Jesse Gonder: Mid Sixties Mets Catcher (1963 - 1965)

Jesse Lamar Gonder was born on January 20, 1936 at Monticello, Arkansas. Gonder’ s family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in Oakland during his teen years.

There he played high school ball with the likes of Frank Robinson, Curt Flood & Vada Pinson. Robinson was the first to get signed by a Cincinnati Reds scout Bob Madic, who later became a GM in Toronto. He ended up signing all three players for the Reds including the more out spoken Gonder in 1955.

Gonder hit over .320 in his first two years at the AA Level, but fell off to .238 when he reached AAA IN 1959. He was traded over to the A.L. New York club in 1960 but didn’t have a chance to beat out Elston Howard, who had just secured the catcher’s job from Yogi Berra. 

MLB Career: Gonder batted .326 that year at AAA & got a September 1960 call up debuting for seven brief games going 1-7 mostly as a pinch hitter. The next year he went 4-12 gathering his first three career RBIs in another September call up. That December he was traded back to the Reds for Marshall Bridges.

He spent most of 1962 at AAA in the Pacific Coast League, leading the league in batting (.342) & RBIs (116). 

The scouting reports said, he was a good left-handed hitter, but lacked power and solid defense with his glove. On July 1st, 1963, he was traded to the New York Mets for Charlie Neal & Sammy Taylor.

Mets Career: Jesse debuted with the Mets on July 6th, 1963, at the Polo Grounds. He was behind the plat, as batterymate for Al Jackson in game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he got two hits with a walk. He had a pair of hits in three of his first four career Mets games. 

On July 11th he hit two HRs against the Los Angeles Dodgers driving in all three Met runs, in a 4-3 loss at the Polo Grounds. Later that week, he had a four hit day against the Houston Colt 45's making a quick impact on a poor hitting team.

On July 17th he hit a three run HR off the Giants Gaylord Perry helping the Mets to a 9-7 win at the Polo Grounds. On August 2nd in the second game of a doubeheader in Milwaukee, Gonder had a big four hit day. He also drove in the first run of the 3-1 Mets win. He saw less playing time in the final two months & an 0-11 September neded his season at .304.

Overall Gonder hit .304 becoming the second Met in history (Ritchie Ashburn was first in 1962) to finish a season batting over .300. He was the only player on the 1963 team to do so. He hit three HRs, with four doubles & 12 RBIs in 42 games for the ’63 Mets as a backup catcher to Choo Choo Coleman & Norm Sherry. He made the Topps All Star Rookie team batting .304 with 6 HRs & 20 RBIs in 73 games overall on the season.

Gonder became the Mets primary catcher behind the plate catching 97 games. He was second in the NL, nailing 33 base runners attempting to steal, throwing out 43% of would-be base stealers overall. 

In the first game ever played at Shea Stadium, he was the starting catcher batting in the clean up position. In the bottom of the 4th inning he drove in the Mets first run at Shea, with a base hit off the Pirates Bob Friend, scoring Ron Hunt. He was then the second Met to cross the plate in Shea Stadium history, as he scored on Amado Samuel's double.

On June 9th he had a bottom of the 9th inning, game winning base hit off Lindy McDaniel, to beat the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. On June 28th in San Francisco, with the Mets down 3-2 in the 9th inning, Gonder hit a two run  HR off Bobby Bolin, leading to a 4-3 win.

In mid July he had a big road trip, with three straight multiple RBI games, while hitting HRs in back to back games. He kept his average up over .290 in July, in a month where he had eight multi hit games. He blasted a three run HR in Philadelphia on Augsut 8th & brought his average right up to the .300 mark. He slowed up in September but closed out the season hitting safely in 10 of 14 games.

Gonder ended the year at a solid .270 which was third best average among the regular starting players. He hit seven HRs with 11 doubles, had 29 walks with a .329 on base % (fourth best on the team) & 35 RBIs.

1965: In 1965 Chris Cannizzaro had taken over as the club's main catcher & Gonder only was used behind the plate in 13 games going into July. He hit well in a pinch-hitting role but as a regular his overall average fell to .238 with 4 HRs & 9 RBIs.

On July 21st, 1965, he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves for Gary Kolb. 

Post Mets Career: Gonder hit just .151 & spent the next two years of his career in Pittsburgh as third string catcher. He played out two more seasons in the Pacific Coast League not reaching the major league level again.

Career Stats: He finished up his eight-year playing career in 395 games with a .251 average 220 hits 28 doubles 2 triples 26 HRs 94 RBIs & .310 on base %. At catcher he caught 250 games He threw out 39% of would-be base stealers.

Retirement: After baseball Gonder worked for the Bay Area Rapid Transit Company driving a bus in San Francisco Bay for twenty years. 

Passing:  He passed away in Oakland, California on November 14, 2004, at the age of 68.


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