Dec 8, 2020

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. 

The Tug McGraw Trade: 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 came to the Mets, in exchange for reliever Tug McGraw, outfielders Don Hahn & Dave Schneck.

Mets Career: It was a bad trade for the Mets. The club thought Tug McGraw's day were done, when they found a cyst in his arm. He would recover & have a successful career in Philly as well. Unser, along with Gene Clines were suppose to fill the void that Hahn & Schneck couldn't in center.

In 1975 Unser became the Mets every day centerfielder, playing in 147 games and doing a pretty good job. He was always a reliable solid player, but not a star. 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. It came in a 4-3 loss to the Pirates in the third game of the year. 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 by May 1st.

In May he hit safely in 16 of 21 games. On May 9th, he had a three hit day against the Bog Red Machine in a 3-2 Mets loss.

 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. On July 26th at Wrigley Field, Chicago, his 1st inning two run single, started a Mets 9-8 win, highlighted by Felix Millan's four RBI day. Three days later on July 29th, he had a four hit day, driving in three runs at Busch Stadium, in a Mets 11-6 win over the Cards.

He got hot again at the end of August, hitting safely in ten of eleven games, driving in nine runs while hitting three HRs. On August 6th, he came to bat, with the Mets down 4-2 & the bases loaded, facing former Met Steve Renko.  He cleared the bases with a three run double, leading to  a seven run Mets rally, to beat the Montreal Expos 9-6. 

On August 28th, he helped Jerry Koosman to his 11th win, when he broke a 2-2 tie, by hitting a two run HR off Dodger reliever Mike Marshall, at Dodger Stadium, leading to the Mets 4-2 win.


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 18th inning in a 3-3 tie with the Montreal Expos. Unser's walk off walk, was issued by Long Island's own Italian American, Dom Demola. 

In 1975 Unser, hit a career best .294, leading the Mets in batting average. He hit 10 HRs, with 156 hits 18 doubles 65 runs scored and 53 RBIs. 

For a centerfielder he had absolutely no speed, (just four stolen bases) but played a decent outfield, posting a .987 fielding %.

Unser had a great throwing arm, his 12 assists, were best among NL centerfielder, as he led the NL in that category, for the third straight year. 

Bicentennial Year: In 1976 he was the teams Opening Day centerfielder. In the 2nd inning, he tripled off the Expos, Steve Rogers & scored the first Mets run of the season, when Jerry Grote doubled. Tom Seaver & the Mets won another Opening Day, 3-2.

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. On April 29th at the Astrodome, he tied up the game in the 7th inning, with a single off Joe Niekro. 

The Mets would win it 4-2, when Niekro brought in a run on a wild pitch in the 8th & Ron Hodges singled in the fourth run, in the same at bat. On April 30th, at Shea, in another matchup against the Astros, he provided the insurance run with a base hit off Mike Barlow, scoring Jon Matlack who earned the win.

On May 2nd, he hit a two run HR back at the Astrodome & drove in another, leading the Mets to
a 7-4 win.

On July 20th, after 77 games his average dropped to .228. The Mets traded him to Montreal, in a deal that included long time Met favorite, Wayne Garrett. The two went to the Expos in exchange for Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer.


As in so many moves in the mid seventies, it was another that had fans saying "what were the Mets thinking on this one"? 

Post Mets Career: He would spend three seasons in Montreal batting .273 in 1977, plummeting all the way down to .196 by 1978. 

In 1979 he signed as a free agent back in Philadelphia, becoming a pinch hitter and utility player on a good Phiilies team. 

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, to set the record. 


1980 Phillies Championship Season: In 1980 he was a team mate with Tug McGraw, the player for whom he was traded for back in 1974. Together they were part of the Phillies first World Series team. Unser played in 96 games batting .264 with a HR & ten RBIs.
 
1980 Post Season- NLCS: Unser appeared in all five games of
the NLCS. In Game #5, the Phillies were down 5-2, they began a rally off Houston's Nolan Ryan. Unser put the Phils ahead, breaking the 6-6 tie with a pinch hit single off Ken Forsch. Houston would tie it up again, but Philadelphia won it on Gar Maddox's RBI double in he top of the 10th.

1980 World Series: Unser got to play in three games of the World Series win over the Kansas City Royals. In Game #3, he started a come back rally in the home 8th inning, with a pinch hit RBI double, off Dan Quisenberry. He played the entire Gme #4 going 1-4 in the Phillie loss.


In Game #5, Unser came to bat, as a pinch hitter, in the 9th inning, with the Phillies down 3-2, facing Dan Quisenberry. He delivered a game tying double, scoring Mike Schmidt. He would then score the winning run on Manny Trillo's base hit.

Trivia: 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 five hit game & seven four hit games.

Del Unser 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, 42 triples, 617 runs scored, 481 RBIs, and a lifetime .319 on base %. 

In center field he played 1117 games (81st most all time( with 90 assists (50th all time) & 21 double plays turned (66th most all time).




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.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Came to the Mets became one of my favorites during the time he was there. Nice guy made and 11 year old very happy he stopped to sign my program for the game.