Mar 28, 2016

Late Seventies Mets First Baseman: "The Hot Dog" Willie Montanez (1978-1979)

Guillermo Montañez Naranjo was born on April 1, 1948 in Catano, Puerto Rico. The six foot left-hand hitting outfielder / first baseman who would originally get signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965 at age 18.

Montanez would get drafted (Rule V) by the Los Angeles Angels in 1966 & making his MLB debut on Opening Day as a pinch runner. He would play in eight games before getting sent to back to the Cardinals. Montanez played the next three seasons in the minors & then was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies as a player to be named later in the Curt Flood trade. Flood had originally refused to report.

Montanez had his best minor league season in 1970 at AAA Eugene, in the Pacific Coast League hitting 16 HRs with 80 RBIs.

He became known as “The Hot Dog” with a comedic style in which he played the game. After he hit a HR, he would slowly strut around the bases, sometimes shuffling his feet after touching the bases.

When he caught fly balls, he would snatch the ball from the air one handed, then shift the glove to his opposite hip. Even when he fouled balls off, he would twirl his bat & sometimes do a leg kicking dance move routine. His style was popular with his home town fans, but not appreciated by his teammates or opposing players.

In 1971 he was penciled in as the Phillies starting centerfielder & had a great rookie year coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting to the Atlanta Braves Earl Williams. Montanez hit a career-high 30 HRs (7th in the NL) with 99 RBIs (5th in the NL) 27 doubles a .327 on base % & a .255 batting average.

Montanez also led the league with 13 sac hits in 1971. He struck out over 100 times that season & the year as well. He did improved in that department in his later years.  In the outfield he made a league leading ten errors and made seven assists (4th most in the NL).
  In 1972 Montanez led the National League in doubles (39) hitting .247 with 13 HRs (second on his club to Greg Luzinski) He drove in 64 runs on the worst team in baseball, as the Phils finished last 59-97. In 1973 he switched back to his natural position, at first base, to make room for (future Met) Del Unser in center. Montanez hit 11 HRs with 65 RBIs while batting .263.

He was a solid fielder leading all NL first basemen in assists three times (1975,1976 & 1978) & coming in the top five in fielding % four times.

In the summer of 1974; he had a 24 game hit streak and went on to hit over .300 for the first time in his career. He would bat over the .300 mark six times. His HR totals dropped to just seven that season, but he still had 33 doubles with 79 RBIs.

In May of 1975 he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Gary Maddox. He closed out the year with a career high 101 RBIs (5th most in the NL) along with 10 HRs 34 doubles & a .302 average. Montanez a slow runner; grounded into a league leading 26 double plays. In his career he hit into 162 double plays & led the NL in that category twice.

In 1976 he was traded on the trade dead line, along with team mates; Jake Brown, Mike Eden, and Craig Robinson to the Atlanta Braves for slugger Darrell Evans and short stop Marty Perez. He closed out the bicentennial year with a career high 206 hits (second in the league) leading the NL in singles (164) and games played (163). He batted .317 with 11 HRs & 84 RBIs. The Sporting News named him their All Star first baseman.

In 1977 he made his first & only All-Star game appearance, he was Atlanta’s only player representative in the game. He went hitless in two at bats in the game held in New York, at the newly renovated AL teams ballpark. That year Montanez finished the season hitting .287 with 20 HRs 31 doubles 68 RBIs & a .328 on base % playing a full season in Atlanta Fulton County Stadiums “Launching Pad”. From the period of 1975-78 he drove in an impressive 393 runs.


On December 8, 1977, Montanez was part of a huge four team trade, which brought him to New York to play for the Mets. This is the deal that sent Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers and John Milner to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Who could forget the way Mets announcer Bob Murphy would say now the cleanup hitter "the Hot Dog" Willie Montanez. Montanez was immediately installed as the clubs first baseman & number four hitter.

On April 15th he hit his first HR as a New York Met it came at Stade Olympique in Montreal in a 4-3 loss to the Expos. He didn't get over the .200 hitting mark until May when he had a huge month. The Hot Dog drove in 28 runs that month, more by far than any other Mets Player & most anyone else in baseball. On May 18th he had a four RBI day leading the Mets to an 8-7 win over his old Braves team mates in Atlanta. Over the next eight games he drove in an amazing 17 runs while collecting 16 hits as well.


On May 19th, he had a game winning base hit in the bottom of the 9th inning, off former Met turned Phillies reliever ;Tug McGraw. On May 24th he hit two HRs in Pittsburgh driving in four runs, although the Mets still lost the game. The next day he doubled off the Pirates; Bert Blyleven, tying up the game in the 6th inning. It was in extra innings where Lenny Randle's base hit won it for New York in the 11th inning.

On June 9th Montanez broke a 1-1 tie against the San Francisco Giants when he singled home Steve Henderson in the bottom of the 8th inning. Earlier he had driven in the Mets first run with a sac fly. On July 19th he doubled in the 1st inning, off Houston's Mark Lemongello driving in two Mets runs which were enough for Craig Swan to earn a 2-1 Mets win at Shea Stadium.

The next day he hit a two run HR & in the course of the home stand he drove in runs in five straight games, nine RBIs overall.

It was another run producing month for the Hot Dog as he drove in twenty two runs in July. On September 7th in Montreal he drove in four runs helping the Mets to a 9-4 win over the Expos. The next day as the Mets returned home he drove in all three Mets runs including an 8th inning go ahead RBI double off Bert Blyleven to defeat the Pirates 3-2.

In his only full season as a Met Montanez led the team in most offensive categories; HRs (17) RBIs (96) games (159) at bats (609) hits (156) singles (107) & sac flies (9). He set a club record (at that time) for intentional walks (19) which was later broken by Howard Johnson.

His 96 RBIs were only eight shy of Rusty Staub’s 1974 single season Mets record at the time. There is no doubt that Montanez was the teams biggest bat on a ball club that lost 96 games finishing last in the NL East.

In 1979 he got an Opening Day hit, but that was it, in the Mets 10-6 romp at Wrigley Field over the Cubs. In May he had a solid hitting streak going, where he hit safely in 15 of 17 games. He struggled with his average barley getting over the .200 mark by the end of May before falling below it again in June. In mid July he was still batting jut .210 and managed to get up to the .234 mark by August 11th. He had 7 HRs with 47 RBIs thru 109 games at that point & was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ed Lynch and the return of Mike Jorgensen.

The rest of the year he hit .319 with 8 HRs in Texas, but it was his last good season. From that point on he lost all his power hitting just six HRs in 142 games between San Diego & Montreal in 1980. His average dropped to .210 the next season & he became a part time player in Pittsburgh with the Pirates before finishing out his career in Philadelphia in 1982.

In a 14-year career, Montanez played in 1632 games, hit .275, with 1604 hits, 279 doubles 25 triples, 139 HRs, 802 RBIs a .327 on base % & 65 sac hits. In that career he was traded nine times, including deals that involved players like Darrell Evans, Al Oliver, Bert Blyleven, John Milner (twice), and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.

Retirement: After his playing days Willie became a scout for the Phillies. He still appears at Mets fantasy camps and on occasional interviews involving the Mets. He currently resides in Puerto Rico.



2 comments:

Fermin Nieves said...

Besides he was a excelent fielder with a flashy style hitting the ball down before it gets to the glove exciting player to watch he loved to be boo that was his aplause for me a complete package made the game worth to watch as a entretainer #1

Fermin Nieves said...

Besides he was a excelent fielder with a flashy style hitting the ball down before it gets to the glove exciting player to watch he loved to be boo that was his aplause for me a complete package made the game worth to watch as a entretainer #1