Rusty Tillman: Short Time Met Who Went Homeless & Turned Things Around (1982)

Kerry Jerome Tillman, known as Rusty; was born on August 29, 1960 in Jacksonville, Florida. The six foot right hand hitting outfielder, attended Florida College & was the first player out of the school to make it to the big leagues. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the tenth round of the 1979 draft.

He began playing in the Mets organization in 1979 in the Northwest & New York Penn. Leagues. In 1980 he hit .316 at A Ball Lynchburg, getting to AA Jackson in 1981 where he hit .278. 

In 1982 he reached AAA Tidewater playing for manager Jack Aker, with teammates Ron Darling, Walt Terrell, Bruce Bochy, Mike Fitzgerald, Mike Cubbage & Jose Oquendo. In 108 games with the Tides, Tillman hit .322 second on the club to veteran Gil Flores.

On June 6th, he got called up & made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter. It came in a 6-3 Mets win over the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium. His next three games would be exciting, as he secured his place in Mets history as he scored either the winning runs, or insurance runs in each of those games. 

On June 9th he had his first big Mets moment, when he came in as a pinch runner for Dave Kingman in the 9th inning. The Mets were down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, when George Foster singled scoring Bob Bailor to tie the game. Tillman advanced to third base & scored the game's winning run on a Hubie Brooks Fielder's Choice off reliever Kent Tekulve.

A week later on June 18th, the Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was in the first game of a doubleheader at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Mets, Elis Valentine singled with the bases loaded, bringing the Mets to within a run 3-2. 

Rusty Tillman came in to pinch run for Valentine. George Foster then tied the game with a base hit. Mike Jorgensen followed with a walk. After Dave Kingman popped out, Wally Backman singled to right field scoring Jorgensen & Tillman with the games winning runs 5-3. 

Two nights later, the Mets & Cards were tied 3-3 in St. Louis in the tenth inning. George Foster led off the inning with a base hit off Bruce Sutter & Tillman came in to pinch run. John Stearns followed with a triple scoring Joel Youngblood & Tillman putting New York up 5-4. 

The Cards scored one off Jesse Orosco in the bottom of the inning, but Tillman's insurance run proved to be the game winner.

Tillman was sent back to AAA Tidewater, returning to the Mets in September. He would get only one hit in 12 at bats in the month, ending the season at .154 (2-13).

In 1983 he entered the year positive, playing under Davey Johnson at AAA Tidewater. But his average fell off to .255 with 8 HRs 63 RBIs, as he was overshadowed by young star Daryl Strawberry (.333 average) & sluggers Clint Hurdle (22 HRs / 105 RBIs) & Gary Rajsich (28 HRs / 83 RBIs).
In 1984 he only played in 44 games & his average fell off to a poor .219. 

By Spring Training 1985 he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Rick Lancellotti, who would never play as a Met at the big league level. 

 Tillman would eventually get to the Oakland Athletics (1986) playing 22 games batting .256 & hitting his first career HR, coming off Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

Steroid Drama: It was during that season that Tillman claims he smuggled steroids in from Mexico for team mate Jose Canseco. He said he took charter flights back to the U.S & got away with it, because no one was checking a big league ball players bags back then. When supplies ran low he would have a friend meet him at the border & he would bring the steroids back to the clubhouse for Canseco & other players.

Two years later he hit his only other HR, it came with the San Francisco Giants (1988) his only hit
of the year, as he appeared in just four games. He finished his playing career in the minors the next season. He later claimed that he may have been blackballed due to his steroid running.

Retirement & Hardships: Tillman had a rough life after baseball; steroids, drug use & other bad choices led him to being homeless. He was living in a tent in the woods in the Jacksonville area in the mid 2000's. 

According to a 2008 article in the Florida Union Times, he was selling his blood plasma to buy his only luxuries: cell phone minutes, Copenhagen snuff and Sonic banana smoothies.

In his tent he had a television which he ran on a car battery & rode a bicycle that a pastor in a recreation center had given him. He had a daughter with his ex-girlfriend & was allowed to see her only to tuck her in at night. After that he went back to the woods. 

The article ended with him taking a job with an old friend as a plumbers assistant & coaching baseball at his old high school.

Tillman has turned his life around, he has a steady job & a roof over his head.


Popular posts from this blog

Remembering Bobby Ojeda's Tragic Boating Accident (1993)

Remembering Vixen Founder / Guitarist; Jan Kuehnemund (1961-2013)

Remembering Mets History: (1977) The Felix Millan / Ed Ott Brawl In Pittsburgh

Fictional Mets Infielder Chico Escuela ( of SNL) Visits Mets Spring Training (1979)

The 1970's Oakland A's Ball Girls- (MLB's First)