May 18, 2016

2000 NL Champion Mets Relief Pitcher: Turk Wendell (1998-2001)

Steven John "Turk" Wendell was born on May 19, 1967 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The six foot two, right-handed pitcher attended Quinnipiac College, setting single season strikeout & ERA records there. Wendell was then drafted in the fifth round of the 1988 draft by the Atlanta Braves.

He began his minor league career as a starter, going 11-11 in 1989 at both the A & AA levels. He fell to 5-12 the next year moving into the bullpen as a relief pitcher. In September of 1991 he was traded with Yorkis Perez to the Chicago Cubs for Damon Berryhill and Mike Bielecki.

He debuted with the Cubs in 1993, pitching in just thirteen games over his first two seasons. He would spend parts of five seasons with the Cubs, becoming their closer by the 1996 season. That year he appeared in 70 games, with 18 saves, going 5-4 with a 2.84 ERA. In 1997 the Cubs closer duties went Terry Adams, as Wendell fell to a 3-5 record in mid relief appearing in 52 games.

In August of 1997 he was traded to the New York Mets along with Brian McRae and Mel Rojas for outfielder Lance Johnson, who was coming off a career year. (The Mets later sent Mark Clark and Manny Alexander to complete the trade.)

Wendell soon became a work horse reliever for Bobby Valentine, with good control & a good fastball. He also became popular with the Shea fans due to his zany antics. Wendell wore a necklace around his neck made from teeth of various animals he had hunted down.

He would wave to the centerfielder before each inning & wouldn’t start pitching until the outfielder waved back. He would start out each inning by drawing three crosses in the dirt on the pitcher’s mound. He would crouch down on the mound when his catchers would stand up back of the plate. 

Turk chewed black licorice instead of tobacco and would hide in the corner of the dugout to brush his teeth between innings. For good luck he superstitiously leapt over the white base line on his way to the dugout. He would also have the umpire roll the ball to him instead of having it thrown back. He wore #99 in honor of Charlie Sheen’s Wild Thing character in the movie Major League, and signed a three year contract in 2000, worth $9,999,999.99 in honor of his number. His most famous trademark was when he would slam down the rosin bag before getting set to pitch, drawing a huge cheer from the Shea Faithful.

Turk Wendell made his Mets debut on August 9th at Shea Stadium pitching one inning of relief against the Astros. On September 2nd he pitched four innings in an interleague game against the Toronto Blue Jays & earned a save. On Opening Day 1998 he came in for the 13th inning pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies. He earned the victory after a four hour & thirty five minute season winning home opener.

Two days later he got another win in extra innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he was a primarily middle reliever by the end of August he was 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA. On the year he would make 66 appearances going 5-1 with four saves, eleven holds and a 2.93 ERA over 76 innings. 


In 1999 he allowed an earned run in Florida in the season opener, but got no decision in the 6-2 loss to the Marlins. After that game he would only allow one more earned run over his next sixteen appearances, going through mid May. In that time he gathered up nine holds and kept his ERA at 1.57 well under two. He had a good July as well, earning his second win on July 5th, and then earned his third save on July 26th coming against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That month he earned five more holds but did blow a save & took a losing decision against the Expos.

After two straight losses during the first week of September, he came back to earn wins in back to back outings that next week. He finished the year setting a Mets team record with 80 appearances, while getting credit for 21 holds amongst the tops in the NL, going 5-4 with 77 strike outs 37 walks in 85 innings pitched, with three saves & a 3.05 ERA.

Post Season: In Game #1 of the NLDS against the Diamondbacks he was the winning pitcher in Arizona, after pitching a scoreless 8th inning. The Mets then had Edgardo Alfonzo hit a 9th inning grand slam HR leading to an 8-4 win.

In the NLCS he earned another win against the Atlanta Braves when John Olerud singled home the winning runs off John Rocker in the 8th inning of Game #3 at Shea Stadium. Overall in the 1999 post season he made seven appearances going 2-0 allowing three runs over seven innings pitched. He struck out five & walked six in 7.2 innings of work.


In 2000 he began the year with five holds in the month of April, earning two victories during the week of April 20th. The wins both came at home, first on April 20th he pitched a scoreless 11th inning then got the win courtesy of Melvin Mora's walk off HR.

In May he had a rough start blowing two saves & taking two losses in the first two weeks. On May 21st he earned a win at Shea against the Arizona Diamondbacks & then two days later earned another victory in San Diego after pitching two scoreless innings against the Padres. He earned himself four more winning decisions over the last two months as the Mets chased the Braves for the Eastern title & won the NL Wild Card title.

Wendell finished with a career high eight victories, going 8-6 with one save, leading the team in appearances once again (77) while posting 17 holds, & a 3.59 ERA. He struck out 73 batters in 82 innings of work. He also did a lot of charitable work with children in the New York area & won the New York Press' Good Guy Award for the 2000 season.

Post Season: In the 2000 post season he appeared in two games of each series, including earning a strange win in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Game #2 of the NLCS, he entered the game in the 8th inning and allowed J.D. Drew to tie up the score at 5-5. He intentionally walked slugger Mark McGwire then struck out Craig Paquette to end the St. Louis threat. The Mets scored a run in the 9th inning on Jay Payton’s RBI single and Turk ended up with the win.

On the eve of the 2000 World Series he said " The AL NY Teams Stadium, I don't give a hoot about it. We played there before." In the 2000 Subway World Series he was the loser in the twelve inning loss in the opening game. Wendell served up former Met Jose Vizcaiano’s game winning base hit. Turk would make one more appearance in that Series, overall allowing one run on two hits, with two strike outs &a walk in 1.2 innings of work.

Wendell pitched in two post seasons with the Mets going an overall 3-1 in thirteen appearances, striking out 14 batters in 12.2 innings pitched, allowing four runs on six hits.

In 2001 he made 40 appearances going 4-3 with six holds & a 3.51 ERA into late July . On July 27th he was traded along with fellow reliever Dennis Cook to the Phillies for Bruce Chen & Adam Walker. 

In his five seasons with New York, he never posted a losing record or had an ERA above 3.60. He made 285 Mets appearances (12th all time in Mets history) going 22-14 with ten saves, 55 holds and a 3.34 ERA, striking out 259 batters in 312 innings while walking 147.

Wendell, was always outspoken & never afraid to speak his mind. When asked if he thought Barry Bonds & Sammy Sosa used steroids, he said yes. He also said everyone in baseball; players, coaches, managers & owners alkie knew about steroid use. He spoke out against steroid use and believed everything in Jose Canseco’s controversial book “Juiced”.

In 2001, he hit Vladimir Guerrero with a fastball saying; “ If he doesn’t like it, he can freaking’ go back to the Dominican and find another line of work." Less than a month later, he was ejected from a game against the St. Louis Cardinals for throwing behind catcher Mike Matheny. After the game, he told the media "When Rick Ankiel is out there throwing balls everywhere, why don't they throw him out of the game?"

After his Mets days his career was plagued by injuries, even missing the entire 2002 season. He went 3-5 in those last three seasons, finishing up his career in Colorado with Rockies in 2004. In his 11 year career, he went 36-33 lifetime with 33 saves, posting a 3.93 ERA with 515 strikeouts & 324 walks in 645 innings pitched making 552 appearances.

Retirement: In 2006 he visited the Troops in Afghanistan as part of MLB’S Heroes of the Diamond tour. He says he was so inspired by that trip he tried to enlist but was denied because he is color blind.

Wendell owns Wykota Ranch, a 200-acre hunting and fishing camp in Larkspur, Colorado.

In 2010 he told the Daily News he believes there should be a worldwide draft in baseball, and told former union president Donald Fehr just that. “These kids are coming over from Japan, Cuba or where ever and they’re giving them $30 million and they’ve never set foot in a minor league facility and they’ve just robbed every kid in Triple-A that’s competing for that spot.”

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