George Theodore: 1973 N.L. Champion Mets Folk Hero (1973 - 1974)

George Basil Theodore was born November 13, 1947, in Salt Lake City, Utah.


The tall lanky six-foot four right-handed outfielder, was an unusual looking ballplayer. He wore thick glasses, had long legs with a hunched over shoulder frame and a long nose. 

He also has the distinction of being the only Mets player in history to ever be from the state of Utah.

Theodore attended the University of Utah playing baseball with future MLB player Bill Parsons.
Theodore was selected by New York Mets way down in the 31st round of the 1969 free agent draft. 

Theodore credits his minor league manager Joe Frazier for giving him the chance to play. After struggling at the AA level Frazier sent him back to A ball Visalia where he excelled.

In 1971, Theodore was the California League MVP for Visalia batting .333 with 28 HRs & 113 RBIs. It’s hard to imagine but the Stork was a power hitter in his early years in the small ballpark at Visalia. 

In 1972 at AAA Tidewater, he hit .296 leading all starting players in batting, he also had 9 HRs with 15 doubles & 76 RBIs. That year as a first baseman he led all International League first baseman in put outs & chances. 

The Stork Moniker: While holding a baby before a game in 1972, teammate Jim Gosger commented "Theodore's the stork!" The name stuck, especially because it could be said he resembled one.

1973 Mets Pennant Season: He made the 1973 Mets team out of Spring Training as a reserve outfielder but was expecting to get sent down in May if an extra pitcher was needed.

The Stork made his big-league debut on April 14th at Shea Stadium, replacing Willie Mays in the 6th inning & struck out in his first at bat. He was facing the Phillies Steve Carlton & thought he had drawn a walk when home plate umpire Shag Crawford called him out on strikes.

A week after his debut, he got his first hit, a double coming off the Cubs Burt Hooton, in a 7-0 loss in the second game of a double header at Shea Stadium.

On April 21st he drove in his first career run with an RBI single in the 6th inning off Montreal’s Balor Moore. The run sparked a three-run rally in the 5-0 Met win. Theodore closed out April hitting safely three straight games on a road trip at Houston & Atlanta.

He began to see more playing time due to the injury to left fielder Cleon Jones. In May the Stork had a big series in Los Angeles, getting seven hits in fifteen at bats, while driving in two runs. On May 29th he drove in a run with a pinch-hit sac fly off "Sudden" Sam McDowell in a loss at San Francisco.

At the end of May he was batting .290 with seven RBIs, playing for the injured Jones.

Although he wasn't the greatest player on the team, the Mets fans fell in love with him, with his unusual appearance & the underdog persona. Theodore became an instant Mets folk hero at Shea Stadium, a legend who is still a fan favorite today. 

Trivia: To add to his flaky legacy the back of his 1974 Topps baseball card said: “George likes marshmallow milkshakes”.

He once filled out a Mets publicity questionnaire by recording his interests as “astrology, marbles, people watching & psychoanalysis”. 

The Stork asked Mets management for a $1000 bonus if he was voted “Most Popular Met” saying he couldn’t hit much but was very likeable.

Quotes- George Theodore: “I've been trying transcendental meditation, and that helps me be passive and wait on the curve. I've got to find something else to hit except the slider."

In reality the Stork was actually very intelligent man, who sometimes seemed out of place with the other players.

On June 3rd in San Diego, Theodore singled in the 7th inning off the Padres Steve Arlin giving the Mets a 6-2 lead. He then scored on Jim Gosger's ground out. 

In his next at bat in the 9th inning Theodore was hit in the eye by a pitch from Padre's pitcher Gary Ross. It was unknown how serious the injury was & it was feared he would lose his sight, but the ever-durable Theodore was back in the lineup five days later.

In a June game against the San Francisco Giants on national TV, Theodore found himself in left field, next to the legendary Willie Mays. Mays had been an inspiration to him, just by watching the veteran play & how the fans loved him. 

On a ball hit to the gap Theodore rushed over to help out the old timer, Mays. To his surprise Mays had already gotten to the ball, but because he was having arm trouble, he tossed it for The Stork to throw in. 

But Theodore dropped it and was charged with an error. Years later Theodore would say it was an honor taking an error from the great Willie Mays.

On June 30 his fielder's choice scoring play, ended up being the winning run in Jon Matlack's 2-1 victory. 

First Career HR: On the 4th of July in Montreal, he had one of the biggest games of his career. Theodore hit his first career HR, a three-run shot down the line off Expo pitcher Balor Moore. That night he went 2-3 in the 7-5 Mets loss. After the game he told reported Maury Allen he was just 713 HRs away from Babe Ruth. Ruth's widow sent him a card thanking him for the mention.




Violent Collision: On July 7th, 1973, he was involved in a one of the most violent collisions in

Mets history, and unfortunately it is what the Stork is best remembered for. 

In an afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium, he had made an error in the 7th inning on a single to left field that allowed a run to score. He was very upset at himself & determined to make up for it getting the next ball hit his way.

In the next inning Ralph Garr smashed a liner to left center field, Theodore came charging over from left field & crashed into centerfielder Don Hahn who was rushing over from center.

They both went down & lay motionless on the field for a few minutes as Garr rounded the bases with an inside the park home run. Strangely the moment was captured forever in a photograph in the 1974 Mets yearbook next to Theodore’s bio.

Theodore fractured his hip, and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. 


In a NY hospital he told reporters he had a dream two weeks earlier that he was being removed from the field on a stretcher carried by Jerry Koosman & Tug McGraw.

He spent a few days in the hospital and was pretty much done for the year except for one pinch hitting role in September.

In May of 2011 he told the Daily News: "I did play two more years, but I was never the same. It changed my life, put me in a new direction, but it's all been good. That's the way it is."

Theodore returned on September 20th. On the season he hit .259 (going 30-116) with one HR four doubles, ten RBIs, 14 runs scored & a stolen base.

1973 World Series: Theodore did not see any action in the NLCS win over the Cincinnati Reds.

In the World Series against the Oakland A's, Theodore came to bat in the 5th inning of Game #2 pinch hitting for Ray Sadecki. Facing Vida Blue, he grounded up the middle where short stop Bert Campaneris made a fine play to scoop it up & throw him out. The Mets went on to win this wild wacky affair, 10-6 in 12 innings over four hours & thirteen minutes.

He came in as defensive replacement for Cleon Jones in the 8th inning of Game #4 at Shea Stadium. Jones had been battling the flu & was removed from the game due to the illness. Stork made a fine play on a bad hop single hit to left field. Next Sal Bando lined a shot to let center hat the Stork ran down & caught.

 He got one more at bat in that game, popping up to end the 8th inning. The Mets won the game 6-1 to even the series.

After the Pennant: In 1974 he appeared as a pinch hitter through mid-May going hitless in eight at bats. On May 17th he got his first start against the Montreal Expos, getting his first hit of the year & scoring a run in the 5-0 Met win.

Back-to-Back to Back HRs: On July 20th, Theodore hit his second & last career HR. It came in the first game of a double header at San Diego off pitcher Lowell Palmer. 

Theodore hit the first of three consecutive HRs as Rusty Staub & Cleon Jones also connected in the Mets 10-2 win. 

It was the first time in Mets history they hit three straight HRs.

It was his only RBI of the year, as he struggled most of 1974, finishing up batting .158 (going 12 -76). He played his last career game on the last day of the 1974 season.

Career Stats: In his brief but memorable two-year career The Stork was a .219 hitter with 42 hits, two HRs 5 doubles 16 RBIs 21 runs scored & one stolen base. 

He drew 18 walks struck out 27 times posting a .291 on base% in 105 games played. 

Theodore played 45 career games in the outfield making three errors in 71 chances. He had four assists & turned one double play.

Theodore with Jerry Koosman in 2012

Theodore can say he was in the big leagues & played in a World Series.


Retirement: After his playing days in 1975 he got a master's degree in social work. Theodore serves as a youth baseball coach and gives counsel to elementary school students. He made a triumphant return to Shea Stadium for the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.




Quotes-George Theodore: "Fans, they don't seem to forget, I always appreciated them and the attention they gave me. It never was a business to me. Maybe they realized that. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for New York and the Mets. 

"My wife Sabrina is from Jackson Heights, and we met at the end of my career, had a long-distance courtship and we've been married for 33 years. The Mets have always treated me like family, and I appreciate that family."

Comments

Anonymous said…
For some reason, I've never forgotten Theodore, and I'm not even a Mets fan. He seemed so gawky and out of place in the outfield... guess he reminded me of myself on the softball field....
Unknown said…
I remember George. As a 12 yo. kid trying to get autographs at 2 different games I passed my paper into a group and both times they came back George Theodore😀. I had to laugh but it showed how much he gave to the fans. I treasure them along with my Joe Pignatano. Never seemed to score the superstar's autograph but I got he ones of people who realized the fans were important.

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