Feb 27, 2015

One of The Players the Mets Got In the Tom Seaver Trade: Dan Norman (1977-1981)

Daniel Edmund Norman was born on January 11, 1955 in Los Angeles, California. The six foot two switch hitting outfielder was drafted in the 15th round of the 1974 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds.

He played through the Reds system next to outfielder Steve Henderson s getting promoted together through the minor leagues. In 1976 he hit 17 HRs batting .273 at AA Trois-Rivieres getting promoted to AAA Indianapolis the following year.

On June 15, 1977 he was traded along with his pal, Steve Henderson as well as Doug Flynn & Pat Zachary to the Mets for Tom Seaver in the famous “Midnight Massacre” trade. According to former WFAN Radio talk show host, Jody Macdonald; he thought Norman was going to be a star player. He told his dad, Joe MacDonald who was the Mets GM at the time to make sure he got Norman in the trade.

Coming to New York Henderson got promoted right away to the Mets team while Norman was sent down to AAA Tidewater. There he batted .264 with 10 HRs & a .344 on base % in 80 games. He got a late September call up, debuting in Pittsburgh against the Pirates on September 27th as a pinch hitter. He went 4-16 with four walks on the season.

He was back at AAA Tidewater in 1978 leading the team in HRs (18) RBIs (66) & batting (.281) getting another September cup of coffee. In his second game he hit his first MLB HR at Olympic Stadium against the Montreal Expos.

Two days later he had a career day, going 2-4 with a pair of HRs and three RBIs leading the Mets to a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium. He closed out the season driving in runs in his last two games. On the year he hit .266 with 4 HRs one triple 7 runs scored& 10 RBIs.
In 1979 he was back at AAA Tidewater getting up to the Mets big league squad in July. He saw action in 44 games batting .245 with 3 HRs 11 RBIs. In 1980 he was on the club for the entire season, & manager Joe Torre used him mostly as a pinch hitter. This probably wasn't a good idea for a 25 year old kid, he played in 69 games overall, (19 in the outfield) but his average fell to.185 with just two HRs & 9 RBIs.

In May of 1981 he was playing at Tidewater when he was part of another big Mets trade. This time he was sent to the Montreal Expos along with Jeff Reardon for outfielder Ellis Valentine.

He spent 1981 in the minors & in 1982 played in only 53 games for the Expos batting .212 before his ending his MLB career. He would play in the minors through 1986 spending 12 years there playing in 1183 games. In five seasons he hit .227 with 79 hits 11 HRs 8 doubles 3 triples 29 runs scored 37 RBIs & a .287 on base %.

Retirement: After his playing days Norman became a manager in the Florida State League (1987) the Arizona League (1995/2000) & the Canadian baseball League (2003).

Feb 25, 2015

Short Time Late Sixties Mets Pitcher: Al Schmelz (1967)

Alan George Schmelz was born on November 12th 1943 in Whittier California. The six foot four right hander attended Arizona State University. There he was a team mate of futue Major leaguers Sal Bando, Rick Monday & future Mets catcher Duffy Dyer. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1966.

In his first season at pro ball he went 12-0 in the New York Penn League but never matched that success again. After going 8-12 with a 2.60 ERA at A ball Williamsport he was brought up as a September call up.

Smeltz debuted on September 7th 1967 at Shea Stadium pitching in relief of Jerry Hinsley. He served up a solo HR to Julian Javier & finished off a 9-2 loss to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He earned no decision. On September 24th he made his final MLB appearance pitching in relief of Don Cardwell in a 4-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

He would pitch in the minor leagues through the 1969 season where finshed up at A ball Pompano Beach & then AA Memphis in the Mets organization. He also spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates AA York team that season as well.

Old Time Bronx Born New York Giants Player Who Was Banned From Baseball: Heinie Zimmerman (1916-1919)

Henry Zimmerman was born February 9th, 1887 in the Bronx, New York. By the age of 14 he was working as a plumbers assistant to help his family earn money. He became a star player on the sand lots of New York City, before signing a contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1906. 

Zimmerman became known as a dim witted eccentric in the baseball world & was also known for erratic play, as well as his erratic behavior. Once during a five game stretch in 1913, the umpire hating Zimmerman, was thrown out of three different games. He was also known as "the Great Zim". 

 After four years as a reserve infielder, he became the Cubs main second baseman in 1911, taking over for the injured Johnny Evers. Zimmerman made it to two World Series with the Cubs, winning the 1907 Series over the Detroit Tigers. In 1910 he got into five games, driving in two runs in the loss to the Philadelphia A's. He hit 17 triples (4th in the league) batted .307 (9th in the league) & drove in 85 runs (9th in the league). 

In 1912 he moved over as the third baseman & had a big year, coming in sixth in the MVP voting. He originally won the NL Triple Crown, but through the years, it was discovered his RBI totals were wrong & he came in third in the league. He won the batting title, hitting .372, led the league in hits (207) doubles (41) HRs (14) & slugging (.571%). 

Zimmerman spent ten seasons with the Cubs, hitting over .300 once more (1913) & won an RBI title that remained intact through history in 1916, driving in 83 runs. During those Cub years he was in the top ten in the league's batting race four times. He would also be in the top ten in doubles, triples, HRs, RBIs, hits & total bases many times. In 1916 he was traded to the New York Giants for Larry Doyle, Herb Hunter & Merwin Jacobson. He has been voted #98 on the All Time 100 Greatest Cubs list. 

His career in New York began well, in 40 games of the 1916 season he batted .272 with 19 RBIs. In 1917 he won another RBI title, driving in 102 runs. He batted .297 (7th best in the NL) with five HRs 22 doubles, nine triples & 174 hits (4th in the NL). At third base he continued his fine fielding, leading the league in assists (349), was second in games played (149) & fourth in fielding (.947) as well as put outs (148). That year the Giants won the NL Pennant & played the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. 

Post Season: Zimmerman is infamous for a rundown play in the final game decisive Game #6. The game was scoreless in the 4th inning, when Chicago's Eddie Collins got caught in a run down between third & home plate. The catcher Bill Rariden, ran up the line starting the run down play. Unfortunately neither the pitcher (Rube Benton) nor the first baseman (Walter Holke) went to cover the plate. 
 Zimmerman chased Collins to the plate with his arm motioning to throw, but no one was covering the plate to throw to. Collins scored what turned out to be the game & series' winning run. Zimmerman was blamed for losing the game for years, but even Giants manager John McGraw blamed Benton & Holke who made the mental error not covering home. 

Years later it was said that Zim commented on the play, saying " who the hell was I suppose to throw to, the umpire Bill Klem?" Others say, a New York sports writer made up the quote. Overall in the World Series, Zim batted just .120 with a triple going 3-25. 

He played for the Giants for two more years, batting career low .255 in 1919. 

Drama: That same year- 1919, Zimmerman along with his friend, Hal Chase was banned from baseball for attempting to fix games. This all came down during the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. Giants Manager John McGraw testified in court to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis & both were indicted for bribery.

The two denied the accusations but based on past corruption, they were banned from the game. The Giants had previously released Zim, mostly due to the events of the 1917 World Series. 

 In his 13 year career he batted .295 with 58 HRs 275 doubles 105 triples (143rd all time) 695 runs scored 175 stolen bases 432 RBIs & a .331 on base % in 1456 games played. 

At second base he played 945 games, at third base he played 327 games, where he made 231 errors (59th most all time at the position). At third he is in the top 100 all time in assists & put outs. He also played at short (63 games) first base (53 games) & in the outfield (13 games).

Feb 16, 2015

Former Italian / American Player of the Day: Rob Picciolo (1977-1985)

Robert Michael Picciolo was born on February 4, 1953, in Santa Monica, California. The middle infielder was a star player at Pepperdine University getting drafted in the first round, (4th pick overall) in 1975 by the Oakland A’s.

He was known for his fine glove work more than his weak hitting or low on base percentages. Picciolo never posted an on base percentage above .290 & never drew double figures in walks in his career.

By 1977 all the Oakland A’s from the World Series Dynasty years of the early seventies were gone. After a second place finish in 1976, the A’s had fallen to a seventh place finish by 1977, Picciolo was brought up to the A’s as their starting shortstop to replace the departed Bert Campaneris.

In his rookie year, Picciolo batted just .200 with 2 HRs & 22 RBIs as the teams main shortstop playing in 148 games. He remained in Oakland for parts of six seasons, playing four of those as the A’s main shortstop.

He had his best season in the strike shortened 1981 season, when he batted .268 as the A’s got into the post season finishing first in the first half of the season & second after the strike. That season he made just five errors in 261 chances posting a .981% & turning over 30 double plays at short.

Post Season: In the ALDS he played just in Game #2 going 1-3 (.333) as manager Billy Martin went with veteran Fred Stanley (the chicken) in the other two games.

During the next season he was traded to Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Mike Warren & a minor leaguer. There he served as Robin Yount’s back up getting to another World Series although he did not play in any games.

Picciolo spent three more seasons in the majors playing with the California Angels & finishing his playing career back in Oakland in 1985.

In his nine year playing career Picciolo batted .234 with 17 HRs 109 RBIs 56 doubles & just 25 walks in 1628 at bats for a .246 on base %.

After his playing days, he got a manager’s job with the Spokane Indians in the minor leagues. In 1990 he became a coach with the San Diego Padres & remained there for 16 seasons, the longest tenure of any Padre coach in the teams history.

In 2006 he became a roving instructor for the Los Angeles Angels. In 2011 he was been named the teams bench coach under Mike Scioscia but was fired in October 2013 after three seasons.

Feb 15, 2015

Late Seventies Mets Pinch Runner / Infielder: Sergio Ferrer (1978-1979)

Sergio (Marrero) Ferrer was born on January 29, 1951 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. The five foot seven middle infielder was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970.

He was then drafted away Rule V, by the Minnesota Twins in December 1973.

He debut in Minnesota at the start of the 1974 season behind regular short stop Danny Thompson. That year he hit a career best .281 in 24 games before being sent back to AAA in May.

He would make the team out of Spring Training again in 1975 & play 32 more games. He hit.247 & drove in his first two career runs but was back in the minors by June.

Ferrer would spend the next two seasons in the minors getting traded first to the Philadelphia Phillies & then the AL New York club.
He played in their organizations before coming over to the New York Mets for Roy Staiger in December 1977. He was the first played to don the uniform #3 after Bud Harrelson had worn it since the mid sixties.

Ferrer drove in 22 runs batting .241 at AAA Tidewater when he was brought up in late April of 1978. The quick footed Ferrer, was used as a pinch runner or late inning defensive replacement in 37 games, batting just .212 in 33 at bats with one stolen base.

In 1979 he began the year back at AAA Tidewater, but rejoined the Mets that June through the rest of the season. He had seven at bats going hitless with three strikeouts, seeing action in 32 games.

He never got back to the major leagues after that, batting just .242 with 43 hits & three RBIs lifetime in a four year career.

Ferrer played in the minors through the 1981 season, and later appeared in the short lived Senior Professional League in 1989.

Feb 14, 2015

Short Time Early Nineties Mets Infielder: Jeff Gardner (1991)

Jeffrey Scott Gardner was born February 4th,1964 in Newport Beach, California. The five foot eleven left hand hitting infielder, threw right handed & was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1984.

 Gardner spent seven years in the minor leagues before ever reaching the majors. Gardner was the AAA Tidewater Tides second baseman from 1989 through 1991, under managers Mike Cubbage & Steve Swisher. He was scouted as having a good eye to draw walks & rarely striking out.After batting a minor league best .292 since his first year in pro ball, he was brought up to the Mets squad for a September 1991 call up.

On September 10th, 1991 he got the start at short stop as Kevin Elster got a day of rest. In that game the Mets Pete Shourek, beat the Montreal Expos 9-0. Gardner got his first career hit, a base hit off Mark Gardner, while drawing two walks. He hit safely in five straight games, then had just one other hit in his last eight games. Gardner saw action in 13 games as a New York Met going 6-37 (.162) with no extra base hits & one RBI.

That winter he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Steve Rosenberg who never played a game for the Mets at the big league level. Gardner only played in 15 games that year but in 1993 became the Padres main second baseman playing in 133 games (4th most in the NL) posting a .983 fielding %. He hit .262 with seven triples, 21 doubles. one HR & 24 RBIs.

At the end of the year he was released & got signed by the Montreal Expos where he played 18 games in 1994. He played in the minor leagues through 1995 before leaving baseball. In his career he played 186 games batting .246 with one HR 21 doubles 8 triples 53 walks & a .319 on base %.

Retirement: After his pitching days he became manager in the San Diego Padre system, then became an advanced scout in the early 2000's.

Feb 12, 2015

New York Mets Hitting Coach: Dave Hudgens (2011-2014)

David Mark Hudgens was born on December 5, 1956 in Oroville, California. Hudgens was a star athlete in high school, first getting picked as the New York Mets number one pick in 1975 & then the Milwaukee Brewers 18th round pick in 1977, but did not sign either time.

The left hand hitting outfielder chose to attend the great baseball school of Arizona State University, where he appeared in two College World Series with the Sun Devils. In four years at ASU he hit .313 with 16 HRs & 135 RBIs. Eventually he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1979 as an amateur free agent. He hit .291 with 26 HRs & 86 RBIs in 127 games at A ball Modesto in his first season. He was promoted to AA Chattanooga in 1980 but was back in A ball in 1981.

By 1983 he reached AAA Tacoma hitting 21 HRs with 72 RBIs, getting a big league September call up. He debuted on September 4th, 1983 going 0-1 as a pinch hitter. He played six games, getting his only hit on September 25th in a 8-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was his only season as a player in the major leagues.

After spending 1984 in the minors, he got an offer to run Oakland Class A affiliate; Pocatello in the Pioneer League. He took the job, ending his playing days. He then led A ball Medford, to the Finals in 1988, in the Northwest League. He even spent a year outside of baseball selling real estate.

He rejoined Oakland in 1996 as the Alderson on base percentage regime was about to begin & the so called MoneyBall era by the Bay. He served as the Assistant Director of Player Development for Oakland from 1996-1998 and from 2000-2002. In 1999 he was the second place A's hitting coach, under Art Howe, bringing the team to a .355 on base % (fourth best in the league) while batting just .259 (13th in the league).

He was back as A's hitting instructor in 2003 under Ken Macha, as the A's won the West but lost the ALDS to the Boston Red Sox. The A's finished second the next two years but despite winning 88 games or more, did not make the playoffs. Both years they improved to fifth in the league in on base %.

From there he went to the Cleveland Indians organization & managed in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues through 2011. Hudgens has been a steady disciple of Sandy Alderson & his on base percentage theories. When Alderson was named the New York Mets G.M. Hudgens was hired & got the job as Mets hitting instructor under Manager Terry Collins.

His philosophy is simple, "Hunt your pitch. We want to do damage in the middle of the plate. If he doesn't give you your pitch? We're walking to first base.". Runners on base leads to runs being scored & that's how games are won offensively.

In his first year the Mets went from 14th in the league in on base % to second. The team had a good first half of 2012 but fell apart in all categories in the second half & the hitting stats dropped off drastically. The Mets finished with a .249 average (10th in the NL) with a .316 on base % (11th in the NL).

In 2013 the club finished fourth, falling to 14th in batting (.237) & 12th in on base % (.306%). Players like Marlon Byrd who had an outstanding comeback year, credited Hudgens for his success.

In 2014 after Hudgens was fired into the second month of the season. His patient style of hitting had long been criticized by many including Keith Hernandez in the broadcast booth. Hudgens blamed Hernandez & Team ownership for his dismissal afterwards. Hudgens claimed he had a good relationship with the players & G.M. Sandy Alderson. The two go back to their years in Oakland together.

Hudgens was hired as the Houston Astros hitting coach for 2015 under new team manager A.J. Hinch. 

Trivia: Hudgens has a DVD instructional hitting series set called Hitting for Excellence, hitting.com.

Feb 6, 2015

Former Mets Outfielder: Alex Escobar (2001)

Alexander Jose Escobar was born on September 6th, 1978 in Carabobo, Venezuela. The six foot one right hand hitting outfielder was signed out of high school by the New York Mets in 1995.

 In 1996 he hit .360 in the Rookie League and then stole 49 bases batting .310 with 27 HRs at A ball Capital City two years later. As the Mets won the National League pennant in 2000 Escobar was showing promise as an outfielder of the future at AA ball, getting named to the Baseball America All Star team.

By 2001 he was at AAA Norfolk, hitting 12 HRs 52 RBIs & batting .267 and got a call up in the early part of the season. Escobar debuted on May 8th playing centerfield & batting seventh at Coors Field in Colorado. In the 6th inning he singled scoring Todd Pratt with his first hit & RBI. Escobar stayed on the roster until the end of June batting .216. He returned in September playing the first game after the September 11th attacks, in Pittsburgh appearing as a pinch runner.

On October 5th he had his biggest day as a Met, he hit a pair of HRs at Shea Stadium in a game against the Montreal Expos. He homered in the 7th inning off Mike Thurman & then hit a three run shot off Guillermo Mota in the next inning. The Mets came up short in the game 8-6 with Escobar driving in five of the runs. In 18 games in New York he batted .200 with 3 HRs & 8 RBIs.

At the end of the season he was involved in the Roberto Alomar deal going to Cleveland with Matt Lawton & Jerrod Riggan. He missed all of 2002 with a torn ACL & returned as reserve player in Cleveland the next two years.

In 2005 he was injured again missing another full season. In 2006 Escobar played in 33 games for the Washington Nationals batting .356 (31-87) with a .394 on base %, 4 HRs & 18 RBIs. In his four year career he batted .258 with 13 HRs 14 doubles a .328 on base % & 52 RBIs in 125 games. Escobar played eleven seasons in the minors batting .277 with 96 HRs & 387 RBIs finishing up in 2008.