Lee William Capra was born October 1, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. The five foot eleven righty was selected by the New York Mets in the 27th round of the 1969 draft. He helped Illinois State University win the college championship that same year.
He became another highly touted pitching prospect for the early 1970’s Mets, having a great minor league career going 44 -18 with a 2.86 ERA overall. In 1971 after going 3-0 at AA Memphis, Capra was promoted to AAA Tidewater. There he went 13-3 second to Jim Bibby in victories while posting a .219 ERA.
Capra earned a September call up & debuted at Shea Stadium on September 15, 1971.
He pitched four innings in relief of Jerry Koosman, in a 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. On September 27th, in his third & final outing of the year; he was roughed up by the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing five earned runs in less than an inning pitched taking the loss.
In 1972 he was with the club out of Spring Training in April. He earned his first career victory on April 25th in San Diego while making in his first career start. He allowed just one run in six innings of work. In his next start he was roughed by the Dodgers in Los Angeles, as he allowed seven runs on nine hits, getting knocked out in the 4th inning.
On Saturday, May 13th he beat Juan Marichal & the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium. He drove in the only run of the game with a 2nd inning single. He tossed a three hit shutout, striking out seven Giant batters. He won his next start as well, tossing seven innings with three runs allowed in Philadelphia.
After that he struggled & found himself pitching out of the bull pen. He had control issues & got sent back down to AAA Tidewater in July. He finished the 1972 season 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA, striking out 45 batters while walking 27 in 56 innings pitched over 14 games.
In 1973 he started out going 4-5 at AAA Tidewater, when he got called up in June, to help out a struggling bullpen. The Mets relief ace; Tug McGraw was having troubles & the staff was struggling through injuries as well. On June 27th, Capra got his first save, coming against the Philadelphia Phillies after pitching four shutout innings.
He struggled in his first two months back up, finding himself at 1-5 with two blown saves at the end of July.
Capra improved from there settling down to go 2-3 with three saves the rest of the year. On August 7th he pitched three innings of relief earning a win against the St. Louis Cardinals. On September 18th he earned a key save at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, as the Mets scored five runs in the top of the 9th inning, which brought them within 2 1/2 games of the first place Pirates.
Overall in the 1973 Mets NL Championship season, Capra appeared in a total of 24 games, going 2-7 with four saves, 35 strikeouts & 28 walks in 42 innings pitched, while posting a 3.86 ERA.
Post Season: Although he did not pitch in any 1973 post season games, he did have a part in some of the theatrics. It came during Game #3 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium, during the famous Bud Harrelson / Pete Rose fight. After the Harrelson and Rose were broken up, the benches had cleared as well as the bullpens. Both teams just milled around the infield for a while, until Cincinnati Reds reliever Pedro Borbon landed a sucker punch to the right temple of Buzz Capra’s head. Next, he and backup catcher Duffy Dyer started pounding on Borbon, before being pulled out of the melee by Willie Mays.
After the dust settled and the teams were going back to their dugouts, Borbon was walking off the field & put a cap on his head. But to his surprise it was pointed out by another Reds player, that it wasn’t his Reds cap but Buzz Capra’s Mets cap. Borbon yanked the cap off his head and bit a chunk out of it, before throwing it to the ground. Capra eventually got his Mets cap back & claims to still have it to this day.
After the 1973 season the Mets sold Capra to the Atlanta Braves in what turned out to be a bad deal for New York. Capra had a fantastic 1974 season, leading the major leagues with a 2.28 ERA, going 16-8 (7th most wins in the NL) with five shutouts (Third in the NL) & 11 complete games (10th in the NL).
Capra struck out 137 batters, walking 84 in 217 innings & had the best hits per nine innings ratio in the league. He was named to the All Star team by his former Mets manager Yogi Berra, & came in the top ten voting for the Cy Young award. He also set an Atlanta Braves record for consecutive victories by winning nine straight games.
The following year in 1975, he only pitched in 12 games going 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA. He suffered a shoulder injury which ended up ruining the remainder of his career. In 1976 he missed almost the entire season, pitching in just five games (0-1). Capra attempted a comeback in 1977, going 6-12 pitching in 45 games with an ERA of 5.36. The shoulder injury forced him to retire at age 30 by 1978.
In a seven year career he was 31-37 with five saves, 362 strike outs & 258 walks in 544 innings pitched posting a 3.38 ERA in 142 appearances. At the plate he had a decent .135 batting average for a pitcher.
Retirement: After retiring as a player, Capra spent over twenty years as a professional pitching coach for the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves & Philadelphia Phillies organizations. He was the pitching coach for the A ball St. Lucie Mets in 2007.
He is also available year round for private and group pitching instruction at the Fox Valley Sports Academy in Elgin, Illinois. Buzz also frequently appears at Mets Fantasy camps.