Nov 27, 2020

Howard Johnson "Hojo": (Part 1) The Eighties

Howard Michael Johnson known as "Hojo" was born on November 29, 1960 in Clearwater, Florida. The five foot eleven switch hitter was originally drafted as a first round, pitcher out of St. Petersburg College, by the Detroit Tigers in 1979.

In the minors he was converted into a third baseman due to bat & his strong arm. In his third minor league season he hit 22 HRs at AA Birmingham in 1981. In 1982 he hit 23 HRs while batting .317 stealing 35 bases at AAA Evansville earning a call up to the big leagues.

He came up to the Tigers in 1982 as a back up to Tom Brookens batting .316 with 4 HRs in 54 games. By 1984 he was being platooned with Brookens, starting out the year hot, driving in run in six of ten games in May. 

A strong June had him hit up at the .300 mark along with four HRs. But he tailed off as the year came to an end, and he saw less playing time in September after the Tigers rolled over the American League. Soon veterans Darrel Evans & Marty Castillo were getting more playing time, especially in the post season.

Hojo had 12 HRs 50 RBIs & batted .248 in 116 games, but only had one at bat going 0-1 in the post season as the Tigers won the World Series. After the season, he was traded to the New York Mets for pitcher Walt Terrell.

He arrived in New York as one of three third baseman, but Hubbie Brooks was quickly traded in a deal to acquire All Star catcher, Gary Carter. 

Hojo was the Mets starting third baseman on Opening Day1985, getting a hit & drawing an RBI walk in the 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Hojo's debut went under noticed, since Carter was also making his debut & hit a walk off game winning HR.

Johnson struggled not getting above the .200 mark until July 4th, that month things got better for him. As Ray Knight struggled, hitting just .218 on the year, Johnson remained the teams main third baseman. He drove in 16 runs, raised his average thirty four points and hit four HRs. 

On August 3rd his top of the 10th inning HR in Chicago, off the Cubs George Frazier broke the 4-4 tie & was the game winner. On September 10th he hit a grand slam HR off the St. Louis Cardinals John Tudor, keeping New York in first place, one game up after the 5-4 win.

Three weeks later on September 29th, his three hit three RBI day, including a HR, helped the Mets beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh 9-7. Hojo hit, 242 with 11 HRs 18 doubles & 46 RBIs, posting a .300 on base %. For 1985 he played 126 games at third base posting a .941 fielding % making 15 errors in 253 chances.

In 1986 he started out well batting .357 in April. On April 24th Hojo hit a two run HR off St. Louis' Todd Worrell tying up the game in the top of the 9th inning. The Mets went on to beat the rival Cardinals 5-4 on George Fosters RBI base hit. From there he spent time on the DL miss most of the month of June.

Upon his return he struggled, losing his starting job at third base, to Ray Knight who would bat .298. On June 23rd he hit two HRs in a game against the Montreal Expos, even though the Mets lost 5-4. Johnson had only hit one HR going into mid June then went on a tear hitting 6 HRs during the next month.

One of his biggest blasts came during the legendary July 22nd game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Reds Eric Davis had slid hard into third base & Mets third baseman Ray Knight went crazy. He immediately took his glove off & threw a punch at Davis. 

A classic bench clearing brawl occurred as both dugouts & bull pen's emptied. Players were ejected & manager Davey Johnson had to fill spots on the field, including having pitcher Roger McDowell play outfield. 

Johnson followed up with a three-run HR off Ted Power in the top of the 14th inning, which led to the Mets 6-3 victory. Hojo’s constant smile and good sense of humor was constant throughout the year.

He became Roger McDowell’s side kick in issuing the “hot foot” to Mets players in the dugout. The “Hot Foot” was when a matchbook was stuck with bubble gum to the back of a players shoe & lit on fire by either Johnson or McDowell.

This was demonstrated in the 1987 “Let’s Go Mets” video by Johnson & McDowell. He finished the 1986 Championship year batting .249 with 10 HRs 14 doubles, 39 RBIs & a .341 on base %. 

1986 Post Season: HoJo was shut out in the postseason, going 0-for-7 in the four games he played in. 

His only start was Game #2 of the 1986 World Series when he went 0-for-4 in the Mets loss. His only other at bat in the series was in Game #6 when he struck out in the ninth inning.

Mets Trivia: Hojo goes down in Mets history as the first Met to greet Ray Knight at home plate as he scored the miraculous winning run in the classic World Series Game # 6.

At age 25 Johnson already had won his second World Series title. Ray Knight was gone after the World Series and Johnson became the Mets regular third baseman. He developed into one of the league’s top power hitters over the next two seasons. 

After The Championship: After a slow April, he went on a three month tear starting out with a five HR 15 RBI stretch from May 10th through May 20th. In June he had a stretch where he homered in three of four games & then three more HRs in three straight games the next week.

He had 20 HRs by the All Star break and in July he had a stretch of driving in six runs in a seven game span. From July 10th through July 16th he hit six HRs driving in eight runs. He started August with a grand slam in Montreal in the Mets 12-4 blowout win. 

During a thirteen-game span he had at least one RBI in all but one game. In mid August he homered in three straight games, driving in seven more runs in that span.

On August 31st he hit a top of the 10th inning HR off The Pares Keith Comstock for a game winning 6-5 Mets win in San Diego. Two days later his two run HR off Ed Whitson led New York to a 3-2 win, helping Dwight Gooden complete the three game sweep of the Padres.

 On September 21st he hit another grand slam, this one at Wrigley Field in Chicago helping the Mets to a big win. 

The win had the Mets keep pace with the Cardinals just 2 1/2 games back. They would fade away in the final week of the season & finish a very close second by just three games.

Hojo had always been a quick base runner as well. In the late eighties the trend became joining the & so called exclusive 30/30 club. Hojo did just that as he stole 32 bases & finished the year with 36 HRs (7th in the league). That year he set a HR record for NL switch hitters with his 36 HRs. He was overall a much a better hitter from the right side of the plate.

He had 99 RBIs, second on the club to Daryl Strawberry & tenth most in the league. He hit 22 doubles with 93 runs scored while posting a 3.64 on base percentage. He was now being recognized as a new Mets slugger as the careers of Gary Carter & Keith Hernandez were beginning to wind down. 

Johnson even earned 42 points in the MVP voting as well. The free swinging Hojo struck out 113 times (9th in the NL). It was the first in a five year stretch where he struck out over 100 times.

In 1988, Johnson’s numbers fell off, especially after he suffered a right shoulder injury. In April he batted just .171 with three HRs. On May 1st he helped Doc Gooden go to 6-0 as he hit a three run HR & drove in four of the Mets 11 runs in an 11-0 shutout. 

On June 2nd he hit a walk off HR against the Cubs Frank DiPino in the bottom of the 13th inning. In the final week of the month he hit four HRs & drove in runs in six of eight games. 

On June 29th he hit a bottom of the 9th inning HR at Shea Stadium, off the Pirates Jim Gott. The HR tied the game, in which the Mets went on to win in the bottom of the 13th.

He began July by driving in runs in the first four games of the month. hitting just .230 on the season. But he still showed some power with 24 HRs 24 doubles & 68 RBIs, setting a Mets record with 25 intentional walks.

 On August 27th, his first inning two run single, were the only runs Ron Darling needed in his 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants Rick Reuschel.

 On September 8, 1988 at Wrigley Field he had the only five-hit game of his career, going 5-for-5 with a three-run HR & four RBIs.

As Johnson was struggling on the field, mostly due to his back issues, the Mets tried out the highly touted 21-year-old prospect, Gregg Jefferies at third base, Jeffries started out on a tear & had a hot September. 

The Mets clinched another NL Eastern title that season, as Johnson batted .230 with 24 HRs 21 doubles & 68 RBIs. He walked 86 times (fourth in the NL) posting another good on base % at .343%, while playing in 148 games.

1988 Post Season- NLCS: Johnson struggled in the 1988 NLCS going just 1-for-18 with six strikeouts. He did not help the Mets cause, in the losing effort to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was benched in the final two games, with the exception of a Game #7 pinch hit role, where he struck out. Greg Jeffries played third base in both those games.

Trade rumors about Johnson were all over the news during that off season, but instead it was Wally Backman who got shipped out of New York. Jeffries took over second base & Johnson remained as the Mets third baseman. 

He would commit 24 errors at third, second most in the league in the position & fifth most out of all position players. Johnson committed a lot of errors in his career (163 overall), leading the league twice (1990-1991) & coming in the top four at third base four times.

Davey Johnson moved him up from sixth in the batting order to the number three spot in front of Daryl Strawberry in 1989. He responded by having an awesome year & the fact that he stayed healthy certainly was a difference. It began with a solo HR & three RBIs on Opening Day, as he helped New York beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-4.

In May he hit HRs in back to back games at the start of the month, including a walk off HR against the Cincinnati Red's Rob Dibble. He went on a tear in June, as he hit 11 HRs driving in 24 runs, winning the NL Player of the Month award. 

He hit five HRs in the first eight games that month, and had a hitting streak where he hit safely in 16 of 18 games entering July.

1989 All Star: That season he was name to his first All Star team & started at third base for the NL in the All-Star Game held in Anaheim. In his first at bat, he drove in a run with a single off Oakland's Dave Stewart. The AL won the game 5-3.

On August 20th he hit his 30th HR of the season & joined Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays as the only multi-year members of the 30-30 club. 

He hit five HRs in September but the Mets finished second that year, six games behind the Chicago Cubs.

He personally finished 1989 second in the NL with 36 HRs, (tying his career-high and his own NL record for switch hitters).

He led the league with 104 runs scored, drove in 101 runs (4th in the league) hit 41 doubles which set a Mets club record & was third most in the league. Johnson stole 41 bases (4th in the NL) finishing fifth in the MVP voting.

Remembering Mets History (1987): Ho Jo Joins 30-30 Club As Mets Take A Heartbreaking Loss On Terry Pendleton's HR

Friday September 11th 1987: This was another classic (although not a good end result for the Mets) in the 1980's Mets Cardinals rivalry. There was no love loss between the two teams & when they played each other, they both turned it up a notch.

The Mets were the reigning World Champions & the Cards would get to this years World Series, losing to the Minnesota Twins. Although the Mets took a tough loss on this night, it was a record setting night for Howard Johnson.

Record Setter: In the 4th inning, Howard Johnson singled to left field with a soft line drive. With the Cards John Tudor on the mound & catcher Steve Lake behind the plate, Ho Jo took off for second base. He stole his 30th base of the year & went into the record books as the first infielder to join the 30-30 club.

He joined an elite group of 30-30 members, like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bobby Bonds, Dale Murphy & Eric Davis.

On August 19th, Ho Jo had hit his 30th HR of the season, at Shea Stadium off Giants pitcher Mike Krukow in a 10-6 loss to San Francisco. That night, the Mets Darryl Strawberry hit his 30th HR of the year as well.

Howard Johnson would hit 36 HRs (5th in the NL) that year & steal 32 bases. He drove in 99 runs (10th in the NL) & hit 22 doubles.

Davey Johnson's Mets (80-60) entered the game 1 1/2 games behind Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals (82-57). A huge crowd of 51,795 came out to Shea as Ron Darling took on The Cards' John Tudor.

Starting Lineups

The Mets had an exciting 1st inning, Tim Teufel singled & was brought home on Keith Hernandez's double. Next, Darryl Strawberry blasted his 35th HR of the year giving the Mets a 3-0 lead.

The Cards scratched out a run in the 2nd inning, after Darling allowed two walks & two ground ball outs. In the bottom of the 3nd, Mookie Wilson hit his 9th HR of the year making it 4-1 Mets.

Ron Darling had a one hitter going for him into the 7th inning. In the 6th he had fielded a bunt base hit off the bat of Vince Coleman. He severely sprained his right thumb & was forced to leave the game.

Quotes- Ron Darling said years later- "My thumb, it was hanging, just dangling off my hand. So I pulled a Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown, and just held the ball with three fingers, lobbed it up there, hoping to get some outs. After I was taken out of the game, Steve Garland, our trainer, looked at it and said, 'You really have an issue here.' And I was like, 'I do know that.'"

In the top of the 9th inning, Roger McDowell was on the mound for New York. Ozzie Smith drew a lead off walk & advanced on a fielders choice.

With two outs, Willie McGee singled & then Terry Pendleton delivered the now infamous famous blow. He homered into the Shea Stadium parking lot, a massive shot that smashed Ron Darlings Car windshield.

Quotes- Ron Darling: “They put me in my car and told me, ‘drive over to Roosevelt Hospital, take X-rays and they’re gonna repair your thumb.’ I said, ‘okay, fine,’ got in my car…and back in those days we parked out past center field…and as I got in my car Terry Pendleton’s homer nearly hit me in the head.”

The Mets lost the game 6-4 & fell 2 1/2 behind those pesky Cardinals. The next day, the Cards rocked Dwight Gooden 8-1. The Mets salvaged  the final game but just over 21,000 fans showed up at Shea.

Although the Mets did get to 1 1/2 games behind the Cards they never caught them, finishing the season three games back. Tonight's game is looked at as the one that ended the Mets hopes of getting back to back Championships.

That night the fans were all over Pendleton who had hit just 12 HRs all year, but none bigger than the one he hit that night for his team.  

Quotes- Terry Pendleton :"There are these kids back there just screaming and yelling — stuff I never heard about me before. Well, there were some things I had heard about me, but I don't know that any of them were true. One of the kids balled up — I don't know what he had, a program or whatever — threw it and hit me in the back with it."

Nov 26, 2020

Former Mets Manager, Coach & New York Giants Catcher: Wes Westrum (1964-1967)

Wesley Noreen Westrum was born on November 28, 1922 in Clear brook, Minnesota. The five foot eleven catcher was signed by the New York Giants in 1941.

He then spent three years in the military serving in World War II. He returned home safely & made his MLB debut in 1947 as the Giants backup catcher for the two seasons to Walker Cooper.

Westrum was an excellent defensive catcher, with a strong accurate throwing arm. He threw out over 50% of would be base stealers six different times, leading the league in caught stealing twice (1953 & 1954) & coming in second place three other times. In 1950 he led all catchers with a .999 fielding % making only one error in 680 chances, he also was tops in games played (139) & assists (71). From 1950-1954 he was among the top four catchers in games caught, put outs assists & caught stealing every year.

In 1950 he became the Giants regular back stop hitting a career high 23 HRs with 71 RBIs & a .236 batting average. He was never a big hitter, but had a good eye & drew a lot of walks which led to decent on base percentages. In 1949 he posted a .385on base % & in 1950 he drew 92 walks posting a .371 on base %.

On June 24th 1950 he had a three HR game at the Polo Grounds and just missed a fourth HR, which would have been an inside the parker, instead he settled for a triple.

In the 1951 Giants amazing comeback pennant winning season, Westrum hit another 20 HRs with 70 RBIs & 104 walks. Although he hit only .219 he posted a .400 on base percentage. In the 1951 World Series he went 4-17, drawing five walks while playing in all six games. Katt caught over 100 games for four straight seasons, & made two All Star appearances.

In the Giants 1954 World Championship season, he was behind the plate 98 times, while sharing time with Ray Katt. That season he batted a lowly .187, only gathering twelve extra base hits. He drew 45 walks in 246 at bats, hitting 8 HRs with 27 RBIs.

Trivia: On the first Sports Illustrated magazine cover in 1954, Westrum is the catcher behind the plate as Milwaukee Braves slugger Eddie Mathews is swinging at a pitch in Milwaukee's County Stadium.

Post Season: In the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, Westrum batted .273 (3-11). In Game #3 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, he singled in the 5th inning, driving in Hank Thompson putting the Giants ahead 5-0. In Game #4 he helped the Giants sweep the Series by bringing in two runs in their 7-4 win.

He stayed with the Giants through their last season in New York in 1957 playing in 63 games batting just .165. He was the starting catcher for the last Giants game played at the Polo Grounds on September 29, of that year as a battery mate to Johnny Antonelli.

He retired as a player after an eleven year career, with a .217 batting average, 503 hits, 96 HRs 59 doubles 489 walks & a .356 on base %. Defensively Westrum posted a life time .985 % behind the plate, throwing out 49% of runners attempting to steal.

Westrum did go West with the Giants to San Francisco, being offered the spot of third string catcher or coach. At age 34he chose to coach, a position he held from 1958 through the 1963 season. Then he came back to New York as a coach for the new National League franchise; New York Mets in 1964.

He was one of the first pitching coaches in the game who was a former catcher & not a pitcher. In July 1965 he replaced player/coach Warren Spahn who spent a brief time period with the Mets. In August the aging Mets manager Casey Stengel broke his hip and had to step down from the position due to his health.

Westrum was his replacement & named the second manager in Mets history. He certainly wasn’t the most popular choice but Stengel had promised him the job and held true to his word.

Everyone else expected the job to go to the popular Mets coach; Yogi Berra, who seemed much better suited for the position. Westrum had his problems with the press, early on. He wasn’t an educated man, and they ate him up when he used his malapropisms.

Once as a coach, after a classic Casey Stengel speech, he told the press “boy they really broke the molding when they made him”. Another time after a tight game in St. Louis he said “that was a real cliff dweller". The Mets finished 19-48 under his watch the rest of the way in 1965, once again finishing in last place. In 1966 the team improved to a ninth place finish going 66-95. It was the first time in their brief five year history they did not finish last.

In 1967 Westrum’s Mets went 57-94 falling back to the National League last place spot. But there were a few bright spots, and some hope for the future.

That season the Mets brought up Tom Seaver, who went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Ron Swoboda had hit a few dramatic HRs early on & was being billed as a slugger. Tommy Davis hit .302 in his one season in New York, & young veterans Ed Kranepool, as well as Gary Buchek, also put in solid seasons.

Westrum was instrumental in tutoring a young Jerry Grote in his early days as a Met catcher. He helped him not only with tips in catching behind the plate, but also in how to adjust his attitude. In those days, Grote had a real chip on his shoulder, & his manager Westrum said "if he ever learns to control himself, he might become the best catcher in baseball".

Late in 1967, the word leaked out that Gil Hodges was going to replace Westrum the following year. So with just eleven games left to go, Westrum resigned as the team’s manager, rather than be fired at the end of the season. He was replaced by coach Salty Parker to finish out the year. Westrum’s career record as Mets manager was 142-237 with a .375 winning percentage.

He went back to coach for the San Francisco Giants through the late sixties & early seventies. He got another chance to manage in 1974 replacing Charlie Fox. In 1975 his Giants finished in third place one game under .500.

Westrum was replaced by is former battery mate in the Polo Grounds, Bill Rigney in his second go around as Giant manager in 1976. In his managerial career Westrum posted a .415 winning percentage.

He then became a scout for the Atlanta Braves organization. Westrum lived in Duchess County, New York when he played with the Giants. He continued to reside near his hometown of Clear brook, Minnesota where he passed away in 1992 at age 79.

2016 Mets Reliever: Josh Smoker (2016-2017)

Joshua M. Smoker was born November 26th 1988 in Calhoun, Georgia. He grew up an Atlanta Braves fan in their glory years of the later part of the 20th Century.

The six foot two left handed pitcher was signed out of high school as a first round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2007, the 31st pick overall. He spent five years in the Nationals organization, getting plagued by injuries by 2012, making it to pitch in just six games that year with an ERA over seven. After his fastball lost most of it's velocity & he had two arm surgeries the Nationals released him.

The next year he was out of baseball & then found himself pitching in an Independent League in the Mid West at Illinois. In 2015 he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets.

He pitched his way through the Mets minors, Savannah, St. Lucie & Binghamton going 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA. In 2016 he began the year at AAA Las Vegas & was t be another Mets pitching story getting to the big leagues. It seems the Mets just keep plucking successful pitchers out of their minor leagues.

In the hitters ball park at Las Vegas he went 3-2 with a 4.11 ERA, nothing too impressive. But what was impressive was his 81 strike outs in 51 innings. He was first brought up in late July sent back down & then as the staffs injuries mounted he was needed again.

Smoker made his debut on August 19th in San Francisco, he gave up wo runs in an 8-1 Mets loss. On August 23rd he was credited with a hold, even though he gave up a run.

His ERA was above nine after five games but the Mets stuck with him. On August 29th he got his first win, as he struck out two Marlins in the 10th inning & Yoenis Cespedes hit a walk off HR. He earned two more wins in relief, the first in Cincinatti & another at Citi Field against the Phillies.

In twenty games he piled on the strike outs, fanning 25 batters in 15 innings in twenty appearances, with his 96 mph fastball. He went 3-0 with a 4.70 ERA, contributing big time to the Mets wild card run. He was left off the post season roster for the Wild Card game.

Smoker made his first Opening Day Roster in 2017 & would be with the Mets all season. He took two losing decisions early on, one against the Nats in extra innings & the other at home against the San Diego Padres.

In his next outing on May 30th he earned a win in extra innings. They would be his only decisions on the year. Used mostly as a middle relief man, he saw more late inning action in September earning himself five of his seven holds on the year in that month.

His 54 appearances were third most on the Mets staff as he went 1-2, with 68 strike outs & 32 walks in 56 innings of work, posting a high 5.11 ERA. He finished up seven games & served up 10 HRs.

In January 2018 he was traded to the Pittsburg Pirates for Daniel Zamora. In just seven games he posted an 11.12 ERA & was placed on waivers. He was picked up by the Detroit Tigers, pitched one game & was released.

Family: Josh is married to wife Nicole. Picture courtesy of the cranepool forum.

Former Mets Third Baseman: "The Grave Digger" Richie Hebner (1979)

Richard Joseph Hebner was born November 26, 1947 in Boston Massachusetts. Hebner will forever be remembered as being a grave digger in the off season, as stated on the back of his 1974 baseball card. He made $35 for each grave he dug, working at a cemetery run by his family.

In high school he was one of the best young hockey players in Massachusetts history, but he was also a star baseball player. He chose the baseball career getting picked in the first round of the 1966 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted .336 at AA Raleigh in 1967 after 78 games there that season. In 1968 he batted .276 at AAA Columbus with 6 HRs & 51 RBIs.  

He arrived in the big leagues at age 21 in 1969. This was at a time when the Pirates would dominate the NL East, with the exception of 1969 & 1973 when the Mets won the Eastern Divisional title. In Pittsburgh he made five post seasons appearances, winning a World Series in 1971.

He was their regular third baseman until 1977 when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as free agent. He won two more NL East titles there, making it to seven of ten NLCS in the seventies.  

Hebner earned a reputation as a ladies’ man who liked to party, known as one of baseballs most eligible bachelors in the seventies. He sometimes lacked concentration on the field which affected his fielding at third base. He got into two famous shouting matches with his Pirate manager Bill Virdon in 1973, which got him a reputation as a trouble maker, & even made some of the Pittsburgh fans heckle him.  

Hebner was a steady solid player hitting over .290 five times, hitting 15 or more HRs seven times, having 65 plus RBI seasons four times. He was a master at getting hit by pitches, usually among the tops in the league, getting on base 74 times in his career after being plunked. He was a sacrifice hitter as well with 44 sac hits & 77 sac flies in his career.  

Post Seasons: In 1971 he batted .271 with 17 HRs & 67 RBIs on the year.In the 1971 NLCS he hit .294 with two HRs & five RBIs. In Game #3 against the San Francisco Giants he hit an 8th inning game winning HR off Juan Marichal. In the World Series he hit a HR in Game #2 at Baltimore against the Orioles in the Pirates 11-3 loss. Overall he would only get two hits in the Pirates World Series Championship.  

In 1972 he batted .300 with 19 HRs 24 doubles & 72 RBIs, posting a .372 on base %. In the NLCS he batted just .188 (3-16) with an RBI in the series loss to the Cincinnati Reds. In the 1973 season he had career highs in HRs (25) RBIs (74) doubles (28) & games played (144) but the Pirates finished second to the Mets on the final days of the season. The consistent Hebner batted .2291 with 18 HRs 21 doubles & 68 RBIs in 1974 as the Pirates won the NL East again.

In the 1974 NLCS he & Willie Stargell both hit HRs in Game #3 the only Pirate win against the Dodgers. In the series he was 3-13 with four RBIs batting .231. In the 1975 season his average fell off to a career low .246.

In the 1975 NLCS he hit .333 against the Big Red Machine as his Pirates were swept in three games. He struggled again in 1976 batting just .249 with 8 HRs & 51 RBIs in 132 games played. Hebner signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977, replacing Dick Allen as the teams first baseman & Phil Garner replaced him in Pittsburgh. He regained his form in Philly, batting .285 with 18 HRs 17 doubles & 62 RBIs scoring 67 runs on a Phillies team that won 101 games.

He hit .357 in the 1977 NLCS against the eventual World Campion Los Angeles Dodgers (5-14) with two runs scored. In 1978 his numbers remained in the same ballpark for Hebner; 17 HRs 71 RBIs & a .283 average. In the 1978 NLCS he went 1-9 with an RBI in the Dodgers three game sweep over the Phillies. Overall Hebner hit .270 in the post season with 4 HRs 7 doubles & 16 RBIs in 30 games played.  

In Spring Training 1979 the Phillies signed Pete Rose & Hebner was expendable. He was traded to the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Nino Espinosa. He was devastated going from one of the best teams to one of the worst teams. He would only spend one season in New York and he hated it. He didn’t like the city or playing for the dismal ’79 Mets losing team.  
The Mets still hadn't found a steady third baseman since Wayne Garrett had left & in 1979 Hebner got the position. He had been playing first base the past two seasons & his transition back to third base didn't go well. He made 22 errors (5th most in the league) with a .940 fielding%. Hebner struggled at the plate early on causing the Mets fans to boo him right away. With all that said, he was still one of the better players on that team, usually batting in the cleanup spot.

On Opening Day he had four hits, including two doubles, a HR & four RBIs in the Mets 10-6 win at Wrigley Field in Chicago. In mid May he drove in 13 runs with 13 hits in five straight games, raising his average above .300. On May 20th he drove in five runs in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, incuding a three run 10th inning HR which tied up a game the Mets had fallen behind in. They would win it on Frank Taveras' walk off base hit. The next day he drove in three runs in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.  

In June he drove in runs in four straight games with a three RBI day on June 13th against the Cincinnati Reds. He kept the average above .300 but it went down from there on & he rarely had any memorable highlights. He did have a hot September having his biggest month of the year, recording an 11 game hit steak, while driving in 21 runs during the month. On September 22nd he hit two HRs driving in all three Mets runs in a 6-3 loss in the first game of a twin bill against the St. Louis Cardinals.

On September 26th he hit a two run HR, in the first inning off The Cubs Donnie Moore. He later doubled home two more runs, driving in four of the Mets eight runs in a 8-3 win. In his last six games he drove in eight runs, hitting safely in 12 of 13 games. 

He finished the year leading the '79 team in RBIs (79) hit by pitches (8) and sac flies (8). He hit ten HRs with 25 doubles while batting .268, the second lowest average of his career to that point. That year the Mets finished 6th 63-79. thirty five games out of first place.  

During the end of the season, Mets GM Joe McDonald told the Sporting News "Richie hates crowds & traffic, he's only been to Manhattan once since he's been here". Hebner & New York never worked out.

On Halloween 1979, one week before he was to get married & settle down from his bachelor life, the Mets traded him to the Detroit Tigers for Jerry Morales & Phil Mankowski. In 1980 at Detroit he was revived, his average rose to .290 with a career high 82 RBIs. He hit 12 HRs with 10 doubles & a .360 on base %. He was the Tigers first baseman for two seasons before going back to the Pirates in 1982 & 1983 as a back up to Bill Madlock. Hebner then went to the Chicago Cubs for his two final seasons 1983 & 1984.

He retired in 1985 after 18 seasons with 1694 hits 203 HRs 890 RBIs 203 doubles 57 triples & a .276 batting average while posting a .385 on base percentage.
Retirement: Hebner has been a long time minor league coach & manager, more recently with the Baltimore Orioles organization with the Norfolk Tides in 2010.

Former Italian / American Pitcher: Dave Giusti (1962-1977)

David John Giusti was born on November 27, 1939 in Seneca Falls, New York. Guisti attended Syracuse University, & was the Captain of their 1961 College World Series team. This was the same year Ernie Davis won the Heisman Trophy at Syracuse & rocker Lou Reed was also studying for the Orange.

Giusti got signed that same year by the expansion Houston Colt 45’s & debuted the next season going 2-3 as a reliever. He bounced back & forth to the minors, going (34-27) making the Houston staff for good in 1965.

By this time the team had changed their name to the Astros & Giusti won 15 games (10th in the league) going 15-14 with a 4.20 ERA. He would win 11 games in each of the next two seasons but posted losing records both years. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinlas for the 1969 season going 3-7 with 12 starts in 22 games. He then was sent to the Pittsburg Pirates where he found a new home & new career.

Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh ,converted him to a full time reliever & Giusti became one of the NL’s top firemen of the early seventies. Using his sinking palm ball he went 9-2 with 26 saves (2nd in the league) in 1970 helping the Pirates win the NL East.

He would go on to finish second in the NL in Games Finished three times & finish in the top three in saves all but one season from 1970-1975.

In 1971 he led the league with 30 saves as the Pirates went on to win the World Series beating the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched five scoreless innings in the 1971 NLCS & then earned a save in Game #4 of the World Series at Three Rivers Stadium. Over seven innings in that post season he posted a zero ERA & won the Sporting News Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.

In 1972 he was 7-4 with 22 saves (3rd in the league) posting a 1.93 ERA, getting to his third straight post season. In that NLCS he earned a save in Game #3 at Riverfront Stadium but was the losing pitcher in the 5th & final game in Pittsburgh.

In a wacky 9th inning, Giusti came in to close out the Series ahead 3-2. Johnny Bench led off the inning with a game tying HR, then Giusti allowed singles to George Foster & Tony Perez.

Manager Danny Murtaugh pulled out Giusti replacing him with Bob Moose who threw a wild pitch, allowing Foster to score the winning run.

In 1973 Giusti posted 20 saves (3rd in the NL) going 9-2 with a .818 winning % making his only All Star team. He would pitch three more seasons in Pittsburgh coming in third & fourth in saves over the next two years.

In 1977 he pitched for the  Oakland A's & Chicago Cubs saving seven games going 3-5 with a 3.89 ERA. He retired at the end of the season at age 38.

Overall in a 15 year career he saved 145 games (77th all time) with a 100-93 record, posting a 3.60 ERA with 1103 strikeouts & 570 walks in 668 appearances with 380 games finished (67th all time).

Retirement: After baseball Giusti became a corporate manager for American Express & is now retired living in a Pittsburgh suburb.

In 2012 Giusti was on hand at PNC Park for the fortieth anniversary of the 1971 Pirates World Champion team, as the 16 surviving members were honored.