Nov 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

Hebner Hater said...

My strongest memory of him was the pathetic & desperate circumstances under which he was acquired,so as to be comical.Management advertised it as some kind of coup,and the fools who believed the Mets were picking off a star player from the defending intradivision champions,and how this was going to steal the attention of NYC away from the Yankee obsessed media & vault theMets back into contention with their infield corner 1-2 punch of him & Willie Montanez leave me snickering to this day.Both would be gone before 1979 was over.Ten years after the greatest year in Mets history,Hebner is one of lasting images of their most contemptible one.Mercifully,the last of a series of irrational actions that necessitated the only rational one left: the imminent sale of the franchise.