Apr 16, 2014

Remembering Mets History: (1964) 50th Anniversary of the First Game Ever Played At Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium opened for baseball fifty years ago on a sunny afternoon in Queens, New York. Met fans were thrilled at their teams grand new home in Flushing Meadows, at Corona Park.

It took two and a half years, and cost $28.5 million to build Shea Stadium.

It was a colossal new ballpark behind the attractions of the 1964 Worlds Fair which opened five days after Shea did. Many a visitor to the Worlds Fair would visit the beautiful Shea Stadium at its new home in that season. It must be noted that Shea Stadium with it's 57,333 seats, was one of the bigger ballparks in the league in 1964.

The classic orange & blue panels represented the Mets team colors as well as the colors of the Worlds Fair. The panels were removed in 1980 under the Wilpon / Doubleday ownership. Even the ushers, usherettes & vendors at Shea were donned in Mets colors.

Shea was wide open behind the outfield fences, allowing many a passerby on the expressways to get a peak inside at the large crowds. 

In right field it had the largest scoreboard in the major leagues. The classic Shea scoreboard, kept track of the game at Shea as well as action around baseball. The right side had the NL action & the left side had the AL action. 

The uniform numbers for the lineups for the Mets as well as the visitors were, on display with a red dot representing who was at bat. In the top center a picture of the batter was displayed early on but was eventually replaced by the Mets logo. A clock told the time & the Mets advertisers proudly displayed their logos as well.

The Opening ceremonies had Bill Shea, whom the ballpark was named after, christen the Mets' new home with two symbolic bottles of water. Shea was a successful New York lawyer, who was instrumental in bringing Nation League baseball back to the city. The first bottle of water, had H2O from the Gowanus Canal, located near Ebbets Field, and the other from the Harlem River, which was near the Polo Grounds. The Mets hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates that day to a huge crowd of 50,312.

The Mets starting line up on this historic day was:

Tim Harkness SS 
George Altman RF 
Ron Hunt 3B 
Jesse Gonder C 
Frank Thomas LF
Jim Hickman CF
Amado Samuel SS
Larry Burright 2B 
Jack Fisher P

The Umpires: HP - Tom Gorman
1B - Bill Williams
2B - Vinnie Smith
3B - Chris Pelekoudas.

Jack Fisher was the Mets starter that day going up against Pittsburgh's Bob Friend. Fisher was overwhelmed by the crowd noise and pre game hype, unable to concentrate. Fisher claims to have asked Mets manager; Casey Stengel, if he could warm up in the bullpen that day, instead of on the mound on the field. He credits himself with starting the big league tradition, of starting pitchers warming in the bullpen before a game. 

Fisher then became the first Mets pitcher to take the mound, throwing to his battery mate, Jesse Gonder. The first batter to step in was Dick Schofield & he recorded the first out, flying out to second baseman Larry Burright. Fisher struck out Roberto Clemente as the first official strike out in Shea's history. The Pirates went down in order for an easy first inning.

Tim Harkness was the first Mets batter to step to the plate at Shea Stadium. Harkness would ground out to short stop. George Altman would fly out & Ron Hunt ground out as well. The first inning at Shea was uneventful. In the 2nd inning, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell led off with a HR, the first HR & hit recorded at Shea.

In the 3rd inning, Harkness would get the first official Mets hit at Shea, a base hit to right field. The next batter; Altman grounded out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the 4th, Ron Hunt doubled, for the first Mets extra base hit at Shea. The next batter, Jesse Gonder recorded the club's first Shea RBI as he doubled in Hunt with the first Mets run. Frank Thomas then singled & Jim Hickman was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Larry Eliot came in to pinch run for Hickman & was the first to accomplish that feat in Shea as well. Amado Samuel then doubled down the left field line, scoring Gonder & Thomas.Friend then retired the next three batters & the Mets rally was over.

They took A 3-1 lead to the 5th, when Willie Stargell doubled in the Pirates second run. In the 7th inning, Fisher got the first two outs but then surrendered sigles to Roberto Clemente & Stargell. Casey came to the mound & for the first time a relief pitcher came out of the Shea bullpen, he was Ed Bauta.  Starter; Jack Fisher went seven innings allowing three runs on eleven hits, four strike outs & one walk earning no decision. Bauta gave up a base hit to future Met; Donn Clendenon, as the tying run scored.

In the 8th inning, a young Ed Kranepool fittingly, was the first Mets pinch hitter to step out of the Shea Stadium dugout. while Larry Eliot was the 1st pinch runner. Original Met Jim Hickman drew the 1st walk & was the 1st to get hit by a pitch at Shea.

In the top of the 9th, Stargell & Clendenon singled. With two outs Bill Mazeroski singled in what turned out to be the winning run. In the home 9th, the Mets went down in order; pinch hitter John Stephenson & Hawk Taylor both struck out. Tim Harkness ended the game with a ground out to second base.

Officially in the first game ever played at Shea Stadium, The Pirates beat the Mets 4-3 with Bob Friend getting the win & Ed Bauta taking the loss.

Trivia: Forty Four years later, in October 2008, Ed Kranepool, Jack Fisher, Ron Hunt & Frank Thomas would all be on hand for the last game every played at Shea Stadium.

Tim Harkness: Harkness came over from the L.A. Dodgers playing with the Mets in 1963 & 1964. He hit 10 HRs but hit just .211 in 1963. In 1964 he hit .282 but played in just 39 games. Ed Kranepool was considered an up & coming star, he took over first base & Harkness never made it back to the big leagues again.

George Altman: Altman had two good seasons of hitting over .300 & bashing over 22 HRs with the Cubs. He spent 1 season with Mets and batted .230 with 9 HRs & 47 RBIs. After going back to Chicago for three more years he would play 8 years in Japan.

Ron Hunt: Hunt was the first Mets staring All Star player, he was the starting second baseman in that years All Star game played at Shea Stadium. Hunt spent four years with the Mets (1963-1966) batting a best .303 in 1964.

Jesse Gonder: Gonder first played with the Mets in 1963. He hit .302 in 42 games and earned an opening day spot in 1964. That season he batted .270 with seven HRs & 35 RBIs. He would get traded for Gary Kolb in 1966.

Frank Thomas: An original Met, who hit 34 HRs in 1962, a Met record until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1975. Thomas was a journey man outfielder who hit 266 career HRs, including 12 straight years in double figures. He was second in the NL with 35 HRs in 1958 & once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.He was on the All time HR top Forty List at the time of his retirement. Thomas had studied to be a priest before a baseball career.

Jim Hickman: Hickman was an original Met and was an everyday regular for their first five seasons. He played all outfield positions, 1st & 3rd base. His best seasons were 1963 when he led the team in HRs (17) & triples (6) & 1964 when he batted .257 with 11 HRs & 57 RBIs.

Amado Samuel: Samuel only played briefly for three seasons, with the Mets & Atlanta Braves. He was from the Dominican and batted .232 in 53 games for the 1964 Mets.

Larry Burright: Burright had hit just .220 in 1963 and after Opening Day at Shea in 1964, he would only play in two more Mets games going hitless.
Jack Fisher: Fisher won 11 games for the 1964 Mets, unfortunatley he lost 17, which wasn't as bad as the following year when he had lost 24 games. In his four year Mets career he was 38-73 with a 4.12 ERA. 

Ed Bauta: Bauta pitched just 17 games with the Mets over the 1963-1964 seasons, going 0-2 with a save.

Ed Kranepol: Steady Eddie was the Mets first bonus baby, debuting at age 17. He would spend 18 seasons with Mets & is second all time in hits. He is the Mets all time pinch hitter & was one of the games best pinch hitters during his playing days. He still holds the single season record with a .486 average as a pinch hitter in 1974.He is a member of the Mets Hall of Fame.

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.

"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.

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.

Apr 15, 2014

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.

One Time St. Louis Cardinal Rival & Former Mets Infielder: Tommy Herr (1990-1991)

Thomas Mitchell Herr was born April 4th in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. the six foot second baseman, was originally signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974 as an amateur free agent.

Herr spent five years in the minor leagues, he hit well batting over .290 twice including a .293 1979 season getting him a September call up. In 1980 he began the season with the Cardinals but after a quick start fell to .163 getting sent back down to AAA Springfield where he batted .312 & after 37 games when he was brought back up.

In 1981 he became the Cards leadoff hitter & took over the second base job from Ken Oberkfell. He played the most games in the league at second base (103) & led the NL in assists (374) posting a .992 fielding % (second in the league). He stole 23 bases (10th in the NL) batted .268 with a .329 on base % in the strike shortened season, coming in 22nd in the league's MVP voting.

In the 1982 Cardinals Championship season Herr stole 25 bases hitting .266 scoring 83 runs and playing more fine defense.

Post Season: In the NLCS he batted .231 (3-15) against the Atlanta Braves. In the World Series, he only hit .160 but drove in five runs in the Cards seven game win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

In Game #6 at Busch Stadium, he helped the Cards even the Series with an 4th inning RBI double off Don Sutton, that scored Willie McGee. He later added a sacrifice bunt scoring Garth Iorg, giving the Cards a 5-0 lead.

Herr spent nine full seasons in St. Louis having his best year in 1985, as he drove in 110 runs (3rd in the NL) although he hit just 8 HRs. He is the last NL player to have driven in over 100 runs with less than ten HRs in a single season. He batted .302 (9th in the NL) scored 97 runs (8th in the NL) stole 31 bases & led the league with 13 sac flies. That season he made the All Star team & was fifth in the MVP voting, as the Cardinals went on to win the NL Pennant.

That season he was mostly batting in the third spot behind Vince Coleman & Willie McGee.

Post Season: He had a big NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers batting .333 with a HR & six RBIs. In Game #3 he doubled & hit a HR off Bob Welch, in the Cards 4-2 win at Busch Stadium. The next day in Game #4 he drove in two more runs in the Cards 12-2 romp. In the World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals he fell off to hit just .154.

After the Mets won the East & the World Series in 1986 the Cards returned atop the East in 1987. On April 18th 1987 he hit a walk off grand slam HR off the Mets Jesse Orosco in the bottom of the 19th inning at Busch Stadium. The fans went wild on seat cushion night & pelted the field with what was supposed to be their souvenirs. The Cards did not hold another seat cushion night until 2006, when after another extra inning win the fans once again tossed their cushions on the playing field after the game. 

In that 1987 game against the Mets Herr drove in six runs with three hits in the 12-8 win. That year they went to the World Series & were upset by The Minnesota Twins. That season he drove in 83 runs & stole 19 bases while hitting .263 during the regular season. In the post season he batted just .235.

In April 1988 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Tom Brunansky and played behind Steve Lombardozzi at second. The next season he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and played two seasons there before getting traded to the New York Mets in August of 1990.

Herr made his Mets debut on September 1st at Shea Stadium in a game against the San Francisco Giants. In that game he hit a HR & had two hits in the Mets 6-5 win. Herr hit well that September batting .250 with a HR, five doubles & ten RBIs in 27 games.

In 1991 he played as a back up to Greg Jeffries in 70 games before getting traded to the Giants in early August. On May 11th he had hit a three run HR at Candlestick Park helping the Mets defeat the Giants 6-2. On June 7th Herr hit a pinch hit HR in Houston in the Mets 6-3 win there that day. In one of his last Mets highlight moments he drew a bases loaded walk in the top of the 8th inning scoring what would be the winning run in the Mets 2-1 win at Philadelphia.

Herr finished out his 13 year career with the Giants in 1991, in 1514 games he hit .271 with 1450 hits 28 HRs 254 doubles 41 triples 188 stolen bases 676 runs scored & a .347 on base %.

At second base he posted a .989 fielding % (11th all time) with 991 double plays turned, 3999 assists (46th all time) & 2932 put outs (61st all time) in 1416 games (45th all time).
Retirement: In 2004 he was manager of his hometown Lancaster Barnstormers in the Independent League.

He later managed in A ball with the Washington National organization but left after he was denied a position at AA. He then served as bench coach at Lancaster under Von Hayes in 2009.

The Oldest Japanese Player To Debut In The Majors: Ken Takahashi (2009)

Ken Takahashi was born on April 16th 1969 in Yokohama, Japan. The six foot left hander was originally an outfielder turned pitcher in Japan. He pitched for 14 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, where pitched a no hitter in 1996.

After five year with sub .500 records he made his first All Star team in 2000 with a 5-9 record & 4 saves [posting a 3.93 ERA. In 2001 he went 10-8 with a 4.27 ERA making another All Star team.

He continued to pitch through 2008 where he was known as the leagues old timer. He retired but expressed an interest in pitching in the Major Leagues.

He signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays but injured his calf fielding a bunt in his very first Spring Training appearance. He was released & was offered a contract by the New York Mets.

He made his first American appearance at AAA Buffalo on April 9th, 2009. He allowed two hits, two walks & a run to Pawtucket. After six games he was called up to the Mets to fill in for an injured Casey Fossum.

On May 2nd, he became the oldest Japanese player to debut in the major leagues, as he came in the 5th inning to relieve Oliver Perez, in a 6-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies as Citizens Bank Park.

Takahashi remained with the club trough the year, making 28 relief appearances. He took his only decision a loss on May 13th, at Citi Field, losing to the Atlanta Braves after allowing a HR to Martin Prado.

In 28 games he was 0-1 with 23 strike outs 14 walks & a 2.96 ERA in 27.1 innings of work.

He was not resigned & went to pitch in Japan another season in 2010.

Legendary Sixties Mets Scout: Red Murff (1963-1968)

John Robert Murff was born on April 1st, 1921 in Burlington Texas. He served in the Army in World War II & it was there he began to play baseball. The six foot three right hander was a star minor league pitcher as soon as he signed out of Gettysburg College. After winning 17 games in his first year of pro ball he went on to win twenty games the next two seasons.

In 1951 he pitched a no hitter pitching for the Texas City Texans & the following year pitched 19 2/3 innings of a twenty inning game although he took the loss. By 1955 he was 27-11 with a 1.99 ERA for the AA Dallas Eagles winning the Texas League Player of the Year Award as well as the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. Back injuries prevented him from ever becoming a full time MLB pitcher.

He was signed by the New York Giants but was soon traded to the Milwaukee Braves for a player to be named later. In 1956 he made the Braves staff and debuted as a rookie at the age of 35. He was the team's starting pitcher in the fourth game of the season, allowing five runs on seven hits to the St. Louis Cardinals but earned no decision. He was moved to the bullpen where he got credit for one save appearing in just 14 games on the year.

In 1957 he began the year with a save & then beat the Cincinnati Reds for his first career win. By early May he was 2-0 with two saves & an 0.93 ERA before he went downhill. He lost his next two decisions & raised his ERA to 4.85 by the end of the month. He was sent back down & never returned to the major leagues. He pitched in the minors until 1960 ending his minor league career at 146-95 with a 2.94 ERA.

He quickly became a minor league manager in 1960 & there he convinced a young Phil Niekro to throw a knuckleball. The following year Murff then began a very successful career as a scout. First he scouted with the new Houston Colt 45's where he signed a young fellow native Texan, a catcher named Jerry Grote. Murff was later instrumental in getting Grote to the New York Mets as he convinced the Mets brass of how good he was. He & Grote remained friends for the rest of his life.

Murff began working for the Mets in 1963, and through the next few years was responsible for signing many of the players that would make up the core of the 1969 World Champions. He held the first ever try outs for players enrolled in job training programs, & helped establish winter instructional leagues in Mexico. He followed the tip from an usher at Shea Stadium who had a son pitching at Fort Bliss Texas who was talking about a great pitcher they had down there. The pitcher turned out to be Jerry Koosman and although he seemed lax & a bit over weight he was signed by Murff.

Murff also signed two other Texans, second baseman Kenny Boswell & a skinny right hander who threw hard but was a bit wild, Nolan Ryan. In Ryans acceptance speech to the Hall of Fame he mentioned Murf (as did Phil Neikro) saying “He thought when he saw me at 6-foot-2 and 140, he wasn’t discouraged by my build and by the way I threw the baseball as many other scouts were. And I appreciate the fact that Red spent so much time with me and worked to help me become a better pitcher.”

By the time the Mets won the 1969 World Series, Murff was working for the newly formed Montreal Expos team as a scout. He worked in their organization through 1986 & was named Montreal's scout of the year in 1975. He then went on to the Atlanta Braves organization from 1987-1991 before retiring.

He helped establish baseball at the University of Mary Hardin- Baylor near his home & had the ball field there named after him. He also helped develop a program to have released players get a college education while playing baseball there. Murff also wrote a book & was elected to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Passing: Murff passed away in 2008 at a nursing home facility in Tyler, Texas at age 87.