Jan 31, 2015

Short Time Early Sixties Mets Pitcher: Dave Hillman (1962)

Darius Dutton Hillman was born on September 14, 1927 in Dungannon, Virginia. The five foot eleven right-hander signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1950. In 1951 at Rock Hill in the Tri-state league he won twenty games, striking out 200 batters & pitched a no hitter.

The next season he rose through the ranks of the minor leagues getting to AAA Springfield. In 1954 he won 16 games posting a 3.32 ERA with 129 strike outs. In 1955 he was pitching for Los Angeles in the AAA Pacific Coast League earning a call up to the Chicago Cubs where he made 25 appearances.

In 1956 he was back at AAA Los Angeles where he won 21 games & was brought back to the Cubs where he was 0-2. Hillman would pitch five years in Chicago never having the success he had in the minors. In 1959 he was 8-11 with a 3.53 ERA, striking out 88 batters in 191 innings pitched. In May he posted his only career shutout coming against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field.

In November of 1959 he was sent along with Jim Marshall to the Boston Red Sox for Dick Gernert. The trade was groundbreaking, since it was the first inter league trade that did not include waivers up to that point due to a change in rules.

He spent two years in Boston as a middle reliever making 48 appearances going 3-5. In 1962 he began the year with the Cincinnati Reds but had his contract purchased by the expansion New York Mets on April 26th.

Hillman debuted as Met on April 28th at the Polo Grounds, pitching the 6th inning in a rare '62 Mets win. He allowed a run, a hit & a walk against the Philadelphia Phillies. In four appearances from May 16th through May 31st, Hillman allowed two or more runs three times including a horrific four run outing in one inning of work against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His best Mets moment came at Wrigley Field on June 9th when he earned his only Mets save.

Hillman would only appear in 13 games for the ’62 Mets allowing 11 runs in 15.2 innings pitched while posting a 6.32 ERA. In an eight-season career, Hillman posted a 21-37 record with three saves 296 strikeouts & a 3.87 ERA in 624 innings over 188 appearances.

Jan 30, 2015

Former New York Giants Infielder Turned Long Time Manager: Bill Rigney (1946-1953)

William Joseph Rigney was born on January 29, 1918 in Oakland, California. The six foot one, right hand hitting infielder, known as "the cricket" was signed by the New York Giants in the early forties. He was also known as "specs" being one of the few players to wear glasses.

Rigney spent three years in the military during World War II, making it back to the Giants in 1946. He played 110 games, 73 at third base & 33 at second that year. He would become the team’s smain econd baseman from 1947-1949, with career highs in HRs (17) doubles (24) RBIs (59) in 1947.

In 1948 he led the NL in errors, the next year he batted a career high .278 which would be his last season as a Giants regular. By 1950 the Giants had Eddie Stanky to play second base & Hank Thompson for third base. Rigney became a reserve player through the 1953 season.

Post Season: In the 1951 World Series he had four at bats (1-4) as a pinch hitter, driving in the Giants only run in Game #2.

In his eight seasons, Rigney batted .259 with 510 hits 41 HRs 212 RBIs & 78 doubles in 654 games played.

Retirement: After his playing days he replaced Leo Durocher in New York finishing sixth in both 1956 & 1957 the Giants last season in New York. When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, it was Rigney at the helm, returning to his home in the Bay area.

That season he brought the team to a 3rd place finish, over .500 at 80- 74. The following season the Giants won three more game but the team still finished in third place, as the rival Dodgers won the World Series, their first championship in Los Angeles. In 1960 after 58 games Rigney was let go after posting a 33-25 record being replaced by Tom Sheehan.

n 1961 he was hired as manager of the expansion Los Angeles Angels, winning the manager of the Year Award in 1962 when he led them to a third place finish going 86-76. The Angels would finish ninth the following year, losing 91 games.

Rigney would remain as their manager into the 1969 season only finishing a best third one more time. He was replaced by Lefty Phillips in early 1969, then moved on to the Giants radio booth.

In 1970 he was hired by the Minnesota Twins, as their manager leading them to an AL Western title, losing to the eventual World Champion Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS.

He remained with the Twins into the 1972 season before being replaced by Frank Quilici. In 1976 Rigney had one more run as manager of the San Francisco Giants finishing in fourth place.

In an 18-season managerial career, Rigney posted a 1239-1321 record (.484) in 2561 games. In the 1980’s he was a broadcaster for the Oakland A’s as well as a front office consultant. Rigney passed away in 2001 at age 83 in Walnut Creek, California.

Jan 29, 2015

Short Time Mid Sixties Mets Pitcher: Jim Bethke (1965)

James Charles Bethke was born on November 5th 1946 in Falls City, Nebraska.

The six foot right hander was signed as a bonus baby by the New York Mets in 1964.

After one season in the rookie league & A ball he was invited to Spring Training 1965. He did well enough for the desperate Mets to give him a shot in the big leagues.

Bethke was the youngest player in the league at age 18 & 26 years younger than team mate Warren Spahn. The six foot three, right hander had a great fast ball but poor control. He made his debut finishing off the Opening Day loss to Don Drysdale & the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On April 15th he came in to pitch in the top of the 10th inning of a 4-4 tie in a game at Shea Stadium against the Houston Astros. He walked Joe Morgan & then got Al Spangler to ground into a double play. The Mets won the game & Bethke earned his first win as Bobby Klaus hit a walk off HR.

On May 2nd Bethke earned his second & final career win, when Ed Kranepool singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning after he had pitched two scoreless innings. That year he also spent some time at AAA Buffalo going 1-5 with a 5.70 ERA.

For New York he was 2-0 with a 4.28 ERA finishing up 12 games making 25 appearances. Bethke would never pitch in the major leagues again, he pitched in the Mets minor leagues through 1970 & then finished his career in the Kansas City Royals organization.

In eight minor league seasons he was 36-42 with a 3.36 ERA in 195 games. 

Retirement: After his playing days he worked for the railroad in the Kansas City area & coached kids baseball

Jan 25, 2015

Remembering the Great Ernie Banks (1931-2015)

Ernie Banks is best remembered in many ways, a gentleman on & off the field, he was nick named "Mr. Cub" as well as "Mr. Sunshine". What baseball fan can not love the fact the Banks loved the game so much his most famous quote was "let's play two". Something many of the All Stars that came after him probably would't have time for.

Ernie Banks was a two time NL MVP & 14 time All Star who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. His cheerful nature made him one of the most popular Cubs players ever, as well as one of the games most respected & popular players of all time. 

He was the first player to have his uniform number (#14) retired by the Chicago Cubs. He won back to back MVP Awards & was the 9th MLB Player to hit 500 career HRs. Banks must be remembered as one of the all time best hitting short stops, especially in an era when the position had mostly weak hitters.

Ernest Banks was born on January 31st 1931 in Dallas, Texas. He began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs signed by non other than Cool Papa Bell. In 1951 he was drafted into the Army & after his two year stint returned to the Monarchs. In September 1953 he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs & joined the team right away without playing in the minor leagues. At first he was signed to give the Cubs Gene Baker, who was suppose to be thier first black player some company. Instead Baker got injured & Banks was the Cubs first black player. He remained in the Cubs line up for 424 straight games.

In 1954 he hit 19 HRs which was a shortstop record for 53 years. He came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Wally Moon but ahead of Hank Aaron. In 1955 he blossomed into a super star, he became the first short stop to hit 30 plus HRs & drive in 100 plus RBIs, something he would do four times. He hit 40 plus HRs (44) for the first of four straight years. That season he also hit a record five grand slams.

The next two seasons were both MVP seasons for Mr. Banks, he led the NL in HRs (47) RBIs (129) slugging (.614) games (154) & at bats (617) batting .313 (6th in the NL) with 119 runs scored (second in the NL). His 47 HRs are still a record for short stops. In 1959 he led the league in RBIs (143) & games (154) hitting 45 HRs (second to Eddie Mathews) & batting .304. In 1960 he regained the HR crown hitting 41 while driving in 117 runs. 

In 1961 he was moved over to first base in order to prolong his career from the wear & tear on his aching knees. He would play more games at first base than short stop in his career. In the 1960's Banks would be a consistent All Star, but not lead the league in any more major categories. He would hit 30 plus HRs three times, with 20 plus seasons seven times. He drove in over 90 runs five times & over 100 runs three times. He did not hit over .300 again which hurt his career batting average. In 1962 he suffered a brutal beaning that left him on the field unconscious, he spent two days in the hospital & returned to the line up four days later hitting two HRs. In 1963 Banks Cubs had their first winning season since the 1940's.

In 1966 the Cubs hired Leo Durocher as manager, he felt Banks was not the same player he was in the 1950s but he had to play him. He could not trade him or bench him because the fans loved him so. Durocher & Banks remained together until 1971 when Ernie hung 'em up. 

There was a lot made of the racial relations between him & Durocher, Banks later said "My philosophy about race relations is that I'm the man and I'll set my own patterns in life. I don't rely on anyone else's opinions. I look at a man as a human being; I don't care about his color. Some people feel that because you are black you will never be treated fairly, and that you should voice your opinions, be militant about them. I don't feel this way. You can't convince a fool against his will... If a man doesn't like me because I'm black, that's fine. I'll just go elsewhere, but I'm not going to let him change my life".  Banks may not have been a loud crusader but he certainly made a difference & set examples that all races have to respect.

In 1969, the year the Cubs had one of its strongest teams ever, Banks at age 37, hit 23 HRs with 19 doubles driving in 106 runs batting .253. His slugging in HRs & RBIs was second to Ron Santo, on a team with four future Hall of Famers (Banks, Santo, Billy Williams & Fergie Jenkins). That year the Cubs blew an 8 1/2 game lead in August, to the Amazing New York Mets who went on to win the World Series.

In his spectacular 19 year career Ernie Banks (2528 games) never played in a playoff or World Series game. In his time the Cubs had just six winning seasons, finishing second & winning better than 85 games just twice.

In 1970 he hit his 500th HR & retired from playing baseball the next year. He served as a Cubs coach for two seasons but was a life long team ambassador. He was named honorary Cub in 1984 when the team won the NL Eastern Division. In 1999 he was named short stop on baseballs All Century Team. A statue of him was unveiled outside of Wrigley Field in 2008.

Outside of baseball he worked as a banker & made many wise investments, listening to the advice of team owner Phil Wrigley. By the time he was 55 years old it is said he was worth over $4 million. He was partners in a Ford dealership, was appointed to the board of directors for the Chicago Transit Authority & even met the Pope receiving a medal from him. He was involved in many charities base in Chicago as well. 

Family: Banks was married four times & had three children. 

On January 23rd, Banks passed away due to a heart attack at age 83. He was honored by the mayor of Chicago, the president & by Major League Baseball. He will be missed.

Jan 24, 2015

Mid 2000's Mets Relief Pitcher: Royce Ring (2005-2006)

Roger Royce Ring was born on December 21, 1980 in La Mesa, California. The six foot left hander was the star closer for San Diego State University getting signed by the White Sox in the first round (18th pick overall) of the 2002 draft.

Ring was considered a top prospect and a future big league closer; when came to the New York Mets with Edwin Almonte in the Roberto Alomar trade of 2003. He soon fell out of grace with the ballclub, starting with his nonchalant attitude about working out. He then appeared in Spring Training a bit out of shape with a few extra pounds on him, which also angered management.

But he had a good spring Training in 2005 & made the staff as a reliever. He made his debut against the Washington Nationals on April 29th in DC, pitching a third of an inning. After three games he was back to AAA Norfolk but returned a month later to fill a roster spot. Ring got credit for three holds but earned two losses as well.

On June 15th he allowed a ninth inning leadoff walk in Oakland & was relieved by Roberto Hernandez who allowed that runner to score, giving him his first career loss. He was back to the minors after going 0-2 with a 5.02 ERA allowing ten walks, ten hits and six earned runs in 10.2 innings pitched.

In 2006 he was 2-2 with 11 saves & a 2.97 ERA at AAA Norfolk, getting brought up to the Mets in early August. But was sent back down two weeks later to open a roster spot when the Mets acquired Shawn Green. He returned in September and posted a 2.13 ERA with two holds over 13 games that season. He did not appear in the post season.

That November in a horrible deal, he was traded along with Heath Bell to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson. After 15 games (0-1) he was traded to the Atlanta Braves playing there for two seasons as a mid reliever.

He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals going 5-2 at their AAA club in 2009 then was granted free agency. He spent five games pitching for the A.L. New York club in 2010 but after posting an ERA of 15.43 he was granted free agency.

Ring was back in the minors at AAA Pawtucket in 2011 with the Red Sox organization & then signed with Colorado in 2012 but did not make it back to the big leagues.

In his five year MLB career he is 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA, 55 strike outs & 42 walks in 99 games.

In May of 2013 he was signed as a left handed specialist for the Long Island Ducks. He appeared in just four games, taking a loss posting an ERA over eight.

Family: His cousin is former Chicago White Sox pitcher: Bill Simas (1995-2000). In his six year career Simas was 18-19 with 23 saves, posting a 3.83 ERA in 308 appearances, all in relief.

Retirement: In 2014 Ring retired from playing the game & became the pitching coach for the Rookie ball level Gulf Coast Mets.

Former Mets Pitching Coach: Vern Ruhle (2003)

Vernon Gerald Ruhle was born January 25, 1951 in Coleman Michigan. The right hander was drafted out of Olivet College in Michigan, where he had a pitcher’s mound built outside his fraternity house.

In 1972 he was drafted by his home state team, the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round. By 1975 he was in the Tiger rotation having his best season in Detroit going 11-12 with a 4.03 ERA. After going 24-29 in four seasons in Detroit he signed as a free agent with Houston in 1978. After seeing 14 starts or less in three years at the Astrodome he had a big season in 1980. He went 12-4 with a .750 winning percentage, posting a 2.37 ERA with two shut outs & six complete games.

He allowed three runs, pitching seven innings in the 1980 NLCS getting no decision against the Phillies. In the strike shortened 1981 season, he was 4-6 with one save (15 starts in 20 games) but still posted an ERA under three (2.91).

Post Season: In the 1981 NLDS he lost a 2-1 pitchers duel to the Dodgers Fernando Valenzuela in Game #4. Ruhle pitched 8 innings allowing just two runs on four hits, but one was a HR to Pedro Guerrero.
He began pitching more as a reliever posting three saves with an 8-5 record in 1983 then fell to 1-9 in 1984 completing a seven year career in Houston. He went to the Cleveland Indians & California Angels, pitching his last career game in the 1986 ALCS vs. Boston. In his13 year career Ruhle finished at 67-88 with 11 saves and a 3.73 ERA.

Coaching: After his playing days he became a coach for his old Astros team (1997-2000) then the Phillies (2000-2002).

In 2003 he became the New York Mets pitching coach under manager Art Howe. The Mets lost 95 games finishing in fifth place with the leagues 10th best ERA (4.46) that season. On a good note, Ruhle’s staff did have two 15 game winners in Al Leiter & Steve Trachsel.

Tom Glavine didn’t seem to understand Vern’s coaching style since he went 9-14 in his first season in New York. Ruhle only served one season as the Mets pitching coach & was replaced by Rick Peterson the following season. He was originally assigned with another position in the organization.

Passing: Ruhle went on to coach the Reds until 2006, when he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in

Houston, Texas in January 2007, he was only 55 years old.

Late Sixties Mets Pitcher: Bill Graham (1967)

William Albert Bill Graham was born on January 21, 1937 in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. The right handed Florida Gator was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1957.

He had a long minor league career going 64-69 with a 4.02 ERA in 183 games between A & AAA ball. Almost a full decade later he broke into the big leagues at age 29, pitching in two scoreless innings for the Detroit Tigers. His contract was purchased by the New York Mets in August of 1967 getting place on the staff right away.

He debuted on September 3rd against the Chicago Cubs pitching well until the 5th inning when Billy Williams & Ron Santo hit back to back HRs off him. He took his first loss, as the Mets got shut out by Hackensack, New Jersey's own Bill Hands. Hands would win 16 games or more for the Cubs from 1968-1970.

In Grahams next start he only gave up one earned run over seven innings, but took another loss, as the Cincinnati Reds Gary Nolan shut out New York 2-0.

After two no decisions Graham finally got his first & only career win. It came on September 29th, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a complete game 5-1 victory. He finished the season 1-2 with a 2.63 ERA, 14 strike outs in 27 innings pitched.

Graham finished his playing career after the season at age 30 retiring back in Kentucky. He passed away in 2006 at age 69.

Jan 23, 2015

Early Sixties Mets Pitcher: Grover Powell (1963)

Grover David Powell was born October 10th 1940 in Sayre, Pennsylvania. The five foot ten left handed pitcher attended the University of Pennsylvania getting signed by the New York Mets in 1962. Powell went 2-6 in the New York Penn League in 1962 getting pushed up to AAA Syracuse right away. There he also went 2-6 with a 5.9 ERA. In 1963 he started out in the Carolina League at A Ball Raleigh getting near .500 at 5-6 with a solid 3.07 ERA.

It was all the Mets needed to see, giving him a chance on a bad ball club with a poor staff. Powell debuted on July 13th pitching one inning of relief in a 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Polo Grounds.

He would make nine relief appearances & pitch well enough to earn a start. On August 20th he started the first game of a double header in Philadelphia and surprised everyone with an incredible four hit shutout, striking out six.

He was given another start on August 27th in Pittsburgh, pitching five shutout innings matching frames with the Pirates Bob Friend.  His career turned round when he was hit in the face with a line drive off the bat of future Met; Donn Clendenon. He was relieved by Galen Cisco who took the heartbreaking 2-1 loss.

On September 5th Powell was knocked out of the game in the 3rd inning as the Cardinals scored four runs on him, he was credited with a 9-0 loss. Powell made twenty appearances on the year going 1-1 with a 2.72 ERA striking out 39 batters in 49 innings pitched.

He had the pleasure of wearing the uniform number 41, four years before Tom Seaver ended anyone else's chance of ever using it. He is forever immortalized on a 1964 Topps baseball card with the Mets.

Powell suffered through injuries and pitched sparingly over the next three years in the minor leagues. He pitched in the minors through 1970 going 30-47 in 172 games.

Retirement: In 1966 he returned to Penn. University & got a degree in economics. At the young of age just 44 he passed away after a battle with leukemia in 1985 at Raleigh North Carolina.

Jan 22, 2015

Former Italian / American Player / Bubble Gum Blowing Champion: Kurt Bevecqua (1971-1985)

Kurt Anthony Bevacqua was born on January 23, 1947 in Miami Beach, Florida. The six foot right handed infielder, attended Miami-Dade North Community College originally getting drafted in the 32nd round of the 1966 draft by the New York Mets but he did not sign. He was then drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 12th round the following season.

Bevacqua hade some good years in the minors from 1969 at A ball through 1971 at the AAA levels. He made it to the big leagues that year with the Cleveland Indians.

He would play a 15 year career as a utility infielder in Cleveland (1971-1972) with the Kansas City Royals (1973-1974), Pittsburgh Pirates (1974/ 1980-1981), Milwaukee Brewers (1975-1976), Texas Rangers (1977-1978) & San Diego Padres (1979-1980 / 1982-1985).

In Cleveland he earned the nickname "Dirty Kurt" due to the fact that the scrappy player was always donning a dirty uniform because of his gritty play. He was originally brought in to the 1975 Brewers team to back up Don Money at third base, since Money was suffering from back problems. During a May loss to his former team mates the Kansas City Royals, he got into an altercation with rookie George Brett that started a bench clearing brawl.

In 1977 he was chosen as the fourth player with the newly formed Seattle Mariners. He had a great Spring Training batting near .500 but was cut from the team prior to the season, as they went with Craig Reynolds at short stop instead. Bevacqua was furious & ended up signing with Texas as the season began. He hit .333 in Texas with 5 HRs & 28 RBIs in 39 games making just one error all year.

Most of Bevacqua’s famous moments didn’t actually happen in the statistical department. Most famously he lives on forever to baseball card fans as the 1975 Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champion, in a card issued in the 1976 Topps set.

A season long bubblegum blowing contest was held by Bazooka / Topps & the Baseball World of Joe Garagiola. The finals were held before Game #3 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds & Red Sox on the Baseball World of Joe Garagiola. The AL Champ Bevacqua beat out NL Champion Johnny Oates.

In Spring Training 1981 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates Bevaqua was involved in a major brawl with the Detroit Tigers. Pitcher Howard Bailey hit future Mets coach Bill Robinson in the face with a pitch & Bevacqua retaliated by starting the huge fight.

Then in August of 1984 as a member of the San Diego Padres, there was giant brawl involving the Atlanta Braves which Umpire John McSherry called the ugliest thing he’s ever seen. The scene got even uglier when Bevaqua was hit in the head with a can of beer & ran into the stands to fight a fan who he thought threw it.

In June of 1982 the Dodgers Tom Neidenfuer hit the Padres Joe Lefebvre, with a pitch after serving up a HR to Broderick Perkins. Niedenfuer was fined $500 by the league. The next day Bevaqua told the press the guy who should be fined is that “fat little Italian who ordered it” referring to manager Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda claimed he never told a pitcher to throw at a hitter & certainly wouldn’t do it to a .130 hitter like f----in' Bevaqua. He continued to insult him using obscene language in a wild uproar.
He said back when he was pitching, he would send a limo to pick up a guy like Bevaqua so he knew he was in the line up that day & could kick his butt. The battle raged on between the two in the media. Lasordas rage can be seen on a youtube video.

During the 1984 season Bevaqua only batted .200 with one HR & nine RBIs in 59 games for the NL Champion San Diego Padres. He went 0-2 in the NLCS as a pinch hitter against the Chicago Cubs but was a hero in the World Series.

Manager Dick Williams used Bevaqua as a designated hitter in the Series, and he became the teams leading hitter. He batted .412 (7-17) with two doubles, hitting two of the teams three World Series HRs.

In Game #2 at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium, he hit a three run HR in the bottom of the 5th inning off Detroit’s Dan Petry, leading the Padres to their only win of the Series.

Bevacqua finished his 15 year playing career in 1985 batting .236 lifetime with 499 hits 27 HRs 90 doubles 11 triples a .305 on base % & 275 RBIs in 970 games played.

Retirement: After his 1984 World Series performance he is known as somewhat of a celebrity in San Diego. He has helped St. Madeleine Sophies Center Heart charity program there.

He also appeared in the TV show King of the Hill as a softball ringer.

Jan 20, 2015

Former Queens Born Italian / American Player & Manager: Sam Mele (1947-1967)

Sabath Anthony Mele was on born January 21, 1922 in Astoria, New York. He eventually earned the nickname "Sam" due to his initials.

Both of Sam Mele's parents were born in Avellino, Italy in the Campania Regional. In the Soprano's Tony Soprano claimed his family was also from this town. Although from the same town, Sam Mele's parents both met in America.

In Astoria New York, Sam's father; Antonio worked for the Con Edison Company. His mother was sister to big league brothers Al & Tony Cuccinello, making them Sam's uncle's.

One time when he was a kid he had gone hit less during a weekend of playing baseball, he went home & threw his uniform on the ground saying he was through with the game. His mother chewed him out about being a quitter, then she told her big league brothers who gave it to him even worse. He came home a few days later to find a noose hanging from the ceiling, they said if your going to quit, you should just hang yourself.

Mele remembers meeting Babe Ruth once at a Bayside Country club, as well as Hall of Fame Manager: Al Lopez, who were both friends of his uncles. Mele attended Bryant High School off 31st Street in Long Island City, moving on to New York University in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Mele was a star basketball player at NYU, and went to school on a scholarship. He then served the United States in World War II with the Marines for almost three years.

The six foot one right handed hitter, was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1946. He had been lucky enough to work out with the Red Sox due to the fact his NYU coach was friends with a Red Sox scout. There he learned a little about about hitting from Ted Williams. He went on to lead the Southern League in hitting (.342) as well as triples (18) that same year.

The next year he was in the majors, batting .302 with eight triples posting the AL’s second best fielding % in the outfield (.992). He played in an outfield next to Ted Williams & Dom Dimaggio before losing his starting job to Sam Spence in 1948. That year his average fell to .233 & he was traded to the Washington Senators in 1949.

In 1951 he led the league in doubles (36) driving in a career high 94 runs batting .274. He would have one of the league’s best fielding percentages for four straight years in the outfielder during the early fifties. As a right fielder Mele led the league in fielding four times ( 1947, 1951-1953). He led the league with ten assists & had a career high 14 assists in 1953.

Mele would play next for the Chicago White Sox (1952-1953), Baltimore Orioles (1954-1955), Boston Red Sox again (1954-1955) & Cincinnati Reds (1955) before finishing his career in 1956 with the Cleveland Indians.

In a ten year career he batted.267 with 406 hits 80 HRs 168 doubles 39 triples 544 RBIs & a .328 on base % in 1046 games played.

Retirement: In 1959 he began to coach under former Brooklyn Dodger & future Mets coach Cookie Lavagetto with the Washington Senators. In 1961 the Senators franchise moved to Minneapolis & became the Minnesota Twins.

In June, Lavagetto took a leave & eventually left the position for good. Sam Mele took over as the Twins new manager, finishing in seventh place. The Twins surprised people finishing second the next year & after two poor seasons became one of the AL’s most powerful teams.

In 1965 Mele’s Twins won the pennant & fell one game short of winning the World Series when Sandy Koufax defeated Jim Katt in Game #7.

That year he was involved in a an incident with home plate umpire Bill Valentine. The usually mild mannered Mele's hand apparently hit Valentine's jaw, he was fined $500 & suspended five days. Mele’s team won 102 games, still a Twins record & won the Manager of the year Award.

Members of that great team include Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, batting champion Tony Oliva, 1965 AL AVP Zoilo Versalles, Don Mincher & pitchers Jim Katt, Mudcat Grant & Al Worthington. 

The next seasons the Twins finished second to Baltimore & expectations were high for 1967. In mid May the Twins were just at .500 even though they had acquired pitcher Dean Chance & added rookie Rod Carew.

Mele was fired & replaced by Cal Ermer. The Twins finished second to the Boston Red Sox losing out on the pennant on the last day of the 1967 season. Mele did not choose to manage again, he went on to scout for the Boston Red Sox into the middle nineties, before retiring.

Trivia: As of January 2016, Sam Mele is the oldest living manager to have won a pennant. 

Jan 17, 2015

Early Seventies Mets Reliever: Ron Herbel (1970)

Ronald Samuel Herbel was born on January 16, 1938 in Denver, Colorado. He went to the University of North Colorado and got drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1958 just as they arrived on the West Coast. 

The right hander spent five years in the minors making his MLB debut against the New York Mets in 1963 at the Polo Grounds. He spent seven seasons with the Giants being used as both starter & reliever. His best season was in 1965 going 12-9 with a save striking out 106 batters in 170 innings pitched posting a 3.85 ERA. As the sixties closed out he was pretty much strictly a relief pitcher.

In 1970 he was 7-5 with 9 saves for the Padres, through the end of August, when he was traded to the New York Mets for Rod Gaspar. Herbel was brought in to help bolster their bullpen up for the stretch run.

At the time the Mets were 1 ½ games out of first place, & although they were only one game out by mid September they faded finishing six games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
On the day he arrived with the Mets, he got a win, pitching one inning of relief in St. Louis. Later that week he earned a save at Shea against the Expos then a win the next night against Philadelphia.

In his first ten days with the Mets he had two wins and a save, fitting right in with the club. Herbel pitched in twelve games for the Mets in September 1970 going 2-2 with one save. He posted a 1.38 ERA allowing two earned runs in 13 innings pitched. On the season he led the NL in appearances with 76, going 9-7 with a career high 10 saves in 124 innings pitched.

On December 1st he was traded to the Atlanta Braves, for Bob Aspromonte who would be the Mets main third baseman in 1971. Herbel would pitch in 25 games going 0-1 with a save in Atlanta finishing up his nine year career.

Lifetime he went 42-37 with 16 saves and a 3.83 ERA. Herbel was never a good hitter, in his first season he had 54 plate appearances going hitless, striking out 30 times.

Trivia: According to baseball reference he has the worst batting average all time for a player with a minimum of 100 career at bats .029.

Passing: Ron passed away in Tacoma, Washington at age 62 in 2000.

Jan 15, 2015

Former Mets Coach: Chuck Cottier (1979-1981)

Charles Keith Cottier was born on January 8, 1936 in Delta, Colorado. The four letter college boy was signed as an amateur free agent by the Baltimore Orioles in 1964.

By 1956 the second baseman was traded to the Milwaukee Braves, where he made his MLB debut in 1959. There he made some good connections with two future managers whom he would later coach for. The two friends he made were Rookie Joe Torre & All Star catcher Del Crandall.

In 1960 he played in 95 games with Milwaukee batting just .227 getting traded to Detroit the the Washington Senators in 1961. That season he posted the league’s third best fielding percentage & would rank first in range factor the next two seasons. He spent three seasons as the Senators main second baseman before finishing his career with the California Angels in 1969. He was known more for his glove than his bat, hitting .220 lifetime with 19 HRs 63 doubles & 127 RBIs in 580 games over eight seasons.

Retirement: He was named to Mets Manager Joe Torre’s coaching staff in 1979 and served there for three seasons. Cottier was an aggressive third base coach who loved to send runners home, even though they weren’t the quickest group on the base paths.

He became known as “the man with the golden arm” and the vision of him waving runners around third base is forever engraved in our Mets memory banks.

After getting fired by the Mets in 1981, he went to Seattle and coached there for three seasons under Del Crandall. At the end of the 1984 season he was named the Mariners manager replacing his old Team mate Crandall.

He managed Seattle in 1985, and was fired in May of 1986, getting replaced by Dick Williams. He went back to coaching, with the Chicago Cubs (1988-1994) Baltimore Orioles (1995) & Philadelphia Phillies (1997-2000). He then served as an MLB scout through 2007 when he retired.