Apr 2, 2016

1969 World Champion Mets Utility Man: Rod Gaspar (1969-1970)

Rodney Earl Gaspar was born April 3, 1946 in Long Beach, California. The five foot eleven Gaspar played both basketball & baseball in high school.

He was good enough to earn a baseball scholarship to play outfield at Long Beach State University. There he got drafted by the New York Mets twice, the first time in 1966 when he hit .393 as a sophomore, but he decided to stay in school.

In 1967 the Mets drafted him again, this time in the second round after he hit .342 in his junior year. He hit well enough to quickly rise through the Mets farm system as an unknown surprise. In 1968 at AA Memphis he batted .309 with 160 hits & 47 RBIs. He earned an invitation to Spring Training 1969 and no one knew who he was or where he came from.

In 1969 he was the Mets surprise opening day right fielder when Art Shamsky hurt his back at the end of Spring Training. Gaspar got two hits that day with a stolen base, and an RBI against the Montreal Expos in the team's first franchise game. On the down side, he struck out with the tying run on base to end the game in an 11-10 Mets loss. Gaspar had seven hits in the first three games, and was batting .412 after four games.

He had a dozen hits in the month of April, playing in 16 games, securing him a place on the roster. He was pretty much the main right fielder for first month of the season, before Shamsky & Ron Swoboda took over in a platoon of the position. On May 30th at Shea Stadium, Gaspar hit his only career HR, it came off Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants. A week later he had a three hit game with an RBI triple in San Diego in the Mets 4-1 win over the Padres.

As the season went on Gaspar, was mostly used as a late inning defensive replacement. In a game against the Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during the Mets eleven game win streak that summer, Gaspar was playing toward centerfield with the “McCovey Shift” on in full swing. The ball landed on the left field line getting stuck in the wet grass. Gaspar ran over to retrieve it, and fired a strike to home plate nailing the Giants runner.

Catcher Jerry Grote then threw to Don Clendenon who alertly covered third base & tagged out McCovey. Gaspar was a fine defensive player, he played in only 91 games in the outfield, but led all N.L. outfielders with six double plays. He also had twelve assists, to lead the team. He made just two errors in 118 chances, posting a .989 fielding %.

At the plate Gaspar he led the team with seven sacrifice hits; batting .228 with one HR, six doubles, one triple & 14 RBIs. He also stole seven bases in ten attempts & scored 26 runs.

Gaspar said of Gil Hodges: "Gil knew how to utilize his personnel. I always felt part of the club. I wasn't a star player but I knew I was a contributor. Hodges made every player feel part of the unit & vitally important to the team's success."

Post Season: Before the World Series began, the Baltimore Orioles were a little fed up with all the attention focused on the Amazing New York Mets. When Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson heard that Gaspar had predictd the Mets to win the World Series he dared New York to "bring on Ron Gaspar. Who the hell is Ron Gaspar anyway?” he sarcastically said.

His team mate Merv Rettmund told Robinson that "it's Rod Gaspar, not Ron, stupid". Robinson still trying to be funny, replied, "OK, and then bring on Rod Stupid!” The next time Mr. Robinson saw Rod Gaspar, he was crossing home plate with the winning run in Game #4, putting the Mets up three games to one in the Series.

Gaspar appeared in three games of the 1969 NLCS as a defensive replacement getting no at bats. He then had two official at bats in the World Series going hitless both times. His moment of glory came as a pinch runner in Game #4 when he scored the game’s winning run on a controversial play.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the tenth, Gaspar pinch-ran for Jerry Grote at second base. Next Al Weis drew an intentional walk, and them J.C. Martin, bunted the ball toward the pitcher’s mound. Oriole’s pitcher Pete Richert's fielded the ball, and threw to first base. Gaspar ran to third base, but never heard third base coach Eddie Yost screaming for him to go home over the crowd noise.

Gaspar saw the ball rolling toward second base after it had hit Martin on the arm & ricocheted away. He came around to safely crossing home plate to score the dramatic winning run. The first person to greet Gaspar was the games winning pitcher Tom Seaver.

Dousing New York City's Mayor Lindsay
Although his career was very brief, Gaspar left a legacy in Mets history.

After choosing not to play winter ball, he found himself at AAA Tidewater for the 1970 season. There he hit .318 with 17 doubles & 37 RBIs, getting another September call up. He would appear in just eleven games going hitless (0-14).

That winter he was traded to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later. In 1971 he batted only .118 and was sent back to the minors, spending the next five years in the Pacific Coast League. He won two championships with the Hawaiian Islanders in 1975 & 1976. He came back up to the majors briefly in 1974, playing in 14 games going 3-14 at the plate. By 1976 he decided to retire from baseball for good at 30 years old.

Retirement: Rod went to work in the insurance business, specializing in asset management & business planning in Mission Viejo, California. He was on hand for the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1969 Amazing Mets in 2009.

Family: He made many close friends on the ’69 Mets including his roommates Gary Gentry & Danny Frisella. Frisella introduced him to a girl he knew named Sheridan back in those days together. Gaspar would soon marry Sheridan & they would have five children together.

Sadly they lost their son David Mathew Gaspar to leukemia when he was just nine years old. The tragedy devastated Rod & it took many years for him to come to terms with the family loss.

Another son of Gaspar, Cade Gaspar was a minor league pitcher in the 1990s, becoming a number one draft pick, for the Detroit Tigers but his career never panned out. An arm injury due to weight training ruined his once promising career.

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