Mar 24, 2016

Former Italian / American Mets All Star: Lee Mazzilli (1976-1981 / 1986-1989)

Lee Louis Mazzilli was born March 25, 1955, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn New York. His grandfather was born in Bari, Italy, located on the Adriatic Sea in the south western Puglia region of the country. He immigrated to New York & worked in a piano factory.  

Lee’s father Libero, became a welterweight boxer & lived in the same three room Brooklyn apartment until his passing in 2007.

As a child Lee not only played baseball but also won three straight national speed-skating championships. Mazzilli attended Lincoln High School in Coney Island, famous for such alumni as Mel Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, John Forsythe, Lou Gossett Jr., Buddy Rich, Arthur Miller, Leona Helmsley, as well as many other including the doo wop group; the Tokens of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” fame. One time Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa also attended the school.

 In 1973 after graduating, Mazzilli was chosen as the reigning NL Champion Mets first round draft pick, the #14 pick overall.

He began his career at A ball in 1974 batting .269 with 46 stolen bases & 11 HRs for the Anderson Mets in the Western Carolina League. In 1975 he was still at A ball & stole seven bases in a seven-inning game for the Visalia Mets in the California League. 

On the season he stole 49 bases while batting .281 with 13 HRs & 52 RBIs. In the bicentennial year of 1976 he was promoted to AA ball, where he soon hit .292 with 13 HRs & 43 RBIs at Jackson. He was so impressive & the Mets hungry for homegrown new talent, promoted him right up to the majors at the end of the season.

On September 7th, 1976, Lee Mazzilli debuted at Wrigley Field in Chicago, going 0-1 as a pinch hitter, in a 11-0 win against the Cubs. Mazzilli remembers; “I remember walking into that tiny locker room. I was in total awe of the players. Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Buddy (Harrelson). Joe Torre took me under his wing. He said, “You sit by me today at the end of the dugout.”

The next day, in his just second game, he hit a three run pinch hit HR off the Cubs Darold Knowles, quickly living up to the hype surrounding him. 

He was promoted as the home town star prospect ball player, the Mets future outfield star, complete with matinee idol looks for the ladies. The front office called him the next Willie Mays, due to his talent and his basket style catches, ala Mays. It would be a tough bill to live up to for the young man from Brooklyn. 

Two weeks after his debut on September 20th, he hit a two out, two run walk off HR, off the Pittsburgh Pirates relief ace Kent Tekulve, bringing a small ecstatic crowd at Shea to its feet. In 24 games he batted .195 with 2 HRs seven RBIs & a .323 on base %
  In his 1977 rookie year, Joe Frazier was the first Mets manager getting fired during the season. Then manager Joe Torre took over. They made Mazzilli the Mets everyday centerfielder right away. Although still a 21 year old, he had good speed and a good batting eye.

On Opening Day he got one hit, batting in the leadoff spot at Wrigley Field in Tom Seaves 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs. Mazzilli struggled his first month, finishing April batting .226 with just three RBIs. To start out May, he went on a ten game hit streak but then he fell off again finding himself batting .207 in early June.

He didn’t hit his first HR until June 2nd, it came in Montreal, a three run shot helping the Mets to a 7-4 victory over the Expos.

On June 7th he had three hits driving in three runs, helping Tom Seaver to one of his last wins as a New York Met, beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-0. On July 12th he doubled off the Cubs Rick Reuschel, scoring Mike Vail putting the Mets up 1-0. He tied up  the game with a single in the 7th, as the Mets went on to a 4-2 win.

On August 3rd, Mazzilli had a 14th inning, walk off base hit against Mike Garman to beat the NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 win. 

He learned to adapt to the big leagues during the year & by September he had his best month of the season.

Mazzilli had thirty hits during the month, driving in 17 runs while batting near.350. At the start of the month he drove in runs in five straight games & six of seven. He hit three HRs in the first two weeks of the month as well.

In the middle of the month he drove in runs in seven of ten games as well & had nine multi hit games on the year. On Sptember 27th, he had a four hit day against the Pittsburgh Pirates  in a 7-1 Mets win. That day he had two doubles driving in two runs as well. Overall on the season he played in 159 games batting .250 with 6 HRs, 24 doubles, three triples, 46 RBIs & 24 stolen bases. 

In the outfield he played the most games of anyone in centerfield in the National League (156 games) leading the league in put outs with 391. He posted the third best fielding % in center at .993% (fourth best of all outfielders) making nine assists (5th best in the N.L.).

In 1978 on Opening Day he had two hits, including a 6th inning double, scoring Steve Henderson with an insurance run for Jerry Koosman, in the Mets 3-1 win at Shea Stadium. The next day he hit a three run HR off Montreal's Rudy May, in the bottom of the 8th inning, tying the game. Ed Kranepool would win it with a pinch hit walk off two run HR in the bottom of the ninth. On April 30th, a fourth inning RBI double against the Cincinnati Reds would tur out to be the game winning run.

Mazzilli would get hot from the start of May through the first week of June. He hit safely in 26 of 31 games raising his average to .315 by June 5th. On May 18th he drew an intentional 9th inning walk, in a game against the Atlanta Braves.

He would end up scoring the winning run on Steve Hendersons walk off hit. The next night, he singled off former Met; Tug McGraw in the 8th inning, tying up the game, the Mets went on to win 4-3.  In that stretch he had seven extra base hits, 19 RBIs and a pair of four hit games.

In the Fourth of July double header against the Philadelphia Phillies,he hit HRs in both ends of the twin bill. In the first game Mazzilli's grand slam in the 8th inning were the only runs scored in the game, as Pat Zachary pitched a two hit 4-0 shutout.

Mazzilli homered in the next game & then came back to HR the next day as well. Three games later he hit another HR in a 7-0 Mets win against the Chicago Cubs.

In September he drove in runs in the first four games of the month. On September 3rd, he hit a pair of HRs in Los Angeles, driving in three runs in a 8-5 Mets win against the eventual NL Champion Dodgers. In that game he became the first Met to ever hit HRs from both sides of the plate.

Mazzilli finished the year leading the team in batting (.273) & slugging (.432%).

He played in 149 games, with 16 HRs (second to Willie Montanez's 17), 28 doubles, 61 RBIs, 5 triples, and 20 stolen bases (second to John Stearns).

By now he was the star of the bad team. The girls loved him, comparing him to other Italian / American stars of the day; John Travolta & Sylvester Stallone.

He would walk into the players parking lot in the right field section of Shea Stadium, & the girls would jump on the fence at him, seeking autographs, pictures & kisses. He would shyly oblige when possible & then get into his Cadillac driving off.

In 1979 he began the year with two hits & two runs scored in the Mets 10-6 opener win  at Wrigley Field. He came back the next day with his first HR driving in three runs with three hits in the Mets 9-4 win. He started out hitting safely in eight of the first nine games, batting .462 with 18 hits & 10 RBIs by mid April. He cooled off but was still batting .310 at the end of April. 

In May he went on another tear, he hit safely in 23 of 27 games with 14 multiple hit games. By the end of the month he was among the league leaders batting .352.

All Star: At the All Star break he was hitting .320 and represented the Mets in the All Star game in Seattle at the King Dome. Although he did not start the game, he ended up being the unsung hero of the 50th All Star game.

In the 8th inning he tied the game up with an opposite field solo HR off Cleveland’s Jim Kern. Then in the 9th inning he drew a walk off the cross town rivals pitcher, Ron Guidry. The walk came with the bases loaded & scored Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan in what would be the games winning run.Quite an exciting day for young Mazzilli & a much needed high light for Mets fans as well.

After the break he continued to hit well, On July 29th, Kevin Kobel & Ed Glynn combined for a two hit shut out of the Cubs in a rain shortened game at Shea. Mazzilli led the charge with two hits & drove in two of the Mets four runs.

On August 10th, Maz hit a three run 9th inning HR against the Expos David Palmer, bringing the Mets within a run of the Expos in 6-5 loss. On August 14th, he tied a Mets record scoring five runs in a game, having a big day with a HR, a triple & two walks. He enjoyed a 19 game hitting streak beginning the end of August lasting into mid September, where he raised his average from .298 to .317.

He finish the '79 season leading the last place team that fell one game short of losing 100 games (63-99), in hits with 181 (9th best in the NL) as well as batting average (.303) on base percentage (.395- 4th best in the N.L.) & tied for the team lead in RBIs (79). He finished with 96 walks (6th best in the league) 15 HRs, 34 doubles, 78 runs scored and 34 stolen bases.

He played the third most games in centerfield in the N.L. (143) made 12 assists (3rd in the league) posted a .990 fielding % (5th in the league) & made 368 put outs (5th in the league).

In 1980 he began to play more at first base with the arrival of Jerry Morales & then Mookie Wilson at the end of the season. In the month of April he hit .240 & only drove in a single run, but then had eleven RBIs for the month of May which got his bat going. On May 6th he had a four hit day in Cincinnati. 
On June 9th he hit & HR while driving in three runs with a three hit day in the Mets 9-4 win over Pittsburgh. It seemed he was contributing to all the Mets one run victories by driving a run at some point of the game.

His best month was July where he  started out the month hitting HRs in four straight games, three of which the Mets won. He hit safely in 25 of 29 games raising his average thirty points to .295 bringing his on base % near .400. He had hitting streaks of six, seven & eight games that month while hitting eleven HRs & driving in 26 runs.

On July 13th he hit two HRs in the first game of a double header at Shea Stadium leading to a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Cards.

In the second game he drove in two more runs as the Mets had a rare double header sweep. As the Mets went to Atlanta on a road trip, Mazzilli homered in the next two games, giving him a total of nine runs driven in over the four games.
 In August he kept his averae up at .290  with an eight game hit streak, seven multi hit games & four multi RBI games. In the final two months of the season he drove in 30 runs although his batting average dropped off a bit.

On September 14th he had a three hit, five RBI day at Wrigley Field, hitting a HR off Dick Tidrow while carrying the Mets to a 10-7 win. Later that week he had a four RBI day in Montreal including a three run HR off Scott Sanderson. On the down side of a good season, he began to struggle with back problems which would haunt him for the rest of his career.

The versatile Mazzilli now played 92 games at first base, making 13 errors (2nd most in the NL)while adjusting to the position. 

The Mets finished fifth that year (67-95) under manager Joe Torre. At the plate, Mazzilli led the team in most offensive categories once again. 

He led the team in HRs (16) doubles (31) stolen bases (41) RBIs (76) hits (162) runs scored (82) slugging (.431) games (152) & at bats (578). His 82 walks were 7th best in the NL as he posted a .370 on base %.

In 1981, the Mets Opened up at Wrigley Field in Chicago & Mazzilli started the year off with a solo HR off Rick Reuschel, leading the Mets to a 2-0 win. But he then went into a slump staying below .200 until late May. He started to hit a bit better driving in eight runs over a ten game span to begin June.
But that year, the players went on strike & baseball was halted for two months. The game resumed in August & the Mets won six of seven games, with Mazzilli driving in key runs in three of those games. He had a good September driving a dozen runs, having his best week September 7th - 13th where he had two three hit games & a six game hit streak. Overall in 1981 he played 95 games, but Mazzilli's back problems led him to a.228 average, with six HRs 14 doubles & 36 RBIs.

Due to the strike the season was split up in two parts with the Mets finishing fifth (17-34) & fourth (24-28), an overall fifth combined 41-62.

After the 1981 season, the Mets made a very unpopular trade at the time, sending Mazzzilli to the Texas Rangers for young pitching prospects Ron Darling & Walt Terrell. It turned out to be a good trade for the New York since Mazzilli never was a full time player again, mostly because of his back problems.
In Texas he played only 58 games spending six weeks on the disabled list, and then got traded to the A.L. New York team for Bucky Dent that August.

By 1983 he was in Pittsburgh and played with the Pirates for the next three and a half seasons, as a reserve outfielder, first baseman & pinch hitter.

In 1985 he led all NL pinch hitters with 72 plate appearances, batting .286 posting an on-base percentage of .437. In July of 1986 after 61 games he was batting .226 when the Pirates released him.

He was signed again by the New York Mets returning home to what was now the best team in baseball. A far distance from where they were when he left New York. On August 14th he received a warm hero’s welcome at Shea Stadium, when he came to bat as a pinch hitter. 

A week later he hit his first HR since returning to the Mets, it came in Philadelphia in a 8-4 Mets loss. Three days later he hit his first HR back at at Shea Stadium, this time against the Cardinals. In 39 games with the Mets he hit .276 with 16 hits, 12 walks, 2 HRs 3 doubles & 7 RBIs, posting a .417 on base %.

Post Season: In the NLCS against the Houston Astros he set a record with five pinch hit at bats, but only got one hit. That base hit came in Game #3 in the 5th inning, at Shea off Bob Knepper.

In the 1986 World Series he appeared in four games going 2-5. He was hitless in Games #2 & #3. His best World Series moments game in the final two games. 

In Game #6 Mazzilli led off the 8th inning with a pinch hit single off Boston's Calvin Schiraldi. He eventually scored the tying run of the game at that time, on Gary Carter's sac fly. He was in the hole, behind Howard Johnson, when Mookie Wilsons grounder went through Bill Buckner's leg.

In the 6th inning of Game #7 with the Mets down 3-0, he started the game tying rally with a pinch hit single off Bruce Hurst. Mazzilli would come around to score on Keith Hernandez big two run single, making it a 3-2 game. After being a young star on the last place Mets teams, Mazzilli basked in the glory of the Mets being World Champions, well deserved.

By 1987 Mazzilli had become the league’s best pinch hitter, tying for the league lead with 17 pinch hits. On a June 7th double header he got a start in the outfield & drove in three runs with a bases clearing double.

In the second game he hit a three run HR & drove in two more with a base hit, giving him a career best five RBI day. Overall he batted .306 in 124 at bats, 3 HRs 8 doubles & 24 RBIs.

Then in 1988 he dropped to a .147 average, as his career winded down. His last regular season game with the Mets was on July 22, 1989.

Post Season: He still saw action in the 1988 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, getting three plate appearances. In Game #4, he got a 12th inning, pinch hit base hit off Tim Leary. The Mets loaded the bases in the 5-4 game, but Darryl Strawberry & Kevin McReynolds both popped up to end the game. It was his last career Mets hit. In Game #7 he was hit by a pitch in the 9th inning & stole second in the 6-0 loss.

He was put on waivers and claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays, where he played just 28 games retiring at the end of the season.

In a 14 year career he hit .259 with 1068 hits 93 HRs, 191 doubles, 24 triples 642 walks 197 stolen bases & 460 RBIs, posting a .359 on base %. In the outfield he posted a .986 fielding % with 48 assists making 28 errors in 2009 chances.

In his ten year Mets career Mazzilli is sixth all time in stolen bases (152) tenth in walks (438) eleventh in Mets games played (979) twelfth in triples (22) fourteenth in hits (796) fifteenth in doubles (148) & seventeenth in RBIs (353). As a Met he hit 68 HRs batting .264 with a .359 on base %.

Retirement: After his playing days, he did some radio broadcasting to start his post playing career. A good friend, actor Dan Lauria, (the father in The Wonder Years) - suggested he try acting. Mazzilli took some classes & "The Italian Stallion" got the part of Tony & co-starred with actress Sharon Angela (who went on to The Sopranos fame) in the off-Broadway production of Tony n' Tina's Wedding (October 1992 - January 1993).

After that he went into the restaurant business in the mid nineties, as a partner in Lee Mazzillis Sports Café located in Manhattan at 70th St & Amsterdam Ave.

Managing/Coaching career: Mazzilli returned to baseball as coach under his old skipper Joe Torre with the A.L. New York cub (2000-2003).

He then was named manager of the Baltimore Orioles from 2004 to 2005. In 2004 his Orioles finished third 78-84. In 2005 the team had early success spending two months in first place before falling off to fourth place when Mazzilli was fired.

He returned to the Mets in 2007 as the lead studio analyst for Sports Net New York. He remained in that position for two years.

Honors: Maz was honored by the Brooklyn Cyclones on “Lee Mazzilli Italian Night” in 2007. A Mazzilli bobble head doll was issued to fans. Mazzilli was on hand for the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008 as well.

Quotes: “I got a lot of memories at Shea, so when they tear it down part of it’s being torn down with me.”

 Family: His son; LJ Mazzilli was drafted by the New York Mets in July 2013. 

LJ told "I couldn't be more proud to be his son and more proud of what he's accomplished in his career and for his family.The possibility of following in his footsteps would be amazing. It would be a dream come true."

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