Jul 11, 2016

Mets Main Catcher During Dwight Gooden's Rookie Season: Mike Fitzgerald (1983-1984)

Michael Roy Fitzgerald was born on July 13, 1960 in Long Beach, California.

Fitz was drafted out of Lakewood high school at age 17, in the sixth round of the 1978 draft, by the New York Mets. He was fine defensive catcher getting to AAA Tidewater by 1981. He split time with Bruce Bochy as the Tides main catcher the next season.

In 1983 he hit his best with 14 HRs 65 RBIs & a .284 batting average, getting him promoted to the Mets as a September call up.

He made his spectacular MLB debut on September 13th, against the Phillies at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Fitz blasted a HR in his first MLB at bat against, coming against Tony Ghelfi in the Mets 5-1 win. He got a hit in his second game the next day, but then was hitless in the last six games he played in during the 1983 season. He finished the year with those two hits, going 2-20 with a .100 average.

In 1984 Fitzgerald won the Mets starting catching job over veteran Ron Hodges. Hodges had finally got a chance as the teams main catcher in 1983, after spending a decade as a backup to Jerry Grote, Duffy Dyer & John Stearns.

Fitzgerald also beat out, to other top prospects; young Junior Ortiz & John Gibbons. Both never fulfilled the expectations the club had for them. Fitzgerald had the honor of catching rookie sensation Dwight Gooden in his electrifying 1984 season.

Fitz caught Gooden in his debut on April 7th in Houston. That day Gooden struck out five batters in five innings pitched earning his first victory. Fitz would not catch Gooden again until May 1st & on that day Doc earned his second win, beating the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. On May 14th Fitz was behind the plate when Gooden fanned 14 Los Angeles Dodgers in a 2-0 shut out at Dodger Stadium. Fitz would be behind the plate for many memorable Gooden games in his Rookie of the Year Season.

In September he was Doc's battery mate as he set the single season strike out mark against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium. That night centerfieldmaz was in attendance at Shea witnessing Gooden strike out 16 batters, a season high. Five days later in Philadelphia, Fitz called the signals as Gooden struck out another 16 batters, although he took a 2-1 loss to Shane Rawley.

At the plate he only hit .242 with two HRs 15 doubles & 33 RBIs, certainly not enough for a contending team’s catcher to hit. From May 5th through May 15th he drove in six runs over a five game span, including three in a row.

In mid July he had two separate games where he drove in three runs during the same week. Fitz was only a rookie and his future looked bright, as he made the Topps All Star Rookie team as well.

Defensively he led all NL catchers with a .995 fielding percentage. He is only one of five players to win a fielding title in his rookie season, prior to Fitzgerald, Johnny Oates had done it with the AL East Champion Baltimore Orioles in 1972. Fitz also made 715 put outs (5th in the NL), and threw out 34% of would be base stealers.

In the off season the Mets landed a big bat & an All Star catcher, when they acquired Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos. Fitzgerald went to Montreal along with Hubbie Brooks, Herm Winningham & Floyd Youmans, in exchange for Carter. It was one of the best trades the Mets ever made, as Carter helped them win a World Series in 1986.

Fitzgerald would be Montreal’s main catcher for seven seasons, sharing time with Nelson Santovenea in those later years.

Trivia: Fitz would appear on a 1986 Topps Kevin Mitchell,  Mets baseball card. It appears the photo is taken after Mitchell has slid safely into home plate in a cloud of dust & scored a run. The game took place on a beautiful sunny afternoon at Shea Stadium.

Fitz would play in over 100 games four times, enjoying his best season in 1986 batting .282 with 6 HRs 37 RBIs & 13 doubles. Defensively his best year came with the Mets in 1984, through the years his fielding percentage & percentage of throwing out base runners both fell off.

In 1987 he had 12 errors charged to him (second most in the NL) with a .981 fielding %. In 1992 he signed with the California Angels for one season, batting .212 in 95 games. He then signed with the Seattle Mariners the following season but only played in their minor league system.

Fitzgerald finished a ten year career with 545 hits 48 HRs 95 doubles 293 RBIs a .321 on base % & a .235 batting average. He caught in 748 games behind the plate with a .987 fielding percentage throwing out 23% of would be base stealers.

Retirement: Fitzgerald is a born again Christian, he & his wife live in Lon Beach California with their two children.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Kevin Mitchell baseball card is from the 1987 set, not 1986.