Dec 11, 2015

1969 World Champion Mets Top Relief Pitcher Turned Medical Doctor: Ron Taylor (1967-1971)

Ronald Wesley Taylor was born December 13, 1937 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Taylor was originally signed as a teenager by the Cleveland Indians in 1956. He pitched in the minors but also chose to finish his studies at the University of Toronto where he earned an electrical engineering degree.

He began the 1962 season on the Indians staff & got the start in the second game of the season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. He pitched 11 shut outs innings matching zeroes with future Mets coach Bill Monboquette. In the 12th inning of the scoreless tie Carl Yastremski lead off with a triple.

Taylor ended up allowing a walk off grand slam to Caroll Hardy, taking a tough loss. It was the only time in history a game was won with a walk off grand slam in the 12th inning of a scoreless tie. By the end of May he was sent back down& went 12-4 at AAA Jacksonville, earning a big league call up the next season, this time for good.

That winter he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and became a top reliever in their pen saving 11 games (7th in the league) with a 9-7 record and a 2.34 ERA. He struck out 91 batters in 131 innings pitched. In 1964 he was going 8-4 with seven saves & a 4.62 ERA winning his first World Championship with the Cardinals.

Post Season: He appeared in two World Series games, not allowing any hits in 4.2 innings pitched earning the save in Game #4. With the Cards already down two games to one, a win in Game #4 was very important. Taylor shut the door & held a one run lead for four scoreless innings, it was the turning point of the Series.

In 1965 he was 2-1 with a save and an ERA creeping up near five, when on June 15th he was traded along with Mike Cuellar to the Houston Astros for Chuck Taylor and Hal Woodeshick. After saving four games in Houston’s new Astrodome he became a middle reliever for the 1966 season & not happy with his surrroundings.

In February of 1967 Taylor’s contract was purchased by the New York Mets, by the teams GM Bing Devine, whom Taylor had pitched for in St. Louis. In the off season Devine had called Taylor & asked if he could pitch; Taylor replied " get me out of here". In New York he would see a lot of action and his career was revitalized, as he became one of the league’s best relievers.
In those days the relief pitcher was just starting to become an important role.

Taylor would make made over 50 appearances in each of the next four seasons (1967-1970) and lead the team in saves each time. Taylor notched a save in his first Met game on April 13, 1967, although it was not an official stat at the time. He was 2-0 with three saves at the 1967 All Star break, and finished 4-6 with eight saves & a quality 2.34 ERA.

In early April, in just his third game, he gave up a HR to Pittsburgh's Manny Jimenez. But from there, he wouldn’t allow another HR until into the 1968 season, 92 innings pitched later. The next year in 1968 he recorded his first save at the end of April.

 He had a good month of June, recording four saves , while only allowing runs in two of nine games he pitched. On July 7th, he blew a save in Philadelphia, serving up a walk off three run HR to the Phillies Dick Allen. Taylor only blew two save opportunities, all year but his record fell to 1- 5.

He pitched well enough to set a Mets record at the time, with 13 saves, (5th most in the league) posting another good ERA (2.70) striking out 49 batters in 76 innings pitched.

In the off season he joined other major leaguers on a tour of hospital visits in Vietnam during the war effort. There he talked to doctors & later said he realized that he wanted to help people in this field in the future.

In 1969 Taylor didn’t earn his first save until mid May, but then from that point through the end of August he saved twelve games going 7-3 with a 2.39 ERA. On June 1st he picked up a win, when Ron Swoboda drew a bases loaded walk off Joe Gibbon to beat the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Two days later in his next outing, after pitching two scoreless innings, he got another win when Wayne Garrett hit a walk off single to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. He followed that week up with three more saves through June 10th.

Trivia: During a regular season game, Taylor got a visit to the mound from Gil Hodges against the eventual Mets NLCS opponent the Atlanta Braves. With Hank Aaron up to bat, Hodges told Taylor to put him on & face Orlando Cepeda. Taylor said “No, I want Aaron”. Hodges was surprised at his answer & angry, but he let him face Aaron & said “You better get him out”. He got Aaron to ground out to end the inning.

He closed out the year with a September 28th save in Philadelphia & an October 1st win at Wrigley Field, after Art Shamsky's 11th inning RBI base hit beating the Chicago Cubs. Overall Taylor was Gil Hodges best pitcher out of the bullpen that year making 59 appearances (8th most in the NL), leading the team with 13 saves (7th best in the NL) Finishing 44 games (4th in the league), going 9-4 with a 2.72 ERA. He struck out 42 batters walking only 24 in 76 innings pitched.

Post Season: In the 1969 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, Taylor pitched in two games, starting out by earning the save in relief of Tom Seaver in Game #1. Historically, he earned the first save in NLCS history.

The next day he got the win in Game #2 relieving Jerry Koosman in the fifth inning. He pitched 1.1 innings allowing no runs on one hit, and setting up for Tug McGraw to close it out.

Overall he struck out four Braves, allowing no runs on three hits in 3.1 innings pitched. Taylor made history by being the only Canadian to ever get credit with a win in a League Championship Series game.

In the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Taylor saw action in the first two Series games at Baltimore. He pitched the last two innings of Game #1, allowing no runs, giving up two hits and striking out three of Orioles.

In Game #2 he relieved Jerry Koosman in the 9th inning with two Orioles runners on base representing the tying & winning runs. He got Brooks Robinson to ground out securing the two hit shutout, evening the Series at one game apiece.

He wasn’t needed again in the Series, as Nolan Ryan was the only pitcher to make another relief appearance. Overall Taylor posted two saves with a 1-0 record in the ‘69 post season. After pitching 3.1 hitless innings in the 1969 Series, he bested his career World Series streak to seven hitless innings, striking out nine batters in ten innings.

After the Series during the ticker tape parade down Broadway, Taylor couldn't help think this was the same path taken by Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower & John Kennedy.

After the Miracle season of ’69, he would again lead the 1970 Mets in appearances (57) games finished (40 which was 8th best in the league) and saves (13) going 5-4 with a 3.93 ERA. On Opening Day he was the winning pitcher in Pittsburgh after Donn Clendenon won the game with a top of the 11th inning RBI single. He suffered two losses at the end of the month, but rebounded & already had seven saves by June 1st. Although he was ninth in the league in saves (13) he also had six blown opportunities & had an ERA near four.

By 1971 Tug McGraw was emerging as the premier Mets reliever as Taylor’s career began winding down at age 33. That season he gave up the first upper deck HR at the new Three Rivers Stadium, served up to Willie Stargell. 1971 would be his last year at Shea, going 2-2 with only two saves, and a 3.65 ERA, in 45 appearances. His Mets record in 269 games is 21-21 with 28 saves & a 3.04 ERA .

His contract was sold to the Montreal Expos in October of 1971, but he was soon released, never getting to play for his native Canada. In May he got picked up by the San Diego Padres where he ended his career after only four games in 1972 at age 34.

Overall Taylor was 45-43 with 71 saves, 464 strike outs 209 walks in 800 innings and a 3.93 ERA in 491 games over 11 seasons.

Retirement: During the Vietnam War Taylor would tour field hospitals & be inspired to make a difference. After his baseball career, the Toronto native returned to the University of Toronto & met with the dean to try to earn a degree. When he saw his grades from 1961 he was amazed & said if you can still get these kinds of marks your in. Taylor got into his studies, using a letter of recommendation from Mets General Manager M. Donald Grant & he was back in college. 

He remebers how the young students were amazed that this middle aged guy was their classmate. Five years later in 1977, he graduated from medical school and became Doctor Ron Taylor. He eventually became the Toronto Blue Jays team physician in 1979 & won two more World Series (1992 & 1993) as the teams Doctor. He is the only former MLB player to return to baseball as a team doctor.

Taylor still keeps very busy, into his seventies, he just retired in 2015 at his family practice in North Toronto. He was also the head of a Sports Medicine Clinic he helped develop some 30 years ago in Toronto. He was also the medical director for the Toronto Blue Jays, overseeing a team of sports specialists.

In 2015 a documentary was made about him called "Ron Taylor: Dr. Baseball"

Taylor was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. He has also been honored for his work in medicine being elected to the Order of Ontario.

In 2009 he was on hand for the Mets 40th anniversary of the 1969 Championship at Citi Field & Long Island baseball card show.

Family: Ron’s son Drew Taylor pitched College baseball for Georgia Tech. & Michigan. He was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2006.

Quotes: "Doubleheader tomorrow, barring nuclear holocaust." - Mets Pitcher Ron Taylor, 1969

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