagnosed with a form of spinal arthritis as far back as 1991. The disease is known as spondylitis (a disease that causes pain and discomfort in the joints) from then on he had to take medication daily for the pain. In the winter, the organization gave up on him & traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. In exchange they received Ricardo Jordan who went 1-2 in 1997 and Toby Borland who never even saw Shea Stadium’s clubhouse.

In Philadelphia Brogna proved the Mets wrong; he went on to have three 20 plus HR seasons. He also drove in over 100 runs twice & had two thirty plus doubles seasons. In 1998 he led the N.L. with ten sac flies & then in 1999 had career highs in runs scored (90) as well as hits (172). In those years he did strike out over 115 times each year as well.

The Mets went out and got John Olerud to replace him at first base, and he although he worked out well, it didn’t make up for the bad decision to trading Brogna. His bat would have been a big help to the 1999 Mets wild card team.

Brogna would suffer from arthritis again & eventually it would finish his career by age 31. He went on to have quick stops with the Boston Red Sox (43 games in 2000) & the Atlanta Braves (72 games in 2001). That year he hit .248 with 3 HRs & 21 RBIs before retiring at the end of the season.

He ended his nine season career batting .269 with 795 hits 106 HRs 176 doubles 458 RBIs & a .320 on base %, playing in 848 games.

Retirement: After baseball he coached football as well as basketball in both Connecticut & Massachusetts. He then scouted for the Arizona Diamondbacks & in 2010 became a minor league manager in their system. In 2011 he became the full time head football coach at Notre Dame Fairfield high school in Connecticut.

Remembering Mets History: (1994) A Big Week For Rico Brogna

Monday July 25th 1994: Dallas Green's fourth place Mets, went to St. Louis to take on Joe Torre's fourth place Cardinals, both teams with an identical 46-52 record. The Mets Bret Saberhagen had a big night, going the distance on a one run, seven hitter striking out five Cardinals. The Mets offense came through with seven runs, led by Rico Brogna's big five hit night. 

 Brogna got a late start to the season, as injuries kept him out until mid June. At this point of the season, he went on a hot streak starting a 15 game hit streak where he would gather 25 hits, raising his average to .372. Brogna would single in the second & fourth innings on this night. In the Mets five run 5th inning, he doubled scoring Jeromy Burnitz & Jeff Kent. In the 6th he singled again, but Burnitz was thrown out at home and he got no RBI. Brogna finished up his night with his second double in the 9th inning. 

Tuesday July 26th 1994: It turned out to be a wild 10-9 Mets win in a game where the Mets used 19 players, including 8 pitchers. The Card took an early 1-0 lead but Ryan Thompson's two run HR put the Mets back on top. In the Mets 3rd, Fernando Vina was hit by apitch & singles by Todd Hundley, Bobby Bonilla & Jeromy Burnitz gave the Mets a 4-1 lead. In the 5th Todd Hundley homered & Jeff Kent hit an RBI double giving the Mets a 6-2 lead. 

The Cards came back when Todd Zeile, hit a three run HR off Juan Castillo making it a 6-5 game. In the 7th, Vina doubled & Bonilla walked. Burnitz singled but Vina was thrown out at home plate by Mark Whiten. Jeff Kent was walked intentionally to get to Rico Brogna. Brogna came through with a single in the hole between third & short bringing in Bonilla & Burnitz. 

The Mets now had an 8-5 lead. With two on in the home 7th, former Met Greg Jeffries singled to centerfield off Mike Remlinger making it 8-6. In the bottom of the 8th, Mets pitcher Josias Manzanillo gave up a triple to Geronimo Pena. He was relieved by Mauro Gozzo who allowed a sac fly to Tom Pagnozzi & a solo HR to Luis Alicea tying up the game. 

The game went into extra innings, the Mets Mike Maddux shut down the Cards in the 10th inning & Gary Buckels came on to pitch for St. Louis. With one out, Jeff Kent hit a ground rule double over the centerfield wall. The hot hitting Rico Brogna came up & hit a two run HR giving the Mets the lead 10-8. In the bottom of the 10th John Franco gave up a run but struck out Pagnozzi to end the game giving New York a 10-9 exciting win. 

On August 3rd 1994: at Shea Stadium, Brogna would help the Mets in another exciting win. The Mets now in third place (52-54) hosted the second place Atlanta Braves. The Mets Bobby Jones had allowed a HR to Fred McGriff & another run on a throwing error during a sac bunt allowing the second run to score. The Braves Steve Avery, had allowed just one run earlier when Bobby Jones scored on a Kelly Stinnett ground out. 

The Braves took a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning, with Greg McMichael on to close it out. But the Mets came back, as Jeff Kent walked & David Segui singled to right field. Brogna tied up the game with a single up the middle off McMichael. Jose Vizcaino won it with a walk off base hit off Mark Wohlers. 

The Mets went on one of their best streaks of the year at this point winning eight of ten games. The baseball strike would end the season in July, with the Mets finishing third just under .500 at 55-58. No post season was played that year. In just 39 games that year, Rico Brogna batted .351 with 7 HRs 11 doubles 20 RBIs & a .380 on base %.

Mid 2000's Mets Infielder: Jerr Keppinger (2004)

Jeffrey Scott Keppinger was born on April 21, 1980 in Miami, Florida. The six foot infielder, attended the University of Georgia where he hit .380 getting to the college World Series in 2001.

That same year he was drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His power numbers fell off in the minor leagues, but he still continued to hit well batting .325 at A ball Lynchburg.

In the summer of 2004 he came over to the New York Mets organization in the Kris Benson deal. He made brief stops at AA Binghamton & AAA Norfolk early that summer. He got a break when a roster spot opened up, making his MLB debut with the Mets, on August 20th at San Francisco. He came into the game as a pinch hitter, going 0-1.

The next day he came into the game in the 7th inning & got his first career hit in the Mets 11-7 extra inning win. On August 22nd he made his first start at second base & got two hits in the 3-1 Mets loss. At the end of August, he hit HRs in back to back games, at Shea Stadium in losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Keppinger saw a lot of playing time in September, & drove in seven runs from the 10th through the 18th. On the year he would bat .284 with three HRs & nine RBIs playing in 33 games at second base.

He was back at AAA Norfolk in 2005 batting .331 in 64 games and was set to replace Kazo Matsui when he went down with injury. Unfortunately Keppinger himself, fractured his knee cap & wasn’t able to play. Instead he missed out the rest of the season.

Things may have been different for him & the Mets had he been able to succeed Matsui if he had not been injured.

The following season he was batting .300 again at AAA Norfolk but got traded to the Kansas City Royals for Ruben Gotay. He played in 22 games for the Royals that year, batting .267. On September 9th, he hit a three run pinch hit HR at Boston's Fenway Park in a 10-4 Royals win, it was his first hit in two years.

He eventually got traded to the Cincinnati Reds for 2007 & would hit .333 in 67 games that season. The next year he became Dusty Baker & the Reds regular short stop where he hit .266.

In the off season he was traded to the Houston Astros where he became their regular second baseman for 2010 hitting .288 with 34 doubles 6 HRs & 59 RBIs.

Late in 2011 he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Henry Sosa & Jason Stoffel. In 2012 he signed with the Tampa Rays, where he hit .325 in 115 games (385 at bats) seeing action filling in for the injured Carlos Pena & Ben Zobrist.

He was granted free agency & was perused by the AL New York club when they knew Alex Rodriguez was going to be out most of the season. He declined their offers & signed with the Chicago White Sox for 2013.

In 2013 Keppinger was the White Sox ultimate utility man playing at second base (45 games) third base (41 games) first base (20 games) & DH (16 games). Overall he hit .253 with 4 HRs & 40 RBIs.

He hit nine HRs 15 doubles & 40 RBIs. Keppinger played at first, second, third base & designated hitter. 

In 2014 he was designated for assignment & was released, he is currently a free agent.

In his eight year career he played 701 games, batting .288 with 41 HRs 126 doubles 255 RBIs & a .337 on base %.

New York Giants Hall of Fame Outfielder: Ross Youngs (1917-1926)

Royce Middlebrook Youngs was born on April 10th, 1897 in Shiner, Texas. The five foot eight outfielder batted left but threw right handed. He went by the name Ross Youngs but was also nicknamed "Pep". He attended the Texas Military Institute getting to the minor leagues by 1914 & then signed with the New York Giants in 1917.

He was an outstanding outfielder known for his great defense. Manager John McGraw would say "Youngs was the greatest outfielder I ever saw" & he would play for Mcgraw for ten seasons winning four straight pennants. Youngs led the league in games played four times (1919-1920/ 1922-1923). He led in assists five times (1919-1920/ 1922-1924) put outs twice (1919/1924) & errors five times as well. He was among the three best right fielders three times as well. If Gold Gloves were given out in his day he may have won one every year.

By 1918 he was a regular batting .302 (6th in the NL), the first of seven straight full seasons of hitting over the .300 mark. In 1919 he led the league in doubles (31) & would hit thirty plus doubles for four straight seasons. Also in 1919 he batted .311 (3rd best in the NL) posting a .384 on base % (4th best in the NL) with 24 stolen bases (9th best in the NL).

Youngs hitting was as steady as his defense, in 1920 he batted a career best .351 coming in second in the leagues batting race to Rogers Hornsby. He was also second in hits (204) walks (75) & in on base %. (427 % ). That year he drove in 78 runs (6th in the NL) hit six HRs (tenth in the NL) hit 14 triples (6th in the NL) scored 92 runs (5th in the NL) & was first in times on base (281).

In 1921 he was part of a Giants team that won two straight World Series beating the AL New York team in the first ever subway World Series. On the regular season he hit .327 (9th in the NL) & drove in a career high 102 runs (3rd in the NL) with 16 triples (6th in the NL) 21 stolen bases (8th in the NL) 71 walks (2nd in the NL) a .411 on base % & 24 doubles.

In the World Series he drove in four runs in the Giants 13-5 Game #3 win at the Polo Grounds. In that game he had two hits, including a bases loaded clearing triple in the 7th inning. Overall he hit .280 in the series. In 1922 he had a bigger series batting .375 (6-16) driving in two runs & scoring two runs in the Giants five game Series win. In Game #3 he had three hits & in Game #4 drove in what would turn out to be the winning run with a 5th inning single scoring Heinie Groh.

Over the next two seasons he would bat over .330 with 80 plus RBIs, on base percentages over .398% & thirty plus doubles recorded both seasons. In those two years the Giants won two more pennants but were defeated by the AL New York club in 1923 & Connie Macks Philadelphia Athletics in 1924.

In the '23 Series he hit .348 (8-24) with three RBIs overall with four hits & a HR in Game #4. In the '24 series he struggled batting just .185 (5-27) with an RBI & three runs scored.

In 1925 he enjoyed his last full season although he only batted .264 while stealing 17 bases & posting a .354 on base %.

In 1926 he was diagnosed with a kidney disorder which was known as Bright's disease which cut his career short. That season was his last as he batted .306 posting a .372 on base% in 95 games. His career ended at the young age of 29 and one can only imagine how big his career stats would have been if he continued to play. Sadly Youngs passed away the following year (1927) in San Antonio Texas at age 30.

Legacy: In 1972 the veterans comitte inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Coopestown. In his ten year career he batted .322 (50th all time) with a .388 on base % (62nd all time). He had 1491 hits with 236 doubles, 93 triples, 42 HRs 592 RBIs & 153 stolen bases in 1211 games.

In right field his 174 assists are 5th all time, his 1952 put outs are 59th all time, his 1072 games are 57th all time & 105 errors 8th all time.

Apr 16, 2015

Former Mets Gold Glove Second Baseman: Doug Flynn (1977-1981)

Robert Douglas Flynn was born on April 18, 1951 in Lexington, Kentucky. Doug’s dad had played in the Brooklyn Dodger organization in the late 1940s but never made the big leagues.

Doug was a standout player at the University of Kentucky getting signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent in 1971. He spent three years in the minor leagues moving up a level each season. He never hit above .258 there but was known for being a fine defensive infielder.

He debuted with the Reds in 1975 as an all around infield utility man for the Big Red Machine in their hey days. It was clear with Joe Morgan, Dave Concercion & Pete Rose on the field; there wasn’t much room for the weak hitting Flynn as an everyday player.

He would only hit seven HRs in his career, and two of them came in those years. He would drive in twenty runs each season, getting into over 80 games each season. He hit .268 in 1975 & then batted .283 in 1976. He only made one defensive appearance in the post season, it came in Game #1 of the 1976 NLCS against the Phillies.

Flynn’s scouting report reads: an excellent defensive player, with a light bat and good speed. He came over to the New York Mets with Steve Henderson, Pat Zachary & Dan Norman, on “The Midnight Massacre” in the famous Tom Seaver deal in 1977. 

"I remember the day before the trade, there was an article in the Cincinnati paper that listed all the Reds who were untouchables and I was one of them," Flynn said. "That night we were playing the Phillies, Pete Rose came over and sat next to me and patted me on the leg." Instantly Flynn knew.

"I said to Pete, I'm going, aren't I? Flynn said. "I asked where and for whom and he said to New York for Tom Seaver. I asked if it 'was straight up' and he said 'hardly.' Earlier that year on May 20th he doubled off Tom Seaver & his future Mets team mates driving in two runs in a game at Shea Stadium.

Flynn debuted with the Mets on June 17th getting a hit, a double in a game against the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. Flynn was always seen with his cheek full of tobacco like an old time ball player. He played hard in New York for the fans & his rookie manager Joe Torre. Flynn would get to play short stop when veteran Bud Harrelson got hurt, going thirty one games without committing an error that season.

Not known for his hitting, Flynn hit only .191 that summer for the Mets. Going into August he had a six game hit streak, with two multi hit games. On August 9th he had a three hit game against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium & then another three hit game a week later in St. Louis.

The rest of the year he slumped & also made twelve errors on the field due to the fact he was having personal troubles. "I was thrust into a situation in New York," Flynn said. "I was coming off back-to-back World Series teams but I was still a country boy from Kentucky living in the big city. The trade also happened at a time when my sister was kidnapped and murdered. That leaked out and I tried not to make a big deal of it. Obviously it was on my mind."

Flynn got to play more second base in 1978, seeing action in 128 games at the position. He posted a .986 fielding % (2nd in the league) and played a good enough defense to finish second to the Dodgers, Davey Lopes for the Gold Glove award. At the plate he hit .237 with no HRs 12 doubles, 8 triples (10th in the league) & six sacrifice hits.

On Opening Day he drove in the second run of the Mets season, with a single off Montreal's Steve Rogers in the Mets 3-1 win over the Expos. On April 17th he had three hits while driving in two runsin a 6-2 Mets win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium.

From May 9th through May 17th Flynn hit in key situations driving in a run in five of seven games. He closed out the month with two more games where he had multi RBIs, both games in which the Mets won. In July he had two seven game hit streaks, & also drove in runs in three straight games late in the month. In September he hit four triples half his total for the season & drove in eight runs, almost a quarter of his RBI total for the year.

In 1979 he led the league’s second baseman in put outs (325) was second in assists (380) third in fielding (.983 %) & was once again the runner-up for the Gold Glove Award. He also enjoyed career highs in at-bats (555) hits (135) doubles (19) HRs (4) and RBIs (61). His 61 RBIs were third best on the weak hitting team.

The Mets began the year with a big 10-6 Opening Day win at Wrigley Field. In the second game he had two hits while driving in two runs in the Mets 9-4 win. That month he drove in seven runs but only hit .164.

On May 1st Flynn hit a three run HR at Shea off Padres pitcher & future Hall of Famer Doug Flynn. On June 3rd in a game against the Braves in Atlanta Flynn hit two triples gathering up three hits. On June 12th with the Mets trailing the Reds 5-2, they had a rare 1979 power explosion.

They set a franchise record, scoring ten runs in the inning, the highlight being a three run inside the park HR by Flynn. It was just the third inside the parker in Shea Stadium’s history at that point. It was quite a thrill for Flynn against his old team mates as well. On June 16th he hit a HR off Atlanta’s Mickey Mahler & later scored the only other run of the game, on Joel Youngblood’s base hit.

In July Flynn had a big month for a light hitter, driving in ten runs while enjoying a seven game hit streak as well. In a July 8th game against the Padres at Shea Stadium, Flynn cleared the bases with a bases loaded double off Padre pitcher Bob Shirley. Flynn's three RBIs lead the team to a 4-1 win.

In August he had his biggest month driving in 18 runs, with a dozen multi hit games, nine doubles & seven runs scored. On September 6th he broke a 1-1 tie in the 7th inning of a game against the Phillies hitting a two run HR off former Mets team mate Nino Espinoza. He closed out the season by driving in three runs in a double header against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The highlight of his career & greatest Mets moment came in 1980, when he won the Gold Glove Award. He was just the third Met in history to ever win the Award. He led all National League second basemen with a .991 fielding percentage, committing only six errors in 659 chances.

On June 10th Flynn broke a 4-4 tie with a single off the Dodgers Bob Welch, as the run turned out to be the game winner. In an August game against the Montreal Expos, Doug set a Mets record, hitting three triples in one game. He also scored three runs that game. He would lead the club in triples that season with eight & in intentional walks (14).

Flynn won the Player of the Week Award on August 10th getting 13 hits, including those three triples while driving in four runs in the week. He also played a spectacular defense on that week's long road trip.

That month he had eight multi hit games & raised his average ten points before getting injured on August 19th. He would miss a month of action, returning at the end of the year. He finished the year with a decent .255 average, nine doubles 24 RBIs playing in 128 games.

During the strike shortened 1981 season, his average fell off to .222, he grounded into 12 double plays, with one HR & 12 RBIs playing in 105 games. He played in 100 games at second (third most in the league) had 220 put outs (3rd in the NL) 301 assists (4th in the NL).

By 1981 the Mets Frank Cashen had taken over as general manager and began cleaning house. Torre and his staff were among the first to go at the end of the season. Next up in December, Flynn & a guy named Danny Boitano were traded to Texas for Jim Kern. Kern never pitched for the Mets getting traded two months later in the George Foster deal.

Quotes: "We weren't very good and that's a fact," Flynn said. "I think we could have been better had Torre been allowed to do the things he would have liked to have done. I think his hands were tied. But we were really young and a bunch of us were just trying to find ourselves. On other teams we would have been able to contribute but we just couldn't carry a team.”

Flynn hit only .211 in Texas playing at second base & short stop. He went to Montreal midway through the 1982, spending three years in there. He finished his career with the Detroit Tigers in 1985.

In his 11 season career he played in 1,308 games, batting .238 with 918 hits, 115 doubles, 39 triples, 7 HRs, 284 RBI, 20 stolen bases, & 151 walks.  Defensively he played 961 games at second base posting a .986 fielding % (21st all time). He made 61 errors in 4396 chances turning 532 double plays. At short he posted a .966 % in 309 games played at the position.

Family: Flynn's father, Doug Flynn Sr., played in the Brooklyn Dodgers chain in 1949. He met his wife, Olga while on a blind date in New York while playing for the Mets. They have now been married over thirty years. He is a devout Christian & has made speeches at colleges like Georgetown.

Retirement: Flynn was a manager in the Mets minor leagues in 1996 and 1997. In 2000 Flynn became a banker in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. He was on hand for the final closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in 2008.

Former Mets Pitcher: Eddie Kunz (2008)

Edward Cory Kunz was born April 8th, 1986 in Portland Oregon. The big six foot six, 230 pound right hander attended Oregon State University where he earned the nick name "Fast Eddie".

Kunz was drafted in the first round (42nd pick overall) by the New York Mets in 2007. At A ball Brooklyn he was 0-1 with five saves for the 2007 Cyclones team, getting promoted to AA Binghamton the next season. There he was the teams closer saving 27 games, finishing 39 games posting a 1-4 record with a 2.79 ERA.

That season the Mets bullpen was struggling when they lost closer Billy Wagner for the season. Kunz was brought up on August 3rd pitching the 7th inning in the Mets 4-0 loss at Houston. He would make just four appearances in August, allowing three runs in his last outing at Pittsburgh in a Mets 7-4 win over the Pirates. In 2.2 innings pitched that season he allowed four runs for a 13.50 ERA, striking out one batter & walking one batter.

He was sent down to AAA New Orleans where he went 0-1. In 2009 he pitched at AAA Buffalo but was no longer in a closing role, going 4-5 with a 5.02 ERA. In 2010 he was tried out as a starter for 12 games. Overall in 42 games he was 7-8 with a 5.34 ERA.

In March 2011 he was traded to the San Diego Padres organization for Allan Dykstra who is not related to Len Dykstra. Kunz was 2-1 in 52 games at AA San Antonio in 2011.In 2012 he pitched at AA San Antonio & AAA Tuscon going 6-6.

One of the Original 1962 Mets Coaches: Solly Hemus (1962-1963)

Solomon Joseph Hemus was born on April 17, 1923 in Phoenix, Arizona. Solly Hemus sounds like a name made for baseball.

He was a get in your face type player, battling with opponents & umpires all time. Hemus was a short five foot nine fiery middle infielder who originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946.

In 1949 he was batting .328 at AA Houston getting called up to the big leagues in late August. His career began with an early five game hit streak & he finished the year batting .333 (11-33). He began the 1950 season with the St. Louis Cardinals but was sent back down in June.

By 1951 he was the Cardinals regular shortstop and hit .281 with 75 walks, good enough for a .395 on base percentage. He was also a contact hitter that didn’t strike out too often. He had a knack for getting on base; he would lead the league in hit by pitches three different seasons (1952-1953-1958).

Hemus also posted good on base percentages drawing a large number of walks. On the field he was seond in the league with a .965 fielding % at short committing 19 errors (5th in the NL).

In 1952 he was 4th in the league with 96 walks posting a .392 on base %. That season he led the league in runs scored (105) hit 15 HRs with 28 doubles & 8 triples, batting .268. At short he posted a .960 fielding % with 452 assists turning a career best 104 double plays.

In 1953 he had an even better season, as he hit 14 HRs, with career highs in RBIs (61) doubles (32) runs scored (110) (fifth most in the NL) he also had 12 hits by pitches, while batting .279. In 1954 he played in 124 games but only got 214 at bats, hitting a career best .304, with a .454 on base percentage.

He began to wind down in 1956 and before getting traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, he wrote a letter to Cards owner August Busch, the famous beer magnate. He thanked Mr. Busch for his good years in St. Louis & said he was proud to have been a Cardinal. He played two seasons in Philadelphia hitting .284 in 1958, playing in 105 games for the Phillies.

Mr. Bush remembered Hemus’ tough style of play & recalled the letter he wrote as he left the organization. In 1959 he hired Hemus as a Cardinals player/ manager. After the team had finished in seventh place in 1959, he improved the them to a third place finish in 1960.

In 1961 his Cards lost 16 of their first 19 games, and were floundering in last place in July when he was replaced as manager by coach, Johnny Keane.

In Hemus’ eleven season playing career he hit .273 with 736 hits 137 doubles 41 triples 51 HRs 261 RBIs & a .390 on base percentage, playing in 961 games. Over 11 seasons & 2694 at bats he only struck out 247 times, got hit by 62 pitches & posted a .961 fielding percentage.

In 1962 Hemus was hired by the expansion New York Mets as a coach under Casey Stengel. He served as a Met coach for the teams first two seasons at the Polo Grounds, before leaving to coach at the Cleveland Indians.

The Mets hired him back in 1966 to manage their Jacksonville Suns farm team, where he led a young Bud Harrelson, Ken Boswelll & Tug McGraw among others to a 68-79 record.

He had the tough choice of promoting either Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan to the next level. He chose Seaver, because he felt he was further along in his development and a smarter pitcher.

After baseball he went to Houston & worked in the oil business, making more money in one year than he did in his whole baseball career. He has since retired in Texas and said he was proud to have been an original Met.

"The A.L. New York Club Killer"- One Time Mets Pitcher: Frank Lary (1964)

Frank Strong Lary was born on April 10th, 1930 in Northport Alabama. The five foot eleven right hander attended the University of Alabama playing for the Crimson Tide as one of over sixty Tide players to make the major leagues.

He was 10-1 in 1950 winning two games of the College World Series. He debuted in September 1954 at Tiger Stadium, closing out a loss to the AL New York club. He would have a great career against the AL New York club going 27-10 from 1955-1961 earning the nickname "the AL New York Teams Killer".

In 1958 he went 7-1 against the AL New York team, becoming the first pitcher since Ed Cicotte to do it back in 1919 for the Chicago White Sox. In 1959 he was 5-1 against the AL New York team, once forcing manager Casey Stengel to push back Whitey Ford, by one day so Ford wouldn't have to face Lary. Stengel told reporters, "If Lary is going to beat us anyway, why should I waste my best pitcher?"

To best describe Lary, here is a write up from a 1961 addition of the Sporting News. "Frank Lary is a classic kind of ballplayer—the type, alas, you don't see much of these days. He is a throwback to the Cardinals of the 30's, a cotton pickin', gee-tar strummin', red clay Alabama farm boy, unspoiled by a little college or a lot of success.

He is mean on the mound and a joker off it. To strangers he is quiet, but to the Tigers he is the Jonathan Winters of the dugout, keeping them loose and laughing. Sometimes he is a Casey Stengel, his legs bowed, his pants rolled above his knees. Then he is the trainer, complete in white shirt, white trousers and with a Turkish towel wrapped around his head."

Lary also had two other famous nick names he earned in his career. The nickname "mule" was due to his work horse pitching & ability to throw countless innings. He was also dubbed "Taters" when a team mate noticed he wrote down taters instead of potatoes on a dinner order on team road trip.

Lary was one of the most popular Tiger players in the fifties as well as one of the team's best pitchers. He served in the military for the 1951-1052 seasons returning to Detroit to go 11-15 in 1955.

In 1956 he had an incredible year going 17-3 by the 4th of July. Overall he went on to lead the American League in wins going 21-12 for a fifth place Tiger team that won just 82 games. Lary also led the league in starts (38) innings (294) his (289) & hit by pitches (12).

He would hit a dozen batters leading the league in that category three straight seasons. That year he struck out 165 batters posted a 3.15 ERA while coming in 17th place for the MVP Award.

After an 11-16 season in 1957, he rebounded to winning 15 or more games over the next three seasons, posting winning record in two of them.

In those seasons he was in the top four in victories each time. Lary was among the top ten in ERA three times as well, having his career best in 1958 (2.90) which was the fourth lowest in the AL.

In 1960 he was 15-15 but led the league in innings (275) for he third time in his career. He also led the league in starts (36) as well as complete games (15) hitting 19 batters (first in the AL). In 1961 he had his last big season, that year he was a twenty game winner for the second time, going 23-9 (second in the AL in wins ) with a .719 winning %. He led the league in complete games (22) for the third time in his career.

Lary pitched in 275 innings (second in the AL) & threw four shut outs & allowed just 2.1 walks per games. He posted a 3.24 ERA & struck out 146 batters (fourth in the AL). That year he won a Gold Glove, made the All Star team & was among the top vote getter in the Cy Young as well as the league's MVP awards.

In 1962 his long innings began to catch up to him. He suffered shoulder problems & went 2-6 with a 5.74 ERA in 17 games. In 1963 he began the year in the minor leagues then was 4-9 for the Tigers at the big league level.

In May of 1964 his contract was purchased by the New York Mets. Lary debuted as a Met on May 31st pitching two innings at Shea Stadium in a 7-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants. On June 2nd he earned a save pitching two scoreless innings against the Houston Colts in another Mets home game.

On June 7th he got his first Mets start allowing just one run in five innings pitched, but the game ended tied 1-1 due to rain. He then lost two consecutive starts, and earned three losses before the month was over. On June 12th in Cincinnati Lary threw a one run six hit victory over the Reds to get his first Mets win.

He would earn his second & last Mets win in his final Mets game on July 31st, two months after his arrival in New York. In that game Lary was brilliant tossing a two hit shutout against the Houston Colts.

During the first week of August he was then traded to the Milwaukee Braves or Dennis Ribant & cash. The Mets purchased his contract & he was back for the start of the 1965 season.

On Opening Day he pitched one inning against the Dodgers in the Mets 6-1 loss. Lary pitched eight innings of one run baseball beating the Phillies in Philadelphia on May 24th. He then suffered three straight losing decisions & was traded to the Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later (Jimmie Schaffer). In 14 games he went 1-0 there ending his playing career.

In 12 seasons Lary was 128-116 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 1099 batters walking 616 pitching in 2162 innings with 11 saves.

Retirement: After his playing career he began a construction business in Alabama. In the eighties he was working with the state paving roadways.

Apr 15, 2015

Italian / American Baseball & Football Pioneer: Edward Abbaticchio

Edward Abbaticchio who was known as “Batty” and at times “Abbey”, is the second Italian American to play major league baseball, although many sources have him also down as the first.

Logically he has to be second because his career started after Lewis Pessano who was known as Buttercup Dickerson.

One thing for certain, Abbaticchio didn’t change his name to sound more American. Not only is he an Italian American baseball pioneer, but he is believed to be the first Italian American to play pro football as well.

Edward James Abbaticchio was born on April 15, 1887 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. After playing semi pro ball he made his debut in September of 1897 with Philadelphia. He played there briefly for two seasons, and then went to play in the Southern League for two seasons, leading the league in hitting both times.

He came back to the NL with the Boston Bean Eaters for two seasons. There in 1905, he hit .279 with 30 stolen bases as well as career highs in doubles (25) & triples (12) while leading the league in at bats (610).

He was a fine defensive infielder playing both shortstop & second base. In 1903 he led the league in put outs at second (316) & then in 1905 led the league in games played (152), put outs (386) & errors (75) at short.

In 1908 he would lead all second baseman in fielding (.969%). Abbaticchio was a fast runner and a good base stealer, stealing over twenty bases five times & over thirty bases twice. After the 1906 season he retired from playing ball and ran a family owned hotel in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Pirates convinced him to return to baseball and convinced him by paying him very well.

In 1907 he became the Pirate second baseman, playing alongside the great Hall of Famer Hounus Wagner. The two would form a strong friendship that lasted beyond their playing days.

In 1909 he was a member of the Pirates World Champion team, although he was only a reserve player by then. He hit .230 in 36 games that season, diving in 12 runs with two stolen bases. He made one appearance in the World Series striking out in a pinch hit at bat. He finished his baseball playing career with nine seasons, 855 games & a .254 batting average. He had 772 hits with 11 HRs 43 triples 99 doubles 324 RBIs and 142 stolen bases.

Pro Football: In 1895 Abbaticchio was a member of the first American professional football team, the Latrobe Volunteer Firemen Football team. He was a star full back and kicker, who gets credit for developing the spiral punt. He was payed a hefty $50 a game to play football in 1895.

Retirement: After playing sports he continued to run his Hotel, the Latrobe House until his retirement in 1932. He moved to beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida and lived there for 25 years before passing away on January 5, 1957 at age 79. He is inducted into the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame as one of its first members.