Mar 16, 2016

Mets Left Fielder During the First Season At Shea Stadium: George Altman (1964)

George Lee Altman was born on March 20, 1933 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The big six foot four, two hundred pound Altman was known as “Big George”. 

He played briefly in the Negro Leagues in 1955 with the Kansas City Monarchs & then attended Tennessee State University where he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1956. He & Fred Valentine were the first players to come out of Tennesse State & make the big Leagues.

Altman served Military Service for 1957 & 1958 after his first season in pro ball. He returned to hit 15 HRs & bat .325 in his second year in the minors getting promoted to the Cubs the next year. Altman was put right into the Cubs outfield as a rookie batting .245 with 12 HRs & 47 RBIs playing in 135 games.

In the outfield he played a solid defense, posting the league’s second best fielding % (.993%) in 1960 while finishing fourth in right field the next three seasons. On May 15th, 1960 he helped preserve future 1969 Met pitcher Don Cardwell’s no hitter, by making a 9th inning leaping catch for the second out of the inning.

The following season he won Player of the Month in June as he hit ten HRs driving in 29 runs. That year he had a big season, leading the league in triples (12) while hitting 27 HRs (9th in the league) with 28 doubles (7th in the league) & 96 RBIs (7th in the league). His 96 RBIs led the Cubs, and he was the only player other than Ernie Banks, Ron Santo or Billy Williams to led the team in that category from 1955-1973. He batted .303 with a .353 on base % as well. That year he became the first player to hit two HRs in a game off Dodgers ace, Sandy Koufax.

Altman made the All Star team & hit a pinch hit HR off the AL's Mike Fornieles in the 8th inning of that years first All Star Game. The HR tied the game sending it to extra innings where the NL won it on Roberto Clemente’s RBI single in the 10th inning. Altman followed up that season with a .318 average (sixth in the league) in 1962 while hitting 22 HRs with 74 RBIs & a .393 on base %.

In the off season he was involved in a big trade with Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker all going to the St. Louis Cardinals for Larry Jackson, Lindy McDaniel and Jimmie Schaffer. He hit .274 and then was traded to the New York Mets for Bill Wakefield in November 1963.

Altman never again hit as well as he did in his Cub years, but was still the Mets main left fielder for the first season at Shea Stadium in 1964. On April 17th, 1964; he was the Mets second hitter & left fielder going 0-4 in the first game ever played at the new Big Shea Stadium. On May 6th he hit his first Mets HR it came in a 12-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Shea Stadium. On May 18th he helped the Mets beat the Giants 4-2 in San Francisco, with three hits & a three run HR off pitcher Billy Pierce.

In June he had back to back multi RBI games in losses to the Milwaukee Braves but finished the month batting .208. He had his best month in July, hitting safely in 20 of 25 games. Toward the end of the month, he drove in runs in five straight games, including a three RBI day against the Milwaukee Braves in a 10-0 Mets shut out.

In August he hit three HRs driving in six runs in the last two weeks of the month. He hit HRs in games against his old Cubs team mates both at home & at Wrigley Field, leading to Mets wins.

On September 16th he had his biggest day since the May 16th game, getting three hits, hitting a HR & driving in three runs as he helped Tracy Stallard in his 4-0 shutout over the Giants in San Francisco.

Altman hit a HR in the next to last day of the regular season & dove in a run in his final Mets game the next day. He closed out the year with 13 RBIs in the month of September finishing with just 47 for the year. He batted .230, the worst average of his career up to that point, hitting nine HRs with 14 doubles & one triple. His .262 on base % was also the worst of his career and after just one year with the Mets he was traded back to the Cubs for Billy Cowan.

He hit .235 in 1965 and played two more seasons before retiring in 1967 finishing the year in the minors. In his nine season career he batted .269 with 832 hits 101 HRs 132 doubles 34 triples a .329 on base % & a .269 batting average. He went on to play in Japan through the 1975 season, until the age of 42. He had a successful career there hitting 205 HRs.

Retirement: After his playing days he worked for the Chicago Board of Trade & owned his own prepaid legal services company. 

He also volunteers with the Boys Foundation and mentors youth programs in the community.

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