Dec 28, 2020

Mike Vail: Mets Mid Seventies Outfielder Who Tied Rookie Hitting Streak Record: Mike Vail (1975-1977)

Michael Lewis Vail was born November 10, 1951, in San Francisco, California. The six foot, right handed hitting outfielder was first drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970 but did not sign.

A year later, he did sign a deal, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next four years, Vail bounced from single A to double A minor league ball.

After the Mets 1973 Pennant season, the team disappointed their fans finishing in fifth place in 1974. The biggest problems, were, an off year by Tom Seaver & more importantly, a lack of offense. 

During the 1974 off season, the Mets traded utility infielder Teddy Martinez to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Mike Vail & infielder Jack Heideman.

At AAA Tidewater, Vail won the 1975 International League Player of the Year Award, hitting .342 with 23 doubles, 9 HRs & 79 RBIs. The Mets were excited and once again, lacked offense, needed a bat & called up Vail in August 1975.


Mets Career: Mike Vail made his MLB debut as pinch hitter on August 18th at the Houston Astrodome in a game against the Astros, getting a single in his first at bat. 

On August 25th in just his fifth career game, Vail had a four hit day, including a pair of doubles. He drove in his first run that day, then another in the first of a three game set at San Diego. 

The next day he had three hits, followed by a two hit game to conclude the series. He left San Diego batting .480, going 9-14 with three doubles & five runs scored. From there Vail stayed hot, hitting safely in a all three games in a series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

He returned to Shea Stadium & hit safely in all six games of the home stand. Vail continued to hit safely in every game of the Mets nine game road trip to Montreal, Pittsburgh & St. Louis. On the return home to Shea he had another two hit night against the Montreal Expos before finally being shut down the next night.

Overall, Mile Vail tied a rookie record, by hitting safely in 23 straight games. The streak also tied an all time Mets club mark at the time. When the streak ended on September 16th, Vail had had nine multiple hit games & was batting .352 for the season. His hitting streak was also the longest in the majors for the season.

 
Trivia: The bat Vail used during that hitting streak, is on display at the baseball Hall of Fame.

Mets Drama: During the streak, the Mets were having problems in the clubhouse & publicly. Veteran, Cleon Jones had first been involved in a publicized, alleged sex scandal. Then he refused to come in to a game as a substitution. This led to a public feud with Mets, manager Yogi Berra.  

As the team fell out of the race, Berra was being held accountable. He would be fired later that month & Coach Roy McMillan took over as interim manager. Although, the Mets were still above .500 they had fallen to fourth place, nine games back. 

On top of all that, Mets owner Joan Payson was also in poor health & would pass away just as

the season ended. After the record setting streak, Vail continued to hit safely in nine of his last twelve games to close out the season hitting safely in 31 of 35 games. Overall in 38 games he batted .302 with three HRs eight doubles a .339 on base % & 17 RBIs.

His long hitting streak had the Mets hoping for great things to come. With Joan Payson now gone the people running the team were making bad decisions & would run the team into the ground.


  The team was very excited about Vail, even though he had only played in 38 MLB games. They jumped the gun, making a huge mistake, as they trading Rusty Staub, their biggest RBI man, to the Detroit Tigers. 

They believed Vail would be an adequate replacement for Staub. Along with Dave Kingman & Joe Torre they felt the team had enough offense. 

Unfortunately they were so wrong & the fans were soon disappointed. Vail got injured in the off season. Joe Torre was at the end of his career. Although Dave Kingman hit a club record 37 HRs, he only batted .238. Meanwhile Rusty Staub, would go on to drive in over 96 runs three straight seasons in Detroit, with a career high 121 in 1978.

Bicentennial Year: In the winter of 1976, Vail dislocated his foot playing basketball and would miss half the 1976 season. He returned in mid June, slowly getting back into the line up. He hit safely in two of three hit appearances before getting a start. On July 20th, his 1st inning sac fly gave the Mets a 2-0 lead over the Big Red Machine. Jerry Koosman held down the Reds for a 2-1 win over Gary Nolan.

By August he was seeing steady playing time. On August 11th, he drove in both runs of a 2-1 Jon Matlack win against the San Diego Padres. In a ten game span he drove in six runs in the early part of the month. But his production went down & then he missed over two more weeks of action in September. 

For 1976, his averaged plummeted 85 points from the previous year, hitting just .217 with no HRs five doubles & 9 RBIs in 143 at bats.

1977: In 1977 Vail played outfield with the likes of Lee Mazzili, Steve Henderson, Bruce Boisclair & veteran Ed Kranepool. He was often used as a pinch hitter as well. He had a decent start to the year, hitting .360 by mid June when Tom Seaver was traded away. 

That night called the Midnight Massacre, Vail appeared as a pinch runner & finished the game in right field. His biggest game of the year was a four hit day in the second game of a double header at Shea Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he also hit a solo HR. 

On June 30th in Montreal, his top of the 9th inning ground out, scored the winning run off Steve Rogers to beat the Expos. His best month came in July, as he got his average over .300, had a nine game hit streak & hit four HRs.


From there his hitting fell off, as he ended the season batting .262 with 8 HRs, 12 doubles & 35 RBIs in 108 games. In right field he played 82 games & his .976 fielding % was fifth best in the league.

That season, the Mets finished in sixth place winning just 64 games and it was the first of six bad seasons. After anointing him the player of the future three years prior, the Mets gave up on Vail & sold his contract to the to the Cleveland Indians in Spring Training 1978.


Post Mets Career:
Three months later after playing in just 14 games in Cleveland, he was sent to the Chicago Cubs. The rest of the season he batted .333 in 74 games with the Cubs, becoming a successful pinch hitter. On June 30, 1979 in a game against his old Mets team mates, Vail belted a pinch hit grand slam off reliever Dale Murray.


The HR brought the Cubs within a run, but they still lost the game 9-8. Vail hit .325 in 87 games (179 at bats) with 7 HRs & 35 RBIs for the Cubs in 1979.

In 1980 he continued to hit well playing at Wrigley Field, batting .298 in 114 games as the clubs main right fielder, alongside former Mets team mate Dave Kingman. 

It was Vail's last year being a regular player, he went on to
play with four more teams over the next five seasons. He was with the Cincinnati Reds (1980 - 1981) & then San Francisco Giants (1983). With the Montreal Expos (1983) he hit two HRs, both off Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. He closed out his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1984) where his only ht was a walk off single.


Overall in a ten year career, he hit .279 with 447 hits 34 HRs 71 doubles 11 triples a .313 on base % & 219 RBIs in 665 games played. In the outfield he played 399 games with 35 assists & a .968 fielding %.

Retirement: Vail played in the short lived Senior Professional League with the Orlando Juice. 

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