Cal Koonce: 1969 World Champion Mets Pitcher (1967-1970)

Calvin Lee Koonce was born on November 18, 1940, at Fayetteville, North Carolina. The six-foot right-handed pitcher attended Campbell Town University and signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1961.

Koonce was in the major leagues the next season, making relief appearances in his first two outings.

On April 27th, 1962he made his first start, pitching a complete game one run victory in St. Louis against the Cards. 

One Hitter: On July 13th he pitched the best game of his career, it came at Wrigley Field against the Cincinnati Reds. In the 4th innings he allowed a base hit to the Reds; Don Blasingame, but he then retired the next 17 batters in a row, finishing off a one hit shutout.

He pitched well in the first half of the season, finding himself at 9-3 with a 3.63 ERA at the end of August & looking like a future super star.

But then he struggled, losing seven of his last eight decisions, finishing up at the year at 10-10 with a 3.97 ERA. He would spend some time in the minors and pitch six seasons in Chicago with the Cubs. He would never again reach double figures in wins again, ending up at 29-35 in his Cubs years, posting an ERA of around 4.00.

In 1967 after 34 games, he was 2-2 with two saves, posting a 4.59 ERA. That August his contract was purchased by the New York Mets.

Mets Career: Koonce debuted for the Mets on August 6th, 1967, pitching in relief in the first game of a double header against the San Francisco Giants.

On August 12th he was given a start & pitched a complete game, one run victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium.

After arriving in New York, he had pitched in 11 games, going 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA. He got six starts, throwing two complete game victories.

He won his next start at Philadelphia to start his Mets career at 2-0. On August 29th, he threw a complete game five hit shutout in St. Louis against the Cardinals. 

Things changed at Shea Stadium in 1968 as Gil Hodges took over as manager. 
Koonce would become one of Gil Hodges & pitching coach Rube Walker's top relievers out of the Met bullpen. Koonce thrived under Hodges & said the success he had in New York was due to the coaching of the three former catchers Rube Walker, Joe Pignatano & Yogi Berra. 

In May he earned his first three saves & was credited with a hold. In his first 13 appearances he did not allow a run in 21 innings pitched.

On June 1st, he gave up a 10th inning HR to the Cardinals Mike Shannon taking a loss. On June 9th, he gave up a walk off single to Willie Mays in a loss at San Francisco. He then lost to the Giants again at Shea Stadium the next week.

By mid-July he was 0-4 but had seven saves & his ERA was just at 1.54. 
From that point through the end of the season, Koonce won six games, posted four saves with one hold to his credit as well. 

From August to the end of the season he was 5-0 with two saves & a hold. From August 4th through August 9th, he won three straight games, allowing no runs in seven innings of work in that stretch, finishing off two of those games.

On August 13th, he earned a save, coming in to get the last two outs of a 2-0 game with two men on in Los Angeles. He struck out Ken Boyer & got Bob Baily to ground out. On August 29th he made his first start of the year. He earned his fifth win as he shut out the Reds into the 7th inning in a 2-0 win.

Koonce would have finished the year with an ERA under two, but in his last game of the year he gave up five runs to the Phillies in a 10-3 Mets loss. In that game Dick Allen hit three HRs, one off of Koonce.

On the year Koonce was 6-4 with 11 saves in 55 appearances (both second on the club to Ron
Taylor). He posted a 2.42 ERA (Fourth best on the club) with 50 strike outs & 32 walks in 96 innings. 
He was second to Ron Taylor in saves (11) & appearances (55) posting a 6-4 record, with the bull pen’s best ERA (2.41).

The Sweat ball: Koonce admitted to throwing an occasional wet baseball, about a half dozen every game. He said his secret weapon was the sweat ball from perspiration on his wrist or hands.

1969 Championship Season: With the emergence of Tug McGraw out of the bullpen, the Mets had a fine quality of relievers. Gil Hodges never had to overuse any of his bullpen members because there was always another ready to fill the role. 

Koonce noted that was one of the biggest differences of pitching in New York as opposed to Chicago. If he pitched a game, he knew he would have ample rest before his next outing. He stated this is why the Mets relievers were rested by the end of the season during the pennant race.

At age 28 Koonce was seen as the aged old man of the young staff. He was a respected veteran presence that the players looked up to. Teammate Art Shamsky once said that he never heard Koonce say a bad word about anyone.

On opening day at Shea Stadium in 1969, Koonce was the losing pitcher of record in the first game played by the expansion Montreal Expos. 

He came in to relieve Tom Seaver in the sixth inning with the Mets leading 6-4. He gave up a two run double to Mack Jones & then an RBI single to Maury Wills, as the Expos went on to win the game 11-10. 

Koonce was credited with three saves through the first month of the season. On April 27th he came into a game with the Mets leading the Chicago Cubs 6-3, but he gave up five runs including a two run HR to Randy Hundley to take the loss. That day killed his ERA as it reached 8.12 & it was tough to get down all year.

In May he won two games in the same week, both in relief, beating the Houston Astros & Cincinnati Reds. 

On July 13th, the Expos tied the game on Koonce when Rusty Staub grounded out & Ty Cline scored. But the Mets came back with RBI singles from Art Shamsky & Wayne Garrett to get him the victory to reach .500 at 3-3. 

Three days later on July 16th, he pitched five innings of shutout relief against the first place Cubs, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. He earned the win that day over Fergie Jenkins bringing the Mets within four games of first place.

His longest outing was a 6.1 inning performance in Atlanta on August 1st, where he earned the win giving up just one run in a 5-4 win. 

He saw less playing time as the season went on, as the clubs main closer was Ron Taylor. Tug McGraw also was becoming a top reliever sharing the spot with Taylor. 

On August 24th he earned his final win of the year (6) a three-inning shutout against the L.A. Dodgers at Shea Stadium. Koonce would get pounded by the Dodgers on September 1st in L.A. as they collected five run on ten hits. He had relieved Jerry Koosman in the 1st inning & stayed in the game until the 6th inning. He made just two more appearances on year, both in Mets losses.

Koonce went 6-3 with seven saves in 1969, as the third best reliever on the staff. He struck out 48 batters walking 42, posting a 4.99 ERA. He allowed 53 runs (46 earned) in 83 innings of work. He gave up eight HRs which was more than he had the two previous seasons.

Koonce did not appear in any post season games. He appeared with the Mets team on the Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday night.

After the Championship: After enjoying the success of being a World Champion in the off season, Koonce returned to the Mets in 1970.

He went 0-2 with a 3.27 ERA making just 13 appearances. In Jue his contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox.

Mets Career Stats: Koonce was 15-12 with 18 saves in 119 appearances, posting a 3.43 ERA striking out 132 batters in 246 innings pitched.

Post Mets Career: He went 3-4 for Boston in 23 appearances, making eight starts. On September 3rd, he pitched a complete game one run three hitter to beat the Tigers at Fenway Park.

In 1971 after 13 appearances, he was released in August ending his career just before his 30th birthday.

Career Stats: Overall in a ten-year career Koonce was 47-49 with 24 saves & a 3.78 ERA. In 334 games he struck out 504 batters with 368 walks in 971 innings pitched making 90 career starts.

At bat he hit .100 (24-239) with eight RBIs.

Retirement: After his playing days, he coached baseball in North Carolina at Campbell University from 1980-1986. Koonce became the first general manager of the Fayetteville Generals minor league baseball team.

Passing: Sadly, in 1993 after spending four years battling lymphoma cancer, Koonce passed away at just 52 years old. He was survived by His wife & four children. 

In 1997 the North Carolina General Assemble passed a resolution to honor him.


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