Feb 28, 2013

2006 N.L. Eastern Champion Mets Back Up Catcher: Ramon Castro (2005-2009)

Ramon Abraham Castro was born on March 1, 1976 in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. The six foot three, catcher was a first round pick (17th pick overall) in the 1994 draft for the Houston Astros. Castro was actually the first Puerto Rican played to be drafted by the Astros. Back in those days he earned the nickname “Bigote” which means mustache. 
 Castro played six seasons in the minors having his best year in 1999 hitting 15 HRs with 61 RBIs. He was traded to the Florida Marlins in 1998 making his MLB debut in late August of 1999. In September '99 he hit his first career HR which came in St. Louis during a 9-3 loss to the Cardinals. He saw a lot of playing time that month, batting .179 for the season.

He spent six seasons with the Marlins, at first sharing time with Mike Redmond behind the plate, until Charles Johnson arrived for his second term in Florida. Castro hit his Marlin best .283 as a member of their 2003 World Championship team. He appeared in 40 games during the regular season hitting five HRs with eight RBIs but saw no post season action.

In December of 2004 Castro signed as a free agent with the New York Mets and would spend four and a half seasons in New York as a backup catcher. The theme music he chose when he came to bat at Shea, was the Darth Vader Imperial march from the Star Wars movies. 

Castro was one of the slowest runners the Mets ever had; it was almost comical to watch him run the bases. If he had to circle around a few bases at once, he would slow up even more as he ran out of gas. His teammates would let him have in a fun way, as he became the ridicule of many slow running jokes in the dugout. 
  Castro backed up Mike Piazza in 2005, playing in 99 games, batting .244 with eight HRs & a career high 41 RBIs. On April 16th he drove in his first Mets run, a walk off base hit against Gillermo Mota & his old Marlin team mates.

On June 16th he had a big day against the Oakland A's in an interleague west coast game. In the Mets seven run 5th inning, Castro hit a bases loaded double scoring all three runs. He then advanced to third base on an error, much to the delight of his team mates laughing at his base running in the dug out. In July he had five games where he had multiple RBIs while hitting three HRs playing in just 14 games. 
  On August 13th he hit a solo HR at Dodger Stadium in a 5-1 Mets in at Los Angeles. A week later he hit a three run HR at Shea Stadium in a 9-8 win against the Washington Nationals. Two days later on August 23rd, in the first game of a double header at Arizona, he drove in five runs gathering up two hits, in the Mets 14-1 romp over the Diamond backs.

On August 30th at Shea Stadium, Casto hit a three run HR in the bottom of the 8th inning, against Ugueth Urbina & the Philadelphia Phillies leading the Mets to a 6-4 come from behind win. As Mike Piazza’s Mets career ended, Castro thought he may have a chance as a starter but the Mets traded for Paul Loduca in the off season. 

In the Mets 2006 NL Eastern Championship title season, Castro played in just 40 games missing two months of action. He hit .238 with four HRs seven doubles & 12 RBIs. Behind the plate he threw out 35% of would be base stealers posting a .996 fielding %.

Castro opened up his season, with doubles in the first two games he played in on the season. On April 22nd, his fourth game he hit a two run HR in an 8-1 win over the Padres in San Diego. He hit a HR in each of the next two months.

On July 1st he broke up a subway series tie, with a fourth inning base hit off Randy Johnson. The Mets went on to an 8-3 win at the AL New York ball park. He would get shut down in August & most of September returning in the final week of the season. He did not play in the post season. 
 
In 2007 he played in 52 games hitting a career high .285 with 11 HRs (also a career high). He added six doubles 24 runs scored & 31 RBIs.

In April he started out the year hitting three HRs in his first six games & drove in seven runs in three straight games. In July he played in thirteen games hitting three more HRs while driving nine runs. He got his average up over the .300 mark as well.

On August 1st he hit a three run HR in Milwaukee, elading to an 8-5 Mets win over the Brewers. Behind the plate on the season he only threw out three base runners in thirty stolen base attempts (10%). He closed out the season with two HRs in the final week of the season, including a solo shot in a 13-0 win over the Florida Marlins in the next to last game of the year. The win gave the Mets hope for the playoffs in the final game but they fell 8-1 to the Marlins missing the post season after a horrible season ending collapse. 

 
In 2008 the Mets signed Brian Schneider, once again passing up on Castro as the lead catcher. In April he hit .38 playing in seven games driving in five runs in four of those games. In July he saw a lot of playing time, having six multi hit games. On July 1st he drove in three runs leading the Mets to a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

 A week later hit a three run HR against the San Francisco Giants, in a 5-0 Johan Santana shut out at Shea Stadium. During the month he had three more multi RBI games raising his average up to .283. On the season he hit .245 with 7 HRs 7 doubles 24 RBIs & a .312 on base %. Behind the plate he improved to throwing out 22% of would be base stealers. 
  
May 2009, centerfieldmaz caught a Ramon Castro foul ball, sitting up behind home plate in the Promenade club seats at the new Citi Field. It was one of Castros last games as a New York Met. The third string Catcher Omir Santos; had started out hot and won the backup catchers job, making Castro expendable.

On May 29th Castro was traded to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Lance Broadway. On July 23rd 2009, Castro was behind the plate, catching Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle for the first time.

That night Buehrle put himself in the record books, throwing the seventeenth perfect game in MLB history with Castro calling the signals. Castro only hit .184 in Chicago that season, seeing action in 31 games.
 
In 2010 he improved to a .278 average hitting eight HRs with two doubles & 21 RBIs. In 2011 he played his last season back with the White Sox batting .235 playing in 23 games.

Retirement: Castro retired at age 35 finishing his 13 year career batting .237 with 67 HRs 66 doubles 217 RBIs & a .310 on base %.

 In 503 games he threw out 23% of base runners trying to steal. He posted a .990 fielding % with 21 double plays. 

Castro lives in Miramar, Florida with his wife Brenda & their three daughters.

Early Nineties Mets Pitcher: Tony Castillo (1991)

Antonio Jose (Jimenez) Castillo was born March 1, 1963 at Quibor, Lara, Venezuela. The five foot ten left hander, was originally signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1983. In his years at the A ball level he switched over to being a relief pitcher. He posted a best 14 saves in 1988 at playing at A ball Dunedin & AA Knoxville.

Castillo debuted in the majors with the Blue Jays in 1988 appearing in 14 games, earning his first career win against the Texas Rangers that September. He was back & forth from the minors up to the majors through 1993, getting traded to the Atlanta Braves along with Francisco Cabrerra for Jim Acker. Cabrerra is forever famous for getting the game winning walk off base hit in the 1992 NLCS Game #7, scoring Atlanta's Sid Bream.

Castillo pitched parts of three seasons with the Braves going 5-1 with a save in 1990 while posting a 4.23 ERA in 52 appearances. On August 28th, he was traded to the New York Mets, with a player to be named later (Joe Roa) for pitcher Alejandro Pena. Castillo debuted with the Mets in Atlanta the next day pitching in relief of Anthony Young in a 2-0 Mets loss to John Smoltz. He would pitch in just ten games for the Mets the rest of the season, posting a 3.34 ERA in 32 innings of middle relief.

On September 11th 1991 he made his first start of the season, in was in Chicago at Wrigley Field. He went six innings allowing no runs on three hits earning the victory. He would make two more starts getting to the fifth inning both times, allowing just one earned run in those starts but getting no decisions. In his last Mets outing he was credited with a hold as New York defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in 11 innings giving John Franco a victory & Tim Burke a save.

In January 1992 he was traded along with Mark Carreon to the Detroit Tigers for Paul Gibsson. He spent the season AAA Toledo going 2-3 with a 3.63 ERA & then signed as a free agent back with Toronto the next year. He would spend parts of the next four seasons as a Blue Jays reliever saving a career best 13 games in 1995 going 1-5 with a 3.22 ERA in 55 appearances.

In 1993 he was part of the Toronto World Championship team, going 3-2 on the year & making four post season appearances. In the Woirld Series against the Philadelphia Phillies he was the winning pitcher in the wild Game Four 15-14 Blue Jays win.

Castillo was traded to the Chicago Whites Sox & finished out his ten season career there in 1998. Overall he was 28-23 with 22 career saves, posting a 3.93 ERA, striking out 333 batters walking 179 in 526 innings over 403 games.

Feb 26, 2013

Zany Italian /American New York Giants Player Who Once Challenged MLB's Reserve Clause: Danny Gardella (1944-1945)

Daniel Lewis Gardella was born on February 26th 1920 to an Italian American family in New York City. He originally signed with the Detroit Tigers but  did not get to the major leagues. Six years later, while working in a ship yard, he signed with the New York Giants. 

He was a wild character who was known on the field to walk on his hands to the cheers of the Polo Grounds crowds. On the road, he would scare his roomates by hanging out of hotel windows by his finger tips. 

Gardella would imitate his Hall of Fame manager Mel Otts' one legged batting stance, with a comedic twist getting huge laughs from team mates. He would sing openly and burst out into song out of nowhere, with his baratone voice any chance he got. The muscular Gardella was one of the first players to work out with heavy weights. He would swing an Iron bat to loosen up as well. 

He only played for the Giants for two seasons, seeing action first in 1944, batting .250 in 47 games. In 1945 he had his best season playing in 121 games, batting .272 with 18 HRs (8th in the NL) ten doubles 71 RBIs posting a .349 on base %. He drew 46 walks & was hit by five pitches (6th in the NL). That season he had three different games where he hit two HRs, all coming at home in the Polo Grounds, for the fifth place Giants. The left handed outfielder played an average defense with limited range. 

Family: His brother Al Gardella also played for the ’45 Giants, batting .077 in 16 games. It was his only year at the major league level. 

After World War II the Giants were interested in recruiting more war veterans. They offered Gardella $4,500, but he jumped to the banned Mexican league where he was paid $10,000. Commissioner Happy Chandler, imposed a five year to life ban on any players who went to the Mexican League for violating the reserve clause. Player affected by this were big names like: Sal Maglie, Mickey Owen, & Vern Stephens. 

Gardella couldn’t get back into the majors in 1947 and filed a law suit against MLB challenging the reserve clause. His lawyer, Frederic A. Johnson, charged that baseball was unlawfully depriving Gardella of his livelihood and that it was violating federal antitrust laws through the reserve clause, which bound a player to his team until he was traded or released.

The case was going to trial but his lawyer warned him, it would be a long costly trial. He dropped the suit and allegedly received $60,000 from MLB. In 1950 he was signed by the St Louis Cardinals and after one at bat was sent back to the minor leagues.


 Quotes: Looking back in 1990 Gardella said: "I feel I let the whole world know that the reserve clause was unfair. It had the odor of peonage, even slavery." 

Gardella was married to his wife Katherine for sixty years, they had ten children together. He passed away in Yonkers, New York in 2005 at age 85. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, in Hastings on the Hudson, New York.

Feb 21, 2013

Short Time Italian / American Mets Reserve Catcher: Phil Lombardi (1989)

Phillip Arden Lombardi was born on February 20, 1963 at Abilene, Texas. The six foot two catcher was drafted right out of high school in the third round of the 1981 draft by the A.L. New York club. He hit over .290 at AAA Columbus in 1986 earning him a big league call up. 

He made his debut in the Bronx in 1986, replacing Ron Hassey behind the plate and immediately made a throwing error as Cleveland's Bret Butler was trying to steal a base. In just twenty games he hit .278 with 2 HRs & 6 RBIs. After five brief games at the big league level in 1987 he was traded across town to the New York Mets, along with Steve Frey & Darren Reed for short stop Rafael Santana.

Lombardi hit a team leading .308 at AAA Tidewater in 1988 with 9 HRs & 44 RBIs in 85 games. Although he fell off to .261 the next year he led the team hitting 14 HRs & was second to Tom O'Malley driving in 73 runs. Lombardi was called up in June 1989 when the Mets needed help behind the plate. He was one of four catchers to play on the ‘89 Mets team, along with Gary Carter, Barry Lyons, & Mackey Sasser. 

 Lombardi debuted on a road trip at Montreal that June, as a defensive replacement for Mackey Sasser in the 12 inning at Stade Olympique. In his first start the next day he caught Bobby Ojeda, & got three hits including his only Mets HR, off Mark Langston although the Mets lost the game 4-3. It would be his best day, as his average fell off to just .211 by the end of July & he was sent back down to AAA Tidewater.

 He came back for a September cup of coffee finishing the season hitting .229 with one HR one double & three RBIs in 18 games. He struggled throwing out base runners as well, nailing just one out of 18 base stealers (6%). 

Lombardi underwent three knee operations & in the end injuries would finish his career at an early age; 26. He was placed on waivers & retired after the 1988 season. In his three year career he hit .239 with three HRs, one double, 19 RBIs & a .314 on base % in 43 games.

Feb 6, 2013

Short time Bronx Born Italian / American Player: Peter Zoccolillo (2003)

Peter Jude Zoccolillo was born on February 6, 1977 in the Bronx, New York. He soon moved to Westchester County, going to White Plains high School, playing baseball there among other sports. He then attended Rutgers University where he was a four year Letterman in baseball, breaking ten different school records. The three year All American still holds the schools record for most career RBIs (tied). 

He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1999 in the 23rd round as an outfielder. He was soon traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal involving David Weathers. From 2000 to 2003, he batted over .290 three times at the minor league levels, making a brief big league appearance in 2003. He only played in just 20 games in the outfield, for the 2003 Brewers getting 4 hits in 37 at bats (.108) with three RBIs. 

He never made the big leagues again, going to the Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals & Colorado Rockies organizations. In 2006 Zocco, played for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He is currently a youth baseball coach in Morris County, New Jersey.

Feb 2, 2013

Short Time Taiwanese Born Met: Chin Lung Hu (2011)

Chin-lung Hu was born on February 2nd, 1984 at Tainan City, Taiwan. The five foot eleven right handed hitting infielder was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. In eight minor league seasons through 2010 he batted over .290 all but once. In those years he hit over .300 four times total, stealing over 15 bases three times earlier in his career.

He made his MLB debut in September 2007 and the usually weak hitter actually hit two HRs in just 29 at bats. The first was a pinch hit blast in the bottom of the 9th inning off San Diego's Bret Tomko although L.A. still lost the game. He was called up briefly in four straight seasons for the Dodgers (2007-2010) seeing the most action in 2008. That month he filled in at second base & short stop playing in 65 games batting just .181 with nine RBIs.

Right after Christmas 2010 Hu was traded to the New York Mets for minor leaguer Michael Antonini. Hu would make the Mets out of Spring Training as a reserve infielder. He made his Mets debut on Opening Day going 0-1 as a pinch hitter in Florida against the Marlins.

He was used mostly as a pinch hitter with a few appearances at second base, but hit just .050 getting one hit in twenty at bats by May 16th. The one hit came in Philadelphia against JC Romero & the Phillies in a Mets April 5th win.

He spent 13 games at AAA Buffalo batting just .194 Then spent time with the Gulf Coast Mets batting just .184. He was granted free agency after the season. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians but was released in April 2012.