Joe Sambito: Former Italian / American New York Born Mets Pitcher with the Best Hair in Baseball (1985)

Joseph Charles Sambito was born on June 28, 1952, in Brooklyn, New York. All four of his grandparents were born in Italy, eventually settling in America in Brooklyn. His parents, Anthony & Jennie had three children, two boys & a girl, eventually moving the family to Long Island. 

Joe got his love of baseball from his father. He would become a pitcher at Bethpage high school. In 1973 he attended Adelphi University on Long Island, getting named All American becoming the first player at the school to earn the honors.

The six-foot lefty would dream of being Jerry Koosman while growing up during the Mets 1969 season. In 1970, he had a try out for the Mets at Shea Stadium, but the team did not offer him a deal.

After attending Adelphi Sambito landed a job at the Long Island utility, LILCO- the Long Island
Lighting Company. 

In 1973 he stayed home from work on draft day hoping to hear good news about himself. Sure enough, he got a call saying that he was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 17th round.

Sambito, spent four years in the Astros minor leagues. In 1976 he went 11-2 between AA Columbus & AAA Memphis. He got called up to the Astros in July of that Bicentennial year.

 Astros Career: When he arrived with the club, he was in awe that he was now a teammate of 1969 World Champion Amazing Mets second baseman, Ken Boswell. Boswell was nearing the end of his career.

Quotes- Joe Sambito: "To this day, one of my biggest thrills was dressing in the same locker room with Ken Boswell. Anybody who played on the '69 Mets was like a god to me, and here he was, now a teammate."

On July 20th, 1976, Sambito debuted coming in to relieve Tom Griffin in the 1st inning. Griffin gave up two runs & left with the bases loaded in Pittsburgh. Sambito walked into the mess in his debut. He walked Richie Hebner on four pitches & then gave up a bases clearing double to Manny Sanguillen. Astros manager Bill Virdon kept him in for 4.2 innings. He gave up three runs on seven hits in the loss.

1976: On July 31st, he earned his first career win, coming in relief in a 9-6 win over the Braves. 

Shut Out: On August 29th he got a start against the Cardinals & pitched a complete game four hit shutout. It was the only shut out in his career making five starts. 

In September he gave up five runs to the Reds but still earned a win as the Astros put up ten runs in a 10-5 win.

In the bicentennial year, Sambito went 3-2 with a 3.24 ERA, as a starting pitcher. He would convert to the bullpen, spending the next eight seasons at the Astrodome as one of the leagues better relievers.

Quotes- Joe Sambito: " I was in the big leagues & I didnt care how they used me as long as I could stay. That was my attitude. I am where I always wanted to be, so I was okay with it."

1977: In 1977 the Astros finished third at .500. Sambito recorded seven saves, second on the staff to Joe Niekro who also won 13 games & made 14 starts. That season, six different Astro pitchers collected saves.

1978: By this time, Joe was emerging as the Astros best reliever to close out the most games, he led the team with 11 saves & finished 45 games. He struck out 96 batters in 88 innings going 4-9 with a 3.07 ERA.

1979: In 1979 Joe started out the year with two wins & three saves in the month of April, posting a 1.23 ERA.

On May 11th he came to bat in the top of the 10th inning, after the Astros had taken the lead. He hit an RBI ground rule double giving himself a three-run lead. But in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals Roger Freed hit a walk off grand slam HR to win the game.

On June 10th & 11th he pitched at Shea Stadium in two games, throwing nine scoreless innings. Quite a thrill for the New Yorker. 

Sambito would not allow another earned run over the next 27 appearances, in 40.2 innings of work, where he struck out 30 batters. He lowered his season ERA to 0.95 & had collected 11 saves thru the first half of the season.

1979 All Star: That year Joe made the All-Star team & pitched to three batters in the 6th inning. He retired Reggie Jackson on a fielder's choice, walked Roy Smalley intentionally & then got George Brett to fly out. The NL went on to a 6-5 win at the Kingdome in Seattle, led by the Mets Lee Mazzilli 8th inning HR.

After the break, he earned two wins & three more saves before blowing a game. In the second half, he collected 11 more saves going 4-4 with a 2.70 ERA. He would have six blown saves on the season. 

But overall, he had one of his best seasons of his career, going 8-7 with 22 saves (4th most in the NL) posting a 1.77 ERA. He struck out 83 batters in 91 innings making 63 appearances finishing 51 games. 

1980 NL Western Champs: For the 1980 Astros, he earned eight wins out of the bullpen, going 8-4 with 17 saves (9th most in the NL) & posting a 2.19 ERA.  That season he made a career high 64 appearances. The Astros also saw the emergence of Dave Smith (10 saves) as well as seeing Frank LaCorte save 11 games as well.

That year the Astros pitcher J.R. Richard suffered a stroke shocking the organization. The Astros & Dodgers tied at the end of a season & won a one game playoff to advance to their first NLCS.

1980 Post Season: In the NLCS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, he took the Game #4 loss allowing 10th inning back-to-back doubles to Many Trillo & Greg Luzinski.

In the final Game #5 loss he retired the only batter he faced.

Trivia: By the early eighties Sambito was being ranked as one of the games top relievers by Sports Illustrated.

Best Hair in Baseball: Joe was notorious for his full head of hair & using his blow dryer in the locker room. He was always getting ribbed by the Astros players & the center of all jokes about hair. 

Once at a fund raiser for him, an Astros broadcaster poured a glass of water on his head, saying “I always wanted to do that”. In response, Sambito pulled out a blow dryer & proceeded to blow dry his hair.

1981 Strike Shortened Season: In the strike shortened 1981 season, he posted another ERA under two (1.81) saved 10 games (7th best in the NL) while posting a 5-5 record. That year the season was divided up in two parts with the Astros finishing first in the second half.

1981 Post Season- NLDS:
 In Game #2 of the NLDS loss to the Dodgers, Houston's Joe Niekro & the Dodgers Jerry Ruess shut out their opponents, leaving it up to the bullpens. In the top of the 11th, Joe Sambito struck out two Dodgers, pitching a scoreless inning. In the bottom of the 11th, he earned the win, when Denny Walling singled in Phil Garner with the walk off run.

 In Game #3, it was a nightmare for Sambito. He came on in the 8th inning, with Houston down 3-1. The Dodgers knocked him around for three runs on four hits in 2/3's of an inning. It sent his ERA to 16.20 in the two games. The Dodgers won the series & eventually the World Series.

1982: Sambito began the 1982 season with four saves and a 0.71 ERA until he developed bone chips in his pitching elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery& missed the rest of the season as well as all of the 1983 season. 

1984: Joe made a slight comeback pitching in 32 games with a 3.02 ERA. He was released by the Astros at the start of the 1985 season.

Mets Career: On April 26th, 1985, he was given a shot by the New York Mets & inked a deal. While playing with the Mets he stayed with his mother who was living on Long Island about 20 miles from Shea Stadium. 

On April 28th, Joe made his Mets debut in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium, pitching one scoreless inning in relief of Calvin Schiraldi.

On May 1st, he made his second Mets appearance, going up against his former Astros teammates, allowing a hit while facing two batters in relief of Ron Darling in the 10-3 loss. 

He made three more May appearances finishing up a 2-0 loss to the Padres at Shea on May 20th.

On June 9th Sambito had his longest outing of the year, a three-inning relief effort where he allowed three runs on four hits. That season he only made eight appearances for the Mets getting no decisions.

His last outing took place in one of the worst losses in Mets history.  On June 11th, 1985, the Philadelphia Phillies scored 26 runs at Veterans Stadium beating the Mets 26-7. Sambito pitched three innings from the 5th through the 7th innings, allowing ten runs (eight of them earned) on nine hits, issuing five walks. 

He was sent down to AAA Tidewater but where he went 0-3 in 19 games with a 4.35 ERA. He was released by the Mets in August & signed with the Boston Red Sox in January 1986. 

Red Sox Career: He played winter ball in Venezuela & had a good Spring Training with Boston,
being very effective against left handers. He made the club & turned things around.

In Boston he got to be a teammate of another 1969 Met, the great Tom Seaver.

Quotes- Joe Sambito: "I think Tom Seaver is the guy that I am the gladdest I got a chance to play with a little bit & get to know. It was really interesting how he would sit in the clubhouse & start talking about pitching, and those guys would crowd around him hoping to get an earful."

On July 1st he saved a game in relief of Seaver at Fenway Park. He took over the closer role until Calvin Schiraldi won the job back. Sambito finished second on the AL Champs staff, with 12 saves, going 2-0 with a 4.84 ERA.

1986 Post Season-ALCS: Sambito appeared in two games of the ALCS against the California Angels, pitching two thirds of an inning combined, with no runs on a hit & a walk.

1986 World Series: In the 1986 World Series, he made two appearances facing his old Mets teammates. 

In Game #3 at Fenway Park, he allowed two hits & a run-on Ray Knights double, in the Mets 7-1 win.

In Game #7 he relieved Calvin Schiraldi in the 7th inning, after the Mets went ahead 5-3. He walked Mookie Wilson intentionally & then walked Wally Backman. 

He then gave up a sac fly to Keith Hernandez, which scored the Mets sixth & final run. 
After recording just 0.1 innings of work, his ERA was 27.00 in the Series. 

After the Pennant: He pitched one more season in Boston, going 2-6 in 47 games. 

Career Stats: In an eleven-season career, Sambito posted a 37-38 record with a 3.03 ERA , notching 84 saves in 461 games with 271 games finished. He struck out 489 & walked 195 in 629 innings.

Retirement: After baseball he became a player’s counselor and agent
representative. Some of his clients have included Jeff D'Amico, Ryan Klesko, Morgan Ensberg & Andy Pettitte.

Family: Joe has been married twice. His second wife Jennifer is an attorney. Together they have a daughter & a son. The couple resides in Southern California. 


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