Dec 13, 2015

Mid Sixties Mets Outfielder: Joe Christopher (1963-1965)

Joseph O’ Neil Christopher was born on December 13, 1935 technically being the first MLB player born in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The speedy five foot ten, outfielder was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. He would hit over .300 three straight years in the minor leagues at the AAA level with Salt Lake & Columbus. Christopher made his MLB debut in 1959 in a game where Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix pitched a 12 inning perfect game. In 15 games that year he went hitless in twelve at bats.

He became a reserve outfielder behind Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon & Bob Skinner on the 1960 World Champion Pirates team. On September 27th he had a big five hit day, in a 16 inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds. He only hit .232 in 50 games on the year, & scored two runs in the World Series as a pinch runner. He hit .263 the next season before getting picked up by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft as the tenth pick overall.

He began the Mets inaugural season at AAA Syracuse playing in 12 games batting .301 with 6 HRs, the Mets in need of offense brought him up right away. On May 21st in his Mets debut at the Houston Astrodome, where he got his first career hit a double. The next week he batted leadoff for the first time and got three hits against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Polo Grounds.

He had a good September hitting safely in 17 of 21 games seven multi hit games, driving in 15 runs in the month. On September 2nd, he singled with the bases loaded in the top of the 9th inning, breaking a 2-2 tie leading the Mets to a 4-3 win. It was just their 35th win up to that point. He drove in two more runs the next day, although the team lost to the Pirates 5-4. From September 15th through the 20th he had three multi RBI games, with six runs driven in.

In the Mets inaugural season he played in 119 games in the outfield, batting .244 hitting 6 HRs with 10 doubles and 32 RBIs The quick footed Christopher stole 11 bases in 14 attempts, and recorded two triples.

Christopher began the 1963 season at AAA Buffalo, hitting .288 with 12 stolen bases 19 HRs 59 RBIs & a .403 on base % in 85 games played. For the Mets he arrived in mid July & would play in 64 games batting .221 with one HR & 8 RBIs.

On July 17th he hit an exciting two run HR, off the Giants Gaylord Perry at the Polo Grounds, in the 6th inning putting the Mets ahead. The Giants tied it up but New York won it with a Joe Hicks walk off HR against Don Larsen. Games between the Mets & Giants were big in those days, since the team had left for San Francisco just six years prior.

It was Christopher's only HR all season. On September 8th he had a big four hit day, in Cincinnati including an RBI triple in the Mets 3-2 win over the Reds.

In the opening year of Shea Stadium in 1964 Christopher led the Mets in almost all offensive categories except HRs. He was tops on the club in hits (163) doubles (26) RBIs (76) walks (48) runs (78) and tied for the lead in stolen bases with six. His eight triples which were also eighth most in the league.

Christopher was the fourth Met in history to hit over .300 and the first to have done it with more than 500 at bats (543). Christopher also was a good pinch hitter off the Mets bench, as his six pinch hits were 10th in the NL. He also contributed with six sacrifice hits which were 7th most in the league. He enjoyed 13 games were had three or more hits during the season, including two 11 game hit streaks.

He began with an Opening Day HR in Philadelphia against the Phillies & batted .375 in the month of April. On May 8th his 9th inning single off St. Louis' Bobby Shantz resulted in a walk off win for New York, the first ever such win at Shea Stadium for the Mets.

In May at the end of the month, he had two different three RBI games against the San Francisco Giants. On May 31st he hit a two run double in the first inning & then added an RBI sac fly in the 8th to finalize the 6-3 Mets win. In the four game series which the Mets split, he drove in seven runs with seven hits.

In June he drove in 19 runs and remained at .300 midway through the month. On June 20th in New York, he hit two HRs in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies the Mets won 7-3, beating pitcher Dallas Green. On June 26th, Christopher hit a grand slam HR off the Milwaukee Braves Bill Sadowski, for an 8-4 Mets win.

That week he drove in runs five straight games, seven of nine. On July 12th he had another walk off hit, this time a double off Joey Jay of the Cincinnati Reds. It was the only run scored in Galen Cisco's six hit shut out win. On July 19th in the first of two in St. Louis, he & Frank Thomas drove in the only runs of a 2-1 Jack Fisher win. 

In August he hit HRs in back to back games early on in the month. On August 18, he drove in five runs with a HR as he had the biggest day of his career. He collected four hits with a pair of triples, the HR  and a double against his old Pirates team mates.

In September he broke up a no hit bid of Cincinnati Reds pitcher; Jim Maloney in a game at Shea Stadium. Christopher hit well enough to finish with a .300 average. Christopher was one of the few bright spots on a dismal 1964 team that lost 109 games.

In 1965 he began the year as the teams left fielder & fifth place hitter. He hit a HR in the second game of the year but then didn't hit another for a month and a half. He struggled most of the season having his best stretch when he hit safely in 16 of 17 games at the end of August into September.

Christopher always seemed to thrive against the Giants, on April 23rd he helped a four run Mets come back rally in the 9th inning with an RBI hit. The Mets won it 9-8 in the 11th inning. After driving in five runs in the first two days of June, he only drove in four more runs in the next two months.

On September 1st in the first game of a double header at the Astrodome, he tripled home two runs, in the top of the 8th inning off future Mets relief ace Ron Taylor. The Mets went on to a 4-1 victory. On the year his numbers fell off dropping to a .249 batting average, with 109 hits, 5 HRs & 40 RBIs while playing in 148 games. He tied for the team lead with six pinch hits and four stolen bases.

In November of 1965 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Eddie Bressoud. Christopher batted .265 with 28 HRs 22 stolen bases & 156 RBIs in his four year Mets career. He only played in 12 games in Boston, batting .077 before finishing his playing career with two more seasons in the minors.

In his eight year MLB career batted .260 with 434 hits, 68 doubles, 17 triples, 29 HRs 173 RBIs 29 stolen bases & a .329 on base % in 638 games.

Retirement: After his playing days Christopher ran a baseball school in the Virgin Islands, and then became a free lance artist in the Baltimore area.

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