Dec 14, 2019

Del Unser: Mid Seventies Mets Outfielder (1975-1976)

Delbert Bernard Unser was born on December 9, 1944 in Decatur, Illinois. He was the son of former Detroit Tiger & Cincinnati Reds catcher Al Unser.

Al Unser hit .251 with 4 HRs 15 doubles & 30 RBIs in four MLB seasons, Playing in 120 career games. After his playing days he was minor league manager in the St. Louis Cardinal organization in the sixties & then became a scout in the early seventies. He passed away at age 82 in 1995.

Del Unser was a star ball player at Mississippi State and got drafted first round by the Washington Senators in 1966. He came up in 1968 making the Topps All Star Rookie team, and became the Senators regular centerfielder for the next four years until they left the nation’s Capitol for Texas.

His best season was in 1969 when he hit .286 and led the AL in triples with eight, hitting 7 HRs with 57 RBIs, 166 hits and 19 doubles. The next three years he hit in the .250 range and was traded to Cleveland in an eight player deal in 1972.

In one brief season there, he led all centerfielders with a perfect 1.000 fielding %. He batted .238 with one HR he was traded to the lowly Phillies of the early seventies for Oscar Gamble.

In Philadelphia in 1973 he brought his average up to .289 with 11 HRs, a career high 20 doubles, 52 RBIs 47 walks & a .354 on base %. That season the Phillies finished last losing 91 games.

The next season Unser dropped to .268 with a career high 61 RBIs, leading all centerfielders in assists for the first of two straight years.

After two seasons with the Phil’s he came to the New York Mets in a big trade, on December 3, 1974. Unser, John Stearns & Mac Scarce who came to New York for reliever Tug McGraw, outfielders Don Hahn, and Dave Schneck.

In 1975 Unser became the Mets every day centerfielder playing in 147 games and doing a pretty good job. He debuted on Opening Day batting seventh & going hitless in three at bats.

He then got a pair of hits in each of the next two days & hit his first Mets HR. In his first two weeks he hit safely in 9 of his first 12 games, collecting 20 hits with 8 RBIs. He also scored 15 runs in the month of April & was batting .349.

He picked up where he left off in May hitting safely in 16 of 21 games. He remained pretty steady throughout the season, hitting consistently, never falling into any deep slumps. On July 9th, he drove in the first run of a 2-1 Tom Seaver victory over the Braves in Atlanta. 

At the end of July, from the 25th through the 31st, Unser drove in nine runs in a seven game stretch and got his average up at .296. He got hot again at the end of August, hitting safely in ten of eleven games, driving in nine runs while hitting three HRs.

He would post five three hit games in the month of September as well. On September 16th he drew a bases loaded walk, in the bottom of the 9th inning in a 3-3 ties with the Montreal Expos. Unsers walk off walk, came from Long Island's own Dom Demola.

In 1975 Unser hit his career best .294, leading the team in batting average. He hit 10 HRs, with 18 doubles and 53 RBIs. For a centerfielder he had absolutely no speed, (just four stolen bases) but played a decent outfield, posting a .987 fielding %.

He also had a 12 assists, which was best among all NL center fielders. Unser had the most assists in the league, the past three seasons leading all centerfielders each season in that category..

In 1976 he scored the first Mets run of the season, after he led off the inning with a triple he scored on Jerry Grote's double. On APril 19th he hit a game winning 17th inning HR, off the Cardinals Mike Wallace in St. Louis. That week he drove in runs in five of six games but tailed off from there.

After 77 games his average dropped off to .228 & that July the Mets traded him off. Unser went to Montreal in a deal that included long time Met Wayne Garrett. The two went to Montreal in exchange for Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer.

As in so many moves in the mid seventies it was another "what were the Mets thinking" on this one? He would spend three seasons in Montreal batting .273 in 1977, plummeting all the way down to .196 in 1978. In 1979 he signed as a free agent back in Philadelphia, becoming a pinch hitter and utility player.

Record Tying HRs: In July 1979 he tied a major league record by hitting HRs in three consecutive pinch-hit appearances. The first HR came in St. Louis & the next two were at home. On July 5th he hit a solo pinch hit HR off the Mets Craig Swan, for the record. 

In 1980 he was a team mate with Tug McGraw, the player for whom he was traded for back in 1974. Together they won the World Series with Philadelphia in 1980. Unser contributed going 5-11 with a .455 average in the post season. 

In his career he was successful against Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, and Nolan Ryan, batting .432 against them. He had a few notable multi hit games in his career including one 5-hit game, seven four hit games.

Del retired in 1982 after a 15 year career, appearing in 1,799 career games. He batted .258 with 1,334 hits, 87 HRs, 179 doubles, 481 RBIs, and a lifetime .319 on base %.

Honors: In 2005 Unser had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals first ever game. The game was held in Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. Unser played for both teams and was a current scout for the Phillies, made the perfect candidate to represent the occasion.

He wore an old unbuttoned Senators jersey as he delivered the pitch. "I'm almost speechless about the situation. It makes me feel real good," he said earlier.

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