Nov 10, 2019

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 didn’t sign.

A year later he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next four years he bounced from single A to double A minor league ball.

After the Mets Pennant season in 1973, the team disappointed their fans in 1974 finishing in fifth place. The problem was mostly due to an off year by Tom Seaver & a lack of offense. During that 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 needed a bat again & called him up that August.

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 with a pair of doubles. He drove in his first run that day as well 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 Expos before finally being shut down the next night.

Overall 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 of the season in the major leagues. His bat is on display at the baseball Hall of Fame he used during the streak.

During the streak, the Mets were having problems, long time Met Cleon Jones had been released after refusing to come in to a game as a substitution. This led to a public feud with him & manager Yogi Berra. 

Berra was also dismissed as manager & Coach Roy McMillan took over as interim manager. The Mets were still above .500 but had fallen to fourth place nine games back.

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 so hopeful about Vail, they jumped the gun although he had played just 38 games in the big leagues. They made a huge mistake by trading Rusty Staub, the team's biggest RBI man, to the Detroit Tigers.

They believed Vail would be an adequate replacement & with the additions of Dave Kingman & Joe Torre that the team had enough offense. 

Unfortunately they were soon disappointed as Vail got injured, Torre was at the end of his career & although 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.

In the winter of 1976 Vail dislocated his foot playing basketball and would miss half the bicentennial baseball season. Vail returned in mid June getting back into the line up. On August 11th he drove in both runs of a 2-1 Jon Matlack win against the San Diego Padres.

Vail missed over two more weeks of action in September, his averaged plummeted 85 points from the previous year, hitting just .217 with no HRs five doubles & 9 RBIs in 143 at bats.

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, his top of the 9th inning ground out scored the winning run off Steve Rogers in Montreal 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.

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 the Cincinnati Reds (1980 & 1981) the San Francisco Giants (1983) Montreal Expos (1983) & Los Angeles Dodgers (1984).

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 %.

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